Archive for the ‘Taxes’ Category
A Solution For Germantown’s And Any Government Open Records Problem
June 20, 2016
There was an article in the Commercial Appeal yesterday concerning a large request for emails in Germantown.
This is part of the article. Germantown, which has paid more than $62,000 in the first half of the year in attorney fees generated by citizen open records requests, is looking to Nashville for relief.
In meetings with Shelby County lawmakers and the state Attorney General, city leaders are researching ways to limit the city’s exposure from the cost of producing large data requests, including potentially charging the costs back to the citizens making the requests.
“Asking for four years of someone’s email — all of them — is not normal,” Mayor Mike Palazzolo said. “Asking for a police report dated Jan. 17, 2009, to clear up an insurance manner is routine. But a wide-cast net that takes up our professionals’ time and legal staff to review is something residents need to know is very costly.”
The City of Germantown’s proposed budget for next year includes a 64 percent increase (from $350,000 to $575,000) in legal fees. City staff suggested an $80,000 increase, but aldermen upped it to $225,000 — for the $575,000 total — based on the size of the legal bills the city is receiving to blackout sensitive data in City Administrator Patrick Lawton’s emails.
In December, resident Sarah Wilkerson-Freeman requested two years of his email, including all attachments.
Under law, governments in Tennessee may charge 15 cents a copy plus labor costs for requests that take more than an hour for staff to gather.
Wilkerson-Freeman has asked to inspect the data, which is free, and then requests copies made of pages she wants.
The problem with this type of open ended request is “REDACTION OF INFORMATION WHICH IS NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.” This non public information could be such things as social security numbers, home addresses, private medical information and other non public information according to the Tennessee Open Records law.
My ANSWER to this redaction problem is a new email protocol that should be adopted by all bodies subject to the Tennessee Open Records Law. This new protocol would apply to all new emails and text messages. Under this protocol the body of the email or text message would be public information. If needed there would be two types of attachments to the basic email text. #1 attachment would be any data that is open to the public. #2 attachment would be any information that is specifically mentioned in the Tennessee open records law as not public information such as addresses, social security information, restricted medical information and exempted legal communications. Then when a request for emails comes in from the public, the requested emails could be easily sent without any #2 attachments containing redactable information. This would do away with the high prices lawyers reading through a bunch of emails. The creators of the emails would have to be trained in the new electronic communications protocol. No personal messages would be allowed on public paid for email services. A public transparency board should be created in each Tennessee County to periodically review emails and text messages to insure compliance with the new protocol.
Any email sent from a government entity, or agent thereof, from a private email account that would otherwise be considered a public record should be carbon copied or forwarded to an official email account created for the purpose of the government entity, or agent thereof, to maintain transparency of and provide a record of that public information.
Let’s face it. Generally politicians hate open records and transparency and they will use the expense gambit to restrict public access to their records. I would appreciate your thoughts on my proposal for a new public records creation protocol. It seems to me a low cost answer to the “I have to hire a lawyer to redact those email requests” from local politicians. Transparency and open records comes from the top. Lack of transparency comes from the same place.
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!
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.
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 22, 2016
Where Does The Increased Downtown Tax Revenue Come From?
I read with interest the March 20th Sunday article in the Commercial Appeal entitled Bass Pro sales near $45M in nine months. This would be from May 2015 thru January 2016. This is indeed good news for cash strapped Memphis but the question still remains in my mind, what downtown sales tax businesses are responsible for an increase of over $7 million in Tourist Development Zone sales taxes returned to Memphis in the fiscal year from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. Read the article at http://www.memphisshelbyinform.com/2016/02/16/tdz-tourist-development-zone-revenue-review/
Now the CA article claimed that the Bass Pro Pyramid sales for June 2015 were $7.1 million. So let us assume that May 2015 (the opening month) was $6 million or a total for the first two months of $13 million. This would account for about $1.17 million in additional sales tax returns to the downtown TDZ. But there was over $7 million extra TDZ returns in the year ending June 30, 2015. This is the question I asked the Downtown Memphis Commission? They said they would investigate and let me know. To date I have heard nothing from them.
In any event, considering that Memphis is in such desperate need of additional income, it is good news to hear that the incremental sales taxes for 2015 over and above 2014 are up over $7 million. Let us hope that this trend continues.
Can any of you readers tell me what downtown businesses in the downtown TDZ zone, other than Bass Pro, could be responsible for the big increase in TDZ incremental sales taxes? Let me know at email@example.com.
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 8, 2016
I will raise my $106,000 bet by $234,000
Last October I posted a blog article describing the lawsuit filed by the Shelby County School system board for the purpose described below in my posting. A few days ago I asked for an update of the current billed cost of the lawsuit. They upped the ante by $234,000 for a total to date of $340,000. Obviously they think spending your money is worth it. Who knows what it may cost in the end. I ask you the taxpayers of Memphis and Shelby County this. Do you want to turn over your taxing authority to the Shelby County School Board and let them determine what taxes you must pay for the education of your children? This is what they are asking in the suit. As a template, consider what results we have achieved nationally from the Federal Department of Education as shown below. Let me know what you think of this lawsuit.
Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board
Posted by jsaino on Oct 29, 2015
October 29, 2015
Big Time Bet By The Shelby County School Board
As you have read, the SCS System has filed a massive lawsuit to take the funding out of the hand of the taxpaying public and their elected representatives and put it in the hands of the various school boards across the state of Tennessee. They want to determine how much is required to do the education job and then the taxpayers must come up with the money. The proposition is “MORE MONEY EQUALS BETTER EDUCATION” and they know best how to do it. They just need the resources.
I filed an open records request with the SCS System and asked what the estimated total future cost of the lawsuit would be and asked how much had been billed to date. They responded promptly and said that there was no estimate of total future cost but that they had been billed for $106,775.35 in four monthly billings. This is just the beginning.
Next year there will be an election at the national level for President, for the House of Representatives and for 1/3 of the Senate. If some fiscally responsible people are elected in a majority I hope they will consider the elimination over time of the Department of Education at the Federal level. This department was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and has grown like most of the Washington establishment. Look at what President Obama has requested for this failure.
In his budget proposal, the president has requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Education, a $1.7 billion increase over last year’s funding level. This is in addition to $13.3 billion in additional mandatory spending for Pell Grants, bringing the total budget request to $83 billion—a 40 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2008.
No one can claim any success from this monumental failure in educational spending. Let us not repeat this kind of failure at the local level.
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?
February 8, 2016
ROI (Return On Investment)
Recently I asked for the following information from the Riverfront Development Corporation.
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?