Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Linehan/Cahill have conflicts of interest


In the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” category, a commenter to this blog post noted that Shaun Cahill’s wife, Lisa, is also on the school department payroll. I was unaware of that until now, but the information is accurate as she pulled in $42.5K in 2008, according to the town’s annual report.

The last paragraph of this article reads: “This is not a personal issue for me. The next time this situation comes up (and it will), please copy this article and swap out the names and board affiliations. I will not have a different opinion irrespective of who’s involved and of which board we’re speaking.”

Well, true to my word, I am appealing to both Shaun and Jessica to see the bigger picture of what’s good for the town and decline to be sworn in if successful in the election.

By the way, another commenter (who missed the fact, as I did, that Lisa Cahill works for the school department) pointed to Bob Guerin’s wife being involved in special education. She is not on the town payroll. She does, however, volunteer her time through her work as co-chair of the Special Education Advisory Council, a part of the PTA. I commend her for that work and wish many more of our residents would find the time to contribute in such a beneficial way. Is there a conflict of interest here? I do not see how.

Finally, Andrea Killion’s husband, Jim, serves on the Zoning Board of Appeals, a committee appointed by the board of selectmen. I’ve not been able to dream up a scenario where these two roles would have an inherent conflict of interest. If you do, you can post your scenario below.



Jessica Linehan is a candidate for the Town of Sandwich’s school committee. I don’t believe I’ve ever met her, but she strikes me as a very nice, smart and competent person. Her performance at the annual Enterprise Newspaper Candidates’ Forum was pretty good for a newcomer politician in that she was gaffe-free and made some reasonable arguments for herself.

The problem, however, is that her husband, Gary, is a teacher in the Sandwich Public School System. Since the school committee is at the top of the heap, the ultimate master of the school department, Jessica would become one of Dr. Mary Ellen Johnson’s seven bosses. As superintendent, Dr. Johnson has enough on her plate without having to deal with a boss whose husband is an subordinate.

The superintendent, principals and school committee spent a great deal of time this year hashing out a budget that eliminated over twenty positions but managed to hang on to our critical curricular programs and even added a few opportunities for our kids.

Next year’s budget wrangling is going to make this year’s exercise look like full-day kindergartener’s play. Without an override, which I contend is unlikely to garner any support while we remain mired in this economic recession, we will likely see the teachers’ ranks decimated.

And that’s where the conflict of interest raises its ugly head. Gary earned $57,500 during calendar 2008. Jessica is the library coordinator for Rockland Public Schools, earning $59,500 during calendar 2007 according to the 2007 Rockland Town Report. I assume she was paid a little more in 2008. I know Gary was. His $57,500 pay was $6,100 (or 11.9%) more than his 2007 salary of $51,400.

So roughly half of the Linehan family income rides on the outcome of the decision to lay off teachers to balance the fiscal year 2011 budget. And Jessica would be on the board that ratifies that decision and reviews the superintendent’s performance. Problem, anyone?

Of course, Jessica would have to recuse herself from certain budget discussions, but only those that involve line items that directly affect her husband. The legal interpretation of the conflict of interest law the town received when Mark Wiklund was appointed to the finance committee (whose wife is a teacher in the system as well) was remarkably hands off. Apparently, only a few things would have been off limits regarding Mark’s participation and votes. He chose, instead, to resign from the finance committee, a practical decision I admired at the time and still do.

Hank Tuohy, on the other hand, remains on the finance committee and does not bother to leave the room anymore when the committee discusses the school budget. He used to. What’s changed? His wife, Donna, took home a hefty $74K in 2008 from her school department job.

Jessica’s case would be far different than Mark’s or Hank’s. The finance committee does not have any direct involvement in the decision to layoff school department employees. The school committee does.

What happens if Jessica were to engage in discussions about setting user fees, or establishing supplies budgets? These discussions would be allowed by the state’s conflict of interest provisions, but facing having to cut teaching positions versus cranking up user fees or slashing spending for supplies, don’t you think that the real (not the legal) conflict of interest would be lingering throughout the discussions?

And what about Dr. Johnson’s annual performance review? Would you want to be Dr. Johnson going to this executive session discussion right after issuing a pink slip to a school committee member’s husband? I wouldn’t. I’d think twice about issuing that pink slip. Perhaps I’d choose a different name just to avoid that uncomfortable scenario.

In my opinion, there is simply no good reason for the voters to subject the town, the school department, and the school committee to a clear and ongoing conflict of interest that could manifest itself in many ways that I haven’t even touched on.

I have no doubt that Gary and Jessica are fine people and wonderful parents to their two children. This is not a personal issue for me. The next time this situation comes up (and it will), please copy this article and swap out the names and board affiliations. I will not have a different opinion irrespective of who’s involved and of which board we’re speaking.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Are we stupid?

The Bell + Howell Silver Sonic XL has the ability to give you sonic hearing, easily amplifying sounds up to 90 feet away. Never miss out on a conversation, game or TV show ever again!

Now HD Vision takes sunglass vision technology to a whole new level. Just like high-definition TV, this is the ultimate in viewing clarity.

A few comments about these ridiculous products:

What the heck happened to Bell & Howell for this once respectable company to be selling cheesy electronic garbage? When I was a kid (and a card carrying AV team member), B&H was the premier name in film projectors and all kinds of film editing accessories. They also manufactured mailing equipment, like high speed sorters and inserters. This is like finding Jack Welch working as a carny, pushing junk toys on gullible dart throwers.

And what alternative is there to sonic hearing? Isn’t all hearing based on the ability to sense sound waves? What do you think I have now? Odor hearing? That’s it. My ears perk up at the smell of marinara sauce simmering in the kitchen.

Not to mention that I’m supposed to walk around looking like an idiot wearing a pseudo Bluetooth earpiece. I so admire those people who seem to be having intense conversations with themselves. We used to call them things like “Crazy Larry, the guy who panhandles outside the hardware store.”

I do have to give Bell & Howell credit for improving on the original version of Sonic Hearing, which incorporated a 6-inch long microphone that you had to aim at your victim. The odds of getting arrested using this less-than-covert eavesdropping device were pretty good.

HD Vision sunglasses have some commonality with the Silver Sonic XL. Don’t we all see in hi-definition? If you don’t, go to an optometrist. For $9.95, I’m not thinking they’re going to send you the latest breakthrough in lens technology manufactured from a NASA-inspired polymer.

All of this triggered me to think about what’s coming next. We’ve covered two of the five senses, so why not have As Seen On TV products to enhance the rest of them.

Order TasteBudz and you can have gustatory taste! Just sprinkle TasteBudz on your tongue and you’ll be able to sample the entire buffet selection from your seat. “Would you like a menu or will you be dining from the buffet?” “Definitely a menu, garçon. The bacon-wrapped scallops are way too garlicky and the chicken cordon bleu must be from yesterday’s Rotary banquet.”

Don’t go anywhere without Tactile Feeling Gloves! Inspired by the Princess and the Pea, these gloves let you feel things that are undetectable by a normal human being. Auto mechanics, feel which spark plug is misfiring simply by placing your hand on the hood of a car. Fishermen, feel the underwater disturbances of a trophy bass. Proctologists… Well, you get the idea.

You can have olfactory smell with Olfactory Smell Nostril Inserts! These 2-inch long inserts fit comfortably in your nostrils. Within five minutes, the OSNIs expand to three times their original circumference, giving you the ability to smell what your neighbor is cooking for dinner. “Hi, Carmen (Electra), how was that chicken parmesan you made last night?” “How did you know about that, Randy? You’re so cute. Wanna come over for dinner for the rest of the week?”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring has sprung (and so have my eyebrows)

As a CPA, April 15th is a big day for me. Not only does it mark the end of tax season, it marks the beginning of spring. You see, there’s no time to enjoy the first few weeks of the real spring, which starts about a week after the March corporate tax deadline.

Unfortunately, several things get put on hold during this “busy season,” not the least of which is the lawn. By the time I get to the garden center to buy fertilizer, Scott’s is already on Step Number 2. My dandelions are very appreciative of me skipping the pre-emergent weed control treatment.

Something else inevitably catches me by surprise. My eyebrows. Every year they get more and more John Houseman-ish. There they are—lapping over my glasses and pointing in every direction on the compass (especially the gray ones). Sometime around February I should remember to put pre-emergent on them.

The part that bothers me most is that I’ve just finished talking with literally hundreds of people during the tax season, more than a few of whom must have been marveling at the these hairy caterpillars while I was pointing out the nuances of their 1040s. Would two-inch-long eyebrows wrapped around the bridge of my glasses distract you?

I just don’t get where this comes from. I mean, I can get away with shaving every other day and, if you saw my chest from more than three feet away, you’d swear there wasn’t a hair on it. (Hair doesn’t grow on steel, I’ve always said.)

But these damned eyebrows… I go the barbershop and they bring out a specially trained assistant with a leather case filled with odd-looking tools to conquer my brow beasts. In between haircuts, I’ll pluck the wildest strays, but that hurts like hell. I don’t know how you women do it.

Speaking of things that shouldn’t be plucked, I’ve also started sprouting nose and ear hairs at a breakneck pace. While Mary is recovering prescriptions from the pharmacy, I find myself spending the entire time in the personal products aisle comparing hair trimming gadgets. I’m still debating the merits of rotary versus reciprocating heads.

All of this is taking more effort every year, so I’m on the lookout for a better way to manage the eyebrow problem. Perhaps a miniature version of the Flowbee would do the trick. Invented by Rick Hunts, the Flowbee was a hair cutting fad that combined an electric hair trimmer with a vacuum cleaner*.

Until Scott’s comes up with a Step 1½ and Rick Hunts perfects the Browbee, I’ll have to rely on the traditional methods for maintaining both my front yard and my facial lawn.

* As a side note, men attempting to invent things that incorporate vacuum cleaners have a very bad and painful track record. Just google the phrase “vacuum cleaner” followed by the anatomically correct name for a man’s reproductive organ and you’ll see what I mean.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Portuguese Water Dog it is

The Obamas decided on a Portuguese water dog for First Dog. I was wrong when I predicted a win for Labradoodles of America. See Pooper Scooping the East Lawn. I was also wrong when I predicted Obama would be a fiscally conservative, pro-capitalism president.

Somebody wake me up!

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Flat tax will be flattened

Time is limited this week. The April 15th tax filing deadline looms and we’ve got about a week’s worth of work to get done before Wednesday. That’s about right.

I don’t complain. Congress keeps passing job security bills for accountants (see CPA’s Guaranteed Employment Act), which I appreciate during these tough economic times. I don’t worry about switching to a flat tax and thereby eliminating the need for professional tax preparers. Congress would never give up the puppet strings they hold so dearly.

You see, a flat tax would be a big problem for Congress. Instead of them deciding how to spend your money, you would decide how to spend your money. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying here. The argument you hear everyday goes like this: Tax me less; I’m better at deciding how to spend my money than the government.

What I’m saying is: Even if a flat income tax or a national sales tax brought in exactly the same amount of tax revenue to the federal government, Congress would still never go for it. That’s because they not only want to control how to spend the money that you send to them in the form of taxes, they want to control how you spend the money you keep for yourself.

If they want you to buy a hybrid car, they give you a $3,000 tax credit. Real estate sluggish? First-time homeowners get $8,000. Need a few votes from retired public safety officers? Exclude from income the first $3,000 paid for health insurance from retirement benefits.

In the first two examples, you are enticed to spend your paycheck on things that make Congress feel good. The third is an example of how Congress manipulates the tax code to ensure they get re-elected. No knock on retired public safety officers, but what big picture national issue is being addressed here?

The only way to break this cycle of elected officials garnering more and more power and becoming less and less connected to the common man is to enact term limits. I heard a television ad yesterday (I was in the kitchen and didn’t see it) honoring a man who was mayor of a Massachusetts town in the 1980s followed by a twenty-some-odd year stint as a state representative. For his dedication to public service, he was being honored as a “hero.”

Glorifying politicians as heroes is highly demeaning to real heroes. I’ll stand next to a 20-year veteran of any fire department and know I’m in the presence of a real hero. Is Ted Kennedy a hero? You decide. Here’s the dictionary definition of a political hero: “A sandwich made from a long roll or loaf of bread with a filling of meat and cheese with lettuce and tomato.”

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Control equals power. In the control area involving the 4,968 pages of the Internal Revenue Code, Congress wields a huge amount of influence over how you spend your money. Does anyone really think that a pack of politicians would relinquish that power?

For me, I’m confident that I’ll retire and be interred before Congress takes any action to simplify our income tax system. After all, that would be good for the people at the expense of Congress’ control of the puppet strings. Ain’t gonna happen.

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Swetter lapping

When we were kids, we’d play a game, especially at the beginning of the school year when there were a lot of new faces in the classroom. It involved swapping the first letters of first and last names.

My childhood best friend, Larry Currey, would don the new name Carry Lurrey. Betty Loy became Letty Boy. Of course, my buddy Larry Lang didn’t add much to the game.

But no matter how many new kids there were, I was always king of the letter swapping game; a title I carry proudly to this day.

If you have any interesting swaps, leave them in the comments section.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A boy named Sue

Parents teach you a lot—mostly things that you emulate, which become part of your own character and behavior. But sometimes you learn the opposite.

My parents made no waves. What I mean by that is I never saw them send a steak back because it was undercooked. If my dad bought a pair of shoes that turned out to be too tight, he would put a shoe stretcher in them until they fit or the seams pulled apart. If my mom brought home a half gallon of milk that poured out in bleu-cheese-like chunks, she would defend the milk and tell me to eat my cereal in between the globules.

I grew up in a No Wake Zone.

I remember saving up my allowance money for weeks when I was ten with the goal of buying the Magical Mystery Tour album. It cost $2.99 at the PX, one of two stops on our Saturday shopping route, the other being the base commissary. My mom traded three dollar bills for my pennies, nickels and dimes and I was ready to go shopping.

I was so excited about adding this record to my Beatles collection that I was up early, dressed in my buttoned-to-the-top-button plaid shirt, slim cut jeans and Keds high-top tennis shoes. Tucked next to the three dollar bills in my wallet was my audio/visual team ID card from school. I was a nerd’s nerd.

We made the 10-mile trip to Ft. Bliss and, after I bought the album, I had to suffer the excruciating hour-long visit to the commissary. With our bags of groceries safely stowed in the trunk by the bagboy, we headed home. “Can I open the album?” “No. Wait until we get home.” I was a tortured young man.

I raced in and out of the house until the groceries were all in the kitchen. I then eagerly cut the plastic wrap off John, Paul, George and Ringo’s latest masterpiece. Pulling the record out of the sleeve, I noticed something very wrong. Very, very wrong.

The vinyl disc in the package was not a Beatles album. It was the New Christy Minstrels “New Kick!” record. Oh no! I was crushed. What happened? (It was years later that I became aware of this “purchase and return” scam that people pulled, returning empty boxes or, in this case, an unwanted album for a full refund.)

My mom attempted to console me. “Oh, I love the New Christy Minstrels. Let’s listen to it.” Are you kidding? I wanted to go back to the PX right then. “No, we can’t do that. You’ll have to wait until next Saturday.” At 33 cents a gallon, I couldn’t see how the 20-mile round trip was going to wreck the family budget.

Long story (a week is an eternity for a 10-year-old kid) short: I made the New Christy Minstrels for the Beatles hostage swap the next Saturday, but not without receiving the third degree from a disbelieving store manager.

That was a success story. This next one was not. Or so I thought at the time.

I got a bicycle for Christmas, just a few weeks after the Minstrel debacle. I had dreamed about a three-speed bike to replace the beach cruiser I had outgrown. The seat had been raised to the highest notch and I was afraid that my dad might weld on an extra foot-long pipe to make it last until I started high school.

There’s nothing quite like Santa getting it wrong. Next to the Christmas tree stood a three-speed bicycle. A champagne-colored three-speed bicycle. A girl’s champagne-colored three-speed bicycle.

I was convinced that my mom was serious when she told me that she had hoped for a girl to complement my two older brothers.

Once again, attempting to make lemonade out of lemons, my mom pointed out how much easier it was to mount this bicycle without a crossbar between the seat and handle bars getting in the way. Besides, you’re less likely to injure your private parts, she said. Believe me, at this point, none of this justification was in any way convincing to a prepubescent boy who was already concerned about his high level of sissyness.

But there was no negotiation. My dad, having been raised during the Great Depression and having fought in World War II, was unimpressed by my disappointment. “Do you know what I would have given up to have a fancy bicycle like this when I was growing up?” “Yes Dad. Your manlihood,” I would have loved to have said. Of course, I would never have done that without risking certain physical injury.

So there I was, the proud owner of an ego-deflating girl’s bike. I promptly removed the plastic streamers that hung out of the handle bar grips and started telling my friends that I was borrowing my cousin’s bike. They figured it out soon enough.

I rode that bike for five years. It did have the effect of toughening me up. I learned to deflect the teasing by picking on something equally deflating about the teaser. I also made the decision to never accept anything again (gifts excepted) that didn’t meet my expectations. That was a life lesson worth learning.

In case there’s anyone who doesn’t get the connection of my story to Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue,” here are the lyrics from the Shel Silverstein song. Sure, it’s a huge stretch to think that my situation even approaches the horrible stigma laid on The Man In Black’s character. My dad was always there for me, we never had any fist fights, and I respected and loved him. But somehow I’ve alway seen some parallels between my story and Sue’s.

“A Boy Named Sue”

My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”

Well, he must o’ thought that is quite a joke
And it got a lot of laughs from a’ lots of folk,
It seems I had to fight my whole life through.
Some gal would giggle and I’d get red
And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head,
I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue.”

Well, I grew up quick and I grew up mean,
My fist got hard and my wits got keen,
I’d roam from town to town to hide my shame.
But I made a vow to the moon and stars
That I’d search the honky-tonks and bars
And kill that man who gave me that awful name.

Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July
And I just hit town and my throat was dry,
I thought I’d stop and have myself a brew.
At an old saloon on a street of mud,
There at a table, dealing stud,
Sat the dirty, mangy dog that named me “Sue.”

Well, I knew that snake was my own sweet dad
From a worn-out picture that my mother’d had,
And I knew that scar on his cheek and his evil eye.
He was big and bent and gray and old,
And I looked at him and my blood ran cold
And I said: “My name is ‘Sue!’ How do you do! Now you’re gonna die!!”

Well, I hit him hard right between the eyes
And he went down, but to my surprise,
He come up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear.
But I busted a chair right across his teeth
And we crashed through the wall and into the street
Kicking and a’ gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.

I tell ya, I’ve fought tougher men
But I really can’t remember when,
He kicked like a mule and he bit like a crocodile.
I heard him laugh and then I heard him cuss,
He went for his gun and I pulled mine first,
He stood there lookin’ at me and I saw him smile.

And he said: “Son, this world is rough
And if a man’s gonna make it, he’s gotta be tough
And I knew I wouldn’t be there to help ya along.
So I give ya that name and I said goodbye
I knew you’d have to get tough or die
And it’s the name that helped to make you strong.”

He said: “Now you just fought one hell of a fight
And I know you hate me, and you got the right
To kill me now, and I wouldn’t blame you if you do.
But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye
Cause I’m the son-of-a-bitch that named you ‘Sue.’”

I got all choked up and I threw down my gun
And I called him my pa, and he called me his son,
And I came away with a different point of view.
And I think about him, now and then,
Every time I try and every time I win,
And if I ever have a son,
I think I’m gonna name him Bill or George! Anything but Sue!
I still hate that name!