Sunday, April 20, 2014

Potholes for Pensions: Color Me Paved And Confused

I can't complain about the condition of my street as it was just repaved last year but I am rather confused about what is going on in downtown Greensboro when it comes to the funding of our street repairs.

For starters: According to Greensboro City Council meeting minutes from January 21, 2014, the City of Greensboro already has $134 Million Dollars in voter approved bonds which took effect on November 4, 2008 with which to repair city streets. (Page 28) So if the City of Greensboro already has $134 Million does it need more? Has the City done $134 Million in street repairs since January? In the cold? Was that money spent on something else-- the Aquatic Center perhaps? Did someone embezzle it? Are they planning on spending it elsewhere, like say the Downtown Greenway which according to Mary Vigue of the City of Greensboro is short $10.5 Million Dollars. Either we've got $134 Million or we don't have $134 Million-- which is it?

And if we already have $134 Million then why are we raising taxes now? Why weren't taxes raised when we borrowed the money?

Yes, I'm confused because the City staff and City Council have both failed to paint a clear picture of exactly what is being done with your money. Will this now push Greensboro to being the undisputed, highest taxed city in North Carolina?

And then this morning I get this letter from a reader titled, Potholes for Pensions
"In public choice theory there is a proposition known as Potholes for Pensions. How about that!
Potholes for Pensions is applicable on several levels but here is the basic premise:
(1) politicos promise public employees largess pensions and other retirement benefits (post retirement health insurance). These promises create a “claim” against the future tax revenue stream of the political taxing authority granting such benefit. More succinctly, a claim against taxpayers and the taxpayer’s ability to create such tax revenue stream.
(2) the benefits accumulate and accelerate over time with every change of politicos. That is, the never ending line of politicos perpetuate and enhance the benefits to retain and increase the previously built political constituency (public employees).  There becomes a larger and larger claim against the tax revenue stream of the political taxing authority granting such benefit. Smaller and smaller amounts of the tax revenue stream is/becomes available for everyday limited government activities such as police, fire and infrastructure.
Note: the pension is a political constituency building program with other people’s money as public sector workers are going to vote for more taxes to focus benefit upon themselves (it's rational) and the sponsoring politico who focuses the benefit.
(3) now comes the insidious part. The politico purposely allows infrastructure to deteriorate at the expense of their other spending activities (pet projects) beyond the pension phenomena. Hence the pension phenomena claims more and more of the tax revenue stream and politicos then add their pet projects (political constituency building exercises) atop the pension phenomena that claims yet more of the revenue stream. The politico then frames the deteriorated infrastructure as “proof positive” tax rates are too low. Yes, too low. Taxes must be raised to repair/improve the infrastructure!
Potholes for Pensions is not only public choice theory, it is public choice reality: ask San Bernardino, California and Detroit, Michigan taxpayers.
Considering the proposition that politicos purposely allow infrastructure to deteriorate at the expense of their other spending activities to prove taxes are too low…what if you don’t pay more taxes? Potholes! The infrastructure deterioration becomes the "seen" and the "unseen" is the increasing-at-an-increasing-rate of claim against the revenue stream by the other less noticeable activities. Everyone sees the infrastructure in disrepair but few see the other activities causing the deterioration. The politico frames taxes are too low as one can surely see that the low taxes have caused the deteriorated infrastructure! When in fact the tax rate is likely too high given the unseen activities. Had the police, fire and infrastructure been funded first then the deterioration would not have occurred. Lo and behold the real case is that, police, fire and infrastructure become funded last at the expense of the unseen.
It becomes more insidious. No way! Way!
It’s a cycle! Taxes increase, and after some high visibility infrastructure “fixes”, the increased tax revenue is funneled off to pet politico projects...and we begin the cycle again."

Could it be my reader has a very clear picture of what is going on in Greensboro government despite my confusion? I can't say for certain as I remain paved and confused.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

This Just In: Matheny's Corruption State Wide

Now we learn that Greensboro's own city councilman Zack Matheny and the notorious John Lomax are wheeling and dealing in under the table deals in Charlotte:

"Zack Matheny's disclosure does not show him holding any equity in the project. Did he put any money into the deal to qualify for a 2% share?"

When East Greensboro Liberals start agreeing with Conservatives you know something is up.

Zack Matheny's business, White Oak Capital, is in the business of finding money for developers to build their projects but why would a long time established and highly successful developer like John Lomax need a middle man like Zack Matheny whose new company is hardly off the ground unless Councilman Methany has been using his position on the Greensboro City Council to steer business and incentives Lomax's way.

It is believed that Mr Matheny has previously engaged in selling incentive packages to Lomax and others.

Lomax was also involved in a scandal in which it is believed he used funds meant for the downtown Greensboro Greenway to finance a personal vacation for himself and others to Bermuda.

Is this a trend Matheny will continue in Congress?

Blogging Isn't Dead

Living in the city that at one time lead the nation in per capita bloggers, and perhaps still does, and being part of that movement from its beginning has always been important to me. I launched the first Greensboro bloggers Meetup group some years back even though I'm not much of a go to meetings type of person.

And while some will say Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media have replaced blogging that simply isn't true. For starters, none of those give you the tools to do in-depth coverage of a subject. Nor can you find posts in search engines like you can blogs-- something dirty politicians just love about Facebook and Twitter but hate about blogs.

While most people have switched to other forms of social media because of their ease of use, blogs remain the tool of preference for those wishing to do more in-depth work and wanting their work to be found by the largest possible audience. After all, there's nothing stopping you from using Twitter and Facebook to promote blog posts.

So for those of you who really have something worth saying and want it to remain where it can be found for the longest possible time, my friend, Marty Kotis recently interviewed myself and a group of Greensboro's most experienced blogging pioneers and put it all together in a piece entitled Blogging Advice from the Greensboro’s Blog Bosses.

Marty is indeed a very fast study.

5 Years Is Eternity To A Teenager

We recently read and heard of local media reports of the bust of a human trafficking and prostitution ring 5 years under investigation by local, state and Federal law enforcement officials.

Not long before, local blogger Ben Holder was criticized by law enforcement officials for bringing public attention to yet another human trafficking and prostitution ring that was operating in some of Greensboro's finest neighborhoods.

Even I've been criticized by local police for publicly suggesting GPD park an officer on the street in front of a known illegal liquor house to scare away customers.

It's not at all uncommon for media reports to tell us of drug busts that were years in the making with law enforcement officials hyping it up as if it were a good thing.

And Allen Johnson of the Greensboro News & Record asks, Can we please talk about black males? in which he asks for solutions to the behaviors that are ruining the lives of millions of young black males across the country.

I can tell you what won't work. Passing laws against problems won't work. Want to make something popular? Ban it.

Allen and I grew up just a few blocks from one another and went to the same high school. We're both the same age, graduated high school the same year. Allen is black and I am white. Allen got out of this hell hole called East Greensboro, I didn't. I've probably witnessed more young black men destroy their lives than Allen but I salute Allen for taking the time to try and find the answer as too many successful African Americans have simply walked away from their old neighborhoods and abandoned their own.

Believe me, white people do it too and with just as much frequency. My kind left me behind. But that's not the point.

The point I want to make is this: growing up on the streets and never seeing consequences for wrong doing leads teenagers and young adults to believe it is okay to continue that sort of behavior. And for a teenager, 5 years is eternity. If a kid gets away with something once that kid will do it again. And if that kid gets away with something for a week it becomes habit. And when kids see others getting away with crimes for weeks, months and even years with what seems to them to be no apparent consequences... Well generations have taught us the consequences of that.

Five years to close down a drug, prostitution or other criminal operation in our neighborhoods is simply unacceptable. While law enforcement officials seek the big bust to feather their caps our neighborhoods and our children, black, white, Hispanic, Asian and others, all suffer. And we're training entire generations of hardened criminals to keep law enforcement in business. If we want to save our youth then we must make them understand there are consequences to living outside the law and as long as law enforcement continues to allow crimes to be committed right in front of young eyes just so cops can polish their reputations these young eyes will only believe what they see.

After all, 5 years really is an eternity to a teenager.

Sing Along

To the Tax Song! Considering the fact that Mayor Nancy Barakat Vaughan is now talking of raising taxes to cover the cost of street repairs after having just obligated to City to pay for a bottomless pit called a performing arts center it seems quite timely.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Greensboro Food Trucks On The Grow

Despite city regulation designed to cripple Greensboro's food truck industry, it appears to be a growing industry filled mostly by established vendors from outside of Greensboro because new, locally owned start-ups couldn't get past the hurdles installed by the "business friendly" Greensboro City Council.

And because this website is constantly gaining new readers searching Google and other search engines for Greensboro Food Trucks, Food Trucks in Greensboro, Where to find food trucks in Greensboro and other search terms involving Greensboro's mobile food vending business I thought as a service to my readers I'd point you to Liv's post, Greensboro Food Trucks which includes a list of Greensboro's food trucks along with links to their individual websites along with some information the Greensboro City Council would have been smart to consider before pushing the locals out of the food truck business.

How Greensboro Could Lead The State... For Once

Are you, like me, sick and tired of hearing of all the ways Greensboro is falling behind the rest of North Carolina and the nation? Well here's a chance for the Greensboro City Council to take the lead and prove their transparency at the same time. That is: if they've got balls enough to become transparent.

Tommy Cafcas at writes of the State of Connecticut’s new open data website which leads the nation in adopting economic development transparency best practices. In his article he writes:

"Those looking for a model on how to disclose economic development deals should start their search in Connecticut. No joke: Connecticut is cutting edge when it comes to taxpayer transparency on economic development."

Then he goes on to explain how Connecticut’s new open data website provides clean data, relevant date, data tools, downloadable data, more data and potential taxpayer savings in the long run in the form of reduced requests for Freedom of Information Act data and an

"...enhanced ability for more citizens to know how their tax dollars are being spent will prevent waste, fraud, and abuse and enhance accountability."

I'm e-mailing this post to the entire Greensboro City Council via the Council e-mail form. I encourage you to take a look at the Connecticut Open Data Website and do the same.

That is: if you really give a damn about transparency in Greensboro government.

Hey, if Greensboro leaders were really smart they could set up the site in such a way as to allow any city or county in North Carolina to host their info there as well. That is: for a small fee, of course.

Think about it, folks, this could be the beginning of a new tech start-up right here in Greensboro that the entire State of North Carolina comes to rely upon. If only Greensboro's "leaders" and economic development "gurus" were smart enough to understand that with real transparency comes true prosperity.

How Greensboro Blew It's Downtown Rennovation And Why We're Doing It Over Again

Read the following article by Ben Lesher of the UNC School of Government then compare the last 10 years of downtown Greensboro development to what Greensboro's leaders are attempting to do today and you'll begin to understand how the status-quo development crowd really had no idea who they were trying to attract. And probably don't still.

"The Potential Impact of Baby Boomer Housing and Community Preferences on Downtown Revitalization

 Downtown redevelopment to attract talented Millennials has become an important and popular economic development policy in many cities across the country. By now it is almost common knowledge what it takes to attract talented Millennials to your town or city: walkable, diverse and vibrant neighborhoods in close proximity to a variety of amenities such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops, art venues, theatres, recreational areas and even sporting venues. This has contributed to a significant wave of downtown revitalization across the country, including in North Carolina in communities such as Asheville, Durham, and Saxapahaw. 

It is also no secret that America’s largest generation, Baby Boomers, are growing older and beginning to enter a new phase of life marked by significant changes such as reduced households sizes, retirement, and new housing arrangements.  Cities and towns are realizing that many older adults also prefer to live in the same types of vibrant and walkable downtowns as Millennials.  National survey research and anecdotal evidence largely support this trend¹.  Survey research also largely supports that Baby Boomers want to age in place², and downtowns provide this demographic an attractive alternative to conventional retirement communities.  As an increasing number of older adults are attracted to the downtowns of small cities and towns, they can play an important role in a town’s economic development strategy. 

Reasons for Moving Downtown
Beyond the obvious attractions of walkability, diversity, and amenities mentioned above, there are other unique reasons why Baby Boomers may be considering a move downtown:
  • Looking to Downsize – As older adults become empty nesters and their household size decreases, there are added benefits to downsizing: lower housing and maintenance costs; reduced time spent maintaining property and more free time for other activities; and potentially recouping some of the equity in their house for retirement expenses³.
  • Alternative to Conventional Retirement Community - Baby Boomers overwhelmingly show a preference to age in place.  By offering many of the same characteristics and amenities as a traditional retirement community such as walkability, recreational activities, and opportunities for socializing, plus many more that a retirement community cannot provide, downtowns are ideal places for older adults to age in place.
  • Desire to Connect to the Community – As Baby Boomers enter retirement, they will have much more free time, and will want to find other ways to connect and contribute to the community. Downtown areas can naturally provide public places for socializing and a feeling of community involvement4.
  • Downtown Nostalgia – Some Baby Boomers may have fond memories of living or visiting the downtown in their childhood.  Baby Boomers are also known for being an experimental generation, willing to try new experiences. Nostalgia and penchant for new experiences may entice this demographic downtown again5.
Impact on Downtown Revitalization
Baby Boomer interest in downtown living can represent a significant opportunity for revitalization.  Baby Boomers represent the largest cross section of the population according to age, and changing housing preferences for even small portion could have a significant impact a city or town.  In fact, not only will over half of the country be older than 50 in several years, Baby Boomers are relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the population and will have over 70% of the country’s disposable income6.  Because of their sheer number and relatively high incomes, it is no surprise that after studying communities with strong downtown renewals, Michael Burayidi, an urban planner from Ball State University, found that attracting Baby Boomers was one of the main ingredients for a successful downtown7. Older adults moving downtown can become a solid base for economic and community development.

One of the most significant impacts that Baby Boomers can have on downtown revitalization is real estate development. Older adults are an important target market for repurposing vacant and historic buildings into high-quality condos and apartments.  The Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014 from the Urban Land Institute projects that Baby Boomers will be one of the key drivers in real estate development as they move to places that support and active lifestyle for seniors. Also they relocated downtown, Baby Boomers may increase the demand for other renovated buildings and new business that provide “third places,” such as coffee shops, art galleries, shops where older adults can connect, socialize and experience the collective vibrancy of a community.  Beyond real estate and economic development benefits, Baby Boomers entering retirement can be an important anchor for the community as they are able to offer their time, resources and expertise for the betterment of the community through civic service, charitable contributions, and volunteerism.

Baby Boomers represent an important demographic, and can play an influential role in a downtown’s revitalization. As they age, there is evidence to support that an increasing number of Baby Boomers want what Millennials want, and many cities and town across the country have already embraced policies and programs to support increased walkability, diversity, entertainment districts, recreational activities, etc. However, there are also some ways in which Baby Boomers are unique, and may have additional needs or desires that cities and towns across North Carolina should capitalize on because this demographic can become an important anchor for real estate redevelopment and demand for new businesses downtown.
Ben Lesher is a first-year graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill pursuing a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning.


But here in Greensboro, while our "leaders" and economic development "gurus" continue their failed downtown experiments to appease powerful real estate developers, the rest of our city lacks the attention it needs, deserves and pays for.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where Are The E-mails Councilman Barber?

In the video below, Greensboro City Councilman, Mike Barber speaks of e-mails he received in opposition to Councilman Wilkins' proposal that all non profits release to the public the names and salaries of their top 2 highest paid employees. As I pointed out in Mike Barber Destroys Public Records, Councilman Barber has so far failed to respond to my request for those records and has admitted to destroying other public records I requested.

Video courtesy of Amanda Lehmert, Greensboro News & Record.

As always, there's more I've yet to tell. Stay tuned.

 Update: Thursday April 17, 2014 Got the following reply from the City of Greensboro as to the e-mails Mike Barber claims to have gotten in the video posted above. It would appear Mr Barber lied in front of the cameras while acting as a member of the Greensboro City Council:

"Dear Billy:
Thank you for your follow-up response.
The City has no records which respond to your request.
Please let me know if I can help you with anything else.
Sarah Healy"

In the video Mike Barber clearly says, "e-mails" plural. Attorneys are trained to use very specific language when arguing their points. Mr Barber is an attorney. There could be e-mails sent to Mr Barber's personal e-mail account that the City Staff cannot access. If those e-mails are concerning City business then they are still public record. That is the law. Either Mike Barber is lying or he is continuing to withhold public records-- you make the call.

As always, I can forward the e-mail to anyone who e-mails me at and asks that I do so.

Extraordinary Ways And Means Items

Will someone more learned than myself please provide me with the legal definition of "extraordinary ways and means items." Methinks the slick talking attorney, Greensboro City Councilman Mike Barber, has sold us yet another bill of goods that makes exceptions for Greensboro's elite and connected developers.

Update: I submitted a public information request to the City of Greensboro after doing extensive searches for a legal definition for the term "extraordinary ways and means items" and have yet to get a reply from the City Legal Department.

Methinks the term does not exist and the new City Council resolution is unenforceable-- perhaps even a law suit waiting to happen. Laws based on terms without legal definitions cannot stand in court.
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