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Timeshare resale scam uses my name. Ugh.

I received a call today from a man who claimed I advised him a few days ago send $800 to a timeshare resale company called Timeshare Concepts.

I told the man that I didn’t remember having spoken to him. He claimed that I had answered the phone and identified myself as Counselor Harry Styron when he called a number that Timeshare Concepts gave to him. Turns out the number he called was not my number. Today, he found my actual office number on the internet, dialed it, and got the real me.

My partner called the imposter’s number and a recording answered with “Counselor Harry Styron,” and promised to return the call. She didn’t leave a message, but has received several callback attempts.

I checked with the Missouri Attorney General’s consumer division and learned that scammers, some of them outside the US, are using names of individuals and businesses to gain credibility. I’m not flattered.

I wish I knew a legitimate timeshare resale company or some other option for disposal of timeshares by people who are unhappy with timeshare ownership.


Shooting on a Meramec gravel bar draws attention to uncertain property rights

The July 20 shooting on a gravel bar along the Meramec River,  downstream from the Highway 19 bridge south of Cuba, Missouri, has drawn attention to the uncertainties of the rights of floaters to be on gravel bars and areas adjacent to the river.  This section of the Meramec River, downstream from Maramec Spring, carries thousands of canoes, rafts and kayaks every year.

The reports of the shooting incident recount an argument between James Robert Crocker, apparently the owner of land along the river, and a group of floaters who had stopped on a gravel bar for the usual reasons. Crocker confronted the group of floaters. An argument ensued over whether the floaters were trespassing, according to Crocker’s statement to the police. Crocker shot one of the floaters, Paul Dart, who died on the way to the hospital.

On Monday, I received the first of several calls from the media. Kim Bell, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told me that somebody at the Missouri Department of Conservation told her that I was knowledgeable about issues relating to rights of property owners and persons using streams for recreation. The story that Kim Bell wrote for the Post-Dispatch’s online edition has been widely copied, and my flippant remark that Missouri doesn’t yet have a stand-your-gravel-bar law became the basis for a Post-Dispatch editorial that has also circulated around the internet and appeared in several newspapers.

Kim Bell accurately reported what I said, but part of my remarks appear to be a misstatement of law. I said, “You are on private property, but you have a right to be there if it’s a navigable stream and as long as you are on a gravel bar that is submerged during parts of the year, because it’s part of the stream bed.”

I should have also explained that the public’s right to be on a stream doesn’t depend solely on whether the stream is navigable. In Elder v. Delcour (1954), the Missouri Supreme Court held that the public has an easement over the Meramec River, even though it was not navigable:

we must and do hold that the waters of the Meramec River are public waters and the submerged area of its channel over and across appellant’s farm is a public highway for travel and passage by floating and by wading, for business or for pleasure, and that in traveling the course of the stream by canoe or wading, respondent was not a trespasser on the property of appellant.

Even though the Meramec River in Dent and Crawford counties has been determined to be non-navigable by the Missouri Supreme Court, it is still a public highway as a matter of law. A trespass does not occur by canoeing or wading on it. The issue of navigability has to do with ownership of the stream bed, not the right to be in a the bed of a stream. Neither the Missouri Supreme Court or the legislature have given us any clear way to determine whether any other stream’s waters are “public waters.”

To get to the heart of the dispute between Crocker and the floaters, what about the right to be on a gravel bar?  In Elder v. Delcour, the court cites another case for idea that the right to float on a stream includes other incidental rights:

The right to float is but a right of passage, and includes only such rights as are incident to the use of the stream for that purpose, and necessary to render such use reasonably available.

If people could not stop on a gravel bar to dump water out of a swamped boat, eat lunch or attend to calls of nature, the rights of passage would be greatly inhibited if not denied. But permissible incidental rights do not ordinarily include the right to walk outside the course of a stream  into pastures and woods,  dump litter, broadcast music, shoot fireworks, cut firewood, pilfer outbuildings and disturb livestock and human residents.

My essay on Missouri stream law is here.

Chasing manufacturing jobs? Good luck.

Every civic-minded American believes that prosperity is simply a matter of a factory coming to his town. Not one one that belches pollution, but “light industry” or “clean manufacturing.”

While a few such factories exist and a new one will come to the Ozarks once in a while, I’m doubtful that a policy directed at reeling in these factories should be a major part of an economic development strategy.

In his very brief essay, “Fetish for making things ignore real work,” John Kay breaks down the purchase price of an iPhone, which (ignoring the carrier subsidy, or what Verizon or ATT discounts it to you to get you to sign a contract) is about $700. He says the valuable parts–the camera and flash drive, not likely to be made by Ozarks labor–account for about $200. The assembly and the cheap parts amount to about $20. Most of the rest of the purchase price is returned to those brilliant people who designed the iPhone, its operating system, and its advertising and their shareholders.

Kay’s main argument is relevant to the local economic development director and chamber of commerce committee:

Where will the jobs come from in a service-based economy, manufacturing fetishists ask?

From doing here the things that cannot be done better elsewhere, either because of the particularity of the skills they require, or because these activities can only be performed close to home.

Manufacturing was once a principal source of low-skilled employment but this can no longer be true in advanced economies.

Most unskilled jobs in developed countries are necessarily in personal services. Workers in China can assemble your iPhone but they cannot serve you lunch, collect your refuse or bathe your grandmother.

If you’re wondering where in the USA the good technical jobs are, and which regions are experiencing growth, check out “The emerging technical, professional and scientific sector” by Rob Sentz. Missouri and Arkansas are losers, though the Kansas City area has significant growth.

If we want to have good jobs in the Ozarks, we have to invest our own money and energy. A big and difficult part of this challenge lies in raising expectations of our children, our schools, our civic and business organizations and our elected officials.

Otherwise, the best that many of our children can hope for is a job serving lunches, collecting refuse and bathing their elderly parents and grandparents.

Workers’ comp reform requires judges to decide whether an injury was caused by work, not just while at work

Near the end of a workday, Jason Pope’s supervisor asked him to move a motorcycle to a showroom on an upper level of the dealership where Jason worked.  He moved the bike to the upper showroom, then tripped walking down the stairs in the dealer’s building. In the fall, he fractured his ankle, which required surgery. He was off work for nine weeks and needed physical therapy over seven months.

Jason filed a workers’ compensation claim, which was denied because Jason failed to prove to the workers’ comp judge that his injury arose (1) out of his employment and (2) in the course of his employment. Under Missouri workers’ compensation law prior to 2005, an employee injured while on the job was not obligated to prove these two factors. Under the old law, workers’ compensation was administered under “no-fault”  system, in which the employer was usually liable unless the employer could show that the injury was not real or was not related to employment.

After the denial of Jason’s claim, he appealed to the Missouri Labor and Industrial Commission, which is a special court that hears appeals of decisions of administrative law judges in Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. The Labor and Industrial Commission reversed the administrative law judge’s decision, ruling the injury to be covered by workers’ comp. The employer then appealed to the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, which issued its affirming opinion in  Pope v. Gateway to the West.

The 2005 changes to Missouri’s workers’ comp statutes took away the presumption in favor of coverage of employee injury claims. Part of the target of the “reform” was to prevent employers from paying for injuries that may have happened at work but which were not caused by the job. For instance, when an employee was walking across a parking lot and a “pop” occurred in his knee, the injury might not be covered by workers’ compensation, since it occurred in a normal life activity–walking–not as the result of a hazard or risk associated with the job.

In another situation arising after 2005, an employee was injured in a fall as she made coffee in a breakroom at work. Her medical records indicated that the employee’s shoes caused her to fall; the court held that the employee failed to prove that her injury was caused by a risk related to her employment.

The Western District framed the issue this way:

we consider whether Pope was injured because he was at work as opposed to becoming injured merely while he was at work.

The court sifted the facts that Jason presented, noting that Jason was following instructions from his supervisor to move motorcycles into the upper showroom. When he fell, he was on his way to check with his supervisor to make sure that he was done for the day. He couldn’t reach the supervisor without walking down stairs. His boots didn’t cause him to fall. His own physiology did not cause his injury. The court concluded that these facts  (and some others)

reasonably support a finding that Pope’s injury was causally connected to his work activity, i. e., a risk related to his employment as opposed to a risk to which he was equally exposed in his normal, non-employment life.


Before the 2005 amendments to the workers’ compensation statutes, the cause of Jason Pope’s injury would not have been an issue. The employer’s insurance company would have paid the same claim that it would have ended up paying, sooner though and without two appeals.

Policy should not be made on the basis of an isolated anecdote, such as this true story about Jason Pope.  As the number of similar cases accumulates, the workers’ comp insurance industry will be in a position to determine whether the 2005 reforms save money for employers and are of a general benefit to the economy. For now, there can be no question that the burden of the reforms falls on injured employees, some of them unable to work, and health care providers which are awaiting payment.










A deed can be ambiguous, even when its words are clear

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” said Yogi Berra, supposedly.

Judge Perigo did something similar in a boundary dispute case,  McLallen v. Tillman, arising on the Elk River in McDonald County, which occupies the southwest corner of Missouri. Like all streams in the Ozarks, the Elk River meanders through its floodplain, splitting and recombining, with seasonal floods shifting the arrangement of channels.

Several deeds said that the boundary of the property was a part of a quarter-section “lying North and West of Elk River.” The trial judge, taking the whole fork,  said that these deeds were not ambiguous, sustaining a motion for summary judgment.

The McLallens weren’t happy, because they thought that the eight acres lying between the north and south fork of the Elk River was theirs. Their neighbors claimed the same land. The McLallens appealed, claiming that the deed may be clear enough on its face, but that this language ignored the reality about the Elk River.

At that point, the Elk River splits into two channels, one carrying more water than the other. In 1984, at the time of one conveyance, the southern channel carried the most water. Sometime in the 1990s, the northern channel began to carry the most water. It’s safe to guess that one of the channels may even go dry during droughts.

The Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment, sending the case back for a trial. The basis of the reversal is that the appeals court thought McLallen’s deed, while plain on its face, had a latent ambiguity, one that could be discerned from facts outside the words of the deed. The trial court should have heard evidence about which fork of the Elk River constituted its northern boundary, to determine which of two plausible interpretations of the deed would prevail.



Skills gap leaves Missouri manufacturing jobs unfilled

Manufacturing in the United States and the export of manufactured products from the United States is growing. If jobs could be filled, production and exports could rise. Nobody is opposed to products being manufactured in the US for domestic use and for export.

According to an article in St. Louis Today, citing a study by the Manufacturing Institute, with results confirmed by St. Louis area businesses, thousands of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because of lack of qualified applicants. And technical colleges have additional capacity to provide the needed training.

After World War II, manufacturers of shoes, clothing, furniture and other products moved into the small towns and cities of the Ozarks, taking advantage of a surplus of mostly non-union, low-skilled workers. Manufacturers later arranged for their products to be made in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin American, then in Asia, seeking lower labor costs and less environmental and worker-safety regulation. Most towns in the Ozarks have vacant manufacturing facilities, even though transportation systems and location with respect to markets have never been better.

Universities and colleges are everywhere, offering all kinds of courses in residence programs and at satellite campuses, with opportunities for online education for students of all ages.

Where are the students who want to learn practical mathematics and how to operate computer-controlled design and manufacturing equipment? Some of them are in the military services. Others are working in unskilled jobs, never having become aware of their own potential to learn and earn. Others are in the gray-collar world of retail and services, where hours are long and wages and benefits skimpy.

While the St. Louis Today article blames the shortage of trainees for modern manufacturing jobs on the widespread acceptance of the value of a college education–as though the college credential had value even without skills to go with it–I’d place part of the lack of interest in manufacturing on the bad experience with manufacturing in the Ozarks. In the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, the manufacturing workers in the Ozarks experienced low wages and benefits, workplace injuries, frequent layoffs, and union-busting, ending with their abandonment (I am not forgetting that these low-wage jobs were better than no jobs and sometimes were the best jobs ever available in some communities for many people).

Manufacturers locating plants in the Ozarks asked poor communities for subsidies in the form of property tax abatement and general-obligation bond issues to for construction of facilities. Some plants polluted streams or left toxic wastes.

The manufacturing of today is much different. It’s cleaner and safer. Workers with training and skills can earn as much or more than many people who have college degrees and obtain as much or more job security. Here’s hoping that Missouri’s technical schools will be seen as the gateways to the good life, rather than an undesirable alternative to college.

Will Northwest Arkansas ramp up?

Successful businesses spawn–and depend on–other businesses. The scale of Walmart’s success has changed the face of Northwest Arkansas and spilled over to some extent in to adjacent areas. What next?

Matt Fifer and Grace Calloway sketch out a scenario of an astounding escalation in creation of opportunities for building on Walmart’s success: The Boom Ahead–Why Northwest Arkansas Could be the Next Silicon Valley.

Matt’s own career exemplifies what he’s writing about. I met Matt about five years ago, when he asked me to assist him with a small real estate deal in the Table Rock Lake area. He told me that he grew up in Stone County, Missouri, and had graduated from Reeds Spring high school. He worked for Walmart several years after college and rose through the ranks. He left Walmart not long before I met him and started a business called 8th & Walton, which teaches how to do business with Walmart. That business has grown steadily.

As this essay points out, if you can do business with Walmart as a vendor or service provider, you probably have the ability to do business with other large companies. Because so many companies located in Northwest Arkansas have honed their skills in product development and marketing by learning to do business with Walmart, the next stage may be for venture capitalists to move in and provide the funding that will allow many new efforts to succeed.


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