You Can Do So Much Better

Signs couldn’t be clearer that the GSSD’s just not that into you, Germantown.

Hello, we’ll be recapping more uncomfortable Germantown Special Service District meetings, this’ll cover March 30th ‘s “special” meeting to vote on candidates to submit to City Council for approval to the Board and two subsequent meetings in April. And we’ll get to those…

First, though. Germantowners, we just want to say you did NOTHING wrong. Trapeta, Jamar and Cindy are now insinuating that GSSD’s breakdown is due (at least in part) to the community’s failure to attend meetings and follow through on issues until they’re solved. This is nonsense.

We’ve been going to meetings a year now, and neighbors have come out. Not many, but the small group of regulars have been tigers! Asking a million questions, dogging the Board for details and sometimes taking notes so furiously we first mistook them for trolls (in our defense, we spotted one of them scrawling “FARCE!!!!!” across her legal pad).

But then, the more meetings we went to, the less crazy they looked. These folks knew something funky was going on, and were determined to follow every contact and paper trail in pursuit. Germantown does not sit idly by. Sorry GSSD. Don’t go blaming the people.

Germantown was onto GSSD before they announced they were broke, before their authorization lapsed, before the City’s Commerce Department called them down to City Hall to explain themselves. Way before January’s “Emergency Meeting” where they admitted failure and asked for everyone’s understanding.

These neighbors could not have tried harder to keep GSSD honest and afloat. Wish we could say we’ve seen the same degree of effort from the Board. It’s heartbreaking to put this in writing, Germantown, but it’s pretty clear to us the GSSD doesn’t value or trust you, and really doesn’t care about your feelings.

But listen – you deserve better. No matter what Cindy Bass says, no matter how bad Germantown United CDC wants to swoop in for the save. This isn’t about what they want. This is about clean, safe streets now. Trash collection is not rocket science and this bullshit needs to end.

Sorry. Are we out of line? We hate to rag on GSSD here but we’ve witnessed some truly disappointing stuff you should know about. Click the links, watch the videos but meanwhile here’s our tally:

  1. The Board refuses to provide an accessible meeting space with enough chairs for everyone
  2. They only post meeting times/dates on their website, no social media or flyers or outreach
  3. Their email notifications for meetings/info do not go out
  4. They’re often rude and impatient with neighbor questions at meetings
  5. They failed to collect almost $200,000 in payments, and can’t afford to clean the streets
  6. They spent $27,000 on festivals/events last year
  7. They owe Ready Willing and Able $18,000

And here’s a doozie:

  1. They were locked out of their own bank accounts

Let’s unpack this one. So we’re all supposed to pretend that one renegade Board member took off with all their passcodes/financial records so that’s why they closed their account & switched banks? Because Citizens Bank apparently can’t reset a password? Weird, this was right when the Commerce Department started asking questions. What are the odds…?

But okay, let’s go with that. Yes, the Board is so tremendously incompetent they found themselves permanently locked out of their own bank account and financials and everything. Let that sink in. Having a hard time deciding which is worse, being dishonest or being that bad at your job.

Hats off, btw, to the four Board members who’ve resigned after this debacle. And just look at ones left — they’re miserable. They don’t want to be here. Public meetings shouldn’t be this hard.

GSSD has been talking a good game about how they want to work with the community, but when they have a chance to let us in, damn if they don’t shut us out again. The Nominations Advisory committee came up with ten names they wanted to see as new Board members. There’s no reason GSSD couldn’t have rolled with their recommendations – and every reason they should’ve accommodated them.

But no. The Board met privately and came up with their own roster of candidates, six from the committee’s list and two individuals of their own choosing (all nominees were approved* in March 31st):

Rex Barr – Germantown resident and business owner

Vanessa Benton – Overbrook resident, Mastery charter school employee

Tuomi Forrest – Executive Director of Historic Germantown, Mt. Airy BID board member (ex officio)

Kate Gaffney Lange – Germantown property & business owner

Gabriel Saffioti – Owner of 5443-5445 Germantown Ave. Brooklyn Resident

Rebecca Segers – Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Germantown

Jeffery Hill – Germantown property owner & owner Chest-Mount Realty Inc

Howard Treatman – Germantown resident, Board President Mt. Airy CDC, Former GUCDC board member, Former president Germantown Jewish Center

To be clear: no one’s finding issue with the names. Rather, GSSD’s attitude towards community input is the problem: they don’t want it. They’re also inexplicably defensive, accusatory and just plain pissy with the public.

Back at January’s emergency meeting, interim director Jamar Kelly couldn’t answer how the Board would be held accountable for their mismanagement, but he did have a request for neighbors: “Ask questions, provide scrutiny. Kick the tires, look under the hood… Make sure the Board is fulfilling its responsibility.”

Except now when people ask perfectly appropriate questions, they’re dismissed — and often rudely. When Jamar described his new GSSD position as a “volunteer consultant not seeking to be compensated,” (?)  audience members could not get a clear explanation about what that means. In the video above, Jamar agrees he is volunteering but then, Trapeta says they need to “adjust” GSSD’s budget to include his consulting (which is non-paid). Is everyone clear now? Gah!

Are you cheating on me or aren’t you?
Well I’m not seeking to get anyone pregnant….
What the hell does that mean?

When a neighbor asked quite reasonably to review GSSD’s budget for the $26,000 of public funds they recently received from Germantown United CDC, Trapeta practically laughed in her face, “No, we’re not going to show you the budget!” (watch the video — you can almost hear the “duh!” at the end of her sentence). Ummm… aren’t you guys supposed to be working on transparency?

But wait! Suddenly at April 12th’s Board Meeting — poof! A budget. Like they had planned to provide it all along. In the same magical fashion, they now have financial records to share with anyone who cares to review their books — after telling a neighbor who asked to see them in March, “I really think we need to leave accounting to the professionals.” Seems with the bank account closed, there’s no way to challenge GSSD’s ledger, so that’s handy.

But neighbors still have questions (from Facebook Live):

Only $8 of the $26,800 budget is going towards cleaning – doesn’t seem like a high priority for an organization that is tasked with keeping our commercial corridor clean!

What kind of operation offers a private meeting to show one person?

Looks like this budget is only going to last until June. Is that the case? Does anyone know?

People deserve fair wages but in my experience $18/hour is very generous pay for part-time admin support of such a small organization… Would like to know more about selection process and responsibilities.  

Who prepared this sloppy document? Hope it wasn’t one of the people getting paid…

Mailing is $4k?? WTF are they mailing and where? No way that should be that high for only 2 months.

Nit-picky? Maybe. But oh well. That’s the price you pay after your office squanders community tax money and gets dressed down by the Commerce Department. It’s only natural for Germantowners to want to turn over every stone from GSSD. Unfortunately, when you ask too many questions, the Board shuts down.

Trapeta has even thrown out the race card not once but twice. “I’m looking at the faces that look like mine around the table…” she said, wondering aloud why organizations with similar “faces” in charge must deal with such “venom.” When Steve sought budget clarification for a Facebook Live viewer watching who couldn’t attend April’s board meeting in person, Trapeta suggested he was being difficult because of pre-conceived prejudices and specious interests in Germantown.

Such gas-lighting from this Board! And such disregard for all the hurt they’ve caused the neighborhood. People feel let down. Shut out. Lied to. There’s sadness and even some shame, too – How did we let this happen? What is wrong with us? Headlines about trash in the streets of Germantown sting like microaggressions on the community psyche. And the despair that builds from this is a big part of the litter problem, go figure.

Dumped and Defeated

We’re not saying we have a solution, but perhaps it’s worth exploring what some good old-fashioned oppositional behavior might accomplish?

At least one jilted ex-candidate is squaring off. Connie Winters, owner of Historic Germantown Properties, had long been interested in joining GSSD’s Board and finally this March was recommended by the Nominations Advisory Committee. Then without explanation, the Board dropped her – along with developer Ken Weinstein and Stacey Wright (a Rep. Kinsey staffer) – from their final list of candidates.

“I don’t know what Ken and Stacey are doing but I have to speak up, this is wrong,” she told us after April’s Board meeting, when she read a dramatic “Dear John” letter into the record, where she tallied GSSD’s wrongs and announced, “I will be OPPOSING the reauthorization of the GSSD and encourage others to do the same.”

Aw, snap! Connie might be the only business owner giving GSSD the kiss-off right now but we’ve heard rumblings up and down the corridor. While at the moment most folks aren’t confident they could successfully oppose Cindy Bass in Council, some parties are kicking around the idea of paying taxes to an “escrow” account until a community compromise or agreement could be mediated.

So yeah that’d mean lawyers and arbitrators and a messy tangle with an incumbent District Council who is probably running unopposed this May and will likely be able to really f-ck with all of us on her case for the next four years if she wanted to. But still.

Forgive us, we’re natural disruptors. We want to see Germantown smash the power structure and rebuild one that maybe no one’s ever seen before around here, or maybe not in a long time. But Germantown, you’re worth a fight. You’re beautiful and historic and amazing, litter and all. Trash is a fixable problem. It’s not you, it’s them.

Whatever the community decides to do, we’re here for you! Watch full meeting videos of March 30th & April 12th‘s on Facebook and view highlight clips (and footage from other GSSD meetings) on our YouTube channel. We’ll continue attending meetings and reporting back as best we can, posting our recaps and creating an archive that will hopefully help us all better keep track of the situation.

*So now what? A public reauthorization hearing April 24th kicked off a 45-day “objection period” – to stop the resolution, one third of taxed owners/businesses (or the owners of more than a third of the total value of assessed properties) must object in writing to the Chief Clerk of City Council and GSSD. This period for GSSD’s new Board members list ends Saturday June 8th, then the candidates hit the Rules Committee and finally get voted in by City Council.

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below or submit your own recap to for a possible feature. Oh yeah, and read last month’s recap here.

We’ll recap GSSD’s April 12th Board meeting soon (watch it on Facebook here) meanwhile mark your calendars for May 13th! This’ll be an evening meeting (6PM), so we expect a high turnout.

If you need a seat, make sure you come early because GSSD’s office at 57 Maplewood Mall (map) is super small, with only a handful of available chairs. Community members are on the case for a bigger meeting space, though, stay tuned for any updates…  5/13/19 — LAST MINUTE UPDATE:  Tonight’s meeting has been moved from GSSD’s office to the Germantown Historical Society’s headquarters at 5501 Germantown Avenue.

PS But You Said You’d Change! A sharp-eyed reader shared a WHYY article from 2013, “The Revamped Germantown Special Services District has been called to order,” that describes a situation eerily similar to where we are now.



1 Comment

  1. When I saw Trapeta suggesting that the push back they were receiving was race-related, I knew then and there that the situation is beyond saving. It’s unreasonable to expect any community collaboration from a person (people?) who believe that the (very diverse) community they’d be collaborating with has some kind of racist agenda. To be be clear, Trapeta, no one cares what any of you look like. Do you know what we care about? Trash. That’s it. The trash on the sidewalk. Your job has been to clean it up and you haven’t done it. THAT’S the problem. The entire board could be lily white and that would still be the problem, and everyone would still be pissed.

    Dissolve GSSD, vote out Cindy Bass.

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