Archive for June, 2009

Layoffs Imminent at Gannett

06/30/2009

The New York Times is reporting that the Gannett Company, owner of the nation’s largest newspaper chain, will go through another round of layoffs soon. An announcement is possible in the next few days, executives said Tuesday

Louisiana’s Gannett newspapers include The Town Talk in Alexandria, The News-Star in Monroe, The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, The Times in Shreveport and The Daily World in Opelousas.

More here.

UPDATE – 6:30pm

From The Wall Street Journal

Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher by daily circulation, will cut more than 1,000 jobs in response to continuing revenue declines, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking.

The cuts will come from the U.S. Community Publishing division, which consists of Gannett’s more than 80 local dailies, the person said. They won’t affect the flagship publication, USA Today. It wasn’t clear exactly how many jobs will be shed, although the person said it will be fewer than 2,000.

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McDD, Shreveport, V-Car and Monroe

06/30/2009

Back in 1991, a hoax of near-epic proportions was foisted upon the people of Shreveport by then Governor Buddy Roemer. The ArkLaTex at the time was suffering through a prolonged recession. The oil bust of the late 80s was lingering. Western Electric’s Shreveport Works, which at one time employed as many as 5,000 people, was now down to several hundred. Home prices in the region had collapsed.

Then Roemer announces that he was negotiating with a “large aircraft manufacturer” that might be interested in relocating if the incentives were right. Gannett’s The (Shreveport) Times went berserk, along with the three TV stations in town, KTAL, KSLA, and KTBS. Near hysteria took hold on a scale of a mini oil boom. Rallies were held at Independence Stadium. Endless articles and editorials were penned to describe how prosperity was near at hand.

It didn’t take long to sniff out the name of the company, McDonnell Douglas, or as The Times called them, McDD. The least bit of investigation would have revealed that McDD was in dire financial shape. What they were looking for was some fool governor that was desperate enough to commit enough taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat for a while. In fact, Boeing Airplane Company eventually bought out McDonnell Douglas a few years later.

It was a hoax.

Compare what happened then with today’s saga of the V-Vehicle Company and Monroe. The ArkLaMiss region is hurting. Loss of State Farm and International Paper in Bastrop has cost the area many jobs. Along comes a company that is alleged to have a car that can be built and sold for half the cost of comparable vehicles, yet no one from the public has seen it. And all that’s needed, the company says, is a little taxpayer help – or a lot.

Again, we see the local newspapers and TV stations lose all sense of proportion. None of them are skeptical in the least bit and none of them asks the first tough question. We here at Lincoln Parish News Online had to dig up the contract to show that the investors in this new company are to put up only $1 to every $4 the taxpayer puts up.

Maybe the V-Car isn’t a hoax. But human nature never changes. Ever.

The Louisiana Legislature and Two-Year Olds

06/29/2009

There was a bumper crop of sour editorials and articles from the state’s newspapers this past weekend about the just-completed legislative session. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, The (Lafayette) Advertiser, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, and the (Lake Charles) American Press all wrote about the “failure” of our lawmakers and governor.

The Senate was mad at the House of Representatives. The House was mad at the Senate. Both of them were mad at the governor. State employees of all description protested budget cuts. College presidents came down with the vapors and said if any budget cuts were inflicted upon them, mankind might not survive.

The only voice of reason was retired American Press editor Jim Beam who said all this was nothing new and it was the way legislative bodies were supposed to act.

He’s right.

I’ve been following politics for nearly fifty years. Legislative bodies are designed to disagree and we think it is healthy for the body politic when it happens. It’s when they get quiet and all start agreeing that we taxpayers should take notice.

It’s like when a two-year-old is in the next room playing with toys. As long as you hear activity, don’t worry too much. But when he gets quiet, you better get up from the La-Z-Boy and go see what kind of mischief he’s up to.

UPDATE: 7:00pm – More bellyaching from the newspapers

This one is from Gannett’s Mike Hasten, Deputy Press Secretary for All of Government.

State IG Targets Payroll Fraud

06/27/2009

Louisiana State Inspector General Steven B. Street, Jr. has issued a blistering report on possible payroll fraud at the Louisiana Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission. WDSU-TV in New Orleans reported that the information contained in the report had been turned over to the East Baton Rouge District Attorney for review and possible prosecution.

Earlier, Lincoln Parish News Online had reported that Street was focusing on overtime abuses by state employees.

Hat tip to Chad Rogers’ The Dead Pelican who originally posted this story.

V-Vehicle Claims $50 Million in Private Financing

06/26/2009

Pursuant to a public records request, Lincoln Parish News Online has obtained a copy of a letter claiming more than $50 million in signed term sheets from Series B investors. This confirmation allows Phase I of the project to begin.

KPCB Holdings, Inc. invested in the first $18 million for the enterprise, and are participating in the Round B fund raising.

No other equity participants are named in the letter.

UPDATE: 3:40pm

In the letter, the phrase “signed term sheets” is used. We looked it up and here’s what we found.

One Hundred Employees? Where?

06/26/2009

In an article published Monday in Automotive News, V-Vehicle spokesman Joe Fisher said they employ “just under 100 employees.”

Earlier, Lincoln Parish News Online reported having located their address of record in downtown San Diego, CA. Two sources we spoke to that work in the area don’t recall ever seeing that number of people in the building. Certainly they could be located in other area buildings or at other locations in town.

Or they could be like the phantom car itself which has been seen only by politicians. And we all know they don’t lie.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury Flush With Money

06/25/2009

Monroe, LA accountant William R. Hulsey presented 2008 audits for the police jury and the Humanitarian Enterprises of Lincoln Parish. Both agencies received unqualified opinions. Complete budgets were with the audit and will be posted when available.

Several things jumped out at us. The Police Jury net assets increased from about $52 million to about $53.5 million. Revenues increased from about $15.7 million to about $16.1 million. Total expenses increased from about $12.7 million to about $14.6 million. The two most significant components for the expense increase was Public Works which went from about $6.8 million to about $7.7 million and General and Administrative which increased from about $2.3 million to about $3.3 million. All the figures represent 12/31/07 vs 12/31/08 comparisons.

The public works increase is logical because of the significant increase in equipment fuel and road paving materials – hot mix, asphalt, etc – during 2008. We have requested additional breakdown of the G&A numbers to see why they increased so dramatically and will post them when available.

The police jury appears financially healthy while the local, state and national private economies are enduring a severe recession. Several area wood products plants have either shut down or curtailed operations.

Asked if there were any plans to cut taxes or roll back property tax assessments, District Eight Juror and President Skip Russell said it was his intention to work toward that goal. District Twelve Juror Mickey Mays would not commit to tax decreases – or increases at this time.

Also of note is that the Police Jury is sitting on a fat cash surplus of about $21.5 million. Some observers think this is good as it allows them to operate all year without having to borrow money during periods when tax revenues might fluctuate. Others suggest the money be returned to the taxpayers as large surpluses can sometime lead to use of the Bladder Theory of Finance.

Compare all this to what the City of Slidell, LA did this past Tuesday.

Earlier, the Community Block Grant Committee met to consider applying for a sewer grant of about $750 thousand for the Mt. Olive Community, north of Grambling. To complete the project, a loan of almost the same amount would be required to build a treatment plant. As the project would serve only about 60 households, the loan amortization and fees would be prohibitive. The committee declined to request the grant.

The Insurance Committee met to discuss buying liability coverage for the parish landfill. Randy Graham of Lincoln Agency presented proposals. After discussion, the issue was tabled until the September meeting to allow Police Jury Attorney Andy Shealy time to review the proposals.

The Solid Waste Committee met and discussed distribution of the solid waste reserve funds to area municipalities. Ruston Mayor Dan Hollingsworth and Grambling Mayor Pro-Tem Ed Jones were there to make sure their shares wouldn’t be missed if/when the money flows.

The committee decided to defer action until purchase of commercial insurance, which would relieve the need to carry a reserve. That reserve now serves as “insurance” in case of liability.

The committee was then treated to a 30-minute show-and-tell from Trailblazer’s Ellzey Simmons describing how his agency would Save The World by recycling newspapers that should probably not have been printed in the first place. The (Shreveport) Times and The (Monroe) News-Star, both Gannett papers; and the Ruston Daily Leader apparently print thousands of unread copies that end up in landfills and recycling bins. A good argument could be made that it isn’t worth the trees dying in the first place.

Simmons finally got to the real reason he was there: money. He wants the Jury to cough up $40 thousand a year for operation plus a donation of land for a recycling center on the site of the old parish road barn. The Jury now contributes about $1200 per year to Trailblazer.

The next scheduled Police Jury meeting is July 14, 2009.

UPDATE: 12:50pm, 6/26/09

LPPJ Treasurer Bobby Gray just sent us some information on the $1 million increase in the General & Administrative account for the year. We had mentioned that in our initial story last night.

Most of the money is a one-time adjustment to account for potential liabilities for post-employment benefits – medical, dental, etc. It is required by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board and is referred to as GASB 45.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury to Meet

06/24/2009

The Lincoln Parish Police Jury will meet Thursday afternoon, June 25, 2009 in the third floor meeting room at the Lincoln Parish Court House. Prior to the full jury meeting at 5:30 pm, several committees will meet beginning at 3:30 pm.

The committees and their agendas are posted here.

Monroe, LA accountant William R. Hulsey will present 2008 audits for the police jury and the Humanitarian Enterprises of Lincoln Parish.

UPDATE: 9:40 am, 6/25/09

Here is a link to the Lincoln Parish Sunshine.org website which evaluates government web pages nationwide.

Gannett Update

06/24/2009

New chatter is out on the blogosphere about the future of Gannett’s employees. Louisiana’s Gannett newspapers include The Town Talk in Alexandria, The News-Star in Monroe, The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette, The Times in Shreveport and The Daily World in Opelousas.

Gannett News
Layoffs | What one manager told Gannettoid
Gannett plans more furloughs to cut costs: memo

Designer Describes V-Car as “Neat”

06/24/2009

Tom Matano, Design Director for start-up auto company V-Vehicle, is quoted in an industry blog that, “It’s too early to talk about it,” he told AutoObserver. “It’ll be a pretty neat vehicle.” He goes on to say, “It will be one that you get up in the morning, go to the garage with a smile on your face and say good morning to it. It has a different connotation [than Miata] as energy giving, happy. But still the goal is to design a car that provides a sort of kinship.”

Most of the financing for the company will be from Ouachita Parish and Louisiana taxpayers via $82 million in direct grants, and from U. S. taxpayers via guaranteed AVTM loans. Lincoln Parish News Online is seeking documentation from the state that would prove how much – or how little – financing that private investors are putting into the company.

It is unclear why taxpayer financing is even needed for the company, if – as alleged – the company has a plan to manufacture and distribute cars at nearly half the cost that it takes for companies who have been building cars for a century. In other words, if they have truly invented the better mousetrap, it would seem private investors would be lined up around the block to put money in the deal.

Meanwhile the Times-Picayune is reporting this morning that the mystery auto will be distributed via existing major retail outlets. This gives credence to a rumor overhead at a local coffee/gossip group that the distributor would be Wal-Mart. Earlier, John Hays’ weekly Morning Paper had drawn a parallel to the V-Car with the Allstate, an unsuccessful effort by Kaiser-Frazer to market their product through Sears’ department stores and mail-order catalogs.

The Farmerville Gazette weighs in this morning with this puff piece.

UPDATE: 3:00pm

Ford, Nissan, Tesla get $8 billion in loans for ‘green’ vehicles
Ford, Nissan & Tesla awarded loans for green technology research
Tesla Motors Getting Big Loan From U.S. Government