There was this man who was walking along and met a snake, began Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, by way of launching a cautionary tale to an auditor at an after-hours gathering last week- -- a day or two after he and members of the county commission had met to consider the issue of the FedEx Forum.
As the county mayor told it, the snake proceeded to say, Hey, mister, do me a favor and put me in your pocket! The pedestrian sensibly declined, on the ground, as he put it, that Hey, youre a snake!
Oh, come on, mister, replied the snake. I get so lonely crawling all along down here. Trust me, Ill do you no harm. And the serpent continued to plead in such terms until the man finally relented and put the snake in his pocket. He then resumed his walk. So far so good.
After an interval, however, the snake poked his head out of the mans pocket. Mister, do me one more favor, he said.
What is it this time? asked the man, warily.
Would you kiss me? asked the snake.
WHAT exclaimed the pedestrian.
Yes, please sir, kiss me. You dont know what its like to go as long as I have without affection. Nobody has ever kissed me. Come on, mister, please!
Against his better judgment, the man relented, and lifted the snake out of his pocket. He brought it up to his mouth and prepared to kiss the creature, when-- ZAP! The snake lashed out and stung the mans face with a wicked, and potentially lethal, bite.
The man screamed, and his knees buckled. He began to sag, but mustered enough energy and outrage to say, How could you do that? I trusted you!
The creature responded to this reproach with a simple matter-of-fact answer: Whats the problem? You knew I was a snake when you picked me up!
The mayor left no doubt as to the moral of the story: We in government make these arrangements and get into these partnerships with the private sector, and we tend to overlook the fact that these entrepreneurs and businessmen are out to make money. When it turns out that theyre doing just that, trying to make money out of the arrangement, we get all fussed and bothered, and we holler Snake! But we knew thats what they were when we picked them up!
That was Whartons way of dealing with some of the newly realized consequences of the FedEx Forum agreement reached by the city and county with HOOPS, the entity representing the National Basketball Association Grizzlies.
Among the troubling details of the agreement that have surfaced during hearings of the Shelby County Commission in recent weeks was a clause that disguised a multi-million-dollar payment to the Grizzles for moving the team from Vancover as a penalty for failure to meet a wholly artificial 2003 deadline for completion of the arena.
An even more troublesome clause apparently binds in perpetuity the fate of the soon-to-be-abandoned Pyramid to that of the FedEx Forum. To HOOPS-- or, to be more precise, to Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley-- is reserved not only the right of first refusal for future events at The Pyramid but the apparent right to insist that the building be maintained as a permanent fallback facility for use by the Grizzlies or the NBA.
At last weeks committee meeting, belated action was taken to moderate the snake problem. County attorney Brian Kuhn noted that the agreement with HOOPS provided for a dispute resolution committee, Wharton insisted that the committee could negotiate changes in the agreement even pre-emptively, and Commissioner Deidre Malone successfully moved to have the Pyramid issue re-renegotiated at earliest opportunity.
Commissioners Walter Bailey and John Willingham, whose Public Service and Tourism committee was the venue for the problem disclosures, didnt say, We told you so. They didnt need to.
Meanwhile, as all principals to the matter-- Bailey and Willingham included-- agree, the Grizzlies are here (and winning!), the Forum will be built, and a happy ending to the story is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
But after last week, there was a realization on everybodys part that to get to that ending will require some hard work, some cautious monitoring-- and some rewriting.