Saturday, August 07, 2004


A couple of mistakes in the posts below. First, Councillor Joe Brown is the Chairman of the Memphis City Council. He is also not the same Joe Brown as the judge of court television fame.

I knew this, really I did. I need an editor. Emotion overran reason and you see the result. But emotion does make for some entertaining posts, no?

Also, City Mayor Willie Herenton's letter of apology to the Iraqi delegation is online. (Note: Link is fixed now. Scroll to bottom of page.) I couldn't find the City Council's letter. No reply from Councillor Chumeny's office on her "timeline" document.
Once a Thief, Always a Thief

Remember Tom Jones, executive assistant and long-time power broker for Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout? He was dismissed from office in 2003 by new County Mayor AC Wharton when an investigation was launched into his personal use of a County credit card. Jones was convicted and is supposed to be in jail. Legal maneuvering has kept him free until this month, when he finally reports for his year-and-a-day.

Little remarked on at the time was that the State Comptroller report which launched the investigation was common knowledge around County offices as far back as April of that year. Why the whole matter was suppressed until after the election is a matter for the reader to speculate on.

Jones was not the only person caught misusing County credit cards -- even Rout had some bills to repay -- but he was the only one publicly hung out to dry. Jones was made an example for others, and his removal allowed Wharton to bring in his own folks.

Now, according to this story at WMC5, Jones has, with the help of an as-yet unidentified co-conspirator, attempted to double his pension!
In August of 2002, after decades of service and amid questions of County Credit card use, Tom Jones left County Government. Mayor A C Wharton had decided not to reappoint him.

Because he was under 55, he qualified for the County's early retirement plan, for which he enrolled.

He turned 55 in April of 2003....

But Action News 5 has learned that in May of this year, Jones sent a letter to the County asking to be re-instated and in keeping with County law was put back on the payroll.

It didn't last long, but it was long enough.

"But in that time period, he went from under 55 to over 55. Retirement over 55 allows you a substantial more payout per month," said Moss.

Thousands more. In Jones' case, his pension checks were doubled.
Notice that although public perception is of dismissal, he was merely "not reappointed." The story notes that the County Pension Board was bypassed by someone. I hope further investigation identifies this person.

It seems the old-boy network is still alive and well.

Mayor AC Wharton is reported to be uncharacteristically angry. Good. Kick some ass, OK?

Friday, August 06, 2004

A Couple of Thoughts on Election Results

First, anti-tax folks have reason to rejoice today. Of the seven tax increase measures I've been able to learn about in Tennessee, six were defeated! Almost all by 60/40 margins, too. Only a local-option sales tax increase in Blount County was passed. That raises their local sales tax to the same level as Shelby County. Hey, we're not alone any more.

Second, boy does the Republican Party have some work to do. Nutjob Jim Hart, of the "favoured races" agenda, won his barely contested primary. Checking the unofficial results at the Tennessee Election Commission site, Hart has 7700 votes to write-in failure Bertrand's 2000. Of course, a lot of counties -- including Shelby -- haven't got all their write-ins certified yet, so it will change some in the next day or so.

Still, given his enormous vote total, I have to ask the ugly question: How many folks knew who he was and voted for him anyway? I'll reserve making observations on the failure of the Republicans to salvage this PR disaster until the vote results are certified, but still...what idiots.
Elisabeth Silverman and the Memphis CIV

She's been much in the news this week, as the local host putting together the visit by the Iraqi delegation to Memphis that resulted in disaster. But who are Elisabeth Silverman and the Memphis Council for International Visitors? So far, they haven't rated a separate story or backgrounder from the local media. Allow Half-Bakered to do some small redress to this situation.

First, you can see a picture of here here. Attractive, vivacious, healthy-looking woman, yes? We learn that she is the International Teaching Assistant Coordinator at the Center for Academic Excellence at the University of Memphis. Here's what her page has to say:
Elisabeth Silverman, comes from a multicultural and bilingual environment, her mother being from Germany and father from France. Before coming to Memphis, Elisabeth Silverman worked for an airline, where she had her first teaching experience by training flight attendants. After coming to Memphis, she decided to go to college and earn a B.A in psychology. Elisabeth Silverman received a Montessori International Teacher certification, and worked several years in the Montessori environment. In that setting, she was fascinated by the process of first-and second-language acquisition, and decided to pursue that course of study. Her Ph.D work will combine the sciences of language, communication, and education.
She's also a part-time instructor in French at Rhodes College. So, she seems to have a perfect international background for working with foreign visitors to Memphis. Nothing I could find in the Google search indicated any other employment or marital status.

Her organisation, the Memphis Council for International Visitors, doesn't have a local web presence, but contact information is here; scroll down to Tennessee. The webpage for the National Council for International Visitors gives some history, background and mission statements on the MCIV parent organisation. They are, in essence, "citizen diplomats," reaching across borders and oceans to connect people. There are about 95 volunteer-based programs across the country, of which the MCIV is one.

Read a bit about them:
NCIV has since grown to include 95 private, nonprofit organizations around the country, representing communities in 43 states, as well as 15 program agencies, 17 associate members, and numerous individual and corporate members. The NCIV network of citizen diplomats is strengthened by its reliance on dedicated community volunteers committed to increasing international understanding by opening their homes, schools, businesses, local government, and nonprofit agencies to leaders from abroad. Each year more than 80,000 volunteers working with the NCIV's program agency and community members provide short-term professional and cultural programs for visitors from around the world — prominent leaders in business, academia, the arts, science, agriculture, politics, and the media. In 2001, Senator Arlen Specter nominated these volunteer citizen diplomats for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The NCIV work in partnership with the US State Department International Visitor Program.

I haven't found much beyond this. The Commercial Appeal appears to have never written about Silverman or the MVIC, as a web site search turned up only the latest stories about the embarrassing fiasco of this week.

I did find a speech from the National CIV annual meeting of February of this year that mentions Silverman in a laudatory way. Here's the relevant part:
Time with another MCIV – this time in Memphis with dedicated Elisabeth Silverman again highlighted stepped up communication with various segments of the community. At a major event to honor founder and former NCIV Board member Betty Goff Cartwright, guests included the local imam as well as a Baptist minister who was on the platform with Martin Luther King, Jr. the day he was shot. Both often meet International Visitors.

On Saturday after meeting with the MCIV Board, Elisabeth took me to Graceland. I will confess to you that I didn’t expect to be captivated – but I was – completely. The whole experience reminded me of that delightful play by Steve Martin entitled “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” In essence, main characters Picasso and Einstein who in 1904 hang out at the Lapin Agile in Paris are debating who will have the biggest place in the history of the 20th Century. The debate takes on a new dimension when an unexpected time traveling visitor, Elvis, reminds them that there are various ways to have an impact on history. Please remember that as you interact with International Visitors. You are having an impact on history in ways you cannot even imagine.
Man, talk about words coming back to haunt you!

That's one thing I did notice in some other references I found with Silverman and the MCIV, including the recent news stories: the fondness of the MCIV for taking visitors to the National Civil Rights Museum and to Graceland. Jeez, don't we have anything else that might be culturally or historically important to show off? Dull, dull, dull.... What about the Promenade? Shelby Farms? Rev. Al Green's church, which would expose visitors to the "real" Memphis? Cooper-Young, a perfect example of non-government funded neighborhood reclamation and renewal? Stax? The list of great stuff that's not downtown or dead-people related is huge and something to be proud of.

I did find that the Grant Center, a Mid-South non-profit agency, awarded MCIV $7000 back in 1998. And this University of Memphis press release mentions the MCIV in association with a Benjamin Hooks speech there in 2002.

And that's about it, short of calling or emailing her myself. If nothing shows up in the papers by next week, maybe I will.
Update to the Memphis Snub Post

Yesterday's post on the Iraqi delegation / Memphis screw-up was just my reaction to what I knew at that point, and to answer some emails I'd gotten from other folks around the blogosphere and some blog posts I'd seen. (Like Janis and Terry and Memphis Redblogs and Michael Totten, for a few.)

Just for your own reading pleasure, here's the CNN story, which is yet another version of the original AP story based on Jody Callahan's Commercial Appeal story.

I also caught a few moments of Councilwoman Carol Chumney on FOX13 last night. She was repeating her stuff from the Phlegming show. That news bit ended with Mearl Purvis, the anchor, leaning into the camera and staring intently, saying that Mayor Herenton, through his Executive Assistant Gale Carson Jones, had not known of the visit or he would have been happy to meet with them. This contradicts Chumney's assertion that Herenton did know and just wasn't interested in the bother and time.

Also, from Memphis Redblogs, are a couple of links to Commercial Appeal stuff. In this editorial they clear up one point for me. Elisabeth Silverman was not, as I had assumed, someone from a national organisation or the Federal government setting up the whole Iraqi delegation tour, but a local with something called the Memphis Council for International Visitors. On the one hand, it makes clear why there were such fundamental screw-ups in the handling of the visit itself and the sloppiness of coordinating government officials. This group was amateurish. On the other, it makes me wonder, if they've done things like this before, why they didn't nail everything down securely. They were facing a very short time frame here, so why invite disaster by not getting things written down and verbally confirmed?

They couldn't even get proper transportation to the airport to pick the delegation up! I wasn't aware that it was Silverman's fault directly, but that seems clear. The Iraqis had to hire taxis themselves! Trust me, the trip from the airport to the downtown, via taxi, is hella expensive; $20 or $30 dollars per cab, easily. Fouling that up was pretty basic. We still don't know why the cabs went to City Hall instead of the Convention and Visitors Bureau space, as per plan. Did the Iraqis have to do it themselves, using the only name they knew? Or was an escort at the airport, but confused themself? I'd like to know.

Also, reading this, second Commercial Appeal editorial it seems I may have been a bit off. The two Iraqis who were robbed were somewhere near the Walgreen's on Main, which strictly speaking isn't Beale Street. However, not mentioned is the hotel they were staying in, nor how far they were from it at the time of the robbery.

My guess is that they were staying in the Peabody Hotel, as a great many official guests to the City do. I understand now why it wouldn't be mentioned! Can't upset Mr. Belz, can we? If the robbery was close to the hotel, then calling it "Beale Street" actually would apply, as the two are synoymous for civic leader types. Again, protecting the cash cow seems to have been a factor in reporting. Sometimes the CA will throw in extraneous stuff into stories to plump their own agendas; sometimes they don't. You have to know their biases to parse the stories....

And I still come back to Councilwoman Carol Chumney. It struck me last night, as I was reading before bedtime, that Carol's actions are just like those of the person who is so intent on protecting themselves, on "setting the record straight" that she will draw up a "timeline" of events that points the finger at everyone else while remaining either silent or laudatory on her own role.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it here once more: Chumney is a dull and earnest grind. Whenever I see her on camera she has this vapid, slightly confused look of someone who doesn't quite get what's going on, but sticks to her script in the belief that it will eventually save her. She is an ambitious, self-interested camera hog, and not a protector of the little people who makes sure the truth gets out. The only agenda she advances is her own.

She's been using this black eye for Memphis to create a sense about herself of the good girl struggling against the bad guys. Of Joan of Arc trying to convince the French priests and aristocrats that she's the one. In her version of events, she's the only one who comes out looking good. Has anyone else noticed that?

So. Local groups tries to do good and raise our national media profile. They are in over their heads and don't nail down the details. Disaster ensues. Local politicians, more interested in their own turf and status and ass-covering than in how this presents nationally make Memphis look like a back-hills nest of boobs: Dogpatch via Bull Connor's Birmingham. Hilarity ensues. Then come the recriminations and finger-pointing.

Me? I still lay blame with Silverman, Chumney and Brown. Silverman was unexcusably clumsy and ill-prepared. Chumney refuses to accept her status as the red-headed stepchild of the City Council who has to make amends (or obeisance) so she can get things done, so she's constantly butting heads with her peers and introducing new, unnecessary complications into her regular relationships with them. Brown was simply over-reacting and grand-standing, out of an obnoxious sense of entitlement and place common to our government "public servants."

County Mayor AC Wharton seems to have kept himself clean. But City Mayor Herenton has once again reinforced his public impression of being inaccesible and distant from his city. Hearing that he's not interested in these kinds of goodwill meetings comes as a surprise to no one. That the Commercial Appeal sides with him and keeps him clear is no surprise either. They have hitched their wagon to the small coterie of people who are out to make a fortune from downtown Memphis at the expense of, well, everyone else.

But has anyone else noticed how Herenton has grown astonishingly remote in his latest term as Mayor? He's almost never in the media, even in the wildly partisan Commercial Appeal, nor seen or photographed at public events not directly related to his offical duties? Almost no interviews with anyone. When ABC WPTY-24 did their special on Hurricane Elvis, anchor Cameron Harper did a hilarious bit where he interviewed an empty chair because Herenton refused to participate. Our Mayor is hiding, taking his imperial impulses to ridiculous and offensive extremes.

But that's another post. I seem to have finished this one.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

More on the Memphis Snub

A local radio show has just given out a detailed timeline of communications between the major parties in the snubbing of the Iraqi delegation this past Monday. It casts some things in a new light. I tried to get it down, but missed a big chunk as I wasn't prepared. City Councilwoman Carol Chumney was interviewed at length about what happened. I sent an email to her office, hoping to get copies of that timeline.

It was interesting that Chumney was interviewed so early in the show, which is very atypical for Mike Fleming. It turned out later in the interview that she was the source for the timeline he read, and she elaborated on it quite a bit, casting aspersions and naming names.

Anyway, it seems the whole ball got rolling on July 19, a mere two weeks before the visit was to happen. The director of the Iraqi goodwill tour, Elisabeth Silverman, emailed someone on the City Council and also left a voice message at City Mayor Herenton's office. Councilwoman Chumney emailed them back to accept; apparently, her office then handled details of their visit.

On Friday, July 30, just days before their arrival, Council President Joe Brown and Chumney discussed the Monday visit by the delegation. Brown was well aware of the visit and had problems with them coming to City Hall. He expressed concerns about bomb threats and security. Chumney had Brown contact Silverman, to see that the group had US State Department bona fides. Brown, according to Chumney, also contacted the Fire and Police Departments. According to Chumney, Silverman called her back. Brown decided to move the meeting to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau building, for security reasons.

Chumney also said that she spoke with someone from the Cultural Affairs office of the City Mayor, a Narquinta Simms, who Chumney claims told her that Mayor Herenton had stopped meeting with these kinds of groups because he thought the meetings took too much of his time. He would not be meeting with the Iraqis. Chumney also claimed to have spoken with the Mayor's Executive Assistant, Gale Carson Jones, to try to get Herenton to appear.

So, on Monday, the delegation was mistakenly sent not to the CVB but to City Hall! Chumney did not explain how this happened. They tried to enter and a guard stopped them. The guard confirmed the mix-up and got in touch with Chumney. It was at this point that Council President Brown became involved and apparently repeated his concerns about security at City Hall with the Iraqi delegation, refusing them entry and making his threats. The Iraqis then left and went to the Civic Center, apparently at Chumney's insistence since they were already downtown, where things proceeded.

Chumney and Fleming, frankly, both seemed to have ulterior motives. One thing that was clear was that Fleming, a Republican, viewed Chumney, a Democrat, as his ally in slamming Mayor Herenton. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," and all that. Fleming has made something of an audience with his juvenile and emotional taunting of Herenton. He asked Chumney if she had orchestrated the whole thing to embarrass Herenton, as some had claimed. She demurred, of course, but I'd bet money that her appearance on the radio show, with a detailed, printed timeline of events, was intended to raise her profile against the rest of the Council and the Mayor. Chumney is also furthering her campaign to be perceived as Mayoral timber and an ally of the small people of the City. I don't doubt that this was part of that ongoing effort.

Herenton issued an apology, later, but has remained mum and off the newspaper pages and television news shows. No one seems to be going after him all that hard, except Chumney. The City Council later issued an apology itself, minus Chumney who claimed that since she did meet with them, she didn't feel a need to apologise. Brown, who was at the heart of this in terms of mishandling things, was pretty clearly too concerned with personal security. This is nothing new on the part of local government.

I still remember on September 11, 2001. Within a couple of hours of the New York attacks, the whole area around the City, County, State and Federal buildings was closed off. Not just the square itself, but many blocks around the area, a huge perimeter. All traffic was stopped, the streets closed, and access to the government buildings severely restricted. Bam, just like that! It was impossible to even get parked cars out. It struck me then -- and in light of this incident I'm reconfirmed -- that the folks downtown have a pretty seriously over-inflated sense of self-importance. Their imperial sense of entitlement and elevation is disgusting to see.

On the other hand, Chumney and County Mayor AC Wharton, who did meet with the delegates, are to be commended. Wharton has since kept quiet, to his credit. Chumney, though, is milking this for everything she can. The radio show I mentioned above just had a caller who suggested she should run for mayor. Well, well, about that?

Television news seems to be keeping this covered and in perspective. It's not the big splashy "hyped to death" story of the day, but neither is it downplayed. Only the Commercial Appeal seems to be keeping the story on the down-low, especially the robbery of two of the Iraqi delegates on Beale Street. It's being covered, but just barely, in minimal, factual style, on the inside pages for the most part. Hey, can't have Memphis made to look bad by its historic, world-class, widely-loved Mayor, Willie Herenton, can we? Nor can we do anything to jeopardise our Beale Street Cash Cow District and the Downtown Renaissance, our Manhattan on the Mississippi.

So what do we have, at the end of the whole thing? A goodwill group rushed to put together a tour by foreign dignitaries. As someone who has worked in government before, many years ago, I know that two weeks is a serious rush-job for something like this, especially security concerns like Iraqi officials. You have a contentious, posturing, elbowing, preening and territorial City Council fighting over how to handle the thing, with the junior Councillor -- who has been ruffling feathers and getting up noses since Day One, making enemies and piling up bad will along the way -- coming up against the magisterial Council President. (I can't believe I just called Joe Brown "magisterial," but hey, there you go.)

Then there was the delivery mistake, taking the Iraqis to the very place they weren't supposed to go. I'd lay that at Chumney's feet. She knew Brown's sentiments and the likely consequences, but seems to have failed to assure it wouldn't happen. How would you expect Joe Brown to react? Well, exactly as he did. From his point of view, it looks, I'm sure, as though Chumney is trying to upstage and embarrass him, to try to usurp his authority. You just don't do that here in Memphis with our politicians. Especially when you're "pebble in the shoe" Carol Chumney.

It also strikes me, as I write this, that it sure does seem odd that Chumney would go to all the trouble of writing up a detailed timeline of who called or emailed who, what was said by whom to whom, who was were and what they did, etc. Why all the effort? Why the work? I believe as I said above: self-promotion by Chumney at the expense of Brown and Herenton.

And then there was the robbery of two of the delegates on Beale Street in broad daylight. There's an apocryphal story now circulating that the delegates said to the robber that they were from out of town and the robber replied, "Welcome to Memphis" before he ran off. What an odd experience: to go from the National Civil Rights Museum, which memorialises the racist treatment of blacks in the past, to Beale Street, where black history has been commericialised and Disney-fied into a white moneymaker and safe party experience, only to be robbed by a black Memphian (according to police reports).

If that's not Memphis in a nutshell, I don't know what is.

The national press has been zooming in on the racism angle, which from the Memphis perspective is pretty hilarious. The City and County Mayors are black; the City is majority black; the City Council is majority black. President Joe Brown is black. Councillor Carol Chumney is white. The delegates toured Graceland. Elvis is reknowned for bringing black music to white audiences. They later went to Beale Street, which was a thriving black business district until Jim Crow and racism killed it. It was a cradle for bringing the field blues of Mississippi to urban audiences and a conduit for taking that blues to the big urban centers of the north: Chicago, Detroit, etc. The delegates were robbed by a black.

What I hope I've shown is that this was bad political karma, ongoing ill will and distrust, and political maneuvering come home to roost. Race inevitably plays a part in everything in Memphis, but it wasn't the motivator in this case, nor the engine of trouble. It was sparked by Herenton's famous Inauguration Day breakfast speech and has spread to a hundred brush fires since, like this one.

But of course, the story has since moved on, the impression made and left, and it's now far too late to do anything about it.

Welcome to Memphis.