Archive for the ‘OPEB’ 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?

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.

MLGW Rate Increases

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

MLGW Rate Increases

 

MLGW has proposed rate increases in gas, electric and water rates over the next few years. MLGW management says that part of the need for increases are related to decreasing sales in product. Well I decided to review the latest annual report available (the year ending December 31st, 2016).

 

The City Charter designates the disposition of revenue from MLGW three divisions, light, gas and water. MLGW is not a profit-making organization but it is required to breakeven and pay it debts and keep a reserve to cover its debts and emergencies with a proper margin. It also pays to the City of Memphis a payment like a for profit business would pay.

 

I have looked at the statements of the three divisions for the year ended 12/31/16 and the electric division lost $12 million dollars after paying $40 million to the City of Memphis. The Gas Division lost $14 million after paying $17.5 million to the City of Memphis. The water division made $9.8 million after paying $4.4 million to the City of Memphis. It is not clear if this includes the 2 million payment for the FedEx arena.

 

It seems clear to me that the MLGW needs a price increase to keep its financial situation secure. It is a well-run organization with well trained employees and with advanced technical knowledge.

 

Now I want to point out that MLGW employees have a much richer health care benefits then the City of Memphis and Shelby County employees. I am gathering current information of these benefits and will be publishing information as soon as I obtain the data.

 

People are becoming energy savers and the combination of advanced energy saving appliances like light bulbs and AC/heating units and smart meters are saving energy and this is a good thing for the ecology. Again this is a well run organization with competitive rates and I hope that whomever replaces Jerry Collins will be as able as he has been.

The Local Charter School Fight

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Our Shelby County School Board has an aggressive legal bent. They seem ready to sue at any hint of competition from the charter school community or push back from taxpayers. Already they have spent over $340,000 on a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee claiming that education in Tennessee is underfunded and not adequate as required by the Tennessee Constitution. They want the school boards in Tennessee to set an adequate tax rate for education separate from the elected local politicians.

 

Now they are proposing a resolution from general counsel Rodney Moore to “research and pursue any and all appropriate legal and judicial remedies including but not limited to legal action” to stop the Achievement School District from operating grades it wasn’t authorized to operate.

 

The problem here is that the majority of the Shelby County School Board does not want competition from any charter schools or any state imposed Achievement School District schools. They think that they know best and they should not have any competition from other education ideas or other means or educating our children.

 

The old Memphis School Board and the successor Shelby County School Board has a record of failure and cannot point to much success. The old centrally controlled model does not work. Competition schools that are measured against the centrally controlled schools are the answer. Let the best results win.

 

The real prize is the tax money spent on education. Now we have a central bureaucracy which last year spent $11,231 per student. The 45 charter schools got only 70% of that piece of the pie at $7826 per student. A large part of the difference is the bureaucracy and the teachers union. Here is a current copy of the teachers/helpers contract. When you read the contract you will see that the salary schedule Appendix A was left blank. I have asked again for this information but have received no answer yet. Here is the salary schedule from a previous contract. Also here is a comparison article on management salaries between the old Memphis City School administration and the old better run Shelby County School System. The new Shelby County School System needs competition and needs to be leaner and learn to do with less.

 

The charter and alternate schools make their own deals with teachers but the teachers have to meet state teacher licensing requirements. They have more freedom to experiment with new ideas for education. Each year all schools should be tested in a rigorous method that can be checked for cheating and let the results speak for themselves. Stop the lawsuits and let us have education competition so that parents can have a choice.

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.

The City of Memphis OPEB Solution?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

 

January 3, 2017

 

OPEB is Other Post Employment Benefits. This means retiree medical expenses and life insurance.

Mayor Strickland has been wrestling with this problem for some time including his stint on the City Council before he became Mayor. He is trying to solve a tough unfunded liability problem that has been brought about by the City’s (and I mean past mayors and past city councils) refusal to face the problem since 2007. In 2007 the government accounting standards board warned the city and the county as follows.

“The Governmental Accounting Standards Board issued statement No. 45 (GASB 45) Accounting and Financial Reporting by Employers for Post Employment Benefits Other Than Pensions; GASB 45 requires that other post employment benefits (OPEB) be accounted for similar to pensions in that the expense must be recognized as the benefits are earned rather than as they are paid.”

As of June 30, 2008 when Willie Herenton was Mayor and Jim Strickland was on the City Council, the unfunded OPEB liability was $857 million. The County OPEB unfunded liability as of June 30, 2007 when AC Wharton was county Mayor was $319 million.

Now fast forward to recent reports. The OPEB unfunded liability of the City of Memphis was $700 million as of June 30, 2016. The OPEB unfunded liability of Shelby County Government as of June 30, 2015 was $101 million.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE IN THE ABOVE NUMBERS?  The original cause of both the City and the County was that they allowed retirees under the age of 65 to stay on their subsidized health care plans of which the City and the County paid 70% of the premium. This was regardless of length of service or whether the retiree spouse had a private sector plan which could include the retiree or whether the spouse was on Medicare.

The county passed Item 32B on June 18, 2007 and was signed by Mayor Wharton which addressed and solved the problem. The City did nothing until the recent actions which has resulted in the reported conflict between the Mayor and retirees. Mayor Strickland has come up with his solution “Explaining the path to pre-65 health subsidies”.

The real blame for this huge problem of unfunded liability is the non-action of past City Councils and past City Mayors since the 2007 notice contrasted to the actions of past Shelby County governments. City Mayor Wharton should have known better and past City Councils should have had more courage and foresight.

In the future I will post City, County and MLGW health care costs and let you compare them to what you will be paying privately. I would appreciate your thoughts on these matters.

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?