Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Few Highlights From the Last BMA meeting

Quite a bit happened (and didn't happen) at the BMA meeting last Monday, June 25. I will provide a few highlights from the meeting, because I realize that many citizens don't have time to view the meeting on the  City webpage or YouTube. On the City webpage, the recording of the meeting is broken into various clickable agenda items. I am including a few of these below for your convenience as I discuss some of the items, but some may be interested in other agenda items as well. If so, go to the City webpage link above.

Note: As I was composing this post, the City video failed, so I edited to add the YouTube link. Just remember that you have two options, but only the City webpage option has clickable agenda items. 

Before I get to the agenda items, I need to point out that at the beginning of the meeting, Alderman Janda announced his desire to move to exclude Carrefour from the apartment moratorium at a future meeting. I previously discussed the request by the Economic Development Commission to exclude that project from the moratorium in my May 12 post-- Carefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium ?, request from Economic Development Commission. The Commercial Appeal discusses this recently in Carrefour at Kirby Woods developers Ask for Exemption from Germantown Moratorium.  


I.  Rebuild Tennessee Award – Thornwood 

A great deal of praise was heaped on the Thornwood development, as Cameron Ross and the developers spent a good chunk of time extolling the virtues of same. We even learned that Mayor Palazzolo's parents are considering moving to the Thornwood apartments, because they no longer want the burden of home ownership. These apartments are listed on Zillow. The Thornwood apartment webpage also lists more information about the available apartments. 

Somewhere after the 26 minute mark, Mayor Palazzolo suddenly turns on Alderman Massey, taking exception to a statement from Massey quoted in the recent Commercial Appeal article Sides Chosen: Germantown Mayor and Alderman Debate Direction of Suburb's Growth

Here is Massey's statement: 

"The problem I have with Thornwood is the way that it was presented to the public. It passed to begin with, without opposition. The mayor's administration represented that those apartments were going to be condos where families would actually have ownership in the property." 

The Mayor vehemently denied he had ever said the Thornwood living spaces were going to be condos; he then read the application for Thornwood dated 11-7-2014 which stated that there would be apartments. He claimed Massey was either misinformed or was purposely misleading the public, and, in an accusing manner, he directly asked Massey why he would want to do that. This must not have been discussed at the Executive session, as Massey appeared to be blindsided. The alderman, who was recovering from a bad cold, stated: 

1. Mayor Palazzolo was not the Mayor at the time, and he was not referring to him. Also, he was only referring to the Mayor's administration. (note: the administration was the same under Mayor Goldsworthy and Mayor Palazzolo), and 

2. the public was led to believe that the project would be condominiums by various newspaper articles.

The Mayor demanded to know what newspaper articles, but, not being prepared for the attack, Massey did not have a list of specific newspaper articles.

Given the high emotions in this exchange, I decided to investigate. I was unable to find evidence that then Alderman Palazzolo stated that there would be condominiums rather than apartments at Thornwood. However, as pointed out by  Massey, that is not what Massey had claimed in the Commercial Appeal article.

In support of what Massey did state-- namely, that the mayor's administration led the public to believe that there would be condos at Thornwood-- I was able to find two newspaper articles that each clearly indicated that there would be condominiums at Thornwood. 

Developer Buys Land for $150 million mixed-use project in Germantown (Memphis Business Journal, Sept. 25, 2014)

Smart Growth Plan Sets Stage in Germantown (Memphis Daily News, Sept. 30, 2014).  

Thornwood, which will be built in multiple phases over several years at the northeast corner of Neshoba and Germantown roads, will include hundreds of condominium units, around 60,000 square feet of retail and a four-story Hampton Inn & Suites.

“We hope that what ultimately gets built there is the execution of the vision of the smart growth plan,” said Cameron Ross, director of economic and community development for Germantown. “Because of that plan and the zoning that was put in place, that project is possible today.”

We do not know if the "Mayor's administration" informed the media that the project contained condominiums rather than apartments, as Massey's statement implies. But Director of Economic Development Cameron Ross was quoted extensively in the Daily News article (then-alderman Palazzolo was also quoted), so I contend that, although there is not hard proof, it was logical for Massey to assume that Ross (part of the "Mayor's administration"), was the source of the publicly disseminated misinformation that the multi-family portion of the Thornwood project would be condominiums. Also, one would have thought that City officials would want to request corrections to articles in the newspaper that contained inaccurate information about a development.

These articles were both written prior to the November 7 application date that Mayor Palazzolo referred to in the BMA meeting. Interestingly enough, that application date was three days after the 2014 election.

I am at a loss to understand why Mayor Palazzolo wanted to bring Massey's statement in the Commerical Appeal to the forefront at the BMA meeting, ensuring that as many people as possible would be aware of it.

This unnecessary exchange was much ado about nothing. However, the overall topic should give the public pause. Citizens who felt misled by the newspaper articles claim that this is just another example of "bait and switch" by the City on developments. I give a different example of the "bait and switch" tactic in City Officials Misrepresent and Ignore Forest Hill Heights Small Area Plan.  

 II.  Ordinance No. 2018-1 – Ordinance to Adopt the FY2019 Budget 

Of course the real meat of the meeting was in the third and final reading of the budget. What "happened" was that the budget recommended by the City administration passed. What "didn't happen" at the meeting was passage of any of the amendments to the budget proposed by Massey. 

Massey had a wide range of objections to the budget. He noted that there has been no cost-benefit analysis of the budgeted water tower in the Forest Hill Heights area. He also noted that sales tax revenue is purposely underestimated, so the budget is not reliable. He cannot get the details about the budget that he needs. Rather than staff giving only one option on tax rate, and rubber stamping it, various options should be given the legislative branch, so that the legislators can select from the options. Should we be funding drainage projects for developers' projects when we have so many drainage issues in existing neighborhoods? The schools have many needs, so why are we spending $2.5 million for street beautification?

(Note: The motions that were turned down 3-2 were voted "no" by Aldermen Owens, Gibson, and Janda, and "yes" by Barzizza and Massey):

Massey's failed motions: 

1. Remove two million dollars from sewer project for developers in the Western Gateway (Carrefour)  (Note see my posts Carrefour Exempt from Apartment Moratorium?  and City Projection of Capital Costs related to Development. (Massey says a vote for this is a vote for apartments, and ignores the moratoriumThere was no second for this motion.

2. Remove $240,000 for the water tower in Forest Hill Heights. Failed 3-2.

3. Remove $1,140,000 for water main in Forest Hill Heights area--no cost benefit analysis performed. No second for this motion.

4. Remove $500,000 for streetscape, and re-allocate the funds for the Houston Fieldhouse project. (GMSD is about to lose a one million dollar private matching grant for this project due to a time limit imposed by the donor!). Failed 3-2 

Alderman Barzizza stated that spending was out of control, and that the budget was large compared with other cities the same size as Germantown. 

The budget passed 3-2.  

III. Link   
Revote: Ordinance No. 2018-3 – Real and Personalty Property Tax – Third and Final Reading

This slight roll back in the property tax rate (to $1.95) was made necessary by the state of Tennessee, because the figures on re-appraisals of property indicated a higher total value than had been assumed when the original tax rate ($1.97) was set. Citizens need to know that this is an adjustment in the tax rate made necessary by the change in total appraised values, not a true "reduction", as it does not change the total tax revenues projected by the City. 

At various points in the meeting Aldermen Massey and Barzizza pointed out that sales tax revenues are consistently under-budgeted, which skews the bottom line. City Administrator Lawton responded that the City wants to be very conservative and be prepared in case there is a recession. He even asked if everyone had noticed that the stock market went down Monday. He talked about the fiscal difficulties of the City during the Great Recession. That makes him "very conservative" in forecasting revenues. 

Massey said that he consistently sees "profit" in the financials in the City, and the City is not supposed to be a profit making enterprise.

[My opinion: It is not productive to consistently under-estimate tax revenues. It is better to budget the best estimate. However, it is wise to be conservative, and shortfalls during a year can be covered by a "conservative" fund balance.]  

Thus, Massey suggested a roll back of $.10 of the of the property tax cut. He did not make a motion, saying that he knew any such motion would not pass. He feels the Board should be given options for tax rates, budgets and projects. 

The standard roll back of the tax rate (from $1.97 to $1.95), made necessary by final appraisal values in the City, passed 5-0.  


Please remember that this post is just a discussion of a few highlights of the meeting, and not a summary. Check out either of the options listed (City webpage or YouTube) to view the entire meeting.


  1. What do you think would be the ideal solution for the issues of this upcoming developments? New politicians? More transparency? Just want to hear your thoughts on what could be done to improve the city.

  2. That was quite the spirited defense of Alderman Massey that you wrote, but you probably need to include some facts if you still want to portray yourself as impartial. Here are two additional newspaper articles (one from November 2014 and one from June 2015) that both discuss Thornwood as having apartments. Nowhere do they mention condos. Even more articles after that time period mention apartments, but not condos. Since all the application materials to the city and the majority of the news articles mention apartments, not condos, I think it's safe to say that there's no bait-and-switch here.

    Regarding the budget, I find it odd that Alderman Massey just a few months ago was condemning the current BMA for wanting to emulate the city of Carmel IN. One of the key differences between Germantown and Carmel is that Carmel finances relied heavily on sales taxes and followed a system of adjusting property taxes each year based on sales tax forecasts. This system left their coffers dry when sales taxes didn't match the aggressive forecasts. It's interesting to the outside observer to see Alderman Massey wanting to use the same system that created a financial mess in a city that he said he didn't want to be like. Why is that missing from your analysis?

    1. You actually proved my point, as both the articles you cited were AFTER the November election. The "condo" rhetoric shifted to apartment plans magically, AFTER the November election.

  3. It looks like it would do Alderman Massey some good to review civics and local government. He seems to be acting as though placing an item in the budget means that it is cast in stone and the project can begin immediately. Examples are the water tower, water main, streetscape, and sewer improvements. Alderman Massey didn't seem to understand that including these items in the budget doesn't mean that they absolutely will happen and he seemed to have trouble understanding that each of those must come up for discussion and a vote before they can begin. His lack of understanding procedure seems to be a source of a lot of his problems. If he would take the time to understand procedure, he might find that he can get more done.