Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Pulling Back the Curtain--The truth behind the Alderman's Censure

Rather than report on the debacle and embarrassment that was the last night's BMA meeting, which was adequately covered by The Daily Memphian and the Commercial Appeal, with video here, I am going to turn my attention instead to the actual reason for the censure of Alderman Dean Massey. It is not because he is a danger to the City's cyber security, because that simply is not true. He even has a separate email account now, but all that is all for another discussion.

The problem is that Alderman Massey exposes misdeeds of the current administration. His distrust of the City leadership likely begins with the failure of the administration to order an investigation of the double dipping car plus car allowance that City Administrator Patrick Lawton got away with for six years a few years ago. Massey submits open records requests for documents, and the City has a penchant for illegally blocking entire pages from him (without giving a reason) in return. I know he tells the truth because I have submitted requests where pages are blacked out, and no reason is given. Occasionally something interesting makes it through the City's censorship, and one such example was the covenant on the Reaves property next to Forest Hill Elementary School. This document called for a minimum lot size of one acre. The City administration hid the existence of this covenant from the Planning Commission, the BMA, and the citizens as a vote to rezone the property was considered. It was only after Alderman Massey uncovered it in an open records request that citizens became aware of it.

My past posts describing the particulars on this subject are:  

Alderman's Open Records Request Uncovers Key Forest Hill Legal Documents

Minutes from 2006 BMA Meeting Help Derail Zoning Changes on Forest Hills Reaves Property 

Restrictive Covenants Must Be Disclosed to Planning Commission

This incident was embarrassing enough to the administration that at least one administration-supporting alderman has since tried to cover up the City's own cover up, with the false narrative that the covenant was simply overlooked by the administration
. The proof that the failure to notify anyone of the covenant was intentional, and not an oversight, is in the audio of the March 28, 2018 Executive Session.  

1:40 Dean Massey-- "The way that this was discovered, Attorney Harris, was that I was going through the City files, is that it has always been in the City files, and my question for staff is that why was this not disclosed to the Board?" 

Cameron Ross, after a pause-- "The reason that this was never disclosed to the Board was that the document was never recorded with the Register."  Later he gave enough details about the property that showed he was fully aware of the covenant but dismissed it because it had never been filed with the Register of Deeds, He called it a "theoretical" document. He never said he had not known about it.

If you look at the blog post, "Restrictive Covenants Must Be Disclosed to Planning Commission" linked above, you will also see comments at the end from a City insider indicating the City knew full well about the covenant and failed to consider it part of the history of the property simply because the owner of the property had failed to file it with the County Register. The City apparently even ran title searches on the property because of the covenant.

Mr. Ross never even brought the covenant to the attention of the City Attorney, who, on finding out about it for the first time, immediately recommended putting off the third reading of the zoning change on the Reaves property.

Despite the fact that Mary Anne Gibson actively participated in this Executive Session, she continues to this day to allege that the failure of Cameron Ross to disclose the covenant to any of the members of the ruling bodies, or the public, was due to it simply being overlooked. Just recently a citizen reported to me that she discussed her lack of trust in the administration with Alderman Gibson. When she brought up the failure of Mr. Ross to disclose the covenant, Alderman Gibson stated that Mr. Ross had claimed it was a mistake.

No, he did not say that it was a mistake. All he did was respond to Alderman Gibson when she asked how thick the file was. Alderman Gibson was present and participated in the March 28 Executive Session where Mr. Ross stated that the reason he did not disclose it was that the document was "theoretical" and not filed with the County. So she knew it was not overlooked. Here is where she planted the seed that this was all a mistake, in deceptively worded questions to Mr. Ross (link to Sept. 24, 2018 BMA meeting):

Mary Anne Gibson: The question about the restrictive covenant from thirteen years ago, Mr. Ross if you're looking up a piece of property on the Register of Deeds website and it lists what the restrictive covenants are only if it has been recorded, correct?

Cameron Ross: Yes, Ma'am.

Mary Anne Gibson: So this file, in over thirteen years, how thick, this thick? this thick? (she stretches arms out)? 

Cameron Ross: This thick, about four inches. As we discussed in the timeline in attachment 9 references there is a lot of history to this property, a lot of plans, a lot of false starts.

Mary Anne Gibson: Thank you.

Please note the wording of the exchange. Cameron Ross never directly stated that he did not know about the document, but left the listener with the impression that it was simply overlooked.

Honestly, it might be worse if Mr. Ross had overlooked the covenant, and Mr. Massey found it in a records request. So I am not sure even of the reasoning behind this subterfuge. I guess it depends on what an individual values most-- truth or competence.

This is just a single example the threat that Alderman Massey is to the administration. He makes a nuisance of himself at meetings, daring to question outlandish and unnecessary expenditures, the latest being his questions about GPAC outdoor venue budget overruns. Naturally the administration response was more cover up-- hiding important expenditure items in a "preliminary agenda" where there is no discussion allowed. He is far too thorough and detailed for their liking. And make no mistake about it, that is why he was censured. 

And it isn't as if the administration has not tried public embarrassment on Massey in the past. The attempt to remove him as liaison to the Public Safety Education Commission was another instance where the City tried to hold him up to ridicule. That ended in a victory for Mr. Massey, a defeat for the administration. Two members of the PSEC resigned, including the Chairman, who wanted Mr. Massey gone, and the secretary, who illegally destroyed a public record, a recording of a meeting, after Mr. Massey requested that she keep it. That incident caused me to have to write these blog posts: 

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

Old and New Business Removed from June 4 PSEC Meeting agenda  

Commission Members Indefinitely Table Motion to Request Removal of Alderman Massey as Alderman Liaison

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Large Residential component in New Carrefour Site Plan (Leaked by Website "Developments in Germantown")

Do you want a sneak peak at the new site plan for Carrefour, the shopping center development at Kirby and Poplar that is scheduled for a complete overhaul?  Thanks to John Peyton, owner of the website Developments in Germantown, and the Facebook group DIG-Developments in Germantown, you get a glimpse of the project before any commissions consider the plan, and before the plan is posted to the City website.

First a disclaimer: I have no idea how Mr. Peyton obtained this plan, and I also do not know which people at the City of Germantown have even seen it. Nor do I know if this is a plan that will be formally submitted.

An original version of the site plan was passed by the BMA earlier this year-- one that included a "boutique" style hotel, along with offices, a garage, and a shopping center. That plan was the same one shown at the public meeting about a year ago (see Carrefour Meeting in Video and Pictures, Sept 18, 2018). This new site plan is substantially revised, with two separate high rises labeled "residential" and another two large wings off the office building designated as "residential" as well. This change to "residential" was anticipated by most citizens, because of the administration's push to add more apartments in mixed-use developments in the City. This development was simply waiting for the apartment moratorium to expire this past June. Right now there is a moratorium on stand-alone apartment buildings in place, but currently we have no definition of a "stand-alone" apartment building. Not only do I have no idea when or if this site plan will be officially submitted for consideration, I don't know if the (likely) apartment buildings in the plan will meet the criteria of "stand alone apartment building" that the majority of the aldermen say they do not favor. Why not? These are part of a "mixed-use" development.

Here is the complete PDF posted in Developments in Germantown. The above pictures were taken from that PDF. Just click on them to enlarge, or go directly to the complete PDF.  

If you are interested in this "Western Gateway" project, keep on the lookout for future public meetings, and join the Facebook group "Developments in Germantown".