$100,000 Spent Without Taxpayer Approval

 To Create & Market Merger Plan

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"If I had a hammer..."

How We Got Here

 

Back in April 2005, Town voters agreed to spend time and money studying merger. After the January 2007 merger vote failed, a series of successful departmental consolidations began.

When those ran out of steam, elected officials decided to move back into merger mode, apparently under the guise of: if you can't agree to consolidate, time to force-merge!

Not interested in hearing first from the voters as to whether time and money should be spent on merging, the Selectboard and Trustees went ahead and tapped excess funds ("fund balance") that they use as slush.

 

In just 3 years' time, the Joint Boards have spent nearly $100,000 on a government hammer, to make merger happen, instead of finding a less expensive, voter-approved method of diagnosing and fixing whatever ails the community's governance and taxation models.

In addition to a special attorney, consultants who conducted surveys and focus groups, a part-time merger manager, and more, materials have been purchased to market this merger plan to the voters.

Money can't buy a successful outcome when the voices of the people aren't heard or heeded. 

 

However, money does allow the purchase of a variety of marketing materials to persuade people to vote a certain way, especially if they've been distracted from keeping abreast of local government activities, due to, say, a pandemic.

The Pro-Merger Booklet

 

$7,174 of taxpayer money was spent in early 2021 to print and mail a one-sided perspective on the current Merger Plan. (Staff time not included.)

The contents of that 48-page booklet, which was mailed to all residents, were approved by just 3 of the 5 Selectboard members.

They are biased, admitted the Chair, as well as flawed and incomplete, per other members.

Selectboard Member Andy Watts objected to its publication, after his list of problems with this document went unaddressed by staff and the SB chair.

Watts then elaborated how merger marketing has been misleading within a series of merger-related posts on Front Porch Forum. 

 

The Banners

 

The Selectboard agreed to the hanging of banners announcing the public hearing and voting date.

The banners-as-printed went above and beyond supplying that information, and referenced the pro-merger slogan "Greater Essex" and logo.

The Town's crest could have easily been used, providing a more neutral eye-catching, element.

Most of these massive banners were placed on municipal properties, but at least one was placed in the right-of-way.

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Three problems with this signage:

 

1) Political signs are not allowed in ROWs -- where this Susie Wilson Road sign appeared -- until precisely two weeks before an election, confirmed Zoning Administrator Sharon Kelley by email on Feb. 10, 2021.

When the Town's violation of its own sign policy was reported on Feb. 12th, she was out-of-the-office, per her auto-reply message, meaning this sign would stay up for at least three more days, due to the approaching holiday weekend.

2) The Town's sign policy, dated October 23, 2003, states it is "not legal to post election signs ... on any Town of Essex property." Yet five other signs have been spied on municipal property, including the Town Common, Town Library (before it was removed on Feb. 18th), Sand Hill Park, Maple Street Park and Village Hall.

3) The signs do not state who paid for them, which is against state Campaign Finance law.