Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Great One Gone

Big trucks, bikes, kitties, birds and war planes.

Amherst lost a local legend this morning and a bad ass woman to boot.  But equal parts caring, compassionate and loyal.

Ethel Clemons-Hunt was a founding member of the July 4th Parade Committee and over the ten years we produced the patriotic family oriented event I can't remember Ethel ever missing a meeting.  Of course they were held at the VFW, one of her usual stomping grounds.

No matter how dark things became after Town Manager Larry Shaffer tried to pull our permit for not allowing protestors to march, Ethel remained upbeat and positive -- but always full of fight.

Over the past half dozen years I could always count on a thumbs up or encouraging comment when I posted a blog link to Facebook.  And I especially coveted that when those posts were of a sensitive racial nature, usually involving incidents at Amherst Regional High School, her alma mater.

Growing up in Amherst as we did all those years ago blacks and Irish were pretty much in the same rickety boat.    Hard working townies like Ethel -- for better or worse -- made this town.

Now, with her absence, it's worse.

3rd Time The Charm?

Maria Geryk at Select Board meeting in January for Mega School update

For the 3rd consecutive time (plus two that were cancelled last minute) the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee will meet in executive session to discuss the employment future of Superintendent Maria Geryk.

Since it is a secret meeting with no itemized posted agenda we do not know if it's Maria Geryk who wants out of the remaining two years on her contract (at $150K per year) or if it is the School Committee that wishes to terminate the entire contract or just the extra 3rd year that requires 120 day notice to terminate. 

Although I'm told this is the first time rookie Chair Laura Kent polled members in advance (legally allowed under Open Meeting Law) to ascertain whether they are available to make this meeting. 

The Regional School Committee also formerly adopted "remote participation," so even if members are on vacation they can participate by Skype, Facetime or conference call.

The Superintendent has been under fire for the past four months for issuing a "stay away order" to single parent Aisha Hiza who was pressing school officials to deal with the bullying of her seven year old daughter (and a few other children in the Pelham Elementary School).

 Aisha Hiza at June 13 Select Board meeting

Unlike the District Court system the state allows Superintendents superpowers when it comes to issuing such orders.  But with any great power comes the responsibility to use it wisely.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Let's Get Serious

Atkins Reservoir yesterday
Pelham Reservoir (Not in use at the moment)

With our immediate area in a "severe drought" and with over one-third of all communities in the state already implimenting "mandatory" water bans it's time Amherst became a tad more serious and upgraded the two-day old voluntary ban to a mandatory one (exempting farmers of course).

 Fort River barely flowing
Fort River near Groff Park

The somewhat Rube Goldberg water system we have is already in high-capacity mode three weeks before the college aged youth come flocking back to our town, which could be the bale of hay that breaks the camel's back.

UMass is immune from town edicts (you can tell which fields are irrigated)
Groff Park Wading Pool should remain exempt (Cherry Hill Golf Course, on the other hand)

No water over Puffer's Pond dam this morning

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


I guess they can blame it on the Associated Press

Oldest mantra in journalism teaches the 5 W's with "Who" being the first, the lead, the most important.  Although "what, when, where and why" play vital supporting roles.

So I was a little amazed early this morning when I ambled back from my driveway perusing the quaint print version of the Gazette with a photo of Bill Clinton under the banner headline "Clinton wins historic nomination".

Well yes, the headline is correct.  Because indeed having a female as a major party candidate for president is certainly "historic."  And yes, having a former President as a spouse to this candidate is also newsworthy.


Couldn't the Gazette have found a file photo somewhere of Hillary Clinton? 

Or did they publish a photo of Michelle Obama eight years ago when her husband clinched his "historic" nomination?

No Scorpion Bowls For You!

Scorpion Bowls at the ready back in October on a Thursday night

While Panda East had no problem getting unanimous Select Board approval for a liquor license transfer from an absentee manager -- now replaced -- Panda did volunteer to give up serving their highly profitable Scorpion Bowls, which is kind of like McDonald's giving up serving french fries.

But like most things that offer high profit returns there was a downside: Like the temptation to serve college aged youth not yet of legal age to be consuming alcohol.

Back in January Panda East was busted for serving 17 underage individuals, many of whom did not even have a fake I.D. The Amherst Select Board voted unanimously to suspend their liquor license for two days and placed another 5 day suspension on hold for two years.

Well they did not have to wait long as they were again accused by APD of serving two underage patrons in late April, one of whom (a 17-year-old female) had to be transported by AFD to the hospital for alcohol overdose.

The Select Board discussed revoking their liquor license outright but settled on a 55-day suspension from May 4th to June 27 and required they straighten out the manager of record for a liquor license situation by that end date.

Scarlet Letter:  Posted on window last month

Attorney Kristi Bodin told the Select Board on Monday that going dry for the past two months during a tough time to do business in Amherst anyway, was actually a good thing.

Panda came to realize you don't need to rely on alcohol service to stay alive, as long as long as you have good quality food.

I'll eat to that!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What The Hell Is Going On?

For the 2nd time this month the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee has cancelled at the last moment a meeting with an executive session to discuss "contract negotiations with nonunion personnel (Superintendent Maria Geryk)."

And yes, the first three times they posted the executive session agenda (with the 3rd one cancelled at the last minute) the postings did not disclose that it was Maria Geryk they were going to be talking about.

 RSC meeting 6/14: Only meeting all summer Maria Geryk attended

So far those secret talks in two executive sessions already held came to SIX HOURS!

Superintendent Maria Geryk, the highest paid town employee, has two years remaining on her lucrative contract, so why all the discussion now about her contract?

Yes, there's a provision in that contract for an additional year that automatically trips unless given 120 days notice, but it seems far fetched this ongoing mystery is simply about nixing a one year extension.

By Any Other Name

AFD Chief Tim Nelson and DPW Chief Guilford Mooring at Charter Commission last night

For DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring and AFD Chief Tim Nelson a change in government would not necessarily be a game changer for how they run their operations. 

Mooring pointed out the DPW is not "sexy" to which Chief Nelson quickly responded "And we are?"

Although both quickly agreed AFD has better looking uniforms.

In response to a question from Charter Commissioner Nick Grabbe about how long the town has been talking about a new Fire Station and new DPW building Mooring responded, "We could work out of a Keebler elf oak tree for all the public cares" (as long as the roads and water supply still work).

Chief Nelson pointed out that is exactly why the town formed the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee: to help educated the general public of the need of these two new buildings and act as champions for both departments.

The Fire Chief went on to say:

"The challenge we face long term is the town wants us to do something and we have limited resources to do that. But at what cost? Injury rates go up, response time increases, sick leave escalates. We don’t like to say No. Town still wants all this done. We usually find a way, but it causes burnout. Government needs to figure out what it wants at what service level. We’re being asked to do a lot of things. Hard for us to keep up with day-to-day operations. We're keeping our head above water but with burnout. We need someone with the will to make a commitment (new station/increased staffing) and stick with it."
Mooring also had a comment that resonated with the Commissioners: it really doesn't matter what structure of government you have if the people who occupy the roles don't get along, then nothing positive will happen.

Both department heads stated they are "operational departments" where day to day duties and responsibilities can be very fluid, so  it's not always easy to take the time to provide needed communications to the general public.

And those communications should be a two way thing, otherwise frustration grows.

They also both agreed Town Meeting preparation takes up a lot of their time although fortunately they manage to get their annual budgets approved with little controversy, but those budgets are always a tad too lean.

Mooring closed his presentation to the Commission with the candid observation that he would not want to be in their shoes but they are "doing something important."

Chief Nelson agreed, urging them on: "Don't quit. Keep in mind you are doing the right thing and it will be very good for the town.  In the end it will all work out fine. "

Let's hope.