Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"The growing importance of media literacy"

Concord Monitor
Tuesday, December 06, 2016

In this era of fake news, when even the pursuit of truth is politicized, it is heartening to read about Concord High School’s nearly two-decade commitment to teaching students to be skilled consumers of information.
Monitor reporter Ella Nilsen wrote about the school’s media literacy program on Monday, and we believe it is important to isolate and emphasize a few paragraphs from her story for readers who may have come to the erroneous conclusion that the school’s approach is itself slanted.
Nilsen wrote: “At Concord, teachers said they are focused more on teaching students core media concepts rather than wading into political arguments. ‘You have to remember they’re not adults yet,’ said Kaileen Chilauskas, head of the high school’s English department.
‘With the election . . . they were so overwhelmed by the level of inaccuracy. They’re not sure who to trust, who’s going to tell them the right information.’ Students go through core concepts, considering who created a message, why is the message being sent, what information might be omitted from a message and how other people might perceive the message differently.” In short, the purpose of the program is to teach critical-thinking skills, which belong neither to left nor right but truth itself. We recognize that the political wounds of a contentious election season remain raw, but it is our hope that people of all political stripes will follow the lead of Concord High’s media literacy program and actively challenge their own assumptions and perceptions in the honorable quest for illumination.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Why the Taxpayers Don't Really have any Say on the County Budget and a Little More on the Commissioner's Budget.

I attended the County budget public hearing last December and for many in the room, it was the first exposure to the 2016 budget. It was also the first time that the delegation met to discuss the budget publicly. Hardly the best time for a public hearing being that the final budget is still months away from finalization, but the law is very specific as to the timing of the whole process.
  • The commissioners are required to deliver or mail a draft budget to the incoming county convention,the  chairperson of the board of selectmen in each town and the mayor of each city the county as well as to the secretary of state prior to December 1.
  • RSA 24:23 "Not earlier than 5 nor later than 20 days after the mailing of the commissioners' statement there shall be held within the county at such time and place as the chairperson of the county convention may specify, a public hearing on the budget estimates as submitted by the commissioners. "
  • RSA 24:21-a  III. "No county convention shall vote appropriations for the ensuing budget period until 28 days shall have elapsed from the mailing of such recommendations.
  • RSA 24:14 "The county convention shall adopt the annual budget within 90 days after the beginning of the county's fiscal year
Beyond that, there are no other requirements in the law for public hearing of the budget in either it's various iterations or it's final form, before the delegation approves it.
That is the point here. This year, the budget was not approved until the very end of March and can even occur outside the county in Concord.  Nothing in the RSA's would prevent the delegation holding a public hearing before the budget is signed off. When you think about it, the first meeting is not much more than a formality. It lasted just 30 minutes last year (December 7th) and the public was not privy to the questions that the delegation members have as Chair Umberger "  ..asked if representatives have budget questions they be sent to her and she  will collate and send them to the county administrator. When she receives answers she will forward those to all members of the delegation. "
(Personally, I would have ignored that " request" and go right to the county administrator myself.)
So what is the point of the public hearing? Does the public have any influence at that point on the county budget? Not so much, as none of the commissioner's budget has even been publicly discussed by the delegation so it is far from a final product. 
A public hearing before the final budget is approved, after all the agita has passed  and delegation bloviation is over, would allow the public to have some input before it is finalized. Maybe a formal presentation so that the hows and whys can be clearly understood? 
Perhaps one of our delegation members can propose legislation that would open up the delegation budget process to increased public input by requiring a public hearing at the end of the process, when it counts vs. the beginning when it is meaningless. 
The proposed budget as indicated in a previous post, has a few important caveats.
A number of things are outside the control of the commissioners and are the primary driver of the increases:
  • Beaurau of Elderly Affairs and Services ( BEAS) increased by $325,000. The bottom line on this state agency is that they set the rate and the counties pay. The formula they use to derive this funding is one of the great mysteries of our time, right up there with the location of Jimmy Hoffa and the existence of intelligent life ( earth included) anywhere in our universe. 
  • As with Moultonboro, a huge increase in health insurance of $268.000.00.
These two items alone amount to just under $600,000. The commissioners are seeking a small contingency fund of $100,000  and funding for the White Horse Treatment Center of $75,000.
The remaining $16K or so is the actual increase if you agree that  the drug epidemic is worth fighting and a contingency fund is important for budget planning. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Carroll County Budget Public Hearing Set

Here is a link to the draft Carroll County Commissioner's 2017 Revenue and Expense budget. The Carroll County Independent had this article  on the budget process. The Commissioner's will finalize the budget proposal on December 7th and the Delegation will hold a public hearing on the budget at  9 am on December 15th.
Amount proposed to be raised by taxes is up $226,831 and total budget is proposed for an increase of $784,313. Nursing Home Revenue is proposed to increase by $659,487 over 2016 budget.
Don't get too excited by this yet, as there is a long way to go before the County budget gets approved. It went right down to the wire last year, all the way to the end of March.
The demeanor of the budget process will start to be evident at the December 15th public hearing as to  how adversarial the process will be this time around. Without a change in Delegation leadership, I am not terribly optimistic, but time will tell.
The White Horse Addiction Center  mentioned in the article and for which $75k is being proposed to support it, is "  a faith based, nonprofit Ministry dedicated to providing residential and outpatient substance use disorder treatment services for men and women 18 and older which suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. 
On Campus Residential Program - Projected opening 2017.
Men and women will live on a drug and alcohol free campus for 10 months. They learn what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, each other and society in general. White Horse Addiction Center, Inc. strives to regenerate men and women, transforming them away from their former lives immersed in addiction to a life full and free from its bondage."
The Center may be interested in leasing space at the old nursing. I agree with our County Administrator, Ken Robichaud who was quoted in the article.  "This will help our residents in Carroll County who are dying. There is no other place like it in the county… This is a state of emergency. This is for everyone's health." 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Trump inherits Obama boom

It's hard to deny the facts, but some will anyway. Nonetheless, the economy is far from the "disaster"
 painted by President-elect Trump during the campaign and light years better then when President Obama took office: The president is handing his successor an economy that’s now the envy of the world. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Planning Board Keeps Proposed Village Overlay District Map

In a work session tonight, the Planning Board decided that the original Village District Overlay District (VCOD) map presented on November 9th will remain unchanged and annex  portions of current residential/agricultural zoned property.
Here is a repeat of that VCOD map:

My objection was and remains, that it is wrong to annex large portions of quiet residential neighborhoods for the sole purpose of increasing density in the village area of town and potentially decreasing the value and livability of our properties.
The Planning Board is essentially asking us to give up our privacy and quiet, peaceful homesteads, so that dense housing, including potentially low income, clustered senior housing, numerous commercial use and to trust them that they will not allow uses that don't fit the neighborhood now and into the future. I have a hard time with that.
One serious concern also is that the amendment as proposed will allow the Planning Board to annex your property or portions of it into the new VCOD to accomplish the goals of the VCOD ordinance.
Further, any new or redevelopment of new single or two family homes will be subject to the requirements of the proposed ordinance to " enhance the visual character" of the community.
As my property is one at  the heart of the issue, I will present a petitioned Zoning Ordinance Amendment that does not include these prime residential areas. The petitioned ordinance has to be submitted by December 14th, to be included on the warrant at ballot day March 14th.
There is some question as to how this works legally. If the Planning Board ordinance is on the ballot as is my petitioned one, and both pass, which one will be in play? Can both be on the ballot? I don't really know, but I will get at least 25 signatures of registered voters before December 14th and see what happens.
The Planning Board will hold the continued public hearing on this VCOD on December 14th, but I have to say that based upon the lack of any real attempt by the Planning Board to modify this plan, it is very doubtful they will approve any changes at the public hearing, so attendance at that meeting is probably pointless.
I am very disappointed that the Planning Board with the exception of Joanne Farnhum, were not willing to make a small compromise which would have avoided a contentious next few months and would have met the intentions of what they were trying to accomplish. I should add that none of the PB member lives anywhere near the proposed VCOD and I doubt that if they did, they would welcome this potential disruption to their homestead.
We need to move our town forward, but we also need to be mindful of the people already here, that have roots and a stake here and are planning on being here for the rest of their lives. Zero consideration was given to that aspect of this proposal and does not bode well for future plans for our town.

Rep, Shawn Jasper Re-elected By NH House Republican Caucus

That is very good news for NH citizens as the alternatives were far too extreme to continue to move NH forward. Minority Leader Rep. Steve Shurtleff is the Democrat opponent when the full house votes in December, but with the Republicans in a solid majority, it is highly unlikely that anyone other than Jasper will be the House Speaker.
Moderation in leadership is sorely needed in Concord, and  Jasper has proven the ability to get things done and put partisanship aside.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Planning Board Work Session Wednesday 7pm. Village Center Overlay District (VCOD) on Agenda

As a reminder, the Planning Board will conduct a work session Wednesday at 7pm, to review the proposed Village Center Overlay District (VCOD). The public hearing for this zoning amendment began on November 9th and was continued until December 14th so that the proposal could be revisited. More information can be found on this post from November 13th and on the Town Website.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Beware of Fake News...Especially When it Comes from President-Elect Trump

Proof: "that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief;"

President-Elect Trump in a Twitter-storm this afternoon claims that he actually won the popular vote when you subtract the millions of illegal votes. 
states instead of the 15 states that I visited. I would have won even more easily and convincingly (but smaller states are forgotten)!

He followed this up with another whopper:
Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California - so why isn't the media reporting on this? Serious bias - big problem!

It sounds like we do indeed need to do a state by state recount and audit. He just cast doubt on the validity of his own election. Can we see one iota of proof that this actually happened? America is anxiously awaiting. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Betsey DeVos Wrong Choice to Lead US Department of Education

"Handing over national policy on the education of our children to elite GOP billionaire megadonors is not draining the swamp." I read that on social media in response to the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of the US Department of Education. She and her husband have an estimated net worth of over $5 billion.
DeVos is head of the American Federation for Children (AFC) which advocates for school vouchers and charter schools. Devos has no experience as an educator and neither she nor her children have ever attended public schools. 
 The US Department of Education , which she has been nominated to run, in October 2015 denied Michigan's request for a $45 million grant to expand charter schools, because Michigan doesn’t provide sufficient oversight of those who authorize and supposedly oversee them. The Michigan law backed by Ms. DeVos to establish charter schools 20 years ago, allows many organizations to start such schools,( 80% are for profit) , but yet established little mechanism for oversight.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said that Trump’s pick “makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.”
 The NY Times ("Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools") said that "..if Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average."
Trump first rolled out his $20 billion voucher plan in early September, at the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a for-profit charter school that received grades of D and F on a 2014–15 state report card, for failing to help its students improve academically.

The Detroit Free Press undertook a year long investigation into Michigan charter schools as Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion per year into charter schools. What they found is very troubling:
  • Wasteful spending and double-dipping. 
  • Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. 
  • Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. 
  • No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.
  • And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.
  • 38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all schools in the state performed better.
  • Only 23% of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.
  • Taxpayers and parents are left clueless about how charter schools spend the public’s money, and lawmakers have resisted measures to close schools down for poor academic performance year after year.
The AFC has been spending money in other states as well, including Wisconsin, spending $4.5 million since 2010 on political campaigns lobbying for school vouchers where four out of ten Milwaukee charter schools are failing.

According to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross “They (AFC)won’t say it publicly in their misleading campaign ads, but make no mistake, the AFC intends to keep the gravy train flowing for their friends and keep taking money from our public schools to support less accountable private schools. And they’re spending big money to make sure they have legislators in their pocket who will do their dirty work for them.”

The Center for Media and Democracy reports that  2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 students and that millions of federal tax dollars went to "ghost" schools that never even opened.
 DeVos will bring to Washington a national push for the failed Michigan "education choice"  model she has lobbied for and funded, and public education will be under attack to a degree that is unprecedented. To be replaced by what? Her money and influence has been a disaster for Michigan and for tax payers,  and will extend the undermining of public schools. Imagine the damage that $20 billion will do nation wide. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Accessory Dwelling Unit Law Good for an Aging New Hampshire, Carroll County

In this weeks Carroll County Independent, it was reported that some towns in New Hampshire were struggling to amend their zoning ordinances to comply with a new state law that requires municipalities to allow Accessory Dwelling Units. The law goes into effect on June 1st, 2017.
New Hampshire is an aging state with low population growth and land-use regulations were not well-suited to address this trend. Migration into New Hampshire remains stagnant, due in part to high median housing prices. In addition, rental prices did not drop during the recession and the vacancy rate for year round rentals is only 2%. The industry standard is 5%.
The NH Senate addressed this with SB 146, finding that there is a “growing need for more diverse affordable housing opportunities” in New Hampshire. 

On March 16, 2016, Governor Hassan signed Senate Bill 146, New Hampshire’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law, which takes effect on June 1, 2017. Under the new law, an "accessory dwelling unit" is defined as a residential living unit that is within or attached to a single-family dwelling, and that provides independent living facilities for one or more persons, including provisions for sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation on the same parcel of land as the principal dwelling unit it accompanies.
The bill was approved by the NH House 188 YEA to 93 NO.  Of our three NH House legislators at the time, only one was there to vote, Glenn Cordelli, and he voted against this important legislation, Considering that the median age in Moultonboro is about 55, and Carroll County has the oldest median age in NH at 50, a no vote was not in our best interests. The opposition to the bill voted against this legislation because it supposedly decreased local control. Its a perfect example of ideology trumping common sense and what is in the best interest of Carroll County citizens. The legislation in reality actually increases local control and increases the ability of property owners to use their property. Under current zoning ordinances in Moultonboro, residential property owners do not have the "right" to convert their single family home to a mother-daughter unit for example. The ADU legislation grants by right the ability to do that and much more. 
There are safeguards  built into the legislation that ensure important municipal controls.

  • The ability to adopt conditional use or special exception requirements,
  • The ability to require the “look and feel” of single family homes
  • Incorporation of the accessory dwelling unit into the primary dwelling, and 
  • Sizing and setback regulations that address well-grounded concerns about
  • Municipalities may allow detached accessory dwelling units, but they are not required to do so
  • Allows municipalities to count qualifying accessory dwelling units toward their required fair share under the state’s workforce housing law.

In an article in the Concord Monitor shortly after the bill was passed, builder Paul Morin said that  We’ve been getting more and more inquires for accessory dwelling units, for in-laws or au-pair suites, for young people who are moving back home after college so they can get their arms around college debt . . . or empty-nesters. I was finding roughly 50 percent of the time, the ordinances were not allowing what my client, very reasonably, wanted to do,”

 According to the NH House Journal "A bipartisan subcommittee received substantive input from planning and zoning experts, municipal officials, and private industry representatives as well as several governing bodies. The resulting bill responds to overwhelming consumer demand for housing diversity and affordability, while at the same time, minimizing the potential for unintended consequences with careful wording. The bill allows accessory dwelling units to be established in the predominantly residential areas of all New Hampshire communities. This will help serve the needs of our state’s aging and disabled populations, and will help address the desire of our younger residents to remain here to live and work by providing more affordable housing options. 

Moultonboro is way ahead of the curve and already have an ordinance amendment (ADU Proposed ) , customized for our specific needs and which had a public hearing on November 9th. It will be on the ballot the second Tuesday in March and I urge voters to vote yes on this proposal.