Germantown Alderman Dean Massey on August 12, 2019. Ziggy Mack / For CommercialAppeal.comm
Good morning from Memphis on the eve of the start of early voting. But first ...
The "Crisis in Germantown" entered its third day this morning as aldermen continued to mull over whether to censure colleague Dean Massey for refusing cybersecurity training.
If you're new to this story, Massey recently decided to make the city's mandatory cybersecurity training his Battle of Thermopylae, even creating his own personal email address for city business after the administration restricted his city email. I mean, he's not saying "This...is...Germantown!" yet, or "Tonight we dine in hell!" But the stakes are high -- and getting higher after Alderman Rocky Janda yesterday called for his censure.
Our Corinne Kennedy is following the developing story, and in her latest piece quotes an email to city officials in which Massey explains what the controversy is really about:
"I find it concerning that city employees appear to (be) unilaterally creating mandates for elected officials and then implementing punishments. It seems a lot of power has been placed in the hands of the IT Director if he is to be judge, jury and executioner in such cases," he said.
In other words, this is about Democracy, folks: Do the people really want an unelected IT director forcing elected city officials to receive training on how to protect the city from cyber-attacks? In this light, Massey refusing training is a modern-day Boston Tea Party.
Massey has a point: Elected officials report to the people, not to unelected IT directors. Granted. But after a ransomware attack brought Collierville to its knees in July, and as cybersecurity remains a pressing concern for cities across the country, you'd think Massey and any elected official would recognize the gravity of the threat and proactively volunteer to take any training that could protect the city and its citizens from attacks.
But, of course, this power struggle isn't merely over who gets to mandate cybersecurity training: Massey has been at odds with the administration and his colleagues for years.
Most recently, Massey accused Mayor Mike Palazzolo of installing new locks in City Hall to mess with some of the aldermen, himself included, and said he received a threatening drawing in his mailbox that said "some people just need a pat on the back" with an image of someone getting pushed off a ledge, WREG News Channel 3 reported in May.
If you're wondering what issue could be so serious that Massey would get what could conceivably be called a death threat -- well, that would be the question of how to grow the landlocked city. Massey is solidly against high-density developments while Palazzolo and his supporters on the Board of Aldermen are less opposed, with conditions.
Almost every city government has these kinds of weird little power struggles. More often than not, they're just embarrassing tiffs, quickly forgotten by the public. What makes this controversy different is that the power struggle is putting the city's cybersecurity at risk, and that's not a risk that any elected or nonelected official should be willing to take.
Speaking of Germantown growth: Our Corinne Kennedy also writes here about the new retail and restaurants coming to the city.
Early voting in the Memphis municipal elections starts tomorrow -- meaning it's time for the last minute scramble to figure out who exactly is running and what they stand for.
If you're looking for helpful links and ballot information, start with the election guide from our Sam Hardiman here. And if you're looking for brief information about the candidates as well as what's on the ballot, check out my updated ballot guide here. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for a deluge of election content in upcoming days.
Of course, the big race to watch is what is shaping up to be a three-way battle between former mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County commissioner Tami Sawyer and incumbent Jim Strickland. If there's one word that describes what the race is about, it's probably "momentum"; Strickland says the city has it, his opponents say it doesn't.
Aside from the mayor's race, politicos are especially paying close attention to the races in Super District 9, which basically covers the wealthier eastern side of the city. The three seats there have traditionally been filled by pro-development moderates or conservatives -- currently, Kemp Conrad (9-1), Ford Canale (9-2), and Reid Hedgepeth (9-3) -- but politicos are wondering if shifting demographics will upset that apple cart.
The races are officially nonpartisan, but Super District 9-1 candidate Chaseton "Chase" Carlisle, whose family is developing One Beale in Downtown, is clearly more in the mold of Conrad than his opponent Erika Sugarmon, the daughter of the late judge Russell B. Sugarmon and a longtime teacher and Democrat. Latino Memphis' executive director, Mauricio Calvo, is the unabashed progressive challenging Canale's incumbent advantage in 9-2. And Dr. Jeff Warren, who served on the now-defunct Memphis City Schools board, is the favorite to face off against Cody Fletcher, the development officer of the University District in East Memphis.
If Sugarmon, Calvo or Warren win, that could break the tenuous majority the pro-development faction of the council has enjoyed for years.
The other big-ticket item on the ballot is a half-cent sales tax increase to restore the better benefits that Memphis police officers and firefighters enjoyed before the recession. Conrad and his former council colleague, Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr., had a fiery op-ed in The Daily Memphian yesterday opposing the idea.
Here's the meat of their criticism:
If you vote for restoring the Cadillac benefits of the past, please know two things. First, the experts estimate that maxing out this regressive sales tax, as the referendum would do, will generate $54 million per annum, and in a downturn this number will certainly drop. Also, based on state law, via a referendum, Shelby County government can take half of these proceeds to fund their own programs, leaving the city with only $27 million to accomplish the referendum's stated goals.
As they go on to add, they don't think there's a very real danger than the money collected by the referendum won't actually fully fund what it's trying to fund:
By taking away the private exchange for retirees and shifting more financial burden to the city (taxpayers), the city's actuary, PwC, and our finance team, have estimated that adding all employees and retirees back into the prior plan would cost $43 million in year one - conservatively $40 million for additional healthcare costs and $3 million for the pension. Even if the county did not take its share, it would only be a matter of time until the additional revenue was gobbled up. But if the county does elect to take its share, Memphis is in the red by $16 million in year one!
Presumably, the unions would argue that, regardless of economic fluctuations, the city has a responsibility to adequately provide for employees who lay their lives on the line.
My take: I can see both sides of the issue, but the sticking point for voters might be whether the existing benefits are enough to attract officers and firefighters. And they are, based on the latest numbers from the administration. The benefit cuts following the so-called Great Recession may have contributed to a sharp decline in the number of officers, but the city currently has nearly 2,100 and is on pace to add another 200 by the end of 2020, according to a recent weekly email from the mayor's office.
The cast of NBC's new legal drama "Bluff City Law" got the red carpet treatment this week at the Halloran Centre in Downtown Memphis, our John Beifuss reports.
And, as John notes, Memphis was a major star of the show:
Georgaris emphasized that the choice of Memphis was vital to their conception of a show about a law firm staffed with "people who believe the world is worth fighting for," as demonstrated in Memphis' history of civil rights activism, even in the face of tragedy (the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).
"We think of the city as our creative resource, and we are making the most of that resource," he said.
Georgaris added that the city's "authenticity" could not have been adequately replicated by shooting elsewhere and faking the Memphis sets.
"If we were in New Orleans, you couldn't see one of characters walk down Beale Street, then walk into Rum Boogie and watch actual Memphis musicians," he said.
Kudos to the Memphis Flyer for introducing me this week to Memphis-based Ally & the Walrus, which is fronted by Ally Wallace. In addition to the lead vocals, Wallace supplies the ukulele and lyrics, which I suppose makes the "Walrus" Ethan Mayo (who is on cajón, snaps and bass) and guitarist Evan Rodgers.
Their new music video "SUGAR," produced by University of Memphis students and featuring U of M student and artist Jordan Occassionally, fades us out...
Like The Fadeout? The 901's Spotify playlist has all the Fadeouts featuring local artists.
Columnist Ryan Poe writes The 901, a running commentary on all things Memphis. Reach him at email@example.com and on Twitter @ryanpoe.