The pipe dream of public pensions

The reality is starting to hit home with State pension fund managers: the fun times are over. Heavily invested in the stock market, most public pension funds looked good as long as times were good, when in fact, they were sitting on the same shaky foundations that were holding up the rest of the Wall Street Casino.

Now, with many funds losing 40% and 50% of their value, and having to fund a golden pension plan that has to deal with people living longer, and the same retirement age from- oh, 30 years ago, there are starting to be cuts. Karl Denninger of the Market Ticker makes some suggestions based on changes being implemented in Florida. Ohio leaders still have their fingers in their ears saying “nah, nah, nah” in total denial:

  • Increases employee contributions to the pension plan ?for all future hires and many current employees by 1%.
  • Actuarial disclosure (and public posting of same) must be regularly performed and corrective steps identified to halt and reverse any unfunded liabilities.
  • Pensions are now computed based on the average compensation during the employee’s term of employment, not the last five years, and explicitly exclude any and all overtime or other “cramming” attempts. Further, the pension paid is capped at that average compensation. All “hazard pay” riders (e.g. additive amounts for police, fire and similar employees) are ended. Lump sum payments, annual leave payments (for vacation not taken) and similar are excluded. In short, only your base salary counts, and the average across your entire term of service is used, ending the abuse of playing games in the last couple of years to “goose” pension returns.
  • Retirement ages go up materially. The minimum retirement age is now typically 60, and with the exception of “special risk classes” (e.g. cops) you now need 33 years of creditable service. Pension payouts now cannot start before age 62 if retiring before July 1, 2011, and 65 thereafter. For “special risk” classes the prior 55 year age lifts to 60 as of July 1, 2011.
  • Municipalities can close their defined benefit plan, choosing instead to offer defined contribution plans (e.g. 401k equivalents.) An existing employee can transfer out of the pension system to that 401k-style system, but if they do they cannot transfer back to the pension system.
  • Finally, there is no grandfathering – this applies to all current and future employees, without exception.
  • via And Here It Comes: State Pension Systems – The Market Ticker.

If we also stopped the practice of double-dipping (working another government job while getting a government pension) we may automatically either get more use out of people-  as competent people stay on- and incompetent ones get cut loose after years of sucking at the public teat. Please also note how a some x-politicians end up with amazing pay state jobs after they lose an election for at least three years so they can get a bigger pension for life- this practice has to stop.

If the pension were really a pension- it would only be for when you stopped working, and allow those of us who are still working and paying for it, a chance to build our own pension plans- which are nowhere as rich as those provided to public servants. But, that’s a total pipe dream. Thankfully, our health care system is still not optimal and we can count on lower life expectancies since we still think it’s important to put 25% of our health care money into hands of paper pushers instead of into actual medical care. Just think if we cut that unnecessary expense and actually spent it on health care- how much longer the pensioners would collect.

Here’s the Dayton Grassroots Daily Show on the subject:

How to end the Dominic’s vs. Duke’s lawsuit

Enough of our tax dollars have been wasted on this court battle.

Anne Mantia says Duke’s was trampling on her “Dominic’s” trademark. Apparently, she’s the only one who can make Italian food in Dayton. Granted, Reese Powers was an idiot about how he started the whole thing, using her trade name.

Now Judge Rose has ordered Duke’s to close:

Duke’s Restaurant said Tuesday, March 30, that U.S. District Court Judge Thomas M. Rose’s decision Monday to close down the restaurant as part of a civil lawsuit will harm workers and leave a void in a struggling city.

via Duke’s court-ordered closing will hit employees, community | Taste: Dayton food and restaurants.

But, the thing is- Anne Mantia doesn’t have a restaurant anymore. Hasn’t had one for years. She’s putting people out of work holding onto her dream from the grave.

So, if it’s worth so much, she should have no problem protecting her “trademark” by being forced to OPEN a restaurant called Dominic’s- and hire all the people she just forced out of work.

That’s how you protect a trademark. It’s also how you end the argument in the courts.

Sprawl. It’s a gas.

If you have a 900-square-foot house, it’s less costly to heat, cool, maintain and easier to clean, secure and furnish than a 4000-sq.-ft. McMansion- especially if you are only one person. It also takes a lot less time from end to end, or top to bottom.

Same goes for a city. If you are on an island, like Manhattan- you build up more than out. You put a subway underneath- you save space by not expecting everyone to drive to work. Think about how many parking spaces a 100-story parking building would take- if everyone came in by car, alone? Now do you see the stupidity of requiring x number of parking spaces per square foot of finished space? If the Kettering Tower needed a surface parking lot using the equation of 1 spot for every 300 sq ft (a big cubicle) you’d cover all of downtown Dayton.

The same goes for our city- which is “our house.” The bigger it gets- the more it costs us- especially if it’s split up among fewer and fewer people. Every road, every foot of utilities, every school, police station, library, etc. costs all of us. The more we add, the more it costs. And we’re not even looking at the energy side of things- we’re just talking about providing the infrastructure.

Moving from here to there costs us in gas, lots of which comes from people we don’t particularly like. The more we have to drive- the more gas we consume, the whole thing gets ugly- and inefficient.

So even though they’ve never met a new interchange they didn’t like, the Dayton Daily News Editorial board just started to realize that our car-culture is very expensive:

So the car-centered lifestyle still looks relatively attractive, notwithstanding all the warnings we as a country have received about the unreliability of oil supplies and the unreliability of oil prices.

As a community — a region — that continues to play the car card, we should be among the leaders in pushing for ways to make it a better card: for cars that are more energy-efficient, for cars that run on alternative fuels, and for new supplemental forms of transportation — like trains and better transit systems.

It’s just a matter of hedging a big bet.

via Editorial: Growth along I-75 requires new focus on energy | A Matter of Opinion.

Of course they put their new print technology center in a cornfield in Warren County long ago.

However their thinking is so pedestrian (pun intended) that the best they can come up with is higher efficiency cars, new fuels or better public transit. Not exactly the answers we need. Not even interesting enough to start a good debate.

In order for the Dayton region to catch up with progressive places that passed anti-sprawl legislation long ago, or embraced public transit, or “complete streets” for bike commuting- we need to come up with much more powerful ideas:

Repopulate the core: Dayton has an abundance of cheap housing. It’s also a big HUBzone. The open H1B visas for investing and importing foreigners into these areas would be a bold way to strengthen both the core and the nation- letting industry pay the tab. I talked about it here first: crazy economic development idea.

Instead of building offices and plants far away from workforces- or forcing commutes, which cost social capital in terms of unproductive time, and add wear and tear on roads and burn up fuel- why not reward companies and employees with a walk to work tax credit? The less we drive the healthier and wealthier we will be.

Public transit is fine, but must it be limited to “light rail” or trains or even traditional transit systems? Is bike share a way to move people around in dense areas that saves us wear and tear on roads? Cuts gas consumption? For several million dollars we can have something that puts Dayton on the map- and cuts down the costs of moving around short distances.

Or maybe a folding electric bike- from YikeBike. It’s an amazing compact folding electric bicycle. Watch the video:

Is this an alternative?

Or a low-cost monorail system like the Urbanaut? Older versions like the ones at Disneyland capture the imagination of the city of the future- yet we just spent $77 million on just another highway interchange.

When cities first sprouted up they were typically near rivers, natural ports, easily defensible positions or beautiful vistas. All are natural features that can’t be replicated. Now, we’re locked into the idea of putting things next to off-ramps because, well, we take the car for granted. Once you start building things for people again, instead of cars, we’ll look back at these excesses and wonder why.

Today’s Dayton Grassroots Daily Show talks about the relationship between the cost of energy and the cost of sprawl. Watch it and put on your thinking cap- is there a better way to meet the challenges of having less people live in a bigger area who are totally dependent on cheap energy?

Dedicated to the teachers I know and have known.

Seth Godin had this on his blog.

I’d never heard of Taylor Mali- or his poem “What teachers make”

Could you ever see a politician making the same kind of argument for what they do?

For me, I need to thank  Susan Forde, Herb Curtis, Larry Geiger, Steven Young, Betty Levy, Mike Cleary, Art Blazer, Jim Jacobs and most importantly Lynn Canfield and David DiCarlo.

What about you?

The frustration of a Dayton small business owner

Jason Liff is someone I’ve known for a long time. He’s been in real estate as long as I’ve known him, and has done some decent sized deals. He was the one who introduced me to the owner of the Salem Mall- which I tried to save. He also was one of the investors on the Sears deal downtown that netted the investors quite a bit (one of the investors was County Administrator Deborah Feldman’s father-in-law who is her husband’s partner).

UPDATE

Jason also put together the Walgreens deal at Wayne and Wyoming- the one that went in ahead of Rite Aid- even though it got the later start (thanks to historic overlay- the forced move of a worthless house and other delays).

I suggested that Jason open a scooter store over 4 years ago. Last year he did. My firm did his identity and some initial ads. He posted this on the free bus ride editorial on the DDN site- I’m not changing spelling or punctuation.

I voted with my money and opened a scooter store on Wayne Avenue. It took over a year to get through the zoning and permitting process . From experience I can report that, but for a few people, the entire system is riddled with a mentality of no , no, no . -“You cannot do this or that & One cannot change the use of a derelict building on Brown Street . No you cannot put your scooter store in The Oregon “, even though a 5000 sf space exists that no one wants to buy or rent. Why do people avoid Dayton ? Demographics of course. In the main there is a systemic business unfriendly all pervasive atmosphere coupled with a perception of potential violence . We need to encourage small business by discouraging and truncating governments strangle hold on new business ! The city government has rooms full of employees who read chapter and verse from the , THE BOOK OF NO . As an early visitor to the NYC SOHO & Tribeca districts in 1970 ,I can tell you these now model districts did not get started by a pervasive and draconian implementing of every minute policy practice and procedure . Like all such areas in the world they start by a few young , artistic, counterculture oriented people looking for cheaper spaces to work and play with some character. Why don’t we finish up tenanting the Oregon district and loosening the regs that stand in the way ? A few community activist in Oregon that were urban pioneers now block changes to completing 5th Street . How about enforcing the speed limit on Wayne avenue ? How about enforcing anti-littering laws . My sidewalk and lot are littered by 100’s of cigarette butts and candy pop cans . How about an ombudsman process that guarantees answers to all zoning and permitting issues in seven days ? National retail tenants are not coming back so go after the small entrepreneurs, the new Americans that are not afraid of hard work and tough clientele and the arts and crafts communities . The RTA has wasted a lot of money on their edifice complex, even so we do not need free busing of more thugs and scary types. What Dayton does have is cheap rent , cheap buildings ,a vibrant artistic community and historic housing stock that people would cry for in most cities. Artists , and musicians especially can find cheap rent at Front Street —We need more ! Finish something already- Try to fill every building on Wayne and Fifth and Brown and Warren. Oh yes bicycle lanes would be great for scooters mopeds and bicycles and any separation from SUV speeders that crowd others while talking on their phones. Untangle the choke holds of the 3 or 4 structures that throttle all but what they want ! Government is the problem—the entrenched versus the new —Until resolved the buildings will stay boarded up and the retail community will stay away . Call me ! Jason Liff Moto Scooto 1400 Wayne

via Editorial: Free bus rides not the city’s best strategy | A Matter of Opinion.

Jason looked hard and long for a location in the city. Almost everything he found – there was a reason he couldn’t go in. The building he’s in on Wayne Avenue- was on “death row.” There were options from the city to buy it that ended in December- so they could tear it down for a Kroger that wasn’t coming. He had to invest in the building, since the owner wouldn’t- to repair the roof which was leaking. Even his paint job- which some may love and some may hate- is technically in violation of the zoning code. The colors aren’t “historic.” Since the building was condemned the city seemed to look the other way.

The location he really wanted- on 5th Street in the Oregon district- a former pawn shop, between a porn shop and Goodwill- is still sitting empty. It was bigger, had the walking traffic he was interested in reaching- and even has a garage door in back. No deal. Wrong use, too intensive, not enough parking- etc. etc. So it still sits empty.

This isn’t the only business person I’ve heard horror stories from, and it’s not hard to hear them. Another businessman who has successfully rehabbed many downtown buildings over the last 20 years and knows his way around city hall at first ran into a roadblock trying to get a demolition permit on a nasty concrete block garage next to his new project. Apparently it had a $7,000 water bill still attached to it. How anyone can buy a building and NOT find out about a water bill for more than the property sold for is another big FAIL at business friendly.

We also have a bed and breakfast fighting for a permit to sell wine in the Oregon District. It took the 5th Street Wine and Deli almost a year to get their permit. This isn’t new, Pacchia and What You Eat both had to fight to get their permits, too. Some “entertainment” district.

I still believe in Dayton– even though I just had my office broken into. But, I remember back to the hassles I went through over 20 years ago to reclaim a derelict building, including a nine-month delay in an occupancy permit and the realization that my zoning is still considered a “conditional use” even though the building was built as a commercial retail structure. To add insult to injury, the building inspector required that my front door (which has a huge window in it) had to have a single key deadbolt with a thumb key- which gave the thieves the ability to break in and get out easier.

Yep, the city of Dayton needs a new attitude, and quick. Mr. Liff spells it out pretty clearly. The question is can an old dog learn new tricks? Mayor Leitzell is only one vote.

Revisionist newspaper websites

The Dayton Daily News has been inconsistent about allowing comments on articles. There doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason to which articles allow comments, which ones don’t- and on more than a few occasions- they’ve blown the comments away and closed them.

Today Greene Party Tea Party candidate Virgil Vaduva pointed out that they’d taken down a post about his lawsuit against Greene County for hiring Avakian Consulting with tax dollars to prep a levy, or pass it, or do “marketing.” The post may return 404 errors- but, the wonders of the internet do provide access to it still via cache.

The last comment on it in my cached version was my own:

If you are interested in reading more about Burges & Burges who have the Dayton Public Schools no-bid contract: http://esrati.com/?s=burges
And more about the Greene County lawsuit specifically: http://esrati.com/now-political-con…
It would be interesting to see what “deliverables” were actually delivered to Dayton Public Schools over the last 15 months- and to note that the contract was just as long as the superintendent’s stay (Burges recom. Stanic)
David Esrati
2010-03-25 06:58:44.091
And- the “nice people” at Avakian consulting posted the entire article here on their blog for posterity: http://outreachexperts.blogspot.com/2010_03_01_archive.html
and I’m pretty sure Ray Marcano, the DDN online editor, won’t be calling them up demanding they take it down as he did me when I posted an entire endorsement article about me- because they didn’t.
The comment before mine leads to another blog- with an expose of Avakian and what his firm really is: a political lobbying firm:
Here is more about Avakian’s past and techniques on how municipalities can skirt election law: http://stopxeniatax.blogspot.com/20…
Charles
2010-03-25 10:27:47.638
If they are taking articles down- what else are they hiding at the Dayton Daily News? They’ve now run two editorials in support of embattled Montgomery County Administrator Deborah Feldman, (today’s and a few weeks ago predicting Feldman will weather SCLC storm) who should be packing up her office along with several of her underlings for their failure to monitor Federal money.
By taking articles down, by making searches incredibly difficult for the average person, the Dayton Daily News actually helps obfuscate the sad state of affairs in the Dayton Region.
A quality newspaper with high editorial standards wouldn’t remove content like this.

Dayton Public Schools has changed

As he’s getting ready to slip out of town, Dr. Kurt Stanic is owed some accolades. If you’ve met him- you’d probably realize he’s the epitome of public servant: he does his job with passion, and doesn’t like to take the credit. While he’ll probably be remembered by most for wanting to tear down Julienne, his real legacy is the progress made at the high school level.

All of the Dayton Public School high schools are now engaging students and running tight ships. No more wild kids running the buildings- no more questions of who is in charge. Learning is taking place and the scores are bumping up.

It all starts with the principal- and Erin Dooley at Stivers was the first to set things straight. It was also going on at DECA- with Tim Nealon, but as a funky joint venture- they were sort of off the radar. Next came Dooley protegee David Lawrence at Thurgood Marshall- and Marlayna Randolph at Dunbar. I predicted Lawrence’s transformational skills on this site- only to be laughed at. With Gates scholars, higher test scores, better attendance and even championship basketball teams, Thurgood Marshall is becoming a school of choice- not last resort.

Today the DDN reports on Dunbar:

The state report card released last August showed the Wolverines moving up to continuous improvement, the equivalent of a C. That’s after a decade of mostly Fs. The 600-pupil school also improved in every subject area on the Ohio Graduation Test from the previous year.

So what’s different at Dunbar these days?

“We’re really trying to focus on student engagement, doing a lot of activities centered around making (lessons) relevant to real-life situations for them,” said Principal Marlayna Randolph, who’s in her second year in the job.

via Dunbar’s classroom standing on the rise.

The progress is happening with the same student population, the same teachers for the most part, and some would say the new buildings are helping too. While new paint and walls do send a message, I’m betting that new buildings are only a small part of the answer (although the security systems and monitoring are much better than in old buildings).

The real change has been leadership- from Stanic on down. Even the school board has a new found belief in goal setting and management by objective. While the board still can’t figure out the advantages of open government and properly holding meetings and doing bids properly, they do understand that you have to let the Superintendent exercise his power.

The last remaining problem is image. Busing was finally totally over last week- after 40 years of failure. The damage was done- and its effects will probably stay with us the same as a limb amputation (it caused economic segregation to replace racial segregation within the district). The only thing that can undo it is for all the schools to have Stivers like performance, and to restore the perception of safety in Dayton proper.

A tall order.

Dr. Stanic has named Lori Ward as his replacement. The true mark of any leader in my book is how well they’ve prepared their successors. If Ward accomplishes half of what Stanic did in his short reign, Dayton Public Schools will be taken seriously as a system of choice.

Newspaper comment forums: Public or private?

People have made death threats against me on the DDN site. They removed the comment after I flagged it (actually, they closed comments altogether if I remember correctly).

Although there has been community support for better moderation- including a facebook group and a discussion on Dayton Most Metro- nothing has happened. And although I allow a lot of you to post under the cover of a screen name, I only allow one- and try to keep it honest. I also prohibit nasty name calling- unless it’s at me (at least here- I can respond- on other site, I may or may not be able to).

The Dayton Daily News has been asked to put in some kind of community moderation tools- but has ignored all input from the community.

There is a mess up in Cleveland- with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and its Cleveland.com site at the center. Apparently when you make comments about the mental competence of a Plain Dealer employee- that reveal private information about the mental health of an employee’s relative – you’re fair game for being exposed investigated and then exposed-  but, not if you libel public officials incessantly.

This may end up in the courts- and rise as high as the Supreme Court. It will take years to get something definitive on the books, but when it happens it will have far reaching implication for the Web 2.0 world.

I highly recommend reading the whole story- but here’s the brief cut:

By unmasking an anonymous poster at its companion Web site, The Plain Dealer finds itself in an ethical quandary, stirring a debate that balances the public’s need to know against the privacy concerns of online participants….

Until this week, “lawmiss” was known only as one of thousands who, often known only by nicknames, share views on news blogs and stories reported at cleveland.com.

But after investigating a comment directed at the relative of a Plain Dealer reporter, editors learned that lawmiss had the same e-mail address as Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold. A closer look revealed that the user had offered opinions on three of Saffold’s cases, including the capital murder trial of accused serial killer Anthony Sowell.

via Plain Dealer sparks ethical debate by unmasking anonymous Cleveland.com poster | cleveland.com.

It’s my position that we’d be better off if people signed their names- or at least used a verified account and were held responsible for what trash they post. I don’t put near as much stock in comments that are unsigned. If you have something to say- especially if it’s calling someone or some organization out- I believe a spine is prerequisite.

Could the DDN do a lot better with its comments. Absolutely. Could it actually increase traffic to its site by doing it correctly- absolutely. It’s actually in its best interest. However, it seems to like maintaining a grocery store checkout gossip rag online instead of a newspaper.

Keep your eyes on this Cleveland.com story- it’s only bound to get better.

Cleveland launches Gigabit internet experiment

Case Western Reserve University is stepping to the head of the line in research on the effect super-speed internet will have on communities. This project has been in the works long before Google dangled “Google fiber” out there and Dayton responded with the www.averageandawesome.com website (where if you haven’t registered- please do).

From the Cleveland.com site:

Case has been working on its project for years, Gonick said. Plans were finalized early this year, when Case applied for $26 million in stimulus grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce. The request for federal funds was turned down, but Gonick said the university decided to go ahead with corporate and foundation funding as well as in-kind support from technology companies, such as Cisco Systems and Corning Cable Systems.

The fiber-optic network connections will be offered through OneCommunity, the Cleveland-based non-profit broadband provider that already provides gigabit speed connections to hundreds of government offices, non-profit organizations, and hospitals across the region.

In the federal proposal, Case said it wanted to bring fiber connections to 25,000 people. But without federal support, the project will take things one neighborhood block at a time and secure funding as it goes along, Gonick said. The initiative still aims to reach several thousand in coming months and years, he said.

via Case Western Reserve University kicks off project to bring ultra high-speed Internet access to thousands of nearby homes | cleveland.com.

If local government is really interested in “economic development” and doing it fairly, projects like this that would make a lot more sense than pouring money into the pockets of one company- picking and choosing favorites and giving an unfair advantage to one company over another (like handing over $125K to BGH studios– or a no-bid contract to Real Art for Get Midwest or the Average and Awesome site).

If you need to see how a community that builds infrastructure to attract entrepreneurs you need to look at the tiny city of Bandon Oregon, which has put fiber into every home and business back in 2006.

Instead, we’re building tax subsidized office space (bricks and mortar) in a virtual world, while we’re incredibly overbuilt already (Tech Town). We’re providing subsidies for huge companies like Teradata and Cintas, that pay their executives millions, and limping along with slow internet for the rest of us.

Dayton has a fiber network in place running our traffic signals- it’s time to tap into what we have, to get what we need- for everyone.

Time to tax hospitals?

With the new passage of our national health insurance reform, everyone will be covered by 2014. At least that’s what we’re being told. This takes away the excuse hospitals have used to avoid paying property taxes like every other business-which has been that they have been providing services to the indigent.

It was a line of bull to begin with- because those costs were just passed along to those who paid insurance, or by charging much higher rates to those without insurance. If you need to read about how this happened- read this post: “How much do 3 stitches cost?”

Besides, when hospitals and insurance companies can afford to pay their executives millions of dollars per year, someone is profiting greatly. Not exactly the same as a non-profit that struggles to finance operations that are dedicated to helping the less fortunate. Trust me- these CEOs aren’t struggling at all.

The reality is- we’ve been subsidizing this industry for too long- and now, are putting laws into place to actually get something back from our investments. Now that the playing field is getting leveled- and everyone will be getting services for the same price, it’s time for hospitals to contribute to the communities that support them just like everyone else. They depend on good roads, fire departments, police, good leadership, an educated workforce, so why not pay for it? Besides, looking over campaign finance reports for the last 20 years- you can see the leadership of hospitals have no problems giving large sums to political candidates.

With schools suffering every time a piece of property is acquired by a hospital, their rampant expansion has hurt schools throughout the State. It’s time to realign our taxation strategy.