July 28, 2011
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
RE: Proposals for 1. Increase public education, community participation and monitoring to reduce the chances of municipal bond corruption and defaults. 2. If defaults do occur, perform default analysis and present results in public hearings to fully consider alternatives and proceed timely with resolution.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The SEC 07/15/2011 press release states, "municipal securities market hearings examine issues that affect investors in municipal (muni) securities markets. " It is vital to keep investor confidence in muni markets. A less recognized issue of muni bond investor relations is the failure to educate local citizens and implement processes to increase transaction transparency and safe guards. Jefferson County AL is becoming a national worst case example of not only the largest, but also a very chaotic and corrupt municipal bond financing and default.
Possibly, typical of many communities with muni bonds, local government did not think it was important or necessary to provide essential and critical aspects of municipal finance education or information to the potential de facto guarantors, the citizens or ratepayers. Without any public finance education or training, average citizens and often the local media are clueless about recognizing developing problems from start to finish of financing and possibly refinancing and default. Few citizens understand any legal and financial options, much less their best options.
To what extent has the SEC examined the causes and impacts of risks to citizen ratepayers and taxpayers of muni bond financing? Unfortunately, many elected municipal officials may also be insufficiently educated or trained in municipal finance to competently engage in municipal finance transactions or understand the risks and consequences or explain those matters to their constituent citizens. In short, local governments' elected officials often are not qualified agents to represent their citizens in many financial transactions or consider financial oversight and protection. What kind of incentives or costs to local officials might help them to introduce or support broad community pro-activity about muni financing?
At some future date, before state or local level government agencies could continue to secure future municipal financing, could all elected officials responsible for negotiating new municipal financing and servicing muni debt be required to take a short test to verify , if they are qualified to be involved in financing? If not, could those unqualified be required to take a mini muni finance course and exam, something like a Series 7? Municipal officials are purchasing in a capacity like an agent or guardian for citizens in their local governments and normally creating a financial liability for citizens.
After financing is completed, if finance problems develop, many officials' lack of knowledge may be unrecognized and could lead to critical mistakes. Who do they turn to for help? Muni finance directors and attorneys might offer varying degrees of help, but elected officials probably call outside counsel and the seller of the securities. When and at what degree of problems should elected officials publicly acknowledge or admit that there are problems? Should those conditions be codified in either local, state or national regulations or laws?
Probably, few call the SEC. How and when does the SEC initially hear about muni finance problems? Does the SEC or some other more appropriate, states' agencies have any kind of agents that can counsel with local officials? The SEC is obviously aware from your enforcement actions against JP Morgan Chase, et al, the Jefferson County AL (Jeffco) sewer bonds refinance has had fraud and corruption resulting in some convictions and fines. Could a national policy be established for state finance directors or within the SEC in case of conflicts of interests to possibly provide certain types of counsel or assistance earlier rather than later, as in Jefferson County's case?
The release stated, "Our hearing in Jefferson County will allow us to gather real-world insights that are critical to our examination of these timely and important issues." The Jeffco sewer debt issue affects far more than several hundred or thousand investor bondholders and the Jeffco Commissioners. There are probably close to 300,000 Jeffco heads of households resident citizens liable for increasing sewer rates every year for 10 or more years. That does not include perhaps 50,000 low income residents primarily in Bham.
Some Jeffco citizens have for years called for an unbiased comparative analysis of likely impacts and outcomes of various settlement offers vs. likely impacts and outcomes in a Ch 9 BK including all projected costs. There has never been a public published study. How can any American community decide what is in their best interests? Typically, there may be a conflict between the non- wealthy community's most important interests vs. the wealthy's most important interests of the without a relatively unbiased comparative analysis of alternative debt resolution actions? (While I have not attempted to define wealthy, many arbitrarily assume a division between the top 10% in community wealth from the other 90%.)
I am only aware of three rather haphazard public hearings on the Jefferson Co. sewer debt over 2 years ago during a two month period.
Could the SEC or possibly the Federal Municipal Bankruptcy Courts require some type of "situation or locally appropriate" public comparative debt resolution analysis for citizens and elected officials of local governments faced with large (?) municipal bond defaults? Whatever the approximate costs for such studies might be, perhaps around $50,000 could be held in escrow from the initial bond proceeds.Thank you for considering my ideas and proposals. I am especially appreciative for the SEC enforcement actions including fines against JP Morgan Chase et al for Jefferson County.