Sunday, June 06, 2004

Our Daily CA

Several items in Sunday's Commercial Appeal, but none quite merit a post of their own, so we practice thrift and combine them here.

First is Wendi Thomas' regular Sunday column. Talking about the renomination of Joseph Lee, Memphis Finance and Administration director, for President of MLG&W, she writes the following:
In March, Herenton reluctantly agreed to look nationally. The search charade included ads in four newspapers and on a couple of Web sites - but apparently not one industry publication....

"I intend to vote for a nominee who is qualified and has utility experience," says council member Carol Chumney, who prompted the city to advertise on the American Public Power Association's Web site, the only industry ad the city placed.
Was any of this, y'know, reported anywhere in the CA? Why does it remain for a columnist to reveal this to Memphis?

This is precisely the kind of important information that a paper is supposed to provide to a community. It demonstrates quality of character about Herenton, and sheds revealing light on the nomination of Lee. It is the essence of news! How long has the paper had this information? What else does it know and not report? Do any of the television news stations also know this?

Thomas also passes along as received wisdom this bit:
Since Herenton has decreed he was appointed mayor not by voters, but by God, it follows that if Lee's appointment is the will of Herenton, it is thereby the will of God. Right?
As a middle-class white guy, I tread lightly here, into questions of race and culture. I'm also no fan of King Willie Herenton. But. I listened to his Prayer Breakfast talk (courtesy of the Commercial Appeal's belated but laudable posting of an MP3 version to their website) and I didn't take that impression away from what he said. It sounded very much to these ears like the standard "all thanks go to God" comments you frequently hear from African-Americans who receive some honor. Herenton was doing the same, as I heard it, but it comes filtered through his enormous self-confidence and his public aura as arrogant.

Back to the Commercial Appeal. Tom Walter finally gets around to noting Joey Sulipeck's rise to FOX13 chief meteorologist. (Third item down.) Unfortunately, it's in a short item buried in the "Region in brief" column in the Metro section! Well, you saw it here first! Advantage: Half-Bakered, with enormous and invaluable assists from Peg and SouthTVNews. Yay team!

And finally, there are these tidbit from the main editorial in Sunday's paper, "Challenges loom for public schools."
Despite efforts to revitalize downtown Memphis and revamp inner-city neighborhoods, outmigration and the urban sprawl it creates continue to drive up the cost of Shelby County services - education and all the rest - with no end in sight.

There has been little actual growth to pay for the costs associated with the urban-to-suburban population shift in Shelby County. That burden has created inescapable budget cuts for a variety of public services, including education.
So, the Commercial Appeal wants you to believe that all that work and revamping going on downtown is to "lure" people back to the City? Hogwash. It's about lining the pockets of a few people, plain and simple. A mere 10,000 folks live in the whole of the downtown, versus how many hundred thousands elsewhere? A wise city wouldn't have drained important resources into "Manhattan on the Mississippi," but would have husbanded them and spread them out.

It would also have tackled the pre-eminent reason so many folks are bugging out from Memphis, a reason the Chris Peck-era CA is loathe to admit: race. The utter and dismal failure of City schools to provide even a minimally acceptable education to its students is widely (correctly or not) seen as a failure of African-American politicians, educators and adminsitrators. Deal with it. If the folks who spearhead all these downtown initiatives and commissions and corporations and tiger teams would put that kind of drive, energy, commitment and refusal to lose into our City schools, it would go an amazing distance to slowing, if not reversing, "outmigration." I will say that new Supt. Carol Johnson seems to be fighting the good fight, with scant attention to the details in the CA. She deserves her own "tiger team" of city leaders who will move heaven and earth to make her reforms happen. Where are they?

Will that happen? Not any time soon. A select circle of people still haven't made enough money from you yet.

And the truth is that even black Memphis realises what a loss the present City schools are. Look at all the new majority black, and "urban appeal" developments springing up out in the County. As more and more black Memphians prosper and get the means, they too are voting with their feet and getting the hell out. That't actually a refutation of race in a way, and a confirmation that the schools are a deciding factor.

Deeper into the editorial comes this:
Nothing short of a building moratorium is likely to affect that situation, and prospects for halting the outmigration with a moratorium are slim. Neither the Shelby County Commission nor the Memphis City Council has shown an inclination to put serious obstacles in the way of developers and new home buyers.
This is, in a word, suicidal. Once the City and County put down serious brakes on building, it will spell long-term and deeply serious trauma for us. Just putting these ideas out as a legitimate option is affecting things.

If a moratorium comes, the first thing that happens is a skyrocket rise in home prices for those properties under construction but not yet sold. The supply for these houses will suddenly be severely limited, but the market demand will remain. That's elementary economics.

Also, if Memphians who want out -- for good schools, racism, safe neighborhoods, whatever -- know that Shelby County is now, or will soon be, a closed book, then they just skip county or state lines and move anyway. But now they'd be out of the reach of Shelby County altogether.

One thing I'd be interested to know is, since the County Mayor announced an intention to impose a moratorium, whether new home permits have spiked? I'd guess yes. Getting all those permits in now will give builders a lucrative market of homes for when the moratorium comes and artificially limits the pool of new housing stock.

Doing what Mayor Wharton plans is, in the face of an ongoing and steady outflow of people, crippling to the remaining citizens of Shelby County. Until the school system and the crime problems are dealt with to a degreee that reassures folks, they're going. What Wharton wants to do will just assure that we lose them altogether.

And it will also mean the imposition of some kind of payroll tax. Government leaders, and their cheering section in the press, will argue that we must "retrieve" monies "lost" to folks who work or shop here but live away. Or new fees on new development. You watch. Politicians who will not do what must be done will take the easy way out. Problems will not be adequately addressed, so the long and unstoppable arm of government taxation wll make up for their inadequacies. We will all continue to pay and pay and pay....

Lastly, the editorial concludes with this:
That debt burden has put the county commission in the position of deciding between another property tax increase for fiscal 2005 or drastic reductions in county services.
County Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel was on Sunday's news saying she thinks it will end up being between those two options. That's what I said yesterday. The County Mayor will accept some cuts, which magically won't be so wounding for important County duties like police, and we'll see an 18 to 20 cent tax rise.

Remember where you read this first.

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