Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why Does the Chair of the PSEC have a Problem with Alderman Massey?

In my May 28 post, I discussed the serious transparency issues that arose at the May 7 Public Safety Eduction Commission Meeting (PSEC). In this post, I discuss the background leading up to the May 7 fireworks.  

Many of you will want to skip over the Deep Background, and go directly to the eruption by the Chair at Massey in the April 7 meeting. Simply scroll down to the heading Public Safety Education Commission. The embedded YouTube is under that heading, and the remark that Massey made that caused the Chair to begin screaming is at the 48:24 mark and is highlighted in orange in my discussion. My comments follow that, including a speculation that the uncalled-for reaction by the Chair could be related to the "Cherry flip-flop" incident.

Deep Background: 

Alderman Massey's relentless quest for transparency in governance is well documented. He searches large volumes of public documents obtained through his open records requests, and he openly questions the numerous redactions (blank pages, etc.) that often infect the City's document production. 

Alderman Massey's Massey for Germantown Facebook page has been very helpful to me. A few of my posts, such as Carrefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium?, Request from Economic Development Commission, were based solely on City documents that he had uncovered, and I found buried in the uploads to his Facebook page. 

My April 6 post, Alderman's Open Records Request Yields Key Forest Hill Documents, details a particularly dramatic example of an open records request that bore fruit. Due to Massey's extensive searches of City documents, "Covenantgate" was born. Massey found a covenant on the Reaves property next to the new school, a covenant that was not disclosed to the aldermen voting on a zoning change.  

Because of the disclosure of the covenant, the third reading of a BMA zoning change to increase the allowed density of development on that property from estate to residential zoning (with a further possible PUD) has been on hold for several weeks. The legal status of the covenant is in limbo; I have seen no formal, written legal opinion from the City Attorney on the enforceability of the covenant, which, if enforceable, would prevent the rezoning. Although the City and the developer claim the covenant is not enforceable, the residents and their attorney claim otherwise. Had it not been for Alderman Massey, the Forest Hill area neighbors would never have known about the covenant. Alderman Barzizza also played an important role in this saga by filing an open records request that revealed that the covenant had actually been written into the minutes of an earlier BMA meeting. The covenant's inclusion in the minutes is apparently a key fact in the pending controversy regarding the enforceability of the covenant. As I understand it, it is possible this may negate the failure to record the covenant with Shelby County. 

Thus both Aldermen Massey and Barzizza are thorns in the side of the current power structure. The Mayor and his allies are big proponents of dense residential growth, as evidenced by the fact that recent approvals of apartment units have greatly exceeded approvals of single family homes. Aldermen Barzizza and Alderman Massey are proponents of slower growth, emphasizing traditional single family homes, citing increased traffic, less green space, crowded schools, and the necessity of large infrastructure costs as the negatives associated with fast, dense residential development.

The delay in the approval of the Reaves property rezoning is likely not sitting well with the Mayor and his developer allies. Massey's opposition to the Mayor's dense-growth agenda helps us put in proper context the events leading up to the May 7 meeting. I promised to discuss the April 2 PSEC meeting; before doing so, however, I want to briefly explain how commissioners are selected.


I am grateful for the service of the commissioners who willingly volunteer their time to help the City. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be a dearth of political diversity on many of the commissions. The Mayor has a tendency, from what I have been told by a number of people, to place politcal allies on these commissions. The alderman liaison does get input on some of the selections, as Alderman Massey stated that he picked the members because of their backgrounds. I am advised of at least one instance in which a commissioner in a different commission was not reappointed when she was perceived to be making waves in opposition to administration wishes. The Mayor's ability to influence commission membership is facilitated by his alliance with three of the aldermen (Mary Anne Gibson, Forrest Owens, and Rocky Janda), who invariably support the Mayor and his dense-growth vision for the City. These three also approve the Mayor's recommendations for the commissioners and alderman liaison positions. The Mayor selects the Chairs.

The Chair of the PSEC is a political ally of the Mayor.

Consistent with the foregoing, the Mayor, last  December, did not recommend Alderman Massey's reappointment as liaison to the Personnel Advisory Commission. Massey simply asked too many questions. Massey, it seems, was too eager to get to the bottom of personnel issues that could prove embarrassing to the administration and key staff. As an example, Massey sought the complete list of former high-level employees, including certain former aldermen, still covered under the questionable "key man" life insurance policies detailed in my 2016 post Protecting Upper Level Employees Comes at High Cost to Taxpayers. Massey also wanted an estimate of the future cost of premiums to the City, and a legal review of whether payments on these costly insurance policies must be continued.  

The Public Safety Education Commission

The Mayor undoubtedly thought it would be safe to ensconce troublemaker Massey on the Public Safety Education Commission. After all, that Commission typically does such things as promoting the summer camp for kids to learn safety in the streets (I hear it is wonderful!), and  the program the City sponsors to dispose of prescription drugs safely. Massey himself recently enthusiastically promoted "Touch a [Fire] Truck" for kids on Facebook. 

But Alderman Massey has a degree in Criminal Justice, and has a big interest in not only fire trucks, but also crime statistics. This interest apparently got him into hot water with the PSEC at both  the March and April 2018 meetings. Here is the audio of the April meeting:

I will now include my notes on the April 2 PSEC meeting that describe the interactions of Massey and the PSEC Chair. These notes are unedited, and based on my listening to the recording the first time; I do not want to listen to this twice. Just pretend you are following an event through Twitter: The most contentious part of the discussion is highlighted in orange. You may skip to that if you want to hear only the most heated interaction.

At 5:28 a police representative talks about statistics during his report, and the various classifications of crime, and why classifications of crimes can change. Alderman Massey talks about the Commission looking at more information.  Alderman Massey says he does not want information on particular instances of crime, but trends, in order to inform citizens  Click  Massey continues speaking, and

At 9:58 Alderman Massey said he wants the Commission to have more responsibility in educating the community, if the Commission chooses to do that. The chair seems to agree about more education, but not about more in depth statistics, the problem is getting information out, not getting information in. Chair's tone sounds a bit hostile to me, judge for yourself  Click   

At 11:41 Massey says he wants an easier way for the Commission members to get the information rather than search for it online, just wants a report, not oversight, just education. Click  

At 13:01 A Commission member states he wants to discuss the idea of whether they need more data (as Massey had suggested), and the Chair says that needs to wait for new business Click  


Aside: Someone mentions  My comment: It really is an interesting website. They have a cool crime map there. I have seen it before and came to realize that crime is not evenly spread out throughout the City. Take a look.  Obviously the commercial properties attract crime, but western Germantown, where I live, is getting disproportionately hit. 

I am listening right now and will continue to listen until I hear something that will give a clue as to the "personal conflict". Very interesting discussion about wiring, I am learning a lot. Not pertinent to discussion.  


At about 21:02 Massey starts a discussion about the proposed water tower, and whether a water tower is needed. I don't think the Chair had a problem with this, but the Forest Hill residents might be interested. Click 

Around 32:50 it is clear that the Chair is wanting the role of the Commission to be the narrowest possible, he talks about the "chain of command". They are talking about speed limits. Obviously anything that broadens the interests of commission is not okay with him. Massey, however is not part of this discussion. Click 

Well, at 39:45 Massey did have input on this, where, in general he supports the "broad" view of citizen commissions on the issue of not just speed limits, but everything, as he says Germantown prides itself on being run by citizen commissions, he wants to put his background to use, he picked people from the community that had experience, we are not trying to tell police what to do, he needs more information for the legislative process. Click 

42:52 Police representative-- said they will give everything the Commission wants except personal information re:crime, they are receptive, wants to be as helpful as he possibly can, very little they cannot share Click (my comment: that sounds good, not sure what the problem is?? wondering when I will get to it) 

Okay I finally came to it. 

48:24 Here is where Alderman Massey says the reason the citizens need to be involved is if the politicians are allowed to control the information flow they will eventually use it to their benefit. The Chair loses his cool! After Massey makes the statement, the Chair explodes, shouting, "We are not getting into politics. I am the Chairman of this commission and I have the right to shut you down right now." Click   

Thankfully one of the members stepped in and brought up the subject of crime statistics again, and voting on some of the ideas that Alderman Massey brought forth. 

54:40 Alderman Massey said it helps him in the legislative process to get feedback when they have discussions like that. Click  

58:10 police representative says he can work with the committee to give more detailed crime statistics, seems very willing, everyone seems on board with discussing it at the next meeting Alderman Massey cautions about using email to discuss things because that could be interpreted as a meeting and against sunshine laws, The Chair agrees but the reason he gives is because he does not want things in writing that can be discovered. Click 

The meeting was adjourned.


My Comments: Alderman Massey is a non-elitist and is always making general statements that favor citizen involvement rather than top-down decision making. He did not refer to any particular politician in the statement that angered the Chair, and, in my view, it was not intended to disparage anyone. The Chair's reaction to Alderman Massey's statement was__________ , well, judge for yourself.

In all honesty, I was a tiny bit concerned about even listening to this meeting. What if Massey really did say something offensive? I couldn't imagine it, but I still was thinking-- what if something really bad happened at the April meeting to cause the subsequent ambush at the May PSEC meeting? Alas, I couldn't find anything.

Remember the Cherry Flip-Flop Ladder Incident? 

Because the Chair's reaction, not only in the April meeting, but in the May meeting as well, seemed so over the top, I am wondering if something in addition to the difference of opinion regarding city political issues is behind the Chair's hostilty towards Massey. I realize that I am speculating, but the August 2017 Cherry flip-flop ladder incident did not surface publicly until the latter part of April. I believe that, by the time of the April 2 meeting, the City had become concerned that the Cherry incident could hit the front pages. In fact, sources have told me that rumors about the incident were already circulating. The City may have felt that Massey's quest for more specific crime data might out the Cherry scandal. Keep in mind that Alderman Massey was not asking for personal information from the crime reports. But he does have a good nose for sniffing out clues, and the City may have been worried that his initial request for more specific data could lead to further inquiries that might, in turn, uncover the Cherry incident. Just thinking out loud..........

The Mayor may have even been concerned that Massey's call for more specific crime data signaled that Massey had already heard about the Cherry Flip-Flop incident! I realize that my speculation may sound like a stretch for some, but I am compelled to speculate because I cannot find anything that Massey said during the April meeting that merits his forced removal as alderman liaison. However, given the City's desire to keep a lid on the Cherry flip-flop incident, Massey's otherwise innocuous statement, "the reason the citizens need to be involved is if the politicians are allowed to control the information flow they will eventually use it to their benefit", may have seemed to the Chair to be a veiled reference to  the Cherry flip-flop incident. I am convinced, however, that this was not the case. Having combed through many of Alderman Massey's Facebook posts to review documents, I am very familiar with the rhetoric that he typically uses. The remark that so angered the Chair is absolutely typical of those Massey makes in all sorts of contexts.  

In any case, this whole Administration vs. Massey incident is--Strange. Baffling. Bizarre. Disturbing.

But, it is all here for you to judge for yourself. Far be it from me to be the ultimate arbiter of facts. That is why I am a transparency nut. You are free to disagree with me. And, because I have included the actual recording, you can clearly see I am not hiding anything. 


An Update to My Last Post:

Alderman Massey recently sent David Harris, City Attorney, a series of questions about the May PSEC meeting. Alderman Massey forwarded Harris' answers to me. The good news is that, in the future, all meetings will be recorded by City staff, and, therefore, there should be no further problems with recordings being deleted.  

Harris stated that the PSEC Secretary was a private citizen who recorded the meeting on her own equipment. However, in his answers to Massey's questions he made no attempt to defend her action. In my opinion, the fact that she used her own recorder has no bearing on whether or not she was authorized, or otherwise acted properly, in deleting the recording.  

Harris also responded to Massey's question regarding the content of the minutes. Harris said that motions made during a meeting must be included in the minutes. Massey told me that various motions were omitted by the Secretary in the draft minutes of the May 7 meeting. Hopefully, he can get these motions added back added back in "additions and corrections" at the June 4 meeting.

Harris further opined that minutes should contain "what is done and not said". Does that include the general expression of thanks by to the commissioners by the Mayor? 

This link references "Roberts Rules of Order" 

"Record the name of any guest speaker and the subject of presentation, but make no summary of the speaker’s remarks."  

I conclude that the Mayor, as a guest speaker, should have had his name and the subject of his speech included in the minutes.

For now, our only record of the Mayor's attendance at the May 7 meeting 
is, for now, simply the snapshot that Alderman Massey took of him attending the meeting and posted in my last blog post.

An Email from Alderman Massey to the Chair:

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Audio Recording of Public Safety Education Commission Meeting Purposely Destroyed, Suggesting Possible Tennessee Sunshine Law Violation

There were fireworks aplenty at the May 7 meeting of the Public Safety Education Commission (PSEC). Too bad we don't have the official public recording of the meeting!--more on this in just a second. 

The Commission Chair, without any notice to Alderman Massey--on the agenda or otherwise, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the Commission to request that the BMA remove Mr. Massey as the Commission's liaison alderman. Not only that, the Chair refused to recognize Alderman Massey when he attempted to speak. To their credit, the members of the Commission, overriding the Chair, allowed Mr. Massey five minutes to defend himself after he objected to being muzzled. The Commission postponed the vote on the issue until the June 4 meeting.

The very next morning following the meeting, I made an open records request for the audio recording.  

"May 8, at 9:29am


I am officially requesting the audio for the Public Safety Education Committee meeting last night. Please ask ASAP because I suspect it may be deleted. Hopefully I can get this by sending me a link.

Thank you.

If for some reason I have to fill out a form, let me know.

My request was denied because the Commission Secretary, who made the recording, had already deleted it, just hours after the end of the meeting. But, that’s not all. Get this: Immediately upon the meeting’s conclusion, Alderman Massey specifically asked the Secretary to retain the recording. Yet, as best I can tell, the Secretary, after telling Mr. Massey that she was not required to retain the recording, went home, listened to the recording, typed the minutes, without including the content of the discussion, and then deleted the recording.
 An elected alderman, chosen by the citizens to oversee the workings of the City, was stiffed when he made a simple request that a public record of the meeting be kept. It is my understanding that it is the customary practice to retain the recording until after the minutes are approved at the next meeting-- if this is not the practice, it certainly should be! 

Alderman Massey wrote about the meeting on his Massey for Germantown Facebook page immediately after he returned home. It was his recounting of the events of the night that prompted me to make my open records request the very next morning.  Mr. Massey's Facebook post is an eloquent plea for transparency. I urge you to read it: 

Am I missing something here? Is this how government is supposed to operate--brazenly defying an elected official's request to retain a public record?   

The Secretary's deletion of the recording may well have violated state law. I asked 
Deborah Fisher, the Director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, to opine on the Secretary's action. Here is Ms. Fisher's response:

"Hi Pauline,

There is nothing in state law that sets out specifically how long an audio recording of a meeting must be kept. The law requires minutes to promptly be available. 

However, the audio record IS a public record from the moment it was created. And if someone requests to inspect a public record, that record must be made promptly available.

In this situation, Massey requested the record be preserved, presumably for the purpose of listening to it later. And the custodian instead destroyed it within a day of that request.

I think that shows a clear intention not to allow someone to hear that public record, and I believe this would be a violation of the law that requires public access to records.

If he had requested a copy of the audio a couple of weeks later, and the person who recorded the audio routinely tapes over the audio and had already done so, that might be understandable. But in this instance, it appears there was no practical reason for deleting the audio except to make it unavailable. The person apparently intentionally destroyed a public record that is evidence of what happened at the meeting.

Also, if someone is taping a meeting for the purpose of transcribing or providing accurate written minutes, the reasonable and logical assumption is that you would  retain the minutes at least until the minutes are approved by the governing body at a later meeting. That way,  if there are questions, you can simply check back on the tape. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is very suspect. There would have to be a very good reason for deleting the tape or digital recording.

I would ask if there is a city policy that requires or allows the person recording the meeting to destroy the recording within one day, or before the written minutes have been approved. Lacking that, I believe the person recording likely acted intentionally to prevent someone from inspecting a public record — the audio recording of the meeting — by destroying it.  

Deborah Fisher
Executive Director
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government"

Massey put this snapshot of the
Mayor at the meeting on  

his Massey for Germantown 
Facebook Page.
I don’t know if the Secretary acted on her own when she deleted the recording. If you had to bet, how would you wager? Would you bet she did it it solely on her own without first talking to someone about Alderman Massey's request to keep the recording? Hmmm. I have sent emails to the Mayor, the Chairman, and the Secretary asking them why the recording was deleted, and asked each of them if they conferred about the deletion. If I learn something, I will let you know. But, I am not going to hold my breath.     

By the way, the Mayor, a political ally of the Chair, was present at the May 7 meeting. I cannot prove the Mayor was given advance notice of the Chair's intent to effect Alderman Massey’s removal. I do know the Mayor is far from a regular observor of the PSEC meetings, and, indeed, it may have been his first "visit" ever. 

I can also report that, in April, the PSEC Chair voiced, in an email to the Mayor, his displeasure with Alderman Massey. The Mayor, upon receipt of this email, forwarded it to the aldermen, including Mr. Massey. The Commission Chair's hostility to Alderman Massey was thus well known to the Mayor and others prior to the May 7 meeting. It bears repeating here, though, Alderman Massey was not told prior to the May 7 meeting that any action regarding his removal would be discussed.   

In this correspondence, the Mayor informs the aldermen that he is researching how to remove Alderman Massey as liaison to the PSEC, after receiving a request from the Chair  to appoint a new alderman liaison.The stated reason for the PSEC Chair request was that there is a "personality conflict."  (taken from Massey for Germantown Facebook page)

Upon learning that the audio recording of the May 7 meeting had been deleted, I asked for the draft of the minutes of the meeting:  

First off, note there is no mention of the Mayor's presence at the meeting - even though the Mayor actually addressed the group!  I wonder why the Secretary omitted any reference to the Mayor's presence?  

Note also that the vote on whether to request that Alderman Massey be removed as the liaison will now take place at the June 4 meeting

It is also noteworthy that the agenda for the June 4 meeting fails to include the "alderman liaison report." Until the May 7 meeting, the liaison alderman had always been asked to provide his insight. The effort to muzzle Mr. Massey continues apace.

What is the backstory behind all this? Is this a genuine "personality conflict" or a political "hit job"? What we know now is that the Chair's hostility toward Alderman Massey is rooted, at least in part, in Mr. Massey's suggestions regarding the way crime statistics are reported. The minutes of the March PSEC meeting state: "Alderman Massey suggested that the commission members receive the crime reports. If possible, he would like to see more detailed information on auto thefts, assaults, burglaries, etc. Primarily for the purpose of providing insight for the commission to see areas that we can improve and initiate campaigns to roll out to the public."   

I will examine this backstory, as well as the specific conflicts that arose at the April PSEC meeting, in more detail in my next blog post. Alderman Massey's version of these events may be found in the Massey for Germantown Facebook page quoted above. Reporting on April's events will be easier because the audio recording of the April 2 meeting, unlike that of the May 7 meeting, was not deleted before people could request it. Lo and behold!   

I am now going to use my best persuasive powers to try to convince City officials to be transparent in the future, and to obey the Sunshine Laws:

Dear Mayor, City Administrator, and Commissioners,  

You proudly tout the Tennessee Baldridge award that the City received last year. In any future quest to win the national award, please remember that the organization that grants the Baldridge award considers transparency a "core concept."   

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Choir Director Rayburn Goes Down Swinging and "Singing"

This past Monday, the School Board, at a special called meeting, in a 5-0 vote, dismissed Dr Rayburn with the following language:  

Dr. Rayburn was all over the media last week defending himself. He claimed that a 12 page document that he wrote exonerated him. Read it and see if you agree:  

My thought is that this is a "take no prisoners" type response. He charges that coaches are allowed to get away with worse things, and that an administration member accused him of promoting the African slave trade when the choir voted down participation in an event that would support a church's mission trip. Rayburn also claimed that he was forced to show the class a movie about the mission trip. There were other "gems" in there, such as his assertion that he was told to admit out of district private school students to the music program, rather than public school students. He seems determined to take others down with him. 

His so-called explanations for popping students on the rear and kissing them, viewing girls in states of undress, and yes, talking about someone's breast reduction surgery, are pretty laughable. The tone of the letter shows he is intemperate, and unwilling to take responsibility..... for anything. Everything is someone else's fault, or his actions were either "taken wrong" or his intentions were misunderstood. I guess it would have been better if he had chosen one person or situation to attack. Instead he takes the shotgun approach, and uses a poorly written, unedited diatribe and calls it a defense. If he thinks that in this document he successfully "defends" himself, and makes his chances of being hired as a school choir director better, he had better think again. He admits to things that should not have happened, and that should not be tolerated. However, the worst offenses he is accused of are either mischaracterized or not included. It is certainly one of the most bizarre documents I have ever read. He does not get into the specifics of what multiple students claim that he said to them in private.  

Now, the facts that are behind his attacks against GMSD staff probably need investigating. But seriously, he thinks that because others do bad things, he should get a pass? Uh, no, that is not how it works. If there is a culture at the school that allows coaches to treat students badly, then of course that should be addressed, but that would not excuse this behavior in any case. 

I do believe that people should be allowed to defend themselves. If there was something wrong with the process, then the Court will make that finding. I strongly believe that if this 12 page document alone is his defense, though, it will make no difference to the ultimate outcome. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Carrefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium??? Request from Economic Development Commission.

Those of you that follow the Massey for Germantown Facebook Page may have noticed the copy of letter that Alderman Massey posted: 

The letter was also posted in the Developments in Germantown TN Facebook group

As you can see, Jerry Klein, on behalf of the Germantown Economic Development Commission, requests that Mayor Palazzolo exempt Carrefour from the Apartment moratorium. The apartment moratorium was proposed last December by Mayor Palazzolo in response to the citizens' demands, and enacted by a BMA vote in January.

Carrefour is the shopping center at the Western Gateway (Kirby and Poplar), and is subject to Smart Growth zoning. The plan may have significant revenue associated with it, as the letter states, but it also may have significant cost. The whole reason for the moratorium was to give the City time to assess the true fiscal costs and benefits of additional residential units. As far as I know, there has been no concerted effort to do cost-benefit analyses for these type projects, taking into account the significant cost of school construction and possible need for yet another new school. It seems prudent to await those results before a developer embarks on building another large apartment complex. Thornwood is being built now, Watermark is fully approved, and Viridian and City Center are exempt from the moratorium. And, as this blog post has shown, approvals for apartment complex units have greatly exceeded approvals for traditional housing.

Residential construction of any type has a negative fiscal impact on our City, according to a fiscal impact study commissioned by the City. Is there a reason for Germantown to grow, increase traffic, crowd the schools, etc. without at least ensuring that this new, more hectic lifestyle doesn't also increase our taxes?  And, remember, a two million dollar sewer upgrade is needed for the Carrefour project.

Williamson County (near Nashville) certainly has not found that residential growth has had a positive fiscal impact. That county commissioned a study, and it was found that the county was justified in charging developers a fiscal impact fee for the cost of building schools. This upfront fee for residential units can go as high as $10,000 per home, although obviously smaller apartment units would be charged a smaller fee. Before giving exemptions from the moratorium for apartment complexes, we need to study the true fiscal impact of apartment developments, and, like Williamson County, consider charging developers an upfront fiscal impact fee.

I will cover more details of the Williamson County fiscal impact fee in a later post.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Bullying at Houston High, HMS, in Citizens to be Heard--Grab a Kleenex- Administration says "Horseplay" to serious incidents

News Stories:

Channel 3-Parents Want Answers to Problems at Houston High School 

Channel 5-Parents Question Germantown School Board about Suspended Choir Director

Commercial Appeal- Concerns Over Bullying, inappropriate conduct voiced at Germantown Board meeting 

Channel 3-Germantown Police Investigating Alleged Assault Against Houston High Teacher 

Commercial Appeal-Investigation of Houston High Choir Directors' Actions Nearing Conclusion 

Commercial Appeal-Weathersbee: Stopping school bullies requires bravery from all sides, not just the bullied

Grab some Kleenex and listen as several parents and a student speak about specific incidents of school bullying at Houston High, none of which were adequately addressed by school administrators. The Citizens To Be Heard addressing bullying is embedded below. Here are highlights of the speakers:

Speaker Number One--Dawn Grayson-representing concerned group of students, send children to school to prepare for lifelong learning and socially be responsible, the mission statement needs to be fulfilled, frustration re: teacher allegations, deeply disappointed, evidence to support that there was a pattern of behavior, citizens have rights, need transparency, need to know that our children are safe physically and emotionally, I am teacher, teachers have sacred and solemn role.

Speaker Number Two-Cherie D. -- personal experience with Mr. Cherry, daughter choked out by athlete, speaker corrected, can't talk about staff. Please mark off record. Daughter blacked out, coach woke her up and went to guidance, went to bathroom first, guidance said that she did wrong, should have gone to nurse, daughter was told it was horseplay, 911 should have been called. Her daughter had to transfer to Collierville, we all know names, not a joke, disgusting, Mr. Manuel-two Houston High Scandals, please retire and resign, kids should be safe, they are not safe, I believe you know this, you can remove me, baseball games saying people should honor you, I don't believe in this. 

Speaker Number 3-Jacob Vincent, KLEENEX ALERT- Brave student, tell experience, called names in elementary school, got worse in junior high, starts crying, punched in head on bus, laughed at by kids, seventh grade a popular basketball player in PE threw the ball straight at head, hitting head into concrete wall, went unconscious, administrators said bully just lost control of ball, in eighth grade his friend was thrown to the ground and put in neck brace, posted on social media about it and was called into office for that, does not remember repercussions on students involved, lots of social media abuse, told to kill himself online, could not talk to administrators because he knew they would not do anything, went to hospital, diagnosed with depression and transferred to another school.

Speaker Number 4- Laurie Vincent- this is the mom, her son insisted on speaking, she did not want him to, because she did not want him to relive this part of his life. 
Her son wanted to be a voice for all students bullied.  Policies are only as good as they are enforced. Getting punched in the face is bullying, was not reported as bullying with either incident. Impossible. 

Speaker Number 5- Herschel Freeman- You want to shut up people. Has a series of questions about Principal "Blank" and ladder/flip flops incident, This is from Commercial Appeal article, what are you hiding, why do you not let people ask questions? Who knew what and when? When did City officials knew? When did Board know? Should have been fired in August. Public needs to know how this was handled. Needs to be a thorough investigation and public airing. 

Speaker Number 6- Sarah Freeman, apparently we cannot talk about this, "this thing that we cannot mention", this governing body wants to sweep August incident under the rug. Were there City intermediaries between police and Superintendent-- the Mayor and City Administrator, this is a cover up. When was the School Board told, culture of cover up. Unconscionable

Speaker Number 7- Suzanne Walls- all this still going on, at HMS, Boy very threatening, tripping people, bus driver could not control him, contacted HMS, son terrified of student, administrator called it "horseplay", child stole candy from her son, teacher did not fix it, as a result, kid that stole candy shoved son in the hall, her son shoved back and got punished, all because candy incident was not taken care of, in "anonymous alert" how will privacy be protected, gets better customer service at Walmart, staff did not understand basic terms,

Speaker Number 8 Sheila Hahn--Things have happened in my family I have not reported because kids told her not to, One of her children was told to commit suicide, but the bully was popular, so son said don't report it, Kids bullied because they are Jewish, what does she say, not time to throw a party to Superintendant, referring to Baseball Party, take responsibility, not time to celebrate how great we are doing. 


FYI--the Baseball party the speakers are referring to has to do with an event last week "honoring" Superintendent Manuel, and a parents' group received an email, which in part stated  "Mr. Manuel will throw out the first pitch and will be recognized prior to the start of the game against Arlington. Let’s make an enthusiastic effort to be there, to stand tall and cheer loudly in support of Mr. Manuel and his leadership and dedication to our schools."


Ironically, school safety was the theme of the evening, and School Board member Amy Eoff explained that she would be working with the superintendant on creating a school culture that is safe. Let's hope this comes about.

Please think carefully about what Mr. Manuel said in response to these incidents in the television news reports. I question whether calling the superintendent is a good way to avoid these problems. Why not address the culture at the school? We have heard incidents of bullying and injuring (assault) that were dismissed as horseplay. Teachers need to be forced to set the standard. And the standard should be high for student behavior and teacher behavior, higher than dress code standard, please! I am not sure, given what was said, why students even bother reporting problems at all. Nothing seems to happen to the bullies even when the victims are injured.

As an example, if a house has poor wiring, and the lights are flickering on and off periodically, is the appropriate response to wait until a fire occurs and then call the fire department? Or is it more logical to call an electrician to fix the wiring and check the fuse box or breaker box, and perform some tests and FIX THE PROBLEM??


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Incompetence Exhibited in Handling of Recent GMSD Scandals

An Editorial Statement 

This is post is a follow up to my last three blog posts.  

When Truth is Stranger than Fiction-GMSD Scandals 101

Sources Say that Former Houston High Principal Failed to Report Allegations

Jason Manuel Wants New Contract from GMSD Board 

Please note: The discussion below has nothing to do with the merits of the complaints in question against Choir Director Billy Rayburn. My comments concern what steps should be taken in the face of any allegation, and some of them are legally required. 

Here are a few of my questions and editorial comments about the school district scandals detailed in the above posts. First the questions:   

I. The Original Cherry/Ladder/Flip Flops Incident

A. Was an "internal" investigation the appropriate way to handle the August 2017 Cherry "stepladder/flip flops" incident? I would argue that an internal investigation is virtually worthless, as the individuals leading the investigation report directly to the superintendent, and thus are unlikely to conclude anything different from what the superintendent desires. I guess I am wondering how an internal investigation could "clear" someone in the face of the admitted facts. How does that work?

B. Were the Board members consulted about the way to deal with the case? When were they informed? Was anyone at the City notified by the police? The police report stated that there were no charges filed in this case because the teacher involved did not want her employment with GMSD affected. That alone is a reason that Mr. Cherry's employment could have been terminated at that point. The implication is that charges may have been filed had he not been the victim's boss. Now, months later, she actually changed the police report, saying that it never occurred to her to press charges. She is still employed at GMSD.

C. If Mr. Cherry's employment had been terminated in August, would we even be dealing with many of the concerns about the investigation of Billy Rayburn?

D. If the Board decided that it was important to keep Mr. Cherry as principal, shouldn't he have been required to at least attend a program that addressed his alcohol dependency, and perhaps given him an unpaid suspension?  After all, Billy Rayburn earned a three day suspension in October for merely publicly criticizing the administration when the choir did not get to sing the national anthem at a football game as planned. Does Superintendent Manuel believe that the Cherry/ladder/flip flops incident was less serious than a teacher criticizing his administration because the entire choir was disappointed?

E. How did the reporters know to check the police records for the August Cherry/Ladder/Flip Flop incident months later? Did someone tip them off? If so, who? If people that worked with Mr. Cherry knew about the incident, it could have given them leverage if any "problem" arose. And, as we were told by the parent involved, Mr. Cherry never reported the incident concerning Billy Rayburn to GMSD HR. The mother told me that she had to do it.

II. The Allegation Against Billy Rayburn and Resignation of Kyle Cherry 

A. What is the complete timeline of events in the Rayburn case? In news reports, Superintendent Manuel was evasive about when he learned of the allegation against Dr. Rayburn, and he stated that he had to consult his records. When he consults his records, could we please have that date, and the dates when school board members were told of the allegation? Were City officials told, and if so, when? A complete timeline is in order, including the date when Tennessee Child Protective Services was informed.  This story indicates they may not have been notified in a timely way, as CPS did not acknowledge the investigation to News Channel 3 on April 19, although they had the report by the 26th. 

B. The parent of the alleged victim contends that there was a nine day period between the time that an incident of a sexual nature was reported to Mr. Cherry, and the suspension of Dr. Rayburn without pay, and that she had to report the issue after the failure of Mr. Cherry to do so. Was the child accusing Dr. Rayburn expected to attend choir classes with him during this time frame? What provisions were made for her physical, mental, and psychological safety? If her report is accurate, why would this situation not have magnified the effect of the original occurrence? That could lead not only to further damage to the girl, but leave GMSD open for even greater possible legal damages, should a lawsuit result from this incident.

C. According to the accuser's mother, GMSD HR department officials suggested that she confront the teacher directly with the charges. Is this GMSD policy?  Is this considered safe, for either the teacher or the student?  Is this the school policy, to suggest that the accuser meet with the accused? If it is not school policy, why was it suggested?  If it is school policy, shouldn't this policy be changed? I would argue that this is a manipulative way for GMSD to try to discourage formal complaints, and that even the hint of a suggestion that this an appropriate way to address complaints such as this is dangerous and risks dire consequences. We need to use a dash of common sense when we formulate policies and suggest remedies. And, by the way, the goal is truth and justice, not a cover up.

D. Has the superintendent been entirely candid with the public in his interviews with the press? The truth matters if we are to live up to our motto of "excellence always". Some of his statements are contradictory. As an example, at one time he has characterized the $25,000 given to Mr. Cherry upon his resignation as "severance pay" that is available to all upper level employees when they resign (see this report). Does that mean that any principal that quits without notice in the middle of the year gets paid $25,000? What if Mr. Manuel quits in the middle of the year? As revealed in Jason Manuel Wants New Contract from GMSD Board, Mr. Manuel's current contract specifically states that he owes the district $15,000 if he abruptly resigns, in order to pay for a search for a new superintendent. Why would a principal's contract be more generous than that of the superintendent?

At another point, he suggested that the money was paid to Mr. Cherry to help avoid a lawsuit, or at the suggestion of attorneys. What type of lawsuit? If Mr. Cherry quit, why would he be suing the school? Why would a $25,000 payment to the ex-principal be called for? If the $25,000 was the inducement given for Mr. Cherry to resign rather than be fired (which would leave open the possibility of having to endure various appeals), just say so. If so, the Board should have made that call. Under this set of facts, I would argue that appeals would have been unsuccessful.

Was the School Board consulted about this payment?

Please note that I am not saying that the payment was a bad idea. I am saying that the published reasons for the payment are both contradictory and illogical, thus insufficient to justify it.

At another point, Jason Manuel stated that police had been contacted. In fact, no report had been filed. He had simply talked to the police officer assigned to the school about the case.  Link 

E. What is the likelihood that the district faces a lawsuit that in part may be due to this matter's inappropriate handling and untimely reporting?  Did some of the errors in judgment, plus the failure to report have the possible effect of compounding the damages? And did the August Cherry/Ladder/flip flop incident have anything to do with Mr. Cherry's failure to report the allegations against the choir director?

F. What are the hiring practices at the school system? Are there instances of teachers being hired after they have been asked to leave other school systems? If so, does that hiring practice put our students at risk? Should there be a firm policy in place to avoid hiring teachers with checkered records from other schools? Should we value performance in the classroom as highly as awards given for student activities and sports? What policies are in place against nepotism in hiring practices? Have hiring practices at the high school since August been influenced by the awareness by teachers and staff of the Cherry/ladder/flip flop incident?

H. What else has been hidden? How can we be assured that there are no other ladder/flip flop issues lurking?

I. Why is this the appropriate time for the GMSD Board of Education to extend the superintendent's contract, a contract that does not end for two more years?   


When I moved to Germantown, even though I had no kids school age, I was excited about having our own school system. I went to a suburban district very similar to Germantown-- three elementary schools, one junior high and one high schooI, and had a very good experience. Houston High School has many good things going for it, and I am sure most kids and teachers have a good experience. But I tend to hear about the underbelly, and there is one. Yes, Houston is a good school.  And yes, we can do better. We must do better.

I occasionally get contacted by parents of GMSD students because of this blog. Although I do learn some things, and I appreciate that, this is actually frustrating for me, because I am not in a position to help them. Naturally, when they turn to me, I know they have exhausted established remedies within the school system. I also have no means to verify the merit of the complaints. Unfortunately, I have noticed there are common threads to the communications that lead me to believe that GMSD needs do some serious self-reflection. Perhaps the most disturbing thing I hear is that both parents and teachers are fearful of lodging complaints with the school system because of possible retribution.  Appearances seem to take precedence over substance. The recent scandals seem to support the idea. Despite a reassuring sounding email from the chairman of the Board of Education, safety for an individual reporting wrongdoing does not seem to be a high priority for the GMSD administration. Examples from the fact situations above: 

From I.B. above: "The police report stated that there were no charges filed in this case because the teacher involved did not want her employment with GMSD affected." I tend to believe the first police report rather than a corrected one months later by someone still employed in the system.

From II.B. above: "
Was the child accusing Mr. Rayburn expected to attend choir classes with him during this time frame?" 

From II.C. above:  "According to the accuser's mother, GMSD officials suggested that she confront the teacher directly with the charges. Is this GMSD policy?" The school system needs to establish a safe reporting environment for both parents, teachers and students.

Most of the City's past week's negative publicity could have been avoided if issues had been faced forthrightly, honestly, and competently with the overall goal of doing the right thing and confronting issues rather than deflecting them.

I also get contacted about alleged bullying not only by other students, but sometimes even hear about bullying and cussing by teachers. There are enough incidents reported to me (of all people?) that yes, I realize, Houston, we have a problem. No, of course I have no way to document these complaints. Other than fluffy written notices to the parents saying the safety of children is important, are policies against bullying being strictly enforced? There should be zero tolerance. Our school system should not permit any bullying, and it should not permit foul language, by students or teachers. No teacher should be protected because of cronyism, who they know, what they know, or nepotism.  I cannot comprehend why viewing a girl wearing a sleeveless shirt or a dress one inch too short is somehow more harmful to our youth than listening to profane language in the halls and being bullied by other students or teachers. We need strong leaders that will insist on civil behavior at all times by everyone in schools. Awards, accolades and self-congratulation are not the preferred method of judging a school. Addressing weaknesses, and not papering over them is true strength. The willingness to identify and clearly address problems, without finger pointing and deflection, is essential for a healthy school system. 


Per the GMSD website, the next GMSD Board meeting is Monday May 7, at City Hall. The Work Session begins at 4:30 and the meeting begins at 6:30.

The names and email addresses of the Board Members: 

Linda Fisher 

Betsy Landers  

Suzanne Jones 

Lisa Parker 

Amy Eoff