Sunday, February 19, 2017

TRNE and NNEPRA: “Wronger Together”

As we reported last month (TrainRiders Northeast goes pro), the lobbying organization for NNEPRA hired their first salaried Executive Director.

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While we’re not yet familiar with the overall array of talents young Mr. O’Keefe, Jr brings to his new position, it’s apparent he is learning critical skills quickly from his mentor, Chairman and Founder Wayne Davis, the Father of NNEPRA and the Downeaster.

Take for example this propaganda recently published on the TRNE Facebook page (Sunday, 12 Feb; ):

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We’re especially taken by this language: “It will, however, operate on a modified schedule in anticipation of lower ridership.”  (emphasis ours)  It makes us wonder if we’ve forgotten a phrase from the cited old Post Office saw that qualfied the pledge thusly: “except in anticipation of lower mail volume.”

These comments followed the above post:

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So it didn’t take long to make a retraction of the brash bravado post, or for young Mr. O’Keefe, Jr to demonstrate his dry sense of humor.  Very un-Davis like, that, and we can’t help but wonder if a bit of additional ‘counseling’ on job performance ensued.

Ironically enough, the older post below the above items is this:

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Can we have a group chorus of “Oops” please?

                        

Oddly enough, the TRNE web page doesn’t seem to be operating today, which leaves multitudes verklempt, we’re sure, including the lovely ladies of All Aboard Brunswick.  It leaves us wondering just what the new ED and his mentor might have up their collective sleeve.

Before we leave you, we’ll summarize the information we’ve collected on ‘the only dependable public transportation system running’ in our area during the recent winter weather (“unexpected,” no doubt.)

On Feb 13th:

682 and 683 did not run from Brunswick to Boston and return. reason unknown

684 left Brunswick on time and arrived Boston  2' 26" late

685 left Boston 18" late and arrived Brunswick 1' 11" late

From Amtrak public records.  REASONS for delays and cancellations unknown.

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Summarizing for the first train out of Brunswick’s new overnight layover facility:

Scheduled departure 7:40am................1st train out of the barn

Mon 2/13    never left

Tues 2/14   departed 35” late and arrived Boston 51” late

Wed 2/15   departed 1” late and arrived Boston 26” late

Thu  2/16    departed 15” late and arrived Boston 41” late

(in railroad lingo, ‘ is the symbol for hour, and “ is the symbol for minutes)

As we said in a post on the 14th,

Wow! What a difference the Brunswick Layover Facility has made…..

We’ll close with this thought: if modifying the Downeaster schedule “in anticipation of lower ridership” was normal practice, wouldn’t half or more of the trips to/from Freeport & Brunswick be canceled? 

We notice NNEPRA hasn’t been reporting ‘city pair’ ridership statistics much in recent months, and maybe this is why.

Oops!  We almost forgot.  As often happens, we have ‘one more thing:’

On Tuesday February 14th, under improved conditions, the snow-covered morning train stored outside in sub-freezing weather at Portland departed on time, and was only 16 minutes late.  This info shows in the Amtrak table above, but we thought you might not notice it and let the implications soak in.  Unless The Ostrich covers it in an upcoming edition.

Go figure, right? 

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Case in point: why Brunswick needs a full time property manager to protect taxpayer interests

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Just the other day, we wrote of the need for REAL CHANGE in how Brunswick manages its facility assets, and we included a memo we’re sending the Town Council to propose a policy change that does so.  You’ll find it here: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2017/02/time-for-change-real-change.html

Shortly after posting the item, we recalled the case of the McLellan.  And a post on the subject dated three years ago: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-mclellan-shame-shame-on-bowdoin.html

The ‘road to the McLellan’ was a tortured one, though we don’t expect you to remember the details.  We discovered from our earlier work that the original estimate for remodeling to meet the needs of the town was $100,000.  That figure quickly doubled.  Next thing you know, it was in excess of $1 million, or ten times the original estimate.  We’re not sure how much the final total was.  This was a lesson, ignored as usual, that competence in such matters is an unknown quantity in local governance, especially when various councilors are intent on selling us on an idea.

The post from 2014 included these pictures to express concern over the exterior condition of the building, and to scold Bowdoin College for their lack of diligence in maintaining the building; we mused as to why that might be.  Regardless, the images show a sad and shabby state of affairs three years ago.   In the real estate world, this is called ‘deferred maintenance’ to make it sound like a “normal” occurrence.  In the real world, where the rest of us live, this is called “letting things go to hell.”

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You know how time flies.  Or runs, or swims, or walks, or takes the train if you see things differently.

We visit the McLellan from time to time for various purposes, and we usually take note of the condition to see if the situations above have been repaired; those shown are symptomatic of the overall condition of building exterior trim, and who knows what else.

Given our recent thoughts on building care, we were shocked, you might say, to realize the exterior deterioration of our ‘new’ Town Hall has been going on for three years at the very least since we took possession.  So we inquired as to when repairs would be made.

We were told repairs would begin this year, and that the budget for the work is in the range of $200,000.  Your guess is as good as ours as to where the number will actually end up.  The devil is in the details, and the proof is in the pudding.

Experience with our own home proved that a few cracks and dry rot spots here and there could be telltale indicators of far more serious and pervasive underlying damage.  We hope for our own sakes that this is not the case here, because we’ll all be paying for it.  But only time will tell as the contractor begins to rip off all the effected areas to assess the damage.

The real question is how a responsible municipal government could allow such clearly progressive decay to continue for three years without taking decisive action to eliminate the problem.

The question answers itself, we think.

And unquestionably makes the case as to why Brunswick needs a single point of accountability at a senior reporting level for managing the overall care of our hundreds of millions worth of physical assets.

We’er making the proposal; but Frank Lee, our experience in such matters gives us no hope that we’ll see any action taken by our betters.  So we’re not holding our breath that things will change, or betting any of our personal funds on the outcome.  We envision that discussing the situation will cause too much public embarrassment for the council and the school department, and so they’ll avoid it like the plague.

But in keeping with the opening principle, we’d be happy to hold your breath or bet your shekels, because it wouldn’t involve any risk or consequences for us.

If only everything in our lives worked that way.  Why is it that government (“all of us”) can get away with such behavior and never seem to be held accountable, but those of us who pay the bills for their irresponsibility can’t?

  

They used to call that “the $64,000 question.’

Now a days, it’s more like the million dollar question.

Just for starters.  Or a quick off the cuff estimate.

Cape Brunswick…..jumping into the deep end

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Every now and then, especially in the dead of winter after two feet of snow, it’s good to remind ourselves that we live in Cape Brunswick, the best and richest little town in America.

Which recently welcomed a new candy store in town, giving us two.  That’s two real candy stores; the kind you can walk into and buy something.

Turns out there’s a third candy store in town, but it’s a virtual one.  It’s the one where Town Council and School Board members act like Cape Brunswick’s little rich kids in a candy store, gorging themselves on every sweet treat they can think of, fully expecting ‘their parents’ to pay for it.

They can do that because all the important necessities, things like roads, storm drains, sewer and water lines are in tip-top shape.

But, you might say, we need a new school, a new Central Fire Station, and a new Dump.  Oops!  Make that a Land Fill.  C’mon; those are the fruits and vegetables and protein and fiber of community life.

So it’s time for the kids to make a visit to the virtual candy shoppe and find some new treats to gorge themselves on, and this time the sweet treat is called “Municipal Aquatic Center.”  How can we deny them these goodies, given our prime location in one of the coldest climates in the lower 48, and the inacessability of ocean waters for refreshing ourselves ‘naturally.’

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You’ll find the feasibility study here:  http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Agenda-Packet-Feb-21-15-ON-LINEFeasibility-Study-Community-Aquatic.pdf

It’s in the packet for the Town Council meeting of Tuesday, February 21st.  It includes a cost estimate of $3 million, an operations analysis (revenues will exceed expenses!), and a ‘market analysis.)  You can trust the consultants who wrote this report, because they’re not like all the others.

The survey that was done at the request of the Parks and Recreation Department can be found here: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Brunswick-Maine-Final-Report.pdf

We were sure we’d posted on discussions regarding such an Aquatic Center some years ago, but damned if we could find it; maybe you can.

But don’t worry about that; our town employed a ‘national leader’ to conduct a survey to prove unequivocally that town residents are clamoring for such an aquatic facility.  That firm is known as the ETC Institute, and they specializing in helping communities make better decisions.  Which reminds us of a local firm called Good Decisions that recently helped our school department come up with a strategic vision.  Here’s a glimpse at ETC as they see themselves:

Connecting Communities

ETC Institute's research is implementation oriented to help clients achieve their short- and long-term goals and objectives.

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And highlights of their strengths:

Our ability to effectively listen and involve citizens and clients has given ETC Institute a reputation as the premier public policy market research firm in the country. ETC Institute’s services focus on involving citizens, users, and stakeholders in the decision making process and developing creative and sustainable funding strategies.

Core services of the firm involve conducting statistically valid phone and mail/phone services and related market research. We have conducted more than 600 surveys for parks and recreation systems in 49 states across the Country for a wide variety of projects including parks and recreation master plans, strategic plans, and feasibility studies.

Since 1992, the principals and associates of ETC Institute have helped secure funding for more than $2.5 billion of parks and recreation projects. The firm has extensive experience conducting surveys as components of plans leading to successful voter elections. ETC Institute’s work allows the community to see itself in their planning efforts, providing buy-in and trust in the process.

http://etctest.etcmain.com/research-areas/parks-and-recreation/

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Side, of course, is not riding in his first rodeo, so we take the above ETC self-description for what it is: a promise that they will give you the outcome you want, with lots of collaboration buzzwords sprinkled about to make everyone feel good about themselves.  Those of you with fewer saddle sores may have to read the passage multiple times to grasp what it says ‘between the lines.’

The fact is that the survey was never going to consider the possibility that no such facility should be planned or built.  It wasn’t going to begin with a question like “do you think this is a dumb-ass idea, or a good idea?”  Or “do you think a town with a winter that lasts nine months should build an aquatic facility?”  Or “would you like the town to compel other people to buy you a lovely place to swim whenever you feel like it?”  Or “do you think the town should build a luxury like an aquatic center when it needs two new schools, a new fire station, and a new dump?”

Now the really good news; the agenda for next week’s meeting shows that the new school referendum, the aquatic center, and the Central Fire Station are all on the table for discussion.  See the agenda here: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Agenda-February-21-2017-1.pdf

Seems like this is a good time to review the shopping list for the virtual candy store, not including such frivolities as streets, sidewalks, curbs, storm drains, and water and sewer systems.

  • New Elementary School: $28 million
  • A new Junior High School, sure to follow:  $35-40 million
  • Central Fire Station:  $10 million or so, plus millions more for new rolling stock that will fit in the new facility
  • New Dump (Land Fill): $10 million
  • Aquatic Center:  $5 million (yeah, we know, the consultant estimate says $3 million, but that’s just a SWAG…a starting point before the real candy shoppers have their way)

You can add that up anyway you like; we’ll call it $90 million in what will all eventually be described, if not yet, as essential community expenditures. 

Accordinly, we think the Town Council needs to fess up and come clean.  In recent discussions on the Elementary School construction proposal, they had our Finance Director isolate the cost of the new elementary school and project the financing and tax increases it would require. Instead, they should have her do a projection for the aggregate of all major capital projects on the table, and present the financing profile and property tax increases they would collectively generate.

  

Trick or treat anyone?  We think that if town officials came clean on the numbers we call for, your reaction would be much more like a good Halloween scare than an all expenses paid visit to a candy store.

Which might be a good thing; you know what happens when you eat too much candy.  Next thing you know, your teeth are rotting, and you need tens of thousands of dollars in dental restoration work.  While you can buy dental insurance, we’re not aware of any property tax increase insurance.

          

Though we suppose you could call the duck or the gecko to check.  While you’re at it, watch the local media outlets for incisive analysis of the local outlook in such matters; they’re known for their intense focus on the details of such profound local evolutions.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Time for change. REAL CHANGE

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Last month, we published several items on the deplorable record of our elected officials for stewardship of both municipal and school buildings.  We asked what Brunswick would be like if ALL the buildings in town were cared for with the same lack of responsibility and accountability.

Our circumstances result from two realities as we see it.  First is the truism expressed above.  Second is the fact that town officials have the power, via the adjustable rate property tax, to compel funds from us with the force of law to pay for their mistakes, and lack of responsibility for the dilgent care of the assets we pay for and entrust to their use.

Clearly something has to change, or the sorry approach to this facet of their responsibilities will continue ad infinitum.

Accordingly, we will be submitting the following message to the Town Council shortly.  We’ll include some attachments, and it may be edited slightly from the version below.  But you can get the idea from what follows.  It will be interesting to see if they even bother to take the issue up for discussion; we aren’t hopeful in that regard.  If they do, it should be even more interesting to see how they dance around it and artfully dodge the root causes.  No doubt many memorable quotes for the ages will ensue.

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Town Officials:

The Town Council is currently deliberating the issue of a referendum to borrow $28 million to build a locally funded school to replace Coffin Elementary. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for February 22nd. I have no doubt that if things proceed as in the past, the hearing will be dominated by school advocates who believe spending such sums is 'for the children;' the Council will vote overwhelmingly to approve the referendum going to ballot, and the town will overwhelmingly approve the ballot question in a very low turn out election.

It doesn't take much knowledge of town history and current circumstances to expect that close on the heels of this project will be replacement of our Junior High School at even greater cost, with hopes that the state will contribute a good deal of the funding. But if the state demurs, we'll be faced with another one of those 'tough decisions' in which we are 'left with no choice' but to fund JHS replacement on our own.

I write here to implore you to declare “ALL STOP” before proceeding on ANY school construction (or renovation) projects. The reason is that Brunswick has a structural governance problem when it comes to stewardship of municipal capital assets, and unless this deficiency is remedied with a new and robust commitment to responsibility and accountability for these assets, the same periodic crises will continue to arise, confront sitting councilors, and stun unsuspecting residents with never-ending and unaffordable increases in property taxes.

I've been a resident of Brunswick for nearly 20 years. In that time, the town's record for diligent stewardship of building assets, both municipal and school department, has been decidedly undistinguished to say the least. Concern for taxpayers and the burdens placed upon them has been largely non-existent. Brunswick's tax rate is up 35% in ten years; spending is up $11 million per year in the same time frame.

You don't have to dig very deep to find very troubling examples of school and municipal disregard for maintaining buildings in a state of good repair and prioritizing their preservation. The School Department in particular behaves as if they can have their way with local and state taxpayers no matter how poorly they manage their capital assets, and history proves them right. When the base closed, they had a chance to eliminate all temporary classrooms, but instead decided to rid themselves of much loved school buildings (Longfellow & Hawthorne).

The worst examples of this situation are troubling and shameful. In the last several years, there have been reports of broken toilets in the schools going unrepaired. In the recent presentation by Lyndon Keck of PDT, mention was made of non-functioning fire alarms. Why does it take an architect's review to discover this, and how could School Administration allow these problems to exist?

I have never seen any evidence that either the municipal or school side of our local government has a single point of responsibility for the condition and maintenance of buildings assigned to them. This cannot continue; it clearly is a recipe for failure, building decline, poor decision making, and repeated tear down and new construction. Buildings are seen as dispensable and easily replaced. Priorities are non-existent. A central Fire Station more than a century old continues in use while other buildings are replaced at less than half that age.

Accordingly, I propose that the Town Council enact a policy that clearly identifies a single point of responsibility for monitoring, maintaining, and reporting on the condition of all Brunswick capital assets. This reporting should take place publicly at least twice a year, and should include a detailed listing of all required repairs, estimated costs, and how long the repairs will take.

I suggest that the Assistant Town Manager be assigned this responsibility. He seems the perfect choice, since his position is relatively new. Further, as a direct report to the Town Manager, his efforts would receive the high visibility and careful guidance we should expect.

I look forward to a lively council discussion of this proposal. Perhaps the council will deem the subject important enough, and never-ending, to appoint a related Task Force for oversight.

Wow! What a difference the Brunswick Layover Facility has made…..

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You may recall that one of the grand justifications for constructing the Massive Layover Facility (MLF) in Brunswick was that the effects of ‘unexpected’ harsh winter weather would be mitigated because trains would be stored inside overnight where they would be kept safe and warm, and those arriving with caked on ice and snow could have it conveniently melted off, including on their wheel and brake system components.  Operations would be vastly improved for all concerned.

Well, we suppose you could say yesterday’s deluge of happy white stuff was ‘unexpected,’ especially if you are NNEPRA and Amtrak.

Now comes word of Downeaster schedule problems today…the day after the storm…when most of us are going about our daily business and making full use of our personal transportation.  A friend with professional qualifications in the field reports these deficiencies in Downeaster operation today:

682 left Brunswick 35 minutes LATE today after sitting inside the BLF all night

684 never left Brunswick after sitting in the BLF all night. (it was cancelled, and so is 685 out of Boston)

Meanwhile:

680 left Portland ON TIME today after sitting outside all night

(this sort of information is available on national real time web sites for railroad professionals)

So there you have it, you doubting Thomases and Thomasinas.  Conclusive proof that those who make their living spending other peoples’ money can always be trusted, no matter how dubious their claims may seem.

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Come to think of it, this turn of events sort of reminds us of the promises that were made of ‘exponential economic benefit’ for Brunswick once the Downeaster started coming to town.

We just have to be patient, we suppose.  You can trust us on this; we’re not like all the others.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TrainRIders NorthEast goes “Pro.”

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TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE), the 501(c)3 ‘non-profit’ organization without whom the Downeaster would not exist (they humbly assert), has been around a long time.  We’ve mentioned them, and their leader, Wayne Davis, scads of times over the years our journal has been published.

Further, we’ve called them a wholly owned subsidiary of NNEPRA, and lobbyists for them to boot.  We’ve used that latter term in testimony before legislative committees, and had their attorney turn to look at us from the podium and specifically deny it, as he testified against specific legislation, which pretty much defines lobbying.

Best we knew in past years, the organization was mostly volunteer, raising very little funding, and paying only a modest sum to Davis for his leadership.  In the absence of substantial compensation, Davis has been treated as a Saint of passenger rail by NNEPRA, various legislators and other officials, and an adoring and obsequious public.

Now comes word that the organization is ‘going pro,’ having hired their first “Executive Director.”  Here’s the related press release.

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A note or two on this roll-out.  First, the reference above to O’Keefe’s start in the transportation policy field as a ‘freelance writer for railroad.net’ seems a bit underwhelming.  When we surfed on over to that web-page, we found the newest content was dated  2013.  So one could surmise that the operation is, for all intents and purposes, defunct.  No matter; he’s since been “helping NNEPRA build partnerships.”  We’re limited in our knowledge of the details, but until we hear otherwise, we’re assuming this means distributing free tickets to the ‘variety of community groups,’ about which we’ve posted in past years.

While we don’t know what this will mean for TRNE’s non-profit status, it seems pretty clear they can no longer tout themselves as a volunteer organization, and that serious fund raising will have to become a larger part of their work.  Perhaps they can gain some funding from those they support, like NNEPRA and Amtrak.  And maybe even shake some loose from an obscure line item or two in State accounts.  Lord knows there are all sorts of non-profits sucking off various public teats, and we expect the young new ED to prioritize making sure his paychecks get issued.

We did take the trouble to seek out TRNE’s form 990s, which they’re required to file with the IRS in order to maintain their 501(c)3 non-profit status.  The latest one we found was for 2014, which makes us wonder if they’re bordering on being delinquent for their 2015 return, which should have been submitted early in 2016.  As you’ll see, their submission is not paritcularly complicated, so we don’t see complexity and oodles of supporting data as rationale for any extension.

Anyway, you can find the 2014 form here: https://www.scribd.com/document/338056016/TRNE-2014-990

Here are the highligths, such as they are:

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The big numbers, we must say, catch us by surprise.  $165,000 in contributions, grants, and gifts is no small number for these circumstances, and $142,000 in assets at the end of the year leaves them pretty flush as well, which may be what led to the plan to hire an ED.  That’s growth in assets of $125,000 during the year.

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Wouldn’t you just know it; they finally admit to engaging in lobbying activities.

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Then, just when you thought there was nothing else to see here, up pops an “unusual grant 2014, $125,000.”  That seems like a real curiosity to us, but try as we might, we couldn’t find any details on who the grant was from, nor any requirement that they provide that info.  All they had to do is declare it ‘unusual,’ which it is, we think you’d agree.

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Once again, admission of lobbying, even though the amounts are small and rounded.  Still, they admit to doing so.

And as we all know, there’s lobbying, and then there’s lobbying.  We know for a fact that TRNE has told the Governor’s Office that it’s their role to nominate candidates for the NNEPRA Board of Directors, not the Governor’s, regardless of what statute says.

We don’t recall that the yiddish word chutzpah actually includes ‘lobbying’ it it’s definition, but maybe it should?  Shouldn’t it?

  

Now all we want to know is when the lovely ladies of AAB will decide they’ll need a handsome young Executive Director to guide their advocacy efforts, and help them find some ‘unusual grants.’  Or perhaps someone with career experience as an Ambassador would fit the bill, especially one who rides the train multiple times a week.

Who Are We? Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force needs more time to figure it out, apparently.

Side has posted a number of times on Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), which among other things, is intended to demonstrate that ‘this is not who we are,’ the preferred rhetoric in such settings, whatever that might mean.  To the critical thinker, this always raises the opposite point: ‘so, who exactly are we?’

How a town goes about figuring that out is a deeply existential matter, but we always look to our governing betters to clarify such things, no matter how long it may take, or how tortured the path to enlightenment may be.  Fortunately, we have traditional media outlets to keep us abreast of the progress, including The Ostrich.  Unless they don’t get related memos delivered through underground channels in the sand.

We’ve posted a number of times on the subject since the Task Force was created, and you can refresh yourself here: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/search?q=task+force

Wow!  We’d forgotten just how much we’d commented on the subject, including pointing out how recently, our School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, and new Town Council Vice-Chair Kathy Wilson have had their hair on fire over the fact that Hillary Clinton was not elected President, as they were certain she would be.  We suppose hair on fire is what happens when you aren’t the winner of a free chicken dinner.

Recently we noticed that our Town Council was taking up a resolution extending the existence of the HRTF.  It was included in the “Consent Agenda” for the 17 January 2017 meeting.  The text of the resolution is as follows:

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We don’t know why our betters didn’t word the resolution to make the HRTF a permanent element in our municipal government.  As we’re sure we’ve suggested in our earlier columns on the subject, this is one of those things we’ll never be able to get rid of.  Anyone who suggests that it is no longer needed is sure to open themselves up to abuse from every last corner of the special interest community.  “How dare you suggest that we no longer care about Human Rights in Brunswick?”  “Don’t you know this is why people move here – because we have the best Human Rights Task Force?”  “The Human Rights Task Force is the backbone of our community!”

Alert readers may note that some of those protests sound a lot like the rhetoric of the school advocate community.  Yes it does; that’s the interesting thing about squeaky wheel government groupies.  With a few exceptions here and there, all their demands eventually begin to sound the same.

Unlike our ‘journalistic’ colleagues in the area, Side latched onto the mention in the resolution of a report delivered to the Town Council, dated 11 August of 2016.  We’ve posted it on the internet so you can read it; find it here: https://www.scribd.com/document/338045660/HRTF-Mem-08-11-16-Report-to-TC-1

The first page looks like this:

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In our view, the ‘takeaways’ from the document are pretty limited, and we’ve culled them out for you.  They are ‘highlighted’ below, beginning on page 3:

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In our view, that last line misses a larger point, that being the social and cultural atmospherics of our day, which are driven by an increasingly ‘diverse’ and vocal set of social justice warrior groups. They can only find purpose by identifying myriad offenses, even if being a bit loose with the specific details and evidence is necessary, leaving many not ‘actionable.’  For example, the culture at large is busy transforming what we once knew as teasing into ‘bullying’ and ‘human rights abuses.’  And far worse.

We believe, based on our regular observations, that Bowdoin College is at the forefront of such social justice warfare methods.  Followed closely by our School Department.  In fact, we sometimes think Bowdoin ought to be renamed “Fort Bowdoin – Headquarters of the 1794th Northeastern Social Justice Warfare Command.”

Lastly, from the recommendations section, a point that adds to this narrative:

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We can only wonder what the detail of such municipally established safe houses might be, who will staff them, who will maintain them, and who will pay for them.  Oh, sorry; the answer to that last one is obvious.  Perhaps the Departure Center in Maine Street Station could be called into service, or even overnighting coach cars from the Downeaster, if left sitting at the station.  Come to think of it, the new MLF probably could easily accomodate dozens of “safe rooms.”

Or how about this: local taxpayers could get an annual credit on their property taxes of say $250 for having a sign placed in their yard saying they are an official Brunswick sanctioned safe house.  And an additional $25 for each soul they welcome in.

After taking this all in, here’s where we are.

Side is pretty sure who he is, but we have no such certainy about who YOU are.  We hope you’ll tell us the next time we meet.

     

As to our Town Council and the members of the HRTF?  They haven’t helped this reporter have any better understanding of ‘exactly who we are’ as a town.  But we’re pretty sure they’ve dug themselves into a fair sized hole, and they’re doing all they can to make it bigger and deeper.

You know the old saying: ‘the road to doing the right thing is pocked with lots of deep holes.’

Maybe they can hire a consultant to help them find a “Get Out of the HRTF For Free” card. (Not including the cost of the consultant, obviously!)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Time’s up! What’s your answer?

A few days ago, in this post, we posed a question to our readers:

So we wondered, in a moment of fanciful reflection, what might happen if our gorgeous downtown neighborhoods were maintained by those charged with the stewardship of our schools and other municipal buildings?

We don’t know whether you’ve thought it through, but we’d like to bring this particular discussion to a close, if only temporarily, with an assertion that if the same behaviors exhibited by our officials were applied to Brunswick overall, there wouldn’t be much ‘downtown’ left for anyone to see.  Visitors would alight from incoming Downeater runs and wonder what happened.

We’ll start by reviewing various materials associated with ‘preserving’ the historical nature of Brunswick.  Here’s a map of one in-town district viewed as worthy of special treatment because of how it fits into the evolutionary ‘arc’ of our town.

From: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/landusemaps1.pdf

Then there’s this diagram showing the ‘town core area,’ which for the most part consists of buildings that are old and older, even older than we are.  And maybe older than you are.

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Brunswick advocates are fond of pointing out how many historic buildings we have, mostly in the ‘downtown’ area, but in some cases not.  Here’s a 3 page list of the top 100.

From: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Brunswick-Top-100-Historic-Structures.pdf

Here’s a snip of page 1.

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You can study the document to determine how many of these structures are 50 years old or less, which is the emotional barrier for public schools.  When you look at the list, you might notice that no Bowdoin College buildings appear on it.  The College is more than 200 years old, with numerous buildings that date back centuries and are still vital parts of the campus.

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You might also enjoy this treatise issued by the Village Review Board, which considers itself the official guardian of our unique architectural ambience.

VRB Design Guidelines: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Villagea-Review-Design-Guidelines.pdf

The building below, if you are familiar with it, currently shows what happens when you look the other way on maintenance, like we do with schools.

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Our education establishment here in town likes to emphasize that public schools are built with an expected useful life of 40 years, so anytime we ask or expect them to get more than that out of them, we’re sacrificing the interests of our children and being unrealistic.

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So what does this picture we’ve just painted tell you?  We’d like to think it’s obvious, but we’re going to review the essence anyway.

With few exceptions, the various properties (“historic”’) in the references and links cited above are owned by somebody(s), which is to say private parties, and specifically NOT government.  These individuals or other private entities do not have the ability to extract funds from the rest of us through taxation and the force of law.  So if they want their assets to survive and maintain their value and utility, they have to take care of them at their own expense.

Come to think of it, that’s the way we have to deal with our own home, and probably you do as well.  Ours is relatively ‘new’ at only 20 years of age, but we’re guessing a good many of you live in structures that are older than 40 years, and in a lot of cases, much much older.  Presumably, you tend to the needs of your home to maintain it as a viable, desirable place to call home, no matter when it was built.

This is distinctly the opposite of the way our local government entities operate.  Knowing full well that they can compel funds from us if they have to, they fall into a cycle of build, demo, replace as if it’s the natural course of things, even though it obviously isn’t.  And they have the enthusiastic assistance of a plethora of professionals in forwarding their specious arguments.

Leaving the rest of us to absorb the barage of insults if we don’t agree unequivocally, and to have no choice but to go into shoulder shrugging mode.

Which reminds us of the slogan we’ve uttered numerous times in the past: “you can govern, or you can spend.”

So suck it up, suckers.  You do support the common good, don’t you?

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Monday, January 23, 2017

A question for the ages….and the interested student….

The Brunswick Downtown Association uses such lovely pictures to remind us of the enduring beauty of our historic village’s greatest asset: the timeless charm of the downtown area, with its aging, inviting, and well maintained shops, restaurants, other businesses, offices and such.

They remind us to be proud of our community’s heart, and to preserve and improve it for the future and the well-being of the community at large.  Over the years, considerable funds have been spent to enhance the appeal and visitor friendliness of the finest little town in America. Things like brick sidwalks; bumpouts and raised crosswalks; and even back in parking.

Reactions have been mixed, we think it’s fair to say, and some, like the back in parking, actually had to be ‘reversed,’ poetically enough.

So we wondered, in a moment of fanciful reflection, what might happen if our gorgeous downtown blocks were maintained by those charged with the stewardship of our schools and other municipal buildings?

While you ponder that and talk amongst yourselves, we offer these additional downtown views to make sure your analysis is thorough and well-formed:

Image result for brunswick park row

And we mustn’t forget one of Maine Street’s most historic structures:

Now that you’ve had some time to ponder our question, we’re going to give you some hints in pictures, so you can judge without the confusion and condemning tone of our words.

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We’re known for criticizing town officials, and especially the school department, for dereliction of duty when it comes to stewardship of the physical assets with which they’ve been entrusted.  We’ve frequently cited this principle:

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Which is further elaborated with this passage:

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We’ve even gone so far as to infer that school departments plan intentionally for the deterioration of their assets so they can periodically replace them with newer and more pleasing edifices, knowing full well how easy it is to shame taxpayers into forking over the funds.  And we hold by that view, as nothing we’ve seen, especially locally, in any way justifies an opposing view.

     Image result for salami

Born and raised in New Jersey as we are, we love salami as much as anyone,  But we prefer our slices in an antipasto plate, or on a classic deli sandwich, thank you, instead of as a symbol for dereliction of duty and abuse of the public trust.