Thinking ‘Outside the Box’

By S.D. Plissken | December 19, 2018

Chairman Thibeault is fond of saying that “we,” meaning the Board of Selectmen (BOS), and Milton in general, “need to think ‘outside the box.'”

The catchphrase regarding thinking “outside the box” originates with management consultants of the 1970s and 1980s. It is the pop psychology of yesteryear. You should be concerned whenever you hear it.

The sad fact is that he, the BOS, and Milton governance in general, for well over a decade, represent the ne plus ultra of conventional thinking. Everything they do is very much within “the box.”

They cannot help themselves, poor things. Their approach is inherent in the nature of government. It is impossible to rationally allocate resources. If ten of something seems desirable, wouldn’t twenty be even better? It is impossible to say, because government lacks a price mechanism with which to measure its decisions. It relies to a very great extent – some have even said that it relies entirely – upon “magical thinking.” That is why government should never be engaged for any task or service that might be provided by the free market.

While it is always instructive, and sometimes amusing, to examine their more absurd premises more thoroughly, – and I have tried – let us confine ourselves this time to the most recent BOS meeting. Issues are rarely explained in these meetings, as such, but it is sometimes possible to extract some sense – some rumor – of what is happening from the little tidbits that are dropped along the way.

In our last episode, the Town Clerk had objected – through intermediaries – to being the Central Repository for all Town monetary transactions. Her objection is not fundamental or constitutional, although objections could certainly be made along those lines. She was willing to undertake the increased tasks. Her problem arises only from the principle that increased tasks should be accompanied by increased personnel hours. Well, that makes sense. (The BOS should consider deeply how this same principle might be applied in their own dealings with the State government).

Past meetings have informed us that the State government forbids the Town government to keep more than $1,500 in the house at any one time. Are you with me so far? The larger in-the-box thinkers have given the smaller in-the-box thinkers a directive. This unfunded imposition comes with costs. Was any out-of-the-box thinking employed? No, we have been given an order and are rushing to fulfil it. The taxpayers can pay the freight. All very much within “the-box.”

Now the Town government’s new bank wants to change the way that they take in their deposits. This is just a bank “policy.” It is something that works well for them. (Note that, on the market, the customer is always right, and there are other banks in the world).

The Town’s bank “recommended” that we establish a central repository for all the Town’s exactions, excuse me, deposits. The Town Treasurer agreed, the Auditors were insistent, the Town Counsel approved it, the Town department heads loved it, the Town Administrator said that all the cool Towns are doing it. We take orders from banks too. All very much within “the box.”

Whenever they cite this “all the other Towns” reasoning, as they do frequently, I hear my mother’s voice: “If all the other kids were jumping off a bridge, would you jump too?” Her point being that it’s not that you can’t do what the others are doing, if they are acting wisely, but that it is folly to be a lemming just to be like the other lemmings.

By itself, citing “all the other Towns” is really the same as having no reason at all. It is a confession of having no reason. Completely ridiculous, but very much within “the box.”

Anyway, the Town Treasurer restructured Town monetary procedures such that the various departments off-loaded portions of their deposit accounting to the Town Clerk. Just like all the other Towns. The various departments all spend less time on those fiddly bookkeeping details. And the money is all in one place. Less is more. They love it. Win-win, right?

Well, no. None of these apparatchiks gave up any personnel hours to the Town Clerk when they piled on their extra tasks. It was more like a zero-sum game: she got their tasks, while they retained the hours with which they formerly did those tasks. She reportedly tried to juggle these increased tasks, for a time, but finds it is not working for her.

Will all those that are surprised please raise their hands?

I see, the BOS have their hands up. (They raise their hands for everything). They seem to be baffled. To their minds, it apparently makes perfect sense that the Town Clerk should do more so that others might do less. It adds up somehow?

So, the BOS dug in their heels regarding full-time status for her administrative assistant. Nor did they arrange for any extra assistance from the departments that were relieved from the tasks with which she now struggles. The BOS provided no solutions. Instead, they told all of the children to sort it out for themselves. They have until the end of January to do so. Don’t make me come in there.

It is impossible to accept yet another Town personnel expansion. (The Town needs to move in the opposite direction). One might hope that some interdepartmental reallocation or redistribution of budget money or personnel hours is made instead. Cutting elsewhere to pay for this latest shiny initiative would work quite well.

But the Town Clerk is to be much admired. Her spirited defense of her department showed true grit. She demonstrated exactly the qualities that the BOS has so sadly lacked in defending the taxpayers’ interests.

One might well imagine that we will see these issues emerge again in some form.

References:

Town of Milton. (2018, December 17). BOS Meeting, December 17, 2018. Retrieved from youtu.be/SLBEx1a45pQ?t=5245

Wikipedia. (2018, December 18). Thinking Outside the Box. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_outside_the_box

 

 

Author: S.D. Plissken

I thought he'd be taller.

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