Archive for the ‘History’ Category
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.
March 15, 2016
The Hidden Cost of Health Education and Housing Board Bonds
The Commercial Appeal recently published a story about a downgrade of a local bond issue as follows. “On Feb. 12, the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, which oversees the$11.8 million bond, sent a notice of default to bondholders notifying them the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had ended its contract with the borrower, Global Ministries Foundation.”
I have been researching the whole issue of City and County boards and commissions and particularly the Memphis Health Education and Housing Facility Board. I asked that board for a list of bonds issued by the Board for the last five years with cost data and information of the parties receiving payment upon the issuance of the bonds. The board has failed to respond to that request for open records. Therefore I went to the State of Tennessee and received five reports on local bond issues from Steve Osborne, Senior Analyst, Comptroller of the Treasury, State and Local Finance. Here are the five issues I received.
The five reports are very revealing but first I have to tell you about my request to the Shelby County Health, Education and Housing Facility Board (same name as the similar City HEHFB) but a completely different board. I asked for their documents on ethics and conflict of interest policy and I received it as shown. I particularly call your interest to page 6 wherein is shown a maximum fee calculation for the legal fee of Bond Counsel.
I have shown below the fee paid to the bond counsel of the Memphis HEHFB board on the five recent bond issues versus what would be the fee from the Shelby County Board HEHFB.
|Name of Project||Bond Amount||Actual Bond Counsel Fee City of Memphis HEHFB||Maximum Bond Counsel Fee of County HEHFB|
|Arbors of Hickory Ridge Project||$11,450.000||$26,000||$21,450|
|Housing and Social Services||$4,061,000||$25,255.08||$11,122|
|John Madison Exum Towers and Apartment I and II||$19,000.000||$85,000||$29,000|
|Uptown Housing Senior Project 2006||$4,000,000||$40,000||$11,000|
|Uptown Manor Senior Project||$2,825,000||$21,000||$13,062.50|
|Total Bond Counsel Fee||$197,255.08||$85,634.50|
On these five bond issues, this is $111,621 more than the County maximum amount in their ordinance. But this is just the beginning of the cost of the bond issuance. The total for these five bond issues just for the Memphis HEHFB is $967,304.03.
Then there is the question of a possible conflict of interest although apparently there is no provision that I have been able to obtain concerning a City of Memphis conflict of interest policy although I have been told that the Strickland Administration is working on such a policy.
I think that it is high time that we get a discussion going on this high cost of bond issuance and is this approach to adequate housing for low income citizens the best and most efficient method. Also there needs to be a clear and open policy on bond issuance fees, conflict of interest and ethics.
March 3, 2016
Boards and Commissions in Memphis and Shelby County
Recently I became interested in Memphis and Shelby County Boards and Commissions. My interest was piqued by all the news concerning Serenity Towers and Global Ministries. Here is a news article on the bond issue for this property.
The Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board of Memphis, Tennessee facilitated the GMF acquisition through the issuance of tax exempt 501(c)3 housing revenue bonds on behalf of the purchaser. Merchant Capital served as the bond underwriter in the placement of the bonds with investors, as the bonds were rated investment grade by Standard and Poor’s rating agency. Jones Walker served as Bond Counsel. Kristin Neun, Esquire, served as FHA counsel. Charles Carpenter, Esquire, served as counsel to the Issuer. The Bank of New York Mellon serves as Trustee. Glanker Brown serves as GMF’s corporate and owner counsel within its expanding national affordable multifamily housing portfolio.
A recent article in the Commercial Appeal stated the following.
About a third of all the units inside Serenity Towers have bedbugs, according to a Memphis Code Enforcement report released Friday.
The report says 134 units have bedbugs inside the senior high rise apartment complex. Other code enforcement violations included cockroaches, broken or damaged windows, leaks in the ceiling, broken thermostats, damaged toilet and faucets among other things.
City code enforcement officers inspected the 396 units in the property on Feb. 11, 2015. The inspection came after several tenants complained of bedbugs and other problems.
Rev. Richard Hamlet, founder of Global Ministries Foundation, said in a statement he was aware of the bedbug problem since his nonprofit bought the property. His staff is working to eradicate the infestation. GMF bought the senior property in 2014 using a $14.5 million bond issued by the Health, Educational and Housing Facilities board of Memphis.
With that background, I started investigating the various boards and commissions. What I found was 46 City Boards and Commissions and 36 County ones. Some are joint boards but many are stand alone ones. It was interesting that the City Health, Education and Housing Facility Board and the County Health, Education and Housing Facility Board have the same names but are completely different and separate
The City HEHF Board states its purpose as follows.
Function & Authority:
The Health, Education and Housing Facility Board a public nonprofit corporation issues tax exempt revenue bonds for the development or rehabilitation of multi-family housing facilities to be occupied, according to the state statute ?by persons of low and/or moderated income, and/or elderly and/or handicapped persons.
The County HEHF Board states its purpose as follows.
Functions & Authority
The function of the Health, Education, and Housing Facility Board is to assist in the financing of health facilities, educational facilities, and housing facilities for low and moderate income families, disabled individuals and the elderly. The financings are accomplished through the issuance of revenue bonds payable solely from the revenues of the project. The taxpayers and the County of Shelby are never liable for the repayment of the bonds.
I asked both boards for their ethics documents and conflict of interest policies. From the County Board I received a prompt answer with the statement of policies and procedures revised 11/4/15 and By-Laws revised 2007.
I attended a meeting of the Memphis HEHF on February 29th for a required hearing concerning a request that the board issue its Multifamily Housing Revenue Bonds (Patterson Flats Project), Series 2016 in an aggregate amount not to exceed $12 million dollars. After the required reading I asked some questions concerning fees related to recent bond issues. Mr. Carpenter did not know but referred me to the State of Tennessee for this information. I asked him who was paid the $110,000 in legal and professional fees shown in the 2014 financial statement and he said that he was paid those fees. I asked about the details of the recent resignation of John L. Baker, 17 years as director of the Memphis HEHF board, and was told that that could be discussed only at a regular monthly meeting of the board and that the March meeting on the first Wednesday was cancelled as there was no business to discuss.
This whole matter of this housing for low and moderate income individuals and families, the cost and effectiveness of this approach needs a public discussion and possible alternatives to this expensive program. What do you think?
February 16, 2016
TDZ (Tourist Development Zone) Revenue Review
I have been investigating the revenue flowing to the City of Memphis for the downtown TDZ zone which includes Bass Pro. This has been quite interesting and informative.
First I went to the State of Tennessee and got on their website that shows sales tax revenue sent to the City of Memphis for various items like state sales tax (the 7% sales tax), mixed drink tax and particularly the TDZ tax for the downtown tourist development zone. Here is the result of my investigation for the fiscal years ending June 30 of the years shown.
|TDZ Zone, 7% state sales tax receipts||TDZ Zone, 2-1/4% sales tax receipts||Total sales tax receipts for year|
|2012||$12.1 million||$1.1 million||$13.2 million|
|2013||$12.7 million||$1.6 million||$14.3 million|
|2014||$12 million||$1 million||$13.1 million|
|2015||$16.8 million||$3.6 million||$20.5 million|
Therefore 2015 shows an increase of over $7 million from 2014. This is indeed good news but where does it come from in the downtown TDZ? Bass Pro did not open its doors until May 2015 so it is not likely to account for the increase in sales taxes in 2 months of operation.
I asked the state of Tennessee about what businesses the sales taxes come from in the TDZ. They replied that state law does not allow them to give out that information as that would allow competitors to know the amount of sales from the various tax collecting businesses This restriction is reasonable. Does the City of Memphis know or have a right to audit the sales figures? I do not know but I am sure the State of Tennessee has that right. I called the Downtown Memphis Commission office and asked them where they thought the extra sales tax revenue was coming from. I have yet to receive their answer.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. There is a question about the Bass Pro contract concerning the rent which is based on 2% of sales. However there are questions about the 2% rent formula that will possibly not apply to leased facilities in Bass Pro. Also questions about the income from the elevator ride to the top being reduced by costs of employees and other restaurant and elevator expenses. This would reduce the 2% rent payment amount.
In any event, the news of the increase in TDZ revenue in the year ending June 30, 2015 is good news if correct. What are your thoughts?