(Our view) Make meal money come into the light

Meal money — the taxpayers’ money allotted to sheriffs to feed inmates — has been on the mind of Alabamians for months since a lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in January.

The suit was filed against 49 Alabama sheriffs over the practice as part of a long-running dispute over the issue. They seek records showing how much the sheriffs profit from inmate food funds.

“This archaic system is based on a dubious interpretation of state law that has been rejected by two different attorneys general of Alabama, who concluded that the law merely allows sheriffs to manage the money and use it for official purposes, not to line their own pockets,” said Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Littman is right. Many sheriffs have over time turned the system into a way to garner extra income. However, not all of the sheriffs have taken advantage of the system. Some of the law enforcement officers feed inmates good meals and use portions of the money to support community initiatives. But the system, despite those who are responsible with the money, sets up a path to unethical behavior and violates the public’s trust.

A shadowy example of misuse of the money is Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin who used about $250,000 of meal money toward the purchase of a home in Orange Beach. Another sheriff sunk money into a failed used car business. And still another sheriff fed inmates wieners while packing money away for himself.

“I don’t change laws, I don’t make the laws,” Entrekin told WBRC. “People don’t like it. Get on their legislators and change the law. I, as the sheriff, have asked them to change the law, I, as the sheriff, have tried to give it back to the county commission on numerous times. They won’t take it. They don’t want it.”

The law has been interpreted to allow excess money to become personal income. That was never the intent. The money is taxpayers’ money that has fallen into a murky realm, creating a headache in the area of trust for many sheriffs.

Cullman County’s Alabama House of Representatives delegation was successful in passing a bill that would undo the old system and create an account for feeding inmates, allowing leftover money at the end of the year to roll over into the next year. The bill also gives the sheriff a pay raise, which is fair considering the huge responsibility of managing a department and a corrections center.

The Alabama Senate has the bill. There is no reason to wait on a solution from the state with the involvement or influence of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association. If that group had wanted a solution, it would have been done long ago.

Morgan County, through a local bill similar to the one for Cullman County, will be coming out from under the old law, provided voters approve the constitutional amendment in November.

Most voters will be quick to eliminate throwing their money into a dark room where there is no accountability. A lot of sheriffs, such as Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, want to see the system changed. We applaud Gentry’s position on this issue and the efforts of local lawmakers to make a change.

Chicago firm to manage state fund

INDIANAPOLIS – A Chicago-based firm is preparing to take the reins of a new Indiana-backed venture fund and begin investing up to $250 million this spring.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said earlier this year that Indiana’s new Next Level Fund will “build and support more innovation and entrepreneurship in our state.” But it’s unclear how much of the money will go to Indiana startups, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is expected to finalize its contract with 50 South Capital Advisors LLC this month to manage the money. The Chicago firm will invest the vast majority of the money in other venture capital funds, which will then invest in companies.

That approach is considered less risky than directly investing in emerging companies, but the option can also make it more difficult to direct the cash to Indiana-based firms. Critics say that using an out-of-state manager could increase the risk that much of the money will leave Indiana.

“One of the primary purposes of this fund is to support the Indiana economy by making funds available for growing Indiana companies,” said Oscar Moralez, managing director of VisionTech Partners, a statewide angel investing group. “It’s a little more difficult to do that when you’re not from here or intimately aware of the state’s ecosystem.”

But the Chicago firm wants to find funds “that will pursue Indiana investment activity,” said Trey Hart, a senior analyst for alternative investments at 50 South.

“The goal is to invest the vast majority of money in Indiana-based companies and those doing business in Indiana,” he said.

Officials at 50 South plan to open an office in downtown Indianapolis once the deal is finalized.

Is it wise to keep all your retirement money with one fund company?

Q: Should we be thinking about diversifying our retirement savings to multiple other fund companies other than just Vanguard?– Dominic

A: Thank you for your timely question. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a detailed story on the vulnerability of the financial system to another crisis on the 10th anniversary of the bailout of Bear Stearns, the investment bank. While the article emphasized that the financial system is better prepared to handle another crisis than the seat-of-the-pants response of a decade ago, odds are another crisis lies in our future as memories fade and credit profligacy drives out prudence.

Diversification is a time-honored strategy for reducing risk.

The simple answer is your retirement funds are safe. Vanguard, Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and other fund companies establish each mutual fund as a separate company. The assets in the mutual fund — your investment — are held by an independent custodian. The custodian must keep the mutual fund’s assets segregated from other accounts.

Even if there is malfeasance at the fund-management company or it falls into financial trouble, the mutual fund assets are with the custodian. Those assets are available to meet redemptions.

This structure is designed to protect fraud and malfeasance. It doesn’t prevent the value of your portfolios from spiraling lower, of course.

If you own stocks and other securities in a brokerage account — including mutual funds — they are also segregated into separate accounts.

Additional layers of protection against malfeasance and bankruptcy come from the Securities Industry Protection Corp. (SIPC). You should make sure your brokerage firm is a member of SIPC. The SIPC website at www.sipc.org has that information, as well an explanation on what is covered.

Vanguard and similar companies buy private insurance for another layer of security — a reason why I like brand name blue chip firms.

There is nothing wrong with diversifying and if it helps you rest better, do it. Many near-retirees find themselves invested in multiple fund companies after several job changes during a long career. If you are pleased with the fund company options, you don’t need to consolidate. But many people find it easier to manage their retirement portfolios if their money is held with one institution that offers good service, low fees and sound investment choices. They aren’t making a mistake.


Chris Farrell is economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.

Hiring A Financial Planner: How To Separate The Pros From The Con Artists

Hiring a financial planner is one of the most important steps you can take with your finances. The right person can be an invaluable asset to your efforts to build wealth for yourself and your family. On the other hand, shows like CNBC’s American Greed graphically illustrate what can happen when you trust the wrong person with your money. To separate the pros from the con artists, take the following steps before hiring a financial planner.


Whether it’s a boiler-room style cold call with a can’t-miss investment opportunity, an unsolicited e-mail, or traditionally mailed invitation to an investment seminar, a person showing up at your church with your pastor’s blessing, or someone at a table set up at a professional conference, keep your guard up when you get an unsolicited pitch to manage your money from a stranger. It doesn’t always mean you should dismiss them out of hand, but you need to check, double-check and triple-check these people before you even think about doing business with them. There is no such thing as over-investigating a person who wants to help manage your money. Bypass anyone who resists or resents your efforts to find out everything you need to know to protect yourself.

In any case, when it comes to hiring a financial planner, it is nearly always better for you to find them than it is for them to find you. Start with getting referrals from friends, relatives, and associates. Once word gets around that you are looking for help managing your money, there will be plenty of people lining up to help you. However, even if someone comes recommended by your most trusted family member, friend, or business associate, don’t just take his or her word for it; confirm first-hand that this person is who and what they say they are—both qualified and trustworthy to help you manage your money. Start by taking the following steps.


Check for their professional credentials. But don’t just accept any combination of letters after their name. Look for the hard-to-get acronyms, including CFP for Certified Financial Planner and ChFC for Chartered Financial Consultant.

These certifications are valuable because it generally requires initial course work and exams, and ongoing education and testing, to earn and maintain them. Those who hold such designations are also usually expected to adhere to a published code of ethics. Other certifications may also be valid, but check to make sure that they didn’t just pay a fee to add fancy-sounding letters after their name.

Check all candidates’ track records with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA.org) and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC.gov) to see if any regulatory actions have been taken against them. Check with the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA.org) to make sure they are registered with your state’s securities department and check for complaints against them. If the planner sells insurance products, also check his or her track record with your state’s division of insurance.

In most cases, you don’t actually need any kind of certification or formal education at all to do business as a financial planner. However, hiring a financial planner who is not a certified professional makes about as much sense as hiring an unlicensed electrician to work on the wiring in your house. It might seem to not matter much, and may even be less expensive—until everything goes up in flames.

By the way, the time to confirm that a financial planner has these credentials is before you share personal financial information, sign anything, or hand over access to your hard-earned money.


Once you’ve sought referrals from family and friends and check credentials to narrow down the list of candidates, you’ll want to set up initial meetings with the remaining contenders to interview them and ask key questions. Here’s how to approach these first meetings.

First, I must repeat: Never commit to handing over any money in the first meeting. The planner doesn’t work for you yet; you’re just in interview mode. Pass on any planner who wants to charge you for an initial consultation or who pressures you to buy anything in that first meeting.

Before hiring a financial planner, be sure you understand how he or she expects to be paid for services. Is it by the hour? A commission on transactions? A flat fee? Or some combination of these? Have them put their fee policy in writing. (Learn more about fee structures at NerdWallet.com.)

Check for compatibility. Does this planner have experience with clients like you? If you’re a middle-aged family man trying to secure his retirement, you may not want a planner who is more experienced with young, single high-income professionals who may have a higher risk tolerance than you can handle.

When considering hiring a financial planner, think of him or her just as you would your personal physician. Are you comfortable with being honest and transparent about your finances (often called being “financially naked”) with this person? Does he or she actually listen to you? Are they focused on your goals, as opposed to pressing you to serve a separate agenda? If the answer to all of these questions is not a resolute “yes,” it’s a no.


Seven ways of managing money in securities trading

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John Paulson Pushes Investors Out of Some Hedge Funds

Billionaire John Paulson, whose hedge fund’s assets have plunged, is opening the door for more money to leave.

Paulson’s namesake firm, once one of the biggest in the industry, will return money to investors in some funds including the Credit Opportunities, said people familiar with the matter. Investors in that credit fund can transfer their capital to a separate pool or they’ll be forced to redeem. The firm also continues to cut staff, this week letting go of some senior traders and partners.

It’s a sobering turnabout for Paulson, who shot to fame and fortune a decade ago with a dramatic, winning bet against the U.S. housing market. But after a series of missteps, the firm’s assets under management have dwindled to about $9 billion from a $38 billion peak in 2011. Most of what’s left belongs to Paulson himself.

Paulson’s share of the firm’s funds has grown in recent years as investors left and performance in several funds suffered. Paulson’s capital, and that of his internal staff, made up 90 percent or more of at least five of the firm’s funds, Bloomberg has reported. The funds affected by the current changes predominantly manage his personal money.

The question now is whether Paulson, 62, will ultimately shut his firm to outside investors altogether. For now, there are no immediate plans to turn the firm into a family office, people close to Paulson say. Instead it’s re-focusing on distressed debt and merger arbitrage strategies.

A representative for the firm declined to comment about changes to the funds.

Losing capital may make it harder for the firm to operate and pay staff. The company this week let go of its head of trading, Keith Hannan; head credit trader, Brad Rosenberg; and partners Victor Flores and Allen Puwalski.

We don’t kill industries

But millennials are creating change through new mindset, lifestyle and purchasing patterns

A quick Google search shows the myriad brands and products – bar soap, the oil industry, and casual dining chains, to name a few – that millennials are “killing” because of our lifestyle and choices.

Rather than killing a product, many industries are reaching their next phase of maturity, and in doing so, leaders must put thought into how the key decision-making criteria of their next generation of customers differs from previous expectations for how a product or service was purchased.

Here are two major industries that we’re not killing, but are changing, as a result of our new mindsets, lifestyles and purchasing habits:

Real estate

While the ability to purchase property was once seen as the pinnacle of success, millennials have a different perception of the benefits and drawbacks to home ownership. As a result, the share of millennials renting has risen to 65 percent in 2016, up from 57 percent in 2006.

While some may say that we’re “throwing away our money” by renting, I counter that, first, we don’t perceive housing to be the safe, or sound, investment that it is said to be. We grew up as housing prices crashed, and the home purchased for $30,000 that sold for $350,000 isn’t an opportunity that we’re likely to have.

Next, ownership is complex and costly, comprised of paying the mortgage, insurance, all utility bills, renovation, maintenance and more. Renting is simple. A monthly payment is my only responsibility.

Finally, we aren’t ready to embrace the commitment that ownership requires. I’m willing to trade my lack of ownership for the mental comfort of not having six figures of mortgage debt hanging over me. Most estimates show that the typical breakeven point on a purchase is about seven years; I have no idea what I’ll be doing in seven years.

We understand that renting doesn’t build equity, but we frame the decision as opportunity rather than opportunity cost. While I’m still young and flexible, I want to be able to pursue my next stage of life based on the merit of the opportunity instead of anchoring myself to one city or property through ownership.

Financial advice

We have unprecedented access to the stock market and financial advice compared to prior generations. We can invest in the SP 500 at a cost of $3 per $1,000 invested or hand over responsibility to a fintech startup that will manage our money for $25 per $1,000, well below the $100-plus that a traditional advisor charges. This means that simply taking our money and charging a fee for that privilege won’t be enough to win millennial business.

Growing up in the era of technology has given us a level of trust in computers that doesn’t exist in past generations. My dad, a boomer, has a deep distrust of any algorithm that would manage his money. I don’t. In fact, I think that technology can manage my money better and cheaper than most financial advisors.

In that light, the advisor should now become an educator. Teach us the sound financial habits that many of us lack. The advisor can drive more value to the client by teaching them how to save and live a financially healthy lifestyle rather than trying to compete with sophisticated trading algorithms that can process information faster than any human.

Competing for wallet share across generations requires significant thought and a multi-faceted approach to business development. The financial advisor who wants to manage money for myself and my dad must sell him on the personal touch of someone managing his money, while emphasizing to me the technology they use to manage their portfolio and the educational resources to empower my financial life.

These two industries are just an example of how the millennial mindset is driving change. For every person who writes that we’re killing the industry, there’s an entrepreneur who sees change as opportunity. They’re doing the research to find what we want, not what the prior generation deemed acceptable.

With knowledge at our fingertips, we’ll keep looking until we find the right product fit, and companies in these industries and others can no longer hide behind the way business has traditionally been done, or else they risk losing their next generation of customers.

Jordan Bean, an associate with Stax Inc. in Boston, can be reached at jordan@jordanbean.com.

This article appears in the March 16 2018 issue of New Hampshire Business Review

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Manage Your Damn Money #37: Interview with Capital City Confectionery Business Owner Megan Murphy

Ben Carter and Malcolm Ethridge co-host the latest episode of Manage Your Damn Money (MYDM) with conversations about money management. The show includes stories to help viewers gain more confidence in what they know or should know about personal finances.

Watch the show in its entirety below:

Find Ben on social media using @MYDM1 or Malcolm using @MalcolmOnMoney.

Send questions, comments, or concerns to Ben and Malcolm via email to info@manageyourdamnmoney.com.

Slate Belt woman charged in $400000 fraud says, ‘I hate money and I hate gambling’

The former caretaker of a Slate Belt shooting club is accused of stealing more than $400,000 from the organization, its members and an insurance company through a variety of scams that allegedly fed a gambling addiction.

Facing arraignment Thursday on 26 theft-related charges, Lisa A. Shafer came to court in Bangor without a lawyer, chatting outside the hearing with investigators and telling them she planned to plead guilty.

“I’m not denying any charges,” Shafer told District Judge Alicia Zito inside the courtroom. “I’m not running away from any charges.”

Police said the thefts spanned from 2012 to 2016 and centered around the Pocono Slate Belt Shooting Association in Upper Mount Bethel Township, a clay trap club on Lake Minsi Drive.

kare11.com | You can use March Madness to help manage your …

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — While most people are spending money during March Madness, you can use this time to up your financial game.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions related to their finances that go out the window by February. Financial professional Mike Kojonen, owner of Principal Preservation Services, visited KARE 11 Sunrise to explain how March Madness can help you get back on track.

How can March Madness help you with your money?

  • Tune In. Americans spend millions of hours watching the NCAA tournament each year, but when it comes to our finances, we are not tuned in. In fact, about half of workers have nothing saved for their retirement! Retirement won’t just fall in your lap; you need to plan for it. Start by setting up a meeting with your spouse to talk about your plans. You may also want to start meeting with a financial professional.
  • Set Your Goals. Just like you’re building your bracket with the championship in mind, you want to think about your endgame when you build your financial plan. What does your dream retirement look like? It’ll be easier to stick with your financial plan now if you know your goals and can look forward to them.
  • Build Your Bracket. Filling in the blanks on a bracket is actually surprisingly similar to an important financial tool: a budget. You need to keep track of how much you are spending and make sure it’s less than your income. Just like you weed out the teams you don’t think will make the cut in your bracket, in a budget, you’re weeding out the expenses that won’t make the cut. If you’re struggling with this, check out Mike’s budget worksheet here.
  • Watch Out for Busters. When a team that you’ve got going to your Final Four gets knocked out in the first round, what does it do? It busts your bracket! Your budget can get busted, too, by an unexpected emergency, like a car breaking down or a trip to the emergency room. Unfortunately, most Americans aren’t prepared for a financial emergency. About half of adults say they don’t have enough in savings to cover losing a job, a medical emergency or an unexpected auto repair. Here’s the good news – even though you can’t prepare for a bracket buster, you can prepare for a budget buster by building an emergency fund. Mike recommends clients keep a separate account with 3-6 months of their income saved so they’re ready for the unexpected.