Posts Tagged ‘Business’

City Of Newark Converting Brownfield Area To Solar Power Farm

Newark, Ohio to build a similar solar power grid on a brownfield site.

Newark, Ohio planning to build a similar solar grid.

I found an interesting link about Newark, Ohio’s plan for a solar energy project at http://clean.ohio.gov/BrownfieldRevitalization/. The planned site is a brownfield site at 1357 East Main Street.

As I’ve pointed out before, Newark, Ohio is the city of grants and nearly ever project is tied to a grant. A position was made for Kimberly Burton, Newark’s Economic & Community Development Director(person who can put the correct language into a grant request), who’s name appears on every grant written. She’s a master of grabbing Federal money for projects that should be local matters. Democrat and Republican businesses alike adore her work. After the money is acquired from the Federal or state level, all that they have to do is compete(at least in a political sense of the word) for who gets the easy money. So before I start to discuss this solar project, you know where I stand on the use of grants. They are simply money that taxpayers have paid to state or federal governments for state and federal matters that are then redistributed to local municipalities. This bypasses the voters authority over use of the money and the results are projects that never would have happened under the scrutiny of the local voters.

The solar project looks great if you ignore the details. It’s a plan to use 24-40 acres that the EPA has deemed unusable for development due to contamination and place a solar power setup there. The power generated will be used for the city’s power needs and any surplus will be sold to a power company for profit. It sounds great until you consider it costs about 30 cents per kilowatt to produce solar power as compared to 4 cents for coal.

The articles I’ve read all have quotes that include nothing but buzz phrases about the benefits of the project. “It’s going to create jobs.”, is a frequent one. It will too! There is an incredible amount of technical expertise required to do the maintenance. How many jobs? Is the project going to create the profits need to pay the workers? Nobody’s answering that or referring to documentation that provides answers.

There will be private investors in the project, many of who are remaining anonymous at this time. It’s refreshing to hear that they’ve found someone that will have a little skin in the game and that it’s not all grant money. Keep a watchful eye on this project. There are many “green” projects that turn out to be nothing more than scams to funnel federal money into the hands of  “investors”. It’s an easy scheme to do.

  1. Create a “green” project that will confiscate money from the taxpayers under the guise of improving the environment.
  2. Get a group of investors that can share in the perceived risk.
  3. Build with select contractors, some of whom may be investors in the scam. The grant money is spent and gone forever at this stage.
  4. Before the project fails, investors in the know have sold their interest to others. Some of these investors have already gained their investment back when the profits from the build were paid. Unwitting investors don’t get out in time and it’s a loss for them.

One may want to consider why private companies are not investing heavily in similar projects. In this volatile market, why aren’t private companies investing in a solar farm that would cut their energy costs? If these systems were truly profitable, private entities would direct funds away from risky markets and invest in a solar energy solution that would immediately start providing returns with very little risk. Companies creating the solar grids would not rely on government grants for anything as there would be a high demand for their product. Keep an eye on this project. The city cannot afford costly mistakes. I can find no discussions of what the city is risking if this turns out to be a failure. Who pays if a hail storm takes the project out? Who pays if the power generated is not enough to cover the costs to create it? Who is going to manage the system and are the competent or just a well networked person? There are many unanswered questions.

Some related Documents –

  • Request For Consultants For Brownfield Redevelopment In Newark, Ohio.
  • BusinessFirst Article about Newark, Ohio’s solar project.
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Newark, Ohio School Uniforms. Scandal?

For those that have not followed the Newark City School’s use of tax funds to pay for uniforms from one exclusive company, the articles are

Is it a scandal? Nobody’s been officially accused of anything? Right?

I don’t look for Robert Renee Uniforms to get in any trouble. The home based company was just seizing an “opportunity”. I don’t suspect that anyone in the school district’s employ to get in trouble either. They were just fulfilling a legal obligation to supply uniforms to those that cannot afford them. If they did not institute the uniform policy at all, taxpayers that cannot afford to buy the underprivileged special clothing would not have had to buy them either. I do find their actions unethical and suspicious.

I know this is a long read, but I hope every taxpayer considers the elements of the Newark City School’s actions in purchasing uniforms for the dress code. Other wasteful spending by the school district is buried deep and it takes an auditor to decipher their spending habits. Don’t believe me? Try looking at their financial reports for any detailed information. The school uniform issue could not be done that way. It had to be out in the open and it’s very revealing of some practices that some may not want you to know about.
Here are the chain of events that I have witnessed in order.
  1. Newark City Schools announces that they can no longer enforce a broad dress code, so they will start a strict dress code that will solve the lack of discipline for those who cannot already follow the broad dress code.
  2. The school has a parent meeting to discuss the issue, even though they’ve already decided to attempt to implement a strict dress code.
  3. The school announces that those receiving free lunch will receive free uniforms and that it will be paid for through donations.
  4. As one would expect, some parents are happy and some are mad. Many discussions follow about highly debatable pros and cons of school uniforms. The school offered no reference to any data showing proof that it ever helped discipline in the past and the arguments. The arguments are heated enough that few ask where the donations will come from or why some students will receive free uniforms. Any questions concerning this were answered with, “Johnstown tried it and they are happy.”.
  5. School employees, equipment, expertise, and computer resources were used to promote Robert Renee Uniforms merchandise. Robert Renee’s website provided no means of ordering and only threw errors. Taxpayer dollars took care of this problem for him. I have never seen any publicly owned website performing retail catalog services and marketing efforts for a private company until this point. A vigorous automated telephone campaign using the school’s phone number was also used to promote Robert Renee Uniforms merchandise as well.
  6. Questions are raised on blogs and The Columbus Dispatch. It is after this that the school admits to using taxpayer money to purchase the uniforms before donations are made. It is then made known by a reporter that the schools are implementing the program to fulfill state law. These topics were never discussed by the school prior to the Columbus Dispatch article.
  7. The Newark Advocate finally runs an article in it’s print edition where school officials and Robert Totman of Robert Renee Uniforms state their case on the issue. Inconsistencies start to appear in their story.
The inconsistencies are clear and regardless of legal guilt, they are quite revealing about how the school chooses a supplier and shows that the school district is willing to conceal facts to push an agenda. Whether or not that agenda includes kickbacks, only an investigation would reveal. I do not feel that the public needs a legal investigation to understand the revealing nature of the school uniform program anyhow. It’s useful information to know when considering just how much money the school really needs.
The inconsistencies that I have found are as follows:
  • Newark City schools maintains that the uniforms will be paid for with donations, yet they are using taxpayer funds to guarantee the vouchers. Donations will only come after the orders are made and Robert Renee Uniforms is guaranteed payment through taxpayer funds. He is not guaranteed an order, but the schools informed The Columbus dispatch that they are using  taxpayer funds for payment and donations are expected to cover the cost.
  • Robert Renee Uniforms maintains that there is no contract and that he is not guaranteed one order. However, they are guaranteed any voucher orders that are made. There is no other competitor. Is it prudent to use taxpayer money to buy uniforms from a company that consists of 2 people working out of their home? Considering this order could potentially be $88,000 dollars, I find not having a contract to make the relationship even more suspicious.
  • By not having a contract, Robert Renee is under no obligation to the school to cover any problems with the purchases made with taxpayer funds. He’s not even under obligation for prices, fulfillment times, or even the delivery of the goods! In the latest Newark Advocate article Doug Ute covers this issue by sayint that if the families issues are not covered, they will not use Robert Renee uniforms the next year. What? Another inconsistency. Real companies that they claim to have checked out will work under a contract to fulfill the orders correctly, but they are stating that Robert Renee is the best deal.
  • Newark Treasurer, Jeff Anderson, states in the latest Newark Advocate article that “verbally” he has people that will cover the costs of the uniforms with donations. A potential of $88,000 is covered verbally? That is more than many citizens have in a home mortgage and Mr. Andersen is comfortable doing this on a verbal basis. I can’t believe I’m hearing this from an official charged as a good steward of our money.
  • The Newark Advocate also quotes Jeff Anderson as stating that they evaluated other companies. Where are the evaluations? Who seen them? They claim French Toast is one company evaluated. When I do a quick search for school uniform suppliers, yes, French Toast comes up quick. If I had to come up with an example quick, Google would be a real asset here. When I evaluate them, right off I see:
    • They have a working website, Robert Renee does not! Newark City Schools doesn’t have to do it for them. A big plus.
    • The website has many functions, including help with fitting and ensuring your clothes meet requirements
    • An affiliate program! Great! That means that the school could place an ad on their website and any purchases made through that link would pay the school a commission. Parents could buy from there knowing the school would receive some money.
    • An entire “Partnership With Education” program that can be ordered. I bet that the dirty little secret that you can make taxpayers pay for the uniforms is in there, but you must be a school interested in buying to order the information through an online download. There is also a wealth of information to help the schools properly implement the program. I would think a school system such as Newark, Ohio who could not enforce a broad dress code could benefit from this type of information.
    • Even more unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of school uniforms are on the website. Newark City Schools could have at least given more unsubstantiated ideas to help those argue in favor of the uniforms.
    • A cash back to the schools program if the affiliate program doesn’t work.
    • Online ordering system.
    • Tools such as online information and videos to help persuade parents and students to comply.
    • Clearance items for reduced cost.
    • Methods for parents to maintain an account.
    • Bulk ordering.
    • Embroidery services
    • Fundraising programs. That would be even better than the verbal donations that Newark expects.
    • Help forming a dress code. Newark’s dress code is already confusing. For example, cargo pants with pockets are ok this year, but maybe not next year.
    • Shipping and return policies that are real and can easily be covered through the parents credit card protections.

There’s much more I could evaluate, but I’ll stop at 15. It’s getting embarrassing. This is just one company that Jeff Anderson claims to have compared and I already have 15 items that are superior to a 2 person outfit working out of their home.  Sure, I did want to leave them an out. I’m not going to compare the pricing. I’ll leave that to the reader. I really suggest you compare that. There could be some other reason that is actually valid even. The point is that this is a standard company offering features that a normal person would expect from a uniform company.

The general claim in the Newark Advocate’s print article is that the schools could not implement a program where they gave a card worth $55 for Wal-Mart and told parents to go buy the uniforms. It’s pathetic that they think the public is so dumb that they would expect this. Here’s an idea they could have used for Wal-Mart. I know that in the past, they’ve made purchase orders with Wal-Mart to pay for teachers’ free donuts for their “in-service” days. If they can set up a program to pay for donuts through purchase orders, certainly they can do the same with clothing. I’m not saying that this would have been a great method, but it still evaluates to a better option than what Robert Renee Uniforms offered. Arguing that they cannot just give gift cards is just a method to throw people off track and an attempt to make an accuser seem ignorant. Nobody ever suggested gift cards or thought that this is how a voucher program should work.

There are 18 retailers in the area that offer the Dickies Brand uniforms identical to what Robert Renee orders direct. They either have them on the shelf or they can make a direct order just like Robert Renee has. Even small retailers like Sherwin-Williams have more capacity to handle a large order of uniforms. No mention of utilizing the other retailers for the main uniform is made. There is mention of a Hebron store supplying some shirts to Robert Renee Uniforms.
Robert Renee explains his business model as ordering some shirts through Heritage Sportswear in Hebron, Ohio and the rest of the orders are direct from Dickies. For any returns, there is no address to make an exchange. There is only his phone number and an e-mail address.

I do not care whether uniforms are worn or not. I will not argue this point. I do feel that there is sufficient evidence that profit for one exclusive company was the motive to make the uniform policy. There are no substantiated reports to prove school uniforms improve learning and there is certainly no evidence to show that uniforms are the most cost effective method to improve discipline overall.

Also, I’ve made it’s a clear point that parents are not required to order from Robert Renee. It is only heavily promoted through the school’s website and highly recommended by the schools that parents order from Rober Renee. It is however a forced purchase for parents utilizing the vouchers system that is funded by taxpayer dollars and only backed by verbal promises of donations.

My question now is, “What should be done going forward to ensure that no policy is created that could be done only to support a favored individual company?” Regardless of whether you think foul play is involved, this process has created a precedent where optional government requirements can be implemented for the sole purpose of using taxpayer dollars for no other gain than favorable support of a favored and exclusive company.

Many of us are tired of being fleeced like this. Every levy that comes up, we’re told that if we do not support this type of spending that we do not support our own children. I look at this ludicrous assumption by people using the funds to make these types of decisions and it’s more than a little irritating.

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