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.

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 two school board candidates (Brian Curry and Angela Griffith), 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.”

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.

“Warn your neighbors and friends?”

Jeff Brown continues to champion a narrative that schools are going to be overcrowded despite the clear data that states otherwise. I have been out of town for two weeks out west celebrating my 10 year anniversary with my wife and then spending a week elk hunting with my Father. When I got home I was made aware of comments by Alderman Massey on one of Dr. Brown’s posts. See below.

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He gives no factual basis for stating it is flawed data. Just because the outcome of professional analysis doesn’t support your personal theory doesn’t mean it is wrong.

Betsy Landers’ treasurer happens to be my Father. Betsy is a friend from church. So, as you can see, the roots of whatever conspiracy he is insinuating have a real shady basis (I am rolling my eyes as I write this). The problem is that Alderman Massey implies that everything is a conspiracy. If you are friends, neighbors, members of a commission or club or just support the same person you are clearly part of a conspiracy in his mind.

Alderman Massey uses his platform to question people, so now I am going to use my platform to provide the truth.

His comments insinuate that my father and sister are of questionable character and that the public should be warned. This conversation could be about any of the people listed above. Alderman Massey impugns the character of anyone that disagrees with him. That includes many good people who he believes have no valid opinions because in his eyes they support the mayor. He doesn’t attack the ideas; he attacks people.

So yes, warn your “neighbors and friends” that a man who is a nationally respected financial professional is supporting the election of School Board candidate Betsy Landers. A man with integrity, my father, founded a company which pioneered fee-only financial planning in the Mid-South. Making sure that his company’s goal aligned with clients as opposed to selling the highest commission product. Yes, warn people that a man that helped establish Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis and raised his kids to work on weekends putting siding on houses in Rossville is supporting a candidate.

He is so nefarious he is receiving the lifetime achievement award from the Estate Planning Council of Memphis and has been a leader in the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. On our drive home from the elk hunt, he spent an hour on the phone coaching a Missionary in Costa Rica whom he helps. I could go on and on about his work with Rotary International and many other community and mission organizations. Most of all, he is a man of faith; the basis of his integrity. I am proud to be his son. I can’t tell you how many people stop me to tell me what a good man he is.

He raised his daughter, who lost that election Mr. Massey mentioned, to give back to her community. Service that continues even after that loss, with thousands of volunteer hours in our schools. Not service for recognition, but service for love of our schools and the children of this community. He raised his daughter to have values that turn tragedy into hope for others. She and her husband gave the ultimate gift of her late son’s organs following his untimely death at age 2.  She became an advocate for organ donation and took a role as a member of the Advisory Board for Mid South Transplant Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation.

Me, I am just lucky to call these people family. I am proud, too. So yes, I am on my soapbox but if you want to warn people about my family please go ahead and show them this blog.

I have only known Alys for a couple of years and honestly, I thank you for that Dean. Had you not blocked me, we would have probably would not have crossed paths. Your mission to suppress open conversation about issues brought us together. Alys and I stand by what we write. We have a common goal to covey the truth and provide context to a political environment that has become way too convoluted with spin and lies.

Your instinct to brand people as the “Mayor’s Supporters” is a detriment to you. You should learn that we all bring value and perspective to the conversation. Instead, you choose to ignore people who don’t align with your view. Either way, this election falls out, you will need to work with the citizens you look down upon. The issues facing this city require that we work together for the common good. Perhaps when you realize this, we can work together.

Note: It appears this post has since been deleted. Clearly Dr. Brown wants to maintain the perception of distance between him and Alderman Massey. I don’t blame him but how separate are they when they have both so strongly tied themselves to Candidate Barzizza?

 

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.