memphis

Memphis council hiring lobbyists, maybe at over $100K budget

The Memphis City Council plans to hire The Ingram Group, a high-powered Nashville-based strategy firm, to serve as its envoy to state and national lawmakers, reports the Commercial Appeal.

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School boards in Nashville and Memphis defy state order

Elected school leaders in Memphis and Nashville are digging in their heels against a state order to release public information about their students to state-run charter schools, reports Chalkbeat Tennessee.

Shelby County’s school board agreed Tuesday night to defy the order, a day after the chairwoman of Nashville’s school board sent a letter to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen indicating that her district would do the same.

Meanwhile, McQueen said she would request the state attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

At issue is student directory information, including names, phone numbers, addresses and emails. Charter operators say they have a right to the lists under the state’s new charter school law, but local districts don’t want to share the information so they can retain their students.

…Both boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers were asking questions about the charter school bill as it made its way through the legislature. Rep. John Forgety of Athens said the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool,” and Chuck Cagle, an attorney for the state’s superintendents group, agreed. No one disputed their statements.

However, the final bill that passed excluded language that prohibits using the information to market to students, even as the law prohibits charter schools from sharing the information with anyone else.

More on Memphis effort to remove Forrest statute — with Haslam’s help

The Memphis City Council, which voted in 2015 to remove a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a city park but saw its effort rejected by the Tennessee Historical Commission, held a meeting Tuesday to talk over options for getting around a state law that requires commission approval. One is to sell the park to a private entity, which would not be covered by the state law; another is to cover the statute up.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Memphis Tuesday and who is a member of the commission, told reporters that he’s been talking with Mayor Jim Strickland and supports the Memphis chief executive’s efforts to remove the statute.

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Memphis police block Forrest cover-up, arrest eight protesters

Police twice blocked protester efforts to cover a Memphis monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest on Saturday, then arrested several participants and dispersed the angry crowd, reports the Commercial Appeal.

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Memphis boosts grants to 1968 sanitation strikers to $70K

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to increase the grants going to city workers who participated in the city’s 1968 sanitation strike, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The council voted 10-0 to give the 10 retirees and four active employees $70,000 grants, with all taxes paid by the city. The council voted two weeks ago to approve Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposal to give the strikers all-taxes-paid $50,000 grants.

The council also amended the wording of the grants resolution to allow active employees to collect their grants immediately as opposed to when they retire.

TVA finds arsenic, other toxins in ground water beneath Memphis plant

The Tennessee Valley Authority has reported finding high levels of arsenic and other toxins in ground water underlying a Southwest Memphis power plant where thousands of tons of coal ash are impounded, reports The Commercial Appeal.

The arsenic, measured at levels more than 300 times the federal drinking-water standard, was discovered in monitoring wells at the Allen Fossil Plant. Excessive amounts of lead also showed up in the 50-foot-deep wells that were installed to check for any pollution emanating from ponds containing ash and boiler slag generated by burning coal.

The tainted ground water lies within a half-mile of where TVA recently drilled five 650-foot-deep wells into the Memphis Sand aquifer, the source of local drinking water, from which it plans to pump 3.5 million gallons daily to cool a natural gas-fueled power plant under construction. Local scientists and environmentalists had opposed the wells, saying the pumping could pull contaminants into the Memphis Sand.

However, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials say they believe the pollution is restricted to the upper-most aquifer and does not pose a threat to the much deeper Memphis Sand.

“We are confident the contaminants found in TVA wells at the Allen Fossil Plant are not impacting drinking water. Out of an abundance of caution, we have requested Memphis Light, Gas and Water (Division) to sample its treated water in order to give that assurance to customers,” TDEC spokesman Eric Ward said in an email.

 

 

 

 

Surviving Memphis sanitation workers involved in 1968 strike awarded $50K grants

The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to award $50,000 grants to surviving retired workers who were employed by the city at the time of the historic 1968 sanitation workers strike, reports the Commercial Appeal. The strike was ongoing when civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

“We can never make up the sacrifices these men made financially,” council chairman Berlin Boyd said as the council pondered the significance of the vote.

The city initially thought 14 strikers were still alive, but discovered one had died and three more came forward and are being verified now, Public Works Director Robert Knecht said. The final number of surviving strikers is thought to be in the 14-20 range.

“We’re going to have to go and do a little research,” Knecht said after the vote.

… If more money is needed or more survivors are found, the council can appropriate more money, several council members said. The council approved $900,000 for the grants from reserves, although council members said they would revisit the amount if more survivors come forward or the city can increase the size of the grants.

The council also approved the creation of a 401(a) retirement plan — the public sector version of a 401(k) — for active sanitation workers. Because of a deal the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) made during the strike, workers receive Social Security benefits instead of a city pension. As the city improved its pension benefits over the years, the gap between the benefits of sanitation workers and other city employees widened.

Thousands try to pay mistakenly-discounted Memphis electric bills

Thousands of people have been trying to take advantage of what they mistakenly thought were sharply discounted electric bills because of a Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division glitch combined with a social media rumor, reports the Commercial Appeal. The utility in response suspended the ability to pay electric bills at 187 “self-service kiosks.”

MLGW’s kiosk vendor, Canada-based TIO Networks Corp., has ruled out hacking as the cause of the glitch in TIO’s system, said MLGW President Jerry Collins. A wayward decimal point is thought to have been responsible for the kiosk billing errors.

“They are working on the software problem now to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Collins said.

… Word of the glitch and a false rumor that basketball star Zach “Z-Bo” Randolph had paid off bills with a $1 million donation quickly circulated Saturday morning, creating long lines at kiosks before the last one was unplugged around noon. Instead of its usual 800 or so Saturday customers, MLGW reported roughly 23,000 customers.

Although the rumor was false, Randolph has donated $20,000 a year to pay off utility bills. Even though he recently signed with the Sacramento Kings, he said he will still donate $20,000 this year. Memphians spurred by news of the glitch and rumor are raising funds to supplement Randolph’s donation.

Shelby school board authorizes lawsuit against state-run Achievement School District

The Shelby County School Board has authorized a lawsuit against the Achievement School District, operated by the Tennessee Department of Education, for accepting students in middle school grades when state law authorizes only those at the elementary school level, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The board voted 7-0 with two members abstaining, for a resolution that instructs its general counsel, Rodney Moore, to “research and pursue any and all appropriate legal and judicial remedies including but not limited to legal action” to stop the Achievement School District  from operating grades it wasn’t authorized to operate.

.. The vote, which included minimal discussion, authorizes Moore to pursue legal action against the ASD, the state department of education and Aspire Public Schools charter network.

The resolution is the latest, and arguably most significant, episode in a five-year struggle between the state-run district and SCS. While the two compete for students and thus funding, and SCS has resisted the role of the ASD in Memphis, the inter-district squabbling has never resulted in a lawsuit.

Two campuses, run by Aspire and Memphis Scholars, are further mentioned in the resolution. Those two operators had added middle school grades to schools that previously served only elementary students under SCS before the state absorbed them into the ASD and outsourced their operation to charter networks.

Three opinions by the Tennessee Attorney General in the last several months, however, say ASD schools, which aim to turn around struggling schools, were never given the legal authority to add grades the school did not previously serve.

Memphis picked for program providing more federal aid in fighting crime

Memphis is one of 12 cities picked for a new anti-crime program being launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports Politico.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the coordinated help Tuesday from various branches of the Justice Department, including federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices, agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and officials who oversee law-enforcement-focused grants.

“Turning back the recent troubling increase of violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said as the Justice Department kicked off a two-day summit in Bethesda, Maryland, spotlighting strategies for cracking down on violent crime . “The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems.”

The initial round of cities selected for the newly-created Public Safety Partnership are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan, and Springfield, Illinois.

The new program will include “diagnostic teams” aimed at identifying crime-fighting strategies for cities experiencing serious violent crime issues and “operations teams” that will embark on a three-year effort involving training, coaching, and increased collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement and probation agencies.

Note: The announcement comes a week after Trump announced he has chosen Michael Dunavant, now a district attorney general in West Tennessee, to become the new U.S. attorney for the region. Previous post HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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