Monday, January 26, 2015

A new Brigade in the Kool-Aid Parade: AAB

(Ed. Note: time to get back to the ‘theme’ we introduced after the first of the year, specifically as it relates to the use and value of ‘consultants.’)



In the passing parade that is Cape Brunswick, there are literal parades……

and figurative parades….

Recently, a new Brigade has signed up for the latter.  It’s known as “All Aboard Brunswick.”  We’re suspicious, as we often are, that this is the former TrainRiders Northeast Brigade all decked out in new marching costumes.


Judging from public appearances so far, the Brigade is being led by a new Majorette.

Her name is Claudia Knox, and she introduced herself in this role to the town at the council meeting of December 15, 2014.  You can see her speaking for her Brigade at this video link:, beginning at the 6 minute time stamp, and lasting for about 5 or 6 minutes. 

As we understand it, throngs of followers wearing the “AAB” uniform, a simple badge, were there to march with her in perfect lockstep.  Oh how we wish we had witnessed it for ourselves, but we have to make our assessment based on the video alone, and one or two personal reports.


Not long after, in The Ostrich, the Majorette followed up with this stirring “march:”


The above, of course, confirms Ms. Knox’ inspiration from the March Master himself, Major Domo Wayne Davis.  All the more reason we’re so delighted that Davis has the keys to the Brunswick “Visitor’s Center,” even though he has no official connection with this facility, and doesn’t even live in town.                             

We have a few thoughts on why “All Aboard Brunswick” was formed, and how Ms. Knox came to the Majorette role in the group.  Here they are.

First, we can’t help but wonder if AAB might have been created to counter the suggestion we made to the town council that it’s time for a detailed study of the economic benefits the Downeaster has delivered to Brunswick.  As we reported, this was a ‘dead letter,’ and the follow-up item of ours published in the local ‘newspaper’ was similarly ignored.  Attributing the birth of AAB to such events is admittedly self-serving, and ascribes more value to our bloviating than we’ve ever been able to document.


Second, it may be that the real, hidden leaders of the marching band came to realize that their former majorettes, the Brunswick Bobbsey Twins, were not exactly winning over the local fan base.  The Booch and ET, whenever they stepped forward to introduce a marching tune, were anything but harmonious, and frankly, were counter-productive in building support for their compositions.


Ms. Knox, we’re sure you will agree, is a ‘kinder and gentler’ band-master then the adversarial leaders put forth in the past.

Moving on. let’s make note of one obvious point:  “All Aboard Brunswick” as an entity speaks to hauling locals south to spend their economic power elsewhere, rather than hauling visitors north to spend their shekels in our downtown.

Then, take a look at metropolitan NYC, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and the like.  Do you think visitors and dollars are flowing in, of flowing out?


Now let’s assess Ms. Knox testimony to the council.  While it wasn’t quite up to MSMT production standards, it certainly had the concept of razzle-dazzle deeply embedded.  And as you’ll soon see, there is a Chicago connection.

Ms. Knox delivered her remarks with grace aplenty, and several platitudes about how the Downeaster is the town’s ‘ally’ in controlling property tax growth.  We’ll take that as a ‘future promise,’ since recent increases in our property taxes would suggest just the opposite.

More noticeable, at least to us, since we can see between the lines, was how Ms. Knox completely avoided any specific corroborative testimony for the “economic engine” the Downeaster represents to our town…this one….right here….Brunswick.  We were aghast at this omission, since the speaker is deeply immersed in the Brunswick Downtown Association, which IS the group that should have the necessary proof at hand.  Perhaps it was just an oversight, or she was concerned about taking too long in her salute.

Matter of fact, if you listen to her comments, you’ll note that she didn’t mention Freeport, or even Portland, to substantiate her claims of economic stimulus.  Since the service from Boston to Portland began in 2001, you might think Portland authorities would have collected some useful data on the economic benefits by now, but apparently not.  Maybe those towns had nothing good to say, and were unwilling to serve as Ms. Knox’ sources.

We can’t help but wonder, on the other hand, whether Boston has any data available on how travelers from the north have expanded their economic health.

Working her way down the line, Ms. Knox finally found a source or two that would give her glowing positive quotes in Biddeford, though they were marketing platitudes of the sort we debunked when we reviewed the various letters of endorsement for the 2014 TIGER Grant Application submitted by NNEPRA, and other letters sent to the Governor.  You can review those posts here:

The other thing we keyed on in Ms. Knox’ testimony was her mention of background reference documents she provided to the council before hand.  And this is where we connect the dots about consultants, and how much they mean to us in making our lives better in so many ways.

Focused as always on your needs for complete transparency in such matters, we went after the subject background documents, and succeeded.  Which led to our conviction that the subject of ‘consultants’ was worthy of a ‘series.’  In our first post on the subject, where we talked of a PDI’s school enrollment studies, we made this statement:

But then, you know how it is; reality can be so difficult to change, and recorded history is even tougher.  Better to project your fantasies and wishes into the future, where they can’t be disputed in the present.

And so it is that Ms. Know provided the council with a study performed by CNT for NNEPRA in 2008; you can find the document here:

Wouldn’t you just know it; CNT is located in Chicago, and if you check their web site, you’ll find this….

About Us

We help make neighborhoods, cities, and regions work better. For everyone.

Founded in 1978, the Center for Neighborhood Technology is a leader in promoting more livable and sustainable urban communities. We research, invent, and test urban strategies that use resources more efficiently and more equitably.

Alternative Transportation for Chicagoland (formerly IGO CarSharing*), working to make it possible for the Chicago region’s residents to live well without having to own a vehicle, and to create an integrated, multimodal transportation system.

As you can see, CNT brings a Chicago sensibility to our area, and elevates us all to ‘urban’ status, not something many in Maine would agree with.

Here’s an excerpt from the CNT study; TOD is “Transit Oriented Development:”


Can you imagine having sat through the presentation of this study, hearing the Chicago consultants talk of how the estimates were ‘conservative?’  We’re already halfway into the study time period; isn’t it time for a follow up review to test the predictions?  Not likely, we’re guessing.

Here’s another excerpt:


So Brunswick will end up with nearly 2,000 new housing units, and over 800 new jobs.  We’ll leave it to you to study the rest of the report.  In our quick review, we found many of the premises for the study, like Maine’s population growth projections, to have been overcome by decidedly less rosy reality.  But no matter, when you’re chasing OPM and building a new rail empire, pull whatever numbers you need out of that consulting hat of yours.  Or wherever else you get them from.

The second ‘background document’ Ms. Knox provided to our town leaders is this; besides the cover, it amounted to two pages, a cover letter, and a montage of sorts:



We think a bit of study will show that most of the info on the second  page above was lifted from other documents compiled by consultants, including the CNT study we talked about above.  Frankly, we think Ms. Knox should be embarrassed, if not ashamed, for putting forth this equivalent of a post card that throws all sorts of unsubstantiated claims and projections around, without ever addressing ROI in the real fiscal sense.  But such is the way of hired cheerleaders, also known as consultants, helping in the chase for the endless stream of taxpayer funds.

We should point out, by the way, that correlation is not causality in matters such as those cited above.  If you’re not sure what we mean by that, you may not be ready for a critical analysis of these matters, but bear with us.

Making things even better, as we reviewed the CNT study from 2008, we found mention of this study performed for Maine’s Department of Transportation in 2005, conducted by EDRG:


We found this table in the document:


Do you grasp what this says?  Brunswick will see ANNUAL business sales of $1.8 MILLION A WEEK?  And reap nearly 1,000 new jobs?  Are you kidding us?  This is so far out of the ball park that refunds should be demanded, and companies put out of business.  The implication of these figures, if nothing else, is that everyone who rides the train to Brunswick spends THOUSANDS of dollars while here!  While those who ride the train to Freeport spend, oh, less than $100?

We found this passage as well:


You’ll have to excuse us, but we just can’t take any more of this absolute garbage, and we’re even more disgusted by the fact that our tax dollars rewarded those who compiled it, and that our ‘leaders’ used it to rationalize/justify further ‘investment’ of taxpayer funds.  There is a big difference between ‘investment’ and wild speculation, akin to spinning the roulette wheel.

A couple of closing thoughts cross our mind.  We wonder if Ms, Knox and the All Aboard Brunswick Brigade would like to correlate business closures in the area over the last two years or so with the arrival of the Downeaster in our midst.  Of course not, we presume.  Only positive consequences, none of which were or are cited, can be laid at the rails in Maine Street Station.

And then there’s the thought that the Downeaster is simply the most convenient distraction for the loss of the Brunswick Naval Air Station, and the thousands of residents we lost along with the millions upon millions of very real economic activity they represented.

Shame on us for thinking such things, but thoughts are thoughts.

We’ll leave you with a few favorite quotes, before a final musical note.

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
George Bernard Shaw

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

Those who misremember the past are pleased to repeat it as `proof'.
Mike Huben

The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder's lack of rational conviction.
Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays


And then, the essence of Chicago…


Roxie, you got nothing to worry about.
It's all a circus, kid. A three ring circus.
These trials- the wholeworld- all show business.
But kid, you're working with a star, the biggest!

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?

What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?

Razzle dazzle 'em
And they;ll never catch wise!

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle

Razzle dazzle 'em
Give 'em a show that's so splendiferous

Row after row will grow vociferous

Give 'em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture 'em

How can they hear the truth above the roar?

Roar, roar, roar!

Throw 'em a fake and a finagle
They'll never know you're just a bagel,

Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll beg you for more!

Give 'em the old double whammy
Daze and dizzy 'em
Back since the days of old Methuselah
Everyone loves the big bambooz-a-lah

Give 'em the old three ring circus
Stun and stagger 'em
When you're in trouble, go into your dance

Though you are stiffer than a girder
They'll let you get away with murder
Razzle dazzle 'em
And you've got a romance

COMPANY(The same time as BILLY's)
Give 'em the old
Razzle Dazzle

Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle
Razzle dazzle 'em
Show 'em the first rate sorcerer you are
Long as you keep 'em way off balance
How can they spot you've got no talents?
Razzle Dazzle 'em

Razzle Dazzle 'em
Razzle Dazzle 'em

And they'll make you a star!

We apologize to you; we didn’t realize when we undertook this ‘theme based’ series, just how disgusted the material we are bringing to you would make us.  But it has, and so we’re pulling the plug on it for now, and counting snowflakes instead.



…..of a different sort, we think.  Or so we hope.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aren’t we all NIMBYs? Even here in Perfect?


One of the most frequent responses to the Bouchard Drive neighbors’ objections to having a huge, Super-WalMart sized industrial facility in their immediate neighborhood is that they are archetypical “NIMBYS,” noisily opposing anything coming to THEIR ‘backyard.’

We’re referring, of course, to NNEPRA’s proposed Downeaster Maintenance and Layover Facility, the subject of much local consternation here in America’s perfect little town.


The Bobbsey Twins, among others, often lead those who love to roll out this charge.  They infer opponents should “shut up and suck it up, that you have it coming for being so stupid as to buy property next to a historic rail yard.”  Even though the rail yard and related activity were scaled way, way back decades ago, before the neighborhood sprouted.

Cursed as we are with an active mind, we thought on this a bit.  And we asked ourselves, along with frank and earnest, aren’t we all “NIMBYs?”  Is there anybody, anywhere, who doesn’t want certain things in their back yard?  Irrespective of any ‘greater good’ arguments put forth by “community-minded” proponents of whatever it is?  After all, isn’t the ‘greater good’ simply an aggregation of the ‘individual good?’

If not, what the hell does it mean?

The precise definition of ‘backyard’ plays into this discussion.  Most of us have literal backyards, defined by our property boundaries.  At the same time, we all have figurative backyards, an amorphous and indeterminate concept by comparison. 


The list of things we don’t want in our literal backyard is virtually infinite; it’s our property, by damn it, and you have no business mucking around in it.  The list of things we don’t want in our figurative ‘backyard’ is not quite as extensive, but it goes to quality of life and domestic tranquility in the larger sense.  Here in Perfect, if you think about it, the list of ‘nots’ is huge, and the list of acceptables is very, very short.  We must maintain our pristine reputation as a center of intellectual, cultural, and historic excellence.

While we’re at it, those of you who don’t prize your quality of life and domestic tranquility, please raise your hands.  At the same time, we’d like to point out something else.

More often than not, the notion of not wanting something in ‘my back yard’ should more correctly be seen as opposition to that something ending up in anybody’s back yard.  We’re pretty sure no-one in the Bouchard Drive neighborhood and thereabouts thinks that moving the super-sized train maintenance facility over a few blocks, say into the McKeen St ‘backyard,’ would be agreeable.

No; we’re confident they believe the opposite; that the proposed MLF doesn’t belong in ANYONE’s back yard.  Instead, it belongs on a site appropriate to industrial activities, where the effects on individual quality of life and domestic tranquility are minimized to the extent possible.

All of this, obviously, fuels significant local controversy that juxtaposes the unproven benefits of Downeaster service to Brunswick against the personal interests of hundreds of local residents who have already felt the effects of the passenger rail service upon their personal lives.

So what, you say.  As those quick to roll out the NIMBY charge always point out, the Bouchard Drive neighborhood abuts a ‘historic rail yard’ dating from the 1800’s, and those who bought houses there should have fully expected NNEPRA would be coming along with an MLF plan.  So they should admit their lack of savvy in purchasing their houses, and suck it up in the interest of greater community interests.


Funny; if we didn’t know better, we’d swear we can remember folks who live in downtown ‘historic neighborhoods’ being concerned about the presence of druggies and vagrants on their streets, who among other things, threw their condoms and hypodermic needles in the bushes on their properties.

That group is the Northwest Brunswick Neighborhood Association. We first heard about them roughly 15 years ago.  The group advocates for a neighborhood loosely bounded by Pleasant Street, Mill Street, and Maine Street.

This is, if not the oldest, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brunswick, and suffers from a number of problems.  Not the least of which is a significant number of multi-unit rental properties owned by absentee landlords, and a very high percentage of section 8 tenants.  Putting it mildly, it is not the most upscale section of lovely Cape Brunswick, as it suffers from owner neglect and a troubling demographic.  Read the police reports in the local papers, and you’ll quickly discern a ‘pattern’ among many neighborhood residents.

It’s our view that this situation has existed for decades.  None-the-less, there are some folks drawn to the area because of it’s ‘walkability’ for the downtown area, and the historic nature of many of the properties.  Gentrification is a major aspect of the neighborhood, as it is in so many older towns and cities in our country.  Inevitably, there is a ‘mixing period’ as this process evolves, and widely divergent ‘life styles’ come into conflict.  Stately homes in which significant renovation funds have been invested find themselves with frequent passers-by disposing of various trappings of life-styles different than their owners.

Shouldn’t they have expected this to happen?  After all, these areas have been drug and vagrant infested for decades.  This is ‘historic’ use of downtown areas.  Walkability; economic diversity; life-style diversity; it’s what makes downtowns so vibrant, and such a ‘rich tapestry’ of community life.

A bit of surfing led us to this site for the NWBNA:

If we didn’t know better, we’d say that they’ve had some politically correct marketing character added to their web presence, in order to seem more welcoming and affirming to any and all.  Their mission, we found, is this:

The NWBNA seeks to:
1. Enhance the character of the area as a desirable downtown neighborhood;
2. Maintain the integrity, aesthetics, and predominately residential character of the area and its historic structures;
3. Protect the environment and natural features of the area;
4. Encourage persons to buy, restore, and improve homes in the area;
5. Prevent intrusions which are destructive to the character of the area;
6. Promote neighborliness.

Surprise, surprise.  As we surfed a bit more for NWBNA info, we discovered that they recently proposed adding more in-town territory to their ‘area of influence.’   Witness this entry from their web presence:

The NWBNA Board has called a special meeting of its members to consider a by-laws amendment to expand the Association boundaries to include residences south of Pleasant Street.

Existing Article I Section II:

“THE NORTHWEST BRUNSWICK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION (NWBNA) shall be in that geographic area in Brunswick, Maine bounded by Mill Street, the south side of Pleasant Street and Maine Street.”

Proposed revision:

“THE NORTHWEST BRUNSWICK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION (NWBNA) shall be in that geographic area in Brunswick, Maine bounded by Maine Street, Mill Street, Pleasant Street, Spring Street, and the Downeast railway line, and to include all residences on Morse Court, the south side of Pleasant Street and the west side of Spring Street.”

Here’s an illustration of the change:

Ironically, this addition would incorporate the in-town neighborhood afflicted by Downeaster idling for 5 hours or so each and every day.  We don’t suppose this has anything to do with tamping down afflicted resident complaints by promoting over-riding ‘downtown benefits.’  To even suggest such a thing would be crude and un-neighborly, wouldn’t it?

At any rate, in keeping with the historic nature of the NWBN, we wondered how members would feel about new proposals consistent with the traditional community benefits provided by long-established neighborhood features.  You might have noticed that the neighborhood is bounded by the mighty Androscoggin, and features historic mills on both sides of the river that are cultural and historic landmarks to this day.

Not to mention the dam that sits just above the Cabot Mill.  While we weren’t here when the dam was built and the mills were first constructed and operated, we’re pretty confident that the circumstances result from the ‘renewable, sustainable’ energy available from the might waters themselves.  In fact, power generation still takes place at the location.


So we believe the neighborhood is a perfectly suited location for modern-day versions of environmentally acceptable power generation.  We’re thinking a few of these monuments to innovation could be located first in that lovely little park behind Tess’ Market, and next along the waterfront between Pleasant Street and the bridge to Topsham.  And how about that little ‘turn out’ parcel on the inside lanes of Mill Street?

Then, as older properties decline and beg for demolition, each could provide a site for more towers of excellence.

We trust NWBNA members would not object; they wouldn’t want to be known as NIMBYs, would they?  And while they might suggest that town zoning ordnances preclude such uses, we point out that the same ordnances precluded 60,000 sq ft train maintenance facilities, but were not enough to prevent the proposed construction of such a massive in town blight.

So before you consider registering any complaints, in-towners, suck it up, and remind yourselves of how you blew it when you bought your property without doing thorough research as to what the future might hold.  The mind reels.


We wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Senator Angus King, a long standing proponent of wind-power, and favorite son of Brunswick, would find sufficient pork rations in DC to get the project underway.  Think of the possibilities; passengers on the Downeaster flocking to Brunswick to visit the in-town wind-power attraction.


Brunswick Taxi running loops non-stop all day long between the train station and your neighborhood.  The thrumming heart-beat of Brunswick’s commitment to renewable power serenading residents night and day.  No more annoying crows and bats cackling away and intruding on your domestic tranquility.

You gotta love it, right?  You might even create a BDPA…a Brunswick Downtown Power Association.

One More Thing:

For those of you who want to argue that the proposed construction of the Amtrak Maintenance and Layover Facility next to the Bouchard Drive neighborhood is irrelevant to all but the small handful of area residents who were so dumb as to buy property there, we say “au contraire, mon trainamis.”

The facility itself is one thing,  Perhaps more important is the ‘service optimization’ it is intended to support, and the resultant increase in train activity that effects everyone between Portland and Brunswick.

NNEPRA wants to increase round trips between Portland and Brunswick from two a day to five a day.  A review of their own documents shows that their plan will result in train movements increasing to 20 per day between the MLF and the in-town station, as we described in earlier posts.

Further, not so widely publicized documents indicate that the MBTA intends to bring engines/train sets to Brunswick for a variety of maintenance operations.

This means every section of track, and more importantly, every grade crossing between the two towns will see a proportionate increase in activity.  And as we’ve described before, this activity will take place over 20 plus hours of each 24 hour day.

If you’re wondering how many crossings are involved, you can find the answer in this table, which is found in the Environmental Assessment done in 2009 to support the extension of service to Brunswick.  If you’d like to see the document, contact us, and we’ll send you the file.


You can make your own assessment of what the effects of increasing train traffic at all the Brunswick crossings will do the quality of life in your neighborhood.  Horns, noise, vibrations, fumes, etc.


But let’s talk about others for a moment.  Freeport, as you may know, managed to qualify their crossings as ‘Quiet,’ meaning trains are not required to blow their horns when approaching them.  If you’ve ever been close to one of these engines when they blow that horn, you have some idea of just how teeth rattling and jarring it can be.  Sleep through that?  Are you kidding?

Well, as we understand it, qualifying for a ‘Quiet Crossing’ involves how many trains a day are involved.  The more trains, the less likely you’ll get the nod.  So Freeport may in fact lose it’s Quiet qualifications, meaning everyone in the town and surrounding areas will suffer as a result of the MLF consequences.

Not only that, but Yarmouth has a real stake in things.  Their in-town crossings are problematic for many very close residents.  They just began an organized pursuit of Quiet Crossing qualification at the municipal level.

Again, the number of daily crossings is part of the formula.  The more crossings per day, the less likely you qualify.  So as NNEPRA increases round trips to Brunswick, and MBTA makes trips as well, the chances Yarmouth residents can get some relief begin to evaporate.


So the next time the “NIMBY” squawkers come out of their caves to disparage those who have a mission similar to that of NWBNA’s cited above, we wish they’d put a sock in it, if you’ll pardon our phraseology.

Because EVERYONE lives in some ‘backyard,’ and has certain things they don’t want there, whether they’ll admit it or not. 

And we’re pretty sure hypocrisy is not a particularly useful ‘community value.’  At least among real neighborly folk.

Numbers, numbers, numbers….and SRO*


You know the old saying…..”so who’s counting?”

Sometimes numbers don’t matter, and sometimes they matter a whole lot, more than anything else.

§8009. Reasonable fares

Fares for the passenger rail service established pursuant to this chapter must be set at reasonable levels to encourage use of this service.

Take the case of the NNEPRA operated Amtrak Downeaster, for which ridership (that is, passenger count) is the only figure of merit.  This stems from the MSRA language just above, from Title 23, Chapter 621.  Losing money on operations on an annual basis seems not to be of concern, and running on time certainly isn’t, since the Downeaster has one of the worst Amtrak service records in the country.

So there’s really not much left except ridership (head count) to tally and tout.

We have some news to bring you on this account.  According to our on the scene sources, who count actual passengers arriving and departing at Brunswick’s Downeaster station, the total for 2013 was 34,689.  We have no way of knowing how many of these were ‘train hosts’ riding for nothing, or others travelling on free tickets, like selected grandees.


Turns out the total for 2014 was 31,378, for a 9.5% decline.  This can hardly be considered a growth situation, even considering the delays and cancellations throughout the year.


For this just ended year, based on 730 scheduled trains, the average heads per one-way trip amounts to 21.5, or less than 10% of train capacity, and less than half the capacity of one of the coaches.

Before anyone pipes up and says the low ridership on the north end is because of sold out segments on the south end, we say talk to the hand, because the face isn’t listening.  We pretty much blew this theory out of the water with a number of posts describing trial ticket purchases this past fall.  If you want to refresh yourself, you can do it here:

As we close, we can’t help but wonder whether there aren’t better, more affordable, more sustainable, more eco-friendly alternative methods for transporting 22 passengers between points A and B, when the distance is on the order of 30 miles.  If there isn’t, maybe some day somebody will invent one.

For now, we’ll leave things with our friend who enjoys counting moon-bats.


In between leading locals in hymns of praise for the economic glories of passenger rail.


End note: SRO = sitting room only

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A little Saturday reading for you….


We’ve posted an item or two from “The Antiplanner” in recent months.  The item we submit for your diversion today crossed our desk this morning:  There's a Car in Your Future

It begins thus:

An anti-auto urbanist named Brad Meacham wrote a blog post that offers a typical “we-have-to-get-people-out-of-their-cars” diatribe. When Meacham’s post was picked up by a San Antonio on-line magazine, someone asked the Antiplanner to comment. While my response speaks for itself, I’d like to add a few comments here where I don’t have to worry so much about word limits.

Meacham’s case against cars stands on four legs:

  1. Congestion is only going to get worse
  2. The cost of driving is increasing
  3. Fiscal reality will force cuts to highway budgets
  4. People are hungry for community

What follows the above may comfort you or annoy you, but we doubt it will bore you.  Think of it as a mind-clearing exercise before taking in tomorrow’s (hopefully) excellent football playoff games.

If you really want to challenge your thinking on such matters, take a gander here:


And one more just for fun…..

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Friday, January 16, 2015

A sign of the times; what are YOU entitled to?

We couldn’t help but have a pointed reaction to an article in this weeks Forecaster.  It’s about the building at the corner of Pleasant and Maine, and made it to the front page, with the photo shown above.

The article, which you can find here, reveals at least two current socio-politico-economic realities of our governing culture these days.  Especially as revealed in matters of ‘community’ pride and import.

First, the default position on the part of just about everybody is that they are entitled to having someone else satisfy their ‘needs,’ and you can translate that to paying for whatever it is they want.  Brunswick Taxi thought they were entitled to a quarter million dollar grant (forgivable loan) to pay for a new fleet of vehicles for their business.  Brunswick High School students think they are entitled to having others pay for their proms.

And so it is that we find Sylvia Wyler, owner of the building above for 10 years, and operator of two businesses there-in, feeling entitled to having others pay for studies to ‘look into the viability of restoring’ her building.  She’s already received $15,000 from the Brunswick Development Corporation, Brunswick Taxi’s and several others benefactors, for just that purpose.

Apparently, that’s not enough to do the work necessary to determine whether she bought a pig in a poke, or was a diligent buyer.  Shades of the old Times Record building, it seems.  Sylvia is apparently seeking another $15,000 from ‘other people’ to match the initial sum from local ‘other people,’ known to most of us as taxpayers of Brunswick. 

You’d think someone who owns such a building and two operating businesses within it would be able to scrape up that amount in personal funds to advance her personal circumstances, but apparently she doesn’t have that sort of operating capital to ‘invest’ in her very own property.  She doesn’t sound like a very good risk, if you ask us.


So we hope you’ll pardon us for not having much sympathy for her circumstances, and even less in the way of interest in wanting to put our own funds, either directly or indirectly, into her bank account to help her along.  This is just another example of any and all concluding that it’s standard operating procedure to have others subsidize their private business pursuits either though government entities (the town, the state, the feds), or any of the myriad shadow back channels for distributing OPM.  (Hey, Sylvia; why don’t you contact the owners of Brunswick Taxi, and see if they have $15,000 to ‘invest’ in your venture?)

Frankly, Shirley, we’re a bit non-plussed that Forecaster editors chose to locate this ‘pan-handling’ item above the fold on the front page, but that makes our case even more.  Entitlement stories are the order of the day.

The second thing this article made clear to us is that civic rhetoric regarding historic buildings and all the various socio-economic factors associated with them is strictly a function of the agenda of the moment.  Read the article, and you’ll hear Mike Lyne, Sylvia, and the BDA wax eloquently about the value of preserving historic structures, and how important it can be to the town. Community sounds so much more sympathetic, don’t you agree?

Platitudes and unsupported generalities abound.  Apparently, in spite of all the empty business spaces scattered around town, both downtown and elsewhere, doing something with this particular building will fix everything!  It’s magic, magic we say!

Compare the rhetoric here to what transpired in the deliberations surrounding failed attempts to save the old high school, and you’ll quickly see that we are in thrall to a bunch of self-serving chameleons who shamelessly stump for the latest path to economic salvation.  Truth, reality, past experience, and their own incompetence be damned. 


Downeaster anyone? 


By the way, you do know that the word gullible isn’t in the dictionary, right?

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

A History Lesson: Will they (we?) ever learn? (see end note)


The “Oops” post of earlier this week, marking our first post of the new year, was intended to serve a larger purpose than you might think.  However poorly played, the idea was to provide an ever so subtle thematic introduction to the subject matter in subsequent posts.  It remains to be seen, for both of us, just how ‘subtle’ that connection is.  The only way to find out is to get on with it, which we now commence.


Some years ago, in one of our many inconsequential and undistinguished ‘statements’ to the Brunswick Town Council, we proposed they hire this correspondent to act as a consultant in advising them on the use of consultants.  Which clarifies in part why we haven’t made a nickel doing stand up comedy.

Our offer was made only partially in jest.  Over the years, we’d noticed that municipal governments, including our very own, love to bring consultants on board.  And higher levels of government do so all the more.  As a result, there are vast gaggles of such ‘professionals’ ever at the ready to feast on some easy OPM, promising all sorts of ‘expert’ advice, guidance, and analysis.  You might call them Vulture Capitalists, a term we didn’t originate.

Turns out that in our storied professional years, we had gained experience observing the use of consultants.  We saw they were often hired to add a dash of mystique while providing air cover (CYA, in street lingo) for senior officials.  “It may sound counter-intuitive, but the experts make a very strong argument.”  On other occasions, the sponsoring executive had reached their level of incompetence, and rather than admit it, simply used company shekels to mask it as long as possible.  Ironically, it seemed to boost their self-esteem at the same time.

Only rarely were consultants hired to provide expertise we didn’t have, and speaking bluntly, didn’t need.  In the worst cases, they sent us on wild goose chases that wasted time, money, and collective staff energies.  Academics looking for places to try unproven theories were among the most memorable in this regard.

As you might guess, any thoughts this reporter had that consultants were rare, unusually talented experts in a particular field of endeavor were replaced by a belief that they embraced an alternative business model to a steady job and career advance through proven performance.  In most cases, the ‘experts’ and the money were long gone before the sad truth became obvious.

For reasons we hope you will perceive over the next few days, we were thinking on this subject recently.  Which brings us to the very heart of this post.

Our reflections took us back to the enrollment studies performed for the Brunswick School Department in 2004 and 2007.

By way of background, based on a variety of circumstances, not least of which was the prominence of a local, one time political luminary in Augusta, the Brunswick School Department (BSD), then headed by Jim Ashe, decided to ‘see if the state would even consider’ funding new school construction and/or major renovation of our school facilities.  The department hired skilled consultants in such matters – Harriman Associates - to prepare applications dated May of 2004.

As what we take to be a pro-forma act associated with these applications, the BSD also hired Planning Decisions, Inc. (PDI) of Portland, Maine to prepare a study of projected system enrollment.  PDI is well known in the state.  Charles Lawton is a principle of the firm, and is a bona-fide member of Maine’s consulting illuminati.  He pens a regular column in one of the state’s largest remaining newspapers, and his engagement, like that of Charles Colgan’s. lends instant credibility to any initiative.  At least for the gullible and unwary, of which there are many among us.

You can find the 2004 PDI study effort here:

We think the key piece of data from that study is this table, found on page 59 of the document.  The figures include both military dependent and non-military dependent town residents, plus the Durham students being ‘tuitioned’ into Brunswick schools.


Totaling the 2004-05 line gives a ‘best fit’ projection of 3,314 total enrollment for that year, and a ‘best fit’ projected enrollment of 2,937 for the 2013-14 school year.

Data that we’ve compiled from official documents over the years show a total actual enrollment of 3,372 in the 2004-05 school year, the highest figure since we began keeping records in 1999.

You’ll note in the table above that PDI projected a steady decline in total enrollment over the years, even though base closure was an unknown factor at that time.

The 2004 applications, and the 2004 study, were all completed before the federal government announced in 2005 that Brunswick Naval Air Station would be closing as part of the Base Realignment and Closure program.  The state Department of Education (DOE) placed Brunswick on the approved new construction list before base closure was announced.  High fives were the order of the day.

And then something ‘unexpected’ happened.  Convinced the announcement of base closure invalidated all the premises and underpinnings of Brunswick’s applications, and the ensuing DOE decision to fund construction, a concerned local citizen filed a civil suit challenging the state agency determination. Seventy others signed on as co-plaintiffs in the suit.


While this action had no tangible effect on the plans of the town bureaucracy, we believe the challenge led to the BSD contracting with PDI to update the prior enrollment study, since the original did not consider base closure’s effect on student population outlook, and they needed to brush any such concerns aside.

You can find the 2007 revision here:

For an “apples to apples” comparison to the 2004 version of the report, we give you this table, found on page 68 of the document.


Apples to apples is a stretch, as you can see, since PreK has been added to boost total figures by 200+ per year.  Additionally, Durham gave up their tuition arrangement with Brunswick some years back, for a decline of about 140 total students per year on average.

If you back out the PreK and Durham figures, you’ll note that the 2013-14 projection in the new study would be about 2,980 in total enrollment, above the 2,937 projected in the 2004 report, even though the 2007 report plans on base closure.  So, counter-intuitively, PDI figured closing the base would increase baseline school enrollment.  Even though the 2004 report projected a steady decline in enrollment over the years without considering base closure.

Now, here’s the hook: actual enrollment in the 2013-14 school year averages 2,385 for the two figures reported to the DOE, or nearly 600 less than projected in the PDI study.  In simple terms, PDI over-estimated the 2013-2014 enrollment by 25%!  600 students can be thought of as ‘one school’s worth,’ hardly a negligible or ‘rounding’ error.

Even more concerning, and suspicious in this reporter’s view, is the fact that the 2007 PDI document postulated three scenarios for population transition due to base closure.  The first is the ‘best fit’ projection shown above.  (Best fit?!! PDI must have a bunch of comedians on the payroll.)  The other two vary the pace at which military population declines, and are shown on pages 69 and 70 of the linked document.

Oddly enough, and we mean oddly, the three scenario variations, with PreK anticipation and Durham students still included, end up with figures of 3,314; 3,315; and 3,315 as the projected total enrollment in just two school years from now.  Take out PreK and Durham, and that’s still close to 600 more students than current enrollment!

Boy, these experts and consultants are really something, aren’t they?  Thorough, circumspect, wide-ranging in their research, and more than willing to tell their employer, in this case, the Brunswick School Department, the hard truth, no matter how much it conflicts with what they want to hear.  Which makes us all the more willing to listen to Chuck Lawton’s economic prognostications and recommendations for Maine’s economy.  NOT!

A glance at the two reports will reveal two things.  First, no historical review of base closure effects in nearby areas is mentioned in the 2007 version.  For example, Pease AFB closure in the Portsmouth, NH area, or Dow AFB closure in the Bangor area.  This alone should have been a red flag as to the veracity and credibility of the effort and delivered product.  But then, you know how it is; reality can be so difficult to change, and recorded history is even tougher.  Better to project your fantasies and wishes into the future, where they can’t be disputed in the present.

As it turns out, before we began this ‘media outlet,’ we looked into the Portsmouth situation ourselves, and reported on it in a column in The Ostrich. We wrote it in August 2007, and you can read it here:

All in all, the message of the 2007 PDI effort is that while there might be some interim fluctuations in Brunswick school department enrollment due to base closure, totals will quickly rebound to pre-base closure levels.  Studying Portsmouth’s experience, among others, would surely have challenged such blithe and naïve thinking.

Secondly, PDI completely ignored the unique stability of military dependent populations age-wise because of the way individuals rotate between duty assignments and locations.  Succinctly stated:


This passage is from a lengthy report your correspondent published in August 2007, which you can read here:

You should know that we became curious as to how much the Brunswick School Department paid for the two PDI studies, each more than 60 pages in length.  We contacted Mr. Lawton, and he said he didn’t have that information, and referred us to other PDI staff.  We dutifully contacted that person, who told us they didn’t make such information available to the public.

So we went looking for the answer via town officials on both the municipal and school sides.  Strangely, they couldn’t find much in the way of related records, though a school department official found mention of a payment in the $5,000 range to PDI.  Anyone who thinks you can hire a consulting firm to perform such a study, and then draft a 60 plus page report for the paltry sum of $5,000 is living in a parallel universe,  Especially when all concerned know that OPM is paying for the effort.

Well.  It took us a while to get here, but we’ll move on by saying all of the above leaves us with a number of burning questions, none of which we expect anyone in authority will ever answer.  Still, we’re going to put them out there for our mutual amusement; maybe you’ll have some of your own.

  • What was the process for finding a consultant to perform these studies?  What was the statement of work?  Were qualifications sought?  Was this a competitive undertaking?  Why was PDI selected to do the work?  Did they have credible past experience?
  • Who managed the solicitation process for the school department?
  • Was a written contract put in place for the studies?
  • Who ‘oversaw’ the PDI work for the school department while the subcontract was underway?
  • Who reviewed the delivered work/reports and declared them ‘fit for use,’ valid in their content, and worthy of being paid for?
  • Who has since lost their job, been demoted, or otherwise held accountable for overseeing such clearly erroneous analysis and projections?
  • Has anyone followed up with PDI to demand consideration for generating such clearly unfounded and incredulous analysis, leading to flawed planning and strategic assessments within the school department?
  • Who in their right minds would move forward with the closure of three elementary schools in the face of such ‘professional’ reports?

Alright; you caught us.  That last one answers itself …. and more than that.  And here’s one more…

  • What lessons have been learned?

End Note: 

Are you kidding?  The title is obviously a rhetorical question.  Most government action, and that of various civic and non-profit advocacy groups, is predicated on not learning.  It’s the equivalent of teenagers going off a bridge while driving drunk.  Adults do the same, but in a far more ‘adult and consequential’ way.  Because ‘it won’t happen to us.’  Maturity is the process of learning otherwise.


Consultancies are based on understanding this axiom:  no one ever learns.  And the greater the degree of OPM involved, the lesser the possibility any learning will accrue.


There you have it – installment two in our return to print; let’s see if you discern the larger message.  For now, a favored quote or two:

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
George Bernard Shaw

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana