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From Law Suits to Legal Bills

A look back at the highlights and lowlights of 2008.




— Per tradition, city mayor Willie Herenton makes another bid for consolidation. This time, he proposes a countywide vote rather than separate polls for Memphians and suburban citizens. That means changing the state constitution, making the endeavor a long shot.

— After longtime library head Judith Drescher is not reappointed, former Neighborhoods director Keenon McCloy is appointed in her stead.

— State representative Stacey Campfield of Knoxville introduces a bill banning "any instruction of materials discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality" in public schools. The bill draws criticism from gay rights advocates and the Tennessee Education Association.


Rumors swirl about a possible merger between Delta and Northwest Airlines.

— Crop Trust executive director and former Memphian Cary Fowler "plants" 100 million seeds into the heart of a mountain in Norway. The seed bank will operate "much like a bank safe-deposit box, if it were refrigerated at minus-29 degrees Celsius. Countries can store seeds there until they need them, whether because their own seed bank collection has been destroyed or for more dire reasons."

— Despite protests by homeless people and activists, the Center City Commission (CCC) votes to approve a $53,000 pilot project to deter panhandlers. Critics fear the project's security guards will harass homeless people, but CCC proponents say they'll only go after "aggressive panhandlers."


— The Memphis Zoo bulldozes four acres of old-growth forest to make way for the Teton Trek exhibit. Forest advocates are outraged, citing a lack of public involvement in the zoo's plan.

"This hypocritical and needless waste of public parkland is an insult to the citizens of Memphis," says Naomi Van Tol of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park.

— A C Wharton's Sustainable Shelby initiative begins. "Shelby County is now on what we all know is an unsustainable journey to the future," the mayor says. "There is no way that either government can afford the path we're now following."

— After animal advocates spent months pushing the city to hire a new animal shelter director, former Albuquerque shelter director Earnest Alexander took the reins in March. Since coming board, Alexander has begun to address concerns about the shelter, such as the high euthanasia rate, the lack of frequent off-site adoptions, and the attitudes of some of the customer service staff.

— Mayor Herenton announces his resignation, pending his appointment to head the city school system. Before going, however, he wants to close five libraries and four community centers to save the city almost $2 million.


— Green for All brings its hope for a green economy to Memphis with "The Dream Reborn" conference.

"Most environment conferences are 98 percent white, but most environmental problems impact people who are not white," Green for All founder Van Jones says. "We thought we'd come to Memphis to honor Dr. [Martin Luther] King and talk about the challenges that face vulnerable people."

— The CCC security force receives positive feedback from tourists, businesses, and downtown workers for the deterrence of aggressive panhandling. After its initial run expires, the CCC extends the program through July 2009.


— The CCC and an urban planner suggest bringing vehicles back to the Main Street Mall.

"There's very little stopping you from driving down Main right now," says Jeff Speck, former director of design for the National Endowment of the Arts. "You don't need to change much if the cars drive slowly. ... It's ready made for the right speed of traffic."

— For reasons he will not name, Memphis police director Larry Godwin suspends filming with The First 48, A&E's popular reality show.

At the time, there is speculation that his decision was influenced by City Council members who feel the show tarnishes Memphis' image. In August, Godwin does not renew the city's contract with A&E.

— After a spate of personnel changes at the Memphis Public Library, the state withholds $45,000 in funding because the library lacks a board of trustees.

Councilmember Harold Collins proposes a resolution that would allow Memphis police officers to live outside the city but would charge them $1,200 to do so.


Gas prices hover around $4 a gallon.

— Video of transgender woman Duanna Johnson being beaten by a MPD officer at the Shelby County jail is leaked to television new media. Transgender rights advocates begin pushing for sensitivity training for police officers, as well as an investigation into the incident. Two officers are subsequently fired.

Johnson's attorney Murray Wells files a lawsuit against the city of Memphis.

— The City Council cuts $66 million in funding to the city school system.

— The council also approves $440,000 for the city's first skate park. The park, which will be between 8,000 to 10,000 square feet, is tentatively scheduled for Tobey Fields.


— As a result of funding cuts to Memphis City Schools, the state says it will withhold $400 million in funding. The school system files suit against the city in Chancery Court.

Council veteran Myron Lowery testifies: "We asked questions about what they spent on salaries and positions at the board, and those answers were never received. For 16 years, I've said yes to the Board of Education's budget ... simply because I believed and trusted the MCS administration. It was time for a change."

— In an ongoing discussion about reusing the Pyramid, the Cummings Street Missionary Baptist Church offers $12 million for the empty arena. The City Council and the County Commission eventually vote to enter into an agreement with Bass Pro Shops.

— Cordova residents fight the proposed opening of a third Wal-Mart in their area. Despite concerns from the joint city/county Office of Planning and Development, the Land Use Control Board approves Wal-Mart's proposal after the retailer agrees to spend $2 million on road improvements.


— School starts with new MCS superintendent Kriner Cash at the helm.

"It seems to me that our greatest challenge is to change the perception of our general constituents about our school system," he says.

— Blue Crush criminologist Richard Janikowski and CBANA director Phyllis Betts present the linkages between crime, Section 8 vouchers, and the federal HOPE VI program to the City Council.


— The state holds a public auction to sell off all of the personal property inside the former Platinum Plus strip club, closed in 2006 after club owners were charged with drug possession, money laundering, and prostitution.

More than 200 people, including former dancers and patrons, crowd inside to get one last look at the club and buy keepsakes. The auction nets $60,000 for the state.


— Herenton's administration wants to buy the Hickory Ridge Mall property for a new Fire and Police Dispatch Center.

The City Council nixes the idea, citing too many open-ended questions about the cost.

— After months of battling a new Wal-Mart in Cordova, residents win the battle. The County Commission rejects Wal-Mart's proposal despite revisions to the site plan, which include an offer to pay for full road improvements near the intersection of Houston Levee and Macon roads.


— Local election results lead to instant run-off voting, staggered terms for council members, and suspensions with pay for officials charged with misconduct.

The National Civil Rights Museum chooses four design firms to present possible renovation plans to the public. After 17 years of operation, the museum is looking at a $10 to $15 million renovation, with construction beginning in early 2010.

— Allegations of unfair hiring practices doom yet another council resolution to allow MPD officers to live outside the city limits.

— Duanna Johnson is found dead of a gunshot wound near her North Memphis home. Her attorney is still pursuing the lawsuit for her estate.

— The Environmental Protection Agency fines MLGW $1.22 million for storing, marking, and disposing of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) improperly at three local substations. PCBs, banned by the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, have been known to cause liver damage, cancer, and low birth weight.


— On the same day Congress announces that the country could face a biological attack in the next five years, the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department tests their ability to dispense anthrax medication. In the department's first biological attack drill, doctors and health department volunteers dole out candy in place of anthrax drugs.

— Former head of MLGW Joseph Lee sues the city for not paying more than $400,000 worth of legal bills after he was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2007. The charges were later dropped.

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