Friday, September 6, 2013

Goat Rope: Cape Brunswick Style


As so often happens in this ‘profession’ of ours, sudden bursts of inconvenient reality interfere with our routine.  Or as others might say, “government happens.”  And you can take that literally, or translate it as you see fit.


Let’s just say your NSH correspondent is not a-mused.  Over the last few days, we had taken note of print media reports stemming from the BDC story, and specifically, the Cape Brunswick Town Council meeting of this week (Tuesday, Sept 4, 2013.)  More about those media reports soon. 

It was the first meeting in a good while, and clearly, the anointed were expecting public comment on the BDC/Brunswick Taxi story, which we broke on 19 August in this post.  We followed that up with a number of subsequent posts; there will be more, perhaps many more.

Based on those reports, we decided to watch the ‘video on demand’ version of the meeting, and consistent with our experience over the last several months, technical issues prevented us from doing so.  Apparently some changes made in the town’s relevant IT system elements have corrupted VOD capabilities, at least for folks like us.  Town staff is now hot on the trail of the problem, and in the mean while, kindly provided the files for meetings over the last few months in DVD form. 

When we returned to our offices this afternoon with the materials, we immediately undertook to watch Tuesday night’s meeting.  We don’t know if you are having the same problems as we’ve been having, but the link to watch the meeting is this.  It’s only the first ten minutes or so you need to watch to understand this post. 

If it doesn’t work for you, we’re not sure what to do right now.   The file is way too big to send to you by email (215MB); scribd will not upload it; and we don’t know how to edit the file down to only the first 10 minutes or so.  If someone can offer advice on this, maybe we can come up with a quick workaround.

Now to our title point.  What we saw in watching the first part of this meeting was a total goat-rope, municipal government style.  If you don’t know what “goat-rope” means, ask someone who has a military background to explain it to you.  If that’s not possible, think in terms of a SNAFU.

In so many words, following a brief public comment on the subject, Chair Wilson of the council attempted to clarify the specific role of the Brunswick Development Corporation (BDC); how it relates to town government; and how its governing directors are chosen.

In a word, she completely mangled the subject.  Further, Councilor Favreau did the same when he attempted to correct a comment by the member of the public who attempted to discuss the subject.  Favreau specifically stated that “the council does not appoint the three other directors.”

Furthermore, when Councilors Perreault and Brayman asked the Chair to clarify things, Wilson mangled the details again.  The more she said, the more she strayed from the clear content of the official defining documents that we linked in this post.  In particular, Wilson made several material mistakes in citing the BDC Bylaws, which you can find here.  We assume this is the version currently in effect, since it was provided to us by town staff just a few weeks ago.  It shows that it was last amended in March of 2010, as opposed to being constantly evolved by the board, in Wilson’s words.

Sadly, it appeared that neither Wilson or the other councilors had possession of the Bylaws or had read and understood them.  Their bad, as we see it, and even worse, town staff’s bad for not making sure they were given the proper materials in their packet.  Nor were they ‘read into’ the articles of incorporation.

Our summary of the worst points of Chair Wilson’s performance are these:

1) She was clearly prepared, with notes, to squelch any substantive discussion of the BDC and Brunswick Taxi story.  She was anxious to deflect any impression or suggestion that the town council and the BDC are closely interconnected.

2) She clearly goofed in describing the BDC as a ‘public corporation,’ because both the Bylaws and the Articles of Incorporation define it as a ‘local development corporation.’  (We’ll leave alone for the moment that many in this town believe that any ‘corporation’ is by definition evil, tramples on economic justice, and takes from the innocent public to enrich its corporate governors.) 

3) She completely bungled the description of the Board of Directors and how the individual members are selected.   For example, she said that the Council Chair appoints the two council directors, which does not comport with the Bylaw language, which says the Town Council does so.

To back up our case, we provide here, once again, the relevant passages from BDC Bylaws:

Section 1.3. Purposes.  The corporation is organized and shall be operated on a nonprofit basis to foster, encourage, assist, support, and promote the development, establishment, settlement, or resettlement within the Town of Brunswick, Maine, of industrial, manufacturing, fishing, agricultural, recreational, or other business enterprises. The Corporation shall constitute a "local development corporation" pursuant to 5 M.R.S.A. §13081(6).

(As we’ve pointed out previously, the sited M.R.S.A. section has been repealed.  And while one could debate the meaning of ‘local development corporation,’ it CLEARLY does not mean ‘private corporation,’ as had been suggested elsewhere.)

Section 2.3 Directors. The Board of Directors shall be comprised of seven (7) members. The persons holding the Town of Brunswick positions of Town Manager and Finance Director shall be ex-officio directors of the Board of Directors so long as they remain in those positions. The Town Council of Brunswick shall appoint two (2) members of the Town Council as Town Council directors, whose terms shall expire annually on December 31st. The Town Council shall appoint three (3) public directors, from a list proposed by the ex-officio and Town Council directors. Each of the public directors shall have demonstrated education or experience, as evaluated by the ex-officio and Town Council directors, in one of the following areas: law, finance, accounting, business development, or banking. Public directors’ terms shall expire on December
31st. The initial terms of the public directors shall be one year, two years, and three years, on a staggered basis. Thereafter, such public directors shall be appointed for three-year
terms. No Town Council director or public director of the Board of Directors shall serve in any capacity on any other economic development corporation or board serving residents or businesses of Brunswick.   Section 2.3 Directors - Amended March 10, 2010

(above emphasis ours)

We just watched the relevant video again, and all we can say is that if what Wilson said is accurate, the Bylaws of the BDC are being violated.

That’s about as far as we’re going on this for now; it’s Friday night, and we have other things we’d like to do.  However, public service minded as we are, we felt it was important that you knew about these transgressions of fact in a very public setting by our elected betters.

We’re not going to invest the time at this point to transcribe the erroneous statements, since we have them in digital form.  We only hope you can witness them on your own, or that we can find a convenient way to pass them along.

Why does this matter?  Here’s why: in the same way the news media has an obligation to print corrections when it messes up a story, we believe that even more, elected officials in our government have an obligation to formally correct the record when they make such glaring errors.

If we thought it would matter, we would demand that the public record be corrected.  But we know from years of experience you get nowhere with such stands.  We might as well demand that snow not fall this winter, or that Bowdoin College pay its full share of property taxes.

Even worse, if such easily substantiated errors are left to stand, what does it tell us about how much we can trust what has been said in the past, and what will be said in the future, especially since most of what goes on is not so easily corroborated or checked.  How are we to have any confidence at all in our supposed public servants if they can relate to us with so little attention to detail and accuracy?

We suppose many will read this and say: ‘what do you expect?  He’s an old crank who complains about everything.  Just let it pass and he’ll go away.’

In response, we ask you to indulge us in a moment of self-importance.  Not so humbly, we submit that our collective experience with elements of the federal government, state government, and municipal government give us a rare perspective on the ethics and culture that applies to all.  Our guess is that not more than a handful of Brunswick residents or readers could trump what we’ve seen in our years of working with the sausage makers.

If that makes us an old crank, or even worse, so be it.  But you don’t need to have seen all that we’ve seen to understand that trusting so called public servants is a surefire way to get burned.

If you still haven’t figured out what a ‘goat rope’ is, here’s an example that is ‘worth a thousand words:’

(Ed. Note: For the innocent damsels in our readership, these fixtures are called urinals, and they are most often found in what used to be known unambiguously as Men’s Rooms.  And trust us; you don’t want to mess around with any guy who says “finally….just what I need!”)

Technorati Tags: ,,

No comments:

Post a Comment