Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Worst Power To Get Shut Off At MLGW Is Political

MLGW President and CEO Joseph Lee has been in government long enough to recognize the signs.

He’s been set adrift on a raft, and he’s now officially on his own.
He also knows that it’s rare for one of these sagas to end without a sacrifice to the political gods.

And unfortunately, for Mr. Lee, it always calls for human sacrifice.


The political reality is that it isn’t going to be Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton who'll be on the altar although Mr. Lee was his hand-picked choice for the plum assignment. Rather, it will be Mr. Lee, an affable, kind person unprepared for the magnitude of the job and the unrelenting scrutiny by the news media.

The truth is that every one in City Hall should have seen it coming. When the mayor is hellbent to make an appointment like this that is so transparently political and when the credentials for the job are arguable at best, the mayor might as well have sent an invitation to the media to watch every move by Mr. Lee.

Sadly, there’s been plenty that attracted attention, and now imprisoned in a building with a siege mentality, it’s almost impossible for Mr. Lee to find his way out of the thicket of controversy and questionable decisions. That’s because in the midst of these kinds of assaults, the person in the line of fire comes to treat the media as the enemy but often fails to recognize that it’s the public outrage that is fueling the fire.

Under Siege

As a result, people caught up in these kinds of volatile situations can’t evaluate the dimensions of the problem correctly. They end up thinking that if they can just outlast the media, they can survive. They can’t, because the public trust and credibility that must be present for them to be effective in their jobs have been frayed to a point that is unrepairable.

At this point, even after devastating headlines in The Commercial Appeal and the spectacle of appearing before the federal grand jury, Mr. Lee – like most public officials in this kind of whirlwind – thinks he can somehow ride out the storm.

This time, however, it looks like a perfect one, and the clumsy attempts to blame all of this on former MLGW President Herman Morris only make the utility company look worse. While there is some evidence that Mr. Morris ordered the creation of the first list of political friends and community leaders whose problems in paying their utility bill would get his “personal awareness, attention or staff intervention when they have problems,” it’s unclear at this point if any special treatment was given to people under his watch.

Damage Control

It appears that Mr. Morris set in motion the system that gave special attention for the few, a system that ended up with City Council member Edmund Ford’s 10 disconnection notices being set aside and two years of delinquent notices coming to naught. In the meantime, his unpaid bills were climbing to $16,000.

The damage is done, and it’s too early to assess how serious it is to Mr. Morris, who’s been preparing to announce his candidacy to oppose Mayor Herenton for mayor. It was already an uphill campaign, but now splattered with the mud of the MLGW controversy, it will be hard for Mr. Morris to position himself as the white knight candidate. Then again, if the political operatives working so hard to drag him into the quicksand overplay their hand, they may in the end ruin their traction on this issue.

Already, the Herenton vs. Morris fight was shaping up to be a highly personal one. There’s nothing quite as brutal as two friends who fall out and run against each other. Mayor Herenton says that Mr. Morris’ lack of support for minority business development was the reason that he soured on him as the head of MLGW, and meanwhile, Mr. Morris says that City Hall is mired in lethargy and undisciplined.

Personal Politics

Mr. Morris was once such a favorite of the mayor’s that he appointed him to run the city utility. While Mr. Morris is a capable attorney and a committed civic leader, in retrospect, it was Mayor Herenton’s injection of his personal wishes into the selection of the MLGW presidency that contributed to the descent of MLGW from a once-proud utility to its present perception as a hub of inefficiency and political wheeling and dealing.

The saddest fact of all is how far the mighty has fallen. There was a time not too long ago that MLGW was acknowledged as one of the best-run utilities in the U.S., supported strongly by its customers and run by a management that was businesslike to its core. Now, it’s seen by a large percentage of the public as a shelter for political friends and just another poorly-run public operation.

It’s too bad, because MLGW still has some solid professionals working there. The fact that they created such a clear paper trail tracking Councilman Ford’s treatment directly to Mr. Lee shows just how unhappy some people were with the political overtones that had become such a part of the day-to-day operations.

This much is apparent. Mayor Herenton wants this to end. Now.

Sending A Message

It’s rare for the city mayor to acknowledge a political firestorm, much less wade into it, but his comments yesterday that special policies for special people are unacceptable was a shot across the bow for Mr. Lee.

The message was unmistakable. In the mayor’s mind, this controversy must come to a close. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being the only question he’ll answer for months on the campaign trail. From where the mayor sits, the best way to resolve this is for him to publicly show his disapproval and for Mr. Lee to resign.

For him, it’s a two-fer. Joseph Lee takes responsibility for the controversy and his resignation clears the air. Herman Morris gets the blame for setting up a notification system for the powerful and is a less appealing candidate.

But first, Mr. Lee has a decision to make. In the end, it’s not his 18 years of experience in government that's most pertinent right now. Rather, it was his nine years in the U.S. Navy. That’s why he should know that it’s time to fall on his sword.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Smart City Memphis Makes List Of "Most Engaging Blogs" Of 2007

Suzanne Morse, President of the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, regularly comments on effective strategies, new initiatives, funding opportunities, and nationwide events that are affecting communities at her fine Smart Communities blog.

We were pleasantly surprised and grateful to be included in a Feb. 22 post which we are sharing here:

Most Engaging - Pittsblog and Smart City Memphis

Blogs are about storytelling -- either personal stories or stories told from a particular point of view or philosophy. Could there be a better match for the blog format than cities and communities which have ever-unfolding stories about their own development? Probably not. That's why the first entry of 2007's "Most Engaging Blogs" is devoted to two which do a great job telling the story of the city in which they are situated.

Devoted to all things Pittsburgh, Pittsblog falls squarely into this category of blogs. The posts cover a broad array of topical matter but generally vary between highlighting or promoting the best the city has to offer and examining Pittburgh's economic possibilities for the future. If you think this isn't terribly broad topical matter then think again. This month's posts have included one on Pittsburgh's first major hip-hop star, another on the biotech industry, one on venture capital in high tech industries, and another on the"Pittsburgh-style" sandwich. While this may sound a bit offbeat it's actually a really nice way to give a well-rounded look at a city and makes for a really enjoyable read.

Another blog that is telling the story of a city's development is the Smart City Memphis blog. Here you won't find the latest on Memphis-specific music and food but you will get to read some extremely comprehensive blog entries on the successes and challenges facing Memphis. There is some mention of national news but mostly in the context of its meaning for the city. What's remarkable here is the amount of effort that's clearly devoted to each blog topic. The blog is not updated every day, more like once or twice a week, but each entry is fairly lengthy and substantive. A really impressive job by the Smart City folks.

Both blogs approach their community's development from different angles, Pittsblog seems a little more devoted to economic development and Smart City Memphis toward a more comprehensive community-wide approach, but both are telling compelling stories about their cities and are well-worth a look.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Public Space as Urban Amenity: This Week on Smart City

Anyone who has visited Chicago's Loop has probably seen the famous Picasso sculpture in Daley plaza. But when it was unveiled on August 15, 1967, it was compared to everything from a dodo bird to a giant cheese slicer. Kim Babon has been studying this and other controversies surrounding public art. Kim has spent nine years researching the public art debates, trying to determine why some pieces hit a nerve when others don't. Kim is a doctoral candidate in the University of Chicago's sociology department.

Also with us is Faye Nelson who is leading the development of Detroit's riverfront. Faye is President and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. Prior to her appointment, she was Vice President, Governmental Affairs for Wayne State University, where she led the development of the Wayne State University research and technology park.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

In Memphis, Smart City is broadcast on WKNO FM, 91.1, at 9 a.m. Sundays. It is also webcast and podcast at the Smart City website, which also has a listing of broadcast times in other cities and the sign up for a weekly newsletter.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Compromise Road Design May Be Road Kill If Memphis Traffic Engineers Get Their Way

There’s a head-on crash coming on Kirby-Whitten Road in Shelby Farms Park – as Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton’s proposed road design runs headlong into Memphis City Engineer Wain Gaskins’ continued push for bigger, wider roads.

Ground zero for the clash of visions about Memphis’ future will likely take place at a future Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting, where road priorities are set for the region.

At issue is whether the “context sensitive design” agreed upon by a special committee convened by Mayor Wharton will be approved and that the highway running northward through the park just east of the new and insensitively designed Walnut Grove Road bridge is built.


We’ve been writing for a couple of years about the Wharton approach to resolving the 25-year-old controversy, and the unexpected success of his 17-member committee – for the first time, environmentalists and developers were at the same table – in reaching a compromise that modified previous gaudy plans for a road that would permanently scar the park.

It was the first time that the context sensitive design process had been used in Shelby County, and happily, in the wake of this experiment, Shelby County Engineer Michael Oakes has enthusiastically embraced this balanced approach to designing roads that are more sensitive to their natural surroundings.

In the end, the Wharton advisory group recommended a gently curving, four-lane highway that snuggles against the western border of Shelby Farms Park as much as possible. In addition, the width of the road was reduced to four lanes with a speed limit of about 45 miles an hour.

Context and Common Sense Design

Looking at the compromise now, it’s mind-boggling that such a common sense approach hadn’t been accepted before. But in the past, with a sprawl-minded county mayor and state transportation commissioner on loan from the roadbuilding industry, cars always won over the interests of people, and there was little reason for developers to feel that they had to consider a compromise.

The context sensitive design process had been slow to take root here, but it’s been used for years by traffic engineers across the U.S. who understand that they are in the place-making, not roadbuilding, business. The track record for road designs conceived in this process is that they manage to handle traffic needs while also reflecting a sense of place, improving the quality of design, responding to community values, encouraging communication and most of all, considering a full range of transportation options, including walking and biking.

Despite all odds and only because of his nudging, Mayor Wharton defied all predictions to the contrary and shepherded a new design through the process and presented it to the community as the answer to the long-simmering controversy about the road. While the city traffic engineer was involved in the process, albeit grudgingly, every one on the committee expected that ultimately, he would honor the process and go along with the decision.


Now, word comes from Memphis City Hall that the engineer’s office may not be through fighting for his more intrusive design with its six lanes and higher speed limits. Documents are being circulated within city government that still show the wider road and make no mention of the compromise design engineered by Mayor Wharton. Not only that, the documents refer to Walnut Grove Road being widened to six lanes and roads north of the park being built with seven lanes.

One thing is certain. When and if these recommendations are made public, the entire controversy will erupt with renewed vigor. Persons on the Wharton committee will feel betrayed, not to mention the green groups who were willing to compromise because they thought finally the city traffic engineer was willing to do the same.

We can’t say we’re totally surprised. As we wrote on January 10 (“Walnut Grove Road Construction Sends The Wrong Message About Memphis”), the thinking in City Hall is so Neanderthal that even bike lanes are seen as a radical concept. As major cities continue bold projects like adding 500 miles of bike paths in Chicago and Phoenix, the city’s attitude on road design and bike lanes runs the risk of resurrecting the old comment in a national magazine that Memphis is a backwater town.

Looming Battle

More to the point, if there’s an attitude that reenforces unfortunate public stereotypes of government employees as indifferent to their opinions and lacking in vision, it’s the Walnut Grove Road Bridge design and the prospects of fighting yet another battle over the design of Kirby-Whitten Road.

Then again, if we have to beg to get bike lanes into Shelby Farms Park, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that some folks would still prefer to pave it over with asphalt. These are the engineers who brought you a design so wrong-headed that in the future, bike riders pedaling east on Walnut Grove to enjoy the park won’t be able to cross the new bridge. Instead, they’ll have to take a two-mile detour to get into the park.

It is said in TDOT that all of this leaves Commissioner Gerald Nicely – the first non-roadbuilder in years to run the department and who’s brought some fresh thinking into its work – just shaking his head about all the “maddening machinations in Memphis.” As someone who’s taken a context sensitive approach to some state road projects, he and his colleagues are often just plain baffled by what appears to be just so much gamesmanship in Memphis.

Who’s On First?

What has always complicated this already complex issue even more is the fact that Shelby Farms Park is owned by Shelby County Government, and as a result, the county mayor has taken a major role in road decisions on land under his stewardship. At the same time, however, Shelby Farms Park is within the city limits of Memphis and decisions about highways are the responsibility of the city traffic engineer, not county government.

In this case, though, if it comes to a public difference of opinion, Mayor Wharton has a powerful trump card. He’s the chairman of the powerful MPO.

Hopefully, it won’t get to this point, but it’s hard to rule it out based on past behavior of the Memphis traffic engineer’s office. The stakes couldn’t be higher -- there are 24-27 lanes of highways aiming directly at Shelby Farms Park unless the present engineering philosophy is changed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Stadium Financing Will Take A Hail Mary Play

If The Pyramid stands as a symbol of anything these days, it is as a reminder that the promise of innovative ways to pay for public buildings often dies quietly when it comes to the reality of making it happen.

This comes to mind with Memphis Mayor Willie W. Herenton’s continued championing of a new football stadium for Memphis. To pay for this $100-175 million project, he holds out the prospects of paying for it with naming rights, new revenue streams and innovative financing.

That probably sounds familiar, because a variation of it was used to command support for construction of The Pyramid on our waterfront. Upon its opening in 1991, even in the wake of the doomed grand plans for themed attractions in the building, there were exhuberant predictions of new money that would be attracted to “Memphis’ signature symbol for the future.”

Shifting Gears

While political rhetoric about funding big projects often stretches the limits of credulity, after the collapse of The Pyramid development plans, public officials were upping the ante even more to mitigate public criticism about the shift in financial responsibility from developers to taxpayers.

Of course, the collapse of the private development plans for The Pyramid occurred when partners Sidney Shlenker and John Tigrett parted ways over lavish overspending by the former and deepening concerns about the whole enterprise by the latter.

It came so close, but in the end, it was not to be. If success has many fathers, the failure of The Pyramid left city and county officials standing alone to defend an unloved, abandoned child.


Digressing a bit, the much ballyhooed plans for an inclinator to the summit, a music or Egypt-themed attraction, the Hard Rock restaurant, the multi-media tour, and all the rest might have happened if not for two things. One, Memphis city government thought it saw a way to dump its deficit funding for Mud Island and convinced Mr. Shlenker to take it as part of his doomed Rakapolis theme park, which would have been the ultimate indignity for the always underappreciated river park.

Second, there was the point when Mr. Shlenker finally cobbled together the financing for The Pyramid development, but as he hammered out the extension of yet another extension of a deadline with city and county governments, this time with prospects of success at last, the French bank that had notified the mayor of Memphis that it would provide the financing received an anonymous note that chronicled the perils of loaning Mr. Shlenker the much-needed transfusion of capital. The deal immediately exploded.

Into the brink stepped city and county governments, shell shocked by the turn of events and with none of the promised private money to pay the debt service of the building. In quick order, the governments signed a sweetheart deal for University of Memphis, which invested about $15 million in the building in return for lucrative cuts of the revenues.

Naming Wrongs

One telling statistic: an entire year of University of Memphis basketball produced less revenue for The Pyramid than a single concert sell-out. Perhaps that is a telling indication of the public sector’s inability to drive a hard bargain, but in search of more money and to quieten public disgust, city and county officials raised the potential of naming rights for The Pyramid (Think The FedEx Pyramid) and streams of money from sponsorships and advertising.

When The Pyramid closed 13 years later, there still were no naming rights, and the lack of interest by the corporate community was deafening. More to the point, the majority of the sponsorships and advertisements in the building was sold by the University of Memphis athletic department.

Instead of the new sources of revenue pledged by city and county governments when they took control of The Pyramid, in the end, local taxpayers were left to pay annual operating costs of about $2 million plus the yearly debt service of about $3.3 million.

It’s Just Not Their Thing

If there was one clear lesson from The Pyramid experience, it is that the public sector is ill-equipped and unprepared to close the kinds of deals that result in naming rights and sponsorship agreements. It’s just not in their skill set, and without a profit motive or sense of urgency, there’s rarely much impetus to deliver. After all, there’s always property taxes to fall back on.

The truth about these kinds of facilities is there really aren’t that many sources of income – concessions, parking, advertising, private boxes, rentals, and merchandise. Even with all of these in The Pyramid, when they were totaled up, there was never any revenue left over to put toward the payment of debt service on the building.

Perhaps, a new football stadium wouldn’t have the same kinds of daily costs. After all, it would essentially only operate 8-10 days a year, whereas The Pyramid had more than 100 events a year (even pre-Grizzlies).

Pay To Play

For the sake or argument, presume that the cost of a new stadium is $150 million. Presume that city government keeps the existing revenue sources and increases the per capita revenues from food, parking and merchandise. Presume that the city sells naming rights, and presume that based on similar deals in similar markets, Memphis is able to strike an exceptional deal of $2 million a year. Now, presume that city government is able to develop some unknown sources of revenue (perhaps leasing or selling Fairgrounds land for private development and applying this money to stadium debt service) and these amount to $3 million a year.

If these were to happen, it would be historic, because never in the history of this community has local government been able to negotiate anything like it. But even with these two remarkable, perhaps unrealistic, revenue streams, the annual debt service for the new football stadium would still be short about $5-6 million a year for a couple of decades. Without question, at that point, attention would turn to property taxes to make up the difference.

It’s also worth remembering that the large source of revenues paying off the bonds for FedEx Forum is the sales tax refunds allowed by state law; however, those refunds can only be used to pay for professional sports facilities (Autozone Park also uses these taxes to pay its bonds). In other words, these sales taxes are not available to pay for a new stadium.

The Hard Sell

At a time when the tax base for Memphis is feeling pressure and the number of taxpayers is constricting, it seems like a hard sale to Memphians, who are already picking up a disproportionate share of these kinds of regional facilities and services.

We’ve already stated our reasons for opposing the stadium, and why we think it should be built by the University of Memphis for the University of Memphis. That said, if it is to be built at all, it makes little sense for it to be on the tax bills of city taxpayers. If anything, Mayor Herenton should be mending fences enough with county government in hopes of getting the cost of the new stadium being placed on the largest local tax base.

All of this aside, it’s still hard to imagine that right now, a new stadium would make the list of the top 50 things that city government should be worrying about. While Mayor Herenton stunned the community with this idea back on New Year’s Day, nobody was more stunned by the announcement than his staff which has grimly tried to put some meat on the bony proposal.

All in all, it makes for a monumental challenge for Mayor Herenton if he is to pay for a new stadium with non-property tax revenues. And it’s a challenge that government has talked about a lot in the past but has never been able to solve.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Artists Paint Bright Future For Paducah

You’ve got to admire Paducah.

While the spotlight most often falls on large cities grappling with ways to strengthen their arts scene, there’s much to be learned from the small Kentucky rivertown. Few cities, regardless of size, have been as assertive or as successful in using their arts as a powerful competitive advantage.

We were reminded of this when we saw an ad in the Memphis Flyer a few weeks ago inviting us to “experience the Lowertown Fine Arts District.” It was the latest volley in Paducah’s Artist Relocation Program, this one aimed at Memphis, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Lexington (KY), Cincinnati and Chicago.

It was a heady display of the confidence that comes from success, because the Paducah program is a good example of how a bold vision, aligned civic resources and a focused strategy can transform a city. Memphis could take some lessons from it.

The Turnaround

With more than 70 artists lured from places across the U.S., Paducah’s success has outstripped the projections of even its wildest advocates. Since being started about eight years ago, the Artist Relocation Program has been responsible for the renovation – completed or under way – of about 70 buildings and attracted new construction.

It’s a dramatic turnaround for a part of the city of 30,000 that was built 150 years ago as a grand neighborhood of charming homes before a slide late in the 20th century took it to a seedy slum known for the easy availability of cheap drugs and women. Today, the area, which, according to a Paducah planning official, comprises about 30 blocks, is best known for artists’ homes and studios, not to mention the visitors strolling through the neighborhood in search of artwork and the new firms and restaurants drawn to it.

Arts and culture are being used as the foundations for economic growth in a number of cities. Through our firm’s work in developing creative city plans for cities capitalizing on their unique artistic and cultural assets, we can attest to the wisdom of emphasizing cultural assets as an effective, and undervalued, way for a city to find its distinctiveness.


Too often, cities looking for answers to their problems first turn their attention to finding “best practices.” It often leads to them identifying successful programs and strategies in other cities and eagerly transplanting them in their own with understandably limited success. In the end, it is an artificial initiative with no resonance in the local DNA. That’s because it’s the plans built on differentiation that offer the best opportunities for success, plans that grow out of a city’s own character, personality and heritage.

That’s what’s so impressive about Paducah’s Artist Relocation Program. It’s an innovation program that’s unique and responds to the needs of the city. Confronted with neglected homes with architectural integrity and a neighborhood serving as a seedbed for crime, city officials understood the need for redevelopment of Lowertown.

Artists can be as important to cities as new companies. It’s just most cities put all their attention and target their financial incentives on the latter. That’s too bad, because artists have the proven ability to transform at-risk neighborhoods and bring life to dying areas. Strategies to attract them have included tax exemptions from sales and income taxes for art produced and sold in a specific arts district, new “live-work” space carved out of warehouses and converted into loft studios, and specific neighborhoods where they receive special incentives or subsidized rents.

Triggering Change

Paducah knew all this, but it decided to do things its own way. It did it by focusing on home ownership, and along the way, it is creating a stable, arts community.

The Artist Relocation Program is the second attempt to revive the area, and the city’s first effort is instructive. About 25 years ago, Paducah designated Lowertown as an historic district, but it had marginal impact on stabilizing the area. What was missing a triggering mechanism to change things.

Planners say that was to come when a local artist living in Lowertown grew concerned about the crime at his front door and the fact that 70 percent of the property was rental and decaying. His concern took him to the city’s planning department which acted to deal with absentee landlords with a get-tough rental license ordinance and with aggressive enforcement of new codes to protect the neighborhood.

Defining Success

The artist-planner team – which essentially created the program from whole cloth - soon had city funding for the first year’s budget for the Artist Relocation Program and raised money to buy Lowertown homes. Back then, there definition of success was in attracting 10 artists to Paducah.

Here’s how they’ve attracted seven times that many. The city buys a deteriorating house at a bargain price and spends a modest amount stabilizing it. The house is given to an artist who spends significant amounts of money to renovate and restore the structure. Once completed, the house is appraised at much less than the renovated value, but the Paducah Bank agrees to make 100 percent loans on the full value as opposed to the appraisal. Amazingly, the bank became so supportive of the program that it stopped getting the appraisals altogether.

Instead, the bank qualifies the artists individually to make sure they have the ability to repay the loans for the renovations. This is in dramatic contrast to other cities, because more commonly, cities gives incentives for developers to renovate the space and then lease it to artists, which means that as soon as the neighborhood turns around, the artists are the first to be forced out because of higher values.

Artistic Support

In support of its program, Paducah pays a bonus so artists can pay for architectural fees for renovation, it exempts construction materials for properties in the program from sales tax and it pays for the websites of the artists.

These days, Paducah is a popular destination for city officials interested in ways to attract artists, because in the end, Paducah did much more than revitalize a neighborhood. More to the point, it has created a vein of creativity that enlivens the entire city and enriches its quality of life in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

An Eye To The Future: This Week On Smart City

This week our guests are from Fayetteville, Arkansas and the City of New York - two very different communities in many ways. But they are both seeking better solutions for land use and transportation.

Dan Coody is Mayor of Fayetteville who has a startlingly progressive vision for a mid-size city in Arkansas that shares a region with Wal-Mart. First elected in November, 2000, Dan is serving his second term as Mayor. Prior to his election, Mayor Coody was involved in a number of projects, including the development of a unique residential subdivision in the area that received the city's award for tree preservation.

Robert Paaswell is a much heralded transportation executive who is challenging the usual solutions to congestion. Robert is Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering, City College of New York and Director of the University Transportation Research Center, Region II, a federally funded center that provides research and training to transportation professionals.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

In Memphis, Smart City is broadcast on WKNO FM, 91.1, at 9 a.m. Sundays. It is also webcast and podcast at the Smart City website, which also has a listing of broadcast times in other cities and the sign up for a weekly newsletter.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Besting Nashville On The Playing Field

In the midst of our concerns about Memphis’ future, we said in a meeting this week that we need to remember there are model programs here setting national standards.

Someone immediately challenged us to name just three. They came quickly to mind, and here they are: Youth Villages, Church Health Center and Autozone Park.

The history of the Redbirds is remarkable for its innovation and equally remarkable for how many people don’t know anything about it.

A Home Run

For those who often cite sports facilities as evidence of government failings, they need to look no further than the corner of Third and Union to see a ball park that is unrivalled in the U.S. Not only is it acknowledged as the best, and most expensive, amateur stadium in the country, but city and county governments only contributed a grand total of $8.5 million in it.

Compare this to the controversy under way in Nashville where the funding from local government has already reached $43 million and the team owners say they need more. (The Sounds say they have secured the $23 million that they pledged to construction.) It’s resulted in a public confrontation that puts a question mark on the future of a new Nashville Sounds ballpark itself.

To the Sounds’ suggestion that more money is needed, Mayor Bill Purcell sent a simple reply: No. He said that the Sounds agreed by contract to fund the cost of construction above the city’s funding, and he intends for them to live by the terms of the agreement. Despite the agreement, the Sounds general manager said the city’s funding needs to be increased because the facility is going to open a year later than initially thought – for the opening of the 2009 season.

Playing Chicken

The Sounds management think they have the upper hand in the test of wills, because the project also includes three buildings with a hotel, condos, offices and retail stores, and the baseball owners don’t believe Nashville officials will let those be put at risk.

Watching the acrimony up I-40 should make us even more grateful for the inventive approach taken by local government and business leaders here. At a time when sports franchises at all levels had their hands out for public subsidies, civic leaders Dean and Kristi Jernigan, along with local public officials, came up with something seen only in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where its citizens created a nonprofit foundation in 1923 to own their NFL team. A nonprofit foundation was created to own and operate the Memphis Redbirds and its ballpark.

It’s worth remembering that until the nonprofit structure was conceived for the Memphis Triple A baseball franchise, the then owner of our Double-A baseball team was looking for government to cough up more than $40 million and to provide a greenfield site in the suburbs.

Our Lone Outpost

Instead, today, we have a sports showplace – a destination for every city mayor and baseball owner thinking about building a new stadium - owned and operated by a nonprofit organization who uses its profits to finance a program to bring baseball back to the inner city and at-risk kids.

In this way, Memphis is the lone outpost for a new way of thinking about sports franchises, and in a world where government largesse is counted on for private sports profit, we’ll probably remain the outpost for years to come.

In the meantime, there’s no wealthy owner pocketing the profits from Cokes and barbecue nachos. There’s no board of directors making money off the team and the ballpark. There’s no argument about whether the city really benefits from the team.

Most of all, there’s no argument that the ballpark is one of Memphis’ premier success stories.

Commissioner Makes A Federal Case Out Of Juvenile Court Complaints

There’s an axiom that government staff members live by. When an elected official gets emotional or strident about an issue, it’s not political. It’s personal.

These are always the worse kind of issues for employees and other elected officials to navigate, because they become a no-holds barred kind of political fight that refuses compromise or moderation. That’s why the emerging sentiment in the Shelby County Administration Building these days is that Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks’ war on Juvenile Court is just such a personal battle.

Before September 1 of last year, long-time employees joked that they had seen it all, but even the most jaded among them shake their heads over the extent to which the commissioner is going to eviscerate anyone who disagrees with her opinion that Juvenile Court is a judicial plantation.

Making A Federal Case Out Of It

This week, her campaign took her to the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where she filed a complaint of discrimination against Juvenile Court. Somehow, the notion of the Justice Department mounting a serious investigation into a complaint filed by a Democratic legislator against a Republican Juvenile Court judge doesn’t sound like it’s got legs, but then again, maybe we’re just too cynical.

Meanwhile, back in Memphis, some in the county building worry that Commissioner Brooks is becoming the face of Shelby County Government and single-handedly dynamiting the last vestiges of civility on the legislative body. Even those who side with her concede that it’s in pursuit of keeping the Democratic voting majority together, and they just wish the overheated tone of the issue would ease up.

A case in point for them is last night’s interview on WMC-TV of Commissioner Brooks. In it, she said that one reason she went to the Justice Department was to save the county money. Her logic: the Justice Department could conduct the much-needed review of Juvenile Court and that would eliminate the need for the analysis of Juvenile Court proposed by Commissioner Mike Carpenter.

Wishful Thinking

The idea that the U.S. Justice Department conducts these kinds of free operational and organizational reviews of various courts across the U.S. is of course wishful thinking or willful misdirection. More and more, Commissioner Carpenter’s recommendation for an independent study of Juvenile Court gains credibility as the logical course of action.

In perfect world, the board of commissioners would wait for the results of such a study before appointing the second judge coveted by the Democratic majority, but county government these days is hardly a perfect world. The days when staff members joked about City Council are long past, and these days, many look longingly across the street to City Hall.

It’s an amazing turnaround for a body that was long held up as a model local legislative branch, and it’s even more amazing that the other 12 commissioners have made no real moves to rein in a member who appears to be disrupting committee meetings and ignoring long-established rules for the board of commissioners.

Juvenile Behavior

In the end, all of this sparks an endless amount of speculation about the reasons for her unrelenting attacks and the accompanying hysterical comments about Juvenile Court. It leads many to believe that there’s something personal at work, and they conclude that it springs from her time as an employee at Juvenile Court, and the issue of the second judge issue gives her a chance for payback for the circumstances of her departure there.

Regardless of the cause, these are difficult days for anyone seeking to conduct business with the board of commissioners, and as we’ve noted before, it’s curious that with all the pressing issues facing Shelby County Government, this is the one that the Democratic majority has decided to invest its energy and political capital in.

At this point, it’s not as much about Juvenile Court as it is about winning and losing, and in that kind of environment, it’s hard to see an ending that won’t ultimately exact a heavy cost on county government.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

If You Don't Stand For Something, You'll Fall For Anything: Downtown And Marion

Sometimes, it just seems that Memphis is too timid for its own good.

Too often, the people we expect to articulate and fight for a defining principle or a critical issue seem to go along to get along.

We thought of this in light of two recent displays of self-loathing – Memphis’ neutral position on the Toyota plant being considered for Marion and the shrugging acceptance of SunTrust Bank’s move to East Memphis.

It’s inexplicable why this is such a core part of our civic DNA. It’s as if there is never anything important enough for some leaders to drive a stake in the ground and tell it like it is - whether it is ruffling the feathers of the governor with the Toyota plant or SunTrust bankers about their move.

Soft Soap

Instead, we soft peddle the overwhelmingly negative impacts and perpetuate the myth that the local economy is strong and positioned for the future. It’s a curious attitude of laissez faire, because any honest reading of key economic indicators puts Memphis in the middle to bottom of the city rankings.

And yet, we herald the state of downtown Memphis by pushing the definition of renaissance to its breaking point and as if we never get of town and see what vibrant, competitive downtowns look like in so many other places. Meanwhile, we acquiescence to state demands, sitting on our hands and holding our tongues while Marion competes with Chattanooga for a coveted auto plant.

Unfortunately, in the case of the bank move eastward, The Commercial Appeal becomes a co-conspirator in misleading the public with the headline, “SunTrust move’s no death blow.” Contrary to the editorial, it is indeed time to panic, or to display some emotion of urgency. We’ve watched anchor business after anchor business exit downtown without as much as a word of protest from elected officials and downtown development leaders.


Somehow, back when the downtown development agency was formed 30 years ago, it developed a culture in which it avoids ruffling feathers or, in the parlance of rural West Tennessee, “telling how the cow ate the cabbage.”

Upon the announcement by SunTrust, a Center City Commission official gave the customary response: “Of course I’m sorry to see SunTrust leave, but it is hardly the death knell for the Downtown renaissance.” When Storage USA left downtown a few years ago, the Center City Commission said: “Times change. It’s not a reflection on downtown.” It made similar comments when Union Planters Bank left, when Goldsmith’s exited, when Ellers Oakley Chester and Rike moved, when Shelby County Government moved hundreds of employees out of downtown, and when other important employers closed their downtown offices. It’s anybody’s guess what downtown has to look like for someone at the CCC to understand that we have a serious crisis that needs strong, decisive leadership to correct.

Today, successful downtowns are known for their overall vibrancy, not an isolated node of activity like Beale Street. They are also known for getting the basics right, especially cleanliness and safety.


If downtown is in the midst of a renaissance, it’s hard to tell it at what was once called the hottest corner in downtown - Union at Main - where all four corners are vacant. If downtown is in the midst of a renaissance, it’s hard to tell it by the Peabody Place development on Main Street, where not one original tenant is left on the block and where vacant storefronts are now fixtures.

We don’t want to belabor the point, but suffice it to say, if downtown Memphis is in a renaissance, we sure don’t want to see it struggle. Too often, we are seduced by our own hyperbole and lulled to sleep by our compulsion to define success by comparing Memphis against itself, rather than other downtowns. In such a comparison, our progress would be defined at best as modest.

After the SunTrust decision, the Center City Commission said: “What downtown once was, it will never be again.” That’s certainly the case, but surely, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t put up a fight or make a compelling public case for why it’s in our city’s best interest for these companies to remain downtown. It also begs the question: if downtown will never again be what it once was, then what does our downtown development agency plan for it to be? What is the plan to make it competitive, vibrant and the site of a real renaissance.

Mature Criticism

A future built on a residential, government and entertainment base will in the end be a shallow definition of success. And despite The Commercial Appeal’s delusion, wishing that Toyota opens its headquarters downtown isn’t a plan and neither is acting like Autozone’s decision to locate downtown a decade ago is a trend.

If you don’t understand the importance of all this, just talk to some of the young researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who say the absence of a “real downtown” is a reason they don’t stay when their contracts expire. To a very real extent, our city’s ability to compete for talent – especially smart talent like these researchers – will determine whether we can compete for jobs and economic growth in the knowledge economy.

It would be a sign of our civic maturity if in the face of a decision by another business to abandon downtown, someone in a key position of leadership would tell it like it is – it is indeed a serious blow not only to downtown but to the entire city by eroding our tax base, attacking the vibrancy so desperately needed and removing an important magnet for young talent. And when’s the last time that you heard of any city’s economic health and its success being judged by its suburbs?


During the recent new media conference at Memphis Cook Convention Center, a national columnist revisited Memphis after an absence of 10 years or so. His reaction: Downtown Memphis is in real trouble, and I’m not sure it’s going to make it.

That’s why we begin by being honest. We owe it to ourselves. The real question is who has the courage to do it?

While we’re on the subject of telling the truth, it’s been discouraging to see our local elected leaders struck mute when it comes to the subject of the heated competition between Marion and Chattanooga for a new Toyota plant. The Commercial Appeal’s industrious business reporter Amos Maki reported on the pressure from the Bredesen Administration on Memphis economic development officials to keep their mouths shut when it’s abundantly clear to anyone with a modest understanding of our local economy that we should be doing all that we can to get the plant in our region.

Political Blackmail

While the Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development is understandably putting all of his department’s energy into the Chattanooga bid for Toyota, it’s simply wrong-headed for him to tell us that we should prefer a Tennessee location 300 miles away rather than Northeastern Arkansas, whose lethargic economy could be supercharged by the plant.

It’s unreasonable to expect that the Memphis Regional Chamber should be leading the charge to help Marion. It has a close working relationship with state ECD, which has been a key source of funding over the years. Of course, if someone in Marion wants to demonstrate the Chamber’s support for regional investments like this, he would simply send the report from the Chamber-supported Governors’ Alliance on Regional Excellence to Toyota decision-makers.

More to the point, this is fundamentally a political battle, and it’s not fair to expect the Chamber to fight a battle on this terrain. Rather, it’s up to our mayors, Memphis City Council and Shelby County Board of Commissioners to fight for a position that’s best for our city and county.

Supportive Leadership

At the least, our legislative bodies should pass resolutions in support of the Marion location, and at the most, our mayors should pick up the phone and express their support directly to Toyota. There’s no reason for them to remain silent. The Bredesen Administration needs them as much as they need him. Our elected officials have had disagreements with the governor and his staff before, and politics being politics, they have mended fences and renewed alliances. There’s never been a disagreement more in need of taking place than this one.

As we said earlier, we begin by being honest. We owe it to ourselves. The real question is who has the courage to do it?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Recovering From Disaster: This Week On Smart City

Can cities rebound from disaster? Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams is convinced his city is on the rebound from years of job losses and despair. At 36, Mayor Williams is the city's youngest mayor, and he is determined to turn Youngstown's "shrinking city" condition into an opportunity. Prior to resigning from City of Youngstown to run for Mayor, Mr. Williams spent five years as director of the city's Community Development Agency.

Eugenie Birch and Susan Wachter have been looking at disasters of another sort. Their new book is Rebuilding Urban Places After Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Eugenie is professor and chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Susan is a professor of real estate and finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

In Memphis, Smart City is broadcast on WKNO FM, 91.1, at 9 a.m. Sundays. It is also webcast and podcast at the Smart City website, which also has a listing of broadcast times in other cities and the sign up for a weekly newsletter.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Behavior About Second Judge Juvenile All Around

Regardless of your point of view, the fact that the future of Juvenile Court will be decided in Chancery Court is a sorry spectacle.

The lawsuit is a stark testament to narrow political agendas winning over the best interests of community harmony. Sadly, there is plenty of blame to go around.

In the end, Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter – the Republican member who voted with the Democratic majority in favor of another judge – may be the only voice of reason in this process, urging a systematic evaluation of Juvenile Court operations and serving as a bridge between the two warring sides. Of course, that’s not much consolation to him these days, since as the man in the middle, he’s getting it from both sides.

Winning Is Everything

It should never have come to this. It’s a graphic demonstration of the “winning is everything” attitude that so easily surfaces here. As a result, there’s not the sense that either side is trying to communicate and compromise with the other. Instead, it’s all about winning, even if it means that the citizens lose as a result of the racially-tinged rhetoric, the intimidation by some commissioners of county employees and the general lack of civility in public decision-making.

There was a time when the Shelby County Board of Commissioners was held in high regard, because of its overall decorum and willingness to search for the middle ground where compromise – the grease for the political machinery – could take place. But no more. As someone in the county administration said recently, “These days, Memphis City Council is looking good to us.”

Commissioner Henri Brooks’ racial tourette syndrome, combined with Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person’s officious predilection, have resulted in a deterioration of simple manners that has been uninterrupted by anyone on the commission calling for a more collegial environment for reasoned decisions.

Playing It All Wrong

It’s inescapable to watch this display without reaching the conclusion that Judge Person spent too long in Nashville as a state senator. It is in that cloistered world that senators develop an unusual degree of self-importance, an imperial (if not imperious) attitude and an air of infallibility, surrounded as they are by eager aides intent on agreeing with their every utterance and satisfying their every need.

Back here on earth, Judge Person has been displaying his worst senatorial inclinations by his serial stonewalling of the board of commissioners. In the political pressure cooker that is county government, it is never a good decision to refuse to answer a request to appear before that body. To send staff members instead is simply an act of cowardice.

And yet, the juvenile court judge weighed his options and chose the worse one possible – ignore the commissioners. While there are those on the commission who share his point of view, being a no-show hurts him all around, because even these commissioners are left with the thought that “if he’ll stonewall them, he could also stonewall me.”

Trying To Have It Both Ways

Ultimately, the judge’s decision recently to invoke the Judicial Code of Ethics as the reason he could not appear before the board of commissioners was as specious as it was transparent.

He can’t have it both ways. If his position is largely administrative, as we have asserted here, he needs to appear before the board of commissioners. If his position is largely judicial, it gives his opponents traction in their advocacy for another judge.

Sadly, in the midst of all of the games playing, no one is giving Commissioner Carpenter’s call for an independent evaluation of the court much attention. And that’s too bad, because if there should be one area of agreement, it is that court operations have too long operated as a fiefdom, and it is time to modernize operations and identify ways for the court to intervene in the lives of at-risk children in a positive, productive way.

Restraining Common Sense

Meanwhile, if this wasn’t a large enough cast of characters, Chancery Court was ushered into the battle when Judge Person filed and received a temporary restraining order to prevent the appointment of a second Juvenile Court Judge. While we believe that a second judge is the least effective way to address concerns about court backlogs, it’s a sad day when officials within the same government can’t figure out a way to arrive at a mutually agreeable course of action. Instead, taxpayers will be picking up the tab for some of the most highly-paid lawyers in this community.

In the end, the rush to deliver this second judgeship to a politically connected Democrat is unseemly at best. If the eight commissioners who voted for the new judgeship wanted to make a case for it, it’s hard to imagine why they didn’t take a more deliberative approach built on fact-finding and analysis. Instead, their headlong rush for political advantage ultimately will taint the person they would appoint to the judgeship.

All in all, it’s a symptom of how far county government has descended into the political pit of partisanship and racial bickering. And, it seems a good time to admit that the seeds for all of this were planted with passage of partisan elections for county offices.

Partisan Face Lift

At the time, the Republican Party was led by a local plastic surgeon searching for political advantage and a way to cling to county offices as the wave of African-American voters surged. It took a plastic surgeon to put a pretty face on partisan elections, because in time, they have done precisely what so many of us feared – institutionalized the racial divide in Shelby County.

And in this highly-charged atmosphere of partisan politics, every vote – as Commissioner Carpenter learned in joining the Democrats to support a new judge – becomes a test of party purity, diminishing the chances for compromise and weakening the lines of communications.

In a more mature political environment, someone would call for – and get – a 180-day cooling off period in which the study of the court could be undertaken and a more thoughtful approach could be laid to move ahead. But at this point, it doesn’t look like even a Chancery Court order could make that happen.

My Wish For 2007

From Keith Kirkland, executive director of Wolf River Conservancy:

The Wolf River Conservancy's wish for Memphis in 2007 is that our community will come together at our 6:00 p.m., Feburary 8, Greening Greater Memphis Event at the Memphis Botanic Garden to demonstrate grassroots support towards finally implementing significant green infrastructure within our community, including Greenways, Greenlines, expanded Parks, designated bike lanes, and safer pedestrian bridge crossings. Our hope is those attending this meeting will continue to support the sponsor's efforts to very literally transform our community with some of the finest park and greenway infrastructure in the nation.

We wish that the cities of Memphis, Germantown and Collierville will move forward with implementing the Wolf River Greenway Trails. When finished, the Wolf River Greenway would include more than 30 miles of smooth, all weather paths that would stretch from Mud Island, through Shelby Farms, then on to Collierville Arlington Rd. When completed, we could walk, run, ride a bike or roller blade from Beale Street to Collierville/Arlington Rd and never cross the street, following two beautiful, largely shaded river corridors. The Greenway could increase property values and the health of 30 square miles of Memphis's older neighborhoods.

The Wolf River Conservancy also hopes that funding will be found to complete Shelby County's newest park that is currently being implemented, The Wolf River Wildlife Area. This 2,100 acre, encompassing both sides of the Wolf River from Houston Levee Rd. to Collierville/Arlington Rd, will border the northern edge of Collierville that will also feature an 8 mile long greenway trail, boat ramps and a 1/4 mile Wolf River Boardwalk extending from Peterson Lake.

We also hope to enlist increased support towards the Wolf River Conservancy's efforts to protect the threatened and still natural and beautiful lands along the "Middle River" sections of the Wolf within Fayette County county from encroaching sprawl. Protecting these lands will work towards protecting our precious aquifers from contamination as well as tracts of beautiful wilderness within an hour of midtown Memphis.

Again, the Wolf River Conservancy hopes for greatly increased grassroots and political support in 2007 towards "Greening Greater Memphis", both our urban and rural environments.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's A Wrap For State Film Commissioner And Incentives Are Next

For political appointees in government, there’s often a choice – doing what’s right or doing what you’re told.

There’s an axiom repeated frequently by these appointees – loyalty flows up, not down. As a result, those who risk doing what’s right in the face of orders to the contrary often receive a professional death penalty.

That’s exactly what happened recently in the Bredesen Administration when aides to Governor Phil Bredesen took a sledge hammer to the career of his former film commissioner David Bennett.

Crime And Punishment

The crime? Bennett made the mistake of taking his responsibilities as film commissioner seriously. He thought his job was to serve the film industry in Tennessee, and in that vein, he helped local film officials lobby for a special incentive fund to encourage state film production.

And worse yet, at least for Mr. Bennett, local film industry advocates were successful in getting the Tennessee Legislature to approve the $10 million incentive fund. The governor’s advisors did all that they could to put roadblocks in the way, and they dressed down Mr. Bennett for helping local officials in the first place.

As a result, he did in fact put some distance between himself and the lobbying effort in Nashville, but local film commissioners already had the momentum. Despite efforts by the University of Tennessee and others to grab the $10 million, the film commissioners were able to gain passage of the program.

Film As Economic Development

To Bennett, it must have looked like a simple call. Film commissioners from across the state have been complaining for years about the lack of incentives that could make their communities more competitive for film shoots. No one has articulated the problem better or more persistently than Memphis and Shelby County Film and Tape Commissioner Linn Sitler, who has begged for help from state government so Memphis could compete with places like Louisiana that offer attractive financial packages to lure productions.

Here, without any meaningful incentives and laboring in the economic development shadows, Ms. Sitler has put Memphis into the top 10 cities for film production. Imagine what she could do with more weapons in her arsenal, so, according to Mr. Bennett’s reasoning, it became critical that state government support film as a key economic development strategy, and that it do it with the kinds of incentives that have proven so popular in recruiting other industries.

As we’ve said before, there’s no one in this region who can point to a better return on investment than our local Film Commission. Operating on a shoestring, it has returned millions of dollars to the local economy.

Let Them Eat Cake

In other words, the logic of focusing on film production as a major economic development focus was sound and long overdue. Every year, with the start of the Tennessee General Assembly, film commissioners could count on flowing rhetoric from Bredesen Administration officials about their pride and support for Tennessee as a leading film location, but in the end, there was never any results to back up the rhetoric.

It was up to Mr. Bennett to field the complaints from across Tennessee about the lack of state support. He also saw his role as serving as a voice for the film industry in Nashville, but in time, he did it so well that he ruffled feathers with his dependable representation of his constituents.

Unfortunately, the attitude of political advisors is frequently more about making sure you win than making sure you’re right. From where they sit, the political operatives in the Bredesen Administration considered that they gave Mr. Bennett orders to abandon the legislation for the film incentives and his film constituents in the process, and he didn’t distance himself enough. As a result, it was time to play the role of the enforcer and send a clear message about their authority.

Power And Control

In other words, much of this issue is anchored in the control and credit that is revered by the advisors that surround political powers like the governor. Unfortunately, as in this case, they seem so determined to exact political payback that they don’t realize that forcing Mr. Bennett to resign actually created a political problem for Bredesen within the film industry in Tennessee.

That’s because Mr. Bennett was the first state film commissioner in years that seemed to understand what his job really was all about. In the past, the job has been routinely filled by dilettantes and the kind of people who apply for film commissioner jobs because they’d want to meet celebrities. As Memphis and Shelby County Film and Tape Commission Chair Herb O’Mell said, Mr. Bennett was the “best state film commissioner we’ve ever had.”

Thanks to his staff’s determination to get its pound of flesh, Governor Bredesen has now sent the message to local film commissioners that politics is much more important than economic development. It’s the kind of lesson that leaves citizens disenchanted and shaking their heads.

Cold Political Payback

To the governor’s aides, Mr. Bennett’s public humiliation – complete with the tired old strategy of whispering to the press about his expense account – is the object lesson that they were seeking. There’s no question that it’s had a chilling effect on the actions of state employees, who now know that they need to weigh the duties of their office against the political agenda of the state administration.

But the political advisors of the governor’s inner circle aren’t through yet. They intend to kill off the incentive program, too. They can do it, because when the $10 million in rebates for film production were approved by the legislature, it left it up to the Bredesen Administration to draw up the criteria for the program.

Already, the Administration has dragged their feet for months, and it’s likely that they will continue their stall until the next fiscal year begins July 1. Then, the entire $10 million will be returned to the general fund, and the incentive program will be reduced to an apocryphal story told to new appointees.

It’s a cautionary tale for sure, but it also is one that slaps the face of every one who worked hard to win passage of these incentives in the last legislature. It’s all about sending a message, but in the end, it’s one that just makes the Bredesen Administration look petty.

Friday, February 02, 2007

This Week On Smart City: Population On The Move

Do U.S. automakers have any new ideas about how to make congested, polluted cities more accessible? Can they think beyond 1.8 cars per household?

David Berdish of Ford insists they can. David is developing sustainable mobility solutions for the world's mega-cities. David is Manager of Social Responsibility and Organizational Learning at Ford where he has worked for 24 years in the areas of Production, Program Management, Finance, Quality, Business Planning and Organizational Learning.

Also with us is Marsha Miro, acting director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which is opening a new exhibition this month about shrinking cities worldwide. Marsha previously taught art history at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and has numerous books and a film on Cranbrook to her credit.

Smart City is a syndicated, weekly hour-long public radio talk show that takes an in-depth look at urban life: the people, places, ideas and trends that affect us all. Host Carol Coletta talks with national and international public policy experts, economists, business leaders, artists, developers, planners and others on the pulse of city life for a penetrating discussion on urban issues.

In Memphis, Smart City is broadcast on WKNO FM, 91.1, at 9 a.m. Sundays. It is also webcast and podcast at the Smart City website, which also has a listing of broadcast times in other cities and the sign up for a weekly newsletter.