Thursday, March 30, 2006

Success At Addressing Panhandling Problem Will Take MPD's Help

Ok, we admit that downtown panhandling is a hot button issue for us, so we were doing our best to support the latest anti-panhandling campaign rolled out by Memphis Police Department, Center City Commission and others.

Our patience was short-lived. Last week, leaving Calvary Episcopal Church’s Lenten Preaching Services, uplifted after hearing Temple Israel’s Senior Rabbi Micah Greenstein, we were approached by a panhandler who seemed to spring from behind the church door as we were leaving.

“Can you give me some money to help me out?” he implored, and patiently, we mentally pulled up the information on the Center City Commission website about panhandling and told the scruffy, fragrant fellow that Calvary Episcopal had programs that could help him.

“No, I don’t want to go there, because they won’t help me,” he answered with an obvious lie. We continued to tell him about Calvary’s programs and about Union Missing, but he persisted. We walked two blocks with him in tow, and as if someone had hit his “repeat” button, over and over, he asked for money.

But, we were resolute, and we refused, and finally we escaped by climbing into the car. It was no deterrent, because he stood in front so we couldn’t pull out, tapping on the rear view window as he continued to ask for money.

Finally, we escaped, promising ourselves to keep things in perspective while wondering aloud where the police are when these every day occurrences in downtown Memphis take place.

Three days later, I pull into the Exxon gas station at Poplar Avenue and Danny Thomas Boulevard against my better judgment. I quit going there years ago, because of the ever-present panhandling, but my car’s on empty and I have no choice.

I’m barely out of my car when accosted by a burly man in a bulky coat. “I need some money for dinner,” he says, extending his hand.

“I’d be glad to buy you dinner inside,” I answer. “What can I get you?”

“I need some money,” he intones, as if I never made the offer.

“I heard you, and I’ll gladly buy you dinner if you tell me what you want,” I responded. This time, his hand pokes me in the side, as he says yet again, “I need some money for something to eat.”

Finally, after three more stanzas of this song, his frustration grew so much that he stomps off, uttering some comment that seemed to involve my mother and me and an Oedipal urge that I can promise you does not exist. Finally, my gas tank full, I go inside to pay, where a uniformed policeman is chatting up the clerk.

All in all, it reenforces the feeling that the entire anti-panhandling campaign is a “blame the victim” program destined for failure because of MPD’s lack of interest. Panhandlers have plied their trade with such impunity that they feel invincible. They’ll even hassle tourists with policemen in sight.

The price of such indifference is steep. It produces a downtown made inhospitable to residents, workers and tourists who can never escape from the incessant threat of panhandling. And soon, it will get worse as the numbers swell, the regular summer resident moves into Barboro Alley where he’ll live in a sealed up window of the Butcher Shop, others will party under the windows of downtown lofts and the smell of urination will blend with the smells of the barbecue festival.

We’re trying to be philosophical this year, but it’s just so hard. This problem just seems to go on year after year, anti-panhandling campaign after anti-panhandling campaign.

Even the new program’s marketing seems conflicted. On one hand, the Center City Commission’s website rightly points out that most panhandlers are not homeless. “In fact, the vast majority of panhandlers are NOT homeless, and the vast majority of homeless do NOT panhandle,” the CCC says. “Generally speaking, panhandlers are strangers that approach you on the street to hustle you for money, which will most likely be used to buy drugs or alcohol.”

And yet, the posters taped in downtown windows implore us to “say yes to charities that help the homeless and the needy.” We agree that we will indeed say yes, but that seems to still leave us to deal with the panhandlers.

The FAQs on the Center City Commission website clarifies the behavior that is illegal. It is when profanity or abusive language is used to ask for money or in response to a refusal for money; it is illegal when done in a group of two or more people; it is illegal when it is perceived as a threat; it is illegal when done in a way that is intimidating or obstructs walkers or cars; it is illegal to assault someone or touch them while begging; and it is illegal to use false or misleading solicitations.

That’s helpful information, and we’ll keep it in mind as we begin the Summer games with Memphis’ regular panhandler population. We just hope someone shares this information with MPD and that it does something to send the message that this year is going to be different.

To repeat, this is not about the homeless. Less than five percent of homeless beg, according to research. While we launch another program, the Nashville police chief continues to make the battle against panhandling a priority for his force.

Cincinnati conducts a quarterly census, passes laws against panhandling and removes camp sites. Other cities actively addressing this public nuisance include Little Rock, Atlanta, Austin, Orlando, Los Angeles, Washington, Miami Beach and Las Vegas. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin led passage of a city ordinance that bans panhandling within the tourist triangle of her city, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic site.

The key to those cities’ success has been the buy-in by police departments which enforce the law. In truth, it’s a problem that we ought to be able to solve. The hard-core panhandlers downtown probably number about 100 people on the worst day. It just seems like more.

As for us, we’ll do whatever we can to help the homeless, but we would settle to get the panhandlers off the street.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Potential Harrah's PILOT Points Out The Need To Reform The Program...Now

Frequently, a government agency does something that just makes you shake your head and wonder, “Do they really think we’re that stupid?”

That’s a regular reaction when it comes to the actions of the Memphis and Shelby County Industrial Development Board. And it looks like we’re about to have it one more time.

This time it’s provoked by the IDB’s expected gift Wednesday to Harrah’s Entertainment – an eight-year waiver from paying property taxes on its new 285,000 square foot building for its Central Division Office.

As usual, it’s a real estate deal masquerading as economic development strategy. We’re supposed to be excited enough to believe that it’s worth eight years of waived taxes to get Harrah’s to move into the long-vacant Concord EFS building in Goodlett Farms.

“It’s one of the best Class A office buildings in the city,” John Lamberson, a vice president of CB Richard Ellis told The Commercial Appeal’s Amos Maki. “There’s really nothing else like it in the region.” “It’s truly an amazing facility,” echoed Wyatt Aiken of Commercial Advisors LLC.

Now would someone remind us why we need to waive eight years of taxes to make this office building attractive enough for Harrah’s to move into it?

It makes even less sense when you do the numbers.

The eight years of taxes that the IDB is expected to give away to Harrah’s amounts to $2.6 million. In other words, we’re supposed to believe that somehow Harrah’s remaining in Memphis and occupying this “amazing facility” rests on whether we, as a community, “invest” $325,000 a year in this enterprise.

By the way, $325,000 is what Harrah’s takes in as revenue every 24 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

It’s pretty hard to imagine a situation where this petty cash fund even factors into the massive casino company’s decision to move to new headquarters and hire 65 new employees in Memphis.

And yet, it’s probable that the Industrial Development Board has already brought out the rubber stamp.

Unfortunately, the well-reasoned recommended changes for the PILOT (Payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) program are still just that – recommendations. While Memphis and Shelby County engages one of their favorite stalling tactics – the appointment of an advisory committee – the approval of tax freezes continue.

One particular common sense recommendation by the consultants who evaluated the existing PILOT program comes to mind in Harrah’s case. It’s the that calls for abandoning the current matrix approach – which could award a five-year freeze to a chimpanzee that managed to scratch something in the right box – and replacing it with a “but for” test to determine the true economic need of a project.

In other words, the “but for” test, as explained by the consultants, means that private investment is not reasonably anticipated without public investment.

The current PILOT program doesn’t take into consideration whether the tax waiver is absolutely necessary to put Memphis and Shelby county on par with other locations or to make a Memphis project economically feasible. Because there is no emphasis on this, it’s impossible to tell if companies like Harrah’s would located elsewhere if the PILOT were not awarded.

In Harrah’s case, it’s hard to imagine that it is prepared to pay the huge moving costs associated with uprooting its Central Division office from Memphis and moving it somewhere else. It’s even harder to imagine that $325,000 in tax waivers is a deal killer.

It’s past time to quit studying the consultants’ recommendations on reforming the PILOT program and implement the changes. As we’ve mentioned before, the authority for granting these freezes actually rests with Memphis City Council and Shelby County Board of Commissioners, not the mayors, so it seems timely for the legislative bodies to regain control of this issue and pass the recommendations.

As city and county governments prepare to roll out their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year, prepare yourself to hear the normal rhetoric about cutting government to the bone, about reducing the workforce and about increasing productivity. There will be the usual talk about the lack of adequate tax revenues to fund some services and cuts will be announced in others.

And all of this will take place while $60 million in taxes is being waived yearly by the IDB and Center City Commission Revenue Finance Corporation. It’s impossible to argue with the reasoning of the 97-page consultants report that sets out the much-needed changes to the processes that give away city and county taxes.

Throwing a $325,000 rock in Harrah’s $7.1 billion pond doesn’t even make a ripple. But $325,000 can make the difference between life and death for some public services.

Can’t somebody simply suggest to Harrah’s that they take this opportunity to make Memphis business history by withdrawing its application for a tax freeze?

Now that’s something that really deserves a headline in The Commercial Appeal. And in all the sections.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Timely Earth Day Sermon By Rabbi Micah Greenstein

Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Micah Greenstein spoke at Calvary Episcopal Church's Lenten Luncheons last week on Earth Day. You can hear it at:

Here's an abridged text version:

Whereas fundamentalists and evangelicals do a great job of saving souls and protecting the unborn, the preoccupation of mainline churches is saving lives and protecting the already born right here in Memphis – not just people saved on missions, but the invisible people - the poor and hungry of all creeds and religions.

The future of this city, and every American city, does not depend on the vertical direction of the Cross. The future of this city depends on the horizontal direction of the Cross. This means reaching out as the first century Jew named Jesus would do by putting one's faith into action for the betterment of all God's children. If the larger churches in Memphis and Shelby County were to support MIFA, the Church Health Center, the Memphis Food Bank, and other sacred community causes proportionate to the way this church and its partner churches do, there is no doubt we could solve most of the hunger, homelessness, ill health, misery and despair which plague too many in our city

The new encounter between Judaism and Christianity we are witnessing in Memphis is beautifully expressed in Rabbi Irving Greenberg's recent book entitled "For The Sake of Heaven and Earth." Some of us in Memphis, and hopefully more to follow, have moved beyond tolerance and pluralism to partnership.

Religious partnership, as Greenberg expresses it, means “my truth and my faith system alone will not fulfill God's dreams. The world needs the contribution that other faith traditions make to realize its wholeness.” This makes sense to me. The thought of twelve million Jews carrying six billion people on its shoulders, or two billion Christians carrying four billion other people on it shoulders, that thought alone should give each of us a spiritual hernia! We need each other.

It was exactly 35 years ago on this very day, March 21, 1971, when the United Nations celebrated what Job reminds us in today’s scriptural reading – that we have a shared responsibility to protect the planet. Earth Day was born on this very day, March 21. Important laws would be passed by Congress, including the Clean Air Act to protect drinking water, wild lands, and the ocean. The EPA was created within three years of the first Earth Day, yet few seem to care anymore about this specific date in time, or about the environment in general, except God and Job.

We live in an age of apathy, where it’s hard to get Americans excited about anything. We live in an age where more Americans watched the last Superbowl than voted in the Presidential election. Nearly 12 million more Americans watched the Super Bowl than voted in the 2004 election.

How can we rouse our neighbors, regardless of their political or religious affilation, to the issue this March 21 date calls us to address? And why should we awaken ourselves to issues like global warming and the air we breathe? Why? Because there is a tipping point beyond which the damage to the earth's atmosphere and climate will be irreversible. We may already be at that point, and nobody seems to care.

It wasn't always that way. In a major address given by Dr. Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute, he asks you to guess which prominent politician made the following statement: "There is an absolute necessity of waging all-out war against the debauching of the environment. The bulldozer mentality of the past is a luxury we can no longer afford. Our roads must be planned to prevent the destruction of scenic resources and to avoid needlessly upsetting the ecological balance." Sounds like an Al Gore or Ralph Nader quote, doesn’t it? Ronald Reagan uttered these words!

And guess which political magazine printed the following in its editorial: "If corporations do not stop polluting, we must find ways to compel them to do so...important people must be interfered with before notice will be taken of disagreeable facts. Instead of demonstrating on Fifth Avenue on behalf of baby seals, the saviors of the environment would get far better results picketing the country clubs of Nassau, Fairfield, and Morris counties." Sounds like Mother Jones magazine, but it was the conservative National Review which published this blistering statement on the state of the environment.

As Dr. Hayward notes, in the 1970, the environment was the consensus domestic policy issue around which it was believed the nation could move forward in a bipartisan fashion. What was once a bipartisan consensus issue is now among the most highly polarized domestic policy issues in our nation.

"The growing possibility of destroying ourselves and the world with our own neglect and excess is tragic and very real," Rev. Billy Graham said 23 years ago. And at the other end of the religious spectrum, Rabbi Alexander Schindler adds, “It's clear that the earth we inherit is in danger: the skies and the seas, the forests and the rivers, the soil and the air, are all in peril.”

I don't blame corporations or developers for the fragile state of the environment. I blame each of us. Corporations will always attempt to maximize profits within the parameters of the law. That’s their business. The ethic of business is private gain. The ethic of government is public safety and the greater good. The ethic of the religious world is moral accountability for our actions as stewards of God’s world.

It is time for the religious community, for people of all faiths, ages, political affiliations, and backgrounds, to weigh in by asking every elected official, every future candidate and public decision maker, “What are you willing to do to take care of the environment before the situation gets any worse?” "Just ask the animals," Job proclaims, “and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”

Perhaps the most immoral aspect of our destruction of the environment and endangered species is that it’s our hand, not God’s hand, that has done this. We know that we are choosing to kill off species and melt the glaciers. For the first time in history, we know that extinction and deterioration of the environment is happening not as a matter of natural evolution, but as a matter of our own conscious will.

When God instructed Adam and Eve to till and to tend the earth (Gen. 2:15), the original Hebrew verbs, "la’avod” and “lishmor" suggest a higher calling. La’avod means to serve, to obey; it connotes sacred service. Lishmor means to guard. A shomer is a guardian, usually of someone else's property, in this case, God's. We are called to be God's partners in tending, guarding, and preserving this precious planet of ours.

Just as Adam was put in charge of the garden and told to take care of it, so have we been put in charge of this garden and told to take care of it. The Rabbis of the Midrash teach that God actually took Adam for a walk around the Garden of Eden and said to him: "Take good care of this place, for if you spoil it, there will be no one to repair it after you." Perhaps that is precisely what God is saying to us now, not about the Garden of Eden, but about the planet on which we live.

“One generation passes, and another comes,” Ecclesiastes 1:4 reads, “but the earth remains forever.” Because of our individual and communal disregard of the environment, and because the subject of the environment has become a political rather than a transcendent issue, we have made the earth's supposed permanence in the Bible a very big question mark.

For better or worse, the state of the world and the environment is now completely in our hands, not God’s hands. And today - March 21 - is the date when we are supposed to remind each other of our divine duty to protect the planet. May we not forsake the sacred mission of preserving God’s world.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Putting Political Ambition First

Something seems to happen the moment that many legislators sit down in the chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly. They forget they represent every one in their districts, not just their narrow political bases.

There was a time when such partisanship was reserved for the nation’s capital, but apparently, Potomac Fever is spreading downstream, and more and more, statesmanship in Nashville falls prey to political self-interest and ambition. These days, the number of legislators who are unwilling to sow divisiveness in order to harvest more votes can be counted on one hand.

Most ironic of all is that often those who espouse a distaste for big government are the very ones engaged in expanding the reach of government into the most private and personal decisions. It’s easy for them to see clearly the sins of others when they use government as the instrument for their political ideology, but when it comes time to show they are different, what do they do?

They introduce a bill that would tinker with Tennessee’s Constitution to remove a woman’s right to include abortion among her private health options. In their haste to garner support of their radical Christian base, they are willing to undermine the individual right to privacy guaranteed in the Tennessee Constitution and upheld by the state Supreme Court.

It wasn’t too many years ago that many of these same political interests campaigned against the equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution on the grounds that it was too sacred to be used for narrow political interests. That was then. This is now.

It points to one of the most infuriating elements of today’s highly charged partisan environment. Politicians who state firm, unshakeable, unequivocal opinions when they are opposing the other party simply ignore everything they’ve said when it comes time for them to pursue their own interests. Political amnesia is one of the incurable diseases of our time, but obviously, the outbreak in Nashville won’t see a cure any time soon. The pandering seems to have just begun.

The true believers have even suggested that the right to an abortion should be denied for women who are raped, are victims of incest or if their lives are in jeopardy. Apparently, women are only containers; it’s the contents that have value.

We may be witnessing the birth of “Big Brother” on Capitol Hill. In addition to telling women what they should do with their bodies, legislators are also refusing to give Memphis and Shelby County Governments the right to make decisions about the kind of community in which we live. Already, the legislature has killed a bill to give local government the ability to ban smoking in restaurants that employ people younger than 18 years of age, and they seem intent on bottling up county government’s bill asking for more control over its own taxes.

As for the proposed constitutional amendment, it is demagoguery at its core. Radical Christians are now using these kinds of referenda (on issues from the alleged gay agenda to abortion) as the means to enflame their base and get them out to vote. Just coincidentally, the referenda are scheduled for the same elections of governors or Congressmen.

That’s why many of these referenda across the U.S. aren’t so much aimed at accomplishing something as in giving their base a red meat diet of wedge issues, so they will get out and vote. It’s a ploy that sacrifices comity and compromise in order to elect those who share their extreme views. It may make for clever political maneuvering, but it also makes for a state whose voters are divided and antagonistic.

In the end, even if Tennesseans approve a Constitutional amendment outlawing abortion, it’s probably a Pyrrhic victory. First, it’s likely to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Second, even if it’s not, the amendment would only keep the poor and middle class from having abortions. Other people know where to go to get abortions, so only those who cannot afford to travel elsewhere will be bound by the law.

Memphis Regional Planned Parenthood says it best in its petitions opposing the bill. The amendment would “undermine Tennesseans’ right to privacy, particularly as it relates to a woman’s right to make the most personal decisions of her health care without government interference. This amendment…would usher in an era where the consultation of doctors with their patients is replaced with an edict from the General Assembly. We believe that it is a founding principle of our state that individuals should be protected from government intrusion into their private affairs. The majority of Tennesseans also oppose the actions of politicians who tamper with the Tennessee Constitution in the belief that its integrity is of secondary importance to their own political ambitions.”


If you’d like to circulate a petition opposing the amendment, give Planned Parenthood a call.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Diversity In Memphis Is About Seeing The World And Ourselves In More Than Black And White

A few months ago, Leadership Memphis concentrated on a provocative question, “What Makes a Great City?” and it heard from a highly informative panel of five local leaders, from a noted national urban observer, and from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, named as one of Time’s five best mayors in the U.S.

Opinions were personal, impassioned and always illuminating. The question was answered with examples of great cities, lists of cities’ unique assets and the fundamental essence of greatness. One of the threads that held all of the answers together was this – the richness found in ethnic diversity.

Whether panelists were talking about Indian neighborhoods in New York or Japanese neighborhoods in San Francisco or African-American neighborhoods in Atlanta, there was a consensus that the variety of ethnic experiences that can be engaged in a city is one of its most potent forces for greatness.

It is just common sense these days that multi-cultural diversity is a competitive advantage in a world economy characterized by its mind-boggling diversity. Whether calling the Dell computer help desk and talking to a technician in India, calling customer service for a New York City company and talking to someone in England, or eating in the FedEx World Headquarters cafeteria which harkens to the United Nations food court, it is increasingly clear that diversity is a fact of life in today’s marketplace.

It is equally clear that sometimes, Memphis actually runs from the diversity that has the potential to be a distinctive strength. Rather than tell the world that we are a minority majority city, our economic development strategies skirt away from our African-American majority.

We continue to do so at our peril, because instead, we need to embrace our diversity and tell the world that if they want to compete in a diverse world economy, there is no better place from which to do it than Memphis, because we were diverse before diverse was cool.

And while diversity in Memphis is normally defined in terms of white and black, it’s time to expand the circle.

That’s because in the Memphis region, the number of different languages being spoken is 55. Let’s say it again. When families gather in their own homes tonight, there are 55 different languages being spoken in the Memphis metro.

Who would have imagined?

The first 10 are relatively easy – English, Spanish, French, German, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Tagalong and Italian.

Then, things get more interesting. The second 10 are Russian, Hindi, Gujarathi, Japanese, Mon-Khmer, Greek, Hebrew, Persian, Urdu and Laotian.

And that’s not even half way through the list. To get there, add Telugu, Kru, Tamil, Portugese, Bengali, Cushite, Polish and Amharic.

They are followed by Mandarin, Thai, Dutch, Yiddish, Indian, Kannada, African, Hungarian, Kurdish, Serbocroatian, Cantonese and Fulani.

That brings the number to 40. By now the number of people speaking each language is only in the double digits, but still they come – Swahili, Formosan, Malayalam, Turkish, French Creole, Swedish, Marathi, Panjabi, Gullah and Norwegian.

The final five are Slovak, Croatian, Ukrainian, Patoil and Irish Gaelic.

No, Memphis is not Los Angeles, which has the highest number of languages – 137, but it’s a long way from the homogenized black and white image of Memphis that many of us carry around.

In other words, it is not accurate to continue to describe our diversity in terms of Caucasians and African-Americans. In doing so, we exclude 62,000 people of various ethnic backgrounds who deserve the chance to be part of the civic conversation and decision-making. In embracing all of these ethnic cultures and traditions, we enrich our city and contribute in a direct way to a more expansive world view that serves our city well as it addresses its problems and its opportunities.

“Many languages, one Memphis” is a theme that all of us should adopt, and as a panelist suggested today, Memphis needs to celebrate Chinese New Year, Cinco de Mayo, and other ethnic occasions as citywide celebrations, because in doing so, we make our city more vibrant, more appealing, and yes, more fascinating.

In doing this, we also tear down the walls that separate us from ourselves. If the Hispanic community reports that it feels disenfranchised and it is our second most spoken language in Memphis, just imagine the feelings of disengagement felt by the Cambodian community.

But we need more than celebrations. We need also to connect these ethnic groups to the American Dream. One way to start is for the City of Memphis to change the language of its minority purchasing program which now says that the only group that is considered as a minority group are people with roots in Africa. It was a way to address the lack of business opportunities in the African-American community, a noble goal, but in writing the rules in this way, it fuels an “us versus them” mentality that only hurts Memphis’ future.

In defining minorities in an Africa-centric way, city government even eliminated any black Memphians from Caribbean countries, much less disregarded the needs of the array of ethnic groups that now call Memphis home.

If Memphis wants to send the message that it is ethnically and racially diverse, the first sign of a truly diverse Memphis would be to define minorities as broadly as possible to give all minority communities equal access to entrepreneurial opportunities.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Are All The Children?

From CEOs for Cities blog at

This week's Sunday papers from around the country told a sad story about African-American children in America.

The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times examined two shootings in Englewood on Chicago's South Side. Siretha White was shot dead at a party for her 11th birthday, only nine days after 14-year-old Starkesia Reed was shot and killed standing at her window.

Miami-Dade County police, motivated by school officials who are strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy, arrested 2,284 students during the past school year. But only 12 percent of those arrests were for serious crimes involving weapons or drugs. The majority of the arrests - about 70 percent -- were for disorderly conduct and a host of misdemeanor offenses, graffiti marketings and disturbing the peace. According to the Miami Herald, 54 percent of students arrested were black, although black students make up 28 percent of the district's enrollment. Police and judges lobbied school leaders for alternatives to arresting students who approved civil citations wich is more aligned with the philosophy of community policing.

One young man who would likely now be hanging on the street corner if he had faced a zero tolerance policy is Shawne Williams, the star freshman for the University of Memphis number one seed basketball team. Commercial Appeal sports columnist Geoff Calkins told the story of Shawne and his older brother Ramone who grew up on the mean streets of inner city Memphis. Ramone was killed a year ago, victim of a shooting in a place he shouldn't have been. Shawne beat the odds and ended up in college.

Williams told Calkins, "I liked standing on the street corner. That, to me, was fun. I wanted to be something to a bunch of nobodies, because then I thought I'd be somebody. I wanted to be King of the 'Hood."

He spent so much time on the corner, he flunked out of high school. But because of his talent, he had a second chance to complete high school and enter college. Now, he says, "College is fun."

As Williams explained, "Most kids, they don't understand. I didn't understand. If you grow up that way, you think it's fate. If I could tell them anything, it's that your dream doesn't become a reality until the end."

How do we give children a better chance at life?

It's not easy, but here are some promising programs:

After School Matters
Citizen Schools

If Detroit Can Do It...

The meltdown of the finances of Detroit city government is becoming a stimulus for new regional thinking by adjacent counties concerned about the shut-down or cutbacks of city servcies that are of course regional assets.

Surely, if Detroit can begin to talk across county lines, we can do it. First and foremost, though, it requires some one to show enough leadership to call every one together to start the conversation.

From The Oakland Press

FARMINGTON HILLS - County commissioners from three counties plus the Detroit City Council say they can put aside their differences and work together. But they also acknowledge there are some issues that Detroit and Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties may never agree on.

The Summit at Oakland County-operated Glen Oaks Golf Course on Monday drew more than just county commissioners and the city council. More than 200 people attended the four-hour meeting, including state lawmakers and social agency representatives.

They stayed clear of issues that have generated heated remarks across county and city boundaries, such the Detroit Zoo closing.

"We'd like to stay focused on issues where we have common ground," said Oakland County Commission Chairman Bill Bullard, R-Highland Township.

Those issues included mental health in jails, infrastructure and transportation.

Mass transit, chiefly how to coordinate SMART, the suburban bus system, and the Detroit bus system, matters to Wayne County Commission Chairwoman Jewel Ware, Detroit. "Transportation is the biggie," Ware said. "We have to have it for people to get back and forth to work."

Macomb County Commission Chairwoman Nancy White, D-Clinton Township, said she's concerned with jail overcrowding and the number of mentally ill people who are jailed rather than treated. She estimated that number at 50 percent.

"Jail diversion is very big," White said. "If we can solve that, we can solve the jail overcrowding."

House Speaker Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, urged counties to cooperate with each other to help handle the "peaks and valleys" of crowded jails.

"We have to use the assets we have and get a better return on investment," DeRoche said.

But even the issues on the agenda may not prove easy to agree on when the costs of solving them are considered, and no solutions were immediate from Monday's summit.

Paul Tait, executive director of SEMCOG, rattled off the amounts of money needed for basic infrastructure over the next 26 years -- roads, $20.7 billion; bridges, $4.6 billion; school buildings, $8.1 billion; mass transit, $8.1 billion; water, $9 billion; and sewers, $14 billion-$26 billion.

Even so, summit participants said the dialogue is a start and that it beats fighting with each other.

"If there are 100 issues and we agree on one, then let's work on the one," said Oakland County Commissioner Chuck Moss, RBirmingham. "This is something we should have got going a long time ago.

"When we're talking, we're not shooting at each other. Let's get past the stuff we can agree on and maybe stop assuming the worst of everybody. That's no small victory."

Bullard said the multicounty committees that developed the first three issues will continue to meet. He predicted options for road funding would be developed and that road funding will be a major issue before state lawmakers after the November election.

"We need more money for roads," Bullard said. "I believe that will be a front-burner issue for the Legislature next year."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Who Says Memphis Has No Creative Class?

Who knew that Christopher Reyes’ fascinating website was just the beginning? In the coming week, there are two Reyes-conceived projects that offer us a fresh look at our city.

If you haven’t visited the Live From Memphis website in awhile, you’ll barely recognize it. It now has added film and art in pursuit of its slogan, “Support Local Artists.”

As the home page says: “We support and promote local musicians, filmmakers, artists and industry professionals who are the lifeblood of the Memphis creative scene. It is our goal to connect creatives, grow opportunity and gain exposure for our creative culture. Memphis is amazing!”

Most of all, the site is convincing proof that Memphis does have a “creative class,” the highly coveted young professionals fueling the knowledge economy. If the city is to succeed in the global economy, it must attract and retain 25-34 year-olds who are the most mobile, most entrepreneurial and most highly-educated demographic in history.

Faced with the retirement of the Baby Boomers and today’s lower birth rate, the competition for these workers is hot and getting hotter. A recent study by CEOs for Cities pointed out that the cities that have booming economies – cities such as Charlotte, Atlanta, Austin and Portland – have attracted five times more of these workers than the national average.

But we digress. Often, in assessing our failure to be a magnet for these young professionals, we see nothing but obstacles, but Live From Memphis reminds us that we do in fact have a core of creativity that we can build upon.

We were thinking this as we explored the website this week. It’s full of little known artists, great local bands, talented technicians and unheralded organizations. But as we mentioned, besides the normal fare of the “World According to Christopher (and his colleague Sara Fleming),” there are two other coming attractions of his that will be launched in the next week.

First on the agenda is Saturday’s Li’l Film Fest, which will take place at 2 p.m. at the MeDiA Co-Op, 1000 S. Cooper at First Congregational Church, always a hub of energy and tolerance, two qualities especially sought by young professionals.

The film festival is free, and you can get more information at What we liked best is that it’s not just another film festival. It’s quirky and fun.

Here’s the deal. For the festival, Live From Memphis sets a theme, and local filmmakers are challenged to make a film that is five minutes or less on that theme. The theme this year: the film must include the implosion of the old Baptist Memorial Hospital in its plot.

This is the first Li’l Film Fest, and it will feature 13 short films made by Memphis filmmakers Brian Churchill, Ken Armstrong, Jon W. Sparks, Lin Workman, Geoffrey Brent Shrewsbury, Tommy Marqueerius, Rod Pitts, David Thompson, Edward Valibus Phillips, Sarah Fleming, Nike Ross, Elizabeth Harris, and Christopher Reyes himself.

The goal of the film fest, according to its creator, is to “encourage and inspire Memphis filmmakers while engaging a local audience to strengthen our artistic community.”

If that wasn’t enough to keep us entertained, on Wednesday of next week, Reyes’ films entitled My Memphis will premiere at Malco’s Paradiso at 5:30 p.m. The films are an outgrowth of the Memphis Talent Magnet Report (in the interest of complete disclosure, a project undertaken by this firm and a forerunner to the follow-up national conference, Memphis Manifesto Summit). The Talent Magnet Report concluded that current marketing of Memphis reinforced an image among young people that it was frozen in time, a city of Elvis, riverboats and a languid, slow-moving culture.

This is Reyes’ answer to the challenge of portraying the “real” Memphis – an engaging, fresh look at Memphis from the viewpoints of 25-34 year-olds. The three films – An Introduction to Memphis, An Insiders’ Guide to Memphis and Why Memphis? – paint a portrait of Memphis as a vibrant, culturally rich and ethnically diverse city. It’s full of surprising, interesting insights.

The premiere of the films is sponsored by Memphis Regional Chamber (which has wisely set the development of a talent strategy as a major priority of its new president/CEO John Moore), by the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau (which is charged with the marketing of the city to the tourism and convention industry(, and the Memphis and Shelby County Film Commission (which encourages the growth of the local film industry).

Special guest for the premiere is Craig Brewer, writer and director of Hustle and Flow and currently wrapping up Black Snake Moan. He and about 20 other Memphians are featured in the films, and the soundtrack is music by current Memphis bands. Concurrently with the premiere, a website will be launched, and it will feature the 20 people telling their personal stories about Memphis.

All in all, the two events make for an exciting seven days in Memphis, and make for new and exciting ways to tell the story of our city and sell it to the young workers who will ultimately define its future.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Political Animals: Let's Make Matters Worse

Does this feel familiar?

From Otis White's Urban Journal at

Must every issue in Detroit degenerate into name-calling and race-baiting? Apparently, yes. Take the seemingly easy issue of the Detroit Zoo. The city can no longer afford its $5 million a year subsidy for the zoo, but not to worry. A non-profit organization offered to take it over. All the city council had to do was OK the deal. But first, of course, the region had to take its usual walk down Vitriol Lane.

Background: Detroit is broke. Actually, it’s worse than broke; it’s facing a budget gap of at least $100 million. Given this, it can hardly afford such expensive but acclaimed luxuries as a city-supported zoo or its annual subsidy to the Detroit Institute of Arts. But, fortunately, the zoo has friends, a group called the Detroit Zoological Society, which offered to take responsibility for the zoo. The state said it would help out with a $4 million gift to ease the transition from city to non-profit management. Simple deal: Sign the papers and we’ll take this financial worry off your hands. Ah, but nothing is simple in Motown.

First, council members voted down the deal because they felt Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick wasn’t attentive enough to their needs. “The administration keeps wanting council to vote on something they’ve not had time to review,” a council aide complained to the Detroit News. “It disrespects the city council. If they don’t understand that, they’re stuck in one of the steepest learning curves in the history of mankind.”

Well, OK. Every city has prima donna city council members. But then, for some reason, the county executive of suburban Oakland County, L. Brooks Patterson, felt a need to weigh in, declaring that the entire Detroit city council ought to be in a zoo. Barbara-Rose Collins, one of the council members, shot back that white people don’t own black people anymore. Then Patterson sneered that he’d rather own an old Buick than Collins. Yikes!

Eventually, some semblance of reason was restored, and the council approved the transfer by a 6-3 vote. (Two of the three dissenters said they voted no because they felt the mayor still wasn’t prompt enough with information.)

All this would be funny if not for the dire straits Detroit and the region is in. Beyond the city’s staggering budget problems is a divided and economically ailing region. If ever there were a time for leaders to rise to the occasion, this is it. Alas, fate didn’t give Detroit leaders capable of rising. Instead, cruelly, it delivered L. Brooks Patterson and Barbara-Rose Collins.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Privatization Isn't Just About Money

Let’s just go ahead and say this and get it out of the way: government doesn’t owe anyone a job.

That’s why most taxpayers aren’t moved when some elected officials attack a change in operations merely on the grounds that it would cut the size of the workforce or lay off public workers. This outcry is especially loud when the proposed change is privatization.

It’s unfortunate that in politics, every one is expected to have a hard and fast opinion on privatizing public services. You must be unalterably for it, or conversely, you must be unilaterally against it.

The problem is that most of us ordinary taxpayers aren’t particularly interested in these political lines in the sand. And many of us aren’t solely interested in making government cheaper, but we are interested in anything that improves government – its efficiency, its services, its responsiveness and its quality.

If the road to that destination includes privatization, then so be it. That said, we favor the kind of process advocated by former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who became a legend because of his ability to work with unions while privatizing an array of city services in that city.

In his case, he didn’t just recruit companies to manage public services. Rather, he also encouraged public workers to shed their inferior self-image and to submit their own bids against private contractors. They won some, and they lost some, but most importantly, the process forced a change in the bureaucratic “it’s not my job” attitude.

For example, when Goldsmith decided to sign a contract for new management of the garage mechanics, he invited the mechanics already working for Indianapolis city government to submit a bid of its own. They did, and their proposal called for the thinning of the ranks of management by 75 percent and for profit sharing. They won the contract, and unsurprisingly, their productivity climbed.

While national rhetoric about privatization has cooled from a few years ago, the impact can still be seen everywhere. There is not a single government service somewhere that is not being outsourced to the private sector – from corrections to public works, from firefighting to computer services, and from building and grounds to child support enforcement, from human resources to financial management. One government even allowed employees to restructure their department into an employee-owned company, cutting costs by 30 percent.

Recently, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who realized a $1.8 billion windfall on the lease of the Chicago Skyway, announced that he’s now weighing the possibility of leasing another of the city’s assets: Midway Airport.
We look for increased pressures for more outsourcing of public services as Baby Boomer employees retire en masse in the future, and Goldsmith will undoubtedly be the High Priest when the movement comes.

When he served as mayor, Goldsmith emphasized competition as much as he did privatization. In fact, he said once that private monopolies aren’t any more efficient than the public ones, and for that reason, there has to be competition. Challenged to compete for their jobs, city workers invented sleeker systems, increased productivity and found ways to cut costs dramatically.

In many cases, it was the city workers who figured out the best way to deliver high quality and low cost at the same time. As Goldsmith wrote in his book, “The Twenty-First Century City: Resurrecting Urban America:” “The problem is that (public workers) have been trapped in a system that punishes initiative, ignores efficiency and rewards big spenders.

Recently, the new mayor of San Diego, faced with the meltdown of his government in the face of a $1.4 pension liability, has turned to Goldsmith’s philosophy to modernize city services and “fix” a broken city government.

In the end, this is the greatest benefit of privatization. It is an electric shock to entrenched bureaucracies and recalcitrant cultures, and it is this culture that is most often the ultimate enemy to reform, reinvention and innovation.
It’s the challenge presented every day to Memphis City Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson’s reform programs. Like bureaucrats everywhere, school workers assume that they can wait her out. After all, the average tenure of an urban district superintendent is only two and a half years.

Evidence of this is seen in her new disciplinary program. Announced as a major priority by her, the number of disciplinary actions actually went down, because principals and others didn’t want to fill out the paperwork and didn’t agree with her approach to the problem.

In these situations, the jolt that comes from outsourcing a service, like human resources of Memphis City Schools, for example, can not only transform that office, but the effect reverberates through the entire organization and alters the culture that chokes every initiative to death.

That’s why the evaluation of the privatization proposals submitted to Shelby County Government for the operations of the jail and prison were only half complete. Like many governments, the Shelby County Government officials primarily weighed the financial ramifications of the proposals, and made their final decisions based on savings of money.

However, the real value of outsourcing is that it can be a catalyst to innovation and culture change, and in our book, you can’t put a price tag on those two objectives. They’re priceless.

As we’ve said before, we are neither fervent advocates for privatization or unyielding opponents. We just believe that anything that can shake up the cultural lethargy found in government is worth considering.

In the end, maybe the best outsourcing idea of all is the one pursued by Sandy Springs, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb with a population of about 90,000 people - Sandy Springs decided to privatize almost its entire government.

Sandy Springs’ advantage is that it has a blank slate. It only became a city within the last year, and there are no existing unions to fight, no political power bases to convince and no entrenched special interests to oppose it. Instead, it can place itself on the cutting edge of public outsourcing through its $30 million a year contract with CH2M Hill to manage almost all of its city services.

The biggest head start that CH2M Hill has is that with a new government, there are no rigid job descriptions that are the backbone of bureaucratic thinking, no layers of unnecessary middle management and lack of authority that block innovation, and no arbitrary pay systems and work rules that impede productivity.

Here’s the sad truth: if government didn’t exist the way it does today, it would never occur to anyone to invent it. It’s an Industrial Age model trying to succeed in the Information Age.

In the end, its outmoded structure and its lack of emphasis on new thinking, risk-taking and experimentation with new models of governance don’t just inhibit the success of local government. In very real ways, it inhibits the success of our city itself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jail And Prison Privatization Issue May Still Have Life

Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group – private companies that manage correction facilities – don’t agree on much, but they do agree on this: privatizing the Shelby County Corrections Center and the Shelby County Jail fell prey to political considerations.

Meanwhile, supporters of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson – who has announced that he will not seek re-election – complain that as a result of Sheriff Mark Luttrell and Mayor A C Wharton bringing a whiplash halt to the consideration of privatization, Commissioner Thompson was left alone way out on a high political limb.

Commissioner Thompson’s friends point to the sense of betrayal felt by him as a major reason that he is abandoning public life, and whether you agreed with his position in favor of privatization or not, it’s hard to disagree with his position that all information on the proposals should be made public and that a full airing of them is needed.

With only six months remaining in office and no election looming, Commissioner Thompson, who’ll be missed in county government, can focus on his quest to find out why the political winds suddenly shifted and why the report opposing privatization felt mandated from above.

All in all, the issue of privatizing the county correctional facilities has all the trappings of a political Gothic novel for which county government is legend. And yet, lost in the politics of the issue is the need for someone to weigh the pluses and minuses of privatization in a nonpolitical, objective way.

We say this despite having no real opinion on the proposals by CCA and GEO; however, we do have the opinion that all information about the proposals should be made public so that the citizens who foot the bills for these costly facilities can read it themselves and make their own decisions.

There’s no question that privatization is not always the answer to increasing efficiencies and cutting budgets. There’s a reason some services are public, and when turned over the private sector, the results can sometimes be politically unpalatable to the citizens paying for them.

A case in point is Shelby County’s outsourcing of the management of its nursing homes in 1996. At that time, the now-defunct, but then politically connected, Diversified Health Services got a contract to manage county nursing homes, and promptly fired 130 employees. After all, they had little choice. The company’s contract called for the company to be paid a fee based on a percentage of savings, and since more than 60 percent of county budgets are for personnel, that’s the first priority.

It may have made good business sense, but it made for awful health care.

Within months, state inspectors cited the nursing homes for poor quality of care and eventually, there were a number of lawsuits filed for the neglect of patients and by the family of a patient who wandered away from the nursing home unnoticed and was found dead on the side of the road.

Unfortunately, the motivation for the outsourcing was political, rather than for improving operations. Faced with reducing costs or not getting paid, the only real option was to make changes that affected the level of care.

Consistent with the politics that inspired the contract, there was considerable manipulation of the facts. To obtain their approval, commissioners were told that the privatization would save county government $400,000 a year. In fact, records at the end of the first year showed that instead of a savings, the contract had actually cost $1 million. No one ever returned to the board of commissioners to report these facts and the contract remained in place until the care of the nursing home residents became so bad that county government was left with no choice but to sever ties.

Because of this negative brush with privatization, proponents of privatization had some high hurdles to clear if they were to implement it for the jail and prison. The issue became such a political hot potato that as elections approached, Commissioner Thompson seemed to be the only person left standing on the issue, asking for complete disclosure of all proposals and for an independent evaluation of them.

That followed the announcement by Mayor Wharton and Sheriff Luttrell that “based on a review of the information received in the best and final offers,” they were rejecting both proposals for privatization.

Mayor Wharton said neither offered substantial savings in the operation of the prison – the facility under his control. Meanwhile, Sheriff Luttrell said that improvements had already been made to the jail – the facility under his control – and that the true costs of operations were unclear, because both proposals called for construction of a new jail.

Following the announcement, both companies weighed in with separate complaints about the evaluation process. CCA, which operates 63 facilities nationwide with 16,000 employees, said the report by the mayor and the sheriff was filled with inconsistencies and misinterpretations of their proposals.

In an obvious slap at the county, the company wrote that it would “take this (financial) matter up with the State of Tennessee who better understands the issues and has more to gain than Shelby County.” Also, the firm called for an independent evaluation.

A few days later, GEO mailed its own letter, saying that the “process…is in need of careful reconsideration.” Its suggestion was for the sheriff to pick one firm and to proceed with further conversations to determine if an agreement could be reached. It mentioned the value of public workshops.

Despite the companies’ protestations, it’s unlikely that county officials are going to reopen this controversial issue so close to their election, particularly in light of the highly effective grassroots opposition run by the officers at the corrections center and jail (complete with yard signs and phone banks).

Conventional wisdom suggested that CCA, with roots running deeply into Tennessee political soil, had the upper hand in the competition, but it never seemed to address the underground campaign against it, a campaign that cited the fact that one of the worst prison riots in the U.S. was at a CCA-operated Colorado prison. In an extensive assessment of the riot, Colorado corrections officials criticized CCA for failing to adequately train its staff, for failing to prepare an emergency response team and for failing to follow “fundamental security measures.”

In addition, CCA managed an Eastern Kentucky prison that was the scene of a major prisoner riot in 2004 amid allegations of abuse, mistreatment and a reduction of visits from families. A contributing factor in the riot was the fact that the prison was admitting inmates from Vermont, because that state paid a higher “pre diem” than Kentucky.

In his last six months in office, the privatization issue may not be reopened, but here’s guessing that Commissioner Thompson can keep in on the front pages.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wolf River Conservancy Needs Our Help

The following message is from the Wolf River Conservancy:

We recently learned that there's no Congressional funding for the
$12.5 million Corps Wolf River Restoration Project. Please take five
minutes, now, to call or e-mail our representatives. The Corps's Wolf
River Restoration Project needs only a final Congressional add of
$1.5 million to complete this final phase that will reinforce the
Collierville/Arlington Rd. Bridge. The Bridge will fail ($2 million
replacement costs) if the head cutting reaches the bridge. Failure to
complete the project threatens contamination of our aquifers and the
Mid South's most essential natural river system.

Please call or copy and paste the e-mail addresses to these U.S.
House of Representatives' chiefs of staff now!

We will focus on our U.S. Senators at a later date.

* This vital $12.5 million project only needs a final $1.5 million
for completion. Without this final phase we risk losing the
Collierville - Arlington Bridge/ Hwy 205 Bridge - while also wasting
the funds already spent.

*The project has benefited from the incredible local cooperation of
Shelby County, Collierville and the Wolf River Conservancy to provide
the 35 % ($4.4 million) local cost share. Contamination of our water
supply is at risk, as well our most essential natural river system!

* The final $1.5 million that will finish the project is bare bones -
w/o funding for recreational trails or boat ramps.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn
509 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4207
Fax: (202) 225-3004
Local Office Phone: (901) 382-5811

Rep. Harold Ford Jr.
325 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4209
Local Office Phone: (901) 544-413

Rep. John Tanner
1226 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-4208
Fax: (202) 225-1765
Local Office Phone: (731) 885-7070

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Best Way To Expand Music Industry? Invest In Musicians And The Value Of Home-grown Creativity

Cities are doing a number of things these days to highlight and exploit their music heritages. There’s a theme developing in much of it, and it offers a seminal lesson for the Memphis public sector that talks proudly about our music and the foundation charged with reinvigorating the industry.

The advice: invest in our creative people and our core music businesses and organizations.

Memphis and New Orleans have always had much in common, most notably our strangely parallel demographics, similar cultural anchors and civic structure that swings to dysfunction on regular occasions. That’s why it has always been instructive to look at trends in the Big Easy to foresee the future of Memphis.

With this in mind, the conclusions of a cultural committee headed by Wynton Marsalis seem especially helpful to Memphis right now. Looking at what their city post-Katrina must do to recapture its distinctive culture, Marsalis said: “What gives you the will to survive? That will has to do with your soul and your spirit. That’s what culture is.”

In its 42-page report, the committee issued recommendations for restoring the city’s culture with special attention to the raw material of its rich music history – musicians.

It’s good advice, because as cities look to their music future, too many try gimmicks, logos and slogans, the sexy big project or the celebrity-driven project. In the end, however, it all comes back to talent, indigenous talent that relates in an authentic way to its place of origin. Programs that don’t invest in this core indigenous creativity run the risk of feeling artificial and superficial, lacking the authenticity that seems to lies at the root of major music heritages.

As the New Orleans report eloquently put it: “We need to begin…by investing in our creative people and our core cultural organizations and associations, aiding those who are still here…”

In support of its musicians, the committee proposed that government build new facilities like a National Jazz Center, expand the arts district, create a linear cultural park connecting cultural sites, offer loans and grants to develop and market music, create an Internet clearinghouse and launch a three-year international marketing campaign.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the number of musicians in New Orleans has dropped from more than 2,000 to fewer than 250. Many of them have made Austin their city of choice, and the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” is setting up special programs in hopes of enticing them to stay there. Austin wouldn’t seem a natural lure for most New Orleans musicians, because of the Texas capital's largely white music scene.

Among the relocated musicians in Austin are most of the Neville family (although Aaron Neville moved to Nashville after a brief stop in Memphis), the Hot Eight Brass Band, the Iguanas, the Caesar Brothers Funk Box, the Radiators and Big Chief Kevin Goodman.

Among the Austin programs for Katrina-weary musicians are the Instruments of Healing program, which replaces instruments for New Orleans musicians; there have been a series of benefits to raise money for them; and the Austin airport (listen, up Memphis International), which already has live musical performances five days a week at three venues, has added a 10th performance on Thursday afternoons for the New Orleans musicians.

Speaking of a music-savvy city, here’s a key indicator. The Austin International Airport has a unique staff position: music coordinator.

While Memphis Music fans have been unable to convince airport officials to add our city’s music in a visible (or highly aural) way, some other cities are proving that they value their locally produced songs.

In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels announced that the city was turning off the Muzak and turning on local bands. From now on, when someone calling city government is put on hold, they will hear the songs of homegrown bands – from piano compositions, rock and roll, grunge to Latin music. In addition, city government’s website will offer more information about the local bands, give Web links for CD sales and offer podcasting subscriptions.

Closer to home, Atlanta showed courage late last year in its campaign to brand the city with a new theme song. The choice: “The ATL,” a rap song produced by one of the city’s hottest producers. The selection touched off controversy with a local newspaper columnist condemning the song (sound familiar?), and it pointed out the challenge for cities whose current music scene has a thriving rap community but which feel uncomfortable embracing the music genre.

Finally, on the Country Music Capital front, Nashville released a new study that set the total economic impact of its music industry at a staggering $6.4 billion. According to the study, the economic impact of Nashville is more than the State of Georgia, Seattle, Austin and Memphis added together - $3.1 billion.

The study says the economic impact of music is $990 million for Georgia; $1.3 billion for Seattle; $616 million for Austin and $238 million for Memphis.

Nashville is home to more than 80 music publishers, more than 180 studios, 27 entertainment publications and some 5,000 working union musicians. The breadth of the Nashville music economy paints a picture of the distance that Memphis would have to travel to get into the same league as the capital city on today’s terms. It also speaks to the wisdom of Memphis carving out a different niche, one that recognizes the transformation under way in the industry and sets out a plan for Memphis to become a major outpost in the music world to come - digital, personal and ever-present.

When you look at the Nashville study through the lens of coming change, in some ways, the optimist here (maybe perhaps delusional) could argue that Nashville may be at greater risk than Memphis. Nashville is the Sears of the music industry. It is so invested in its present infrastructure and its current way of doing business that it may find it impossible to shift gears, allowing a more entrepreneurial city like Memphis to become the Wal-Mart that reinvents the music industry.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More Insight Into The Living Wage

Our recent commentary urging Memphis City Council to pass a living wage resolution produced some lively responses, so to get the best perspective of the issue, we went to the best expert on the subject, David Ciscel, the highly regarded professor of economics at University of Memphis.

In response to the questions of several readers, he wrote:

The issue of the living wage will always be contentious. It starts with the assumption that the market is doing a poor job at the low end of the labor market.

The idea of a living wage or a regional minimum wage is to level the playing field for all businesses that hire these types of employees. If one retail store or one restaurant has to pay more, then the others in the area are put at a relative advantage. Thus, a higher wage for everyone allows each person who works for living to live a decent life without subsidies and without harming local business.

Higher wages do several things for the community:

1. They improve human dignity -- making sure everyone who works earns enough to live independently. Families or individuals with high wages invest in themselves and in their families. That way, the future allows them to find better jobs.

2. They increase the spendable income in the area. There is modest evidence that higher minimum wages actually increase sales and employment in retail trade and restaurants because local employees have more money. In Memphis, we have a lot of poor people. They don't spend much. That leaves us all worse off. Higher wages help turn that around.

3. Higher wages force business innovations. High wages lead to innovations -- often techniques that reduce labor needs. Low wage economies tend to be technologically backward.

You can't solve all the problems in the world with a living wage or a higher minimum wage. But, in fact, the richer parts of our country have much higher wages. And they have better jobs. And they have healthier retail economies.

Where is the chicken and where in the egg in this chain of economic wealth? I'm not sure. But I do know that higher paid individuals spend more in whatever economy they live in.

Though I am an educator, I don't think that the only criterion for pay should be number of degrees. Hard work and long hours should pay off. When it doesn't, the market is not working properly.

Clearly, by creating the PILOT program for business investment in the community, the leadership of the community is clearly stating that the market will not, by itself, bring new jobs to Memphis. Similarly, we need to jump start higher incomes for individuals in our economy with a living wage.

Finally, a living wage needs to enacted for the whole region. But politically, you have to start somewhere.

"Start With A Website"

A regular reader reminds us that rather than focus on glitzy projects, the Memphis Music Foundation should "start with a website."

It's good advice, because the new music organization shut down the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission website three years ago, and while it wasn't perfection, at least there was something telling the Memphis story in a prideful way.

It certainly was better than what surfers have been reading since 2003, because the lack of a website belies the explanation being given these days:

"Music is Memphis' most important cultural and economic asset. The Memphis Music Commission works to make sure that the local music community has the resources, tools, and voice it needs to succeed in the changing music industry.

"We are redeveloping our web site to provide new services."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Music Foundation Needs To Connect With Its "Base"

It’s been five months since the Memphis Music Foundation imported the New Orleans Voodoo Music Experience to Memphis. The high expectations and meager results of those concerts are symbolic of much of the Foundation’s work since its creation, and comments by a knot of musicians listening to a concert seemed to say it all.

After listening to several songs by a New Orleans’ band, one of the Memphis musicians listening to the concert said loudly to the others with him: “Well, maybe we shouldn’t be worrying about the big earthquake. Maybe if we have it, a music commission in some other town will let us come there and work.”

It was a stinging and pervasive criticism of the Music Foundation: that it’s done nothing to put money in the pockets of local bands and musicians.

Looking at this through a political lens, if the Foundation is the campaign, it has to have a “base,” and it only makes sense that the base should be local musicians. Unfortunately, the three years of work by the Foundation has reinforced much of the industry’s innate suspicions about outside solutions.

Continuing the political analogy, the first thing any campaign does is to solidify its base. It does this by demonstrably proving its connection to members of the base, strengthening their cohesion and then building an organization on this foundation.

While musicians say that the Foundation seemed sincere in gathering their opinions a couple of years ago in a large-scale survey and interview project, most say there’s been little since then to make them feel that they are the priority for its work.

Many claim that the Foundation has a tendency to chase glitz and glamour – projects that as of yet have produced any real results – like its pursuit of a major MTV music awards shows (while insiders at the cable channel were sending clear signals that Memphis was being kept in the race as a bargaining chip with Miami, the eventual winner for the program), the excited chase to get the New Orleans Voodoo Music Experience here while suggesting that there would be national television coverage (ignoring warnings from the Crescent City about being careful with the promoter) and the October announcement that the Foundation is working to buy and move Sun Records back to Memphis (although labels are becoming about as meaningless to the industry as vinyl). All suffer from too much hype and too few results.

There’s one central truth about Memphis. We live in a small pond, and stories travel fast. Some complaints center on suggestions that the Music Foundation is more intent on romancing those with fame and fortune, like Justin Timberlake, than in helping local musicians make a living. Others complain that the commission has actually tried to put some local music-related companies out of business. Allegations of misfortune, hurt feelings, wasted money, lack of help and recycled ideas are rampant, and whether they are true or not, they represent a growing obstacle to the Music Foundation in its stated mission of “re-establishing Memphis’ music industry.”

Early on, the Music Foundation said that it believed that planning and investment could revive Memphis Music, but there’s required reading in the yellowing archives that deal with the last attempt to reinvent the industry from the top-down. The file: Chips Moman and Three Alarm Recording Studio. The ill-fated project was based on the best of intentions, enjoyed widespread business backing and was boosted unrelentingly by The Commercial Appeal. The idea was that Memphis Music could be reborn if we could lure the legendary Moman back to Memphis with money and facilities, but despite it all, there never was one hit and eventually he left town and the studio was tied up in legal proceedings.

Here’s the thing. The core of Memphis’ real strength has always been creativity – whether in business or in music. We underestimate the way that the people in this city have fundamentally changed and shaped the culture of the entire world. We’ve always dictated the future, whether with AutoZone, FedEx, Holiday Inns, self-service grocery stories, rockabilly, rock and roll and more. We are wasting our time if we try to reinvent Memphis music by looking back, by anchoring our plans in the old business model that is quickly evaporating in the withering digital barrage, and by looking for the magic bullet to make it all happen.

There is great merit to re-imagining a new music future shaped by the revolution being unleashed by digital technology, the Internet and the growing expectation that fan and band don’t need a third party between them. To its credit, the Music Foundation has among its priorities making Memphis the center for digital music.

However, to get to that place, we need to begin with the people who have always made it possible. We do it by tapping into the ingenuity of Memphians, the musical genius performing in Memphis clubs every night, the leaps of creativity that still lie within our music scene and the organic ideas of the imaginative digital leaders already working here.

Memphis’ history is not about importing greatness. It’s about greatness that is homegrown and organic. That vein of creativity is still here, and it’s a cliché, but that’s the first mining that we need to be doing.

We are in the midst of the most rapid change in technology in history, and it will leave the music industry with as little resemblance to its old business model as ipod’s are to 78 r.p.m. records. And yet, the music industry clings perilously (and ultimately, futilely) to a share cropper business model that they have used since the days of the Victrola.

In the face of peer-to-peer file sharing, CD burning, digital radio channels and subscription services, the industry today is mired in deep, deep denial. We don’t need to chase the vestiges of old business models – labels and publishing, but instead, we need to tap into our legendary vein of creativity in both music and entrepreneurship to stake out a distinctive place as the polestar for the digital music age.

There are so many good projects and so many good bands in Memphis that go wanting for a few thousand dollars. In addressing that priority, the Memphis Music foundation would create the “base” that it so desperately needs to be ultimately successful.

Next: What Other Cities Are Doing About Music

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Future Of The Pyramid Needs To Serve Our Vision For Memphis In The Knowledge Economy

It all feels eerily familiar – the politicians’ self-congratulations, the civic hyperbole, the bureaucrats leading the rounds of applause, the army of cameras and reporters.

It’s one of Memphis’ favorite pastimes – another development plan for The Pyramid.

This time, it was Bass Pro Shop that is the answer to realizing the building’s potential. Or will it become the latest grand idea laid to rest in the Tomb of Doom along all the others?

It all began in the late 1980’s with the unforgettable Sidney Shlenker. His promises ended up as elusive as a realistic financial plan for his grand vision for The Pyramid.

In the course of a few years, he went from Memphis’ “Man of the Year” to a verb:

shlenker (SHLINK-ur), v., 1) to dupe. 2) to fool. 3) to take advantage of people with too little self-esteem to say no. (From Southern, unknown derivation, possibly river-related.)

Shlenker is now the stuff of mythology, relegated to stories of a modern Carnival huckster who hypnotized the city and county into giving him control of their sparkling, new signature building. Forgotten these days are some interesting facts: one, he owned a National Basketball Association team in Denver, he had been CEO of the Houston Astrodome, he had co-founded Pace Entertainment (the largest live entertainment company in its day) until bought by the ever-hungry SFX and most remarkably of all, he was a banker. Two, his credibility was vouched for by one of Memphis leading citizens, John Tigrett. Three, after years of searching vainly for bank financing, at the 11th hour as his contract was being voided, he found the money for his project in a French bank, but the deal fell quickly apart when the bank received an anonymous, highly critical letter about him, postmark: downtown Memphis.

No, we’re not defending Shlenker, but it’s just a little hard to place all the blame on the pickpocket when you put his hands in your pocket.

In that same time period, there was the Isaac Tigrett announcement that The Pyramid would boast Memphis’ long-awaited Hard Rock Café, but the deal fell apart when his board complained that they had not approved it and they had no interest in opening here.

Then, after a lengthy process of city and county government, there was the selection of gifted Memphis photographer Marius Penczner to add his eco-theme park, Island Earth, to the building. However, Mayor Herenton jerked his support from the project at the last minute, complaining that there were “too many Republicans in it.” Mr. Penczner went on to film and produce award-winning commercials for the Clinton/Gore campaign and was media adviser to the Gore for President campaign. With the inescapable feeling that he had been repudiated by his hometown, he moved to Nashville.

Then there was the on-again and off-again flirtation with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for the Grammy Hall of Fame, or some permutation of it. Renderings were produced, committees were formed, endless meetings were held and mayors’ blessings were bestowed. The only thing missing was the money to do it.

So, now we’ve moved to Bass Pro Shops as Memphis again searches for the elusive answer to the mystery of The Pyramid’s future. While there’s nothing definite and there are no signatures on the dotted line, it appears that it will happen.

If city and county governments’ question is, “How can we get a tenant so we can keep The Pyramid open,” they’ve come up with a winning answer. After 15 years of various schemes and plans (and the building still without even the inclinator to the apex), the special task force on Pyramid reuse seems to have a proposal that can get done.

However, if the question is, “What can be done with The Pyramid that enhances Memphis’ national image and attracts the young professions that we so desperately need,” Bass Pro Shop misses the mark. Widely.

At a time when Memphis lacks any cohesive economic plan, and these days that especially means a talent strategy to attract 25-34 year-old knowledge economy workers, it is hard to imagine that the giant fish retail theme park will be a plus.

It’s ironic that Memphis led the nation in research into this key demographic, which is determining which cities fail and which cities succeed. And yet, armed with definitive recommendations from the Memphis Talent Magnet Report, the results of the Memphis Manifesto Summit and the data of the Young and Restless studies, Memphis has never been able to leverage this knowledge into a strategy that can work.

Already, we know about Memphis’ drawbacks from major corporate recruiters in Memphis and members of the young professionals’ demographic group. In the eyes of these workers, Memphis is seen as provincial, slow-moving, dull and a big country town. They want to live and work in cities that are vibrant, have a visible creative culture and opportunities for unique, memorable experiences.

With the pressing need to correct these misperceptions and communicate a new image, city and county governments are turning over the region’s signature building to Bass Pro Shop, a highly successful company with quality leadership. But the question remains: is this the best use of The Pyramid and will it create a buzz about Memphis as a vibrant, 21st century city teeming with creativity?

When it was built, The Pyramid was supposed to symbolize our confidence in the future of Memphis. Today, its reuse should symbolize our confidence that we will be a city competitive in the new economy.

As we said, the committee that did a fine job in luring Bass Pro Shop to The Pyramid answered the question that they were given. We just wonder if it was the right question.

And, what did we learn from Memphis’ Shlenker Era? It’s simply this - it wasn’t his cleverness or his charisma or his glibness that conned us into giving him the keys to the Pyramid. Rather, it was our own neediness and feeling of unworthiness, which manifests itself in the deadly notion that we don’t deserve the best, that whatever we get is good enough and that we’re lucky to get it.

The good news is that Jim Hagale, president of Bass Pro Shop, is no Sidney Shlenker. Here's hoping we're not the same old Memphis.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Maybe Term Limits Should Be Aimed At Public Boards and Commission

If term limits are an idea whose time has come, perhaps a good place to start would be the members of the more than 150 public boards in Memphis and Shelby County Governments.

Media attention regarding terms limits concentrates on elected officials, particularly those in Shelby County Government who were limited to eight years in office by a public referendum about 12 years ago that delivered a resounding mandate. Three of the county commissioners affected by the referendum filed a lawsuit and won, but it's now under appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The argument for term limits is that no one should become entrenched because they stifle new leadership, and that cities benefit from new ideas and new energy for the mayor and board of commissioners.

Meanwhile, the members of most boards turn over about as frequently as U.S. Supreme Court justices. Amazingly, there are members of city boards who pre-date Mayor Herenton, and county boards are filled with people who have been there through multiple mayors. For example, the head of the Agricenter Commission has not changed since it was created about 25 years ago, back when Mayor Morris was in only the third year of his 16 years in office, before Jim Rout’s eight years in office and before Mayor Wharton’s almost four years.

Even the most highly-coveted boards, like the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority and Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division board, sometimes have the feel of an exclusive club, where members are appointed and reappointed until they simply get tired of serving. Sometimes it feels some members of the Airport Authority were appointed in the days of the bi-plane, and it's been an insiders game for the people named to it.

Shelby County Government’s policy is that even when a board member’s term ends, that person continues to serve until a replacement is appointed. There are some people whose terms have been expired for a decade before another appointment was made. The policy had the added benefit of silencing the board of commissioners when it attempted to enforce the terms for boards. No action was taken by the administration, so the members remained in place, because no replacement had been named.

City of Memphis Government has been more dutiful in keeping its boards current, but it has the same tendency for people to serve extended periods. While the willingness of any citizen to serve on a board is admirable, the injection of new blood is vital to the basic concept of democracy. In the end, the ultimate goal of boards is intended to engage more citizens in the business of their government, but this doesn’t happen when membership stagnates.

Also, there is the often overlooked problem caused by the coziness that comes to exist between the boards – designed to serve as a check and balance – and the services they are appointed to direct. An example is the Agricenter Commission and Agricenter International, where the public board members cede authority to the private nonprofit board that they are supposed to be monitoring. As a result, Agricenter International, despite having 1,000 acres of public land under its control, has never been called on by the Agricenter Commission to justify the abandonment of its founding mission or to justify why it’s in the public best interest for this valuable real estate to be controlled by the organization.

Various public boards exert significant influence over certain government policies and services, and at the least, it’s time for all membership to be brought current and for broader representation, especially of young adults and women, to be made a priority

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Center City Commission Plan Revives Memories

Sometimes, to paraphrase Ross Perot (of all people), in Memphis, we think planning is the same as doing something. If that’s the case, we’ve been really, really busy.

We’re not saying that a sound plan isn’t an instrumental tool in a successful public project. But it’s awfully hard to argue with the folks who say that Memphis leads the nation in the number of plans crowding the shelves that were never implemented.

Not to prejudge today’s announcement by the Center City Commission, but we thought of this again as we read the article about the latest plan being undertaken by that city-county agency - this time, it’s a strategic plan for downtown’s next five years. The fact that the news coverage quoted someone whose title was Center City Commission director of executive programs certainly indicated that some fresh thinking is called for.

It also reminded us of a strategic vision for the Center City Commission that formed about 15 years ago for the future of the downtown redevelopment body. At the time, it was at one of those critical crossroads when the survival of the agency was even in doubt, so it was a point when innovative thought was welcomed and fresh ideas formed. The agency was limping along, and some government and downtown development people began to talk about what the future of the agency should hold and what the Center City Commission should look like.

There was clear consensus. It should get back to basics. It should be private sector-driven. It should focus on fewer priorities. It should get out of the planning business. It should be lean and mean and entrepreneurial.

It should adopt a development mentality. It should measure success in putting together deals, not marketing brochures or studies. It should be less politicized and its board self-perpetuating. It should have a small focused on a few key priorities. It should look for a day when it could end tax freezes and lower the special assessment on downtown businesses.

At the time, one of downtown’s best thinkers put it this way: “We need to quit trying to do everything. We need to pick three priorities and go do them. We need to quit trying to do everything at once. Let’s do three things and when they are done, let’s chose three more and go do them.”

It didn’t seem bold at the time. It just seemed practical. However, things went a different way, leading to an agency that has a staff about three times larger and with two and a half times more politicians on its board.

That said, it’s encouraging that Center City Commission is willing to embark on a process that will consider the best role that it can play, what staff size contributes to the most innovative and entrepreneurial organization and what can produce the most dynamic results for downtown Memphis.

In fairness, the jibes about the agency’s penchant for plans are traced back to something that predates all of the current staff - the more than 20 volumes in its 1984 Center City Development Plan, which was supposed to be the seminal document guiding downtown’s future.

Costing about $500,000 (in 1984 dollars), it barely saw the light of day, largely because the consultants’ team led by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates Inc. of Philadelphia was not seen as developer-friendly and too rooted in the history of downtown. The final plan – a fascinating compendium of recommendations for downtown’s future – became the poster child for the phrase, “one of those plans gathering dust on a shelf in government.”

It was a fate it did not deserve. It was a thoughtful, articulate plan that treated the heritage of downtown with respect while recommending ways to spark new vibrancy and vitality in the urban core, particularly by building on linkages between the center city and the river.

It was whispered derisively that the lead consultant, Denise Scott Brown, took an egg-headed approach (then again, she does have 10 honorary degrees and has written six books and so many articles that she doesn’t even bother handing out her complete bibliography. In the end, after months and months of public meetings and input, the plan was completed and promptly and quietly filed away.

The money set aside for the executive summary was poached and spent for yet another re-design of Court Square. No executive summary was ever written.

It was an unfortunate decision for Memphis, because with the 1990s came a wave of honors for Brown and her partner Robert Venturi that continues today. The litany of awards recognize them as some of the most influential forces in the past 50 years, and the Harvard University Press credited the pair with influencing architects around the globe.

Yet, in Memphis, the work by the firm was buried away unceremoniously and has never been mentioned again. And because of it, as Venturi and Scott Brown were honored repeatedly, Memphis denied itself the opportunity to tout its downtown’s connections to legends in their fields.

So, today, the announcement of yet another Center City Commission plan may spark its normal round of quips, but in downtown revitalization around the country, hope springs eternal. That’s especially true here. We'd be happy just with more cleanliness, better signage and fewer panhandlers.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wages: Minimum and Living

More and more, cities and states are stepping in to address issues that traditionally would have been the province of the federal government.

Last June, we wrote about the then 170 city mayors who had signed on to carry out the Kyoto Accord, an international environmental agreement that would reduce heat-trapping gas emissions. President George W. Bush stonewalled the accords, so the mayors, both Democrats and Republicans, took matters into their own hands.

Unfortunately, Mayor Willie W. Herenton didn’t join his counterparts in this coalition, but this year, he gets another chance. This time, the issue is wages.

And while the conventional lethargy of the public sector may come to define this issue, too, this time around, state legislators are getting into the act. Several bills are pending in the General Assembly to increase the minimum wage from its national mandatory level of $5.15 to as high as $7.15 as a state mandatory level.

Tennessee is one of only a half dozen states without their own mandatory minimum wage laws, but to this point, only 18 of them have set the amount above $5.15, and unsurprisingly, none of them is in the South. (The 18 states do, however, represent nearly one-half of the U.S. population.)

It has created some unlikely advocates. These include politicians with national profiles - New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (D) and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).

It seems that while Democrats are working hard to look tougher on national security issues in an effort to blunt Bush’s last issue of strength, Republicans are invading the Democrats’ stronghold by appealing to the working class. Schwarzenegger for example called for a $1 increase in California’s minimum wage to $7.75 an hour, and despite earlier resistance, he even seems to be weakening on indexing increases to inflation.

The National Conference of State Legislatures predicts that the minimum wage will be one this year’s hot issues, and that as many as 30 states will contemplate their own legislation on the minimum wage.

At the national level, business interests have blocked any momentum for a minimum wage increase, although the current amount was set nine years ago. (In the meantime, the Congress has expressed its concern about wages, raising its own salaries seven times.) And with recent reports that the salaries of young workers are declining and that family earnings are headed in the wrong direction, state legislatures are jumping on minimum wage as a powerful populist issue.

Taking a lesson from the Religious Right, which manages to concoct a yearly vote on something dealing with gays to get out their base vote (last year, it was protecting the sanctity of marriage, and this year, it appears to be prohibiting gay adoptions, although we guess lesbian couples will be allowed to keep their own babies), more mainstream political interests are looking to the minimum wage as a GOTV issue for themselves.

The Democratic thinking is that minimum wage is an issue that drives minorities and the poor to the polls. But it seems to drive much more than the Democratic base. A Pew Research Poll reported that almost 90 per cent of Americans support the raising of the national minimum age to $6.45. It’s also worth noting that two years ago, the Florida minimum wage increase was supported at ballot by 71 percent of the voters, running ahead of John Kerry by 23 percent in that sate.

As expected, there is competing research that enables all sides to claim the statistical high ground. Leading the opposition to minimum wage increases is the Employment Policies Institute, whose argument goes something like this: an increase is bad because it attracts higher income teenagers who force out low-skilled adult workers.

If that isn’t enough to suggest a political tin ear, its officials have even said that most Tennesseans who would be helped by a minimum wage live at home, live alone or live with a working spouse.” We can’t quite see why the group finds this such a compelling argument, since it’s a bit reminiscent of those days when women were paid less than men because “he’s got a family to support.”

More tangibly, opponents can make the case that only about 13 percent of the cost of the minimum wage will go to poor families. It’s an attempt to undercut the high moral ground out from under those supporting the increase and suggesting that their motivation isn’t really concern for the working poor. It seems unlikely to have traction because most of us can remember when we were being paid minimum wage or see our children now earning that salary, making it a close to home issue.

Meanwhile, back in Memphis, we continue to grapple with the living wage issue. City Council has dragged its feet on this issue, but like so many issues that dissipate with time, this one is not going away, particularly as long as tax freezes are handed out as casually as they are by city and county governments.

The Living Wage Campaign is calling on the City Council to pay its workers $10 an hour with health insurance or $12 an hour without insurance. In addition, it makes the case that if companies are going to have their property taxes waived, they should at least agree to pay a living wage to their workers in return. The $10 an hour would bring a family of four to the federal poverty level.
The campaign has enlisted no less an authority to their cause than the widely respected economist David Ciscel of University of Memphis. His 1999 white paper, “What Is a Living Wage for Memphis?” articulates the case convincingly and serves as the Bible for the campaign. Also, he is the “truth squad” for the movement, correcting the misstatements by City Hall functionaries fighting the living wage notion.

“The Living Wage is a concept that allows us to measure the level of income required for a family to live independent of monthly public assistance, food stamps, childcare subsidies, and rent subsidies,” Dr. Ciscel wrote in this report. “…The Living Wage assumes a bare-bones budget. It allows for necessities, not luxuries, and it is not the same as traditional poverty thresholds.”

This particularly makes good sense when applied to companies receiving tax freezes. Why should our own local governments waive taxes for companies who pay salaries so low that the local governments then have to increase social and human services to take care of these companies’ workers?

Incredibly, city and county governments have people on their payroll beging paid less than the living wage. In late 2004, there were 226 people in city government paid less than the living wage. When county government contemplated a policy to raise all wages just to the poverty threshold in the late 1990’s, the money was directed instead for “salary adjustments” for higher paid employees.

Memphis city government was silent when so many of its metropolitan peers were signing on to the Kyoto Accord. Let’s hope that on the living wage, it can finally find its voice.