Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Aw yeah. That golden rule." - The Bunk

First of all I want to take a brief moment to give credit where credit is due.
I want to thank Charter Commission members Sylvia Cox and Sharon Webb for being open and responsive to the communities that elected them. Both women took time out of their schedules today via email and in person to answer my questions about the ballot initiatives that the voters will see this November. Sylvia Cox, informed me that the Charter Commission ballot issues will be individual items with Yes or No choices.

You will get a Yes or No vote for Term Limits, a Yes or No vote for Staggered Terms, a Yes or No vote for "no sale of MLG&W without voter approval", etc. This was a relief because there have been several unconfirmed reports that the Charter amendments might be presented all as a package deal, so to speak. This no longer appears to be the case.

Also I had the pleasure of meeting Charter Commission and School Board Member Sharon Webb at her church this afternoon. She was not what I expected, instead she reminded me alot of the Candylady from my old neighborhood when I was a child."I just dated myself." She was friendly, open and expressed a sincere desire and hope that the community at large would become engaged with the charter changes and their implications. "We want the people to be informed!" she said passionately. She also displayed warmth and humor as two of her grandchildren ran about the area playing. She expressed a desire for the church to take a more active role in addressing the problems both spiritual and tangible in the community.
"The church needs to be open, for the neighborhood, for the people and for the children, if you are doing right by them, God will make a way." she said.

Now down to the issues, she like Commissioner Cox expressed confidence that the ballot issues would be individual items for Yes/No votes. She also responded to my questions about the ETHICS amendment. She said that it was currently being explored by the legal staff of the Commission to determine the exact language and the exact procedures involved, and it should be considered a work in progress. She also explained that an earlier version would have allowed for elected officials who were charged with a crime to go before an Ethics Board, appointed by the City Council. This version was unacceptable due to potential conflicts of interest. On the subject of the Mayor's calls for an appointed School Board, Commissioner Webb stated that this would be addressed in future meetings, possibly as early as July 10th, the next Charter Commission meeting. As for her plans after the Charter Commission ends in August, she expressed wanting to take an active role in helping to inform and educate the public on the Charter issues. She also took a brief moment to speak with great sadness about the current controversy between MCS and the City Council over school funding. She stated that while there are problems within the confines of Memphis City Schools, that great progress was being made by the current School Board. She said that those who found faults and problems in the School system, should be specific and bring those problems to the Current board and she stated passionately that these problems would be quickly dealt with.

Alright..Alright...i'll go back to bashing people tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"You cannot lose if you do not play." - Daniels

UPDATE Part 2 Oh...that Contract


As part of my ongoing look at the Memphis Charter Commission and the ballot initiatives this November I just have to ask... WHAT THA HELL?

Well,so much for democracy and the will of the people and all that jazz... maybe next year Muddville.....
Now, in fairness while I did think that the Mayor's contracting authority needed to be limited, I also felt that if the amount was too low that it could easily cause city projects to slow to a halt. As someone who worked in the past via city contracts,I know that the process can be a long one. I personally felt that a limit of 200,000 dollars would have been a good amount. The problem as Scott McCormick explains, is that this did not have to be an ALL OR NOTHING argument. The fact remains that the potential for another Beale Street/Elkington situation still exists, so keep your eyes on the Fairgrounds and the Pyramid deal..."Wonderful". Or the New "500 MILLION DOLLAR!!!!" Convention Center, "coming soon to bankrupt a city near you..."

Bottom line is that The People should have made the call. If Mayor Herenton and former Mayor Hackett had such deep concerns, then let them take these valid concerns to the voters, let them plead their cases to the people.This way the people would have a chance to give real input. If the Charter Ballot is to be taken seriously by the voters this Nov. then the Mayors should treat the voters like adults, and not coddle them like children, who need to be shielded from complicated matters above their concern....

My thanks to Commissioner Myron Lowery who was the leading dissenting voice for the people's right to choose.

Now the real nutty part of this whole thing is this quote from Dick Hackett about the possible political motivation for this proposed amendment....

“I think part of this may be that there has been a demographic change,” he said. “And now that we have had a demographic change, we’re going to gut this mayor and make sure that the African-American community, who now is in office, will not have the same authority that previous administrations have had. … That’s what I’ve heard too.”

Really?.....Seriously?....Yeah I guess if anyone would know about a demographic change in this city it would be Mayor Hackett. The same Dick Hackett,Who took his ball and bat and headed off to Desoto County.... BTW that's not what "Being the change" means your honor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"...we fight on that lie." - Slim Charles

Since the Mayor's press conference yesterday, My mind has been buzzing with a wide number of what-if's about the future of Memphis City Schools. I have also been wondering if his proposal to the City Council about a referendum is either legal or possible. Well, Yes and No...at least it is not legal in the sense that a referendum on the November ballot could dissolve the School Board and give Herenton the power he seeks. For one thing such an act would require Legislative approval, which seems highly unlikely. The Referendum, IF it came to pass would simply be a way for the Mayor to show the support or lack thereof to the General Assembly , of such a plan.

My curiosity led me to look into other cities that also had Mayoral Control School Systems, and I was a little surprised to see just how many metropolitan areas fell on that list. New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C.,Cleveland,Los Angeles...just to name a few. So I did a little digging and at first was impressed with the progress that had been made....at first.Then saw the cost.....not a cost in dollars...but we'll get to that too, but a cost in involvement and accountability. In many of these cities the story starts off the same way.....

"Once upon a time there was a city with a school board that was out of control,and City leaders clashed more and more on funding Schools seen more as training centers for future criminals than a places of learning.
The people grew more and more frustrated and desperate over poor student achievement, crumbling buildings, bureaucratic wrangling among school officials and revolving-door superintendents. Something had to be done...someone had to do something....and they did. Starting in Boston there was a push by then Mayor Thomas Menino to have the State Legislature grant him control over the schools, in 1992. Seeing an opportunity other Mayors followed with Chicago's in 1995, and New York's in 2002 and now more appear ready to follow, and they all lived happily ever after...."

The idea makes sense on the surface, people hate politicians, and have little confidence that their elected Representatives are exercising the will of those who elected them. The various political players "Mayor, City Council, County Commission, School Board, all jump on the blame merry go round,and as a result little gets done, and no one is held accountable. So people support these Mayors as they unveil these plans thinking if one person was responsible for the schools, he couldn't try to displace responsibility onto someone else. Does that make sense?...ok, now ask the Mayor about the Crime problem in Memphis, as he is in charge of the Police and their director Larry Godwin....will he accept responsibility?

Unfortunately, this hasn't worked in the other cities either...New York, Chicago...etc. Instead, the Mayor and the Superintendents continue to shift blame for every problem that occurs, onto incompetent administrators, lazy teachers, uninvolved parents, and public apathy.

BTW, In New York and Chicago funding for Charter schools went up threw the roof....

Yet looking back on the issue, the evidence is far from convincing that such a plan is the best option for fixing Memphis City Schools. Kenneth Wong, a Education professor at Brown University, studied test scores of some of the nation's largest school districts between the years 1999-2003.Despite an early statistical advantage nationally of Mayoral Control districts vs. elected districts. He said.
"There is still a long way to go before (mayor-controlled) districts achieve acceptable levels of achievement." Further research has shown there appears to be a flattening effect over time of rising test scores.
However my main man,Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, finds "evidence" of Mayoral Control having a positive effect over elected boards inconclusive, and notes that a lack of solid long term data prevents an accurate measure of student achievement from being made. He cites the improvement of test scores in Houston and other cities where Elected School Boards remain in place.

There is also the issue of demoralization of Teachers and administrators, as input and access to the system becomes further and further isolated from the staff and community at large.Social promotion is ended, which leads to drop out occuring at an earlier age. Principals hands are tied as a centralized method is enforced that places new burderns on a school's administration, without additional funds.
Under performing schools become trapped in a vicious cycle as a rash of school closings follow. It's like NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND on STEROIDS

So while there are some small bright spots here and there, and while the current School Board is far from perfect...I remain unconvinced that this plan is the best way to go, for the Children, Teachers, Parents or tax payers here in the City of Memphis.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"You play in dirt, you get dirty." - McNulty

Whoa.....hold the phone gentle reader, the Mayor just dropped a bombshell today.
As I sat down today to eat my lunch I watched as Mayor Willie Herenton just may have altered the political landscape of the local 08 election season.
The current "Crisis" with the Memphis City Council and the Memphis City School board, may have finally allowed the Mayor to achieve three of his long held goals...
Now I have and am a pretty big critic of the Mayor, but I got to give him credit here, this was a very politically smart move on his part and maybe...just maybe, the right way to go....maybe not. Problem, Reaction, Solution...
Clearly the Mayor is up on his Naomi Klein.

Operation 66

Not content to go quietly into the night The School Board fired back as well...

The Rebellion

Here is why it will work...

What we have here is Herenton "shrewdly" providing the City Council with a way out of what may in the end become an unpopular course of action, and thus gain even more power for his office, over MCS.
Herenton would be the de-facto superintendent with a hand picked puppet in the position. The City Council would be rid of a troublesome and contentious relationship with the School Board...


....The State department of Education will be let off of the hook of a threat that they would never deliver on,The County Commission gets to steer clear of this mess and the School Board once dissolved would take all of the blame for this whole little melodrama.

I never said that the Mayor was dumb.

Now here is why it will not happen....

1. That the Council would go for such a plan, I personally think they might, however Councilman Bill Morrison,is on record saying that he did not plan to reverse his previous vote that cut the funding , nor did he think that his fellow Councilmen would either.

2. Is it legal?, the legal challenges will be endless, with suit and counter suit, the result may effectively make such a ballot referendum impossible.

3. What does state say about all this?

4. How far is the Mayor willing to take this, would he and his supporters run a campaign for said referendum

Now while I have problems with the Mayor..."Any Mayor" and the Council having that much unchecked power. ..I have to admit that the bottom line is that the School Board has not done themselves any favors or made themselves any friends..

Bad Hep

And right now they need all the friends they can get...

P.S. Does anyone else notice how busy Myron Lowery has been lately. From the Clinton Obama Unity rally to today dealing with the issue of closed public pools and the drowning deaths of two children,to the issue of Police recruitment...they guy is all over the place.... Now there is an old greek saying that goes "If the horse is free, do not check it's teeth.", still I wonder what is going on here. I think he knows something we don't...

Friday, June 13, 2008

"Just 'cause they're in the street doesn't mean that they lack opinions." - Haynes

UPDATE 6/16, According Charter Commission Members All referendum items need just a simple majority (50.1%) to pass or fail.They are NOT based on a percentage of voter turnout from the 07 Mayoral election.

In order to better understand the in's and out's of the various referendums from our Memphis City Charter Commission, I took the liberty of contacting several members via email to see if I could get some clarification on some of the rather vague wordings of a few of the ballot initiatives. My thanks to Commissioner Sylvia Cox for her prompt attention and reply to my questions. I asked her and the others about the "Ethics" referendum, which if approved by the voters would contend that any elected or appointed public official charged with malfeasance would be suspended with pay until such a time until these charges could be resolved. I expressed concerns that such a provision could lead to chaos in our city government and leave districts without representation for long periods of time. I also had questions about the limiting of Mayor Herenton's contract authority, Commissioner Cox responded.........


The Commission did vote to include the "ethics" provision as motioned by Judge Brown. The final legal language is not yet finalized and will have to be worded properly. I believe we discussed the temporary appointment for a position that is open due to a mandatory leave of absence - that may or may not be in the minutes. But, there certainly needs to be a provision for that, especially if the situation is in regard to an elected official. Thanks for noting that - I will follow up on it.

We did pass the motion to limit the contractual authority of the Mayor, where contracts over a specified amount will need City Council approval. That amount has not yet been agreed upon / finalized, and will likely be discussed at the June 19 meeting....

...The commission never made a 'formal' decision about the referendum items being on the November ballot. However, the deadline passed to put anything on the August ballot, and it turns out that the COUNTY will have some Charter referendum items on that ballot. So, it is definitely better for the City Charter amendments to be on the November ballot to hopefully avoid confusion between the proposed City and County Charter changes.


I'll be keeping my eye on this front to see what develops, once again thanks to Sylvia Cox for responding so quickly.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

"...and all the pieces matter." - Freamon

Hello all, yeah it's been a while, and let me tell you, things have not been all that rosy for your old Uncle Brad. For those of you who do not know I was the victim of identity theft back around the end of 2006. Oh and just in case you ever wondered what that was like.....imagine getting kicked in the crotch by Pele, Gene Kelly and Bruce Lee all at once. That dark chapter is now slowly drawing to a close and so I am slowly starting to get back into the game. So I thought just to get the rust out, I would touch base with you all on just a few small points.

-Obama is on his way "Thankfully", but I think there is also a way to promote real change right here in Memphis. The Memphis Charter Commission has been quite busy with a growing list of proposed changes to the City Charter that the people of Memphis will have the opportunity to vote on this November. Let's take a very brief moment to look over a few of these proposals.

-TERM LIMITS, for both the City Council and the Mayor will be on the ballot, limiting each to two consecutive terms each. Now it is important to note that these term limits will be prospective not retroactive, in other words the existing Council members would be allowed to serve another two terms, Mayor Herenton as well.

-MLG&W,If the utility Can or Cannot be sold without a public referendum, will be on the ballot as well. "This should be a no-brainer"

-STAGGERED TERMS FOR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS, This one is a little complex, originally proposed by Councilman/Commissioner Myron Lowery back in 2006, this would have the people of Memphis elect half the City Council every two years. Thus ensuring that there could not be a total over turn of that body in a single election. This also would allow the Councilmen on the staggered term to be able to run for Mayor without giving up their seat on the Council.
This could be done, by either having half the council run for a two year shift, in 2011, and for re-election in 2013. OR could be created by having all of city Government run for a ONE year term in 2011 and then have half the Council run for a short two year term in 2012. Now while this may sound strange on the surface, by putting Memphis municipal elections on even years, Memphis could split the cost with the County as they would also have elections that year, thus saving Memphis an estimated 1 million dollars.

-IRV, Instant Runoff Voting, this one is a doozy....In an IRV system voters would be allowed to rank candidates in order of preference "1", "2","3","4",..etc If a candidate gets a majority of the 1st place votes then he or she wins. If not then the candidate with the fewest 1st place votes is eliminated. 1st place votes for that candidate are then redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the 2nd place votes. If there is a candidate with a majority, he/she wins.
NOTE-Subject to available technology and approval of the Election Commission.
NOTE-IRV is cheaper and has better turnout than our current system.
NOTE-It would solve the spoiler problem.

-CONTRACT AUTHORITY,This motion would declare that the Mayor of Memphis be named the sole contracting authority and that contracts at or above a certain amount must be approved by the City Council.
NOTE,-The amount in question has yet to be set, but proposal have been made in the amounts of 75,000 dollars as well as 50,000. There is also some wrangling as to how this would impact the sale of municipal bonds.

-ETHICS, This one makes me a little nervous, If any elected or appointed official is charged with official malfeasance, he or she shall be suspended from duties with pay until such a time where as the issue has been resolved.
NOTE-Commissioner Lowery stated at the March 20th meeting that if such a referendum is approved by the voters and added to the charter, suspensions are automatic and are not subject to the approval of the City Council.

PERSONAL NOTE- I am trying to find out more about this one "AS IT IS CURRENTLY DEFINED" it raises too many questions.
A. Trials take a long time, who would represent these districts in the interim.

B.Who would select these people?

C.It opens the door to political witch hunts, as one could trump up charges on political rivals and railroad legislation down the Council's throats.

I am sure that the Commission is looking into and considering the finer points of all these issues, but i'll keep you posted on the progress.

And now, I'm off to watch some DVR'ed Doctor Who