Monday, August 22, 2005

Pondering Imponderables # 2



Even Germantown can’t match its rhetoric about the importance of design when developers need land. A couple of locations within the city limits are now sites for the clear cutting of trees. And this in the city that thinks it sets the standard for all the rest of the county when it comes to livability.

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The Airport Authority is making a valiant effort to remove the eyesore caused by the landscaped “M” that greets drivers as they leave the airport headed to I-240. Following our blog on the overgrown weed patch that had replaced the planned flowery welcome mat, Authority workers removed the weeds and sodded the “M.” Maybe next year, they can graduate to flowers, and if all else fails, they can contract with the Riverfront Development Corporation to do it for them. The entrance to downtown that the RDC has created on Riverside is what the access road to the airport was supposed to be – full of trees, flowers and landscaping.

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In the next few weeks, Mayor Herenton will be making another push for school consolidation, so get ready to endure an outburst of demagoguery from the Shelby County School Board of Education chairman. Increasingly, however, personality conflicts aside, this is an idea whose time is coming.

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A “big announcement” on the future of The Pyramid is being planned. Whether taxpayers should celebrate will depend on whether the potential developers show up with their own financing and not depend on city and county governments to be part of the financial plan. Don’t expect for any investors to pay the outstanding debt on the signature building, as city and county governments had hoped when it appointed the committee to recommend future uses.

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The Memphis Cook Convention Center Board appears ready to sign a contract for SMG to continue managing the facility. When SMG was hired, its stated goal was to reduce the $1.5 million in deficit funding paid for by the hotel-motel tax, but in truth, the deficit has grown by about one-third. Every one on the board likes and respects SMG employee Pierre Landaiche, who manages the convention center, which begs the question of why the board doesn’t just make him an offer he can’t refuse and cut loose the costly corporate overhead of SMG. The Philadelphia-based corporation, which essentially owns the assembly building management market in the U.S., promised more than it ever has delivered in the way of special expertise from its home office to help grow the Memphis convention center market.

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So, President Bush is appointing his old spin meister Karen Hughes to improve the U.S.’s image abroad. One of her ideas is a tried-and-true campaign tactic: the rapid response team. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the team would “work to deal with misinformation and misinterpretation” from around the globe. She said the Administration has had to rebut “all kinds of lies about what we are doing.” All of this raises the question of who will correct the misinformation and misinterpretation that is distributed by the Administration itself, particularly in the areas of intelligence and foreign policy. Nor does it deal with the fact that roughly 80 percent of the bad press abroad and the bad image of the U.S. comes directly from American policies, according to Ms. Hughes’ own consultant.

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Memphis City Schools’ budget was $500 million in 1997. It is $800 million today. It had 108,000 students then and 119,000 students now. We’re not making any point. We just found it an interesting statistic.

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Since 1998, county property tax rate increases have totaled $1.54 plus the 5 cents for debt service on rural school bonds property owners outside Memphis pay. The breakdown is 83 cents for school operations, 45 cents for debt service and 26 cents for general government. The general government gain has been up and down as more of the rate has been shifted to debt service. The debt service costs will continue to climb in the future, but to this point, the major factor in county property tax increases has been school operations and not the county's debt.

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