Council Goals Workshop

Posted: July 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

It was raining Saturday morning, so my family wasn’t overly irked at me for heading off for a five-hour council goals workshop. Well, maybe they were a little irritated, but that was mostly the rain’s fault.

Last year I suggested to the council that we hadn’t spent a lot of time over the years giving staff clear direction. They agreed and told the mayor to set up a short-term council goals workshop where we could work out the steps needed to reach the long-term goals in the community master plan. Seven senior staff members also were there.

The results will be announced in a month or two, but I’d like to give you my first impression now while it’s fresh in my mind.

Each of us presented three goals we thought the city should shoot for and I swear we didn’t compare notes beforehand. We almost unanimously agreed that there should be regional collaboration between city, county and school governments to save money through elimination of duplication and cost sharing. That started a few years ago with the Joint Procurement Initiative committee that the city/school district formed, but was amplified Saturday with the suggestion to add the regional importance of the airport, as well as city services and infrastructure that benefits county-wide interests.

My first goal was to add to our energy efficiency effort by decreasing the city’s on-grid electrical dependency by 5% per year for the next 10 years. This could slash Keene’s electric budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and help meet our master plan sustainability goals. A small change in our permit process could save residential projects 3-5% in overall costs.

Many goals centered around economic development. There is a widely-held view among councilors that we need to introduce education and job skills to the existing workforce and not just rely on importing skilled workers from outside. To do this we should identify the needs of new and existing businesses that would provide new, better-paying jobs. A double stumbling block was identified – low wages and high housing costs – that stands in the way of economic development. Why do local employers pay less than the statewide average, and local landlords charge more?

Councilors agreed that another major impediment to economic growth is our tax base, and that we need to do things to expand it. Today, Keene is host to more than $600 million dollars worth of non-taxable property – local, state, and national buildings, non-profit organizations, churches and the like – that increases the burden of residential, commercial and industrial owners. And, our industrial properties have never been less productive. This is common with towns that serve as the economic center of a region, but our situation is exacerbated by the fact that we are more remote than many county seats.

Another area was in reorganization of the way the city does business.

There was substantial discussion about changing to what is known as priority-based budgeting. Priority-based budgeting is a management accounting technique that seeks to improve profitability by requiring managers to reassess their activities and determine priorities. It aims to reduce costs and channel resources into high-priority areas.

This melds well with my second and third recommendations to review 10% of our city ordinances and employment positions for value and pertinence for the next ten years, and to re-prioritize spending on road/bridge/sidewalk spending and find that funding by paring down department responsibilities in police and fire department spending.

The report from the Mayor’s office will be much more complete.

By the way, we were not paid for participating in this workshop.

IN 1976 I WAS PROTESTING NUCLEAR POWER AND THE WAY THE SEABROOK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WAS GOING TO BE PAID FOR. IN 1961 THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT DETERMINED THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMPANY COULD ASK FOR COMPENSATION FOR THEIR CONSTRUCTION WORK WHILE IN PROGRESS. IN 1979, THE NEW HAMPSHIRE SUPREME COURT OVERTURNED THE 1961 DECISION. THE APPEALS PROCESS WENT ON FOR YEARS AND RESULTED IN SOME OF THE HIGHEST ELECTRICITY RATES IN NEW ENGLAND.

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE WHEN IN JANUARY 2016 THE PBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION RULED THAT NEW HAMPSHIRE LAW MAY ALLOW ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES (EVERSOURCE) TO BUY NATURAL GAS CONTRACTS AND PASS THOSE COSTS OFF TO RATEPAYERS IN THE FORM OF A RATE TARIFF.

EVEN THOUGH KINDER MORGAN HAS CANCELLED THEIR PROPOSED PIPELINE THROUGH THE MONADNOCK REGION, EVERSOURCE STILL HAS A PETITION IN FRONT OF THE PUC TO CHARGE RATE PAYERS FOR CONSTRUCTION WORK IN PROGRESS. – DOCKET (#DE 16-241)

RULINGS BY GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES SUCH AS THE PUC BECOME DE FACTO LAW UNTIL CHALLENGED AT THE SUPREME COURT LEVEL. AND THAT IS WHAT IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW; THE UTILITY COMPANIES ARE TRYING TO GET BACK TO THE BAD OLD DAYS WHEN THEY COULD USE RATE PAYERS AS THEIR INVESTORS.

IT BOILS DOWN TO THE QUESTION WHETHER OR NOT RATE PAYERS CAN BE CHARGED UPFRONT FOR THE RISK THE INVESTORS DO NOT WANT TO MAKE. I AM ASKING THE CITY COUNCIL TO ADOPT A RESOLUTION OPPOSING THE FUNDING OF A PRIVATE GAS PIPELINE THROUGH A DISTRIBUTION COST RECOVERY RATE TARIFF.

ACCORDING TO CLAIRE IN THE PUC CLERK’S OFFICE, PUBLIC COMMENT IS ALWAYS WELCOME, AND THE DISCOVERY PERIOD IS NOT OVER FOR THIS DOCKET NUMBER. SHE GRACIOUSLY SHOWED ME WHERE STAFF CAN FIND THE NAMES, MAILING AND EMAIL ADDRESSES OF ALL INTERESTED PARTIES SO THAT WE MAY CONTACT THEM, AND HER OFFICE FOR DISTRIBUTION TO INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS OF THE PUC.

THE PUC EXPECTS TO HOLD FUTURE TECH SESSIONS AND MAKE THEIR FINAL DECISION IN OCTOBER, AFTER IT GOES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR AND GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL. THE GOVERNOR INDICATED IN APRIL IN KEENE THAT SHE HAS NO POSITION ON THE RATE TARIFF. IN FACT, IT WAS AT A 2014 JOINT NEW ENGLAND GOVERNOR’S MEETING THAT THE IDEA OF RATE TARIFFS WAS FLOATED.

THE STATE SENATE IS NOT BACKING OFF ON THEIR DISCUSSIONS ABOUT EVERSOURCE’S RELATED EMINENT DOMAIN REQUEST. AND WE SHOULDN’T BACK OFF EITHER.

THE CITIZENS OF THIS CITY NEED TO BE PROTECTED FROM THE COMPLICATED BACKGROUND ACTIONS OF LITERALLY DOZENS OF INTERESTED STAKE-HOLDERS AND THEIR INFLUENCE ON THE GOVERNOR, MEMBERS OF THE GOVERNOR’S COUNCIL AND THE PUC.

THE CITIZENS OF KEENE AND THE ENTIRE STATE RELY ON THEIR ELECTED OFFICIALS ON ALL LEVELS TO ACTIVELY REPRESENT THEM IN THESE MATTERS, NOT MERELY SIT BACK AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

Time To Rethink Policing

Posted: May 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

The traditional image of frontline policing has been part of our culture for at least a police-officerhundred years and in the light of growing budgets and the resulting higher property taxes, a major rethink is overdue.

I think it is time to fundamentally rethink how policing is delivered and the level of service  we can provide with the tax revenue available.

We cannot continue to be all things to all people.

If that means withdrawing from certain areas of service delivery than so be it – other areas of society will have to pick up the slack as necessary.

It’s not what any of us want to see, but a dose of realism is required. Failure to address this issue leaves us spreading the thin blue line even thinner and asking fewer people to do even more.

The police force is the agency of last resort. They deal with people who have mental health problems, community planning issues, and they provide policing in schools – whole areas where the police undertake a wider civic responsibility as noone else does.

To be fair to the police, they are trying to deliver services at a level people are used to but we need to be honest and say we can’t do this anymore, we just don’t have the revenue source. Already, police chiefs across the state – ours included – have begun to re-evaluate how police should respond to addiction-related calls. This is just the beginning.

Tough decisions on police finances have not been prioritized by previous administrators and councils –  they have stored up problems for the people coming in after them because they didn’t concentrate on the long term. To be fair to them, state officials have hamstrung local governments with an unfair and unsustainable tax structure.

In order for future police departments to provide a high standard of service which delivers effective policing, we need to step forward and offer that leadership.

This year’s 2016-17 Keene city budget will be the last staff-generated budget, as the city council begins a new council goals process. Instead of staff building a budget and hoisting it onto the council near the end of the fiscal year, councilors will work closely with staff to develop the next budget from the beginning based on goals identified in July.

This is a new beginning for us and an invaluable tool to address future challenges that the citizens of Keene expect and deserve.

Reference: https://terrymclark.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/council-should-hold-strategic-planning-workshops/

 

The Democratic Party’s delegate process for choosing a nominee for President has come into question after Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 21-point rout of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire’s primary Tuesday garnered him fewer delegates than Clinton. Even though Sanders won every town but two in the state, and most by wide margins, Clinton was awarded 17 delegates to Sanders’ 15.

The DNC’s system allows party leaders to be named as so-called Super Delegates who owe no allegiance to the voter’s choice in the primaries and caucuses.

Super Delegates are made up of Democratic governors and members of Congress, former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, former vice president Al Gore, retired congressional leaders such as Dick Gephardt, and all Democratic National Committee members, some of whom are appointed by the party chair – who currently supports Hillary Clinton.

The Super Delegate system was created to supply some Establishment stability to the nominating process, after anti-war Senator George McGovern was nominated in 1972, then went on to lose every state but one and the District of Columbia to President Richard M. Nixon.

This strategy seemed to hold water until 1984 when former Vice President Walter Mondale won the nomination over Sen. Gary Hart due in great part because of Super Delegate loyalties, only to go down in flames to President Ronald Reagan.

I would offer this strategy to pro-Sanders backers: Put up primary challenges to every Democratic Super Delegate seeking re-election this year who refuses to abide by the wishes of the electorate.

In New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District, for example, voters gave Sanders a 70 percent vote of confidence, ten to fifteen percent higher than the rest of the state. Since Democratic incumbent Congresswomen Annie Kuster is a Super Delegate aligned with Clinton, and considering Sanders won every town in her district, she may be swayed to honor her constituent’s choice for President if she wishes to be re-elected.

Time for Addiction Solutions

Posted: January 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

Most columns about the heroin addiction problem these days are prefaced by a long list of statistics, then are followed by nice declarations such as, “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.” It’s true. These memes have been posted by every stakeholder group in the region, printed by every newspaper in the state, and broadcast by radio, cable television and podcasters across the land.

There is large if not unanimous agreement that these statistics are correct.  But now it’s time to digest the sobering numbers and shift gears by laying some rubber on the road, and that’s just what Keene’s Addiction Solutions Task Force is doing.

Nearly two years ago my co-chair, Keene City Councilor Randy Filiault, and I, with the support of the chairmen of the council’s finance committee and the Keene school board asked the mayor to form this task force to bring together the many stakeholder organizations who have been struggling with the addiction problem for years and give them a forum to collaborate on real solutions that get people off drugs.

Within the last year the governor appointed Jack Wozmac drug czar, the usually water-logged and hard-line-pandering state legislature is actually talking about increasing funding for treatment beds that have gone lacking for far too long, and I feel the tell-tale rumblings of federal grants coming down the pike to fund recovery centers across the state. Locally, Jessica White and David Pence created a very active anti-heroin group in the community who meet frequently to deal directly with active users.

You can tell things are heating up because private-sector organizations are springing up to compete for the federal largesse. And, state and federal election time is approaching. So the iron is hot. Let’s strike!

Our first initiative, led by newly elected councilor George Hansel, is to create a recovery center in collaboration with local businesses to not only help present workers who have addiction problems, but to increase the available workforce by reducing the stigma of addiction and bring the 20% who fail drug tests into the workforce.

Another committee member, Cheshire County Administrator Chris Coates, is creating a research group of education-based stakeholders to bring solutions to the task force.

Committee members Sheriff Eli Rivera and Keene Fire Chief Mark Howard have gotten certification for their staff to administer Narcan to overdose victims. And, county drug court coordinator Alison Welsh is looking into national drugstore participation in Narcan distribution to family members of addicts.

These and other resources are going to be created to add to what is already in place locally to allow the newly funded addiction hotline to offer police and emergency responders a much-needed alternative to jail, the hospital emergency room or morgue.

You can help by enforcing tough-love on someone you may know who has a problem instead of stigmatizing them. Let’s make productive citizens out of these people who are all around us. Don’t throw them away, because the next one in line may be you.

Once, some really smart person said that progress is slow, but it’s worth it.

All of these “solutions” amount to locking the barn door after the horse gets out. What about addressing why people are self-medicating themselves in record numbers in the first place? Could it be a sort of mass depression with societal roots – that people simply have given up on their chances of success and happiness?

To really get a handle on the problem, let’s identify the root problem and then assign roles to the different layers of government and community groups.

On ground zero we have people who own neighborhood markets, kicking dealers out of their parking lots and posting notices encouraging people to become involved on a personal level. Friends and family members need to use tough love to discourage loved ones from going down the wrong path.

City level: Convince city officials and police to divert users instead of jailing them. Bring stakeholders like MADAC, AA, Narc-Anon, school officials, etc. together to coordinate their efforts and share information.

State level: It would be nice if states would fund diversion and treatment programs. The state police should take a leading role in interdicting interstate drug trafficking. This should not be a local police priority.

National level: Here is the important part. They need to determine why people are self-medicating themselves in record numbers and take steps to change societal pressures on people. Help states fund interdiction programs, but put a major focus on changing the big pressures on people like wages, healthcare, childcare and retirement. Give people confidence that they matter. National enforcement agencies need to coordinate international drug trafficking efforts, but must also realize that without a domestic demand for drugs, supplies will not be as large.

You see, all these levels need to do their own parts and coordinate with one another instead of bouncing around with knee-jerk fixes like what Senator Ayotte suggests.

councilorclarkEach year the City Council adopts fiscal policies, a capital improvement plan and an annual budget. From time to time, the City Council also approves a Master Plan to guide the city in the long -term.

As issues arise during the year, we take individual actions to deal with them. What the City Council does not do is to engage in open conversations to formulate short-term, biennial goals that staff can use to guide them in running their departments.

Currently, there is much frustration among councilors that they do not have the opportunity to discuss policy in broad terms, and that the City Attorney’s interpretation of NH RSA 91-A  prevents them from debating issues that come up at Standing Committee meetings not their own. The interpretation is that a councilor who sits on one Standing Committee can only ask questions at the other two Standing Committee meetings. Stating his/her opinion at Standing Committee meetings not their own, it is thought, would constitute an illegal Council meeting. The City of Concord Council, for example, does not share this interpretation.

Three proposals made during the recent contentious budget process were criticized for being brought on at the eleventh hour, but under the current rules, could probably not have been discussed at other forums because of the timing of the City Manager’s budget presentation.

If we had a workable workshop plan, two high-profile events of late may have been averted.

I have asked the Mayor to refer this concern to the appropriate committee or committees to determine whether the City Council should hold biennial workshops with the goal of setting city-wide goals for each following biennium. It will be on the next City Council agenda, Thursday, July 2 at 7 pm.