Behind the Headlines — January 22, 2016

Behind the Headlines — January 22, 2016


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Production funding for
Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. (male narrator)
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technicians in the Mid-South and nationwide. Details at 855-927-9925. – Priorities for the
new city council 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 Worth Morgan, newly elected to
the city council. Thanks for being here. – Thank you for having me. (Eric)
Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. We invited a number of
city council people, new. And between the snow and
other scheduling issues, we really
appreciate you being here. And we’ll talk through your
priorities and some of the things you’re working on. And Bill can talk about some
of the other priorities city council has faced
right now and the mayor. But let’s just start. You personally, what
are your priorities? What do you want
to get done this year as a new city council person? – Well, born and
raised in Memphis. And so, this has always
kind of been a home to me. And throughout the
course of the campaign, what I always went back to
and talked about the number one responsibility of
government being, any government I believe, is
the public safety of its people. And I think we heard that a lot
from the mayor in terms of his heart and his mind for this city
in the inauguration address as well as throughout the campaign. And that’s something that
coincides with my heart and my mind, as well, in terms of
what we’ll be focusing on. So, this year, I’ll be chairing
the public safety and homeland security committee. And there’ll be a lot
coming through there. And there’s some
changes that we’ll be making, you know, that we’re
working on even now before, you know, having a new
police director in place. – This week, an interim
police director was appointed. Do you know him? Have you met him? Your thoughts on that. – I think we’ve
met just briefly. We don’t know each other well. We communicated
yesterday by e-mail, just congratulations. And everything I’ve heard about
Deputy Chief Rallings has just been excellent. And so, I really am
excited to work with him. I really do trust and have
full confidence in him and this interim appointment. – And Bill, talk a
little bit about Rallings. You wrote a profile of
him when he was appointed. And what’s next in terms of the
mayor’s process of selecting a permanent director? – Well, Michael Rallings has
been on the Memphis Police force for more than 20 years. I think 25 or 26 years. He comes from the ranks
of being a Deputy Chief. You have the police director. You have a deputy director. And then you have a set of
usually four to five deputy chiefs who are under that on
the police management chart. Chief Rallings.. Actually his rank is the
colonel on the department. He’s been in charge
of uniform patrol. He’s also been in charge
of special operations in the police department. So, he has a good deal
of experience in this. And it looks like the national
search process for the next permanent police director is
going to take four months at a minimum, maybe four to
eight months for this done. No word from Rallings yet on
whether or not he will be among the applicants for the job. And that’s kind of an
important context for this. Every Memphis police director
for the last 30 years has come from the ranks of
the police department. – Which is not always the case. I mean, other cities, you hear
these high profile people coming in from other cities
and so on and so forth. But I interrupt you, Bill. But, I mean, is
your sense of that.. Is it important to bring the
best person from the ranks or is it time for Memphis to look
outside and bring in new ideas and all of that? – Well, I think our
responsibility is to find the best person for the job
and where ever they may be. And they may be from Memphis
or they may be from outside. But we have a duty and
responsibility to at least look everywhere. And, you know, I use
kind of a sports metaphor. If, you know, Memphis can go
find its version if Nick Saban, that’s great. You pay them what they need to
do to be able to do the job and to be able to hire them. You know, have competitive wages
with other positions in the country and be able to
hire who you need to hire. And, you know, same thing for
the university football program. Sometimes they want somebody who
came up through the programs, has been affiliated with the
school in the past and is better with alumni relations. But at the same time, we have a
series of serious problems to address here in Memphis. We need the best
person for the job. And we owe it to the community
to look everywhere and search everywhere. – You talk about hiring. I mean, there’s a huge.. A lot of people would say
there’s a big hiring problem within just the rank and file. The police is
down to what, Bill? Under 2,000? – It’s right at
2,000 the last count. And there’s general
agreement that it needs to be 2,400 to 2,500. – And Strickland ran on that. You talked about it. I mean, your take. Is that where we
need to be as a city? Is it 2,400,
something like that? – I think so. We need to closely
evaluate, you know, kind of what a full
complement is on a shift. And right now I believe we’re
paying overtime to fill that full complement. So, even as we hire officers,
it may not put more boots on the ground immediately. So, we need to find that
tipping point number where, you know, is it a
hundred higher, is it 150 — 200 higher? When do we actually start seeing
more officers on the ground. – There are a lot of factors
to why the complement has been dropping. A lot of it goes back to
the last couple of years of fighting. We’ve talked a lot on the
show about the pensions, the changes in benefits, the
pressure from the state or for municipalities all over
Tennessee to get their pension funding in line. How.. And in a real, you know,
contentious relationship to say it’s between the union
represenative by Mike Williams and the Wharton administration
and the city council. How does that improve? How does that change? I mean, because part of
what has driven down the number of police.. There are a lot of factors. But it’s that very contentious
relationship between the union and the union leadership
and the mayor’s office, the former mayor’s office. – I think you’re going to see a
lot more communications directly between the mayor’s
office and the police force. I think that’s part of the
mayor bringing in kind of a top communications team with
Ursula Madden and Kyle Veazey heading it. And where it’s going to be his
intention to really speak with our officers,
explain to them, you know, our financial
situation, recruit them, the ones that we
already have to remain. So, the problem is we’re
having difficulty recruiting. Those numbers are down. And we’re having
more officers leaving. And that gap is something that
we have to close and try to hold the line as quickly as we can
in terms of being able to just reverse the flow of officers
going out to officers coming in and getting back up to
that number of 24– or 2,500. – This week,
Strickland — Mayor Strickland. I haven’t gotten used to
calling him Mayor Strickland. Mayor Strickland has
delayed the body cameras. The body cameras.. It’s part of really
a national movement, this whole kind of.. Lots of police forces. All the scrutiny the
police are under everywhere. Mayor Wharton,
former Mayor Wharton, talked about getting body
cameras in by September 1st. Strickland has said he’s in
favor of the body cameras but there are issues. Did you think it was the
right move to delay the the implementation? – I understand the delay
but it is disappointing. Someone or some organization
has dropped the ball here. That we don’t have a plan to
implement them as of yet or even my question to
the administration, this will come up in the next
public safety committee meeting. The question we’ll ask is,
okay, what’s the plan to get to a timeline? You say it’s indefinite now
and we don’t have a timeline. What’s the plan to
get to a timeline? And body cameras are great. We can go. We can buy them. We can have the contract. But it is very complicated, the
tail of them and just everything that comes after that. And there are some other cities
and counties across the country that have done this recently. So.. – We had Amy Weirich on,
Bill, right before the holidays talking about it. And we talk about it quite a
bit because I had not thought it through. All the issues of just
managing that much data, managing that much footage,
managing the public record request that the
media is going to have, that citizens will have. Privacy issues are really.. She talked about it,
if I’m not mistaken, you know, that Seattle has some
35 people who just went through footage every single day. What did Strickland.. You wrote about it. What was the administration’s
take on why they needed to delay now? What are they saying in terms of
when they think they’ll be able to implement it and so on? – It comes down to a
really simple phrase here. The workflow process. And you also have work among
several different entities in the criminal justice
system among the Memphis Police Department, among the Shelby
County District Attorney’s office primarily. And I think what you’re
probably going to see.. It hasn’t been confirmed but all
the arrows are kind of pointing in that direction is there’s
going to be a need for some more funding to bring on some more
people to actually review this footage and figure out what’s
potential evidence in some kind of trial to handle just
the public records request. Because as the regular viewers
of the show heard on this show, General Weirich
said that, you know, this is not just
footage for trials. It’s also anybody requesting
footage from these body cameras from a traffic stop they were
in or maybe even a traffic stop that they just drove
past and are curious about. They could request to
see the footage from that. – Other city council people.. I mean, folks you’ve talked to. And again, people
just joining us, we invited a number of
city council people. And with the snow, Worth Morgan
is now representing the entire city council,
everyone’s views and so on. No, I’m not putting you
on the spot that way. But I do want to point at
people just joining us. What have you heard from
other city council people? Frustration about body
cameras being delayed? Is there a will to find further
funding to implement them? What’s your sense? – I think we’re asking the same
questions that the public is asking and the
news has been asking. You know, what went wrong. Not trying to in a sense of a
blame game and point fingers. But insuring that that mistake
won’t happen again going forward and we can
actually move towards it. Because it is
something the public wants. It is something
the officers want. For the most part, everybody
that I’ve talked to is in favor of body cams. But just the logistics of it and
what do we need and how soon can we get it done. I think those are the questions. And I haven’t heard any
resistance to the question, what do we need. If it is more funding, this is
going to be a tight budget year. But we understand that when it
comes to public safety and these body cameras, this is important. This is something that we
need to adequately fund. – Bill? – As chairman of public safety,
you’ve kind of inherited an ongoing discussion
on several fronts. One of those fronts involves the
thought that perhaps the city should have a
different set of benefits, a different pay level
for police and fire, generally together
known as public safety. Where are you at
in that discussion? Because my impression seems to
be that there’s still a lot of discussion about it. And people want
to know, alright, well how much is
that gonna cost us. What’s the impact
going to be on recruiting? – And so, you know,
my position on that right now is I want more information. We’re still waiting for a
comparative study to come back about Memphis’ compensation
for police in regards to other cities. That’s going to be
important to us. Hopefully we’ll have some sort
of committee that will ask the, you know, major kind of
unions or associations, fire, police and
others across the city. And they know our budget. They know our numbers, as well. What are their recommendations? What do they think is fair? And to include them a little
bit more in the process and the discussion on the front end. So, those cuts that were made
several years ago were tough. And I haven’t talked to a single
member on the city council that was excited about them. You know, that was
happy about that vote. It was one of those difficult
necessary things to do. And, you know, so I’ll be on the
pension investment committee, as well, this year. And looking at that $418 million
we have unfunded in pension from.. We’re at 2.1 billion now,
given whatever the market does. And we should be at
about 2.5 to be on our ARC. And we have a responsibility
that’s now in law from the state to make those payments on ARC. And it’s going to be tough. And it’s going to be an extra
30 or 35 million dollars in the budget this year. – How many more years
before we have to hit it? – 2020 I believe. And we’re about.. A best case scenario. Years ago, we were
about 104% fully funded. And then the crisis happened. We dropped down into the 70
percentile and we stopped making those ARC payments that
we were supposed to make to keep on track. And we got a
little bit more behind. I believe we’re at 83% now. But again, I have full
confidence in the mayor’s staff, CFO Brian Collins in being
able to project and get us back on track. – There’s also been some
discussion about possibly making the ARC over two fiscal years
counting the current one that we’re in. Is that a mountain too high
here or is that something you’re looking at? – We’ll find out
in a few months. [laughter] Everything is on the table. Once we have a fuller picture of
the budget that’s being proposed from the mayor’s
office, then Edmund Ford Jr., he’s the chair of the budget
committee this year and kind of his analysis and information
that he sends us we’ll have a better idea. So, you know, in terms of
what’s being looked at, I think everything is
always being looked at. And we’ll see how quickly we
start widdling away into what’s absolutely necessary and
what can we afford in April. – We talk about benefits. There was a, what was it? Attorney General’s opinion a
couple weeks ago that raised some question marks about who is
responsible for the pension — not the pension, the other.. The OPEB, the other post
employment benefits for what were the former
Memphis City Schools. Have you looked at that? I mean, are you eager for the
Memphis City Council to take on that liability and start
making those payments? What happens next
with that uncertainty? – So, you know, there’s already
been talks of litigation I’ve heard from the other side. And so, I won’t say
too much on the issue. I don’t believe that it is the
responsibility of the Memphis city government. And just because it was called
Memphis City School System doesn’t mean it had any
necessary connection to the Memphis city
government or the city council, the mayor’s office. So, when the
school systems merged, which I believe that was the
end of our responsibility to those payments. And remember that the merger
was overseen by a federal court. So, that would have, I guess —
or trump so to speak the state law or any state opinion. – Where does that stand, Bill? Is the county moving on that? I mean, are people lawyering up? What do things stand? – County Commissioner David
Reaves indirectly requested the legal opinion from the
Attorney General’s office. He requested it through
State Senator Brian Kelsey. And he had a single question. Usually legal opinions from
the Attorney General’s office involved a series of questions,
two to three questions that are answered. This one only involved one. And that is how is Shelby County
government responsible for the OPEB benefits of the former
Memphis City Schools employees. And the Attorney General
answered that question as we’ve talked about on the program. But he didn’t answer the other
what if part of that because he wasn’t asked about that. So, I think what you’ll see
is a second legal opinion. Commissioner Reaves has said
he’s pretty sure that that’s going to happen. And that based on that,
there will probably be some discussions between the county
building and city hall about what the opinion says, what’s on
the table and what’s realistic in terms of expecting
who’s going to handle this particular responsibility. But as Worth has said, there are
a whole lot of legal points here that are going to
have to be sorted out. And I think that no matter how
much discussion there is between the two bodies, there are going
to be some basic legal points that probably a judge is
going to have to settle. – Let’s move to some projects,
some other news that came out this week, a couple weeks,
that aren’t necessarily.. It would seem to me
they’re headed your way in the city council. One is Mud Island. RDC, Riverfront
Development Corporation, has asked for proposals for a
private entity to take over management and
invest some money, and just take over the
whole Mud Island River Park. The most public one
has been Andy Cates, who runs RVC Outdoors and
has put his proposal out. He was actually on the show
some time in the fall talking about it. But a number of
players have come forward. Maybe, Bill, you could do
an overview real quick. I’ll put you on the spot of the
five who are named as going to the next round for
consideration to take that over. And then we’ll get
your take on it. – The one that got the most
attention once we got the list of five was, of
course, Bass Pro Shops, which we understand did not
submit a specific proposal but simply said they’re interested. All five of these applicants
now go to a second round and an actual RFP where they flesh out
not only what they want to do but how they
intend to pay for it. So, Bass Pro Shops is on there. Mark Lovell, who is best known
for running the Delta Fair, his company has
applied for Mud Island. He’s alsop an applicant on the
RFP to be the day-to-day manager for the Beale Street
entertainment district. And you have two companies
that we really don’t know a whole lot about. One of them seems to be
a company that does some entertainment production
in Branson, Missouri. And there is a Memphis
Equity Partners Group, I believe is the name of it,
that is the fourth entity in here that we don’t know
really anything about. – Right now, RDC
is running this. A committee through RDC. Kevin Kane is involved from
the Visitors Bureau and so on. The one thing in the media, we
were sort of frustrated that these proposals
aren’t out there. They’re not public yet. Andy Cates put his out but the
others have not chosen to at this point, I don’t think. And there’s such history
with Mud Island of missteps. I mean, it goes back to Sidney
Schlenker and the Pyramid and the whole terrible story. Should this be a more public? I mean, this is a
media thing maybe. Maybe average
citizens don’t care. But should it be a
more public process? – This is very early. First and foremost, the interest
from five groups is exciting. And again, we’re going to have
to wait until the next round where we actually get the plans. So, most important, how they
intend to fund it and whether public funds will be used. And if so, how much are
they going to be requesting. So, that’s all going to be
very important in terms of consideration. But, you know, it’s okay to have
big ideas and to share them. It’s interesting. It’s exciting to see something
that can potentially be a great, you know, another draw
towards attraction and destination Downtown. – And that inevitable.. I mean, is the process
formerly that it’s going to come to city council? It’s got to come
to city council, right? Or has that been determined? – I think first of all, I think
some of the council members are interested to see what the role
of the Riverfront Development Corporation itself is
going to be as far as the new administration is concerned. But yeah, even if
it’s not required, I would think this is going
to go to the city council. – Would you think so? Do you want a vote on
that in some fashion? – You’re going to
find out city council, I guess in some regards,
finds themselves in situations. They get involved in situations
we might not necessarily want to. Something’s exciting,
something’s as big as this, I think the city council is
going to want to have a say. And I think the people are going
to want to have a say through the city council, as well. – Another issue this week,
which I’ll turn over to Bill, which is a fight between the
Overton Park Conservancy of which I am on the board. So, I’m going to
stay out of this. And the Zoo, over
the greensward. Bill, maybe give us a quick
update on what’s going on and we’ll get Mr.
Morgan’s thoughts on that. – As we stand at the moment in
the middle of the snow storm, the Memphis Zoological Society
has gone to chancery court to ask for a declaratory judgement
that it wants to say that the zoo has control
over the northern end of the Overton
Park Greensward. And the Overton Park Conservancy
opposes that and intends to oppose it. I still don’t know at this point
if that’ll mean a motion to intervene in this or not. But that’s where we
stand at this point. The conservancy and the zoo have
both agreed also to take part in a mediation process
with Mayor Strickland. Had talked with leaders of
both about earlier in the week. So, that’s still on. But the case is in
chancery court at this point, which was an option that
the zoo had talked about. So, from your standpoint,
what is the council’s role, if any, at this point? – Yeah, so, going to court for
the declaratory judgement wasn’t totally unexpected. And from my understanding,
Memphis Parks Commission wanted it dissolved in 2000. Gave full authority
to the Mayor for all, everything that it
has oversight over. So, I really believe, you know,
a lot of the authority here sits with the mayor. Now when you talk about funding,
city of Memphis funds both the Overton Park Conservancy
and the zoo to some extent, different levels. So, that’s one thing. This is an interesting
problem and it’s tough. We have two really
good organizations. And last year on the campaign
as we’d go to forums and we’d go to, you know, town hall meetings
and we’d go to community meetings, I would get more
questions about this than I would about something like
childhood poverty in Memphis. Or even knocking on
doors in Midtown, the people would ask me about
the Greensward rather than ask me about crime in the
neighborhood or another issue. So, this is something that has
really stirred the passions. I’ve received.. I believe the other council
members and the mayor have received well over 200
e-mails in the last week from both sides. From the people
who are, you know, wanting to preserve and save the
Greensward and from people who support the zoo. So, you know, the mediation, I
thought this was a good step by the mayor to bring both parties
together at his table where he really has the authority and the
clout to hold them together at the table. But we’ll see what
that process brings. I know that the Overton
Park Conservancy has.. You can speak to this
maybe a little bit more. But they’ve signed with a firm
to study the parking kind of within the next 90 days. This is a firm that’s national. They’ve done some
other work in Memphis. But this is not just for the zoo
parking but for Levitt Shell and the Brooks Museum and really
all of the tenants of the park. And you’ve got to realize. It’s a problem that
seems simple to begin with. And maybe looking from
the outside it seems simple but it’s complicated. Because whatever solution we
put in place has to be there for 20 years. We can’t just solve
the problem right now. We have to have a long
term solution for 20 years. And we talk about moving
500 cars off the Greensward. And that’s a big logistics
problem in the park and in Midtown. And you look at the long
game and where it goes. You have to start talking about
shuttling or you have to talk about a garage. Both of those are
difficult issues. Raising money is
not an easy thing. It’s not a cheap garage. – And also, there’s a pretty
critical time element here, which is always mandatory and
greedy in any kind of political bind that we find ourselves in. And that is the zoo has a
Zambezi River Hippo Camp exhibit opening on March 1 that is
going to be a real blockbuster. And a lot of people are
going to come to see it. – Yeah, it looks great. And I think that was part of the
mayor’s statement after Tuesday was in the short term, the zoo
is still going to be able to park on the Greensward. And for the exhibit, they’ll
still be able to park on the Greensward. Because we’re talking about
long term solutions to try and solve that. Short term, there’s really
nothing that can quickly move that many cars. And there will be a
need for excess parking. – Just a minute left here. Again, for people just
joining here late in the show, with the snow, we hoped
to have a number of city council people on. But Worth was nice enough to
be able to get here and drive through the snow. So, one of your first votes
was on the trolley and funding a new trolley. I assume you voted
in favor of that. – I think that might have.. Was there anybody
who voted against it? I’m trying to recall. I mean, yeah. It was $950,000 in terms of.. It was very efficient money
spent in terms of refurbishing and unlocking it. So, it went a lot longer or
a lot further than just the dollars we put into it. – Alright. Thank you for being here. Appreciate it. Drive safe in the snow. Thank you, Bill. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music] (male announcer)
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