2013: A Year in Review Part 1 - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

2013: A Year in Review Part 1

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) - -

The first meetings of the unified city and county school board get off to slow and rocky starts.

There's another blow to airport travel in Memphis as pinnacle takes wings out of town.

And, a Ku Klux Klan rally in downtown Memphis becomes more suited for ducks than people.

FOX13's Les Smith begins the first installment of the FOX13 News year enders.

"The state of our city is sound and continues to improve," said Mayor of Memphis A C Wharton.

Yet, the setting in the ornate, but cramped lobby of the Memphis Pink Palace and the timing of the annual "State of the City" address, a full 25 days into the new year, might have served as an omen we were in for a year, that proved time and again, to be more than a little askew in what was promised and what too often fell short on delivery.

MPD Director Toney Armstrong said, "Yes, that was an executive decision made by me to not go forward with the traditional methods to fund Blue Crush; because those dollars were going to be needed down the road just to keep us functional."

MORE: Wharton denies holding back Blue Crush $$

MORE: Council defends Armstrong over Blue Crush, blames mayor

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong's blunt pronouncement, of a change in the use of funds for the revered "Blue Crush" crime-fighting program, prompted stunned Memphis City Council members to point the finger of blame at the Wharton administration. While the stoic Armstrong had entered the room expecting to be on the defensive, by meeting's end, Armstrong's image as a leader had been bolstered at the expense of the man who appointed him to the job. It would prove to be a divisive and recurring theme in 2013.

Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove said, "With every director prior to you, they were basically given carte blanche. This is a rhetorical question. Why are they messing with you and putting handcuffs on you. Not allowing you to do the job that you were asked to do?"

MORE: Blue Crush cuts puts Armstrong in tough spot

"When I assumed this position, I knew that it would not be easy. Has not been easy and I suspect, I don't see any easier days coming," said Armstrong.

The times had not been kind to cash-strapped Pinnacle Airlines. Despite an all-out effort by the Wharton administration to get them to stay, the economic "turbulence" the company had experienced forced to them to fold operations in Memphis to take off for the "friendlier skies" offered by a headquarters move to Minneapolis in late January. Five hundred employees bid adieu to their plush One Commerce Square downtown digs, which had been refurbished at taxpayer expense.

MORE: Pinnacle Airline to move to Minneapolis

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once opined "longevity has its place." In the case of former WHBQ-TV news anchor, Ed Craig, for decades he found a place in the hearts of loyal Mid-South television viewers. His death at the age of 80, left us with reflections of a broadcaster whose straightforward style with his audiences were as genuine as the quick wit, wry humor and deep compassion he displayed with his co-workers.

MORE: Veteran Channel 13 News Anchor Ed Craig dies

"Some of the faces were familiar. Others may have faded from your memory. But, together they all were a part of this station's history. Whether their contributions were in front of the cameras or behind the scenes, each one was a member of our television family," said Craig.

But, a family-like atmosphere never seemed to pervade meetings of the struggling Unified Shelby County School system. Despite the efforts of the high-minded advisory group, the Transition Planning Commission, the bloated 23 member school board appeared to be mired in minutia when it came to finding consensus on major issues such as the projected "draconian" cuts needed to float their first budget. Continued resistance and criticism from municipal school opponents and the mounting costs of litigation, reaching into the millions derived from a federal lawsuit over the merger, only served to exasperate those still clinging to the hope of a new day dawning for the future of Memphis and Shelby County education.

MORE ON: Unified School system

Collierville's Carr Kelsey said, "This merger has been sold to us in a lot of broken promises. The broken promises have been talking about a world class educational system, while at the same time, saving taxpayer dollars through economy of scale…So, instead of going from world class, we've now gone to second rate."

But, if you're in pursuit of class and style, why not just aggressively go after it like avowed Moorish Nationalist and "million dollar squatter," Tabitha Gentry, did in March much to the chagrin of her estranged family.

"I'm worried, you know. Because I know what she's doing has gotta be wrong. I'm worried that something's going to happen to her," said Trenisha Gentry, cousin of Tabitha Gentry.

Gentry's determined occupation of a 2.7 million dollar East Memphis home was so stealthily executed for a time it appeared to perplex both the MPD and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office as to how to evict her from her palatial fortress of defiance. Once law enforcement finally moved in to arrest her on charges of aggravated burglary and theft of property the real fun began. Brought raving and ranting to criminal court, Gentry, who wanted to be referred to as Abka Rey Bey, announced, as a sovereign citizen, she wanted to defend herself at trial. After a court-ordered psychiatric examination she was cleared to do by sensory-assaulted Judge James Lammey.

"God called him home. Wasn't nothing else. God called him home," said Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism.

There was never any question about what side of the law the late Criminal Court Judge and Memphis civil rights pioneer, Otis Higgs, had chosen to be on his whole life. He was described by an admirer as among the "straightest arrows" to don both the ceremonial robes of the judicial system and the clergy. His was a life well lived through a legacy of service to others. "It's left for the young people to make sure that his dreams and visions are fulfilled in the future. If we do that, we do him a great justice for his time on this earth," said Chism.

MORE: Colleagues remember Judge Otis Higgs

In late March, the resurrection of a "sleeping giant" rose from the mothballs of rumors and into the light of real possibility. The 1.5 million square foot, 80 year old edifice, the abandon Sears building, had long been targeted as the key to the revitalization of the Crosstown District in Memphis. With the introduction of a stellar group representing the fields of arts, education and healthcare, organizers hoped Memphis City Council members would "buy into" their dream with an estimated price tag at 175 million dollars. Eventually, despite much hand-wringing, they did.

Sears Crosstown organizer Todd Richardson said, "The idea was to recruit people who share mission and vision and therefore are able and willing and excited about sharing resources. Sharing space and being next to each other.

But, there was no way to prepare the city to "share" any kumbaya moments of togetherness with some unwanted downtown guests.

"The Klan is a declining organization in the United States of America. They do not have the strength and the presence that they once had. They are trying to make a name again for themselves by inciting violence in the City of Memphis. We just are against that we won't have it," said Memphis pastor Keith Norman.

However, after receiving a permit from a reluctant MPD Director, Toney Armstrong, what would transpire on a rainy, soggy Saturday afternoon was more "kabuki theatre" than the violent chaos a previous Klan visit to Memphis had caused 15-years-ago. Sixty protestors, representing the Klan, a handful of neo-Nazis and some Ayrian Nation members, tried to send garbled messages of hate through a defective bullhorn to an unimpressed audience of cordoned off reporters, media members and grim-faced law enforcement personnel. Protestors and anti-protestors never came close to confrontation due to a solid strategic plan created by Armstrong and his staff. What city, civic and religious leaders had fretted about for more than a month never materialized into anything resembling trouble. Hindsight had not only proven to be 20/20....it had given the Memphis Police Department a second chance to get it right. But, as Armstrong had predicted at year's beginning....there were to be for the self-titled city of "Grit and Grind"....no easier days ahead in 2013.

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