Thursday, August 27, 2015

The City Court Clerk race and the cloud hanging over it

There are five major candidates for City Court Clerk, and all bring something to the table.

You have Justin Ford, Chair of the County Commission, Wanda Halbert, City Councilor from District 4 and a former MCS Board member, former County Commissioner and Juvenile Court Clerk Shep Wilbun, Thomas Long II, the son of outgoing City Court Clerk Thomas Long (who tried to not have to have the II listed on the ballot, the better to fool people into thinking they were voting for his father), and former City Court judge, prosecutor, and 23-year Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio.

While I am disgusted with the younger Long's attempts to profit from his father's name with no apparent reason to vote for him otherwise, he is not necessarily the problem here.  While Kay Robilio was presumed to have a good career, everyone seems to have forgotten how it ended two years ago, a year earlier than her term as Circuit Court judge would have ended.  As the linked story notes, Judge Robilio resigned as a condition of her agreement with the Court of the Judiciary in regards to an ethics complaint filed in May 2013.  According to the CA story, she was accused of violating the judicial rules of impartiality in the handling of a post-divorce child custody issue.  Through her attorney, she claimed that she had done what she had done with the approval of all parties and had done nothing wrong.

If that is the case, why did she resign?  To this point, the local media, besieged by the Mayoral and Council races, have not had the time to ask that question.  It needs to be asked, because there is a very real chance, given the racial demographics of the City of Memphis, that the former judge could well be elected in October; There is NOT a runoff in this race, she is the only Caucasian candidate, and she has as much name recognition as the other major candidates.

I have no personal malice toward Judge Robilio, nor do I have any reason to have any.  I have never appeared in her courtroom (nor any others, for that matter, except on traffic tickets), and I have heard nothing but nice things about her and her family on a personal level.  However, if there is a real possibility that she is going to be elected to office, she needs to give a full as explanation as possible without violating her agreement with the Court of the Judiciary.

Because I am raising this issue, in order to avoid hurting any of the other candidates, I will NOT offer any endorsements in this race, because I do not want anyone to think I am doing this on behalf of anyone other than the average voter of the City of Memphis.  Judge Robilio, as a re-established public figure, needs to explain why this action had to be taken so that there can be no misunderstandings if she is elected City Court Clerk.

Monday, August 24, 2015

On the subject of Hillary

No, she's not my first choice; Bernie Sanders is.  Second, she is far from the worst choice, Jim Webb is.  Third, of course I am going to vote for Hillary if she is the Democratic nominee; have you noticed the GOP candidates?

My differences with the former Secretary of State, US Senator and First Lady have to do with her too-conservative for my tastes stances on issues.  I want someone who is going to give us RED MEAT, as Sanders is, and as even DONALD TRUMP is doing by attacking Wall Street.  (That strategy, by the way, is brilliant for handling populist Dixiecrats who want to share the wealth with other white people only, such as themselves).

I don't attack Hillary, but I DO get pissed whenever anyone suggests my opposition to her candidacy is rooted in misogyny.  I would have supported Elizabeth Warren had she chosen to run for the White House; unlike, when she said no, I accepted that decision and went to Bernie Sanders.  That, my Bernie-following friends, is the BEST way to shut that conversation down in a heartbeat.

So, some of you may ask, why not Jill Stein?  Call me when they can elect a majority of Congress or even a state legislature.  Most of them are too national-policy centered to ever care about local races, which is how you get to majority status, from the bottom up.  I WOULD like to see the Greens get more electorally sound, because I find that I like most of their policies; they just don't seem to know how to get their folks elected.

I look forward to having my rest-of-the-Council and City Court Clerk post up soon; deeply torn in the Clerk's race between two people I respect and admire.  Plus, I will ask why no media is covering why one of the other candidates in that race had to leave her prior office EARLY.

More later.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quick overview of the debate

1) Kyle Veazey did a fantastic job of keeping it moving and asking great questions, some of which were provided by the audience.  I liked the format much better than the WMC fiasco at the CRM.  More from him here at First Word, if you didn't see it, you can watch it here.

Daily News,

Jackson Baker's take on the debate is here..

2) Mike Williams came on strong but slipped over the course of the evening when he never could seem to tell us HOW he would change things.  My wife observed, correctly, IMO, that he seemed to be a one-trick-pony.  Very confident, but you need to tell HOW you will do things.

3) Wharton put up a fierce defense of his record, but one couldn't escape the fact that he was trying to re-sell us a used car, one on which the wheels are falling off.  He is a good debater and is not afraid of anything or anyone.

4) My man Strickland started off slow but built up steam and was really cranked up and passionate by the end.  He needs to get cranked up sooner, IMO. While I think he may have hung on to his message a little TOO tightly at times, he reaffirmed my decision to support him.

5) If there was a winner, it was Harold Collins. Had I been undecided going in, I doubt I would be now.  It's too bad there was a time limit at times, because he got cut off on more than one occasion when I wanted to hear more of him.

6) The fact that no one asked a MATA question until late in the debate is very upsetting.  You can't help people get jobs that they have no way to access.  Public Transportation can no longer be thought of as just a way for domestics to get from North and South Memphis to East Memphis any more.  if you think you are too good to ride MATA, you are part of the problem.  (One point I will give to the Mayor: he did find good leadership to replace Will Hudson, who ran it into the ground.)

7)  Here's a question that should be asked for the next debate: to the MAYOR: This has been one of the most contentious terms EVER between your Administration and the Council.  What steps can YOU take, if re-elected, to have a better relationship with your next Council?  To Collins and Strickland:  Having been on the other side of that battle, what steps can YOU take to have a good relationship between your Administration and the next Council.

8) There is another debate tonight at Central High School from 6-8, sponsored by the Evergreen Historic District Association.  Go, if you can, I wish I could, but life intervenes.

UPDATE: From Brad Watkins, this powerful observation on Facebook, which is shown here with his permission:

After watching the Mayoral debate I am even more resigned to the fact that I have no candidate in this race..but that's okay, it does not really matter.
One of three men on that stage tonight will be our Mayor for the next four years...and no matter who it is..on a CERTAIN LEVEL does not matter.
I heard virtually nothing last night about homelessness, about MATA, about police accountability or CLERB or housing. Nothing about accessibility for people with disabilities or MLGW....nothing about confronting systemic racism..or sexism.. or homophobia or transphobia...almost nothing about domestic violence and nothing about rape, and only one real mention of POVERTY..among myriad other issues.
So, whoever this next Mayor will be... they will have us to relentlessly contend with. Many of us have no we have to ORGANIZE to push this next Mayor to be the Mayor this city really needs, one who is unapologetic about these issues and one who openly acknowledges inequality in our city...not just a paycheck issue..but how it permeates our entire lives.
It's not about falling in's about hiring someone for a job.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Let's talk about the City Council races

Jerome Wright wrote in the CA on Sunday (sorry, behind a paywall) about the upcoming Council races, which I believe are AS important as the Mayor's race, if not more so:

Voters should listen closely to what the council candidates are saying. Do they have solid ideas on how to move the city and council districts forward? Have the incumbents done more than complain or bluster? Are they more than one-issue candidates? 
Have they done a good job managing their own finances? It’s an important point to consider for people who want to determine how to spend millions of your tax dollars. 
Do they have any thoughts about privatizing some city services or providing those services on a sliding-fee scale based on usage? 
Also, listen carefully to what they have to say about city’s debt situation. The city still has to bring its pension fund into solvency by 2020, according to state law, but has not been putting enough into the fund to accomplish that goal. 
That has raised concerns in some circles that a big property tax increase may be coming next summer or in the summer of 2017. The council has the final say on whether that happens.

To a great degree, he is spot on, especially when he talks about privatization of city services, which I believe is a disaster in the making.  Why, you ask?  First, any savings you as a taxpayer MIGHT receive will more than likely be turned into profits for an OUT-OF-TOWN concern.  Secondly, this is also an attempt to KILL public-sector unions, which allow our city employees to have middle-class incomes and be able to buy homes and cars and have disposable income.

You know, like YOU might have if YOU had a PRIVATE-SECTOR union to join.

You should ask EVERY Council candidate (and remember, you have FOUR to choose, one District and THREE SuperDistrict positions) how they feel about privatization, about what THEY intend to do about the debt and pension situation.  And yes, there WILL be a property tax hike in 2017, otherwise the State of Tennessee will attempt a takeover and imposition of Greek-style austerity on this city and its citizens, whom they despise.  (Why do you think I want Strickland for Mayor?  Because he knows how to deal with those schmucks without selling us out, that's why.)

So, I am going to start out (there will be more than one post on this) with the races in which I have a vote.

SUPERDISTRICT 9, POSITION 1 - Kemp Conrad is the incumbent, a man who came to office eight years ago when Mary Wilder and Desi Franklin split the progressive vote and he won (UPDATE: I was wrong about this, that was Reid Hedgepeth that they ran against, thanks to Caroline Todd for the heads-up!), giving us eight years of attempts to privatize most areas of government, even the SANITATION WORKERS.  You know, the very organization that Dr. Martin Luther King was assisting when he was assassinated here on April 4, 1968.  I'm not saying they have sacred posts, but it's pretty damned close, in my opinion.  He is a former GOP chair here (Note, so is interim City Councilman Alan Crone, who is not seeking re-election.  However, Crone has been nothing short of terrific since he joined the Council, to the point that I am sad he is not running. FULL DISCLOSURE: My wife used to work with an associated law firm.

Conrad's opponents are Charley Burch and my neighbor in Humes Heights, Robin Spielberger.  It is Robin for whom I will cast my vote.  No, I don't agree with her on everything, but she does support a Citizens Law Enforcement Review Board and has interesting ideas on using tiny homes to help solve the homelessness issue, which I found interesting, and I think you will as well.  Please consider her if you live in SD 9, unless you like the idea of privatization.  Of course, if you DID, I doubt you would be reading this blog.

SUPERDISTRICT 9, POSITION 2  - This is the seat vacated by Shea Flinn and currently held by the aforementioned Alan Crone.  This is the largest field of these three slots, with several interesting candidates, from former MCS Board members Rev. Kenneth Whalum and Stephanie Gatewood (for whom I would vote if my choice were not running),  Lynn Moss,  Philip Spinosa, an Inside Sales manager for FedEx Services (Flinn's personal choice to succeed him), and MY choice for this position, Paul Shaffer.

Paul is the business manager for IBEW Local 474, a longtime supporter of progressive causes, and a former candidate who lost to Kemp Conrad in 9-1 four years ago.  Now, more than ever, we need Labor to have a seat at the table on the City Council.  Paul is smart and has great experience working with the Council on negotiations, and would be a solid force against the privatization of city government.

Spinosa has more signs and is the candidate of the big business community (drive down Walnut Grove and you will see what I mean).  He may well be a good guy, but I fully believe Paul Shaffer is the best candidate in the race.

SUPERDISTRICT 9, POSITION 3 -  The incumbent is first-termer Reid Hedgepeth who won a lot of people over when he voted for the Non-Discrimination Ordinance to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination by city government or contractors with city government.  As he was elected with a lot of conservative votes, that took guts and I applaud him for doing so.

That said, the rest of his voting record has been pro-developer and anti-union.  This is why I do NOT support his re-election.  In the race to unseat him are former County Register candidate Stephen Christian, with whom I served on the SCDP Executive Committee this past year, and my choice, local activist Zachary Ferguson.  Ferguson is one of two openly gay candidates for Council, and faces an uphill battle, as it's always tough to unseat an incumbent.

However, he has been very active in civic organizations as well as his church, St. John's United Methodist. He is currently President of the Board of Directors for the Workforce Interfaith Network.  He shares our progressive values, not just socially but ECONOMICALLY as well, and I urge you to vote for him in this race.

DISTRICT 5 -  This is the tough one for me.   There are seven people in the race; however, I confess that I have no clue who Jimmie Franklin or Jennifer James Williams are, couldn't pick them out of a lineup.  Of course, I haven't gotten mail from them or had them knock on my door yet, either.

There WILL be a runoff in this race (SuperDistricts and Citywide races are not allowed runoffs due to a quarter-century old consent decree), because the remaining five candidates are, for all intents and purposes, running for two spots in that runoff.

28-year old Jonathan Worth Morgan, who uses his middle name as his first name n the ballot and on his signs, is the son of Morgan-Keegan Financial founder Allen Morgan.  He raised a good bit of money to start, and was seen as a favorite to make the runoff.  However, Dan Springer, a veteran of Mark Luttrell campaigns who does have the occasional progressive supporting him, may well take a lot of that vote.  Springer has a good website with a good video promoting the good things about the city,on which we all can agree.  However, there is not much in the way of specifics on how he might vote on say, the Pension issue.

Fighting for what might be the liberal spot in the runoff are three people I like a lot, of whom only one can receive my vote.  (insert Chicago joke here.)  Mary Wilder is a community activist well-known in the Vollintine-Evergreen Community Association, and sat in Carol Chumney's vacated House 89 seat in the early Oughts after Chumney resigned to take a City Council seat (this one, as it were).   She has a base of the older Midtown Democratic stalwarts who cut their teeth on Steve Cohen campaigns.

Next is the person whom I originally intended to support,  Charles (Chooch) Pickard.  He is an architect who has lived in Memphis for twenty years and has a keen eye for how the city SHOULD be developed, rather than how it HAS BEEN developed.  He is a first-time candidate but he is very calm with a good head on his shoulders with a good vision.  If he won, he would be a great voice, and he is the other openly gay candidate for Council this year.

I can easily support Mary or Chooch if they get in the runoff against Springer or Morgan.

However, at the soiree Mr. Carroll and I throw each year, Bratfest, our friend John Marek showed up with a petition for this race, catching me off guard.  I signed his petition, and began to re-think my position.

For those who don't know John, he has been Congressman Cohen's campaign manager the last two elections, and has been associated with the campaigns since 2006.  He is an attorney and would be the ONLY attorney on the Council if elected, as Alan Crone is not running.  (How do you NOT have an attorney on the Council?  Allan Wade can't do EVERYTHING, no matter what he may think!)

John has an incredible passion to serve.  He sits on the CLERB and supports its strengthening.  His work led to the MPD agreeing to have body cams for all uniformed policemen, which will take effect this fall.  He is also the local president of NORML, which has a following among people of ALL political stripes.

You want to know what he wants to do?? You can read it here.   John also has the endorsement of his mentor, Congressman Cohen:

John has the energy to move this community forward RIGHT NOW, because he is already doing it.  Let's give him that chance, I URGE you to vote for John Marek for District 5.

More on the other races in the next day or so.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Poor People get the Shaft part eleventy billion

So let's say you live in a small town in the South.  Most everyone with the means has left for the city.  Those that have stayed have let's say, a severe dislike of government and taxes.  But court fees, they may hate em, but only people who break the law have to pay them and that's usually out of town speeders or "those people".

See, a little known fact is that most of these towns raise almost all their operating budgets from fines, usually speeding tickets.  Go through any small town in the south and you'll discover this.  Ferguson was a classic case of this as the city incentivized officers to bring in as much as possible.  You think fines here are high, try close to 200 for going as little as 8 over.

So, lets say you live in one of these small towns.  You get a couple tickets, you now owe over $1000 in fees and costs.  You don't have the money so the court sends you to the PRIVATE probation company that handles this for them.  This company has offices throughout the state and has bought this right from the city and charges the city nothing, with one cavaet.  Head over here for more information.  I'll break it down for you here though.

That company forces you to meet with them every week about your case and charges you to do so, usually $35-$45 every time.  So lets say the person who owes the fine pays $50, this company takes its fee off the top, stringing out what you owe even longer, making them more money.  You can't pay, you likely will go to jail.  Who controls the jails and prisons in a large part of this country?  Another private company, like CCA.

We complain about predatory lenders in the check cashing industry, title loans, and the used car industry.  Thanks to Elizabeth Warren and Obama we have the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to help with this and activists in many states are fighting these groups,  The ACA is a great first step in helping lower the chances of medical debt bankruptcies.

But who is fighting to stop the privatization of the prison and corrections industry?  Do we really want to go back to the days of debtor's prisons?  Do you trust your local leaders to prevent these companies from getting their claws into Memphis in the name of "efficiency" and "private business does it more effectively"?  Transparency and the betterment of everyone.



Strickland??? Yes, Jim Strickland for Mayor.

Now, I KNOW what you're going to say before you say it.

Jim Strickland is for cutting pension benefits, yada yada yada.  I am certainly not for that, because we made a promise to our workers and it should be kept, even at the risk of a property tax increase.  (Remind your friends who may be Republican that if we had a STATE INCOME TAX we wouldn't be so damned dependent upon property taxes!).  I don't agree with Jim Strickland on every issue.  That's why I want a whole new City Council; however, to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another post, coming in the next day or so.

So, you say, look at all the companies that have expanded or built plants in Memphis under AC Wharton!  True enough, until you see the tax incentives they have received and you realize that YOU, the taxpayer, are paying for most of the jobs brought by Electrolux, IKEA, Bass Pro Shops and the rest, and not these companies.

But wait, you say, didn't Strickland vote for some of these things?  He may have, but he also called for oversight, and besides, that's why we need a whole new Council, one that is NOT beholden to developers or the Chamber of Commerce.  Again, that's coming later, hold your horses!

For my disagreements with Jim Strickland, I can tell you this much about him.  When he disagrees with you on an issue, he will look you in the eye and tell you why.  He allows you to make your argument and will listen to it, and discuss it with you.  He may even change his mind, or he may not.  JIM STRICKLAND WILL NEVER PLACATE YOU.  For my differences with him, there are also agreements.

Jim Strickland is also going to clean up and clean out City Hall, which has been necessary for a long, long time.  Robert Lipscomb needs to be getting his resume in order, I suspect.   (No, Jim hasn't said that to me, but I would hardly be surprised if it happens).  No more running amok from the Retired Directors Club, er, the Riverfront Development Corporation.

At the end of the day, there is absolutely ZERO bullshit in this man's body.  He will be straight forward and honest with you, even if it pisses you off.  Memphis city government needs a cleaning, Jim Strickland will be our cleaner.  That is why his sign is in my front yard.

And, as good government should provide checks and balances, he needs to have a City Council that works with him and checks him as needed.'

That, however, is another post, which is coming later.

UPDATE:  I was just thinking about this, and I realized that I have been voting in Memphis mayoral elections since 1979, that I can remember.  Not counting the vote for the Zambodian fellow in 1991, this will only be the THIRD time in all these years that I have voted for a white candidate for Mayor.

The list:  1979 - Otis Higgs, 1982 - Mike Cody, then JO Patterson, 1983 - John Ford (yes, John Ford), 1987 - Minerva Johnican, 1991 - Mongo, 1995, WW. Herenton, 1999 - Shep Wilbun, 2003 - WW Herenton (albeit reluctantly), 2007 - Carol Chumney, 2009 - Myron Lowery, 2011 - AC Wharton, 2015 - Jim Strickland.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Four Simple Words

  I listen to a lot of podcasts.  My job requires a lot of travel and solo computer work, so to pass the time, I listen to podcasts....around 35 in a given week.  Some daily, some weekly, some whenever they come out.  The vary in length from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

  They generally fall in to two categories,  News/politics and sports.  I was struck on my way home last night from a fundraiser by a story on one of my long time favorite public radio shows, APM Marketplace.

  The story was about a credit union, Hope Credit Union, in the bayou of Louisiana that has opened several branches in the last few years.  There were two things mentioned in the article that made me think of Memphis.

  One, was what he called banking deserts,  We are all familiar with the concept of food deserts where there is a lack of grocery stores providing ready access to fresh food in poor neighborhoods.  Banking deserts are similar.  Here's the comments I am referring to:

He says the picture serves to remind him of the credit union's mission: to invest and lend in high-poverty, low-income communities, the types of places often neglected by big banks. 
"It is frustrating to drive through the Delta and through low-income communities and see street corner after street corner, shopping strip after shopping strip littered with payday lenders, with check cashers with financial predators, but no bank to be found," Bynum says.

This is a common site throughout Memphis and parts of Shelby County.  Areas where there is no bank that people have easy access to bring investment to the  community.  Or the bank is a large multinational one that doesn't have the incentive to reinvest as much.

The second line refers to a Bloomburg report from 2013.  Since the recession began in 2008, 1800 US bank branches have closed.  Ninety three percent of those have been in low income communities.

Now, you are probably saying to yourself.  Okay, what is the point to this.  The point is that we need to decide about the candidates running for office here and what they could do to bring about reinvestment.

Who do you trust to bring development on a large and small scale, to the neighborhood level, to Memphis?
Who do you trust to bring good jobs to Memphis in all neighborhoods, not just certain zip codes? Who do you trust to look out for the builder, not just the developer?
Who do you trust to make sure good public schools are something every child should have?
Who do you trust to be a watchdog and make sure that things are done fairly and in the open and not behind closed doors to line their pockets and provide a cushy outside job?
Who do you trust to work tirelessly to work as hard for the city of Memphis and county of Shelby to succeed, and not just the district and his friends?
Do you trust someone who has known struggle, known discrimination, known poverty, known what it is like to fight for everything or do you trust...well, the exact opposite?

Four simple words for Memphians in the council races.  Four simple words to think about at the ballot screen.  Four simple words to ask yourself when choosing a candidate.