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.
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.
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.
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.