11. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

HICKORY —

A shroud of wrongdoing has surrounded Gov. Beverly Perdue for a while. Specifically, the state Board of Elections investigated the issue of campaign flights that went unreported on campaign finance reports.

While the State Board of Elections fined The Bev Perdue Committee $30,000 for failing to report numerous flights, Perdue has not been charged or indicted for anything related to the issue. And Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby Jr. has said Perdue wont face any charges.

However, others connected to her campaign and office have been charged.

Two people from the Greater Hickory area have been indicted, while two others farther east also have been indicted.

–Robert Lee Caldwell of Morganton, a retired state magistrate, was the first person indicted in connection to Perdues campaign. He was indicted in Wake County in February for felony obstruction of justice.

The indictment claimed Caldwell got James Fleming, a Morganton barber, to write a check to the committee but reimbursed Fleming for the check with cash from an unnamed source. It says Caldwell then used Flemings check to pay Profile Aviation for air travel for the committee and then reported it as an in-kind campaign contribution from Fleming.

The indictment says Caldwell knew that Fleming didnt make the contribution but that it came from another unnamed source.

An invoice for the flight from Profile Aviation Services was initially made out to Fulenwider Enterprises, which is a restaurant company run by Charles Mike Fulenwider.

However, Fulenwider Enterprises was marked out on the invoice and replaced with Perdue for Governor, along with a post office box number. According to the state board of elections report, the post office box is the same one provided for Fulenwider on campaign finance reports.

–Juleigh Sitton, daughter of retired Superior Court Judge Claude Sitton and his wife Jo, who has served as a delegate to several Democratic National Conventions, was indicted in November. Sitton, a Morganton attorney, was charged with obstruction of justice and filing false campaign reports, both felonies.

Sitton resigned in August as director of the governors Western Office in Asheville and resigned in November as a governor-appointed member of the Western Piedmont Community College Board of Trustees.

She is accused of concealing $32,000 in payments from a source other than the Bev Perdue Committee and failing to include the contributions in campaign reports.

–Peter Anthony Reichard of Greensboro, Perdues campaign finance director in 2007-08, is accused of funneling the $32,000 in under-the-table payments from wealthy Perdue donor Fulenwider, according to indictments. The indictment against Reichard said he funneled the payments through his merchant banking firm, Tryon Capital Ventures, LLC, to pad Sittons salary.

Reichard was accused of soliciting money from Fulenwider and allowing him to make excessive contributions to Tryon. In December, Reichard entered an Alford plea to the charges and received a suspended sentence of six to eight months, two years of unsupervised probation and a $25,000 fine. An Alford plea does not admit guilt but does admit there is enough evidence to convict.

–Trawick H. Buzzy Stubbs Jr. of New Bern, a law partner of Perdues deceased first husband, was also indicted at the same time as Sitton and Reichard. Stubbs was indicted on felony charges for providing more than $28,000 in undisclosed flights on private planes to Perdue as she ran for governor.

Its unclear when the cases against Caldwell and Sitton will be heard in court.

Willoughby was not available for questions on Thursday. Willoughbys office said on Thursday that he would be out of the office until(Friday) afternoon.

At the time Sitton, Reichard and Stubbs were indicted, Willoughby said he didnt expect Perdue would be charged. He said at the time that none of the evidence from an investigation indicated any misconduct by Perdue or any elected officials. Perdue has cooperated with the investigation, he said.

Willoughby said that within the US justice system a person is responsible for their behavior but not vicariously responsible for other peoples behavior.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

08. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

By many measures, womens lives have changed substantially in recent decades. According to a comprehensive government report called Women in America, although certain social and economic situations for women have improved, when it comes to personal finances, many women still face challenging hurdles.

Key report findings include:

  • Women live longer than men but are much more likely to experience critical health problems that hamper their ability to work — and to pass up needed care due to cost.
  • Although the earnings gap between women and men continues to narrow, its still significant: Among full-time workers, womens weekly earnings as a percentage of mens have increased from 62 percent in 1979 to 80 percent in 2009. (Those numbers represent overall average earnings in all fields, not what men and women are paid for doing the same job — although such disparities likely still exist.)
  • More women than men now graduate high school and earn college degrees, but far fewer women earn degrees in engineering, computer sciences and other higher-paying fields, which likely contributes to the wage disparity.
  • Women increasingly are marrying later, having fewer children or remaining childless, yet they still are more likely to live in poverty than men, with single-mother families suffering the worst disparity.
  • Women are less likely than men to work outside the home (61 percent vs. 75 percent in 2009) and are much more likely to work part-time and to take time off to raise children or care for aging relatives.

In a nutshell: Women tend to earn less and live longer than men so at retirement they often have less in accumulated savings, receive smaller retirement and Social Security benefits (which are based on lifetime earnings), and must spread out their money over a longer time period. Clearly, women need to take charge of their financial wellbeing. Here are a few places to start:

Develop a budget. Many tools are available to help track income and expenses. To get started, either download a budget spreadsheet template or use interactive, online budgeting calculators. For example, Practical Money Skills for Life, a free personal financial management program run by my employer, Visa Inc., includes budgeting calculators for everything from back-to-school costs to holiday expenses to retirement.

When youre ready for the next level of managing your finances, investigate software packages and online account management services like Quicken, Mint.com, Yodlee and Mvlopes. Some are free, while others charge a one-time or monthly fee. Some, like Mint and Yodlee, can be accessed online or by smart phone; others, like Quicken, must be accessed from a dedicated computer.

Plan for retirement. Time is your biggest ally when it comes to retirement savings, so get cracking. Start estimating your retirement needs by using online calculators, including:

  • Social Securitys Retirement Estimator, which automatically enters your earnings information from its records to estimate your projected Social Security benefits under different scenarios, such as age at retirement, future earnings projections, etc. You can also download a more detailed calculator to make more precise estimates.
  • Check whether your 401(k) plan administrators website has a calculator to estimate how much you will accumulate under various contribution and investment scenarios. If not, try the retirement calculators at Bankrate.com and AARP to determine your current financial status and what youll need to save to meet your retirement needs.

Expect the unexpected. An untimely illness, accident or death can devastate your finances. If you depend on someone elses income — especially if you have children — make sure you both carry adequate life, health and disability insurance. If youre self-supporting its particularly important to be covered against accidents or disability, since even a brief period without income could deplete your savings.

Obtain credit in your own name. Treated responsibly, credit can become a safety net for all women whether they are single, divorced or widowed, says Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC).

Do your research. Many helpful personal financial education and management tools are available online, including:

  • NFCCs MyMoneyCheckUp, a step-by-step assessment of your overall financial health and behavior in four personal finance areas: budgeting and credit management, saving and investing, planning for retirement and managing home equity.
  • The Department of Labors Womens Bureau offers many financial education resources for working women, including a program called Wi$eUp that targets younger women.
  • Social Securitys Website for Women provides information on retirement, disability and other issues — in English and Spanish. You can also order or download their informative, free publication, What Every Woman Should Know.
  • The Womens Saving Initiative, a program jointly developed by Heinz Family Philanthropies, the Womens Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) and Visa Inc. This free program features an audio- and e-book called What Women Need to Know About Retirement, which you can order on CD or download as a PDF or audio file.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. Its always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

To participate in a free, online Financial Literacy and Education Summit on April 23, 2012, go to Practical Money Skills.

05. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

County officials meeting for their annual daylong retreat in Kennesaw debated whether the time had come to finally reward employees. In addition to the stagnant pay, county employees took five furlough days last year and have seen health care costs increase.

Chief Probate Court Judge Kelli Wolk reported that about 20 percent of her staff have left their positions, citing compensation and budget issues. Times have gotten so tough that Cobb Chairman Tim Lee noted cases where employees were taking personal days from work because they couldnt afford gas to get them there.

Granting 3 percent merit raises for the countys employees would cost about $4 million, finance officials said. Although there is no plan for raises in the budget, Lee and other commissioners have discussed the additional compensation. But it will come at a cost.

We are in the service business, and our business is people, he said, so if the direction we take is [giving raises], that $4 million will translate to people.

Cobb is currently walking the fiscal tightrope of the right mix of revenue and expenses, showing a slight $1.2 million deficit. But, if property tax collections exceed the 95 percent level as they traditionally do in the county, Cobb will have no deficit and a few million dollars left over.

Its too early to tell if Cobb will see another decline in its real property valuation later this year, but finance officials have based their projections on a 2 percent drop, compared with the 5.5 percent drop last year.

The brighter forecast is a far cry from last years retreat, when managers were informed that the county was facing a $20 million midyear budget deficit.

To shore up finances, commissioners approved a 15.7 percent property tax increase last year. They are also awaiting a report next month from a citizens oversight committee on additional savings and best practices the county can implement.

Along those lines, Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell recommended expanding the oversight committee to perform additional internal audits of the countys departments. Birrells goals also include establishing a networking group for female elected officials in the county, and Ott wants to implement online processes for several business license applications. Commissioner Woody Thompson recommended designating the countys parks as tobacco-free locations, while Commissioner Helen Goreham would like to create a senior citizen safety program in the countys Safety Village.

For Lee, a large portion of his goals for the year centered on economic development. He hopes to have a strategic plan in place for the county by the end of next month. During the retreat, Lee reiterated his support of the recently released EDGE economic development initiative, but rebuffed critics who have suggested he is controlled by the Chamber of Commerce.

05. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

LANSING, Mich. Saddled with budget deficits and declining enrollment, the Highland Park School District on Friday became the latest public entity in Michigan to get a state-appointed emergency manager because of struggling finances.

Gov. Rick Snyder said hes confirmed his determination that a financial emergency exists in the school district in a Detroit enclave. Snyder appointed Jack Martin, a former chief financial officer for the US Department of Education, as the districts emergency manager.

The appointment takes effect Monday. Emergency managers also are in place in the Detroit public school system and the cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint and Pontiac.

The city of Detroit is working to avoid the appointment of an emergency manager as a state review of its finances continues.

Appointments of emergency managers have become more scrutinized and controversial in the past year because of a new state law that gives them more authority. Emergency managers can strip power from locally elected leaders and toss out union contracts in some situations.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday said he has confirmed his determination that a financial emergency exists in the school district for the Detroit enclave.

Snyder had warned that without state intervention the Highland Park School District could close by the end of February, so the appointment of an emergency manager was expected. A state review determined the districts cumulative deficit had increased by 51 percent over the past fiscal year to $11.3 million.

A major problem has been declining enrollment. The school district had more than 3,000 students in 2006, but is estimated to have less than 1,000 now. Much of a school districts funding in Michigan is directly tied to its number of students.

Over the last several weeks, I have grown increasingly concerned about the districts ability to complete the school year without significant assistance and intervention, Snyder said in a statement. The welfare of the students attending Highland Park schools is our No. 1 priority.

The districts superintendent and a representative of the teachers union also said they were concerned about students welfare.

Highland Park schools superintendent Edith Hightower said her primary goal is children, and making sure they have all the opportunities they can have to be successful.

David Hecker, president of Michigans American Federation of Teachers chapter, said the union wants what is good for students and fair for teachers and staff.

Our hope is that Jack Martin works collaboratively with teachers, staff and the community as everyone has a stake in ensuring that the students of Highland Park are our top priority, Hecker said in a statement.

04. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

Local state lawmakers preparing to return to Springfield next week say addressing Illinois#x2019; financial quagmire needs to be a top priority this year.

#x201c;The budget and finances and pensions are going to be squarely in our sights,#x201d; said
state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, noting the state expects a $1 billion increase in Medicaid and pension costs for the next budget lawmakers prepare. #x201c;That#x2019;s a huge increase. With state revenues being somewhat flat, we need to continue to focus on cuts.#x201d;

The spring legislative session starts Tuesday, with Gov. Pat Quinn scheduled to give the annual State of the State address Wednesday; Quinn will give a budget address a few weeks later.

Sosnowski, state Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, and state Sen. Christine Johnson, R-Shabbona, said getting finances in order, reforming pensions and Medicaid and helping the state become more business friendly are high priorities.

#x201c;The budget will be the overarching issue,#x201d; Johnson said. #x201c;When your finances are not in order, we know it personally as well as in government, everything you try to do is impacted.

#x201c;The first question we have to ask ourselves is: Can we afford this?#x201d; Johnson said about proposals for new or expanded programs. #x201c;And the answer is always no because Illinois is so deeply in debt.#x201d;

The lawmakers also said there are hurdles to achieving their goals. Pritchard predicted that no substantive action would be taken on pensions or the budget until after the March 20 primary.

The state#x2019;s unfunded pension liability exceeds $85 billion. Pension reform will need to tackle what types of changes can be made. Some believe the state#x2019;s constitution prohibits changes to pensions of existing state employees, while others think the constitution applies to only benefits already earned and future benefits are fair game.

Johnson and Sosnowski noted a discussion started this week about shifting pension costs to universities and school districts. Such a move would cause a huge increase in property taxes, Sosnowski said. It also would push the state#x2019;s responsibility and failure to pay into the funds to someone else, a move Sosnowski said he opposes.

There are many areas that can be explored when it comes to pension reform, Pritchard said, such as cutting benefits going forward, raising the retirement age, capping salaries and lowering cost-of-living increases.

03. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

The survey collected responses from 566 parents, 139 students, and 812 teachers and administrators. For each question, participants could circle a number from one for poor through four for excellent.

Most discontent was in finances.

Teachers, who are under a 2007 contract that paid them average raises of more than 12 percent in the contracts first three years, went easy on the district regarding finances.

But a majority of parents do not believe the district has done enough to give the community input on financial
decisions. Only 44 percent of parents believed the district is excellent at
allowing input, and 48 percent believe the district is poor at it.

The finances of our school district are certainly cause for concern, Furst said. I dont think anyone would disagree with that.

A high number of parents, 47.5 percent, also believe the district does not have adequate financial resources for educational programs and sports.

The opinions represented in the survey may reflect disappointment with the previous board members, many of whom were voted out in the November 2011 election.

Easton Area Education Association teachers union President Jena Brodhead said now is a time for an open door to communication with the new board.

Our new COO (chief operating officer), Mike Simonetta, has been very easy to work with and very welcoming of our input, so well see what happens, Brodhead said.

On a mission

Despite the split on finances, parents, teachers and students answered the bulk of the questions positively

Some complained the districts mission statement is too long. But about 75 percent of the district staff believed the district is doing a good or excellent job of promoting its mission.

We may not be able to recite it word by word, but we follow
the intent of our mission, Furst said.

Scores were lower for district governance.

Teachers were asked if the school board and
administration thinks and acts strategically, reflecting on its decisions and consequences of its actions. Forty percent rated the governance poor or satisfactory, opposed to good or excellent.

We do set our expectations high, Brodhead said. If we set them high for our students, we should be setting them high for ourselves.

Similar questions, such as whether the administration successfully implements a system for evaluating its own effectiveness in performing its duties, also generated a large number of negative answers.

We are trying to do what needs to be done to lead the district, Furst said. But we have to
continue to work.

One set of answers in particular bothered Furst. The survey asked if the district makes prudent use of grant money and development activities. More than a quarter responded the grant use is only satisfactory.

I consider that a hot-button issue because theres a
misunderstanding here, Furst said. Im not sure if people understand how much
people like (Assistant Superintendent Maura) Roberts have done in the
past to get grants and other things into the district.

Teachers think theyre doing a good job

Teachers believe the district is effective in teaching.

Out of the nearly 200 people who responded to 36 questions about school effectiveness, not a single teacher responded poor.

Students tended to agree. Of the 97 students who answered a similar question, 52.8 percent answered the district is doing an excellent job.

The district is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools under the Accreditation for Growth program.

But that program is being reorganized into a program called Excellence by Design, which requires the district to perform a self-assessment. That spurred the need for the survey.

Furst said the district plans to post the survey results online for parents and teachers to review when the district finds a suitable format for the information.

01. February 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Finances · Tags:

Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti says he will not fight an order to audit his 2010 election campaign finances.

“I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to be concerned about,” Mr. Mammoliti said after a three-member panel granted a resident’s request to scrutinize the books of one of Mayor Rob Ford’s closest allies.

David DePoe, a retired teacher, alleges Mr. Mammoliti spent about $7,700 over the allowable amount when running to keep his seat in Ward 7, and did not include the cost of office rent in his filings. The limit is about $27,500.

Mr. DePoe, who brought a complaint against the Mayor that was dismissed, said he looked at Mr. Mammoliti’s statements after receiving an anonymous tip.

“He’s an important member of city council, he’s kind of the Mayor’s sergeant,” said Mr. DePoe. “If you can’t rely on how he spends money on a campaign, how can you rely on his decision-making in terms of the city budget.”

Mr. Mammoliti said some confusion may have arisen from the fact that he first ran for Mayor, and then shifted over to a campaign for council. He expressed frustration with a “flawed” system that he believes needs to be changed.

“I think we’ve put together a process that enables those who don’t like you very much to have you spend an exorbitant amount of money. My family has taken a hit in the past. They’re going to continue taking a hit in order for me to ensure that my credibility is intact,” he said.

Mayor Ford is fighting an audit of his campaign finances in the courts.

National Post