The never-ending struggle of how to maintain - and pay for - proper roads is all too common. The town of Paris is in this struggle to the point of exasperation. Our roads are in desperate shape - ask anybody in town who drives a car or truck. No argument. We need a plan.
But how to go about it? Capital improvement plan, through annual budgeting, using the tax base? Float a bond, paying back borrowed money over time? Only patch the holes and hope for the best? Pass the buck and wait for the next administration to do something?
And which roads to deal with first - or at all? A little effort has surfaced in the form of a study. The current highway foreman, hired this winter 2011, has launched into a computer software program used by Maine DOT that, using certain criteria, will identify roads to be repaired or replaced. But, here in the month of August 2011, no concrete suggestion has yet appeared from the town manager (who is also the road commissioner for the Town of Paris) for the selectboard to discuss and work into a plan to approach the public with..
In fact, there appears to be confusion and frustration in the administrative response to this road concern - and the roads do not improve themselves.
A straightforward approach could be: (1) identify the problem - the job of selectboard and town manager/ highway commissioner along w/ individual voter input; (2) research solutions - part of the job description of the road commissioner; (3) combine the identified problem and concrete research for discussion by the entire selectboard - not just the chairman and road commissioner and maybe one or two other politically expedient individuals ; (4) present a summary of information that includes concrete options to the ultimate decision makers - the taxpayers/voters - for hearings, and then a vote. Then get on with it.
So, no plan, so far, and no discussion happening, so far, on a plan.
That brings us to a second, parallel issue currently operating in Paris, and it lurks under the old, unfriendly nemesis of "who is running this town?"
There appears to be a management issue within the selectboard itself.
The Town of Paris is set up to operate under the Town Meeting form of government. That means the chain of command is : Voters at Town Meeting (decisions) to Selectboard (directions) to Manager (day-to-day work product).
If one of the 3 levels functions inadequately, or even improperly, the need for that particular function does not disappear; e.g., if a manager happens not to perform adequately in a certain situation, the board will end up picking up that work, if there is no insistence on the manager to be accountable.
On the other hand, if a board member stretches his or her power into the manager's territory, not only is the manager held less accountable, the selectboard's ability to function efficiently and effectively is in danger of being compromised.
The selectboard itself must operate as a single body in their deliberations, each member equal to the other, contributing to discussions that lead to workable solutions. Title 30-A M.R.S.A.§2001 gives a description re. municipal officers. The section Distinction BetweenFirst, Second, and Third Municipal Officers states, in part, that "Under state law, there is no difference between the first, second, and third selectperson. .."
We seem to have a chairman who slips into holding court and being judge and jury; who not only physically turns his back on a dissenting board member, but constantly interrupts and dismisses questions, concerns, or, heaven forbid, criticisms from any other board member who may not agree with him.
No matter how well intentioned this chairman may be, or how knowledgeable, the fiscal and policy issues of this town, in general, and our critical road improvement needs, in particular, are items that require equal, open, and unfettered board discussion among all 5 board members - including listening to questions and controversial opinions, and not rearranging or misstating other peoples' ideas and motions - before the information comes before public discussion in preparation for a vote.
"I want," "I do not want," "I would like to see," "I'm trying to get," "I," "I," "I" is not board discussion. It is a one man steering committee. Linked here is a transcript from a 16-plus minutes segment of the 8-22-2011 board meeting that ran 3 hours and 49 minutes. The item was not even officially on the already-too-long agenda. The transcript depicts a situation where the chairman, having acted on his own on a matter not yet discussed by the board, came to the board after the fact, looking for support for his action.
[ editor's note: The partial transcript, quoting mostly only one speaker, is lengthy. But, for those willing to take the time, it is illuminating.]
We currently have a serious situation in our town that affects everyone: our roads are in desperate shape. We need a plan. In order to achieve this - and anything else, for that matter - this town's municipal machine must function properly. That means its manager must produce and be held accountable, and its selectboard , all of it, must lead .