Friday, October 28, 2016

City Leaders Play Political Football with Popular Kids' Sports Program

The Commercial Appeal article on this subject is found here: 

Germantown political endorsement prompts warning 

I commend Daniel Connolly for the way he covered this story in the Commercial Appeal. David Nischwitz, a candidate for alderman opposing Rocky Janda, is a volunteer football coach for the Germantown Football League, and the GFL President, Broc Kreitz, wrote a letter endorsing him. The email was inappropriate because it was written possibly using the GFL mailing list and definitely with the GFL logo.  (PLEASE NOTE: Although it was charged that the mailing list was used, the Board retraction says that its mailing list was not used. It is possible that Mr Nischwitz got the email addresses from another source, such as other coaches who are friends of Mr. Nischwitz. The term "friend of GFL" was used in the original letter.)  In any case, it looked as if the GFL was officially making the endorsement due to the letterhead, rather than Kreitz making a personal endorsement. The Germantown Football League is a non-profit organization and thus they are not allowed to use their organization to endorse candidates, without compromising their (501)c3 status. The guy made a mistake, for sure.

Here is the letter. 


The Germantown Football League was asked by the city leaders to send out a letter disavowing an endorsement of Nischwitz. Entirely appropriately, the GFL sent out email to correct the situation:  




This was not enough for the City leaders, as they had previously prepared a PRESS PACKET ready to hand to Daniel Connolly after the BMA meeting this past Monday. They claimed that not only was this email putting the GFL tax status in jeopardy, but it was violating a city contract and somehow this would have negative repercussions for the City itself because a federal law was violated. In fact, by alerting the press to this, are our City leaders not increasing the chances that the IRS actually does look into the tax status of GFL? Is that what they really want to risk?

Do our City leaders really feel that the GFL, an entirely separate organization from the city, which happens to have a contract with the city, can endanger Germantown by mistakenly using the GFL letterhead for a candidate endorsement?  And, if the city leaders feel that the City of Germantown is at some kind of risk, why seek publicity? Does that make sense?  Yes it does, but only if the goal is scoring "gotcha" points.  

If the City was not reprimanded over Patrick Lawton's statement that he would quit if George Brogden won in the 2014 election, how in the world could GFL's email and subsequent retraction cause the City any harm?

I give the likelihoood of the City of Germantown suffering due to the mistaken GFL email in question about as high as Justin Timberlake's going to jail because he took a selfie in the voting booth. 

This leads me to this talk of the town now in Germantown: 



Needless to say, Justin got a pass (love him). 

Anyway, the City leaders tried to score political points, and I believe they failed. We are smarter than they think. They didn't fail because they sought corrective action--that was appropriate. What was inappropriate was the publicity seeking, shaming a popular leader of sports in the City for the world to see.  

Why are our City leaders humiliating Broc Kreitz? Here is why: They are fully aware there are many Germantown citizens who are riled up about revelations that Patrick Lawton knew about his car allowance as he was using a city-issued car.  The Mayor feared at Monday's BMA meeting there would be with an onslought of angry citizens wanting to be heard.  He had no reason to be concerned. There actually were two "Citizens to be Heard". Neither spoke about Mr. Lawton. One was Shirley Hahn talking about the selection of the school site, and another was a woman vociferously complaining about the GFL letterhead on a Nischwitz endorsement, acting gleefully about the possibilty that the organization might lose its tax status. 

In his preliminary remarks before the "Citizens to Be Heard" agenda item, the Mayor added a mini lecture stating that anything about a city employee that was gossip, hearsay, or defamatory is not allowed. You can listen to this at the 11:00 minute mark in this archived video.  Obviously he was prepared to stifle any possible discussion of the auto allowance, and he used the GFL incident to deflect attention in the event that angry citizens appeared in mass to demand an outside investigation of the Patrick Lawton auto allowance incident.

So where is the official City statement about the revelation that Patrick Lawton had knowledge of the car allowance as he was ready to get a city issued car?  Crickets!   

Our City Administrator, for six years, received a car allowance while simultaneously driving a city-owned vehicle. When caught, Mr. Lawton represented to the Commercial Appeal that he had been unaware of this double dipping. Yet, as Mr. Lawton's email to Kristen Geiger shows, he was well aware of his own car allowance. 

So, how do our city leaders respond to this new revelation? Do they express concern that Mr. Lawton's explanation, which they so eagerly had accepted, has turned out to be squarely contradicted by an email whose authenticity is not in dispute?  Do they commission an investigation into Mr. Lawton's conduct?  No, our leaders seek to deflect attention from the conduct of the city's highest paid official by humiliating a football coach who made a mistake.

I don't know Broc Kreitz, and have no kids the age to play youth football. But he is well loved by parents of children in the program, and they are not happy by the way this was handled by the City leaders.  

Just as an aside, I am not sure why the aldermen using the water bill email addresses for campaign purposes was not against the law. The aldermen are CITY EMPLOYEES. They identify themselves as being sitting aldermen (city employees) in their emails. They used city emails obtained through Tennessee open records request laws. Although they did not use the city logo, they did use a statement similar to this in these emails: "You are receiving this email because you expressed an interest in Germantown." This identifies the emails as being officially from the city in the eyes of the most citizens. Maybe if I had the resources I could just ask my attorneys to look into this. Maybe if I had the resources I could ask my PR department to prepare a press packet! But then, I don't really have the luxury of the use of our tax dollars to pursue this. 

Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Citizens to be Heard--Sheila Hahn Questions School Site Selection Process BMA 10-24-16

Sheila Starkey Hahn addresses the BMA meeting 10-24-16, pointing out that the Board of Education had no role in selecting the proposed Winchester school site, and asks that the BMA state that the property should be used for something else besides a school, because the people have spoken--and the citizens of Germantown do not want this site for a school. 




Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Prominent Germantown names on PAC list for election

The Commercial Appeal discusses The Sunshine PAC and its donors in this article: 

Prominent Germantown Names on Pac List for Election 

The major donors include Alderman John Barzizza, Jon Thompson, and Edwin Barnett.  Barzizza is quoted as saying that people stay in office too long.  Jon Thompson has been one of the main people who have been using open records requests. 

Barzizza supports challengers David Nischwitz and Dean Massey against incumbents Rocky Janda and Dave Klevan. However neither Nischwitz nor Massey have any connection to the PAC.  In the article the challengers say that there needs to be a fresh approach to government, and neither are interested in negative campaigning.  

Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Emails Surface Concerning Patrick Lawton's Knowledge of His "Mistaken" Car Allowance


Exactly how unaware was Patrick Lawton that he was receiving a car allowance while he was driving a city-issued car? 

In A Car Plus Car Allowance=A Mistake and a Payback I wrote the following commentary about an article in the Commercial Appeal, which stated in reference to Mr. Lawton having both a city-issued car and a car allowance simultaneously--"Lawton says the $250 bi-weekly car allowance was not listed separately from the salary on his pay stub and that he didn't notice it."  

According to the Commercial Appeal, while Patrick Lawton had a city issued car, he also had a $6600 dollar a year car allowance. It was discovered by Ralph Gabb in October of 2014. This had gone on for six whole years. Lawton says he wasn't aware of it because it wasn't broken out separately on his check stub and he didn't notice it.  I do know that an error like this that goes on for six years is indicative of an accounting system with very poor financial controls. My financial experience would lead me to believe that there may be other shoes to drop. This, of course, is contrary to the notion that some people have that this is a "well run" city. I am open minded and I cannot come to a specific conclusion about the two people without knowing more facts. Let us hope that our leadership insists on getting this investigated!   Coincidentally, the Open Records Act requests were beginning to come in at the time. The payments were stopped, and then Lawton returned the overpayment to the city to the tune of almost $40,000 in January of 2015.   At this point I can say that I am surprised at Mr. Lawton's professed unawareness of the details of his own compensation.   
And just how unaware was Mr. Lawton of his double dipping? As it turns out, an email string has surfaced through the open records requests. At the very time that he was first receiving the use of a car issued by the city, he engaged in the following email exchange.  From Patrick Lawton to Kristen Geiger April 01, 2008 I have been in conversation with the Mayor about my compensation and benefits. I will begin to use a city vehicle again. I know we just purchased admin Cars for Police and I want to transfer one of the new Impalas when they come in for my use. I ran this by the Chief and he said they can manage with the use of a drug car. I wanted you to know this because it will impact admins Budget so far as vehicle allocations.  Also I have started to change the budget letter and will try to get to you by next week. From Kristen Geiger to Patrick Lawton April 2, 2008 No problem, Are you sure we don't need to include another car for FY09?  Also, do I remove the auto allowance? From Patrick Lawton to Kristen Geiger April 2, 2008 Not in Admin-but check with Chief Hall--Don't take the allowance out.   Read this exchange and judge for yourself whether Mr. Lawton was, as he told the Commercial appeal, unaware that he was receiving a car allowance while he simultaneously was driving a city issued vehicle.  Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Germantown alderman's race heats up as Barzizza supports challengers

This Commercial Appeal article notes that Mr. Barzizza would like a shift in the balance of the BMA, and he is supporting challengers that would be more discerning than the current aldermen in their support for the city administration.  



Barzizza states: "I want to see the numbers change and get a better balance than having a 4 to 1 vote on matters such as the city's budget and the Germantown Road Realignment Project," he wrote, saying that he supports the candidacies of both Dean Massey, who is challenging incumbent Dave Klevan, and David Nischwitz, who's challenging  incumbent Rocky Janda."   

Although Germantown Road Realignment did not go forward, presumably because some other aldermen were ultimately convinced not to go against the clear will of their constituents, it was Mr. Barzizza alone that was vocally against the project from the get go. There was never any public vote by the aldermen, so the voters do not know exactly which aldermen ended up favoring the project, and which didn't. Obviously the City Administrator had private talks with the aldermen, and the result of those talks led to the project being dropped. This does not directly violate the Sunshine Law, but it certainly is not a transparent process. 

The opponents had to go to extreme lengths to defeat the project, and started a website and a grass roots campaign that included a petition against realignment signed by over 1000 citizens. Without that effort, it surely would have passed, and we would be dealing with construction and the resulting loss of businesses now.

Rocky Janda has stated that he opposes using eminent domain for any project. Presumably, if eminent domain was not part of Germantown Road Realignment in the future, he would be more inclined to favor it. 

During the Town Hall meeting on the issue, David Klevan made his disdain known for the opponents of the project as he called the petition against it a "blog" and noted that one comment on the petition page was from someone in Arizona. (The ChangeDotOrg petition site got many of the signers' locations wrong.) Mr. Klevan now calls the issue "dead", and used our water bill email addresses to inform us of this. See The IRONY of the Germantown Email Scandal

Please see my post on exactly why Germantown Road Realignment is not dead. 

The Undead-Germantown Road Realignment

Mr. Barzizza also notes that he was the only one voting against the budget. The City Administrator's salary in the budget is higher than any other public official in the state, and he objected to that. 

A contentious BMA meeting about the budget was covered  

If we had all candidates at the Candidate Forum we would be able to point to that for their stands on issues such as realignment of Germantown Road.   

We cannot do that because Leadership Germantown Alumni chose to go ahead with the Candidate Forum on the original date after they gave the challengers, Mr. Nischwitz and Mr. Massey only ten days notice of the event, and Mr. Nischwitz could not attend due to a previously planned out-of-town meeting. Yet the incumbents, all Leadership Germantown Alumni, had four weeks MORE notice of the event through their own newsletter.  

The Leadership Germantown Candidate Forum is discussed in these posts:   

Challengers' Late Notice Leads to Imbalanced Forum  

Leadership Germantown Alumni Newsletter Gives Incumbents Weeks More Notice than Challengers for Date of Forum 


What we do have is David Massey talking about Germantown Road Realignment at 7:08 in this Germantown Municipal Television interview.

 

None of the other candidates talked about Germantown Road Realignment in their interviews.   

When asked about Realignment, Mr. Nischwitz responded by email to a voter:"I'm opposed to the realignment based on what I've seen designed and would not be interested in supporting. You're more than welcome to share my stance as being opposed to the alignment as designed and presented as of now. Of course, if the citizens saw a new design that they preferred/approved that would make sense I'd be sure to listen to them. As it stands now the citizens have spoken against it therefore I'd honor their position and represent them accordingly."

As noted above, Mr. Janda states that he is against using eminent domain, and both he and Mr. Klevan say that Germantown Road Realignment is "dead".  At best it is hibernating.

Although not mentioned in the Commericial Appeal, a more recent issue showed Mr. Barzizza to be at least partially at odds with the other aldermen. The public was given three days notice of a vote by the BMA on September 12 for a new school site at Winchester and Crestwyn.  After a pitch by the Mayor and City Administrator, a contract for the property was voted to be approved 5-0 by the aldermen. 

After the vote, Mr. Barzizza, felt he was misled by the Mayor, because the Mayor had indicated that a property was not for sale, when in fact citizens later determined that it was. As a result of that, Mr. Barzizza addressed the School Board at their next meeting and urged them not to approve the contract without further investigation. A motion to table the issue passed at that School Board meeting.

More on the school site location issue is discussed in The Criteria for Selecting a School Site, and I provide links to all the candidates' Germantown Municipal Television interviews, with summaries on what they say about the proposed Winchester/Crestwyn school location in Aldermen Candidate Interviews and Positions on New School Location

Links to Past Shining a Light on Germantown Posts


Aldermen Candidate Interviews and Positions on New School Location

Since we had no real candidate Forum, due to the late notice of the date to the challengers by Leadership Germantown Alumni Association (discussed here), I thought it would be a good idea to link all the candidate interviews on GMT in one location.  

One thing they were all asked about is the proposed school location on Winchester and Crestwyn. Since that is a current topic, I note where each of them discuss that particular issue, and my summary.  However, please listen to them rather than rely on my summary.

Dean Massey (challenger) vs. David Klevan (incumbent)  

Dean Massey discusses the school issue at approximately the six minute mark. People need to be given notice sooner. He criticizes the late notice at the BMA meeting. He hears that any time there is an important issue, it is brought up at the last minute, so that the people's voices are not heard. He would rather that decisions made by driven by citizen wishes and input rather than from the top down. Later at the eleven minute mark he talks about the 3G's (Germantown High, Middle, and Elementary). If we could get those back, it would reinvigorate the city--they were the heartbeat of the city.


Dave Klevan discusses the school location issue at approximately nine and a half minute mark. Many people will be involved in the decision for the location--it won't be put where he personally wants it. He says that we can talk about the late notice given for the vote on this location, and then does not talk about it. The BMA manages the funds for schools and makes sure we are not school rich and tax poor. The Riverdale expansion is wonderful. He says we are risking just one hundred dollars to look at this one location (Winchester/Crestwyn) and see if it is appropriate, during a 140 day period. 

 

David Nischwitz (challenger) vs. Rocky Janda (incumbent)  

David Nischwitz discusses the school location issue a little after the seven minute mark. The School Board needs to drive the decision, and he speaks of the importance of the School Board election. He talks to the citizens to see where they want the school.  Nischwitz wants the 3Gs back. Winchester Road is a poor location. Fogelman's properties (where he is employed) on Hacks Cross within two miles of the Winchester location has one of the highest crime rates of all Fogelman properties across the southeast. The Crestwyn property would be better as a commercial development.



Rocky Janda discusses the school location issue at approximately the ten minute mark. Any place we put the school would have some issues. The Winchester location is not the best location, but it may be the only location for a school. It does seem to meet all the criteria. It could be the best location if as a result of de-annexation the Windyke area is annexed into Germantown. In any case, the location is a School Board decision, not a BMA decision, as the BMA is only the funding arm. He will be concerned about the funding of the school after the School Board makes a decision.

 





Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Criteria for Selecting a Site for the School--A Critique

Germantown schools are bursting at the seams, and we must have a new elementary school as soon as possible. That being said, on getting notice of a vote on Friday afternoon for a vote the following Monday (September 12) was hardly warranted. 

The BMA approved, on a 5-0 vote, a contract to buy approximately 30 acres (19 of which could be developed) on Winchester Road north of Forest Hill. This is in the far southeastern corner of the county, and in an area of open land.

On the 19th, the School Board tabled a motion to move forward with this, because of the loud protestations of many parents. You may read the JAM account of the School Board meeting.

A Town Hall Meeting was held on September 28 that had parents discuss locations and the criteria for selecting a school.  Oddly enough (or expectedly) open discussion was not allowed, and the well attended meeting broke the attendees into tables for discussion.There was no public feedback from the tables, although informally some parents were able to compare notes after the meeting was over, and on social media. 

There was lots of discussion about the criteria used for selecting a school site, and most of the tables questioned the criteria that they were given to evaluate the sites.

Here are the criteria that our Mayor said he used in selecting the site, but there was only a brief explanation for the need for each criteria.  I list the criteria and give my take on each one. 

  

  
1. South of Poplar/Poplar Pike

We think of Poplar going east/west but if you look at a map, Poplar/Poplar Pike is far south in the eastern part of Germantown. This seems like a false way of dividing the city.



2. 20-30 acres, to have park  There was consensus among the parents that there was no need to have a park by the school. The school site on Winchester has 19 acres that can be developed, due to flooding issues at the site.  Because it only faces one busy street (Winchester) any design will have to have lots of asphalt for inner drives.  Also a street to Regency Homebuilder's land for which the homebuilder has an option is planned for the site.

3. Availability of land  We all agree that land has to be available. It does not inspire confidence to know that the Mayor had not seemed to do any research on current land availability. This is despite the claim that they had been looking at sites for two years. Here he eliminates one site at Forest Hill and Poplar Pike due to availability, that parents found out was for sale by calling a telephone number on a sign! 




4. Cost Obviously the cost of the land, meaning the initial cost plus all the work to get the site ready to build, is a factor.

5. Proximity of Existing Schools  The area of town around the 3Gs needs a GMSD elementary school. We obviously cannot count on getting Germantown Elementary School back from Shelby County Schools.  A mythical future "maybe" is not a reason to discount this area.

6. Ease of Development  This ties into the cost, and obvious flooding issues at the proposed site are a real problem. The initial proposal to develop the Winchester land into lots by Regency Homebuilders called for a retention pond to be put in the middle of the development.  As you can see, in their application to build Ainsley Homes, they note that a stream runs through the property. We can only speculate as to why the original plan never materialized. A neighbor of the property has told us that there have been a couple of "hundred year floods" on the property in the last twenty years.  This visual of the original Regency Homebuilders plan showing the stream and retention pond outlined in red is a big red flag for this Winchester site: 




7. Residential Growth--hundreds of new rooftops near the school.  Why would this be a priority when our schools are now overcrowded?                                                                    
               
Do we want to have even more overcrowding?  The first priority should be to serve existing students. Where on this list is the need for a neighborhood school, where kids and parents can ride or bike?  The proposed school site only has frontage on Winchester, and it is very busy. When the GMSD Board tabled the motion to look at the school in a 4-1 vote, Ken Hoover talks about using the need for a neighborhood school. Other school board members give their reasons for tabling the motion as well. 
                                               
 



Here is a list of studies on the effect of neighborhood schools on property values. Can someone please tell me why this isn't at least one of the criteria?   

Neighborhood Schools and Property Values

In his presentation to the BMA, Patrick Lawton seems to have as a main criteria various projects that will help development in the area.  Although the Mayor lists the criteria "in no particular order" it is clear that development of the area and various infrastructure projects by the city are at the top of the list for Patrick Lawton. 



Links to Other Shining a Light on Germantown Posts

Monday, October 3, 2016

Leadership Germantown Alumni Newsletter Gives Incumbents Weeks More Notice than Challengers for Date of Forum

I referred to this  Leadership Alumni Newsletter in Challengers' Late Notice Leads to Imbalanced "Forum" (link to the Commercial Appeal article on this subject)

 \
 
In his coverage of the Aldermen Candidate Forum held on September 20,  Daniel Connolly of the Commercial Appeal reported the explanation given by Leadership Germantown Alumni (the sponsors) for the late September 9 notice received by the challengers—namely, that the emcees were not finalized until eleven days prior to the event. What LGA neglected to tell Mr. Connolly was that its very own newsletter displayed the September 20 Forum date prominently, and that on August 11 this newsletter was emailed to LGA’s membership, which includes the three incumbents in the race (Janda, Owens, and Klevan).  Neither of the challengers (Massey and Nischwitz) are Leadership Germantown Alumni, and therefore they did not receive the newsletter. Their notice of the event came a full four weeks after that received by the incumbents.

When Mr. Nischwitz could not attend due to a previously scheduled out-of-town business meeting, LGA claimed the event could not be rescheduled.  Appropriately, Mr.Massey refused to attend a “sham” Forum that, thanks to the last minute notice, did not enjoy the benefit of a candidate’s participation. That LGA nonetheless proceeded with this showcase of its own favored alumni under these circumstances is nothing short of a disgrace. If the tables had been turned, you can rest assured that the event would have been rescheduled.