A proposal to allocate up to $700,000 annually in unclaimed lottery funds for a responsible gambling center was nixed by the state attorney general last week. A House bill amendment co-sponsored by state Representative Carol Chumney gave $700,000 to a University of Memphis-based Center for Responsible Gambling. The corresponding state Senate bill had an original figure of $200,000, but State Attorney General Paul Summers ruled that the funding was unconstitutional.
"The $200,000 figure comes directly from the Georgia bill," said Dr. James P. Whelan, co-founder of the U of M's Institute for Gambling Education and Research, which would have run the center. "They haven't really done much, because they really can't do much with that money for seven million people."
Since the Georgia lottery was enacted 10 years ago, the state has set up a gambling hotline but little else. State officials are now trying to figure out what kind of prevention program they should have. "They spent a quarter of a million dollars on just Atlanta last year," said Whelan. "They can't afford outreach past that one metropolitan area."
The Tennessee proposal included public-awareness campaigns, a network of treatment providers, and prevention programs aimed at populations researchers know are at risk of developing gambling problems, such as high school children.
"The percentage of junior high and high school students that gamble jumps from 44 percent to 68 percent when a lottery is initiated," said Whelan. "Before the lottery, they bet, but it's with friends and family members. They'll gamble with their peers at school; another popular way is using real money on board games at home."
"When a lottery is put into place, it immediately becomes the most popular form of gambling for adolescents," he continued. "It's hard to police. It's like cigarettes and alcohol -- there are ways to get it if you want it. When a government starts advertising gambling as fun and acceptable, kids want to do it too."
Whelan said he initially got involved in the bill because he found the original funding inadequate for addressing problem gambling. He devised a formula based on the average 34 cents per capita other lottery states spend on prevention and treatment and then took out the funding for treatment -- the thought being that most of Tennessee's problem gamblers aren't products of the lottery but of casinos. With a 14-cent per capita rate for the state population over the age of 12, he came up with $700,000.
"The way I think about it is that we've learned in the past few decades that there needs to be protection mechanisms," said Whelan. "It's like what we've learned in the past 20 years about buying a car. We would not buy a car without air bags. I think in my car, I have two. I don't plan to get into an accident, but I wouldn't buy a car without air bags."
Chumney said the proposal might still be able to receive funding through a proposal to tax lottery monies at 6 percent. The state House and Senate conference committee is meeting this week and may choose to fund the center that way.
"Some say the lottery is addictive," Chumney said last week. "Dr. Whelan would probably say it can be. [State Senator] Steve Cohen would say it's not. I don't know if it is or not, but having Tunica in our backyard and the dog track across the river, I think it makes sense to have it here."
Will the Real Solomon Please Stand Up?
Caller scams the gay community.
By Bianca Phillips
When Tommy Stewart, owner of J-Wag's bar on Madison, received a call from a man whom he believed to be an old pal in distress, he almost lost $350. The old pal, who identified himself as Steve Solomon, turned out to be an impostor posing as a local realtor. The man claimed he'd been beaten and robbed in California and needed money for a plane ticket back to Memphis.
Stewart, who says he hadn't spoken to the real Solomon in six months, was deceived by the caller and actually called Western Union and charged the $350 to his credit card. The transaction was halted, however, when a Western Union attendant recognized the situation as a scam.
The scam artist, who's been identifying himself as Solomon on each call, seems to be exclusively targeting the gay community. He's told the same story to several business owners within the community, including the gift shop Inz & Outz, One More Bar & Grill, the Triangle Journal News, and Bill Hanley, a massage therapist.
The real Solomon, a realtor with Sowell Realty, said he was hit by a similar scam in June 2000. The caller told the same story, only he identified himself as Glen Moore, another local realtor. Solomon, believing the caller actually was Moore, wired $800 to Western Union in Colorado. He later discovered the money had been picked up at Piggly Wiggly on Madison. Solomon believes the new caller is likely the same person who fooled him three years ago.
"Now this guy is calling people telling them he's me. I think he's strictly calling people who have ads in the Triangle Journal," said Solomon. "There's a possibility that it's the same person that called me, and they might have been arrested and served time and just got out. I think it's awfully odd, though, that's it's taken three years to start up again."
Lt. D.L. Sheffield of the Memphis Police Department's Economic Crimes Unit said they have no evidence that this caller is the same one who fooled Solomon. However, he noted that the similarities in the stories are striking.
"When it involves giving money, if you can't verify who's on the phone, don't give money," said Sheffield. "If you get a call out of the blue and it sounds funny, listen to your little voice inside before you send money."
From TX to TN
East High gets a new principal.
By Mary Cashiola
The Memphis City Schools named a new principal for East High School last week, tapping a Dallas, Texas, educator with 28 years of experience.
Barbara Galloway Hines is currently a house principal of one of Allen High School's four houses of 700 students each. District superintendent Johnnie B. Watson said this week that he likes to do a national search for candidates whenever time allows but that he thought it was especially important for East.
"There's been quite a bit of turnover at East," Watson said this week. "I think we've had three principals in as many years. It was important to find a person who could bring stability to the school. Looking at her rÇsumÇ, I don't think we could've found a better person."
After financial problems surfaced at East, Watson appointed Dr. Oscar Love to the position of principal, but his 2001-2002 school year was plagued by conflict. Parents complained that the school's site-based management council had no say in the appointment. After Love resigned and was transferred to a post at Raleigh-Egypt, Harry Durham came on as interim principal for the past school year.
Watson made it clear that Hines was not a direct appointment. "Not at East," he said. "Never again."
Instead, he convened an interview team of two teachers, three parents, and a few central office administrators. They recommended two finalists to Watson and ultimately selected Hines. She takes over as East's principal in June.
Shake-up at DCS
Children's Services loses administrator; worker fights to regain job.
By Janel Davis
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) lost another administrator Friday when Lou Martinez resigned as director of the Child-Fatality Review Team responsible for investigating child deaths while in state custody.
DCS spokesperson Carla Aaron said Martinez had submitted his resignation eight weeks ago, and it was not due to recent allegations of botched investigations into the deaths of Memphis children. Martinez, a 12-year employee, left to pursue other employment opportunities. Aaron did not know the details of his next position.
Martinez's resignation followed that of Tennessee's child protective services director Sherry Abernathy, who will retire on July 3rd.
Troubles within DCS surfaced when Diana Lowry, a former case worker, filed complaints with state legislators and Governor Phil Bredesen. Lowry, a 25-year Memphis employee of the department, was terminated in December 2001 by regional director Juanita White for violation of state policies. Lowry has since lost a first appeal on this decision and plans to pursue secondary litigation to reinstate her employment.
Lowry accused White of directing employees to cover up children's deaths through a series of threatening practices, including verbal harassment and possible termination. So far, none of these claims has been substantiated, but on a visit to Memphis last week, DCS commissioner Michael Miller said an investigation into the allegations would be conducted.
In a similar situation, last week an investigation of New Jersey's child welfare agency revealed that in more than half of the 129 cases investigated, agency employees did not adequately investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in foster homes and state homes. Researchers found no assurance that any child in these homes was safe.
In a Memorial Day letter to Representative Kathryn Bowers, Lowry listed the names of several DCS employees who were either direct supervisors in some of the death cases or at least knew about the alleged cover-ups. "I believe most people are afraid to come forward for fear of losing their jobs under Ms. White," she wrote. "Or perhaps they think that somehow their involvement might cause a problem for them or their job ... so if they did nothing wrong, the only wrong thing they can do is NOT come forward."
State Representative Carol Chumney has indicated that hearings about the events will be held in Memphis during June. "Hearings give people a chance to come forward and express their feelings and complaints about the department," said Chumney.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services is responsible for 9,980 children in its custody, of which 9,500 are in foster care. Shelby County presently accounts for 1,268 of those foster-care children.