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The old school consolidation debate, and other news.



Old Debate Continues on School Consolidation

While some Shelby County residents reacted negatively toward a proposed school consolidation bill last week, at least none of them, or their municipalities, threatened secession.

School consolidation has a controversial history in Shelby County. When the idea of joining the city and county school districts was considered more than 10 years ago, the mayors of Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, and Millington warned they would secede from the county if the two districts consolidated. The secession, had it occurred, would have created Neshoba, the first new county in Tennessee since 1869.

Luckily, then-county Mayor Bill Morris quieted supporters on both sides by forming a 62-member task force to study the districts' options.

"We've been through studies before on this matter," long-time Memphis City Schools board member Carl Johnson recalled early last week. "Consolidation didn't mean a good thing in '71, '72, '73, or through the '80s."

The 1990 threat of secession by the suburban mayors was the result of a 1988 proposal by J.C. Williams, then a member of the city school board, who thought the city and the county school systems should consolidate to unify funding.

But even before the task force could issue its suggestions, a deficit of $35 million in the city schools' proposed budget reopened the school consolidation debate in 1991. The city school board decided to wait for the task force's results before taking any action.

Eventually the task force came back with the solution of single-source funding under the Shelby County Commission, possibly setting up a central overseeing body, and creating five smaller districts. Ultimately tabled because of statewide education and tax reform, the idea of five school districts was not revisited.

The idea of limited consolidation, however, resurfaced in 1993, when it was mentioned by city Mayor Willie Herenton. Herenton had proposed an all-inclusive city-county consolidation, but his plan was rejected because of its various legal and political entanglements. Memphis would have had to surrender its charter and it could not do that without approval from the state legislature. Limited school consolidation was suggested as a way to slowly consolidate the city and the county, but it was never carried out.

"I feel like we've been talking about this issue forever," Memphis City Schools board president Dr. Barbara Prescott said last week.

In 1998, the Memphis City Schools board passed a resolution to study the effects of consolidation on the schools, but the study somehow got lost in the shuffle. It was never presented or even conducted.

The Memphis City Schools board reissued the resolution February 19th so that they could take an educated stand on the issue. Three days later, the Shelby County Schools board, as well as many residents, made up their mind to oppose the measure.

A consolidation of the Memphis city and Shelby County school districts would create a system of 160,000-plus students, making it the 10th largest in the country.

Were the measure to pass, it would take effect September 2004.

And even if school consolidation doesn't pass, proponents take heart: This probably won't be the last time we hear about it.

-- Mary Cashiola

Zoo Plans To Open New China Exhibit With or Without Pandas

Motorists driving down North Parkway near McLean cannot help but notice that a good chunk of the Memphis Zoo appears to have been flattened by a meteorite. While the reasons behind the clear-cut are not quite so unusual, they are pretty exotic in their own right.

Though the zoo officially broke ground for its forthcoming China Exhibit back in December, it has only recently begun to transform one of the oldest and most outdated portions of the zoo into a Chinese garden complete with a pagoda, stone bridge, and a number of wild animals that can't be found outside of China. Featured animals will include Asian small-clawed otters, a species of monkey found only in China, Chinese goldfish, and pandas.

Well, maybe not pandas -- at least, maybe not right away.

Visitors to the China exhibit will begin their tour by watching a film about panda conservation, and early press releases mentioned areas for viewing pandas up close. Still, there is no guarantee that the zoo will have the animals on display by the time the exhibit opens. In fact, there is no guarantee that it will have pandas at all. The zoo does have a letter of intent filed with the Chinese government and is presently working diligently to secure a pair of the endangered animals.

"We'll open the exhibit with or without pandas," says zoo spokesperson Carrie Strehlau. "After all, it's about Chinese history, culture, and architecture, too. And there are other animals."

According to Strehlau, obtaining pandas is extremely difficult since the animals are found only in China and are among the most endangered creatures in the world. "It's very political," she says. "It's a question of conservation. You have to prove that you are capable of doing more than just putting these animals on display."

Nevertheless, the zoo is confident that the exhibit, which is scheduled to open in Spring 2002, will eventually have pandas. "It's just a matter of time," Strehlau says. Zoo director Charles Brady was unavailable for comment. He's currently in China. -- Chris Davis

Galloway Fees Remain a Mystery

Playing golf on the renovated Galloway Golf Course will cost golfers more than it used to, but how much more remains to be seen.

Paul Evans, city golf operations administrator, told the Flyer that the exact fees have not yet been established.

"I can't even speculate on what the fees will be," says Evans. "I don't think it's going to be as much as some people think it will be. I think the increase will be moderate."

When the city council approved $3.7 million in renovations for Galloway, it was estimated that fees would increase from 3 to 5 percent, or approximately $18 to $25. However, now that the renovations have begun, some, including city councilman John Vergos, doubt that the $18 fees will cover the debt. Vergos and some Galloway golfers speculate that the fees will more likely be in the $35 to $50 range to play 18 holes. This pricing is in line with what area public, non-municipal courses charge.

"I don't know how you can spend almost $4 million on a golf course and not raise fees significantly," said Vergos.

City Finance Director Mark Brown confirmed that Galloway will pay the principal and interest over 20 years and that studies conducted before construction showed that Galloway can repay the loan with only a modest increase in fees. The exact amount of increase, however, remains a mystery to everyone.

"The city provides park services for its citizens," says Vergos. "I just don't think the city should provide top-flight courses. I'm concerned that it will cut out the senior citizens and kids that would have played Galloway before."

-- Rebekah Gleaves

Death-Row Update: Workman Loses Last Appeal; West Is Tried For Competency

Philip Workman
Philip Workman's only chance to live now rests with Governor Don Sundquist.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal that the death-row inmate was convicted on perjured testimony and that ballistics evidence suggested he did not kill a Memphis police officer in 1981. Sundquist can commute Workman's sentence to life in prison, a decision the governor is taking what he calls "a reasonable amount of time" to make.

One month ago Workman was granted a stay of his scheduled January 30th execution date -- a move by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals one day after a state paroles board voted unanimously not to recommend that Sundquist grant clemency. The board's decision came after nearly 12 hours of testimony, which included lengthy debates about an autopsy X-ray which the defense says demonstrates that Workman's bullets would not have caused the type of wounds the officer suffered.

The autopsy was not introduced as evidence in Workman's 1982 trial. A reference to the document was found by the defense as they were perusing paperwork from the Shelby County Medical Examiner's office. Workman's attorneys claim that the X-ray was purposefully omitted.

Workman's attorney Jefferson Dorsey says he is "more than a little bit surprised" and had "high hopes that the Supreme Court would step in."

Dorsey says he believed that the highest court would hear Workman's case because of a tied ruling delivered by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals last fall during a rare en banc (entire bench) hearing. All 14 justices split their decision to grant Workman an evidentiary hearing along party lines, with seven Democratic-appointed justices voting in favor and seven Republican-appointed justices voting to deny the inmate a forum. It was the 6th Circuit that stepped in the day after Workman's January 26th clemency hearing to issue the prisoner's current stay.

"It's just an extreme letdown," says Dorsey.

The Tennessee Supreme Court could set a date for execution any day.

Late last week, U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier stayed death-row inmate Stephen Michael West's execution until June 15th.

Longtime West attorney Roger Dickson of Chattanooga says that a hearing has been set in Knoxville for June 13th to decide if the prisoner is making a "knowledgeable and intelligent" decision not to file any more of his allotted habeus corpus appeals. West purposefully did not choose to pursue his appeals and told Riverbend Maximum Security Institution officials that he wished to die in the electric chair.

But Saturday Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers filed a petition to proceed with the execution. The petition, arguing that West is competent and has given no indication of mental deficiency, was filed with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. There is no word yet on whether the request will be granted.

But opponents of the death penalty, most vocally the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, stated that they believed the execution to be "state-assisted suicide." West declined after being asked three times by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell to explain why he's chosen not to pursue his federal appeals for an expedient death in the electric chair -- a relic that was tuned up 10 years ago but hasn't been used since 1960.

Campbell assigned Dickson to this portion of West's defense. The inmate's case is Dickson's first death-row litigation since 1979. -- Ashley Fantz

Fighting Words Turn To Bluster, Backtracking

The fight between Alabama football booster Logan Young and University of Tennessee booster Roy H. Adams looks more like a farce, at least temporarily, as both men backtracked last week.

Young said two weeks ago that he plans to sue Adams for alleged defamatory comments on the Internet. Such a lawsuit could test the limits of Internet freedom of speech and, possibly, help get to the bottom of the Memphis football recruiting rumors.

But now the Young-Adams fight looks more like a spitwad war, with both men saying, in effect, they had their fingers crossed.

Young will wait until the NCAA finishes the investigation of the Alabama football program announced last Thursday. If the investigation leaves him and Alabama unscarred, as Young hopes it will, then he may not "stir it all up again" with a libel suit, Young said. A damning investigation, on the other hand, would undermine a libel suit.

Many skeptics have doubted all along that Young would follow through. In a radio interview with the Flyer last week, Birmingham Post-Herald sports columnist Paul Finebaum said Young is "famous for threatening to sue."

If so, the threat seems to have gotten the attention of Adams, the chatty Memphis booster known as "Tennstud" on the Internet. He posted messages suggesting someone else could have used his computer to say those bad things about Young.

"In fact, my computer is in an open area in my library and numerous friends have lurked and some have even posted using my name," he said in one Internet message on the Gridscape Web site. "Under Gridscape, tacked to a shelf, I have left on an index card my pass word for Gridscape!"

Fellow posters greeted this with a razzing ("As the Dud backstrokes," began one), giving the whole bizarre affair the tone of a schoolyard shoving match between two boys who don't really want to fight while the crowd eggs them on.

In an interview with the Flyer, Adams owned up to the mystery-poster posting.

"I've been real careful in making posts about the Memphis situation that I didn't use [Young's] name in a defamatory or mean-spirited manner," said Adams. "I've tried to be careful not to open myself to any libel or defamation suits."

Young's lawyer, Louis Allen, says they are "still looking into all aspects and going ahead with our investigation." Former Shelby County District Attorney General John Pierotti, now in private practice, is also working for Young and Allen, "doing whatever they ask me to."

Young has been repeatedly mentioned in Internet postings and news reports in connection with an alleged $200,000 payment to high school football coach Lynn Lang for delivering player Albert Means to Alabama. Young and Lang have denied that there was any such payment.

The source of the allegation is former coach Milton Kirk. According to Adams, Kirk blurted out the story last October to a crowd of people, including Adams.

"I know a dozen or more people heard it that night," Adams said, but it was January before Kirk went public with his story in The Commercial Appeal. Adams denies speculation that he paid Kirk to put the story out in order to hurt Alabama's recruiting.

"The only advice I have ever given Kirk was to keep it quiet, and that shows how much influence I have on him," said Adams.

Adams, University of Tennessee Class of 1963, even disavowed his now infamous nickname. He said he tried several other Internet handles before choosing "Tennstud" after the Doc Watson tune about a horse that was "long and lean, the color of the sun and his eyes were green; he had the nerve and he had the blood, and there never was a horse like the Tennessee stud."

"I hate that damn name more than anyone knows," he said. "I am short, fat, ugly, old, and balding and anything but a Tennessee stud." -- John Branston

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