Friday, April 24, 2020

Alderman Scott Sanders--An Interview

This past Thursday I conducted a phone interview with Alderman Scott Sanders. We discussed several topics, including his vision for the future of the City; school funding and capital expenditure issues post COVID 19; and the final vote on the cell tower at Dogwood School. I used my notes to create a Q and A format. I also note that, for the sake of brevity, I have summarized his answers.

Germantown 2030 Plan, Dense Development, Citizen Commissions, and the Future of the City

Shining a Light: Do you believe that the citizens of Germantown support the Germantown Forward 2030 plan? I ask that because three of us conducted a poll of Germantown NextDoor neighborhoods, and over seventy percent of nearly 1000 respondents want no new apartments in the City. Only seven percent want the full build-out of apartments referenced in a study by City staff members-- that study notes a possibility of adding over 2000 new apartment units. The balance of the respondents on our survey want to keep more or less the same ratio of apartments to single-family homes that the City now has. There seems to be a disconnect between the results of our poll and the “citizen led” Forward 2030 plan.

Alderman Sanders: I stated in my campaign that we need to revisit the 2030 plan. It is not representative of the way citizens feel. In my opinion, the City Administrator and Mayor appoint to the commissions and long range planning committees only those who have the same pro-development mindset that they have. Most citizens do not share that same viewpoint. Also, I've seen many of the candidates that lose elections receive consolation prizes-- appointments to important commissions or committees.  Brian White, who is now on the design review commission, Dave Klevan, who was appointed to the Industrial Development Board, and Greg Marcom, who was a member of the Germantown 2030 Forward planning committee are some examples of that. All of these commissions guide how the city moves forward. The City purports that these commissions represent the views of the greater community, but they actually do not. City departments were highly involved in the Forward 2030 plan, and the members were largely administration supporters. The process was fashioned in a way that insured that the result would be consistent with the administration’s viewpoint. 

Shining a Light: Why are people attracted to Germantown as a place to live? 

Alderman Sanders: Traditionally, people have been attracted to the City because of the tight knit neighborhoods, mature trees, strict zoning restrictions on signs and building height, aesthetics, and the peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of Memphis. One hundred percent the two most important factors are great schools and public safety. 

Having said that, although Germantown has always been the premier city in West Tennessee, we are losing our edge, and we may be losing our desirability because of the way we have changed. There is a lot of jockeying going on between Germantown and Collierville now. Their new state-of-the-art high school is attracting a number of families who see concrete evidence of that City’s support of the new school system. Also there is now a commitment there to limit dense development. The aldermen that I have talked to from Collierville regret the number of apartment units that they have approved in the past, and they pledge not to approve any more other than those in the pipeline. In Collierville, the aldermen are all respected by the administration. There is not any infighting. The board there holds regular work sessions, open to the public. Heck I just saw an article in the Daily Memphian and saw even with their hiring of their new police chief that they held open interviews of the candidates where the public and press could attend. Here there seems to be a great lack of trust in the government by our residents, and I feel it is because the administration does not seem to value the opinions of all the aldermen and the residents can see that. Instead of listening, our viewpoints are suppressed.  

School Funding Issues

Shining a Light: I want to talk a little bit about the school system since you brought that up. At a recent School Board meeting, it was announced that the annual $355,000 payment pledged to Shelby County Schools would no longer be paid by the City because of budget concerns arising as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In the future it will be paid by the school system. This is at a time when GMSD is facing its own funding problems. How did this decision come about? 

Alderman Sanders: I have no idea. I was not consulted in any way about that. The aldermen vote on the budget, and that payment was always included. The first time I heard about it was when I listened to the school board meeting. I'd like to see the original settlement agreement to see who the parties were, was it the City of Germantown or the Germantown Board of Education? Perhaps it was their responsibility all along and the City chose to handle the payments for them in the early years due to lack of funding and starting a new district. I don't know at this point. This is not the only time we have not been consulted on something regarding GMSD. As you likely recall, the administration required GMSD to pay $232,000 extra for a utility sized pipe for a potential water tower when the new elementary school was built. All utility fund expenditures must be approved by the BMA, but the administration totally skipped that step. We never even heard about a water tower until after GMSD incurred the expense, and sought to be reimbursed. Because the water tower location has since been moved, the extra $232,000 spent for the pipe was wasted. The City had to reimburse GMSD for the funds by retroactively approving the expenditure. Yet there is no state statute allowing for a retroactive approval from the utility fund since GMSD has no authority to spend funds from that account. The end result of this mismanagement was $232,000 of taxpayer money down the drain. 

As for the payment to SCS, I prefer that the GMSD spend its budget on educating the students rather than making payments to Shelby County. I have always been supportive of everything the school system needs, whether it is money for increased security or for renovations at the middle school. I also heard for the first time that the City has taken the middle school addition off the capital improvements budget for next year. The capital improvements portion of the budget approved issuing a bond in the amount of $5 million this year and has already passed the BMA. The City Administrator apparently contacted Superintendent Manuel and said that was off the table now due to budget concerns. I am not sure the City has the authority to make this decision without a BMA vote. And I was neither consulted nor informed about the decision. We should have had a work session about all this to hear from the City the reasoning for their decision. The board may have agreed to delay or postpone this capital project due to the potential for lost revenues from the pandemic, I don't know. 

All of these things are typical. Often I am the last to find out about things, as I am not kept in the loop at all. I often read about something in the newspaper, and then see another alderman quoted. I wonder of course, about the lack of communication between the administration and at least some of the aldermen.  

The City Budget

Shining a Light: As a result of COVID 19, the City's sales tax revenue has been severely reduced, and GAC and GPAC are receiving no revenues at all. The City obviously must make some budget cuts somewhere. The Planning Commission gave the administration a pass on presenting a budget for next year.  How do you feel about all this? 

Alderman Sanders: Memphis is submitting a budget on time, and the County is submitting a budget on time. These budgets are much more complex than ours, so why can't we approve a budget for the coming year? I have written an email to Patrick Lawton saying, among other things, that there should not be an open ended time extension on submitting a budget. When will we see it? I also asked him some additional questions about possible cuts to the budget.

Shining a Light: Do you mind sending me a copy of that email?

Alderman Sanders: I would be happy to send you a copy. [The copy is included at the end of the interview.] 

Capital Expenditures- Road Projects

Shining a Light: Since you brought up the issue of the school renovation, let’s talk a bit about some of the other capital expenditures that have been planned. I noticed on the agenda sheet for the meeting Monday that some previously approved capital expenditures for various road projects are being cut. Do you have any feelings about those?

[Alderman Sanders expressed regret about losing the 80% of state funding on the Wolf River/Germantown Road intersection project, but he was unsure as to whether or not the project had been dropped by the state. After the interview Alderman Sanders let me know that he got a response from the city administrator about this project. Alderman Sanders was told that the bids came in over the state budget. The budget was $4 million and bids came in at $8 million so the state agrees that the bids on the agenda for Monday should be rejected. At this point Germantown is not sure how the state will proceed.]

Shining a Light: How much have we spent on that project to date? 

Alderman Sanders: There are so many different parts to it that I can’t even estimate. I would probably have to submit an open records request to find out.  

Capital Expenditures, Water Tower, Sports Complex, School Expansion

Shining a Light: What about other capital expenditures planned for next year? Besides the school expansion, there are plans to buy a property south of Winchester for a sports complex, and of course there is the water tower. Do you know anything about those? 

Alderman Sanders: No, I don’t. They do not keep me informed. I expect the administration will try to go forward with those at some point. 

Shining a Light: Citizens may push back if the City goes forward with the sports complex while at the same time  postponing the expansion of the middle school. The sports complex would be the third major enterprise the City supports, the other two being GPAC and GAC. That may be a bit unusual for a City our size. And we can all see now that City-supported enterprises, while they can provide great benefit for the citizens, may also present financial risk for the taxpayers during an economic downturn. I also have never seen a real cost/benefit analysis for the sports complex, which I believe is essential before undertaking a project like this.

Alderman Sanders: Well, I think the sports complex is a priority for the administration, so I expect it to come up at some point. Let me tell you a story to demonstrate the way things are done. I have had to start a spreadsheet on projects that we pass so that I can keep up with them. We vote on something and then we don’t know what happens. I happen to live near Cameron Brown Park, and one day recently I saw a number of cars parked on Farmington. I remembered that the BMA passed a measure to add sixty parking spaces at the park for the events that are held there, specifically so there would not be overflow parking on Farmington. The next time I saw Pam Beasley (Parks Director) I asked her what happened to the parking places the BMA voted for. She said that she placed the project on hold after talking to the city administrator because she may need that money for the sports complex if the land comes in over budget. That is not right. That should be a BMA decision. We had already voted on the funds for the parking places. Those funds are committed That leads me to believe they are determined to purchase the land for a sports complex. We’ll see. 

GPAC Cost Overruns

Shining a Light: What is your take on all the GPAC cost overruns?  I remember listening to a person speak at a BMA meeting in “Citizens to be Heard”. He said he was a supporter of GPAC who donated his time as an usher. He supported public funding for the arts, but he was concerned about the cost overruns. He concluded with this: “GPAC is not DaVinci and Germantown is not the Medicis.”

Alderman Sanders: Yes, Holy cow! The City leaders had to talk State Senator Brian Kelsey into extracting $2.5 million dollars grant money from the state to take care of some of the cost overruns. I kept voting for more funds for the overruns since the state provided the additional funding, and then finally for the last $900,000 requested, I had enough and voted against approval of the additional expenditure.  That vote against the final funding was mostly because some of the work had already begun before the proper approvals had been sought from the BMA. 

Cell Tower at Dogwood

Shining a Light: The vote for the final approval of the cell tower is scheduled for a vote on Monday.  Some citizens feel there should be a public meeting so their feelings can be heard. How do you feel about this? 

Alderman Sanders: I hate that it is on the agenda during this time when we are meeting on-line, and city hall is closed. However, this has been going on for 18 months, and after the last hearing (design review) it's been known that the issue would be presented to the BMA in April (tentative date) even before the virus. Everyone has been expressing their viewpoints by email and telephone calls. I've already received hundreds of pages of information over the last 9 months to a year, and read every single page of what has been sent. I continue to conduct my own research, and have answered every citizen email (except those received in the last 48 hours) and will do so up until Monday afternoon.   

You know I campaigned on improving our poor cell service, and no matter how I vote I am going to make a large number of citizens unhappy, yes or no. I'm just going to have to do what I figure is best for the overall population, our businesses, and visitors to the city. I will get criticism on social media either way, but I think the majority of citizens realize I evaluate each agenda item independently and vote my conscience.

Shining a Light: Thank you for your time. Don’t forget to send me your email to Mr. Lawton. 

Alderman Sanders: No.problem. I will do that.  

The email that Alderman Sanders referenced in the text is below. To date, he has received no response.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shelby County Election Commission to Vote Wednesday on Contract for New System

The above notice was put on the SCEC Facebook page. Unfortunately the email address in their graphic left out the "c" in county, so please try this address: 

This is a wonderful opportunity to have your comments read into the record without having to physically attend the meeting or speak at a podium. Please do it!

Election Commission to Hold Special Meeting Wednesday on Voting Machines

I refer you to my past posts on the beleaguered Shelby County Election Commission. As previously discussed, our current voting system is outdated, and has no paper trail. Thus it cannot be adequately audited. It must be replaced, hopefully in time for the election next fall.

Ex-Alderman Frank Uhlhorn Appointed as Shelby County Election Commissioner

Shelby County May Get New Voting System in November After All 

I am no expert in voting systems, but when I researched the subject, I was unable to find a single election security expert that favors the type of electronic system that Linda Phillips, administrator of our elections, is promoting. She vehemently favors an electronic system that spits out a receipt for each voter. That receipt would be retained and could later be matched to electronic votes in a recount. Unfortunately, the system can still be hacked, because of the ability to insert a rogue program with a flash drive. Additionally, studies have shown that voters do not check their receipts to verify their accuracy. It is also more expensive and can easily become outdated.

The less expensive alternative is a paper ballot that is scanned at each precinct. The software is much simpler, not subject to hacking, and it is less costly. It has been used successfully for years in Chattanooga, and recently Knoxville chose to implement this system. Because the SCEC did not include that type of less expensive software in the original bidding process, the Shelby County Commission did not approve the SCEC's original monetary request for the more expensive system. The bidding process 
was sent back to the SCEC for another round of bidding that included the less expensive paper marked system.

Besides being less expensive, and less prone to hacking, the paper system does not require touching a screen, which of course can spread pathogens. 

The bids are in, but, according to sources, the public is not allowed to see them prior to the vote on Wednesday. Joe Weinberg calls the new bidding process "deeply flawed".  In an email sent to all the Shelby County Election Commissioners, Weinberg calls for a consultant to be hired to review the entire process, and reorganize it. According to him, security issues are ignored, as is the solvency and track record of the companies bidding. Another issue is that there was no request for bids for a system that could print out paper ballots at each precinct as needed, a capability that would more easily allow the administration of a scanned paper ballot system. Additionally, the RFP (Request for Proposal) disallowed the bidders from including items other than those specifically listed in the RFP, so bidders were not even allowed to suggest such a system.

Again, I urge everyone to use this easy process to make your opinions known.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Germantown and COVID 19

COVID 19 is now the talk of the world, but hopefully soon it will be just a bad memory. Hold onto that thought while I muse on the effects on our City. First of all, looking at a map of diagnosed cases in the county, the hot spots for the virus center on East Memphis and Germantown. Whether that is because we travel more than people in other parts of the County, or merely have greater access to testing, is yet to be determined. But in any case, take care out there.

The newspapers have done a great job with local stories, which I link below-- what do you want to hear first, the good, the bad, or the ugly?

Since Kroger is such a big chain here, I will start with the wild-cat strike at the Kroger distribution center. The company generally has a difficult time keeping things stocked, and this surely won't help. This is also a reminder that our gratitude needs to go out to all the workers that keep our City functioning, albeit at a lower level than normal  I pray for a full recovery of the person with COVID 19, and wish our Kroger employees the best. All the while I am crossing my fingers that this will not disrupt the already fragile food delivery systems.  

Memphis Teamsters Wildcat Strike at Kroger’s Crucial Southern Warehouse 

There are also a couple of feel-good stories coming from our area. I have to hand it to the Java Cafe owner who ordered N95 masks for his employees before most people even heard of coronavirus. If only he had a high position in the federal government! For those who say he should turn them over to hospitals, well, I disagree. Having food prepared by people wearing N95 masks serves a public health purpose. His stash would not make a dent in even an hours' worth of need for masks at hospitals, and in the meantime lots of people can order food that is unlikely to be contaminated.

Germantown Cafe takes extra measures to protect employees, customers 

On to a story about a couple of Dogwood teachers who are  neighbors in Poplar Estates, written by Geoff Calkins, the award winning sports reporter at the Daily Memphian.  Somehow I knew he would come up with some great coronavirus public interest stories. Who else could find the deeper meaning in the jokes fashioned out of construction paper and put in the window panes? I may search out these homes.

In a time of pandemic, Can Construction Paper Save us All?  

Abigail Warren reports that all City-employed part-time workers have been fired. Ms. Warren says she hates stories like this, and I certainly understand that. The employees were notified by letter this past week. Mayor Palazzolo could not be reached for comment. If I could interview Mayor Palazzolo, I would inquire whether senior employees were going to give up their vacation buybacks, which allows them to take not only two weeks of actual vacation time, but up to two weeks of extra pay, depending on years of service. All those perks would probably save the City a lot more money than taking the jobs away from the people who need them the most. 

Germantown Lays Off Part-Time Employees

I am sure I missed a lot of other interesting local coronavirus stories. Please mention any other ones in the comments. I would like to see how more stories on the availability of hospital supplies here. The national stories are horrifiying. Without mentioning names or particular hospitals, I know of an ICU nurse here who has chronic asthma who was given a coronavirus patient and no mask. Now N95 masks at the hospital are being reused with regular filters on top. The N95 masks underneath are not changed for several days. That seems unhealthy both for the nurses and the patients they serve. This is anecdotal but I would welcome a real news story on it. 

The Future


Our City has decisions to make, and it looks like laying off part-time employees was the first one. How will this affect us economically? Obviously this depends on the length of the quarantine, and the subsequent behavior of the citizens. Right now this is costing us sales-tax dollars, and probable loss of value of the employee pension fund. The City was already in the midst of making up a shortfall in pension funds, and this epidemic is quite unhelpful. In Memphis, Mayor Strickland has said to expect a cutback in services. Where will Germantown cut? Will we still plan to buy athletic fields for regional tournaments? I have always thought that was an unneeded boondoggle, meant to prop up development interests in the City. What about our multi-year plan to address drainage issues?  Will the water tower go forward? Will GPAC need yet more subsidies?

More importantly, how will this affect major developments being planned around town? I have already warned of the overbuilding of hotels in the area. I doubt they will have much business for the foreseeable future. Will this affect bank lending for various projects? Will the new "work at home" initiatives become a permanent fixture, limiting the need for new office construction? Will on-line ordering trends become so great that retail space is not needed?

And, it could even be a blow to the heart of "live, work and play".  Dense development is an admitted cause of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in New York City. Germantown has "health" as one of the top goals in its 2030 plan. Right now a home with a backyard seems a lot healthier than an apartment with common spaces.

According to New York Governor Cuomo, quoted in Politico

"We have one of the most dense, close environments in the country," he said Wednesday. "And that's why the virus communicated the way it did. Our closeness makes us vulnerable."

Fresh air and sunshine are good for those with influenza viruses. Even here in Shelby County there are threats of closing the parks. Single family housing seems like the best idea for healthy living in the future.

Stay well!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Public Financing? More "rooftop event spaces" and public (??) garages-- new Thornwood plans

Once again I am grateful for all the coverage of our City from both the Commercial Appeal and the Daily Memphian. I was able to sit at home last night and not even think about all the goings on at the BMA meeting. No, I don't really eat Snickers bars, (see my explanatory post about this blog from July of 2016), but I do have other interests outside of Germantown governance. It is much easier for me to provide a bit of insight rather than tackling every single fact.

Here is the video of last night's meeting:  

And here is the Commercial Appeal article:

Shouting, accustations, name-calling precede vote on Thornwood

The Daily Memphian: 

Germantown aldermen approve Thornwood amended outline plan

Alderman Massey was the only alderman who voted against Thornwood's revisions.

So far, at least, there seems to be no real "work" component of "Live, Work, and Play" of Smart Growth, unless you count the workers at the hotel. Will the workers be renting the apartments, providing walkability? Perhaps the next phase will add offices.

I have two takeaways on the proposed changes in the Thornwood plan:

1. On the bright side, I guess, is that the number of proposed apartment units in this plan is reduced from the former plan. It really isn't any secret that there are still many units (specifically 60 total available apartments listed today on its website) to select from at the Thornwood "residences".

Naturally the development does not want to overbuild its "luxury apartments", but, doing what developers do, they  keep building. The Commercial Appeal points out that Alderman Sanders supported the plan because it reduced the number of apartments planned by 114.

At the same time, the development added a Marriott branded hotel with 114 rooms. Presumably, the Hampton Inn at the development has been more profitable than the residences.

I do like the idea of increased tax revenues from hotels. Keep in mind, though, that much of this increased tax revenue goes to the bloated budget of GPAC. I love government support of the arts, mainly because I see the benefits from my past work experience, but there is something a bit too cozy about the City and its funding of GPAC. I would rather see our tax money for the arts go to a separate organization that solely supports artists in the area.

All that aside, Shelby County is seriously overbuilding not only apartments, but also hotels.  And in our City alone, there is one being built at Travure, and another planned at Carrefour. This article lists a lot of the plans:

Dozens of Hotels are in the works for Memphis Suburbs

Not sure if the BMA should be questioning developers' marketing projections, but this smells like a boom part of a boom and bust cycle. I also believe that the reduced business travel that has come about as a result of coronavirus may become a trend. Businesses will be able to ascertain which business travel is actually necessary. Much of the current business travel can be eliminated, due to the reduced costs and efficiencies of video conferencing. 

2. How many rooftop event spaces does Germantown need? 

REALLY? It isn't as if a rooftop here looks over anything but streets and shops and houses. Folks, this is not a rooftop event space with a view. Comparing our area with something like Mud Island is a  joke. I mean, the rooftop gardens planned at Carrefour and now at Thornwood make me a bit crazy. They don't even look out over the Wolf River.

But, of course, a rooftop garden is a "public" space, and of course a "public space" needs a public "parking garage." Why is that significant? BECAUSE THAT MAKES THEM ALL ELIGIBLE FOR TAX INCREMENT FINANCING. I am not sure how this could be telegraphed more clearly.

Next item on the agenda, perhaps AFTER the next election-- creation of areas of town where developers have their own little slush funds, comprised of the funds that otherwise would go to the general tax revenues. We are in the stage where the ordinary taxpayer here is like the frog in the water, who does not notice as the heat is being turned up slowly.

Look for tax incentives being requested by the developers of Carrefour and Thornwood. Do you want the City to support hotels and apartments and retail with tax increment financing? I don't. See my explanation of tax increment financing at this blog post Smart Growth and Tax Increment Financing. This is administered by an appointed "Industrial Development Board." Tax increment financing was approved by Germantown in early 2017 (reported in 
Germantown seeks to bolster development with TIF).

BMA, PLEASE stop approving projects with fake "public spaces." Undoubtedly this is what Alderman Forrest Owens means when he says "special places" (that is a favorite mantra of his--it could almost be a drinking game while watching a BMA meeting)-- tax incentives for developers.

Friday, February 21, 2020

The End Game- Water Tower, Athletic Fields, Land Swap, Campaign Donors

Corinne Kennedy of the Commercial Appeal, reported yesterday afternoon that the City revealed an agreement on a proposal for a far less onerous location for the water tower  than the one discussed by the BMA. Now the tower would be on Poplar Pike rather than by Forest Hill Elementary School, a move that I actually suggested in my last blog post on this subject

The City seems to be favoring the Commercial Appeal lately, as Germantown's controversial (prestigious, or pay-to-play?) Baldrige award was also first reported by her. I have no problem with Ms. Kennedy. Both she and Abigail Warren of the Daily Memphian are doing excellent reporting. In particular, Ms. Warren's in-depth reporting on school system issues and this land swap deal is appreciated. Again, I urge readers to support both news sources by subscribing to their publications, as both make my job so much easier, and you will benefit from reading about the City from their articles. 

Having said that, the release of this "deal" to the Commercial Appeal ignores the BMA. Apparently at least some of the aldermen had not been told about these dealings, and had to find out about the new proposed location of the water tower from the newspaper. That is emblematic of the dysfunctional nature of our City government. I will leave it at that.

Here is a link to the story:

Water Tower Would Have New Location in Revised Land Exchange  

After the story came out, the City released the packet for the aldermen for BMA meeting on Monday.

Abigail Warren of the Daily Memphian reported on the story last night: 
Germantown to Vote on Revised Land Swap

Graphic from the Facebook Group Developments in Germantown, TN-DIG
From what I understand, Mr. John Duke, who owns property by Forest Hill Elementary, approached the City and suggested a land swap after the original proposal passed the BMA. He would give up five acres of land on Poplar Pike in exchange for three acres of land owned by GMSD adjacent to his planned upscale home development. Twelve acres of GMSD land by Forest Hill Elementary would be transferred to the City for a "nature preserve." The other part of the deal, the transfer of land to GMSD for the high school athletic fields, would remain the same as reported here. Therein lies the rub. 

First of all, the new location of the water tower is exactly what I was hoping for at this point. Keep in mind, though, that the administration has screwed up just about everything that led up to this.The original insistence by the City was that the new elementary school property be on Winchester. There was no formal land search, no public input, and only three days notice before a BMA vote. And at no time did the City reveal publicly that there was to be a water tower by the school. When asked why 30 acres was needed for a school site, Mayor Palazzolo simply said it was traditional to have a public park by our schools. Because of citizen pushback against the Winchester School site, a task force was appointed to conduct a formal property search. The Winchester site that had been touted as the only site available by Mayor Palazzolo did not even make it into the top three sites selected by the task force.

It was only a deep dive into open records requests by citizens that first revealed that a water tower by the elementary school was planned by the City.-- again, there was no public announcement, and certainly there were no public meetings, only private conversations between GMSD and the City (no surprise, the City leaders live and breathe secrecy). 

A water tower in the midst of an upscale, settled neighborhood and directly by a school is and was completely unacceptable and never should have been an option. Nevertheless, without appropriate authorization, the City built now useless infrastructure for the water tower. This industrial-sized water pipe cost citizens over $232,000. The payment for the pipe was all so underhanded that the Comptroller of the State had to be contacted to figure out how correct the fiscal mess that was created. This is all discussed BMA Meeting Reveals City Illegally Ordered GMSD Utility Pipe. Given all that, I am happy and relieved about the new proposed water tower site. Yes, it would have been far less costly and caused less angst to be upfront about the water tower from the get go, but, the City only knows how to operate behind the veil. 

But is a water tower needed at all? Taxpayers are funding it, but the need for a water tower is due to land development in the Forest Hill area, not for current taxpayers. In his election campaign, Mayor Palazzolo promised to look into fiscal impact fees for developers, but of course nothing has been done on this front. Furthermore, no studies were undertaken to determine if water pumps would be a more viable and palatable option than a tower.

The Athletic Fields by HHS and a Taxpayer Squeeze

Although I laud the new proposed water tower location, GMSD should not allow itself to be bamboozled into accepting the  offer for the transfer of land. It is offered exclusive use only one field by HHS for Girl's softball in exchange for a total of 15 acres of GMSD land by Forest Hill Elementary School.  GMSD would only be able to use other fields when the City is not using them. GMSD will likely need another field for lacrosse in the near future. Yes, the plan includes an eventual transfer of all the property involved by HHS to GMSD, but the school system will likely need more fields sooner rather than later.  

This proposed contract is so lopsided that GMSD should not even consider it. The City is forcing on GMSD a shortage of fields. Why? BECAUSE THAT IS PROBABLY THE ONLY WAY THE CITY PLAN FOR AN ATHLETIC COMPLEX COULD BE PASSED! All of this has to do with the Parks Plan proposal for a tournament level athletic complex south of Winchester. This was likely a promise to various large campaign donors that own property in the area. Please see Candidate Financial Disclosures in the 2018 election.
 That part of the City has been slow to develop--hence a few years ago the City created a "Smart Growth" zoning district in the area, so that apartment complexes could be built. Viridian, a proposal on the border with Collierville, is exempt from recent zoning changes that ban "stand-alone" apartment complexes. Of course, a water tower was needed for all the planned developments! Since the City has no fiscal impact fees for developers, the taxpayers foot the bill.   

AND the City wants to buy land for an athletic complex, likely from Forest Hill Associates, an LLC. Most citizens are skeptical about the financial viability of such a complex, particularly because the much larger Mike Rose complex is so near. The easiest way to get the athletic complex passed is to put the squeeze on GMSD athletic space. There will thus be public pressure from GMSD supporters for the athletic complex, so that HHS will no longer have to share fields with the City. The taxpayer cost for all the plans to benefit landowners in southeast Germantown is enormous-- the water tower, the unneeded pipe, the land for the athletic complex, plus all the the ongoing expenses of development and the complex. Please keep in mind that the citizens have not been shown a cost/benefit analysis for the athletic complex. Please also keep in mind that the planned $2.5 million dollar outdoor addition to GPAC has burgeoned to $7.5 million dollars, so I  would NOT trust City estimates in any case. The City has a very poor record in containing costs.

As a confirmation that the City is forcing GMSD into a shortage of fields, astonishingly, the new plans for Riverdale Park actually include removal of the softball field located there!  Why can't there be continued use of that field, so that the use of more fields by HHS is available for the schools?

Plans for Riverdale Park Remove the Softball Field

Our City leaders are putting the squeeze on GMSD athletics and City taxpayers by trying to force upon us a tournament level athletic complex in order to benefit landowner campaign donors in southeast Germantown. 


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Shelby County May Get New Voting System in November After All

Election reform advocates were disheartened earlier this week when there was an announcement at the 
Shelby County Commission that a referendum is needed for the purchase of a new voting system from bond funds. It was thought that there would thus be no new voting system for the November election, as had been promised. Here is a news article about the legal issues around the referendum requirement: 

County Attorney: Funding for new voting machines only through referendum 

That announcement already is out of date, because we were told yesterday at a Shelby County Election Commission meeting that a voting system can be purchased without a referendum because sources of funding are available that will not require the issuance of bonds. It is likely that the new system could be in place by the November Election.

Please see Steve Mulroy, law professor, at Citizens to be Heard at the Shelby County Election Commission yesterday.

What type of Voting System will Shelby County Purchase?  

Will New Voting Machines that include hand-marked ballots be bought this year for Shelby County?    

The current system is outdated, and insecure, because it has no "paper trail" for audits and recounts. In a divided vote earlier this year, the Shelby County Election Commission requested funding for a computerized system that spits out a paper receipt. Detractors of this type of system believe that this system can still be hacked by a quick insertion of a flash drive, and that studies show that most voters do not check their paper receipt for accuracy. It is also considerably more expensive than a hand-marked, scanned ballot system.

The County Commission meeting on Monday, in a 7-6 vote, approved only enough funding for a hand-marked paper ballot system that can be immediately scanned and tabulated at each election site. The ballots would then go into a secured box which could be hand-counted for recounts. The system is in use in Chattanooga, and is the system that is the consensus choice among election security experts. A grass roots group which includes Republicans, Democrats, and independent voters has been vocal in pushing the hand-marked system in Shelby County. See Hand-marked Paper Ballots are Cheap and Secure  

So where does this leave us? Rinse and repeat. The Election Commission is seeking new bids on voting systems, and will have to approve another request after staff finishes analyzing the new bids and submitting their request to the Election Commissioners. 

It is pretty much guaranteed that Linda Phillips, administrative leader of the Election Commission, will still not recommend approval of the hand-marked paper ballot system, as she has refused to accept the consensus view of election experts that the scanned, hand marked ballots are more secure. She did not even entertain any bids on hand-marked systems in the first set of bidding. In fact, according to Mulroy (see above), she announced after this week's Shelby County Commission vote for funding of the hand-marked system that she intended to sue the Shelby County Commission over the decision.

To top it all off, citizens who attended the Election Commission meeting Wednesday accused the Linda Phillips of still excluding hand-marked ballot systems in the language of the request for bid proposals. She immediately denied this. When citizens were not satisfied with this answer, Election Commissioner Bennie Smith, an advocate of the hand-marked system promised to read the document and confer with Ms. Phillips about the matter if it does not include hand-marked systems.

The bottom line? Expect more drama. I urge everyone to continue to contact the Shelby County Election Commissioners and the Shelby County Commissioners, and urge them to accept the consensus-choice of election security experts- scanned, hand-marked paper ballots that provide an accurate paper trail for recounts. Here is a screenshot from a Fox 13 video on the Shelby County Commission vote which urged a hand-marked voting system.  

Friday, January 17, 2020

BMA Meeting Reveals City Illegally Ordered GMSD Utility Pipe; Also Land Swap and Smart Code Change

Below is the embedded video of the January 13 BMA meeting. For those who do not have the time to watch a two and a half hour meeting, but want to follow the story, I provide time stamps with links to the video, and brief summaries of content on the three non-routine agenda items-

1. The land swap with GMSD and possible water tower,

2. The definition of stand-alone apartments in Smart Growth code changes, and

3. A fund transfer from utility fund to GMSD building fund to correct for improper payment for water line from school bond funds.

Please see the Commercial Appeal article or the Daily Memphian article which both give overall summaries of the meeting.

Germantown Aldermen Approve Land Swap Send Controversial Agreement to School Board 

Germantown Aldermen Approve Land Swap, review multi-family guidelines

My opinions on some issues are at the end of this post, in blue font.  You can skip to those if you have already listened to the meeting, or read the news articles. Among other things, we were told that the City ordered a utility-sized water pipe at Forest Hill Elementary without proper authority, and at the meeting Rocky Janda, liaison for the Finance Commission, had the audacity to characterize this as an "accounting error" that needed correction. In fact, the procedures that the City followed show that there was a flagrant violation of the law.

In addition to speaking to the water utility pipe issue, I throw in my two cents on whether GMSD should accept the land swap, and where the water should be located. But first, here is the meeting, in chronological order and time stamps:

Citizens to Be Heard:

Danielle Taylor  Please vote no for land swap. Residents and GMSD don't want this. If a water tower put there, a 5G cell tower will be put there. Not worth the risk, as research shows health risk. Think about the research and impact of decision. Do what is best for citizens and children who can't speak for themselves.

Brian Edmonds  A yes vote is for abandonment of protocol, water pipe, a public works project, roundabout method of no hearing, no design submitted, circumvents public involvement, a yes vote is saying that administration has the power to design a public works project without public input, and BMA should be more than a rubber stamp, Combining this with a Title 9 issue an insult to intelligence. Softball fields used as leverage for the City to make a deal with the devil. A water tower will be built on land. School Board will be deciding on water tower, that is not in their charter. Asking school Board to share softball fields with City but to own them and care for them-- an unfunded liability that GMSD should turn down.

Chris Price This is for the kids. Thank everyone for support of GMSD. Bodies have to work together. A water tower a sign of infrastructure. Once complete we will celebrate it. Pleasing everyone won't happen. Kids need 25 acres on site at high school (for softball). We are all Germantown. In favor of swap and water. God Bless Germantown.

Brian Curry Mentality that south of Poplar not as valuable as other parts of City. Already put out bids for water tower. Why were water pipes rolled up into school construction? Should have been a stand-alone project and handled as such. The land behind HHS should be separate issue from water tower. Johnson Road makes more sense as a location than by FHE but "some citizens more equal than others" (Animal Farm).

Susan Threlkeld attended Environmental Commission, problems supplying water, need elevated water storage, does not care where it is put, on high ground in eastern part of City, lives near other water tanks and not a problem at all, no noise, eats at Casablanca, all of Germantown needs this. We need resiliency and redundancy, Congratulations for Baldrige award.

Brandon Wellford These matters should be separated (ball field and FHE land). GMSD has not voted.

Stephanie Van Arsdale A doctor, firmly believes that it is not the best place to put it on school property, has grandson attending the school, concerned about potential for cell tower to be built, that would be the wrong decision, 

Erica Harle  Concerns about land swap, son has autism, possibly put son at risk from possible 5G tower on top of water tower, work at St. Jude, knows about concerns of cell tower placement, where are other options, lots of land for sale, why by kids school? 

Public Hearing (Second Reading) of Smart Code changes 

Cameron Ross: Defines stand-alone and single-use apartments, purpose is to ban "stand-alone" apartments except when part of an overall Smart Growth development.


Brian Edmonds Vested interest as resident, Smart Growth is snake oil, developers 
at expense of aesthetics, traffic, parking and common sense. The changes won't do anything to solve the issues. One coffee shop alone for several buildings enough to build apartments. Linguistic deception, this is a red herring to line pockets of developers. Eliminate mixed-use category. Apartment under any other name is an apartment.


Forest Owens Spoke in favor of it, likes adherence to small area plan, thanks staff, urge support

Rocky Janda  this meets what we are trying to accomplish

Scott Sanders The amendments were developed by staff, not Planning Commission, just presented there. Condominiums, which many residents support, should not be lumped in with apartments. These changes allow us to chip away at apartments a little bit, so better than nothing, Residents don't want more apartments. Hard decision. Asks if Planning Commission played any role in drafting it.

Cameron Ross Staff has planning professionals, presented over time, met with PC several times,  PC had dialogue with staff about research, and one-on-one meetings, collaborative effort

Scott Sanders  Appreciates staff, asks question, and Cameron Ross answers, about input from Planning Commission  

The Vote The second reading passes 4-1, with Alderman Massey the only one voting against the measure, and it moves to third and final reading next BMA meeting. 

Agreement GMSD Land Exchange

Jason Huisman (see Commercial Appeal article for details), Assistant City Administrator presents the plan--deeds softball fields and parkland by HHS to GMSD in exchange for 15 acres by Forest Hill Elementary. Softball fields would also still be used by City,  Three acres reserved by FHE for possible utilities (water tower).


Mary Anne Gibson Moves to accept this exchange and then speaks in favor. I know the neighbors have had challenges. Charged with balancing needs of all Germantown. Best interest of citizens and students. Appreciates work. 

Scott Sanders What other locations under consideration, Mayor says this is the only location. Mr. Mills, Engineer: Looked at other sites no action taken. Also Johnson Road.

Sanders- Why wasn't a facilities usage agreement sent by GMSD in January shared with aldermen? (muddled "I don't know answers" from 
Mayor and Mr. Huisman). In March, GMSD passed request to City for park near HHS, and it was sent to the City. Was that shared with aldermen? Answer by Mayor: It is a public document, so anyone could see this. Sanders-why wasn't it shared by City since sent to City? Answer by Mayor: City had been working with professional staff at GMSD and Mr. Heisman. The resolution of GMSD did not meet needs of both organizations. Sanders cites an agreement drafted by GMSD attorneys. Was that shared and why not? Mayor: There were multiple drafts between both organizations and legal teams. What you see now is summation. Sanders: At GMSD meeting that Mayor attended, a joint work session between GMSD and BMA was requested. Anything done to facilitate that? Mayor said they offered to work with Chair of GMSD, Mr. Manuel, and legal team and did not hear back.

Dean Massey: Who decided on language and agreement? Mayor: I met with Superintendent. Massey: To Mr. Sanders, point, it would have been beneficial to have an open meeting with members of school board on this issue, as requested by GMSD. Simple solution is lease or conveyance of softball field for team to use. Don't see any reason to use this issue to coerce Schools to give up land by FHE. Administration has excluded elected officials and not acted in good faith (back and forth with Mayor). When was School Board notified that the City intended to use the water line under discussion? Bo Mills: As soon as realized close to Johnson Road, and near ridge line I contacted City Administrator. Massey: Which elected officials at school board were notified that you intended to use the water line? Bo Mills Talked with superintendent and deputy superintendent, no elected officials.

Scott Sanders  Support our schools, but not this agenda item. I have met with many people. Recommend that GMSD not relinquish land. We have very little land left. Unfortunate that City did not consult with elected representatives. No public meetings. Nobody given opportunity to discuss. Vote no and force the City to return to negotiations and let citizens be at table. Two issues should not been tied together. Would have transferred one softball field. Water tower would render land near school unusable for expansion.

Forrest Owens I read emails, and listened. Worked by Bo Mills and trust him, have to balance needs of overall City with small area, need a second tower, multiple phases to go through, the land swap begins process of finding piece of land

Dean Massey Made a motion to postpone vote, and Scott Sanders seconded, then discussion, due to information in Executive Session, Mr. Sanders seconded, Administration disclosed an error in paying for water line, Mayor tries to derail discussion, Bond money got allocated for a utility for City, City Administrator says a conversation with Comptroller who said that was okay, but aldermen have no first hand knowledge of conversation, should not vote on this issue until we have chance to talk with Comptroller, because this could be a cover-up for something that could be illegal. This should be investigated.

Scott Sanders Supports postponement to look into how agreement came about, will provide copies of back and forth with school board that elected officials were not aware of. Not opposed to water tower just not at this location.

Rocky Janda Knew about what GMSD proposed from Facebook or some place. Would not agree to it. Staff needs to come up with agreement and vote yes or no. Don't need to try to take over full time staff on decision making process. 

Dean Massey During the time we postpone it, would like to schedule joint work session with GMSD to have open debate. No evidence that School Board wants this agreement. It is the job of elected officials, not staff. Residents would appreciate open discussions.

Scott Sanders  Agrees with Mr. Massey, only about ten days ago first saw the agreement voting on tonight. When met with Mr. Manuel, he had not been provided copies of this agreement. School Board members had not seen the agreement when talked with them--this week! Gone about the wrong way and postponement would leave time for review and joint meetings.

The motion to postpone the vote fails. Massey and Sanders vote to postpone, and Janda, Gibson and Owens vote no. 

Original Motion Passes   Massey and Sanders vote no, and Janda, Gibson and Owens vote yes.  

Agreement Land Use GMSD

Jason Huisman  Raising the money for all the improvements on land behind HHS will take time, City will share land after transfer until City acquires land elsewhere. Maintenance and utilities responsibility of school district, but will only have primary usage of one of three fields.

The motion to approve was made by Alderman Janda, and seconded by Alderman Gibson. Alderman Janda states that this is an excellent agreement, allows to move forward on master plan on parks plan.

Alderman Sanders Has a question, open ended statement on use of facilities, until City has built new fields, no expiration date? Huisman says City intends to build fields. Sanders asks does building fields at Cameron Brown depend on something else first? Huisman said this agreement written this way so that Parks Plan would not be disrupted. Sanders says this sounds like this will be a long-term use, will hinder School Board. Where will the lacrosse field go? Schools won't be able to build one. Now a TSSAA sport.  Cannot support this.

Dean Massey  Which parties at GMSD desire to have this exchange as stated in contract? Mayor says standard language of contract. Massey- Did they express this desire? Mayor says mutually worked on together, Multiple exchanges, says City Attorney, and Superintendent agreed to language. They were representing to them that this is what their Board agreed to. Jason Manuel agreed to this, no elected officials present. Massey says seems fraudulent to say that all parties desire this, when elected officials not part of it.

Mary Anne Gibson The staff are there as representatives of their two organizations. Can only speak for BMA not School Board. GMSD can ask their questions and make suggestions. 

Dean Massey Our vote tonight puts the school board in a position to accept agreement, undue pressure. Should have had work session and negotiated. School Board being coerced. School became impetus to justify rezoning in FHH, which now necessitates water tower. Not fair to those who purchased homes there to force changes. Could move water tower. GMSD just needs a softball field. Why not a simple lease?  Everyone should oppose this.

Rocky Janda  Appalled that colleague doesn't know how things work, staff members negotiated this, just vote yes or no. Most came from GMSD legal team. One softball field won't work for Foundation. Can't kick can down the road with water tower, but not voting on that now. No coercion. Schools can get park back if they need it for expansion. Good agreement, schools don't have to vote for it.

Forrest Owens Asks Bo Mills about placing water tower south of Winchester. Consultant was asked and he said not feasible because of the distance from the 24 inch mains that connect the plants. 

Scott Sanders  What is the cost to GMSD of maintaining the new property by HHS? Staff does not have than information. That is an issue, why is school being saddled with this when do not get full use? Better just to give the softball field for now. This accelerates the cost for school district when they are not using it.

Mary Anne Gibson We need highest and best facilities for children, competing with Collierville and private schools. Need to plan for entire campus. Lacrosse is coming quickly. Supports this.

Mayor Palazzolo cuts the microphone off for Dean Massey, claiming that he has used his time. After checking with the parliamentarian, he cuts it back on and says he can make a motion.

Dean Massey moves to postpone the vote in order to have time for a joint meeting with GMSD. Scott Sanders seconds the motion. Imperative to get opinion of School Board on how to operate land use agreement, City primary user of softball fields, but GMSD is saddled with the bill. We control their funding and ultimately City has greater bargaining power. It could be that GMSD doesn't even want the two extra fields.

Scott Sanders Need a postponement to look at cost of maintaining fields, might want a 50/50 split of cost of maintaining the fields since City has continued use. Mayor Palazzolo says GMSD has an 18 million dollar operating reserve.

Mary Anne Gibson Starts to ask Pam Beasley a question about cost of maintenance of fields but is cut short by Mayor Palazzolo.

Rocky Janda Have two parties, staff negotiating, and agreed to present, vote no or yes, not our decision to make for GMSD.

Dean Massey  It is our responsibility to debate this publicly and have joint session with GMSD, elected officials should take lead, not staff. Wants the Mayor to look into a possible lease of property to GMSD.

Vote The vote to postpone the vote on the land use agreement failed 3-2. Aldermen Janda, Gibson, and Owens against, Aldermen Massey and Sanders in favor. 

Vote on Original Motion Vote on the land use agreement passed 3-2. Aldermen Janda, Gibson, and Owens in favor, Aldermen Massey and Sanders against.   

Correction of "Error"-- Fund Transfer   

Jason Huisman Authorizes transfer of $232,000+ from utility fund to general fund to reimburse the school fund bond proceeds for the sewer line extension and the 24 inch water main line that potentially services an elevated water tower. School bond proceeds paid for it but it was part of the approved capital improvements budget in utility fund. The bond proceeds need to be restored by this amount. This allows the school system to use the money for school construction.

Rocky Janda moves to approve the motion, and Mary Anne Gibson seconds. Alderman Janda, explains further. GMSD requested a refund for the amount in utility fund, all we are doing is an accounting procedure. The school ended up costing more money. No coverup. We had to figure out the logistics to make this happen. GMSD wearing him out about it.

Scott Sanders   Water line and sewer line payment incorrect. GMSD paid for it out of bond fund. The sewer and water line now belong to the school district and it is on their books. Not a City asset. If the Board decides to put an elevated water tank at that location, then it can purchase these back from GMSD and pay for it through utility funds. The BMA was supposed to have voted to expend these funds, and it never did. The BMA would have had to vote to decide where the tower would be and then how to get the water to tower, not an accounting error. We have not decided where tower goes. We don't know for sure that the Comptroller okayed this. This is risky. GMSD had no authority to buy and bury a sewer line, not voted on by BMA. Only BMA can authorize projects paid for out of the utility fund.  

Dean Massey  Agrees with Alderman Sanders and calls for a review of how it came about that a City water line was forced on the school district. There was a reference to the Comptroller's office being notified but that was communicated just before the Executive Session (before the meeting), no first-hand knowledge about the City's discussions with the Comptroller, and it was discussions with the Comptroller that is said to have necessitated the vote tonight. We need to know what the City Administrator disclosed to the Comptroller, and how the Comptroller responded. Unwise to take the risk of voting on this tonight not knowing any more about whether acting within the law. Someone should look at whether this was intentional wrong doing or just an accident. There should be ramifications and accountability for this error. (My note: Patrick Lawton did not attend the meeting and could not be questioned about his contact with the Comptroller).

City Attorney  The original plat showed this line as a City utility. The Comptroller is not interested in having school districts in the utility business.The pipe, up until the meter, belongs to the City. From the meter to the school belongs to the school. The problem is that the plat said "proposed" line, yet it was built.

Dean Massey In any other scenario would be accountability. Every time an error City Administrator calls "oops". Citizens are tired of it. 

Mayor Palazzolo The item is on the agenda in full transparency. We are a Baldrige city but we don't get everything perfect.

Dean Massey Calls for postponement of vote to review information that was conveyed to Comptroller. The motion was seconded my Alderman Sanders.

Alderman Sanders Postponing this would allow City Administrator to provide aldermen with verification that the Comptroller and MTAS say that this is the appropriate thing to do. No attachment in agenda item to let us know that we are doing the right thing.

Alderman Massey If we want an opinion from attorney we need a formal, written legal opinion. This will give us a look at documents from state that support the action. 
The vote to postpone the vote on the fund transfer failed 3-2. Aldermen Janda, Gibson, and Owens against, Aldermen Massey and Sanders in favor.

Alderman Sanders Cannot vote for this without evidence ensuring that we are not misappropriating utility funds. 

Rocky Janda We had a Capital Improvements Project budgeted item that we voted on this. GMSD accidentally submits this to us and we pay it out of bond fund. (my comment: I laughed when I heard this characterization. GMSD did not accidentally do anything. GMSD would not have built the 24 inch pipe had it not been for strong arming from the City. Without a vote from BMA authorizing releasing the money from the utility fund, the action was illegal. It completely ignores the City code, and bypasses appropriate bidding procedures. Even if this had been itemized there is no way it could have legally been paid out of the utility fund without the BMA releasing the funds). 
-Dean Massey  Was told that the City was withholding the money to try to get school board to go along with the agreement. Mr. Massey asked when this was known. Mr. Huisman said this item was not itemized by School Board.  When did the City request money from the water line? Huisman cannot remember. Why didn't the City pay for this in the first place, rather than through the school bond fund? Why didn't the School Board recognize why they were not responsible for the water line? Mayor says he can't answer for school board

Forrest Owens Believes the attorney and City Administration that this is the correct procedure. 

The vote to authorize the transfer of funds from the utility fund to the school construction fund passed. Aldermen Janda, Gibson, and Owens for, and Aldermen Massey and Sanders against.

Often I try to give my own take on things in these meeting summaries and express them in blue font. I have lots to say about the pipe payment issue because I have more than a decade of experience as a finance director of a non-profit that used fund accounting.

What should have been done about the $232,000 owed GMSD bond fund from the utility fund?  

1. The City illegally added a utility project to a school funded by bonds, without having that project flow through the BMA.  Code requires that the BMA vote on specific projects and contracts. Having the project in the capital improvements budget does not provide the proper authority for expenditure of the funds. But the deed is done, and now the question is how to handle the mess. My best guess is that the vote for the fund transfer is the way to handle the issue, but a guess is no substitute for having a documented answer from the state, so the vote should have been postponed until there is written documentation from the state that the Comptroller's office wants it handled this way, after looking at the circumstances. The state's so-called "approval" was based on second hand information about contact between Patrick Lawton and the State comptroller's 
office. He did not attend the meeting and thus was unavailable for questioning.

2. There needs to be an investigation into how this occurred. We know that GMSD on its own did not decide to order 24 inch pipes for a water tower. It had to have been forced to do this by the City. Again, neither GMSD nor the City had the appropriate authorization to order the utility expenditure. Who signed off on the contract? Alderman Massey is correct. Saying "Oops" is not enough. We need to know the sequence of events. Whether a "mistake" or not, this was an illegal action. Are our leaders unaware of the code requirements, or do they just not care?

I was a Finance Director for over ten years and have extensive experience in fund accounting. I would have been fired if something like this had happened under my watch, and that would have been the correct action. 
Had the City had a permanent Finance Director at the time, would this have occurred?

Come on people, we are not a one-horse town. We have lots of horses. Lots of horses AND a Baldrige award. It is unacceptable for City business to be conducted this way. 
Brian Edmonds (see above, second speaker in Citizens to be Heard) did a great job explaining everything wrong about the pipe issue, and I do not need to expound further on everything he said.

Why did GMSD think that the $232,000+ for the water pipes was being withheld by the City until the land swap was approved? 

The Mayor at one point asked Alderman Massey why he thought that the City was holding the funds and only paying if GMSD approved the land swap. If you read Abigail Warren (Daily Memphian) account of the GMSD work session, you will see that the first agreement drawn up by City attorneys had the payment of the $232,000 as the last item on their  land swap agreement, and the GMSD Board members unanimously believed that should not be part of the contract, because it suggested coercion. Obviously in its talks with the City, GMSD insisted on being paid back first, and these issues are now separated. 

Should GMSD approve the land-swap agreement?  

No. Without even getting into the water tower issue, I would reject it because of the strings put on the transfer of the fields alone. Houston High is responsible for all the expenses, but does not get full benefit of the fields until some open-ended, unknown time period in the future, when the City builds new fields. I am not sure any lawyer would advise a client to sign such a contract. I find it shocking, actually. Back to the drawing board!  A joint BMA-GMSD work session should be held.

Where should the water tower be located?  

The location by the school is a poor choice. 

There has been no formal analysis presented on whether we need a water tower over a pumping station. I am still scratching my head as to why I experienced no problems with air in my pipes (the alleged reason for the water tower) when I lived in Memphis, which has but one water tower inside the loop. Fire fighting works fine in Memphis. But, if, indeed, the City needs a water tower, and south of Winchester is too far from the main lines, then the City needs to talk to property owners in the area, and try to find another place to locate it. It is no secret that Mr. Mills wants it as close to Johnson Park as possible. I predict the City will once again sacrifice south of Poplar residents so that north of Poplar residents will not be disturbed, as Brian Curry pointed out in Citizens to Be Heard. 

As a way of compromise, I feel that Mr. John Duke, a supporter of the Mayor who is planning a development of expensive homes in the area by Forest Hill Elementary, should approach the City, and suggest moving the water tower to a spot on Poplar Pike by the furniture store. The tower then would not be by the school, nor in the middle of a subdivision next to planned one million dollar homes, but on the edge of a commercial area. Mr. Duke, in exchange for this land, could receive the more desirable three acres by the school that was targeted for a possible water tower. 
How about it, Mr. Duke? How about it, City and GMSD?   

What about the water lines already built and not properly approved? That is a sunk cost, and distasteful as it is, having expensive water pipes running to nowhere is better than having the water tower placed by a school in the middle of a new, expensive, subdivision.

Was a lesson learned? Will the City ever learn to play by the rules? Don't hold your breath.  Meanwhile, I am waiting to see how the auditors handle this mess.