By Adrian Sanz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. is rejecting comparisons between his financially challenged city and Detroit, the largest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy.
Wharton told reporters Friday he reluctantly called a news conference to address questions about Memphis ending up like Detroit, which filed for bankruptcy this week. He said Memphis is not in denial about its financial challenges, but stressed that they are not as bad as the Michigan city.
“I’ve gotten a number of questions and they just get straight to the bottom line of, ‘Well, is Memphis like Detroit?” Wharton said. “My initial reaction was to say ‘I’m not going to dignify it by starting to try to make that kind of comparison.'”
He added: “I do hurt for what has happened in Detroit. This is not a time for piling on and saying how bad they are. After all, it’s not a government that will suffer. It will be citizens that will suffer.”
From the Commercial Appeal:
In what was the final hearing for the fiscal year 2014 budget, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration told City Council members on Thursday that immediately fixing all the city’s financial challenges, without a tax-rate increase, could involve layoffs of as many as 3,250 city employees.
Or, going to the other extreme, raising the tax rate by $1.72 to avoid layoffs but pay for things like full restoration of payments into the city pension fund.
The mayor also brought to council a set of less dire proposals he’ll present at Tuesday’s budget committee meeting before the full council meeting.
They included cuts to employee benefits, like the elimination of the 4.6 percent pay restoration council gave back to employees at a series of impasse meetings, for a savings of $12 million. Another calls for the elimination of a college incentive program for Memphis Police Department officers to save $6.2 million.
Full story HERE
Gov. Bill Haslam has decided that state government will not take over the Memphis/Shelby County vehicle inspection program or provide any money to help run it, according to the Commercial Appeal. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton notified City Council members of the governor’s decision in a memo. That message, Wharton wrote in the memo, came from Mark Cate, Haslam’s gubernatorial chief of staff, in a conference call that also included Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Memphis has voted to stop funding vehicle emissions and inspections programs in a push to force countywide if not region-wide testing to meet air quality standards mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ever since emissions testing began some 30 years ago, only Memphis motorists have been required to undergo the process — even though the entire county is now classified by the EPA as violating federal standards for ozone pollution.
…The city has been spending some $2.7 million a year on testing, and that funding ends on July 1. Wharton said he and Luttrell will work on a solution, and it appears they may have an 18-month window to do show a “good-faith effort” toward compliance.
…In Wharton’s memo, he spells out the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to the city, the county and to suburban municipalities as well.
Council member Lee Harris said Thursday the decision is part of a political “soap opera” in which the governor was caught in the crosscurrents between Memphis, which has historically required auto inspections, and state legislators representing parts of Shelby County outside of Memphis, which have not required auto inspections.
“The reason the governor reached that decision is clearly political,” said Harris, who led the efforts to drop auto inspections in the city on grounds that city residents are having to carry the entire burden of meeting EPA pollution standards even though the suburbs contribute to the same pollution.
“Instead of the governor showing some leadership, he said, ‘Look, I’m just going to punt the ball.’ It’s really a soap opera now. It’s hard to believe that somebody elected to office would just cave. It’s really discouraging,” Harris said
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Maxine A. Smith, an influential Memphis civil rights leader, died Friday. She was 83.
Her death was confirmed by Memphis Mayor AC Wharton on his Facebook page.
Smith, retired executive secretary of the Memphis branch of the NAACP and a former city school board member, had chronic heart problems, according to The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/11K3KoH).
She was a part of every significant chapter in the city’s storied history of race relations over half a century, from protest to integration to busing to the rise of black political power.
“Today we mourn the passing of civil rights icon, Maxine Smith,” Wharton said on Facebook. “With her death, Memphis has lost a legendary leader for human rights and one of the brightest stars in the great expanse of our city’s history.”
The mayors of three of the four largest cities in Tennessee say they support U.S. Attorney General Eric Hoder’s call for universial background checks for gun purchases, reports the News Sentinel. The exception is Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who didn’t take a “clear position” on the proposals when commenting via statement instead of interview. The four mayors differ on some other gun control proposals and only two – Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield – are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“That group was kind of a lightning rod,” (Knoxville Mayor Madeine) Rogero said. She’s the second recent Knoxville Mayor to eye the group with trepidation. Gov. Bill Haslam was a member as the city’s mayor, “then he pulled back,” Rogero said.
…Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was not available for interviews, but released a statement Thursday. Like Rogero, he’s not a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
….”It is clear that state law pre-empts any Metro action with regard to the regulation of guns,” Dean wrote. “Hopefully, as this issue is debated on the national level, consensus will be found to close loopholes that allow dangerous individuals to obtain weapons and attention will be given to mental health programs and laws.”
He wrote that “attitudes toward guns vary greatly,” but did not take a clear stance on high-capacity magazines, background checks or other legislation.
…”The key is the three words — against illegal guns,” Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton said.
Wharton wants stronger punishments for gun theft.
“I hope to have the legislature enhance the punishment for criminals who use stolen guns at the local level,” he said. “I want to seek increased bail for folks who are possessing stolen guns.”
…Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield also leaned on the power of the local office in gun control.
“It is our responsibility to engage the public in whatever fashion we can, to use the bully pulpit that we have,” he said.
Littlefield would like regulation expanded beyond just assault rifles and high capacity magazines.
“It’s time, and that has been underscored with more recent tragic events, for us to have a more general conversation,” he said, “of not just illegal guns, but the paraphernalia that has been contributing to illegal tragedies.
“I’m talking about bulletproof clothing, armor-piercing ammunition and large capacity magazines, all of those things which are not hunting-related
Mayors A C Wharton and Mark Luttrell asked state lawmakers Monday to expand prekindergarten and infant mortality programs and to approve tax incentives for businesses helping their employees pay their own college tuition. The Commercial Appeal says they also hope to increase fines for illegal commercial-waste dumping. The Memphis and Shelby County mayors joined other local government officials and mayors of the suburban cities in presenting their requests for state legislative action and funding to the Shelby County legislative delegation. The 2013 legislative session opens Jan. 8.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald, who spoke on behalf of the suburban cities, said the cities will be “closely watching” school legislation but gave no indication to the state lawmakers whether they will pursue further legislative action on new municipal school districts.
McDonald told reporters after the meeting that suburban leaders are meeting with their attorneys this week to begin planning their next moves following the federal court ruling last week voiding the municipal school referendums and school board elections that had been authorized by the state legislature in May.
…Wharton said current law on the illegal dumping of waste in vacant lots “is a nightmare of enforcement. They get paid to tear down buildings and dump the material on abandoned lots. These are folks who, for commercial purposes, are ruining our neighborhoods.”
The mayors said the tax incentives for tuition are needed because when businesses consider locating or expanding here, their top need is a workforce qualified to handle today’s jobs.
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed three new attorneys to the Special Supreme Court to hear a case from which all five Tennessee Supreme Court justices have recused themselves.
The new special appointees join two previous appointees to make up a group of highly qualified and diverse legal minds representing the three grand divisions of the state. The governor’s new appointees are:
J. Robert Carter, Jr. is a criminal court judge in Shelby County, elected Judge of Division III in August 2010 after serving as an assistant district attorney general for 26 years before his election. Carter graduated magna cum laude from Christian Brothers College with bachelor’s degrees in English and Humanities. He received his J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphries School of Law.
James R. Dedrick retired in 2010 from the U.S. Attorney’s Office where he had served since 1993 as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee. He began his career with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1983 and was a federal prosecutor for drug, corruption, white collar, tax and other felony investigations and trials. He received his Bachelor of Science degree with honors from East Tennessee State University and graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law with honors.
Monica N. Wharton serves as the chief legal counsel for the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, overseeing the risk management and legal affairs department since 2008. Wharton previously worked at the law firm, Glankler Brown PLLC, practicing in the circuit, chancery and federal court systems. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, graduating with honors, and she earned her J.D. from William & Mary School of Law.
Carter, Dedrick and Wharton join Andrée Sophia Blumstein and W. Morris Kizer on the Special Supreme Court. Blumstein and Kizer were originally appointed in July with three other appointees who recused themselves in late August. The Special Supreme Court will decide any appeal of Hooker et al. v. Haslam et al., a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Court of Criminal Appeals appointment by the governor.
Forty-one mayors from along the Mississippi River, including Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, gathered in St. Louis Thursday to call attention to the troubles the waterway is facing, reports the Commercial Appeal. The nation’s largest river, and most important waterway for commerce, has suffered over the years from neglect and most recently from natural disasters such as drought and hurricanes.
The St. Louis gathering is the inaugural event of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, funded by $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton.
The meeting comes amid a severe drought that has seen the river drop to near record lows, just over a year after historic flooding.
“It has strengthened our resolve that the Mississippi River needs more attention,” said Wharton, who was selected by his peers to serve on the nine-member executive board of the initiative.
Barely a year after its high-water records in numerous cities, the river dropped to historic low stages this year. In Memphis in late August, the river dropped to within almost a foot of the all-time record low set in July 1988 of minus 10.7 on the Memphis gauge.The river is responsible for creating $105 billion worth of U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative. It provides drinking water for more than 18 million people, transports 62 percent of the nation’s agricultural output and delivers nearly 400 tons of coal and petroleum products. The group says the river directly supports 1 million jobs.
This summer, eight of the 10 states touching the river were declared drought emergency sites. Hurricane Isaac added to the problems.
Biden’s Tennessee Connection
When Joe Biden started running for a Senate seat in 1972, few people thought the young man from Delaware had a chance, writes Michael Cass, but a well-placed Tennessee couple tagged him early as an up-and-comer. “I was 29 years old, running for the United States Senate against a guy with an 81 percent favorable rating, a year where Richard Nixon won my state by over 65 percent of the vote, and I was an Irish Catholic in a state that (had) never elected one,” Biden told Tennessee Democrats in a speech two years ago, recounting a story that got scant media attention at the time.
Biden pulled off a stunning, 3,162-vote upset with a mix of youthful vigor, skillful campaigning, energized volunteers and smart advertising — fueled by tens of thousands of dollars that a prominent Tennessee couple raised for his campaign. Ashley Action
Actress Ashley Judd put her high-wattage star power to use in the political arena on Tuesday by imploring Tennessee’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention to share personal stories of how their lives have improved under President Barack Obama, reports Michael Collins. Judd said Tennesseans have a rich history and tradition as storytellers that could be used to help the Obama administration make its case for another four years.
“With all of the obfuscation of the facts, with all of the distortions, we have to take the truth and the honesty and the accomplishments back,” the actress said to rousing applause.
Judd, who lives in Williamson County, is one of Tennessee’s 98 delegates and alternates to the national convention, which opened on Tuesday.
The actress was the guest speaker and star attraction at a Tennessee delegation breakfast Tuesday morning. She’ll also have another starring role tonight: She has been chosen to announce the state’s roll call vote from the convention floor when Democrats officially nominate Obama for a second term. Cooper’s Complaint
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville blasted Davidson County’s recent election problems Wednesday while urging his fellow Tennessee delegates to the Democratic National Convention to work hard to register voters between now and the Oct. 8 deadline, reports The Tennessean. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, folks,” Cooper said at the delegation’s breakfast. “We have got to get our folks registered.”
The congressman said recruiting Democrats to vote for President Barack Obama in November is especially critical in light of Davidson County’s “outrageous” situation. Some voters, including Sheriff Daron Hall, have said they were given Republican ballots by default after poll workers failed to ask them their party preference during the Aug. 2 primary. The county was using new electronic poll books in 60 of 160 precincts.
“This is unbelievable, that anything could be programmed like this to take voters and make them Republican,” Cooper said. “This isn’t like defaulting to R. This is like defrauding folks of their normal rights.
“The implications of this are something. If you treat the sheriff this way, you’ll treat anybody this way.”
From a Tennessean story on state Democratic efforts to find candidates for statewide office in the future: They say those future contenders are already running governments in the state’s biggest population centers.
“The big-city mayors are clearly the future leaders of our party,” said Chip Forrester, the state Democratic chairman since January 2009. “They’re on a platform to run statewide when those opportunities arise.”
At the top of the list is Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who has his share of critics but has managed to guide the capital city through a recession and a flood with a pro-business, education-reform platform. Forrester said being the mayor of “the media center of the state” also gives Dean an advantage.
Dean, who will leave office in 2015, is a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and was mingling — in his affable but soft-spoken way — with other delegates and party officials at the delegation’s breakfast Tuesday. But his office said in a statement last week that he’s not laying the groundwork for any statewide run at this point.
…Forrester and other Democrats said Dean is just the first of several mayors with potential. They also praise A C Wharton of Memphis, Madeline Rogero of Knoxville, Kim McMillan of Clarksville and state Sen. Andy Berke, who is running for mayor of Chattanooga.
Forrester called Wharton “a uniter” and said McMillan — who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor two years ago — and Berke have put together strong records as state lawmakers. He said Rogero showed “tremendous crossover appeal” by getting elected in a “traditionally Republican city.”
“Coming from East Tennessee gives her some panache,” he added. “Madeline has really been focused on results in Knoxville, not party labels. And we’ve been working hard to encourage women to step up and run.”
Dean, Rogero and Wharton are scheduled to speak to the state delegation here in Charlotte on Thursday.