Opinion » Viewpoint

On Further Review

Second thoughts: Rodney Herenton, the lottery, runoffs, and Jeopardy.



If the news in Memphis could be reviewed the way the NFL and the Big Ten conference allow controversial plays on the football field to be reviewed, we might see the red flag come out on these calls:

• After further review, the Memphis City Council and Councilman Jack Sammons regret calling for a "Watergate-style" investigation by the council of the MLGW/TVA bond deal. Rarely have so many council members behaved as meekly as they did last week when they voted to let the feds do the investigation -- suggesting that a federal investigation was their intent all along, even when the "Watergate" cry was front-page news in The Commercial Appeal back in January.

• After further review, fired MLGW executive Larry Thompson says he's a little bit surprised that his e-mail reply to the council's queries about the bond deal made such a splash. In the e-mail, Thompson said he heard from fellow MLGW executives that Rodney Herenton benefited from the deal, that the work of bond attorney Charles Carpenter had to be redone, and that attorney Richard Mays of Little Rock did not do any work.

Thompson told the Flyer this week that he also heard complimentary things about Mayor Willie Herenton's son that he did not put in his e-mail.

"I've got a close friend who says he [Rodney] is a straight shooter and would not be involved with this," said Thompson. "Nobody ever told me there were any Rodney tracks. He was suspected because First Tennessee was pushing so hard."

FTN Financial, Rodney Herenton's employer, told the council that he was not involved in the deal directly or indirectly and did not benefit from it. So did the mayor and Rodney Herenton.

Thompson again said that his information about Carpenter and Mays was hearsay. He said he has not been called to testify before a federal grand jury and has not had any contact with Councilwoman Carol Chumney since leaving MLGW two months ago. Chumney was the main proponent of a council investigation. Finally, Thompson said he has not asked his former colleagues if they have talked to a federal grand jury "and I don't know if they would tell me if they had."

• After further review, state senator Steve Cohen wishes someone besides Rebecca Paul was in charge of the Tennessee Education Lottery. Cohen thinks Paul, who stands to earn roughly $577,000 this year if the lottery meets sales projections, is overpaid and gets credit that ought to go to others.

The lottery board met in Nashville this week and approved a bonus for Paul of 65 percent of her $350,000 base salary if lottery sales goals are met. Attorneys and other top lottery executives also stand to get big bonuses. Cohen, the main legislative architect of the lottery, figures its success is due to market factors, vendors, and advertising.

"What is an attorney going to do to produce lottery sales? Nothing," he said, noting that the $800,000 in bonus money that was approved could have funded an additional 267 college scholarships.

• After further review, next week's vote on the members of the city charter commission was sidelined by appellate court judges. But the December 7th runoff election for the District 7 seat on the Memphis Board of Education is still on. And if Tomeka Hart doesn't beat incumbent Hubon Sandridge for the second time, you can expect to see a red flag thrown.

Here's why. Hart, an attorney and former teacher who graduated from Trezevant High School, got 47 percent of the vote to Sandridge's 33 percent in the general election. Candidates for district seats, however, must get more than 50 percent or face a runoff. At-large candidates need only a plurality, which is how Wanda Halbert won with 31.6 percent.

On the merits (Sandridge was fired this year from his county job) and on the math, Hart should win, particularly since third-place finisher Terry Becton endorsed her. But school-board runoffs usually attract minuscule turnouts.

The ghost of the late federal judge Jerome Turner looms over the runoff. In 1991, Turner struck down the runoff provision but only in citywide elections in Memphis. Two months later, Willie Herenton won the mayoral election with 49.4 percent of the vote.

• After further review, FedEx is the wrong answer. Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings was toppled this week when he blew Final Jeopardy by answering FedEx to a question about seasonal employers. The correct answer was H&R Block.

• Finally, veteran WMC-TV education reporter Joyce Peterson resigned this week, telling colleagues in a note that it is time to move on and try something different.

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