Thursday, December 15, 2016

The ALPHA and OPEGA of the Downeaster’s NNEPRA


It’s come to our attention that a good number of our friends, neighbors, readers, critics, and other influential members of the local community may have a knowledge base of the investigation into the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA) by Maine’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC) that is well beyond it’s expiration date. 

The GOC is the legislative body that directs the efforts of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA.)  (OK, you Greekophiles, we are taking poetic license with the last letter of the Greek alphabet.)


The main reason the knowledge expiration date has been reached is because those who have the primary responsibility for keeping the public informed don’t operate by the same principles we do.  The Ostrich, for example, prints ‘all the news’ it thinks will confirm the biases of the local carriage set, without doing anything to upset their sensibilities.  They’re not about to give the vapors to the ladies of the AAB, for example.


And so their staff coverage of the OPEGA investigation into NNEPRA, which has reached a higher level of concern at GOC meetings since September, has been conspicuous by its absence.  Nor did we find anything in the Forecaster, or the ‘paper of record’ that issues from the big city to our south.


We did, however, find related coverage on the TrainRiders Northeast web site.  The group, founded and led by S.Wayne Davis, is the chief lobbying group for the Downeaster, and also the most vocal apologists and advocates for passenger rail service, no matter what the consequences and costs may be.

For example, consider this report from

State Oversight Office Gives NNEPRA High Marks

  • Published on Saturday, 17 September 2016 14:29
  • Written by TRN Webmaster

The Government Oversight Committee held a session this week to hear the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability's position regarding an investigation into NNEPRA's management of its finances and operational supervision of the Downeaster passenger rail service.

State Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, an outgoing member of the Government Oversight Committee, had forcefully pursued the investigation. The following report is from All Aboard Brunswick which has been closely following the process.

OPEGA found NNEPRA to be a well-run organization with lots of oversight, tasked with the challenge of coordinating operations with Amtrak, Pam Am Railways, the MBTA, Maine DOT, individual station owners, and responsible to the Legislature, Maine DOT, the Federal Rail Authority (FRA), and the Federal Transportation Authority (FTA).  Basically, the report said, “Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along now.”

The report’s three recommendations were:

1. Better communication between NNEPRA and the Legislature, with the Transportation Committee scheduling NNEPRA to present its annual reports at public meetings. In the past, presentations at public meetings have typically been initiated by NNEPRA.

2. As part of the process of establishing passenger rail policy, planning and implementation, the Legislature, MDOT and NNEPRA should rely on objective cost-benefit research and analysis, and provide timely and appropriate forums for public input throughout a project’s duration.

3. Reevaluation of the role of Maine Passenger Rail Advisory Council (PRAC), specifically with regard to improving communication and promoting public input.

There will be a public hearing on the report at the GOC’s next meeting at 9:30 AM on Thursday, October 6.  The chair, Sen. Roger Katz, stressed that the public hearing would be on the report, only, and not on any other issues related to rail service in Maine or NNEPRA.


The same organization published this report on the October 6 public hearing:

Public Hearing on OPEGA's Review of NNEPRA

Published on Saturday, 08 October 2016 02:27
Written by TRN Webmaster

The public hearing of the Maine Government Oversight Committee was held on October 6th, in Augusta. The purpose was to allow public comments on the recent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability's (OPEGA) review of NNEPRA's financial and operational administration of the Amtrak Downeaster. Those who were displeased that the report failed to find fault with NNEPRA management, refocused their attention from trying to prevent the construction of the Brunswick Layover Facility to requesting further investigation of the decisions of NNEPA Executive Director Patricia Quinn as well as the board itself. Ms. Quinn, TrainRiders/NE Counsel F. Bruce Sleeper and an impassioned Board Chairman Martin Eisenstein returned the fire.


As confirmed by statements made by Senator Gerzofsky, this was nothing more or less than an attack on NNEPRA’s executive director, Patricia Quinn.  That attack ignores both the accomplishments of NNEPRA under her leadership, as well as her nationally recognized, and nationally lauded, leadership role in passenger rail.  Sour grapes anyone?


Just below is a snip from the TRNE video summary of the testimony at the October 6 hearing.  It shows Marty Eisenstein, Chair of the NNEPRA Board of Directors, in what we can only describe as ‘testimony’ delivered with some loose screws in his hinges.  Marty, we should point out, is the “Alpha Male” of NNEPRA.

We hope he’s had his hinge screws tightened up, because he’s going to have some tougher moments to deal with in the future.  We have no way of knowing, but a repeat performance will not help NNEPRA’s case, or inspire confidence in the Board’s governance.

Some of the screws almost certainly came loose when Dick Donovan, founder and head of Maine Rail Transit Coalition, a ‘widely known passenger rail advocate’ in all the best places, told members of the committee that he had personally seen the NNEPRA Board acting as ‘rubber stamps’ when dealing with staff at regular Board Meetings, which he regularly attends..


Those of you with insatiable intellectual curiosity in the testimony delivered at the public hearing can find a compendium of it here:


To bring you up to date as to the current state of play on the OPEGA audit of NNEPRA, the Government Oversight Committee met again on November 17th of this year for a work session to follow up and act upon the public testimony given at the October 6th hearing.


Several of us were there to observe the work session, and to answer questions about our testimony at the earlier session should they arise.  None of us had to do so.

A good deal of discussion and back and forth took place on the primary question of whether OPEGA should continue to investigate NNEPRA operations, or wrap it up with the work already done.  Things were complicated a bit by the fact that this meeting was the last of the current Legislative session, and that the committee would have a new mix of members when it reconvenes in January, since several are not returning for the new session.

In the end, here is the outcome of the work session as recorded and promulgated by the Director of OPEGA as it relates to the NNEPRA investigation.  (Edited to omit unrelated items; emphasis ours.)

From: Ashcroft, Beth
Sent: Friday, November 18, 2016 8:36 AM
To: Connors, Etta  (GOC Clerk)
Subject: Motions

Here it is Etta.  It’s lengthy but I think its important for it to be clear what they are voting on.

These are the three motions that those who were not present can vote on:

1. Motion: For OPEGA to continue current review of NNEPRA with fieldwork (next phase) focused on effectiveness of the NNEPRA Board in its various roles, accuracy and transparency of performance metrics for the Downeaster service, and NNEPRA’s administration and oversight of contractual arrangements with key partners for operating the Downeaster service. Final vote is 6 in favor, 4 opposed, 2 absent so motion passed.  At the meeting the vote was 4-4 and Rep. Campbell and Sen. Davis voted later in favor in accordance with Committee rules.

2. Motion: To place a review of the Brunswick Taxi Contract with Amtrak on OPEGA’s Biennial Work Plan for 2015 and 2016 with review to include how the contract was awarded and whether NNEPRA played a role in the awarding of the contract. Final vote is 5 in favor, 5 opposed, 2 absent so motion fails. At the meeting the vote was 3 in favor and 5 opposed. Rep. Campbell and Sen. Davis voted later in favor in accordance with Committee rules. The GOC had also passed a motion at the meeting to put this same topic On Deck.  Given that the motion to put it on the Work Plan failed, the review topic will go On Deck.

Before voting on these motions, members may want to listen to the audio of the meeting to hear the GOC’s discussion.  Members should also be aware of the following that was discussed/took place at the meeting:

· Related to Motion 1 – OPEGA would continue with review, develop scope questions appropriate to the focus areas in the motion, and present a final report to the next GOC once the review is completed.

· Related to Motion 2 – During the work OPEGA has already done on this review, we learned that the Taxi Contract is between Amtrak and Brunswick Taxi. NNEPRA states in had no role in the awarding of the contract. Amtrak’s expenses for the Taxi service for its employees are reimbursed by NNEPRA. OPEGA Director is unsure at this time whether the contract itself or any related documents/communications held by Amtrak or Brunswick Taxi would be within OPEGA/GOC authority to obtain given that it is between two private entities.  If there are no documents to review, results of this review would primarily come from interviews with relevant parties.

· Related to Motion 2 – Putting this review on OPEGA’s Work Plan for 2015-2016 means that it will potentially roll forward to the next GOC to consider what its priority should be or whether it should remain on the Plan.

· Related to Motion 2 – We have an odd situation where the GOC also voted to put this review On Deck and that motion has already passed. So, if Motion 2 passes then the review will go on OPEGA’s Work Plan.  If it does not, then the review will go On Deck.

· Related to both Motion 1 and 2, the GOC also voted to place a review of the entire process for deciding and implementing the plan to site the Layover Maintenance Facility at its current location in Brunswick (including grant funding obtained to pay for it) on the GOC’s On Deck list. This means that future GOC will have opportunity to consider placing it on OPEGA’s Work Plan for the next Biennium.


This should make it pretty obvious why TrainRiders, The Ostrich, and others have maintained a ‘low profile’ in reporting on events that transpired subsequent to the first Information Brief on the subject.  This was released by OPEGA on September 8, 2016, and TrainRiders and others immediately interpreted it as a clean bill of health with no findings of concern, plus a few recommendations for improving things in the future.

Clearly, subsequent meetings, public testimony, and Committee deliiberations found just the opposite, and hence we enter the new year with considerable anticipation as to how far, deep, and wide the expanding investigation will lead.  Items 1 and 3 in the first motion, in particular, are sweeping enough in their language to take on a broad range of troubling issues, many of which were detailed in public testimony and prior submissions.

We assume that subjects of the investigation are busy doing the appropriate prep work for what lies ahead.  Those of us who testified in favor of moving forward with an expanded scope of interest will do the same.


We expect all the usual suspects are seeing to it that their sincere outfits are in dandy, go to meeting condition, and that they’re practicing their best beguiling looks.  They’ll need all the tricks at their command to be convincing in upcoming deliberations, interviews, and what-not.


Interested parties should watch the TRNE web site and other likely locations for upcoming casting calls.  They’ll be seeking energetic advocates who can follow directions well, and can shake their pom-poms in rhythmic unison.  Note how the colors on the team above are a lovely match for those of Brunswick Taxi. 

Now that we mention it, perhaps the Brunswick Development Corporation has sufficient funds in their kitty to grant a forgivable loan to the group for uniform design and production.  It’s all for the good of the community, isn’t it?

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Just in case you thought our public schools were non-partisan…

….and your children would be free from ideological pressures as they learned the ‘three R’s,’ comes news to disabuse you of such an idea.

As we think we’ve told you in the past, our own political inclinations are pretty well known in these here parts, but we’ve worked hard to see that with only a rare, justified exception, Other Side avoids dabbling in political partisanship and posturing, or even editorial comment.  Every now and then, however, some locally relevant piece of news causes us to dabble in such pursuits, if only to chastise the behavior of others.


This is one of those rare moments.  Clearly we’re in days and weeks of all sorts of political fallout from the recent election, and the shock it visited upon so many.  Bowdoin College students, faculty, and administration are in a phase of near melt-down several notches above their quiescent level of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over various and sundry injustices and grievances as they ensure every graduate (well, most, anyway) feel either a profound sense of victimhood or guilt.  Safe spaces were beyond capacity, hot chocolate and play dough supplies were exhausted, and other stressful consequences are still evident more than a month later.  No one has scheduled “How to Grow Up” seminars, though we believe that could be a growth industry on college campuses these days.

On the Town side of the Town and Gown mix, we’re convinced that the uptick in activity related to the Brunswick Human RIghts Task Force owes much to the election outcome.  Councilor Kathy Wilson’s appearance on a WGME video report (Kathy Wilson on WGME) clearly stems from the results.

As for us, it’s taken a mightly dose of self-control to keep us from filing a complaint with the Task Force aserting that HRC and Bernie bumper stickers and yard signs were visible acts of micro-agression and micro-invalidation aimed directly at us.  We can only imagine how scared we would have been by public reactions if we had worn a Trump MAGA hat while patronizing local establishments.

Many of us remember what was labeled Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) after the election of George W. Bush, which lingered as a chronic inflammation in many forms all during his years in office, and for many years thereafter.  We fully expect that Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS), or its related malady, Trump Hysteria Disorder (THD), will prove to be a far more virulent and difficult to cure social disease.  You do remember what a ‘social disease’ is, don’t you?

Nowadays, they’re called STDs, or sexually transmitted diseases.  We’re guessing the diseases we mentioned in the prior paragraph will be grouped under the heading STD’s as well, but meaning socially transmitted diseases for the new era of diagnostics..

Enough setting the stage.  Let’s introduce the star of this post:


You can find the entire item here:

We’ll limit our comments on the subject to these:

  • Why hasn’t basic civics been a part of the core curriculum all along?  What replaced it, and what was the justification for doing so?
  • Superintendent PP’s proclivities in such matters are on the record, as the article describes, when he couldn’t keep his mouth shut, per this passage:

“This is not the first time Perzanoski has publicly criticized conservative education policy. In an Augusta 2012 welcome letter to staff, “Perzanoski took aim at Republican Gov. Paul LePage.”

  • If you think the Super will be able to implement a new policy that doesn’t embody his own liberal leanings, and that of the preponderance of the professional educational staff and related bureaucracy, you need to go ‘back to school’ yourself, but one more suited to objective, unbiased, adult learning.

                              Image result for Brunswick taxi Maine

Please remember; we’re dealing with a special place here, not ‘everytown USA.’  These passages provide additional insight; we hope you take the time to read the entire linked item:

Perzanoski implied that Trump’s election threatens students with diverse heritage or beliefs.

“[The election] does not dictate that an equal opportunity for every student will be lost because of his/her heritage or beliefs,” he wrote.

As Maine’s political dynamics shift, Brunswick remains solidly liberal and loyal to the Democratic Party. The town’s voters overwhelmingly backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential election, with Trump earning less than 30 percent of the vote there.

And we must ensure and protect the freedom of speech and freedom of thought of our future citizens, or else!

“Regardless of our political persuasions, we must help each other and listen to one another as we move forward,” wrote Perzanoski, who could not be reached this morning for comment.

How else can we ensure that the electoral traditions and ideological bent of our perfect little town endure?

Increased Sausage Rations for Brunswick Taxi?

             Image result for Brunswick taxi Maine

We can’t help but wonder how the new Downeaster schedule is affecting the fortunes of Brunswick Taxi, owned by the Kings (and Queens?) of Brunswick.  Regular visitors to Other Side know of the cushy deal they’ve had for transporting Amtrak crews between Brunswick and Portland every day of the year.  Not to mention the little hissy fit they had, expressed in an attorney’s letter, over language used by former State Senator Stan “Big G” Gerzofsky to describe the arrangement.

Based on eyewitness evidence, they’ve been making two round trips a day since the Downeaster began coming to Brunswick.  The first one to transport the Amtrak crew that manned the train arriving just after noon back to Portland, as the train just sat here in Brunswick, puffing diesel fumes on most days, for about five hours.  Later in the day, a taxi headed back to Portland to pick up an Amtrak crew that would man the train for a return trip to Portland.  You may recall when they briefly held us hostatge a while back, leading to a visit to our offices by Brunswick Police.

                               Image result for bs flag                       

NNEPRA has steadfastly professed to know nothing of the Taxi service contract ‘because that’s an Amtrak business arrangement.’  Pardon us, but that’s blatant bureaucratic evasion, and amounts to so much Brunswick Sausage.  One way or another, NNEPRA is paying for the taxi service in the contract charges they pay for Amtrak train service, including crew costs.  If they don’t know what the taxi cost is in that total bill, it reflects a lack of due diligence in their management and oversight of the subcontracting process.

A question or two comes to mind regarding the taxi contract.  Does it pay a flat rate for annual services, whether used or not?  One thinks of “service curtailments” in recent years, one of which happened just recently.  Numerous trains were cancelled between Brunswick and points south.  Was Brunswick Taxi paid regardless of whether they made the trip or not?  They could argue that they purchased vehicle capacity and employed staff to make the two daily round trips, and those costs largely were fixed, except for fuel.

How long a time span did the original contract cover?  Was it negotiated once a year, or was it for a longer term, in order to obtain better pricing, although Amtrak has virtually no incentive reduce costs?

Did the contract anticipate schedule changes like the one just put in place?  Which brings us to the point of this post.  How is Brunswick Taxi “faring” in the new schedule environment?

The new schedule shows two Amtrak train sets arriving and overnighting in Brunswick, and as you might expect, the same two train sets beginning service with a southbound run from Brunswick the next day.  Hence the possibility of doubling the Taxi service required to transport the crews.  Two round trips at the end of the day to transport the arriving crews back to Portland, and two round trips at the start of the day to bring crews up to Brunswick to man the departing trains.

All sorts of options to this scenario are possible, we suppose.  Arrangements could be made to overnight crews in Brunswick.  Or several crews could be relocated to have Brunswick as their home base.  Or crew members could receive vehicle allowances to transport themselves between the relevant points.

Anyone familiar with business travel and relocation costs these days knows that any of these alternatives would involve significant costs that may or may not be worthwhile tradeoffs compared to Brunswick Taxi services.   No doubt crew members belong to a union, and that could substantially complicate necessary arrangements and drive costs up and up.

We haven’t asked, but we can guess that were we to inquire of NNEPRA about these details, we’d get the same shoulder shrug as before, even though it’s clear that NNEPRA will have to cover these new costs, whatever they are, just as they have to absorb the costs of the new crew damands.

Perhaps someone with an oversight role…say a member of NNEPRA’s Board…or a member of a cognizant Legislative committee could ask for details on the subject.


Once they get a definitive answer, if somehow the end result is fewer round trips for Brunswick Taxi instead of the same number as before or even more, they could ask what the compensation will be for the Kings (and Queens?) of Brunswick under the terms of the contracts that were put in place before the schedule change.

Somebody somewhere knows exactly what’s going on, even if they’re doing their damdest to make sure we don’t find out.

NNEPRA is certainly paying the costs under the old schedule, and paying the costs under the new schedule.

Which means that WE are paying those costs as the taxpayers who fund the operation of the system and fork over the required annual subsidies, including the expenses funded by Brunswick Town Government.  Whether we want to or not, we might add.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

AAB Encouraged to Expand, Form AABBB Auxiliary!


We all know and adore the good ladies of All Aboard Brunswick, members all of the carriage set who act as arbiters of what’s best for our ‘community.’  We take them to be objective, fair minded folk, who only want what’s good for us, and hold no special affinity for one civic advance over any other.


Which is why we’re expecting them to ‘get aboard’ the emerging proposal that the Metro Breez add Brunswick, the northern terminus of the Amtrak Downeaster, to their growing daily service between nearby towns and Portland.

We’ve posted on the subject in the past here:

Reports on the origination of the Metro Breez service have been glowing:

We’re so sure our good ladies will be supportive that we’re suggesting they form an auxiliary to support this new offering, and call it “All Aboard Brunswick’s Breez Bus.”  We’re so excited about the plan that we won’t even charge them for coming up with this inspired name.

Funny; terms like “AAB” and “AABBB” almost make one think we’re talking about bond ratings or some such. 

Last week’s Town Council meeting featured a presentation by the head of the Portland Metro Bus operation.  We watched the replay on community cable TV, and it appears our officials are largely in favor of the proposal, which could start service in a matter of a few months, with no need for tens of millions in capital ‘investment.’  And with ten trips every weekday!  That should give some serious travel flexibility.  And lots of alternatives to the Downeaster, mon Dieu!

Yesterday’s big city newspaper carried this story on the proposal:


We’re counting on our friends, who have staked so much of their reputations on introducing and sustaining Downeaster service, to stand just as strongly behind this proposal.  We’ve tracked down the documents used with our town officials, and made them accessible to you via these links.

If you wish to view the discussion at the Town Council meeting, you can find it here:

According to our records, the discussion begins at time point 38:00 in the video.


Camera angles for the meetings don’t really suit our purposes and interests, but we did note a definite lack of pom-poms in the public gallery.  Perhaps candidates for AABBB nomination were out uniform shopping.  We certainly hope so.  We’re looking forward to their display of emotion when the bus service begins, as we’re sure it will.

Every nown and then, even a perfect little town like Brunswick has to make room for common sense, unsettling as it can be.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Brunswick Businesses Brace for Boom; Freeport Too


While you may not be up to speed on the latest changes to the Downeaster schedule, which now makes three daily round trips to Brunswick, Patricia Quinn is in full gush mode on how the schedule changes should mean a real breakthrough for Freeport establishments.

Witness her comments in this artice:

Downeaster sees riders for more than just Boston-based travel, although travel to Boston is one of its biggest markets. Quinn said people in Wells, Maine, will take the short ride to shop at the outlets in Freeport, for example. The Freeport station puts riders right in front of the L.L. Bean flagship store.


A quick look at the schedule shows that shoppers from Wells, Maine would be scheduled to arrive in Freeport at 4:10 pm.


Which should make for a brisk shopping experience, since the return trip from Freeport, if on schedule, departs at 5:35pm, a full hour and twenty-five minutes later.

The circumstances are even better for Brunswick merchants.  Wells customers would arrive at 4:25 pm, and have to depart less than an hour later at 5:20 pm.  That’s barely enough time to revel in the public art piece in front of the station, and quaff a quick Guinness.

The irony here is that Quinn believes people in Wells don’t mind an hour and a half train ride in each direction to shop in Freeport at the ‘outlets.’  Especially when the outlets at Kittery are a mere 21 miles away, with an estimated drive time of 23 minutes.  Sure; Kittery doesn’t have a train station, but you can start and end your shopping trip there any old time you like, and spend as much or little time shopping as you damn well please.  As a bonus, we’re pretty sure Kittery has a far greater selection of outlets than Freeport.  And Brunswick has…..well, none that we know of.

There are some other exciting facts pertaining to the Downeaster service, especially for Maine taxpayers, who subsidize the service to the tune of millions of dollars per year.  Witness these passages in the same Fosters item linked above:

Quinn said Exeter is the biggest ridership on the Downeaster in New Hampshire. Anywhere from 70 to 100 riders travel to and from Exeter a day. "Exeter is a big market for us," Quinn said. "We have a hefty amount of commuters every weekday from Exeter."

Bob Hall, chairman of the Exeter Train Committee, said Exeter last summer topped the 1 million mark for total riders since the service began.

"The monthly pass to ride with unlimited use is $299 and let me tell you, you can't find a parking space anywhere close to that in Boston," Hall said.

"Events in Boston like the Red Sox, concerts or the TD Garden, people like the train," he said. "When the Patriots won the championship and had a parade, every train was sold out for that entire day."

When train service began in 2001, the UNH-Durham stop was only Friday through Sunday. "Soon thereafter, we were offered daily service and it has been transformative," said UNH Director of Special Projects Campus Planning Stephen Pesci. "Sixteen years ago there was no way to get from campus to most of the station communities without a private car."

Pesci said the Durham station is approaching its 700,000-trip milestone.

As a friend has observed, the Downeaster schedule greatly favors southbound travel to Boston, including numerous New Hampshire and Massachusetts commuters, and pretty much ignores commuters to Portland from either the North or South.  Just as you would expect.  Boston is the primary suction for the system, not Portland or any other point in Maine.

The shame of it all is that while Maine subsidizes the Downeaster operating budget, neither New Hampshire or Massachusetts do.

Which may be just what we deserve for being so gullible.

He adds that “Ms. Quinn is an excellent marketeer,” but it’s pretty obvious she isn’t selling Maine.

Like we’ve said before, the prevailing ‘tradewinds’ are out of the northeast.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

You’d ‘Rather’ what?


Those of you who know us have more than likely heard us mention that we suffer from ‘the curse of an active mind.’  Those of you who don’t know us should be thankful for small blessings.

In recent weeks, meaning mostly since the election four weeks ago, there’s been much talk in both print and electronic media of a ‘fake news’ phenomena sweeping our system of journalism and the ‘free press.’  Which is to say that serving the purposes of ‘informing the public’ and ‘government watchdog’ is a load of crap in more ways than one.

As we reflected on the general subject, we couldn’t help but recall the case of Dan Rather, the journalistic ‘icon’ pictured above, breaking the story about false documentation for Bush W’s service in the Air National Guard.  As the story unfolded, it became clearer and clearer that the so-called evidence supporting the claim was in fact falsified.

In response, ‘big media’ attempted to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse by inventing the story line that it wasn’t so much the accuracy of the evidence that mattered, as it was the ‘seriousness of the charges.’

In other words, they can make anything up they like, and even if the ‘evidence’ that they put forward won’t hold water, you all need to listen to them because the ‘charges are so serious,’ even if they are a total fraud.  This was a major step forward in journalism living up to our low expectations.

We can’t help but wonder if this isn’t the MO behind the WGME/Kathy Wilson story we’ve posted about in recent days.  Shirley this isn’t a case of trumped up charges making headlines because the ‘charges are so serious.’  Not here in Brunswick, where all the kids are above average, all the women are good looking, and all the men are hard-working.

We don’t know, but we promise you this.  We’re not going to let this story go until we get to the bottom of it. And when we do, we will do the honorable thing in response, wherever that might place the monkey.

Those with details to pass along know how to reach our offices, and we look forward to the help.

Correspondent’s Notebook

“Could Not Be Reached”

While we’d be a bit presumptuous to call ourselves an investigative journalist, we do admit to a certain curiosity about the underlying particulars behind a story here and there.  Every now and then you find an onion with mule’s ears, and other times you discover a quarter-million dollar forgivable loan to local well-connected businesses.  So it is that we went in search of the rationale for the above story on WGME, which we talked about here:

We pursued two possible sources for more information, and we think they’re exactly the sources most readers would pursue if they were in our socks.  Four days later, neither has replied to our  inquiry.  So we’re going to stick with our original inclination, which reads thus:

Absent any such evidence in the local newspaper of record, we’re left to infer that Councilor Wilson trumped up these accusations in order to incite media attention, inflame local emotions, and reinvigorate the Task Force.

Always intereste in more in more details, we repeat that Councilor Wilson, or anyone with more information, can contact us if they like.

Life Is Just A Bowl of Olives

                              Image result for bartender condiments

Those of you who enjoy an adult beverage from time to time may recognize this garnish caddy once common at traditional bars.  We don’t know if they still are common.  Not because we don’t enjoy such beverages these days, but because we normally have them served at our table, rather than while seated at a classic ‘bar,’ like a Bogart wannabe in a tux.

Image result for bogart martini

But we do recall from time to time asking for an extra olive (or two) in our classic icy Martini, and not having to pay extra for it.  Come to think of it, we may have nipped an olive or two from the caddy years ago when the barkeep was looking elsewhere.

                                 Image result for bogart martini

On occasion we find ourselves on the ‘other side’ of the classic cocktail axis, ordering a Manhattan “up,’' especially in colder seasons.  This drink is typically garnished with a maraschino cherry, providing a sweet counterpoint to the taste of bitters used in the recipe.

As Chance would have it, we found ourself in just such a situation recently at a local establishment.  We asked our server to make arrangements for us to have two (2) cherries in our drink, and indeed we did when it arrived.

                            Image result for maraschino cherries

For those not well versed in such trivia, these cherries range from low end, rather small and lifeless without stems, and looking a bit maimed from automated processing.


To those looking much more sassy, full of color, stems intact, juicy and plump, and relatively undamaged.

From time to time, we’ve had the full range of specimens presented on anything from a wooden toothpick, to one of those little plastic swords or spears, to simply lying in the bottom of our drink.  The stemmed versions, obviously, are less in need of such accessorizing.

On this recent occasion, our two cherries were from the first category above, and absent any accessory to make them easier to enjoy.  We were left to treat them as finger food, or fish them out with a utensil; we won’t tell you which we did.

But we will tell you that the two, sizewise, were at best the equivalent of one of the proud examples in the second photo.

By now, you’re probably saying ‘so what,’ and wondering why we’re bothering you with this story.

Good questions.  And here’s the answer.  Because when our bill came, we had been charged $1 for the extra cherrry, limp as it was, on top of the price of our drink.  In a place whose food prices we found beyond normal expectations.  And whose table settings were wrapped in paper napkins and standing in a little bucket on the quasi picnic table we were seated at.

That’s why.  What’s next?  Charging by the packet of sugar for one’s coffee?

We’re pretty sure the management has no idea what an impression this gave us, because we didn’t complain.  But we can assure you we will not gladly return because of it.

As our spouse likes to tell servers, “he doesn’t get out much anymore,’' and that’s true.  But we did spend twenty years or so of our career getting out a lot, and eating at some of the finest establishments around.  And not a one ever charged us for an extra olive or extra cherry.

At our age, we suppose, it’s only right that we get all the pits, figuratively speaking.

Fair warning: don’t ask for a warmer on your coffee if you haven’t priced it first. 

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Betke on Brunswick & Freeport Schedules

Our friend George Betke, a railroading professional, had an item published yesterday in The Ostrich.  It dovetails nicely with our item published earlier in the week, about which we posted yesterday.

We thought you’d enjoy this photo, which shows NNEPRA/Downeaster glitterati accompanying Senator King, Angus to the Brunswick celebration of November 21st.  Note how the three: NNEPRA Board Chair Marty Eisenstein; TRNE Chairman S Wayne Davis; and NNEPRA ED Patricia Quinn maintain an appropriate and repectful distance of several paces behind the Senator.

U.S. Sen Angus King, I-Maine, arrives in Brunswick Monday, Nov. 21, to mark the inaugural third daily roundtrip of the Amtrak Downeaster between Brunswick and Boston. He was joined by Marty Eisenstein, chairman of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority; TrainRiders Northeast Chairman Wayne Davis, and Patricia Quinn, NNEPRA executive director. The new late-morning departure and evening arrival were made possible by the recent opening of a new train layover facility in Brunswick. (Keith Spiro / For The Forecaster)

Here is Mr. Betke’s offering in its entirety:

Downeaster schedule shortchanges Freeport, Brunswick

Heavily promoted economic benefits of extending Amtrak Downeaster passenger service north of Portland have taken a step backward. An original impetus for getting the train to Freeport (and leading to further extension of the route to Brunswick) was to enable day-trippers from Boston and intermediate points to enjoy a Maine shopping experience.

The revised schedule recently implemented by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority lists the first northbound train arrival in Freeport at 4:10 p.m., barely allowing for a convenience-store stop before the last southbound departure at 5:35 p.m. Travelers seeking a same-day train trip to Brunswick are faced with an even more pressing, 55-minute time constraint, 4:25-5:20 p.m. Perhaps NNEPRA marketers had the local overnight lodging establishments in mind.

On the other hand, they clearly were thinking of big-city sporting and entertainment attractions, scheduling late-evening weekend departures from Boston that encourage visiting Mainers to boost the Massachusetts economy. Is there any doubt that the flow of continuing economic benefit from the “Downeaster” is decidedly southward?

What about all the transit-oriented real-estate improvements that supposedly accompany the introduction of rail service? The train actually followed such development in Freeport, and though Brunswick has a nice new station complex, none of its occupants is dependent on rail travelers. Two restaurants simply moved from other locations into new quarters, and the nearby inn reports few guests utilizing the train.

The main purpose of the new schedule appears to be positioning trains for overnight occupancy of Brunswick’s massive new maintenance and layover facility, making the town a regular destination for equipment if not passengers. The obvious irony is that Freeport and Brunswick are being short-changed by this paltry return on a committed investment of more than $70-million. After four years, the transformative economic stimulus envisioned by the “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a train?” crowd can only be described as an expensive hoax.

George C. Betke, Jr.,


And here are the schedules he refers to:



As the All Aboarders like to day, “we’re livin’ the dream, baby!”

Even though others may see it more as a nightmare for taxpayers, and those whose “safe space” has been violated by the microaggression of arriving and departing train whistles.

Friday, December 2, 2016

For the kids…no matter who screwed up…..

As an early Christmas gift, here’s one of our perennial favorites:


We don’t know if you saw this report in this week’s Forecaster:

We were stunned to see these words in the article:

"excavation and reconstruction of the entire facility"

What have they been doing?  Holding 18 wheeler and dump truck races on the track?

The pictured weeds provide a clue on how to fund the repair. Eliminate the salaried position that was responsible for care and maintenance of the facility, and use the saved compensation and benefits cost to amortize the loan for repairs.  Alternatively, elimate other staff positions to generate the cash flow necessary to do the same thing.  Perhaps doing either of these would inject a new era of reality and accountability into the hallowed and congenitally faultless Brunswick School Department.

We won’t hold our breath, and we don’t advise you do so either.  Instead, take this report as just one more example of the virulent pathologies of school department operation.  Let things go regarding facilities in favor of salary and benefit budget lines, always assuming that capital expenses can be dealt with by appealing to public sympathies, and attendant lack of curiosity into the absence of discipline and diligence in attending to the care of public assets.

Afterall, ‘it’s about the children.’  And ‘the children are our future.’  Not to mention ‘imagine our future.’

Face it; this is a repeat of the unshoveled roof approach at Jordan Acres that is now costing us $30 million in new school construction. Screw up, and nobody pays with their job for the lack of accountability.  And voila, shiny new facilities just like that!

Instead, taxpayers bear the brutal cost of the negligence because of board and schoolie weepiness and 'community pride.'

Isn't it time somebody in authority started thinking about 'community shame,' as well as 'for the taxpayer?'

Of course not.  Instead, let’s just settle for assurances this won’t happen again ‘on my watch.’

And approve those contracts with the guaranteed salary increases for all.

What a way to run a railroad.

Councilor Kathy Wilson: recent election warrants attention by the Brunswick Human Rights Task Force


We’ve posted before that the Brunswick “Human Rights Task Force,” originally formulated as the Brunswick “Race and Gender Task Force,” exemplifies a ‘solution in search of a problem.’  In recent months, it seemed to be fading off into the municipal sunset, lacking recent incidents to speak out against, atone for, and otherwise provide all the force of government righteousness to resolve.

Then we learned that after failing to convene for some time, the group was going to meet again -  this time on Friday, November 18th.  Which, oddly enough, was 10 days after the latest election, and long enough for, among other things, the Bowdoin student body and administration to publicly wring hands and gnash teeth over the outcome in the Bowdoin Orient.  And untold thousands or area residents to rent their garments or any other handy blanky as well.

Cue the charges of micro-aggression, micro-oppression, micro-invalidation, triggering offenses, and all the rest of the lexicon of social justice warfare of our era.

Now comes the above report, in which the brief video features Town Councilor Kathy Wilson, a member of said Task Force, speaking of how she has become ‘scared again.’  Both the included text and the caption below the video snippet are perhaps the worst documented reporting we’ve seen in recent years.

Both refer to ‘three town councilors’ taking action while citing only Wilson.  Both refer to ‘reports of hate speech and confrontation’ without any examples, citations, or other substantiation.  Apparently, said councilors believe the Task Force exists, among other things, to deal with ‘concerns about the recent election and Donald trump’s (sic) victory.’

Since the report is dated yesterday, we presumed we’d be able to find some sort of corroborating report in the pages of The Ostrich.  So we searched the ‘home page’ on their web site for the last week or so, and found no related items.

Absent any such evidence in the local newspaper of record, we’re left to infer that Councilor Wilson trumped up these accusations in order to incite media attention, inflame local emotions, and reinvigorate the Task Force.

We will, however, look further into the matter, to see if acts of bias or hate speech have been reported recently.  We’ll let you know what we find.

Meanwhile, Councilor Wilson can contact us with details of incidents she knows about, and we’ll pass those along as well.  When she does, she can explain to us how the WGME report came about.

All Aboard: The Ostrich Version

Your long absent correspondent had this item appear in The Ostrich earlier this week.  It responds to a front page item they ran a week earlier, which we trust you will search for on your own if you have any interest in what they have to say.

Here’s a snippet of our item from their web site, followed by the link:


So many people haven’t called about the appearance of the column that we’ve lost track of who they aren’t, or we’d give you the list.

To make things easier for you, here’s the original items as we submitted it:


To the Editors:

“All aboard in Brunswick,” appearing on the front page of the 22 November Times Record, merits a response on several points, starting with this passage: "Sen. Angus King’s office said that Amtrak’s Boston-to- Brunswick rail service set ridership and revenue records from July to September."

Sen. King's office likely echoed the PR propaganda provided by NNEPRA. One doubts the Senator is aware that NNEPRA does their ridership 'projections' in house using undisclosed methodology, making it highly likely they 'regularly exceed projections.' Reporting from Amtrak show that ridership from Portland to Brunswick has already peaked, and in it's highest year, was 33% below projections.

For clarity on how Amtrak reports 'revenues' to embellish their fiscal profiles, look here:

King added these comments: “It really knits our community together,” he said. King lives not far from Brunswick Station. “I hear that train whistle at quarter of seven in the morning, and sometimes at night,” King said. “It just feels right, it just feels like we’re connected.”

Absent a tangible example of what 'knitting our community together' means, this is a fine example of the hollow platitudes typical at public events celebrating deficit spending, on projects of which the officials speaking have virtually no detailed understanding.

Former Town Councilor Margo Knight repeated her frequent sentiments regarding the Downeaster: “It’s a big economic engine for this area.” I've asked before for her to provide specific corroboration for this claim, but none was ever received. So I'll ask again that she provide it for TR readers to study.

And ask her as well to explain why when a suggestion for a 'town & gown collaboration' was made to the Town Council to conduct a study of such economic benefit, I couldn't find two councilors to 'bring it to the table' as an agenda item for discussion, let alone approval. Read about this in more detail in a previously published TR item:

Her husband added this: “traveling the Downeaster has it benefits. It’s just a very relaxing way to get to Boston,” he said. I wonder how relaxing it would be if passengers were charged the full cost of their travel, which from Brunswick, would surely be more than double the current fares. Not to mention the relaxing travel experiences we've had on Concord Coach to Boston, enhanced measurably by driver assistance with our luggage, and drop off and pickup curbside at our airline terminal, among other options.

Now take these words in the article: “The expansion of service is possible thanks to a $13 million layover facility in Brunswick that will service Amtrak Downeaster trains overnight. The facility allows late-night trains to Brunswick to remain there overnight and head south again the following morning, rather than returning to Portland to overnight.”

By all accounts, the actual facility cost is in excess of $15 million, with $1 million in new annual operating costs on top of that. Hence total capital spending on 'stretching' the service 27 miles from Portland to Brunswick currently stands in the vicinity of $60 million, with another $20 million plus planned to 'optimize' the service. Yet the MLF cannot support required FRA safety inspections since it lacks pits to look beneath the trains.

Experienced railroad professionals assert the new schedules are designed to justify Brunswick MLF construction, rather than stimulate economic benefits to Maine, and will push non-Maine ridership over the 50% threshold. They clearly prioritize the needs of those heading south from Maine points to spend discretionary dollars in the Boston area, rather than those in Massachusetts and New Hampshire heading north to Maine locales, including Brunswick and Freeport, to fuel local “economic engines.”

Hence prevailing “economic tradewinds” continue out of the Northeast, and beg the question of why New Hampshire and Massachusetts aren't contributing to the annual cash subsidies required to keep the Downeaster operating.

There is more than enough here to concern responsible oversight authorities in Augusta, especially when it comes to paying one's 'fair share' of operating deficits as they relate to economic benefit. We can only hope the ongoing investigation into NNEPRA's operation of the Downeaster seriously examines such inequities.

Locally, fervent fans pooh-pooh worries about such things when 'knitting our community together,' and revving the local 'economic engine' are involved, even if no one can substantiate either, or will even try.

As they see it, believing in the dream should be more than enough.


Which brings the Beatles tune to mind….for those who favor dreams.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Tea and Crumpets, Senate Style

(Ed. Note: Yes, we are still vertical and taking nourishment, much to the chagrin of some, we suppose.)

Our recent submission to The Maine Wire appeared on line today.

Here’s a glimpse of the opening; we hope you’ll read the entire item as linked.



Tea and Crumpets in the Senate Cloakroom, Anyone?

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” -Barry Goldwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Portland Press Herald ran an article that begins with these words:

“BANGOR — In a historic gathering of Maine political firepower, five current and former U.S. senators lamented Friday night the nation’s deep polarization but also expressed optimism – if measured – for eventually moving back toward compromise and cooperation.”

The participants were “Maine’s five living senators – former Sens. William Cohen, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe and sitting Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.”

We’ve been hearing for years about the “polarization” and “lack of civility” in Washington. In my view, our Washington types top the list of provocateurs in this story.

Why? There was a time when debates making news in our capitol were about speed limits on the interstates (should 70 be allowed?), or lowering the voting age to 18. These were relevant questions of policy, and could be debated from rational, civil points of view.


Read the rest at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

“The Card Is In The Mail…..”

You know we’re grasping for straw when we take an old saw like “the check is in the mail” and morph it into “the card is in the mail.”  The thank you card, that is.  Which always arrives from an appreciative and gracious recipient, even if a bit late.


Many of us have had thank you cards from newly married couples show up months after the event, and we’ve always assumed it was since their parents received numerous ‘ahem’ phone calls asking if ‘the kids are OK, because we haven’t heard back from them.’

We’re surmising that since we haven’t received our thank you, you probably haven’t received yours either.  On the other hand, if you have, and we haven’t, that pretty much confirms where we stand in the town social order.  We have no illusions about that; we’ve done a pretty thorough job alienating various actors in the local aristocracy, at least one of whom refers to us as “Mr. Grumpy.”  In public places.

By now you’re probably wondering who the illusory thank you card might be from…..if only in our dreams.

Here’s a clue:


In case that’s not enough, there’s this:


So what is the occasion for sending this note along?  Believe it or not, it’s been three years plus since this post appeared:

It contained this passage:

Here are the actual words from the note:

3. On or before August 1st, 2016, one hundred percent (100%) of the original principal sum, equal to Two Hundred, Forty Seven Thousand Dollars ($247,000), and the accrued interest, in the amount of Thirty Three Thousand, Five Hundred Twenty Five and 07/100 Dollars ($33,525.07), for the loan term for months one through thirty six, and the accrued interest of Twenty Thousand, Nine Hundred Sixty One and 67/100 Dollars ($20,961.67) for the loan term for months thirty seven through sixty, will be forgiven, so long as the Maker is not in default of any of this Promissory Note’s terms and the following requirements have been met:

We find the presence of the words “On or before August 1st, 2016..” combined with the words “for months thirty seven through sixty…” cognitively dissonant, thank you very much.  But you know us; we’re just a country class engineer, not a ruling class attorney or government official.

Well here we are, more than two months beyond the trip-wire date mentioned above, and we have it on official source that the principal ($247,000) and the accrued interest ($33,502.07), for a total of $280,525.07, have been totally forgiven.  Here’s the proof (in two clips):



All you should need, we think.


Finally, after all this time, the gracious lady above, and all the other good ladies of Brunswick who put their hearts and minds and souls into this arrangement, can have their precious “closure.”


Not to mention the Kings of Brunswick Taxi, who now have closure on a one-time liability on their books, in the amount of $280,525.07 or there-abouts.

Compliments of Brunswick Taxpayers, we should note.


Which is why we’ve been watching our mail for a Thank You card, just as you have.

But you never know.  Maybe Brunswick Taxi will be personally delivering your card to your door.  Although not every one is willing to believe that…..


One last thing; it is college football season, and as we’ve speculated in the past, the Kings of Brunswick Taxi could well be Florida Youniversity fans.  We don’t know what your card, if it ever comes, will say, but we’re expecting ours to close with a hearty “GO F You.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

“Brunswick Believes: A Strategic Framework…”

Greetings faithful readers; as you know all too well, our pace of publishing has been almost zero in recent weeks (and months.)  We’ve been exceptionally busy of late on other matters, but we won’t bore you with the details.  At least at this moment.

Today we want to tell you about a “work” recently published by the Brunswick School Department.  You can find it here:


We hope you’ll take the time to read and study it to get a sense of what your local government school department prioritizes in this day and age.

We won’t give you our thoughts just yet so you can read it without being biased by anything we might say or not say.  But we will offer this advice.

Read it once to get an overall sense of the themes and content.  Reflect on that, and come back in a day or two and reread it more carefully now that you’ve had a chance to think on it.

Whether you have children in the system now, or will have them there in the future, or had them there in the past, try to see the material presented in the context of how you would like the schooling of your children to be conducted and focused.

And if you’re in the age bracket of the Sides, make sure you consider the material in the context of how you would want your grandchildren to be schooled, and the priorities of the school system they might attend.

Pay particular attention to the vernacular, phraseology, and vocabulary of today’s government school establishment.  It might even give you reason to go back through the material a third time.

Enjoy…and be ready to pay for the taxes to make these strategic moves.

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