Archive for the ‘History’ Category
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
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
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.
June 14, 2016
What Was The World Like 83 Years Ago?
I must admit I had a birthday on June 1, 2016 when I became 83 years old. When I arrived on June 1, 1933 the world was a different place.
Eighty Three years later I am blessed with a loving wonderful wife and four beautiful daughters. They all came up with wonderful birthday cards and gifts but one daughter came up with a unique gift that I would like to share with you. These gifts shows what a wonderful country we are blessed with and how far our free economic system and our inventive entrepreneurs have brought us.
When I opened her gift I found two magazines, A Time magazine dated June 5, 1933 and Business Week dated May 31, 1933. She had found two popular magazines as close as possible to my birth date of June 1, 1933.
Now I want to show you some of the contents of those magazines which illustrates how far the USA has come in improving human life and how we must take the media then and now with a large grain of common sense and skepticism.
#1 is an article from Time called Schlageter Day. Albert Schlageter was a terrorist and was eventually caught and executed by the French. Hitlerites viewed him as a hero. Hitler announced that the tenth anniversary of Schlageter’s execution would be a national fete. Hitler however was preaching peace and he was afraid that if he spoke at the rally of 300,000 people there might be riots. So who did he send to speak in his place, Wilhelm Hermann Goring.
#2 From Business Week there was an interesting article about the Chicago Exposition, A Century of Progress. Look back at the last paragraph of Article #1 where the following was written. “A third demonstration took place two days earlier when a crowd of nearly 1000 Jews & Communists rioted at a Brooklyn quayside, waiting to boo Han Weidemann and Gotthold Schneider, Hitler’s not particularly welcome envoys to the Chicago World’s Fair. Dozens of heads were cracked, 13 rioters arrested.”
#3 is an ad for International Business Machines Corporation for tabulating machines, the first step to computers.
#4 is an ad in Time Magazine for a gas operated Electrolux refrigerator. We now have a large plant here in Memphis run by Electrolux.
Thank God for the USA and our entrepreneurial spirit by free people. Let us keep it that way.
How The West Got Rich
May 23, 2016
There was a fascinating article in last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. I want to point it out because it will be at the heart of our upcoming 2016 presidential election. We hear the talking heads speaking about gender-less bathrooms, free stuff for everyone, income disparity, redistribution of income, taxes, the benefits of socialism, bullying and lots of other issues.
The number one issue in survey after survey is the economy and this is what this article is all about. Look and read some of the facts.
Two centuries ago, the average world income per human (in present-day prices) was about $3 a day. It had been so since we lived in caves. Now it is $33 a day—which is Brazil’s current level and the level of the U.S. in 1940. Over the past 200 years, the average real income per person—including even such present-day tragedies as Chad and North Korea—has grown by a factor of 10. It is stunning. In countries that adopted trade and economic betterment wholeheartedly, like Japan, Sweden and the U.S., it is more like a factor of 30—even more stunning.
Now we have people calling for a change to our system in order to make it more like Cuba, Venezuela and a long list of countries run by top down federal bureaucracies.
Here is the explanation of how our society got these wonderful improvements. What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely accumulating it. Capital and the rule of law were necessary, of course, but so were a hard working labor force and liquid water and the arrow of time.
The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. As Matt Ridley put it in his book “The Rational Optimist” (2010), what happened over the past two centuries is that “ideas started having sex.” The idea of a railroad was a coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails. The idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper. And so on, through every imaginable sort of invention. The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments.
The other day I heard a report about our current Vice President, Joe Biden, wondering what he would do after the upcoming election. He has never had a private sector job working for a “for profit” company in his life. Neither has Barack Obama or most of the Washington DC politicians and bureaucrats. Let us get back to returning government to the people with important decisions made at the state and level local, empower local thinkers and entrepreneurs, and reduce the size of the DC bureaucracy. Do you believe in the benefits of legal and fair capitalism or do you want a radical change in our system?
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!
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.
- Board agendas should be posted online at their website on the same day they are posted in the Daily News.
- All supporting information given to board members along with their agendas should be posted online at the website along with the agenda.
- Minutes of the meeting should be posted on the website not later than 1 week after the meeting.
- 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)
- Adopt the same or similar ordinance as the County limiting board counsel fees.
- Adopt a strong ethics ordinance regarding conflict of interest and post online.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
April 13, 2016
Further Info On The Memphis HEHFB Controversy
I recently reported on the two Health Education & Housing Facility Boards, one from the City of Memphis and one from Shelby County. One is apparently well run and the other has had its’ authority temporarily suspended by the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency because of problem with properties run by Global Ministries.
I have attended two meeting of the Memphis board. The first one was not a regular monthly board meeting, but a reading of a proposed bond issue by Charles Carpenter, the board attorney. After the formal reading, I asked a few questions concerning transparency and open records and did not get a lot of information.
The second meeting, which was a regular monthly meeting, was attended by Channel 3, the Commercial Appeal, several business interests and myself. The only person, other than the business interests, to ask questions was myself. Before the start of the meeting, I asked the secretary for an agenda and she refused to give me one until the actual meeting started. At the end of the meeting I asked why the agendas and all attachments were not published at least two days before the meetings and I received no answer. I asked about the difference between the County ordinance that limits the amount that the Board Counsel can make. Mr. Carpenter said that he was not aware of the County ordinance. I pointed out that for just five Memphis bonds, the overpayment for the Memphis board Counsel was $59,000. Then I asked about a possible conflict of interest on the bonds for the Uptown Manor Senior Project by a board member and they said that they would have to consult the minutes of that meeting to see if the member recused herself. I asked for the minutes but received no reply. After the regular public meeting, they had an executive meeting and I asked if I could attend. They said that it was a closed meeting and the public was not able to attend.
Then several days later I, in fact, received the minutes from the two past board meetings concerning possible conflict of interests. I have attached those minutes and they are interesting.
Lee Patton and Monice Moore-Hagler recused themselves from the Inducement Resolution for the Uptown Manor Senior motion. Under Discussion Items, John Baker brought to the Board’s attention for further consideration a revised short term bond fee structure. Under New Business, Nancy Willis brought to attention a request for an annual ethics statement to be signed by members of the board and provided an example copy for the Council’s review.
Under action items, Dan Reid recused himself from consideration of inducement bond resolution for Global Ministries Foundation Bent Tree Apartments. Renasant Bank was to provide a private placement loan for the property.
Then Dan Reid re-entered the meeting and Monice Moore-Hagler and Lee Patton recused themselves before consideration of final bond resolution for Uptown Manor Senior Development LLC. Mr. Carpenter recommended approval.
Finally, Paige Walkup asked for an update regarding GMF Warren-Tulane property. Mr. Carpenter reported on his positive contact with Chris Lamberson and the ongoing response to correct issues and bring it up to standard.
This just goes to show that all these boards need to publish their agendas in advance along with all accompanied data and the public should see the same information that the board members get. I will look forward to your comments as you get ready to pay your federal taxes that funds all these projects.
March 29, 2016
This is a story of our two Health Education and Housing Facility Boards, one is a Shelby County HEHFB and one is a City of Memphis, HEHFB. I have asked for copies of bond information including Bond Counsel fees and other bond Issuance and Professional fees. As usual, it was fairly easy to get the information from the County Board and impossible to get it from the City board. I finally got some information about 5 bond issues (MemphisHEHFB) from the State of Tennessee Comptroller after no response from the City of Memphis board. I am still waiting for additional information from the State of Tennessee that generally has been very forthcoming. I have previously published the information about the 5 bonds issued by the Memphis board and here is a recap of the information from the Shelby County Board followed by the City of Memphis Board’s 5 bond issues that we have. Please note that the Shelby County HEHFB has a written policy limiting the Board Counsel fee. There is no such policy for the Memphis HEHFB and therefore they paid $59,000 more on just 5 bond issues on which we have information.
|Name of Project from the Shelby County HEHFB||Bond Amount||Bond Counsel Fee||Board Counsel Fee||Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed per County Policy||Total of All Fees for Bond Issue|
|Southern College of Optometry||$9.8M||$25,000 for Bond Counsel, Purchaser and Trustee Counsel||$12,500||$19,800||$29,000|
|Eastwood Apts 2012||$1.1M||$36,000||$3,400||$3,300||$114,528.37
|St. Agnes, 2012||$5.5M||$30,733||$13,155||$14,000||$50,388|
|Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal School 2012||$5.875M||$30,000||$14,970||$14,750||$70,533|
|The Village of Germantown 2012||$39.96M||$160,000||$48,160||$49,960||$1,418,414|
|Trezevant Manor 2013||$66.475M||$120,000||$49,805||$76,475||$1,578,135.50|
|St Benedict 2013||$10M||$15,000||$7,500||$20,000||$33,000|
|Countryside North Apartment 2013||$5M||$42,000||$18,122.50||$13,000||$191,446.45|
|Name of Project from the Shelby County HEHFB||Bond Amount||Bond Counsel Fee||Board Counsel Fee||Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed per County Policy||Total of All Fees for Bond Issue|
|Southern College of Optometry 2014||$9.8M||$25,000||$12,500||$12,500||$43,500|
|Presbyterian Day School 2014||$10M||$10,000||$5,000||$5,000||$15,000|
|The Village of Germantown 2014||$21.94M||$142,000||$30,140||$71,000||$1,020,587|
|St. George Independent School 2015||$32.585M||$40,000||$20,000||$50,585||$106,936|
|Rhodes College 2015||$21.35M||$55,000||$27,500||$27,500||$294,646|
|Name of Project from the Memphis HEHFB||Bond Amount||Bond Counsel Fee||Board Counsel Fee||Maximum Board Counsel Fee Allowed per County Policy||Total of All Fees for Bond Issue|
|Uptown Senior Housing Project 2006||$4M||$40,000||$25,000||$11,000||$222,550|
|Arbors of Hickory Ridge||$11.45M||$26,000||$30,500||$21,450||$235,767|
|John Madison Exum Towers||$19M||$85,000||$40,000||$29,000||$159,600|
|Uptown Manor Senior Project 2015||$2,825M||$21,000||$21,350||$8,475||$278,687|
|Total of actual Board Counsel Fee versus fee per County limitation fee||$140,350||$81,047
The savings here would have been $59,303 if county policy applied
As you will see most of the above County bond issues were for educational, medical and retirement facilities. Only two (Countryside and Eastwood) were similar to what has been financed by bonds from the Memphis HEHFB.
My investigation of these two boards was instigated by the Global Ministry story and the bond downgrade. There is a real question of transparency and adequate ethics rules, conflict of interest rules and rules concerning competition for front end bond expenses. I have not yet, in response to my open records request, received past bond information from the Memphis HEHFB. I have received past bond information from the State of Tennessee (Steve Osborne, Senior Analyst, Comptroller of the Treasury ǀ State and Local Finance). Here is some of the information that he sent showing past bond expenses and who participated.
Here is a list of past bond work done by Charles Carpenter (board counsel for the Memphis board). While Mr. Carpenter is a competent bond counsel lawyer, there needs to be more transparency in the issuance of these bonds, written conflict of interest rules, limitation of front end bond costs and competition for the various issuance costs. There is also a need for a public discussion of the best and most cost efficient method to provide adequate housing for those unable to work and provide needed housing for themselves.