City council members pay back phone bills.
By Mary Cashiola
Since the beginning of April, city council members have reimbursed the city more than $1,500 in cell phone charges, including several large payments near the end of the month. March records from the city treasurer show almost $700 in cell phone reimbursements from council members.
City Council Chairperson Brent Taylor disconnected the city council cell phones at the beginning of May, citing fiscal responsibility as his reason. Other council members heard the phones were cut off because of media requests for the billing records. For the Flyer's "Wrong Numbers?" cover story (May 8th issue), we requested council cell phone bills on April 7th and reimbursement records for those bills on April 15th. Our first reimbursement request was overlooked and a second request was submitted April 30th.
Based on records released by city council attorney Allan Wade last week, the reimbursement record was spotty at best. In the past four months, council members Ed Ford, Janet Hooks, Jack Sammons, Barbara Swearengen Holt, Tajuan Stout-Mitchell, Taylor, Myron Lowery, Rickey Peete, E C Jones, and Joe Brown have all, at one time, exceeded their minute plans. The city paid just over $100 a month for each of the 13 phones -- 11 for council members, one for the sergeant-at-arms, and one for the council's attorney -- with any additional charges picked up by the phone's user.
For the city council's cell-phone bill dated January 26th, however, the council racked up $2269.58 in charges, or about $900 over what the city pays. All reimbursement records for January predate the billing date and there are no city treasurer records of reimbursements in the month of February. The February bill was about $800 over what the city pays, and in March, $653.44 was collected for city cell-phone reimbursement.
None of the reimbursements were itemized by the treasurer's office to show which month they were for, and city council administrator Lisa Geater said there was no policy governing the reimbursements. Additionally, she says, there was not any timetable by which a councilman had to reimburse the city.
"Councilman Jack Sammons pays an advance of $100 at the beginning of the year and says, 'If I go over that, let me know,'" said Geater. She said no other council members had made such an arrangement. Council chairperson Taylor could not be reached for further comment.
Catching Heat for Seats
School board wants better chairs.
By Mary Cashiola
You could say the chair wanted a new chair. But he wasn't the only one.
The Memphis City School board voted unanimously to approve a measure to purchase 12 new ergonomically correct chairs for members to use at board meetings, but amended the original motion to find a less expensive alternative for the chairs the administration originally recommended, which would have cost a total of $7,000.
The original request came from board President Carl Johnson and was questioned by Commissioner Deni Hirsh. "I'm not sure we need new chairs. I think they may need to be cleaned," Hirsh said.
In the purchasing recommendation, the staff said that it would be more economical to replace the high-backed executive chairs than to repair them.
"We need new chairs," Johnson said. "I'm not sure how much they should cost, but we need better back support. Sometimes we sit here from 5:30 to 10, 10:30 p.m."
With that, Hirsh retorted, "If we don't have comfortable chairs, maybe we won't sit here so long." Johnson, in particular, is known for his extraordinarily long meetings as chairperson.
The chair motion originally failed but was reconsidered after Commissioner Patrice Robinson told her colleagues that she was seeing a doctor for her back. "I need an ergonomically correct chair," she said. "I feel like I'm sitting on the ground."
Other commissioners agreed with the quality and comfort of the chairs but took issue with the cost. "They are uncomfortable and cruddy," said Commissioner Lee Brown. "My concern is that we're talking about the budget and cutting the budget and I don't know if it's good for us to be talking about getting new chairs." The statement was met with applause from the audience.
Robinson added she was in extreme pain and that she didn't think the citizens of Memphis would mind buying her an ergonomically correct chair.
Two MLGW employees are injured in transformer accident.
By Bianca Phillips
Two Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) employees were rushed to The Med Tuesday morning after a transformer failed inside a substation where they were working near the corner of G.E. Patterson and Third streets downtown. The nature of their injuries was not known at press time.
"They were alert in answering questions from the paramedics, but we probably won't know the extent of their injuries until later," said MLGW spokesman Mark Heuberger.
South downtown was without power from 8:30 a.m. to 9:35 a.m. as MLGW workers temporarily re-routed power around the damaged transformer. The cause of the transformer's failure is being investigated.
"It didn't blow up, but we're not sure what caused the failure at this time," he said.
Heuberger said employees will be working at the substation for several days. He said the transformer in question is the size of a small car, and will have to be hauled out with special equipment.
The areas affected were bounded by the river on the west, Monroe Avenue on the north, Danny Thomas Blvd. on the east, and E.H. Crump Blvd. on the south.
Collision shuts down Main Street loop on Monday.
By Mary Cashiola
Memphis had a bit of a runaway problem Monday afternoon, but it didn't go unnoticed for long.
According to witnesses, a runaway trolley sped unmanned at least a block up North Main before colliding with a second trolley. The accident was still being investigated and Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) spokesperson Alison Burton said that could take several days, even weeks.
"The power was off. The operators take a 10/7, which is what we call a break, at Main and Auction, and the vehicle was secured properly," said Burton. There were no injuries reported with the accident, and the runaway trolley was empty. Burton didn't know if the trolley that was struck was carrying passengers or not.
The catenary wire which powers the trolley was turned off, said Burton, due to work being done on the wire.
MATA switched to rubber-tired trolleys to service the Main Street stops after the accident shut the line down for several hours.
Under the Gun
City council questions police investigation policies.
By Janel Davis
Tuesday morning, the Memphis City Council's Public Safety Committee discussed the Memphis Police Department's deadly-force policy. Committee chairman Tajuan Stout-Mitchell questioned police director James Bolden about the department's policy and internal investigations.
Although Mitchell initially clarified that the meeting was not a forum to delve into any specific investigation, she said her concern about recent police actions prompted the discussion.
Two men were killed last week in separate incidents after interaction with police: Dr. Anthony Bowman, a local cardiologist, was killed outside his apartment May 14th after refusing orders to lower a gun pointed at police. Earlier that same day, Keith Harris, whose death was ruled a suicide, was pursued into a wooded area and shot by police after they responded to a domestic disturbance call. On April 19th, Denvey Buckley died after wrestling with police during a suicide attempt. His death was ruled a heart attack. The following day 18-year-old Denario Bush was beaten by police after fleeing from an allegedly stolen car. Internal investigations into the Buckley and Bush cases resulted in administrative charges for the officers involved. Investigations are ongoing in the Bowman and Harris cases.
Bolden explained that an internal review is conducted any time deadly force is used by police officers. "There's always a chance that policies aren't carried out; that's what a review is about," he said. Bolden outlined the steps of an internal review, beginning with a "shoot" team that comes to the scene of the incident to ensure the integrity of the crime scene. Witness statements are taken, weapons and baton are secured, officer statements are taken, and an investigation is conducted. Once complete, the investigation is submitted to the police director for review and approval, which can be denied for lack of information. Bolden also said that police do not engage in pursuits in misdemeanor or non-violent felony cases unless someone's life is at stake.
"We called the [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation], the FBI, and have spoken with [the attorney general's] office," Bolden said about the above cases. "We should collectively take a deep breath and allow the system to work. I assure you there will be a thorough investigation, review, and if there are charges [against officers] that need to be addressed, they will be filed."
While Bolden's explanation included further review by other policing entities, some council members pushed for an impartial investigation. "I'm not a detective, but we need to have unbiased investigations, not that we want the police to be soft on crime ... but we want investigations to be moved expeditiously and fairly," said council member Rickey Peete.
"A second and third review is important because people don't trust police," said Mitchell. "I know we've made strides [in this area] but we have a long way to go."
Monday night, Denario Bush graduated with his class of about 150 Melrose High School seniors at the Mid-South Coliseum. While his body continues to heal from the April incident, his mother, Gale Bush, is not satisfied. "I understand that the police use force, but one more blow and I believe they would have killed him" she said. "The [administrative charges] that they got are not enough. I want their badges."