Comments by wmduke

If budget fails July 30

I'll refrain from commenting on the appropriateness of the $36.5 million budget for RSU 10. However, as a resident of Sumner, I fear Mr. Ward may have been mistaken in his assertion that the school district may operate on, and consequently draw taxes for, the budget approved at Thursday's district meeting.

In the towns I report on for The Current (South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough), schools can not operate on a budget approved by town/city councils until something is approved at the budget validation referendum. Instead, the are allowed to operate on the last budget approved at referendum, the previous year.

Granted the governing systems are different - municipal departments vs. RSUs, town council as the legislative body, vs. a public district meeting - but the principle is the same. Simple common sense on the question should prevail, as well. After all, if taxes are collected on a higher budget that is never approved at referendum, do we, as taxpayers, get a refund when a smaller spending plan finally passes?

But, please, don't rely on my word, or common sense. Let's look at the relevant state statute. Per M.R.S.A 20-A, section 1487:

"If a budget for the operation of a regional school unit is not approved prior to July 1st, the latest budget approved at a regional school unit budget meeting and submitted to voters for validation at a referendum in accordance with section 1486 is automatically considered the budget for operational expenses for the ensuing year until a final budget is approved . . . "

Fun with copy editing

Well, here's a story that failed to live up to the promise of its headline. I had wondered what the beaten man had done that would cause the Farmington man to charge after him. ::snark::

Right back atcha dipnard

My, what fine rhetorical skills you have. Obviously, on par with your reading comprehension.

Eddie said there must be an option, although he's decided a signed option is not "a deal." The person interviewed by the Advertiser said there's been no deal, no option, and not even so much as a final site selection.

So, kinda the opposite.

"Loser."

As requested

From the Sun Journal
Oxford casino site chosen
By Leslie H. Dixon, Staff Writer
Published Oct 01, 2010

PARIS — Investors in the proposed $184 million casino and resort have signed an option for land in Oxford, one of them said Thursday night.
“It's over 100 acres. It's a beautiful piece of land,” investor Bob Bahre told the Sun Journal after the public informational meeting on the proposed development.

Bahre, one of the investors with casino developer Black Bear Entertainment, said a deposit has been made on the property and will be forfeited after 30 days if the statewide vote on Nov. 2 to allow the casino fails.

From the Advertiser Dmocrat
OPS is not Casino Site, Says Owner
by Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Published Oct 07, 2010

The actual casino location remains undisclosed, although Bob Bahre told the Sun Journal last week that an option had been signed for a parcel of land in excess of 100 acres. Take Charge Maine spokesperson Randy Seaver says that this is not the case. “The [sic] the best of my knowledge, it is not down to one site,” said Seaver. “We're not going to put the cart before the horse.” After the November vote, said Seaver, “we'll present out [sic] ideal site to the town.” Oxford Town Manager Michael Chammings has declined to release the location of the casino, citing an economic development exception to freedom of information laws.

Not so fast

I'd be perfectly content with an admission that a site has been found, and a purchase and sale agreement signed, but that addition information cannot be disclosed, due to terms and conditions, such as a final sale being contingent on the outcome of the November 2 vote.

But that's NOT what happened.

What happened is that Bob Bahre said deal was signed for a lot. His partners in Black Bear Entertainment then came back and said, no, there has been no deal. In fact, they claimed, it was premature to even pick a site, let alone sign a deal on one.

Well, if that's all true, then either Bob is a liar, or his partners are. Moreover, if his partners are to be believed, they've invested bags of cash on pushing a development deal that, two weeks out, still has no site selected. Taking a pretty big chance, don't you think, on the vote going their way but nobody in the allowable area being willing to sell them the needed property?

Again, the preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that Black Bear Entertainment has something to hide. Personally, I'm not willing to take a chance on being sprung with any post-Election Day surprises.

Desperation breeds bad deals

The problem with casinos is that, unlike a manufacturing facility, such as the Grover’s gundrilling shop, they do not create anything. As such, they do not produce wealth. Instead, they merely push around wealth which already exists within the economy.

Surely, a casino will bring some nominal economic benefit to the Oxford Hills, but, on a macroeconomic level, casinos are poor development tools. The time to build one is when the economy is at a peak, and people have money to spend, not when it’s languishing in a deep valley and the public is willing to do anything for a few service-sector jobs.

Desperation is a bad environment for decent decision making. Already, we have seen some questionable activity logged on behalf of the casino group. Very little has been asked by the Sun Journal about the seeming secret, sweetheart deal to buy the harness racing track at the Oxford Fairgrounds. When queried on why they need to own the facility, casino investors, speaking though a mouthpiece, will only say, “It’s required in the bill.” But THEY wrote the bill, so the question stands, why is it in there? Does Hollywood Slots own the Bangor Raceway?

For years, Suzanne Grover pleaded with businesses and individuals in the Oxford Hills to give their money to track construction, “for the good of the community.” Now that it’s been built into what, by all accounts, is a first-class facility, she gets own it? Really? And would that sale have gone through had Grover not been president of the Oxford Fair, as well as a casino investor?

Because of the secrecy – indeed, the initial denials – that’s accompanied the sale, one can only presume that it’s a control issue. Perhaps Grover, having taken the brunt of ill-feelings, and accusations of financial mismanagement, from fair folks she’s shunted aside over the years, wants to own the track, in case she ever is ousted from the fair board? Who’s to say? Grover has done a lot for the Oxford Hills – that goes without question – but until she steps forward to answer questions, we can only speculate about her motivations. The behavior that has accompanied this casino deal necessarily calls those motivations into question.

Uncommon recalcitrance on the part of Black Bear Entertainment also leaves us to speculate in other areas. Where will the casino be built? Who will manage it? We don’t know. BBE won’t say.

Should we, out of desperation for jobs, simply vote for the casino and trust in the good intentions of its investors? Does the secrecy over the track sale make these folks seem more, or less, worthy of our trust? How about the environmental damage done in the name of Grover’s other fair-related brainchild, the Live Nation concert stage? Does that make it seem more, or less, likely that she will play a proper managerial hand in construction of a casino?

And lastly, I leave you with this: The possible location of the casino.

Because of Bob Bahre’s late involvement, there has been much rumor-mongering claiming the casino might be built on the grounds of Oxford Plains Speedway. But keep in mind, Bahre also owns a 40-acre lot adjacent to the Oxford Fairgrounds, where he once hoped to build a Lowe’s. Is the secrecy surrounding the casino location due to the fact that it will be built partly on this site, and partly on the grounds of the fair? How are we to know whether, like the sale of the horse track, a deal has already been agreed to under the table, or that Grover won’t seek to push one through after the vote, with the current fair board cow-towing to her demands?

Casinos are poor development tools, but folks should be free to waste money building them, just as they should be free to waste money frequenting them. However, this particular deal is too much of a gamble. The last Oxford casino was a hot mess, but at least everything relating to its development was on the table, where it could be addressed. This deal simply seems enshrouded in too much secrecy.

When questions are asked about a developer’s intentions, and the answer amounts to little more than, “Trust us,” the vote must be, “No.”

Error correction

There is an error in the section about Eliot Cutler. These two sentences are incorrect: “In the 1970s, he worked for U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie and President Jimmy Carter. He then worked in China before returning to the U.S. in 1999.”

First, it gives the impression that Cutler worked in China throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Secondly, he worked there for two years, from 2007 to 2009.

Cutler moved back to Maine in 1999. Between then and his stint in the Carter administration he ran Cutler & Stansfield, which he once described to me as “the nation’s second largest environmental law firm.” The firm’s main claim to fame may well be the work it did to get the Denver International Airport built in an environmentally responsible manner. In a January, 2010 interview, one of the last I conducted before leaving journalism, Cutler was unquestionably proud of the balance his firm struck, making certain the environment was respected while also ensuring the development happened, repeatedly freeing it from regulatory red tape.

It was only after his firm merged with another that Cutler began his substantive work with China, opening a branch office there for the new, combined firm. Although he lived in China from 2007 to 2009, he claims to have maintained residency in Maine, repeatedly pointing out that although he kept in touch with his native state throughout his life, he “returned for good” in 1999.

I understand the Sun Journal “news hole” is not large enough for Mr. Mistler to give a FULL accounting of each candidate’s background. However, I think he owes a correction for the glaring error in his mini-bio of Eliot Cutler, which could have been avoided with a simple Google search.

What a great article

Recently, on Twitter, I engaged a couple of editors (one from the Sun Journal) in a debate about what's wrong with newspapers today. It didn't go very far, bogging down almost instantly in the old we-know-what-we're-doing hurbris.

However, the point I tried to make was this: It is lazy thinking to blame the woes of the newspaper industry on the internet, or the economy. The biggest problem with newspapers is newspapers themselves, I argued. By and large, the product sucks. One reason is that the Gunning-Fogg index, the inverted triangle, and other precepts of "good" journalism developed during the past 50 years, have conspired to suck all the life out of newspaper writing. Pick up any Maine newspaper from the 1940s and you'll find that not only was there much more to be had in terms of actual content, the stories were infinitely more interesting to read.

Then comes Mark LaFlamme.

This article is not long, but it gives all the facts and, best of all, really gives the reader a sense of having been at the meeting in question. Anyone reading this article, whether today or 100 years from now, can't help but come away with a real feeling for what it was like to live in this time, and in this place.

Now, there are certainly a lot of charged, subjective words in this piece, and a "good" editor might have been excused for wielding the red pen like a sickle. But I'm so glad that whoever reviewed Mark's copy saw fit to let it alone, allowing him to report his impression of what he observed at this meeting.

Now, I grant you, a different reporter might have come way with different impressions, might have found different things to highlight. But I will always look for a LaFlamme byline because, over time, I've learned to trust his impressions, and because a Mark LaFlamme article is simply a joy to read.

That's what newspapers need to succeed, reporters who can write. When I hit the Powerball and start my own newspaper, Mark LaFlamme will be the first person I headhunt from the Sun Journal.

Also, Kalle Oakes.

The real issue

It's funny that you think a vote for Jenkins hurts Mitchell, while I suspect they'll be votes that might have otherwise been cast for LePage. Maybe we're both right, which helps Cutler. Either way, between us we've stumbled onto what's really at stake. Jenkins himself, as a candidate, is irrelevant.

Has the law changed?

I can forgive the Sun Journal for getting all excited about Jenkins' candidacy when he first announced it, back when neither he nor the paper seemed to realize that one has to file as a write-in candidate, and that there is a deadline to do so. In Maine, if the voter writes in a name not printed on the ballot, that vote is simply ignored if the person who has been written in has not officially notified the state that he or she will accept those votes.

But, after all, why bother checking election law on such matters? Jenkins announced a deadline for a decision, based on Facebook love, that was well past the filing deadline, and the Sun Journal dutifully trumpeted the news. Even after I clued-in an editor who'd been tweeting the topic, the Sun Journal went a couple of days and a few stories before mentioning the fact, waiting, in fact, until Jenkins himself had got the memo. Why, after all, tell readers Jenkins clearly had no idea what he was doing.

Actually, I have an idea why, but let's not go there.

Anyway, today we find the Sun Journal still tripping over itself regarding election law. You see, unless that law has changed very recently, one does not take out nomination papers to run as a write-in.

If Washuk, her editor, the copy editor, a proofreader, or a fact checker has applied only a few cells of grey matter to the issue, they'd have soon seen its inherent illogic. Even without checking Maine election law, someone at the Sun Journal should have said, "Hey, wait, that does't make any sense." The purpose of collecting signatures is to show the minimum public support required to have one's name printed on the ballot. Why collect signatures that can only be verified and notarized after the deadline for one to proclaim, "Hey, I know it's too late to print my name on the ballot, but if anybody should write in my name, please don't throw that vote out."

You see, Jenkins did not take out nomination papers. He simply collected a form, which he must sign and have notarized, saying he wants any votes for him to be counted.

So, assuming Jenkins returns the form by the deadline, votes for him will be tallied. Of course, anyone who does vote for Jenkins is throwing away his or her vote just as effectively as if the man never ran at all.

Jenkins has to know he hasn't a prayer of winning. The real question should be, why is he bothering? No, I take that back, the real question should be, which of the other candidates is hurt most by any votes cast in L/A for Jenkins?

Let's do the math: Most, if not all, votes cast for Jenkins will come from L/A. This area has a very large percentage of Franco voters. There seems to be a perception, real or imagined, that Franco voters might go all-in for LePage. The question of his wife's residency notwithstanding, Mr. LePage is from Waterville. Isn't the fella cited as the spark in Jenkins' electoral ambitions from the Waterville/Winslow area?

I would ask if this person, a Republican, has had any negative relations with Paul LePage. I'd ask if he, or Jenkins, or any of Jenkins' entourage, have taken meetings with anybody from the Mitchell or Cutler camps. I'm not saying there is a conspiracy at work here, I'm just saying there are questions that need to be asked. Chief among these questions is, who benefits from a John Jenkins candidacy?

Answer: It's not John Jenkins.