Archive for the ‘Open Records’ Category
Last Tuesday I braved the ice (black and otherwise) and went to the City Council committee meetings at City Hall. There were two particular subjects in which I had an interest and they were the Pension Funding Policy chaired by Jim Strickland and the Executive session on Debt Restructuring chaired by Myron Lowery.
These two subjects are related because due to the 2010 scoop and toss bond refinancing and the State of Tennessee demanding that the City of Memphis increases its pension ARC (annual required contribution). It turns out that the 2010 refinancing created a bubble starting in 2016 making it difficult to pay both the increased ARC and the bond payments at the same time. The answer, scoop and toss again. The City (Brian Collins) claims that this is reasonable due to low interest rates. Jim Strickland, Harold Collins, Wanda Halbert and Shea Flinn raised questions as did the Commercial Appeal. Here is the presentation given at the meeting.
I decided to investigate some past bond financing so I asked the City of Memphis for some bond information on recent bonds such as the stadium project and the Pyramid and Pinch District redevelopment. All I got from them was a computerized reply with answers to follow SOME DAY. So I went online and got the following Moodys financial analysis report.
Here are some of the things that the report says about Memphis.
- The current issue is ultimately secured by all non-tax revenue that is legally available other than ad valorem revenues in the city’s general fund.
- The Series 2011B and 2011 C subordinate are secured by a second lien on TDZ revenues with a pledge from the city to replenish the debt service reserve in the event of a draw on non-ad valorem tax revenues.
The negative outlook on the Series 2013A&B and 2011B&C reflects Moody’s expectation that the city’s financial position will remain challenged as fixed costs, including debt service, pension and other post-employment benefits represents 42% of operating expenditures in fiscal 2012.
In spite of all this the City continues to spend on questionable projects like the Raleigh Springs Mall renovation and to talk about the fairgrounds project as if these will all be paid for by tax incremental financing and fairy dust.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
- Fiduciary responsibility.
- Due Diligence
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.
November 13, 2014
My brother and I ran a manufacturing business for some 40 years here in Memphis (Saino Manufacturing Company) and then we sold the business and retired and continued in my field of fire protection as a consultant. Then in 2004 I turned to local government interests and the issue of Transparency In Government.
I found that this was not only a national problem but also a state and local problem. Many politicians feel that they do not want the public to know the details of their motives and actions and therefore they make it purposely difficult to get the information. Look below at part of the Tennessee Open Records Law.
(2)(A) All state, county and municipal records shall, at all times during business hours, which for public hospitals shall be during the business hours of their administrative offices, be open for personal inspection by any citizen of this state, and those in charge of the records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless otherwise provided by state law.
Locally I have been refused access to the City of Memphis offices and old Memphis City School offices during business hours with the excuse that I do not have an appointment with a particular person. When I then tried to get an appointment with the person that I wanted to see, my phone calls and emails were not answered. This, according to the Tennessee State open records official, is a violation of state law.
Just to illustrate how important transparency in government is, look at the recent revelation of the creation of the Affordable Care Act. MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare architect, said in 2013 that a lack of transparency and the stupidity of the American voter helped get the law through Congress. See the “too stupid” video clip. http://dailycaller.com/2014/11/11/yet-another-video-emerges-of-obamacare-architect-calling-americans-stupid-video/
It is time for all local governmental and educational entities to open all their legally open records in an easily accessible manner to the public that pays all the bills for these services. As a high official at the Shelby County Government Offices (the best of all local governmental agencies) told me on a recent phone call “We work for you, Mr. Saino, and the public”. What a great attitude.
August 4, 2014
A Smoking Gun
I have a reluctance to throw out old files that I have from 2001. So I decided to start cleaning out and throwing away old files. The first one I came across was an open records reply from 2007. It was a Mercer Health and Benefits report dated July 24, 2006. The title was “City of Memphis Retiree Medical Landscape 2006 and Beyond”.
Take a look at this report. It was a warning of what was coming from GASB (Government Accounting Standards Board 43 and 45) concerning OPEB reporting, Medicare Coordination, Service Based Contributions and Future Hires.
Why was this report Important?
- It will be a required part of the annual audit statement
- This will impact bond rating
- Unfunded liability is potentially 50 times current retiree health-claim cash flow
The report recommended plan changes such as
- Coordination of benefits on medical and surgical coverage with Medicare (Parts A & B) for all post 65 retirees.
- Adopting an age and service based contribution rate structure.
- Plan design changes to the retiree medical plan that will reduce costs to some reasonable level and help manage the liability.
- Medicare coordination will mean the City of Memphis will provide coverage for post-65 retirees only on a secondary basis and all post 65 retirees will be required to buy Medicare coverage.
- The City of Memphis will adopt separate rates for pre-65 and post-65 retirees.
- Retirees will contribute different amounts depending upon their length of service in active employment.
Is it any surprise that the City of Memphis ignored these recommendations and the County took the warnings to heart and adopted a similar recommended plan? This lack of action by the City in 2006 explains the current crisis we have at the City of Memphis.
July 18, 2014
There is a very important election coming up. Early voting starts today (only
downtown at the election commission). General early voting starts Monday July
21st and early voting ends Saturday August 2nd. The last voting day is Thursday
August 7th but only at your normal local voting site.
The ballot is huge. I have attached the ballot with my selections. I want you to
make your own choices but I want you to get out and vote.
I have been working with Eve and Eddie Settles and they have done a wonderful
job in researching the candidates. Be sure to go to www.backinrivercity.com and
read about the research they have done.
You will have to declare that you want to vote in the democrat or republican
primary. This is for the Governor, United States Senate, United States House of
Representatives, the Tennessee Senate, the Tennessee House of Representatives,
and the State Democrat or Republican executive committee people. This party
declaration will not prevent you from voting on the rest of the ballot which is
The final page of the ballot is interesting. It is to vote to Retain or Replace the
Tennessee Supreme Court judges (3 ea.), Court of Appeals Judges (10 ea.) and
Court of Criminal Appeals judges (10 ea.).
The Tennessee legislature voted recently to let the Judicial Nominating
Commission to expire and in November 2014 we will vote whether to adopt a
constitutional amendment for Tennessee, a system like the one set forth in the US
Constitution. I believe that an 8 year term is sufficient and should be at the end of
a distinguished legal career or the justice should go back to his legal practice to
earn his living, not be a career justice. Therefore I support the REPLACE vote.
I will be glad to answer any questions. 7540699
May 19, 2014
An Open Records Update
During the last 10 years I have been an advocate of open records. I have had my ups and downs with the City of Memphis, Shelby County, the old Memphis School System, he MLGW and any number of other affiliated organizations. Here is my open record scorecard.
- Shelby County and MLGW A
- The Old Shelby County School System B+
- City of Memphis C
- Old Memphis School System and the new SC School System F
I have never had to file a lawsuit against Shelby County, the MLGW or the Old Shelby County School System. I have filed 5 lawsuits successfully against Memphis and the Old Memphis School System. The City of Memphis has become less responsive and difficult about providing access to information. The new Shelby County School System (SCS) seems to be little different from the old Memphis School System.
I am asking Memphis and SCS for information and will take whatever action is necessary to enforce my Tennessee citizens’ legal rights and access to information.
Now I see the Common Core as the greatest threat to our freedoms and the future of our local education. I am asking the public to join with me in a debate on common core and how it is being implemented locally. I will publish a series of questions and provide answers to be debated and facts provided.
The basic purpose of common core is to impose thru a national program a uniform curriculum on K12 public schools. As a result of this uniform common core, they want to collect an immense amount of student data and use it to plan each student’s future education (university, community college or trade school) and eventually their slot in society. This plan would disregard the parents’ and the students’ rights and desires. This amounts to Federal control of education, freedoms and parental rights.
I agree that public education needs upgrading as we have had over 60 years of failure of public education. I agree that there should be a rigorous broad based national testing standard to which students, schools and teachers should be measured. However I believe in competition. Each state and even each City and County should develop their own curriculum and teaching methods with the full involvement of parents and taxpayers. Those states and cities that measure up and surpass the national measure should share their programs with others that do not measure up. Let the best ideas and results win. More federal money and one size fits all is not the answer. Let there be no less than 50 state experimental education laboratories competing with each other for top student achievers. Let education flourish in public, private, home schools, church schools with parents making a choice financed by taxes and vouchers. Let the competition begin with parental choice of what is best for their children, not what is best for Bill Gates, Pearson Publishing or DC politicians.
In future posts I will point out hard facts about common core, who is financing it, and who benefits. I welcome your comments.
April 28, 2014
Does Your Child Belong To You Or To The Government?
I and some of my friends have been asking questions about Common Core. I asked the Shelby County School System for the following information.
I would like to have access to and view all data requests regarding data that the school system is collecting on the students. I would like to know if this data is requested and collected from the students directly without parental involvement or if the parents are requested to furnish this information or data and if this information is voluntary or required of the students or parents.
There answer was the following. “Your request is not granted because it is not understood.” Such arrogance.
I want to recommend that you go to www.mommabears.org and read through some of this information. This is a great organization and they are having an effect. I was immediately struck by this report. Click and read this report on what is in the library of a local school. http://www.mommabears.org/1/post/2014/03/alert-is-this-in-your-childs-library-at-school.html
I want to find out more about this from the school system but I cannot even get them to answer a request for an appointment. I will keep trying but I need feedback from readers who have children in public schools.
The federal government does not believe that your child’s education should be the responsibility of the parents. They believe they are the professionals and they know better. We need to let them know that they work for us, not the other way around.
March 10, 2014
Common Core Educational Standards-Good Or Bad?
This is a subject that I consider more important than even pension reform. This will determine the educational level of our children and grandchildren and the future of our country both economically and from a freedom standpoint.
What Common Core purports to do is set a uniform school curriculum across the country leading to uniform testing and higher standards. What it is fact will do, if fully implemented, is take local control out of the hands of local school boards and particularly out of the hands of parents.
In my 10 years of “OPEN RECORDS ADVOCACY” I have come to the opinion that the most difficult people to get open records information from is local school bureaucrats, starting with the old Memphis School System and now the new Shelby County School bureaucracy which acts much like the old City of Memphis School bureaucracy.
This coming Friday evening Mrs. Karen Lamoreaux (Arkansas) will speak from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM at White Station Church of Christ, 2nd floor, 1106 Colonial Road. Listen to her in a short youtube video as she took apart the local school board.
Please try to be there and learn what she is doing in Arkansas and nationwide.
This is a person who knows what is going on and we need to listen to her and take local action on our own school board. I feel her frustration as it is very difficult to get through the bureaucracy and get results.
Within the last few months I asked the Shelby County School System for the following information.
“I would like to have access to and view all data requests regarding data that the school system is collecting on the students. I would like to know if this data is requested and collected from the students directly without parental involvement or if the parents are requested to furnish this information or data and if this information is voluntary or required of the students or parents.
Their answer was the following.
“Your request is not granted because it is not understood.”
January 6, 2014
I spent the month of December trying to get answers to the following questions.
1) How many tourist development zones (TDZs) have been approved by the state of Tennessee, the date of approval and a map or designation of the zones?
2) For those zones that are approved, how much is the base sales and use tax amount from which the incremental amount of taxes will be distributed?
3) How much incremental taxes have been received each year since the inception of the TDZ zones?
4) On what have the incremental taxes been spent?
I asked these questions of the City of Memphis and have again and again been promised answers. I know that during the Christmas season it is hard to get action. I also asked the first three questions of the Tennessee Department of Revenue and did get some answers from them. I have attached a schedule of distributions to municipalities for qualified tourism development zones by fiscal years earned. Also I received a similar schedule for sales tax allocation for sports authorities such as the NBA facility in Memphis and the minor league baseball facility in Memphis. This is interesting information and you will see that Memphis received $13.2 million in FY 2011-12 for the only TDZ zones we currently have approved (downtown) and $1.9 million for the Arena and zero for the baseball facility in 2012.
I received further clarification from the state concerning the rules on TIF distribution as shown below.
In an attempt to answer your question related to the 1.9 million. The 1.9 million dollars was paid to the city of Memphis / Shelby County as a separate payment each month as the sales tax dollars for the Grizzlies is collected. The information of zero that you have relative to the Redbirds is incorrect the amount paid to the Memphis Redbirds foundation was $586,282.41. These amounts are after we take the ½ percent for education off the top of the collections.
In calculating the TDZ we do back the amount of these sports authorities off of the collections for that year in determining the growth to apply.
So in the year we are looking at the overall collections for state sales tax was $ 750,776,304.38(this figure includes food) we reduce that amount by the amount of total state sales tax collections relative to the sports authority which was $2,722,845.30 (please remember the figures are different because this is before the ½ percent for education is calculated).
That net number $748,053,459.08 is compared to the same data as the previous year to determine the overall growth in the area.
This growth is then applied to the base to create the current base in the 2011-12 year the base was $34,215,152.17. The TCA reads the TDZ will benefit from the amount collected within the TDZ area that was above the base. The amount collected in the zone for state sales tax was 50,352,645.09 ( we adjust this number by the ½ percent for education) Giving a net collections of $46,156,608.12 then we add the food sales tax collections within the TDZ area which was $176,729.12. Those two figures combined total net state sales tax collections $ 46,333,337.24. This is the amount compared to the base and the TDZ receives the above and beyond in this case it was $12, 118,185.06. The local portion of the sales tax is calculated under the same basis.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
I still want to know how this money is applied to our debt which I expect the City of Memphis to answer.
Now it is my understanding that the City of Memphis is asking for a second TDZ zone for the Fairgrounds project. The question is this. IS THIS A SOUND WAY TO FINANCE BIG PROJECTS LIKE BASSPRO, FAIRGROUNDS, PINCH DISTRICT AND ON AN ON?
Look at some of the other cities like Chattanooga and Sevierville that went down this same path. In one report there was the following statement.
*Chattanooga received no state sales tax distribution in 2007 because taxable sales fell below their pre-TIF level. Several businesses left the designated area.
Also Sevierville has had problems with paying for their debt by this method. So the assertion that there is no risk for tax incremental financing is not true. At the very least the City of Memphis should provide a detailed analysis showing the expected amount of incremental sales tax expected from the TDZ needed to pay the debt and tell the public and the taxpayers the truth about their downside risk if the expected sales tax revenue does not materialize.