Opinion » Viewpoint

The Memphis Week That Was

Hannah Montana, Bass Pro, School Shootings, and the County Commission


Bigger than Hannah Montana? Steve Zito, vice president of operations and entertainment for the Memphis Grizzlies, says Saturday's UT-Memphis game is the second hottest ticket in the arena's short history. Only last year's Hannah Montana concert was hotter, and that was after blocking out 3,000 seats behind the stage. Peyton and Eli Manning are coming, so is the ESPN College Game Day crew, and this week Zito was trying to fulfill a ticket request from Kevin McHale, VP for basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Everybody is looking for tickets," said Zito. "This is one of the hottest tickets I have seen in 25 years, and I have been fortunate to have been a part of NBA finals, championships, Final Fours, and college bowl games. But demand for this is incredible. This is as big as it gets. And this is kind of an all-day event, so everybody is going to have a good pay day on this. It's a great day for the city."

Kevin Kane, head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, is expecting more good news next year when FedExForum will the host a regional site for the NCAA men's basketball tournament, meaning Memphis will host Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games. That will be a first for Memphis, which previously hosted opening round and second-round games at The Pyramid.

Speaking of seating, the Shelby County Commission is sitting pretty. Commissioners have two meeting rooms, one on the ground floor and another on the fourth floor of the county building. Both are wired to the max, in contrast to the comparatively Spartan meeting rooms for the Memphis City Council across the plaza.

The contrast was obvious at the Bass Pro sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. City Council members meeting in executive session were jammed into a fifth-floor meeting room no bigger than the dining room in a respectable suburban mansion. They sat around an oblong table. Spectators either grabbed one of the 20 or so chairs along the walls or stood shoulder-to-shoulder with staff, security, and television camera crews. There were no microphones or computers. Council members were so close to one another that there was no need for them.

The regular council sessions are held downstairs in a room that is usually more than adequate for any crowd. For whatever reasons, council members prefer to hold committee meetings upstairs rather than downstairs, even when there are people who can't get in.

The County Commission holds committee meetings in a spacious room with 45 chairs and plenty of standing room. Commissioners sit behind a half-horseshoe table with individual computer stations and microphones. There are four new Dell computers with 16-inch monitors plus 14 more computer monitors and a large screen for group presentations.

Not to go all Andy Rooney here, but it seems excessive and wasteful for a government that will turn down funding requests when it makes its budget this spring. During Wednesday's presentation, Robert Lipscomb spoke so softly that he couldn't be heard from the back of the room, but nobody suggested he move over and pull down one of the microphone cords hanging from the ceiling. In other words, that the technology actually be used. Instead, the people at the back of the room got up and stood near the front. The computers were not used either, even though they could eliminate or reduce the need for paper copies. Commissioners sat, listened, flipped pages, and talked.

In the regular commission meeting room on the first floor there are seven more Dell computers and 13 more monitors, one for each member. The City Council somehow gets by with two computers and 13 monitors in its main chamber.

A few years ago, two commissioners, Bruce Thompson and Diedre Malone, took a stand against new chairs, to no avail. So it was with the computers. Somebody at Dell made the county an offer it couldn't refuse. County officers such as the Assessor that used to be located downtown have moved out east. So commissioners now have more space and hardware than they need. Remember this the next time a commissioner says the county has no extra money.

Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton says a 31-cent increase in the county property tax would "take us beyond 2010." If that is his proposal, passage will require a two-third super-majority of the commission. A penny on the property tax is worth about $1.7 million. Memphians already pay the highest property tax rate, by far, in Tennessee. A city property tax increase would be on top of a county levy. It's Mayor Herenton's move.

A sad sidebar to the Bass Pro story are the mean personal attacks heaped upon Robert Lipscomb, many of them posted anonymously as comments on various websites in defiance of their supposed guidelines and policies.

Lipscomb has done a credible job of trying to pull off a deal for reuse of The Pyramid for the benefit of Memphis and Memphians. He has been left pretty much alone to make the case. He's the first to admit he's playing a weak hand, has made mistakes, and this deal might not fly. I think it is partly his fault for trying to wear too many hats -- finance, Fairgrounds redevelopment, Pyramid, MHA, replacing the housing projects -- and partly Mayor Herenton's for not reining him in.

"Bass Pro is tired of this just like I am," Lipscomb told me when I asked if he has spread himself too thin. "I know I am spread too thin but I don't think it has hurt me on these projects. I don't think my wearing multiple hats has been an issue."

Lipscomb said Scott Ledbetter, head of The Pyramid Reuse Committee, was out of this week and unable to join him at the council and commission meetings. Whatever. The result, I believe, is that the Bass Pro proposal is now seen by many people as the Lipscomb proposal, and that isn't good.

The best response to school shootings I have seen in the last two weeks was from East High School principal Fred Curry. In a letter to The Commercial Appeal, Curry touted the school's insistence on discipline, manners, achievement, and personal appearance. It was not too hot -- a la board member Kenneth Whalum Jr. -- and not too cool -- interim superintendent Dan Ward.

I've made half a dozen visits to East in the last two years, and Curry has walked it as well as talked it, buying into such programs as Charlie McVean's East High Scholars and Teach For America. Metal detectors and safety manuals are fine, but any "solution" will ultimately rely on the daily efforts of teachers, principals, and students.

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