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.

 

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.

The Truth Behind Overcrowding at GMSD Schools

Getting our own municipal schools in Germantown wasn’t easy. Voters in each of the suburban towns and cities approved referendums on forming municipal school districts in August 2012. But the results were voided months later in a decision by U.S. District Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays and the Tennessee state legislature responded in 2013 by passing a new law that lifted the statewide ban on the creation of such school districts. With the new law, aldermen in each of the six towns set a new election date for the same ballot questions.

After these legal battles and two votes of the citizens, the Germantown Municipal School District (GMSD) opened its doors in 2014. Since then, the district has grown, and the city has benefited from these excellent schools. Overall, the district has grown 638 (15%) resident students in its first four years according to the District’s 2017 Facilities Plan.

Achievements

During those four years, the District has achieved quite a lot.

  • Houston High School has the highest public high school district ACT average in the state for the third consecutive year
  • GMSD was named a District of Distinction in 2017 for work on Exceptional Student Education Transitional Experience
  • Houston Middle School counselors were recognized with the RAMP recognition from ASCA this year (the only middle school in Tennessee to meet qualifications for the counseling program award)
  • Memphis Business Journal recognized Houston High as both the Most Challenging High School and the #1 Best Public High School
  • Each year, Houston High sets new records for students in the HHS 30+ ACT club

Because of these accolades, GMSD has become a school district of choice for many young families as evidenced by how quickly sold signs replace for sale signs in Germantown. Since 2013, the average number of days on the market for Germantown homes has decreased 65% from 113 to just 40, according to statistics from the City of Germantown.

Capacity

As a result, many are concerned about overcrowding at our schools and wonder what the GMSD administration is doing about it. You may even see or hear some candidates campaigning on this topic.

In the Spring of 2017, the district hired a professional demographer to project enrollment for the district over the next ten years. If you want to read the entire study, it can be found here.

Total district enrollment is forecasted to increase by 286 students, or 4.9%, between 2016-17 and 2021-22. Total enrollment is forecasted to decline by 108 students, or -1.8%, from 2021-22 to 2026-27.

But what does this mean for our current schools’ capacity? Many are concerned that the schools are overcrowded, and students are suffering as a result. Let’s take a look at capacity.

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 8.20.32 PM.png

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 8.21.01 PM.pngMaximum capacity is defined as the number of students that can be accommodated within a classroom. The utilization rate determines how efficiently the student population and programs operate within the available classroom space. Utilization rates are at or above 90 percent at each school. The district strives for enrollment at each school to be below the maximum capacity allowed by state standards and as such has defined optimal capacity as 2 students per teacher below the state maximums.

To achieve an optimal capacity, the district committed to various options to balance enrollment among the elementary and middle schools. Utilization rates currently above the desired thresholds and are being addressed temporarily through the use of modular classrooms at Dogwood and Farmington. This is a legacy solution inherited from Shelby County Schools. Removing portables has been a high priority item for GMSD as evidenced by the investments at Riverdale which facilitated the removal of portables there.

However, as seen in the maps above, the opening of the new Forest Hill Elementary School in 2019 will provide relief to Dogwood, Farmington, and Riverdale Elementary. Rezoning students at Dogwood, Farmington, and Riverdale will relieve capacity issues at these schools, allow the removal of modular classrooms that have been added to Dogwood and Farmington, and allow the district to explore staffing at a more optimal capacity for teacher to student ratio.

GMSD is watching closely the growth at the middle school level as well. With support from the City, they are preparing to fund a $5 million expansion at Houston Middle School as soon as fiscal year 2020. The absolute need will be determined once GMSD has carefully reviewed growth projections, the results of revising the school transfer policy and the effects of zoning changes planned for the 2019-2020 school year.

Support from the City of Germantown

In fiscal year 2019, the City of Germantown’s general fund budget allocates $6.9 million to directly support GMSD. This includes $2.5 million in maintenance of effort funding required by the state.

What is maintenance of effort? If you remember our previous post The Truth About School Funding and Sales Taxes, we explain the term “Maintenance of Effort” (“MOE”) generally refers to a requirement placed upon many federally funded grant programs that the State Education Agency (SEA) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) or school districts, demonstrate that the level of State and local funding remains constant from year to year.(1)

Our public schools are mostly funded by revenue generated primarily from state sales tax and county property tax. Each county in Tennessee is required to operate and contribute funding for a public system of education. In order for a municipality to operate its own separate and independent district, the municipality must provide SUPPLEMENTAL funding. It is up to the municipal governing body to determine the amount and source of supplemental funding. We should all thank the administrators who crafted the wording of the resolution because they understood this and thus worded the referendum accordingly.

This is why the fiscal policy of tying school funding to a variable revenue source is dangerous. When sales tax revenues drop the only other source to pay that obligation is your property taxes. In a recession, not only would you have the negative impact of a down economy, the city would be in a position to be forced to raise your property taxes to meet the MOE requirements.

Additionally, the City of Germantown provides an additional $4.4 million to cover costs related to student safety and continuing the improvement of our school facilities.

More specifically:

  • $1 million for replacement of the failing boiler system at Riverdale School with an additional $1.5 million included in the fiscal year 2020 budget to complete the work
  • $1.36 million in debt service payments for the new elementary school currently under construction
  • $560,000 for school resource officers and crossing guards at each school
  • $500,000 for safety and security improvements at each school
  • $440,000 in debt service payments for the Riverdale addition
  • $355,000 court-mandated annual payment to Shelby County Schools
  • $200,000 each year for the next five years to help fund Houston Arts and Athletics Foundation field house construction and auditorium renovation projects at Houston High School.

As we head toward the November election, remember that your city government and the GMSD School Board actually has been planning for overcrowding in our schools and for any scenario growth in our city may throw at us.

Reference

(1)   Maintenance of Effort: The Basics 

 

 

 

Germantown Voice

You may notice that we changed our name.

The roots of this blog are based on our desire to address issues with persons, including elected officials, who have blocked and excluded many of our Germantown residents from Facebook conversations. Thus the name Blocked In Germantown.

However, as we enter the election season, this blog provides a forum to give a voice to Germantown citizens who have been silenced in Facebook discussions about our City.

Germantown Voice reflects the need for alternative sources of information about the important issues facing our city.

Our Purpose

 

Just to be clear, this blog was created to give a voice to those silenced by the actions of Alderman Dean Massey when he blocked a large number of citizens from the ability to converse with him on community pages like the Germantown Bulletin Board. It appears Alderman Massey has been removed from that page for rules violations.

While that is unfortunate, in a recent post on Massey for Germantown regarding his removal, he states that this blog is an attempt to smear him. A review of our posts should be clear that we have only answered statements by Alderman Massey with facts, never have we smeared him.

Alderman Massey also repeats that anyone who responds to his statements with facts are puppets of the Germantown Administration. He accuses us of trying to control the narrative. Unfortunately, Alderman Massey is unable to see that by blocking us, HE is controlling the narrative.

In no way do we intend to smear him or any of his supporters. Our only purpose is to provide a forum to freely answer his statements.

As I have stated publicly before, I have no interest in Alderman Massey’s personal family pictures on his personal page. My problem with being blocked is only with being shut out of the conversation he holds with his constituents. Additionally, by blocking all dissent, he gives the appearance that no one disagrees with his positions which is misleading.

Perhaps he now understands just a bit how all of us feel, being removed from the community conversation, at least in that one social media venue.

 

Political Tactics to Watch in 2018

Brian Ueleke also contributed to this article.

What can you expect to see between now and the local elections in November? Well, it is not likely to be fun as strategies will be used to intentionally divide our community. Some of these strategies are already actively unfolding. 

Focus will be placed on “wedge issues” intended to draw lines between voters. Examples of this include instilling fear over an abundance of apartments being built, fear of too much commercial growth and a focus on empty storefronts (although the occupancy rate in retail commercial real estate in Germantown is 94% with office CRE even better at 97.9% and commercial development offsets the tax burden on homeowners for schools, fire and police) and the repeated assertion that the city leaders are promoting development for their own benefit. 

Read these posts on social media and understand both sides. The truth is always somewhere in the middle. The intent of this blog post is to help understand what will likely happen and identify these tactics so you can judge for yourself what is the truth.

Remember, a lot of effort has been put into building the perception that certain city leaders do not listen to residents and cannot be trusted. This began back in 2016 during the last election cycle. While there is always an opportunity to communicate better; by and large, the processes that are in place in the City of Germantown ensure that multiple phases of review and open forums are available to discuss any change. The challenge is that most people don’t have time to attend all these meetings so many look to Facebook for answers.

Watch for these tactics:

  • Social Media: This is going to be one of the main battle fronts of this election. Expect to see open campaigning with supporters of all candidates boosting their candidate’s positions. 
  • Remember When?: Even simple posts reminiscing about the “good ‘ole days” may not be as innocent as they seem. This is a tactic which can be referred to as “Member Berries” (a staple of the program “South Park”). These posts are intended to make you think about the “good ‘ole days” and simpler times, making the challenges of today seem that much more overwhelming. 

    A staple of the program “South Park” during the 2016 election.
  • Blog posts: (and yes, I get the irony that this is a blog post) You will see subtle things like blog posts to establish credibility and expertise for candidates.
  • Blocking: (Yes, this again.) Just know this strategy is being used to create one sided conversations about issues. When elected officials engage in this practice on the scale that certain people have, it violates freedom of speech and stifles open exchange of political ideas in our community. When you read posts on pages like the Germantown Bulletin Board or Alderman Massey’s Germantown page, remember, Alderman Massey has blocked a large number of active citizens from the ability to comment on his posts. This gives the impression that everyone agrees with his statements.
  • Political Strategists: There is nothing inherently wrong with a candidate using a strategist and you will see them from all candidates. However, we already know mayoral candidate John Barzizza has taken on the services of Michael Lipe from New Blue Strategies. Mr. Lipe set up John Barzizza’s Rally.com fundraiser page. He is an experienced strategist who helped lead Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Tennessee (according to his LinkedIn page) – a campaign that leveraged social media to nearly unseat Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party’s Nominee. No doubt you will continue to see this type of influence in our social media conversations. 
  • Political Action Committees: We first saw this tool pop up in the 2016 local elections when Alderman Rocky Janda was up for re-election. The Germantown Sunshine PAC, funded in part by John Barzizza and his treasurer, Jon Thompson, established a false narrative of corruption involving your city’s leaders with the “Is My City Corrupt?” campaign that has divided this community ever since. Accusations were made when pictures of checks from the city to Alderman Janda’s business were posted on the “Is My City Corrupt” Facebook page. (Remember that?) But no complaints were ever filed or wrongdoing established related to Alderman Janda’s business transactions with the city. And as soon as elections were over, the Facebook page quietly disappeared. Who knows what is in store this year? But expect to see more innuendo that your elected officials are benefitting monetarily in some way by their service. Demand proof of these allegations. 
  • Remember these Sponsored Ads all over your Facebook feed last election cycle?
  • Citizens to be Heard: The mayor clearly states at the beginning of every meeting that the forum is a place to gain input from the public and not a forum for dialogue. So, you will rarely see any response from any city official during this segment of the meeting. That said, you can give the most eloquent speech, have it broadcasted to the community then conveniently saved to YouTube for future soundbites. There is no fact checking of statements, no corrections to inaccuracies so be sure you understand what is being said and don’t take if for truth just because it is presented in this forum. And be aware that something designed to give our citizens a voice in policymaking can be hijacked for political propaganda. When someone has a complaint, see if they explain how they are directly and personally impacted. If they are complaining about something that does not impact them, ask yourself why?

It never ceases to surprise us that the election season brings out the worst in some people. A reader recently commented on our LG blog that “being controversial and stirring up discontent is how some people make themselves feel relevant. It doesn’t matter to them if they are right or wrong (because in their heads they are always right), just as long as they get attention.” There will be those running for office who present themselves as a champion for the underdog even when they don’t really care about the underdog. They care “about creating a stink in which [they] look like a champion for those who feel disenfranchised (those who worry about their tax money being spent in ways they consider foolish.)” As we approach upcoming elections, you can count on our blog to follow the advice of our reader by continuing to challenge the political rhetoric and rebutting the wrongful allegations.