Germantown Road Realignment?… DOA until 2023

Almost a year ago, Germantown Voice began blogging as a way to engage in political conversations. Our first blog was about the Germantown Road Realignment Project.

This topic continues to pop up, usually as a part of an argument that the “current administration” doesn’t listen to citizen input. Even as late as October last year, there were social media posts saying the Germantown Road realignment project wasn’t dead.

Officially, it is dead until at least 2023. Why 2023? This is where it gets a little complicated. Every 3-5 years the city submits a list of proposed projects to the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). The MPO is the organization that prioritizes Local State and Federal funding for road and transportation projects in the Memphis Metro area. See the map below for the area covered by the MPO.

The list submitted this year is for projects between October 2019 and September 2023. The prior list was submitted to the MPO in 2013 and that was the list that included the Germantown Road Realignment project and McVay Road Realignment, both of which were not pursued due to community feedback. This year is the first opportunity for the city to submit their new list of priorities for funding of major road projects. Noticeably absent from the list is the Germantown Road Realignment. This is even after claims that last year’s resolution to kill the project were potentially just election year placations.

The time frame for MPO requests is long range due to the long range nature of projects. In many cases, it can take years for design, review, Right of Way acquisition and construction. These projects are important to the city as the majority of them are funded primarily or even wholly with State and Federal funds. In other words, these projects don’t impact your property tax rate.

Road projects are paid for a couple of different ways. First, is the paving of residential streets. The city pays for that as part of the Public Works budgets, roughly $2,000,000 a year. Next, is the work on major roads. These projects are funded with combinations of Local, State and Federal funds. This is where the MPO comes in to play.

When I saw the list of projects I had several questions about the priority of the funding and the MPO process. I sat down with City Engineer Tim Gwaltney last week to discuss the list and how the MPO works.

The MPO funds come from 3 to 5 main buckets. Traditionally, it has funded projects under three main categories, Bridges, Paving and Signalization. Germantown usually sees at least one of each of these types of projects funded. For example, even though the new traffic light at Houston High School is number six on the list it is the highest prioritized signalization project on the City’s list so it is likely to be funded. There are two new categories this year with funding for Safety Improvements and Plans & Studies. The prioritized list is below:

  1. Wolf River Blvd Mill/Overlay from Riverdale to Western City Limits $2.0M (80% Federal)
  2. Forest Hill-Irene Safety Improvements Poplar to Wolf River Blvd $5.0M (80% Federal)
  3. Poplar Culvert Replacements – Phase 5 $550K (100% Federal)
  4. Update City Major Roads Plan $200K (80% Federal)
  5. Intersection Safety Audits $200K (80% Federal)
  6. Signalization Wolf River Blvd @ Houston High $500K (100% Federal)
  7. Signal Upgrades $2.5M (100% Federal)
  8. Neshoba Road Mill/Overlay from Germantown Rd to Exeter $1.5M (80% Federal)
  9. McVay Road Bridge Replacement (just north of McVay and Messick) $600K (80% Federal)

The city will not get official word on which projects are approved by the MPO until near the end of the budgeting process for the city. We will keep an eye on the process and let you know what gets approved from the MPO as soon as we find out. You can find out more detail about each of these projects by following the link below.

https://gtown.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=c75ea4248dc44953b9dcc2287f85670a

For even more information on the City of Germantown’s Transportation Improvement Program funding requests for 2020 to 2023, please attend the public meeting  January 9 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Economic and Community Development Building, 1920 South Germantown Road. Learn more here.

GMSD Board Update – December 18, 2018

The GMSD met on Tuesday December 18, 2018 with key items on the agenda being the swearing in of board members, transfer policy and election of a board Chair.

Rebecca Luter was elected Board Chairperson, Amy Eoff was elected Board Vice Chairperson and Angela Griffith was elected the Tennessee Legislative Network Representative. Here is a summary of how they voted.

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The meeting was a marathon, lasting nearly three hours. The majority of time was spent presenting an update on the Bullying Task Force and efforts the District has made to address the concerns of stakeholders. More on bullying below.

Two citizens addressed the Board during Citizens to Be Heard. One discussed concerns about the transfer policy and the other discussed the need for leadership in selecting the role of Board Chair. (Start CTBH – 2:15:10)

The board approved the purchase of HVAC equipment to support the replacement of the Riverdale Boiler. An additional quote will need approval for installation of the equipment.

The Board approved the Legislative agenda. The Board was deliberate to leave some flexibility in that agenda as laws proposed by the legislature my result in shifting priorities.

The Intra District transfer policy was discussed and approved on second reading. There was discussion around the impact on students with special needs. There were concerns specifically with capacity at Farmington. Jason Manuel presented a summary of potential impacts.  (Transfer Discussion 2:26:00 Approximately 25 minutes)

The election of Board Chair, Vice Chair and Legislative Network Representative.  

Bullying Continued…

The bullying update was presented at both the executive session and during the board meeting. Both presentations ran about 50 minutes however there were some interesting insight provided by Mr. Dan Haddow in the board meeting as he was returning from Nashville and only made it in for the last few minute of the Executive Session. Links to both are provided below. One take away was that there is a focus on whole child. If you have concerns about bullying, I highly encourage you to watch these presentations to see what efforts are being made by GMSD. Abigail Warren provides a good summary of efforts over at the Daily Memphis.  Germantown Board of Education expands anti bullying efforts to include mental health

Board Meeting Bullying Presentation: (Starts 1:24:34)

Executive Session Bullying Presentation: (Starts 10:51)

Personal Note:  Angela Griffith approached me after the meeting to discuss an error in one of my pre-election blogs. I incorrectly stated that she and Brian Curry shared the same campaign manager. I have corrected that blog and noted the correction on the bottom of that page as well. I strive to be factual and this was an honest mistake. I appreciate this respectful conversation. This is the type of conversation that moves our community forward from a contentious election cycle. Thank you Mrs. Griffith.

Better Cell Coverage Coming to Dogwood?

Tuesday ,December 11, 2018 the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) met to discuss three items. The first item, and probably most interesting to many of us that live in the area, was an appeal to allow a cell phone tower on GMSD property (the Dogwood Elementary campus). Below is the detailed description of the proposal from the agenda packet posted on the city’s web page.

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The BZA approved this request and the next step will be for this project to go before the Planning Commission for site plans. Below you can see all the steps that this project will have to clear prior to going to the BMA for final approval.

This is just one example of Germantown’s extensive review process and multiple opportunities for feedback for projects like this.

If you support or have concerns about this project be sure to engage your aldermen and attend one of these meetings. There was only one resident who spoke up tonight. Comments in the meeting indicated that there were three letters for and three letters against this project. After the Planning Commission, the Design Review Commission will review the proposal before forwarding it to the BMA.

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The documents supporting this meeting can be found by clicking here.

The two other items reviewed by the BZA were a project at Houston High School and a resident seeking an appeal for an additional driveway on a corner lot. All three items were approved by the Board.

You can watch the entire meeting below.

BMA in Brief – November 26, 2018

To help you stay informed we will do our best to provide high level summaries for the bi-monthly Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meetings. These summaries will be fact based with a focus on key items covered in the meetings and summaries of the votes taken. Where needed we will cover important discussions individually.

In the Executive Meeting prior to the BMA, the agenda was amended moving items b.-g. of the consent agenda to the regular agenda. For those unfamiliar with the consent agenda, it is a mechanism for approving routine business that doesn’t necessarily need to be addressed individually by the whole board. Items b.-g. of the consent became items 17-22 of the regular agenda.

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Below our summary is a link to the entire BMA for your review with approximate start times for each item.

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  1. Citizens to be Heard – None
  2. Beer Board (begins at approximately 12:49)

Beer permit for Stacks Pancakes passed 5-0

  1. Public Hearing – Resolution 18R23 – Carrefour at the Gateway Planned Development Outline Plan

Begins at 17:30 of the YouTube video.

No Citizens came forward to speak on this item. Presentations were made by Cameron Ross and Nelson Cannon of Cannon, Austin and Cannon. Cannon, Austin and Cannon is a 30 year old Germantown based development company overseeing the Carrefour redevelopment project. They presented the “Outline Plan” for the project. The project will consist of three phases which will each be approved prior to construction. Discussion was nearly an hour on the this topic.

  • Outline Plan Approved October 2, 1018 at the Planning Commission
  • 400,000 square feet of Office Space
  • 100,000 square feet of Retail
  • 240 hotel rooms
  • 1,400 parking spots (including a garage)
  • Green space in the center

This project has been in the works since 2012. The developer said plans may change based on the regulatory environment at the time the final plans for each phase are presented. They would not speculate on changes due to the moratorium expiring, as they didn’t know what the results would be. Phase one is centered on office and retail space.

Vote was 3-1-1 with Aldermen Gibson, Owens and Janda voting Yes, Alderman Massey voting No and Alderman Barzizza Abstaining.

  1. Approval of Warrant – Carrefour at the Gateway Planned Development – Civic Space (begins approximately 1:28:30)

The proposed green space in the center of this project requires a warrant to make sure that everyone understands their responsibility for maintenance and programming for this space. This private land is not the responsibility of the City.

Vote was 4-0-1 with Aldermen Gibson, Massey, Owens and Janda voting Yes and Alderman Barzizza Abstaining.

  1. Contract – Chlorine Tank Replacement Southern Avenue WTP (beings 1:35:46)

$353,075 replacement of failed water treatment equipment. Vote was 5-0

  1. Contract Extension – Third Party Administrator Services (begins 1:39:24)

$166,656 for the 3rd party administration of the insurance for the city. The city is self insured meaning they cover all of the costs of healthcare for their covered individuals.  The City covers roughly 1,000 employees, retirees and their dependents. This agreement covers the administration of these benefits and provides access to the Cigna network of coverage. The discussion included interesting information on demographics of city employees. Presentation starts around 1:39:30 of the YouTube video. Vote was 5-0.

  1. Renewal – Medical and RX Stop Loss (begins 1:43:28)

$655,317 for the city’s stop loss insurance. This insurance is caps the city’s liability related to being self-insured for health, prescription and dental programs. The presentation calls out the bidding process used for this has saved $500-600k per year since 2012.  Vote was 5-0.

  1. Renewal – Property and Casualty Insurance (begins 1:59:10)

No discussion. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was b.) Change Order No. 1 – City Signs (begins 2:07:10)

Discussion around soil conditions driving the change orders in items 17-19. Increase of $1,126 or 0.8% of the original total. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was c.) Change Order No. 1 – GPAC Grove Fire Truck Turnaround and Closeout (begins 2:13:59)

Increase of $11,794 or 17% of the original total. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was d.) Change Order No. 1 – Greenway Storage – Cameron Brown Park (begins 2:16:58)

Increase of $6,244 or 1.3% of the original total. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was e.) Change Orders – City Hall Elevator Replacement (begins 2:18:30)

Increase of $9,735 or 3.4% of the original total. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was f.) Competitive Sealed Proposal Authorization – Investment Services (begins 2:20:10)

City is seeking bids for potential financial firms to manage a portion of reserve funds. Process is exploratory and agreements will require approval. Process is a sealed bid. Vote was 5-0.

  1. (was g.) Contract – Develop Rebranding and Implementation Plan for Germantown Athletic Club (begins 2:25:05)

Germantown Athletic Club will use a vendor, local marketing firm, Red Deluxe, to look at rebranding logos and café space in the building. The goal is to market the club to the community and continue the growth of this amenity. Vote was 5-0.

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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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 a school board candidate (Brian Curry), 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.”

 

Correction 12/18/18: A previous version of this article stated that Brian Curry and Angela Griffith employed the same campaign manager.  This evening Mrs. Griffith informed me that she did not use the same campaign manager referred to above.  Apologies to Mrs. Griffith for the misunderstanding.  The mistake stems from the fact that her financial disclosures indicate she purchased her campaign sings through Mr. Curry’s campaign manager.

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.