If it was the year of anything, it was of Memphis -- and Memphians -- behaving badly. The feds continue to shock and awe the city with charges of political corruption. The November elections -- with the mudslinging, the surprise confrontations, and the endless advertisements -- brought out the worst in everybody (but especially members of the Ford family).
With Memphis seemingly heading towards H, E, double hockeysticks in a handbasket, the Flyer thought it might be appropriate to look back at the year and its Seven Deadly Sins (and three not so deadly ones).
Though they won't actually kill you, the Seven Deadly Sins are said to be fatal to spiritual progress and are almost impossible to remember all at once. Pride is the excessive belief in oneself and is sometimes called Vanity. Envy is the desire for other people's property, station in life, or abilities. Lust is easy; it has to do with carnal cravings. Sloth is laziness. Greed is the desire for material things. Gluttony is somewhat similar, but is the desire to consume more than one requires. And Wrath is unbridled anger. Anything sound familiar?
Area Strip Clubs Studied & Busted
It was what some might call a two-fer-one dance. During the same week that law enforcement raided Platinum Plus and Tunica Cabaret & Resort for drugs and prostitution, a city/county consultant released a report that said Memphis strip clubs were some of the nastiest in the country. We're talking simulated sex, oral penetration, and all sorts of goings-on between dancers and patrons, and dancers and dancers.
What with all the exposure of this activity -- not to mention the activity itself -- the city is getting a reputation as the Bangkok of the South.
Before entering a guilty plea to charges that he raped a 4-year-old Maryland girl 30 years ago, the former Good Morning Memphis host told reporters he was truly thankful for God's "presence" and that he wanted to move on.
He didn't say where, exactly, he wanted to move on to, but there's good news for fans of the cheerfully telegenic perv: Thanks to the national sex-offender registry, he'll be easy enough to find. Eventually.
Tennessee Waltz Defendants
How could we choose just one? Michael Hooks Sr., a former county commissioner, pleaded guilty this year to taking bribes of over $24,000 -- some of it in the bathroom of brothel-turned-bar Earnestine & Hazel's. Hooks' son, Michael Hooks Jr., is still awaiting trial, having been accused of conspiring to defraud the Juvenile Court Clerk's Office of more than $60,000. Former state senator Kathryn Bowers pleaded not guilty to taking over $11,000 and is awaiting trial. Former state senator Roscoe Dixon was sentenced to over five years in prison for his conviction on bribery and extortion charges. And former state senator John Ford, who already pleaded not guilty earlier in the year to charges that he took $55,000 to influence legislation, was indicted again this month for $800,000 in illegal payments from state contractors.
Harold Ford Sr.
What do you call a retired U.S. congressman with a palatial home in sunny Florida, a successful lobbying firm, one son in the U.S. House and another son in the U.S. Senate? Well, it doesn't really matter what you call that super-connected S.O.B., so long as you call him, because that's the S.O.B. who can get things done. There's just one itsy-bitsy problem: Come 2007, the man who would be that man -- Harold Ford Sr. -- doesn't have a son in the House or in the Senate, and there's only one reason for that: greed.
Harold Ford Jr. wasn't exactly qualified to be a congressman. He had no significant professional experience prior to becoming a legislator, only some diplomas and the Ford family name. But Junior, who moved to D.C. back when Clinton could still enjoy the occasional PB&J, was, at the very least, a bright, media-savvy charmer with an uncanny ability to deflect every slimy gobbet of his family's notorious conduct. That wasn't the case with Jake, Junior's unlettered little brother, whose independent run for Congress became the volatile punchline to an ill-tempered joke (please see "Wrath"). Jake's run pitted the historically Democratic Ford family against the party that has supported them for decades, exacerbating Junior's few but significant political miscalculations like the now-infamous Wilson Air affair. Sure, Junior may have won the 9th District, the theoretical heart of his campaign. But that's also where his momentum died. By election eve, Harold Sr. had clearly and ominously taken on the role of stage manager for all of his campaigning sons, and in the parlance of modern media analysis, that's only one "free association" away from "puppeteer."
The City Administration
When the Mid-South Fair decided to shutter Libertyland and sell off most of its assets -- including the Grand Carousel and the Zippin Pippin -- the city of Memphis administration didn't bat an eye. If it weren't for grass-roots advocates from Save Libertyland -- which researched the ownership of the park's two most famous attractions and then lobbied both the City Council and the County Commission to claim them -- the Grand Carousel would have been sold, either as a whole ride or in pieces.
And even when confronted by evidence suggesting it owned the Pippin, the city decided not to pursue its interest in the roller coaster and allowed the Mid-South Fair to auction the ride. It now belongs to an amusement park in North Carolina, and Save Libertyland is still working to keep it in Memphis.
The other Ms. O didn't bother to show up for many campaign events or debates during the election season, hoping instead that her family name alone would carry her to Nashville. And it seems like being a no-show might have even helped her case as she soundly beat challenger Terry Roland. And, as far as we know, she didn't even have to bring any dead people to the polls.
Is Joe Cooper the Gollum of the Caddy Shack? He knows what it's like to touch the precious, but the tricksy precious burned his handses and made him do bad thingses. After a corruption bust while on the County Commission (then called the County Court), poor Joe had to spend some down time in the dirty, hurtful hoosegow. It was a crushing blow to young Cooper, then a Republican running as the party's conservative alternative.
Afterwards, he became another person: a Democrat with his eyes on the prize. And lo, in the last age of the Democratic primary, households in the 5th District were flooded with foreboding pro-Cooper robocalls accusing candidate Steve Mulroy of dark, unethical behaviors. It's not ironic but fitting that Cooper-the-influence-merchant curried political favor by guiding elected officials through the murky swamp of automotive finance, helping them into Escalades and other fancy slabs: items well suited to the status of a civic leader, even if they couldn't ordinarily afford such a luxury. And, as every fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy knows, when Gollum recognizes that he's going down into the fiery pit of Mt. Doom, he's going to take a little piece of somebody with him. Such is the nature of the precious.
There are various theories as to the maximum best way to run for office. Trust Jake Ford to illustrate the maximum worst way. The candidate for Congress kept an edge on and made consistent efforts both to intimidate members of the media and to threaten suspected non-supporters, resulting in quantities of mace and undercover security at other candidates' headquarters, just in case.
David Bland, an 81-year-old man, legally blind and nearly deaf, was waiting for MIFA to deliver his "Meals on Wheels" when he got some visitors he wasn't expecting.
Three police officers, responding to a neighbor's complaint about loud music, barged into Bland's apartment, and when he gave his usual response to MIFA of "Bring it on," the officers did. Later saying they feared for their safety, the officers used a chemical agent on the elderly gentleman and ultimately broke his arm during the arrest. Though internal affairs investigated the situation, the officers were not charged with any wrongdoing.
No, we're not referring to anyone's midsection. We don't know how or what Peete eats, but we do know he's a glutton for punishment.
In November, he was charged with bribery after allegedly taking $12,000 from Cadillac-salesman-turned-FBI-informant Joe Cooper (see "Envy") in exchange for votes on a billboard proposal.
Of course, he's innocent until proven guilty, but one would think a man with his past would try to be more careful. Peete was sent to prison after a 1989 conviction stemming from Peete's acceptance of $1,000 from a developer/FBI informant in a land-use case.
Peete served 30 months and then returned to the City Council in 1995 after his constituents voted him back into office (sounds like they're gluttons for punishment, too) where he eventually became the chair of the planning and zoning committee.
Okay, now we are referring to midsections. For the second year in a row, Memphis found itself on Men's Fitness magazine's Top 10 Fattest Cities in America.
Though perhaps not a shock in the land of barbecue and fried chicken, it's still a little embarrassing. Cities were graded on the number of public parks, residents' access to health care, local air quality, and the number of fast-food restaurants. The good news: Memphis moved down two slots, from number 4 in 2005 to number six in 2006.
Let's say it looks like you've made a horrible mistake, something so bad that it's embarrassing your colleagues and forcing your clients to question your ethics. When your boss finds out, she asks you if you should be suspended or fired. You say no and head back to work as if nothing ever happened.
Even someone with a very healthy ego might feel a little uncomfortable. But apparently Edmund Ford's ego is better than healthy. After being arrested on bribery charges, Ford has not only kept coming to council meetings but participated in votes not to censure himself and not to ask himself to resign.
The City Council's motion to censure failed with a 6-6 tie vote, meaning that if Ford hadn't voted, the censure would have passed. We're not sure about the council's rules on such matters, but it seems like that's a conflict of interest. Perhaps Ford should have recused himself from voting on his own reprimand. Then again, if he was prone to doing the right thing, he might not be in this mess in the first place.
And Memphis' special "sins" ...
Homeland Security: Bugged
Sure, irony isn't quite one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but when Homeland Security, the agency responsible for protecting Americans from terrorism, gets bugged, well, someone had to be doing something wrong.
First, Fox 13 News said it had obtained about 17 hours of audio tape from inside the office. A quick inspection of the Homeland Security office found two bugs hidden behind the ceiling tiles. A former employee was initially thought to be the source of the bugs, but he later said he taped his conversations with a handheld cassette recorder. What with the president's secret wire-tap program, we thought Homeland Security was the agency that did bugging ... Surely they didn't bug themselves?
Maybe it's not technically stealing if you give something away. But when the cash-strapped city and county is giving out over $40 million in tax breaks a year under the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program, we think the companies getting them should feel a little guilty.
Memphis and Shelby County used the PILOT program to lure businesses to the area and thus spur economic development. After a study said the program lacked oversight and corporate compliance, local government bodies approved changes that would increase supervision, limit it to companies that pay higher wages and offer medical benefits to employees, and require that 75 percent of employees live in Shelby County.
Maybe it's just us, but it seemed like a year when everything was going up in smoke. The Pro-Serve agricultural chemical plant in South Memphis caught fire twice during the month of August. Both fires were three-alarm blazes fed by pesticides at the plant. Along with various smaller apartment fires throughout the year, Highland Towers suffered a three-alarm fire in October, resulting in $1.7 million in damages and one fatality.
Also in early October, downtown residents awakened to find the city ablaze, as a fire at the First United Methodist Church spread to the Court Square annex building, the Lincoln American Tower, and the Lowenstein Building. A month later, another downtown building, being renovated on Madison, caught fire.
Hmm, surely all these fires don't have anything to do with our other sins ... or do they?