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VOL. 133 | NO. 31 | Monday, February 12, 2018


Bill Dries

Last Word: The Mural Takedown, Corker's Calculation and Beale Crowd Control

By Bill Dries

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Cue the organ music from the old-fashioned television soap operas: As the weekend began, city public works crews had painted over – either completely or partially – a lot of the Paint Memphis program murals on the west side of Willett near Lamar. That would be the ones city council members complained about and others that no one complained about.

This followed several city council members pointedly asking at last Tuesday’s council committee sessions why nothing had been done on their formal complaint from late January. Since then, some decidedly anti-Strickland graffiti had been added to the public works paint job. And public works crews were out Sunday afternoon painting over the graffiti. Meanwhile Hank Williams and other images on the east side of Willett endure.

The controversy over this had been simmering for a while in a city that in many ways started its move toward a more aggressive boosterism five years ago with murals as its leading edge. The controversy moved to the front burner last month as Karen Golightly of Paint Memphis met the council at council committee sessions.

The zombie-like mural on private business frontage along Lamar remains in place and the council members who pushed last week for painting over the murals on public property are even more insistent about covering the zombie-mural. City Public Works director Robert Knecht says the problem is a legal one involving attorneys and what constitutes graffiti. Graffiti can be removed by the city on private property. That which is not graffiti cannot. And council chairman Berlin Boyd was clear in last week’s council discussion that the murals are many things to many people, but they are not considered graffiti by legal standards.

On the Sunday newstalk shows out of the Washington Beltway, indications that retiring U.S. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee may not be retiring after all and still has plenty of time to make the August Republican primary for re-election. The filing deadline is April 5. Here is the Tennessee Journal rundown by Erik Schelzig with some warnings about how this plays in the D.C. circle and how that is much different than how it plays everywhere else. The Tennessean weighed in Sunday afternoon with word from a Corker spokesman that Corker is being encouraged to reconsider his decision not to run again but “at this point nothing has changed.” The first three words of that excerpt are what will keep this question open for at least the next week. And make no mistake, Corker as well as U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher will be watching to see if reaction to this makes the opening any bigger or smaller.

In two years as Memphis Mayor, Jim Strickland has defended both the slogan “brilliant at the basics” and its pursuit. The criticism of both began during the 2015 mayoral campaign. In our cover story for the latest edition of The Memphis News we examine both and find the basics, in many cases, aren’t basic at all. In fact, they can be quite complex and they come with a lot of political considerations.

Kudos to our photographer Houston Cofield and production designer Holly Weber for service above and beyond in coming up with an imaginative cover image to get you inside to the story.

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1968 sanitation workers strike. Rev. William Barber, the leader of the national Moral Mondays movement, will be in the city as part of a rally at Clayborn Temple and a march from the church south of FedExForum to City Hall. This is the first time in many years that the church, which was the starting point for the daily marches to City Hall by strikers in 1968, has been called into service on an anniversary of the strike and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The church was also the starting point for several decades for the annual April 4 marches in commemoration of King’s death.

Here is The Week Ahead that includes the coming of Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and then Lenten waffles at Calvary as well as the filing deadline for contenders in the May county primaries.

The principal of the consulting firm that will study crowd control on Beale Street and recommend some new ways of handling the spring and summer peak crowds was in town late last week to talk with those on the Beale Street Task Force. Peter Ashwin brings some solid credentials with him that take in not only festivals including Memphis In May but also a G8 summit and the Olympics. Ashwin also makes a point we’ve heard a lot in discussions about Beale Street. What it is changes depending on when you go there and what you go there for. In Ashwin’s case he said it is an entertainment district. But at times, it is set up in terms of its security as if it were the setting for a special event. He also has some early thoughts on Saturday night lines and checkpoints just to get on Beale.

Gary Clark Jr. booked for a June 1 show at Minglewood.

Rounding up last week’s vote on the two-year federal budget plan. Steve Cohen and David Kustoff, in the House, both voted for it. So did U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, saying it ends sequestration limits on military funding and extends the health care funding mentioned by Cohen and Kustoff. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker was a “no” because of deficit concerns. And U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who is running in the Republican primary for Governor and was chairman of the House Budget committee, says she would have voted no but her vote wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, so she was not present.

A Canadian medical technology company, DayaMed, is looking in the university district for the site of its new U.S. headquarters. It’s a link to technology and innovation efforts at the University of Memphis – specifically the FedEx Institute there.

At week’s end, AmerisourceBergen Corp. executives acknowledged in a securities filing that they have been subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation here believed to be related to their Memphis drug production facility. The subpoena, according to the SEC filing, seeks information on products under the brand name PharMEDium packaged in a certain type of syringe. That part of the Memphis business closed in December following FDA inspections.

On another front, Purdue Pharma, the lead defendant in county government’s Circuit Court lawsuit against big pharma over opioids has announced it will stop its promotion efforts of OxyContin, specifically selling doctors on prescribing the drug. More than half of Purdue’s U.S. sales force will be cut. Those who survive will be marketing non-opioid products.

What used to be the Memphis Indoor makes its debut this month as the New York Open tennis tournament. And AP’s Brian Mahoney offers some contrasts to the tournament's new home and its old home.

Word over the weekend that former Action News 5 reporter and anchor Ben Watson died at the age of 63. Ben was the most complete, honest and real person I’ve ever encountered in this business where the pursuit of the job can push everything else out of the picture and skew your perspective if you aren’t careful. His down to earth perspective made his basics as a reporter solid. He kept asking questions if he didn’t understand something not out of any on-air tactic to be seen as a tough reporter. He kept asking so he could understand what he was reporting – the best motive for the best questions, in my humble opinion. The way he treated people he talked with for a story, often in situations that were supremely difficult for them, was not just professional. It was compassionate – beyond what is required or taught in j-school. His motives and pursuit of doing this the right way for the right reasons made him so much more than a good reporter.

Our Around Memphis reading list includes Cohen and Kustoff's rabbi, the 2018 Tigers football recruiting class and Charles Champion's Whitehaven pharmacy.

The Memphis News Almanac: Casting call at Humes, $275 a week for business computer programmers, The Memphis Pop Festival, Sam Phillips opens for business and an invitation to Memphis Mardi Gras.

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