Archive for the ‘shelby county’ Category

Open The Purchasing Records

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Open The Purchasing Records

May 15, 2018

There was an interesting article in the CA entitled “Memphis has lost focus”. The article went on to quote the Chairman of the Memphis City Council, Berlin Boyd, saying “We can’t continue down this path and expect a different result”. Also Richard Smith of Federal Express and Chamber of Commerce chairman, demand that elected leaders gut or fix the city/county EDGE board. The EDGE board is well known for handing out tax freezes for various businesses. The Edge board also has rules for minority vendor participation for any EDGE granted pilot. The article stated that Mr. Smith urged the end of minority spending rules.

 

Concerning EDGE minority spending rules the article stated that Boyd said that the biggest beneficiary of the minority spending rules is white women. Assailed by critics, Boyd and Smith agreed to keep the spending rules in place.

 

I have railed against this minority spending requirement for several years. I am not against economically disadvantaged minorities getting a leg up. However what should be changed is the following.

 

The paperwork and legal qualification rules are very complicated and discourage otherwise qualified firms. There should be a common-sense method such as the better business bureau or other independent organization that gives a rating system based on customer satisfaction reports.

 

Most importantly the purchasing system should be open and transparent with the final bids and selection on line and open to all. If a minority firm is the low bidder, so be it. If it is not the low bidder and is selected, then the price differential should be no more than 3% to 5% and then the minority firm should be given a one to two year time to graduate to a no price differential status for future competitive bids.

 

The system now is not transparent and we do not know what minority spending rules are costing us and we do not know who are the beneficiaries.

 

 

 

 

Real World Workforce Development

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

May 2, 2018

 

There was a recent article in the CA titled “Putting a new sprout on technical education”. The article went on to talk about a new Shelby County School Program that will cost $8 million dollars. The article went on to say students will learn hands on skills that lead to an industry certification. This program is part of a massive overhaul of the Shelby County School’s offerings for career and technical education. District leaders say it’s an effort to increase the number of students earning a work certificate before they graduate high school and aligning programs to high-need and high-paying jobs in Memphis. The article talks about various Workforce Development programs which do not seem to produce the trained students for the good paying jobs available. For instance Bolton is adding an agricultural science, technology, engineering and math program, shortened to “agri-STEM.” Students will learn hands-on skills that lead to an industry certification, like flying a drone to survey crops with technology that maps where more water or fertilizer is needed. This sounds high tech and sexy but are these jobs out there in abundance?

 

 

I remember going into the old Memphis School system building and seeing the prominent sign saying, “Every Day, Every Child, College Bound”.

 

 

Now consider that the State of Tennessee funds tuition free education at SW Tennessee Community College for high school graduates funded by over $50 million with a below 10% graduation rate basically for low skilled job training.

 

In this election year we need a candidate for governor who will allow the Tennessee Promise program to pay tuition not only for SW Tennessee Community College but for other non-profit training programs that have a proven record of over 80% graduation rates and a record of good wage job placements for the local employers looking for trained and certified employees. I cannot understand the reluctance of past governors to look at what works based on proven graduation rates but also on proven job placements taking into consideration the wage rates paid after rigorous certified job training programs. Ask your candidates for governor about the issue of allowing the Tennessee Promise money to go where it produces provable results. So much money is now being wasted on workforce development programs that hand out worthless certifications for low paying jobs. To be somebody you have to study and train to do something needed in the real world of available high paying jobs. A worthless certificate after minimal training does not fill the bill.

Voting In the May 1, 2018 Primary Elections

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Voting In the May 1, 2018 Primary Elections

 

April 13, 2018

 

Early voting has already begun in the primary election. If you have already voted, good for you. If you have not yet voted I urge you to do so either early or wait until May 1st.

 

Early voting is convenient, but it sometimes occurs before some piece of information comes out which could have affected your vote choices. It is not unknown for some groups to publish some information which may or may not be true (possibly FAKE NEWS) just before an election date to damage some candidate without time to respond to the information. Therefore I am going to wait until May 1st to vote.

 

I urge you to vote early or of May 1st but please vote. You will be selecting the candidates for the August 2018 election for county mayor, the county commission and a number of county positions that are very important. I have listed below the Republican and Democratic candidates for these positions. I have also listed how I now intend to vote in the Republican primary. Vote as you wish but please vote.

 

 

 

 

Why Can’t The Public See Public Bids And Price differentials?

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

April 10, 2018

 

Why Can’t The Public See Public Bids And Price differentials?

 

Bids for items purchased by public entities should be open and public information. Organizations such as the City of Memphis, Shelby County, MLGW and others paid for by local, state or federal tax money should have transparency on their bids.

However, this is not the case. Here are some local examples.

If you go to the City of Memphis website (www.memphistn.gov) and click on Business and then on RFPS and RFQS (request for proposals and request for quotations) and click on current solicitations you will see a table of upcoming quotations.

However In regards to the posting of Bid Awards online, the City currently does not post these online, but plans are in motion to soon place online links to reports detailing all bid awards for a given time frame plus the awarded vendor name, amount, description of the bid and Division name.  (attached are two examples of this report—one for 2017 and one for 2018 YTD).  However, there is no report available that includes the above information along with details on the losing bidders. Info on losing bidders would have to be obtained via the Open Records Request system on an individual bid basis or by reviewing the contract documents for each awarded contract.

If you look at the above two lists (one for 2017 and on for 2018, you will see the types of items purchased by the City of Memphis and the amounts spent. There are huge amounts of pubic money being spent.

The tax paying public is entitled to know how this money is being spent, who is getting this business, how much higher the other bidders quoted and if the lowest bidder was not awarded the contract, why not.

The rules and regulations for being able to bid on this public business are very complex and discouraging for private businesses to jump though all the hoops. I know several local business who add 10% plus whenever bidding on public buxiness due tothe paperwork.

I asked Shelby County for similar information on purchasing and their reply was as follows.

In response to your inquiry, the County does not publish the information on our website. There is no intentional exclusion of the public’s right to see the information but rather there has never been a demand for the information.  Another problem we have is that we do not have a sophisticated system to process purchasing and contracts information.  We are in the process of obtaining a modern system that will facilitate providing the information in question.

 

Occasionally we will have a request for the information you are citing but it is usually from an unsuccessful bidder or sometimes from a company interested in bidding on a certain service or commodity.  Is there anything in particular that you would like to see?

 

To date I have not gotten any response from the MLGW concerning the question of purchasing transparency.

Now here is the problem with all local public purchasing.

A local news report stated the following. “Shelby County commissioners approved a moratorium Monday, April 2, on all county contracts and budget amendments worth more than $50,000 through the end of August.

The 10-3 commission vote follows concerns some commissioners expressed last week in committee sessions about a multi-year contract worth $20 million for medical services to county corrections center inmates.

The contract is specifically exempted from the county’s ordinance setting percentage goals in awarding county government contracts to minority-owned businesses.”

Now I have no objection to seeing minority-owned businesses getting a leg up in establishing an efficient and competitive private business. If they need a price differential for several years in order to get up and running so be it. But the public should know what it is costing the taxpayers and it is obvious we do not know the extent of this public cost. Let us put it out there so we know what it is costing. What is your opinion?

This Is an Election Year! Who Can Vote?

Saturday, January 27th, 2018

This Is an Election Year! Who Can Vote?

 

January 26, 2018

 

We have some important elections coming up this year.

 

  • County mayor, county commissioners, county trustee, property assessor, county sheriff, circuit court clerk, probate court clerk, juvenile court clerk, county clerk, and county register. The date of this election is August 2, 2018. The following current county commissioners are not up for reelection due to term limits. Terry Roland, Heidi Shafer, Melvin Burgess, Walter Bailey Jr. and Justin Ford.

Tennessee will hold an election for governor on November 6, 2018. The candidate filing deadline is April 5, 2018. The Democratic and Republic primary elections are August 2, 2018. The current governor, Bill Haslam, cannot run as he is term limited.

 

There is a startling story out of California that should make us all think deeply about our constitutional republic. This is the headline.

 

CALIFORNIA TO REGISTER ILLEGAL ALIENS TO VOTE – AUTOMATICALLY

Court orders government to do so for all driver’s licenses issued.

 

WASHINGTON – California will take the next step in blurring the lines between citizens and non-citizens beginning April Fool’s Day when the state complies with a court order to begin automatically registering to vote all those who are granted driver’s licenses.

The state has long provided driver’s licenses to all who simply claimed, without proof, that they were citizens of in the country legally. There were no checks made or documentation required.

But beginning April 1 every person who gets a California driver’s license will be automatically entitled to vote.

“We are very pleased that Californians will have easier access to voter registration,” said Jeremiah Levine, an attorney with Morrison Foerster who represented the voting-rights groups. “We are especially satisfied that changes will be made before California’s statewide and federal primary elections.”

You expect this in California and this is a large part of the reason California went so heavily for the Democrat presidential candidate. But what is the federal law concerning voter eligibility?

Here is what Wikipedia says.

The right of foreigners to vote in the United States[1][2] has historically been a contentious issue. A foreigner, in this context, is an alien or a person who is not a citizen of the United States.

Since 1996, a federal law has prohibited non-citizens from voting in federal elections, punishing them by fines, imprisonment, inadmissibility, and deportation.[3][4][5] Exempt from punishment is any non-citizen who “reasonably believed at the time of voting (…) that he or she was a citizen of the United States,” had a parent who is or was a citizen, and began permanently living in the United States before turning 16 years old.[3] The federal law does not prohibit non-citizens from voting in state or local elections, but no state has allowed non-citizens to vote in state elections since Arkansas became the last state to outlaw non-citizen voting in 1926.[6] 11 local governments, 10 of them in Maryland, allow non-citizens to vote in their local elections (Takoma Park, Barnesville, Martin’s Additions, Somerset, Chevy Chase Sections 3 and 5, Glen Echo, Garrett Park, Hyattsville, and Mount Rainer). San Francisco allows noncitizens parents to vote in School Board elections (beginning in 2018).[7]

However, over 40 states or territories, including colonies before the Declaration of Independence, have at some time given at least some aliens voting rights in some or all elections.[8][9][10][11] For example, in 1875, the Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett noted that “citizenship has not in all cases been made a condition precedent to the enjoyment of the right of suffrage. Thus, in Missouri, persons of foreign birth, who have declared their intention to become citizens of the United States, may under certain circumstances vote.”[12]

By 1900, nearly half of the states and territories had some experience with voting by aliens, and for some the experience lasted more than half a century.[13] At the turn of the twentieth century, anti-immigration feeling ran very high, and Alabama stopped allowing aliens to vote by way of a constitutional change in 1901; Colorado followed suit in 1902, Wisconsin in 1908, and Oregon in 1914.[14] Just as the nationalism unleashed by the War of 1812 helped to reverse the alien suffrage policies inherited from the late eighteenth century, World War I caused a sweeping retreat from the progressive alien suffrage policies of the late nineteenth century.[15] In 1918, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota all changed their constitutions to purge alien suffrage, and Texas ended the practice of non-citizen voting in primary elections by statute.[14] Indiana and Texas joined the trend in 1921, followed by Mississippi in 1924 and, finally, Arkansas in 1926.[16] In 1931, political scientist Leon Aylsworth noted: “For the first time in over a hundred years, a national election was held in 1928 in which no alien in any state had the right to cast a vote for a candidate for any office – national, state, or local.”[17]

 

This is very interesting information. I believe that for all statewide and federal elections there should be a requirement that the voter must be a US citizen of the proper age and background and that there should be a national e-verify system with photo ID. For local elections this should be up to local officials to set the voting qualification requirements as local legal residents (green card non-citizens) who are property taxpayers probably should have some say in local government.

 

To me it is obvious that there are millions of non-citizens voting in national elections illegally particularly in certain states and this explains the desire of some politicians to allow unrestrained illegal immigration.

 

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

What Pubic Retiree Healthcare Costs You As A Taxpayer

Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

What Pubic Retiree Healthcare Costs You As A Taxpayer

 

January 16, 2018

 

Years ago, I started investigating healthcare costs for active employees and retirees at the MLGW, the City of Memphis, Shelby County and the school system. At that point (before 2007) there was no requirement that the unfunded liability of medical and other costs for retirees be put on the financial statements of the various local governmental units. I started checking on the unfunded liability which was called OPEB. (Other Post Employment Benefits, mainly health care costs and life insurance).

I was shocked by the amount of unfunded liability. Look at the history of this huge unfunded liability over a certain time period.

OPEB History- unfunded liability

MLGW 2007            658 million

MLGW           2015              461 million   down 30% from 2007

 

City of Memphis 2008                  857 million

City of Memphis 2015                  730 million

City of Memphis 2017                  504 million  down 58% from 2008

 

Old Memphis School System 2008                   1.34 billion

Current Shelby County School System 2016  1.25 billion   down 9% from 2008

 

Shelby County Government 2007                     319 million

Shelby County Government 2016                     101 million   down 69% from 2007

It is obvious that this is still a large problem. But as usual, our Shelby County government recognized the problem early (in 2007 when notified by GASB) and acted. The City of Memphis was slow in acting but eventually addressed the problem. The Memphis school  system as usual has stuck its head in the sand and is hoping for a government bailout. The MLGW is well healed and is slowly addressing the problem.

The next question that occurred to me was “What is the cost to the taxpayers for the portion of annual health care premiums for retirees paid by taxpayers?” I asked for and received the following answers.

MLGW           2528 retirees’ cost/retiree paid by rate payers            $11,733/year

City of Memphis 1524 retirees’  cost/retiree paid by taxpayers            $6466/year

Shelby County   1941 retirees’   cost/retiree paid by taxpayers            $4658/year

 

It is obvious that the MLGW is different and that Shelby County Government is more efficient. In my next posting I will take up the cost to public employees (active and retired) for their annual health care premiums so that you can compare your cost to what public employees pay and look at the annual cost rise since the affordable care act came into our lives.

Open Records At The Shelby County School System

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Open Records At The Shelby County School System

 

I have a long history of asking for information from the old Memphis School System and the successor Shelby County school system. Under old Memphis School System obtaining information was very difficult and I actually filed three law suits in Chancery Court to get access to information which I won.

Now with the Shelby County School system it is somewhat easier to get information and I want to report a recent request and the results.

At the request of a representative of a local charter school I asked for pupil attendance information of the Shelby County public school system. The reason that the charter school wanted attendance information was that they were being criticized by the school system administration for their poor attendance record.

I was able to get the attached information about attendance. One is a summary of attendance information and the other is a detail of each particular school.

What struck me were several things revealed by the information.

The charter school people noted that their attendance numbers were affected by the lack of school bus services that are available in public schools. They must depend on parents and guardians to get the children to school.

The other figure which struck me was the percentage of students that are chronically absent in the three schools divisions, elementary, middle and high school.

Look at the figures.

Shelby County Schools

Current enrollment in elementary schools     47,022  15.9% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in middle schools              17,590  16.3% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in high schools                   25,718  33% are chronically absent

Charter Schools

Current enrollment in elementary schools     5002  15.8% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in middle schools              3542  17.3% are chronically absent

Current enrollment in high schools                   4659  21.1% are chronically absent

 

The above figures are about equal in elementary and middle schools but the charter schools are much better in high schools  with a 12% lower absenteeism rate.

These are important figures and should be studied as they reveal a lot about our upcoming children. What explains a 33% chronically absenteeism rate in public high schools?

I ask you to read and offer your opinion on these figures. I asked also for the union contract for Shelby county school teachers. I received it but on the pages where the salaries are, the figures are redacted. I have asked for the redacted information but to date have not received it but have been told that they are working on getting the information to the public taxpayers.

$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

$281 Million For A Freshwater Aquarium And Downtown Cultural Center!!

 

Talk about an ambitious plan, this one takes the cake. Here are the details in a well presented and concise exhibit. The major elements of the proposed plan are as shown below.

  • Close Monroe between Front Street and Riverside Drive.
  • Create a new cultural center bounded by Union Avenue on the south, Front Street on the east, Riverside drive on west and the Cossitt Library on the north. This cultural center may become the relocation building for the Brooks Museum.
  • Build a pedestrian bridge going across Wolf River to Mud Island.
  • On Mud Island build a new 250 foot tall fresh water aquarium.
  • Upgrade the mosquito infested Mud Island Amphitheatre to something better suited to the outdoor concert business.

I must say I am impressed with the whole concept and plan. The Mud Island investment has been a failure as it never developed continuing attractions to draw people to come. It should have had bars and restaurants along the west side overlooking the river. I believe this was never done because it was opposed by the Beale Street interests. Also access to the island was limited to the north entrance.

Now as to the Brooks Museum. This is not mentioned in the plan but the CA article of October 18th said that this was a possibility. The Brooks Museum has a fine collection of art and much of it cannot be displayed as they do not have the space. Also there is a possibility this cultural center being the site for the William Eggleston collection, a world famous collection of photographs.

Now as to paying for this plan! The exhibit shows the cost and how it would be financed. Excluding the Pinch District Development and the Convention Center Renovation, the document projects a cost of $282 million.

  • Aquarium Museum $121 Million
  • River Park & Pedestrian Bridge $35 million
  • Cultural Center and Monroe Terrace $84 million
  • Fourth Bluff and Civic Commons $21 million
  • Riverfront Improvement $20 Million

For a total of about $282 million.

Basically they claim that it would be financed with the following items.

  • $100 million paid for by increases every year in incremental sales tax revenues in the expanded TDZ zone.
  • $74 million in net new sales taxes from sales of consumer goods.
  • $30 million in new aquarium sales taxes.
  • $7.3 million in sales taxes from the cultural center attendance and purchases.

 

  • $2.3 million from hospitality contribution (convention center hotels)
  • $3.7 million from land leases

The questionable items appear to be the projected growth of TDZ sales tax revenue and the amount of private equity and philanthropy that will be pledged to the project. The other item that occurs to me is the question of philanthropy. What will Bass Pro contribute to this project as Bass Pro seems to have a great upside when we are talking about a fresh water aquarium. After all they are in the business of fishing and hunting and if you look at what they spent on their Big Cedar Lodge near Branson Missouri, they certainly have a great upside in seeing this downtown Memphis project succeed.

The real big question is what has plagued past public projects. PROJECT PRICE CREEP!! As with other public projects (think Beale Street Landing) and with the difficulty of construction on the unstable riverfront and the necessity of building in an earthquake zone) can it be done at the projected cost?

What do you think about this big idea for downtown and Mud Island?

$1.3 Million Gifts To Non Profits By 13 Shelby County Commissioners

Monday, August 7th, 2017

August 7, 2017

 

Memphis and Shelby County are awash in non profits. Most are good at performing their goals as stated in their mission statements. Many receive their revenue from generous private donations. Many operate frugally with low overhead and with good and provable results conforming to their mission statements.

Recently the Shelby County commissioners empowered themselves with the authority to each designate up to $100,000 ($1.3 million total per year) in gifts to their designated non profits. Naturally being a snoop by nature I wanted to a list of those non profits and here it is.

Now let me say on the front end that I do not agree that elected people should have the authority to designate my tax money to the non profit of their choice. That should be up to the donor. So there you have it but let us take a look at some of the organizations that received these grants.

You can go to https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx  and do your own research. The guidestar data is usually in the form of a #990 document  which gives some limited information about the purpose and finances of the various non profits. Here is what Mayor Luttrell recently stated about this practice in a newspaper article.

So I decided to do some investigation on my own. I ask each of you to look at the list, go to guidestar or a similar reporting organization and do your own research. I would appreciate hearing your own results.

Here are a few of my own results.

$20,000 from Terry Roland to Historic Archives of Rosemark and Environs Inc. They have not provided a 990 form.

$10,000 from Melvin Burgess to National Tourism and Heritage Association. Their mission statement is “ To serve as a resource to communities, to be utilized for the development of their heritage and cultural initiatives.” The 2015 #990 form shows zero assets.

$5,000 from Willie Brooks to College Ready Memphis Inc. The Guidestar report shows College Ready Memphis Inc aka 909 Balfour Rd, West Memphis, Arkansas 72301.

I am continuing to research more information on these “non profits” and I would appreciate any feedback information you may have on any of the others. I will continue to publish more information on these non profits as time permits.The taxpayers deserve to know if these non profit donation are going to a good purpose and if they are effective and worthwhile. What do you think?

Non Profits In Memphis

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Non Profits In Memphis

 

July 25, 2017

 

Not many people know the extent of nonprofit organizations in Memphis and the surrounding area. A recent count put the number of local non profits at over 3000 with an annual expenditure of over $6 billion and total assets of over $12 billion.

A nonprofit organization is an organization that has been formed by a group of people in order “to pursue a common not-for-profit goal”, that is, to pursue a stated goal without the intention of distributing excess revenue to members or leaders. A nonprofit organization is often dedicated to furthering a particular social cause or advocating for a particular point of view. In economic terms, a nonprofit organization uses its surplus revenues to further achieve its purpose or mission, rather than distributing its surplus income to the organization’s shareholders (or equivalents) as profit or dividends.  Nonprofit legal structure is one that will often have taxation implications, particularly where the nonprofit seeks income tax exemption or charitable status.

 

Donations for non profits comes from either public tax money, from private donations or from their nonprofits’ investment income. How can donors evaluate whether or not a charity will ultimately deliver on their promise or mission? In the nonprofit world, however, there is no common, easily understood measure of success. There are three types of data that might be used to measure a nonprofit’s success, input, output and results. Input can be measured by reading the 990 (Return of Organizations Exempt From Income Tax) form available through Guidestar or others. Output and results are more difficult to evaluate.

What I am looking for when looking at a local non profit is the mission statement, revenue and sources of revenue, expenses, net assets and fund balances and compensation of officers, directors, trustees, key employees, highest compensated employees and independent contractors. Also I want to know about family relationships amongst these people if any.

I have attached a partial list of non profits in the Memphis area. I have listed them from the highest in gross receipts to the lowest. (St. Jude would be second in gross receipts at $1.029 billion). Look over the list and let me know of others not listed about which you would like further information such as their 990 form. I can provide this to you or you can go to guidestar to get it yourself. Many of these organizations do a great job and provide needed services. There are no doubt some that are questionable. We need to expose the bad ones and support the good ones.