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We’re Not Slackers – We Just Blog that Way: Or, What We Did on Our Winter Vacation

April 5, 2015

Never mind that we have been on sabbatical from blogging on Back in River City since the November election. As those of you who follow us on Facebook know (Don’t be left out; go there now to Like and Follow us), Eddie has been faithfully and frequently covering Memphis public policy issues while I have been held captive by Other Stuff I Just Gotta Do.

lucy and ethel candy gif

While I’ve been generally AWOL for the past few months, my partner in all things Memphis has become a familiar face wherever local public policy is held up to public scrutiny. After three-plus years of frequent attendance at council, commission, school board and MATA meetings, the overheard comment has changed from, “Who IS that guy?”

Butch and  Sundancewho are those guys

to, “Where’s Eddie?”

waldo i'm hereI’m thinking about creating a Where’s Waldo spin-off. Instead of a tall, nerdy guy wearing a striped shirt and beret, Where’s Eddie? would feature a white-haired, retired-lawyer type with glasses and a bionic ear, looking spiffy in his bow tie, formulating a tough question or pondering where truth is. The problem is, no one has to look hard for Eddie. He is always easy to spot  – on the front row, or as close to the speaker as allowed. (Being hard of hearing has its occasional advantages.)

cohen townhall jan 2015

Congressman Steve Cohen’s January 2015 Town Hall meeting. Image source: Commercial Appeal

In February, Eddie’s investment banking experience enabled him to offer insight and ammunition to Council members who objected to Mayor A C Wharton’s debt restructuring proposal as presented by Finance Director Brian Collins. The Council eventually approved the plan (8-4) on March 17, but this scoop-and-toss shenanigan is certain to hurt Memphis in the long run. (For details, see Eddie’s March 4, 2015 comments on our Back in River City Facebook page.) Eddie continues to meet with members of the Council, advocating for their facing the hard facts of the City’s outstanding financial obligations.

Jim Strickland at March 17 City Council meeting during debt restructure proposal. Note white-haired man with bionic ear front right. Image source: Commercial Appeal

Jim Strickland at March 17 City Council meeting during debt restructure proposal. Note white-haired man with bionic ear front right. Image source: Commercial Appeal

Memphis’ deteriorating financial condition is an issue that most citizens – and, regrettably, most elected officials – do not understand clearly. Folks around here tend to get aggravated when you compare Memphis to Detroit. But denial is never a good long-range strategy.  We yearn for a mayoral candidate and a flock of new city council members with financial as well as political savvy who will make such comparisons unnecessary.

Last week, Eddie and Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland  met with financial officers at Regional One to better understand 1) how the medical center will be affected by ACA,  2) how much providing health care to indigents actually costs Shelby Co. taxpayers, and 3) what will be the real impact on Regional One of passing or not passing Insure Tennessee.

Regional One is one of those local entities like Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) whose complete financial positions, including debt, sources of revenue, and investments do not appear on the city’s financial statements. Back in River City is digging to learn more about these agencies and the impact their decisions and spending have on residents’ quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County.  We will report throughout the year as new information and insight come to light.

For the past nine months-plus,  Back in River City and our favorite in-cahoots-with blogger and government watchdog searching dog with magnifying glassJoe Saino have been meeting with Shelby County Schools to improve their public transparency. With great thanks to Supt. Dorsey Hopson and SCS board member Chris Caldwell, we are delighted to announce that SCS will soon open a public reading room.  Anyone will be able to visit the reading room to request and review documents that fall under the Tennessee Open Records Act. These include contracts and agreements with vendors; financial records including proposed projects and expenditures; academic planning, analysis and progress reports;  instructional materials, and more. SCS is working to make many documents available on their website. Textbooks will also be made more easily accessible. This may be a lengthy process, but the wheels are turning. Back in River City will report full details about the reading room when it opens.  Following several meetings with Supt. Hopson, Mr. Caldwell, Joe Saino, and SCS staff; Supt. Hopson created a task force in late 2014 to ensure public input (including two SCS parents) into the process of affording fuller transparency. Both of us at  Back in River City (yep, Eddie and me, his ancillary ears) serve on this task force.

Open records has gained importance as a topic of conversation in this mayoral election year.

openrecords

During the media’s Sunshine Week (March 15-21, 2015), the Commercial Appeal reported on Memphis city government’s routinely snail-like responses to open records requests from the public. The paper’s own  request to the city for email correspondence with a former employee suspected of possible fraud has still not been answered, a year later. Many aggrieved public comments and a CA editorial later, Mayor Wharton asked Mike Carpenter, Executive Director of the Plough Foundation and former County Commissioner and city official, to review the city’s open records process and recommend improvements.  Mayor Wharton’s first executive order after his 2009 election committed his office to

“open government, transparency and establishment of new standards [to] facilitate the expansion of the public’s access to its government .  .  .”

Election years have a way of making unfilled promises receive new attention. Thanks, CA!

This year is a big one for local elections. Memphis will elect a new mayor, and all City Council positions will be up for grabs. At this date, four incumbents have announced they will not run for a 2016-2020 term. As major issues evolve, Back in River City will continue to offer perspective and information. Remember to follow our  Facebook page for frequent commentary and linked articles on a variety of Memphis matters that matter. (Hat tip to Ken Welch and his podcast A Memphis Conversation. Plug or plagiarism? You decide).

birthday cupcake 3 candles

One last item of shameless self-promotion:  Back in River City recently marked our third anniversary!  2014 was a great year. We had over 25,000 hits and 12,000 unique visitors, each viewing two posts on average. Over 2,000 people are considered regular followers. Our most popular post was the 2014 Voters Guide to the Judicial Elections, closely followed by our post on Dr. Ben Carson’s April 2013 speech that “legitimate” local media declined to cover. The Ben Carson post has been the most popular ever since it was posted, drawing people to our site through Google and other search engines weekly. (Interesting, huh? Stay tuned for more about Dr. Carson,  his presidential prospects, and the black conservatism movement’s impact on Memphis politics.)

Eddie and I appreciate each and every one of you. We look forward to more good times as we share our love for Memphis, our memories and hopes,  and work with you to make things better for all who call River City home.

the-great-gatsby-leonardo-dicaprio-drink-raise-a-glass

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Busbob permalink
    April 6, 2015 12:25 am

    Eddie–keep asking questions and keep the griddle hot for the elected officials of Memphis and Shelby County. It is not funny money or Monopoly money disappearing into the bottomless well of Memphis. It is taxpayer dollars and those who make money and contribute will eventually be fewer than those who don’t. Then the collapse comes, just like Detroit. It will not be pretty.

  2. Lanigan, Lynn permalink
    April 6, 2015 3:34 pm

    BRAVO!

    Lynn L. Lanigan
    Lanigan Worldwide Moving & Warehousing, Inc.
    1870 Airways Blvd., Memphis, TN 38114
    Office: 901-744-7070, Fax 901-744-7011
    http://www.LaniganAlliedVanLines.com/reviews.asp
    A+ Rating with the BBB since 1959
    http://www.LaniganAlliedVanLines.com

  3. April 13, 2015 5:26 am

    Eddie and Eve’

    Kudos on your latest posting. Accurate and informative at the same time. keep up the excellent blogging.

    Tom Addcox

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