Behind the Headlines – December 29, 2017

Behind the Headlines – December 29, 2017


 – (female narrator)
 Production funding for  Behind the Headlines
 is made possible in part by:  the WKNO Production Fund,  the WKNO Endowment Fund,  and by viewers like you.  Thank you. – A look back at the
biggest stories of 2017. Tonight, on Behind
the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by Karanja
Ajanaku, Executive Editor Tri-State Defender. Thanks for being here. – Pleasure. – Bill Dries is
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. And Toby Sells, News Director
with The Memphis Flyer. – Hi, Eric. – And so we talk about
some of the biggest stories of the
year and I started making notes on this
a couple weeks ago. I’m not sure what I
would have put first, but given that the
statues were brought down, what a week ago now, that clearly was
the biggest story. It was a big story
all year long. I’ll start with you
Karanja, I mean, your thoughts of that night? The coverage of the
Tri-State Defender, your thoughts on
the whole situation? – Well, like the rest of us, we knew something was bubbling. But whether we knew it was
gonna happen that night, no. That was our
production night, also. So our– – (Eric)
The night you’re going, you’re putting the paper
together to go to press. – Yes, we go to
press at ten o’clock. And so this was pretty much
happening at that time. And it became apparent, I
dunno maybe around six or so, that whoa, this is
happening and this is happening right now. So we just swung in to
get people there mode, what adjustments
where we going to make to get the best
coverage possible. – Yeah, I was coming
back from out of town and my phone blows up and I
kind of get off the highway and look at it and
people are talking about these statues coming down. Drove by the Jefferson
Davis statue, and there’s some police, and thought well, I’ll go up
to the Health Sciences area. You couldn’t get close. I’m not sure, I mean the TV
coverage I ended up watching, the scale of the
police presence, the dump trucks that were
everywhere, it was amazing. Bill, you were down there. I mean, you– – Yeah, and I got
there pretty early and before it was
completely sealed off. We had been told by
the administration that there was a plan
in place to do this by whatever means
it happened by. There was the plan
to actually do it, to actually take
the monuments down. And then there was the process,
or the legal reasoning, and then the council
action that would dictate that plan
swinging into action. So the plan to take
the monuments down, we had all been told that it was in place and was ready to go. And some of it was
probably based on lessons learned from New
Orleans and some other cities where the monuments
had come down as well. – And we’re gonna
have Bruce McMullen, the Chief Legal Officer for
the mayor’s administration, on next week to talk
about some of that. Because I think Toby,
people who’ve come to me, and this is just my
social medial, my friends, my acquaintances,
I’ve had no one really come to me and say oh, those statues should
have stayed up. I have had people come and say I don’t like how that happened. I’ve had people say
that, because again, disclosure I’m Board Chair of
the Overton park Conservancy, so I’ve had people
come to me and say, don’t you worry? As a person who’s in
charge of park land or the conservancy that’s
in charge of park land, that this kind of maneuvering, kind of dark of night
behind closed doors, could be done… Maybe this was the
ends justify the means, but what if you don’t
agree with the ends? – Precisely, and that
method, what happened that night of the council vote, there was an ordinance in place. It had gone through
a couple of readings, they delayed it, they came
back for the third reading and then they had this
replacement ordinance, I guess that’s the
terminology Bill. – (Bill)
Substitute. – Substitute ordinance that
came and redid the entire rule. The council never read
it, the public was never given a version of this. The council voted on it. It was the rule of law before anybody knew what was happening. Then they immediately
went into action and I would say the
majority of Memphians are glad those
statues came down. But I think that it
set this really bad precedent for transparency
in local government. Because they have this
play in their playbook now and they can use it for
anything if they wanted to. They could call
it the statue play if there’s something that’s
unpopular in the budget. Or yeah, if they wanted to
sell the Greensward say, or some other thing
that they wanted to do where they didn’t want a
whole lot of public scrutiny, a lot of public involvement in. They could use this
kind of in-run play to make that thing happen. And I think a lot of
folks that watch City Hall are kind of watching
that and are worried about the way they might
use that in the future. I doubt that it’ll become
just a standard play that they use for
everything, but there it is. And Kemp Conrad has
come on this show, council member Kemp Conrad,
has come on this show and kind of poked
fun at the public’s mistrust of the council,
talk about black helicopters, some other things. And if you ever wonder
where that comes from, it’s stuff like this. – And some of that
was in the context of a proposal put forward
to change the rules about how people can protest, how people can
gather, 5Ks and so on. it was a couple weeks
ago, a month ago, that we had council on. Your thoughts, Karanja,
on the means by which, I think the Tri-State
Defender had argued they should come down, I think the Memphis Daily
News had, The Flyer had, I don’t know that
there were any paper in town that hadn’t from
an editorial point of view argued that the statues
should come down, but the means which had been
talked about for months. I mean sometimes publicly,
it was a very carefully laid out plan of
passing some ordinances, putting pieces together,
creating this non-profit. Do the means concern you? Because as Toby articulated,
they could be used for other ends that
maybe Tri-State, or you, don’t agree with. – Well, I live in
the United States so obviously I’m concerned
about the rule of law, but I don’t have this concern
that I’m hearing from Toby. I don’t think that I could
under emphasize the ends. The ends were just paramount,
they had to come down. And I have faith, to
a reasonable degree, with the administration
that they did it legally. It would be ludicrous
not to have found a legal way to move forward. And there was just so
much riding on this. There was just simply
no way that we could get to the MLK50 situation
and have those statues up. They had to come down. And so that’s where
I come down on that. – You said you agree
with that, the ends. – (Toby)
Oh, certainly. – Just so everyone’s
clear on that. – Certainly, we’ve
come out certainly said those statues
need to come down and certainly before MLK50. – Right, but when I
hear him there’s seems like there’s a heaviness
that this is going to be used in some way
to do x, y, and z. I don’t hear that
clear-cutness about it. Bill was talking about that too. – I think that you will see
some caution in using this. This is a pretty
unique legal situation. It’s a very complex
legal situation. Allan Wade who is the
City Council’s attorney, who was the city
government’s lead attorney in this particular court case, has described all
of the complexities surrounding a legal process
for removing these statues on the state end as quote on
quote, “Confederate hell.” there were all
kinds of different processes that
had to take place. The state’s
Historical Commission could hear the
matter on one date, but could not act
for another month. If it acted, then the
statues could not actually be moved for another 120 days. So I think that what happened
was the attorneys at City Hall found a way that was complex,
a way that moved very quickly. But a way that
actually was not even a measure for the
different loopholes, complexities and leaps and jumps that you had to make in
state law around this issue. – And to the point of the state,
when we’d had the mayor on, we had city council
people through the fall, I always ask because
I’d heard this from so many other people, are you gonna get
this done before the legislature goes
in session in January? Because the legislature’s gonna close every possible loophole. I mean, there was a
real sense of urgency that yeah this property
shift was kinda out there, people kind of talked about it, people are talking
about behind the scenes. But that path was
gonna get shutdown. It also seems, and I’ve had
just pure people speculating, but who are in the know, that this path that they use now could get altered or shutdown. I mean certain
legislators are so mad. I think Haslam was in
favor of them coming down, but a lot of particularly
the rural legislators saw no need for these
statues to come down. – On any given Tuesday
you have to remember that the average council
agenda is 20 to 30 items. And the council members know how the process works
out of necessity. After about three
meetings in the slot they’re sitting at the
chair taking the votes. You become quickly
acclimated to how it works. Does it move too fast at times? Yes, it does. There are times
when things come up and the public is lagging behind and the council’s trying
to get through this agenda with items the vast
majority of which they all agree should be passed, but sometimes that
does get trampled. And being on the council
is a constant state of being reminded that
you have to make sure the people understand
what you’re doing. – A couple more
thoughts on this. One, it is a grave site still. At least underneath
the Forest statue, do we know what’s
going to happen next? With the holidays I’m kind
of out of it so I don’t– – (Bill)
That will go through Chancery Court. – That will go through
Chancery Court, what happens next
with the grave site. Do we know
where the statues are? There’s a kind of
real fixation on that. Almost as a parlor game, but
also it’s a very serious issue, there’s a lot of symbolism,
good and bad for people, about where the statues are. And we don’t know. – No idea. – (Karanja)
I think Mr. Turner said that wherever they are, they’re safe. – And they’re together. – Oh, okay. – And that’s Van
Turner who’s the head of the Greenspace
Inc. non-profit that took possession
of the two parks. And that’s the other thing. Van Turner, who’s also
a County Commissioner came out and said this, I
think I’m gonna paraphrase, this is just the beginning, and there are other
things we’re gonna do. Do we know yet what those
other things might be in terms of what Van Turner
and Greenspace Inc. might do? – No, but it’s certainly
interesting that you have this kind of non-profit formed, because both of these parks
are key pieces of real estate. Health Sciences Park
is in the middle of a medical district
that is now attempting to have a master plan
to connect all of the institutions within it. And Health Sciences
Park is really in the center of all
of this new development that’s going on around it,
some of it residential. And Memphis Park where the
Jefferson Davis statue had been is really has been
the nerve center for the Fourth Bluff efforts and most of the activities
that have happened on that stretch
of the riverfront. So these two parks, even
without the monuments, are at the center of
a lot of plans for those two respected areas. – And kind of this vision
of a newer Memphis, a Memphis that’s moving forward. I will say, this is a
tough story to cover. It’s an interesting
thing to cover. The Flyer is a left
of center paper, I mean it always has
been so you have that. Tri-State also. For us, we’ve always
been this non-partisan, The Memphis Daily News. And this is me
speaking as publisher not on behalf of WKNO. It’s a tough story to
cover, because I personally, and we as an editorial board,
wanted those statues down. But you’re also trying
to find the other people who are either critical
of the legal process or have some belief
in those statues. And we’ll have in the
future people on the show, or we’ll try to, who
are of another opinion of what should have
happened with those statues. So I wanna make sure I say that. We’ll move on to some
of the other stories. There’s a lot of
themes in this about we have a new mayor, Mayor
Strickland, and the council. All kinds of things that
happened in this last year. But one thing this
did speak to too, and we talked a little
before the show Karanja, was looking back on other
issues, a year of activism. Almost going back to when
the bridge was shutdown, Black Lives Matter. Talk about your
thoughts on activism across the board in
Memphis in this past year. – Well that’s the big thing that I’ll be looking at
this coming year. For me, the question is is
the African-American community gonna find a way to
empower itself at a level we’ve not seen in recent years? There’s always talk about that. Is there a way
that we can marshal our forces from an
economic standpoint? Is there something
that we can do to police our community? So the question is
whether the activism that has popped up
around the bridge, around Take ‘Em Down
901, whether that can any kind of way
stimulate, push forward, pull, so that there’s
a new level of activism generally in the African-
American community. We were also talking
earlier about somewhat of a division. We talked about
division relative to the activists and
the administration. There’s also a division
somewhat within the African-American community
relative to activism. Beyond popular
belief, not everybody thought in the African-
American community that the statues
should come down or how they should come down. So there’s always
that type of division. And so the question is
how are those elements or are those elements
gonna be able to talk in a more consistent way that is gonna get us to
the end of 2018 in a substantively different
posture than we are coming to the end of 2017? – And it’s interesting
you say that, because next year’s a
big election year, Bill. We did a show a week or two ago with the head of the
local Republican party and Democratic party and you got really interesting
insight into the way they’re approaching things
against the backdrop of statues, of protests, the African-American
community and where they are, but also against the
backdrop of Trump. And the impact that
President Trump’s policies have had
at a local level. The Alabama race. And it was interesting,
it was for me, the headline coming
out of that show we did was the head of the local
Republican party, Lee Mills, saying we have to divorce
ourselves from Trump. Because President Trump may be very popular in rural Tennessee, but he’s less and less
popular among the educated, suburban kind of typically
white Republican base of Republicans in this area. – Right, and if you’re talking
about winning elections, which is what this is about, Winning county-wide elections. This is a county that
Hillary Clinton carried in the last presidential
general election with 60% of the vote. I think that we have
this tremendous ongoing discussion about tactics
in Shelby County, and in Memphis in particular. That was underway before Trump’s surprise win to take
the White House. The bridge protest,
which was just a seminal moment in all of
this, was in July of 2016. Way before November in terms
of how quickly things moved. And I think some
of the difference over tactics here
is generational. You have younger people who are becoming involved in protests. What’s happening to
them is pretty quickly they’re starting
to ask the question is protest all
that this is about? What is the next level
of political involvement? Should I be involved
with a political party whose goal is to
elect people with a D or an R behind their name or should I stay with issues? If I stick with issues,
am I ever gonna find any candidate that I can
get behind and work for who’s going to be true to
those particular causes? But at the same time,
these younger people believe that protest
on a constant level is necessary to
keep people engaged. That’s very different
from another generation who believes that protest
is part of a larger overall strategy and
is used more sparingly toward a specific goal. And after negotiations
and before the next round of negotiations. – Yeah, Toby, thoughts
on the election coming up in this next year? Or other stories
from this past year that are big on your lists
of things that were covered? There’s so much
that happened that we haven’t even gotten to. – There really were. I would say huge changes
at The Commercial Appeal can’t be left out of
the big stories there. When Gannett Company,
when they closed the deal to buy The
Commercial Appeal and some other
newspapers in April 2016, they said we’re gonna
take about 12 months, not make any major changes. Almost a year to the
date in April 2017 we had an enormous amount
of layoffs at the paper, around 20 staffers were let go. The leadership there came out, Louis Graham came out
in a letter and said this is part of a historic
transformation of the newspaper in a way that Gannett
and the USA Today Network they want to kind
of make a one team approach for Tennessee news. And we’ve seen some of
that shortly after that. Louis Graham who’d been at
the paper for many, many years left to go to ALSAC St.
Jude where he is now. And there was a new
executive editor over there, Mark, I am… on his last name, he’s the new executive
editor over there. And we’ve seen a lot of changes. We’ve seen a lot
of national news and a lot of Knoxville
news showing up in the daily pages of
the Commercial Appeal. And that’ll continue
I think as they continue to push
their digital product. – And Ryan Poe, who’s
often on the show and just couldn’t be here today and Chris Herrington
also who’s been on the show from time to time, we just couldn’t schedule it. It is an interesting thing. All of you guys worked at
the CA at one point, right? Yeah, that’s so interesting. And you think back
to one of the folks who’s in our newsrooms
who’s at the CA who started there
10 plus years ago, they had a newsroom of
200 plus, 210 or 220. They are by I think
most counts, local, they’re down to 28. And this is not, I wanna
say, me picking on the CA. Because, and your
boss Ken Neill, publisher of The
Contemporary Media, he and I talk about it often. It’s just bad for cities. And this is
happening nationally. I’m not angry at Gannett
that they’re doing this, I’m not trying to blame them. It’s a business model and the business has changed
underneath them. And people will come
to me and say oh, this is a great
opportunity for you. Well, for The Daily
News not really. Because we’re not gonna
staff up to 200 people. There are stories
that you’re just not gonna get from a
daily metro paper, not just in Memphis, this
is going on in Nashville, this is going on
around the country. So it’s an interesting time
and it’s a difficult time. And again, I just feel
terrible for the really good people who are
over there who’ve been through so much change
and kind of trauma. Some of the other
bigger stories, Bill maybe I’ll turn
to you in terms of everything going
on at Overton Park. Not just with, again,
disclosure I’m Chairman of the Board of Overton
Park Conservancy, but just The Brooks,
the MCA closing, a whole lot of news. A whole lot of things happening
good and bad in that area. – Yeah, when the year
began we were talking about what does a parking
compromise look like for the Memphis Zoo
and the Greensward and is that plan
going to hold together or is it going to change again? Ultimately it did. At the end of the year,
we’re talking about what I think we can all agree is a much larger fundamental
change in a park that has always had
these institutions of the Zoo, The Brooks
Museum of Art, the Old Forest, the most
recent addition to it, the Levitt Shell,
you know all of these institutions
included in it. Well, The Brooks
is going to move to a riverside new museum in
about five or six years. The Memphis College of Art
is going to close its doors after about 60
years in the park, after more than 80 years overall including their time
in Victorian Village. Memphis College of Art
will close in two years. Those are two huge institutions,
not only for the park, but for the city of Memphis. So at year’s end,
that process is still working its way through
and we have the first concrete, very well
thought out plan for what to do with The Brooks. And it is from Ekundayo Bandele, the founder of Hattiloo Theater, who has proposed a national
black theater museum and he already has
partnerships lined up with four national black
theater organizations to not just contribute to it, but to move to Memphis
from the cities they are currently in
and be a part of that. – Hattiloo Theatre is, there
are different ways to count it, but they’re about
the third largest African-American
theater in the country. Houston, then
Chicago, then Memphis. I remember talking
about that and I said not Atlanta, not Charlotte? He said, “No, no, no,
we’re the third largest.” and his connections throughout
the African-American theater world are
really impressive. And it would be transformative. I don’t know your
thoughts on it Karanja, it would be a
transformative theater, transformative
tourist attraction, a transformative entry
into Overton Park. – All of those things, but in the larger
sense it’s about art. And the importance
that the connection between art and
critical thinking. And when I look at Memphis,
that’s where we gotta go. We have to step up
relative to how we think, how we go about teaching
our children to think. And I think that art plays
a really big role into that. And it sorta even ties back into what we were talking about
earlier about activism. I think that we have a tendency when we’re thinking
about activism when we critically think and we don’t think our way through it. We say activism and we
immediately think protest. We immediately
think demonstration. Activism is more than that. The activists
themselves, many of them, are making the point that
we’re not just about protest. We’re not just
about demonstration. We’re about Pre-K. We’re about literacy and helping
people learn how to read. Those types of things. So I think that the
arts is an element to help us raise our level
of thinking and activity. – Just a couple minutes left. Another big piece of
sort of quasi public land was the fairgrounds, Toby. And you and I actually
just coincidentally toured the coliseum
right before the mayor. Paul Young with
the mayor’s office announced the plan that
included moth-balling the coliseum to the
frustration of the coliseum coalition, a lot of
advocates for that building. But a very grand, big
plan for the fairgrounds that is tied to a TDZ,
Tourism Development Zone. The downtown redevelopment
on the riverfront, on Mud Island and
The Brooks downtown is a separate but another TDZ. Thoughts on the fairgrounds? There’s at least a
plan now and it’s been kind of in limbo for a decade
since Libertyland closed. – Right, and this plan also
focuses on youth sports which is kind of a 2.0
version of an original plan that we had a few years
ago for the same thing. And people can
argue that that plan or youth sports is an
outdated, outmoded idea and there have been
groups working to get community support
behind different plans. Get different thoughts in
about what the fairgrounds could be for the people of
Memphis and for that area. And the administration
went a different way. They said yeah,
we’re gonna go back to this youth sports idea. It’s a $160 million
plan to be paid with through that TDZ which
a lot of the money that would go to the
state from a certain area will now stay in to
help pay for that. It includes retail, it
includes an $80 million youth sports complex
there that will be used for travel teams
and some other things, I think there’s a hotel
and some other things. – It hooks into the community, into Orange Mound
redevelopment, Melrose High, connection to the green line. – That’s right. An they did build access points out into the
community like that. Like Bill has said many
times, a lot of money is gonna be spent to increase
access into the fairgrounds. Which I think is a great thing. So the next step in
the process I think is the State Building Commission has to approve the
TDZ and it needs to go back for final
council approval. – And obviously there’s
a lot of concern among some people that the state will take retribution
now, given, coming full circle back to
the issue with the statues, and that some legislators
will want to punish Memphis. Not just over the TDZs,
but other legislative… So that remains to be seen. Without enough time left, because we talked
about a whole lot. Karanja, when Bernal
Smith, publisher of The Tri-State Defender and a
frequent guest on the show, passed away, it was
sudden, it was tragic. It was a gut punch as you said. Thoughts on Bernal? With you know, 30 seconds left. – Well I just think
that his family’s done really well coming
through the process. The Tr-State Defender
family is moving forward. We have a president of
our board and they’re doing a good job of helping
us through this transition. We were already making
some transition moves in terms of how we were
gonna go into the new year and we accelerated
those plans from there. We appreciate his leadership. – Well thank you. And thank you all,
appreciate it. And thank you for watching. Join us again next week, we’ll have Bruce McMullen
from the city on. Thanks, goodnight. [orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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