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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