Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What do you do with a hanging agenda item?

The BMA meeting last night left me dumbfounded, befuddled, astonished, and somewhat depressed. This was all about the obfuscation going on by the administration when they were asked questions concerning the alcohol ordinance the body passed last November 28. I find it depressing that a citizen has to spell out exactly what it is they actually passed, but, whatever, I guess it is my job (although it SHOULDN'T be). Sigh. That will have to wait for another post. For now, just trust me - I felt like uncorking a bottle of wine when I got home--a Snickers bar was definitely not enough comfort. This all came up because of the public hearing last night on the so-called "corrections" to the November 28 ordinance.

My favorite posts are all about pointing out absurdities, and therefore I am happy to report that I am leaving the alcohol topic for another day and raising the title question: What do you do with a hanging agenda item? 

You see, another marker of the long evening was the agenda item additions that were suggested by Dean Massey. Two were shot down in 3-2 votes.  There were no surprises here. Aldermen Massey and Barzizza voted together, and Aldermen Gibson, Owens, and Janda voted together.  (These were not discussions of the merits, but simply votes on whether to entertain discussions and votes on these.)

1. A vote on whether or not to give the Mayor the authority to sit on the negotiating team for GMSD's bid for two of the three legacy Germantown schools. Alderman Massey said that this was for legal reasons. (YES: Barzizza and Massey, NO: Gibson, Janda, and Owens) 

2. A rule to allow aldermen to respond to Citizens to Be Heard comments. (YES: Barzizza and Massey, NO: Gibson, Janda, and Owens) 

Oh, but then there's that third one........... 

The outcome of the third one was more of a surprise and a bit of a headscratcher. Alderman Massey suggested that the Executive Sessions be recorded. Apparently he had raised this same idea at the Executive Session prior to the last BMA meeting, but somehow the idea was unilaterally shot down by the Mayor, or ignored, or something. There was a long discussion concerning adding this agenda item and when to vote on it and the appropriate wording, (eg, they all decided that minutes were not necessary).  It was finally decided that last night an agenda item would be added to vote on whether to add to the agenda for the next meeting a resolution to record the Executive Sessions.  By a 5-0 vote, this was added as an agenda item last night. It should have been assigned an agenda number.   

One would think that this would have then been voted on at the meeting, correct?  You know, like it was supposed to have been? A vote on whether to add this as an agenda item for the next meeting?......... You would be WRONG. So I leave this blog post without a conclusion. What happens with a hanging agenda item?  Stay tuned, I guess? 

In the meantime I will say I attended last night's Executive Session, and I emphatically agree not only that Mr. Massey's agenda item to add an agenda item for the next BMA meeting should have been voted on last night, I also agree with recording the Executive Sessions. That would be extremely helpful. 

If you agree you may write your aldermen.  You could also mention that it would be helpful if approved agenda item additions actually had votes taken on them during the meeting, rather than being ignored by the Mayor. I would also email the Mayor, since he seems to control the agenda for the meetings.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

District House Seat 95 and the Special Election

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to create a kind of "institutional memory", so that people would have a sense of history about the goings on in Germantown. I only wish someone had started something like this years ago, as I usually cannot easily go back to the past to create an instant snapshot.

I will make an exception to my reluctance to cover past events when something from the past is particulary relevant to a current issue, and when those past events fall into one of the the main themes of this blog, which are transparency, competence, and honesty. In this case the "current" is the 95th District Special Election Primary for Tennessee House of Representatives. 

This race is particularly odd because the last person that held this seat left in peculiar circumstances. He had held the seat just a few months, after winning an election against the incumbent, who also seemed very peculiar.  Now we are faced with an election that will cost at least $120,000. Early voting is almost over, and the voting is described as "minuscule, meager, and itty bitty."  

A good overview of the election is provided in Clay Bailey's column in the Commercial Appeal. 

Who Benefits from Low Early Voting Numbers in District 95? 

Mr. Bailey answers that question thusly: "Someone once told me the winner of such special elections is usually the candidate with the biggest family or who attends the largest Sunday School class."

The District includes just the eastern portion of Germantown, and also Collierville and other portions of eastern Shelby County (see map). The Germantown administration seems very interested in promoting voting here so that the one Germantown candidate in the race, Frank Uhlhorn, will have a better chance of winning.  

Frank Uhlhorn, the Germantown candidate, is a property developer (Enclave) and cancer survivor that is close to our Mayor. In fact, I was told that the Mayor's father is the treasurer of Mr. Uhlhorn's campaign. He was an incumbent Germantown alderman in 2008 when he faced a challenge by Mark Billingsly. I find it important to remind people of an incident in that race that infuriated many Germantown citizens. 

After early voting ended in 2008, our citizens learned that Mike Palazzolo (incumbent candidate for alderman and current Mayor of Germantown), Frank Uhlhorn (incumbent candidate for alderman),  and Gary Pruitt (incumbent candidate for alderman) had sent out campaign literature strongly resembling a Republican "ballot", implying that they were being endorsed by the Republican party. They broke the law by not including the identity of the entity or people who financed the campaign literature. Of course, if they had shown that they themselves had paid for the literature, it would have defeated their purpose, which was to try to convince the voters that they had the backing of the Republican party.  That was untrue, as neither political party makes endorsements in aldermen races. I found many articles about the incident. Here are just a few, if you want more detailed accounts-- 

Gibbons' Pressure Tactics Outed Germantown Pols 

Germantown Voters Protest Misleading Ballots
Wrists Slapped in Campaign Law Violation 

The only penalty the three candidates faced was that they were forced to admit that they did not put on the campaign literature (faked Republican "ballot") that they themselves financed it.  At this point 41% of Germantown citizens had already voted, and many were enraged that they could not change their vote. 

As it turned out, of the three, only Mike Palazzolo prevailed in that election. We citizens are still paying for the past employment of Gary Pruitt and Frank Uhlhorn as aldermen, as they are among the many recipients of the generous insurance policies the aldermen so generously voted for themselves while in office

Since I live in the western part of the city and do not vote in this election, I have not researched any of the other candidates. If you live in the district, please do your homework and please vote.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Apartments or Condos? Which would you rather have?

I was happy in to hear in the recent Planning Commission meeting that the living spaces above the retail areas at the Carter complex were going to be built to "condominium standards", even though they are expected to be apartments. 

Why not make these actual condominiums, rather than apartments? I reiterate that the trend towards renting over buying, which came as a result of the Great Recesssion, is essentially on its last legs, as discussed in my March 28 post.  

Perhaps the various Germantown commissions that are making decisions about this project could listen to the will of the people. There was an informal poll posted on a large NextDoor group on Condos vs. Apartments. The results were telling--87 people voted, with well over 90% favoring condos over apartments.   

In general, Germantown is an area of owners, and the citizens want to keep it that way.  Or, they feel that the Thornwood apartments and the new ones planned are too many, too fast. 

Since the citizens would essentially be partners in this development by offering Tax Incentive Financing, we should have an even greater input into various aspects of this project than another project that does not involve tax incentives. Will our leaders take the citizens' input into account? 

I am updating the poll as of 4/15/2017-- over 200 people have voted, and the preference of condos over apartments remains overwhelming.  

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Who chooses school buildings and school sites? A legal opinion from the State of Tennessee

The GMSD Board of Education meets Wednesday night, and this item is on the agenda: 

Agenda Item Appointing Negotiating Team for 3Gs

Dean Massey sought a legal opinion  from the state on who has the authority to negotiate for the 3Gs--here is the answer in full. It seems it is clearly the duty of the School System to contract for schools. ("Ronnie" is the MTAS representative who facilitates our getting answers to questions such as this.) 

Opinion from State of Tennessee

The negotiating team for the possible purchase of two of the three Germantown Schools now owned by Shelby County Schools has been led by the City Administrator and Mayor, along with the Executive Committee of the School Board (Jason Manuel and Linda Fisher).  Alderman Dean Massey and School Board member Suzanne Jones both asked why the negotiations for Germantown Elementary and Junior High were in the hands of the executive branch of the City government. After all, the negotiations for the school site were led by the school system. How is a school building any different? Who gave them this authority?

Finally, this appeared on the City Facebook page.  

"The responsibility for site selection for a new school, construction or improvements to school facilities is clear. Various Tennessee court decisions have verified that municipalities lack the authority to direct the location, design or construction of schools. This power, based on these court decisions, rests solely with the Germantown Board of Education.However, the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) has two meaningful checks on decisions related to school construction. First, the BMA has final approval of the Germantown Municipal Schools budget. Second, the Germantown Municipal School Board does not have the authority to issue debt. As a result, the City will act as the fiscal agent by issuing bonds and disbursing the funds to the district. The amount of the bonds is decided by the BMA."    

Betsy Landers, school board member, was most likely not aware of this.  According to JAM in Germantown

Ms. Landers responded by saying we need to trust the process and that it is up to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to negotiate for the 3Gs because they are the funding body. She added that the Mayor needs to know that he can count on the support of the school board when discussing the future of the 3Gs. 

This agenda item attempts to make legal what has already been occurring - allowing the Mayor and City Administrator to take control of the negotiations, when those negotiations are the responsibility of the School System. It is a bit late, but after prodding from Mr. Massey and Ms. Jones, the City finally realized that the negotiating team was not in compliance with the law; thus, they are seeking to remedy that by the agenda item above.

It is obvious that the negotiating team that GMSD is seeking to legalize has been led by the Mayor and the City Administrator, as indicated by the statement of Betsy Landers. A negotiating team led by the executive branch of City Government for a duty expressly given by state law to GMSD is legally questionable. Think of it this way - It is the responsibility of Congress to enact laws. Are they allowed to cede responsibility for that to the Supreme Court?  Or, locally, could the BMA cede their authority to issue bonds to the School Board? I doubt it. 

Keep following this story.