Archive for the ‘Consolidation’ Category
June 22, 2015
Why OPEN RECORDS Is SO Important
You may have read a front page article last Saturday in the Commercial Appeal by education reporter Jane Roberts. The article announced the creation of an open records reading room (Room 121) in the SCS Coe building at 160 S. Hollywood St. here in Memphis.
I have been working to open local public records since 2004 and have been greatly aided by many local citizens, particularly John Malmo, Eddie and Eve Settles (backinrivercity.com) and Ken Welch. I want to thank these people and many others who have contributed to this effort.
As Ken Welch has said many times, all public records are technically open to the public unless specifically named and restricted by state law. Then why can’t we get all this information easily? The answer is that public bodies and the leaders (Presidents, appointees, Governors, Mayors, Superintendents, etc) can make life difficult and expensive if they want to. The Tennessee open records law clearly states the following. However the particular public organization can drag their feet, threaten big charges paid in advance, refuse you entrances to offices without an appointment and then refuse to make an appointment. What has happened at the SCS system offices is different and significant.
Therefore this is why our agreement with Supt. Hopson and Chris Caldwell is so important. They have shown that they are open to making all legally open records actually open to the public. After all, we (the taxpayers) paid for all this bureaucracy and we are the employers. We recognize that we need good education, good fire and police services, good roads, efficient water, gas and electric services and many other public facilities. However we paid for them and we expect answers to all our reasonable and legally available questions.
Open Records is so important because without transparency there is often corruption, favoritism, waste and inefficiency. The sunshine of OPEN RECORDS and vigilant citizen can prevent this. There are many details to work out and our open records group is willing to work with the Shelby County System to make access easy and convenient. If we can make this work efficiently, we would look forward to using this as a template for other public bodies. Any suggestions from the you, the public, would be welcomed. We need to join together for full open records access.
May 26, 2015
The Great OPEB Dump
OPEB (other post employment benefits), basically retirement health care benefits, are much in the news. Retirees are acting like it is a great surprise that their health care plans are being cut and possibly it is a surprise. They made the mistake of believing political promises.
But look at the facts. Funding for the school systems (the old Memphis City Schools and the old Shelby County Schools) was always the responsibility of the Shelby County Government. The City of Memphis kicked in some money over the years and then when things got tight at the City, they cut that funding and the Courts said NO, they had to continue the funding on the basis of the principle of MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT.
For years the old City of Memphis Board of Education had a free hand and they loaded up the budget and the teachers and other unions participated in the loading. In particular look at the OPEB provisions of the old City School Board versus the old Shelby County School Board.
Here is a statement from the 2010 Shelby County audited financial document. Their unfunded OPEB liability went from $787 million in 2008 to $242 million in 2009. Look at the reason.
“The Board began recognition of OPEB on July 1, 2007. Limited trend information may be discerned from the three valuations made to date. The change in AAL for OPEB from the June 30, 2008 to the June 30, 2009 valuation date was due to actuarial assumption changes related to reduction in claim costs for post-65 retirees. Effective January 1, 2011, post-65 retirees formerly covered under the self-insured plan will be covered under an insured Medicare Supplement plan which is estimated to reduce claim cost by 63% to 72% depending on age. Additional reductions are anticipated due to census changes, changes in retiree contributions, and any retirements or terminations that did not occur as expected in the prior valuation.”
Then look at the old City of Memphis School Board OPEB condition and lack of action from their 2010 CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report).
AS OF JUNE 30, 2010, THE ACTUARIAL ACCURED LIABILITY FOR BENEFITS WAS $1,534,912,045 (that is $1.5 billion), ALL OF WHICH WAS UNFUNDED.
They failed to take the actions that the old Shelby County School Board took. They eventually dumped this unfunded liability on the new Shelby County School Board and the County and City taxpayers.
Again this is the result of failure of the old City School Board to recognize the huge unfunded promise and like the City of Memphis they will be forced to make the retirees pay for their past poor decisions.
September 18, 2014
There Are Promises And Then There Are Promises
Promises are only as good as the character of the promiser and laws to back up the promise. The City of Memphis made promises in the past about pension benefits and also about retiree health care benefits. The pension benefits were backed up by law and generally could only be changed by bankruptcy (look at Detroit). However retiree health care benefits are not protected by law and are subject to change by the governing body.
Recently certain publications have pointed to Nashville as the model that Memphis should emulate. Therefore I decided to look at Nashville (Metro Davidson) and see what their numbers look like.
The first thing that struck me was that the Nashville Metropolitan Council consisted of 41 members. Our 13 is bad enough. Imagine a meeting where all 41 want to get their opinion on the record.
Then I looked at the pension and OPEB numbers. Their pension liability was funded to 84.6% as compared to 72.6% for Memphis. However their OPEB unfunded liability is $1.88 billion compared to $1.29 billion for Memphis. Therefore the state of Tennessee looked at Memphis and said that you are low on gas for the pension fund and also the OPEB fund and therefore you have to do something. However Nashville gets a pass because they can always cancel the OPEB promise in the future if they get in a pension contribution bind. Would you want 41 metro council members rather than the 26 we now have (13 City and 13 County) representing the City and County especially when the County has been doing a good job compared to the City.
Nashville is certainly vibrant and has grown whereas Memphis has been basically stagnant. However, you should be careful about claiming that the difference between Memphis and Nashville is the result of a metro government versus two separate governments in Shelby County.
April 15, 2014
OPEB-City of Memphis vs. Shelby County and MCS vs. Old Shelby County Schools
This is a very interesting subject and shows how badly the City of Memphis has been run, both the school systems and the general administration.
A) Shelby County CAFR from 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $306 million. DOWN $13 million from 2008 to 2013.
B) Shelby County CAFR from 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $319 million.
C) City of Memphis CAFR 2008 showing an unfunded liability of $857 million.
D) City of Memphis CAFR 2013 showing an unfunded liability of $1.29 billion dollars. UP $433 million from 2008 to 2013.
E) Old Shelby County Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $334 million (June 2010)
F) City of Memphis Board of Education 2011 showing an unfunded liability of $1.16 billion dollars.
So it is obvious that Shelby County has been much better run than the City of Memphis and congratulations to past Shelby County (more…)
October 28, 2013
Taxpaying citizens often feel like they are ignored until election time. Then the politicians come out of the woodwork and tell them what a great job they have been doing for them and promise all sorts of solutions to real problems. Then they get reelected and those promises go on the shelf in most cases. The citizens feel frustrated and impotent and don’t know what to do.
Well I know the answer and it is to organize, talk to each other, don’t get discouraged and let the pols know what you want. I want to give you some examples.
In 1994 a petition drive by Citizens Against New Taxes proposed an amendment to the County Charter setting term limits to two consecutive four year terms for the County Mayor and for County Commissioners. The amendment passed with 81% support. Then in 2004 John Lunt and a group of citizens, including myself, instituted a charter commission which resulted in two four year term limits for the Memphis Mayor and the City Council members.
What was the politicians’ reaction to the 1994 amendment to the County Charter. That Charter was enabled by petitions with required signature amounting to 15% of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election. AHA said the politicians. Let’s change that to 15% of registered voters, a much higher and almost impossible bar. That will teach those citizens who want to mess in our business, a lesson. Here is the language in the County Charter with the amendment passed in 1997 at the state level.
[may propose any such amendment by a petition addressed to the board of county
commissioners and containing the full text of the proposed amendment. Any petition
proposing a charter amendment must be filed with the clerk of the board of county
commissioners and must be signed by qualified voters of the county equal in number to
at least 15 percent of the persons who voted in the last gubernatorial election in Shelby
County. The clerk shall immediately deliver it to the county election commission. When
such petitions have been determined sufficient, the county election commission shall
submit same to the voters of the county in accordance with this section.
Editor’s note: The Charter, § 5.05C., which states “at least 15 percent of the persons
who voted in the last gubernatorial election” is superseded by the state law, T.C.A. § 2-
5-151(d) which states “at least fifteen percent (15%) of those registered to vote in the
That makes my blood boil. How about you? Let’s let the state Senators and Representatives know we want to go back to the old language for petition signatures.
After the 1994 term limit success, Walter Bailey and two other pols filed suit to overturn term limits and they lost. Unfortunately Walter Bailey sat out and was reelected later. Unfortunately the term limit language did not have the provision of the US XXII amendment which will prevent George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama from being reelected again.
Finally I have attached a shame honor roll showing the longest term USA Senators and Congressmen. What happened to the founders’ intention to serve for a short term and then return home and live, work an earn a living under the laws that they passed rather than becoming a highly paid and corrupt lobbyist insulated from those laws.
Stand up, organize and let your representatives know you are sick of what you see.
October 23, 2013
The Importance of Open Records
I just got back from four days visiting with my two brothers at Perdido Key in Florida. Great time and very relaxing.
Now back to local business. I recently sent an open records request to the new Shelby County School System. It was a simple request to be able to access the textbooks and material that the students will have this year. Also I requested access to the data that will be collected from the students and whether this data will be with or without the permission of the parents. Seemed like a simple request. Their answer to the data request was “Your request is not granted because it is not understood.”
You would think that there must be a list of things that “Student Records people” want such as name, address, date of birth, parents names, race, health records, income, address, religion, etc, etc. I am sure there is more data that they want but I will try to explain my request better in order to get an answer.
Several years ago I proposed that they give access to all the books that the students use by putting just two copies of each book and pamphlet in the central Memphis library. I called and got permission from the library head and she approved of the idea. However the then Memphis City School Board decided that two extra books of each book was too expensive. Therefore taxpayers are denied access to review the books for which they are paying.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this open records request and their response.
February 20, 2013
I have been investigating the school consolidation deficit debacle. There have been newspaper articles reporting the new combined deficit of anywhere from $80 million to $180 million dollars.
Now here are some interesting tidbits that I dug up.
Look at the bureaucracy at the two systems. Who is losing their jobs with the combination? This is just a small example of the (more…)
July 16, 2012
The newspapers are full of the upcoming elections (both national and local) and especially the school board election and the decision by the six Shelby County incorporated cities to have their own municipal schools.
The Commercial Appeal is especially full of its admonitions to give the transition planning commission plan a chance to work. Well (more…)
I am still trying to get my arms around what is going on in the whole school consolidation matter. As I understand it, there is a new 23 board led by Billy Orgel. There is also a 21 member school consolidation planning commission. This planning commission, established in (more…)