Monday, June 26, 2017

Unsung Heroes - Government Accountants

When I was younger I thought of accountants as people who wore those green visors and sleeve garters whispering, "What do you want the numbers to say?"  
Then I did something I never dreamed I'd do.  I married one.  

I don't think he's ever worn a green visor or a sleeve garter.  

My husband's profession certainly isn't exciting and thrilling like say if I was married to a bull fighter.  But we always have money in our account, food on our table, and our bills are paid.  And I never have to worry about him being gored to death. 

Although I do worry about him being bored to death.  

But he loves his profession and thankfully so do many other accountants.  But no one deserves more props than government accountants.  Why?  Because government accounting is complicated, confusing, and in my not so humble opinion, boring.

Just like with my household budget, I take for granted that government accountants are behind the scenes making sure that water comes out of my faucet, lights turn in in my house, and sewer lines take away, you know, what it is that sewer lines take away.

But do I have to just trust they are doing their job and hope for the best?  Thankfully, no.

Our government oversees what our city finance directors and accountants do and how they do it.

Have you ever heard of GASB?  It stands for Governmental Accounting Standards Board.  They have a website full of resources in case you want to learn more about governmental accounting and how it works.  Or you know, if you have insomnia.  


They make sure that every year your city produces what is known as a CAFR.  And like all government acronyms, it does stand for something (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) but also like all government acronyms, it has become its own word, pronounced "calf-er."

One way to think of a CAFR is like this:

The budget asks the question "How do you intend to spend the money?"

The CAFR answers the question by saying, "Here is how we spent the money."  

Did you know that CAFRs are available to the public?  Don't feel bad, most people don't.  A CAFR contains three sections, and introduction, the financial statements, and the statistics.

Different groups looks at CAFRs for different reasons.  One such group is the Government Finance Officers Association.  Their job is to spend 4 to 6 months poring over the CAFRs to determine whether they can receive a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

Here is Homer, Alaska's:
Good job, Homer!
Why should you care about GFOA's Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting?

I'm glad you asked, I'll tell you.

In 1945, GFOA established this certificate to encourage transparency and full disclosure to the citizens who pay the taxes and receive the services from the government.  They wanted to see cities and states go beyond the minimum required of generally accepted accounting principles or GAAP.  This acronym is pronounced "GAP" like the store.


only not as nicely dressed.  
Do you think any of these guys will become an accountant?  

While you don't need to spend 4 to 6 months poring over your city's financial reports, you can look to see if someone else did by checking to see if the CAFR is certified.

But that's not all.  

There are others who looks at the CAFR too.  These are finance groups like Moody's Investor Service or S&P (Standard & Poor's). They want to know what kind of credit risk the city or state is and the likelihood they'll pay back a bond.  Each entity is given a rating.  


Obviously a city would want a rating of Aaa.  But wouldn't it be fun to have a rating of Baa?
Do have any money?  Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. 
 The CAFR and how a city spends their money is just one factor that is used to determine a credit rating.  Lots of other factors are used for analysis.  To learn about Moody's process, click here.  To find out how S&P does their rating system, click here.  

So another way to see how your city's finances are doing is to find out what its credit rating is.

The next time you are at a cocktail party and you ask someone what they do for a living and their reply is "I'm an accountant for the government."  Give them a warm thank you.

They are doing more than you'll ever know--more than you'll ever want to know.


Why Governments Aren't Run Like Businesses

Quick question:

What was the last store you went to?

My last purchase was made at Costco.  

The store where you can buy a lifetime supply of soy sauce.

I've never seen anyone with a 5 gallon bucket of soy sauce in their cart, have you?  

Next question:

What year was that store established?  

Remember when Amazon used to sell only books?  

In September of 1983, I was starting 9th grade, had a crush on a boy named Troy Giles, and started listening to a British band, Duran Duran.
I just realized Troy and Simon Le Bon looked a lot alike. 
Memory lane aside, the point is I'm older than Costco.  In fact, at almost 48, I'm older than many of the places where I shop.

But you know what I'm not older than?

The place where Costco is located, Orem, Utah.  It was founded in 1919.  

The year before women had the right to vote.

You know what else I'm not older than?  

The place where I live, New York City.  It was founded in 1624. 

The year before Charles I became the King of England. 

King Charles I

You know what else I'm not older than?

The place where I was born, Bozeman, Montana.  And the place where I grew up, Las Cruces, New Mexico.  And the place where I raised my kids, Pleasant Grove, Utah.  

Get my point?  Municipalities last longer than we do, and they last longer than most businesses.  

Therefore, when candidates run for office claiming to apply what they've learned in the business world to the public sector, we need to ask, "Should we?"

Yes, we should! 

Or so many claim.  And I can see the appeal.  Businesses run a tight ship.  If businesses don't operate efficiently, their profits go down, and they close their doors.

How often have we seen a government service run inefficiently and think, "If this were a business, it'd be losing money. Someone needs to come in here and fix this."  

And yet, the public sector remains.  Mainly because it doesn't run like a business.  

Forbes magazine points out that in the private sector businesses have a goal of profitability.  The public sector has a goal of social value.  

And why they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, it is possible to have one and not the other.

Look at reality TV, pornography, or gambling.  These are hugely profitable industries but it would be hard to argue that they create social value.  

Look at libraries, public schools, or parks.  These are definitely not profitable ventures, but do create social value.

What if we privatized these public services, wouldn't a business be able to make them profitable?   Probably.  Look at Barnes & Noble,  Phillips Academy (the #1 private school in the nation), and Disneyland, all successful and profitable in their own right.  But the public doesn't have access to these establishments.

That's because businesses make their services excludable.  Meaning not everyone can enjoy the service.  And that's how they make their money.  

Yet, as voters and as citizens we continue to like the idea of our government running as efficiently as a business.  Unfortunately, we don't have a very good track record when we do.

The Harvard Business Review gives two examples:

In the 1960's Robert McNamara introduced a business-style approach called a Planning-Programming-Budgeting System which led to the high body count in the Vietnam War.

In the 1980's a term known as New Public Management was used to run government services like a business and to treat citizens like "customers."  It created a measurement nightmare.  How do you measure safety?  Health care?  Foreign Relations?  Today it's known as Old Public Management.  

About four years ago I was appointed to serve on the Pleasant Grove City Council.  At the time the city was gearing up for an election to vote on whether to bond for a public safety building.  As a city council member, I attended many public meetings where citizens could ask questions and offer suggestions.

It was at these meetings I saw many of the principles of good business get confused with good governance.

"Why can't we just save up enough money for a fire station and pay for it with cash?  That's how I purchase my cars."  

A city would never be able to save enough money to stay on top of inflation and meanwhile a city would go without fire protection for decades.  To learn more about capital projects, click here.  

"Why can't we move money from one fund to another?  If I need to pay my electric bill, we go without pizza that month."  

Years ago I took a government accounting class.  My husband, who got a graduate degree in accounting from the number one accounting school in the nation, was excited to see me finally learning about his craft.  After two weeks he said, "I can't help you with your homework anymore."  

"Why not?"  I asked. 

"Because I don't understand what you are doing," he said.

I was confused.  How can a successful CFO not help me with my homework after two weeks?  I asked my professor why my husband couldn't help me.  

"Because governments don't operate their budgets the same way businesses do." 

City funds do not work like a business or a household.  This is one of the ways they are able to stick around for hundreds of years.  If you'd like to learn more about your city's different funds and how they function you can read this article.    To understand how the government reports fund accounting, you can read this  from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board.  Or you can save yourself a few hours and go to your local park or pool and be grateful there are people out there willing to dedicate their career understanding this stuff.  After one semester of government accounting, I know I am.

"I don't see why the police and fire need a new building.  Our roads need to be fixed."  

Prioritizing which projects get funded and when is complicated for a city.  Thankfully most cities have educated, experienced staff members who guide the local leadership by making informed recommendations.  They are able to see more clearly what citizens need rather than what they want.  Besides, if your house is on fire won't you be more concerned if there is water in the hoses than the kind of drive your fire truck had on the way over?

Now, to be fair.  Businesses shouldn't  run like a government either.   That too would be an utter failure.  Governments have multiple constraints, not just on their budget but because of the demands of the citizens.  If a business had to worry about so many stakeholders, it wouldn't last.

I like how Mickey Edwards, former congressman and Harvard professor, explains it:
"The business of business is business and the goal of business is to earn a profit in the provision of goods and services. The business of government is service -- well managed, one hopes, and not wasteful, but never at a profit." 

So the next time you hear a candidate ask for your vote because they promise to run the government like a business, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this candidate the first person to think to do this?  
  • No government has ever successfully run like a business, why would it suddenly now? 
  • Don't I want my town to last longer than my Costco?  

Note: Below are the sources I used to write this article. I highly recommend you read the articles to learn more about why governments can't be run like a business and vice versa.  

Forbes Magazine Why Government Should Not Be Run Like A Business October 5, 2012 by John T. Harvey, an economics professor at TCU.

Harvard Business Review The U.S. Can't Be Run Like a Business March 31, 2017 by Henry Mintzberg, an internationally renowned academic and author on business and management.

The Atlantic The Difference Between Business and Government June 13, 2010 by Mickey Edwards, 16 years as a Congressman and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton.  Author of the book Reclaiming Conservatism and director of The Constitution Project.

The Huffington Post Let's Run Government Like a Business -- Or Not August 30, 2013 by Terry Newell, director of Leadership for a Responsible Society and adjunct faculty member at the Federal Executive Institute.

To read my 8 tips for voting in a municipal election, click here.

To read how cities report their finances and receive a credit rating, click here. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Toddler Guarantee

Meet Peter Frank.  I mean peter frank.  (Apparently he's too cool to capitalize his name.)

Peter wants to lend me money.

I got your email and i want you to know that this very company is known for good things and excellent works, I want you to understand that you have nothing to worry about due to the fact that your loan here will never be in vain. 

I'm not quite sure how a loan can be made in vain.

Know that this transaction between You and I is 100% secured and legitimate, so i want you to free feel in any step that you take in this transaction.

I am to free feel in any step?   Is that anything like free falling?

For further procedure of your loan transfer, you are advised to fill the information bellow in order for us to be able to start the processing papers of your loan and we give out loan at the range of 1,000  to 10,000,000 
Okay, I found my information bellow, so how do I fill it exactly?

Thanks for your understanding.
As your Satisfaction and financial success is our aim.
  Warmest regards
   Mr. Peter Jade

Wait a minute.  I thought your name was peter frank.  Hmmm.... something is not quite right.  So I ask him,

Why can't you just give me the money. You seem rich.
If he can lend out anywhere between $1000 and $10 million, he should be able to give at least some of it away to me.

If i give everyone my money then i will become poor 
Can't argue with that logic. I decide it's time to get down to brass tacks.

Do I need to pay you any money in order to get my loan?
He answers,

Yes you have to pay for the loan approval fee and it cost just $80

A loan approval fee? That doesn't sound right.  I proclaim,

Loans don't have approval fees!   

He has a great comeback.

Go and take from your local bank then and see.
If I go and take from my local bank, I'm going to get charged a lot more than $80.  It's going to be more like 10 to 20 years.

Banks have NEVER made me pay a loan application. NEVER. I promise you that's not a thing. So what are you really up to? 

Surprisingly, he's answers honestly.

If you can give me just 30,000 dollars I will be rich because I will invest this money in a business and my life will change for ever 

Okay, hold on.  He can lend me up to $10 million but $30,000 will make him rich?  Why doesn't he lend some of that money to himself?  I tell him I am beginning to suspect that he doesn't actually have any money to lend me.

I have told you already that once you pay the fee, your loan will be transferred to you and that is 100% guaranteed.
You know, as opposed to those 85% guarantees that are so popular these days.  I ask,

How is it guaranteed?  

He says,

I swear to you that you will get your loan once you pay the fee is give you 100% guaranteed Ok.

Whoa.  Now this guy is swearing, he's pretty serious.  I ask him,

What do you swear by?  

He answers,

by my little girl

I ask him how old his little girl is and this is where he slips up.

2 years 

What peter frank or Peter Jade doesn't realize is that I've had a 2 year old girl before.  And she was a disaster to live with!

To read what my 4th child, Alice, was like as a two year old, click here.  

Speaking from experience I say,

Two year olds can be a lot of trouble. Swearing on a toddler's life doesn't mean very much to me. Do you have anything better to swear by?
 He says

You are completely heartless 

Well, he hasn't met Alice.

Alice ended up growing up to be a pure delight in our home.  Her messes proved to be a result of her extreme intelligence.  To read her high school graduation speech and see the beautiful woman that she became, click here.  


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Can We Be Friends? My First Death Threat Part 2

So last week I received my first death threat posing as a mail order bride from Bora Bora.

To read about email exchange with Ijebu Ayo click here.  

Apparently I have found the way to remove a death threat.  Call their bluff.

I had said,

"That would be great if you could kill me in 20 hours. What do you look like so I know it's you?"

 Well later, I got an email from Ijebu asking if we could be friends.  I asked why.

"Because I begin to like your courage"

It's easy to be courageous when you aren't real.  I said,

"Either that or you just want my money."

Usually when I let them know I think they are scammer they disappear.  But now it's time for me to admire her courage.

"We can be friends" 

Oh really scammer?  How kind of you!  So I decided to take her up on her offer.  And what do friends do?  Lunch, of course!

"Okay. Let's be friends. Want to meet for lunch?"
I thought this would definitely call her bluff.  But nope.  She said,

I wish we could but we are distance from each other 

Oh but dear Ijebu, nothing is impossible when you are fake.  I said,

"Since I don't have a husband, I can fly to wherever you are."

Remember, I'm a mail order bride stuck at an airport with no husband.  (I'm hoping she doesn't remember that I told her that I don't have 40 bucks.  She forgot.)

"Okay I will be waiting for you my friend"
Ummm.... hello!  Where do you live????  She finally tells me she's in Ghana.  Which is perfect because I've actually been to Ghana.  For reals.

Visiting an orphanage in Ghana in 2009   

 I remember that we had eaten a great pizza place in Accra that also had an Internet Cafe.  I suggested we meet there.

Then I checked with my former professor to see what the name of it was.  It's no longer there, shoot!
I asked if we could meet at the KFC in Osu.  I asked her if she liked KFC, she said she does.

So I have a lunch date this Monday at a KFC in Ghana.

Stay tuned....



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Honest Scam Artist

I got an email asking if I want money. 

And surprisingly he tells the truth....

Peter Frank can be contacted at

Monday, June 12, 2017

My First Death Threat

I feel like I'm moving up as a scam baiter.  I got my first death threat.  But to be fair, I kind of earned it.

 Toolulah posed as a mail order bride.  

A couple of weeks ago I got an email that read,

do you want your wife or husband back

do you want to be famous and wealthy.
do you want spiritual bulletproof.
do you want to be cure of AlS,Lyme, HIV/AIDs
do you want advice on marriage
do you seek popularity.

I decided to choose marriage advice.  But not your typical marriage advice.  

Here's the situation. I am a mail order bride from Bora Bora. When I arrived to the United  States no one was at the airport to pick me up. I'm already paid for but I don't have a husband. I'm afraid I'll get caught and sent back to my country. Toolulah isn't my real name.

What should I do?  

marriage advice on what exactly and please I will like to know yourreal name pls.

How do I find the husband who ordered me?
I can't give you my real name. My family is famous.

Because you know there are lots of famous families living in Bora Bora.  

madam,you really want a man that will be ordering you.

I must admit, that's a fair question. 
 He already ordered me.
I couldn't help but call her out on her poor grammar. 
 If you want further tips on how to control and maintain your relationship with your husband you have to pay 40usd!

How am I supposed to maintain a relationship with someone I can't find?

Maintain?  I can't find him. Where am I supposed to get 40 USD?

I don't understand you you said you are from a well know family,so 40 usd should not be hard to find
I can help you with your husband I will cast spell on him,he will be the one looking for you.if you want me to help you out.
Just pay that money and I will help you get your husband

I never said I was from a well known family.
(Technically that's true.) I don't have 40 USD. If you send me some money I'll be able to find the man who ordered me and then I can pay you 2000 USD.

Are you stupid do you want me to cast spell on youDo you want me to kill you rogersmith

Apparently scammers don't like to get scammed.  

Is like am playing with you I you don't comply with me am going to kill you within 20 hours.

That would be great if you could kill me in 20 hours. What do you look like so I know it's you?  

Because you know, this airport food is messing up my digestive system.  

No problem but I don't want your miserable blood to be in my hand

Just how exactly is she planning on killing me?  I decide to help her out. 

If you poison me you won't get any blood on your hands. 

(4 hours later)
 It's been more than 20 hours. When are you going to kill me? 

I sais I don't want to kill you again you worth nothing to me

Kill me again?  How did I miss the first killing?

But you never killed me the first time!

It seems that should be obvious.  I don't want to kill you again you can be my friend Hmmm
Hmmm indeed! 
I'm confused.  Do you want to kill me a second time or be my friend? 

Typically my friends don't threaten to kill me. 
And they don't threaten to kill me twice! 
If you would like Ijebu Ayo to cast a spell on you, she can be reached at  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Direct Democracy: The need for initiatives, referendums, and recalls

"I believe in the Initiative and Referendum, which should be used not to destroy representative government, but to correct it whenever it becomes misrepresentative."  ~Theodore Roosevelt

Our country was founded by rebels.  They didn't like that they were being taxed without representation, so they did something about it.
And it worked.  A new nation was born.

This instilled in our country a value of standing up for what we think is right and letting our voice be heard.  

242 years later we still do it.  

April 22, 2017, March for Science 
And it still works.  Well, sort of.  

Our country is founded on the idea that the power comes from the people, not from a monarch. But we are not a democracy.  We are a republic.  

There are lots of opinions out there as to how they differ but I like this summation. 

Democracy vs. Republic
Not just in America, but all over the world, populism is on the rise.  Populism is essentially support for the common or ordinary people.  Sometimes they are called the silent majority.  In essence it is a call to let their voices be heard by vote so that the majority can rule.  A democracy. 

Which sounds like a good thing right?   

Have you ever been to a carnival or a fair where you are asked to guess something?

Did you win?  Most likely you didn't.  Chances are pretty good your guess was wrong.  But according to a study conducted by NPR, it's okay that you might be wrong, because your guess helped the total number of guesses average to the correct answer.

So as a collective whole, the majority can get it right.  So shouldn't we just let everyone vote on every issue, law, and tax?  


We have representatives for a reason.  While the power comes from the people, it is given to our representatives to serve in our best interest and on our behalf.  But not just our behalf, but EVERYONE'S behalf.  Even those who didn't or can't vote.  Even those who didn't vote for the representative.  They are to represent all the people.  

But therein lies a problem.  Sometimes for the good of the whole, some must sacrifice.  

Whether it be with their life in war for everyone's freedom.  

Spanish American War
Or their land so that a community can develop and grow.

Or money in the form of taxes so that everyone can benefit from a public good or service

Obviously we don't like to make these sacrifices, especially if we don't feel like we should have to.  Thankfully, if we feel like our elected representatives are asking more of us than they should, we have the power to do something about it. We can vote for someone else at the next election.  

Or some of us can do something even more powerful, we can vote for an initiative, a referendum, or a recall, also known as direct democracy.

To remember the difference between them, I think of it this way.  

INITIATIVE = to initiate or start something = create a law
REFERENDUM = retract something = get rid of a law

RECALL = call back = remove an elected official from office

Basically it's a way to undo whatever your representatives are doing or not doing or get rid of them all together. 

Seems like a great tool, right?  

Well..... let's see.

Only 27 states in the United States of America have some form of direct democracy. It is probably most used in the state of California.

Californians have explicitly said that they follow Switzerland's direct democracy model which has been successful since Medieval times.

Sadly, it hasn't been quite so successful for California though.  

Californians have recalled their governor and rejected acts of legislature, but what they love the most are initiatives, especially when it comes to the budget. 

Since 1978, they have lowered taxes and mandated spending.  

This created chaos in the California State budget, which explains why they have such a poor credit rating.  

To read more about California and their initiatives, click here.  

So should direct democracy ever be used? 


The best use for this powerful tool is when there is misrepresentation.  Meaning the elected officials are not acting in the best interest of the common good or the people as a whole.  They are either benefiting only themselves, or a specific group of people.  A good example would be gerrymandering or non-partisan primaries, which was happening in California. 

An initiative has also been presented to a little town nestled between a lake and a mountain range, where the winters are cold and the summers are hot.  The tax base is low and the potholes are a plenty.  
Pleasant Grove, Utah
A select minority decided they want to use direct democracy to mandate spending to fix the roads.  They want almost 20% of its General Fund to fix the roads. Not only could this adversely affect the city's credit rating, (which they have spent years trying to repair) it will definitely affect its already strained budget.    

To read more about how a small group of people were able to get a town up in arms about the condition of the roads, click here.  

Now what is happening in this small, bucolic town probably doesn't seem like it should concern the rest of the nation.  But I submit that it should.  

Our founding fathers warned us against this mentality of switching our country from a republic to a direct democracy.  James Madison and Alexander Hamilton warns that it can give undue power to the passions of the mob or a select minority.  

To read more about what our Adams, Madison, and Hamilton said about a direct democracy, click here.  

When we bypass our representatives to get what we want, we are exposed to many risks.  Our representatives are dedicating time to research the issues so that we don't have to.  They are sometimes forced to make unpopular decisions because they know how it will benefit the common good.

With the populist movement comes an inherent distrust and dislike for our own representatives.  When our elected officials come forward to defend their decisions, they are called liars and crooks.  Why?  Because sadly, sometimes our representatives are liars and crooks, which is what created a need for direct democracy in the first place!  

So to the town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, and anyone else facing an opportunity to use direct democracy in an election here are some things to consider:  

1.  Be aware of the power you are wielding with your vote.  You are bypassing all of the checks and balances outlined in our Constitution.  Our founding fathers did not want an uninformed and manipulated public to have this kind of power. Take this vote seriously.

2. Do your research.  Don't let the person at your door asking you to sign a petition to put an initiative, referendum, or recall on a ballot to tell you what you should know.  He or she isn't your elected official.  They are someone who is passionate about an issue and want to see a change.  The power is being taken from your elected official back to you.  So you need to do the same amount of research as if you are the legislator or the city council member.

The top Google search in the UK was "What is the Brexit?"  Sadly, it was the top Google search the day AFTER the election.

3. Remember it isn't all about you.  You don't live on an island.  You live in a republic.  You live in a country that asks us to sometimes sacrifice for the good of all.  Ask yourself some hard questions before voting for an initiative or a referendum.
  • Who does this benefit?  
  • Who does this not benefit?  
  • Does the current law, code, tax, ask me to sacrifice for a greater good?  
  • Am I willing/able to make that sacrifice?  
  • How will this affect our city or state in the long term? 

4. Look outside of your community. See how this issue is handled elsewhere.

How are other cities paying for their roads?  How many other communities use 20% of their general fund to pave over potholes?  

5. Follow the money.  Use your critical thinking skills to look at those who are calling for a change.  How will they benefit from this action?  Beware that it might not be obvious.  They can easily present themselves as concerned citizens just wanting to make their community a better place.  Don't let yourself get manipulated.

In Pleasant Grove, the people who are trying to hijack the General Fund with an initiative are with the same group who tried to run for City Council a few years ago.  They were running on a ticket known as PG3.  They ran on a single issue of roads, but weren't clear as to why they were running as a group.  No matter the issue, when a group runs together for city council, I get nervous.  Municipal politics are nonpartisan for a reason. 

6. Don't hunt pheasants with an assault rifle.  Is this issue worthy of something as powerful as direct democracy?  We don't want to fall into the trap that California fell into.  They used initiatives for chicken coop regulations!

Despite my federalist leanings, I actually am supportive of direct democracy.

 I love that I live in a country that allows for the voice of the people to be heard if they are being represented by corrupt officials.  But I think we don't always realize just how powerful (and damaging) direct democracy can be.