Kelo sparking citizen outrage

The Supreme Court’s decision this past week has made “eminent domain” the topic of conversation everywhere – from the grocery store check-out lines to dinner tables and dentist offices. In some states citizens are demanding new state legislation to protect their homes and property.

Locally, WMC-TV5 has an article on their web site and they were running an opinion poll at in the sidebar. At this writing, 89% had vote No, the government shouldn't be able to seize your property if you're not willing to sell it.

There are many sources of information and countless articles - one of the best is a blog at

To read the Supreme Court’s opinions click here.

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Catching Up

If you missed them, here are some news articles, pictures of Sue’s Bluff walk, and a video of the canoe race in the harbor.

Just this past week or two, there were articles and letters to the editor about the riverfront in the Commercial Appeal and Daily News that you’ll want to read. They are posted in the library. To get there, click on Library in the menu bar above, or use the following links:
Saturday was the perfect day for Sue’s Summer Solstice Bluff Walk – one of those low-humidity, sunny, temperate days that we get every now and then in Memphis. Below is a picture of the group that strolled and another of the spectacular red sunset they enjoyed.

And just for fun – If you have a cable connection and a bit of patience, here’s a link to a very large file of a video of the 24th Annual Outdoors Canoe and Kayak Race which was held in the river and harbor on April 30th.

Summer Solistice Walk


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The legal issues

The main news story for Thursday June 23rd, was the U. S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Kelo case holding that a governmental body can use eminent domain to take a private citizen’s home and turn it over to business interests under the guise of economic development.

As sad as that news is, the Kelo decision does not affect the citizens of Memphis with respect to the Riverfront Development Corporation’s plan to commercially develop the Public Promenade. That issue has already been decided by the TN Supreme Court. In 1965 the court held that the city only has an easement to the property and cannot transfer any interest in it to a private developer. [1] Furthermore, in 1867 -100 years earlier - the court held that the Promenade could not be condemned.[2]

When the owners of the land where Memphis now sits laid out tracts to be sold for homes and businesses, they set aside the land along the riverfront as a public common space for all to use and enjoy. Many public spirited developers do this today. It is similar to a conservation easement.

The elected representatives of the City of Memphis are the trustees of this precious gift to all citizens. They’re supposed to protect it like any other public asset. Unfortunately, they have attempted to delegate their responsibilities to the Riverfront Development Corporation which wants to try to break the easement and turn the Promenade over to private developers.

The RDC executive committee minutes of May 23, 2003 state:
Mr. Lendermon reported that the two major issues in regard to the Promenade are the legal strategy and the public process. The City … is taking the lead in and paying for the legal strategy…. In regard to the public process, since condemnation issues will be involved, public relations must be carefully planned.

The Public Promenade is protected by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s prior decisions involving the property and the Tennessee Constitution. As Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice said, “The majority and the dissent (in the Kelo case) recognized that the action now turns to state supreme courts where the public use battle will be fought out under state constitutions. … Today’s decision in no way binds those courts.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court has consistently ruled that it may impose higher standards and stronger protections than those set by the federal courts in interpreting parallel provisions of the federal constitution.[3]

We believe that if the RDC attempts to condemn the Public Promenade, the Tennessee judiciary will reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Kelo and follow the reasoning of the Michigan Supreme Court in Hathcock.[4] The full text of the Kelo opinions can be found at the link below.[5]

Notes and further reading:

1. City of Memphis v. Overton, 392 S.W.2d 98 (Tenn. 1965)

2. Memphis Freight Co. v. Mayor & Aldermen of Memphis, 44 Tenn. 419 (Tenn. 1867)

3. Miller v. State, 584 S.W.2d 758, 760 [5] (Tenn. 1979); and Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, 38 S.W.3d 1, 14-15 [8] (Tenn. 2000)

4. Wayne County v. Hathcock, 684 N.W. 765 (Mich. 2004)

5. Kelo v. New London (04-108) 268 Conn. 1, 843 A. 2d 500, affirmed.

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A Visionary Speaks

Charleston, SC Mayor Joe Riley to Speak in Memphis

Mark your calendar: September 21

Mayor RileyWidely considered one of the most visionary and highly effective governmental leaders in America, Joe Riley has served as Mayor of Charleston, S. C. for 30 years. Under his leadership, Charleston has focused on the beauty of its city and the quality of life for every resident. With unerring attention to detail, Riley has steered Charleston to become one of the most livable cities in America and the second most visited.

Mayor Riley, co-founder of the Mayor's Institute on City Design, has received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence for public housing, the Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, and the American Architectural Foundation Keystone Award for exemplary leadership in using architecture to transform a community.

Mayor Riley will be speaking at a noon luncheon in Memphis on Sept. 21 at Bridges Inc. to tell us what he did, how, why, and the results. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased at 529-9828 or at Mayor Riley's visit is part of Architecture Month and is sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, Friends for Our Riverfront, and Memphis Heritage.

Click the first link below to download a form for ordering tickets by mail.

Links: Charleston's Waterfront Park. Click to enlarge

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Neighborfest in Overton Park

click to enlargeDon Richardson, Heathie Colvett, and Sue Williams were among the “friends” at Neighborfest Sat. June 4th in Overton Park.

Friends for Our Riverfront has members available to speak to neighborhood and community groups about plans for the future of the riverfront. Please contact us at info@friendsforourriverfront or by phone at 496-0736 if you are interested in arranging a program.

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June 7th Council to Vote on Budget & Tax Increase

The City’s financial situation does not look good. Just last week, Moody’s lowered the City’s bond rating citing the City’s increasing debt, and still the City does not seem to have the ability to tighten its belt and stop planning big projects that it can’t afford.

On June 7 the City Council will vote on one resolution and, for the third and final time, on two ordinances that set the budget and determine if and how much property taxes go up.

The budget currently includes $41.9 million in City money for the RDC over the next 5 years; roughly $16.5 million of which they will receive in the next 13 months.

Most of the $16.5 million that the RDC is scheduled to get next year goes to build a steamboat landing at the foot of Beale Street. Is that boat landing a good idea or a bad idea? We don’t know. Is it needed? Does the design work? Is this the best place for boats to land? Why not on Mud Island? These seem like questions that need to be answered before the Council approves the funding.

In the budget is also $300,000 of City funding for the RDC's Riverfront Project. That money -your money - will go to plan and design the commercial development of the Riverbluff and the dam across the harbor. The eventual public capital cost of the project is estimated by the RDC at $340-million. That was not a typo. Yes, they are planning the most expensive project in our City's history right now when we are cutting services, programs, and employees. Now this might be the perfect place to trim the budget.

Whatever you think about the budget - want it cut, would like to postpone funding the boat landing until we have the facts, or think there are better ways for your money to be spent - let the City Council know. Here is the link to their web page.

If you click on a Councilperson’s picture, you will get their bio and mailing address.

There’s a mini-course on how the Budget works and more detailed information about money for the RDC in the article “Budget 101” below.

The City Council meeting on June 7 is open to the public. It will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers, first floor, City Hall, 125 N. Main.

To get more information and to voice your concerns, attend a public forum on the budget sponsored by Councilwoman Carol Chumney Saturday (6/4/05) from 9:30 a.m. - noon at the main library (3030 Poplar). During budget committee hearings, Councilwoman Chumney made a motion to have the money for the RDC removed from the budget. Her motion could not get a second.

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