Sunday, May 31, 2015

Swamp gas footprint…and the scale of civic importance in Brunswick

Whether we wanted to or not, we’ve had a few more thoughts related to the clap-traporama post we published on Thursday:  Which means, as usual, that we’re going to shower them upon you our loyal or not-so-loyal readers.  Free of charge, of course, as usual.  An ‘amuse bouche,’ as it were.

‘Carbon footprint’ is the favored bludgeon of the culture warriors of our day, but from what we’ve read and heard lately, we think swamp gas footprint is a far more immediate threat to Brunswick’s future ‘sustainability.’


It may sound far-fetched, but it would go a long ways toward clearing things up.


Let’s begin today’s disclosure by looking at some pictures, so following along isn’t too complicated.

This is a mountain:

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This is a mole-hill:

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This is an elephant:

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This is a gnat; be sure to notice the gnat’s eyebrows; one is markedly different than the other:

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This is a flea:

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These are flea’s eggs:

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Can you see the fleas and the flea eggs on the elephant?

Now we’ll move on to numbers.

$10,000; this is the amount discussed by the Brunswick Town Council that led to this recent coverage in The Ostrich; note the Page 1, ‘above the fold’ placement:

$15,000; this is the amount PER STUDENT the Brunswick School department is planning to spend in the coming school year.  And there are roughly 2,400 students in the system.  This is the coverage The Ostrich has invested in detailed analysis of our school system’s spending this year, and in every past year in recent decades:

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You might say it usually appears on page 9 of an 8 page paper.  Others might suggest The Ostrich is a journalistic black hole when it comes to such information, and an even more outrageous concept - analysis.

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Which is similar to the attention our town council has devoted to detailed discussion of these uncomfortable realities in budget deliberations over the same decades.  The most important metric, ignored by both….our elected ‘leaders’ and their ‘watchdogs’….is the growth in per-student spending, and what the return on that spending is.

Does it seem to you, like it seems to us, that our elected officials’ ‘laser like focus’ on the town’s budget and property tax burden is aimed at flea’s eggs, rather than elephants?  And that they have a penchant for turning mole-hills into mountains, right before the public’s eyes? Especially if it will help distract attention from their lack of willingness and ability to manage the town enterprise with forthright leadership, accountability, and rationality?

Since we don’t impose any expectations upon them, we shouldn’t be surprised this is what we get, frankly.  Overall societal decline in expectations is why we find ourselves where we are.  It shows in our government run schools, and it shows in the dismal behavior of the general citizenry.  Mediocrity reigns.

Humility, integrity, and pursuit of excellence (both personal and organizational) have been superseded by a sense of pretentiousness and prideful arrogance.


“Hey…what’s it to you, wise guy?  Mind your own damn business!”

Which is why our general sense is that Council chambers are suffering from oxygen depletion, and the not so faint aroma of swamp gas, if only in a figurative sense.  Perhaps it’s time to open the windows and let in some fresh air….figuratively speaking…..if that sounds more civil.

Now that we’re on this track, we can’t help but think of this passage from one of the articles on which we performed a clap-trap analysis a few days ago:

Pan Am Railways and Amtrak have other safety measures in place on the line in Maine and New Hampshire, Quinn said. Engineers must press a button every 30 seconds to demonstrate they are alert, she said, and dispatchers can determine a train’s speed at any time by tracking its GPS signal. Amtrak managers also conduct random compliance checks to make sure engineers are following speed limits and other rules.

Why not adapt this technology for council meetings…..a button that must be pressed every minute or so to demonstrate councilors are awake, alert, and getting enough oxygen.  Maybe they could add those clever little blood oxygen sensors that clip onto one’s finger at each seat at the council horseshoe.   When any councilor’s O2 level falls below accepted norms, an alarm could go off at their position, along with a flashing red light above the Council Chair position. 
No sense letting the council action train go off the rails without warning, right?

Pursuing the same post facto thought pattern, we wondered whether paraphrasing the comments by various councilors cited in last night’s post might provide some amusement and enlightening contrast.  Here’s what we ended up with:

Original: Several councilors said their objections were based on the fact that the finance committee has not discussed changing that policy.

Original: “We haven’t really vetted them,” said Councilor Dan Harris. “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. … We have an obligation to know where that money’s going.”

Notional paraphrase: “We haven’t really vetted the school department,” said Councilor Dan Harris.  “I have no idea what their salaries are for their staff. …..We have an obligation to know where that $36 million is going.”

Original: Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested money ought to be taken from the school budget in order to fund MCHPP, while adding that students, school staff and supporters haven’t done enough to raise money to offset the cost of Brunswick High School’s graduation.

Notional Paraphrase: Councilor Kathy Wilson suggested the MCHPP ought to be brought under the jurisdiction of the School Department, adding that the department already provides thousands of free and reduced cost meals to town residents every school day.

Original: “I’m not comfortable in just throwing money at them,” said Councilor David Watson. “I’ve heard their meals are fine but everything else is candy. I just want to know whether this is going to go to a good cause.”

Notional Paraphrase: “I’m not comfortable in just throwing millions at the School Department,” said Councilor David Watson.  “I’ve heard their recess periods are fine, but everything else is a joke.  I just want to know whether this is going to a good education, or just higher paid teachers without any improvement in results.”

Original: “It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over 10,000 bucks,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”

Notional Paraphrase: “It almost seems absurd we’re going to argue over $15,000 bucks per student per  year,” said Harris, “but I’m going to argue anyway.”

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We had begun to miss ‘a certain’ unique aspect of the town council since it was reconstituted in the last election.  But we’re beginning to think a talented stand-in for one of the established roles has been permanently elevated to the position.

Lastly, we note the town, ‘led’ by the council and art-focused local groups, has a distinct emphasis on using ‘pieces’ by established and not-so-established artistes to enrich our local environs, including council chambers.  We have a suggestion along related lines.
Behold these examples of caricatures:

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Can’t you just feel the excitement that would ensue from the town commissioning a noted (or not so noted) caricature artist to create ‘impressions’ of each of the leaders seated at the horseshoe table in council chambers?  And then ceremoniously displaying them in said chambers, instead of those boring, so yesterday, group photos?  And the other non-descript pieces embellishing the walls?

Oh, By-the-Ways:

As we suggested above, the MCHPP should consider having itself absorbed into the School Department, which would ensure steady funding increases in the future, no matter the tax burden upon the town.  For the same reason, the Curtis Memorial Library should look into a similar merger.

On another note, imagine if the Downeaster was idling within footsteps of the HBS School.  Or the Library.  Schoolies with hair on fire!  Bookies with hair on fire!  Town Councilors aghast!

Why have there been no similar concerns over idling within footsteps of the MCHPP facility and entrance?  Or within footsteps of a year round day care facility?

Or within footsteps of households with young families and the elderly, for that matter?


You know us; once you get used to beating your head against the wall, you get to where you almost like it.  It must be a form of addiction.

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