Monday, April 8, 2024

Will Failure of Landlord-Tenant Bill Keep Suburban Membership off the MLGW Board?


A law that would facilitate the identification and location of property owners, being referred to here as the Landlord-Tenant Bill (HB34), and MLGW's decision to allow the County and its suburbs two voting seats on its Board appear, on the surface, to be separate matters. MLGW has now coupled these two items in an effort to pressure a key Shelby County Representative into supporting the Landlord-Tenant Bill.

The Landlord-Tenant Bill 

Memphis, Shelby County, MLGW, and Germantown, among others, seek legislation that would enable them to police property infractions more effectively. Memphis in particular has had an especially difficult time locating property owners.  HB34, if enacted, would require landlords in both Shelby and Davidson County to furnish Code Enforcement a physical address and phone number.

MLGW decided to connect HB34 and potential suburban representation on its Board at the urging of Joe B. Kent. Mr. Kent, initially in his Just My Memphis Blog, and later in the "Citizens to be Heard" portion of MLGW's March 20 Board meeting, argued that MLGW should not grant the additional voting representation to the suburbs until the legislature enacted the Landlord-Tenant Bill.  

This is where House Rep. Kevin Vaughan, a real estate developer from Collierville, whose constituency includes the northeastern part of Germantown as well as Collierville, enters the picture. Representative Vaughan is the Chair of the House Commerce Committee. Its subcommittee (on which Representative Vaughan also serves), decided on March 12 not to move HB34 forward. Mr. Kent, believing strongly that Memphis and Shelby County badly need HB34, feels the suburbs should do more to convince Representative Vaughan to get the bill passed. The suburbs' desire for voting seats should be, in Mr. Kent's view, the carrot by which MLGW induces the suburbs to cajole Representative Vaughan into making better use of his powerful position. 

Mr. Kent's reason for wanting the legislature to enact HB34 is as simple as it is convincing: Landlords must be made more aware of their responsibility to keep their communities clean. Heightened landlord awareness can only be achieved through effective code enforcement. That enforcement, in turn, is dependent upon the enforcers' ability to identify and locate property owners.
The property owner/location issues faced by Germantown are admittedly not of the same order of magnitude as those faced by Memphis. Nevertheless, the passage of HB34 
would also directly benefit Germantown when dealing with violations by out-of-town property holders. Moreover, a cleaner Memphis is good for all its suburbs and the entire county. The City of Germantown obviously agrees, as signified by its inclusion of HB34 in the list of bills that it wants the legislature to enact this year. This list was sent to all Shelby County legislators, including Representative Vaughan. Passing HB34 is clearly a no-brainer.

Suburban representation on MLGW's Board is likewise a no-brainer. Indeed, Mayor Palazzolo has been lobbying for such representation for years (see this Commercial Appeal article). 
The City of Germantown and its citizens, as well as Collierville and its citizens should communicate to Representative Vaughan their support of HB34, and strongly urge him to use his power get the bill passed.His contact information may be found here

His email address: 

For the precise location of Representative Vaughan's constituency, see the map below.


Additionally, you may view in Ballotpedia an expandable map that identifies the particular streets included within Representative Vaughan's district. As you can see, Representative Vaughan represents citizens who, for the most part, reside east of Forest Hill Road and north of Poplar Pike.  

Due to Joe Kent's presentation during the Citizens' to be Heard portion of its March 20 meeting, MLGW's Board tabled the motion to allow Shelby County and its suburbs two voting seats. (The video of the March 20 meeting can be found here. Mr. Kent speaks at 6:03 (-46:35). He stated that Representative Vaughan needs to "figure this out.")  

MLGW's Board met again on April 3; however, the motion to grant the suburbs two voting seats was not reintroduced. Further action by the Board on the suburbs' motion is dependent, it would appear, on the enactment of HB34.

I sent the folliwng email to Representative Vaughan this past Thursday, April 4:,

Dear Representative Vaughan,

You may be aware by now that in its recent meeting, MLGW refused to hear an agenda item that would have added voting suburban membership to its Board. Joe B. Kent, in remarks during the “Citizens to Be Heard” portion of the MLGW meeting, spoke in favor of MLGW’s tabling the agenda item until the Tennessee House of Representatives first passed HB34, a bill that would allow the City of Memphis, the suburbs, and Shelby County to more easily locate out-of-town landlords for purposes of citing them for public nuisance and other violations. Mr. Kent, emphasizing your role as the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, placed the blame squarely on you for the subcommittee’s failure to pass HB34. Here is Mr. Kent’s blog on this matter: Just My Memphis

As you are undoubtedly aware, the City of Germantown, MLGW, the City of Memphis, and Shelby County all support HB34. I write a blog, "Shining a Light on Germantown", and intend to write about this matter. I would appreciate hearing your side of the story on this issue. What happened to HB34? Did you in fact withhold your support of the bill? If so, why, given the City of Germantown’s support of HB34? Also, please let me know if you support suburban representation on MLGW Board.

Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

Pauline Lathram , Shining a Light on Germantown  

I have not yet received a reply from Representative Vaughan. I will update this blog post if and when I hear from him.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Diesel in the Water System Has Long Term Negative Consequences



This warning does not come from me, it comes from Tom Volinchak, a Memphis-based water expert and the author of Open Tap: Drink Poison- Let's Fix It (if you have Kindle Unlimited, it is free). St. Jude turned to Mr. Volinchak to design its water system. The laboratories at St. Jude have a need for pristine water. 

He was on Facebook Live a couple of nights ago sounding the alarm, and warning us to be cautious about using the water, indefinitely. He does offer a solution, thankfully. 

I summarize the points that he made during the presentation, which you can watch yourself here:   Germantown Water Contamination

 1) The people in the water department at Germantown are good folks who are dedicated, but they can only work with the system they are given. 
 2) The leadership of the municipality, and the age and history of the system determine the safety. 
3) Every system he designs has containment for anything that can contaminate water, such as a diesel generator, that is around stored water.  

 4) He is unsure if federal regulations require containment for things like diesel generators around water storage, 

 5) There is no way that Germantown officials can say the water is safe after this incident, because it is not. Tests  determine 
only the specific time and place where the test was taken

 6) No matter what the TDEC or EPA say, we should assume that our water is contaminated indefinitely, due to the scale (gunk, e.g. calcium deposits) on the pipes that can trap diesel, and release it at any time into our homes. 
 7) The Germantown officials cannot set a time when the water can be treated as normal enough to use, because there is no way to tell at this point.   
8) Detergent should be run through the pipes. Oil and water do not mix, and running water alone through the lines won't cut it. 

9) Memphis Aquifer has some of the best water in the world, but due to these issues, MLGW water is now better than Germantown water.  

10) The number of violations that Germantown has racked up on water reporting is concerning.

11) We all need activated carbon filters not only in our kitchens, but in our showers. They do a VERY GOOD job of filtering diesel out of water. If you have good carbon based filters, that will make your water safe to drink and shower. And, he shared his opinion that the City ought to pay for them.
10) if you have a swimming pool, you really should buy an expensive filter for it. The reason is, as the water evaporates, the possible diesel doesn't, and you replace it with water that could have diesel in it.  This could lead to unsafe levels of diesel in your pool.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Germantown Citizens Deserve Better

While our administration has been proactive in attracting development, it has been reactive in addressing infrastructure issues. It is essential that these priorities shift. Some might call this Monday morning quarterbacking, but I believe that recent events prove that Germantown citizens deserve more proactive leadership in the area of essential services, infrastructure, public safety, and transparency. 

I do not claim to have any special knowledge about water safety, but I know that there are systems in place that can detect diesel spillage and pipe breaks. The first order of business of the administration and the BMA should be to provide checks and balances in our water system, and make sure that there are redundancies that ensure the citizens have continuous access to safe water. Due to a lack of transparency by the City, we do not yet know the source of the diesel that contaminated our water system. If a leaky generator was the cause, was there a containment system around it? If so, why didn't it contain the fuel? How long was the pipe broken to the water tank? What discharge seeped into our water prior to the diesel leak? What calculations were made that came up with the approximate number of 100 gallons of diesel in the system. Where are the actual lab reports?  I could go on and on. The citizens deserve this information.  

We also all know the issues our water drainage system has faced, with 100 year floods now being the norm. I realize it will take several years to fix the storm drains. The City needs to regularly check to make sure the storm drains that we do have are clear, and citizens need to help the City by reporting blocked storm drains. 

I want to say a big "thank you" to the employees who worked tirelessly on the diesel leak issue, and, given the lack of leak detection systems, actually found and fixed the pipe leak causing the diesel to contaminate our water.    

Still, I have a couple of questions about the response. It took approximately seven hours between the time that citizens reported the smell of diesel in the water and the administration issuing the "flush only" order. Had the water tank been tested first, rather than the treatment plant, that time could have been cut to about an hour. Given that there was a diesel generator by the water tank, I am not sure why that wasn't checked post haste. Needless to say, response time is critical in emergency situations.  

I also question the "all clear" notice for people east of Forest Hill. 
That area shares the same water system as the rest of Germantown. The notice was issued without any testing, and the recommended flushing of the system actually brought diesel into some of the homes in the area. Social media posts confirm this.


Once the City was notified of the problem, it responded by simply asking citizens in the area to report the problems.  Later, in his news conference, Mayor Palazzolo was asked about this:

"As we give flushing instructions, it would be natural to, think this through, that as the water began to go through the system, it could as that residue leaves, produce odor, and actually that would be a positive sign that it is now leaving. And we have asked our residents to report that so that we can send one of our crews there to evaluate the system more closely." 

Surely he didn't mean that it was a good idea for a home to replace good water with diesel filled water?  If it was a good idea to flush the system of diesel through people's homes, why weren't we all asked to do it? It obviously would have been a better idea to wait for the fire hydrants to clear the area first so that diesel filled water wouldn't erode pipes and appliances in homes.

And, yes, Germantown needs to take its reporting responsibilities of water testing a lot more seriously. WREG reported that Germantown Water had more violations than any other water system in the County, although it is the fifth in size.   

We found 15 violations, some as far back as 2004, at the Southern Avenue water plant and Johnson Road filter plant.

Even though some of the violations are older, a column marked routine monitoring violations is called major. Apparently, there were problems with monitoring the water system.

The violations also list the analyte group name, which is the type of substance involved. We found everything from nitrate to asbestos and chlorine violations.   

Waypoint Analytical on Violations in Shelby Coumty Water Systems:

What's done is done. Fortunately, this was merely an  inconvenience (albeit a large one) for most of our community. But it was much more than that for our hospital, which postponed surgeries, for restaurants and their employees, for dialysis patients who had to reschedule or skip their appointments, for pregnant mothers who are now concerned about the water they drank, and for parents of infants who used the water with formula. And yes, there were people who were sickened by using the water.

Let's move on together, making sure we keep a close watch on our leadership as they navigate through this crisis, and take the appropriate actions that show they are being proactive in avoiding issues such as this in the future.