Saturday, October 6, 2012

Capital Projects, OPM Addiction, and Public Buildings

When it comes to capital facility projects, Brunswick’s municipal governance history is a case study in incompetence, ineffectiveness, and a cocksure belief that whatever it takes dollar-wise can be squeezed from local taxpayers with not a bit of embarrassment or next election risk.  And at the penalty of perhaps a half-hour of public hearing opposition.

Not to mention a total lack of accountability and responsibility when it comes to prioritizing maintenance of existing assets.  The School Department in particular will always make good stewardship of physical assets last on their list, knowing full well that the general public are suckers for weepy-eyed rhetoric about ‘doing what’s right for the children.’ Even when it means trashing once-praised buildings that should have been routinely kept in good repair, in favor of wondrous architectural ‘visions’ no matter their cost and no matter declining enrollments.

The town is littered with physical evidence of this pathology, or in some cases, only memories.

When a $13 million public safety building proposal was resoundingly rejected by voters in 2003, contrite town councilors openly professed that they had “gotten the message from the public.” 

Yah, shurr.  Some lessons stick; but when OPM (pronounced oh-pi-um) is involved, clear thinking is quickly compromised as the thought of more and more Other Peoples Money is lined up in neat little rows, and keeps the partying going.

It’s obvious that we, the ones who always, always cough up the shekels to bail out those responsible, have created this ‘dependency,’ and allowed it to become permanently institutionalized.  What’s not obvious is how individuals to whom we give the authority in such matters can repeat the same mistakes over, and over, and over again, without ever learning from their mistakes.  And then do it over again, just for good measure.

How many times do you have to stick your finger in a fire before you realize you’re going to get burned?  How many times do you have to walk in front of architects and contractors with thousand dollar bills hanging out of every pocket before you come to realize those involved will help themselves to the goodies?  How many times do you have to hear 2 + 2 = 4 before you realize it’s true?  How many times do you have to fail before you realize there are others who could help you, and without fleecing the town in the process?

We’ve reflected on this subject more times than we can bear to recall over the years, and we continue to marvel at just how forgetful our elected betters, and their hired professionals, can be in this regard.

(If you’re looking to refresh yourself on the subject, you can go here to get a recap of our prior posts searched on the term ‘police station.’)

The latest sad reminder of just how badly elected officials and highly paid, certified administrators can bungle capital projects is the tearing down of the old Times Record building on Industry Road.  We taxpayers invested ~ $1.3 million to buy it, and perhaps half of that again to make it useful for some limited purposes. While our betters have no doubt forgotten, you and this reporter surely remember how shortly after the purchase, it was ‘discovered’ that the building would need $5 million plus in renovations to make a useful municipal facility.

Apparently no one in the chain of command, or any cognizant authority, had ever heard of the term ‘due diligence,’ especially as it comprises a key step before finalizing a facility purchase.  How no-one was summarily terminated over that fiasco is beyond us, but this very fact makes it clear that incentives to perform with competence are non-existent in OPM land.  And that consequences of rank ineptitude are nil, especially if you are widely seen as ‘nice.’  Which leaves us fearful that our pockets are about to be turned inside out in what lies ahead.

In our view, you can chalk up the old TR building caper as a cash gift to the Times Record organization, such as they are today.  They got our money, and we got a building that served no municipal purpose, and now we are paying to get rid of it.  And yet, in spite of this cash gift, the Ostrich has had great trouble staying current on its property taxes.

The good news, of course, is that the School Department is lusting after the cleared Industry Road site as the location for a new ‘bus barn,’ at who knows what cost.  We expect they’ll take their cues from the Cooks Corner Substation, with it’s double deep drive through bays, heated floors, and other amenities.  No doubt the school bus team would love a workout area, a full commercial kitchen, and restful lounge areas just like modern fire stations.  Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

As long as we’re on the Industry Road side of town, we can’t help but wonder why the town hasn’t picked up the Daniel Stone Inn, now that it’s in some form of receivership. They should be able to get it for a song, and that grand stairway in the lobby will be much more fitting for glorious processions of town officials than anything the McClellan building can provide. It would close a dubious circle, since the town itself had a good deal to do with driving the Inn owners into foreclosure.  It seems only logical officials would pick up the pieces for their own use.  And what a break room they’d have!

Which brings us to the most recent example of municipal mangling of fundamental capital project management.  In case you haven’t already seen it, read about it here in the Forecaster.

As if there haven’t been enough controversies and excesses already in the great Police Station dream, we now read that the numbers aren’t holding up before the digging even begins.  The rhetoric coming from the mouths of town officials and the architect are more than we can bare to recite here; you’ll have to revel in it yourself.

All we can say is that nobody in authority seems to have a clue about how to contract for such a building so that taxpayer exposure to cost growth and overruns is strictly limited, while the for-profit enterprises take that risk on themselves. 

But lets face it; the latter know what patsies we all are, especially when seen through the prism of officialdom, where OPM seems  available in whatever amounts necessary, no matter the reason, if just a little well-rehearsed schmoozing is applied.

Too bad there’s no longer a good cobbler in town.  He could make a fortune replacing the rounded-over heels on the shoes of our elected and professional ‘leaders.’ Maybe then they could stand-up straight when the ‘Brunswick, we have a problem’ winds start blowing in.

And it wouldn’t hurt if the round-heelers were to learn how to engage in a little blowback of their own on our behalf.

“To dream the impossible dream, to go where the brave dare not go..”

Sancho, Sancho, bring my steed and my lance, quickly!

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1 comment:

  1. Pemster,

    Unfortunately, There are no penalties for wasting "other people's money", when the waster is an elected representative.

    An oversight of this magnitude ought to bring the project to an immediate full stop halt until a thorough going review can be carried out.