Saturday, January 25, 2014

“Mr. Manager,” “New Directions,” and other idiot-syncrasies in Cape Brunswick

Humor us for a moment as we set the stage for what follows with a little digression into pop psycho-babble.

Some years ago, we had a business associate who was drawn to various ‘self-help’ and ‘self-actualization’ weekend seminars, and he often regaled us with his experiences using pearls of wisdom from those excursions.

This one has always stuck in my mind:

“It’s much easier to ride a horse in the direction it’s going.”

Somehow I think this will come into play as we discuss ‘new directions’ and other au courant terms popping up in local discourse.

As we hope you’re aware, we’re making a conscientious attempt to climb back into our normal rut.  Fits, misfits, and starts and deferrals have been involved, and we think it’s now time to comment on the newest vicissitudes of life here in the richest little town in America. 

We’ve recently been rocked by major news emanating from the seat of our municipal government.  That seat, we needn’t remind you, is about to become another chapter in the town’s demolition tradition, and a new seat will soon take its place, at a cost of $1 million plus for buffing up.  And now you can add $100,000 or so to the effective cost of that move to cover Mr. Manager’s parachute.  And perhaps much more than that, if past is prologue.

But we don’t want to examine this real news before telling you of the lovely holiday experience we had before the end of the year.  We decided, as we usually do, to pay our current year property taxes in full by December 31st.  As we wrote the check, we noticed prior year records, and were delighted to see that our property tax levy has risen nearly 12% in just two years. 

We consoled ourselves with the thought that this was ever so small a price to pay for all the lovely new services and benefits provided to us for that mind-numbing increase.  We encourage you to do the same, and as you do, remind yourself of the hard work put in by our betters to see that the town lives within its means and that of its residents and taxpayers.

Moving on, you must know by now that Town Manager Gary Brown submitted his resignation to the Town Council on December 24th, as reported in this article.  As chance would have it, only days before that news broke, we had seen an article in the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Board of a company we had never heard of had reached an agreement to pay their CEO in excess of $30 million for giving up severance pay:

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. FCX +1.29% awarded its chief executive officer, Richard Adkerson, shares currently valued at about $36 million to compensate him for agreeing to give up rights to severance pay.

Which made us wonder what it was going to cost us to have Brown ‘resign.’  This goes to the heart of the matter; the departure is one thing, but the ‘management’ double speak surrounding the affair is, to put it mildly, quite another. 

(As an editorial note, we’ve come to believe that the oddly worded rationale for council ‘executive sessions’ in recent months have been dealing with finding a way to get Brown to leave without asking him to resign.  See for example this post.)

Brown’s departure invites all sorts of speculation and related chatter amongst the ruling class and the unwashed, though we don’t know if the invitation was accepted.  Is he a scapegoat for McClellan and Brunswick Development Corporation embarrassments?  Or does it run much deeper?  Now that the council has been reconstituted and the House of Sartoris is back on board with Johnny P and the rest, could it be that Jacquie P is playing a role behind the scenes? 

We don’t think anyone could argue that the council hasn’t become more political in recent years, and the two J.P.’s are as politically driven as any in our aristocracy.  (See this post to refresh yourself on past musings.)  It remains to be seen what we can expect from MS “Where is Pem Schaeffer?”

                 

When you come right down to it, the text book rhetoric associated with such ‘transitions’ is an embarrassing example of ‘polite’ mis-characterization of reality, and insults the intelligence of those governed by the parties involved.  Let’s look at a few examples:

  • “I wasn’t asked to resign.” 
  • And this by Suzan Wilson: "As a result, we began discussions with (Brown) regarding the future direction of the town and have arrived at an agreement that works for both the town and (Brown)"

Oh what fun we could have with these; they only exclude one of ten or more ‘suggestions’ the council might have made to Mr. Manager.  Possibilities are endless, comprising variations on the theme of ‘we’re not asking you to resign, but if you don’t…..’ 

Or, ‘if you want to leave with a good reference and an unblemished public record…..’  Or, ‘If you decide it’s the right time to seek other opportunities, we’ll give you the sum of …..’  Or, ‘have you thought about the consequences of digging your heels in….’  Or, ‘we don’t have to tell you how this works; either you choose to …….’  Or, ‘it’s not you, it’s us……’  Or, ‘ you have a very bright future ahead of you, somewhere else….’

Even The Ostrich couldn’t swallow the rock it dug out of it’s hole in the sand. 

You help us with the transition, Gary, and don’t sue us, and we’ll be nice and pay you a lot of taxpayer money to leave early. No one will say anything about why — ever — under pain of legal action.

Incredulous over the need to bribe Brown with somewhere between 6 months and a year of pay and benefits and the promise of a glowing recommendation to leave, does anyone in their right mind really expect us to believe he wasn’t ‘asked to resign’ by some means or another?  Oh wait…..’right minds’ aren’t relevant here.

  • a desire for a ‘new direction for the council’ and ‘seek the direction that they want to take this community’

Using the term ‘new direction’ suggests that there was an ‘old direction.’  We’re often slow on the uptake, but we’ve never been able to discern any coherent ‘direction’ on the part of our town council, unless these examples exemplify ‘direction:’

  • Accepting whatever is proposed in the budget, except for some showboat tinkering, and setting the tax rate high enough to provide the revenue to pay for it.
  • Swallowing whole the latest in ‘advances’ offered up by the parasitic consultancy, like back in parking, raised crosswalks, passenger rail revival, etc.
  • Sucking up to the School Department with suggestions that $50 thousand or so be eliminated before approving, with tearful commentary, the latest in ‘for the children’ spending increases.   Not to mention really ‘tough decisions.’
  • Assuming that every taxpayer can handle the tax increases as if they were pocket change, encouraged by the occasional advice to ‘tell people who don’t like the increases to move somewhere else.’
  • In other words, holding on for dear life instead of leading the town to a position of living within its means, like the rest of us are obligated to do.

Or as you might now have figured out, riding the horse in the direction it’s going, rather than leading it where you want it to go.  In an age where chief executives are actually willing to say things like ‘leading from behind,’ should we be surprised?  What’s next…leading from beneath?

Even more amusing is the reaction of some councilors to the mention of seeking a new direction, as cited in this article.

But statements by Councilors Benet Pols, John Perreault, Millett and Walker suggest the new council isn't moving in lockstep.  "There's no consensus that there is a particular direction," Pols, one of the two at-large councilors, said, adding that "a new direction" was Wilson's phrasing.

Perreault, of District 4, echoed Pols remarks.  "I don't know where (Wilson) came up with that wording," he said. "I would certainly ask what she meant by her words. It's not like we sat as a council and said we want to go in that direction."

Millett, of District 6, and Walker, of District 2, said they were surprised by Brown's resignation.

"I was not included in any of the conversations at all," Millett said.

Walker added: "I, too, was surprised by (Brown's) announcement."

The two new councilors also said they were confused by Wilson's "new direction" statement, given that they had no input on Brown's resignation.

"I don't know what she's specifically referring to," Millett said, though she added it's possible it could be related her and Walker's arrivals.

Walker said he was "frustrated," "annoyed" and "disappointed" that Wilson used the phrase, making it seem as if the previous council was trying to "cast aspersions" on the new one.

"The decision should have been owned by the outgoing council, instead of pinning it on the new council," he said.

As you can see, the council clearly begins the new session with a unity of purpose and comity that would make even the most cynical proud.  Of what, you might ask, and when we figure that out, we’ll get back to you.  Because we may decide to take this media outlet in a new direction.  Or we might decide to have no direction at all, because having direction is like having purpose; it can be so confining and constraining, in the psychobabble sense.

We do, however,  have some suggestions on new directions for the council and the community, many of which we’ve submitted to prior town councils.  Here are just a few:

Some thoughts on new directions:

  • The town council takes control of the town budget, rather than allowing the budget to take control of them.  As history proves, you can govern, or you can spend.
  • The town council lays down NTE figures for both the School Department and Municipal functions.
  • The town council lays out a minimum five year plan for total expenditures and tax rates.
  • The town council mandates that both the municipal and school department sides implement a restructuring of employee benefits, in particular the health insurance.  It’s time for employees to pay a far greater share of their benefits as has happened everywhere in the private sector.  Taxpayers should not be expected to absorb whatever increases in costs come along while employees are immune to them.  This would be one way to reduce the automatic upward pressure on budgets and taxes.
  • The “Town Manager” is redesignated as the “Town Administrator,” though this will probably be nearly impossible due to Charter and Statutory considerations.
  • The “Town Manager” is relocated to a seat at either end of the Town Council horseshoe table, or the front row of general seating, or a separate small table, instead of seating in an implied position of parity with the Town Council Chair.  It needs to be understood by all concerned that he/she is an employee of the Town and the Town Council.  He/she is employed to run the day to day operations of town apparatus; the Town Council is elected to govern the town.

We’ve puzzled over a metaphor for ‘directions,’ and for the moment, we’ll go with weathervanes, of which there are many types.  Working properly, they show which way the wind is blowing with respect to fixed compass points.

Here are some examples that might make sense for the town’s ‘new directions:’

  • Crazy like a fox, to honor the role of Johnny Protocols and unnamed others, past and present, in town governance

            

  • Another day, another spending increase

                   

  • Just a spoon full of sugar makes the tax increases go down

                  

  • Look over there, a cow is jumping over the moon; should we follow it?

                  

  • New directions?  We got your ‘new direction’ right here!

              

  • Brunswick Dragons rule!

             

  • Chim-chimanee, chim-chimanee, chim-chim-cheree; sing along with us children as we pass yet another increase in school spending to make the mommy mafia happy!

            

  • The creative economy rules, and come to think of it, creative explanations for going in wrong directions

             

  • On the other hand, let’s go this way; is there any more space at the base for a new aviation innovator?

          

  • Although howling at the moon might achieve more success while reducing required building demolitions

                  

As a final thought related to ‘directions,’ we’re reminded of a candidate for national office several years back who was described by a member of the chattering class as a “3 mph windsock.”  It remains to be seen which way the winds will blow here in the Cape, who will align themselves with the breeze, and who won’t.

And we should note that windbags and windsocks are not the same thing, in case you wondered.

Oh, and one more thing.  We hope the council can find it in their collective mind to come up with actually meaningful questions to ask new managerial candidates, beyond things like ‘can you hear well enough to answer the telephone?’  And can you read?

1 comment:

  1. Brown is the Punch of the Punch and Judy show. The string pullers are the town council who remain behind the scenes and pull the strings. Like Pinocchio he finally came alive and began to realize what illegal activities he was asked to look askance at or participate in. I believe he now wants out before his handlers are called to task and take him down with them. It is not only the BDC but the shenanigans they have concocted with the MRRA and town employees, mostly the teachers.

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