Friday, February 17, 2017

Mayor Moves Forward on GES and GMS

From the City Website:

Mayor Addresses Plans to Accommodate Germantown Growth 

The mayor is moving with discussions on the possible purchase of Germantown Elementary and Middle School, and providing transparency in the process. This was the goal of Suzanne Jones when she suggested a firm offer at the joint retreat (see previous post). 

Immediately after that retreat, the Mayor had at least one meeting and a phone call with Mr. Caldwell, Chairman of the Board of SCS, and apparently they agreed to move the process forward.   

It seems apparent that Ms. Jones' approach-- building relationships with SCS members, and pressing the mayor for a firm offer-- did yield some results, notwithstanding all the hand wringing about her possibly derailing the process. 

Thank you Mayor Palazzolo for moving this process forward. Thank you Suzanne Jones for your part in facilitating this. 

Perhaps we will learn to do productive things with a little less drama next time?  And let's hope for a positive results!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Suzanne Jones Caught in Crossfire of Accusations; Publicly Scolded at GMSD Budget Work Session

I will get to the "public scolding" shortly, but this report has to be chronological to understand it. 

Meg Skinner Jackson attended the joint retreat of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the GMSD Board, and reported on an incident that she witnessed. It sparked a lot of discussion on the GMS Discussion Group on Facebook:

Note: I received permission from the author to repost this here.  She bowed out of the discussion due to her need to finish a project, but I think she may have set some sort of record for the group. This post spawned over 600 responses and several other threads were started on the same subject. 

It was telling to me that Mark Billingsly, Shelby County Commissioner from Germantown, had no idea about the "soft offer" and said he would never discuss an offer that was not in writing.

In general, in the Facebook group there was a lot of support for the idea to make a written offer rather than a "soft" offer, and there was lots of conjecture about whether or not the administration was really serious about wanting to purchase Germantown Elementary School and Germantown Middle School from SCS (Shelby County Schools). This issue stems from the formation of the new district in 2014. SCS would not release these three schools to GMSD because of the number of non-Germantown students assigned to the schools. Many residents felt misled and were angered when the City agreed to give them up without a stronger fight. Some of those old resentments bubbled up with this new issue.

Apparently someone in power did not like the tone of the messages. The next thing we know an email to the Mayor is leaked to the Facebook group. Well, parts of it were posted, but the whole text of it was later revealed in a report in JAM in Germantown. The author is Chris Caldwell, the chairman of the Shelby County School Board. Here is the text: 

It was clear that he was referring to Ms. Jones, although he did not mention her name in the email. First of all, Suzanne Jones happened to have the largest margin of victory in any contested municipal race in the recent election, and is very popular. She was not supported by the Mayor. Part of her platform was to try to build a relationship with SCS to help facilitate a purchase of at least one or two of the schools for GMSD.  It is important to do that as soon as possible, because we desperately need a new elementary school, and GMSD will likely sign a contract soon for a property for a new school.  Once the sale of the property closes, there will be no need for Germantown Elementary.  

There is one positive revelation in Mr. Caldwell's email. Mark Billingsly will now be included in the discussions. That is welcomed by everyone in the City, and seems to be a direct result of Suzanne bringing up the 3G negotiations at the retreat.

Almost as soon as the Mayor received the email on the 13th of this month, he distributed it to the aldermen, Jason Manuel, GMSD superintendent, and Linda Fisher, chairman of the school board. The mayor asked that they share it with the rest of the school board.  The timing was particularly interesting because the GMSD work session for the budget was scheduled later on that day. The press, of course, often attends these work sessions. 

Here is JAM in Germantown's report on the GMSD work session: 

Linda Fisher neglected to forward the Mayor's email to the rest of the board (including Suzanne Jones) until after the meeting when this confrontation took place. 

Since this is a blog, I have the right to insert my opinion in the middle of an otherwise factual account. I was aghast at this. I cannot stand public humiliation or bullying. Even if one assumes for the sake of argument that Ms. Jones was not engaged in productive behavior, it is completely unprofessional and inappropriate to handle the situation in this manner. Furthermore, the whole thing smacks of a setup to me--The email was perfectly timed and shared just prior to the public meeting where the press could have been present. I was particularly disheartened by the public humiliation and cross examination of Ms. Jones by Linda Fisher, who was supported by the Mayor in her election campaign. How did she fall for this scam? I believe it was all done for the benefit of the press, in order to "scold" Ms. Jones for attempting to fulfill her campaign promises. 

Am I resorting to unfounded speculation in asserting that this was a deliberate attempt to discredit Ms. Jones? No. It fits a pattern of vicious attacks on political opponents by this administration.  I will provide you with one reminder. Do you remember when they had the staff prepare press packets lambasting a volunteer football organization and coach, and accused the organization of somehow endangering the City's tax status because of its contract with the football league? (That was a doozie.) 

This will refresh your memory. 

Germantown Plays Political Football with Popular Sports Program

Naturally, even though nobody from the Commercial Appeal attended the meeting, Jennifer Pignolet was either tipped off or picked up the story on social media, and she came out with an article about the scolding of Ms. Jones during the budget work session. So the administration's ploy worked just the way it intended.

Germantown School Board Member Scolded for SCS Outreach 

Oddly enough, the only person quoted in the CA's article who seemed at all disturbed by the behavior of Ms. Jones was Chris Caldwell. Dorsey Hopson, superintendant of SCS, had lunch with Ms. Jones on the same subject and didn't seem a bit bothered by it.  

Mr. Caldwell seemed to double down on his criticism. 

Shelby County Schools board Chairman Chris Caldwell slammed a Germantown Municipal School District board member this week for continuously negotiating with him and other SCS board members over control of the suburb's three namesake schools.

Caldwell said Suzanne Jones, elected in November, called him and sent him emails to the point where he asked her to stop contacting him.

Suzanne Jones just put out a statement about this incident. You can judge for yourself, but I feel that she is completely blameless in this incident. In fact, she was simply fulfilling her campaign promises, and her account and timeline does not sound anything like the above characterization in the newspaper article.   

Suzanne Jones is dedicated to transparency and the betterment of education for our children.  We need more public servants like her.

Note: There were two errors in my original posting that I changed within a few hours.  The original post said that Ms. Pignolet attended the Budget Work Session, and she did not. The original post said that the Mayor forwarded Mr. Caldwell's email to the members of BMA and GMSD. In fact, he forwarded it only to the BMA, Linda Fisher, Board Chairman of GMSD, and Jason Manuel, Superintendent. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dave Klevan wins seat on Industrial Development Board

At the BMA meeting last night, Dave Klevan was elected to a seat on the Industrial Development Board in a 3-2 vote. 

There were some fireworks from the very beginning of the meeting, when both Alderman Barzizza and Alderman Massey questioned the minutes of the last meeting, saying that their concerns about the appointment expressed at that meeting were not included. The Commercial Appeal article covers it:

Dave Klevan wins seat on Industrial Development Board 

Please see my previous post on this appointment: 

Industrial Development Board Nominee 

Aldermen Massey and Barzizza emphasize that in their view there was a more qualified candidate who applied during the designated time frame for appointments.  Mr. Klevan's application had been received late, and he would not have qualified for the IDB had he applied when applications were officially being received, as he was a sitting alderman at the time.

The Mayor said that it was his right to appoint a person, and the BMA just votes yes/no on this recommendation. 

Alderman Massey is particularly concerned about whether the makeup of the IDB complies with state law.  State law prohibits City officers from sitting on the IDB. Several of the current IDB  members also serve on various city commissions. Members of these commissions are considered "city officers" under city law. Massey is thus concerned that these individuals, because they are city officers, are prohibited by state law from serving on the IDB. A previous post here, Are Some Members of the IDB Serving Illegally?, discusses this. Here is the applicable state law:

As you can see from the second highlighted part of the above statute, state law requires that the "governing body", in this instance the BMA, choose IDB members from the chamber of commerce, board of trade, or similar organization, unless that pool yields an insufficient number of qualified individuals. Alderman Massey raises two questions. First, does permitting the Mayor to nominate IDB members subject only to BMA approval comply with this statute?  Second, are the Mayor and BMA following the law's requirement that, in considering potential members, they look for individuals in the above identified organizations?

He has asked for legal opinions on these two issues.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Are some members of IDB Board serving illegally?

A close reading of state law and and Germantown Code has revealed that at least two members of the Industrial Development Board may not be serving legally, according to Alderman Dean Massey. 
His concerns are covered in this Commercial Appeal article: 

Germantown Alderman Questions Industrial Development Board Makeup   


Alderman Dean Massey raised the point during an appearance before the board at its meeting Tuesday evening. He asked the board to postpone the meeting until the city's administration and aldermen have time to discuss the issue at a retreat Friday, but the board declined the request and proceeded with the items on its published agenda..............(snip)

Massey then outlined language in state statute that, according to his interpretation, prohibits city employees and "officers" of the city from serving on an industrial development panel. Massey also cited city code that he believes defines "officers" as not only the mayor and aldermen, but also appointed members of boards, commissions and committees established by ordinance, charter or state law.........  

Two IDB members, Mike Harless and Keigh Saunders, also serve on the Planning Commission. 

Although Patrick Lawton had no real comment, I found it interesting that the Collierville Administrator was quoted saying that Collierville has a policy that a person may not sit on more than one city commission. 

Although the Commercial Appeal article did not specify the laws/ordinances involved, Mr. Massey later clarified that in this post to the Facebook group Germantown Bulletin Board

I asked the Industrial Development Board to postpone their last meeting to give their own directors, city and BMA time to determine if TCA 7-53-301 precludes the members of the IDB from serving on other commissions, such as the planning commission and financial advisory commission. TCA 7-53-301 states, "No director [of the IDB] shall be an officer or employee of the municipality." Germantown Code states, "Officer shall mean the mayor and any member of the board of aldermen and any appointive member of a board, commission or committee established by ordinance, charter or state law." I believe our state legislators intended to create separation between the city managers and the industrial development board, and I maintain that the members of our quasi-judicial commissions should not serve as members of the Industrial Development Board. I felt like it was in the best interests of our citizens to meet with the Industrial Development Board, and Chairman Evans was gracious to give me a few minutes to speak. The men and women serving on the IDB have made invaluable contributions to our city, so I did not enjoy bringing this issue before them. For the record, I am grateful for their service to our city.  

And, he noted later: 

To be fair, the members of the IDB and city administrator think I am wrong, so I have asked for a legal opinion. It is possible that I am wrong, but if you read my previous post, I think you will understand why I raised the issue. 

This issue will likely be discussed at the retreat tomorrow. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nottoway Board Strongly Opposes Proposed Zoning Changes.

With exquisite logic and mincing no words, the Board of the Nottoway Homeowner's Association has reached out to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to strongly oppose the proposed zoning changes for T4R and T5R areas. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen retreat where the proposed changes will be discussed is this Friday, February 10.  

See previous discussions of these proposed zoning changes here:  

Major Proposed Zoning Changes, A "Public Hearing", and Nobody Came   

Germantown Delays Final Vote on Zoning Changes

Bars and Liquor Stores? in "transitional" T4 zoning?  

Zoning Changes Tabled-- To be Discussed at Retreat 

Nottoway is a gated Planned Unit Development on the south side of Poplar at Poplar Estates. It abuts a T4R (transitional) area which is included in the mixed use Gill Properties Travure development, part of the "Western Gateway" area of Smart Growth.    

Here is a schematic of the zoning designations in the area: 

Although Travure currently has plans in place, Gill Properties could always choose to discard their present plans and reapply under any new zoning changes that are passed; alternatively, Gill could sell Travure, and the new developer could apply under those changes. The proposed changes could have serious adverse effects for Nottoway and any future T4R areas in our City.  

The complete memorandum sent by the Board of the Nottoway Homeowner's Association to the aldermen is linked here, and is worth reading (or skimming) in its entirety: 

Nottoway Memorandum To Board of Aldermen   

A summary of the issues involved has been provided to Shining a Light by a Nottoway Homeowner's Association Board member: 


If you own a single-family residence in Germantown - especially one located adjacent to undeveloped property - you should be aware of game-changing amendments to the Germantown SmartCode that are currently under consideration by the Mayor and Board of Alderman (BMA). 

Germantown's Director of Economic and Community Development (DECD) has proposed amendments to the City's zoning regulations that would effectively eliminate transitional zones between single-family residential subdivisions and adjacent high-density commercial development. 

Currently, the only types of buildings (or "uses") that are permitted within 150 feet of a single-family residential subdivision (these 150-foot-wide buffering strips are called "T4R" or "T5R" transitional zones) are residential buildings and parking facilities. The DECD proposes to amend the zoning code to allow commercial developers to place office buildings - and a wide variety of retail buildings - within T4R and T5R transitional zones. 

When read in conjunction with the DECD's proposed amendments to the City's current encroachment rules, DECD's proposed T4R and T5R use amendments would allow the following types of commercial properties to be located within 50 feet (or less) of a single-family subdivision: open air restaurants serving alcoholic beverages; neighborhood stores (such as pizza shops, donut shops, liquor stores and convenience stores); two-story office buildings; and bed-and-breakfasts. Astonishingly, the DECD's proposed amendments would also allow a "bus shelter" within these transitional zones. 

These proposals fundamentally change the character of T4R and T5R transitional zones by placing commercial properties -- with their concomitant noise, traffic, odor and light pollution -- within transitional zones that were intended to serve as a buffer between residential and commercial properties. 

As the Germantown zoning map reflects, there are large tracts of land in the city that are currently zoned "R" (Residential) but are subject to rezoning. Thus, the proposed amendments should be of grave concern to any Germantown single-family homeowner who lives adjacent to relatively undeveloped property and who values his or her serenity, security and property values. Although the DECD has publically characterized the proposed amendment merely as a "clean up" of the City's zoning regulations, the proposed amendments seek to effect significant and substantive change, particularly with respect to permitted uses in transitional zones. 

The BMA will further reflect on the DECD's amendments at its retreat on Friday, February 10, and the proposed amendments likely will come before the BMA for a third reading in the near future. 

The Nottoway Homeowner Association has strongly opposed the proposed amendments (see the linked Memorandum from the Association to the BMA) and urges other potentially affected Germantown homeowners to lodge their objections with the BMA. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Finalists of Site Selection Committee and the Case of the Missing Video

The site selection committee formed by GMSD had narrowed down a long list of potential school sites to the four that scored the highest. The scores were based on criteria developed from surveys of parents and other interested citizens.   

Detailed information about the process and the sites are on the GMSD website. The top four sites selected by the committee were Warlick, Johnson Road, Reaves, and Broer/Schaeffer. These were discussed at the GMSD Board Meeting on January 31, attended by Mayor Palazzolo, City Administrator Patrick Lawton, Alderman John Barzizza, as well as many parents and students. The Mayor and Mr. Lawton had championed a site at Crestwyn and Winchester Road (not among the top four sites).  Mr. Barzizza had attended a previous meeting of the School Board and requested that the Board study all available sites before accepting this particular one. A previous blog post discusses this:

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

Before discussing the meeting, I want to highlight the fine work of Suzanne Walls, a GMSD parent, who had a video of this School Board meeting and a portion of the Work Session on her DVR.  Meetings may be watched or put on a DVR because they are shown on Germantown Municipal Television, which is a local channel on Comcast. She uploaded her video of the meeting from her DVR first to the Facebook Group GMSD Discussion Group, and then to YouTube. This is significant because there was no video available on the City website for several days.  A "glitch" had developed with their copy of the video. It was also not broadcast live on the City website, as the meeting had not even been listed on the video page. Thankfully, GMSD had a backup audio version, and Kristi Ransom, Marketing Director for the City, was later able to post an audio version of the meeting as the video on the City website. I thank both GMSD and Ms. Ransom for their efforts. Still, the true video version is preferable to the City's audio version.

I cannot recall another instance of the City having a problem with uploading a video to their website.  Kate Crowder, Communications specialist at GMSD, assured me that they were going to try to identify the source of the "glitch" so that it would not happen again. 

Here is the video version of the discussion of the school site, courtesy of Ms. Walls: 


Other videos Ms. Walls uploaded from the same meeting: 

Video of part of the Work Session 1-31-2017 

Video of other portions of the Meeting 1-31-2017  

The site selection discussion was noted in the JAM in Germantown blog:

January 31 Board Meeting (JAM in Germantown) 


Lisa Parker brought along a PowerPoint detailing the advantages of the Crestwyn site, which was not in the top four of the site selection committee. Given that the two top officials of the City attended the meeting, and both of them favored the Crestwyn site, it makes one wonder if City employees were responsible for the PowerPoint. 

It is astonishing to me that Ms. Parker stated that the Crestwyn site was not properly vetted. That is denigrating the tireless efforts of City volunteers who logged hundreds of hours in the process of vetting the sites. The material from the site selection committee is available on the GMSD website, and it includes this analysis of the Crestwyn site:  

Ms. Parker incorrectly stated that it was a vocal minority of parents who were against the Crestwyn site. In fact, a petition drive had received 860 signatures against that site.   

Ms. Parker received no second to her motion to include the rejected Crestwyn site into those being considered. JAM states that her amendment was met by an "awkward silence".  

The whole fiasco was noted by Clay Bailey in his column Outside the Loop.  

Germantown continues to advance its study of elementary school sites, but one that was on life support at best, rose up for one more consideration.

And, it seems this should have been the last gasp for that property. Time to end the conversation about putting the school near Crestwyn and Winchester.

In the end, the Johnson Road site was removed from consideration by the Board, due to public concerns over losing part of the park, and the three remaining sites are to be negotiated by the Executive Committee of the Board (Mr. Manuel and Ms. Fisher).  

I give big kudos to GMSD and the committee for their tireless devotion to the process involved in examining all the issues with each site, and evaluating each of them in a systematic and transparent way. In addition the the GMSD staff, I would like to recognize great work of the volunteers, listed here:  

Dike Bacon (Planning Commission) of the Hednak Bobo Group will serve as our architectural expert alongside a representative of A2H, the architecture firm that has been chosen for site work on the project.

Janet Geyer (Economic Development Commission), of Crews Realty Development, will represent our interests in real estate and City development.

Michael McLaughlin (Financial Advisory Commission), of Tower Ventures will offer financial guidance.

Deputy Chief Rodney Bright (Germantown Police Department) to help us address any safety issues, traffic and crime related concerns.

Tim Gwaltney (Gemantown City Civil Engineer) to address questions of land site development, road accessibility, and code enforcement.

Kevin Young (Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Board) to entertain open dialogue about park spaces and other questions from the community survey and forum.

Betsy Landers (School Board Member) to report meeting minutes and perceptions to the school board and any other community members.

Alison Fondaw (Dogwood PTA President) to report meeting minutes and perceptions to the stakeholders.

Sherrie Hicks (Houston Middle PTA President) to report meeting minutes and perceptions to the stakeholders. 

Amy Jenkins (Riverdale PTSA President) to report meeting minutes and perceptions to the stakeholders

Joy Williams (Farmington Elementary PTA President) to report meeting minutes and perceptions to the stakeholders.