Saturday, January 15, 2022

Cozy Family and Political Interests involving "The Firm"- Retracted

This blog post is hereby retracted. I came into some significant information that alters the facts enough for a retraction. The new version is found here. I apologize for relying on the Secretary of State website for the ownership of the firm, and for relying on the Facebook page of the business of Alderman Gibson for characterizing her new position with the firm as a "merger". 


The Firm (is this name a nod to the John Grisham book?) is a Germantown real estate company owned by Elizabeth Duke, the wife of John Duke. (The ownership is verified by the Tennessee Secretary of State website.) John Duke is the developer of the Wilder project (72 homes) next to Forest Hill Elementary School. The Firm currently has listings in Collierville and Germantown. The Firm undoubtedly stands to earn substantial brokerage fees from the Wilder project.

Guess who was recently employed by The Firm? 

On September 13, Kathleen Huisman, wife of City Administrator Jason Huisman, was hired by The Firm.   
Two months later, on November 15, Alderman Mary Ann Gibson and Ganelle Roberts (mother of Alderman Gibson) merged their business with The Firm.

The firm's hiring of Ms. Huisman and its merger two months later may raise some questions for Germantown citizens.

Some Background Considerations: 

1. In March of 2018, against the vehement objections of the neighborhood, Alderman Gibson voted twice in favor of an ordinance rezoning the Duke property from estate-sized lots to residential. The required third vote was postponed twice for legal reasons related to a covenant on the property that had not been filed with Shelby County, but had been read into the minutes of a 2006 BMA meeting. Eventually, after the neighbors retained counsel, a compromise was reached between the neighbors and Duke on the number of homes to be built on the property. 

Here are some past blog posts on the issue: 

2. A City ordinance provides that a developer pay a fee to mitigate the removal of trees that takes place when developing a property. In accordance with the formula set forth in the tree ordinance, Duke would have been required to pay a mitigation fee in excess of $270,000. The Design Review Commission, however, waived this fee in its entirety at its May 25, 2021 meeting. It did so based on representations, principally by Commissioner Brian White, that Duke had "donated" the land for the water tower. In fact, Duke had exchanged the land on which the water tower was to be erected for a parcel of land located by Forest Hill Elementary School, conveyed to him by Germantown Municipal School District. GMSD agreed to make this conveyance to Duke in return for the City's deeding to GMSD parkland needed for school athletic fields. During the May 25 meeting, while the supposed "donation" was prominently mentioned, no mention was made of the land swap.  

Clear cutting of Wilder Project
I find it noteworthy that the land swap had been voted on at both a GMSD meeting and a BMA meeting, and had been publicized by various media outlets. Yet, neither the Germantown administration, nor Alderman Sherrie Hicks, the liaison to the Commission, mentioned it. The Commission, in waiving the $270,000 fee, simply ignored the value of the land received by Duke from GMSD.   

As I understand it, Jason Huisman played a lead role in negotiating the land swap between GMSD and Mr. Duke. 

The City administration, once again, allowed the Design Review Commission to break our City Ordinance on the tree mitigation fee. According to the ordinance, an arborist report is required for a fee reduction, and I can assure you there was no arborist report showing that Wilder development owed $00.00.

From Abigail Warren reporting-- 

3. At the Monday, October 13 BMA meeting, the approval of the final plan for Phase 1 of the Wilder development was put on the Consent Agenda by the administration. The inclusion of an item on the Consent Agenda signifies that it is to be passed, along with other supposedly non-controversial items, with no discussion. Although Kathleen Huisman had already been employed by The Firm, this fact was not brought to the attention of the aldermen prior to the vote on the Consent Agenda items. It is interesting to note that Alderman Gibson voted on the measure, and two months later her firm was merged with The Firm.

Addendum: I will be happy to print anyone's response to this post, in full.


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