Archive for the ‘human interest’ Category

Transparency and Government

Friday, August 28th, 2015

August 25, 2015

Transparency And Government

I am always amazed at the arrogance of bureaucrats. Nationally we have a festering case of arrogance and lack of transparency in the Hillary Clinton email scandal. Another example is the pending Iranian executive agreement which is terrible in what we know and much worse in the hidden side agreements that they are withholding.

On a national scale the above examples are life threatening and scary. I do what I can and let my senators and representatives know what I think. Locally I think we have more direct influence and I want to call on you to help me and others by letting the state and local officials know how you feel. Here is a prime example of government arrogance.

Currently, Tennessee law allows citizens free access to inspect public records, but allows charges if the citizen wants copies. There are bills to allow additional public records fees that are being sponsored by state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, at the request of the Tennessee Association of School Boards. TCOG (Tennessee coalition for open government), TPA (Tennessee press association) and other citizen groups opposed the proposed legislation because of concerns that new fees would be used to block access to public records that provide government accountability, and be abused in the same way copy fees have been abused. (more…)

Memphis Urban Development In Action

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

April 28, 2015

Memphis Urban Development In Action

Memphis Bass Pro is set to open tomorrow and I for one hope that it is successful and pays off the millions that the City of Memphis has put into it. But I would like to point out a past example of big government and their programs for downtown. Take a look at the Peabody Place Project.

Peabody Place was a 300,000-square-foot shopping and entertainment mall intended to aid Downtown’s revival. The mall opened with a Muvico cinema complex, retail and restaurants in June 2001 but started to empty as the recession deepened in 2008. When the theater closed in July 2008, the Belzes announced plans to renovate part of the mall into a suites hotel, but lack of financing kept the project from going forward. Now look at the funding sources and amounts that financed the original project. UDAG, CDBG, Section 108 and City CIP to the tune of $41.8 million. What are UDAG, CDBG, Section108 and City CIP?

UDAG (Urban Development Action Grant)

The Secretary is authorized to make urban development action grants to cities and urban counties which are experiencing severe economic distress to help stimulate economic development activity needed to aid in economic recovery.

CDBG (Community Development Block Grants)

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program was enacted in 1974 by president Gerald Ford through the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 and took effect in January 1975. It had the goal of extinguishing poverty and urban blight.

Section 108

Section 108 is a loan guarantee program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which, since 1978, has committed more than $6 billion to almost 1,500 capital projects aimed at ameliorating housing conditions and creating economic opportunities, particularly for the benefit of low- and moderate-income persons.

City CIP (City of Memphis Capital Improvement Program)

This is City of Memphis capital money.

Now I ask the question, does any of this investment of our federal tax money or our City of Memphis tax money fit these definitions or objectives?

Then more recently there was this information in a Commercial Appeal article from 2014. The Belz family plans to refinance Peabody Place in a move that Downtown officials say is unrelated to talk of converting the vacant complex into a convention-related facility.

The Center City Revenue Finance Corp. on Tuesday approved a refinancing request from Hotel Peabody L.P., the Belz unit that owns The Peabody hotel and adjoining retail and entertainment site.

Refinancing required the board’s approval as a condition of a 25-year property tax abatement that was granted to the project in 1997.

This and other projects and questionable financing and use of federal tax money need a public discussion and open record information on how this money is to be repaid and who benefits.

 

Happy Tax Day!!!

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

April 16, 2015

Happy Tax Day!!!

Yesterday was April 15th and your taxes hopefully were paid or your check was in the mail. Most working people and retirees are tax payers and pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.

One huge item most of us do not understand is nonprofits. One definition of non profits is “A business entity that is granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. Donations to a nonprofit organization are often tax deductible to the individuals and businesses making the contributions.” Donations to non profits also come from Federal, State and local governments from taxpayer funds.

Information about nonprofits is available from Guidestar. Guidestar is a 501(c)(3) public charity that collects, organizes, and presents the information you want in an easy-to-understand format while remaining neutral. Guidestar provides nonprofit information to a broad audience at no cost to the users.

Why Should You Care about Nonprofit Information?

Because the nonprofit sector is incredibly powerful. According to the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, more than 70 million people work and volunteer in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit employees make up the third-largest workforce among U.S. industries, behind only retail and manufacturing, and nonprofits create total revenue of more than 1.9 trillion annually, exceeding the total GDP of Canada, Australia, Russia, or India

Locally, according to Guidestar, we have 3705 non profit organizations just in the City of Memphis. I am in the process of trying to gather information of Memphis nonprofits. It is not easy. I have attached a spreadsheet on just 413 local nonprofits and I am up to $3.5 billion dollars of income. At the top of the list are well known and respected medical organizations like St. Jude and Baptist Hospital and charitable organizations like Autozone.

But then you get organizations like Global Ministries Foundation and take a look at their Form 990. You probably read the recent CA article about Global and the Rev Richard Hamlet who is paid a salary $485,000. Read the article and make your own decision as to the benefits of such a nonprofit. I am reaching out to the public to send me information on local non profits, where their money comes from, where their money goes and the cost of administration. Many people have called for better coordination of local non profits so that those that work on housing for the homeless (for example) could work together and reduce the cost of administration and get more of the money to those in need. The real question about any non profit is this. What is the percentage of benefits out versus money in? Hopefully the cost does not get above 15% with the benefits at 85%. Is that reasonable?

Subsidized Housing, MHA, HCD, HUD, HEHF, Say What?

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

April 14, 2015

Subsidized Housing, MHA, HCD, HUD, HEHF, Say What?

Recently I attended a MHA board meeting and at the end of the session I asked the board in the future to post all recent financial statements. Until recently they had not posted 2013 and 2014 statements. I also asked that in the future that they post the board agenda and all supporting documents at least two days in advance of the monthly board meetings. We will see in the future whether they do this.

They did in fact post the financial statements for 2013 and 2014 so that now we have posted 2009 through 2014 posted online.

At this point I do not pretend to understand this organization which is headed by Robert Lipscomb as well as the City of Memphis department of Housing and Community Development which is also headed by the same Robert Lipscomb. Then you add in HUD (Housing and Urban Development), HEHF (Health, Education and Housing Facilities Board) and then all the non profits like Global Ministries Foundation which was recently written about in the Commercial Appeal and you have a real witches brew brought on by big government spending in an attempt to solve social problems and garner votes. The real question is what is the most efficient way to help those truly in need? Is big government the answer or should rent money be given to those truly in need and let them make their own housing decisions? What do you think?

In order to get a better understanding of the financial structure and purpose of the MHA and HCD a friend asked for a meeting with MHA accounting (Ms. Vickie Aldridge) and here is the answer he got.

“I am not available to meet however if you submit your questions in writing, I will respond at my earliest convenience.” My friend will no doubt respond but here are my thoughts on these posted financial statements.”

I have attached one page out of each of the last six financial reports (2009 thru 2014). These pages list the notes, loans and mortgages receivable for various local housing projects. If you read on through the following pages of the reports you will see the following statement for each of the projects.

No payments were received on this note during 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

My request to the MHA would be that I want to see these financial documents on the loans and mortgages to understand the terms and conditions and who is benefiting from these finances. You will note that the long term notes receivable has gone from $92 million in 2009 to $155 million in 2014. The public should be made aware of these finances, the cost to the taxpayers and the benefits to the tenants of this housing.

What’s another $13.5 million among friends or taxpayers?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

March 4, 2015

 

In a recent CA article, it was pointed out that the cash strapped City of Memphis will have to come up with another $13.5 million to cover the underestimated cost of City of Memphis retirees OPEB cost. This is because of the City’s liberal policy differences versus the County concerning what health care policies are available to retirees.

I have attached a resolution dated June 18, 2007 entitled “RESOLUTION TO PROVIDE FOR OPEB BENEFITS AND APPROVE CHANGES TO HEALTH INSURANCE BENEFITS PROVIDED TO EMPLOYEES AND RETIREES”

It is signed by none other than A C Wharton, then County Mayor.

The main difference is that County retirees over age 65 that are eligible for Medicare (either the retiree or spouse) will only be eligible for a Medicare supplemental plan, not the regular county plan. Also the retiree’s share of the premium will be based on years of service. This saved the county millions of dollars since 2007.

Meanwhile the City of Memphis did none of this even after County Mayor Wharton became City Mayor Wharton. It took a city pension and OPEB financial crisis to get the City to change and then they got the numbers wrong to the tune of $13.5 million. Then add to that the millions they could have saved between 2007 and 2015 had they followed the County example, but they did nothing.

Insure Tennessee! Let Us Have A Discussion

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

February 11, 2015

Insure Tennessee! Let Us Have A Discussion

 

Recently I heard a talk given by Dr. Scott Morris, founder of the Church Health Center. He talked about the Sears Tower planned renovation and it was fascinating. If it comes off successfully, it could lead to great benefits for midtown and for Shelby County.

 

Before he got into the Sears Tower presentation, he talked about the recently defeated proposal for Insure Tennessee. This is Governor Bill Haslan’s proposal to take federal money from the government to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to people who do not qualify either for existing Medicaid programs or to buy coverage on an exchange.

 

Haslam unveiled Insure Tennessee in December after nearly two years of negotiating with the federal government because Insure Tennessee was not a straight expansion of Medicaid. It required a waiver approval by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services because Haslam opted to craft a state-specific program that modeled many aspects of commercial health insurance using funds from a tax that Tennesseans are already paying under the ACA.

 

Dr. Morris stated that this was a no brainer as the money was sitting there and there were people who needed the medical services and after all it was our Tennessee tax money and additionally tax money from other states.

 

(more…)

Fancy Expensive Jobs And Titles

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

February 3, 2015

Fancy Expensive Jobs And Titles

Recently Mayor Wharton gave a State of the City address. In that speech he cited the case of Willie Woods, owner of Woods Painting Co, who turned to the City of Memphis when the recession knocked down his revenue by 30 to 40 percent. Mr. Woods wanted help finding jobs and financial support. He, no doubt, had a lot of company during the recent severe downturn.

The Mayor’s answer was typical for most politicians, local and national. The Mayor proposed creating a new “cabinet level” department, the Division of Minority Business Services.

Well let us look at the current 2015 City of Memphis budget. In this budget we find the Office of Talent & Human Capital. The mission of this office is “to secure the City of Memphis competitive position in the knowledge economy by supporting innovative strategies, tactics and initiatives that focus on retaining, recruiting, and developing the nations’ most talented workforce.”

Now look at eight budget pages from the 2015 City of Memphis budget. You will see that we propose to spend $1,251,805 and give employment to 6 people. That is a cheap price if Dr. Scarboro,  Executive Director, achieves this objective. Cities across the nation are spending billions to achieve this goal and the national government is spending trillions.

Let us be realistic about these made up positions and jobs. They are what politicians at all levels do to make the public think they are addressing the problems with real solutions. This is nothing against Dr. Scarboro. I am sure he is a great guy who has done significant good work. However creating another division with another Executive Director is not the solution to solving Mr. Wood’s problem or the human talent problem. It will take years of education reform and family social services to attack the poverty, family dissolution, crime and local low educational levels that are at the base of low human talent levels. Another fancy title and another cabinet level division and another million plus spending will not help Mr. Woods get more work. Being the best painting contractor offering fair prices and great work is the answer to his problem.

 

Pension Reform At The City Of Memphis

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

December 4, 2014

 

Pension Reform At The City Of Memphis

Finally the Memphis City Council has taken action to address our unfunded pension liability. Eight members decided that we needed reform and took decisive action to get this under control. The unions are not happy and will probably take this action to court in a lawsuit.

Mayor Wharton originally proposed that the City of Memphis go to a defined contribution system for all new employees and those unvested employees with less than 10 years of service. There were, of course, objections to including those unvested employees and later on a different proposal came out from the administration which was a cash balance plan. A cash balance plan needs some explanation and you can read about cash balance plans in the attached article.

In the City Council meeting it appeared that Myron Lowery’s plan which would include only new employees and would have the least savings for the City of Memphis would get the seven votes. However the City Council voted for the Hybrid cash balance plan (8 YES, 5 NO) and only those with more than 7.5 years of service would be covered under the old expensive defined benefit plan. Everyone else as of the start of the plan in 2016 would be under the new plan.

The impact on the unfunded liability of the approved plan in year one would be a savings of 6.8 million dollars and would reduce the unfunded liability in the first year by 60 million dollars. This is as compared to the Myron Lowery plan of zero savings the first year in dollars and unfunded liability reduction.

Again this is not the final decision and according to the commercial appeal this approval will be discussed again in committee in two weeks. Stay tuned. Attached are the Hybrid pension options.

President Lincoln and Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

In the midst of a terrible civil war, President Lincoln  proclaimed a national holiday, Thanksgiving, urging gratitude amid civil war woes. Here is part of that proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

 I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Transparency In The Private Sector

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

November 17, 2014

Transparency In The Private Sector

 

We have been treated to a lesson in arrogance in government with the revelations about MIT economics Professor Gruber concerning getting the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) approved.  Professor Gruber said that it was necessary to lie about the provisions of the act because the public was too stupid to understand what was good for them. This is the reason that full disclosure, transparency and open records are so vitally important.

But is transparency only important in the public sector where your tax dollars are being spent? What about the private sector?

My brother has a home in a development around a golf course in Ft. Collins, Colorado. He was aware of my interest in open records and the laws concerning access and he called me to ask about his situation. It seems that the government board of his housing association has consistently refused to give him access to financial information. I told him that he would need to research Colorado open records laws and he has hired a lawyer to assist in that effort. The board charges each homeowner for maintenance, repairs and upkeep but has failed to give details about contracts and details of expenditures. In other words, pay up and shut up.

Locally I have a friend who is an engineer and who plays in my duplicate bridge club. (By the way he is very bright and one of the best players). His name is Asan G. Tejwani. He has lived in Fountain Square Condominium, 1850 Poplar Woods Cir W, Germantown, TN 38138 since 1991. His email address is tejasan@hotmail.com.

He discussed with me his complaint about the lack of transparency of the Faith Management Company and the Board of Directors of the non profit condo association. I did some research about the Tennessee open records laws by contacting the State of Tennessee and was referred to the Tennessee Condo Act of 2008. One part of that lengthy document states as follows.

  • 66-27-417. Association Records. The association shall keep financial

records sufficiently detailed to enable the association to comply with §§ 66-27-

502 and 66-27-503. All financial and other records shall be made reasonably

available for examination by any unit owner, the holder of any mortgage or deed

of trust encumbering a unit, and their respective authorized agents.

This seems to be the heart of Mr. Tejwani’s complaint and he puts his principles of  human dealings in a most legitimate manner. They are as follows.

  1. Fiduciary responsibility.
  2. Due Diligence
  3. Transparency
  4. Accountability
  5. Compliance

I can’t disagree with those five principles. I am aware that there are two sides to every story. I would like to hear from other local condo and home owner associations as to their experience with boards and management concerning expenses and transparency and open records accountability. This is no nickel and dime operation as Mr. Tejwani is talking about an annual billing of $850,000 for his condo residents.