Author Archives Brian Becker

Bittersweet Day In SEMO.net-Land

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 22, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Open Access, Political/Government, Sticky  /   1 Comments

PBII’s Appeal Case Is Affirmed (the bitter)
Pearson Is Appointed Mayor (the sweet)

First the SWEET…

Last night three new councilmen (Jack Rushin, David Johnson and Peter Tinsley) were sworn in. The first order of business was to elect a Mayor. Angela Pearson was elected as the new Mayor of Poplar Bluff and Jack Rushin elected as the new Mayor Pro Tem.

The Mayor is the spokesperson and figurehead for our community.  Many people hear the word “mayor” and assume it is a position of power. In Poplar Bluff’s form of government, a third-class optional City Manager form found in Mo Rev Statues 78.700, most of the power typically associated with Mayor is wielded by the City Manager.

In our form of government, the Mayor holds no veto power as in other types of third-class cities. A simple majority of four votes is all that is necessary to pass or change an ordinance.

That’s not to say the position isn’t important. One role the Mayor has is to set the agenda of the council meetings. As one who has been denied five times to have something placed on the agenda, I can attest to the fact that the Mayor wields power.

There is a very big difference between speaking at the “Citizen Input” portion of the meeting and being a part of the “Workshop Items” on the agenda.  For one, a workshop item has to be voted on whether it is to table, deny or pass on to a voting session.

Any citizen whose issue is not resolved by the City Manager can contact the Mayor. Knowing Angela Pearson and her love for our community and citizens, I have every confidence that, as Mayor, she will listen to each issue with a fresh perspective.

It is a new day in Poplar Bluff.

And Now the Bitter…

Late yesterday, the Southern District Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Ligons’ decisions in the Poplar Bluff Internet v City of Poplar Bluff case. That’s a huge blow to us here at SEMO.net because it drains away most of the hope of a favorable resolution. The court’s decision is 27 pages long and goes to great lengths to avoid discussing the real issues in our case. A lawyer friend of mine who has helped me remain sane during the past years read the court’s opinion this morning and stated, “It’s really upsetting to see them dodge the issues.”

You can read the opinion online.

And All This Means…

The timing of all this is certainly movie-esque:

Two divergent paths, one legal and one political, were brought to an end on the same day.

On the same day that the face of Poplar Bluff politics changed and Angela Pearson was named mayor…my legal battle has been brought to a screeching halt.

What does that mean? Well, it’s too soon to know that answer, but I can assure you that we will come up with a plan which will sustain the future of SEMO.net.

One thing is for sure, I will always remember yesterday as an amazing, bittersweet day.

 

Questions Linger Regarding City Cable Employees And Bond Trading

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 10, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Medical, Political/Government, Sticky  /   3 Comments

I’ve tried to investigate two stories surrounding the City Cable sale, but am getting no where so I’m left to either not report it or let you know what I’ve come across and see if you can help me corroborate the stories. Of course my critics are going to claim I’m rumor-mongering, and to a degree I understand and accept that critique.

Insurance Questions Regarding City Cable

One of the city employees who was potentially being fired as a result of the sale of City Cable has a child with serious health issues. I asked the labor rep of the union to provide me any details and he couldn’t give me specifics but did say that a trip to a New York

MHJInsuranceLimitations

hospital was required early in March and the cost was well over $50,000. The reason this is important is that there are seven people whose illness is costing so much to the city’s self insurance plan that they are listed under “special limitations” section of their reinsurance rider.  The city buys reinsurance to protect them from catastrophic issues, but that reinsurance company has insulated themselves from the health costs of these seven individuals.

Late last year I requested a copy of the reinsurance document and on page 7 the “SPECIAL LIMITATIONS” were listed for seven individuals (names and illnesses were blacked out because of HIPAA privacy laws). I truly believe, and have received one confirmation, that this young child is one of the seven blacked out names on this list.

My fear is that the City Cable employees were treated so poorly because removing this one family from the insurance roll will save the City an immense amount of money and the only way they could remove the one is by removing all of them.

As I understand the issue after speaking with some insurance industry analysts, if the decision to sell was ever discussed in light of reducing their insurance costs then our city officials will have broken the law. Everyone who is involved in our city’s self-insurance plan knows the names of those seven on the list and I find it HIGHLY unlikely that our City Manager was not aware of this from early on in the sale. Whether actions crossed over into illegal activity cannot be determined without an investigation, but at least we can hopefully agree that this appears to be a serious ethical breech.

I hope our new council will look into this matter and do what they can to employ these City Cable employees. With a payroll like our city has, I would think it possible to move these employees into another department.

I’m sure that many in the private sector will say “my job isn’t secured why should theirs be.” And I agree with that in principal, but if these former City Cable employees were not reassigned to other duties because of this young child’s medical costs then I believe we have an obligation as a caring and loving community to correct that.

Recent Cable Bond Trading

The other question difficult to ferret out is regarding potential insider trading of bonds. I was called the other day about a few people who knew about the City Cable sale before the rest of us and purchased some of the Series 2009 bonds knowing they would have to be retired once City Cable sold. I was told that they were buying the bonds at a price of 94 cents on the dollar but I only found two trades online this year and both were for over the value:

DATE                PRICE   YIELD  AMOUNT
04:00 PM 03/14/2014 109.981 1.67   15,000 Customer bought 
11:59 AM 02/24/2014 110.884 1.5    30,000 Customer bought
Source: http://emma.msrb.org

My bond knowledge is minimal so if you have more info or details on this issue then please let me know. But, for now and from what I’ve gleaned, I don’t believe there’s any insider trading going on.

Rushin, Johnson and Tinsley Win Council Seats

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 08, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Political/Government, Sticky  /   12 Comments

I’m excited to announce that Poplar Bluff has opted to make a sweeping change to our city council today by electing at-large members Dr. Jack Rushin and David Johnson and Ward 5 member Peter Tinsley.

All of them discussed wonderful ideas for helping keep the momentum of Poplar Bluff going and I look forward to what they will accomplish in the three year term.

For everyone who got out and voted…bless you!

Brian Becker

Info Regarding City Council Election

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 06, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Open Access, Political/Government, Sticky  /   No Comments

People have expressed confusion over how the City Council voting, so I wanted to help clear things up. If you live inside the city limits of Poplar Bluff you will be able to vote for two at-large city council members. Your ballot will look like:

You are allowed to vote for two at large city council members. To vote for both Rushin and Johnson, you would  complete the arrow for both of their names.

You are allowed to vote for two at large city council members. To vote for both Rushin and Johnson, you would complete the arrow for both of their names.

If you vote at the Armory, you live in Ward 5. Your ballot will have an extra section on it to select Ward 5′s representing Council member for the next three years. That ballot will look like the following:

You are ONLY allowed to vote for ONE candidate from Ward 5. To vote for Tinsley, complete the arrow beside his name.

You are ONLY allowed to vote for ONE candidate from Ward 5. To vote for Tinsley, complete the arrow beside his name.

Mailed to most every home inside Poplar Bluff.

Many Poplar Bluffians received a mailer in the last few days reminding them to get out and vote for the candidates who best represent the people of Poplar Bluff.

The city of Poplar Bluff is at a crossroads. Do you like the status quo and want Poplar Bluff to continue down the path laid out by the “Good Old Boys”? Or, are you ready for our city to be run by people who support open and transparent government, want to listen to the people before making major decisions and strive to operate the city to be the best “for the many” rather than providing opportunities “for the few”?

Get out and vote on April 8th, Poplar Bluff. Your community hangs in the balance.

Please vote on April 8!

Please vote on April 8!

 

Update—Series Finale: Local Producer’s Reality TV Series Released Online

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 03, 2014  /   Posted in Entertainment, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Nature/Wildlife, Sticky  /   1 Comments

It is with great joy I tell you that Dianne Becker, nationally and internationally acclaimed videographer and documentarian, has had her 2005 TV series, Journey To The Amazon, released to the web.

Fifty years ago, five men were killed by a remote tribe in Ecuador, now 33 of their family members travel back to the area to visit the tribe who murdered their patriarchs. This story gripped America in 1956 with a centerfold photo in LIFE magazine of the shattered families who coped with their loss by carrying on their evangelical outreach to the barbarian tribe.

Life magazine centerfold photo of the wives of slain ecuadorian missionaries in 1956.

Life magazine centerfold photo of the wives of slain Ecuadorian missionaries in 1956.

For the decades that follow, Elizabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint became synonymous with the verse “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” They went back into the jungle with their fatherless families and shared the love of Jesus with this killing tribe, the same ones who stole their loved ones lives. The power of their love and the message of the saving grace of Jesus transformed the tribe as those five martyred men became a bridge of grace.

In 2005, the engaging and challenging saga was depicted in the theaters entitled End of the Spear. Shortly after the release of the film, Dianne Becker (native of Williamsville and, I’m proud to say, my sister) produced a reality series where the families of these patriarchs go back to Ecuador and interact with the tribe and the jungle where their forefathers were killed and their foremothers did not accept that as the end of the story.

The series, which originally aired on Angel network, is now being released on the web with a new episode going online each week. I think you will find the 25 minute episodes engaging, fun and inspiring.

Here are the videos, check back each week for the next episode.

Ep. 1 – “A Different World”

Ep. 2 – “Edge of the Jungle”

Ep. 3 – “A Look Back”

Ep. 4 – “Beyond Roads”

Ep. 5 – “A Culture of Death”

Ep. 6 – “River Ride”

Ep. 7 – “To Garden is to Eat”

Ep. 8 – “Waodani Survival Skills”

Ep. 9 – “A Waodani Trail”

Ep. 10- “Canoe Haul”

Ep. 11 – “Let’s Go Spearfishing”

Ep. 12 – “Goodbye, Journey of the Heart”

Ep. 13 – “Epilogue. Reflect.”

Whelan Wins First Battle: Judge Dismisses City’s Condemnation Of Property

Posted by Brian Becker  /   April 02, 2014  /   Posted in Business, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Political/Government  /   12 Comments

Late yesterday Judge Schuller, in the City of Poplar Bluff v Robert J Whelan case, dismissed the City’s case against Whelan. The judge wrote:

“…Defendants claim that the Relator failed to act in good faith by not following generally accepted accounting practices. Relator’s appraiser testified that his appraisal was subject to the LPA Manual. …Clearly, these requirements were not met.”

“…the power of condemnation is such an extreme use of power by the government that the applicable statutes are strictly construed in favor of the landowners.”

The case centers around the intersection of Oak Grove Road and North Westwood Blvd where MoDot and City officials have been planning a much needed upgrade. The first main purchase was for an empty office building and parking lot at a premium of $828,000 and then followed with purchases of an empty office building for $789,000 and then the roughly half (1/2) of the property of the car wash for over $1,000,000:

Location Schalk
(#1 in photo)
Ozark Medical
(#2)
Car Wash
(#3)
Sold for $828,000 $789,000 $1,000,000
Appraisal $828,000 $655,000 $425,200

This left the Whelans’ Property (#4 in photo) as the sole, business property remaining un-purchased at the intersection. The city’s strong-arm tactics were to provide a lowball appraisal and attempt to steal the land from Whelan by condemnation. The courts said NO!

The city’s choices at this point appear to Appeal (which will take at least a year to complete with the prospect for similar outcome), start the condemnation process over again and do it properly (which certainly will take more than a year), or pay the Whelan’s what they deserve to be paid.

Here’s the catch, the high property value is the city’s own fault. The city is the one who drove up the property value by overpaying their buddies for their land. Whelan’s property, appraised at less than $450,000, contains more square footage than the Car Wash which sold for over $1,000,000.

Congratulations to the Whelan family. I’m thrilled to see the courts stand up for them and against the grotesque use of public/civic power.

 

Council Candidates Town Hall Meeting! Come Meet All The Candidates!

Posted by Brian Becker  /   March 31, 2014  /   Posted in Announcement, Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Political/Government, Sticky  /   4 Comments

I’m excited to let you know that the six candidates have all been invited to the Wednesday night (April 2, 7pm) town hall meeting so we can get to know the candidates. You will have an opportunity to ask the candidates questions about their ideas and goals if elected or re-elected.

Council Candidates Town Hall Meeting
PB Chamber of Commerce
April 2, 7pm

All Six Candidates Invited

Steve Whitworth – moderator

Judge Denies T.R.O. to Stop City Cable Sale without $17M Bond

Posted by Brian Becker  /   March 31, 2014  /   Posted in Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Human Interest, Open Access, Political/Government, Sticky  /   10 Comments

The lawyer for PB citizen Charles Ogden appeared before Judge Prichett in the Butler County Circuit Court this morning asking for a Temporary Restraining Order against the city of Poplar Bluff selling City Cable to New Wave Communications.

The TRO filed yesterday asserts that the City broke a city ordinance and a state law on March 17, 2014, when they passed an ordinance without having the entire ordinance available before passing.

Ogden’s lawyer, Blake Lawrence from the Sunshine Law Practice Group in St Louis, argued that Missouri law is very specific and Missouri Courts have long held that the procedures of passing an ordinance are mandatory. The state law requires that the full ordinance be available to the public before passing. The Courts have also ruled that an ordinance can only reference another document if that document is already a public record.

On March 17th when City Council voted to pass Ordinance #7483 it was 3-page document and referenced an “Exhibit A”. City Manager Bagby and Attorney Duncan told council members and citizens that the Exhibit was not available until after they passed the ordinance. Lawrence had with him the now 195-page Ordinance #7483 with the Exhibit and the three-page ordinance passed by City Council for comparison.

Pritchett said Mr. Ogden did have standing for the TRO but with the sale eminent he could not justify a bond amount less than the sale price of $17.5M. Mr Ogden was not able to afford such an expensive bond and the TRO was denied. Casenet records the ruling as:

Plaintiff appears through attorney, Blake M. Lawrence. Defendant appears through attorney, Wallace L. Duncan.
After full consideration of said Motion, the Affidavit in support thereof, and the argument of counsel, the Court enters its Order overruling and denying said Motion.
See Order. So Ordered – MMP

You can view the Ogden Temporary Restraining Order and Affidavit online.

So I guess the moral of the story is: if a regular citizen has $17.5M laying around then you are allowed to stop the City from breaking the law.

City Releases City Cable Appraisal and Purchase Agreement

Posted by Brian Becker  /   March 25, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Features, FrontSlider, General Articles, Open Access, Political/Government, Sticky  /   31 Comments

City Cable – 2013 Yields Highest Profits Since Inception of $642,693

I have now received both the City Cable purchase agreement and consultant’s appraisal of City Cable. If you read something in the agreement that you think needs to be known, please comment below. For your protection, you are welcome to stay anonymous by commenting under the name “Visitor” and the email address of “questions@semo.net” if you prefer.

One of the first things I noticed was how much money that City Cable profited in 2013. I was under the impression that council members were told that City Cable was losing money. But according to page 104-105 of the Purchase Agreement PDF file, the city actually profited more than $642,000 in 2013. That’s not fuzzy “EBITDA” numbers either, that’s pure profit. I get that number from:

REVENUE OVER (UNDER) EXPENDITURES       $275,429
                                        PLUS (+)
TRANSFER TO BUILDING CORPORATION        $367,264*

* This is the bond payment for the city cable bond. City Cable includes this principal payment in their books as an expense for cash flow reasons, but it is always removed by the auditors because one cannot both depreciate an asset and expense the principal payment used to purchase that same asset. Therefore, when the audit is complete this summer, the City Cable will show a $642k profit.

 

 

This means that we just sold an asset for a $11M profit which generated the citizens $642,000 in a single year and, with proper management, could be generating over $1,000,000 in revenue each year for the city while maintaining control over this extremely vital service for years to come.

Ord. 7483 – Cable Asset Purchase Agreement

3-17-14_City-of-Poplar-Bluff_Cable-System-Appraisal

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