Letter to the Editor: Mismanagement an opportunity to debate and set Camden's priorities for public funds

Posted:  Thursday, April 20, 2017 - 1:00pm

Many readers probably were not surprised to learn the Snow Bowl and Ragged Mountain Recreation area have cost the Town's taxpayers nearly $750,000 more than was approved. Many had their suspicions. But only Chris Morong did something to find out the facts. On his own initiative, Morong met with Town officials and shared his concerns, then had to file a Freedom of Information Act request for relevant documents, poured through them to do the analysis, and finally reported to the Select Board that the facts apparently supported his concerns. That step, in turn, led to the Select Board's decision to commission the recent independent town audit which has just confirmed the validity of Morong's original suspicions. The Snow Bowl has had an unapproved cost overrun of nearly $750,000.

Three lessons from this sad tale. First, we owe Chris Morong a huge Thank You. Many of us merely complained about the Snow Bowl's drain on public funds for private pleasure, but Morong acted. He spent countless hours and a lot of his own funds to get the facts, analyze them and write a report. He followed a responsible public process in doing so. Morong has set the standard for fine citizenship and public service.

Others also, deserve our thanks. Lee Schneller Sligh raised concerns three years ago about the pollution of Hosmer Pond caused by runoff from timber cutting for the Snow Bowl's improvements. Despite denials from the Town, her concerns, like Morong's, proved to be correct. The Town had to spend significant funds correcting the problem and now faces a likely fine from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. We shouldn't have to depend on the work of private citizens like Chris Morong and Lee Schneller Sligh to get public officials to do the right thing, but thank heavens they stepped up and acted.

Second, while there's plenty of blame to go around and it's particularly easy to blame Town employees who no longer work for the Town, blame won't fix the structural problems which caused this mess. Instead, we need procedures for responsibility and accountability so bad management doesn't happen again. Our mismanagement of the Snow Bowl and Ragged Mountain project has cost Camden a lot of money. Our Town has had other possible uses for that $750,000 which might have been more important.

Which leads to the most important and final point. This is an opportunity to debate and set the Town's priorities for public funds in the future. I personally do not believe a recreation area, wonderful as it is, should be a higher priority for limited public funds than great schools, adequate staffing and equipment for Public Safety, an overflowing Library, decent roads, Town services for its elderly and those in need, or an affordable tax rate and substantial reserve fund. Others may disagree. Our Town processes, culminating in Town meeting, should achieve the consensus necessary for a community to live together. Our Town management and oversight processes should ensure Town funds are spent as directed by Town meeting with full transparency and accountability. That didn't happen with the Snow Bowl project; let's make sure it doesn't happen again.

Dan Cheever lives in Camden.