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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  1. Something seems amiss for sure. Since the Gtwn site isn't updated...who are the current members (and the current chair?)
    And why were the members deleted off of some commissions in the last few months (Zoning, Planning Commission, etc?)

    1. The City web page used to have a list of the Commissioners, but it no longer does. I didn't use names in my piece simply because Alderman Massey did not on his Facebook page. One could do an open records request with the City to obtain them.

  2. I think you're playing fast and loose with some of your analysis -- and it has the potential to be a detriment to the community. When the chair spoke about the chain of command with regards to speed limits, he simply said that the Public Safety Education Commission is not the speed limit-making body, nor does it recommend speed limits, nor does it conduct traffic studies to determine proper speed limits. He correctly states that the first stop for those issues is the city engineer's office. You interpreted that as the the chair "wanting the role of the Commission to be the narrowest possible," but in reality he was correct and he was simply reciting procedure as required in the Charter.

    Also, the chair's desire to keep the commission apolitical was the right call. Alderman Massey seems to want to bring political discord with him wherever he goes. As was obvious in the meeting, people are tired of him making everything about politics and it was quite obvious that night that his continually asking questions with a slant toward development is getting old. He deviated wildly from the mission to talk about public safety education and tried to turn many of the topics into his own anti-development meeting. This is very off-putting to the public.

  3. I almost deleted this because of the second sentence in the second paragraph. I thought it went beyond discussing the topic in question, and I disagree as well. It does provide insight into why the Mayor wants Alderman Massey off this Commission-- Massey makes waves.

    I do want to address your other points. I am glad you listened to the meeting, but I disagree with your assessment of it. It sounded like everyone came at the issues with differing viewpoints, and they were having lively discussions. Massey's statement was not "political"--It was a statement of his philosophy, which is that entrenched government gets to be authoritian. Therefore he likes citizen commissions to take active rather than passive roles. As for the speed limits, a. we need a traffic engineer on staff, and b. the discussion of speed limits really was not about usurping the chain of command, it was about educating the public about the speed limits. The Chair seemed to take a lot of things the wrong way--he did not seem to want to hear any opinions that were contrary to his own. He interrupted people, not just Massey. I heard nothing about Massey turning it into an anti-development meeting. Why shouldn't he ask questions about the ability of the fire department to put out fires with all the new developments? He has to vote on issues such as the watertower and he needs to understand what is/is not needed. The residents of the area do not want a water tower, so he was trying to figure out safe alternatives to building a water tower. Of course he has to talk about developments!

    1. If Massey made a statement of philosophy, it most certainly was political. It's fine for commissions to take active roles, but that's up to the citizens on the commission and those meetings are not the place for Massey to force his politics onto others. It was obvious that he was referring to his political enemies in his statements and that kind of political posturing doesn't belong in citizen commission meetings. The chair was right to put an end to that -- it was a Public Safety Education meeting, not a Dean Massey campaign rally.

      As for Massey consistently bringing up new developments, it's fine for him to ask questions about them when relevant to the meeting agenda and when the right people are there. If the commission would like to discuss those, Massey could help to get the right people there. He doesn't need to hijack the PSEC meeting to discuss something off-topic. A firefighter probably isn't going to have all the hydraulic engineering information in front of him at a moment's notice to answer Massey's questions, although they did say that pumps usually aren't a reliable fire protection source. If Massey thinks that he needs to represent the voices of those opposed to a water tower or that he wants to gather information to bolster his political opposition to it, there are appropriate places to voice that political concern. But, the PSEC meeting isn't one of them. That had nothing to do with educating the public about safety.

    2. I think you and I listened to two different meetings. I put the entire audio on my blog so I will let the readers decide for themselves. I saw nothing "political" coming from Massey at the meeting. But I believe in transparency, which is why the entire meeting is on the blog, not just snippets.

  4. I'm glad that you posted the entire recording, but your summaries don't match your recordings. I think the bottom line is that Mr. Massey appears to be trying to control the commission, instead of being a liaison. For example, if he wanted to talk about a water tower, he could have asked the chair to add that item to the agenda or he could have scheduled a time for himself to meet with the fire dept and the city engineer. Instead, he chose to interject his own political issue into the PSEC meeting. It's Massey's veering off-topic and making accusations against others that are political and they don't belong in a PSEC meeting.

    1. Whatever, I believe that my summary is accurate, and I really had no idea there was so much controversy about the watertower being discussed. I paid little attention to it in my blog because it seemed like a normal discussion to me. If your comment gets my readers to listen to the whole meeting, though, good! I always recommend that. I don't claim to be the last word on anything, and my readers have the intelligence to parse things out for themselves.

      I appreciate your interest in this blog.