Germantown Volunteers Recognized

On Thursday, November 8, the City of Germantown hosted the annual Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s Commissions Appreciation Dinner at The Great Hall and Conference Center. Hosted by Mayor Mike Palazzolo, the event was also attended by Aldermen Rocky Janda, Mary Anne Gibson, and Forrest Owens, who had to leave early for an event for his daughter. Other officials in attendance were Fire Chief John Selberg and Deputy Chief of Police Rodney Bright. Mayor Palazzolo also recognized former Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy for her mentorship of many of the leaders in Germantown. 

The list volunteers for 2018.

 

This dinner is a celebration of the nearly 200 citizens of Germantown who serve on the boards and commissions of our city. After a great meal catered by Garibaldi’s Pizza and Catering, three special awards were announced.

 

 

 

The first award went to the Reserve Firefighter of the Year. Fire Chief John Selberg presented the award to Mike Letterman. “This is the community I grew up in. It has given so much to me, I just wanted to volunteer to give back,” said Mr. Letterman. “It’s just an honor to get this award.”

 

The second award was the prestigious Jo Reed Award. Sponsored by the Leadership Germantown Alumni Association (LGAA), the Jo Reed Award is presented each year to an individual who represents sincere caring and volunteerism for our community, with no concern for applause or thank you. Jo Reed was a prolific volunteer who lost her life in a tragic accident while in service to the city picking up an illegal yard sale sign on the side of the road.

LGAA president, Natalie Williams presented this year’s award to Elaine Cates. A forty year resident of Germantown, Mrs. Cates is a former teacher and cheer sponsor at Germantown High School, her husband served as city attorney for 27 years and her children grew up here. She currently serves as president of the Germantown Woman’s Club.

“I just have a warm fuzzy feeling about Germantown,” said Mrs. Cates. “It just makes my very, very happy that maybe I did something for Germantown.”

Finally, the Reserve Police Officer of the Year was presented by Deputy Chief of Police Rodney Bright to to Barry Baker. A former employee of Pinnacle Airlines that closed in 2013, he considered the late Phil Trenary a mentor. Trenary was formally president of Pinnacle and was serving as President of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce at the time of his senseless death.

It was Trenary’s emphasis on community service that lead Baker to be involved in public safety. “He encouraged all the senior staff to be a part of the Memphis community and give back,” said Baker. Without his encouragement, he would not have formed the relationships with law enforcement that lead to his involvement with the Germantown Police.

Nearly 200 residents serve on Germantown’s commissions which are involved in every aspect of the community. From beautification to budget approval to historic preservation, there is a commission for every interest and all residents of Germantown are invited to apply. Applications close November 30. Three new commissions will begin in 2019. They are the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, the Public Arts Commission, and the Technology Commission. Apply here.

 

Election Night Reflections

It is election night, midnight on election night to be exact. We have been on the phone, texting and talking to friends trying to figure out what has happened. At this point, it looks like Mike Palazzolo is in the lead but the results are still too close to call in the mayoral race.

As for the alderman races, it looks like Scott Sanders and Mary Anne Gibson have won. School board looks like Betsy Landers will retain her seat and Angela Griffith will fill the seat vacated by Lisa Parker.

So what does this mean? It means that our community is divided. Even if the mayoral results swing, it can’t be assumed that either candidate was elected with mandate.It is incumbent on our next mayor to work to bring this community together. We as a community must work to have civil discussion about the issues we face. Our mayor and aldermen need to help lead that discussion. It is time to stop pointing fingers and playing blame games and time to work on solutions to problems facing our community.

Win or lose, thank the candidates that take the time and effort to run for office. It is a stress on them, their families and friends. This evening is one of highs and lows. For every party, there are friends and families supporting their candidates facing the disappointment of a loss. The sacrifice is real and the heart of our government. We may not all agree on the how we lead Germantown into the future, but we all agree that we want the best for this great city.

Thanks to all those who run, even if we may not always agree on the “how”.

Sneak Peek at Thornwood

IMG_6776.jpgThe Thornwood open house offered a glimpse into the sense of community that a mixed use development can generate. Food trucks and live music added to the festive atmosphere as curious residents and potential tenants toured the model units open to the community.

IMG_6762.jpgThere were four apartments open for viewing in the “Residence” building. The model floor plans included two each of their one bedroom and two bedroom units. The building is still very much under construction and scheduled to be completed in March from what one volunteer told me. While the demo units had flooring installed, the main hallways were still under construction and likely will not have their final touches until all the units are complete.

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The finishes were high end with solid surface counters, stainless steel appliances and walk in showers. Each unit had an open floor plan with clear views between the kitchen and living areas. All of the units featured laundry, the larger units had full size washer and dryers. One of the two bedroom units features a “sun room”, a great place for avid readers to relax with some natural light.

The units in the “Market Row Lofts” were larger and had higher end finishes. These units were not quite finished, lacking counter tops and sinks but you could tell the cabinets and fixtures in place were even higher than those of the “Residence.” The large windows brought in lots of natural light. My wife and I were amazed at how quiet the units were given the traffic right outside the windows. There were two units open for inspection. These units are directly above the retail space on Neshoba and Germantown Road.

IMG_6773.jpgThe “Loft” units included two bedrooms and laundry rooms. One had an office space off the entry. Both featured large closets and good storage space.

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It will be nice to see when these units are complete with all their finishes. We met a couple touring the facility that plans to move into the residence in March. They have a unit reserved on the 4th floor which should offer great views of the area.  They will have the convenience of this prime location. They are walking distance to GPAC (and the new Grove), GAC and all the great programming that goes on in Municipal Park.  This retired couple is looking forward to the convenience offered by the combination of uses and location of Thornwood.

WheIMG_6778.jpgn you are in the middle of this development you don’t feel like A major high way is on the other side of the buildings. This is an exciting addition to our community.  I hope we see some good programming that makes use of the green space in the middle of this area. While it is not huge (.34 acres), it is a great spot for some more intimate performances.

The added benefit to our community comes in the form of tax dollars. This commercial real estate is tax at a 40% assessment vs. the 25% assessment on residential. All totaled the estimated revenues from this 12 acres of land (or 0.002% of the total area of Germantown) are projected at $1.5m annually. For perspective, that’s enough to service the debt on our new school every year, buy a new fire truck or pave 3-4 miles of roads.

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Cordova Triangle – Politics versus Governance

Monday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting was another example of politics versus governance.

The area known as the Cordova Triangle has been a hot topic for nearly a year. This area is basically bordered by Germantown Road to the east and Cordova Road to the west. It is just west of Germantown Road from the corner of Neshoba where Thornwood is being built.

At Monday night’s meeting, the BMA voted on the third and final reading on an ordinance to rezone that land back to residential as it was prior to the adoption of Smart Code. It had been a part of the code that allowed the multi-use planning that allowed Thornwood retail, apartments, hotels and single-family homes.

The change passed with a 3-0 vote with Aldermen Mary Anne Gibson, Dean Massey and John Barzizza voting for it and Alderman Rocky Janda abstaining (Alderman Forest Owens was out of town for fall break).

Before the meeting, the BMA met in closed session with legal counsel who recommended keeping comments limited but specific to why each alderman voted for or against the zoning ordinance due to possible litigation following the vote. Everyone except Alderman Massey seemed to heed this advice, with Alderman Janda even pointing out his comments had been reviewed by legal counsel.

It was disappointing to see Alderman Massey take this as an opportunity to repeatedly call out what he perceived as flaws in the city’s processes and point fingers at “city officials.” He seemed more concerned with scoring political points rather than protecting the citizens of Germantown. He put his personal agenda ahead of residents around the triangle with language that could fuel a lawsuit.

The meeting was so volatile that it even caught the attention of The Daily Memphian’s suburban columnist, Clay Bailey.

Massey calls Smart Growth a Utopian Social Engineering Plot

He seemed more concerned with pointing out a topic he has touted since being elected. He stated he believes the Smart Growth plan for Germantown is a “utopian social engineering plot for the financial benefit of landowners.”

He appears to actually believe that your friends and neighbors, people you see at church, high school ball games and the grocery store are a part of a social engineering plot if they support smart growth principles.

That in and of itself is another blog post for another day. For now, we’ll stick to how his actions Monday night may have put Germantown at risk.

For example, Mayor Palazzolo mentioned Massey called the attorneys for the land owners of the Cordova Triangle who are upset with the zoning change. Making a phone call like that means he, as a representative of the city, is going beyond his authority to directly speak with the opposing party’s lawyer. In litigation, parties should never speak directly with opposing party’s lawyer.

In this move, along with his comments Monday night, Massey put all the citizens of Germantown at risk if a law suit is brought over this change in zoning for the property. Additionally, his speech was not germane to the zoning of the Triangle, despite his assertions otherwise. 

It is in this context that the mayor and his peers attempted to encourage Alderman Massey to stop reading his script. He did not have legal counsel review his comments and he even challenged the Mayor to have him removed from chambers when he didn’t follow the rules governing the meeting.

Massey asks the Mayor to have him removed from the dais.

This behavior is dangerous to our city and puts us all at financial risk. It appears he would have loved nothing more than to have video of him being removed from the chambers to use against the Mayor for a political victory.

As seen in the video below, during the second reading of this change in September, Alderman Massey acknowledges that the residents of Neshoba North asked him to keep his comments short in order to limit potential legal exposure.

Massey admits citizens asked him to limit his remarks.

He then goes on to talk about his duty to protect all citizens of Germantown. Is he doing that when he reads a ten-minute prepared speech on a topic that is the likely subject of legal action? A speech that hasn’t been vetted by legal counsel? Unfortunately, Alderman Massey is not legally liable for his actions, the city is. Who pays any potential fines or settlements that result from his statements? The tax payers do.

Additionally disappointing is that every alderman but John Barzizza asked Alderman Massey to stay on topic. While he did limit his remarks as legal counsel advised, he allowed Massey to continue his political remarks.

Taking the advice of legal counsel is governance. Ignoring that advice to push a political agenda is politics.

Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!

I was recently listening to an audio book and the author cited one of his favorite quotes as being from Davy Crockett. Crockett, the famous Tennessean who served in Congress and lost his life in the battle at the Alamo was known for saying “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead!” I have heard that before but it really stuck with me this time.

We are in a political environment that is full of contradicting information and some flat out lies. It is incumbent on us as voters to wade through all this information and try to discern what is truth. We at the Germantown Voice are working together to lay out some of the key items we see as hot button issues either called out by candidates themselves or championed on social media.

First and foremost, we recommend watching the Germantown Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum. At nearly two hours it is long but it is worth your time to be an informed voter. The program begins with the Alderman and then transitions to interviews with each of the Mayoral candidates. Be open minded and listen to both candidates.

Listening to Citizens – There is a narrative that says that certain candidates are not listening to citizens. Have you reached out to your officials directly?  You might find they are very responsive. Did you know that the long term plans you hear referenced (including Forward 2020 & 2030) are all citizen led? Those plans were not just a handful of people either: they included over 1,000 participants in task forces and public meetings. The commissions that approve initial concepts for projects are all citizen led. All these meetings are open to the public, many are available on YouTube though the Germantown Municipal Television page.

Development – In general, there is a perception that the city is “pushing” development. Let’s be clear – the city doesn’t solicit development. If you listen to this YouTube video taken from the public hearing on the rezoning of the Cordova Triangle, you can hear the property owner clearly state that developers are approaching them with projects. They continue to approach the land owners even with the moratorium in place. Development is happening because land owners and developers see value in Germantown.  Can you blame them? Look at the success of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Check out the lines at Rise and the new Apple store. So be careful when someone tells you the Mayor and Aldermen are pushing development. Be sure you understand where the demand comes from. The Commission, Mayor and Aldermen are all performing their roles as checks and balances to the system to be sure proposals meet zoning, codes and overall vision of the city. There is a lot to discuss about the value of being sure we grow the right way and we will add to that conversation.

Smart Growth – This concept is limited to very specific areas of the city. The intention is to maximize the property tax and sales tax generation for these targeted areas like the central business district (think Poplar and Germantown Rd) and the Western Gateway (think Poplar and Kirby). These areas are already commercial but, in many cases have 40+ year old retail space in need of updating. The intent is to make sure those updates help generate more tax revenue thus reducing the dependence on residential property tax. Did you know that the taxable property on the 9.7 acres of Travure will be valued well over $30m when done? You would have to develop nearly 100 homes on 1/4 acre lots valued at $500k to generate the same tax revenue. And my estimates of value are likely very low. The incomplete office building was assessed at $10m in FY18 and the hotel will be worth north of $15m when complete. There is a whole other parcel to be developed as well. That also doesn’t include any sales or hotel taxes generated there.

Apartments – We have all seen plenty on this topic. There are TV ads claiming that 1,200 apartments have been added to our “Fair City.” That is false any way you look at it. As of today, the only fully approved and under construction apartments are Thornwood with 276 units. Thornwood is the first new apartment complex in Germantown in nearly 20 years. You may see a map of developments around the city that cite other projects in the approval process but it is important to know the facts about each of these.

  • Watermark was voted down 4-1 by the BMA (284 Units). However, the developer is suing the city.
  • Viridian (310 units) is concept phase only and requires additional reviews with the planning commission and BMA approval. This project has not moved forward at all (despite what you may read in come social media groups) and will get tremendous scrutiny when it does.
  • Arthur Property (Saddle Creek 265 units) is approved in concept phase only.
  • Parc (371 Units) withdrawn by applicant, not under consideration.

Portables – The fact is that the new elementary school will address all of our capacity needs at the elementary level. Depending on transition plans with the new school, portables could be gone as early as next year. Any candidate that tells you they will do it faster should probably run for school board as they don’t have the authority to change zoning or enrollment plans that would be necessary to facilitate that change. The city has been working with the GMSD Board of Education to address this problem since day one. Twenty-five portables were removed at Riverdale and the remainder will be gone from Farmington and Dogwood within the year.

Taxes – Claims of 45% increases over the last 4 years are just wrong and frankly out of context. By their math your tax rates are actual down since 1990 when the rate was $2.16. Do you pay more taxes than you did in 1990?Of course you do, that is why context matters.

Read our series on Tax Rate Truth  (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)for full details about what the increase really is and the story around why your taxes have gone up. In the last 4 years, we have added a brand new school system, helped address deferred maintenance of the all schools ($26M reduced to $11M), added a police district, seen our fire department upgraded to ISO Class One and invested in our parks and greenways. We get tremendous value for our dollars as our rates are less than half that of Memphis and our services and amenities the best in the region.

“Hold the Line on Taxes” – The annual budget process includes a 5-year projection that helps anticipate the timing of potential tax rate increases. This year the City Administrator projected we should get at 5 more years out of our current rate meaning that whomever is mayor will likely not have to raise taxes in the next term. Listen to it here.

Growth of City Staff – Did you know that in 2000 the city had 400 full time employees? In FY19, we now have 406, including 40 additional first responders. This illustrates the gains in efficiency in running city operations while shifting resources to important areas like fire and police.

Streetscape – You may have seen plans float around for Streetscape work on Exeter. This like many other issues is intended to be a wedge issue that divides the community. This issue was so misrepresented that the city had to issue a statement to clarify the status of the streetscape project. Read the truth here, straight from the city of Germantown.  This project is not actively being worked and will require significant community input before anything is approved.

Carrefour – This property was built in 1973 and has had two major remodels over the years. The developer is seeking to rework this property in three phases. If you listen to the candidate forums it appears that nearly everyone agrees that that property needs to be remodeled, even John Barzizza doesn’t seem against the idea of apartments being included as part of this project. He clearly points out that this is different than a stand-alone complex off Winchester (Listen Here). By the way, there are no fully approved projects off Winchester despite his statement.

Cell Phone Coverage – This is another attempt to create a wedge issue. Did you know the laws regarding cell towers in Germantown have been changed already? Did you know the city does not own cell towers? The carriers and their partners own them. The City has approved a new tower on the Wolf River Greenline, another at Madonna Learning Center on Poplar, added cell boosters to the schools and increased the allowable height of towers, all to improve coverage in Germantown. Now the carriers need to make their investments, or would you like your tax dollars to subsidize their profits?

Blogs – Like the Germantown Voice, Shining a Light is an opinion blog. It presents some factual information that supports a point of view. Our blog does the same. We try to offer perspective to the community. We don’t all have time to watch BMA meetings or attend commissions, but wouldn’t it be great if we did? Read a diverse perspective but keep in mind that stories can pick and choose what they include. That is why we recommend listening to the Candidate Forum above. You can hear directly from the candidates, side by side answering the same questions.

Social Media Leadership – Is your expectation that elected officials monitor social media and seek out to engage in every post? That would literally be a full-time job. Yes, major issues on social media do get the attention of your officials but usually because someone contacts them directly to start the discussion. Leading via social media is one step away from mob rule as often times the loudest voices may not represent the majority.

Germantown Bulletin Board – Did you know that the group that administers this Board, which reaches 13,000 people, is made up of open supporters of John Barzizza’s “Team?” One admin is also campaign manager for two school board candidates (Brian Curry and Angela Griffith), and is campaign manager or has done campaign work for two alderman candidates (Scott Sanders and Jeff Brown) and Mayoral candidate John Barzizza? To our knowledge there is no political diversity among this group. That matters because they approve all the new posts and moderate discussion. Originally political discussion was not permitted on that forum, now it doesn’t take long for any topic to turn political. Just something to keep in mind when reading posts in that group.

We will close with this final and appropriate quote from Davy Crockett: “I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgment dictates to be right.”

Too Tough Talk?

John Barzizza likes to talk tough, but when is talking tough too much?

On August 26, an event was held in Enclave Estates billed as a “Development Update” with “Alderman John Barzizza from the city” giving an update on what is going on in the city. This was not billed as a campaign event. If you look at the invite, it appears to be from the homeowners association. My parents received this flyer on their front door.

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This invite appears to be sponsored by the homeowners association. The HOA (my father is the HOA president) sent an email to members explaining that not only wasn’t this sanctioned by them but an event such as this would jeopardize their nonprofit status.

Once the nonprofit status was cleared up, and the event appeared to be an official update from Mr. Barzizza in his role as an Alderman, my father invited me to attend with him and my mom as their guest and I agreed.

Why would I want to go you ask? Regular readers might guess I have made up my mind on who I want to vote for. Well, I feel it is important to understand both points of view to make an informed decision. That doesn’t happen from reading political handouts, but from also listening to people present their views with passion. At this event I also had a chance to have a positive discussion with one candidate and his campaign manager about shared concerns over rhetoric and threatening behavior that we have mutually witnessed.

The message at the event echoed much of what you see on social media about threats of school overcrowding and their concerns of massive numbers of apartments. We address this in our blog here. I even heard statements made about concerns over people that own rental homes who don’t live in our community.

However, the part that bothered me most was when I heard Alderman Barzizza introduce Scott Sanders. He started by saying that the retired U.S. Marshal “knows how to kick in doors.” Okay, I can understand tough talk to get a laugh. However, the disturbing part followed when Alderman Barzizza proudly stated that as a business owner he knew how to “kick employees” to get things done and continued to say that’s how they would “make a good team.”

Tough talk for sure and somewhat humorous on the surface, even drawing laughs from a few attendees. I am sure Scott Sanders is not campaigning to kick people’s doors in. However, I can’t just gloss over the reference about kicking employees. In a conversation my Dad had recently with another concerned citizen, it appears that Alderman Barzizza made similar comments at another meet and greet. When we heard that this was being said at other events and not just a one off slip we felt it was important to share these words.  This is not just a funny way to introduce someone.

There are many hard-working men and women employed by the city that need to be treated with a much higher level of respect beyond being “kicked” to get things done. Maybe that worked in his business, but our city is staffed with professionals who are doing an excellent job. Germantown has been great for a long time and it continues to be the place to live in Shelby County.  This was done by skilled employees with good leadership, not by prodding and kicking.

This tone matters.

My Mom, Dad and I all heard this and as we recall the quote like this: “I think he knows how to kick in a door and being a business man I know how to kick employees to get things done.”

Is that how you want your city employees treated? I know I don’t.

Tax Rate Truth – Part 4: Reserve Funds

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It is vital that we maintain the healthy reserves that keep our community fiscally secure. Alderman Massey refers to these as “profits” in his discussions on the topics; however, it is more accurate to think of them as savings accounts. In the next to last reading of the budget Alderman Massey (seconded by Alderman Barzizza) proposed a property tax cut (discussed in this blog). Their proposed cuts remove the funding that goes into our reserve balances and potentially require the draw down of those reserves.

Reserves are built over time with the knowledge that there are significant investments in infrastructure that are needed to maintain a city like Germantown. This is something the city has done very well over the last 20 years. Responsible fiscal management has lead to award winning budgeting processes and allowed our city to not just grow but thrive. This firm financial base is the foundation for our best in class city services like our Fire and Police. They don’t come cheap and require investment to maintain those levels long term, along with our schools and quality of life amenities like GPAC, Library and Parks.

Let’s look at a real world example. The city will likely need a new fire station in the not too distant future. This is something that is in the city plan and part of the strategy for building reserves. We as a community could pay for this one of two ways. We could build reserves and pay for most of it as the expense is incurred or we could borrow money to pay for it. At current rates and a 20 year bond term we would pay $6,476,702 for a $5,000,000 fire station as opposed to paying cash out of our savings.

But the implications of borrowing money go beyond the cost of borrowing money. This is where experienced financial leadership and municipal planning become extremely important. If you borrow money for the fire station you can’t borrow money for other improvements or even maintenance items in the city. Think about all the deferred maintenance that is being addressed for GMSD as they catch up on years of neglect. Like your household, the city has limited borrowing capacity so we need to be wise about what we choose to use the bond funding option for. It doesn’t stop there either. The more you borrow the more reserves you need to maintain your bond rating or the rates for borrowing go up. The other option is that you get a tax increase every time the city has to do a major project. Poor planning puts the city in a “paycheck to paycheck” mentality and increases the likelihood of more frequent tax increases.

The other thing of concern is that if we follow the policy proposed in the last budget meeting it is likely that we would lose our AAA bond rating. This just compounds the fiscal issues by raising the rates at which we borrow money. While this policy may reduce your tax rates in the short term it is very concerning in the long-term impact of raiding the piggy bank for a short-term win. It takes years of disciplined fiscal management to get in our enviable position. Unfortunately, one bad budget can undo all of that work.