It’s spring, and besides the napalm like bouquet of Amtrak diesel fumes, the aroma of Brunswick Sausage is in the air.
Perhaps that’s why we notice more members of the animal world showing up in public.
At the rate we’re going, the Concerned Ladies of Upper Brunswick (CLUB) may have to set up special housing just to hold them all, with separation of the various breeds to help maintain civic tranquility, and provide for the special needs of each and every one.
They better make accommodations for reptiles as well; they’ve been spotted around town lately.
On the other hand, a well known big dog will continue to run free in town, we expect. Shown here anticipating his next pastrami sandwich, this pooch, ironically enough, holds ‘office hours’ at..
Today’s news is that this “big dog” has caused other poochies to become, well, disturbed.
Once regular fixtures on our streets, these dogs haven’t been seen much in the last few years. But they’re apparently working to get back in the fray. Witness the following news.
We have a report “on background” that Brunswick Taxi recently had their corporate counsel, Shawn Bell, Esquire of Lewiston file a letter with Maine’s Government Oversight Committee objecting to certain specifics of the OPEGA investigation of NNEPRA. The specifics relate to their arrangements for providing daily double round trip transportation to Amtrak crews between Brunswick and Portland.
The letter is dated April 23rd of this year. We had a chance to peak at the contents, and hope very soon we’ll be able to post the document itself. It’s our understanding such documents are on the public record.
Before dealing with the content as we glimpsed it, a few general comments are in order. First, whatever happened to ‘buying local’ as a sacred mantra of perfect small towns like our own? The Kings had to go to Lewiston to find ‘corporate counsel?’
Think of all the local options before them: Johnny Protocols, Jackie Piranha, Ben Tucker, Charlie P, Ralph Tucker, and Emmy the Booch among others, any of whom we would have expected to take the work on a pro bono basis. But perhaps Brunswick Taxi, like the Downeaster, is looking to expand its service to Lewiston-Auburn.
Second, Other Side has offered Brunswick Taxi, from the very beginning, free access to our pages to either refute our postings, or submit their own disclosures. We have on several occasions posted our own estimate (because no hard info was available) that they were likely drawing $200,000 or so in annual revenue for the twice a day, every day of the year round trips to Portland with a van full of Amtrak crew. Never once did they call or write to correct that estimate, or provide hard data of any sort. Our offer remains wide open, as it is to all about whom we post, and everyone else, for that matter.
Third, we have in our possession numerous documents, by a number of writers, that detail requests to NNEPRA, Amtrak, Crew Transportation Services (an Amtrak subcontractor), and others asking for Brunswick Taxi contract information under freedom of access law. None of these requests yielded any disclosures; in fact, the results could best be described as stiff-arms. None of the requests were apparently forwarded to Brunswick Taxi, their corporate counsel, Travelliance, or any other intermediary.
In view of these dead-ends, our Washington Delegation (Senator King, Congresswoman Pingree, and Congressman Michaud) was asked to help in getting the information, with the same results: nothing useful. So it’s nice to hear, in the letter, that counsel for the company is more than willing to provide whatever is wanted. Send it along, and we’ll post it up, counselor.
Now let’s begin taking things comment by comment as we remember them:
- “My client is quite disturbed…..” Shame on you, counselor, for suggesting what by law should be kept private. “Disturbed” doesn’t sound particularly relevant in the legal sense, but it does remind us of the day Dale King gave us the Florida Youniversity (FYou) cheer as we drove by his Brunswick Taxi Topsham garage. (See http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2013/11/foxtrot-yankee-duplicitous-ethics-of.html) In a word, assertions about Brunswick Taxi have been in the public sector since late 2012; funny how being “disturbed” only surfaces now.
- “Senator Gerzofsky’s passive aggressive attack on Brunswick Taxi.” Seems the counselor has credentials in psychoanalysis as well as the practice of law; that’s quite an unusual combination.
- “Details Unavailable” and the words following. We understand from the Senator that just last fall, he approached Dale King as he waited near the tracks to pick up an incoming crew, and asked how much Brunswick Taxi was getting paid to provide the service. King’s response was “I don’t know,” and the Senator asked to get a copy of the contract. That never happened. “Never called?” Isn’t reaching out face to face more amiable and neighborly?
- “happy to provide you with any details.” We think all the details should be made available.
- How many different contracts have there been, and how long did/do they run? Will Brunswick Taxi keep getting paid through the term of the contract, even if eliminating dead-head runs ends the need for their service? How many different Amtrak sub-contractors have the contracts been with? If trains are cancelled and transport isn’t needed, do they still get paid? Are they paid per run, or is there a flat payment for the term of the contract?
- Do we have to figure out what unknowns we want to know about? How about just providing all the details: the solicitation, the statement of work, the contract, and any other relevant info?
- “No Bid Contract” and the words following. Perhaps the choice of those exact words confused things, but the common understanding of “no bid” in the contracting world is “sole source,” or alternatively, “non-competitive.” The point is, “no-bid” in the sense of multiple sources bidding/competing to win a published statement of work. Of course Brunswick Taxi had to submit their ‘bid,’ whether competitive or not. The salient point remains: were they the only company solicited to submit a bid? Providing all relevant solicitation documents, public notices, etc., should help clear things up. Given the earlier comment about Senator Gerzofsky’s personal effort, the “taken the time” comment is disingenuous, if not insulting.
- “NNEPRA” and the words following. Where do we begin? Given the lack of response to multiple prior requests, and even some statements conflicting with counsel’s statements, is it any wonder the situation is confused? CTS was cited in past correspondence as Amtrak’s agent in this matter; counsel is being helpful by correcting or updating these details. It appears to us as if subcontractors come and go in this domain, or change names at least, as often as the seasons change. CTS, LJK Companies, Travelliance, etc. Does Brunswick Taxi have a d/b/a facade for this branch of their business?
- “Quid-Pro-Quo” and words following. ‘Common decency’ – this from the master of the FYou salute? Small family businesses struggling to make ends meet? Difficult for Maine business to prosper? So Brunswick Taxi is ‘too small to fail,’ and entitled to government bail outs? Ethical standards…as in election practices, for example? And municipal arrangements with developers?
- Poor Brunswick Taxi; recipient of $247,000 from the town to replace/upgrade its taxi fleet. Who knows how much from State Government in the form of regular voucher revenue through various agencies? And so far unknown amounts through federal Amtrak channels. Sounds like advantages not available to those less well positioned. If these won’t help ‘ends meet,’ it’s time to find another business.
- Quid-pro-quo should actually read “conflict of interest” since Ms. King was chair of the Town Council during all the deliberations with NNEPRA to bring passenger rail service to Brunswick. The Kings should have insisted on a transparent, open process to dispel any concerns about conflict of interest.
- The letter closing shows what’s really at stake here. “Brunswick Taxi requests notice of any hearing” so that “it may defend its reputation.” As do the rest of us; what entertainment it will provide; if only we could be there for any related depositions as well.
- On the plus side, counselor Bell’s signature that we saw is a wonder to behold. It would be interesting to have a handwriting analyst with proper psychological credentials tell us what it suggests in the way of behavioral aberrations and complexes.
Whether it occurred to you or not, we see factors of higher import here. Or as we think of them, “takeaways.” Let us elaborate.
Takeaway 1: What did the Kings hope to accomplish by having this letter written and submitted to the GOC that oversees OPEGA? While we can’t know what their hopes were, we can opine on what it actually accomplished. “The Lady doth protest too much, methinks” comes to mind, adding some Shakespearean drama to the investigation. We expect the letter will raise the level of interest in how this arrangement came about at both municipal and state levels. Tally one more egg cracked that can’t be put back into the shell.
Takeaway 2: The details surrounding Brunswick Taxi’s arrangement provide a near perfect glimpse into the responsibility/accountability void at NNEPRA. It seems to us the perfect admixture of ‘it’s not my job’ with profuse amounts of OPM. Virtually no-one of importance has to worry about job security or the survival of the enterprise. It’s not in their DNA. Amtrak was created out of the ashes of passenger rail history, by a congress believing it could be made to work again, on a for profit basis, if you can believe it. As one congressman recently said, Amtrak is the Post Office on rails, and just as profitable.
Here’s an archived photo you might enjoy of the three OPM sisters, Municipal (MOPM), State (SOPM), and Federal (FOPM.) (“OPM,” for the uninitiated, stands for Other Peoples’ Money; pronounced O-pee-em, most of the time.) Here, though, we admit to liking the sound of “Moppem, Soppem, and Foppem.” It rolls off the tongue with a certain lilt.
We think immediately of who is ‘responsible and accountable’ for the recent derailment just outside the Portland depot? NNEPRA? Amtrak? Pan American Railways? What organization, and what employees within that organization? Are there subs involved that work for any of them?
What about their governing bodies? Just where does the buck stop? Who will step up and say ‘this one stops at MY desk?’ Where is the single point of accountability? In truth, there likely isn’t one. Government, as clearly demonstrated in recent years, is genetically indisposed to such petty considerations afflicting the private sector.
Perhaps you built your house, like we have, and employed a general contractor, who brought with him his subcontractors, and took overall responsibility for all aspects of the construction. Pretty straightforward. Now ask yourself these questions:
What is the NNEPRA Governance model? Who do NNEPRA and Patsy Quinn work for? Their Board? Who does the Board work for? The Governor, or one of his Departments? No. The legislature? No. The Governor nominates for the Board, and the legislature consents, but then what? How many layers of subcontractors does NNEPRA have? Amtrak? PAR? Parsons Brinkerhoff? Consigli? Food service? Drummac?
Who does Pan American Railways work for?
What is the Amtrak Governance model? Who does Amtrak work for? The President/Executive Branch and one of the Departments? No. Congress? No. A Board that oversees them? Who does the Board report to? How many layers of subcontractors does it use? CTS? LJK Companies, Travelliance, others? Brunswick Taxi?
There are simply too many bucks involved to keep track of.
In a word, who gets the 3 am phone call when things really go off the rails? What if there’s an environmental emergency at the MLF?
And why has track maintenance gotten to the point where 6 weeks or so of Construction Alerts are necessary?
But wait; it’s only “temporary: ”http://www.amtrakdowneaster.com/ConstructionAlert. If memory serves, way before the damage from the winter just passed was assessed, there was a residual of 22,000 ties still to be replaced after last year’s ‘hard winter.’ Most would agree the recent winter was worse than the one before; who knows how much will be added to the scope known at this time. Hence, these encouraging words:
The specific timing of the 2015 Tie Replacement Project is subject to change, but will likely end on or about June 15, 2015.
We hope you’ll agree there are more than enough “GA” concerns here for OPEGA to sink their teeth into. (Government Accountability)
Updating things, we just saw AAB posted this note on the TRNE Facebook page:
The Brunswick Layover Facility will: “significantly reduce NNEPRA’s operating expenses for fuel, crew overtime, and taxi service to transport crew between Brunswick and Portland.”
We wonder if AAB knows the exact figures for that last item; they know everything about everything else. Except the specifics of economic benefit to Brunswick.
Given the ‘making ends meet’ small business tears rhetoric above, we can begin to see why the Kings didn’t pursue their legal counsel from E. Boochever, Esq. We look forward to juicy and entertaining internecine squabbles about ‘not supporting each other.’
All in all, the collective circumstances should make for a nice sales pitch when the Kings get ready to sell the business next year, when the terms of the BDC forgivable loan allow them to do so.
Wrapping up, we’ll do our best to keep you posted as things unfold. Meanwhile, be careful where you walk; not every dog picks up after themselves, or can afford an attorney to do it for them.
Maybe one of these days we can kibitz about this over coffee; just keep in mind that if and when we do, we pretty much follow the happy blogger’s code of journalistic ethics.
Figuratively speaking, that is.