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.

 

Leadership Germantown Under Attack by Alderman Massey

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At a recent, Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) meeting, an item appeared on the agenda to authorize a budgeted grant to Leadership Germantown (LG) in the amount of $13,600.

Leadership Germantown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1996 by the Germantown Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Germantown. It is composed of an 18 member board that operates an annual six month leadership training program “designed to develop well-informed, effective leaders in our community.” The City budgets money for an LG grant every year; although, the amount may vary from year to year.

As usual, the grant was approved again this year.

But….

After he lost the vote…

After every other Alderman voted against him…

After, the meeting had ended…

Alderman Massey took to Facebook to post inflammatory allegations against Leadership Germantown:

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While I can appreciate someone having a different point of view than me, I don’t appreciate someone twisting the facts. So, let’s set the record straight.

Leadership Germantown is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by an 18 member volunteer board that produces a six month leadership training program that focuses on the City of Germantown. The organization is funded by fundraising, donations, a City grant, and a one-time tuition payment from participants.

Leadership Germantown Alumni Association (LGAA) is a different nonprofit group. It is separate and independent from Leadership Germantown despite the similarities in name. LGAA is an autonomous organization operated by a four member volunteer board that is completely self-sustaining through donations and membership dues. Unlike, Leadership Germantown, LGAA is a membership based organization with annual dues. It does NOT receive City funding.

Alderman Massey has continuously confused Leadership Germantown with Leadership Germantown Alumni Association in an effort to mislead the public into thinking that LG members should finance the work of their organization through membership dues.

But let’s be clear…

Leadership Germantown is a training program run by a volunteer board. It is not a club nor an organization that can be joined. It does not have members. It does not have membership dues. So, Alderman Massey’s repeated references to the “members” or its “membership” is misleading.

And since, there are no members; no memberships; no annual dues then, Alderman Massey’s proposal that Leadership Germantown should finance its leadership program through a $2.52 increase in membership dues simply doesn’t work.

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I know, you want to give him benefit of the doubt because after all, the two organizations can be easily confused.

But during the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Natalie Williams introduced herself as the current president of Leadership Germantown Alumni Association. She specifically told the Aldermen that LGAA was a separate organization from Leadership Germantown. She clarified that LGAA received NO City funding. She also said she would be happy to answer any questions about the Alumni Association.

We know Alderman Massey was in the room and present during Ms. Williams’ remarks. We also know that he thought enough of the citizen remarks to make note of them in his FaceBook post. He even listed the time on the video in which they began because he wanted you to hear them too.

We also know that he has been repeatedly corrected on Facebook. Yet, Alderman Massey continues to argue that the two organizations are the same, taunting people who dare to correct him with inflammatory comments.

Take a look:

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But the truth is… Leadership Germantown is not the same as Leadership Germantown Alumni Association.

Think of Leadership Germantown as a school. Not everyone who graduates from Leadership Germantown joins the LG Alumni Association, just like not everyone who graduates from college joins their college alumni association. It’s a voluntary club and it’s up to the graduates to decide whether or not they want to become dues-paying members.

While an alumni association can certainly help support its school. We all know that it can not raise enough money to fully fund the educational programs. That’s why the City’s help with Leadership Germantown is so important. It goes to offset the program costs. And this keeps tuition affordable.

As a stay-at-home mom at the time, I appreciated the affordable tuition and the half scholarship that I received. If tuition goes up or scholarships decline, I worry that many qualified candidates will not be able to afford the program. And despite Alderman Massey’s assurances that LG participants are all well-to-do, rich people—I am here to tell you, that it is not the case.

In his post, Alderman Massey is quick to dismiss the good works of LG and the benefits it provides our community. But any good business person will tell you that you have to look at ROI when investing your resources. And the LG ROI is a tremendous benefit for our City.

My LG Class of 2016 rescued the beloved Saddle Creek fountain. As a side note, you should know that the fountain was not City property and was not located on public land. So, when its owner disposed of it, the City bought it for $1 and put it in storage. And that is where my LG Class found it, broken from the removal process and in disrepair. Our class, using the training we received from LG, was able to work together to raise the money and provide the resources necessary to restore and relocate the fountain onto City property adjacent to the Pickering Center. We also donated over $21,000 to the eight public schools located within the City of Germantown.

Pretty good ROI for a $13,600 investment, huh?

Oh, but there is more….

LG graduates leave the program with a new leadership skill set that will benefit the businesses, the charities, the service organizations, and the administration of our City. After being exposed to the many facets of the City, we are definitely encouraged to plug into our community and find a way to serve Germantown.

But instead of appreciating citizens for giving their time and talent for the betterment of our community, Alderman Massey casts aspersions on them. During the recent Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Alderman Massey made wild accusations of political self-dealing and cronyism in response to the citizens who came forward in support of the grant to LG.

Alderman Massey took to Facebook to reprise his inflammatory allegations and insults. He accuses LG supporters of being part of a “hijacked” organization that operates as “a good ole boy club.” And while he tries to make the case that the Board of Mayor and Aldermen favors LG alums, this just does not hold up as true. When a vacancy occurred on the Germantown School Board, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed over several LG alums to select someone who has never been through the program.

He further attempts to substantiate his claims against LG with “evidentiary exhibits.” Photo copies of various communications and a copy of the City Commission application referencing LG were posted on his page as “evidence.”

One letter is from Mayor Mike Palazzolo asking LG Alumni Association members to renew their membership and pay their annual dues as well as make a donation to LGAA. Remember LGAA is not the same thing as Leadership Germantown. And LGAA does NOT receive any City funds. Essentially, the mayor is doing what Alderman Massey condones in his opening paragraph on our Country’s founders. The mayor is asking members of a private organization to fund the organization through dues and donations.

Isn’t that what Alderman Massey wants them to do? Fund their own organization?

Well, not exactly. Alderman Massey wants LGAA members to fund their organization AND Leadership Germantown too. Anyone who has a different opinion is called out by name on his Facebook page with taunting comments.

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Another piece of “evidence” cited by Alderman Massey is an email from Laurie Whitney, Chairman for the Leadership Germantown Board of Directors. It essentially explains to the Aldermen the purpose of Leadership Germantown, its history, and benefits to the City. I have no idea why he posted this on FaceBook but it does show that he is aware that Ms. Whitney is the head of Leadership Germantown. That bit of info will be pertinent when reading the next paragraph.

Among Alderman Massey’s most inflammatory allegation are his suppositions that Leadership Germantown is engaging in political cronyism. To prove the allegations, he produces a two year old email from Rick Bennett. He incorrectly identifies Mr. Bennett in his Facebook post as being the president of Leadership Germantown. We know that is not true because we know from the “exhibit” described above that Laurie Whitney is the head of Leadership Germantown.

So, who is Rick Bennett and why is his email on FaceBook?

Rick Bennett is the former LGAA president who sent an email to his “friends” two years ago telling them his picks for Aldermen in the 2016 election. He liked Rocky Janda and Dave Klevan, Alderman Massey’s opponent in the race.

It’s important to note that the email did not mention Leadership Germantown or Leadership Germantown Alumni Association at all. It is just signed “Rick Bennett” and there is no indication that it was sent out to LGAA members. Of course, it would be wrong to use a 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s resources to benefit someone running for office as we all know from when the Germantown Football League sent out a letter endorsing Nischwitz for Alderman. But unlike the GFL letter, Mr. Bennett’s email has no letterhead, does not mention any organization, and is addressed only to his friends.

It seems a little disconcerting and a chill to free speech for a sitting alderman to post a two year old email from a citizen that supported his opponent in the last election. Then, use that email as justification to vote against funding for an organization that provided leadership training to that citizen years ago.

But even more disturbing is knowing the vote has already been cast yet the railing continues on Facebook.

Has this become personal?

It would appear so. Much of the criticism of LG centers around people who Alderman Massey perceives as not supporting him or those who are criticizing him. After bragging about beating an LG alum in the 2016 election, Alderman Massey laments about how he was “condemned,” “ridiculed,” and “judged as unworthy” for public office because he did not participate in Leadership Germantown. But he never tells us just who exactly made those strong statements or why that would matter in a vote on an LG grant.

We know from experience that if you get on Alderman Massey’s bad side, he will block you on FaceBook. We know he talks about people on FaceBook who he has blocked leaving them unable to respond or defend themselves.

Now, we know that if you didn’t support his election campaign, he will broadcast that on his FaceBook page and use it to justify a vote against an organization he has wrongfully confused as your organization.

And if you try to speak up for an organization he doesn’t like or try to correct his misleading statements, he will attack, taunt, embarrass and insult you in a public forum.

Germantown Road Realignment Project

FaceBook is not always the best way to participate in a political discussion especially if you are blocked by a current Alderman who has disenfranchised you from the conversation. So, I am joining with others to provide a place for all citizens of Germantown to share our point of view on the issues facing our City.

Welcome to our first blog.

I’m Terri Harris and my claim to fame is two kids who lead me down the road of parental advocacy. Along the way, I learned that there are at least two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is the truth. And your truth may not be my truth. But a greater understanding of other people’s perspectives leads to better advocacy.

If you are like me, you are struggling to understand the planning process that is the backdrop to the much talked about issue of the Germantown Road Realignment Project. The City says the project is dead but some citizens are claiming that’s not true because the project is still listed in the Memphis MPO 2040 Livability Regional Transportation Plan. These citizens want the Plan redacted to remove the Germantown Road Realignment project. But who has the authority to make such changes to the plan?

I decided to find out.

Not being an expert on planning stuff, I started with the mayor of Memphis because it says Memphis MPO.

5EDE1F1E-EFCD-475A-B6D0-D321A7B2DEDD[The above paragraph had to be deleted from the original blog because apparently repeating what was said to you in a popular Germantown Facebook group can get you removed from the group. Since there’s already been enough blocking and excluding people, I’m just going to redact the blog to appease the administrator in charge of that Facebook group so I won’t get kicked out. Which means I can’t tell you what was posted on Facebook but I can tell you that I have it on good authority, the Memphis MPO is not run by the City of Memphis.]

Armed with that piece of information, I continued my search to find the one with the power to redact the 2040 Livability Plan.

I reached out to Ms. Pragati Srivastava from the Memphis MPO. Ms. Srivastava confirmed that projects submitted to the Memphis MPO for inclusion in the 2040 Livability Plan come from the jurisdiction responsible for the project and that jurisdiction is the definitive source of information about the project.

That means the City of Germantown is the definitive source of information for the Germantown Road Realignment Project. So, when I asked about the project, Ms. Srivastava directed me to the City of Germantown for the most up-to-date project information.

According to the City, the Germantown Road Realignment Project is dead. A public statement to that effect was recently issued by the City of Germantown and I have included the link so you can read for yourself. Ms. Srivastava confirmed in the City’s statement that the project has been withdrawn from any plans for funding requests. 

But even though the City’s statement has made the rounds on Facebook, there are those who are still disbelieving. Rather than read all the arguing about it on Facebook, one of my fellow “blockees,” Audrey Grossman, decided to take matters into her own hands by contacting Kate Horton, a Transportation Planner at Memphis MPO whose job duties with the Transportation Improvement Program include Public Involvement and Social Media.

Ms. Horton explained that items appearing in long-range plans are not happening until they have made their way to short-range plans. In the case of the Germantown Road Realignment Project, Ms. Horton stated that this project is no longer included in any short-range plans and it lacks the federal funding necessary to move forward.

For some, most notably Ken Hoover, Pauline Lathram, and a few other vocal citizens on Facebook, the issue remains as to why the project is still listed on page 177, item 66 on the 2040 Livability Regional Transportation Plan. They suspect that by remaining on the list of long term planning items, the Project could be brought up at a future date. To nix any possibility of this project, they are insisting the 2040 Livability Plan be redacted.

So, I asked Ms. Srivastava about the possibility of redaction. She said that the Memphis MPO is currently in the initial stages of development for the 2050 Livability RTP. This new plan will have the most up-to-date information on Germantown projects.

For those TRULY concerned about the Germantown Road realignment project, my best advice to you is to be proactive, not reactive. By this, I mean, watch the formation of the 2050 plan like a hawk and be ready to oppose the road realignment if you see any indication of its revival. But don’t waste your time, trying to redact an old plan that is on its way out the door.

Be an advocate on the issues and focus on actions that matter. We all know that even if every copy of the 2040 Livability RTP could be located so big bold strike-outs could be made to item 66; there would still be those who would not be satisfied and would demand further meaningless actions.