Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hammer; Greensboro City Council / City Manager Jim Westmorland Rip Off

" $11,424 expenditure by City Manager Jim Westmoreland has raised the ire of at least four councilmembers.

...On Saturday, Nov. 22, Wilkins sent an email to Westmoreland requesting more information about the $11,424 payment made to Rob Bencini for “Preplanning Services for the creation of an economic development strategic plan.”

Wilkins states in his email: “One would think, as a current member of the ED [Economic Development] Committee that I wouldn’t have to ask this question.”

By Sunday, Nov. 23, Councilmembers Jamal Fox, Marikay Abuzuaiter and Sharon Hightower had all joined the email thread with questions about the expenditure...

The answer that Westmoreland provided was that he had contracted with Bencini to run a workshop for the City Council that was to be held over five work sessions for two-and-a-half hours each.  So the plan was for Bencini and several other consultants to spend 12.5 hours talking to the City Council about economic development and developing a strategic plan.

Westmoreland ...wanted [City Council] to sit down for 12.5 hours and listen to presentations on economic development... 

When the City Council found out... they immediately said no.

According to Westmoreland, when he got the no from the City Council, he contacted Bencini and said the sessions were off and Bencini sent a bill charging $112 an hour for the 100 or so hours he had already spent preparing for the sessions.

...Wilkins in an email on Sunday, Nov. 23 wrote, “If the information I have is correct (that Mr. Bencini had been terminated from two previous jobs) how were you drawn to contract with this individual for $112 per hour?

How did you choose Rob Bencini?”

The letter “requested” compensation.

...Westmoreland replied, “Mr. Bencini was qualified to perform the work requested and his fully loaded hourly rate appeared reasonable based on his qualifications.”

Westmoreland goes on to say that he hired Bencini because, “I knew him from my first term with the City: knew he had local knowledge of the ED landscape …”

...Fox cut to the chase with his request to Westmoreland: “Please provide the contract, copies of the check cut for all those paid and the work product produced by the team.”

Westmoreland complied and the work product provided by Bencini in order to get paid was emailed to all members of the City Council..."
Rob Bencini's past actions in writing don't quite comport to John Hammer's narrative, as this looks like quite a screw up on the part of Greensboro City Manager Jim Westmorland;
Was the $1.975 million downtown Greensboro Wyndham incentive illegal?
"I cannot believe that the Guilford County Board of Commissioners is considering offering the same tax rebate to developers of multi-family housing in Guilford County. Put on the table for consideration by multi-family housing developer/Commissioner Mike Winstead, this self-serving motion does little to serve the best interests of Guilford County. Houses aren’t selling, largely impacted by too much supply; apartment rentals are barely holding their own…and somehow with all that, it makes good sense in the minds of some to further glut the market by offering tax rebates to mulit-family developers to build more housing – driving up vacancy rates and therefore hurting the profitability and operability of existing properties.

…If the marketplace needs more multi-family housing, then builders will build it and the market will support it – without tax rebates."

Rob Bencini
September 17, 2009
"Incentives plan is folly -- and illegal

Over the last six weeks, we have read about Guilford County commissioners Vice Chairman Steve Arnold’s new incentive policy, which purportedly will offer assistance to small businesses by rebating their taxes on new and expanded facilities.

Arnold’s proposal…violates the basic tenet of taxation in North Carolina: Except under very precise limitations (like returning tax overpayments), rebating taxes in North Carolina is illegal.  Specifically, N.C. General Statute 105380 calls for “No taxes to be released, refunded, or compromised.”

…Jonathan Morgan of the UNC School of Government and former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr concur that the proposal raises serious legal questions.

Novel policy? Trying something that hasn’t been tried before?

Sure, no one has tried this methodology — because it’s simply illegal. One or 11 Guilford County commissioners supporting the proposed policy just doesn’t matter and makes it no more legal. Yet, Arnold persists in this quixotic quest to arbitrarily reduce taxes for developers.

Developers, you might ask? Yes, precisely.

…the development community did not put this proposal forward; it is a creature of the creative mind of Steve Arnold. Arnold has been a developer for years, so he knows exactly who will benefit from his proposal.

…this policy would allow huge tax breaks to developers — including those from outside the region and out-of-state developers and builders — for the next Walmart, or CVS drugstore, or the next strip center hosting a tanning salon, nail painting and another Subway restaurant.

The sad truth is that this will almost certainly not help the small business itself. It will provide assistance to the owner/developer/builder (i.e., “taxpayer”) of the property, not the operator, except in that rare circumstance they are one in the same.

…These are the people who would get the bulk of the money from the policy: landowner, developer and builder — not the mom-and-pop storefront printer, florist or day care operator whom the proposal purports to assist.  First illegal, now poorly developed and misguided.

Arnold knows that rebating taxes is illegal. Guilford County staff told him that repeatedly.

...This proposed policy needs to be quickly and thoroughly dismissed.

Rob Bencini
Former county economic developer
Consultant in economic development policy
Greensboro News and Record, September 3, 2009
“What you’ve seen happen is a migration from pretty reasonable economic development practices to one that is led by sheer desperation. Every time someone suggests they want to do something, especially downtown, the check book opens up because they want to see something happen. This wasn’t the case seven, eight years ago.”

Rob Bencini