Behind the Headlines – February 17, 2017

Behind the Headlines – February 17, 2017


(female announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. – Police unions and the city,
investment in North Memphis, and much more tonight
on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
roundtable of journalists to talk about some of the
biggest stories of the week. Toby Sells, reporter
with The Memphis Flyer, thanks for being here again. – Hi, Eric. (Eric)
Bill Dries, senior reporter with
The Memphis Daily News. And Bernal Smith is publisher
of The New Tri-State Defender. – Glad to be back. – So, let’s start with
the police and the unions. It’s contract time. And so, Bill, that
means we have billboards. What is going on? Give us the rundown of what’s
going on and what kind of talk it brings? – Well, the contract
negotiations are starting. And as a result, some tensions
between the administration and the police union have kind
of risen to the surface at the same time. So, the contract negotiations,
actually just that part of it, have been pretty cordial so far. No disagreements yet. And Mayor Strickland has
indicated that he will propose some kind of pay raise for
the police rank and file in his budget proposal. He is not willing to say what
the percentage is going to be. But this will be the third pay
raise for the rank and file in a two-year period, which he
thinks is very important. In the midst of all of this, the
police union has brought back its billboard campaign and the
billboard that has drawn the ire of the mayor is the one that
notes that we had a record homicide count of
228 homicides in 2016. This is a pretty controversial
series of billboards. – And not the first time
that the union has done this. And there’s nothing factually
incorrect about that billboard I don’t think. And all this is
against the backdrop of, you know, the police
force peaked at around 2,400. It’s down to just under 2,000. Mayor Strickland, he was on a
couple weeks ago talking about, you know, his goal to get
hopefully a net hundred through the course of this year. He wants to get back as
close to 2,400 as he can. But obviously that’s
going to take some time. Your thoughts on
this tactic, Bernal, by the police union. Mike Williams, who, the
head of the police union, also ran for Mayor
against Strickland. – You know, I’m
not sure that it, you know, it’s
the best strategy. I mean, I understand
where it comes from. But to, you know, put out,
particularly in our areas of tourism where we got a lot of
people visiting the city to say, hey, 228 murders,
we’re down 500 officers. You know, it’s sort to scare
or fear tactics if you will. And I’m not sure that’s in
the best interest of our city, particularly when it
comes to tourism dollars, and people spending money and
feeling good about being here in Memphis would help support the
police department ultimately. – People in the business
community in the past have said, and I was out of town a bunch
this week so I haven’t seen all of the reaction. But it’s just
counter-productive. If you’re driving people away,
if you’re driving people out, you’re hurting the tax base. You’re hurting the
tourism dollars. How is that helping pay
for the police and so on? Toby, any thoughts on this? – I just remember the ones from
a few years ago and these are a little bit better than the
ones that say “do not enter.” Warning, dangerous city. And at least it’s a
little bit better. And like you said, there’s
nothing factually incorrect on there. I question the motivation. I mean, Strickland says he’s
committed to raising the ranks of the police and
all that stuff. And I know Williams
has said, you know, he wants to get pay raises
and things to help recruit. And it seems like some
of those things are kind of already in motion. And I don’t understand exactly
what the end game is here. – Well, Williams wants the
benefits back and the union wants the benefit
cuts that were made, we want them restored. And that’s what he thinks
drives home the message on the billboard. That’s what the
billboards are all about, that you’re not going to be
able to be up to 2,400 unless and until you
restore the benefits. Pay raises are fine but
they want the benefits back. And that’s some place that
Strickland is not going to go. And from counting
votes on the council, I don’t think the
council is willing to go back, at least not this soon
after they took that action. – Yeah. We could talk about that. I mean, the whole national
phenomenon of the crime rate being up and the kind
of spotlight on police, we could talk about this and
we’ve talked a lot in the last year appropriately so. But the one thing that is now in
the mix in terms of local police officers given the Trump
administration and the executive order is the role that the local
police in all cities are going to play in terms of
immigration enforcement. And any thoughts on that? Any more happening there? – Well, I mean, President
Trump in his press conference on Thursday did what a lot of
people including immigration attorneys here expected him to
do and that is he said we are going to have a new order on
immigration that’s going to remedy all the problems a
court found with the old one. It’s going to be more specific. In the meantime, ICE Immigration
and customs enforcement has started to make raids rounding
up undocumented immigrants. An attorney here locally who
deals with immigration a good deal has said that he’s advising
his clients who think they may be affected by
this to first of all, not leave the country and if
they’re not in the country now, get back here as
soon as possible. And he also says, David
Jones with Fisher Phillips, says that he is getting calls of
concern mostly from people who are not Muslim about this. So, that there’s really
a state of panic and a state of confusion. – I talked to somebody
from an advocacy group in a Hispanic community here. He’s a legal immigrant. He’s lived in the country
for 20-something years. There is tremendous
fear among Hispanic, documented and undocumented,
about where this is going to go. Any further thoughts? – I just say rightfully so. I mean, because, if you look at
the way the original executive order was
implemented, it was just, you know, just a bull in
a china shop kind of way. And it cast a real wide
net that impacted a lot of people unfairly. And so, there’s no precedent to
say that there’s not going to be a lot of
sensitivity about, you know, whether you’re
documented or not documented, you know. I think that the fear is
rightfully so but I would hope that the various departments
under the administration will take their time and actually
implement whatever the strategy is correctly with
some compassion. – Let’s move on. I mentioned at the top of
the show a big investment in North Memphis. It’s a SPARCC grant. It’s federal money,
and foundation money, and a million dollars. Bill, you want to
kind of outline this? – Sure. This is a technical assistance
grant and it was made by the city. But the idea, the framework
for it came from a coalition of groups in North Memphis. North Memphis has so many active
community groups in it from Smokey City, to
Klondike, to New Chicago, whose leader is on the cover
of the flyer this week as a matter of fact. So, they’ve applied for a
technical assistance grant. And what this specifically looks
at is taking the impact of a big, big economic development
commercial real estate project, in this case
Crosstown Concourse, and making sure that the
spillover effect that comes into North Memphis, Klondike being
the closest community to the Concourse, does not wind
up being gentrification, that it winds up specifically
re-building these areas so that the people who live there now
can continue to live there. – Thoughts on that. I saw the whole thing,
the demonstration blocks. And you read some of that
stuff and you feel cynical. You think, oh, a
demonstration block. But I was
thinking that, you know, that’s kind of how Main Street. They had a demonstration
block years ago that they kind of made work. And now that whole Main Street
area has really grown from there because they did prove, Paul
Morris and the Center City Commission at that
time, Downtown Memphis, that you could make it work. And that grew from there. – And I think what the strength
of the infrastructure of the groups that are there who have
been working long and hard in that community with some
resources and some direction with the initial investment
that’s already been made, I think it’s a smart approach
and I really believe that in this particular instance, the
momentum that’s there will, you know, allow these
groups to really… – I don’t know that this is
strictly in the area that the grant targets but still. I was coming down Sam Cooper
on the way to the studio and they’re breaking ground on a
grocery store right on Sam Cooper and the Binghampton area. That is no small deal. I mean, you’re
talking about this whole, and I think we’ve
talked about this before, Toby, or maybe
you’ve written about it, is food deserts. And this idea that it’s not just
going to be little convenient stores serving that neighborhood
but an actual full service grocery store is what people
have argued that’s what brings people back, that’s what
makes communities whole again. – It’s a community center. You know, those retail places
are more than just places to get food and shop. It’s places to go
and see, and be seen, and hang out. And it brings an energy,
kind of a center to a community like that. And I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to see what
energy brings right there to the corner. It’s going to be great. – And that is one of
those areas that has not… I mean, it is
completely mixed income. It’s very mixed race. You’ve got all kinds of things
going on Broad Avenue and other neighborhoods. So, I think that is in some ways
the model of what this SPARCC grant is pursuing. We’ll move to Beale Street and
the council is still trying to find the right mix
and the right manager. And I’ll turn to you, Bernal. Tell us what’s
happened, where we are. You all are a
tenant on Beale Street. So, I don’t know if that’s
disclosing or celebrating. – I think that there are some
battles there based upon the history of what’s transpired on
Beale Street from the various managers and, you
know, who’s on first. It’s interesting. At the last council
meeting, someone, you know, started naming out all
these different organizations. The Beale Street
Development organization. Then you have the
tourism organization. Then you have the
merchants association. And so, then when you
start, it’s who’s on first. Who’s actually driving
the decision down there. And I think what has happened
with the council was that ultimately, they said well,
we’ve sort of delegated our authority to, you know, to an
entity whose authority has been also delegated to somebody else. And so, we’ve got to sort of
reel this thing back in and make a real decision about the
future of Beale Street and the direction that it
ultimately goes. I think that’s what this
discussion coming up is going to be about. – This is kind of a running
joke with myself if no one else. I can’t keep track of it. I mean, we write about it. We talk about it on the show
and I can’t keep track of it. Because the Downtown Memphis
Commission is also the or an authority. – Acting manager, which was
supposed to be a six-month contract has not turned into
a three-year sort of venture. And now they’re looking
really three years ahead. And I think, you know, based
upon the tone and tenor of the council, that may
be a bit premature. – Your thoughts on this? You’ve covered
this for many years. – What you have is the change
to the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority and
specifically a way from the Beale Street
Development Corporation, although there is some dispute
from the Development Corporation about that. That was something that the
previous council undertook. And it was a follow-up on a
settlement of a three-way lawsuit that was in
bankruptcy court. It was in chancery court. Beale Street in its long-running
history I don’t think has ever been simple. It’s really not simple now. So, the previous council put
this development authority in place. Well, now you’ve got a new
council elected in 2016 that took office in 2017. Six new members and
they’re looking at this, and they’re going, someone needs
to explain this to us because we don’t understand why an interim
manager that was supposed to be there for six months
has now done three years. And in the meantime, the
Downtown Memphis Commission is looking at longer range plans. – And also meanwhile, the street
is really doing quite well, right? And the area around it has
seen all kinds of development, most notably
ServiceMaster which is, you know, going to bring all
kinds of people down there. And there’s other developments
down South Main we’ll talk about in a minute. So, the council takes it up
this week or this coming week? – Yeah, this coming week. And I think one of the things
you’ll find is that there are a measure of businesses
that are doing well. But I think this will
come out in that meeting. There are a number of
African-American tenants on the street that have actually seen
some struggles and feel like, you know, they’re sort
of a desperate or a, you know, sort of different
approach to how the street is marketed and supported
based on the various ends. So, the west end tends
to get lots of love and lots of promotion. The east end doesn’t get so much
and that’s where most of the African-American,
you know, tenants are. So, you know, I think all of
that is going to come out in this new council meeting. – And the west end is really
where you have an interesting mix of not just restaurants
but historic and commercially. You have the pool room there. I mean, a pool
room on Beale Street. You know, you have the
Withers Gallery that is there. His photo archive is there
on that end of the street. (Bernal)
Which is right next
door to our office. – Right. [cross-talk] – The conversations
that have been had on the council so far the past
month that’s going on. Race has been a central
element of those conversations. I think it’s going to be
an element going forward. And also, maybe
disbanding the tourism board. That’s kind of the way
the conversation seems to be leading out there. You know, folks are saying… Janis Fullilove is
saying, you know, Beale Street is historically a
black street and that’s the way it should be in the future. So, I think it’s going to be
really interesting conversation going forward, seeing how
it all kind of shakes out. – We’ll move to… I mentioned I was in
Nashville this week. The legislature is in full swing
with all kinds of things going on that will affect
Memphis and the whole state. The biggest talk up there… This is what I saw and I
chance to be in groups. I met with Beth Harwell. I saw the Governor
for a little bit, the Lieutenant Governor
McNally, and other legislatures. Mark Norris, the
majority leader from Memphis. And, you know, all the
talks about the IMPROVE, the gas tax. And is this going to happen? They’re trying to frame it. It’s not a tax. It’s a user fee because
you’re using the roads. There’s… I don’t have a sense but I heard
from lots of different people. I won’t name names. It isn’t going to go through. The legislatures don’t see
it going through the way that Haslam has proposed it. And it is an incredibly
difficult lift as Harwell said on this show a month ago,
particularly in the House, to vote for any
sort of tax increase, even if it’s called a user fee,
and even if it’s offset by cuts and all kinds of other taxes. So, it’ll be interesting. I mean, the Senate seems
that there’s some version of that can go through. Again, the whole thing is about
funding a backlog of some six billion in transportation
and transit projects across the state. The gas tax in Tennessee hasn’t
been raised in a couple of decades and cars are
more fuel efficient. There are
electric cars and so on. So, there’s a small shrinking
pool of money for an increasing number of projects
that need to get done. Your thoughts? I mean, locally people
here want Lamar Alexander.. Lamar Avenue. We’ll talk about that later. Sorry. Lamar Avenue to get
built out and all that. In Nashville, they’re focused on
transit because of their growth and the problem of you can’t
build more roads in Nashville and take care of
their transit problems. And then the problems in
the rural areas are entirely different in terms of what
they want in terms of money. So, it’s an intersection of
all the competing interests in the legislature. – Well, Governor Haslam, I think
from the outset, didn’t expect that his proposal, this balance
of tax increases and tax cuts, was going to pass. I think he knew there
were going to be amendments. His only condition on this
is that it has to be revenue neutral and he does not think
that this two billion dollar surplus that the state has
should be touched or is a wise way of funding the road projects
as an alternative because its one-time funding and road
projects have at least three fiscal years that
they operate across. – Yeah. Anyone who’s driven the 240 loop
will tell you these projects don’t happen quickly. – Yeah, a tax hike even with
gasoline at $2.15 a gallon, let’s go on the high
end here in Memphis, is still an easy
thing to defeat. But the other thing that happens
that people love to complain about is the bad condition of
the roads that they ride to and from work every day. That also has a
basic appeal to people. They want to see
the roads paved. They want to see
the roads better. They might not like tax hikes
but if you have a tax hike that they know goes to a road fund to
pave the roads that they ride on every day back and
forth and complain about, then in a lot of cases,
they’re willing to do that. – I think here in Memphis you
ride around and I hear people complain about the pot holes
and the bad conditions of the street. And then we also
look at, you know, public transportation here and
the need to enhance that and support that in different ways. I think it’s really about a
campaign to the public to really help understand, you know,
what this thing is going to really be about. And I think in some instances,
you really have to put a finite amount of time on it. It can’t be like the local wheel
tax that was supposed to be for one thing and then it
was supposed to be. It’s become a permanent part of
the county operational budget. I think the state has to
look at it and maybe say, hey, we need to fund this
for a finite period of time, you know, put a number
on that thing and then, you know, be prepared later on
down the road to pull it back once that funding is in place. – It was interesting, too,
up there and it’s always been the case. But it was somehow more
pronounced to me this time in part because of this big
proposal on roads is you mentioned transit. You know, the cities, the four
big cities are interested in more mass transit. They also want pot holes fixed
and they maybe have some road projects and so on. But they all want transit. That doesn’t connect
with rural legislatures. You have rural legislatures
with a lot of seniority and very important positions who carry a
lot of weight there saying what are you talking
about these buses. We don’t really… That’s
antithetical to what we do. And so, you see more
banding together just as with de-annexation last year where
the other cities in the state. Chattanooga was
targeted in de-annexation. But Nashville wasn’t. But it strongly supported
Memphis’ position as the cities are
coming together. And I think on this issue,
you’re going to start to see that. The cut in the hall income tax,
which is a tax that hits people on savings, which
is being phased out, and which is a
big hit to Memphis. I can’t remember. Ten and twenty million dollars
that would come to Memphis out of that that’s
getting phased out. You see the cities kind of
coming together that are across party lines a little bit to
kind of support their interests versus rural interests. So, I’ll be curious. Also, thoughts on the proposal
to cut the — totally phase out the grocery tax. I mean, that’s been up there. – That’s interesting. We were saying Arthur Laffer was
just up there earlier this week. (Eric)
A conservative economist. – Thank you. Telling folks that, you know,
this — that corporate tax cuts are the way to go. That’s going to spur investment. You know, not tax
cuts on people, you know, for groceries and
several other things that will really help out. And I think you’re
starting to see a lot of, you know, rural representatives
and things come out and say, I think this is going to help me
in my little town and it’s going to help some big corporate
tax to spur investments. So, it’s an interesting
conversation that’s happening again. It’s one of those that kind
of comes up a lot over time. But it seems like they
got some energy this year. – And you wrote about
potential changes in… We had wine in grocery
stores come in last July. But there is further
talk of further changes. – Yeah. It’s the same folks that pushed
for the wine in grocery stores. They’ve got kind of a new push
for seven day sales of wine. I was in Costco on Sunday and
there’s a big sign up that says, you know, can’t
sell wine on Sundays, we’re sorry for
the inconvenience. And they want to
do away with that. They’re wanting to say
to the grocery stores, any place that sells
wine can sell it on Sunday. And with that, you’ll have to
allow the liquor stores to be open and sell wine. And so far, it seems like
apparently spirits as well. So, maybe we’d have Sunday
sales of liquor and wine. – Well move on something. But when we talk about this… I read it. Fascinating article. I don’t usually do this
but today in The Atlantic, it as blue cities
and red states. And it was about
this phenomenon. You know, sometimes in Memphis
we talk about how Nashville is always picking on us. Nashville always picks on us. When I talk to the editor
of our Nashville paper, he’s like.
hey, join the club. You know, Nashville is
always picking on us, too. The legislature is
always picking on us. The people in
Chattanooga say it. And it was an article about
the statewide phenomenon of how cities and legislatures
interact across the country. It was very fascinating. So, if you’re into
these kind of things, it’s an interesting article. Another thing that
happened out of the legislature, I guess it was
voted on last year, but it’s not been implemented. University of Memphis has
its own board of trustees. Board of — what’s
it called, Bill? Is it board of trustees? – We’ll go with that. – But it’s its own local board. MTSU. I mean, the schools around
the state are getting them. The U of M certainly
fought this for decades, wanted it and very excited that
they now have control to set their own tuition, their own
capital spending and so on. – Yeah. They’ll still be
going to the state. They’ll probably be going
to a different part of state government for
the capital needs. And that was an
area of some concern. But, you know, when Brad Martin
was the interim president of the university, we had him on
this show talking about an independent board. And his philosophy, and this
was maybe a couple of years ago, was it’s really not a priority. It’s kind of… We already have a lot
of autonomy right now. So, this was kind
of a realization, I think, of the way that
things were going naturally. I mean, the Tennessee Board
of Regents had several dozen institutions because they,
in this original incarnation, they not only took in
the four-year colleges and universities, they had the
community colleges with it. Now they’re just going to
concentrate on the community college and the TCATS, the
Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, which are a really
big part of the state’s part of the equation on work
force development. Well, just a few
minutes left here. And I mentioned earlier some of
the development in South Main and so on. What is it? Old Dominick. Is that right, Bill? (Bill)
Old Dominick Distillery
has done something that we haven’t seen here
in a hundred years. They have started to put the
whiskey that they make right here into barrels for aging. You know, this hasn’t happened
since 1917 when prohibition took effect. Now keep in mind that Tennessee
had prohibition going back but the prohibition was not
enforced here in Memphis. And that was part
of the whole battle. It was not enforced at the
highest levels of political leadership, which at that
time was Edward Hull Crump. So, a milestone. – In Midtown, a big
kind of project there. Been a whole lot of development
in Midtown over the last year. But the Midtown Market, which
is at the corner of Union and Mclean, the old Towery building,
the old Holiday Inn building. Changes in that in terms of
being apartments now in the old building versus new apartments. They’ve scaled back basically. But I know certainly all the
Midtown community wants to see that empty building get filled. The last, we got
two-and-a-half minutes left. There are changes at
The Commercial Appeal. For the first time
in however long, they’ll be
printing up in Jackson. They’re closing the
press here in Memphis. – First time since the Civil
War when they were printing on a rail car. – Thoughts on the changes? There’s a lot of change. Gannett bought the
paper a year ago, has been making small changes. This is what some are
saying the first of a number of really dramatic changes. – I mean, it really signals that
they may even be selling that building, which is a significant
asset that they have. But now that
they’re not printing, which is a significant part
of that operation over there, it really bodes to
whether they will, you know, maintain that
building at 495 Union. – You know, when Gannett
finalized the deal in April of last year I guess,
they said, you know, we’re going to have 12 months
where we aren’t going to make a lot of significant
changes in the news room. A lot of folks I’ve talked to,
they’re looking to that April this year and saying we may
be in for some deeper cuts. I know they got
rid of freelancers. There’s been some changes in
some of the positions within the paper of what they do. Folks are looking
at April as maybe another substantial over there. – And I say this. We are all in some level
competitors of the CA. I don’t celebrate this. You know, people
sometime will say, and they may to you,
this is great for you. I think it’s bad. This is happening nationwide. These metro papers
are cutting back. I understand the business
side of this that they need to. But, you know, it’s tough on
communities when there are things that only metro
papers can really cover. And we can only, in our
ways, fill in so many gaps. And I’ve gone too long. But thank you all. Thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music]

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