Rewind: A hot 2012 Memphis summer - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Rewind: A hot 2012 Memphis summer

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

They were hotter than the firecrackers in a Fourth of July celebration.

For as the nation relished in the spirit of another year of  American Independence, residents of South Cordova were just finding out through news media reports they'd been placed under the taxable yoke of Memphis City annexation on July 1.

The vast majority of stunned residents were caught totally unaware the legal wrangling, that spanned more than a decade, had quietly and quickly come to a whimper of an end. An anti-climax that apparently caught even Memphis Mayor A C Wharton by surprise, though in true American spirit, not totally unsympathetic.

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"I'm upset that I didn't get notice on this," the mayor said. "The matter was tied up in court for 11 years. And then, 'boom,' two weeks ago or so we get a notice. Hey, your litigation is over. When it comes to a situation like this, being legal is not enough. You got to be equitable. You got to fair."

Local government's "slight omission of the truth" wasn't just confined to Memphis City Hall. At least that's what former Mayor of Lakeland Jim Bomprezzi alleged in citing his opposition to residents being asked to foot the bill to form their own school districts.

Bomprezzi accused the town's current mayor and the commissioners of not being forthcoming about how much a Lakeland only school system would cost homeowners.

"They passed the tax on June 5 and it's retroactive back to Jan. 1 of this year," Bomprezzi said. "Everybody's going to have to immediately start paying a monthly tax on their mortgage. Some people are going to lose their homes."

Yet, for the leaders of the six suburban communities looking to form their own school districts, the growing costs accrued by litigation weren't enough to deter a "Kamikaze" fervor for educational autonomy they believe runs as deep as their collective financial pockets.

"We'll push forward with it," said Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner. "We're not going to crumble. We're not going to hide, tuck tail. We'll stay in and if we go down, we'll go down fighting."

"Fighting the good fight" actually paid off for popular Memphis bar and grill owner Neil "The Fat Man" Heins. Forced to seek another location for his business after it was destroyed in a Midtown fire in 2011, Heins landed on his feet by firmly planting them in a new establishment in East Memphis. The three day celebration of the extended grand opening was appropriately long and boozy.

"It's just a whole 'nother adventure for us and I'm just happy to get going with it," Heins said.

Though verbally bruised, battered and much maligned for election snafus in the early voting process, the Shelby County Election Commission girded itself in an effort to turn things around for the Aug. 2 primary election. Shaking the cage of "public confidence" began in mid-July with reports of separate municipal school referendums failing to appear on some ballots coinciding with bewildered voters thrown totally off-kilter by lack of information supplied by the Commission on the state-wide redistricting maps.
 
"The findings show 1,019, or 4.3 percent of the voting electorate as of Friday, received incorrect ballots," Steve Ross said. "Partially the result of a delay in updating the voter file by the election commission that did not begin until June 13."

"We think it's crucial for us to restore the public confidence and it's very hard to do that when you've got these many things going on," added Norma Lester.

In early August the death of Memphis legendary entertainer Marguerite Piazza made us remember style and grace are qualities that can't be bought, bullied or bartered. "Miss Opera," as she was affectionately dubbed, lived an extraordinary life filled with talent and passion while giving her the opportunity to display her genuine humanitarianism.

A performer, a critic once wrote, "knew how to please both the longhairs and crewcuts."

"You have to grab the audience in your arms and love them and give them everything you've got. That takes communication," the late Ms. Piazza said.

August also took from our midst a famed Mistress of Memphis media in radio icon and former WHBQ-TV anchor Marge Thrasher. She was a true original as a pioneering figure for women in broadcasting. Through the screen of a one-dimensional box Marge demonstrated how a true broadcaster can give it human dimensions through the power of their personality, warmth and a sense of caring.

But another departure left the majority of us with little more than a "ho-hum" reaction. After 348 days of existence the remnants of the "Occupy Memphis" downtown encampment was washed away by pressure hoses quietly ordered by the city administration.

It was the ignominious death of a previously sweeping reform movement which disintegrated without the majority of Americans ever fully latching onto one clear message it was trying to deliver.

"I think that just because we have more than one issue that we're trying to push forth," said former Occupier Alexandra Pusateri. "It means that we have more than one problem happening in this country."

Although he's seen better days, by early 2013 former State Sen. John Ford will be a free man. In late August he was released to a Memphis halfway house after serving more than 5.5 years in federal prison for a bribery conviction as the result of the FBI 2005 sting operation "Tennessee Waltz."

Before entering the final phase of his imprisonment Ford looked older and grayer. But, the bigger question is whether the experience has made him wiser.

"You watch what I do. I am not down. I am not out," Ford said. "I'm way out in front."

But, for most of 2012 Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong has been trying to get in front of the image problem created by dozens of "cops behaving badly." From  sex trafficking, the officer-involved shooting of a teenager, drug distribution to various DUIs and assault charges, by late September 20 MPD officers this year had crossed over on the wrong side of the thin blue line.  

Mostly it resulted in the top cop finding himself "behind the eight ball" when dealing with his boss Mayor Wharton. But, the beleaguered Armstrong still had a strong base of supporters none too fond of Wharton's verbal "dress down" of the humiliated director.

"There's always bad apples. But, it appears that we have some, for whatever reason, who decide not to honor the oath that they took and disrespect the badge," Director Armstrong said.

"I'm not passing judgment. But, obviously something isn't working correctly," Mayor Wharton said. "So, it's not a matter of frustration. It's an objective statement."

"Some kind of get-up to get rid of Director Armstrong. I'll tell you one thing if that happens it's going to be hell to pay the captain," said Councilman Janis Fullilove.

Certainly, with all of her personal trials and tribulations publicly played out over the last five years, Councilwoman Fullilove is no stranger to "catching hell" herself. A domestic altercation with her husband Vernon Chalmers landed both in jail in late August. In a Memphis Police affidavit Chalmers alleged his wife was drunk and began throwing dishes and a glass plate at him because she thought he was cheating on her with another woman.

The following day the estranged couple showed up separately for the first of several court appearances now destined to stretch out until next February.

But, as summer slowly edged toward fall all eyes were on but one courtroom. The line in sand was over the constitutionality of whether a state law had created a true and legal path for the creation of municipal school districts. Or was it only a tantalizing "mirage" for suburban communities?

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