The Open Records Fight

Posted by jsaino on Jul 25, 2016

July 25, 2016

There was an interesting editorial in the Commercial Appeal last Sunday concerning Germantown open records and the battle with Jon Thompson and Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman in order to get information on Germantown government salary, insurance and other perks. Congratulations to Thompson and Freeman. I have been fighting this open records battle since 2004.

 

Recently I asked the MLGW for current electronic copies of their annual pension and OPEB reports. I asked by email. I received an electronic copy of an open records request form which I filled out and signed electronically and sent it in. I then received the following message.

 

“Good afternoon, your documents are available for pickup. You can come to the Administration building and the documents will be at the security station.” I then objected to this bureaucratic requirement and sent my objections to Mr. Thompson (MLGW), Mayor Strickland and many others. I eventually got the electronic copies that I asked for and you can now look at the MLGW pension report and the MLGW OPEB report at www.memphisshelbyinform.com.

 

Now the Tennessee Open Records law does not require furnishing electronic copies but governments with a fully open records policy will furnish the information in electronic format because it is cheaper and easier and nearly all data is already in electronic format. If they want to discourage open records requests they will require you to travel down to their office and pick it up at the security desk.

 

I like the MLGW and their utility services. Very professional. President Jerry Collins is a great manager and runs a well trained and effective company. I call on the MLGW to put this information (pensions and OPEB) on their website and keep it updated. I also ask them to publish a return on investment report for their smart meter program to show the public how this program will be paid for and the return on the rate payers’ investment.

Now as to the pension and OPEB reports. Shelby County published their annual pension and OPEB reports online. The City of Memphis and MLGW do not.

 

The MLGW pension fund has a net value of $1.32 billion and $118 million of unfunded liability.

 

The City of Memphis pension fund has a net value of $2 billion and $533 million of unfunded liability. The City of Memphis does not publish their annual pension report online.

 

The Shelby County pension fund has a net value of $1.1 billion and $316 million of unfunded liability.

 

The MLGW OPEB fund has a net value of $333 million and $461 million of unfunded liability.

 

The City of Memphis OPEB fund has a net value of $17 million and $730 million of unfunded liability. The City of Memphis does not publish their annual OPEB report online.

 

The Shelby County OPEB fund has a net value of $197 million and $101 million of unfunded liability.

 

The trouble spots are shown underlined above. Again Shelby County leads in local government in open records policy and fiscal responsibility. I urge you to let local governments know what information you think should be put on their website. What are your thoughts on transparency in government?

 

 

 

 

 

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Lack of Transparency On Local Contracts

Posted by jsaino on Jul 19, 2016

July 19, 2016

Lack of Transparency On Local Contracts

I have been investigating the barriers companies have to jump over in order to do business with local governments. As an advocate of open records and transparency, I measure the contract information transparency available to the public (taxpayers are the financiers of government purchases). Therefore let us look at what we (the taxpayers) get to know about government purchases and the cost of trying to direct a percentage of government business to minority, women  (MWSBE  minority, women small business enterprises) or locally owned small businesses (LOSB).

I was told recently that the County Commission passed a charter amendment a few years back (city also) that any contract over $100k requires 20% minority participation. Bidders include that in their pricing of the project.

I checked to verify the information and was told that the information was not  exactly correct.  The Locally Owned Small Business (LOSB) ordinance was passed by the County in 2007 and established a target of 20% of all purchases to be awarded to LOSB’s. There is a bidding advantage for LOSB’s of 5% for contracts up to $500,000; 3.5% for contracts up to $750,000; 2.5% for contracts up to $1,000,000 and 2% for contracts over $1,000,000.  For large construction projects the county normally establishes a LOSB percentage requirement.  According to the source, the County has met the LOSB target each year.

The City of Memphis has the following statement.

WHEREAS, the City of Memphis desires to be proactive in ensuring that economic opportunities in the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) are equally available to all individuals or businesses, including minority and women-owned businesses, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

Certified AABE (African American black enterprise), HBE (Hispanic American business enterprise), ABE Asian American Business Enterprise, NABE (Native American Business Enterprise), or WBE (Women business enterprise) shall mean an AABE, HBE, ABE, NABE or WBE which has been certified by a City approved central certification agency and approved by the Office of Contract Compliance (OCC).

The initial annual MWBE goals shall be:

  • a. Goals for Subcontracting Construction:
    • (16 %) – Minority
    • (3 %) – Women
    • (19 %) – Total goal
  • b. Goals for Prime Construction:
    • (15 %) – Minority
    • (3 %) – Women
    • (18 %) – Total goal
  • c. Goals for Architecture & Engineering Services:
    • (22 %) – Minority
    • (7 %) – Women
    • (29 %) – Total goal
  • d. Goals for Goods and Supplies:
    • (12 %) – Minority
    • (1 %) – Women
    • (13 %) – Total goal
  • e. Goals for Non-Professional Services:
    • (23 %) – Minority
    • (2 %) – Women
    • (25 %) – Total goal
  • f. Goals for Professional Services:
    • (13 %) – Minority
    • (2 %) – Women
    • (15 %) – Total goal

The annual goals provided above shall be reviewed annually by the EBO advisory committee. These overall MWBE participation goals are only intended to be benchmarks evaluating the overall performance of the EBO program on an annual basis. These participation goals are not and, shall not be quotas for purposes of determining or satisfying annual participation goals.

I have tried to find the actual results of this program but I cannot find anything online. It may be there but I cannot find it. I will ask the City of Memphis in an open records request. What I want for the public to know is the results of the City and County small business and minority programs. What are the percentages and what did it cost over and above lowest and best bid for the work? We, the taxpaying public, deserve to know.

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Why Is Doing Business With Local Government So Closed and Difficult?

Posted by jsaino on Jul 05, 2016

Why Is Doing Business With Local Government So Closed and Difficult?

 

July 5, 2016

 

I have wondered about this question for a long time. I have talked to many local business owners and almost all of them say that it is too expensive and difficult to bid on city of county business. I decided to look into how the City and County buy stuff and what we as taxpayers get to know about the successful vendor and how the vendor was selected. What do I, as a taxpayer, want to know?

  • If it is a negotiated contract, I want to know who was contacted, who bid and who was selected and why that firm was selected. If more than one firm was contacted for negotiations, I want to know those firms and their bids.
  • If it is a sealed bid contract, then I want to see all the bids after opening and if the lowest bid was not selected I want to know the reasons.
  • I want to know the qualification process for being accepted as a possible city or county vendor. What do they have to do to get on the qualification list and is the process of qualification really necessary?

I recently met with a ranking County official and we discussed the above points. He wants to open up the sealed bid process so that the public will get to see online the winning bidder and the reasons the winning bidder was chosen over the low bidder if that is the result of the sealed bid process. Currently this is not the case for either the City or the County. We did not discuss the negotiated contract process but I feel that he would be open to more public information about that process. Negotiated contract are necessary in many cases due to time restraints and emergencies and thereby the taxpayers have to have trust in their public officials. By the same process, these public officials have to earn this trust by being open in their dealings and by making open records their gold standard.

The problem with this whole purchasing area is the clamor for equal opportunity and minority access to public contracts. Therefore there is a whole infrastructure set up which is difficult for the average business to navigate. Many just say on the front end that they will not bid public work because it is too difficult and costly to jump over the hurdles. This difficult qualification process necessarily raises the cost of the purchased goods. Here are some examples of what is necessary to even bid on public work.

City of Memphis: click on this: http://www.memphistn.gov/Business.aspx/SupplierRegistration.aspx

Then go here: http://www.memphistn.gov/Government/BusinessDiversityCompliance/ContractCompliance.aspx

And then to here: http://www.memphistn.gov/Business.aspx/Certification.aspx

The Shelby County process is similar but somewhat simpler. However both registration and certification processes are difficult because of the minority and equal opportunity concerns. I want minorities to get a share of the business but I want the taxpayers to be able to see on line that they are doing so and to see what cost we have to pay if the successful bidder is not the one with the lowest price. What premium would you be willing to pay for this objective? Eventually I want open competition between vendors without regard to race, color or any other factor.

Again the County is leading the way in opening their records and they deserve credit for this leadership.

 

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A Solution For Germantown’s And Any Government Open Records Problem

Posted by jsaino on Jun 20, 2016

A Solution For Germantown’s  And Any Government Open Records Problem

 

June 20, 2016

 

There was an article in the Commercial Appeal yesterday concerning a large request for emails in Germantown.

 

This is part of the article. Germantown, which has paid more than $62,000 in the first half of the year in attorney fees generated by citizen open records requests, is looking to Nashville for relief.

 

In meetings with Shelby County lawmakers and the state Attorney General, city leaders are researching ways to limit the city’s exposure from the cost of producing large data requests, including potentially charging the costs back to the citizens making the requests.

 

“Asking for four years of someone’s email — all of them — is not normal,” Mayor Mike Palazzolo said. “Asking for a police report dated Jan. 17, 2009, to clear up an insurance manner is routine. But a wide-cast net that takes up our professionals’ time and legal staff to review is something residents need to know is very costly.”

 

The City of Germantown’s proposed budget for next year includes a 64 percent increase (from $350,000 to $575,000) in legal fees. City staff suggested an $80,000 increase, but aldermen upped it to $225,000 — for the $575,000 total — based on the size of the legal bills the city is receiving to blackout sensitive data in City Administrator Patrick Lawton’s emails.

 

In December, resident Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman requested two years of his email, including all attachments.

 

Under law, governments in Tennessee may charge 15 cents a copy plus labor costs for requests that take more than an hour for staff to gather.

 

Wilkerson-Freeman has asked to inspect the data, which is free, and then requests copies made of pages she wants.

 

The problem with this type of open ended request is “REDACTION OF INFORMATION WHICH IS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.”  This non public information could be such things as social security numbers, home addresses, private medical information and other non public information according to the Tennessee Open Records law.

 

My ANSWER to this redaction problem is a new email protocol that should be adopted by all bodies subject to the Tennessee Open Records Law. This new protocol would apply to all new emails and text messages. Under this protocol the body of the email or text message would be public information. If needed there would be two types of attachments to the basic email text. #1 attachment would be any data that is open to the public. #2 attachment would be any information that is specifically mentioned in the Tennessee open records law as not public information such as addresses, social security information, restricted medical information and exempted legal communications. Then when a request for emails comes in from the public, the requested emails could be easily sent without any #2 attachments containing redactable information. This would do away with the high prices lawyers reading through a bunch of emails. The creators of the emails would have to be trained in the new electronic communications protocol. No personal messages would be allowed on public paid for email services. A public transparency board should be created in each Tennessee County to periodically review emails and text messages to insure compliance with the new protocol.

 

Any email sent from a government entity, or agent thereof, from a private email account that would otherwise be considered a public record should be carbon copied or forwarded to an official email account created for the purpose of the government entity, or agent thereof, to maintain transparency of and provide a record of that public information.

 

Let’s face it. Generally politicians hate open records and transparency and they will use the expense gambit to restrict public access to their records. I would appreciate your thoughts on my proposal for a new public records creation protocol. It seems to me a low cost answer to the “I have to hire a lawyer to redact those email requests” from local politicians. Transparency and open records comes from the top. Lack of transparency comes from the same place.

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What Was The World Like 83 Years Ago?

Posted by jsaino on Jun 14, 2016

June 14, 2016

What Was The World Like 83 Years Ago?

 

I must admit I had a birthday on June 1, 2016 when I became 83 years old. When I arrived on June 1, 1933 the world was a different place.

 

Eighty Three years later I am blessed with a loving wonderful wife and four beautiful daughters. They all came up with wonderful birthday cards and gifts but one daughter came up with a unique gift that I would like to share with you. These gifts shows what a wonderful country we are blessed with and how far our free economic system and our inventive entrepreneurs have brought us.

 

When I opened her gift I found two magazines, A Time magazine dated June 5, 1933 and Business Week dated May 31, 1933. She had found two popular magazines as close as possible to my birth date of June 1, 1933.

 

Now I want to show you some of the contents of those magazines which illustrates how far the USA has come in improving human life and how we must take the media then and now with a large grain of common sense and skepticism.

 

#1 is an article from Time called Schlageter Day. Albert Schlageter was a terrorist and was eventually caught and executed by the French. Hitlerites viewed him as a hero. Hitler announced that the tenth anniversary of Schlageter’s execution would be a national fete. Hitler however was preaching peace and he was afraid that if he spoke at the rally of 300,000 people there might be riots. So who did he send to speak in his place, Wilhelm Hermann Goring.

 

#2 From Business Week there was an interesting article about the Chicago Exposition, A Century of Progress. Look back at the last paragraph of Article #1 where the following was written. “A third demonstration took place two days earlier when a crowd of nearly 1000 Jews & Communists rioted at a Brooklyn quayside, waiting to boo Han Weidemann and Gotthold Schneider, Hitler’s not particularly welcome envoys to the Chicago World’s Fair. Dozens of heads were cracked, 13 rioters arrested.”

 

#3 is an ad for International Business Machines Corporation for tabulating machines, the first step to computers.

 

#4 is an ad in Time Magazine for a gas operated Electrolux refrigerator. We now have a large plant here in Memphis run by Electrolux.

 

Thank God for the USA and our entrepreneurial spirit by free people. Let us keep it that way.

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How The West Got Rich

Posted by jsaino on May 23, 2016

How The West Got Rich

May 23, 2016

There was a fascinating article in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. I want to point it out because it will be at the heart of our upcoming 2016 presidential election. We hear the talking heads speaking about gender-less bathrooms, free stuff for everyone, income disparity, redistribution of income, taxes, the benefits of socialism, bullying and lots of other issues.

The number one issue in survey after survey is the economy and this is what this article is all about. Look and read some of the facts.

Two centuries ago, the average world income per human (in present-day prices) was about $3 a day. It had been so since we lived in caves. Now it is $33 a day—which is Brazil’s current level and the level of the U.S. in 1940. Over the past 200 years, the average real income per person—including even such present-day tragedies as Chad and North Korea—has grown by a factor of 10. It is stunning. In countries that adopted trade and economic betterment wholeheartedly, like Japan, Sweden and the U.S., it is more like a factor of 30—even more stunning.

Now we have people calling for a change to our system in order to make it more like Cuba, Venezuela and a long list of countries run by top down federal bureaucracies.

Here is the explanation of how our society got these wonderful improvements. What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely accumulating it. Capital and the rule of law were necessary, of course, but so were a hard working labor force and liquid water and the arrow of time.

The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. As Matt Ridley put it in his book “The Rational Optimist” (2010), what happened over the past two centuries is that “ideas started having sex.” The idea of a railroad was a coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails. The idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper. And so on, through every imaginable sort of invention. The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments.

The other day I heard a report about our current Vice President, Joe Biden, wondering what he would do after the upcoming election. He has never had a private sector job working for a “for profit” company in his life. Neither has Barack Obama or most of the Washington DC politicians and bureaucrats. Let us get back to returning government to the people with important decisions made at the state and level local, empower local thinkers and entrepreneurs, and reduce the size of the DC bureaucracy.  Do you believe in the benefits of legal and fair capitalism or do you want a radical change in our system?

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Bureaucracy Is Alive And Well

Posted by jsaino on May 12, 2016

May 12, 2016

Bureaucracy Is Alive And Well

Bureaucracy exists not only in Washington DC where it thrives and continues to grow, but right here locally in Shelby County Tennessee. Here is an example.

A number of years ago I filed up to six lawsuits (pro se, for myself) in Chancery Court. When faced with a recalcitrant government agency that refused to comply with our Tennessee Open Records laws I would troop down to Chancery Court with lawsuit papers in hand and plunk down $211.50 CASH money and file the suit. Sometime later when the lawsuit papers were delivered to the Respondent I would sometimes get the requested access action. Other times I would have to wait for the respondent to show up (or not show up) in court. I remember one time waiting in Judge Golden’s chancery court for an attorney from the old Memphis School System to show up. They failed to show up and when I spoke to the court I requested my $211.50 back and an additional $1000 for, my time and expenses. Judge Golden gave me the right for the $211.50 but refused the $1000. The reason for the refusal was that I was not a lawyer and had filed pro se. I guess the legal fraternity sticks together. The judge is a great guy and later when we meet at a gathering, we laughed about the incident.

However apparently I failed to receive back one of the $211.50 fees and I received the attached letter from Chancery Court. I went downtown to Chancery Court and filled out the requested form. The young lady that helped me said that I would be notified when the check was available to be picked up. I requested that the check be mailed and she said that their policy was that checks could only be mailed to out of town people but that I would have to pick up the check in person since I lived in Memphis. “NO MAILING LOCALLY WAS NOT PERMISSIBLE!”. I offered to pay for mailing but that was refused. 17 MILES DOWNTOWN, PARKING FEE, GO THROUGH SECURITY, PICK UP CHECK, 17 MILES BACK HOME. Bureaucracy at work right here in River City.

They said that I would be notified when the check was available. When I received no notice I emailed the Court but still got no answer. The next time I was downtown I went to the Court and sure enough I got the check. I hurried and deposited it as soon as possible.

Now the thing that really galled me was my knowledge that this was the same Court that suffered a $1 million loss beginning in 2008 and ending with a conviction in 2012. So much for the vigilance of bureaucracy!

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How We Could Have Saved $1 Million Dollars

Posted by jsaino on May 09, 2016

May 9, 2016

 

How We Could Have Saved $1 Million Dollars

 

I have been following the stories about the Memphis Health Education and Housing Facility Board. The story began with the low income properties owned and operated by Global Ministries. Residents complained about bedbugs, rodents and improperly maintained appliances.

 

I began investigating all the various boards and commissions operated under the City of Memphis and Shelby County governments. I found that there were two Health Education and Housing Facility Boards (HEHFB), one run by the Memphis and one by Shelby County. As usual, the one run by the County was better, more open to records access and less controversial. The outstanding difference was a provision of the county board statement of policies and procedures that restricted the amount of cost paid to the Board Counsel. On just 5 bonds issued by the Memphis HEHFB this difference amounted to $59,000. The Memphis HEHFB says that they have issued over 85 bonds. This overpayment to the Board Counsel could be as much as $1 million dollars at the average of the 5 bonds reviewed.

 

At the most recent Memphis board meeting I asked the board some questions and made some public recommendations concerning open records, ethics and conflict of interest. Here are my points.

 

  1. Board agendas should be posted online at their website on the same day they are posted in the Daily News.
  2. All supporting information given to board members along with their agendas should be posted online at the website along with the agenda.
  3. Minutes of the meeting should be posted on the website not later than 1 week after the meeting.
  4. Bond costs and parties to the expenses should be posted on the website when sent to the state as required by law. (Report of debt obligation)
  5. Adopt the same or similar ordinance as the County limiting board counsel fees.
  6. Adopt a strong ethics ordinance regarding conflict of interest and post online.
  7. When a member of the board has a subsequent financial involvement in a board bond or property transaction, that member should make a public acknowledge of that involvement on the board website.

 

I call on the City Council to demand these changes and I ask all citizens and taxpayers to contact the Mayor and their council members to act on this matter. If you have a further suggestion, I ask you to contact Joe Saino at memphisshelbyinform@gmail.com.

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Brilliant At The Basics

Posted by jsaino on Apr 25, 2016

April 25, 2016

Brilliant At The Basics

Our new Mayor has come out with his proposed 2017 City budget. I have not had a chance to study it closely yet but I will in the next few weeks. However a recent open records request confirmed what I suspected was happening.

Read the CA article of April 7, 2015. In a CA article (April 7, 2015) our present Mayor Strickland questioned the possibility of Sammons doubling his City pension. In my recent open records request to the City of Memphis I asked for current pension payments to retired City of Memphis employees. I wanted to compare the current pensions to past pensions. Sure enough there was Jack Sammons receiving an annual pension of $68,457.36, up from his previous pension of $34,960.56. Doubled!!!

How has this happened? Apparently there is a provision in the City of Memphis pension ordinance that allows the pension to be recalculated based on the highest 12 month salary overturning any fiscally responsible actuarial calculations. This is a public employee scam that needs to be corrected.  Here is what is done at the County government. Plan A and Plan C both compute pensions based on the employee’s highest 36 consecutive months of earnings.  The new Plan D computes pensions based on the highest 60 consecutive months of earnings. Plan D was effective July 1, 2011 and has proven to be a less costly plan because of the earnings calculation plus the lower years of service multiplier and the retirement age requirement.

Then there is he abuse of the City of Memphis pension board of LINE OF DUTY DISABILITY. This is costing the City up to $14 million per year. The rate of line of duty disability approval at the City is ten time higher per active employee than the MLGW and Shelby County Government. These built in actuarially unsound pension provisions need to be changed as part of the Brilliant Basics.

 

 

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My Memphis Airport Experience

Posted by jsaino on Apr 18, 2016

April 18, 2016

My Memphis Airport Experience

I am not a fan of current airplane travel experiences. Let me count the ways.

My wife and I recently completed a trip from Memphis to San Francisco to visit my daughter, son in law and grandson. I looked on line and booked a flight out to SFO on United Airlines with a connection in Denver. The flight left Memphis at 7:16 AM so we got up about 4:30 to do all those things necessary before driving to the airport. We got to the airport about 6 AM to proceed through security. Before security I took everything out of my pockets except my driver’s license and boarding pass. I was allowed to keep on my belt and my shoes. The flight was pleasant enough considering the reduced space between seats. We were not seated across from the airplane Outhouse thank goodness. The connection flight to San Francisco was on time and we arrived in SFO about noon. Getting the rental car in SFO is a trial as you have to take the Air Train and then track down the agent and car.

The stay in Sebastopol in Sonoma was wonderful and we enjoyed three nights there. Then the trek back home. Another night near the SFO airport and then back to turn in the car after getting the luggage checked in. The return flight was on American thru Dallas. Again the seat spacing was even tighter. The flight from San Francisco to Dallas was late and we had to rush from Terminal A to C in Dallas on the air train and just made it late in the boarding process. The flight to Memphis was OK except the last 15 minutes was very bumpy due to thunderstorms.

The arrival was at 10 PM and by the time we got to the luggage area all the free carts were gone to other folks. I went and got the car from the long term parking garage and was expecting to pay $6 per day but was surprised at the bill for $15 per day or $75.00 total. I objected but my protests fell on deaf ears.

Two days later I went back to the airport to check out the signage about parking rates and directions. I now know that I misread these two signs. I went straight ahead instead of a sharp left turn. Later I went to the airport website and sure enough the explanation was there. I wonder how many of you readers have made my mistake.

I have attached some pictures that show the signs as you navigate the directions to the massive parking garage. My mistake was proceeding straight ahead instead of making a quick left turn. Sorry fellow, that will be $45 extra. Has anyone else out there made the same mistake?

I have wondered in the past how the Airport Authority justified the huge cost for the parking garage which ruined the view of the beautiful airport building and put all the Park-Ride and Fly people out of business. Then I wondered about the recent CA story of two Vice Presidents at the Airport Authority leaving and getting paid. One oversaw airport concession agreements, parking and rental cars, disadvantaged and minority business programs, contract compliance and leasing of airport-owned properties. Both were being paid $191,000 per year. Interesting. What has been your airport experience? I would like to know.

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