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City Reporter



Christal's Update

Attorneys plan for a battle in court.

By Rebekah Gleaves

As attorneys for Christal's and the City of Memphis prepare for a legal battle, the only thing certain is that the evidence will be interesting.

Last week Circuit Court Judge James Russell ruled that codes-enforcement officials acted properly when Christal's, an adult novelty store with three other locations in Memphis, was denied an occupancy permit for the proposed Germantown Parkway location in Cordova. Inspectors denied the permit after finding the store's inventory was in violation of a city ordinance during inspections on November 28th and December 21st.

That ruling prompted Christal's to invite codes inspectors back to the store last Friday to reinspect it, in hopes that the inspectors would now find the store in compliance with the ordinance restrictions.

But according to Christal's vice president Dave Noblitt, codes inspectors "washed their hands of us."

"They refused to give us an inspection," says Noblitt, "but we're not going to give up. We're going to fight city hall on this. We will have some legal recourse."

Noblitt says that Christal's received a letter from codes inspectors saying that all of the pertinent issues were addressed last Wednesday in Judge Russell's court and that codes enforcement had no intention of reinspecting the Christal's store on Germantown Parkway.

Codes officials did not respond to numerous calls from the Flyer.

This latest call for a reinspection comes after a two-month-long battle between Christal's, a Colorado-based corporation, and the city of Memphis. Christal's officials claim that codes inspectors have not adequately defined "adult novelty" and that until a specific definition is given compliance is impossible.

A number of Cordova residents, including city councilman Brent Taylor, have opposed the store's opening, saying that Christal's inventory is inappropriate for that area and is actually prohibited if more than 5 percent of the items for sale can be classified as "adult novelties." In court last week, codes inspectors claimed that because nine display cases remained empty during Christal's last inspection, inspectors did not know if these cases would be filled with offensive or acceptable items.

In Memoriam

Former Memphis magazine dining critic dies.

Kay H. Womack, dining critic for Memphis magazine from 1992 to 2000, passed away December 30th after a lengthy illness. Memphis is published by Contemporary Media, parent company of The Memphis Flyer.

Womack, the wife of Memphis College of Art professor Bill Womack, firmly believed the role of a reviewer was to encourage and nurture -- not attack -- the local restaurant community.

"If she had a bad experience at a restaurant, instead of mentioning it in her column she would prefer to write about another place entirely," recalls Michael Finger, senior editor at Memphis. "It took a bit of effort sometimes to get her to criticize --even mildly -- the places she enjoyed."

At the same time, Womack was a real stickler for details, one time insisting that the magazine give a certain establishment a three-and-one-fourth-star rating (out of a possible four), because she didn't feel the service was precisely equal to another eatery that had deserved three-and-one-half stars.

In addition to her full-time employment at Towery Publishing, Womack was involved with Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Playhouse on the Square, and the old Front St. Theatre. She also served as a volunteer for the Memphis Suicide Prevention and Crisis Center and acted as agent for local artists Mary Sims and Cynthia Bringle.

The family has requested that any memorials be sent to the Memphis College of Art Scholarship Fund or to a charity of the donor's choice.

Time-out On Testing

Lawmakers want to put a temporary hold on Gateway school tests.

By Mary Cashiola

If local lawmakers have their way, the Gateway might not graduate this year. Instead, using it to determine if students graduate high school would be put off until at least next year.

The Tennessee Department of Education released the scores last week from the first group of students to take the strenuous Gateway tests in Algebra I and biology. Statewide, 76.4 percent of students passed algebra while 94.5 percent passed biology. But locally, only 33.8 percent of Memphis City Schools students were proficient in algebra and 80.4 percent passed the biology section. On Thursday, state Senator Roscoe Dixon called for a moratorium on the testing.

"What I want to do is call a time-out here," said Dixon during a phone interview late last week. "I want to make sure we're using the best test."

About 94 percent of Shelby County students taking the test passed algebra; county students have not yet taken the biology test. Beginning with this year's freshmen, all high school students will have to pass Algebra I, biology, and English II to graduate.

Dixon said he will begin drafting legislation to that effect this week, probably proposing a year-long moratorium on use of the Gateway.

"We had a challenge with the TCAP and the Gateway is a much more strenuous test," said Dixon. "I just want to make sure it's correct and valid."

The Gateway is part of the legislature's Basic Education Program (BEP) that called for heightened accountability.

But, saying she felt very confident about the quality of the test, state Education Commissioner Faye Taylor said that the Gateway has already gone through rigorous testing.

"It went through field testing: All the items were scrutinized for possible cultural bias," said Taylor. "However, we're going back and doing more item analysis. The possibility of cultural bias was raised and it could indicate some disparity in the scores."

However, Taylor said that even if cultural bias the possibility that test questions are skewed toward or against a certain ethnic group because of language or references was a factor, it would be much more likely to cause problems on a biology or English test.

"With the Algebra I test, there would be very few items that could be attributed to cultural bias. And with the biology results, we were very pleased," said Taylor. "Those scores in the Memphis City Schools are quite good."

The testing population for Algebra I included students who took the course last year and did not receive a high-enough score on the TCAP.

"If they took the course and failed the test and had no remediation, it's only logical: They're not going to do any better," she said, adding that she's not sure what would be accomplished by holding the Gateway for a year.

"A moratorium might be beneficial to Memphis, but it does not appear that the remainder of the state is ill-prepared to take these tests."


A chat with Tamara Mitchell-Ford on the evening of her divorce.

By Mary Cashiola

Tamara Mitchell-Ford and Aretha Franklin share the same theme song. They both just want respect.

"My father instilled in us a sense of respect," says Mitchell-Ford. "I have dealt with persecution, immorality, adultery, and disrespect."

Mitchell-Ford, the until-recently estranged wife of state Senator John Ford, has been in the news with a number of out-of-state DUI charges, as well as assault charges stemming from an incident in Collierville. Connie Mathews, the mother of two of Ford's children, said that Mitchell-Ford rammed her Jaguar into the house where Mathews was living, a home owned by Ford.

When asked about the recent trouble, Mitchell-Ford cannot comment because of pending litigation. But she says that part of the problem is the high-profile nature of the marriage.

"When you come from a family that is high-profile, a lot of times you have to deal with things you don't want to deal with," she says. "I want people to understand that I'm a good person."

Shortly before answering the door to her East Memphis home, she had been taking a nap. It had been a long day for her, starting with a custody hearing for her three children. And as the baby pictures lining the walls testify, family is the most important thing in her life. After all, she says, if you don't have family, what do you have? Mitchell-Ford won custody of the children, but the day didn't end there.

"I got divorced today," she says simply, looking a little shell-shocked. "I'm tired and I'm sad."

Ford and Mitchell-Ford were married in 1991 when Mitchell-Ford was 26. She thought she was Ford's third wife, not his fifth. Throughout their marriage, there were problems with other women, people Mitchell-Ford calls "intruders."

"I don't like the fact that people can intrude into your family and they don't pay the consequences of it," she says, as her children run in and out of the room, asking for help with their homework. "Then what you do is you either divorce or you stay."

She stayed for a while but says that since 1994, she's been celibate. She didn't file for divorce until the summer of 2000 and is now on a mission to protect the state of marriage itself.

"At some point, you have to hold people responsible for what they do. In other words, you have somebody that breaks up the family union and they're not held accountable. Yet I have to go get a divorce from my husband -- which is fine -- but how do you hold the other person responsible? We're not just talking about the fact that my husband was not in my bed and bored. We're talking about the fact that somebody came into my home and took my life."

Under the law, if you take someone's life, you face consequences. It is this sort of recourse that Mitchell-Ford is seeking.

"The law that I want to, and that I will, pursue is called intentional infliction of emotional distress/negligent infliction of emotional distress," she says. She's planning to file a suit asking for monetary compensation against her husband.

"I didn't go to law school for nothing. I'm trying to protect my family and everything about family."

She says that she never wants her son treating any woman disrespectfully. At the same time, she wants her daughters to grow up as ladies, respecting themselves and others.

Asked why she stayed with Ford for so long, during the other women and the public marital problems, she says simply, "I loved him. I. Loved. Him.

"I don't like divorce. I thought I was married for life," she says. But now, at 37, she is divorced and doesn't think she'll begin dating anyone anytime soon.

"I want to be a mother for my children," she says. "And I'm not sure men will understand my devotion to my family."

As for her new ex-husband?

"John? I feel sorry for him. I wish him godspeed."

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