Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TrainRIders NorthEast goes “Pro.”


TrainRiders Northeast (TRNE), the 501(c)3 ‘non-profit’ organization without whom the Downeaster would not exist (they humbly assert), has been around a long time.  We’ve mentioned them, and their leader, Wayne Davis, scads of times over the years our journal has been published.

Further, we’ve called them a wholly owned subsidiary of NNEPRA, and lobbyists for them to boot.  We’ve used that latter term in testimony before legislative committees, and had their attorney turn to look at us from the podium and specifically deny it, as he testified against specific legislation, which pretty much defines lobbying.

Best we knew in past years, the organization was mostly volunteer, raising very little funding, and paying only a modest sum to Davis for his leadership.  In the absence of substantial compensation, Davis has been treated as a Saint of passenger rail by NNEPRA, various legislators and other officials, and an adoring and obsequious public.

Now comes word that the organization is ‘going pro,’ having hired their first “Executive Director.”  Here’s the related press release.



A note or two on this roll-out.  First, the reference above to O’Keefe’s start in the transportation policy field as a ‘freelance writer for railroad.net’ seems a bit underwhelming.  When we surfed on over to that web-page, we found the newest content was dated  2013.  So one could surmise that the operation is, for all intents and purposes, defunct.  No matter; he’s since been “helping NNEPRA build partnerships.”  We’re limited in our knowledge of the details, but until we hear otherwise, we’re assuming this means distributing free tickets to the ‘variety of community groups,’ about which we’ve posted in past years.

While we don’t know what this will mean for TRNE’s non-profit status, it seems pretty clear they can no longer tout themselves as a volunteer organization, and that serious fund raising will have to become a larger part of their work.  Perhaps they can gain some funding from those they support, like NNEPRA and Amtrak.  And maybe even shake some loose from an obscure line item or two in State accounts.  Lord knows there are all sorts of non-profits sucking off various public teats, and we expect the young new ED to prioritize making sure his paychecks get issued.

We did take the trouble to seek out TRNE’s form 990s, which they’re required to file with the IRS in order to maintain their 501(c)3 non-profit status.  The latest one we found was for 2014, which makes us wonder if they’re bordering on being delinquent for their 2015 return, which should have been submitted early in 2016.  As you’ll see, their submission is not paritcularly complicated, so we don’t see complexity and oodles of supporting data as rationale for any extension.

Anyway, you can find the 2014 form here: https://www.scribd.com/document/338056016/TRNE-2014-990

Here are the highligths, such as they are:


The big numbers, we must say, catch us by surprise.  $165,000 in contributions, grants, and gifts is no small number for these circumstances, and $142,000 in assets at the end of the year leaves them pretty flush as well, which may be what led to the plan to hire an ED.  That’s growth in assets of $125,000 during the year.


Wouldn’t you just know it; they finally admit to engaging in lobbying activities.


Then, just when you thought there was nothing else to see here, up pops an “unusual grant 2014, $125,000.”  That seems like a real curiosity to us, but try as we might, we couldn’t find any details on who the grant was from, nor any requirement that they provide that info.  All they had to do is declare it ‘unusual,’ which it is, we think you’d agree.


Once again, admission of lobbying, even though the amounts are small and rounded.  Still, they admit to doing so.

And as we all know, there’s lobbying, and then there’s lobbying.  We know for a fact that TRNE has told the Governor’s Office that it’s their role to nominate candidates for the NNEPRA Board of Directors, not the Governor’s, regardless of what statute says.

We don’t recall that the yiddish word chutzpah actually includes ‘lobbying’ it it’s definition, but maybe it should?  Shouldn’t it?


Now all we want to know is when the lovely ladies of AAB will decide they’ll need a handsome young Executive Director to guide their advocacy efforts, and help them find some ‘unusual grants.’  Or perhaps someone with career experience as an Ambassador would fit the bill, especially one who rides the train multiple times a week.

Who Are We? Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force needs more time to figure it out, apparently.

Side has posted a number of times on Brunswick’s Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), which among other things, is intended to demonstrate that ‘this is not who we are,’ the preferred rhetoric in such settings, whatever that might mean.  To the critical thinker, this always raises the opposite point: ‘so, who exactly are we?’

How a town goes about figuring that out is a deeply existential matter, but we always look to our governing betters to clarify such things, no matter how long it may take, or how tortured the path to enlightenment may be.  Fortunately, we have traditional media outlets to keep us abreast of the progress, including The Ostrich.  Unless they don’t get related memos delivered through underground channels in the sand.

We’ve posted a number of times on the subject since the Task Force was created, and you can refresh yourself here: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/search?q=task+force

Wow!  We’d forgotten just how much we’d commented on the subject, including pointing out how recently, our School Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, and new Town Council Vice-Chair Kathy Wilson have had their hair on fire over the fact that Hillary Clinton was not elected President, as they were certain she would be.  We suppose hair on fire is what happens when you aren’t the winner of a free chicken dinner.

Recently we noticed that our Town Council was taking up a resolution extending the existence of the HRTF.  It was included in the “Consent Agenda” for the 17 January 2017 meeting.  The text of the resolution is as follows:


We don’t know why our betters didn’t word the resolution to make the HRTF a permanent element in our municipal government.  As we’re sure we’ve suggested in our earlier columns on the subject, this is one of those things we’ll never be able to get rid of.  Anyone who suggests that it is no longer needed is sure to open themselves up to abuse from every last corner of the special interest community.  “How dare you suggest that we no longer care about Human Rights in Brunswick?”  “Don’t you know this is why people move here – because we have the best Human Rights Task Force?”  “The Human Rights Task Force is the backbone of our community!”

Alert readers may note that some of those protests sound a lot like the rhetoric of the school advocate community.  Yes it does; that’s the interesting thing about squeaky wheel government groupies.  With a few exceptions here and there, all their demands eventually begin to sound the same.

Unlike our ‘journalistic’ colleagues in the area, Side latched onto the mention in the resolution of a report delivered to the Town Council, dated 11 August of 2016.  We’ve posted it on the internet so you can read it; find it here: https://www.scribd.com/document/338045660/HRTF-Mem-08-11-16-Report-to-TC-1

The first page looks like this:


In our view, the ‘takeaways’ from the document are pretty limited, and we’ve culled them out for you.  They are ‘highlighted’ below, beginning on page 3:


In our view, that last line misses a larger point, that being the social and cultural atmospherics of our day, which are driven by an increasingly ‘diverse’ and vocal set of social justice warrior groups. They can only find purpose by identifying myriad offenses, even if being a bit loose with the specific details and evidence is necessary, leaving many not ‘actionable.’  For example, the culture at large is busy transforming what we once knew as teasing into ‘bullying’ and ‘human rights abuses.’  And far worse.

We believe, based on our regular observations, that Bowdoin College is at the forefront of such social justice warfare methods.  Followed closely by our School Department.  In fact, we sometimes think Bowdoin ought to be renamed “Fort Bowdoin – Headquarters of the 1794th Northeastern Social Justice Warfare Command.”

Lastly, from the recommendations section, a point that adds to this narrative:


We can only wonder what the detail of such municipally established safe houses might be, who will staff them, who will maintain them, and who will pay for them.  Oh, sorry; the answer to that last one is obvious.  Perhaps the Departure Center in Maine Street Station could be called into service, or even overnighting coach cars from the Downeaster, if left sitting at the station.  Come to think of it, the new MLF probably could easily accomodate dozens of “safe rooms.”

Or how about this: local taxpayers could get an annual credit on their property taxes of say $250 for having a sign placed in their yard saying they are an official Brunswick sanctioned safe house.  And an additional $25 for each soul they welcome in.

After taking this all in, here’s where we are.

Side is pretty sure who he is, but we have no such certainy about who YOU are.  We hope you’ll tell us the next time we meet.


As to our Town Council and the members of the HRTF?  They haven’t helped this reporter have any better understanding of ‘exactly who we are’ as a town.  But we’re pretty sure they’ve dug themselves into a fair sized hole, and they’re doing all they can to make it bigger and deeper.

You know the old saying: ‘the road to doing the right thing is pocked with lots of deep holes.’

Maybe they can hire a consultant to help them find a “Get Out of the HRTF For Free” card. (Not including the cost of the consultant, obviously!)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Time’s up! What’s your answer?

A few days ago, in this post, we posed a question to our readers:

So we wondered, in a moment of fanciful reflection, what might happen if our gorgeous downtown neighborhoods were maintained by those charged with the stewardship of our schools and other municipal buildings?

We don’t know whether you’ve thought it through, but we’d like to bring this particular discussion to a close, if only temporarily, with an assertion that if the same behaviors exhibited by our officials were applied to Brunswick overall, there wouldn’t be much ‘downtown’ left for anyone to see.  Visitors would alight from incoming Downeater runs and wonder what happened.

We’ll start by reviewing various materials associated with ‘preserving’ the historical nature of Brunswick.  Here’s a map of one in-town district viewed as worthy of special treatment because of how it fits into the evolutionary ‘arc’ of our town.

From: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/landusemaps1.pdf

Then there’s this diagram showing the ‘town core area,’ which for the most part consists of buildings that are old and older, even older than we are.  And maybe older than you are.


Brunswick advocates are fond of pointing out how many historic buildings we have, mostly in the ‘downtown’ area, but in some cases not.  Here’s a 3 page list of the top 100.

From: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Brunswick-Top-100-Historic-Structures.pdf

Here’s a snip of page 1.


You can study the document to determine how many of these structures are 50 years old or less, which is the emotional barrier for public schools.  When you look at the list, you might notice that no Bowdoin College buildings appear on it.  The College is more than 200 years old, with numerous buildings that date back centuries and are still vital parts of the campus.


You might also enjoy this treatise issued by the Village Review Board, which considers itself the official guardian of our unique architectural ambience.

VRB Design Guidelines: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Villagea-Review-Design-Guidelines.pdf

The building below, if you are familiar with it, currently shows what happens when you look the other way on maintenance, like we do with schools.


Our education establishment here in town likes to emphasize that public schools are built with an expected useful life of 40 years, so anytime we ask or expect them to get more than that out of them, we’re sacrificing the interests of our children and being unrealistic.


So what does this picture we’ve just painted tell you?  We’d like to think it’s obvious, but we’re going to review the essence anyway.

With few exceptions, the various properties (“historic”’) in the references and links cited above are owned by somebody(s), which is to say private parties, and specifically NOT government.  These individuals or other private entities do not have the ability to extract funds from the rest of us through taxation and the force of law.  So if they want their assets to survive and maintain their value and utility, they have to take care of them at their own expense.

Come to think of it, that’s the way we have to deal with our own home, and probably you do as well.  Ours is relatively ‘new’ at only 20 years of age, but we’re guessing a good many of you live in structures that are older than 40 years, and in a lot of cases, much much older.  Presumably, you tend to the needs of your home to maintain it as a viable, desirable place to call home, no matter when it was built.

This is distinctly the opposite of the way our local government entities operate.  Knowing full well that they can compel funds from us if they have to, they fall into a cycle of build, demo, replace as if it’s the natural course of things, even though it obviously isn’t.  And they have the enthusiastic assistance of a plethora of professionals in forwarding their specious arguments.

Leaving the rest of us to absorb the barage of insults if we don’t agree unequivocally, and to have no choice but to go into shoulder shrugging mode.

Which reminds us of the slogan we’ve uttered numerous times in the past: “you can govern, or you can spend.”

So suck it up, suckers.  You do support the common good, don’t you?

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Monday, January 23, 2017

A question for the ages….and the interested student….

The Brunswick Downtown Association uses such lovely pictures to remind us of the enduring beauty of our historic village’s greatest asset: the timeless charm of the downtown area, with its aging, inviting, and well maintained shops, restaurants, other businesses, offices and such.

They remind us to be proud of our community’s heart, and to preserve and improve it for the future and the well-being of the community at large.  Over the years, considerable funds have been spent to enhance the appeal and visitor friendliness of the finest little town in America. Things like brick sidwalks; bumpouts and raised crosswalks; and even back in parking.

Reactions have been mixed, we think it’s fair to say, and some, like the back in parking, actually had to be ‘reversed,’ poetically enough.

So we wondered, in a moment of fanciful reflection, what might happen if our gorgeous downtown blocks were maintained by those charged with the stewardship of our schools and other municipal buildings?

While you ponder that and talk amongst yourselves, we offer these additional downtown views to make sure your analysis is thorough and well-formed:

Image result for brunswick park row

And we mustn’t forget one of Maine Street’s most historic structures:

Now that you’ve had some time to ponder our question, we’re going to give you some hints in pictures, so you can judge without the confusion and condemning tone of our words.




We’re known for criticizing town officials, and especially the school department, for dereliction of duty when it comes to stewardship of the physical assets with which they’ve been entrusted.  We’ve frequently cited this principle:


Which is further elaborated with this passage:


We’ve even gone so far as to infer that school departments plan intentionally for the deterioration of their assets so they can periodically replace them with newer and more pleasing edifices, knowing full well how easy it is to shame taxpayers into forking over the funds.  And we hold by that view, as nothing we’ve seen, especially locally, in any way justifies an opposing view.

     Image result for salami

Born and raised in New Jersey as we are, we love salami as much as anyone,  But we prefer our slices in an antipasto plate, or on a classic deli sandwich, thank you, instead of as a symbol for dereliction of duty and abuse of the public trust.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

As promised: supplemental notes on the Public Hearing

In the post earlier today, we said we’d be following up with supplemental notes to the Statement we made to the Town Council earlier this week.

We completed that effort, and the result has been sent to the Town Council.  We’re posting it below for your information.  At the end of the notes, we refer to a 2007 document we drafted on school enrollment.  You can find that document here:


And now the supplemental notes:


Supplemental Notes to Statement to Town Council on School Bonding Referendum

delivered January 17, 2017 by Pem Schaeffer


These additional thoughts are intended to expand on the comments in my hearing statement, and also to respond to disingenuous and unhelpful statements made by school proponents in such circumstances.

General Comments:

Brunswick has systemic management problems that no-one ever wants to recognize, confront, and remedy. Accordingly, the pathologies that infect our governance only get worse as treatment is deferred in favor of “take two aspirin and call me next year” behavior. Some examples:

  • The town, both municipal and schools, is abysmal at physical asset stewardship, and has an astonishingly bad record. We evidently think of our assets as expendable, consumable, and replaceable at will. The last 20 years are littered with examples of near non-existent maintenance, flawed and inexplicable decision making, and a cavalier attitude toward prioritizing asset condition and retention.

  • The school department clearly leads in this crucial area, at least when only building assets are considered. Depending on how you estimate things, they have responsibility for town assets worth in the range of $150-200 million. It is clear from everything we hear that maintenance and preservation of these assets is at best an afterthought, until such time as they can leverage bad conditions into a replacement plan.

  • The Teachers Union owns the school department. It is run for the adults, not the children. Nothing, I repeat nothing, is allowed to take priority over their continuous, generous increases in salary, independent of any merit or performance considerations. If you are not familiar with contract structure, I would be happy to help you become conversant in the subject. Any suggestion of tracking and reporting teacher performance, or even worse, student performance and growth, is met with steadfast resistance.

  • “For the children” is an overused and entirely false bromide. If we ran things 'for the children,' building care would be prioritized at least equal to teacher compensation.

    • An assertion that generous regular salary increases are necessary to ensure diligent teacher performance in the classrooms should be taken as an insult to the profession, and if even remotely true, is an affront to taxpayers as well.

  • There's never enough funding to keep buildings in good repair, but somehow there's always enough funding to tear one down and replace it.

    • Fire alarms not working at Coffin? How could anyone who considers themselves a professional allow such conditions to exist? Aren't there regular (at least annually?) tests of such systems? Isn't our Fire Department involved in insuring they work? If not, why not?

    • In the past there have been reports of 'broken toilets!' How can we allow such conditions to exist? How long would you abide broken toilets and/or smoke alarms in your own home?

    • Why do we have to wait until the architect discovers this? Doesn't this set off an 'alarm' bell that we as a town are derelict in the care of our public facilities? Why don't we have an annual, public accounting to taxpayers on the condition and deferred maintenance of all our buildings? Why isn't there a single point of accountability?

    • How can the Council tolerate such conditions without ordering an investigation and report on it?

    • We go to 'general quarters' when a few college students report slurs and other threatening behavior in our community. Shouldn't the reports of deplorable conditions and safety violations in our schools merit equal or greater concern and attention?

  • The school establishment knows all the tricks of having their way with the taxpayers. State level and national level union professionals and career administrators know all the tricks of manipulating public opinion and sentiment. The administrators have their way with the School Board, and together they have their way with taxpayers. History proves this to be the case.

  • “Lessons learned” seems to be a foreign concept. Mistake after mistake is made in municipal building planning and execution, yet we never seem to get any better at it. The same is true of schools. And they spend money on enrollment projections to justify new school construction that are clearly non-sensical on their face. (See my study of 2007)

School advocates, both professional and otherwise, repeat the same old falsehoods over and over in support of their arguments, and none are ever challenged. We heard many of them Tuesday night. For example:

  • “The loss of federal impact funds for military dependent students when the base closed caused a revenue crisis.”

    • Federal support for these students was less than $1,500 per person at a time when per student costs were in the $10,000 range and state GPA was less than $5,000 per student. Hence, much as we loved having the Navy here, educating their children was a loss leader for the school system. No longer having to subsidize them was a net fiscal gain for the system, not a loss.

  • “People move here because of the schools.”

    • Then why does population and school enrollment keep declining?

    • Since new construction has seriously declined, the most common way for someone to buy is when someone else sells. Why do people move out of town? We don't want to hear those answers, do we?

    • Our High School graduates approx. 200 young adults per year. How many become town residents and raise families here?

  • “Our schools are great.”

    • How do we know that in an objective sense? Anecdotal statements by realtors with a stake in making a sale are not credible. Schools scrupulously avoid objective comparative rankings, and if forced to abide them, have ready excuses for lackluster results.

    • Asking parents who have children in the schools is similarly not credible; who wants to tell someone else they send their student to anything but 'the best schools?'

    • How many towns claim their schools are mediocre or worse?

    • Use of such unsubstantiated chatter to rationalize spending tens of millions is unconscionable.

  • “We spent big money on the town hall and police building.”

    • Well, not exactly. This doesn't pass any straight faced test.

    • Especially compared to schools, where the minimum these days seems to be $25 million, and escalates easily.

    • And we have a “Main” Fire Station with problems far beyond any school in use that has been in need of replacement for decades.

  • “Keeping taxes low.”

    • Brunswick's tax rate is up 35% in ten years; spending up $11 million per year in the same time frame.

    • Spending per student is up by 70% in ten years.

    • Making claims about 'keeping taxes low' in such circumstances is ludicrous and total misrepresentation.

  • “Teachers are underpaid.”

    • Wrong; some teachers are underpaid, and some are overpaid.

    • This is because all teachers are paid the same, dependent only on years on the job and education level.

    • Hence, the worst make the same as the best and vice versa. This does not reflect a professional compensation system.

    • Salary increases are like soccer trophies for young children. They are participation based; you show up, you get one. The current contract awards increases approaching $3,000 per year.

  • “Population is going to grow.”

    • There is no rationale for this claim; it is another attempt to mislead those who won't question the statements.

    • The new study done for the school department shows construction rates down in the noise, and projects enrollment that is flat at best.

  • “This will pay for itself in time.”

    • Ludicrous on its face. Expecting someone to pay me back for increases in taxes is a fools errand.

    • Such glib statements should not be allowed without challenge in major fiscal decision making discussions.

Closing Note:

I previously forwarded you the file for a document I drafted in 2007 called Reflections on School Enrollment when the preliminaries to HBS School construction were underway. I read it today, and it has held up very well in retrospect. In fact, far better than the enrollment projections performed by 'professional consultants,' and the rationale they used to support them. I hope you will take the time to review it, because it is still timely to our circumstances. Further, it has a section on the schools in our system at that time, and data drawn from the applications submitted to the State DOE for each. You should find the various figures and proposals just ten years ago thought provoking.

I hope the information there-in will make you more informed for upcoming discussions and deliberations.

School Construction Bonding Public Hearing

Last week, we told you of a public hearing scheduled by the Brunswick Town Council for this past Tuesday, January 17th, as described in this agenda item:


Yours truly was in attendance as were numerous others, including the usual schoolies pleading for any and all spending associated with schools.  We’d guess the ratio of supporters to opponents was in the range of 8 to 1 or thereabouts.


You can watch the replay of the meeting here:  http://reflect.brunswick-me.cablecast.tv/TRMSVOD/3641-Brunswick-Town-Council-1-17-2017-High-v1.mp4

As is our habit, we worked diligently to draft a coherent statement that could be delivered in the more or less traditional 5 minute allotment per speaker.  However, the Chair observed the size of the crowd and decided to cut that to 3 minutes per speaker.  So your correspondent was forced to trim his words on the spot, rendering the brilliant obervations and linear logic of our work largely null and void.

None-the-less, we bravely said our piece once the lengthy preamble by the School Department, the architect, and the town Finance Director were complete.

For you, however, we provide the complete original text we had intended to deliver:


Statement to Town Council: School Construction Bonding

17 January 2017

  • Hi. I'm Mr. Schaeffer from Crestview Lane.

  • To begin, the words 'oversee' and 'overlook' sound very similar to each other at first blush.

  • The School Board, as I see it, is charged with overseeing the Brunswick School System. The Town Council is charged with overseeing Brunswick's Municipal enterprise. In each case, this includes budgetary, taxation, and capital investment decision making, in addition to other obligations. I consider each a Board of Directors, responsible for the governance of their respective operating entities.

  • Sadly, twenty years of following council and school board behavior convinces me that overlooking dominates overseeing.

  • It's astonishing that the issues before us have not elicited a show of shame and embarrassment from either elected body. Let's review some reasons they should:

    • BHS running track decay from students running? What about regular maintenance?

    • Coffin & BJHS falling into decay, perhaps with guided neglect?

    • Collapse of JA due to dereliction of duty?

    • Tolerance of fake news reporting, leveraging a pliant and disinterested press; consider these examples:

      • “We're always cutting school spending”

      • “Increases in enrollment are pushing Coffin to the limits of its capacity.”

      • “Geothermal heating not as effective as we expected” (translation: not as effective as was promised)

      • Loss of federal impact funds a major problem; WRONG!

      • All of the above are certifiable propaganda

    • How about failure to track, examine, and regularly report on relevant indicators, like....

      • Budget levels, enrollment, per student spending, student teacher ratio, teacher pay....

      • Average class size, staff levels....

      • And performance metrics

    • And then failure of School Board and Town Council to demand regular reporting on facility conditions, both schools and otherwise

  • Let me suggest why this is:

    • First, the School establishment follows two primary rules

      • teachers contracts are sacred, and nothing else comes close in priority; they continually grant raises of $2,500-$3,000 annually just for showing up

      • when building condition declines, defer maintenance, and lay plans for backing the council and taxpayers into a corner

    • Second, the Town Council is afraid to exercise leadership that risks alienating the school bureaucracy and a very vocal minority.

  • So why are we here? Because we're being herded into a corner of the School Department's making, compelling us to spend another $34 million on school construction. Odd, since it wasn't that long ago we spent $27 million on a new school.

    • A School Board member has the chutzpah to suggest doing so will yield 'the community' a valuable facility no longer acceptable for school use, but fine for department administrators, while returning Hawthorne to us! Cue the bulldozers! Let's bring it down and create a public safe space!

  • Since no officials will burden themselves with embarrassment for these shame worthy circumstances, others here tonight will shoulder it on your behalf. Not only fiscally, but socially and philosophically. Too bad the town doesn't have a Taxpayer Rights Task Force to look out for us. Oh well; social justice has its limits: Taxpayers have no human rights.

  • Let me close with a math exercise. Before us is a proposed referendum to bond $34 million, presumably to be paid off over 15 years.

    • At the current rate of teacher salary increases, how much do you think the cumulative costs of those raises will amount to during that period? Would it surprise you to learn those INCREASES will cost taxpayers more than $60 million in the same 15 years? If you'd like proof, just ask; it's really easy to show.

  • So consider this: maybe the School Department should be directed to pay for new school construction out of operating funds, and town taxpayers should be asked in a referendum whether they want to borrow $60 million or more to pay for salary increases in the next 15 years.

  • What an interesting test that would be; does anyone here have the courage to propose it?

  • (If there's time): Oh, and one more thing. The School Department recently hired a local firm to help them come up with a Department Strategy for the future. How about this for a strategy:

    • Prioritize the care and maintenance of the physical assets the taxpayers entrust you with, or be terminated for dereliction of duty.

    • Emphasize teaching students how to read, write, and do arithmetic.

    • Promote continuous measurable improvement, and create meaningful metrics to do so.

  • I appreciate the time to speak.


We plan on submitting a supplemental to the Council refuting the shopworn balderdash we heard from officials and citizenry alike, and we’ll publish it to you once it’scomplete.

All in all, it was an experience much like all our previous statements before the Town Council, especially those associated with school budgets.  Sort of like wetting your pants in a dark suit: it gives you a warm feeling, but nobody notices.

When we arrived back home and told Mrs. Side of the experience, she repeated her usual question:  “why do you do this to yourself?”


To which we have no really sensible answer, other than ‘it’s in our nature.’

Friday, January 13, 2017

Time for some “Oldies but Goodies!”


Oh, stop worrying.  We aren’t about to punish you with our imitation of Clyde McPhatter and The Platters singing “Only You,”  though we have fond memories of slow dancing to it at Friday night dances in our High School’s Music Room.


Nor with our take on “Tears on My Pillow” by Little Anthony and The Imperials.  Strangely enough, we can still pretty much recall all the words to both, and any number of other such hits from our formative years.  And in the latter case, we had a 45 rpm version that played on the upside down RCA record player mounted below the dash in our ‘60 Plymouth Fury convertible.  Which looked pretty much like this:


No, tonight we come to you inspired by the current discussions in Cape Brunswick about spending $35 million or thereabouts ‘for the children.’  Mostly because the adults in our School bureaucracy couldn’t tend to stewardship of the physical assets they’ve been entrusted with.

‘For the taxpayers,’ if you will.

As Chance would have it, we were reviewing some past ‘hits’ from our posting career, and came across these two that we feel are especially relevant and timely for our current circumtances.  They still “have a good beat, and you can dance to them” in a manner of speaking.

The first one is this: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2009/07/economics-101-prioritizing-spending.html

It refers to this earlier post: http://othersideofbrunswick.blogspot.com/2009/07/tough-choices-governing-or-spending.html

You can read them by following the links, but like a good OS, we want to make them accessible to you, so we’re spinning them up right here tonight for all you groovy guys and gals.  (Note that both are from just our second month of existence, so our ‘voice’ had not yet reached its current level of maturity.)


Friday, July 10, 2009

Tough Choices: Governing, or Spending?

A friend once mentioned this simple concept: "you can govern, or you can spend." I've repeated it a number of times in "testimony" before the Town Council, with the usual results of such efforts. I appreciate the underlying wisdom anyway.

To govern means to "moderate." If you put a governor on your child's car, it is not there to allow them to go beyond what the car (and they) can handle. It is there to moderate, or limit, the speed your child can achieve.

And many of us, a dying breed perhaps, look for our elected "leaders" to exercise prudence and judg-e-ment (see Biden pronunciation guide) as they assess the revenue they have available and the budget requests before them, and attempt to reconcile the two.

And what do we hear in response? "We have a lot of tough choices to make." Or, "we face some really tough decisions."

Let's declare at the outset that those who fund government, involuntarily I might add, face such challenges everyday as they grapple with their own financial realities. And we shouldn't blame those good folks a bit if they feel little sympathy for their elected officials.

All of us understand that there are a broad range of factors that complicate matching local revenues with local expenses. Some of these are random in nature, or relatively unpredictable, such as twice the normal rainfall or snowfall amounts. Other factors are entirely predictable, because they have to do with the popular tendency to look to government and the taxpayers to resolve whatever personal dilemmas a constituent might face, like finding a babysitter, for example.

Other equivocations aside, I assert there are at least two fundamental reasons why budget cycles at every level result in wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.

First, government officials are oblivious to the defining principles that dictate what the role of government is, and what it isn't. At the Federal level, the U.S. Constitution constrains the role of government, and every federal official takes an oath to protect and defend the principles of that document, although you'd never know it. At the State level, there is a Constitution that defines and limits the powers of the government in Augusta, with oaths required to uphold those constraints. Again, you'd never know it. What fun is it to be in power if you can't do whatever you damn well want?

At the local level, we have a Town Charter that defines the role that municipal government is to play in the day to day conduct of town affairs. This document, in theory, says what our local leaders can dabble in, and what they can't.

A few years ago, a town resident pleaded for town government to provide day care for her children. I could find no language in the town charter that authorized such a role, but that objection seemed to fall on deaf ears. "People are demanding these services" is the response in such instances. To which I reply if people "demand" that the town service and repair their cars, does that mean we should do it at taxpayer expense? Of course not. Demanding has absolutely nothing to do with legitimacy. And we've yet to see a list of names of those demanding things from the town; wouldn't that be fun to look at?

Second, elected officials, no matter what their previous principles might have been, undergo a conversion once they arrive in office. I have personally seen this happen in more than one case. The impulse to make everyone happy overwhelms the ability to distinguish "needs" from "wants." Suddenly, whatever anyone asks for becomes a priority. Subjectivity overwhelms objectivity.
So, when it comes to budgets, our officials have no grounding in what government is obligated to do and prohibited from doing, and further, they seem unable to distinguish which "demands" from residents are a necessity, and which are simply a blatant attempt to have someone else pay for their desires.

The end result is a disaster every time budget season rolls around. Those responsible end up overwhelmed by all manner of emotional pleadings and irrelevancies, because they have not established an a priori understanding of what budgets are designed to do and not do. In the absence of such specifics, seekers and pleaders perceive a blank canvas on which to draw their idyllic view of "community needs."

You can't run your family and home this way. Business owners can't run their enterprises this way. And there is absolutely no reason to tolerate government running OUR public affairs this way.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Economics 101: Prioritizing Spending

(Note: what follows is an essay drafted some time ago. It is posted as a follow-on to "Tough Choices: Governing, or Spending?")

The first law of economics is “scarcity;” resources are limited, and there are competing needs for them. In other words, there is never enough money to take care of all the “needs” and “wants” that a person, an organization, a community, a state, or a nation considers vitally important.

Economics, at its most basic level, is the study of how choices are made given that scarcity exists. Prioritizing competing needs for limited resources is just one such aspect of how choices can be made.

The first law of politics, it is said, is to ignore the first law of economics. The aggregate needs and wants carried to government always vastly exceed the revenues available for funding them. “Scarce” beyond measure, however, is the politician who is ready to say no at the drop of a hat.

What’s the fun in saying no? How can you help someone, or solve a problem, by saying no? After all, most politicians run for office to “solve” some problem or to satisfy some “need” or to “make things better” for those who “need our help.” So the tendency is to act as if there are unlimited funds available, and at the first sign that there isn’t, to look for ways to increase available resources. Only when the taxpayers are pushed to a breaking point do we see a pulling back, and reluctant recognition of reality. Occasionally, a wily opportunist will see a chance to have a foxhole conversion from the normal spending ways, and become a tax-fighting populist.

Let me be clear; I don’t mean to imply that EVERY elected official lacks the common sense to understand the laws of economics, and of human nature, for that matter. There are those who are responsible and work their buns off to limit the size of government and the burden it places upon those who pay for it. At the same time, it’s abundantly obvious from our current state of affairs that these responsible and prudent individuals are not the dominant force in the politics of today; in fact, they endure frequent abuse for the positions they take.

I will say that I can cite cases of those who professed to be for lower taxes and limited government having a “conversion” to the big spending side once elected. And I can’t think of one example at the moment of a determined tax and spend “helper” who converted in the other direction once elected. It’s much more ego inflating to get swept up in the fun of responding to popular “demands” than it is to join the forces of reality and fiscal common sense.

Let’s get back to scarcity and prioritizing. We all generally recognize these principles as we manage our own personal finances. And we try to teach our children the same things, if only because we simply never have enough income to give them everything they want.

We generally understand that “vital needs” like food, shelter, and transportation have to take precedence over the latest fashion statements and adding another 1000 sq. ft. to our homes. We realize that we can’t buy a new computer every 3 months because they’ve gotten cheaper and better yet again! We know, I trust, that living on credit cards and never paying off the balances is economic suicide.

Since most humans develop an instinctive sense of these realities as they manage their own lives, why is it so terribly difficult for them to recognize the realities of managing government enterprises? I can think of at least three reasons why elected “leaders” behave in such ways:

1) They frankly believe that the purpose of government is to grow and redistribute income, and the consequences are irrelevant because the moral righteousness of their purpose trumps any other concern. They see themselves as having a higher calling than you and I, and that is to achieve societal perfection. They consider themselves to be instruments of “social and economic justice,” and they view the laws of economics and the behavior of free markets as inconvenient impediments that can simply be dismissed, or overcome with enough government action and spending. Rather than recognize the hard truths of human behavior, they believe their job is to absolve all who ask for help of responsibility for their bad choices and actions. As a result, they have a near-religious dedication to government activism.

2) Being in government is like having thousands of children all pounding on you for what they want, and asking you to spend OPM (other people’s money) to give it to them. How can you deny so many “children?” It’s so much easier to give them what they want and make them go away.

3) They have no robust tools for analyzing and proceeding in a responsible and orderly manner, and living within the means of the enterprise. So they are lost in the woods and unable to find their way out.

(note: I was going to list a reason 4), that they are fundamentally clueless in such matters, but making such an assertion is beneath Other Side.)

Reason number one can only be dealt with in practical terms by changing who we elect to take responsibility for the government enterprise. Reason number two has to do with wanting to be liked (loved?) and being pleased with seeing one’s name on a brass plaque, among other attractions. I can’t really do much about these.

But I do have some ideas on reason number 3. I spent my career in the Defense industry, working with combat control systems that are used aboard Navy ships. As much money as DOD spends every year, it still isn’t enough to do everything that should be done, buy everything that should be bought, and perfect our national defense. Combat systems are inherently very expensive, and they must perform as perfectly as we can manage, because they are capable of sending powerful weapons over very long distances, and they are responsible for protecting innumerable lives and very costly assets. Still, the scarcity law applies.

Some years ago, I came across a priority system that a Defense organization uses to rank the need for upgrades to existing systems. It may not be perfect; but no matter. It provides a definitive way to prioritize funding and hence facilitate making choices.

Municipal government (and school departments, as well) have expenses falling into two major categories: operating expenses, and capital expenses. The first is the normal recurring expenses for salaries, supplies, utilities, etc. The second is mostly for big ticket items like new buildings, expansions, etc, and is where some hugely irresponsible and far-reaching mistakes are made. Too often, those responsible get swept up in the enthusiasm for building monuments to government primacy, all in the name of “community pride” and similar touchy-feely irrelevancies.

I have since adapted the defense priority system for use in prioritizing municipal capital budget items, and it can easily be adapted for other uses as well.

Here it is: a proposed structure for capital planning priorities:

Municipal Priority 1: The current situation prevents the accomplishment of an authorized, critical, and essential municipal function or responsibility, and jeopardizes health, safety, security, or is otherwise life threatening to municipality residents or visitors.

Municipal Priority 2: The current situation adversely affects the accomplishment of an authorized, critical, and essential municipal function or responsibility, and no work-around solution is known; it adversely affects cost and schedule risks to life cycle sustainment of the municipal activity.

Municipal Priority 3: The current situation adversely affects the accomplishment of an authorized, critical, and essential municipal function or responsibility, but a work-around solution is known.

Municipal Priority 4: The current situation results in citizen or staff inconvenience or annoyance, but does not affect accomplishment of an authorized and essential municipal function or responsibility.

Municipal Priority 5: Any other effect.

The nice thing about a priority structure like this is that it is objective; it has no ego, no pride, no personality, no lust for power, no anger, or any other human failing. So if you can get the governing body to accept the structure before getting down to individual items, you go a long way towards eliminating, or at least reducing bruised feelings. You have a very straightforward way to explain why one proposal is getting funded, and why another proposal isn’t. You have a way to rise above the human emotions that afflict such matters.

Here in Brunswick, this sort of discipline has never been popular, but it occasionally seeps into the process. If you look around town, you’ll see a magnificent addition to the town library, a lovely bike path, and brick sidewalks. All were “investments” made while the fire department and emergency medical technicians were housed in a station built during the horse and buggy era, and that can’t accommodate the weight and size of modern fire-fighting equipment. All while police work out of a basement in the lovely Town Hall.

This is a reflection on the priorities and influence of the beautiful people, who see libraries as expressions of elite stature and community exceptionalism, while public safety staffs are simply the gritty details of day-to-day existence. They do not add to the town’s panache like a gleaming library does, or a new school as well. Take it from me: never get in the way of the “schoolies,” and never get in the way of the “bookies,” either, unless you are itching for a knock-down drag-out with slim chances of success.

As I reread the above, it’s pretty obvious that the priority structure shown is not limited to just capital expenditures. It is, in fact, just as well suited to operational elements in the budget. Does eliminating a position cripple the accomplishment of a core municipal responsibility, or does it simply inconvenience someone wanting to renew their dog’s license, for example?

That’s it for this trip around the town. I hope you’ll either take the priority structure as it is, or modify it as you see fit, and then go to your town officials with it and ask that they begin to develop budgets with greater rigor, and that they be able to demonstrate to the taxpayers just how they went about making choices. Because that’s a very big part of governing. And as the saying goes, “you can govern, or you can spend.”


Here’s hoping our elected betters will try real hard not to ‘step on our toes’ in their upcoming deliberations.  But if we were you, we’d wear steel-tipped boots to the Tuesday dance.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bringing New Energy to Municipal Governance Discourse?


Friends, acquaintances, readers, and others we’ve encountered in our lengthy local travels know that Side has devoted considerable time and mental energy (agony??) ‘fighting City Hall,’ as the old saying goes.  Furthermore, much of the content published here over the seven plus years of the outlet’s life has addressed various foibles of our local governance, some more profound than others.

We’re embarrassed to admit there are no windmills lying in ruin because of our efforts.  In fact, there may be even more gracing our lovely little town then before.  But we can tell you this: our forehead is a good deal flatter and more calloused than it once was, and various walls have suffered damage at eye level from our public (and sometimes not so public) efforts.

So we’re delighted to report that a new group effort is coming together to focus on the same general subject.  We only learned of it recently, and as best we can tell, the impetus for its formation at the moment can be succinctly expressed in this item from the upcoming Town Council Meeting agenda:


The meeting takes place this coming Tuesday, January 17th, at 7 pm


The group has established a web page: http://opedonbrunswick.com/

We encourage you to visit the site and explore the various materials posted there; follow the directions provided to see them all.  We expect the amount of information provided to grow subtantially and regularly, and we’ll be providing materials from our personal archives to help in that effort.

An article related to the formation of the group appeared recently in The Ostrich (http://www.timesrecord.com/news/2017-01-03/Opinion/The_School_Department_Needs_to_Hear_No.html):


Pursuant to the items above, the group convened on Tuesday the 10th at 1pm in the conference room on the first floor in the Brunswick Municipal Building.  Reports are that approximately 10 residents attended, and that discussion was lively, so we expect the effort to grow accordingly.  We’re sure that watching the press and the web page will keep you informed as to upcoming meetings. 

Back to the agenda item coming before the town next week as shown above.  Those of us who have paid attention to the sordid ‘stewardship’ of school plant assets by the Brunswick School Department over the years know that the proposal in many ways represents the culmination of what can only be described as an intentional combination of dereliction of duty, deferred maintenance, and a grand scheme to squeeze local taxpayers beyond reason so that ‘community pride’ is appropriately honored, and that perfect Brunswick continues to have ‘the best schools and the best teachers.’

Oops!  And I almost forgot: “for the children,” of course!

The fleecing technique has been perfected in recent decades, with help from ‘professionals’ who seem to repeatedly show up here in Brunswick, and in other nearby towns, playing the role of a svengali of sorts. An excerpt from page 61 of the council packet for next week’s meeting gives some hint of what we mean:


(For those who don’t recognize “PDT,” just substitute Lyndon Keck.)

“Professionals,” of course, can’t be questioned.  Even though it was Education “Professionals” who led us to build Jordan Acres in the open classroom design fad of that day, which then led to its ‘accidental’ structural collapse.  Yeah, right.

Side is intending to speak at the hearing on Tuesday, and we sincerely hope a multitude of others will join in and do the same.  One of the things we intend to mention is the role that fake news, a popular theme these days, has played in getting us to this point.

While the Mommy Mafia, the School Board, and this runaway train will be hard to slow down, we still derive some encouragement from the Citizens for a Better Way effort of 2003.

We don’t know how many of you recall it, but CBW organized a campaign to oppose the Public Safety Building referendum for a construction bond of $13 million.

Surprisingly, the proposal was defeated by a margin of 2 to 1, so it can be done.  And we still recall council members of that year resoundingly claiming how ‘they got the message from the public loud and clear’ after the vote.

We seem to recall that it took them at least a few months before they forgot it, and went back to business as usual.  So you can knock a blade or two off a windmill from time to time, but our betters always have the funds and staff to have it repaired PDQ.

Lances, horses, and armor, on the other hand, are not so easy to come by.

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