Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shelby County Election Commission to Vote Wednesday on Contract for New System

The above notice was put on the SCEC Facebook page. Unfortunately the email address in their graphic left out the "c" in county, so please try this address: 


This is a wonderful opportunity to have your comments read into the record without having to physically attend the meeting or speak at a podium. Please do it!

Election Commission to Hold Special Meeting Wednesday on Voting Machines

I refer you to my past posts on the beleaguered Shelby County Election Commission. As previously discussed, our current voting system is outdated, and has no paper trail. Thus it cannot be adequately audited. It must be replaced, hopefully in time for the election next fall.

Ex-Alderman Frank Uhlhorn Appointed as Shelby County Election Commissioner

Shelby County May Get New Voting System in November After All 

I am no expert in voting systems, but when I researched the subject, I was unable to find a single election security expert that favors the type of electronic system that Linda Phillips, administrator of our elections, is promoting. She vehemently favors an electronic system that spits out a receipt for each voter. That receipt would be retained and could later be matched to electronic votes in a recount. Unfortunately, the system can still be hacked, because of the ability to insert a rogue program with a flash drive. Additionally, studies have shown that voters do not check their receipts to verify their accuracy. It is also more expensive and can easily become outdated.

The less expensive alternative is a paper ballot that is scanned at each precinct. The software is much simpler, not subject to hacking, and it is less costly. It has been used successfully for years in Chattanooga, and recently Knoxville chose to implement this system. Because the SCEC did not include that type of less expensive software in the original bidding process, the Shelby County Commission did not approve the SCEC's original monetary request for the more expensive system. The bidding process 
was sent back to the SCEC for another round of bidding that included the less expensive paper marked system.

Besides being less expensive, and less prone to hacking, the paper system does not require touching a screen, which of course can spread pathogens. 

The bids are in, but, according to sources, the public is not allowed to see them prior to the vote on Wednesday. Joe Weinberg calls the new bidding process "deeply flawed".  In an email sent to all the Shelby County Election Commissioners, Weinberg calls for a consultant to be hired to review the entire process, and reorganize it. According to him, security issues are ignored, as is the solvency and track record of the companies bidding. Another issue is that there was no request for bids for a system that could print out paper ballots at each precinct as needed, a capability that would more easily allow the administration of a scanned paper ballot system. Additionally, the RFP (Request for Proposal) disallowed the bidders from including items other than those specifically listed in the RFP, so bidders were not even allowed to suggest such a system.

Again, I urge everyone to use this easy process to make your opinions known.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Germantown and COVID 19

COVID 19 is now the talk of the world, but hopefully soon it will be just a bad memory. Hold onto that thought while I muse on the effects on our City. First of all, looking at a map of diagnosed cases in the county, the hot spots for the virus center on East Memphis and Germantown. Whether that is because we travel more than people in other parts of the County, or merely have greater access to testing, is yet to be determined. But in any case, take care out there.

The newspapers have done a great job with local stories, which I link below-- what do you want to hear first, the good, the bad, or the ugly?

Since Kroger is such a big chain here, I will start with the wild-cat strike at the Kroger distribution center. The company generally has a difficult time keeping things stocked, and this surely won't help. This is also a reminder that our gratitude needs to go out to all the workers that keep our City functioning, albeit at a lower level than normal  I pray for a full recovery of the person with COVID 19, and wish our Kroger employees the best. All the while I am crossing my fingers that this will not disrupt the already fragile food delivery systems.  

Memphis Teamsters Wildcat Strike at Kroger’s Crucial Southern Warehouse 

There are also a couple of feel-good stories coming from our area. I have to hand it to the Java Cafe owner who ordered N95 masks for his employees before most people even heard of coronavirus. If only he had a high position in the federal government! For those who say he should turn them over to hospitals, well, I disagree. Having food prepared by people wearing N95 masks serves a public health purpose. His stash would not make a dent in even an hours' worth of need for masks at hospitals, and in the meantime lots of people can order food that is unlikely to be contaminated.

Germantown Cafe takes extra measures to protect employees, customers 

On to a story about a couple of Dogwood teachers who are  neighbors in Poplar Estates, written by Geoff Calkins, the award winning sports reporter at the Daily Memphian.  Somehow I knew he would come up with some great coronavirus public interest stories. Who else could find the deeper meaning in the jokes fashioned out of construction paper and put in the window panes? I may search out these homes.

In a time of pandemic, Can Construction Paper Save us All?  

Abigail Warren reports that all City-employed part-time workers have been fired. Ms. Warren says she hates stories like this, and I certainly understand that. The employees were notified by letter this past week. Mayor Palazzolo could not be reached for comment. If I could interview Mayor Palazzolo, I would inquire whether senior employees were going to give up their vacation buybacks, which allows them to take not only two weeks of actual vacation time, but up to two weeks of extra pay, depending on years of service. All those perks would probably save the City a lot more money than taking the jobs away from the people who need them the most. 

Germantown Lays Off Part-Time Employees

I am sure I missed a lot of other interesting local coronavirus stories. Please mention any other ones in the comments. I would like to see how more stories on the availability of hospital supplies here. The national stories are horrifiying. Without mentioning names or particular hospitals, I know of an ICU nurse here who has chronic asthma who was given a coronavirus patient and no mask. Now N95 masks at the hospital are being reused with regular filters on top. The N95 masks underneath are not changed for several days. That seems unhealthy both for the nurses and the patients they serve. This is anecdotal but I would welcome a real news story on it. 

The Future


Our City has decisions to make, and it looks like laying off part-time employees was the first one. How will this affect us economically? Obviously this depends on the length of the quarantine, and the subsequent behavior of the citizens. Right now this is costing us sales-tax dollars, and probable loss of value of the employee pension fund. The City was already in the midst of making up a shortfall in pension funds, and this epidemic is quite unhelpful. In Memphis, Mayor Strickland has said to expect a cutback in services. Where will Germantown cut? Will we still plan to buy athletic fields for regional tournaments? I have always thought that was an unneeded boondoggle, meant to prop up development interests in the City. What about our multi-year plan to address drainage issues?  Will the water tower go forward? Will GPAC need yet more subsidies?

More importantly, how will this affect major developments being planned around town? I have already warned of the overbuilding of hotels in the area. I doubt they will have much business for the foreseeable future. Will this affect bank lending for various projects? Will the new "work at home" initiatives become a permanent fixture, limiting the need for new office construction? Will on-line ordering trends become so great that retail space is not needed?

And, it could even be a blow to the heart of "live, work and play".  Dense development is an admitted cause of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in New York City. Germantown has "health" as one of the top goals in its 2030 plan. Right now a home with a backyard seems a lot healthier than an apartment with common spaces.

According to New York Governor Cuomo, quoted in Politico

"We have one of the most dense, close environments in the country," he said Wednesday. "And that's why the virus communicated the way it did. Our closeness makes us vulnerable."

Fresh air and sunshine are good for those with influenza viruses. Even here in Shelby County there are threats of closing the parks. Single family housing seems like the best idea for healthy living in the future.

Stay well!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Public Financing? More "rooftop event spaces" and public (??) garages-- new Thornwood plans

Once again I am grateful for all the coverage of our City from both the Commercial Appeal and the Daily Memphian. I was able to sit at home last night and not even think about all the goings on at the BMA meeting. No, I don't really eat Snickers bars, (see my explanatory post about this blog from July of 2016), but I do have other interests outside of Germantown governance. It is much easier for me to provide a bit of insight rather than tackling every single fact.

Here is the video of last night's meeting:  

And here is the Commercial Appeal article:

Shouting, accustations, name-calling precede vote on Thornwood

The Daily Memphian: 

Germantown aldermen approve Thornwood amended outline plan

Alderman Massey was the only alderman who voted against Thornwood's revisions.

So far, at least, there seems to be no real "work" component of "Live, Work, and Play" of Smart Growth, unless you count the workers at the hotel. Will the workers be renting the apartments, providing walkability? Perhaps the next phase will add offices.

I have two takeaways on the proposed changes in the Thornwood plan:

1. On the bright side, I guess, is that the number of proposed apartment units in this plan is reduced from the former plan. It really isn't any secret that there are still many units (specifically 60 total available apartments listed today on its website) to select from at the Thornwood "residences".

Naturally the development does not want to overbuild its "luxury apartments", but, doing what developers do, they  keep building. The Commercial Appeal points out that Alderman Sanders supported the plan because it reduced the number of apartments planned by 114.

At the same time, the development added a Marriott branded hotel with 114 rooms. Presumably, the Hampton Inn at the development has been more profitable than the residences.

I do like the idea of increased tax revenues from hotels. Keep in mind, though, that much of this increased tax revenue goes to the bloated budget of GPAC. I love government support of the arts, mainly because I see the benefits from my past work experience, but there is something a bit too cozy about the City and its funding of GPAC. I would rather see our tax money for the arts go to a separate organization that solely supports artists in the area.

All that aside, Shelby County is seriously overbuilding not only apartments, but also hotels.  And in our City alone, there is one being built at Travure, and another planned at Carrefour. This article lists a lot of the plans:

Dozens of Hotels are in the works for Memphis Suburbs

Not sure if the BMA should be questioning developers' marketing projections, but this smells like a boom part of a boom and bust cycle. I also believe that the reduced business travel that has come about as a result of coronavirus may become a trend. Businesses will be able to ascertain which business travel is actually necessary. Much of the current business travel can be eliminated, due to the reduced costs and efficiencies of video conferencing. 

2. How many rooftop event spaces does Germantown need? 

REALLY? It isn't as if a rooftop here looks over anything but streets and shops and houses. Folks, this is not a rooftop event space with a view. Comparing our area with something like Mud Island is a  joke. I mean, the rooftop gardens planned at Carrefour and now at Thornwood make me a bit crazy. They don't even look out over the Wolf River.

But, of course, a rooftop garden is a "public" space, and of course a "public space" needs a public "parking garage." Why is that significant? BECAUSE THAT MAKES THEM ALL ELIGIBLE FOR TAX INCREMENT FINANCING. I am not sure how this could be telegraphed more clearly.

Next item on the agenda, perhaps AFTER the next election-- creation of areas of town where developers have their own little slush funds, comprised of the funds that otherwise would go to the general tax revenues. We are in the stage where the ordinary taxpayer here is like the frog in the water, who does not notice as the heat is being turned up slowly.

Look for tax incentives being requested by the developers of Carrefour and Thornwood. Do you want the City to support hotels and apartments and retail with tax increment financing? I don't. See my explanation of tax increment financing at this blog post Smart Growth and Tax Increment Financing. This is administered by an appointed "Industrial Development Board." Tax increment financing was approved by Germantown in early 2017 (reported in 
Germantown seeks to bolster development with TIF).

BMA, PLEASE stop approving projects with fake "public spaces." Undoubtedly this is what Alderman Forrest Owens means when he says "special places" (that is a favorite mantra of his--it could almost be a drinking game while watching a BMA meeting)-- tax incentives for developers.