Human perception isn’t just seeing or hearing. What we expect to see or hear frequently blinds us to what’s really going on.
In Old Orchard Beach, Maine last week, a nasty event was reported to the police. A man arrived at the police station to complain that he’d been insulted by a woman (a town councilor) casting a racial slur his way and while the police found no basis for a criminal complaint, word spread quickly through the town and local media. The accused councilor has been publicly shamed and denounced as a racist both in the media and in a televised Town Council meeting.
To be fair, the man’s story was corroborated by one woman in town who, it turns out, was responsible for bringing him from Auburn (60 miles away) to circulate petitions for the recall of three of our town councilors. The woman accused of using the slur was one of those three councilors.
The woman who brought the petition circulator to town is also the head of the committee formed to circulate those petitions.
Although the gentleman was not legally authorized to circulate petitions (he is not a registered voter in nor a resident of our town) and notwithstanding that he wore an entirely fabricated photo-ID badge around his neck identifying himself as “State Petitioner Grace D – Authorized State Signature Collector” (our State does not offer or authorize anyone to be a “State Petitioner”) – that was the subject of a earlier piece I wrote and those are side issues here.
Here’s my point for today: A very serious and damaging accusation was made by this man and backed up by the testimony of the woman who was admittedly responsible for his being there. Each insists they heard what they heard. Others sharply dispute it.
Perhaps the allegations are true, but perhaps they not. And if not, those who repeat and embellish the tale are guilty of something even more profoundly offensive. Sometime we see exactly what we’re looking for and miss more important stuff.
Here’s a test. Even if you’ve heard of this test, watch anyway and see how well are your perceptions working:
Early on the morning of April 10, 2013, I had my first experience with a “State Petitioner.” I never knew such an outlaw existed.
As I went to mail a postcard to my daughter, in front of the U.S. Post Office in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I was confronted by a large affable man carrying a loaded clipboard and a placard around his neck that read “State Petitioner – Grace D.”
I was impressed.
He stepped in front of me and asked whether I’d sign his petition.
“Petition for what?” I inquired sheepishly.
“To recall the three town councilors,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said. “Which three?”
“Dayton, Coleman and Quinn,” he shot back.
“But I like them,” I said, somewhat defensively.
“That’s OK,” he parried. “You can sign this … it’s only to get the question on the ballot.”
So I backed down.
“I’ll have to think about it,” I whimpered and turned around to beat a hasty retreat.
Nobody else was around, thankfully, to witness my cowardice. Two or three other citizens of OOB had already succumbed to his advances and signed his petitions but (fortunately) nobody else had been present to observe this shameful lack of political conviction on my part.
Several days later I learned that “Grace D” was a hired gun. An out of town political sharp-shooter who had been drawn into this fight because he was a professional – not a believer in a cause, but a battle hardened petition-slinger who was there to do a dirty job: get signatures.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have no quarrel with citizens advocating for a political cause. I do it all the time. But here’s the rub:
I later discovered that “Grace D” was actually Dennis Graise – a resident of Auburn, ME (some 50 miles away) who was neither a resident of my town, nor enrolled as a voter in OOB (both of which qualifications are required to circulate petitions for local recall initiatives) and that he has had a history of controversial engagements in the Maine political process in the recent past.
Today I called the Maine Secretary of State’s office and discovered that there is no such thing as a “State Petitioner.” Our state neither requires nor authorizes anyone to have credentials to collect petition signatures.
This man was, simply put, a fraud. And that’s wrong. His credentials were bogus, he didn’t have the qualifications to collect signatures in our town and he even misrepresented his name.
Where are the Earp brother’s when you need them?
Old Orchard Beach is a small costal town in Southern Maine and it’s being battered this winter by a political storm.
At the heart of it is a central question: How is “truth” determined, by fiat or by rational participatory inquiry?
We have a Town Manager form of government, which means that a qualified individual is hired and charged with operating the business of our Town. We also have an elected Town Council whose job it is to take care of the legislative and financial part of municipal government. These separate functions are supposed to remove the management function from the legislative function and assure smooth sailing.
It hasn’t worked out that way.
Last fall, we had an election in which our Town Council was expanded from five members to seven. Four former members were re-elected and three new members joined the Council. Following the election, a single councilor from the old board and the three new members instantly closed ranks in opposition to the Town Manager.
The so-called “Gang of Four” lost no time in confronting the Town Manager with an ultimatum: Resign or be fired.
Many of us thought it odd that such a decree could be issued without even a meeting of the Council to discuss the reasons behind it and said so at a public meeting at the Town Hall in December of last year. Some wondered how the Council Chair could make such a demand, under the color of governmental authority, without there ever having been such a meeting. Isn’t that a violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act? The questions feel upon deaf ears.
Since then, despite the Town Manager exercising his right to demand a public hearing on any allegations about his job performance; despite cries of “foul” from the public; and despite the repeated efforts of the three remaining Council members to air any complaints in public, the Gang of Four stone-walled every attempt to inform the citizens of our Town of the reasons they want the Town Manager out of their way.
What’s remarkable about this situation is that there have now been recall petitions circulated to remove the Gang of Four and (in quick response) a group called “Taxpayers for Truth” was formed to call for the recall of the three other Council members who, together with the Town Manager and his counsel, John Richardson (a distinguished lawyer and former Speaker of the Mine House of Representatives) were demanding a public forum to air any complaints citing the Manager’s right to address charges under both our Town Charter and Maine law.
Last month, rather than acknowledging the publics right to know, the Town Manager’s rights to due process and their own obligation to comply with Federal, State and local law, the Gang of Four voted in-block to terminate the Town Manager “for no cause.”
Politics is a dirty business. It always has been and it always will be.
Truth is an admirable goal, but it will never be found in naked accusations.
The foundation of justice is the right to be heard; the right to confront accusers and the availability of a forum in which competing sides can have their versions of the truth weighed impartially.
When elected officials conspire to remove the rationale of their actions from public view, democracy (be it on a national, state or municipal level) is in serious trouble.
So, my Town has sent yet another Town Manager packing. Honestly, I don’t know whether he was doing his job properly or not.
And that’s exactly the problem.
It’s 1:00 PM Eastern Time in Old Orchard Beach, Maine and I’ve been at our local polling place (OOB HS) since 6:00 AM. It’s a crispy bright autumn day and the turnout has been wonderful.
I’m grateful that so many have taken the time to engage in the single most important facet of American citizenry – exercising their right to vote.
This year, national, state and local elections are hotly contested. Rhetoric is explosive and, unfortunately, sometimes contemptible. Yet tomorrow will be another day. The sun will rise regardless of the results of today’s voting and folks will go on with their lives.
And on that new day, Americans of all political persuasions need to remember a quote from one of our Founding Fathers which has somehow been lost in the battle of words:
Remember that tomorrow and every day thereafter.
Whatever your political convictions are, casting your votes for a particular party is, at best, a convenience and, at worst, a grave mistake.
Here in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, three candidates are running for our seat in the Maine House of Representatives. One has the Republican Party line, one has the Democratic line … and then there’s me. It’s the first time in our district’s history that there’s be a a candidate certified by the Maine Secretary of State to run as a Write-In candidate – without a political party endorsement.
Last week, our town held a Candidates’ Forum where each of us appeared on our local community television station to answer questions submitted from our neighbors. You can click here to see the unedited video from that night.
I’ve received a lot of comments from folks on the street this week. Many were surprised at what they saw. Some disappointed that there wasn’t more time for question. Everyone was pleased that they had to opportunity to see each of us delivering unrehearsed answers to unexpected questions.
It isn’t so much about winning and losing, the point is that the best voter is an informed voter, and reading campaign literature predigested by a political party is a poor way to decide who will represent you.
This weekend, most newspapers will be carrying profiles of the candidates running in your area. Read them before you vote.
It’s not about Parties … its about People.
Next Wednesday, May 30 (weather permitting) between 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, I will be hosting the first in a series of public conversations about politics, the economy and general concerns of the voters in Old Orchard Beach. They will be unstructured gatherings (think lawn party with a purpose) to explore ideas for a better future for our Town and our State.
The address is 8 Walden Avenue, Old Orchard Beach, ME
Please stop by, everyone is welcome. Questions/Directions – email me at
Expecting something from your government for nothing is a bad idea.
Recently, propped up by public announcements from Maine’s Republican Governor Paul Lepage, The Maine Heritage Policy Center (the leading “free-market” think-tank in Maine) has announced that it will be rolling out a “solid plan” to arrive at “Zero Income Taxes” in Maine. This is not only a misguided idea, it avoids addressing some uncomfortable economic realities.
As costs rise, income taxes are an increasing burden. Reducing government expenses with care is important, but so is maintaining revenues to provide essential services.
By reducing revenues derived from state income taxes to the level that existed in 1994 (as they propose) there would be a gigantic gain in the pockets of many Maine citizens, yet the savings to particular individuals would depend upon where they fall on the income curve.
More importantly, this suggestion ignores another essential reality: the costs associated with government services would not revert to what they were 18 years ago absent divine intervention.
The result, unfortunately, would be the impossibility of delivering those services without dramatic increases in some other income flow. Folks forget that states without an income tax have either another source of revenue to sustain government service or have substandard services.
You can’t have it both ways.
Only seven states (not nine, as they claim) have no income tax. Tennessee and New Hampshire both tax interest and dividend income. Additionally, Texas and New Hampshire make up the shortfall by having some of the highest real property taxes the nation. Alaska reaps it’s revenues from one source: the oil business. Nevada has gambling. It’s a simplistic view that holds that folks who live in states without income taxes pay less overall to fund their state government absent a sugar-daddy. Would we, for example, invoke a “View Tax” on Maine property owners as they do in New Hampshire, or Texas’ “MUD” tax?
Already strained by cuts in funding, without income tax revenues or some new source of funds, Maine’s ability to allocate money to infrastructure maintenance and repair, education, essential health services, public safety, administrative and judicial services and environmental and recreational resources would collapse.
So exactly where are the dollars necessary to balance Maine’s budget going to come from assuming providers of goods and services to the government aren’t going to agree to drop their pricing to 1994 levels?
I look forward to reviewing The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s proposal.