Behind the Headlines – August 23, 2019

– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines
is made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you,
thank you. – The campaign gets personal, construction near
the Greensward, the school year begins, and much more, tonight
on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barns with
The Daily Memphian, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by a
roundtable of journalists talking about some of
the biggest stories of the past few weeks. Starting with
Laura Faith Kebede, Education Reporter
with Chalkbeat. Thanks for being here. – Absolutely. – Toby Sells, News Editor
of The Memphis Flyer. Thanks for being here again. – Thank you, sir. – Karanja Ajanaku, Editor of the New
Tri-State Defender, thanks for being here. – My pleasure. – And Bill Dries, reporter
with the Daily Memphian. Let’s start with the campaign, we’ll talk about
school, Greensward, we have lots of things going on, but let’s start
with the campaign. Bill, I’ll start with you. don’t know if we made
news, we just last week, Tami Sawyer, she’s the
County Commissioner, running for Mayor,
was on the show, and talked and had
some pretty harsh words for current Mayor,
Jim Strickland. He will be on, I should
say, the show, next week, to talk about his issues
and talk about everything, and, maybe, potentially address some of those things
she talked about. But what have you heard? What kind of feedback
have you gotten from her talk about
Jim Strickland not being anti-racist enough, and she did a better
job than I will in articulating her position, but talked about policies
that were oppressive to African-Americans
and to women, and to him not doing
enough to make change. – It was a pretty
controversial interview, but it was also a
moment when, I think, a lot of stuff that had
been under the table for people who don’t watch these races 24 hours
a day, like we do, it was a moment that
really defined some of the, not only the
political differences, but also the
personal differences that are among the
elements of this campaign. We’re less than a month to
early voting in this election, and this is the point at which
a lot of things come out, and I think what
we’re seeing is a race where there are some
very profound differences among the three
major candidates, Tami Sawyer, Jim Strickland,
and Willie Herenton. And they’re now
beginning to talk about those differences in
a way that I think makes this a pretty
meaningful campaign. This, to me, feels
like watershed campaign in terms of the
city’s direction. – Karanja, your thoughts on
where we are with the campaign, and or Tami Sawyer’s
interview here and the comments that
she made and has made. – Well, I agree with Bill that those three main
candidates, in particular, really give us some
stark choices to make. I think with the
Tami Sawyer thing, on one level, I think
there are people who sort of understand
what she means by the anti-racist thing. It’s an attitude
about how you go about dealing with dealing
with bias and race, and I think that’s what
she was trying to get out, I’m not so sure that it
came off all that well. But in terms of the race itself, you look at your
finances and your support and who’s supporting them, and Strickland has
a lot going for him, and Dr. Herenton is doing what Dr. Herenton
needs to do, I think. He’s not gonna catch
up with the money, but the idea of being able to get endorcements from the
Police Association from AFSCME, and groups that have people,
and boots on the ground, and volunteers
that can help you, we’ll see if that’s
able to help him. – And those unions
will be out in force, campaigning to get
turn people out, right Bill? Or right, anyone? Because the Sales
Tax Referendum, which is a Sales Tax
Referendum that is meant to, it’s a little
complicated, but meant to, why am I doing this? I should just turn over to Bill. You describe the
Sales Tax Referendum. – The valid question is to have a half cent sales tax
increase, to restore benefits, but to police and
firefighters only, benefits that were cut
five years ago by the city. So, the Police- and Fire Unions
will be waging, they say, a very vigorous campaign
between now and Election Day. In terms of the Mayor’s race, Willie Herenton has
swept the big three of the municipal unions,
AFSCME, Fire and Police. What you have to remember is that the union endorsements
are good for donations, they’re good for contributions. They don’t always translate
into unified support. The biggest example
of that was in 1991 when AFSCME decided to back
Dick Hackett for re-election and there was actually a
splinter group within the Union that said, “No, wait a minute”, and wound up endorsing
Herenton in the race. – One of the things, and
I should say that, again, we’re having Jim
Strickland on next week, we’ve reached out to
Willie Herenton’s campaign, Dr. Herenton’s campaign, and they’ve so far declined
to come on the show. Laura Faith, your
thoughts right now on the, I mean, you don’t cover
campaign politics so much, but you’re a
reporter, you’re here, you’re covering all
kinds of issues. Tami Sawyer has talked about
education’s a priority, Jim Strickland’s talked about, and has gotten some pre-K
funding put in place, your thoughts on
the race so far? – Well, I haven’t
seen a whole lot of talk about education in this
race, and I’d be curious, especially from what I hear
from parents, from teachers, from district leadership, of
where the city is gonna stand, whoever’s gonna be Mayor next, as far as putting money
into K-12 education, Mayor Strickland has talked
about putting pre-K money, bringing that across
the finish line, but even this past
budget season, Superintendent Joris
Ray really, I think, gave voice to what
had been bubbling at for years of, “Oh,
when is the city gonna get back
into K-12 funding?” So, I’d be really curious to see what the candidates
have to say about that. – Other thoughts from you,
Toby, on the race so far, and the tenor, the discussion
and the tenor of what, got a little bit ugly. And it’s been sort of brewing and getting uglier and
uglier over many months. – That was really interesting, and the Behind the
Headlines was fascinating. We have a story coming
up in Memphis Magazine all about the Mayor’s race, coming out by our Jackson Baker, so be sure to watch for that. But I did want to point out, Bill Dries wrote a great story that really put the
differences between Strickland and Sawyer, a stark
relief on the police issue. Of course, Mayor Strickland
wants more police, and he’s really
proud of the fact that he’s grown
the police force. Sawyer says that
we’ve got enough, but on different
ends of the spectrum. Strickland had a die-in
on his front lawn there. And then Sawyer,
on the other side, was a part of a group that was under police surveillance
for some of their activities. And apparently, that’s
a really sore spot. According to Bill, between them, it’s a really personal issue that’s bubbling up
into the election. – It was interesting, actually,
that Commissioner Sawyer, when she was on the show, talked
about how she wasn’t quite, she didn’t say that we
didn’t need more police, she said she wanted
more community police, and she wanted a different
approach to policing, and that police weren’t
the only answer, and that there
were other issues. And so, it’ll be interesting
to see how all that plays out. I’m gonna shift real quickly,
and Bill, if you could do, and anyone else can comment, but Bill, just do a
run-down of where we are on how many City Council
races are there? Are there six or eight–? – (Bill) All 13–
– (Eric) All 13. – City Council seats are on
the ballot this time too, and nobody is running unoppossed no incumbents,
running unopposed. You actually have
three open seats where the incumbents
cannot run for re-election because of term limits, and the are all
Super District Seats. You have one seat that’s open by virtue of the fact
that the person appointed to it, Gerre Currie has decided to seek a full term on the
council, but not to that seat. She’s running for one of the
open Super District Seats. So, you really have four
open seats out there, the competition is underway. Those Council candidates have
their yard signs up everywhere and they’re moving
around in the community because we’re in the point now where you put it all
out on the street, in terms of you campaign. – And again, let’s
say one more time when early voting starts? – Early voting starts
September, 13th. It runs through the 28th. Election day, in
Memphis, is October, 3rd. I distinguished
that from Arlington because Arlington has
elections next month. – And I will do a shameless plug that Bill has done
a number of profiles of City Council candidates on the politics podcast
on Daily Memphian, and I should note that
this show is now a podcast, available at the Daily Memphian, and iTunes, and Spotify,
and everywhere else. Laura, let’s switch
to- you mentioned Joris Ray, the new
Superintendent. He’s going into his
first full school year, he was named interim in
January, February, I think, if I’m not mistaken, when Dorsey
Hopson resigned or retired, and after four or five really incredible, and difficult,
and transformative years. Your thoughts so far on,
you mentioned Joris Ray, and the, Superintendent
Ray, and the budgets, and asking about city funding, and as we go into
this new school year, do you see big changes? Do you see continuation
of the reforms that have been put in place? Where is it going? – It’s a mixed bag from
what I’ve seen so far. There are a lot of things
that are staying the course, and there’s a lot
of things that are ramping up certain initiatives. I think some of the new
things that we can look to see how those go is he
recently launched a African-American male
empowerment program meant to be able to recruit more black male teachers
in the classroom, which has been
shown to be able to increase achievement
for black students. He’s talked about putting
more mentoring programs, and has really leaned on
different data points showing that black boys have
a lower achievement compared to the
district average, and we’re looking to dig
into that data more of how does that look compared
to, say, black girls. What are the things that
really set that apart, and what was
actually gonna work, so, we’ll see how that goes. – I saw you nodding there
Karanja, your thoughts? – Well I’m very
much interested in what Superintendent Ray does with the African-American
male initiative, but maybe even more
interest to me is what’s gonna happen with the whole social emotional
learning component and adverse child experiences? And there seems to
be a push to try to equip teachers and administers with how to handle
disruptive students, but not in a just
punishment kind of way, but something that
actually helps them get beyond the experiences, both in the short term
and in the long term. I was over at Geeter,
a K-8, last week, where the principal
over there, Eric Harris, had introduced the
new power zone, which is designed to be a place
where young people can come and get the help that they need, first of all just to calm down, but get the help that they need. Because there are some
serious issues there that the children
come to school with. They already have them
when they come to school. And there have to be more of
an emphasis on how we help, not only the young people, but how doe we help the
teachers and administrators deal with that? Because it can get physical. Even this past week, I know
of at least one incident where a principal found himself
in a physical altercation, and just trying to deal
with the events of the day. – It’s interesting
you bring that up, ’cause two, three weeks ago, we had Memphis police director,
Mike Rallings, on the show, and we talked about crime and
what can you do and policing, and he talked about
this recognition of early childhood trauma and a connection with
later life violence. Even if you’re not a victim of, I think I’ll paraphrase
probably poorly, but even if a child is not
a victim of child abuse, but they witness
violence in the home, they witness violence in
their life as a young person, they are exponentially more
likely to act violently later. It’s just learned behavior. And we’ve had a number of
education people on the school, on the show, over the years, talking about all
this research out about early childhood trauma. And how do you learn when
you’ve had those traumas? How do you sit in
a chair and read and learn and just participate? And it is this
progression of the schools becoming so much social
services and support and beyond reading,
writing, and arithmetic. – Yeah, and I think
this past year has been a lot of awareness
of that as a thing, and I think this year we’ll see what are some strategies
to actually help and move past that. So, that’s what we’ll
be looking at to see. – One thing I was
kind of interested in, staying with schools
for a second, I don’t know who
wants to take this, but the $15 an hour issue at
Shelby County school system, just this week, in
the County Commission, Edmund Ford, who is a
teacher as well, put forward, you wanna take this, Bill? They moved towards $15 an
hour in their school system, and something that can
cost, according to Ford, up to $25,000,000 additionally to get everyone at a minimum
of $15 in the schools system. – Yeah, the County Commission
provided some funding, it provides a major
part of the funding to Shelby County schools, but the Commission
allocated or suggested that the school system
use some of that to deal with bringing
everybody up to $15 an hour. Well, then Commissioner Ford looked at it and said,
“Well, wait a minute. “I wanna pin this down, and maybe go back on using
this for $15 an hour.” The problem with that, and the reason that the full
Commission and Committee this past week kinda
reeled that back in, is because the
Commission doesn’t have line item authority on
the school system’s budget. – In other words, if they give
them an extra $25,000,000, the school system
is free to spend it, within reason, any way it wants. – Yeah.
– Right. – Yeah. So, it’s
been reeled back in by the Commission and Committee, we’ll see what happens when the full Commission
votes on this on Monday. But this is kind of
a jurisdictional line in terms of funding. Suggestions, even
political pressure, yes, but the Commission cannot tell
them how to spend that money. – Where does Superintendent
Ray and school board stand on getting everyone
to a minimum of $15? – Well, the pitch-back
that I’ve heard from them when it comes to the
County promoting that has been, well, it’s great
that the Mayor’s tauting that, and hopefully, we can
get funding to do that, but also what the
shool board did, or the district did, last year, was to bring $15 an hour
for all full-time employees, and what was left was
for part-time employees to also get that same wage. But what I’ve heard
from the finance folks is that once you bring
everyone to $15 an hour, there are also the people who
are already at $15 an hour that you then need
to also move up. So, the cost estimations have
been a point of contention between the County
and the school. – There’s a whole pay
structure, and it’s not unique to
Shelby County schools, it’s within any organization. If you have people
who are supervisors above those people
on the pay chart, then what do you–? – You push everyone up
as you go, I got you. I mentioned this on
top of the show, Toby, construction is starting
near the Greensward, not on the Greensward, but the Prentiss
Place lot over by, what is that, McLean, the entrance of the Zoo,
and Overton Park. And this is all coming out
of the long, decades long, controversy, and a
couple years now, the fight, and
mediation, and so on, between Zoo and supporters
of the Greensward, Overton Park Conservancy, of which I am the
former past President and still a board member,
I should disclose. Thoughts on construction? First phase of construction’s
starting Monday. – Well, to say first, this
issue is a lot less serious than childhood
trauma or education or all the other things
facing the community. However, this has been, I checked back the first
story I did about this, was 2014, so this has been
going on for five years now. That was when Get Off Our Lawn launched a Facebook page
to say, “Hey, we would like for this to change.” And it’s taken
this long to get to what will be the
beginning of the end of parking on the
Overton Park Greensward. Again, when you say it in the
context of this conversation, it doesn’t sound very serious, but it’s been out there
looming for a long, long time. Construction starts Monday, and they’re gonna take
that Northwest lot, Prentiss Place lot, and they’re gonna close it down, and they’re gonna work on
that for about three months, and a lot of overflow parking probably will go on the
Greensward during that time. But then, when they’re finished, they’ll have 180
extra spaces there. And then they’ll move on
to the main lot there, and move about a bunch of
trees and things like that. So, it’s gonna by
kind of chaotic, a little pandemonium
over there at the Zoo for this season, while
they’re building it. But when that main
lot is finished, they’ll build a berm right
around the parking lot, and that will be it. There will be no more parking
at Overton Park’s Greenward. And a lot of people have
watched this for a long time, and it took a long time to
get to a compromise on this, and it was really interesting. I think the next battlefront
that we’re gonna see on something like this, will be
the fight for Tom Lee Park. It’s the next one
coming down the road, so we’ll see how that goes. But it’s a big victory
for everybody involved, the Zoo, the lot, the
Overton Park alliance, and everybody else. So, it’s great that
they finally came to a compromise on
this patch of grass. – And this comes as the
Zoo has a new presidency, Jim Dean, who I’ve had a
chance to meet casually, but he’s been out
meeting with groups, Overton Park Alliance, Overton
Park Conservancy, he was at the Overton Park Conservancy
board meeting recently and he has been meeting with anyone
and everyone who will talk, and right or wrong, I think I can say that the
former President, Chuck Brady, became, and probably
far too much, a target, and actually, I think
his tires got slashed. It was really such a
terrible thing that happened a terrible sort of conflict. But Jim Dean has been out
there, and has met with people, and has tried to set
this new tone of, and his of expanding, of taking
care of the land they have, and we hope to get him on
the show some time this fall, to talk more about
the future of the Zoo. – It goes to show that, as
soon as Dean was in there, one of the first
things that happened, he got a team from the Zoo, go out and clean
up the Greensward, and that was like this
insane moment, you know? That we’re gonna
get these folks, and it’s like cats and
dogs living together. It was great. – I talked to him
about that yesterday. There was, not an
elaborate ceremony, but a formal ceremony to
announce the kick-off, and it was done in the
replica of a Chinese courtyard in the China exhibit at the- – At the panda,
near the pandas? – Yeah.
– (Eric) Okay. – The pandas were not
interested, I’m sure. [group laughs]
– (Eric) It’s not their fault. – It’s been a pretty wild ride for the last five
years on this issue, coming up out of nowhere, that actually started with a
group of high school students– – (Toby) That’s right.
– (Eric) That’s right. – Who just decided
that, “Hey, how long “has this been going on? We don’t care, block
the gravel driveway”. And it was away to the races, largely because the Conservancy had been around for a
little while at that point, and was starting to do programming on the
Greensward, as well, which hadn’t been there. So, pretty interesting
controversy overall. – Yeah, there was a helicopter
monitoring a protest, they had a second
line for some trees that had been cut
down at some point. It’s been a wild story. – I have so much I could say. – Toby, it is an
important issue. I know Toby was making a
little bit light of it, but what happens out
there is a big deal, not only for those of
us who use the Park, but in a broader sense the Park, and arts,
and all of those things contribute to learning,
the environment. And so, we need to give it
the priority that it deserves, and doesn’t necessarily
have to be compared to the other idea. – Well, I also think
that, as you look at the broader ark of our new
activism across the city, I think you have to include
the Greensward protest as an important part of that because a lot of the people
who were involved in that issue became involved in other issues, and people from other issues became involved in the
Greensward as well. – Yeah. I remember,
one thing I will say, and this was fairly public, but at some point, all
these ideas we tossed around about how to solve the problem, and one was to run trams through
the roads in the old forest from the general services area, and turn that into
a parking lot, and other places have trams. And I remember some of us,
and probably me included, saying whether or not
that’s a good idea, you think you’ve
seen protests now, you’re gonna have human
chains in the old forest. It just won’t be productive. Whether or not, again, whether or not I thought
it was a good idea. [whispers] I didn’t.
[group laughs] But anyway, it is great, and
I don’t mean to speak for OPC, but I think everyone
feels this great relief that that is over,
and we can, hopefully, move on to new things and
other things and so on. Where else do we wanna
go? I was struck by… Let’s do Tom Lee Park
and the riverfront, they are still in mediations, and thus in a
quasi-media blackout. Is that where they are? – Last we’ve heard,
the indications were that there would be some
kind of announcement of the end of mediation, and probably at least
a dozen amendments to the Park plan
as part of that. But since then,
we’ve heard nothing. Other than that the
festival, Memphis in May, is for sure, moving out of the
Park, temporarily, in 2021. – Just for the one year? – For the one year. – And then, will
definitively be… It was an interesting moment, I don’t think we’ve talked
about it on the show, where Mayor Strickland came
out on his weekly update, in which he does sometimes
does make news, and it made news that Friday, this is probably
three weeks ago, where he said the mediation,
which was new, I think, and I think people in the
Administration knew it, they just didn’t present it
as quite as new as it was. The mediation is only
about how Memphis in May and the newly reconfigured
park will co-exit, not whether they will co-exist. And up until then, and we
had some folks on the show from a group that was very
worried that Memphis in May and the Beale Street Music
Festival, and Barbecue Fest were gonna get moved
out permanently, and a loss of economic
impact, and so on. That was a big reframing
of the discussion some three weeks
ago, to say, “No, no. “It’s gonna stay. It’s just a matter
of how they stay and how it is made to happen,” which took some of the
pressure off the situation for people who were getting
really worked up about it. – I think it was
a critical moment because the response within
an hour of the Mayor’s email came from the Festival
saying, “Great. “Now we start planning for 2020, and we are prepared
to move in 2021.” It was immediate. There’s some hard
cuts and changes here. We’ll go to the death penalty. In an interesting
interview you did, with just a couple
of minutes left here, Toby, with a
conservative group that, I think traditionally
in my lifetime, Conservatives have been much more associated
with law and order, tough on crime,
pro-death penalty, and more of a liberal position
was death penalty is bad, but this conservative group
in Tennessee is not happy with the increased number of
death penalty, of executions, excuse me, in Tennessee. Talk a little bit about that. – Last Thursday, the State
executed Stephen Michael West who’d been on death
row for a long time. And so, this Tennessee group is part of a larger
national group. It’s called Conservatives
Concerned About
the Death Penalty, they’re having their
first annual meeting in New Orleans in September, and they say that
the death penalty is basically against the
basic tenets of Conservatism. They even say it was a symbol
of big, broken government, that it cost too much
to execute people, that justice is slowed
by years of appeals, it’s not swift
justice whatsoever. And they really
believe that they are just now starting to
change the conversation about the death penalty
in Red State legislatures. – And it has been a
movement nationally. I think Oklahoma had
moved in this direction, and I think some very
conservative states that, to paraphrase,
it’s not pro-life, and they tend to
be very pro-life, conservative pro-life states. It’s extremely expensive. Amy Lawrence, in your interview, talk about it’s a $1,000,000
to $2,000,000 more to go through the
process of an execution versus life without parol. And again, they are not talking
about letting people out, they’re not talking
about rehabilitation, they’re not talking about some of the things
I think people on the other end of the
spectrum talk about, but they are talking
about this pragmatic, this is not good government. Also, the whole idea that, and I’m quoting
from your article, Amy Lawrence said, “We
simply cannot guarantee “that we can carry out
capital punishment with a 100% accuracy.” And that has happened, I turn to you, Karanja, many times around the country, more and more DNA evidence, people have been
imprisoned for decades, who it turns out, they
did not commit that crime, and potentially,
people have been put, one would say, the likelihood is people have been put
to death by states, I don’t know about Tennessee, who didn’t commit the crime, and DNA evidence would
have overturned that. Your thoughts on this, the Conservatives coming
out in this direction, this Conservative group
coming out in this direction? – Well, I’m for any discussion
about what we do about it. I do think that the
State has the right to, in a larger sense, to make
those kinds of decisions, but it depends upon where we are as individuals
when you’re executing policy. And that’s with everything. You can have policy, but it’s what is the
mindset of the people and how they carry
those things out. And when I look at where we are in Tennessee
and across the country, relative to justice, we got a lotta work to do. – And I didn’t give
you enough time, but we’ll leave it
there. Thank you. Next week, Mayor Jim Strickland. Thank you all for joining us. Good night. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords