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The biggest bet ever placed at Scarborough Downs… and it’s our tax dollars!

Pour yourself a kale spritzer, sit back and hear all the latest about the massive tax break our Town Council is considering for the Risbara and Michaud brothers.  First, let’s review what we’ve learned about “the Downs,” as the new development is now called, in the three weeks since our last update…

Well, that’s an easy one: absolutely nothing.  Lips are sealed all around about what the project really will include.   There’s still no information about how many single family homes and apartment units will be built.  And what that will mean for increased population, increased school enrollment and increased traffic.  All we know is that those things are all going to increase a lot.  That’s not very comforting.

Here’s an example of a recent Risbara multi-family project (i.e., apartments) in Westbrook.  It has the idyllic name “Blue Spruce Farm Apartments”  (link here).  How many great box-like apartment buildings will be sprouting up at Scarborough Downs?

Blue Spruce Farm Apartments, Westbrook. (Image: Zillow)

And where are all the people coming from to fill these apartments?   You may have noticed lots of new apartment construction in Scarborough, Westbrook, SoPo, Falmouth and Portland during the last 12-18 months.  That fact, coupled with projections for very modest long-term population growth in Scarborough, should be a cause for concern.  Are town leaders familiar with the phrase “boom and bust cycle?”  Have they reconciled current and planned area-wide apartment construction with population projections?  If they have, we hope they’ll share that information with those of us who have limited fathoming ability.

So we don’t know what the project looks like or what its impact will be, but we’re willing to kick in a hefty chunk of future town tax revenues over the next 30 years — $150 million or more apparently — to help pay for this undefined project.  The largest financial commitment the town has ever made.  And then a seven-person Town Council is going to use their judgment to decide whether this is a “good deal” or not for the town.  Sorry, but we want the details!  Is that too much to ask?  And then we want the voters to decide if this is in the best interests of the townThe voters should have the final say on any TIF/CEA, not the Council.


Downtown Lowdown

As we mentioned in our last issue, the town’s and developer’s big selling point for the TIF/CEA is that Scarborough will finally get its much-longed-for downtown or town center.  We’re not certain exactly who has been pining for this downtown, or why.  Is it a Disney thing?  Or a nostalgia thing?  Will there be a 5 & 10?  A general store, perhaps with Sam Drucker and Uncle Joe playing checkers in the back?

And we’re not sure of the purpose of this downtown.  Is it to provide a place for neighborly interaction?  If so, isn’t that what now happens at the post office, Memorial Park, Hannaford or Shaw’s, the hardware store, the Big 20 and Ken’s?  Do all those facilities have to be within walking distance for it to count?  Is it reasonable to think that a supermarket, a post office, a bowling alley and a range of restaurants are all going to be within walking distance in any town, let alone one that has 20,000 residents and covers about 70 square miles?

As one long-time Pine Point resident pointed out recently, the town has gotten along quite well for 360 years without a town center.  Perhaps we could go a little longer…


“One of the fastest growing communities in Maine”

Whizzing cars are definitely not a common sight at Dunstan Corner during the summer months. (Photo: Keep Me Current.)

That’s one of the first things you see when you go to the town website.  Frankly, we’re not sure if that’s something to boast about or be concerned about.  Up until very recently, there seemed to be a moderate concern for limiting the town’s growth in a manner that would be steady and measured.  This approach would prevent sudden significant demands on school and municipal budgets.  It would also keep quality of life issues – like traffic – from getting out of hand. 

In fact, until the Scarborough Downs project came up, the town had a fairly rigorous “Growth Ordinance” that had its origin in the 2006 Comprehensive Plan.  The ordinance was designed to keep housing growth at a manageable level.  Whatever happened to that growth ordinance?

And, if the town is already growing at a fairly rapid clip, why the heck are we incentivizing a developer to provide even faster growth?   Think about that very basic question for a moment.


TIF Flashback – The Circle is Complete

Real Scarborough old-timers (who remember, for instance, when Len Libby’s was on Spurwink Road) may get a scary sense of déjà vu when hearing about the currently proposed TIF.  Why?  Well, back in the mid-1980s voters twice rejected construction of a new town hall (aka “The Town Mahal”), only to have a new town hall constructed in spite of their rejections.  How did that happen, you may well ask?  Believe it or not, the new town hall was funded through a “Town Center TIF,” which, of course, the voters had no say on. 

So history is currently slated to repeat itself if Tom Hall and Bill Donovan have their ways.  This time, though, it will be a new community center instead of a town hall that gets built with a TIF in spite of what town residents may think.  Everything old is new again!

By the way, many of those old-timers will also tell you that the town’s storied tradition of having Town Councils that ignore what the residents want began with those town hall TIF shenanigans in the 80s.  And the lack of transparency and unwillingness to consider the desires of the residents continue to feed the beast of public unrest even today.  The establishment of a new “Downtown TIF” in the waning days of this Council would secure their legacy in town history as the group that completed the Circle of Mistrust.


 

On a positive note, voters will actually have a chance to make their feelings known about three of the current Council members in the November election.  Councilor Rowan is running for reelection to the Council, and Councilors Babine and Caiazzo are running for State representative seats.  This presents a golden opportunity for folks to express their dismay with the we-know-better attitude of several of the Council members.

The 2017-18 Town Council has their class picture taken by a member of the Scarborough Police Department. (Note: This image was NOT Photoshopped in any way.)

It’s Scarborough’s future… let the voters decide!

Here’s the bottom line: Whatever happens at Scarborough Downs has the clear potential to radically alter Scarborough as we know it.  And the financial implications of the town being a “partner” or “investor” in the development are completely unknown at this point.  To the extent that great gobs of future tax dollars ($150 million or more) are siphoned off for development/infrastructure purposes, this has the very real prospect of putting extreme pressure on the school and municipal budgets… for which all taxpayers will end up paying the price.

Is it too much to ask for the town’s residents to have a clear understanding of what all this means, both in terms of finances and quality of life?  And once the town has negotiated its best deal with the developers for a TIF/CEA, shouldn’t the residents have a chance to vote on it… like we did on the new fire engine and the new public safety building?  Please, Town Council, let the citizens have a direct voice in deciding the most important question the town has faced in decades.

[For a more temperate discussion of the TIF/CEA issue, please see the “Maine Voices” op-ed in the September 10 Portland Press Herald: “Scarborough, hold your horses when it comes to tax increment financing.”]


Until next time…

Well, that’s all for now, folks.  More drama is certain to come.  We’ll do our best to follow the twists and turns.  In the meantime, don’t be bashful about spreading the word and letting the Council know how you feel.  Silence to them equals approval.  So make a God-awful racket!

Happy trails until we meet again, pardner!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah

 

 

 

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Tax Break Travesty in Scarborough… $150 million!

Well, folks, this is the BIG ONE.  From those same wacky guys who brought you the Amazon headquarters proposal, here comes an only slightly less outlandish proposal.  But a much more serious one.  Indeed, deadly serious in terms of Scarborough’s financial future, not to mention our quality of life.

Mega-Boondoggle!

Artist’s rendition of Scarborough’s new “downtown”

Yes, Town Manager Tom Hall and Council Chair Bill Donovan are at it again.  This time Messrs. Hall and Donovan have put their heads (and egos) together and come up with a scheme to create a new “downtown” for Scarborough… and all for a mere $150 million of future tax dollars being paid to the developers.  This is the mother of all tax breaks.

This proposed mega-boondoggle uses two taxpayer fleecing vehicles: a tax increment financing agreement (“TIF”) and a credit enhancement agreement (“CEA”).

Please do not panic!  TIFs and CEAs sound intimidating but they just boil down to tax breaks for the developers.  At the most basic level, TIFs and CEAs just divert negotiated amounts of future property tax collections to a developer.    And when the developer gets a chunk of those future tax collections, those tax dollars aren’t available to support the schools, police/fire and other Town services.  And guess who makes up that future shortfall?  Bingo!  That would be you and me, dear Taxpayer!

Yes, the mechanics of TIFs/CEAs can get kind of hairy and complex, but don’t get lost trying to follow all the ins and outs.  That’s what they’re hoping for… that we’ll say to ourselves “Oh, gosh, this is too complex for me” and then decide to leave it to the “experts” on the Town Council.  Just stay focused on the basic premise: every future tax dollar that ends up in a developer’s pocket has to be replaced by another one from your pocket.


What we know at this point

The August 15 Town Council workshop that was supposed to unveil the Scarborough Downs development plan and the related taxpayer fleecing was a complete bust in terms of providing usable information about the project and the related TIF/CEA.  Only the vaguest information was presented.

But here are three important things we do now know:

  • This is the largest development project in the Town’s history – it is projected to add $600 million of real estate (apartments building, single family homes, retail/office space, etc.) to the Town’s total valuation.
  • The proposed tax breaks stretch over the next 20-30 years.  Its tax impact will last for a generation.
  • Bill and Tom are planning to ram the TIF/CEA tax breaks through the approval process during October, come hell or high water.  That’s right, we’ll have about a month to understand and evaluate the largest financial transaction the Town has ever entered.  (Remember how long we spent discussing the animal control ordinance a couple years back?)

What we don’t know

There are so many critical things that we don’t know.  Like the real total of the proposed tax break.  They won’t tell.  The $150 million amount is only a rumor.  No one has any idea of the projected budget or tax impact of the proposal. (Or if they do, they’re not telling.)  And then there are basic things like:

  • How many apartment units are planned?
  • How many single-family homes?
  • What’s the projected population increase?
  • What’s the projected school enrollment increase? (And will existing facilities accommodate it?)
  • What type and volume of retail activity is projected?
  • What type and square footage of “light industrial” activity is projected?
  • What are the projected traffic impacts on Route 1, Payne Road, etc.?

No – incredibly – the fact that those questions have not been answered doesn’t appear to bother most Town Council members.  As of now, we are absolutely clueless about the impact of the project on the Town over the next 10-20 years, but that doesn’t matter to them.  Let’s sign that agreement for a $150 million tax break to the developers for a project that no one really understands.  And let’s do it in the next 30 days!  (They are local developers, after all.)  Ahh, the joy of public/private partnerships!


Hardball Negotiating 101, Chapter 6

Don’t you love it when someone tells you that you have to “act in the next 20 minutes or this incredible deal is off.”  This hardball negotiating tactic – setting an artificial and unreasonable time deadline – actually has a name: “the exploding offer.”

Here’s how one negotiator describes the tactic:

Exploding Offers (artificial deadlines) – an exploding offer contains an extremely tight deadline creating pressure on the other party to conclude quickly.  The purpose of the exploding offer is to limit the time the other party has to consider alternatives.  (Andrew Boughton in Hard Bargaining, Negotiation Basics.

So here we have an exploding offer from the Scarborough Downs developers who maintain that if the TIF isn’t approved asap, the deal can’t happen.  They maintain that the commercial tenants they have lined up need to know right now that this project is happening; otherwise the prospective tenants will walk.  As the old saying goes: “I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.”

Bottom line: this 30-year deal that provides the developer with a $150 million tax break has to be approved at the October 3 Town Council meeting or the whole deal is off.  If there were ever a bluff to be called, this would be it.

But wait, the Town Council is actually supporting this absurd schedule.  And of course, you and I, simple-minded rubes that we are, are not supposed to figure out the real reason that the TIF has to be finalized in October.  The real reason is that the current 5-2 Council voting bloc may well disappear in the November election, making it uncertain that the TIF deal will fly with a new Town Council in place.  Thus the headlong rush to approval with an irresponsible lack of regard for the financial implications of the agreement, let alone public understanding and concurrence with the deal.  (Fiduciary responsibility, anyone?  Anyone?)


Who promised what and when?

Speaking of how naïve we dimwitted taxpayers are… they think we don’t realize that this deal has been in the works for many months.  The developers closed on the property in January.  We would be astounded if the basics of the deal between the Town and the developer hadn’t been agreed to well before the property was purchased.  Nothing in writing, of course.  More like a gentlemen’s understanding, probably.

Who in their right mind would purchase a property that was going to require a $150 million tax break from a town in order to be successful without first having a very high degree of certainty that such a tax break would be forthcoming?  Only a very dumb developer would buy the property without knowing that a tax break was pretty much in the bag.  And the Five Brothers are not dumb developers.

Apparently the numerous previous prospective buyers of the Downs couldn’t arrive at a similar understanding with Town officials.  It pays to shop locally!


A Lesson Not Learned – Is It Just Blinding Arrogance?

You would think that after three School Board members were recalled (by a lopsided margin) that it might occur to the remaining Town leaders that they’re doing something wrong.  But, nooooooo, not our Town leaders!  They have an amazing gift of avoiding introspection.  So the bad behavior – lack of transparency, lack of respect for the public’s wishes, failure of processes – continues. And in the case of this TIF, with potentially devastating consequences to the Town in terms of both finances and quality of life.



Coming soon…

Well, that’s it for now.  Part 2 of this blog will follow in the next week or so.  Here are a few of the topics that will be covered:

  • More questions to ponder about the project and the deal
  • What the Enchanted Village (the new downtown) may look like, with exclusive New Urbanism  design features by a pricey Tennessee-based consultant
  • Into the Way-back Machine: how past TIFs/CEAs have worked out for Scarborough
  • Life in a banana republic (no, not the clothing chain)

All that and more.  Stay tuned.  If you’ve enjoyed this blog, please share it with friends.

Happy trails until we meet again!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah

(nom de blog of Steve Hanly)

Pirates Plunder Scarborough as School Budget Vote Looms!

Arghhh, Mateys!  Just in time for the budget, the pirate ship Tax & Plunder was seen approaching the Co-op dock at Pine Point!  The black-hearted buccaneers are coming again for your hard-earned doubloons!   Fear not, though, LookOutScarborough is here to protect you from the scurvy wretches!

Well, now that we’ve gotten that out of system…

It’s time once again to vote on the school budget.  We had hoped that the Town Council would stick to their promise of producing a budget that would satisfy the majority of folks in town and pass on the first ballot.  Alas, they did not keep that promise, and we have no choice but to urge a NO vote on the school budget on June 12.

We have five really good reasons to VOTE NO on the budget.  As always, we’ll keep things brief and to the point.  So here are the highlights:

 

Yes, the amount of taxes to be raised for municipal and school purposes is $65.9 million, an increase of $3.5 million or 5.6% over last yearThat’s just not fiscally responsible.

 

 

The amount of taxes to be raised just for the schools is $44.7 million, an increase of $2.5 million or 5.9% over last year.  Again, not fiscally responsible and not affordable for many Scarborough residents.

 

Several Town Council members swore up and down that they wouldn’t approve a budget that increased the tax rate by more than 3%.  But guess what, the tax rate increase is 4.4% when you don’t consider the impact of the commercial revaluation!  And that revaluation impact was not part of the original pledge to keep the increase at less than 3%.  Councilors Babine, Caiazzo, Caterina, Donovan and Rowan – you’re busted!  Let’s hold their feet to the fire!

 

This year’s scam was the commercial property revaluation.   That revaluation process produces a significant automatic tax rate decrease.   The Town Council didn’t have to “work hard” to cause that decrease.  But they have used part of that automatic decrease to offset additional spending.  Councilors Babine, Caiazzo, Caterina, Donovan and Rowan – stop playing the residents of Scarborough for fools!

 

When the Town Council briefly toyed with the idea of legitimately meeting their target of a less than 3% tax rate increase, Town Manager Hall and Superintendent Kukenberger were asked to provide lists of proposed reductions from the submitted budgets.  While the Town Manager offered some reasonable proposals, the Superintendent was essentially defiant, insisting that the only way to make any reductions to her $48.5 million expense budget was by cutting teachers.  This did not pass the straight-face test.  Dr. Kukenberger, enough with the scare tactics! 

[By the way, don’t be surprised after the June 12 budget vote goes down in flames to hear one of the golden oldies of scare tactics make another appearance.  That’s right, 7th grade sports on the chopping block again!  Ahh, the good old days return! You heard it here first.]


Here are a few quick reports that you probably won’t see anywhere else:

Pirates’ Den?

The bar at O’Reilly’s Cure.

Is it true that more town and school business is being conducted these days at the bar at O’Reilly’s Cure than in the Council Chambers?  Perhaps that’s because O’Reilly’s has a more dependable audio-visual system…

We hear that one of the buccaneers often ventures further inland for his daily rations of grog, so be on the look out.


Survivor Scarborough

Apparently it escaped Superintendent Kukenberger’s notice, but the overwhelming recall vote applied to her as well the three School Board members.  Some have reported that she is waiting for the golden handshake.  (It could be a long wait.)  Dr. Kukenberger – you have been voted off the island.  It’s time for you to go!

 


Enrollment way up…

… at Cheverus,  Maine Girls’ Academy (formerly, McAuley) and Waynflete.   We’ve heard credible reports that admissions directors at those schools are all in line for nice performance bonuses based on the influx of kids from Scarborough.  (Let’s hope they do the right thing and share part of their bonuses with Dr. K.)

 

 


Scarborough High School marches up in the rankings!

Interestingly, the School Department seems to be giving this piece of positive news a good leaving alone.  Why would that be? 


A final thought…

Some have suggested that a NO vote is “holding the school budget hostage.”  We would argue that a NO vote is holding the Town Council accountable.  There will be no dire consequences to the school budget if it is voted down.  Please don’t believe that hype.  A NO vote is a clear message to the Town Council that modest adjustments need to be made to both the municipal and school budgets to arrive at a tax rate increase that at least meets their own goal of less than 3%.  Is that too much to ask?


Until next time

Well, mateys, that’s all for now.  Time for an appropriate summer beverage.  If you haven’t voted yet, please take advantage of the easy early voting at Town Hall through June 7.  Avoid the election day rush!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah


The Scarborough Budget Flim Flam of 2018

Well, friends, there’s probably one thing we can all agree on – it’s never boring in Scarborough! 

The May 8 School Board recall election has come and gone.  And in a few days, those three School Board members will be gone, too.   The margin favoring the recall was overwhelming… nearly two to one.  Perhaps that margin shouldn’t have been a surprise, though.

While most of the voters undoubtedly focused on the specific school issues in casting their votes, we are quite certain that a significant number of folks were actually voting on town and school leadership in generalThey’re not happy with it. 

And when the Town Council arranged the shotgun recall election, folks really got their dander up.  If they were capable of introspection, perhaps this would be a good time for the Town Council members to step back and reevaluate the way they conduct the public’s business.  The current approach isn’t working out too well – as demonstrated by the lopsided recall margin.

And now on to the new issue of the day…

Well, it’s May so it must be time for a budget battle in Scarborough.  In fact, if there weren’t some sort of budget ruckus, you might think you had somehow moved to Buxton or Kennebunkport without realizing it. 

But the budget discussion is a bit different this year than in the past.  Yes, Town leaders have come up with a brand new way of fleecing the taxpayers!

This new method is more subtle than the usual approach, so some brief background information is needed.  [You can skip the next 4 paragraphs if the arithmetic doesn’t matter to you.]

1.   You may remember that in January the Town Council set a goal of achieving a tax rate increase of less than 3% this year.  Let’s assume for a minute that less than 3% was a reasonable goal for the coming year’s tax rate increase, especially in light of the recent tumult in town.

2.   This spring, the Town Council announced that the Town’s commercial/industrial properties would be reassessed in time for next year’s property taxes.  It turns out that those properties have been severely under-assessed for several years now.  Apparently at less than 70% of their actual value.  Which means that we residential property owners have been picking up more than our fair share of the real estate tax burden for a few years.  And should get tax relief from the revaluation.

3.   The revaluation of the commercial properties will add a significant amount – perhaps $100 million to $166 million or more – to the Town’s tax base of just over $3 billion.  When you increase the tax base while keeping the amount of taxes raised constant, you automatically reduce the tax rate.   The commercial revaluation significantly reduces the overall tax rate.

4.   So here’s the grift:  When you do a revaluation, it is supposed to be “revenue neutral.”  That means that the reduction in the tax rate should NOT be used to offset additional municipal/school spending.  The full impact of the revaluation should be used to reduce the tax rate.  And guess what the Council is doing in the Fiscal 2019 budget?  That’s right, you have correctly guessed that town leaders are using a good portion of the tax rate reduction to do what they’re not supposed to – funding  spending over and above the level of their original 3% goal.  Illegal?  No.  Sound financial policy? Nope.  Deceptive? Totally!

 


So what’s the bottom line impact here?

TAKE-AWAY #1The total net budget – i.e., total taxes to be raised – is up 5.6% compared to last year as shown here.

 That sort of increase in total taxes raised doesn’t exactly indicate fiscal restraint, does it?

TAKE-AWAY #2 The commercial property revaluation has a huge impact on the final tax rate.

If the full impact of the commercial revaluation were used to reduce the tax rate increase, it would reduce the rate by more than 4%.   So a tax rate increase that would have been 3% without the revaluation would actually produce a 1% decrease in the tax rate with the revaluation. 

TAKE-AWAY #3 The Town Council missed their goal of a less than 3% tax rate increase when you exclude the impact of the commercial revaluation… which you should.

The budget being presented on Wednesday evening includes a 4.4% tax rate increase before allowing for the revaluation impact.  The revaluation impact was not a factor when the Town Council set its tax rate increase goal of less than 3%.  Therefore, the proposed budget misses the Council’s goal by 1.4%.  Please, no back-patting and self-congratulations!  (Save that for over at O’Reilly’s if you must.)

TAKE-AWAY #4 – The proposed tax rate increase of 1.4% is actually nearly 2% higher than it should be if the Council had adhered to its original goal of less than a 3% increase.   

In the proposed budget, our taxes are estimated to increase by 1.4%   But if the amount of taxes raised to achieve the 3% goal had been met, the tax rate would have actually gone down by .5%.  The difference between the two tax rates is 1.9%   So the proposed budget is using a 1.9% increase in the tax rate to pay for expenditures over and above the originally set 3% tax rate increase target. 

Yes, a 1.4% tax rate increase is nice.  But if sticky fingers weren’t involve, the tax rate should actually have GONE DOWN one-half a percent.


The coyness factor…  or why we all should be fuming, infuriated and outraged… again

Budget cuts? What budget cuts?

All the recent hoopla about reducing the town and school budgets by $750,000 to get to the promised 3% goal was all an unnecessary farce.  Designed, apparently, to create community discord.  Town leaders knew from the start that they were going to have no trouble coming up with a tax rate increase of 1% to 2% (or less) while at the same time comfortably increasing town and school spending. 

Then why did we just go through the recent budget charade that raised the specter of eliminating ten teachers or ten municipal workers?  It was all theater.  Unpleasant theater at that.  And they wonder why there is such a high level of mistrust of town and school leaders. 

Even if you’re fine with the end result of this budget, are you happy with the way it was accomplished – with a complete lack of transparency or public disclosure of what was really happening?  Unfortunately, that’s “the Scarborough way.”  Remember this when it’s time to vote in November… or perhaps sooner.

So when that highly predictable wave of self-congratulations and back patting washes over the Council Chamber Wednesday evening, please resist the urge to stand and applaud.  And do not tear up when the tales of how hard the Council worked are told.  The hardest work they did was keeping the public in the dark about the true impact of the commercial revaluation until it leaked out this late in the budget process.  Why can’t they ever provide the public with the full story?

 


In view of recent developments, we thought this would be a good time to check in with LookOutScarborough’s official prognosticator, Swami Bob.   Here are his predictions:

First, at this coming Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, one Councilor will wag her finger at the assembled multitude and lecture them thusly: “Jeepers, aren’t you tax people ever happy?!” [Answer: We would have been very happy if the Council had done what they said they were going to do, on an honest and above-board basis.]

Second, next year’s revaluation of the Town’s residential properties (all our homes) will provide the exact same opportunity for budget sleight-of-hand all over again. More importantly, some large number of Scarborough homeowners are likely to see significant increases in their tax bills when the residential revaluation occurs.  It would have been nice to have had all of this year’s rate decrease to cushion the blow.

Third, the infamous letter about a School Department staff meeting gone horribly awry at a prominent Old Port establishment will become public soon. This will add a new plot line to the soap opera, “As the Scarborough School Department Turns.”

[Editor’s note: Longtime readers will recall that Madame Alakazam has been our go-to prognosticator from the beginning.  She recently communicated to us (by letter, not psychic means) that she has retired to West Palm Beach and sold her practice on the OOB Pier to Swami Bob, a fully-licensed and highly-experienced seer and medium.   We have seen samples of his work and are convinced we are in good hands going onto the future, as it were.  The Swami is offering a pre-season special of 40% off simple predictions to LookOutScarborough readers through May 31.]

 


Well, that’s all for now.  More excitement is sure to follow.  And probably sooner rather than later the way things are going these days.  Thanks for reading and sharing this blog.   I sincerely appreciate the many supportive comments. (And the others, too.  They help sharpen the issues.)

Happy trails until we meet again!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah


Scarborough’s Stealth Recall Election… Your Vote Needed!

As we predicted in our last blog post, the Town Council bulled ahead with a schedule for the recall election that is designed to minimize voter turnout and thereby cause the election to fail the minimum vote threshold specified in the Town charter.  Two Council members, Foley and Hayes, opposed this blatant attempt at voter suppression which is designed to protect the three School Board members who are facing recall on May 8.

First things first!

Before we once again mount our soap box and get carried away with exposing the slimy underbelly of current Town governance, here are the two take-aways from this blog:

1. Vote YES at the May 8 recall election and

2.  Do it sooner rather than later since we are dealing with a cynically-short early voting period.

Here’s the voting schedule:

If you take care of steps 1 & 2 above, you are excused from reading the rest of this blog.  And you have earned our sincere thanks.


Why ALL Scarborough residents should vote in this recall election

[Please bear with us for four paragraphs of serious stuff…]

Since the specific issues that propelled this recall effort are school-related, some have wondered why they should care about it and vote.  After all, unless you have kids in the Scarborough schools, you probably don’t have a direct link to or interest in the schools.

But step back and consider the flood of negative publicity about the Town that has accompanied all the numerous school controversies.  The pattern of mismanagement of the schools over the past year has rocked not only the schools but the entire community.  The failed leadership of the School Board is at the root of all this bad press.  All Town residents have a stake in the community’s reputation.  A YES vote will begin the process of bringing effective leadership to the School Board and restoring the Town’s reputation.

And the failure of leadership extends to the Town Council.   A majority of Town Council members are on record as opposing the recall effort.  Their unscrupulous scheduling of the recall election was a blatant and cynical attempt to cause the citizen-initiated recall process to fail.  Indeed, many Council members share the same characteristics that are at the heart of the School Board recall – arrogance, lack of transparency and unresponsiveness to community needs.   All Town residents have a stake in principled and responsive government.   A YES vote will remind some of the Councilors that their responsibility is to the broad community, not to their personal agendas.

Many citizens have lost trust in Town and School leaders.   All Town residents have a stake in having officials whom they trust to do the right thing in the best interests of the community as a whole.   A YES vote will let them know they need to work hard on regaining the public’s trust.

And now back to our regular programming…


Seeing is believing

The special Town Council meeting held on April 25 gave the three School Board members who are facing recall the opportunity to state their cases.  It was a long five hours.  But, as one would expect, there were a couple of moments for the highlights reel…

The first came very early in the proceedings as School Board Chair Donna Beeley called Steven Bailey, the Executive Director of the Maine School Boards Association, as an expert witness of sorts.  Mr. Bailey educated the assembled multitude on the finer points of Maine law as it relates to school boards. 

The gist of his presentation – school board members aren’t answerable to the public according to Maine law.  We’ve heard this refrain from our School Board members for years now.  Indeed, it is the reliance on this notion – and the arrogance it enables – that explains the frequent disconnects between the School Board and the public.

So, just to kick sand in the face of the public, the School Board trots out a legalistic defense of its actions.  Way to sway public opinion, guys!  This is what happens when lawyers are running the show.


Seeing is believing – Episode 2

You can always depend on Jackie Perry to liven things up.  She came through again big time last Wednesday evening.  Here’s an excerpt from her remarkable speech on the Creech affair: 

“And if you’re going to recall them, recall me… I said ‘Lock him out.  Send him home.  Put in an interim principal and do it now because we don’t need what’s coming down the road.’  And our lawyer said ‘Jackie, you can’t do that.’   I said: ‘We’ll pay whatever it takes.  Let him sue.  But get him out of town.’   I said that.  Nobody else on the Board said that.  Come after me!”

In about a minute, she:

  • Divulged confidential details of a personnel matter, apparently from a School Board executive session meeting.
  • Demonstrated her usual level of fiscal prudence, i.e., “pay whatever it takes.”
  • Exhibited statesmanship and grace by urging voters to “come after me!” (If there were a write-in option on the recall, we bet a bunch of voters would take her up on this.  But please don’t write her name in on your ballot!  If you do, it will be disqualified.)

Here’s a link to the snippet from the Council meeting.


Coming soon to a polling place near you?


Well, that’s all for now, folks. 

Please remember to vote.  Later today would be good, tomorrow at the latest. 

This is not just a school matter.  This is a community matter.   Some members of the Town Council don’t want you to vote.   Please make sure you let them know that this is not the way you want Scarborough to work.

Please vote YES on or before May 8 to start the Town on a new course of transparency, fairness and responsiveness.

Until next time, be neighborly,

TT Hannah


DISCLAIMER:  The author is solely responsible for the contents of this blog.  Opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of any other individual(s) or group. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Fast One from the Scarborough Town Council

Expect a loud whooshing sound to come from Town Hall when the Council meets Wednesday night.  Nothing to be alarmed at… it will just be the Council pulling another fast one on the citizens of Scarborough.  The fast one this time is the scheduling of the School Board recall vote on May 8 – a highly accelerated schedule that will effectively reduce the number of folks who will vote in the election. 

Again, do not be alarmed!  It’s just business as usual in Donovan-land, where personal agendas and autocratic rule replace transparency, fairness and responsive government.

The Hurry-Up Election on May 8

So here’s the short version of the story behind the special hurry-up election they’ll be scheduling for May 8.  Chairman Donovan and his cronies are deeply offended that more than 3,000 of their fellow citizens had the audacity to sign recall petitions for three School Board members. And the Donovan faction will do anything in their power to prevent the recall from succeeding.

The Town Charter requires that 3,147 total votes will have to be cast in the recall election for it to be valid.  In other words, if the vote were to be 2,500 to zero to recall the School Board members, the vote would still fail because the total number of votes cast was not large enough, and the three School Board members would continue to serve.  So it’s clearly in the interests of the School Board recallees and their supporters to keep the vote total as low as possible so that the 3,147 total vote threshold will not be met.  That is the only goal of the Donovan strategy.

What’s a great way to minimize voter turnout?  Well, have an election with as little lead time as possible.  Make sure there’s as little public notice as possible.  Minimize the period of early/absentee voting.  You get the picture.  Some might even be tempted to characterize these tactics as “voter suppression.”


The Nuts and Bolts of (Legal) Voter Suppression

Image courtesy United Steel Workers.

 

Here are some important facts about the May 8 recall vote:

  • Minimal Public Notice of the Vote Date

Since the Town Council’s Wednesday evening vote to set the election date will come after the deadline for Friday’s edition of The Leader, the May 8 vote date won’t be reported in The Leader until Friday, May 4just 4 days before the election.  Not much notice, is it?  And no time for concerned citizens to submit letters to the editor in The Leader before the election.

  • Almost Non-existent Early/Absentee Voting

By our calculation (which is the best you’re going to get since there’s nothing on the Town website about it), there will be only 7 days of early/absentee voting — that’s 5 days shorter than any other election we can remember.  Historically, about 30% of total votes are cast as early/absentee ballots in Scarborough.  And even worse, given The Leader’s deadline cited above, the early (“no reason needed”) voting period will be over by the time the election is announced in the May 4 issue of The Leader.  Do you feel like you’re being played yet?

  • Inconsistent with Past Practice

In an April 20 memo to Members of the Town Council, Chairman Donovan noted that “May 8 complies with the Charter provisions and is consistent with our practice in scheduling special elections such as School Budget Referendum votes.” [Emphasis added.]  Well, Chairman Donovan, not exactly.  If you’ll look back at last year’s three school budget referendum votes, you’ll see that the number of days between second reading and the date of the vote were 27, 20 and 20The May 8 date, however, is only 13 days after the April 25 setting of the vote date – a full week earlier than recent past practice.  

Indeed, there was such a public outcry at the short timeframe between second reading and the proposed date of the vote on last year’s second school budget referendum that the Town Council adjusted the period between second reading and vote to 20 days from the originally proposed 13.   How soon we forget!  Or, alternatively, how we fail to learn from our mistakes!

[Chairman Donovan’s memo outlining the setting of the May 8 election date appears as page 7 of the Town Council agenda for the April 25 meeting – link here.  See if you are persuaded that this election has to be held so fast that your teeth will rattle.  We weren’t.]


Sorry, Town Council Meeting Sold Out!

Chairman Donovan has been on a memo-writing roll these last few days.  In another memo posted with the agenda for the April 25 Town Council meeting, he explained the reasoning behind selecting the venue for that meeting, for which a substantial crowd is predicted.

Here’s a chance to test your political acumen!

You need to select a location for a Town Council meeting.  The facts are:

  1. The Town Council Chamber has a maximum capacity of 130.
  2. The Wentworth cafeteria/auditorium has readily accommodated 300-400 for a recent School Board meeting.
  3. The expected attendance for the April 25 Town Council meeting is more than 200.

The question:  Where do you hold the meeting?

Option A:

Hold the meeting in the Town Council Chambers and turn away everybody in excess of 130, telling them to go home and watch it on cable and submit any public comments they may have in writing.  (Pound sand, in other words.)

Option B:

Move the meeting to Wentworth where all interested citizens can view the proceedings in person and provide their public comments in, well, public.

How did you do?

If you selected Option A, congratulations!  You and Chairman Donovan are on the same wavelength.  We foresee a long and brilliant career in Scarborough politics for you.

If you selected Option B, well, sorry about that.  Your willingness to consider the needs of the broader Scarborough community is laudable, but, alas, inconsistent with the Council’s values of exclusion and opaqueness.

[Chairman Donovan’s memo outlining this decision appears as page 2 of the Town Council agenda for the April 25 meeting – link here.  See it for yourself.  And don’t miss the line about promoting “the solemnity of the proceedings.”   Get out your ermine robe and powdered wig!  Good stuff!]


A finer point…

Be sure to listen carefully to the explanations given – if any – for the absence of any Town Councilors from Wednesday evening’s meeting.  Remember, this will be an important meeting, especially for anyone with aspirations for higher elected office.  Watch closely!


About “The Letter”

One of most intriguing elements that has been added to the Scarborough School Saga recently is the existence of an anonymous letter which, according to Scarborough police “contains allegations of inappropriate behavior on the part of the superintendent, which the Board of Education has reviewed and deemed to be demonstrably false.”  [Emphasis added.]  The only other information we have heard about the letter is by way of one member of the public commenting at the April 11 Town Council meeting.  That individual stated that the letter contained colorful references to the superintendent’s activity at an Old Port establishment.  We have no way of knowing whether the individual had actually seen the letter or not, or was accurately reporting its content.

Which really gets to the heart of the matter.  Apparently copies of the letter went to several School Board members, the town manager and Superintendent Kukenberger’s husband.  Why hasn’t the letter been made public?  Shouldn’t the public be allowed to judge for itself whether the alleged “inappropriate behavior” is “demonstrably false?”   Or whether the letter was “threatening?”  No offense, School Board members, but your credibility in the community isn’t exactly at a high point, and we would like to form our own opinions.


What to do now…

Usually when we come up against outrageous behavior by the Town Council (or a majority thereof), we encourage you to speak up and let them know how displeased you are with whatever they’ve done.  Not this time, though.  It would be a waste of perfectly good keystrokes.  Nothing is going to stop Mr. Donovan and his cronies from ramming this election through without adequate public notice.  Defeating the recall is just too important for them.  It’s a do-or-die issue.  If the recall succeeds, their grip on Town affairs will have been successfully challenged.  And that could be the beginning of the end of their chokehold on Town affairs.

So the only way to influence the future now is by voting at the recall election on May 8. 

If you think the three School Board members (Beeley, Shea and Lyford) should be recalled, vote YES.  That’s a vote for change.

If you think they should remain in office, vote NO.  That’s a vote that says you want more of what we’ve had for the last two years.

Whatever your opinion, please vote on May 8!  Or during the limited early voting period that runs from April 26 through May 3.  (Please confirm the early voting period at the Town website.  Hopefully the information will be there before the voting is over.)


Well, that’s all for now folks.  Please spread the word.  Let’s beat them at their own game.  And remember to do an early vote at Town Hall starting Thursday, April 26.

Happy trails until we meet again.

Be neighborly!

TT Hannah


CORRECTION: The original version of this blog stated that the 3,147 total vote threshold for the recall election to be valid is a function of State law.  As a knowledgeable reader pointed out, the threshold is actually a function of the Town Charter.  We regret the error.


RECALL!

If enough signatures are collected in the next week, three members of the Scarborough School Board will face a recall election within the next couple months.  Not since 2013 — when aggrieved dog owners led the successful overturn of an overly-broad animal control ordinance — have Town residents risen up like this against elected officials.

As outlined in the last blog entry, there have been three identifiable causes:

  • Major adjustments to the start time of the school day for most kids.
  • Adoption of a revised grading system that many see as detrimental to students’ college admission prospects.
  • Forced resignation of the immensely popular high school principal.

While these have been the specific reasons articulated for the recall, the broader issues seem to be a general dissatisfaction with Superintendent Kukenberger’s management approach and the School Board’s unwillingness to respond to community concerns about that.  For long periods, the Board went underground, only to pop up infrequently to say that “the lawyers” wouldn’t let them say anything.  And the frustration of many parents finally boiled over into the recall effort.

After the recall was initiated, the Superintendent and School Board relented somewhat on a couple of the issues.  But the damage was done and confidence was lost.  Once lost, it doesn’t return.

Why is it important for all Scarborough residents to be concerned with the current meltdown of the schools?  Well, remember that 68% of your tax dollars are spent on the schools.  So having  transparent, responsive and effective school administration and governance is kind of important.  If the current Superintendent and School Board are unable to keep the basic operation of the schools on an even keel, do we really want to trust them with $42.5 million of our tax dollars?


Your Help Is Needed Now!

There’s about a week left in the signature-gathering period for the recall effort.  About 2,600 signatures need to be gathered by March 26 in order to trigger the recall election.  It looks like it will be close.  So the recall supporters need your help now!

Here’s how you can sign the recall petition:

  • Sign the petition in front of Town Hall between 9am and 4pm every day.
  • Sign the petition at The Study Hall at 27 Gorham Road on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday afternoon between 1:00 pm and 6:30 pm. (Phone 883-9707.)
  • Get signing information on FaceBook at Road to Renewal.
  • Send an email to Road2Renewal@gmail.com to make other arrangements… including “we’ll-bring-the-petition-to-you.” Now that’s what we call service!

    Is Superintendent Kukenberger bruschetta?

    We believe that Julie Kukenberger is a very intelligent and caring individual.  And she’s motivated by what she believes is best for the kids of Scarborough.  She is also a committed social justice warrior, perhaps a three-star general in the Social Justice Army (SJA). 

    Not that there’s anything wrong with social justice advocacy.  It’s just that often these social justice warriors are so certain of their views that they think nothing of imposing them on others in the community.  There can be a “my way or the highway” attitude due to the warrior’s moral certitude of his or her position.  Perhaps that’s just the attitude that caused the grading system, start time and principal dismissal issues – a failure to adequately consider the views of the community on these controversies.

    Speaking of community views:  It has been widely reported that Scarborough High School teachers indicated no-confidence in Superintendent Kukenberger by a vote 83 to 1.  It has also been reported that the reason the Superintendent gave High School Principal Creech for the non-renewal of his contract was that he was “no longer a good fit” in the school district.  Wait a minute… the Superintendent has 83 of 84 high school teachers indicating no confidence in her and yet Principal Creech “isn’t a good fit?”   Reality check: who’s really not a good fit?   

    If the shoe fits…  Or, perhaps in this case, if the shoe doesn’t fit…


Front page news… not

We freely concede we know nothing about the newspaper biz.  But after reading newspapers for a few years, some of the basic conventions sort of become apparent to even the most casual reader.  One of those basic conventions – put the important stuff (or, “the lead story,” as Clark Kent would have called it) on the front page.

Leave it to our beloved Scarborough Leader, however, to flaunt convention.  The recall of three School Board members is arguably the biggest local story of the last five years.  And yet the front page of last Friday’s paper had an article about evolving storm water regulations above the fold and a human interest story filling out the rest of the front page.  The recall story was on page twoIt’s almost like someone didn’t want to call attention to the story, isn’t it?

 


Jimmy:  But Clark, why did Mr. White put your story about the $3 million bank robbery on page 2?

Clark:  Well, Jimmy, that cat rescue story you did was great.  It deserved to be on the front page!


Well, that’s all for now folks.  Please consider signing the recall petition.  Think of it as a wake-up call for all of our elected officials  — including several Town Council members.   Remind them that what the public thinks does indeed matter.

Happy trails until we meet again.

Be neighborly!

TT Hannah