Archive for the ‘budget’ Category

The Fight Against Hi-tech Solutions

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

The Fight Against Hi-tech Solutions

 

August 22, 2106

 

The fact that a Memphis taxi cab company is suing Uber and Lyft in federal court caught my eye recently. They allege that the ride-hailing companies are violating Tennessee laws and city ordinances regulating passenger transportation services.

 

In looking back over my business career in engineering and manufacturing I remember purchasing the first TRS 80 computer. The subsequent computers revolutionized my business making it much more efficient and lowering costs. Uber and Lyft saw a need and filled it in a big way. Maybe they are violating some outdated regulations but that is what politicians do, write regulations which end up restricting competition.

 

 

In the high tech field, I have a son in law who was with google but left recently to join Otto, a company involved in designing software and hardware to safely control driverless trucks. His job previously at google was designing the vehicles for google street scene which allows you now to see almost all homes and buildings and is used extensively by real estate people, the government and people in general. No doubt the Teamsters will object to Otto if they are successful in advancing driverless vehicles.

 

I have written previously about Uber, Lyft and how they could possible help make Mata more efficient, give Mata customers better service and possibly cut the $44 million dollars that taxpayers pay to subsidize Mata.

 

Instead of filing suit and blocking progress, why not join the hi-tech world and see if we can give Mata customers better service at lower cost. I call on Mayor Strickland to invite Uber and Lyft and start a discussion to see if involving them in Mata transportation makes sense. If you agree I ask you to let the Mayor know with a copy to memphisshelbyinform@gmail.com.

The Demand For Immediate Economic Justice

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

August 17, 2016

 

The Demand For Immediate Economic Justice

 

There was a recent CA article with the header “Strickland can’t solve problems alone.

The gist of the article was the demand from “Black Lives Matter” to furnish to the disenfranchised, good jobs and opportunity. The article went on to state that no Mayor in America can solve this problem alone. The article stated that the real economic power in Memphis comes from the 120 senior executives who call themselves the Chairman’s Circle.

Contained in this story is the description of the plan labeled “The Moon Missions”. Contained in the Moon Missions are a) expanding prekindergarten, b) connecting Mid-South green spaces, c) creating 1,000 entrepreneurs in 10 years, d) developing a long range plan for regional growth, e) alleviating litter and blight and f) training 30,000 high-tech industrial workers in 10 years.

Here you have the classic HAVES/HAVE NOTS confrontation that has been going on in this country for a long time. None of the above Moon Mission objectives will make an immediate difference in more contracts and jobs for the disenfranchised.

Expanding prekindergarten is a good idea if it results in the children prepared to learn to read when they get to school.

Connecting mid-south green spaces will help with attracting the skilled executive types of people who are considering moving to Memphis.

Creating 1,000 entrepreneurs in 10 years. This is so ridiculous that it does not deserve comment. I suppose Bill Gates and Steve Jobs came from this kind of program.

Developing a long range plan for regional growth. Another expensive plan from a consulting firm. Maybe good but no immediate results.

Alleviating litter and blight. Good idea but no immediate economic results.

Training 30,000 high-tech industrial workers in 10 years. This is a great idea and a skilled worker pool is what is needed but you need people willing and sufficiently educated to learn a needed trade like welding, plumbing, electrical, building maintenance, computer programming at schools like Southwest Tennessee Community College and Moore Tech.

What these protest groups are asking for is a slice of the supply contracts purchased by local companies. Typically local companies buy their products on the basis of price and past performance. They should be willing to take quotes from minority firms but those minority firms, if selected, must perform as well or better than the previous supplier. As for the City of Memphis or Shelby County, they should publish their bids on line showing the selected supplier and all other bidders and why the lowest bidder was not selected if that was the case.

What are your thoughts on these matters?

 

Garbage And Recyclables

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

August 9, 2016

Garbage And Recyclables

I live in the City of Memphis and yesterday morning was my weekly duty to bag up my garbage and put it in my older 96 gallon wheeled container and put my recyclable material in my new 96 gallon wheeled container. It worked out well and I rolled them out to the street and by noon they were both picked up and taken to I don’t know where.

I decided to ask the City of Memphis for information on Inland Waste, the City’s contractor for solid waste and recyclable material. I asked the City of Memphis for a copy of the contract through the City of Memphis open records request system and I got an answer the next day. The contract is  for $4.25 million and is some 122 pages but here it is for you to review. The high bid was for $9.3 million. After a quick review there are some interesting features.

Did you know that your cart has a RFID!! This is a Radio Frequency Identification Device. According to the contract the purpose of a RFID is to gather information about recycling participation and other information mutually agreed upon   between the City and Contractor.

Then I got to thinking about Germantown and Shelby County. Germantown has approved a $3.9 million, five-year trash collections contract with Waste Pro of Tennessee. The contract shows a double-digit increase in price over the current service provider, Inland Waste Services, which the city is discontinuing after a series of upsets to citizens’ services and associated fines and fees the city incurred to resolve them. The new rates include a 34% hike in yard trash. Residents who are now charged $22.50 for trash service will only pay an estimated $4 more each month the first year and as much as another $2 a month thereafter, with the city subsidizing for now, according to The Commercial Appeal.

As a City of Memphis resident I currently pay $22.80 per month as my solid waste fee.

Then I asked the Shelby County government about their solid waste collection services for those residents who live in the County but are not in any incorporated city. Apparently the County residents are on their own and I suppose they contract with some independent service to take away their garbage, recyclables and yard waste. The County did inform me of a contract they have with Memphis Recycling Services Inc to buy all recyclable commodities generated by the County.

I must admit that I am not as well informed about this very important public service and I ask those that read this post to send me more information about your experience with the City, Germantown and other incorporated cities in Shelby County and those that live in Shelby County in an unincorporated area. I would love to hear from you.

I want to congratulate the City of Memphis and Shelby County for their prompt responses to my open records inquiries. Hopefully we can see more of this in the future.

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

Lack of Transparency On Local Contracts

Tuesday, July 19th, 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.

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

Tuesday, July 5th, 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.

 

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

Monday, June 20th, 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.

Bureaucracy Is Alive And Well

Thursday, May 12th, 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!

How We Could Have Saved $1 Million Dollars

Monday, May 9th, 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.