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City Reporter



Merchants Using Minors

Bill allows minors for use in underage sales tests.

By Janel Davis

The next time you go to the convenience store to buy a carton of cigarettes or a case of beer, watch out for the young-looking lad to your left: He may be an underage plant, not for the police but for the store owner.

In a new bill proposed by Representative Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville), minors can be used by store merchants to prevent the sale of smoking material, smoking paraphernalia, smokeless tobacco, illegal drugs, and, eventually, lottery tickets. The bill, which has made its way through the Senate, seeks to allow store merchants to identify any potential problems in advance. (Merchants can lose licenses for alcohol and tobacco products if caught selling these items to minors.) If passed, merchants would be able to perform undercover operations much like law enforcement officers under the present law.

Like officers, merchants would be required to obtain written permission from the minor's parent or legal guardian and from the juvenile court. Minors -- or in the case of alcohol sales, a person under 21 -- would also have to adhere to established rules. Merchants cannot disguise the young person's appearance to misrepresent their age. They can make no statements designed to mislead or encourage employees and must respond truthfully to questions asked by the employee, including the minor's age. They must also be able to produce a valid state-issued identification card containing the person's actual birthdate. To verify adherence to the requirements, the minor used in the operation must be photographed before and after the merchant uses the person in order to create a record of appearance. The rules would also apply to law enforcement officers using minors in similar situations.

Tennessee's bill requirements differ slightly from other states. For example, Texas' Alcoholic Beverage Code does not require minors used in sting operations to carry identification, but they must truthfully answer questions by employees about their age.

Sliding Scale

Rhodes' music academy moves to U of M.

By Janel Davis

Beginning this fall, the University of Memphis will be the new home of Rhodes College's Music Academy. The academy has completed classes for the current spring semester and will not host summer classes.

The transition comes as a result of Rhodes administrators reshaping the school's mission statement. "The Music Academy is for school children to adults, and we wanted our services and programs to be more geared to undergraduate students," said Daney Kepple with Rhodes. "[The academy] was stretching our music budget."

With the move, more than 400 students, beginning with preschoolers, in piano, voice, guitar, and instrumental programs will be phased into U of M's Community Music School, which has 750 students of its own.

In a written statement, Rhodes dean Robert Llewellyn commented on the transition: "While there is certainly some sadness in relinquishing a program that has been part of our history since 1943, we feel that the decision will benefit both Rhodes and the University [of Memphis]."

Dr. Lauren Schack-Clark with the Community Music School said they were approached with the offer to take over the program by Rhodes' music department chair Timothy Sharp, who is "very pleased with the arrangement."

While Sharp hoped to transfer the program intact, space and budget constraints at the U of M may make this impossible. "We won't change our current systems of administrative operations," said Schack-Clark. "Some of the Music Academy's programs will be retained, but some may have to be implemented into programs that [already] exist here."

To adequately house all of the students and programs, Schack-Clark said partnerships may have to be made with nearby churches and schools for use of their facilities.

In addition to programs, staffing may become an issue, as Music Academy instructors who were not a part of the college's staff will also lose their jobs. While the teachers have received letters about possible employment with the Community Music School, there are no guaranteed positions. Of the Music School's 47 instructors, most are university staff members, including eight full-time faculty.


Fare Days

MATA lowers rates for certain groups.

By Mary Cashiola

Gas prices have jumped so much in recent months that taxi companies recently asked the Memphis City Council to approve a rate increase. One would think the Memphis Area Transit Authority would be considering an increase as well. Instead, MATA is lowering selected fares.

In an application of how price influences demand, MATA is testing special lower fares for students, senior citizens, disabled passengers, and trolley riders.

"We're trying to generate more ridership at a time of day when we have seats available," says MATA spokesperson Alison Burton. "We have service on the streets and we have seats available."

The reduced fares target students on weekends, nights, and holidays and senior citizens during peak hours.

"Federal guidelines require us to offer reduced rates to seniors, but we don't have to do it all day long," says Burton. "Most transportation companies offer [seniors] reduced fares in off-peak hours." The senior/disabled fare for peak hours will be $1.10 compared to 50 cents during off-peak hours. Other fare reductions include a $1 two-ride trolley pass (a value of $1.20) and a $75 70-ride bus pass (a savings of $12).

Burton says MATA started talking about the fare reductions and looking at their budget to see if it was feasible some time ago, "before oil prices started going upward."

Right now the special fares are scheduled to be in effect for the next six months. "We'll reevaluate them at that time to see if we'll maintain the new rates, go back to the old rates, or decide to do something entirely different," said Burton. "We're trying to find the right structure to balance ridership and fares. ... We're hoping the ridership will support the budget."

MATA last increased its fares in July 2000; before that, it hadn't posted a rate increase in seven years.

Star-Spangled Record

Largest living flag may put Memphis in record books.

By Bianca Phillips

We're known for Elvis, the blues, and barbecue, but after this year's Fourth of July Red, White, and Blues Extravaganza at Tom Lee Park, the event's administrators are hoping Memphis will have a new claim to fame -- world-record-holder of the largest living American flag.

Five thousand attendees of the annual Fourth of July celebration will be given red, white, or blue T-shirts and will then be assembled into a giant American flag. The stars will be represented by local war veterans holding white star-shaped placards above their heads.

"This has always been a very patriotic event," said Preston Lamm, president of the Beale Street Merchant's Association, one of the event's sponsors along with Clear Channel. "Last year, we gave away 5,000 flags. This year, we'll be giving away 10,000. This [the flag formation] is something we decided to do this year in support of the troops away from home."

There are no records listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for largest living flag, and the event's sponsors have invited representatives from Guinness to witness the formation. Gary Sommer, a spokesperson from Clear Channel, said they have already filled out the paperwork necessary to qualify for a Guinness record.

"You don't necessarily have to have a Guinness person there, but you have to document it properly. We'll have to take names and addresses of everybody involved and obviously take pictures and video, but we're planning on having someone from Guinness here," said Sommer.

People attending the celebration will also have a chance to register to send free "Touches of Home" care packages to family members remaining overseas. The packages, which will be shipped via FedEx, will include Corky's barbecue sauce, Memphis spring water, barbecue chips, and other items made in Memphis.


Center for Arts Education director resigns.

By Chris Davis

Amelia Barton, director of the Greater Memphis Arts Council's Center for Arts Education, has resigned her position. Calls and e-mails to GMAC requesting further information have not been returned. According to reliable sources, however, the CAE's two remaining employees, Kay Ross and Anne Davey, have likewise resigned.

Through a process of firings and attrition the CAE began a major downsizing in 2002. Now it would appear to have an administrative staff of zero. Earlier this year, extensive interviews were conducted with then-director Barton, Arts Council president Susan Schadt, media coordinator Marci Woodmansee, and board president Tommy Farnsworth III concerning the fate of the CAE as well as certain outreach programs which had been axed, presumably due to budget concerns. The Wolftrap Center for early arts education, a prestigious national program based in the Washington, D.C. area, was among the programs cut. Also cut was a program allowing underprivileged families the option of attending art events like the symphony for a significantly reduced price.

In spite of a recent National Endowment for the Arts study showing that local not-for-profit arts organizations pump millions into the Memphis economy, the city council has proposed significant cuts to Arts Council funding. In 2002 certain city council members publicly admonished the Arts Council for being an elitist group, saying they don't fund enough minority-oriented organizations and events. While that ill-informed outburst may have been Memphis politics as per usual, depending on the ongoing status of the CAE, the city council may now have real reasons to question the validity of providing public funding for the Arts Council.

When the CAE was at its strongest there could be no denying that GMAC was actively involved in bringing a broad spectrum of art and artists into the schools and to students of every race and position on the economic ladder. The brochure for the CAE's summer youth programs (significantly scaled down from last year) has been released for public consumption, but the CAE, or so it would appear, has nobody to administrate it.

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