Rubber Stamps

By S.D. Plissken | July 10, 2018

An examination of fifteen years worth of the Town Meeting Warrant articles on which the Milton Board of Selectmen (BOS) voted to make a recommendation – 239 of them – reveals an oddity. While it cannot be said that they never met a warrant article on which they did not unanimously agree, it is extremely rare.

The BOS voted unanimously to recommend warrant articles 231 of 239 times (96.7%) in those fifteen years. They voted unanimously to not recommend warrant articles 5 of 239 times (2.1%). Those articles not recommended concerned the contentious landfill issue on the 2015 ballot, and the disincorporation petitioned article on the 2018 ballot. (Making any recommendation at all on a petitioned warrant article is itself an extreme rarity). Taken together, unanimous votes were made 236 of 239 times (98.7%).

There was a split vote in only 3 of 239 times (1.3%). One of them was a 2-0 vote with 1 abstention. (Some might say that too should be counted as a unanimous vote, of those who were voting). The other two were 2-1 splits. Most of them arose out of that same landfill issue.

Now, none of the warrant articles that were unanimously recommended (or unanimously not recommended) received unanimous approval (or disapproval) of the voters. Not a single one. In fact, a significant number of the unanimously recommended articles were rejected outright or passed by narrow margins.

All of this begs a question: why are the BOS recommendations, which have been almost entirely unanimous ones, at such variance with the expressed wishes of the voters? (Why are there so few dissents? (1.3%))

Some have answered that most of these warrant articles have to do with expanding town appropriations or authorizations, i.e., they are things that the town government wants. The town government is interested, as are all bureaucracies, in increasing its budgets, staffs, pay rates, pensions, authority, and control. So, it is easy to see why the town departments might create warrant articles that do not gain anything like unanimous acceptance by the voters. Their interests are not the same.

But the question remains for the BOS itself – the supposed representatives of the voters. Why do they make so many unanimous recommendations of warrant articles, i.e., solutions proffered by either the town apparatus or by themselves? And why such strong recommendations for solutions so often at variance with the interests of significant numbers of voters, even majorities of them (as expressed by them with their ballots).

One might expect there would be something like as many split recommendation votes as there have been split results in the actual election. That is to say, one might expect greater variance if the BOS were truly representing the voters. But do they, in fact, even try to represent the voters (and their interests), as distinguished from the town government?

Is the BOS really just a rubber stamp?

References:

Town of Milton. (2002-03, 2006-2018). Annual Report. (Various Years). Milton, NH: Town of Milton

 

Larry Confronts Towering Strawmen

By S.D. Plissken | May 22, 2018

Economic Development Committeeman Larry Brown rose to speak during last night’s [May 21st’s] Public Comment portion of the Milton Board of Selectmen Meeting. (The full text of Brown’s comments appear in indented italics).

Larry Brown. Our Public Comment has been moved around and people don’t remember the meetings from about three meetings ago [April 16], but what I wanted to do was talk about a topic which I am sure is heavy on your minds, which is the old Greek philosophers, specifically Sophists, who had a bad reputation for a good reason.

They were the kind of philosophers who had arguments that were plausible, self-serving, and knowingly deceptive. They specialized in the destruction of fair discussion by questions that could by their very nature have no direct answer.

Few Sophist works survive from antiquity. Most of what we “know” of them was written by their detractors. (Imagine a future in which an ancient Democrat’s description of the ancient Republicans is all that is known about them (or vice versa)).

Brown does not cite or refute any actual Sophist arguments, but merely repeats the prejudicial characterizations of those ancient opponents. He is employing here a Prejudicial Language fallacy (also known as variant imagization), as well as a Composition fallacy, on his way to a full-on Ad Hominem fallacy.

To denigrate the original speaker of April 16th as a Sophist should require some proof. Even if the original speaker’s opinions overlapped to some degree or in some respect those of the ancient Sophists would not by itself make him a Sophist. To assert such is to engage in a Composition fallacy. (Hitler liked dogs, so people who like dogs are evil).

To then employ alone these unanswerable ancient pejoratives and a Composition fallacy to characterize the original speaker as a wicked Sophist is to engage in an Ad Hominem fallacy or attack, i.e., to speak to the supposed characteristics of an opponent rather than to address their arguments. (There’s a lot of that going around these days).

Example: “How can you say you are moving forward when one-sixth of the voters don’t want the town to exist?” Or, “why should we pay for the mistakes of past assessments?”

Brown’s reframing of the original speaker’s arguments so that he might answer something other than those arguments is a use of the Strawman fallacy. The original speaker (April 16th) made that final point about the results of the March election only as an answer to an assertion by Chairman Thibeault that he felt he spoke for the “entire board and the entire community.” It had little, if anything, to do with seeking explanation of the “moving forward” or “change” aspects of Chairman Thibeault’s statement, which was the principal issue.

Brown was answering a question that had never been asked, at least not as he presented it. There was nothing Sophistic in pointing out that the recent election results proved that Chairman Thibeault did not speak for the “entire” community. The original speaker was proffering a valid counter-example to Thibeault’s assertion of a wider mandate than he actually has.

The two new Selectmen rushed to disavow the actions of the prior board (which had then included now Chairman Thibeault) as having nothing to do with them. So, at least when speaking of the prior board’s actions, or lack thereof, Chairman Thibeault was not speaking for the “entire board” either.

The original speaker had refuted Chairman Thibeault’s assertions of representing the “entire” board and community in the tax matter at hand with valid counter-examples. Nothing Sophistic about it.

As to the first, five times as many voters wanted this town to continue and the actions, structure, and the very election of the new board are an example of that moving forward.

As noted above, Brown is here creating and refuting an argument that the original speaker never made. But his own refutation argument – that a five-sixths majority should compel the actions and fortunes of a one-sixth minority, with no stated limit – is fascinating, if somewhat appalling. The minority should be compelled by a majority to participate in a polity they abhor or in actions they oppose.

Brown is putting forward an Appeal to Numbers (argumentum ad populum) fallacy. That is precisely why the U.S. was designed as a democratic republic and not as a democracy. It did compel participation, but it also incorporated safeguards intended to protect the natural rights of minorities (or, at least, of minorities that it considered to be within its polity). Otherwise, what would be the likely fate of permanent minorities, such as the red-headed, the left-handed, those of minority ethnicity, religion, etc.? Not to mention those with dissident opinions.

The Athenian Democracy executed Socrates, a Sophist, by voting for him to drink poison hemlock. They regularly exiled dissidents by “ostracizing” them, i.e., voting citizens into compulsory exile with potsherd ballots (“ostrakon”). Then followed the Tyrants and the Athenian Empire. And then they fell.

As to the second, absent criminal intent, malfeasance, and the explicit penalties in a contract of record, in a court action it will cost more than the cost of the injury alleged and the simple [?} have little chance of success. That’s the reality.

This is not an argument against the justice of seeking a refund for poor services. It employs instead an Appeal to Consequences fallacy (Argumentum ad Consequentiam). The expense of action or likelihood of success should determine our actions, rather than the truth of the complaint or the pursuit of justice.

But the original speaker framed it somewhat differently. He asked instead, if, as we have been told, the original mass assessment was defective, why are we not seeking a refund?

That contains within it the possibility we might not have been told the truth or, at least, not told all of it. It would have been possible for Chairman Thibeault to admit finally to what has become increasingly obvious: that he, the prior board, and other town officials were at fault. The original speaker allowed for such an admission. Were that the truth, there would be no need to seek legal action against the former assessing contractor.

In his two agenda items, the original speaker actually questioned how we could safely “move forward” or “change” without knowing the truth of what had happened. It was the town officials that had for months shifted blame onto the prior assessor. The original speaker appears to have called their bluff. The Town Administrator began to speak instead of the prior assessors having done things differently, rather than incorrectly, as she and the Selectmen had either stated or implied over a number of months. She also admitted that the then Selectmen had used a “sample ‘reval’ [revaluation]” in setting the rates. So, the original speaker elicited some truths previously obscured. Socrates would approve.

Assessing is an art, not a science.

That would be frightening indeed, if true. How would one ever know an assessment was invalid, as opposed to not quite suited to one’s artistic taste and sensibilities? Not to mention the problem of balancing the artistic tastes of taxpayers versus those who benefit from increased taxes.

If you want more information you can go to the DRA website and you can look up the mathematical formulas which set equalization. The Municipal Association has an article written by Stephen Hamilton, who I knew when I was in municipal and county government. He has been for years the person in charge of the Property Appraisal Division of the DRA and his comments on classical statistics and small sample overrepresentation and the goal of central tendency are still very much on target for assessing today.

Here Brown concludes with an Appeal to Authority fallacy (argumentum ad verecundiam). As an argument, it counts for nothing. Hamilton’s work likely has merit, but none of it has been cited to any particular purpose. It just sounds good.

So, the comments come late and thank you for your work.

Brown failed to show that original speaker employed any Sophist techniques at all, nor did he show why that would have been a bad thing. Nor did he respond to anything that the original speaker actually said. On the contrary, it was Brown himself  who employed quite a few logical fallacies and “merely” rhetorical devices in his comments.

Perhaps, for some reason of his own, he intended to provide us with a practical demonstration of his notions of Sophism?

References:

Milton Board of Selectmen. (2018, April 16). Milton Board of Selectmen Meeting, April 16, 2018. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/IK0JE0Yi3mw?t=3986

Milton Board of Selectmen. (2018, May 21). Milton Board of Selectmen Meeting, May 21, 2018. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/SrojxJNx1ck?t=82

Wikipedia. (2018, May 19). List of Fallacies. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies

Wikipedia. (2018, May 20). Sophist, Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophist

 

Rochester’s Pink Cadillac Diner Closes

By S.D. Plissken | May 17, 2018

The Pink Cadillac Diner (at 17 Farmington Road (Exit 15)) in Rochester closed Monday, May 14, after 17 years (it opened in December 2001).

The owner posted a farewell to the diner’s Facebook page on the afternoon of May 14:

It is with a heavy heart that we must confirm the closing of the Pink Cadillac Diner.

To our dedicated and exceptional staff that stood by us every day, we cant express enough sorrow or gratitude for every day, every ounce you had, every laugh and every milestone we got to be apart of. Thank you for giving us more than we ever could have asked for. We are here for whatever you may need, please reach out.

To our customers, past, present, near & far, we cannot thank you enough for allowing us the opportunity to serve you over the last 17 years. You have all become friends and family; you have been there for us and we have had the ultimate privilege of being there for you.

We are saddened to have to make this decision but please know, we are dealing with the loss as well. If you care to reach out, we will do our best to accommodate in any way we can.

Again, thank you all for everything. We love you, thank you.

The owner gave no reasons for the closure, which appears to have been rather sudden. He had been advertising for additional help as late as March 22. The closure was announced in the late afternoon. Most (but not all) of the staff were informed by telephone. The diner did not open the following morning.

The Pink Cadillac is the third Rochester restaurant to close recently. Mel Flanagan’s Irish Pub & Café (at 50 North Main Street) closed back in January, and Gary’s Sports Restaurant & Lounge (at 38 Milton Street (Route 125)) will close on Friday, May 25, both due to their owners’ respective health issues.

It worth noting that, in several respects, the Pink Cadillac Diner at Exit 15 in Rochester was exactly what is always being put forward as a panacea for Exit 17 in Milton.

References:

Pink Cadillac Diner. (2018, May 14). Pink Cadillac Diner Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/pinkcadillac.nh/

Kiley, Karen (WOKQ). (2018, May 16). Popular Rochester Diner Suddenly Closes Leaving Customers Stunned. Retrieved from http://wokq.com/popular-rochester-diner-suddenly-closes-leaving-customers-stunned/

Stucker, Kyle (Foster’s Daily Democrat). (2018, May 15). Rochester’s Pink Cadillac diner abruptly closes. Retrieved from https://www.fosters.com/news/20180515/rochesters-pink-cadillac-diner-abruptly-closes

 

Burning a Hole in Their Pocket

By S.D. Plissken | May 13, 2018

The Milton Town Administrator calculated during the Joint BOS and Budget Committee meeting of Monday, December 4, 2017, that the mass assessment had caused some $1.4 million to be collected above and beyond that needed to cover the budget. According to the breakdown in the Press Release of November 13, 2017, that would be a $247,660 overage for the county and state school taxes, $403,900 overage for the Town, and $748,440 overage for the local school tax.

The Board of Selectmen (BOS) have never explained in any public setting how this came to be. (It is not apparent that they understand it themselves). Nor have they ever explained how they plan to return the overages to the taxpayers, either as refunds, tax credits, or by some other method.

Like as not, they are incapable of ever retrieving the state and county amounts totaling $247,660 that were over-collected as a result of this “process.”

Instead, they have devoted themselves to parking issues. It seems that there are rental units near the dam that lack the currently mandated two parking spaces per housing unit. The BOS have never explained whether that shortage is the result of a failure to enforce that mandate or whether those units predated the requirement. In any event, those renters without parking at their residence park instead on White Mountain Highway (the state highway), presumably to the detriment of the business owners that front that highway. Except during the winter parking ban, when they park on the state land near the dam.

Meanwhile, the purchasers of the former Ray’s Marina property have found that they too are short of parking requirements. The former owners had access to the parking spaces now occupied by the Milton Crossing strip mall (Dunkin’ Donuts/Dollar General), as well as a triangular patch on the pond side. The new owners had intended to open a restaurant, but one that also had some associated residence units. Their redevelopment process has been stalled for at least a year, reportedly over their parking shortage.

At the most recent BOS Meeting, that of Monday, May 7, 2018, item 10 on their Agenda was the Parking Plan, Design & Purchase. The Town Administrator explained that they had discussed the Parking Plan at the most recent Workshop meeting (not recorded). She reminded them that the DPW Director, Pat Smith, had arranged for them all to visit the property in question. It was 25 to 30 with “metes and bounds” or 15 to 20 without those “metes and bounds.” He “… really wants the Board to make a commitment on buying the land and moving forward with it.”

Chairman Thibeault recalled that the “… number was $400,000 with the assumption that 70% of that was ledge.” Selectwoman Hutchings recalled that it was “closer to $500,000 … not including the purchase price of the land either.”

Selectman Lucier wanted to “table” the issue until the next meeting. The Town Administrator reminded them that the DPW Director sought a commitment. Chairman Thibeault gave his opinion that he “… is all in favor of improving parking downtown, but I think this particular spot needs to be abandoned and we need to look at different options. It’s way too expensive for what we have.”

It would seem that the BOS has decided to spend public money for private purposes, i.e., parking for either private residences or businesses, or both. They drew back from this particular property as being too expensive – price plus $400,00 to $500,000 of site work – but apparently it would all have gone differently had it been cheaper.

It is likely legal for them to solve private parking problems with public money, but is it legitimate, ethical, or even politically-savvy for them to do so?

Back in April, Selectmen Lucier questioned the purchase of a tractor for the beach. He thought rightly that a purchase of that size should go before the voters. (“I don’t think the three of us [Selectmen] should make a $10,000 choice. It should be the voters or taxpayers of Milton. They’re the ones who are paying the bills”).

But that does not matter now. They have $403,900 of taxpayer money and it is burning a hole in their collective pocket.

References:

Milton Board of Selectmen. (2017, December 4). Milton BOS Meeting, December 4, 2017. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/iHs1VF2tO28?t=3269

Milton Board of Selectmen. (2018, April 2). Milton BOS Meeting, April 2, 2018. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/hOJyH7ZPHEI?t=3141

Milton Board of Selectmen. (2018, May 7). Milton BOS Meeting, May 7, 2018. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/6oeKNRKTPSw?t=4010

Milton Town Administrator. (2017, November 13). Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.miltonnh-us.com/uploads/index_683_1719174841.pdf

 

 

Probably … Not

By S.D. Plissken | May 10, 2018

Milton Police Chief Krauss asked the Board of Selectmen (BOS) to accept a “free” police dog at the BOS Meeting of Monday, January 8, 2018. Controlled K9, LLC, was “seeking an organization” to which to donate a 3-year-old Dutch Shepard K9. The dog had received minimal training, thus far, and there would be a need for further training going forward, including drug activity training. (The chief had already had the dog evaluated by experts as having “trainability”).

It has long been known that drug dogs are not reliable. While they do have keen senses, they are more interested in pleasing their handlers than in the task. That causes accuracy rates of less than half (i.e., less accurate that the flip of a coin) or even less. Bomb- and mine-sniffing dogs are much more accurate. Their handlers do not have the same biases and incentives towards arrest quotas and asset forfeitures: they want mostly to live.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a dog’s actual accuracy does not matter as much as its certification (Florida vs. Harris). For that reason, drug dogs are often described as “probable cause generators.” They are a court-sanctioned way to reliably manufacture probable cause where none actually exists.

Chairman Rawson remarked that it would be “Wonderful. A great asset for the Town of Milton.” Selectman Long asked where the dog would be housed and Chief Krauss replied that the dog would be kept at his residence. Not mentioned, or apparently even considered, were any costs for evaluations, additional training, certification, veterinary expenses, or upkeep. Without further ado, Selectman Thibeault moved to accept the K9 donation, Selectman Long seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously. None of them expressed any constitutional concerns.

A month later, the Rochester Voice reported (on Friday morning, February 9, 2018) that Nute High School Principal Jan Radowicz had that day said that “Milton and State Police conducted a drug sweep through Nute High and Middle School today, but found no drugs.” No warrant or probable cause was mentioned. The students were confined to their classrooms while the dogs “swept” the hallways and classrooms. Principal Radowicz mentioned that the school would continue to work with the police. Her constitutional concerns, if any, were not reported.

Chief Krauss returned to the Board of Selectmen on Monday, March 5, 2018, to report that, despite “continual training,” the donated dog just lacked the “drives” to continue training. The BOS voted to contact the donor to see if they will be willing to take the dog back under their care.

Chief Krauss did not mention any plans or intention of replacing the dog with one that had more “drives.”

References:

Balko, Radley, Washington Post. (2015, August 4). Federal appeals court: Drug dog that’s barely more accurate than a coin flip is good enough. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/08/04/federal-appeals-court-drug-dog-thats-barely-more-accurate-than-a-coin-flip-is-good-enough/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a4ad19ec7063

Hinckel, Dan, and Mahr, Joe, Chicago Tribune. (2011, January 6). Tribune analysis: Drug-sniffing dogs in traffic stops often wrong. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-06/news/ct-met-canine-officers-20110105_1_drug-sniffing-dogs-alex-rothacker-drug-dog

Long, Rebecca, 60 Minutes. (2004, January 5). Does The Nose Know? Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-the-nose-know/

Rochester Voice. (2018, January 9). Police, drug-sniffing dogs sweep Nute Middle High. Retrieved from http://www.therochestervoice.com/police-drug-sniffing-dogs-sweep-nute-middle-high-cms-9475

Town of Milton (2018, January). Milton Board of Selectmen Meeting Minutes, January 8, 2018. Retrieved from http://www.miltonnh-us.com/uploads/bos_agendas_770_2631624852.pdf. (There is also a video of the brief dog discussion and acceptance on Youtube at https://youtu.be/jDlhSg8plKo?t=1601).

Town of Milton (2018, March 5). Milton Board of Selectmen Meeting Minutes, March 5, 2018. Retrieved from http://www.miltonnh-us.com/uploads/bos_agendas_794_1363558446.pdf. (There is also a video of the brief dog rejection on YouTube at https://youtu.be/F6wbcKpHQSk?t=6642

Local NH Liquor & Wine Outlet Stores Join Business Migration to Route 11

By S.D. Plissken | May 1, 2018

The NH Liquor & Wine Outlet stores at the Lilac Mall in Rochester and on Route 11 in Farmington have closed.

The NH Liquor Commission (NHLC) announced on March 2 that it would “… open a new, 20,000-square-foot New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet on Tuesday in Rochester. The state-of-the-art, freestanding store, which is located within The Ridge Marketplace on Route 11 just off Exit 15 of the Spaulding Turnpike, features an enhanced shopping experience, more than 6,600 sizes and varieties of wines and spirits, and a strategic location providing exposure to more than 36,000 daily motorists. NHLC anticipates this new store generating $9.5 million in sales each year. This new, larger location will replace the existing Lilac Mall store on Route 125 in Rochester and the Route 11 site in Farmington.”

NH Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica said, “We are constantly evaluating our stores looking for opportunities to optimize our sales success, which last year reached an all-time record of nearly $700 million. This new store will serve our customers in Farmington, Rochester, and neighboring communities in Maine, as well as the traveling public.”

The new Ridge Marketplace location opened as planned on Tuesday, March 6. It is 5 miles from the former Farmington location and 3.4 miles from the former Lilac Mall location.

In related news, the NHLC closed the Dover and Somersworth outlets in favor of a larger new Somersworth outlet. The Portsmouth Circle outlet is being expanded in place.

New Hampshire is one of seventeen states that chose to create state-run monopolies when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. (The other choices being continued state-level prohibition and licensing private vendors).

NH Public Radio (NHPR) ran a short report of the history of NH liquor licensing on its Only In New Hampshire show in December 2017: You Asked, We Answered: Why Do All New Hampshire Bars Have To Sell Food? (11:28).

 

Milton Town Beach Has Its Own Government

By S.D. Plissken | Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Last February, a Milton resident missed the deadline for a petitioned warrant article that would have made access to the Milton Town Beach free to residents.

On Monday, April 2, 2018, Selectman Lucier questioned the purchase of a $12,000 tractor for that same Town Beach. He had been unable to find any authorization for its purchase in warrant articles or in the minutes of either the Board of Selectmen’s Meetings or the Recreation Commission. “Who signed it, who signed the check for it?,” he asked.

He got his answer in the Milton Board of Selectmen [BOS] Meeting of Monday, April 16, 2018.

The BOS have been trying to ascertain the status of its various town committees and commissions, be they active or defunct. Four are listed in the 2017 Town Report: the Conservation Commission, the Economic Development Committee, the Recreation Commission, and the Townhouse Stewardship Committee. Some residents have questioned whether any of them fulfill any legitimate governmental functions.

It emerged that the Recreation Commission was authorized by warrant article in 1948. Since then, it seems to have been reauthorized in 1977. It got a sibling Beach Committee or Commission in 1997 and the two were merged together in 1999. Or so it would seem from the rather spotty records.

The Recreation Director, Karen Brown, added that “the ’99 vote gave the Commission the right to oversee a revolving fund. The 2004 vote gave the Commission the full authority over the beach, the maintenance, all using the funds taken in, and that was elected and both passed, and that’s where the authority came from.” “And then in 2006, there was a vote to try to bring the authority back to the Board of Selectmen and that failed, leaving it as not an advisory committee, but as a committee overseeing and having full access to the money.”

And it would seem that the BOS has little to say about it – the Recreation Commission is its own beach government, established by the voters and authorized to collect its own revenue (sorry, no free beach access) and allocate that revenue just as they see fit (say, on tractors). One of the BOS sits on the Recreation Commission “ex officio” and the BOS fill vacancies to the Commission.

Unless the Recreation Commission is defunct. There seemed to be some doubt as to whether they have met often enough to remain an active commission.

But that remains to be seen…