Denver goes from sunny to white-out blizzard in matter of hours as airport, schools close

DENVER — A blizzard moved into the Denver metro area Wednesday morning with strong, heavy, wet snow that forced schools to close and snarled roads.

By noon, the Federal Aviation Administrations halted flights at Denver International Airport. Officials closed DIA after cancelling more than 1,000 flights as the powerful storm created white-out conditions.

Just hours earlier, it was a balmy 70 degrees with blue skies.

The storm is expected to clobber the Plains and Midwest. A blizzard warning is in effect until 6 p.m. for the Front Range east to the border with Kansas and Nebraska.

Several school districts in the metro area announced they would be closed ahead of the blizzard, including Denver Public Schools, Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek Schools and Adams County school districts.

The Colorado Department of Transportation said all passenger vehicles must have chains, snow tires or four-wheel drive on Denver-area interstates. All commercial vehicles must chain up as well.

Snow totals in Denver are expected to reach 10 to 14 inches by Wednesday night. Temperatures will start in the 30s but then drops into the 20s during the day. The mountains will have heavy snow as well, with as many as 16 inches expected.

Visibility will dropped to less than one mile during the day because of the heavy snow and wind gusts near 40 mph.

Xcel Energy reported 118,000 customers lost power, with most of that in the north metro area, particularly Boulder and Denver International Airport. An Xcel spokesman said 5,000 employees are working to restore the power. Crews from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico will be in the area Thursday to help restore power.

“It’s all hands on deck,” Mart Sturtz said.

Snow will wrap up by Wednesday night and be followed by clear skies. It will be sunny Thursday with temperatures into the upper 40s.

But a second classic spring snowstorm is setting up to move into the area Friday night into Saturday with another few inches of snow expected.

Election Commission requesting $125K for staff increase

Posted: Yesterday 3:36 p.m. By Linda A. Moore of The Commercial Appeal

After drawing fire from the Shelby County Commission over its budget increase request last year, the Election Commission plans to approach the county this year with a request for an increase they say is necessary for the office to function successfully.

Last time, the election commission asked for a 5 percent pay increase for all of its staff, which would have been in addition to the 1.7 percent cost of living increase all county workers received. The request saw County Commissioner Mark Billingsley declare he’d not support a “one penny” increase for the election commission.

But as the fiscal 2017 budget season approaches, Norma Lester, election commission secretary, says this time she’ll be pushing for funding to increase staff.

The election commission is requesting an additional $125,000, including $50,000 to help fund two additional staffers, $40,000 for a new vehicle, $15,000 for training and $10,000 for a security system at its 980 Nixon Drive offices.

“Our main thing is we’ve got to get our staffing complement up because we will never be able to have the success that we need if we don’t,” Lester said.

At one time, the election commission had a staff of 24. It is now down to 14 people — cuts that were made, Lester said, by former administrator of elections Richard Holden.

“Supposedly he was being conservative, but it was a mistake,” Lester said. “Once you let a position go it’s hard to get it back.”

Holden retired in December after a tenure that included no-confidence votes from the Memphis City Council and County Commission, an overturned election and a string of election problems for voters across the county.

The election commission does not fall under the protective umbrella of any county elected official and must make budget increase requests directly to the County Commission on its own behalf.

The five election commissioners are appointed by the Tennessee General Assembly and those commissioners appoint the administrator of elections to run the office and hire staff.

“We sort of treat them like the other elected officials,” said Harvey Kennedy, county chief administrative officer. “So we let them, like the other elected officials who don’t report to the mayor, present their own.”

In the 2016 fiscal year’s budget, the election commission had expenditures of about $3.8 million, and received $2.1 million from state and federal governments as well as for reimbursements for elections, and was allotted $1.6 million from the county’s general fund.

Also, Lester said, the election commission’s budget varies each year with the number and size of elections being held.

Mayors, Memphis business leaders make case against de-annex bill

By Richard Locker of The Commercial Appeal 3/23/16

NASHVILLE — The mayors of Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga — backed by three Memphis business leaders — presented a united front against the de-annexation bill in a state Senate committee Wednesday, warning that it could destabilize cities’ finances and hurt recruitment of new job-creating businesses.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke sat together at a witness table in the State and Local Government Committee to voice their objections to a bill that allows residents of areas annexed into cities since 1998 to call referendums for de-annexation — and then separate from their cities if approved by a majority of voters in that area.

Strickland reiterated his fears that the bill could result in up to 111,000 residents of Memphis leaving the city — 17 percent of its population — and the loss of between $28 million and $79 million in tax revenue.

“Our population would fall from the 23rd largest city in the country to the 33rd. Our poverty rate is 30 percent. Our child poverty rate is 47 percent. If you take these areas out, both those numbers would drastically increase. Our crime, which is already a problem, would increase when you measure crimes per 100,000 residents, which they often do,” Strickland said.

“These statistics would greatly harm our ability to create jobs. If that instability is part of the face of Memphis to potential employers, to businesses, to investors, how can we expect the robust economic development that we’re all working so hard to obtain? Please — do not turn back the clock on our progress. I want to remind you that we are part of a promising new era in Memphis, turning things around with new leadership,” Strickland told the committee.

Moments later, AutoZone founder J.R. “Pitt” Hyde, First Tennessee Bank President David Popwell and Executive Vice President Jim Vogel took the same table and made a similar case.

Popwell said the bill sends an indication to prospective businesses that Tennessee’s state government doesn’t stand behind its cities and that message will hurt economic development efforts statewide.

“The language in the House bill indicates they were chosen because of ‘egregious annexations’ but it offers no detail or evidence of what constitutes ‘egregious’,” Rogero said.The Knoxville mayor also cited a little-noticed impact of the bill, which she said makes it “fundamentally capricious legislation:” state-shared sales tax revenue flow to local governments on the basis of population, but de-annexations would mean a reduction in those taxes to the give cities and an increase for cities not listed in the bill.

All three mayors noted that cities annexed territory using state laws approved over decades by the state legislature.

But in his questioning of the mayors, Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, said some residents want to leave cities they were annexed into against their will, which he likened to forcible takeovers of one nation by another.

“When you think of a city going out and, just on its own, taking land from someone else — to me that’s almost like Russia going in and taking Poland and adding it to the Soviet Union,” Green said. “I really see those as pretty close. When people don’t want to be brought into the city and are forcibly brought in so the city can have a better tax base, I find that egregious. And that’s a big part of why this bill is so emotional for a lot of people right now,” Green said.

The committee did not finish its work and is holding the bill over until at least next Tuesday when it will reconvene and hear testimony from supporters of the bill.

And that means the full Senate likely won’t vote on the bill until at least March 31. The House approved its version of the bill March 14.

The Senate committee adopted amendments that would restore the bill’s original application to municipalities across the state.

Afterward, the committee chairman, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said it’s not clear that a bill will win Senate approval.

Mayor Jim Strickland’s original testimony to the Senate State & Local Government Committee on Wednesday, March 23, regarding the de-annexation bill:

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland:

Memphis is impacted by this bill far greater than any other city. I want to make three points: No. 1, the bill’s impact on Memphis, No. 2, a little review of Memphis’s finances and No. 3, the impact on our pensions and OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits, mostly retiree health benefits) liabilities.

I met with most of you individually. You saw the map, you saw that 111,000 people, or 17 percent of our population, could de-annex. It’s a potential loss of $28 million in residential property taxes, a potential loss of $64 million in property taxes if you include commercial and industrial, and it’s a potential loss of $15 million in sales tax. So the total potential loss is $28 million to $79 million, which is 12 percent of our budget.

Second, like many big cities we have a budget problem. Our budget is $658 million and it’s remaining fairly static. We still have another $15 to $20 million that we have to put into our pension plan. We have another $15 to $20 million we need to hire new police officers. And my plan was to try to do that without raising taxes, because as you may know our combined city and county tax rate is so much higher than the rest of the state. It’s $7.77. By comparison Nashville is $4.52.

Third point: OPEB and pension. This bill does not provide for the de-annexed areas to pay toward the pension and OPEB liabilities. Our pension unfunded liability is $418 million. Our OPEB unfunded liability is $700 million. That’s a total debt of $1.1 billion. Some of these areas in this bill have been in the city for almost 20 years and the debt would not follow them.

In closing these annexations were done pursuant to the laws adopted by this legislature. And they were upheld in the courts where it was litigated.

Mass de-annexation could have drastic impacts on not just Memphis and not just Shelby County and not just West Tennessee but the entire state. Our population would fall from the 23rd largest city in the country to the 33rd. Our poverty rate is 30 percent. Our child poverty rate is 47 percent. If you take these areas out, both those numbers would drastically increase. Our crime, which is already a problem, would increase when you measure crimes per 100,000 residents, which they often do. These statistics would greatly harm our ability to create jobs. If that instability is part of the face of Memphis to potential employers, to businesses, to investors, how can we expect the robust economic development that we’re all working so hard to obtain?

Please — do not turn back the clock on our progress. Again I want to remind you that we are part of a promising new era in Memphis, turning things around with new leadership.

Excerpts of questions and answers with committee members:

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville: I’m mindful and troubled by the comment that this would disproportionately adversely affect the city of Memphis. That is disturbing if true. We’re not voting here today or in this legislation to effect any de-annexation. It is to give people the right to vote on whether they wish to be de-annexed. Why do you jump to the conclusion, if you do, that everyone would de-annex if given the right to vote?

Mayor Strickland: Frankly, it’s from experience and being around Memphis. I think all these areas would jump at the chance of potentially lower taxes. They wouldn’t have to pay city taxes, only county taxes. De-annexation, or annexation, has been an issue for 50 or 60 years in Memphis. I think any area in Memphis, given the opportunity to de-annex, would. And if they wouldn’t, we’d ask you to narrow the bill to include a smaller area.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro: Who would a de-annexed resident go to if their sewer backed up? They’re not in the city anymore and the county might say it’s a city sewer. It creates a real dilemma.

Mayor Strickland: I think there are many questions with the bill that have not been answered and that’s one of them. Before I got involved in city government, maybe back when I was in high school, Memphis would extend our sewer system out into the suburbs and the known plan was that Memphis would then annex those areas when they became urban and more dense. That happened a lot. These areas were created by Memphis extending that sewer system.

Sen. Ketron: With that anticipation?

Mayor Strickland: Yes sir.

Sen. Ketron: If all of a sudden that area is de-annexed, how do you see that affecting getting new businesses to move into the area?

Mayor Strickland: In all of my 2 ½ months on the job, one thing I’ve learned is that when we recruit business to come to Memphis or to stay in Memphis, our tax rate works against us. But it’s not the only thing. They look at quality of life, they look at these statistics that we talked about and all of these statistics, which are already a challenge for Memphis, become worse. You don’t hear from a company until they narrow it down to four or five cities. I’m worried that we’re not even going to make that four or five city (list) because these statistics become so much worse with this de-annexation bill.

Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville: In these possibly de-annexed areas of the city, did any of them ever vote to come in?

Mayor Strickland: None of them voted. One or two may have asked to be annexed but they were small, more commercial areas.

Sen. Green: So none of the folks had a vote and decided to come into Memphis on their own free will. Why did you guys go and annex them then. If they didn’t want to be annexed, why did you go and annex them?

Mayor Strickland: I wasn’t there. But the city of Memphis abided by the law of your predecessors. I know you weren’t here but the law allowed the annexation. We followed the law. There were many lawsuits involved in this process. Between the time of voting to annex and the actual annex — I’m looking at these areas — it was 11 years, 8½ years, 15 years, 9 years, 6 years, 9½, 17 years. There was a long period of time that people saw it coming. And the sewers were extended to those areas with the idea that they would be annexed. It was not a surprise to anyone.

Sen. Green: How do you know they want to be de-annexed? I think it’s because they never wanted to be annexed in the first place.


The version of the bill approved by the House March 14 limits de-annexation to Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Kingsport and tiny Cornersville in Marshall County, where it says annexations over the last 20 years were “the most egregious.”

Everything you always wanted to know about Peeps but were afraid to ask

20 Delicious Facts About Peeps

You know whether you prefer chicks to bunnies, fresh to stale, or plain to chocolate-covered. But there’s a lot you may not know about Peeps, everyone’s favorite (non-chocolate) Easter candy.



That was in 1953, when Sam Born acquired the Rodda Candy Company and its line of marshmallow chicks. Back then, each chick was handmade with a pastry tube. Just Born quickly set about automating the process, so that it now takes just six minutes to make a Peep.


All of them at the Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In one year, the company makes enough peeps to circle the earth—twice!



Yellow bunnies are the second most popular color/shape combination. Pink is the second best-selling color.



The recipe begins with a boiling batch of granulated sugar, liquid sugar, and corn syrup, to which gelatin and vanilla extract are later added. (You can take a virtual factory tour here).



Since Just Born turned Peeps-making into an automated process, the chicks have been carefully formed by a top-secret machine known as The Depositor. Created by Sam Born’s son, Bob, The Depositor could manufacture six rows of five Peeps apiece in a fraction of the time it took workers to form them by hand. And that same machine that Bob built has been keeping the Peeps flowing ever since. Until recently …

In 2014, the company announced that it was planning to renovate its manufacturing plant, including The Depositor. “It’s a little sad,” vice president of corporate affairs Matthew Pye toldCandy Industry magazine. “Bob Born made it from scratch in 1954 and it allowed us to distribute and grow the brand nationally.”



“The investment in our marshmallow making process will allow for more efficiency, more consistency, improved quality, and additional innovation capabilities,” co-CEO Ross Born toldCandy Industry magazine about the new depositor, which will be able to produce a wider variety of Peeps in all sizes. “The [old] Peeps line did one thing and one thing very well—cranking out chicks day in and day out. Five clusters, just in different colors,” Born said.


They were clipped in 1955, two years after the first marshmallow chicks hatched, to give the candy a sleeker, more “modern” look.



The final flourish for all of these squishy balls of sweetness is adding the eyes, which are made of carnauba—a non-toxic edible wax (that is also found in some shoe polishes and car waxes, plus many other candies).



In 1999, a pair of scientists at Emory University—dubbed “Peeps Investigators”—decided totest the theory that Peeps are an indestructible food. In addition to a microwave, the pair tested the candy’s vulnerability to tap water, boiling water, acetone, and sulfuric acid (they survived them all). When they upped the ante with some Phenol, the only things that didn’t disappear were the eyes.


For the past 20 years, no other non-chocolate Easter candy has been able to compete with the power of Peeps. With more than 1.5 billion of them consumed each spring, Peeps have topped the list of most popular Easter treats for two decades.


Counterintuitive, we know. But in 2007, the first line of sugar-free Peeps hit store shelves.


Chocolate-covered Peeps hit the market in 2010. Today there’s a full line of them for every occasion.


Color and shape (i.e. yellow chick) are no longer the only ways to categorize a Peep. They now come in an array of flavors, including strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, sweet lemonade, candy cane, and orange creme.





The drop is done with a traditional chick that flashes different colors at midnight.


That honor belongs to Mike and Ike. (Sorry, Peepsters.)


PEEPS® and Prairie Farms Dairy, Inc.

For the 2015 Easter season, Peeps teamed up with Illinois’ Prairie Farms to produce a limited lineup of Peeps-flavored milk. This year, it’s back by popular demand.



All over the country, Peeps have become the preferred media for a number of highly anticipated annual art contests, including The Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama Contest, which is now in its tenth year.



At least if that boy band is One Direction—prior to Zayn Malik’s departure. The scientists at Just Born have estimated that it would take more than 37,000 pieces of marshmallow deliciousness to equal the combined weight of the band. Following Zayn Malik’s departure, the Peeps team adjusted that number to 29,882.


That’s a lot of Peeps!


Santana rocks like it’s Woodstock in Las Vegas reunion show

, USA TODAY 3:36 a.m. EDT March 23, 2016

LAS VEGAS —  One hour into the Santana concert at Las Vegas’ House of Blues Monday night, legendary guitarist and vocalist Carlos Santana gave a helpful pointer to fans.

“If you have any mescaline or LSD, this is a good time to take it,” Santana said with a smile.

The crowd in the sold-out, intimate auditorium roared in approval, but did not need any hallucinogens for the historic show.

It was already surreal enough seeing the stage filled with original members from the band’s Woodstock era who had not shared the same stage for 43 years.

Santana, 68, (guitar, vocals) rocked with core original members of the band who haven’t jammed publicly together since splitting in 1973 — Gregg Rolie, 68 (keyboards, lead vocals), Neal Schon, 62 (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello, 68 (percussion), and Michael Shrieve, 66 (drums).

But all of that separation officially ended for this Santana classic group who have put together a 16-song album, Santana IV (due out April 15) and will make limited concert appearances along with the televised presentation of Monday’s House of Blues concert later this year.

A game-faced Shrieve made a clear statement from Santana’s first song, Soul Sacrifice, propelling through a sustained drum solo that matched in passion his legendary drum solo from the same song at Woodstock.

After playing another Woodstock classic Evil Ways,  Carlos Santana introduced Schon to the stage and gave the guitarist credit for pursuing the long-standing Santana reunion until it finally came to be.

“Here’s the person responsible for the madness, the orchestra-tor of this insanity, my younger brother and an incredible guitar player,” said Santana.

The two shared guitar licks and mutual smiles for the rest of the evening as the band worked through songs from the new album and classics like Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen and Oye Como Va which had young and old(er) concert-goers dancing in the aisles.

Legendary musician Ronald Isley came onto the stage for two rousing encore performance songs featured on Santana IV (Love Makes the World Go Round andFreedom in Your Mind).

The band put it all to rest with the instrumental and percussion-heavy Toussaint L’Ouverture before joining together for a final, emotional bow at center stage.

Santana fan Phil Bonnet, 59, who drove 450 miles from South Lake Tahoe, Californiafor the concert, was blown away recalling seeing the same group as a teen in 1973.

“There was a lot more hair then, but the energy tonight, they really recaptured it, you could feel it,” said Bonnet, who sent a steady stream of text messages featuring snippets of concert footage to friends. “It was one of the best musical events ever for me. Yes, I’ll go there.”

“It was like that concert was just yesterday, everyone was so together onstage,” said Schmidt. “It’s like they picked up right where they left off. Everyone was dancing and sharing the experience.”

Speaking afterwards, Carabello said he often got emotional onstage watching his reformed bandmates from behind the conga drums.

“Looking at Carlos and seeing Gregg and Neal on the stage, and being next to Michael on the drums, it was fantastic,” said Carabello. “It was like, at last, we were all in the same house again.”

Toronto Mourns Its ‘Most Complicated’ Mayor

(NEWSER) – Rob Ford has died from cancer at 46 and while he deeply split opinion when he was mayor of Toronto, commentators agree that the world is duller place without the man they describe as the most polarizing, most complicated, and by far the most famous leader the city has ever produced. A round-up of reactions:

  • Edward Keenan, Toronto Star: “He was perhaps the worst mayor Toronto has ever had, and the strangest and most compelling character in the history of Canadian politics, and today Rob Ford is gone and his loss feels like a crater has opened up in the city’s psyche. What will we do without him?”
  • Chris Sellers, National Post: “As I ponder Ford’s tragic passing at the terrible age of 46, just when he seemed to be turning his life around, he strikes me far less as an extraordinary individual than as an extraordinary collision of unfortunate circumstances, crammed into a single otherwise average guy and installed, tragically and against all logic, in the chief magistrate’s office of a city of 2.6 million people.”
  • Stephen Marche, Esquire: “After Ford confessed to smoking crack, and refused to step down—still one of the craziest political decisions ever undertaken–his poll numbers went up. He stumbled on a fact nobody had realized before: such is the loathing of the political class among voters that craziness will be taken as authenticity.” Marche, one of several commentators to describe Ford as the precursor to Donald Trump, writes that the “most salient political fact in the world is that the next Rob Ford could easily be the next President of the United States.”
  • Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun: “The late, great Rob Ford may have been a clown, but he was our clown. The former mayor was bigger than life with vices to match. He took this city on a ride that we have not seen before and are unlikely to see again. But as tumultuous and embarrassing as his tenure would be, there was no questioning what motivated him. His heart beat for Toronto.”

Olivia Newton-John’s missing boyfriend spotted in Mexico: reports

By NED EHRBAR CBS NEWS March 22, 2016, 12:46 PM

An 11-year-old unsolved mystery may finally be resolved, as reports claim that Patrick McDermott, the longtime boyfriend of Olivia Newton-John who disappeared in 2005 during a fishing trip, has been spotted alive.

A private investigator tells Woman’s Day that McDermott is alive and well and living with a German girlfriend in Sayulita, a remote village in Mexico. “Patrick’s probably now working in the yachting industry for a high-profile family down there,” investigator Philip Klein said.

Newton-John and McDermott dated on-and-off for nine years before his disappearance. At the time of the incident, Newton-John was at a spa retreat in Australia and has refused to comment on any speculation about what happened to him.

A 2008 U.S. Coast Guard investigation suggested that “McDermott was lost at sea.” That same year, Newton-John wed her second husband, John Easterling, to whom she is still married.

Obama Explains Why He Attended A Ballgame Just Hours After The Brussels Attacks

The president emphasized that we cannot let terrorists disrupt our daily lives.

03/22/2016 05:38 pm ET  Juliet Spies-Gans  Editorial Fellow, HuffPost Sports

Sitting in the grandstands of Havana’s historic baseball stadium as the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays took on the Cuban national team on Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama discussed his decision to attend the contest just hours after terror and tragedy struck the city of Brussels.

His reasoning had to do with fear. And with fortitude. And with refusing to cower in the face of a bully — refusing to let groups like the Islamic State dictate the rhythm and actions of the rest of the world.

“It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, particularly in this age of 24-7 news coverage,” Obama explained in his live mid-game interview with ESPN. “You want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation. But the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”

Obama went on to cite Red Sox star David Ortiz’s April 2013 on-field, pregame speech, during which — just days after the Boston Marathon bombing — he raised the microphone to his lips and slowly uttered the words, “This is our fucking city,” to the roar of the Boston crowd.

That moment, Obama said, typified “the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists.”

“They cannot defeat America, they don’t produce anything, they don’t have a message that appeals to the vast majority of Muslims or the vast majority of people around the world,” Obama said on Tuesday. “What they can do is scare. And make people afraid. And disrupt our daily lives and divide us. And as long as we don’t allow that to happen, we’re going to be OK.”

So in the face of such terror — in the wake of such brutality — Obama spent his Tuesday afternoon practicing what he preached. He went to a baseball game that from conception to first pitch was billed as the symbol of the newfound solidarity between these two formerly feuding nations, thus taking what he believes to be a stand against the terrorist groups of the world by taking a seat in the bleachers of that Havana stadium.

NFL eliminates all ‘chop’ style blocks for 2016 season


In a move that will cause sweeping changes to NFL offensive strategy for the 2016 season and beyond, owners decided Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting to abolish any and all “chop” style blocks.

It was a move met with immediate and resounding praise from defensive players tired of getting their legs cut out from underneath them. Offensive lineman, however, were less than enthused as the block was still legal in certain situations. Over the last few years, various changes to the rules have limited the scope on how players could use the technique. It was a valuable tool for offensive linemen coming from the weak side and could even out some speed discrepancies. However, the speed and target area of the blocks could lead to serious injury.

The NFL also decided to permanently leave extra points at the 15-yard line.

Discussion on other proposed changes, such as a rule that would eject players automaticallyfollowing two unsportsmanlike foul penalties in one game, will remain on the table for Wednesday.

Tuesday’s development shows the league’s decision-makers were pleased with the jolt provided by a slightly more difficult extra point. Kickers missed the most extra points in a season since 1977. They also had their lowest conversion rate since 1982. The adjusted extra point worked its way into some of the most consequential games of the season, including Stephen Gostkowski‘s miss in the AFC title game.

Here are the rest of the approved rule changes from Tuesday:

» Offensive and defensive play-callers are able to use the headset communication system whether they are on the field or in the booth.

» A horse-collar tackle has been expanded to include the area “at the nameplate and above.”

» A team will be flagged for delay of game if they attempt to call a timeout when they are not allowed to.

» The NFL has eliminated the 5-yard penalty for “an eligible receiver illegally touching a forward pass after being out of bounds and re-establishing himself inbounds, and makes it a loss of down.”

» The NFL has eliminated “multiple spots of enforcement for a double foul after a change of possession.”

Memphis AD, coach shared agent; investigation underway

By Marc Perrusquia of The Commercial Appeal  3/22/16   4:06pm

When University of Memphis Athletic Director Tom Bowen negotiated head basketball coach Josh Pastner’s now-infamous contract in 2013 on behalf of the school, he needed no introduction to the coach’s agent.

Fort Smith, Ark., attorney Joey McCutchen’s NextLevel Sports agency represented Bowen while he was athletic director at San Jose State and arranged Bowen’s hiring at the U of M in 2012, the athletic director said.

Now, with the basketball program reeling from the Tigers’ near-collapse on the court this season and a sea of empty seats at FedExForum, questions are surfacing about Bowen’s relationship to NextLevel Sports and whether it influenced the generous terms of Pastner’s contract — a deal that would pay the coach up to $10.6 million were he fired.

U of M President M. David Rudd said Tuesday in a statement the school is investigating conflict-of-interest allegations that have circulated in recent weeks about Bowen.

“The University of Memphis has been made aware of the accusations, and in accordance with University and TBR (Tennessee Board of Regent) policies, will immediately launch a comprehensive investigation,” Rudd’s written statement read. “The University is in the process of retaining an outside source to conduct the review. Upon completion, a public statement will be made concerning the findings.”

Bowen denied any conflict in an interview earlier this month with The Commercial Appeal, saying he severed NextLevel’s representation after he was hired by the U of M in 2012.

“NextLevel and I agreed that I’ll no longer need any representation. I didn’t want any issues. And so I just resigned,” Bowen told the newspaper.

A year after signing Pastner’s contract, Bowen hosted the 2014 College Athletic Leadership Symposium, a gathering of athletic directors and coaches produced by NextLevel Sports. Bowen has been a frequent speaker at the annual event, though McCutchen said Bowen has received no pay.

Bowen said his ties to NextLevel did not influence his handling of Pastner’s contract, which includes a buyout clause that would pay the coach his $2.65 million annual salary in monthly installments through April 2020 if he’s fired.

“No. No sir. And I resent the thought of that even being considered,” Bowen said in a brief interview on March 4 before he quit returning a reporter’s phone calls.

The university has not filled an open records request filed by the newspaper on March 9 seeking emails and other written communication between the school and NextLevel.

U of M policy requires employees “to avoid activities and situations that, either actually or potentially, put personal interests ahead of the professional obligations that they owe the University.” Employees are required to make “full disclosure” of potential or actual conflicts in writing. Records released by the university gave no indication whether Bowen, who’s paid more than $416,000 a year, disclosed his relationship with NextLevel.

One expert in sports management ethics said Bowen’s dilemma at the very least poses a public relations problem for the university.

“It has the appearance of a conflict of interest. That’s especially true when it’s such a favorable contract,” said Walter T. Champion, a professor of sports law at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University who co-authored a 2012 book, Sports Ethics for Sports Management Professionals.

“I mean it looks to some people that, you know, you’re helping out your agent or your ex-agent in giving his guy a great contract.”

The concern takes on added significance given last week’s developments: Despite missing postseason play for the second year in a row, the U of M retained Pastner amid wide speculation the school simply couldn’t afford to fire him and hire a new coach.

In a March 13 email, McCutchen acknowledged representing Pastner “in all his negotiations with the University of Memphis,” describing NextLevel Sports as an agency that “represents a number of collegiate coaches.” The agency has represented a few athletic directors in the past, but currently has none, he wrote. He listed two NextLevel principals: himself and Tulsa, Okla., sports businessman Will Reece.

McCutchen did not say directly in his email whether he has represented Bowen.

“I am not presently the agent for Tom Bowen and refer all questions regarding Mr. Bowen to him, as I do not think, for confidentiality reasons, it is appropriate for me to discuss any prior relationship with Tom Bowen,” McCutchen wrote.

“Suffice it to say, any professional relationship I might have had with Tom Bowen was fully vetted, before any negotiations took place, with the University of Memphis. University Counsel Sheri Lipman, who is now a United States District Judge, as well Dr. Shirley Raines, who was President of the University of Memphis at time of the 2013 negotiations, were intimately involved in the Pastner contract process when Coach Pastner’s 2013 contract was negotiated. The University of Memphis had multiple reputable individuals, in addition to AD Tom Bowen, involved in the negotiation process during the 2013 negotiation process, as it did in the negotiations both before and after.”

Raines and Lipman have declined interviews to discuss the negotiations.

In a six-sentence email on March 11, Raines said there was little more that she could add.

“With Coach Pastner’s offer from another university, Tom Bowen and other university personnel negotiated a contract I signed. It did not match the offer from the other university,” Raines wrote. “The recommendation and intention were to keep Josh. It was felt that there was a lot of fan and donor support to keep Coach Pastner.”

Though Bowen was quoted in 2013 as saying no school had asked permission to interview Pastner, that he only wanted to be “proactive” in locking the coach into a long-term extension, he has given a different account, with greater detail, in recent interviews.

The athletic director said on March 4 Pastner had an offer from a Power Five school that the U of M couldn’t match. As a result, the university essentially converted Pastner’s five-year contract to a seven-year contract, adding language that automatically renewed the deal in 2014 and 2015, Bowen said.

“We couldn’t match the dollars. So that’s why we came up with the years,” he said, emphasizing the deal had support from administration and top boosters.

“I had conversations with all the major donors … and at the time three years ago they wanted him to be the coach at Memphis,” Bowen said.

He said he is particularly disappointed Raines has not agreed to discuss details of the negotiations.

“I’m surprised she didn’t talk to anybody and why she didn’t say anything. I’m really disappointed. I was really disappointed. I mean, because they just kind of left me out there. I’m the one guy that tells the truth and catching all the arrows? I’m catching a lot of arrows. I’m getting really crucified.”

Raines said in a one-sentence follow-up email Tuesday, “I do not have anything to add to my reply which I sent to you on March 11.”

McCutchen, the agent, said in his email that neither Bowen nor any other athletic director or coach has been paid for participating in NextLevel’s annual professional development symposium, which was held at the The Peabody in 2014.

“NextLevel Sports has NEVER made any payment to a collegiate coach, athletic director or university personnel, whether it related to CALS or otherwise,” McCutchen wrote.

In fairness, McCutchen wrote, Pastner’s contract followed a precedent set under former Athletic Director R.C. Johnson. He pointed to former football coach Justin Fuente’s May 2012 contract, which did not require him to offset or mitigate payments promised by the university had he been fired and then got a new job. Language in Fuente’s and Pastner’s contracts promised payments after termination without cause as “liquidated damages.”

“With regard to Coach Pastner’s 2013 contract, while mitigation or offset language might be the norm at some schools, it WAS NOT before Coach Pastner’s 2013 contract and IS NOT the University of Memphis norm when in it comes to ‘liquidated damages’ and mitigation language with head coaches in major sports,” McCutchen wrote.

However, Pastner’s potential buyout grew so large for a couple reasons. One, Fuente’s buyout was calculated based on 70 percent of his salary; Pastner’s is 100 percent. The number of years of payments, grew, too, when Pastner’s contract was essentially converted from five to seven years.

Regarding the liquidated damages provision in Pastner’s contract that allows him to continue receiving his $2.65 million salary if fired, Bowen said he didn’t know how that provision got in the contract.

“I wasn’t part of that. I wasn’t part of those discussions. I just wasn’t.”