Book Review: From Turmoil to Tomorrow: The Emerging New World of Municipal Finance by Robert W. Doty

Robert W. Doty. From Turmoil to Tomorrow: The Emerging New World of Municipal Finance. American Governmental Financial Services Company (AGFS) 2010. (Four volumes and supplement; $645 print edition, $495 electronic edition, with a discount program for qualified purchasers).

I recommend this work to a small group of law librarians:  those serving patrons who play a role in the municipal finance market or are studying this market.  My recommendation is based on the work’s unique and comprehensive treatment of this subject; however, my endorsement comes with a note of caution.  The presentation of the material could be improved.  In From Turmoil to Tomorrow: The Emerging New World of Municipal Finance, Robert W. Doty prefaces his work with the words: “Municipal Securities Are the Area 51 of the Financial Markets.”  Since securities law is a favorite subject of mine and I once worked for a city that issues bonds, I was intrigued to discover the meaning behind these words.  After reading this multi-volume set, my curiosity was satisfied.

Doty, President of American Governmental Financial Services Company (AGFS), is an expert in the field of municipal securities transactions and offers this work as a diary of recent events in this market—a market reported as Municipal Bond Turmoil at a hearing before the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services in the wake of our recent financial crisis.  Doty leads his readers through the nuances of this market, elucidating the differing risks among various types of offerings.  Contrary to cursory news reports, some municipal investments remain safe.

Although books, blogs, news reports and journals address aspects of Doty’s work, his volumes stand unique in presenting a complete picture of recent events related to the municipal securities market.  Coverage of events includes: bankruptcies of cities, townships and districts; private litigation popping up around the country; criminal actions and SEC enforcement activity; and state regulators’ auction rate securities enforcement actions.  This work chronicles legislative and regulatory responses to the financial crisis.  Doty clarifies the congressional intent behind the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as it pertains to the municipal securities market.  The supplement includes key documents in the legislative history of this Act.  Doty’s set paints a clear portrait of the role of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) in promulgating rules to protect market participants, including the evolution of this role.  Interwoven with this wealth of facts, we gain the author’s insights and analyses based on decades of professional experience.  Doty shares his opinions with a boldness that is counterbalanced by his acknowledgement of perspectives that differ from his own.

While From Turmoil to Tomorrow will benefit interested readers, it could be improved upon further revision.  As librarians, we often start with the index when consulting a work of this magnitude, yet there is no index to this set.  The detailed table of contents somewhat compensates for the lack of an index, yet it does not replace one.  I found the footnotes wearisome to navigate.  Often footnotes in an early volume refer to later footnotes without indicating where they may be found.  This forces the reader to open more than one volume in search of a particular cross-reference.  Some of the longer footnotes continue for pages that do not include any primary text, which can cause readers to lose their place.  The table of contents includes a note that it may contain “minor page number inaccuracies.”  Overall, this author’s writing would benefit from professional editing and indexing.  A helpful aspect of this work’s presentation is the frequent placement of text boxes containing highlights and bullet points.

Experienced in representing state and local governments, Doty helps issuer officials understand the value of active involvement in performing due diligence, a need which is underscored by the fines the SEC recently imposed on four San Diego City officials under allegations of bond fraud.  Doty instructs his readers to look past the latest headlines that scare us into thinking all municipal bonds are doomed, and he helps us discern the risks associated with each type of offering.  Doty’s work is available in both print and electronic formats.  Given the lack of an index, the electronic format may be preferable for some library users who would benefit from keyword searching. Although these volumes may seem pricey, substantial discounts are offered to certain groups, including state and local government entities, nonprofits, and universities.

Reviewed by Judy Andresen, Reference Librarian, Western State University College of Law

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