Archive: March, 2010
Hoping to "eliminate complaints about rude toll collectors," the New Jersey Turnpike says it's forcing tollbooth workers to take mandatory customer service training.
Here's why: hundreds of public complaints about Turnpike employees sexually harrassing drivers, throwing money at them, cursing at them, and otherwise making nuisances. Of course, we don't have the toll takers' side of the story. Complaints courtesy of TheSmokingGun.com.
Toll-takers union leaders agree to re-education; can't be worse than breathing exhaust in those little booths. Newark Star-Ledger story here.
Asked about Obama's plan to allow offshore oil drilling from the Delaware Shore south, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell says: “Although we are still reviewing the details of this proposal, I have concerns with the adverse impact it may have on our environment and Delaware’s important tourism industry."
Also from Markell: "We are committed to working with the Obama Administration to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, but I believe the first priority for Delaware’s coastline should be moving forward with offshore wind and seizing the potential jobs from this emerging industry.”
Update: But Delaware wind energy developers say oil's not a conflict for them, reports the Wilmington News Journal here.
I asked lawyer William R. Sasso, new chairman of the National Constitution Center corporate council, if the Independence Mall landmark is likely to attempt more would-be crowd-pleasers like last year's Princess Diana show.
"I'm not familiar with the rationale for brininging that exhibit to the center," said Sasso, whose day job is running corporate law and lobby firm Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young. He succeeds his client Gerry Cuddy, chief at Beneficial Bank, as council chairman.
Forget Lady Di. Sasso finds the center's current exhibit on the Roman republic "fascinating" and right in line with his view of its role: "When you were a Roman citizen, it really meant something. There were a lot of similarities between the way the Romans thought of their government, and the way the U.S. citizen thinks of our government, who should govern, the concept of 'We the People,' there are some parallels there. This program has been very successful.
Psychiatric Solutions, Franklin, Tenn., said March 10 it was talking to a possible buyer, and shares jumped to around $30 from $24. But bond analyst Vicki Bryan of Gimme Credit LLC, New York, looked at Psychiatric's balance sheet, and found two completing companies that "look better on a shopping list": Health Management Associates, Naples, Fla., and Universal Health Services, King of Prussia.
UHS, in particular, "does look attractive as a potential takeover target," Bryan wrote in a report yesterday. It trades at a comparatively low price, "has high quality assets, and (a) low debt balance." Universal Health cut back on acquisitions and bought down its debt (and shares) over the past two years. By contrast, Psychiatric is heavily in debt due to past acquisitions.
BUT: "There's absolutely no conversation, in that regard, involving UHS," chief financial officer Steve G. Filton tells me. "UHS has a controlling shareholder" - that would be chief executive Alan B. Miller - "who controls majority voting power of the company" - that would be more than 80 percent of the voting shares - "and has for 30 years, and cannot be subject to a takeover unless he agrees."
On Sunday, Real Estate Disposition LLC of Irvine, Calif. (online at www.auction.com) offered a string of foreclosed homes for sale at an auction in King of Prussia. Here's samples of what was on offer, and what buyers ended up paying, auction spokesman Rick Weinberg told me:
Newtown Square: a 7500-square-foot, 10-room "mansion" listed at $1,800,000 and offered for a starting bid of $400,000, SOLD for $882,000.
7401 Cresheim Drive, West Mount Airy: a 5500-square-foot, 10-room "mansion", previously listed for $544,000, and offered with a starting bid of $219,000 -- FAILED to sell.
For much of its history, Philadelphia's financial district was centered within a couple blocks of Walnut Street, well east of Broad. Small to midsized financial and professional employers are still down there.
It's a funky old-Philly vibe over there, in the brick-and-stone city, with the flowering trees, the fancy restaurants and homes and historic markers. Not like those concrete-and-glass towers along Market west of Broad, where hard-working people drive into the parking garages or hoist themselves up from Suburban Station each morning, eat at their terminals, rush back to the burbs at night, and might as well be working in Atlanta.
But the rising vacancies in the tower district are driving hungry brokers to troll for tenants across town. "Uptown pricing has met what landlords charge in the historical area," as the head of one of our rare growing firms told me this morning. "All the prices are in the low $20s (per square foot). But they're adding incredible concessions."
Consumers are ditching lower-fat and -salt prepared foods, like Campbell Soup's Select Harvest and other reformulated lines, in favor of cheaper, fattier, saltier meals like Kraft General Foods Inc.'s Tombstone pizzas, ConAgra's Banquet frozen chicken dinners, and boxed macaroni and cheese, which offer better "value and taste," measured in dollars per calorie, complains veteran food-company analyst Jonathan Feeney, of Janney Capital Markets, in a report to clients today.
Are U.S. consumers hypocrites, talking about healthy hearts but buying to fill their greedy bellies? "It's not that people aren't concerned about health and wellness," Feeney told me. "But society cares more about taste." Especially now, when workers' need to keep their jobs, pay their debts, or sell their homes in a tough market loom as "bigger problems," or more immediate, than blood pressure or obesity.
Noting that Campbell has steadily cut salt content since 2006, Feeney posts data showing "other simple meal categories with superior value credentials have accelerated over the exact time soup has decelerated." In past years "cold weather lifts soup demand," but since 2006 canned soup consumption has mostly fallen, due in part to "less relative concern among consumers on sodium and wellness more broadly."
"Delaware was named today as one of two states selected for Phase 1 funding of a Race to the Top competitive federal grant to improve education in public schools," says Gov. Jack Markell's office today. Tennesse was the other winner, among 40 states that applied. "The announcement is being made today by (U.S.) Education Secretary Arne Duncan."
"Delaware is being awarded approximately $100 million over a period of four years." The state's annual education budget is about $1 billion a year. "The funding will be used to strengthen standards and assessment and quality educators; enhance robust data systems for measuring student performance and improving low performing schools in the state so Delaware’s students can compete at the highest levels.
"Among the innovative developments are: data coaches to meet with small cohorts of teachers several times a month to review each teacher’s student data and assist the teacher with developing lesson plans to address areas in need of focus, teacher leaders at high-need schools, development coaches to work with school principals, fellowships for highly effective educators, and retention bonuses for highly effective teachers in certain high needs schools."
Compared to Pennsylvania and New Jersey with their high-spending local school districts, Delaware (the Home of Tax-Free Shopping, and Vice President Joe Biden) has a more centralized public ed system where costs and property taxes have been kept under control. See the state's application for Race to The Top money at http://governor.delaware.gov/information/racetothetop.shtml