Friday, August 22, 2014

DUI Dishonor Roll

 Scott Urban, 22, stands before Judge Madous on Monday 

This week it's a tie:  the perp, Scott Urban, and the downtown bar that served him his last drink, obviously when he was already quite intoxicated, McMurphy's Uptown Tavern.

Even if he did have only "two cups of bud light" while at McMurphy's, with a BAC a few minutes later of .189% -- more than twice the legal limit -- he was pretty plastered when the bartender slid him those drinks.

McMurphy's Uptown Tavern, Blarney Blowout day 2012

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Another Open Meeting Complaint

Trevor Baptiste (2nd from left) leads rebellious 7/14 meeting which attracted a quorum 

Former School Committee member Tom Flittie has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint over the renegade 7/14 meeting called by (then) Vice Chair Trevor Baptiste, where five members passed a resolution decrying a critical memo sent out from Amherst, Pelham and the Regional school Chairs strongly criticising Amilcar Shabazz for statements he made at a Equity Task Force Meeting in June.

Of course the interesting thing is his complaint alleges that the 7/14 meeting was not properly posted in Amherst.  Actually it was ...  for about an hour.   And then the Town Clerk's office was told to take it down and send out a follow up cancellation notice.

The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, now chaired by Mr. Baptiste, will take up discussion of the OML complaint at their next meeting. 

Controlling The Message?

A two hour frank discussion about race 
Although WHMP was not snarky enough to set up up empty chairs at the "Reading, Writing & Racism?" community forum this morning on the Amherst Town Common to represent Amherst town officials last minute cancellation, they did manage to mention it a few times during the two hour broadcast.  To the applause of the studio audience of 35 or so.

 Crowd on the town common watching live radio broadcast

Town Manger John Musante (whose brother Dave is WHMP general manger), School Superintendent Maria Geryk and new "Media & Climate Communications Specialist" Carol Ross had originally accepted the offer from WHMP  (not exactly a Fox News) to discuss the new "Amherst Together" initiative, a direct response to the racial turmoil over the past year.

Town Manger Musante already caught criticism on Monday night at the Select Board meeting, which consisted entirely of his "evaluation," where SB member Alisa Brewer bristled at his entering into an agreement with the schools without first checking with his bosses, the Select Board.

The schools lack of transparency was repeatedly cited as a problem.  And not just from parents, activists or the media.

Recent ARHS graduate Catia Correia, who worries about her brothers in the aftermath of #Ferguson, talked about the racial incidents surrounding teacher of color  Carolyn Gardner:

Other panelists brought up all the usual criticisms of our public schools -- the achievement gap between students of color and white students, low percentage of minority teachers and just the perception that the administration takes an us against them stance with community members who are trying to help.

By failing to show up for this important unscripted event, town and school officials sent a message that they are uncomfortable having a frank discussion about race when they are not in control of the microphone. 

Makes you wonder what they are (still) trying to hide?

Sonji Johnson-Anderson tells panel they did not need a question mark after the title "Reading, Writing & Racism?"

Stephen Armstrong, Ph.D. and owner of Kumon in South Amherst asks panel "Specifically what are you going to do over the next 12 months to level the playing field?"

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

$2000 Fine vs $100 Compliance Fee

 25 Butterfield Terrace

The last of the housing holdouts paid their dues and the town's rental stock is now 100% in compliance with the new Rental Registration and Permit Bylaw, overwhelmingly passed by Amherst Town Meeting last year.

On Monday Amherst Building Inspector Jon Thompson appeared in Eastern Hampshire District Court before a Clerk Magistrate.  Of the six cases he presented, one was continued to August 29 (Kathleen Maiolatesi), with all the others ended favorably for the town.

Deborah Kruger failed to show up for the hearing, costing her $1,700.  The three parking citations were all upheld and the perps paid $100 each.  And Alpha Tae Gamma (25 Butterfield Terrace) settled before the hearing by agreeing to pay $2,000.

FY15 only started July 1st

Wag The Dog

School Superintendent Maria Geryk, Andy Steinberg, RAWG Chair

Shutesbury, a partner in our Regional Public School School system for over half a century -- but only 4% of that region by population -- is holding firm to their demand that the new pre-K though 12 Regional expansion should include an "on ramp" for their entry somewhere down the road.

Shutesbury representative Elaine Puleo was as clear as ice that it's an absolute deal breaker.  Even facilitator David Singer, after over an hour of sometimes heated discussion, tried to get the committee to agree to it, calling the lack of an on ramp a "show stopper."

Regional Agreement Working Group (3 members each from all four towns)

Why should the other three towns, who make up 96% of the Region care?  Because this new expanded educational Leviathan needs the approval of all four towns to amend the current Regional Agreement (which covers Middle School and High School).

Yes Shutesbury -- even though they do not plan to join the expanded Region -- still has to support it via their Town Meeting, and the three representatives stated unequivocally last night that would not happen without an on ramp. 

The first hour of the meeting was taken up discussing overall "savings" and how they would be distributed.  The first year of transition could cost Amherst (who makes up 88% of the Region) an additional $357,000.

The committee, citing "equity", voted unanimously to place a cap on savings to individual towns and to distribute savings over that cap to the town (Amherst) that faced increases.  Or what Pelham rep Jeff Osborn described as, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul."

The 2nd item of discussion, an "on ramp" for a non-participating town, was far more divisive.

The  participating towns are concerned that the first few years of the new Region is a formative time, although Shutesbury seemed amenable to a "protected period" (three years) where they could not suddenly attempt entry.

But their representative argued strenuously that as long as they are willing to absorb any impacts they should be allowed entry at any time in the more distant future.  Especially since they are already a long-time partner in the current Region. 

Trevor Baptiste, Pelham rep and new Regional School Committee Chair, described it as a "trust issue," likening it to a (hopefully successful) marriage.

 2 Regional School Committee members -- Rick Hood and Lawrence O'Brien -- observed from a safe distance

The motion that almost gained consensus called for a provision in the Regional Agreement to allow the on ramp but with a "protected period" (possible three years), an impact study, and then good faith negotiations to mitigate those impacts.

Amherst rep Alisa Brewer wanted it clear the answer could still be "No", if they fail to mitigate those impacts.

The meeting adjourned at 9:40 PM, with only 1 of 5 agenda items voted on.  Next meeting is scheduled for September 2 (location to be determined) at 6:00 PM.  RAWG wants to make their recommendation to the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee by the end of September.

And a two-thirds vote of the Regional SC would send the issue to all four Town Meetings to vote on two articles:  The first simply allowing the Regional Agreement to be amended, and the second article calling for an expansion of the current grades 7-12 Region all the way down to pre-Kindergarden through 6th grade.

All four towns have to agree to amend the Regional Agreement, but do not have to agree to join immediately. At this point, within the Regional Assessment Working Group, only Amherst and Pelham seem to be a sure thing. 

Know your reps:

Shining A Light

Shine the light on the story, not yourself

I consider myself an aggressive reporter.  When at the scene of a fire or riot, if I don't get yelled at by police, then I'm doing something wrong.  But whether covering a chaotic outdoor disturbance or a boring indoor zoning board hearing, I always try to stay out of the way.

When using public documents to uncover truths for a story, I try to let the documents speak for themselves.  The hard part is knowing such documents exist and who it is you need to hit with a public documents request.

The events unfolding in Ferguson are -- as Commander Spock would say -- "fascinating".     For many reasons.

As usual, folks are quick to jump to conclusions based on their built up biases.  I'm a BIG fan of public safety (admitting my bias for those of you who may be first timers to this blog)  but an even bigger fan of journalism.

I will, however, never suppress or ignore the truth to protect either of them.  

There's no question Ferguson police could use a refresher course on respecting constitutional rights, and just plain old public relations.  The images of Darth Vader like squads of police armed for Armageddon is not the kind of thing you want presented on the nightly news ... or even that newfangled thing, the Internet.

Reporters want to report, it's kinda their job.  And it's really hard to do that when police keep you corralled up far from the scene of the action.

Police, conversely, want to quell the very action reporters need to report, and it can sometimes be difficult to do when reporters get in the way.  Or worse, their presence serves to incite an already amped-up crowd.

UMPD firing pellets into the crowd (burning sugar) 10/31/13

At all the disturbances I've covered involving rowdy students both on and off the UMass campus, I have never yet seen a TV news camera not cause a volatile reaction from the crowd.  And yes, when police don their riot gear, that too incites the crowd.

So what we now have in Ferguson is the worst combination of the two.

If police had been more forthcoming with the facts from the very beginning, the cycle of violence would never have gotten out of hand.  Mainstream media also took too long to awaken to the story, but now it's become a circus where reporters outnumber protesters.

"Sunlight is said to be  the best of disinfectants."  Perhaps why all the mayhem seems to occur after dark.

Monday, August 18, 2014


 AFD Ladder 1 pouring water on Southpoint Building #97

Town Manager John Musante told the Select Board this evening that through a coordinated effort of the town, Red Cross and a variety of social service agencies, all the tenants displaced by the Southpoint Apartment fire last week have found housing either elsewhere in the Southpoint complex or in other off site housing. 

Building #97 will require extensive repairs from the direct damage of fire and indirect water and smoke damage.  Two of the other three buildings were habitable on Friday.