Archive for the ‘human interest’ Category

Brilliant At The Basics

Monday, April 25th, 2016

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.

 

 

My Memphis Airport Experience

Monday, April 18th, 2016

April 18, 2016

My Memphis Airport Experience

I am not a fan of current airplane travel experiences. Let me count the ways.

My wife and I recently completed a trip from Memphis to San Francisco to visit my daughter, son in law and grandson. I looked on line and booked a flight out to SFO on United Airlines with a connection in Denver. The flight left Memphis at 7:16 AM so we got up about 4:30 to do all those things necessary before driving to the airport. We got to the airport about 6 AM to proceed through security. Before security I took everything out of my pockets except my driver’s license and boarding pass. I was allowed to keep on my belt and my shoes. The flight was pleasant enough considering the reduced space between seats. We were not seated across from the airplane Outhouse thank goodness. The connection flight to San Francisco was on time and we arrived in SFO about noon. Getting the rental car in SFO is a trial as you have to take the Air Train and then track down the agent and car.

The stay in Sebastopol in Sonoma was wonderful and we enjoyed three nights there. Then the trek back home. Another night near the SFO airport and then back to turn in the car after getting the luggage checked in. The return flight was on American thru Dallas. Again the seat spacing was even tighter. The flight from San Francisco to Dallas was late and we had to rush from Terminal A to C in Dallas on the air train and just made it late in the boarding process. The flight to Memphis was OK except the last 15 minutes was very bumpy due to thunderstorms.

The arrival was at 10 PM and by the time we got to the luggage area all the free carts were gone to other folks. I went and got the car from the long term parking garage and was expecting to pay $6 per day but was surprised at the bill for $15 per day or $75.00 total. I objected but my protests fell on deaf ears.

Two days later I went back to the airport to check out the signage about parking rates and directions. I now know that I misread these two signs. I went straight ahead instead of a sharp left turn. Later I went to the airport website and sure enough the explanation was there. I wonder how many of you readers have made my mistake.

I have attached some pictures that show the signs as you navigate the directions to the massive parking garage. My mistake was proceeding straight ahead instead of making a quick left turn. Sorry fellow, that will be $45 extra. Has anyone else out there made the same mistake?

I have wondered in the past how the Airport Authority justified the huge cost for the parking garage which ruined the view of the beautiful airport building and put all the Park-Ride and Fly people out of business. Then I wondered about the recent CA story of two Vice Presidents at the Airport Authority leaving and getting paid. One oversaw airport concession agreements, parking and rental cars, disadvantaged and minority business programs, contract compliance and leasing of airport-owned properties. Both were being paid $191,000 per year. Interesting. What has been your airport experience? I would like to know.

Further Info On The Memphis HEHFB Controversy

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

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.

 

Minutes of Wednesday, April 9, 2014

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.

 

Minutes of Wednesday, December 3, 2014

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.

ROI (Return On Investment)

Monday, February 8th, 2016

February 8, 2016

 

ROI (Return On Investment)

 

Recently I asked for the following information from the Riverfront Development Corporation.

 

I would like to know the final cost for the Beale Street Landing

 

I would like to have the most recent financial statement concerning the income and expense of the Landing operation showing income and expenses.

 

I would like to have the most recent annual financial statement for the RDC.

 

I received a prompt answer to these questions (with some delay due to my fault). You can look at the attached results.

 

They say the cost was $43.5 million with the Feds and State kicking $11.8 million, Housing and Community $1 million and the City $30.6 million. All of this is taxpayer money. Now we all recognize that parks, playgrounds, running and biking trails and other civic amenities do not pay a return on investment in a true business sense. However this restaurant/souvenir shop and boat landing should pay a better return than is shown by the landing operation income and expense sheet shown above. Except for the Foundation Corporate Grant of $75,000, it is losing money each month. Maybe the additional income generated by river boat tourists landings make up for some of this but could the landings have been done without this $43 million dollar project? Virginia McLean certainly thinks so. Here is what she told me recently.

 

Our new $43M taxpayer funded boat dock probably might make it easier (at the right water-levels) for passengers to board and has probably led to more business for our local daily excursion boat company, but I’m not absolutely certain about either of those points, and I can’t imagine that Beale Street Landing has had a serious impact on multi-state-city riverboat cruises.  The boat companies appear to be promoting Southern history, food, and music as draws for cruises on the Mississippi River. They dock at Natchez, Vicksburg, Helena, Paducah, to name a few, and those cities/towns don’t have expensive new boat docks. The boats appear to just tie up at the shore (like they still do here at Greenbelt Park when water levels are low ) or dock at historic landings like in St. Louis on the old landing which is adjacent & beneath the plaza the Arch sits on or at basic, simple open-air ticket-sale type places like in New Orleans’s Woldenberg Park. Personally I think Mud Island River Park’s landing would probably beat out anything, including Beale Street Landing. When the boats docked over there and if it was being run properly visitors would have had access to restaurants, a music, pretty park, amphitheater, and via monorail or skywalk downtown city by foot. 

 

I’ll stick with the idea that we didn’t really need it, couldn’t afford it, and now what do we do about running and maintaining it?  

 

The Mississippi River is our greatest asset but it is huge and powerful and maintaining anything on the river always ends up costing more than expected. The Beale Street Landing will continue to cost us in the future to maintain it. We do not need the Riverfront Development Corporation to guide and lead changes to Mud Island River Park considering their past history. What do you think?

Shelby County School Job Positions and Salaries

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

September 29, 2015

Shelby County School Job Positions and Salaries

 

Nothing is more important than education. We hear all the talk about programs to combat poverty, workforce development, skill training, etc. etc.

 

The real solution starts with a caring family that is determined to see that their children get the basics, love, discipline, encouragement and the ability to read. The parents must take an active role in these basics.

 

The next step is education and this is where the debate rages. Do we need more money as most public school boards claim or do we need a 21st century model.

 

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal states, in part, the following.

 

Whatever your measure—the reading and math proficiency of high-school graduates, the skills gap in the nation’s labor market, or the real value of college—there can be little argument that America’s schools, as a whole, are failing to prepare students for the 21st century.

 

There are countless explanations why, but here’s a significant contributing factor: Until recently, we simply didn’t know how to use technology to make teachers and students happier, better engaged and more successful.

 

Think about it: In every field of human endeavor, from manufacturing to knowledge work, we’re figuring out how to use technology to make humans more successful—to raise the quality of their work, if not their measured productivity.

 

But the same can hardly be said of teaching. In education, the overwhelming majority of students are still learning as they always have, in classrooms dominated by a one-to-many lecturing model in which teachers inevitably leave some students behind while boring others. That model has barely changed in a century.

 

Parents, educators and especially taxpayers need to get involved and have an open discussion about how our education taxes are being spent. As a result of my recent open records request, I have attached a complete list of Shelby County School System employee names, job titles and annual salaries. If you do not have Microsoft Excel You can click here for a PDF copy of the salary list. I have decided to list the names only for those making $70,000 per year or more. The total annual salary for the listed year is $581 million for 16,664 employees. Add to this another 20% for benefits. This is around 75% or more in the budget for salaries and benefits.

 

I think we need to have a public discussion of the Shelby County Education model and ask the question of whether the School Board should be suing for more tax money or should we update the education model to the 21st century.

Massive Lawsuit By The Shelby County Board of Education

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

September 8, 2015

Massive Lawsuit By The Shelby County Board of Education

In case you have not noticed, the Shelby County Board of Education just filed a lawsuit to compel the taxpayers of the State of Tennessee to fund whatever the state school boards feel is necessary to educate all children to what they feel is adequate education. It does not matter if the taxpayers can afford their idea of what constitutes an adequate education.

I must say on the front end that I want all children to get a good education. However I am a proponent of parental choice, good charter schools and parental vouchers. Let the money follow the child. They say that lack of money is the problem. I say that there is no proof that more money solves the problem. I say that the basic problem is the dissolution of the family structure and that this family structure problem started in the 1960s war on poverty and has gone downhill since then. This is a debate that I welcome.

However I just want to alert you to what is going on and I have several questions  that I feel should be answered by the Shelby County School Board and I intend to ask for this information in an open records request. I encourage you also to ask for this data.

  • What is the projected future cost of this lawsuit?
  • What has been spent so far?
  • Will all future legal bills be promptly put on line for the public to see?
  • Will all payments in connection with this lawsuit be promptly put on line?
  • Will all the cost of SCS legal and administrative work in connection with this lawsuit be recorded and put on line?

What they are asking is a blank check for education with the school boards able to write in the amount.

DO YOU AGREE? LET ME HEAR YOUR OPINION AND LET THEM KNOW YOU OPINION.

Here is the lawsuit and I have listed some of the highlights below.

(more…)

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.