Behind the Headlines — January 16, 2015

Behind the Headlines — January 16, 2015


(female announcer)
This is a production of W-K-N-O, Memphis. Production funding for “Behind
the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. City council, Medicaid expansion
and the top stories of the week tonight on
“Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
roundtable of journalists starting with Andrew
Douglas from Action News 5. Thanks for being here. Alright, good to be here. Jackson Baker from
The Memphis Flyer. Thanks for being here. Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. And Les Smith, Fox 13 News. And so, Les, I’ll start
with you with the doings of the city council. There’s some intrigue. There’s some frustration
and there’s some work that’s got to get done. What’s going on? Well, there’s a lot
of frustration there. Obviously the cast in between
Mayor AC Wharton and the Memphis City Council has
never been greater during his five year
period of time. But there’s also an
opening that has arisen in the
district seven seat. I wanted to talk about that a
little because it’s interesting, very interesting. But it starts with kind of a
blast from Christmas past, many Christmas’ past actually
with Barbara Swearengen Ware who if you may remember, in 2010
ended up being charged with misconduct in office because she
decided that she had been having this practice of paying Shelby
County clerk employees money. Five dollars here,
ten dollars here. This was back in the
day when, of course, you had to go get
your cars inspected. And so, rather than
stand in long lines, she thought it would be better
if she could just give a little money here and they would
go out and get licenses for her and her relatives, as well. Well, Bill Gibbons at
the time comes down, charges her with it. She ends up taking a
plea deal and diversion. But immediately after
taking that plea deal, she comes out and she
says, “I’m still innocent.” Well, that is festered
in her since that time. And now, this past week, she
had filed for the now vacated district seven seat because
Lee Harris has become a state senator. And she is one of
seven candidates. At least we think
seven candidates, by the time that it’s over,
who will vie to get back her old seat which she held for
16-and-a-half years previously. And yet another
one is Bryan Carson, the head of the
local Democratic party. He was the second one who
qualified — seemed to qualify on the front end. Are they the
two serious ones? They are the ones who had 25
signatures as of last Thursday. And that was
originally interpreted, I guess, by Myron who
did that, Myron Lowery. He originally interpreted
that to be the deadline for successful petitions. They didn’t have to have
petitions in the first place by the
election commission. That is a city
charter requirement. But everybody had 23 or
24 except for those two. And they thought they had
gotten in under the transom. It was going to be
down to those two. And I tell you the dismay on the
council and the population at large thinking, “Those are our
choices?, was enormous. There are five or six others.
Is that correct? There are five or six others
including Berlin Boyd who served on the council
before on an interim basis. In fact, he was who the council
had appointed when Ware left the council. They appointed him
on an interim basis. Andrew? Yeah, and here’s an
opportunity for the public to be
informed about it. The electorate to say, “Okay,
I’m going to do a few minutes of “work here and figure out
is Barbara Swearengen Ware “deserving to be back on the
council at 75 years old and having served, what?
— 16, 17 years?” Or should I go in another
direction because voters want what they — They want a
representative to reflect their opinions, their
thoughts, their political views. So, take a few minutes. A better informed
electorate is going to produce a
better candidate. It’s a key seat
and a key vote. It covers what area? It covers everything
from Downtown to Frayser. [cross-talk] Let’s go to the
logistics real quickly. How will
they get selected? They will be appointed by
the remaining 12 city council members who are to vote at
their January 20th meeting. They serve roughly the year that
is remaining on Lee Harris’ term of office because we’ll have
city elections in October for everyone on city council. And that needs seven
votes, seven other trials? And there are some council
members who will be inclined to support
Barbara Ware. She was a very influential
council member when she held that seat before. But all of these council members
with the exception of Lee Harris had the onerous duty of deciding
what to do with Barbara Ware after she was indicted and when
she refused to resign during that interim period between
her suspension on the council in her indictment. Most of the council members
didn’t particularly enjoy having to be part of
that public spectacle. And I think that’s
going to be a big factor. Jackson? I didn’t mean to say yes by the
way that those two people cause all that dismay
which some circles, they did. But basically,
just people didn’t want their choices restricted. Allan Wade is a
hero of the peace in the council attorney because he
gave the correct interpretation, I presume, of what
the charter says. And he said, “Guess what, you’ve
got until Thursday the 15th, which means everybody
can get in under the gate.” And you will have that wider
choice than the two that seemed to be the choice. Berlin Boyd, by the
way, Bill mentioned, has been the front
runner to this point. He already
served one term. Interim was about five
or six months and he did an outstanding job. Things are a little bit
different though because when he served before, he served saying
he did not want to run for a full term
on the council. This time he does intend to run
for a full term on the council. So, the council has to make
what’s a pretty common decision before they
pick a person. They have to decide do we want
to pick someone who will only serve for this short amount
of time or do we want to give someone an advantage who
is going to run in October. And meanwhile, just a couple of
seconds left talking about the city council, there are
some big things going on. One is the mediation
and the possible settlement with the schools. Bill, update us on that. Well, Mayor Wharton thought that
he had a settlement worked out with Shelby County Schools
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson. And the county
school board actually approved
that settlement. The city council ignored the
proposal which was done outside of the mediation
process that they favor and simply continued mediation. There’s another session
coming up later this month in to next
month on that. So, still no settlement
of the schools’ funding. I just have to do this because
we haven’t talk about it on the show — the weird thing
with Strickland and Lowery at Lowery’s. You want to
take that Jackson? It’s one of those things
that was happening and you were watching it happen. It just can’t be
really going on. I’ve never seen
anything like it. Myron Lowery
asked Jim Strickland. First of all, he had asked him
to sit at the same table as the mayor who he intends to run
against if things work out. And that was
awkward in itself. But then he asked Jim
Strickland to stand very late in the proceedings. He starts
bragging on Strickland. And Jim is basking.
It’s okay, fine, thank him. In the beginning, it sounds
like he’s going to endorse him. And then
suddenly he says, “You’re going to make a fine
mayor someday but not yet.” And then he starts
endorsing the Mayor. And Strickland is still
standing at attention. And, you know,
his face turning red. He finally just
walked out in the middle of what
Myron was saying. I’m thinking, “That’s the most
awkward thing I’ve ever seen.” First of all, it’s
a prayer breakfast. Why endorse anybody? But if you’re going to do it,
don’t have one of the opponents stand up and
have to listen to it. That can’t help interpersonal
things within the city council. Moments before this happened,
I interviewed Myron and he was talking about how he was going
to bring the council together as the chairman for
a record fifth time. And then he goes out and he
stabs Strickland in the back. And so, with this
friction on the board, perhaps that district seven,
that new representative can bring some closure, can kind
of bring everybody together. There’s a lot of issues
they have to discuss. They have to
discuss the budget. They have to
discuss the schools. There’s always going
to be a lot of issues. We have another naive
optimist on the table with me. [cross-talk] Okay. Well, we’ll stay with you and
talk about some trouble within — I don’t know if I should say
within but with Amy Weirich and the district attorney’s office
in a pretty high profile case. What’s going on there? So, Noura Jackson has
been in the headlines for about ten years now. This woman was
accused back in 2005. She was
18 at the time. Accused of killing her
mother in her East Memphis home. Her mother was found
stabbed more than 50 times. She went to trial in
2009, was convicted. This past summer, the state
supreme court reversed that conviction and
ordered a new trial. Now what came out from that
state supreme court ruling was a couple of things. One, that they had issues
with some of the things Amy Weirich did. Amy Weirich, the lead
prosecutor in this case. Prior to her becoming
the district attorney. So, they said, for one, we
don’t like how in her closing argument, she said
something to the effect of, “Noura, why don’t you just tell
us where you were at the time?” Well, that goes against her
constitutional right to remain silent during her
defense and during her trial. And then the second thing was
apparently there was this issue of her withholding witness
evidence from the defense which could have cast some
doubt in to where she was. And so, all of this came out
because the prosecution’s case was, for a large
part, circumstantial. There were some behavioral
issues that they talked about. A cut on her hand. And so, now Amy
Weirich has removed herself from the murder case. She still wants her
office to be a part of it. The defense is taking it
one step further saying, “Hey, look, we don’t want any
prosecutor from Shelby County. “We don’t want jurors
from Shelby County. “We want people from
the outside to try this.” A judge is expected to
make a ruling next month. And they’re, in fact,
saying her attorneys are saying, “Look, she’s an
innocent woman in jail.” Why isn’t she
being released? She should be out on
bond at least before the.. I guess there is
some argument to that. I don’t know. It’s probably a
very frustrating or, depending on your point
of view, embarrassing moment for Amy Weirich. It could be. And one of the things that could
be even more embarrassing is that Valerie Corder, who is one
of the council for the defense for Noura, may very well
call Amy Weirich to the stand. That’s a possibility. To embarrass her and make
her talk about this evidence that was withheld. That’s the last thing
Miss Weirich wants. Other thoughts? It was a pretty interesting
ruling when it came down from the Tennessee
Supreme Court. Let’s also remember that when
someone is in the position of district attorney general, it’s
a pretty rare thing for them to try a case from
that elected position. Usually it is the assistant
district attorney general who end up
trying those cases. The witness statement that the
court ruled on also dealt with someone that the defense might
very well point to as a possible suspect other than Noura
Jackson in this homicide. And this is not.. Within the last year or so, this
is like the fourth or fifth case that has come bouncing back to
the district attorney’s office due to some improprieties
or irregularities spotted by the supreme court. And these have been high profile
murder cases that are now going to be back on the
retrial track again. And this is a tough case because
there’s no physical evidence linking her
to the crime. A lot of it
was circumstantial. There was some behavioral issues
that the prosecution used and some sort of cut on her
hand, inconsistencies made to the police. So, this is a very
hard case to try. That new trial should be
very interesting to see how that prosecution team.. Well, a month is going to
determine whether the judge will say are we getting people from
outside of Shelby County or not. Last word on this, Les. Mine is I
agree with Andrew. This is going to be
a sensational trial. If you thought the
first one was good, the second one is
going to be better. Let’s move to the
legislature, Jackson. And the first order of
business is Medicaid expansion, something that Republicans
thought would never happen. It is an
outgrowth of Obama Care, of the
Affordable Care Act. Most Republican governors, most
dominant Republican states like Tennessee have not moved forward
with the Medicaid expansion. But some days,
if I’m not mistaken, after Bill Haslam
won his primary ballot, he said,
“You know what? “We’re pretty close and we
think we can get an alternative version of
Medicaid expansion done.” They’re going to take it up here
in the next couple of weeks. Yeah, it was kind of a huge
surprise because he had talked about when he had a press
conference in early 2013 saying that we were not — the
state was not going to undergo Medicaid expansion through
the Affordable Care Act. He said, “I’m working
on the Tennessee plan.” And in the next year, people
kept trying to find out what the Tennessee plan was. And at a certain point,
people decided it’s a phantom. It doesn’t exist. So, it was a huge surprise
when he actually shows up with a Tennessee plan called Insure
Tennessee which actually seems like a pretty decent plan
because it does cater to the ideology of
the marketplace. At the same time,
it involves itself fully with the Affordable Care Act. They have the same problem with
the healthcare issue as it does with the
educational standards. They are trying to get some
version of a Medicaid expansion under A-C-A
without calling it that. They’re trying to get some
version of educational standards without calling
it Common Core. Those are two things
that are going to happen. But Ron Ramsey, the speaker
of the senate and lieutenant governor, who basically commands
the conservative wing of the Republican party except for some
of the Tea Party elements that are beyond his control,
he said he was open minded towards this plan. But some time ago, he had
said, “I don’t even know why the “Haslam administration is
bothering to talk to the Obama “administration to
try to get this waiver, to try to do
Medicaid expansion.” A waste of time — thank you
— because it’s just toxic for Republicans and Republicans
running for election to have any kind of an
association with Obama Care. The Chamber of Commerce, the
state Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee
Hospital Association. Very influential
people have been demanding. Because hospitals
are going broke. So, I went to a meeting last
week of Shelby County Republican legislatures and they are
not as open minded as Ramsey is to this idea. They were
still condemning it. So, it’s going to
be touch and go. Let’s go through some of
the substance of the plan. So, advocates.
So, there are advocates. Said they could create 15,000
jobs and bring 1.1 billion in new spending. They’ve harped on that.
There’s this quote free money. It is 100% funded by
the U.S. government. It’s out there waiting for
any state who wants to take advantage of it. That would fuel jobs. It would support the
hospitals who right now, you know, it’s
some — I’m sorry, right here — $1.4 billion a
year that Tennessee hospitals and services they provide
that go unreimbursed because of people who don’t have insurance,
who don’t have the means. Most of the
people who are.. They were talking about
200 to 470,000 people who could participate. So, it’s a huge
number of people. Most of them, 54% of
those people, are working. It’s not,
you know.. Sometimes people who are going
to eligible for Medicaid are painted as no
good, lazy, da-da-da. There are people
who work in jobs that don’t
provide insurance. A couple
of other things. The people eligible, 138%
percent of the poverty line. So, anyone basically under
$22,000, a single person. And part of what’s
interesting about this, it does do a voucher, a more
Republican program that you can take the voucher from
the state and use it for employer insurance. Let’s say you just
couldn’t afford that. It also takes.. The Tennessee Hospital
Association came forward and said, look, if there’s a gap —
and there will be at some point, as the federal
money decreases. The federal
money decreases. We, the Tennessee
hospitals, will cover that gap. Which, you know,
if you do the math, they’re already
out a billion-four. So, they’re
coming out ahead. But their pressure
on this was huge, Bill. And the T-H-A stepping
up on this for the gap was one of the keys to it. The other is that the governor
is going to emphasize that this also deals with
the working poor. And that’s going to be
a big selling point on this beyond
the legislature. Something very
interesting happened at the Shelby County Commission
this week in this regard. Terry Roland, if not
the most conservative Shelby County Commissioner,
certainly the most vocal conservative Shelby County
Commissioner, sponsored a resolution that the commission
passed 12 to nothing urging the Tennessee legislature to approve
the Insure Tennessee plan. It’s nonbinding
but still, it’s a vote. It shows that Shelby County
Commission’s state of mind on this particular thing, a
body that has certainly had its partisan divide in the past. It’s signature
legislation for Bill Haslam. Sure. A guy who has enjoyed tremendous
popularity in this state, 67%, but yet you,
me, we’ve all done it. We’ve said,
“But where is his backbone? “Where is his spine?” Well, this is it.
This is where he comes in. This is where has to bring
together not only the Republican support but he has got to get
a lot of Democratic support in both the house
and the senate. He has called for
Democratic support. He explicitly says, “I cannot
pass this without you.” He’s going to get
on the Democrats. Are there any
Democrats out there? (Andrew)
Very few. How many
fingers do I have? But that speaks to how
close it’s going to be. There are just certain
Republicans on principle and on politics are not
going to vote for this. One of the ingenious features
of the Haslam plan is this. One of the complaints
of the critics has been, look, after two years, the
government says they’re going to still pay 90%. I bet they’ll default. Well, I’m not sure when the
government has ever defaulted on anything like that. The hospital association
has volunteered to pay
the remainder. Right. So, really, they took that
argument out of the way. They’re still making
that argument though. But Haslam’s
plan has a condition. If these conditions
don’t come through, these monies
don’t come through, the plan automatically
discontinues. Just repeat that. If for some reason
the hospitals say, “Well, we’re not doing that.
We’re not covering that. “The federal government says
we’re changing the law and we’re not going
to fund that.” Insure Tennessee goes away,
which brings up memories — and this an argument that
Brian Kelsey has made, conservative senator
from Germantown — that, look, we went through
a reduction of the roles with Tenn Care. And it was painful
and it was frustrating. I’m trying to be fair to the
other point of view that we don’t want to go
through that again. Tennessee has
gone through that. They ran up the roles
and had to cut them. They don’t want to
go through it again. And so, I was just going to say
in addition to the jobs that, you know, there would be some
creation there and the hospitals being supported of it. Mayor Wharton has
said, “Hey, look, “this will cover 67,000
or so, give or take, “uninsured in Shelby County
and about 200,000 uninsured in Tennessee.” The Med,
for instance.. This is back to the other
numbers I was talking about. In 2012, they had $147 million
in unreimbursed services. It’s a huge number.
You had Coopwood. You had Gary
Shorb form Methodist. You had all the
hospital execs saying, “Look, we are required by law
to care for these people if they come in the
emergency room.” Businesses in the state
are paying these taxes, these A-C-A
penalty taxes. This is kind of a no-brainer
but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. Let’s stay
with the legislature. And, Les, the constitutional
amendment that passed in the fall elections. Changes to abortion
legislation are on the horizon. Yes, they are. The bills are piling up
already as to regulations that they
want to impose. A couple of the legislative
pieces that are waiting to be looked at. One would involve that someone
who is going to get an abortion has to wait 24 to 48
hours before going through with an operation. Also, the fact that they
want to do counseling before all of this. They also want to be able
to inspect the places where abortions are going to be
taking place in terms of medical inspections and a
type thing like that. Those bills are
already there just waiting. The other states have done —
that require doctors working in an abortion clinic or a clinic
that provides abortion have to have admitting rights in
neighboring hospitals. Has that come forward?
Do you know? As far as
I know, I don’t know. That’s the one in Mississippi,
it essentially shut down all but I think one clinic. It’s kind of mild legislation
for the people who believe strongly about this. So, it shuts down clinics that
provide abortions because those doctors are unable, unwilling,
whatever to get the admitting privileges at
nearby hospitals. And so, that’s been talked
about that that may come up. And that’s one that the abortion
rights people are going to fight tooth and nail, I assume,
because they’ve seen what happens in other states. That’s right. We’ve already seen a
demonstration in Nashville of those who had been
proponents of amendment one. Seventeen-hundred of them
came from Memphis and went to Nashville to be a
part of that rally. In a second
we’ll move on. In the city of Memphis or
Shelby County and I think in Davidson County.. In the cities in Tennessee —
and I’m just looking at you, Bill, maybe unfairly. This bill was opposed. This constitutional
amendment was opposed. It was more of the
rural parts of Tennessee, which have their fair share and
fair vote in the legislature, who are
in favor of it. So, it’ll be interesting
to see how this plays out. It’s definitely a rural-urban
divide on this particular issue. The amendment one failed
to carry Shelby County in the
November election. Let’s move on.
Just a few minutes left. Some big economic
development news. The Tennessee Brewery, which
has been kind of an eye sore Downtown and a place of promise,
had been talked about for I don’t even know how
many decades it sat empty. And people had talked about
some kind of redevelopment. It’s going
to happen, Bill. What’s the plan
there for Downtown? It’s going to take a lot of luck
and hard work for it to happen. But there is a plan, a specific
plan for it to be residential units, apartments,
by the group that now owns that particular building. Interesting plan because we’ve
seen plans before for residential condos or apartments
within the old brewery building. This particular plan has some
free standing new buildings that will be next to it. And one of those free
standing buildings, the apartment units in its
design will actually subsidize what’s going on in the brewery
by virtue of having a new building with
new units in it. That particular development
we’ve seen numerous plans over decades to bring
the brewery back. It’s massively expensive to
pull off residential in that particular building
given its old structure. And financing for
condos is very difficult. That’s why you’re
looking at apartment units. We’ve had
people on the show. We’ve had people on seminars
we’ve done in the paper who said, you know, kind of as fast
as they can build apartments, high end apartments
Downtown, they rent them out. And there’s a huge amount
of growth going on there. Billy Orgel, who I would say
the lead person in this proposal with the
Tennessee Brewery. I mean, I don’t have
the exact quote but said, “Look, if you’re just
trying to make money, “you’re going to build a
strip center out east. That’s how
you make money.” On this, I mean,
they’re trying to make money. But they’re going
to the Center City, what used to be called
Center City Revenue or Center City
Commission, for some funding. I mean, there’s going
to be come PILOT’s. There’s going to be some
incentives to make this happen which, of course, gets in to a
certain amount of controversy. But if you look at what is going
on on the development on the south end, you’re right. The demand for apartments is
there Downtown and particularly on the south end. And what this is is this is
another indication that that development is very close to
jumping Crump boulevard and going in to South
Memphis property. Some bad news
was Macy’s is leaving. It’s announced it’s going to
close in the South Brook Mall. Southland. Southland, excuse me.
Thank you very much. Sorry, Southland.
Don’t quote me on that. It’s near Graceland where
all that money is going in. So, I don’t know.
Thoughts on it? There’s good news
and there’s bad news. You know, it’s a retail
store and a retail chain. They make..
They look at their profits. They look at their deficits.
They make their own decisions. It’s hard for any city to be
any more than a spectator. I mean, you go there.
You buy and that’s it. It’s not like a PILOT program
where we can try to salvage them and save them. But the timing for this
realignment by Macy’s could not have been worse. You have over $100 million in
development happening connected to Graceland’s
120 acre campus. You have $43 million in
streetscape improvements on Elvis Presley boulevard. Several million
connected to other projects in this
particular area. And Macy’s decides to
realign and more importantly, drop this on city leaders
apparently completely ignorant of that and with no
notice to that at all. And it’s not like
Raleigh Springs Mall which went south in a hurry. This mall
can be redeemed. The New York Times
had a great story recently on the death
of malls nationally. And high end malls are working
nationally but mid-tier and lower malls
are not working. And it’s really interesting.
We’re done, sorry! I cut everybody off.
Join us again next week. Thanks for being here.
Thank you guys. Goodnight. CLOSED CAPTIONING PROVIDED
BY W-K-N-O, MEMPHIS.

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