Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gucci Mane, Kids, and Taxpayers

I have gotten all sorts of feedback about my email regarding the Gucci Mane rap concert. It's time to set the record straight on the issue. The real issues are (a) protecting our kids and (b) protecting the taxpayers.

This whole thing started when a citizen sent me an email with a link to a Gucci Mane youtube video that seemed very offensive to me persnally. I heard the n-word used a lot, but couldn’t really understand most of the lyrics. So I pulled the lyrics up online, and found that some of Gucci's lyrics promote the use of illegal drugs and the…how do I say it…unloving use of women. I challenge you to go online, and actually read some of the lyrics. They’re not as innocent as some people are claiming. The citizen pointed out that his tax dollars didn’t need to be subsidizing this stuff, and I agreed with him.

I would also agree that your tax dollars should not go toward subsidizing the KKK or some other hate group that wants to have a convention at the civic center. Unfortunately, it appears under federal law that ANYONE can use the civic center, if they pay to use it. We legally cannot reject anyone. Not Marilyn Manson. Not the KKK. The KKK can pay to rent it out, just as they can obtain a permit to parade down city streets. Federal law says they just have to abide by the civic center rules and regulations. I asked the city attorney to research exactly what those "rules and regulations" are, and can be. Right now it is still unclear.

One problem I am still having with this issue is that the way we book acts in our civic center means that hardworking taxpaying citizens could be subsidizing some shows that absolutely repulse the MAJORITY of the city. That’s not right.

I am hoping that we can adopt a policy that EVERYONE pays the retail, published rate for civic center use, unless the city commission or an advisory committee votes to provide some sort of subsidy. By subsidy, I mean that a producer will sometimes convince the civic center to reduce certain fees in exchange for a larger percentage of the concessions, or waive certain fees just to land the act. In this sense, the taxpayers wind up "subsidizing" the show. Would you want to foot part of the bill for a hate group convention through your taxes? Of course not.

Thus, I think we need to see if we can legally adopt a policy regarding subsidizing shows that will at least help people feel better that their tax dollars aren’t paying for things that most despise. We would not censoring. We would just not be financially promoting.

I also think we can learn something from the movie and music industries, as well as the public library. A 16 year old can’t get into an R rated movie without an adult, but he can go see a KKK rally or Gucci Mane at the civic center. I understand that a young kid cannot buy the hard core Gucci Mane CD without an adult, but the kid can go to the civic center and hear him live without an adult. The public library doesn’t carry KKK rally material or Gucci Mane CD’s, but kids can go to the civic center to get both. Something’s just wrong with that picture.

What can legally be done?

There are civic center trade associations. Perhaps we can lobby them to adopt a rating system like the movie and music industries have done. The acts that make their way around the country would come with a rating to warn parents about what their kids are going to see at the local civic center.

The local public library doesn’t spend your tax dollars lining the shelves with KKK books, Penthouse, Playboy, and Playgirl. Why should your civic center do something similar? Perhaps a civic center advisory group should decide what entertainment deserves taxpayer subsidy, and let the rest pay full retail rental. That seems to be compliant with federal law. Then, when Gucci Mane, Marilyn Manson, or the KKK book the joint, you can feel confident that there was no taxpayer subsidy, and they are paying full retail rates.

Let me clear up a few more things. This is not an anti-rap position. I believe rap is an art form just as much as blues, jazz, and rock and roll. My nine year old and I listened to some Christian rap on my ipod this weekend. My wife listens to a variety of artists that rap on occasion. Basically, I am forced to listen to whatever my wife likes, so yes, I listen to rap occasionally.

In my lifetime, I have also watched movies, listened to songs, and read books with content that would be "appalling" to my mother (although I remember her laughing hysterically through Richard Pryor's HBO special 30 years ago). The point is that that's my personal choice for me and me only. I can take comfort in knowing that while my kids are under my roof, it will be very difficult for them to watch, listen, or read "appalling" content, thanks in part to the various systems in place at the movie theatre, the music store, and the public library. I don't see why our civic center should offer any less protection for our kids.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How Could ADICA board member also receive loan from city department?

"ADICA board member also received loan from city department"

I just read the above headline on the WALB website. I am investigating, and this is what I know so far:

Ms. Woods was awarded a $100k loan through a federal grant program through the US Economic Development Administration. These funds were part of a revolving loan program initially funded after the Albany floods. The disbursement of those funds is handled through the City's Department of Community and Economic Development and their loan committee.

A lot of the initial flood loans from the EDA went bad, but as people have started to repay their flood loans the revolving loan pool has built back up. The federal funds are to be used for small businesses that cannot obtain traditional bank financing, but show the ability to repay a given loan. The loans are made for working capital, equipment, fixtures, etc. A recipient must show proof of a bank's denial of a traditional loan.

The EDA loans are approved by a local loan review committee which includes members from at least two local banks and two institutes of higher education. I have some names of members, but I will wait to publish the list when I receive all members' names, so no one is left out. This committee would have approved the loan.

This particular loan did not involve direct payments to the recipient. The recipient submitted invoices from vendors to be paid. There is still about $11k that can be drawn down on the $100k loan. Albany Community Together (ACT) handled the underwriting of the loan.

My understanding is that ACT and the loan committee were made aware of the $50k facade grant, and required documentation to be sure there were no duplicate invoices being paid.

I will provide more information as I am able.

Headhunter Slavin says they used Whackenhut to Perform Buie's Background Search

I spoke at length yesterday evening to Bob Slavin of Slavin Consulting, the headhunter who brought Don Buie, among other candidates, to the City of Albany.

Slavin uses the Whackenhut Corporation to do criminal background checks. You can read about Whackenhut at www.whackenhut.com or http://www.g4s.com/usw. Whackenhut appears to be a leader in worldwide pre-employment screenings.

According to Slavin, Whackenhut's menu of pre-employment screening products all go back 7 years. Up until a few years ago, they would go back 10 years. Slavin says there was a change in the law that shortened the lookback period. At this point, Slavin appears to believe federal law constrains the review period. Our outside employment lawyer believes the constraints of a company like Whackenhut are due to varying privacy laws in each of the 50 states, not federal law. In other words, Whackenhut could probe deeper in some states, but not others.

The questions I am still trying to get a definitive answer to are:

a) how far back can you legally search in a pre-employment screening generally, and in Buie's case in particular;
b) how far back you can feasibly search in a pre-employment screening generally, and in Buie's case in particular;
c) what is the simplest search that would have revealed Buie's prior criminal history?

My predicted/preliminary answers are:

a) My guess is you can go back as far as a particular state permits it, if you are willing to spend the money. Slavin says he obtained an authorization from Buie to conduct a background search with no specific number of years to look back.
b) A feasible search is probably 7 years on nationwide searches like for Buie because the big companies like Whackenhut don't want to be sued for going back too far in a state that does not allow but a 7 year look back period. However, for local hires a Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) report could be run by the local police dept. with proper authorization from the employee for a nominal charge. It would also seem prudent to run the same type of report for non-local hires from wherever they are coming from, i.e. a Maryland CIC search, if possible, on Buie. I do not know if a Maryland CIC search would have turned up this federal crime.
c) I am still researching the question of the simplest way to have discovered Buie's criminal past. Perhaps a search of federal prisons or a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) search could have uncovered the prior criminal activity for Mr. Buie.

More info to come.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How Could the City not Know Buie was convicted of federal bank fraud in 1994?

This is what I know so far...

In 2007 the city hired Slavin Management Consultants of Atlanta to find qualified applicants for Buie's position. Here's their website: http://www.slavinweb.com.

Slavin has an excellent national reputation for recruiting for government positions. Their client list according to the web includes:

Ann Arbor, Michigan
Atlanta, Georgia
Auburn, Maine
Aurora, Colorado
Berkeley, California
Beverly Hills, California
Beaver Creek, Ohio
Birmngham-Jefferson County, Alabama
Boca Raton, Florida
Broward County, Florida
Charlotte, North Carolina
Cincinnati, OH
Clark County, Nevada
Clearwater, Florida
Columbia, Missouri
Dallas ISD (Texas)
Dothan, Alabama
Dubuque, Iowa
Durham, NC
Duluth, Georgia
Edmund, Oklahoma
Elgin, Illinois
Florida Association of Counties
Fresno Economic Development Commission
Fulton County, Georgia
Hall County, Georgia
Highland Park, Illinois
Hollywood, Florida
Honolulu Public Transit Authority
Independence, Missouri
International City/County Management Assn.
Kalamazoo, Michigan
Lake County, Illinois
Lakewood, Ohio
LaPlata County, Colorado
Lee County, Florida
Los Angeles County, California
Mendocino County, California
Montgomery County, Maryland
Miami, Florida
Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority (OH)
Norfolk, Virginia
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Olathe, Kansas
Phoenix, Arizona
Prince William County, Virginia
Peoria County, Illinois
Pueblo, Colorado
Richmond, California
Roanoke, Virginia
San Jose, California
Shaker Heights, Ohio
SW Florida Regional Planning Council
Takoma Park, Maryland
Volusia County, Florida
West Des Moines, Iowa
West Hollywood, California
Wichita, Kansas

Part of Slavin's recruitment process is to conduct criminal background checks. According to their website, this is part of Slavin's screening process:

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D. Selection and Employment
In-depth Screening and Final Report... At this point, we will interview those semifinalist candidates whom the client representatives have the greatest interest in. Proper "fit" is as important as technical ability. We assess both. In order to better assess candidates' management style and interpersonal characteristics, we personally interview each in his or her present work location. We will closely examine each candidate's experience, qualifications, achievements, management style and interpersonal skills in view of the selection criteria and our professional expertise in evaluating the quality of such qualifications, skills and achievements.

We conduct in-depth background checks on those individuals who continue to demonstrate their overall suitability for the position. Included are detailed and extensive reference checks which cover a minimum period of ten years. In conducting these, it is our practice to speak directly to individuals who are now or have been in positions to evaluate the candidate's job performance. We ask each candidate to provide us with a large number of references. We then network these references to other persons who know the candidate. In this way, we thoroughly evaluate each candidate. These references and evaluations are combined to provide frank and objective appraisals of the top candidates.

As part of our evaluation process we conduct criminal history, civil court records, driving record and credit checks and we verify undergraduate and graduate college degrees. At the client's option we can arrange for assessment centers and/or psychological (or similar) testing of the candidates. (These optional items will result in extra cost.)

We will then meet with the client to present a group of well-qualified finalist candidates for interviews. These final candidates will not be ranked because, at this point, they will all be qualified and it will then be a matter of chemistry between the candidates and the client that should produce the final selection decision.

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It is my understanding that Slavin outsourced the background search to another specialty firm. I do not have that name of that firm readily available. It is my understanding that a seven year credit and criminal check was performed. Obviously, since it was performed in 2007, it would not catch a 1994 conviction. Our outside employment attorney has informed me that the seven year search is the norm. He said you can spend several thousand dollars to try to go back further, but no results are guaranteed. He says not all convictions are reported to the reporting agencies. There has been improvement recently, but there are still large gaps in the reporting.

I have a call into Slavin to see exactly what went wrong with the background check, and to see what could have been done differently. It is possible that a refund of the search fee would be appropriate, but I have not yet heard Slavin's side of the story, and I am not sure if they did anything outside the norm.