Citizen Hines, This overview was humorously informative. Perhaps thought provoking to a much broader audience than intended. Many of the caveats leaned into the old saw: "If money can fix it - it isn't a problem, it's an issue. The staggeringly poignant moment of the overview was the unchallenged practice of borrowing money for operations. As Will Rogers observed on March 18, 1923: "If you think borrowing ain't a suckers game, why is your banker the richest man in town? Why is your bank the biggest and finest building in your town?" Inspired, Norm McDonald
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Livermore Annual Town Meeting
June 11, 2014
July 1, 2014
It was a sad event in some ways. Of 1753 voters, about 50 attended. That is such a low number: 50/1753 = .0213 is a tiny number. There was no food or coffee or other drinks for sale or with compliments of the town. Weather was good, all the Selectmen and town employees were there, but this was not participatory democracy or citizen engagement. It may be that the increased attendance at the biweekly selectmen meetings since the Livermore Administrative Assistant left has not impacted the voters enough so they felt it was worth their while to come and vote. Just the day before, over 400 voters came to the Livermore town office to vote for local and state candidates. 423/1753 = 12%, which is not overwhelming, but is almost ten times the town meeting attendance. I think it's important to note that at the town office election, fresh baked goods were being sold on three long tables by local Livermore lady cooks.
Delicacies like chocolate covered potato (Nims?) and wild blueberry pie - which was delicious (walking barefoot for a mile over broken glass delicious) could easily account for the difference in turnout, with more voters not coming on election day because there was no advanced notice of the fantastic foods - the best wild blueberry pie I've eaten - so chock full of wild blueberries that it seemed physically impossible to get all those berries into a single pie. And even fewer voters coming for town meeting because they knew it would be a near sterile elementary school gym, devoid of all food and drink, and little, if any, merriment that traditionally accompanies democratic practices.
Months ago I suggested in writing that the town provide chocolate-chip cookies and coffee at Selectmen's meetings and the only response was from Selectman Neuman, who talked harshly about how he laughed and laughed when he read that suggestion. Maybe these are mere memories of an old man now, but going to meetings, of town and selectmen, years ago, where there were foods and drinks, some free, some for
sale, and lots of socializing and catching up on those who had fled to the deep woods
and only came out once a year, were peak human experiences. Many of those who
came out of the deep woods to vote and protect democracy also came out at a
different time to donate blood to save lives in protest of a funny little war.
There is something about sharing food, breaking bread, with other humans that is
mystical, if not Biblical, in effect. It's impossible to continue a heated argument with
someone over trivial budget or school issues, and all issues are trivial when compared
to the taste of fresh baked cookies and slices of wild blueberry pie, when your entire
being is focused on the sensations inside your mouth that are a reality that make living worthwhile, and meaningful.
And for outsiders, fresh come to Maine as refugees, who knew of the work Maine
fearless, tag-team missionary attorneys did in hot southern humid places of deep hate
and rancor, and of the mysterious, nay, sacred Maine Dove that outlasted irresistible
bureaucracies and unsurrendered Georgian angers in a National Cemetery, the Annual town meeting was better than a long cool shower on an overtoasted July evening after shoveling and hauling chicken manure so long that not even the month, much less the day, was certain because the brain liquifying temperatures limited thinking to making sure the feet went in the proper sequence for walking.
This annual meeting revealed differences that were part budget, part quality, part
philosophy, and part creativity - keeping the invisible hand of the market place alive
and robust. Other meeting parts, such as the old French farmer's concerns about the excessive idling of the town's backhoe and the concerns that buying a new backhoe would put the town into the construction business included keeping complaints open and fresh so over time and a long winter the mild irritations, misunderstandings, and unmeant slights don't rot into ugly clumps turning to fossilized structures that over the years with long winters and gorgeous springs become solid foundation ledge to keep people apart, with no one remembering what the hell were the initial reasons. Nothin' worse than long suffering, hardened reasons forgotten. It seems impossible to me, but for some people, those old skin wounds, deepened by time and darkness and lack of fresh air, can kill the taste of fresh baked wild blueberry pie.
Initially,the meeting issues were procedural, and the moderator, Daryl, was excellent.
He stated at the beginning that there were ladies present so no strong language, no
spitting on the floor, no hard liquor and no spontaneous dancing would be allowed
during the meeting, even by Republicans, if any of them dared be there. In effect, you
listened until other persons had finished and raised your hand until called upon and
then spoke and others had to listen. Votes were by "Aye" and "No" unless some
fudging happened so the few sounded like the many, then there had to be a show of
hands of "for" and "against". The moderator, bless his soul, did not tell about how if the
hands were too many and too wavy that we would have paper ballots. Paper ballots meant the meeting could go to 2 A.M. or later in the morning because having to write words took much longer than speaking or raising hands. So, we knew right from the start that, at the absolute worst, we'd be home by regular milking times.
My concerns were a lack of competitive bidding in the past; and being sure that
organizations that received our tax money for doing good had objective measures of
the quality, not just the quantify, of services they provided. The renegade Arizona V.A.
Hospital problems, the records destroying activities of Maine HHS, the state wide
failure of the transportation contracts to do as promised, all were driving my concerns on quality.
End of year grades are difficult to assign because the town's old Administrator left just
a month and half earlier to work in a nearby town, leaving some budget issues in
confusion and leaving some voters with the belief that business was going to be as
usual. Note also that grading of Maine in many important categories and functions by national organizations has been negative for the past few years, although the grading has been fair and accurate in granting "F" for integrity, "F" friendliness to business, "F"
for open records and open meetings, "F" for voters' trust in State government, along
with "F" for a weak, vulnerable judicial system of limited access that has created lacunae of opportunities for sovereigns and bullies and those with undeveloped nerves. You may not believe this but in the new courthouse in Bangor, there's no art on the walls of the courtrooms or offices or hallways. No paintings, not even of old white men, like in the Auburn Courthouse. Justice is a high art and to ignore those who practice art forms and styles is tacky, just tacky. Remember, the grades are for the past year, not the past month and a half, where there have been improvements and motions in the proper directions of effective, efficient, compassionate, and fair governance.
Grades = Selectmen, Registrar
Group Grade = D
Dion, Chair = B/C-
Castonguay = B/C-
Neuman = C-/F
Chretien = C+/C
Wakefield = Not graded because he retired so we now have total freedom to blame him for any wrongs or mistakes made over the past year
Registrar - Renda Guild = A/C+
Planning = F/F
Appeals = F/F
Budget = F/F
Comments on Selected Warrant Articles
Now, you have to remember that years ago I lived in Maine. It was so long ago that the residents knew that they were not rich and not only had to have functional procedures to protect themselves from doing something awful but used common sense in spending the hard earned dollars of the community. The selectmen never debated when and if someone could speak at the selectman's meeting because if someone wanted to speak, good, they've been hearing people speak without fear up here in the north for hundreds of years. Besides, if someone spoke to much, he or she
would be put in charge of a study group to define the problem and to provide
reasonable alternative solutions to the selectmen. And everyone liked to talk about how money could be better spent. That is not what happens in Livermore. You are not to question, say, Article 6, that gives the selectmen the power to appropriate money, or borrow money, if necessary. What this means is that each year the town borrows $200,000 dollars from a bank (no competitive bidding) to pay for operating expenses while waiting for people to pay their taxes. Think about that for a moment, maybe two, and you'll figure out at least one other way to run the store so you won’t need to borrow the money and pay the interest. Article 6 passed without discussion.
Article 18, insurance, over $70,000 dollars, was not from the best priced and best qualified bidder, but we passed it without discussion. N.B. According to research, purchasing without sealed bids results in paying 15% to 35% more than if a sealed bidding process was used.
The voters also approved money to be spent for social security, retirement, office
equipment, Capital road improvements, road maintenance, but came to a full stop on
Article 23, approving a bond for purchase of a backhoe. Roundly defeated after some good discussion. Then we approved Article 24, purchasing a used backhoe. Then we
were off again, approving money for Fire Services (The Rumford Meteor has written that the Livermore Fire Department, and most of the other fire departments in Maine, have a strategy to "save the basement" on any fire they go to.), money for the transfer station, a trash compactor, ambulance services, to raise Town Charges, building maintenance, street lights, and legal fees ($5,150, no bidding allowed). Then, without taking a breath, voters approved money for tax mapping and evaluation - $16,200, no bidding because the people who have the contract "have been good for us." I argued some, but my heart was not in it because you realize that no business could compete if they had these practices on spending money.
We then approved money for cemeteries ($22,850, not bid), Cemetery improvement,
Code enforcement, plumbing inspector, planning board, general assistance,
membership in the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, Livermore Public
library, recreation committee, recreation field, animal shelter, and a whole list of charities, which I spoke against.
Each year, about ten charities ask the town for a small amount of money for the work
that they do. Some of the charities write letters and specify how many people they help
just in our town. What we are not told, never, is the level of quality of the services the
charities provide. We are also not told how the people who receive the services grade the services. For the town to validate a charity, to pay for what they are doing, without
asking for simple measures to be sure that the charity is not being run by a former
Catholic priest, or is staffed by a clerk who knows how to cook the books when they
only provide half or less of what our resident needs, is not cricket. Any charity that objects to questions of quality or questions of customer satisfaction is likely paying their directors salaries that would make you blush in shame. We voted on each charity and I was the only one voting against what has become motherhood and apple pie.
We were now on the easy slide toward finishing voting on spending money, funding
pond improvements and maintenance, debt service (bond was not likely bid), ski slope
(they need the money and one person said that we owned 6% of it). We ended by
voting to lease the old school for 99 years, and to accept any grants or gifts from anyone who wanted to give us money, which was unlikely since no one in town was writing grants or even asking for money.
Let it be known that Maine people are social, they love visiting and talking and sharing food and hunting and fishing with others. When only 50 people out of 1700 show up for an annual town meeting they are telling us that something is wrong. Not just that we need a managerial audit, not another financial audit, and we need to at least try some different approaches to engaging the people in their government. They used to, you know.
I'll be contacting the ladies who cooked the goodies, including the chocolate covered potato treats and the wild blueberry pies, to see if they could create their magic at the next annual town meeting. We need folks to participate because if they don't, we aren't a democracy, are we?
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Dwight E. Hines, Ph.D.
42 Israelson Rd.
Livermore, Maine 04253
June 17, 2014
Ms. Renda Guild, Administrator & Town Clerk,
Town of Livermore
Dear Ms. Guild:
With respect to the Livermore Selectmen’s Meeting of June 16, 2014, please file these questions/comments with the Selectmen and the treasurer for public discussion at the July 1, 2014, Selectmen’s meeting.
1) From the comments made by the treasurer at the June 16th meeting, the heating oil companies are all refusing to bid in writing on providing heating oil to Livermore. Is this acceptable to the Selectmen?
2) From the comments made by the treasurer at the June 16th meeting, the SAVE organization sent a letter to the treasurer specifying the number of people they served, but included no independent or objective measures of the quality of services or measures from their clients on client satisfaction with services. Is this acceptable to the Selectmen?
3) From the comments made by the treasurer at the June 16th meeting, she met with a representative of MMA and decided to award them the contract for services they render, without any other discussions or bids with other providers. Is this acceptable to the Selectmen?
4) From the comments made by Ms. Guild on the $15,000.00 contract for property tax evaluations, there will be no competitive bidding on that contract because “They have been good to us.” Is this acceptable to the Selectmen?
5) During the June 16th meeting, Selectman Neuman, who has completely missed three Selectmen’s meetings and left one meeting early, stated that he would not attend the July 1, 2014, meeting. Selectman Neuman would be missing the equivalent of two months of Selectmen’s meetings. After some discussion, that included not paying Selectmen for missed meetings, Selectman Newman stated that I could circulate a petition to that effect and bring it before the Annual Town meeting next year.
Selectman Neuman, as usual, was partially correct. In the Town of Peru, a petition was circulated and approved by town vote for an ordinance to remove an elected official for cause. The town then passed a petition that recalled three selectmen at a special town meeting, thus avoiding the long wait to the next annual town meeting. Looking back on the Peru process, I think there are better alternatives to consider for Livermore via Maine and Federal Courts:
1) Selectman Neuman swore a required oath of office before taking office and there is a special writ for the removal of officials who violate their oath of office (Maine Superior Court)
2) I believe Selectman Neuman is committing simple fraud by his multiple absences. (Small Claims Court);
3) I believe Selectman Neuman has committed multiple violations of Maine’s Anti-SLAPP Law, which violations, taken individually appear simple but, taken collectively show a pattern and practice that are substantial violations that cumulatively violate Maine’s common laws on free speech and federal constitutional and statutory laws on free speech, including, but not limited to, 42 U.S.C § 1983. (Maine State Superior Court; Federal Court).
4) On July 1, 2014, new Maine laws go into effect and it may be possible to include these controversies in a planned federal complaint, in the interest of judicial economy. I will discuss this with attorneys.
Taking a court approach, compared to petitions, will allow for affidavits, interrogatories, and depositions that can explore related violations of common, civil and commercial rights.
Ms. Guild, please include a copy of the MMA paper explaining Executive Sessions that I sent you last week and a copy of the spreadsheet showing differences in cost of heating oil for Neuman Oil & SAD #73, if we had cooperated with them.
I will provide a copy of a template spreadsheet for showing cost differences in non-bid contracts vs bid contracts (15% vs 35%).