Option Tax Roadmap

Every single Selectboard for the past dozen years has instructed the town manager to lobby the state legislature for this authority. The only thing that is new this year is that the town manager reported to us that we could achieve this long-held goal by amending our Charter. Frankly this should have been obvious back in 2007 when we started down the path to a charter, but it wasn’t made clear until this summer.
The next steps in the process as I understand it are as follows:
1) We send the language to the attorney the town used to review the charter changes after the charter commission finished the technical fixes in summer 2011 for him to affirm that it will accomplish what we intend. We’ll then share his result with the school district on a proforma basis. This will happen this week.
2) Kevin Christie said last night that he will put the Hartford Charter on the legislative agenda today so there is a placeholder. Amazingly, even though the legislature won’t start working until Jan 3, the Speaker has called for the agenda to be finalized next week. Get confirmation by Nov 26.
3) Once the language is blessed by the town attorney, we prepare a version of the charter with this language incorporated.This becomes the reference document for a warrant item. We distribute this to the town and to legislators. We seek to get affirmative responses that there are no problems from the legislative perspective. Step 3 should be finished by Thurs Dec 20.
4) Mon Jan 7 at Information Night there will be a presentation of the case for the local option tax at the kickoff event of the 2013 Town Meeting cycle.
5) We adopt the warrant item in January as it will appear on the ballot Mar 6 on Jan 8.
6) Jan 22 in conjunction with our regular SB meeting we conduct 1st Public Hearing on the change
7) On Community Day, Sat Mar 3, during the morning session (which is for public hearings) we conduct 2nd Public Hearing on the change. (Note – no presentation at Budget/Candidate night on Mon Feb 26 since that is strictly for the budget, which won’t have the tax in it, and for the Candidates. Obviously it will be a hot topic during the Candidate portion of the meeting.)8) Vote Mar 6

9) if passed, next step is to get it through the legislature, sometime in April/May. We will likely need to make the case in Montpelier as opponents will have the opportunity to fight it there as well.
10) if it makes it through the legislature, the Gov will have to sign off
11) if it succeeds to this step, sometime in June the Selectboard will have the ability to impose the tax.
12) If the Selectboard acts immediately during June, the tax would go into effect Oct 1, 2013.
As you can see from the above, there is going to be plenty of opportunity for public discussion.


My thoughts about the FY 2014 budget

Here’s a memo I sent to the selectboard and town manager yesterday.
I want to see an expansion of staff, particularly in the areas of executive management (i.e. a deputy or asst town manager, in terms of a shared IT staff (not person, staff), software (particularly in the realm of knowledge management and apps), and an energy/sustainability coordinator. I want to see a serious proposal for moving to a health plan that will be self insured, i.e a BXBS-administered plan with a $750K deductible and $100,000 expense load, and on top of that buy re-insurance for the next $15 million over the deductible, which will likely cost something like 150K. While this will increase our health insurance expense to $1 million, based on your recent email the new premiums will bring us to that level. If our total health care cost is less than $1 million we win and save money, if it is over that and less than $16 million we lose. With 105 employees we’d have to average $145,454.55 per person with a 110 person staff to get there.
Non-union staff should be able to get merit raises and bonuses effective or payable July 1 at the discretion of the town manager from a pool of $200,000 designated for that purpose.
I had a long talk with Chris Dube, head of the FD union, about overtime yesterday and it doesn’t sound like our response time criteria have much to do with it, but instead it is the difference between the number of guys on staff and the number who are healthy and available to work. Virtually all of our overtime is rooted in medical emergency calls — when 2 guys go out and only 3 are in the house, someone has to be called in to be the 4th guy for the second call. He told me that many shifts are down to 3 because of the manpower situation. Does the FD really have to be the only organization doing this? I ask because I just don’t know. Why can’t we team up with Norwich or Lebanon and staff for medical calls that way? Why not create a virtual regional medical emergency response unit so that for example, when Hartford rolls and there is 1 guy left behind, Lebanon automatically takes the next call, then Norwich etc — Hartford doesn’t have to call anyone in until they are next up.
We should offset taxes with all unassigned funds in excess of the 10% target.


Inside the Town Budget

I sent this email to the Selectboard yesterday:

TOH Master Budget FY 12-13 FXF for 13-14 with categories

Here is a spreadsheet that takes last year’s budget and renders it as a table with a few additional fields to help report key facts. I did all this so that we can look at the budget from several different perspectives, not just the Fund by Fund, department-by-department perspective that has been traditionally employed. I reviewed this with Hunter and Andrew this afternoon and hopefully we’ll be able to incorporate some of these features and techniques in the spreadsheet we use to put together this year’s budget.
For those of you who know how to manipulate pivot tables, there is great power to analyze at your fingertips. A short tutorial follows. You are also welcome to call me with this open on your computer in front of you for impromptu assistance. Use my cell #, 369-0069.

If you aren’t familiar with pivot tables, you can start to see how they work by opening the spreadsheet, going to the Pivot tab, and looking for the + signs next to each expense area:
Here’s what you will see at the top:
+Wages, Salaries & Stipends  $  5,283,447
+Contract Services  $  1,984,131
+Benefits  $  1,843,505
+Equipment  $     530,045
+Supplies  $     517,025
+Bond Payments  $     258,433
+Property Insurance  $     219,933
+Fuel  $     217,663
+General Expenses  $     206,100
+Assistance  $     145,465

We can expand the Wages line to see what it contains by clicking on the + next to Wages and we will see:

-Wages, Salaries & Stipends +Salary  $  4,736,521
+Overtime  $     374,914
+Holiday Wages  $     129,512
+Stipend  $      23,500
+Temps  $      19,000

Note: the + / – signs mean “show me more” / “show me less” and not add / subtract

Now we can look into the Overtime and Holiday expenditures by clicking on the + signs next to them and we will see:
-Wages, Salaries & Stipends +Salary  $  4,736,521
DISPATCH SERVICES (Regional)  $      25,000
DRUG TASK FORCE  $      12,877
EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (Ambulance)  $      92,000
MACHINERY & EQUIPMENT (O&M)  $        2,222
PARKS MAINTENANCE  $               -
ROAD MAINTENANCE (Summer)  $        5,000
YOUTH PROGRAMS  $               -
-Holiday Wages DISPATCH SERVICES (Regional)  $      16,900
DRUG TASK FORCE  $               -
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER  $               -
+Stipend  $      23,500
+Temps  $      19,000
No real surprise — public safety departments account for 90% of overtime and holiday costs.
Have fun looking at this first pass. If you have any suggestions for recategorizing or adding additional descriptive fields let me know.

The New Town Meeting Cycle

When Hartford adopted its Charter in 2009, Town Meeting changed. The path to the current charter was mostly fueled by a desire to give everyone the chance to vote on the budgets the same way they had a chance to vote on candidates for the Selectboard and School Board. The charter commission struggled with what this would mean for the concept of town meeting, and with what to do if a budget were defeated.

Out of the first concern the commission created a standing committee separate from and not beholden to, but charged with working cooperatively with, the school, town and town clerk to coordinate and plan town meeting. Their work over the past 18 months has laid down a new pattern for the town meeting cycle in Hartford, described below.

Out of the second concern, the commission created a follow-up meeting 5 weeks after the voting day. This year it falls on Saturday April 6th. That will be as close as you get to the traditional town meeting.

We are a large and complex town and school district. In my opinion, having a single meeting day to discharge the annual business items didn’t work very well during the years I attended (1998 – 2009). We would see 400 people at most show up, the materials for discussion were not very well prepared, the presentations were not particularly well done, and the debates often got sidetracked by people who had no command of the facts and needed to be brought up to speed. I’m proud of the work done by the Town & School Meeting Committee, which I chaired until being elected to the Selectboard.

After 3 years with the Charter, here’s how Town Meeting works in Hartford:

1. Information Night

This meeting takes place on the first Monday following New Year’s Holiday (which sometimes happens on Jan 2 or 3 if Jan 1 is a Saturday or Sunday). Typically this happens in the High School Auditorium 7pm – 9 pm. The Town Moderator runs the meeting.

This meeting is an opportunity to hear about big items that might be on the warrant. For example, this coming year we will probably have some kind of bond for the municipal building renovation, and possibly for some recreational facilities in town. Last year we talked about the TIF district, the PACE district, but, unfortunately, not the West Hartford bond that was put on the ballot at the last minute with no advance warning.

This meeting accomplishes four things: one, it pushes the boards to get their ducks in order two weeks before their deadline for setting the warrants. Two, it gives presenters an opportunity to see how the audience responds. Three, the boards get feedback on the language being suggested for the ballot in plenty of time to make changes to clarify things. Four, it creates a television show voters can watch on CATV or on the internet to inform themselves on their own schedule.

2. Budget Presentation and Candidates Night

This meeting takes place on the Monday 8 days before Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Auditorium 7pm – 9pm. The TownModerator runs the meeting. which is designed to focus on the main things being voted on, the budgets and the candidates. In odd years, the school budget is first, in even years the town budget. Each budget gets 20 minutes, and then candidates for office get 3 to 5 minutes. After that, the floor is open to questions about either of the budgets or to the candidates.

This meeting, like Information Night, creates a TV show for CATV.

3. Community Day

This meeting takes place on the Saturday before Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Gym from 10am – 2pm. The Town Moderator runs the meeting, which has a morning session and an afternoon session. During the lunch break, one of the elementary school PTOs provides an inexpensive lunch.

Last year, the morning session was devoted to Public Hearings on the Quechee Bridge Bond, the West Hartford Public Library restoration bond, the TIF district, the PACE energy district, and the school bond. The afternoon session was a candidate roundtable.

Note: before the Charter, this meeting was the meeting where people voted in person on the budgets. When the budgets went to the Voting Day balloting, this meeting disappeared. It was brought back by the Town & School Meeting Committee in 2012 with the new format.

This is another meeting that CATV films. Both Candidates Night and Community Day are running on CATV today and Monday, and are available online anytime at http://www.catv8.org/videos-demand.html

4. Voting Day

Voting Day takes place on Vermont Town Meeting Day, the first Tuesday in March. “Town Meeting Day” is a school and municipal holiday in Vermont.

In Hartford, all voting takes place at Hartford High School from 7am to 7pm.

Voting is by Australian Ballot (aka secret ballot).

5. Floor Meeting Day

Floor Meeting Day takes place on the 5th Saturday following Voting Day. Typically this happens in the High School Gym from 10am – 2pm. This is the first year it is a Saturday meeting; that is one of the technical changes put into the charter. It had been a Monday night meeting.

This meeting consists of two portions, Town School District Annual Floor Meeting and Town Operational Annual Floor Meeting. The respective boards convene and the Town Moderator conducts the voting and discussion of the warned articles. Typically the School will go first in Odd years, the Town in Even years, but this can be adjusted to fit circumstances.

The main reason this meeting exists is in case a budget is voted down. In that case, the budget will be voted at this meeting by those registered voters in attendance when the vote comes up.

In order to force this meeting to be held, the charter requires that the pay for the Selectboard and School Board be set at this meeting. The Selectboard, by policy, also puts all article for charitable appropriations of less than $1,000 on the warrant. Public interest questions may also appear on these warrants; this year their is one on gun control.

As with the other meetings, this too is filmed by CATV.

The Town & School Meeting Committee role is to work with the School and Selectboards to learn what issues may appear on the warrants and organize Information Night, get posters up around town, keep all the presenters, board members and moderator informed. Then they get out the reminder postcard listing these dates, put up the road signs reminding people of town meeting day (should the signs say Voting Day?), put up posters about Candidate Night, Community Day, organize those meetings and keep participants informed about the agendas and their roles, and finally do the same for Floor Meeting Day. The Committee is a Charter-created committee that is jointly appointed by the Town Clerk (1 member), School Board (2 members) and Selectboard (2 members). Its activities are jointly funded by the Town and School. To participate send an email to HTSMC@hartford-vt.org

Strategic Planning

Here’s a process I’ve suggested the Selectboard adopt to develop long term strategies for the town:

Strategic Planning Process

Here are the components of the strategic design/planning process for teams I described in our discussion Wednesday:




1. Articulate Goals; Describe the End-In-View; Specify Deliverables


Explains the “What, Why & When” of your task in 5-7 bullet items, with dates if appropriate. Example: Summit Mt Everest to get pictures at the “top of the world” between May 15 and May 29, 2013



2. Surface Challenges; Lay out the Boundary Conditions & Hurdles


Creates shared awareness of all constraints seen by all stakeholders. Some constraints can’t be relaxed, for example, the air is too thin at the top of Everest to sustain life. Some hurdles need definition, for example each climber will need 500 liters of supplemental oxygen, 100 of which must be in position at the final base camp before summit day.




3. Key Success Factors — the 4 to 7 things that have to be right to overcome hurdles and meet the goal



Identifies what you consider the 6-8 most important drivers of total success. Usually best expressed as an “ility” word: Survivability (everyone comes home alive), Climbability (the route to the top must be feasible), Affordability (the total cost is <$200,000 per climber) etc.



4. Metrics – how do we measure our progress toward fulfilling the success factors?


Presents your measurement plan with “as is” and “to be” metrics & goals. This piece comes into play as the effort moves forward. There are some really interesting pieces to this that I will show after we finish step 3



5. Innovation Scope or Tactics


A list of ideas for furthering the effort, often just tactics such as “rely heavily on Sherpas” but sometimes throw it on the wall and see if it sticks ideas like “charge tourist climbers $250,000 each so the guides can climb free”




6. Action Plan / Specific steps


The details that fall out of the top-down strategic planning accomplished in steps 1 through 5.


The way this works is that at the first meeting, the group of stakeholders works through steps 1 – 3 and learns about step 4. At the second meeting, the results of the first meeting are affirmed / edited and then brainstorming over tactics occurs, followed by drafting of action plans.

As the effort moves ahead, the team meets periodically and uses the metrics from step 4 to evaluate progress.

The entire strategic design approach helps to get disparate groups on the same page in terms of understanding the different perspectives of different stakeholder groups, and then provides an ongoing mechanism for surfacing new information. The general assumption is that most projects or efforts fail not because people want to sabotage them, but because there is not enough clarity about goals, barriers, and the strategies being applied to move forward; and if there is clarity on those counts, there is insufficient ongoing followup among stakeholder groups as the effort moves ahead.

In our immediate situation we need to agree on a ‘directive’ that will yield to this process, because it is intended for solving concrete problems. Here are some examples:

Implement a Capital Budgeting Process

Set Long Term Policy for Town Staffing

Develop scenarios for Hartford in 2030, and select one as the Town Strategic Vision

Municipal Building Decision Process

I’ve shared this draft with the selectboard as a model for going forward with a decision about the municipal building

Municipal Office Space Evaluation Scenarios Committee

The committee shall bring before the board no later than Wednesday, Nov 7, 2012 three or more scenarios that describe how the need for office space for town government, and, in some scenarios, school administration as well, will be satisfied for the period 2014 – 2050. One scenario has already been thoroughly vetted: rehabilitating the existing municipal building. This scenario fails to address the goal of having school offices sharing building tenancy with the town offices, a goal that now has support on both governing boards and respective executive managers. The selectboard is interested in obtaining a scenario that adds to the existing rehabilitation approach, plus at least one other scenario that addresses other criteria of interest.

Here are the reasons why the town must act:

All scenarios must satisfy these goals:

The board desires at least two scenarios which also satisfy these goals:

Scenarios which include these goals are welcomed:

All scenarios should include an estimated total cost of acquisition, design, construction, furniture and technology, and any other elements needed to open for business. Annual operating costs should be estimated, and a life-cycle cost through 2050 must be provided.

The committee shall have full access to all documents prepared in the two studies for rehabilitating the existing building, to wit, the 2007-2008 work leading to the defeated bond measure of 2009 town meeting, and the 2011 work of a subcommittee of the Selectboard. The town manager shall assist the committee in obtaining such additional information as they may require, at reasonable expense not to exceed $10,000 total without approval of the Selectboard.

Goals for Hartford: Reflections on the Hartford United flyer

I’ve sent the following memo to the town manager and selectboard in response to his call for ideas for a goals document.

The Hartford United campaign wrote: “We believe in the future of our town. We believe in the strength of our mix of villages. We believe it is time to develop a vision for our future, and strategies that can guide decisions.”

We laid out these ideas:

Making our town attractive to new residents and businesses so that our taxes remain stable

The only way to lower the tax burden is to spread it out. That only happens if the grand list grows. That only happens if more people and businesses move to Hartford. This has to be our #1 priority.
  • Keeping our Sewer, Water, Police, Fire and Recreation services A+
This is basic town governance stuff.
  • Working to keep the White River Junction mail processing plant from closing
Check – done.
  • Starting a “Keep Your Home” program for elderly taxpayers
This is something near and dear to me, Hunter. What I envision is a system under which taxpayers over 75 with sufficient equity in their homes could sign a contract with the town that would put a lien on their house in lieu of property tax payments. At their death or the sale of the property, the town would get all taxes due plus interest plus a fee. The program would start small, 10 to 25 properties, and we’d see how it went. What I don’t know and would like to explore is whether or not this would be possible under state law, whether we would have to enact an ordinance or could do it as a simple policy statement, etc. 
  • Moving ahead on rehabilitating the Municipal Building, the Barwood Arena, and cleaning up abandoned buildings
This is why I have been pressing on the dilapidated buildings and why I want us to be ready to go for the jugular with Wood at the very first moment the opportunity presents itself.
  • Extending public transportation, public trails and bike paths, sidewalks, community parks and riverfront access
I originally was going to focus only on this item for this email and then decided to do a fuller piece. This is a very big and expensive statement, but it ties directly to the first item and is the best route we have toward providing amenities that make Hartford attractive. I know you agree and have been working hard on the trails, biking, sidewalks and parks during your tenure. Thus, the main thing I want to get on our radar is public transportation, more particularly, increased Advance Transit service generally and new AT service out Route 4 to Quechee, at least as far as Waterman Hill Plaza and preferably to the Mid-Vermont Christian School, and out a bit further on Route 14. I would like to work with you to help AT bring proposals to us for the next budget cycle and more immediately to establish some sort of experimental service prior to July 1 2013, perhaps even as early as November 2012. Bottom line this is a question of how to rearrange dollars so we spend on AT instead of something else. Not sure how we square that circle, but retreating on the promise to keep our basic services at an “A+” level may be the price this platform has to pay.
  • Rebuilding what Irene destroyed, particularly the Quechee Covered Bridge, and supporting development of a multi-purpose community center in West Hartford that would include library services.
Done, and appears on the way to being done.
  • Embracing regional collaboration
I would like to see us putting hard numbers on hard offers to surrounding towns for providing services to them. Whether it is dispatch, ambulance, policing — I would like to see us sending letters to Norwich, Hartland, Woodstock, Pomfret, Bethel, Windsor / West Windsor making concrete proposals. I’d like to see our FD and PD chiefs thinking about how to turn their departments into “profit centers” for the town. Same could go for town operations as a whole — as you once observed to me, the town manager of Hartford, Hanover, West Leb, any one of you could probably run all three operations alone. That can’t be any less true for the towns around us on the Vermont side of the river. My definition of regional collaboration includes this idea of “selling” professional services to the surrounding towns. Because it is municipal services, and because there needs to be a sense of self-governance attached to the services, these offers can’t simply be about the money. They also have to include mechanisms for participating the decision making. I see this as being a lengthy effort that will take some time to come to fruition, but we need to start someplace and my desire is to put words on paper and paper in front of decision-makers.
  • Building the local food network and making Hartford a regional market center.
The notion of gaining control over the train station and, among other things, having a place for a WRJ farmer’s market is one small piece of this puzzle. Another is facilitating things like the community garden on the Quechee Green property. The bigger idea here, though, is looking for opportunities to enhance local production of food and distributing those foodstuffs to local markets. This might mean coming up with policies that grant tax credits, modify zoning, etc. I know far less about all this than I do about AT, sidewalks, regionalization.
  • Increasing our local self-sufficiency and developing plans to improve our resiliency
This ties in with the food piece, and also to the regionalization and transit pieces. We believe that every step we take in this direction makes our more densely populated, highly walkable neighborhoods very attractive and thus ties back to the original statement — which is, as I noted, a restatement of your goal for the town.

Revitalizing West Hartford….a few thoughts

The heart of West Hartford is the river crossing at the north end of the Quechee – West Hartford Road. In its heyday during the early 20th century, West Hartford Main Street – as Route 14 was known – had homes and stores up and down the river in this area, including a hotel.


In the massive flood of 1927, which was slightly larger than the flood of 2011, a large number of these homes and businesses were destroyed. They were never rebuilt. One of the destroyed buildings was the West Hartford Public Library, which was located along the river opposite the church.


A group of citizens in Hartford, Connecticut, donated money and time to restore a library to West Hartford. Money was raised to purchase land and erect a kit house from Sears. Unfortunately, the return of the library failed to stimulate the return of the thriving village that had previously existed.


Fast forward to the 21st century. The West Hartford Public Library is one of three public libraries in the town of Hartford; it is the only one owned by the town. The other two public libraries are operated by non-profit library associations. The libraries are obligated to report statistics to the state library department each year.


Based on these statistics, it costs the town of Hartford $8.58 per item circulated to operate the West Hartford Public Library. It costs the town $3.11 per item for the Quechee Public Library, which also operated the Wilder Clubhouse Library. It costs the town $3.74 per item circulated to operate the Hartford Village Public Library.


This is based on stats from 2009-2010; since then the WHPL budget has gone up another 5K and now stands close to 50K per year. Assuming a new library building is built and the entire 500K bond is used, the debt service on the bond will be in the neighborhood of 25K per year, meaning that the town will be spending about 75K per year delivering library services in West Hartford.


This for a population of about 700 that accounts for around $300K in town tax revenue. It is entirely out of proportion, and there is a better way – several better ways – to deliver library services to this part of town.


First, the Wilder model shows us that it is possible to deliver high quality library services on a satellite office type approach for around $1400 per weekly hour opened per year – around $28K to provide 20 hours a week. All that is needed is space in a building – only around 800 square feet, possibly less.. Finding a way to do this in West Hartford would cut the per-item average to around $4.50, and free up another 20K to put toward a similar arrangement in White River Junction. In other words, the entire town could see a rapid improvement in library services immediately, without having to spend large sums or waiting for a building to be constructed.


The real benefit to this approach would be to provide breathing room for the town to carefully examine the question of what can be done to stimulate economic growth in West Hartford. That may well involve the town making an investment in a multipurpose building.


I campaigned on promises to deliver library services to West Hartford, and to see to it that we spent out money carefully. Library services should already be being delivered in W Hartford via the Wilder model, at some temporary location. Spending $750,000 and forgoing FEMA mitigation funds, however, is not spending carefully. I oppose that.

WRJ PO Area Mail Processing Study

WRJ PO Area Mail Processing Study

Here’s a PDF of the USPS study making the business case for closing the WRJ processing and distribution center.

Living Up to Expectations

Thank you, everyone for your votes and for participating in yesterday’s election. I’m honored to have led all the candidates in votes received and delighted that the electorate also voted my running mates Bethany Fleishman and Simon Dennis on to the Selectboard. We have created big expectations for improved communications between the Selectboard and the citizens, for an open process around the hiring of a new police chief, and for taking up a long series of questions that have lingered too long in our town, such as dealing with the hockey arena and municipal building. I will be using this blog to share my individual assessments and analysis of issues facing the town. Please feel free to comment here anytime.

Our Next Police Chief

It’s well known around town that Police Chief Glenn Cutting will be resigning this coming spring, and Hartford Police department actions will be getting a lot of attention since Derek Daoust is running for the 3 year Selectboard seat on a ‘throw the bums out’ campaign directed at the town manager and police chief. Derek is, of course, one of the citizens who’s had an issue with Hartford policing, famously pulled out of his house and arrested, leading to an investigation by the Vermont Attorney General which criticized our police department but found no reason to take any legal action.

The real issue is not ‘should Chief Cutting be fired’ it is ‘what kind of police chief should the town manager hire after he leaves?’ That is a policy question for the Selectboard to settle before the town manager begins his search for a replacement.

My take is that we ought to find a candidate who knows how to build and manage a police department dedicated to what the law-enforcement community calls the community policing model. Chief Cutting, who came out of the Vermont State Police, built a police culture in Hartford that is a bit too military-like for my taste. It’s time to move in the other direction and offset the influence of all the post-9/11 policing grants, which have overwhelmingly been in the form of training for anti-terrorist activity. I’ll do what I can to encourage an in-depth dialog about the future leadership of the Hartford PD, because the citizens of the town deserve a thorough discussion by their elected leadership and deserve to be heard themselves.

Here is a terrific essay by Tom Casady, Public Safety Director of the Lincoln, Nebraska police department, on Community Policing. I am pleased to be able to share it with you:

What is Community Policing?

Community policing is perhaps the most misunderstood and frequently abused theme in police management during this decade. In the past few years, it has become fashionable for police agencies to initiate community policing, often with little notion of what that phrase means. Indeed, all manner of organizational tinkering has been labeled community policing. But community policing is not a program.

Instead, community policing is a value system which permeates a police department, in which the primary organizational goal is working cooperatively with individual citizens, groups of citizens, and both public and private organizations to identify and resolve issues which potentially effect the livability of specific neighborhoods, areas, or the city as a whole. Community-based police departments recognize the fact that the police cannot effectively deal with such issues alone, and must partner with others who share a mutual responsibility for resolving problems. Community policing stresses prevention, early identification, and timely intervention to deal with issues before they become unwieldy problems. Individual officers tend to function as general-purpose practitioners who bring together both government and private resources to achieve results. Officers are encouraged to spend considerable time and effort in developing and maintaining personal relationships with citizens, businesses, schools, and community organizations. Here are some other common features of community policing:

Beyond crime fighting a focus on livability

Many police departments and police officers define their role primarily in terms of crime control. The very term law enforcement agency is certainly an indication of this focus. But policing is much more than law enforcement. Many studies have shown that dealing with crime consumes only 10-20% of the police workload. Officers in community-based police departments understand that “crook-catching” is only one part of their job, and a rather small one by comparison to the myriad of issues and problems they deal with each day. Officers freely accept a significant role in issues that might be derisively referred to as “social work” in traditional police departments. Officers understand that resolving a problem with unruly people drinking at a public park, working to reduce truancy at a middle school, marshalling resources to improve lighting in a mobile home park, and removing abandoned vehicles from streets, may all be forms of valid and valuable police work, which affect the livability of a neighborhood. Rather than treating these activities as diversions from “real” police work, officers understand that this is the essence of their work.

Citizen Involvement

The police department strives to actively involve citizens in its operations, through a variety of means. Volunteers are widely used, whether college interns or retired seniors. Citizen patrols and crime prevention initiatives are welcomed and encouraged. Area commanders meet often with members of the public to solicit input and feedback. Many internal committees include public participation. Policy decisions typically involve opportunities for input from citizens, and the department has both formal and informal mechanisms for this purpose. Promotional boards include citizens. The department seeks to educate the general public about police work in various ways, including publications, web sites, public-access television, town hall meetings, citizen police academies. The department accepts and even encourages citizen review of its performance.

Geographic Responsibility

The primary division of labor for the police is geographical. Officers identify with their area of assignment, rather than the work shift or functional division. Commanders are assigned to geographical areas and given wide latitude to deploy their personnel and resources within that area. Individual officers adopt even smaller geographical areas and feel a sense of ownership for that area. Officers commonly know many of the people who live and work in this area, and are intimately familiar with the area’s geography, businesses, schools, and churches. Officers seek out detailed information about police incidents which have occurred in their area of assignment during their off-duty time.

Long-term Assignment

Officers can expect to work in the same geographical area for many years. Officers’ preferences for areas are considered in making assignments. Rotation of geographical assignments is rare. The organization values the expertise and familiarity that comes with long-term assignment to the same area.

Decentralized Decision Making

Most operational decisions are decentralized to the level of execution. Field officers are given broad discretion to manage their own uncommitted time. Operational policies are concise, and serve as general guidelines for professional practice more than detailed rules and regulations. First line supervisors are heavily involved in decisions that are ordinarily reserved for command ranks in traditional police departments.

Participative Management

The department employs numerous methods to involve employees at all levels in decision-making. Staff meetings, committees, task forces, quality circles, and similar groups are impaneled often to address issues of internal management. Many workplace initiatives begin with ideas or concepts brought forward from line employees. Obtaining input from frontline employees is viewed as an essential part of any policy decision. The department has comparatively few levels of rank, and rank is seldom relied upon to settle disagreements. Supervisors view their role primarily in providing support to field personnel by teaching, coaching, obtaining resources, solving problems, and “running interference.”

Generalist Officers

Field officers dominate the sworn work force. Officers are expected to handle a huge variety of police incidents, and to follow through on such incidents from beginning to end. Specialization is limited to those areas where considerable expertise is an absolute necessity. Even when specialists are used, their role is to work cooperatively with field officers, rather than assume responsibility for cases or incidents from field officers. Most specialists view their jobs as offering technical expertise and support to field personnel.

Police Leadership on Community Issues

Senior police managers are deeply involved in community affairs. They speak out frequently and freely on issues of community concern, some of which are only tangentially related to law enforcement per se. Police managers are encouraged to pursue important community issues as a personal cause. Elected officials consult with police managers often. Police representation is obligatory on committees or study groups which are set up to examine significant issues on the public agenda, and it is not uncommon for police officers to serve in leadership positions in community organizations.

Proactive Policing

The police department employs techniques to manage its workload in order to make blocks of time available for police officers to address identified problems. The police response to an emerging problem typically involves significant input and participation from outside the department. The department routinely uses a range of tactics other than responding to individual incidents, such as: targeted saturation patrol, bicycle and foot patrol, undercover/plainclothes/decoy/surveillance operations, educational presentations, coordination of efforts with other government or human service agencies, support to volunteer efforts, initiation of legislative proposals, and so forth.

Rather than merely responding to demands for police services, the department employees a Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) approach: identifying emergent problems, gathering data, bringing together stakeholders, and implementing specific strategies targeting the problem. The police response to an on-going or repetitive problem seldom involves only police resources. The police are concerned not only with high-visibility crimes, but with minor offenses which contribute to fear of crime, and negatively effect public perception of city or neighborhood safety.

Emphasis on Quality

The police define success and accomplishment primarily by the results achieved and the satisfaction of the consumer of services, rather than by strictly internal measures of the amount of work completed. Thus, there may be decreased emphasis on common productivity measures such as clearance rate, numbers of arrests, response time, etc., and increased emphasis on outcomes. Thoroughness and quality are clear emphases, but “doing the right thing” is as important as “doing things right.” The department employs methods to assess public satisfaction with services, and both individual officers and managers think about ways to improve based on this feedback.

Recognition and Professional Development

Officers receive frequent recognition for initiative, innovation, and planning. The department systematically acknowledges problem-oriented policing projects that achieve results. Seasoned field officers are highly valued for their skill and knowledge, and feel little pressure to compete for promotion to supervisory positions in order to advance their career. Commendations and awards go to officers for excellent police work of all kinds, not just crime control. Officers receive the respect and admiration of their colleagues as much for their empathy, compassion, concern for quality, and responsiveness, as for their skill at criminal investigation, interrogation, and zeal in law enforcement.

What Community Policing is not

Despite the claims of some ill-informed critics, community policing is not soft on crime. Quite the contrary, it can significantly improve the ability of the police to discover criminal conduct, clear offenses, and make arrests. Improved communication with citizens and more intimate knowledge of the geography and social milieu of the beat enhances, rather than reduces, the officers’ crime-fighting capability. Moreover, though some of these may be used as specific strategies, community policing is not:

When an agency claims to have “implemented” community policing last week, that’s a pretty good indication that it has not. Individual programs or projects that form part of this change may be implemented, but community policing is not implemented. You don’t start it at the beginning of the fiscal year. It is a process that evolves, develops, takes root and grows, until it is an integral part of the formal and informal value system of both the police and the community as a whole. It is a gradual change from a style of policing which emphasizes crime control and “crook catching,” to a style of policing which emphasizes citizen interaction and participation in problem solving.

You can’t tell whether community policing exists in a city on the basis of the press release, the organizational chart, or the annual report. Rather, it can best be discerned by observing the daily work of officers. It exists when officers spend a significant amount of their available time out of their patrol cars; when officers are common sight in businesses, schools, PTA meetings, recreation centers; when most want to work the street by choice; when individual officers are often involved in community affairs-cultural events, school events, meetings of service clubs, etc., often as an expected part of their job duties. It exists when most citizens know a few officers by name; when officers know scores of citizens in their area of assignment, and have an intimate knowledge of their area. You can see it plainly when most officers are relaxed and warmly human-not robotic; when any discussion of a significant community issue involves the police; and when few organizations would not think of tackling a significant issue of community concern without involving the police. The community-based police department is open-it has a well-used process for addressing citizen grievances, relates well with the news media, and cultivates positive relationships with elected officials.

The Lincoln Police Department has been “implementing” community-based policing since 1975. Late that year, Chief George K. Hansen announced to the public our first tentative steps into something we called at that time “neighborhood-based team policing.” While similar projects in cities including Los Angeles and Cincinnati came and went, we continued. We are perhaps the only police department in the United States that has been involved so long and so thoroughly in a conscious effort to refine and enhance the community-based approach. Twice (in 1977, 1993, and 2001) we have embarked on comprehensive strategic planning initiatives involving scores of employees and dozens of recommendations for enhancing our efforts. We have done exceedingly well at incorporating certain aspects of community-based policing in the fabric of daily life at LPD. Concerning long-term geographical assignment, or the generalist officer approach, for example, we have a long track record of successful practice. In others, such as problem-oriented policing, we have steadily improved. Our problem-oriented policing projects are becoming both more frequent and more sophisticated. In a few areas, however, such as involvement of citizens in our decision-making process, we have much more to do before we achieve excellence.

Community policing in Lincoln will continue to evolve. We will build on some of our most powerful strengths: a highly educated and capable work force, a respect for research and evaluation, and a willingness to change. We will learn from our setbacks, and be constantly open to innovation as we adapt to a changing city, society, and world. We do not have a self-image of the “thin blue line”, protecting the helpless public from the ravages of predatory criminals. Rather, we live, work, recreate, raise our children, and enjoy our city as citizens first, even though we are citizens who have a special professional responsibility for protecting others and ensuring the livability of our city. We are wholeheartedly committed to policing Lincoln in concert with our fellow citizens.


Sounds good to me, and the sort of police department approach our town deserves.

What do you think?

The Quechee Bridge Bond

Tuesday night at 6pm at the Bugbee Center (262 N Main St, White River Jct VT 05001), the Hartford Selectboard will make a CRITICAL DECISION about the Quechee Bridge.

The decision is about a bond issue for the ballot in March.

The way the language is written, if the bond issue fails, there will BE NO QUECHEE BRIDGE ANYTIME IN 2012. Why? The political process to establish a go-forward plan and funding would take at least a couple of months, delaying design work, and consequently construction work, and pushing the completion date into the summer of 2013.

It doesn’t need to be this way. I will be there arguing for alternative bond language AND NEED A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE ROOM.

You may be asking “How do we find ourselves in this situation?”

Primarily it’s because the Town Manager and Selectboard have been anticipating a happy ending from their discussions with the federal government. Although we may still get to that, right now, it looks bleak (if you are interested in the ins and outs read this).

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has told the Town Manager they will only pay around $800,000 towards the bridge. They aren’t going to pay for any improvements: they are only going to pay what it will cost to restore the bridge to its condition on Aug 27th — warts and all.

So, subtract the money for rehabilitating the deck (the town had a $300K project planned for summer of 2012 to refurbish the roadway).
Subtract the money for cleaning and repainting the steel girders.
Forget about funds to rework the abutments to open more space in the riverbed, or to anchor the bridge to the bedrock.
No, says the FHWA, this is the bridge we’ll repair:

Quechee Bridge circa 1968 — that’s right — no Emporium Bldg; no wood cover

Want to do the job right, the way the engineers say it needs to be done to prevent future catastrophic damage to the bridge?
Want to replace the bridge since the 81 year old steel girders are good for another 15 years at best?
Want to get 80% of the $1.5 million needed to properly repair the bridge so that it has a chance of lasting another 15 years?

Forget it.

The FHWA isn’t going to contribute 80% of the $1.795,000 to properly replace the bridge with a concrete span and wooden cover, as recommended by the engineers in this report.

And is there even any point in bringing up the $2,065,000 alternative — an all-timber covered bridge?
No matter that such a bold step would make Quechee the talk of the nation when it opened.
No matter that such a bridge would guarantee 75 years of covered bridge aficionados flocking to the village.
Probably not, now. Even though it is the one money-maker idea of the bunch.

No, we get $800,000. If we want to do the complete repair job the engineers priced at $1,480,000, well, we will just have to come up with $680,000 from the Town. That’s only around 6 cents on the tax rate — $60 per 100K property value. And in around 15 years we’ll just have to come up with the $1.8 million ourselves to replace it.

As the kids say, OMG.

The Town Manager has put together language for a bond that reads:

Shall the Town of Hartford issue general obligation bonds in an amount not to exceed Eight Hundred Thousand Dollars (Placeholder#: $800,000), subject to reduction from the receipt of any state or federal grants-in-aid, etc., for the purpose of financing the cost of replacing the present Quechee Covered Bridge (so-called) spanning the Ottaquechee River, damaged by flooding during Tropical Storm Irene, viz; the construction of a new 87’ concrete deck and wooden housing/cover as well as the construction and/or reconstruction of associated sidewalks, the acquisition of associated land(s), easements, Rights of Way, or other appurtenances relating thereto all to be repaid by property taxation.  (By Australian Ballot).

Now, I add up 800K + 800K and get $1.6 million, which is about 200K short of the $1.8 million posited for the 87 foot concrete bridge spec’d out in the engineering report. Putting aside the confusing number, just look at the specificity of the language. When I asked Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg about it last night — “So, Hunter, what happens if the Town votes No?” — the answer was chilling: then the bridge doesn’t get fixed. Naturally, that is not what he wants, not what the members of the Selectboard want, and so there would be a need to figure out how to proceed. And we’d lose the construction season.

How many Quechee residents would decide the hassle and misstep of the town government meant it was time to add their home to the market? How many business owners in the Village would shutter their businesses?

You know, it’s only been 40 years since Simon Pearce looked like this:

Quechee 1968004.jpg

If Simon decides to throw in the towel and close Vermont’s #2 tourist attraction — and who could blame him if the town voted down the bond? — would the Parker House be far behind? In the late 1960s it was not the majestic gathering place it is today.

Quechee 1968008.jpg

There was something very smart about putting the wooden cover on the Quechee Bridge. And, while everyone has been paying lip service to a wooden cover, the fact is that this bond being defeated would likely result in a cobb-job fix with no wooden cover. I can hear it now “the town doesn’t want to spend any extra money on the Quechee Bridge.”

I suggest a different approach.

First, make up a list of everything of the town’s being repaired in the wake of Irene (a “Statement of Repairs and Improvements”). There is in fact just such a list, and I would include it if I had it, but I won’t have it until Monday. I have an older version that estimated the total costs at $6.5 million, with Hartford’s share being in the neighborhood of $1.2 million — including the Quechee Bridge, then estimated at $2.5million. I know the number is lower now.

Second, commit to paying the Town’s share out of the $1.7 million Hartford has in its undesignated funds (referred to as the ‘rainy day’ funds).

Third, ask the citizens to approve a bond to replenish the rainy day account. If they say no, all the repairs and improvements can still proceed.

With that in mind, I think we would be well within Vermont State law with the following language:

Shall the bonds of the Town of Hartford, Vermont in an amount not to exceed $2 million be issued for the purpose of replenishing the funds of town account 10-090-111-0100 (“undesignated funds” or “rainy day account”), which are being used, in conjunction with Federal and State funds, to repair the $6.5 million in unanticipated damage to the town roads, bridges, culverts and water treatment systems caused by the Irene-related floods, and to supplement such repairs with improvements designed to resist future floods, and to complete other related improvements, as detailed in the Statement of Repairs and Improvements?

I also would like to see the following advisory measure put on the ballot:

Shall the Town of Hartford replace the Quechee Covered Bridge with an all timber bridge at a cost of approximately $270,000 more than a concrete bridge, confident that such a bridge will attract additional visitors in such numbers that over the 75 year life of the bridge this extra cost will be recovered many times over to the benefit of taxpayers and businesses?

Please join me at the Selectboard meeting Tuesday evening. Make no mistake, the ballot will be set that night. The Selectboard must vote the warrant no later than Thursday. There is no time between now and then to organize to collect the 600 signatures needed to force the Selectboard to put it on the ballot. Be prepared to line up at the start of the meeting to comment — to tell the Selectboard what you think, whether that is in support of my suggestion, in support of leaving it off the ballot and taking it up once things are clearer about the federal money, or in support of going ahead as currently planned.

A critical decision is about to be made — Quechee needs to get as many citizens as possible to this meeting.