Thumbnail: Memphis’ broken streets theory, ending Covid-19 daily briefings when Shelby County has its highest day of deaths, City Hall’s silly fight with MLK50, and reporting lapses in MLGW/TVA coverage.
Memphis’ Broken Streets Problem
Remember the broken windows theory. That was the one that suggested that disrepair created an urban environment that led to civic disorder and crime.
I was never an advocate, particularly when it was associated so closely to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and used to create oppressive “zero tolerance” police enforcement policies that discriminated against people of color.
And yet, I thought of it again the other day in considering whether Memphis has a broken streets problem that is making urban living unpleasant in its casual disregard for others. It also prompts the question: “If MPD can’t make people quit racing on city streets…”
There have always been some who have sped up and down city streets, but the proliferation of the problem in recent months calls for a much more serious response. Drivers of muscle cars and souped-up vehicles seem disdainful of MPD as they race each other down Summer Avenue and downtown streets, circling Beale Street, and generally creating noise pollution wherever they go.
That said, they have become more than a nuisance. They have become a danger in their disregard for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Now it’s up to MPD to prove that Memphis streets aren’t the modern version of the Old West where anything goes.
A Strange Time To Relax
The Shelby County Health Department announced the end of its daily Covid-19 briefings, which seemed strange since the county Wednesday recorded its highest daily death toll and passed a cumulative 100 deaths.
It all led the Daily Memphian to headline a story: “Hey, Memphians, there’s good news on COVID-19 (so you’re allowed to embrace it.” It was unfortunate timing considering the death toll milestone and the fact that the four biggest new case days have been in the past nine days.
We’re all tempted to wish for a new normal – a better normal – but hopefully, the news media won’t give in to our desires for better days and gloss over the fact that we need to be prepared to be in this for the long haul.
When You’re In A Hole, Quit Digging
Politicians often dig themselves into a hole trying to save face and in the end they so often just end up looking foolish.
Such was the case with City Hall’s refusal to treat MLK50.com as a media outlet despite being nationally recognized as recently as five days ago in the New York Times and recipient of several prestigious awards and grants for investigative journalism. In a pique of spite, rather than simply add MLK50.com to its media list, the Strickland Administration decided not only to stonewall the outlet but deny it access to public information the rest of the local media received.
It was a bad look, particularly when the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of MLK50 founder Wendi Thomas to call for even-handed policies in City Hall.
The remedy was simple: add MLK50 to the media advisory list. But instead, City Hall stood pat on its opinion that Ms. Thomas has been unfair to the Strickland Administration. While no elected official is required to give a reporter interviews, this action reflected poorly on Mayor Strickland who came off looking thin-skinned and petty.
Tuesday, apparently in order to look like it wasn’t giving in, the mayor’s office announced that there would be no more emailed media advisories and instead the media will be notified of briefings and news conferences on the City of Memphis website.
All in all, it seemed like attacking a gnat with a bazooka when the solution was so simple, but in this situation, it passes for progress.
Unasked and Obvious Questions
Speaking of the Daily Memphian, recent reporting of the City Council/MLGW/TVA/MISO controversy left obvious questions unasked.
For example, an article reported on Councilman Chase Carlisle’s rant about political consultants hired to advocate for MLGW to leave TVA. Referring to them, he said: “There are people that are constantly working in the background giving bits and pieces of information because they have an ulterior motive.” While it’s tempting to say “welcome to the real world,” we found it curious that he did refer to the lobbyists working for TVA to keep MLGW as a customer now was he asked if his comments applied to them.
Then, in a story last week, the reporter reported on a different rant, this one at the MLGW meeting when board member Steven Wishnia complained about “lobbying,” but once again, he ignored the fact that TVA had its own bevy of consultants. Again, the reporter didn’t ask that obvious question.
Mr. Wishnia then insulted Dr. Jeff Warren, a strong advocate on City Council for a different electricity provider than TVA, suggesting that the MLGW board of commissioners are the experts. He said snarkily that maybe Dr. Warren is “utility expert. Maybe I should become a doctor.”
Considering that none of the members of the MLGW board are “utility experts” either, his comment was an intemperate shot across the bow at someone who has something he doesn’t – a vote on City Council.
The reporter didn’t point it out, but members of the MLGW board are a lawyer and CPA, someone from a health care background, the owner of a real estate company, and head of an engineering company. Two ex officio members are a water administration manager from Bartlett and a former operations and sales manager in the freight industry from Germantown.
Mr. Wishnia runs a financial investment firm.
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