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2013: The Year in News

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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The mayor of Memphis gets into a war of words with the only person who seems to "get his goat." An hours long barricade ends with two Memphis police officers shot and their boss temporarily pulling the plug on his finest crime unit.

A massive raid on day care centers has one Shelby County commissioner riding the "river of denial."

It's all there and more in the conclusion of this year's FOX13 News year enders.

2013: A Year in Review-Part 1
2013: A Year in Review-Part 2

It can happen in an instant. A miscalculation. A wrong move, and two police officers find themselves squarely in harm's way. For five hours on a rain-pelting October day, a barricaded and desperate Aaron Dumas managed to confound an elite MPD TACT squad as he waged his own one man war.

Wanted on two counts of attempted second degree murder, the armed fugitive took refuge in a South Memphis home. Officers made contact with Dumas. However, his response came not in words, but in bullets. One of them struck and wounded officer Timothy Jackson. A chemical agent was thrown inside that only seemed to enrage the retreating Dumas enough to fire more shots.

A neighbor captured the wounding of a second officer, Paul Hutchison, on his cellphone. Dumas then set the home on fire. His body was later found inside a bathtub. The incident forced an image conscious Police Director Toney Armstrong to call for an evaluation of the questionable tactics used in an ill-fated mission.

"You have two officers that are shot from my most elite unit," Armstrong said. "You have a house that's burned down and you have a suspect that's inside that's DOA. There's no way in the world that we could re-evaluate what we're doing and still have that unit responding to calls such as that one."
 
It's often been observed about Memphis City Hall, without being in constant "crisis" mode how would our local government function? Close your eyes and envision COA George Little as the master of gloom and doom predictions: Nostradamus.

"The numbers as they stand right now would require tremendous tax increases or tremendous budget cuts," Little said. "If we act now we can avoid."

Throughout October there were rumblings coming from the Wharton administration of a looming financial "Armageddon" so ominous it was as if we stand directly in the path of a monstrous, undetectable asteroid threatening to lay waste to our very existence. A dire analysis of the future of the ponderous city pension plan, contained in a Price Waterhouse Cooper report, predicting Memphis won't be able to sustain the pension plan long term as costs could skyrocket to nearly $750 million if nothing is done to correct our current financial course.

Still, in typical Memphis fashion the "doubting thomases" were beginning to line up.

"The question becomes can everybody agree that the information that's been presented to be truthful," said Councilman Harold Collins.

"On the other hand they are right to sort of be suspicious of whatever they hear comes from city hall," said Councilman Lee Harris.

City hall wasn't the only entity where the issue of trust came under fire. At a hastily arranged news conference outside the hospital in late October, Memphis Veterans Administration Chief of Staff Dr. Christopher Marino, in a terse statement, laid out the facts. A Veteran Affairs Inspector General's report looked into the deaths of three patients who died in the hospital's emergency room over the period of a year.

It cited one patient died after being given a drug he was fatally allergic to. Another was given multiple sedatives and was not properly monitored. The third death was attributed to the patient not being treated for extreme high blood pressure. Though no criminal actions were noted, the hospital dished out its own discipline.

"The physician involved in the care of two of the patients referenced in the report no longer works at our medical center," Dr. Marino said.

Who is the boss of who and what at city hall? It was beginning to become a thorny and uncomfortable question, as by the start of November, Mayor A C Wharton was being increasingly targeted for a perceived lack of leadership in some areas and overstepping his authority in others.

If it was as easy as firing people to quell the opposition, the embattled Wharton would probably be ready to sharpen a hatchet. Unfortunately, for Wharton he is man, either blessed or cursed, depending upon how you view him, with no desire to go for the jugular when it comes to firing back against his critics.

That is except for one certain Memphis Police Association president, who continually seems to get under "Hizzoner's" skin.

"It's a lie! It's a lie! It's a lie!," Mayor Wharton said. "It is not true. Mike Williams you are flat out lying!"

The mayor's ire was stirred by Williams' baseless innuendos about why Police Director Armstrong decided to call for a three-week internal audit of MPD's elite TACT Unit in the wake of two officers getting shot during that barricade situation in mid-October.

However, as always, the loquacious Williams managed to not only hit a nerve with Wharton, but ruffle the feathers of a police director still sensitive to unwarranted criticism he doesn't make department decisions on his own.

"I didn't even consult with the mayor nor do I ever consult with the mayor about any decisions that I make in reference to the day to day operations of the police department," Director Armstrong said.

The lack of leadership assessment was dogging Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, when she paid a visit to Memphis in November. Under the gun from the horrendous initial roll-out of the Affordable Care Act sign-up website, Sebelius found some temporary relief from a warm and orchestrated stopover at the Benjamin Hooks Library. With protestors kept at arm's length outside, Sebelius privately met with exchange employees and potential insurance applicants, all the while apologizing for the website's confusion and expressing optimism a re-launch of the site would be more efficient by the end of the month.

"Whatever frustration I feel and whatever issues come my way, this work is way too important to get off the path," Secretary Sebelius said. "I think we've come a long way. We are at a moment in history and I couldn't be more energized to continue this work each and every day."

What's in a name? Well, if on the chaotic day of Nov. 14, your name happened to be Chism you were caught up directly and indirectly in a maelstrom of activity and denial. In a law enforcement frenzy, dozens of federal agents, representing six different agencies, swooped down on the operations of a dozen businesses from day cares, and stores to a car wash. One of the largest contingent of agents concentrated their efforts searching the home of Ray Chism, Jr.

While what they were looking for has yet to be disclosed, it's believed it could be related in nature to a 2002 federal probe into stealing federal funds for personal use that resulted in the arrest and conviction of a couple who once owned the scandal ridden Cherokee Childrens' Services day cares. Meanwhile, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism spent most of the day denying he was a target of the raids, distancing himself from "that other" Chism family and restoring trust in his good name.

"He is unapologetically, unreservedly, proudly, authentically, a soul true Memphian," Mayor Wharton said.

2013 proved Millington native Justin Timberlake is still one of the "hottest" names in show business. His sold out concert at the FedExForum was the "hottest" ticket in town as he continued his successful "Suit & Tie" tour. Fans can't get enough of the modern day "King of Cool."

Those who supported it knew it was a "leap of faith," but, in the minds of the majority of voters it was "a bridge too far." For months, beginning with the optimism for its passage expressed in Wharton's State of the City speech, proponents of the half percent sales tax hike  referendum, ostensibly to be used to fund thousands of pre-K students, felt the second time around at the ballot box would be the charm.

After all it had the solid backing of the city council, the Wharton administration, the Greater Memphis Chamber, stand for children and more business, civic and educational leaders than you could count.

"Because we're estimating 5,000 children will show up to get pre-K education, it could be 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 children," said Councilman Jim Strickland. "The great thing about his proposal it could fund every one of those."

"If we don't do this now, you know what will happen? Next year we have 5,100 children who won't go to pre-K," said Roby S. Williams, Memphis Black Business Association. "The following year we have 5,100 children going to kindergarten who are prepared for only one thing: failure. That's not acceptable. We must do something."

However, opponents were not without their own verbal ammunition. The electorate's aversion to any further taxation was parlayed into an even stronger bottom line issue.

The distrust of Memphis City Hall to follow through on the promise the majority of the $47 million supposed to be generated would actually go to pre-K.

"It does not say that his sales tax referendum will yield universal pre-K education," Rev. Kenneth Whalum, Jr., said. "It does not say that. The promises say that."

"This is our best shot. This is what I've been telling people," Strickland said. "This is our only shot at pre-K."
 
Nothing epitomized the last-minute-desperation-it's-now-or-never-eleventh-hour-how did-it-come-to-this-what-are-we-voting-on form of governing in Memphis than the controversial proposal for the city to buy AutoZone Park.

"I sent my questions a couple of days ago hearing that a vote was going to be asked next Tuesday and I still haven't gotten the answers," Strickland said.

A proposed deal, supposedly years in the making, was at thrust upon council members in early December just days after they had received three-inch packets outlining the transaction. On the night of the vote, it was expressed by the administration, passage had to be quick because of a deadline that could see the cash-strapped park foreclosed on unless agreement was made to buy the park for $20 million and $5 million more for any necessary maintenance.

After two delays on a vote the council took matters into their own hands, making a counter-offer of $15 million, now due to be voted on Jan. 7.

"After the council realized that the administration had not negotiated with fundamental advisors or the Cardinals, the council took it upon itself to negotiate it," Collins said.

2013 proved to be a year where trust in local government, whether on the city or county level, reached new lows. We look forward to 2014 being a year where our elected officials work as hard as they can on ways to restore that important bond.

 

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