Archive for the ‘Pension’ Category

There Is No 4 Or 8 Year Solution To Poverty

Monday, August 20th, 2018

Lee Harris will become the new Shelby County mayor on September 3rd of this year. In a recent article in the CA he stated that he would use the borrowing power of the state’s most populous county to spur regrowth in old Memphis neighborhoods and ease poverty. A graduate of Yale law school, he wants blight and poverty eased, and favors building four or five public schools (each costing $100 million) in humble neighborhoods.

 

He states that better schools would help children climb out of poverty. Improved education and could draw new residents in waves. They’d repair blighted houses to live near the schools, bring new life to entire neighborhoods. He’d have the county borrow the school construction money.

 

I have several thoughts about his vision.

 

  • A fancy $100 million-dollar school building does not guarantee a great educational institution. It is the eager to learn students and great teachers that make a great learning place.
  • How do you pay for $500 million dollars in bonds for education services without raising property taxes or cutting other county obligations such a health services, law and fire services, pension and OPEB obligations?

 

These short-sighted political solutions to a long-term problem is typical of many politicians. The real problem of poverty lies in a lack of education in the population that Mr. Harris wants to help but his solution will not work and could be counterproductive. Poor education is a generational problem caused by the destruction of the family and children growing up without the support of two parents who demand that their children learn principally at home and also in school. A demand for learning at home and for discipline is what is missing and fancy schools will not help.

What is your opinion of Mr. Harris’s plan to end poverty?

ELECTIONS ARE COMING

Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

Elections Are Coming

 

July 11, 2018

 

There is an important election coming up on August 2, 2018. Let us look at some of the important elections.

A new Tennessee Governor will be elected as our current governor is term limited. You will be asked to choose whether to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. I am voting in the Republican primary. For me it comes down to Diane Black or Randy Boyd. I met Ms. Black recently and was impressed. Mr. Boyd has the support of Mike Huckabee. Take your pick but I am voting for Ms. Black.

Another important election is the United States Senate because of the retirement of our current senator, Bob Corker. I am voting for Marsha Blackburn. She will have a tough fight in November against Phil Bredesen, the Democrat.

The most important local election is the County Mayoral election. Shelby County has been well run under Mayor Luttrell and David Lenoir is the best candidate and I will be voting for him.

Another important election is the District 8 United States House of Representatives between the current representative, David Kustoff, and George Flinn. I know and like George and while he has a high hill to climb I would vote for him, but I am not in his district. In my district I am voting for Charlotte Bergmann.

I am in Tennessee Senate District 31 and will be voting for Brian Kelsey.

I am in Tennessee House of Representative District 93 and there is no Republican running, so I will not be voting on this district.  I used to vote in District 83 and if I was still there I would vote for Mark White.

Another important election is the Shelby County Commissioners. I am voting in District 7 and will vote for Samuel D. Goff. I recommend the republican candidates where they are running.

I have listed a complete ballot with my choices listed in red. Vote your convictions 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?

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.

The Memphis Police Situation

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

I read Mayor Strickland’s weekly update (https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#all/15a4e354e56b4a71) and it was a very thoughtful and informative article on the Memphis police staffing, recruitment and benefit situation. He blames the current shortage of uniformed officers on two things. One was the Memphis pension and OPEB (other post employment benefits, mainly retiree healthcare) unfunded liability. The unfunded liability was so massive that the State of Tennessee Comptroller threatened to take over the city unless it was addressed. This was in 2014. In order to meet this funding requirement retirement healthcare benefits had to be cut and more and more officers decided to retire or resign.

I have written in the past about this situation and it was the fault of past city of Memphis mayors and past city of Memphis City councils that ignored the 2007 GASB 45 regulation that required that pension and retiree health care expenses be recognized as they are earned rather than as they are paid. The Shelby County government did the right thing and the City of Memphis did not and hence the 2014 year of reckoning.

We all want and need good and effective policing as Memphis is earning a bad reputation for violent crime. I want Memphis to hire more qualified officers and apparently Mayor Strickland is moving in that direction. There is one more thing he can do which will help in the future and that is to stop the abuse evident in the City of Memphis pension board. This abuse is the number of LINE OF DUTY DISABILITY approved by this board. In the past I have compared the number of line of duty disability approvals from Memphis to the MLGW and Shelby County. The approval in Memphis is 10 times higher per active employees than Shelby County and the MLGW. Line of Duty disability approval gives the disabled employee a pension of 60% of his highest average salary tax free for life.

The City of Memphis in 2011 had 429 people on line of duty disability costing the City $11.8 million per year. In 2016 the figure is 510 people costing $14.7 million. Compare this with the MLGW employees. In 2008 they had 37 people in this status costing $523,000 per year. In 2015 they had 34 people in this status costing $485,000. Shelby County in 2015 had only 17 line of duty retirees. Compare that to 510 for the City of Memphis. Clearly there is a problem at the City of Memphis and it goes to the Memphis Pension Board and it’s makeup of members. The membership of this board and its rules need to be changed. The numbers of line of duty retirees at the City of Memphis when compared to the MLGW and the County clearly show a problem and the problem should be addressed. Qualified new officers should be paid whatever the market requires but obvious abuses of the system should be stopped.

Open Records At City Hall

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Open Records At City Hall

August 2, 2016

It seems that the Commercial Appeal has finally had a falling out with City Hall on the subject of open records and transparency. (Read the Ca article from last Saturday).

I have been an advocate of open records and full and complete access to all records for many years. I have filed numerous successful lawsuits to enforce my access. You only have to look at Washington DC to see what lengths politicians will go to hide their thoughts and actions.

Now I am not accusing Jim Strickland of doing this. I know Jim and he is a good person. I think he is on the right path financially to right the Memphis ship. Finances are improving as long as he stays on basics and away from expensive new dream projects.

Now as to what the changes he has put in place. Basically he wants to control the message and he does not want the public and particularly the media to contact his people directly. Now the Tennessee Open Records Law has a section that says the following.

(2)  (A) All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.

(a)  (1)  (A) As used in this part and title 8, chapter 4, part 6, “public record or records” or “state record or records” means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings or other material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received pursuant to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental agency.

I have seen the best and the worst of transparency in government. My opinion is that the City of Memphis under Jim Strickland has improved from past administrations. Most of the information that I want is online such as pension, OPEB and CAFR financial reports. The main area needed is access to electronic communications such as emails, text messages and other forms of social media communications. Concerning emails and text messages I would propose a new protocol for the future.

As seen with the recent Germantown emails controversy, here is what I propose to solve the high cost of paying lawyers to redact open records requests for a series of emails.

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 priced 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 randomly selected emails and text messages to insure compliance with the new protocol.

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.

The Open Records Fight

Monday, July 25th, 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?

 

 

 

 

 

Brilliant At The Basics

Monday, April 25th, 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.

 

 

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

December 29, 2015

A Year End Report Card From Joe Saino

Looking back over more than 10 years of reporting on local government I have hope for the future of Memphis and Shelby County. My score card for the major local governments is as follows.

Shelby County Government- A

MLGW- B+

City of Memphis- C

Shelby County Schools- D

This is not a scientific scoring, just years of experience and dealings with these large government entities. Hopefully the City of Memphis will improve with the inauguration of our new Mayor, Jim Strickland. I have high expectations for him. Past problems at the City can be laid at the feet of past mayors and especially the voting majority of past City Councils. They refused to make the hard choices until the State of Tennessee came in with the fiscal bullwhip.

MLGW under Jerry Collins is well run and efficient. I could wish that they publish more information on their website like annual pension and OPEB reports so that customers do not have to ask for this information through an open records request.

Shelby County has a proven record of good management and is open and above board. Their record on pension and OPEB management compared to the City of Memphis and the old and new school boards has been outstanding.

The old Memphis School System and the new replacement Shelby County School System is a puzzle. The new school system at first looked like they wanted to enter the modern open records world but then when they had the chance; they closed the door on common sense requests. Then they filed a huge lawsuit against the state which is going to cost millions in legal fees and are also trying through the Tennessee School Board Association to charge the public a fee just for asking for access to public data and records. It is a puzzle. They are saying in effect “We know best how to educate your children, so shut up with your requests for information.”

Enough of my scorecard so here is some real data from recent pension reports that I obtained from Memphis, Shelby County and the MLGW.

Active employees:

MLGW                       2526

Memphis                  5756

County                      5208

Payroll of active employees:

MLGW                       $152 million

Memphis                  $340 million

County                      $243 million

Retirees and beneficiaries

MLGW                       2597 receiving an average of $38,601 annually

Memphis                  4239 receiving an average of $34,014 annually

County                      $3598 receiving an average of $19,914 annually

Those disabled

MLGW                       33 receiving a total of $491,000 annually

Memphis                   653 receiving $17,370,000 annually

County                      72 receiving $1,506,240 annually

Need I say more? The problem at the City of Memphis is obvious. We need to change the pension board makeup and go to the County disability system.

Any questions?

Oh No, A Water Rate Increase

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

November 24, 2015

Oh No, A Water Rate Increase

As a former MLGW board member, I have a history of praising and criticizing the Division. I follow and read the Division’s annual financial reports. The latest report is for the calendar year 2014 which ended December 31, 2014. The 2015 year report will not be out until well into 2016. However I am sure the Division knows what will be in the report.

Division President Jerry Collins went before the City Council to ask for a 22% water rate increase. He said that the rate increase is necessary to keep the water division from recording its second straight year of negative net income at the end of 2016. A state board is required by state law to step in and set rates after two straight years of negative net income. He said the board has consistently favored higher rates, including a 42 percent increase in Bartlett’s rates.

I have looked at the past financial reports and the Water Division has had a very slim margin (changes to net assets) in 2013 and 2014. Apparently they know that 2015 they are going to show a decrease in net assets (a loss) and without an increase they will lose more in 2016 due to losing a large customer, Cargill Corn Mill. Two years of losses would bring in the state board to dictate an increase in water rates according to state law.

The usual suspects on the City Council refuse to study the facts as they demonize the Division as heartless and cruel. Facts do not make any difference to them as they play to their voting base. Another fact is that the Water Division has been paying $2.5 million dollars per year due to the City Council agreement to finance the FedEx arena. The agreement is effective through the year 2028. During 2014 the Water Division was authorized and directed by City Council, per City resolutions, to make an additional annual $1.9 million transfer payment each year through fiscal year 2017. Transfer payments to the City for 2013 as compared to 2012 increased due to a City resolution authorizing and directing an additional payment of $1.8 million in exchange for the release of any rights the City may have had to receive water from the Water Division free of charge during 2013 under the MLGW Charter.

The MLGW has a history of being fiscally responsible and being run mostly by professional management. Their employees are well trained and do a tough job. However the City Council would be well advised to look in to areas such as MLGW’s OPEB program. They should bring their rules concerning the cost and availability of retirees and their spouces health care to match the same rules as Shelby County Government retirees. Shelby County has these rules in effect since 2007. The MLGW pension and OPEB funds are in good shape due to funds paid for by MLGW’s customers’ utility rates. Compare their pension and OPEB funds to those at the City paid for by property, sales and other taxes.

As a final note I have been informed by President Collins concerning Sewer Rate Fees. “Sewer fees are governed by Public Works. To the best of my knowledge Public Works is not planning a sewer fee increase.” MLGW is just used as a collection agency for 1) Sewer Charge, 2)Solid Waste Fee, 3)Mosquito/Rodent Control Fee and 4) Storm Water Fee.