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City Reporter



Strapped for Cash

Governor tightens budgets of state hospitals.

By Janel Davis

Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen's Monday night budget proposal addressed cuts and expenditures in K-12 education, TennCare, and even highway construction; but no mention was given to funds for hospitals in desperate need of financing.

At issue are Essential Access funds, monies paid to state hospitals serving TennCare patients. Shelby County hospitals affected include The Med and Methodist Le Bonheur, both deemed "safety net" hospitals by TennCare for serving a substantial number of indigent patients. Other Shelby County "essential hospitals" serving some TennCare patients are Delta Medical Center, Saint Francis Hospital, UT-Bowld Hospital, and the central, south, and north locations of Methodist Healthcare.

TennCare spokesperson Lola Potter said $25 million of the $100 million fund was distributed in December 2002. The remaining $75 million is still being held. Any decision on whether to distribute the money to the hospitals has not yet been determined. Fiscal year 2003 reports estimate annual payments for The Med at $12 million and $2 million for Le Bonheur.

If Bredesen decides not to release the funds, the Shelby County legislative delegation will make another plea for additional state funding.

"If that happens, The Med has to have some alternative revenue enhancement or they're going to have some serious financial problems. They have told me that without the payment they can only survive until July," said Representative Carol Chumney. "I think we have to make one more effort for funds." Chumney had heard that not only would funds not be released before the end of the fiscal year on June 30th but that next year's funds would be held as well.

"I don't want to be negative about it, but these are very serious times," she said. "I'm really curious how the governor plans to revise TennCare in the next few months. The reality is that without some huge recovery next year, it won't be any better." n

Trouble with Tinseltown

Resident disgruntled about film's interference.

By Janel Davis

Chickasaw Gardens resident David Cole may complain to the Memphis City Council after film crews from 21 Grams supposedly interfered with his pool-installation project.

According to Cole, the production company 21 Films began filming next door during the second week of January, making it difficult for the pool workers to gain access to his property. "I'm thankful that the movie came here," said Cole. "But I think people should know the downside. The fact remains that our little world and our little construction project were a casualty to the production of 21 Grams."

Len Murach, location manager for 21 Films, agreed that filming inconvenienced some of the neighbors. Cole's crew was told to cease work during certain scenes and access to streets was at times limited. Residents received two flyers informing them of the situation, one during the scouting stage for locations and another before filming began.

Murach said his company asked Cole to postpone the pool project until filming was complete, but he refused. 21 Films then hired a local firm to build a cedar fence in Cole's yard, blocking the pool work during the filming. Cole said the fence was delivered along with a contract from 21 Films giving them full access to his property. He refused to sign the contract and said the fence was built anyway.

Cole has demanded $11,000 in compensation for the work, time, and revenue lost by the pool company due to the inconvenience of 27 days of filming. "It's not about the money," he said. "It's a moral issue. Hopefully the next film that comes here will have some accountability [to residents]."

Cole first took his grievance to the Memphis/Shelby County Film Commission. "We try to act as a liaison to the production company. We've been trying to work out the situation between both parties for weeks," said executive director Linn Sitler. "But Cole didn't express his concerns until the last two weeks of filming."

According to Murach, 21 Films has refused to pay what he calls the "absurd amount" of compensation to Cole. "He was a nice guy when we met him the first time and he probably still is," said Murach. "What really happened and how much was he really set back? Who knows? We did the best we could."

21 Grams, starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio del Toro is scheduled for release later this year. n

Minority Report

Consultant to increase arena participation.

By Mary Cashiola

Trying to stem concerns over minority participation, the new Memphis Arena Public Building Authority is hiring another consultant and has announced it will release weekly minority-participation reports.

Though the deal is still in the works, PBA executive director David Bennett said the new minority consultant -- Luke Yancy of the Mid-South Minority Business Council -- will help minority- and women-owned businesses create joint ventures. The PBA already employs two minority consultants.

"The other two consultants don't have the assignment of putting joint ventures together," said Bennett. One of the minority-participation consultant firms helps with certification and making sure those companies who claim to be minorities actually are. The other firm handles complaint resolution.

"One of the difficulties with a job this big is that minority firms are simply not big enough. [Let's] say you do painting. There is no minority contractor big enough to do all the painting," said Bennett. If two or three smaller companies could operate as a joint venture, however, he says that might be a solution.

"The good part with a job this big is that there are lots of opportunities," he said. "The bad part is that it's still a large job and they have to have the ability to do large jobs."

Minority- and women-owned businesses currently account for $23 million in contracts on the project, and Bennett said about $5 million has already been paid out to them.

The PBA has been releasing monthly reports of minority participation and Bennett said it won't change much week to week, especially as the job progresses: "All the contracts will have been given out. What will change then is how much each has been paid."

Currently, about 80 minority- and women-owned businesses are involved in the project, putting minority participation at about 24 percent.

"Their contracts range from a few hundred dollars to the biggest two, which are $6.7 million and $7.5 million," said Bennett. n

Sign Off

City council member attempts to tackle illegal sign posting.

By Bianca Phillips

"We Buy Ugly Houses." "Home Security -- Only $14.95 a month." "We Do Vehicle Interior Shampoos."

These are just a few of the signs illegally posted on utility poles, traffic-control boxes, and various other pieces of public property all over the city. A city ordinance restricts posting any type of sign, including political campaign posters, on public property. However, several city officials say no one knows who is supposed to enforce it. City council member TaJuan Stout-Mitchell plans to address the issue at a Division of Public Works committee meeting on March 18th.

"It's distressing because citizens say they've tried to take the signs down and they've been attacked. They've gotten angry phone calls. They've had their tires slashed," she said. "I can't get anyone to own the problem. MLGW and Public Works say it's not their job. I asked the police why they can't just call the number on the sign and issue a citation, but they say they can't prove who put them up."

Jerry Collins, director of public works, said MLGW should handle enforcement of posting on utility poles, while code enforcement and the police department should handle posting on other types of public property. He said the signs are not only an eyesore but can be a safety hazard when they block the view at an intersection.

According to Nicole Ritchie, supervisor of corporate communication for MLGW, the utility company does not have the authority or resources to enforce the ordinance, but when the signs pose a safety hazard to workers, they are removed. She said MLGW also inserts notices in utility bills that ask customers to refrain from posting signs on utility poles.

Larry Jenkins, chief sign/zone/complaint inspector for county code enforcement, said that although his department handles signs, it only deals with business signs and billboards. However, Jenkins did say he has tried to take the problem into his own hands by calling the phone numbers on the signs.

"You always get [an answering] machine," he said. "You never get a contact person where you can say, I'm going to send you to court. First you've got to catch these people, and that's very rare. They put these signs up so discreetly, you almost never see them," said Jenkins.

The police department would not comment.

Also at issue is how the ordinance should be enforced. Since people posting signs are rarely caught in the act, there is some speculation about who should be held responsible. City law prohibits making the assumption that the phone number on the sign belongs to the party responsible.

"The city council might want to consider a change in the law so that company is held responsible," said Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter. "What most people do when they come in the courtroom is say, 'The sign is up and it does advertise our business, but we didn't put it up.' I think if there was a change in the law, it might put that issue to rest."

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