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


  1. I see people bringing up this document every now and again, but it wasn't signed by all the necessary parties and it wasn't filed. We can't know what their intentions were. Maybe they decided against placing a restrictive covenant on themselves and left it in the file to show that it had been tried, but failed.

    The bottom line is that there was no covenant on those properties. Coming back to that and saying that it means something is ridiculous. By that logic, all the previous development plans from all the past years would need to be enforced and built, even though they had been abandoned.

  2. Anonymous poster, this covenant was read into the BMA Minutes in 2006. It may or may not have been enforceable. Its existence was instrumental in the residents getting concessions from the developer, because the residents' attorney concluded that there was a very good possibility that this was enforceable, due to the public nature of the BMA meetings and The City seemingly endorsing the covenant. Without any legal guidance, the City on its own decided it was unenforceable. Even if that was the case, it was part of the history of the property and was not disclosed to anyone. In any case, Mary Anne Gibson attempts to plant the false narrative that this was all a mistake and the City overlooked the covenant in a thick file and didn't know about it. That is a blatant falsehood!! At least she realizes it should have been disclosed though.