Has the Public Safety Education Commission Gone to the Dogs?

This is a story about how the Germantown Public Safety Education Commission went from McGruff, the Crime Dog to Dean, the Watch Dog and almost became John & Jon, the Twin Attack Dogs….

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THE BACK STORY…

Several months ago, longtime Germantown resident, Al Gabriel came forward with some startling complaints about Alderman Massey, the BOA liaison for the Public Safety Education Commission. As a result, Gabriel, who served as Chair, sent a private request to the mayor and City administrator asking that Alderman Massey be removed.

The Commission is a group of 12 Germantown citizens who serve in an advisory capacity regarding public safety and health issues that affect our City. They provide educational and informational activities including the annual “Take Back Day” for prescriptions drugs, giving residents a safe way to dispose of unused pharmaceuticals.

Gabriel, who has worked with a number of different Aldermen Liaisons over the past several years on the Commission, complained that Massey was using his position to spread political rhetoric and furthering an agenda that involved discrediting the Germantown Police Department as well as City officials. Specifically, Gabriel alleged that Massey insinuated that the police department was not accurately reporting crime statistics and that City officials were manipulating public information for their own benefit. Gabriel went on to say that Massey was demanding details about ongoing criminal investigations, claiming that the Commission ought to be overseeing how the police investigated crime.

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So, when Gabriel reported Massey’s conduct, he also requested that Massey be removed as the BOA liaison for the Commission. Massey responded by publicly posting a copy of Gabriel’s email onto his “Massey for Germantown” Facebook page (pictured above) along with this commentary:

The friction between Massey and the Commission continued to build until a month later, when Massey once again took to his Facebook Page to complain about the Commission. This time, he publicly accused its secretary, Denise Walls, of destroying official records. Walls, who recorded Commission meetings to assist her in writing the Minutes, deleted the recording from her personal device after she finished preparing the Minutes. Massey claimed this was done intentionally to hide the Commission’s activities from the public.  “Without a voice recording, it makes it impossible for the public to know what actually occurred during the meetings. The mayor’s supporters can say whatever they choose to say, manipulate the record and smear any elected officials they choose to smear.”

The problem with Massey’s contention is that commission meetings are open to everyone. Nothing is done in secret, it’s all open to the public. And anyone can record it. Anyone. You can. I can. Massey can. We all can. Alderman Massey and his supporters know that they can attend and record Commission meetings. They know it and they do it.

But the crux of the problem is that Alderman Massey has no control over what goes into the Minutes. He is not an actual member of the Commission so, he has no say in the Minutes, no vote on any of the business of the Commission. His role is to observe the meetings and report back to the BOA on the work of the Commission. And that’s it.

And that was made clear in Al Gabriel’s resignation letter. “The past few meetings have been nothing more than a series of arguments leading to, what I consider to be, a dysfunctional commission. Mr. Massey is not a voting member of the commission, yet he has continued to argue his way through our meetings.”

Discontent with his limited role on the Commission, Alderman Massey butted heads with the Chair and in a predictable manner, brought politics into the situation, calling the Chair, a “mayor’s supporter.” He calls everyone he doesn’t like a “mayor’s supporter” whether they support the mayor or not. Then, as usual, he launches into a tirade of accusals. So many people, from the police department to city officials to commission member, are all accused of some nefarious wrongdoing by Massey.

And the accusations are unending….

Just recently, Alderman Massey took to Facebook to accuse somebody of throwing a black substance onto the rear bumper of his car. Looking at the picture he posted, it seems like he might have just driven through some fresh tar, probably the result of recent street paving on Poplar. But oh no, he insists that someone did this to him, someone splattered his car and his driveway with a black substance.

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Who would do such a dastardly deed?

Why, of course, it has to be the “mayor’s supporters.” Actually, he says, “I can’t prove that this was a malicious act, but since the mayor’s supporters have recently engaged in so many other intimidation tactics, I wouldn’t put it past them. They will only get more aggressive and unstable as we get closer to the election. It’s very sad. Some of the mayor’s operatives are driving around and harassing people….”

There’s more and you can read his post in its entirety below.

Massey’s pointing of an accusatory finger towards “mayor’s supporters” lead one lady to comment, “I dare them to come to my house and try to intimidate me and my family.”

And just like that….

Everyone with an “I like Mike” magnet on their car is a black substance slinging, yard sign stealing, blankety blank…. Public Enemy Number One.

THE CURRENT MESS…

After the resignation of both the chair and the secretary, the Public Safety Education Commission was faced with two vacancies and a pending motion to remove Alderman Massey as the BOA Liaison.

At last Monday’s BOA meeting, Massey recommended John Peyton and Jon Riley to fill the two openings. Interestingly, these two candidates had not submitted applications back when the City initially sought citizens to serve on the Commission. Instead, they applied for the positions after the current vacancies arose and Alderman Massey “picked” them.

So, why did Massey pick Peyton and Riley?

Well, I can say from writing past blogs critical of Massey that these two are extremely defensive of him and will attack anyone who says anything negative about him. I never had a problem with either one of them except when it came to Alderman Massey. They have assumed the role of being Massey’s attack dogs who protect him from any form of criticism. And, their attacks are personal, ugly, untrue, and posted on various social media platforms.

So… Someone dropped the dime on them.

Comments made by these two applicants on social media were apparently copied and sent to the Mayor and Board of Alderman in what seems to have been an anonymous manner. I don’t know. The mayor and BOA may know the identity of who sent the screen shots and are choosing not to disclose the name. Or maybe, it was done anonymously. I really don’t know.

But I do know that some are speculating over whether it was me who told on them. It wasn’t. I did not send anything to the Mayor and Board of Alderman. And neither did anyone in my family, nor did I direct anyone to send anything to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. I have no problems confronting people directly and demanding an apology for comments made about me. As far as I am concerned, I received an apology, which I accepted, and bygones are bygones.

The Board of Alderman, however, has a greater responsibility. It is their job to see to it that the each of the City’s commissions operates with integrity. When the chair of the Public Safety Education Commission requested a change in liaisons, that matter went before the Commission for a vote. The Commission decided it needed a cooling period and tabled that heated decision until the end of the year.

When deciding who will fill the vacancies on the Commission, it is imperative that BOA does more than rubber stamp Massey’s picks. They must consider the current climate of the Commission and wisely choose candidates who will protect the integrity of the Commission and its work.

In the decision not to approve the applications of John Peyton and Jon Riley, Forrest Owens was the most out-spoken of those Aldermen voting against the appointments. He first asked Alderman Massey if he would like more time to consider his recommendations in light of the information that had been provided to the Board. He also asked if Alderman Massey might like to have any other applicants considered for those openings. Massey refused.

Owens, omitting a detailed description, then described comments made on social media as “derogatory.” He questioned whether such behavior by the candidates would be conducive to them serving on a Commission. He expressed concerns over a commission already in disarray being subjected to further controversies.

Barzizza, who voted in favor of both applicants, dismissed the derogatory remarks, saying, “it goes both ways.” “Both sides made disparaging remarks.”

“Sides,” huh?

Alderman Barzizza went on to say that a political race was underway and everyone needed to settle down and be kind. He mentioned yard signs appearing and disappearing. And he persistently kept calling for people to settle down. Settle down. Settle down.

Click here to see the full video of 8-13-18 BOA Meeting

The Aftermath…

Well, Alderman Barzizza, you should know that you can’t divide a city into sides and expect people to settle down, settle down just because you say so. We can already see the sides lining up after the BOA rejected the applications of Peyton and Riley.

A witch hunt has ensued….

Divorce papers are being posted. Emails are being copied. A search is on for every social media comment ever made. Your “side” is so angry about the rejection of the two appointments that they are on a mission for retaliation. And that’s the very reason that Peyton and Riley’s applications were denied.

The decision to deny their applications was not about someone saying a bad word on social media or even being rude. It was about retaliation. Your fellow aldermen had to do what you lacked the political courage to do. They had to protect the citizens who serve on Public Safety Education Commission and that Commission’s integrity from the fringe element in this City that will ruthlessly attack anyone and everyone who dares to question or criticize Dean Massey.

Tax Cuts?

  • Germantown is committed to long term financial stability with five year financial plans not one year budgets.
  • This planning method provides stability in the tax rate for those on fixed incomes, demonstrates ability to service debt to financial markets and allows flexibility in changing economic conditions.
  • At the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11 without collaboration with city staff and no fiscal analysis to support his position. (motion failed 2-3, Massey & Barzizza voting yes)
  • Estimated impact of this cut is $1.8-$1.9 million to the city budget, and there was no recommendation on how to meet those cuts.
  • Disregarding a long-term plan would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. Essentially forcing the city to live “paycheck to paycheck.”

Municipal finances are complicated. As I discussed in the piece on school funding, the city is funded by multiple sources. The majority of that funding comes from property tax. In 2017, the Germantown tax rate was $1.97. Now how your bill is calculated is a little more complicated. The county assesses the value of your property and then you pay tax on 25% of that value. So, a $250k house at 25% is $62,500 of assessed value. You then divide that by 100 (the rate is per $100 of value) and multiply by $1.97 for a tax bill of $1,231. For a comparison, commercial properties pay 40% of the value of their property.

Near the end of the June 11, 2018 BMA meeting, Alderman Massey began questioning the City Administrator and Chairman of the FAC about how they came up with the tax rate. This meeting was the second reading of the budget, certainly a proper time to ask questions but probably not the best time to make fundamental changes to the budget that will be in place on July 1 or just 20 days from the meeting. The budget process has been ongoing for months. He has been at some of these meetings. He knows the work the City and FAC are doing to pull a budget together and it appears to have never approached the FAC or city staff with his proposal. What proposal? Alderman Massey made a motion to reduce the property tax rate by $0.11.

Link to YouTube Video of Massey’s remarks

Rightfully, he was questioned about his support for this cut. This is a 5.6% cut to the city’s primary source of funding. Do you have a budget in your household? I hope so. In essence, what Alderman Massey is proposing is to make the city live pay check to pay check. That would likely require annual tax increases and also reduce the stability of our finances. The city budgets for stability. The city administrator clearly states “we don’t do one year budgets we do a five year plan.” Admittedly, I don’t know all of their process but from the City Administrator’s presentation they clearly budget five year capital plans and do high level expense projections to at least that term. The debt projections presented went out to 2048. I can tell you that in corporate finance we look out 5-10 years and sometimes longer.

The city’s commitment to long term financial stability helps on many fronts. The idea is that our tax rates are stable for 5-6 years at a time and some times longer. That stability allowed the city to make it through the great recession without a tax increase. This happens by being able to build up reserves and then draw down on them as time goes on. It works much like your escrow account for taxes and insurance on a house.

The stability this method offers allows people on fixed incomes to budget accordingly and shows the financial markets we are a responsible community and have the ability to service our debts. These funding levels help to dictate the rates we are charged when we borrow money. It also gives the city flexibility to adjust to changing economic conditions as they did in 2008. These are all the reasons Germantown wins awards for their budget processes.

So what support and analysis did Alderman Massey bring for his proposed cut? None, merely a statement that “the ratios, I think, bear out that this will not change our ability to maintain the funding.” Budgets are not built on ratios, they are the product of observations and trends. As I said before, this process has been going on for months. A team of financial professionals from both the City and Financial Advisory Commission (FAC) have worked and reviewed the budget to get to this point. It clearly appears he has not asked anyone on staff to look at this and he has no analysis to support his claims. Alderman Massey has asked for transparency in government and transparency would be evaluating this proposed reduction thoroughly prior to voting on it. I am very concerned that there was no supporting documentation for this proposed cut and two Aldermen (Massey & Barzizza) voted for this not knowing the potential impact.

This is the City of Germantown’s budget ladies and gentlemen. The budget as presented projects property taxes of $32.8 million of property tax revenue. That implies that at the proposed rate of $1.95 (after a $0.02 reduction from 2017 for assessor adjustments) each penny of the tax rate generates $168,000 of revenue for the city. The proposed tax cut would result in a reduction of approximately $1,850,256. The city is required to have a balanced budget. I would like to see where the proposed cuts would come from to meet this type of reduction. Do they come from our ISO Class 1 Fire Department, award winning police department or any of the other great services offered by our city?

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Civics 101: GMSD, “City Hall” and non-profits.

I saw the following post recently, and wanted to respond with more questions:IMG_8270

My questions:

1.  Why would an Alderman want to get information about Germantown schools (specifically about teachers who have resigned, as shown in a follow up comment)?

2. Why would this Alderman, an elected City Hall official, think he could get this information from City Hall?

But I couldn’t pose these questions in response because I’m . . . you guessed it . .. well, not technically “blocked,” but “muted” on this public page, meaning I can see posts but cannot comment on them. We started this blog to give a voice to those who are blocked (and muted), so I’m going to use that voice.

Does Alderman Massey know that City Hall and GMSD are separate entities? That other than approving a budget, City Hall has no oversight over GMSD?

This prompted me to look back at something I recalled from a Board of Mayor and Alderman (“BMA”) meeting earlier this year.

On February 12, 2018,  a $100,000 allocation to the Germantown Education Foundation (a separate, private 501(c)(3) charitable organization), was up for a vote by the BMA. Alderman Massey did not want to allocate the money to GEF and instead suggested that it would be better just to allocate it directly to the schools, cutting out the “middleman.” Putting aside several other problems with this (such as that the allocation to GEF helps support an organization that is very good at fundraising and every dollar allocated to GEF likely results in many more dollars raised for our schools),  it quickly became apparent that Alderman Massey did not understand the concept of Maintenance of Effort.  It is not unreasonable for an ordinary citizen to not understand this concept, but he is an elected official and this concept has serious implications for the city’s finances.  In short,  every operational dollar allocated directly from the city to the school system is considered Maintenance of Effort and must be added to all future operational fund allocations to the school system. So, an allocation of $100,000 to the school system in 2018 results in mandated additional allocations of $100,000 in 2019, 2020, and so on. This was mentioned a few times but did not seem to sink in.

In that same meeting, Alderman (and now Mayoral Candidate) John Barzizza suggested that it would be prudent to have the Germantown Education Commission* have direct oversight over GEF.  The city attorney pointed out that GEF is an independent Non-Profit, and as such, is required to provide financial information to the public.  Alderman Barzizza again suggested having a city Commission provide direct oversight over an independent 501(c)(3) entity.  That would be like saying the city should have it’s wellness commission oversee the Board of Directors of St. Jude or LeBonheur if it is going to donate any funds to those charities.

Does Alderman Massey think that GMSD is governed by City Hall?  That it is within his role as city Alderman to request and obtain personnel records from GMSD?  That City Hall maintains such records for a wholly separate government entity (GMSD)?  That even if there were something untoward found in such records, it would be the role of the BMA to address it as opposed to the GMSD Superintendent or School Board?

Does Alderman Barzizza think that GEF, a private charitable organization, is a city agency?  Does he think the city can exercise direct oversight over the board of an independent Non-Profit charitable organization?

*full disclosure:  I am a member of the Germantown Education Commission, which is an advisory commission, having no oversight over any school, school district, or independent education non-profit.