Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Party House of the Weekend

 115 Belchertown Rd, Amherst

Been so long since Amherst police busted a party house for "Noise & Nuisance" (at $300 a pop) I barely remember how to write these.

Ah, blessed are the summers in a college town.  Unfortunately now over.

Click to enlarge/read
 APD "statement of facts"

The 3 amigos stand before Judge John Payne Monday morning

Since this episode was their first brush with the legal system the prosecution stuck a typical deal called "diversion," where the criminal charges are diverted to civil charges, and each of the perps accepts responsibility for one-of-the-two $300 bylaw violation tickets.

$900 to the town coffers and, hopefully, a lesson learned.  

Unacceptably Typical AFD Weekend

 Antonio's Pizza Saturday afternoon

Amherst Fire Department responded to Antonio's Pizza Saturday afternoon just after 1:00 PM for a minor electrical fire.  At the time Central and North station each had only two professional firefighters available, who quickly scrambled their response via Engines 1 & 2.

But had that fire occurred just 12 hours later, the extremely popular downtown eatery would have been jam packed with students AND the fire department would have been unable to muster much of a response.

Because at 12:55 AM Sunday morning a mutual aid ambulance from Northampton had to handle a call as AFD was dealing with four substance abuse cases, all within a half hour, all of which required transport to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital.    

What's it going to take to awaken town officials, another Station Nightclub incident?

Trigger Warning.  Extremely graphic:

Monday, September 15, 2014

Repeat Party Offender

Luke V. Gatti (center) and father (right) appear before Judge John Payne this morning

Apparently Phillips Street, alcohol, Luke Gatti and late night weekends, make for a bad combination.  Perhaps because he's only 18-years-old, but still no excuse for such outlandish behavior.

Arrested two weeks ago on Phillips Street for disorderly conduct (which included calling a detective the N-word), this time around Mr. Gatti seemed to go out of his way to get arrested yet again on that same notorious street, and when taken back to the police station, assaulted an officer. 

With his father looking on, Luke Gatti was arraigned this morning before Judge John Payne who set bail at $250, taken out of the $1,000 bail posted over the weekend to get out of jail. 

Noting the arrest only two weeks ago Judge Payne said to Gatti,  "I'm a little concerned you're going to pull a trifecta before the month is over." 

Gatti will appear in Eastern Hampshire District Court with his hired lawyer on October 15 for a pre-trial conference.

Unless of course, in the meantime, he gets arrested again. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Privacy vs Free Speech

I always cringe when Massachusetts hastily passes a new law in reaction to a high profile event, such as the exceedingly good intentioned Domestic Abuse Law in response to Jared Remy murdering his girlfriend that now, unfortunately, forbids police was releasing names of perps arrested for domestic abuse.

Or the recent "upskirt" law criminalizing peeping toms who take surreptitious photos of women in public places.

According to the Governor's press release:  "The legislation makes the secret photographing, videotaping, or electronically surveiling of another person's sexual or other intimate parts, whether under or around a person's clothing or when a reasonable person would believe that the person's intimate parts would not be visible to the public, a crime."

Okay fair enough, no arguments there.

But I now wonder if that is the fledgling law UMass administrators are using to bully a freshman for tweeting a picture of a couple -- clearly anonymous, without "intimate parts" showing -- having sex in state subsidized housing on the campus of a state subsidized flagship of higher education?

Amherst College can do pretty much whatever they want in relation to the First Amendment because it doesn't apply to them, since they are not a "government" institution.  UMass/Amherst is, however, a state funded institution -- so the First Amendment clearly does apply.

Arguably our single most valuable freedom enjoyed as Americans.

If the young student who innocently tweeted that image-shattering photo (My God, 18 year old students actually have sex on a Thursday afternoon!) had instead published a photo of white Ferguson police officers combating black protesters, UMass Office of News & Media Relations would fall all over themselves championing her for standing up to authority.

Yes of course the First Amendment can indeed be, um, messy -- especially in this instantly publish Internet age.

Westboro Baptist Church @ UMass 4/16/14

I don't like the racist, homophobic signs carried by the attention seeking Westboro Baptist Church any more than you do.   But suppressing their rights today based on content, only means tomorrow it could be your message banned.

Fuck the censorship!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Say What?

My friends at the Gazette have switched over to Facebook commenting for their online articles, which I of course think is a good thing.  Yes, trolls and cranks thrive under a cloak of anonymity.

But based on a Facebook posting I received in the dead of night (2:00 AM) I'm now not so sure that simply having to identify yourself keeps the discussion civil and prevents namecalling ...

UPDATE (11:15 AM):

So Mr. Geryk has removed his incendiary comment from my highly public Facebook page.  

But no, I'm not going to remove it here.  In Massachusetts you cannot record someone without their knowledge, but if someone calls you up and leaves a message on your voice mail then that is fair game.


These are in response to article about Maria Geryk's $11,000 raise:
Click to enlarge/read

Friday, September 12, 2014

Affordable Housing Hand Grenade?

 Boltwood Place, 12 apartments all market rate

Over 100 residents signed a citizen zoning petition that was handed in late this Friday morning before the high noon deadline for placement on the November 5 Amherst Special Town Meeting.

 Click to enlarge/read

The petition article would simply add 16 words to the current Inclusionary Zoning bylaw which would make it harder to develop irregular shaped commercial property for housing, especially in high rent districts like town center.

Currently a developer who owns property with a "by right" development capability can simply ask the Planning Board for minor concessions via a Special Permit (relaxed height limits or setback requirements, increased lot coverage, or waiving of traffic study requirments) and still be exempt from the inclusionary zoning requirements placed on developments of 10 units and up.

The problem with closing this "loophole" is the development cost of the project can exceed the profit potential and the devleloper simply walks away.

 Kendrick Place, 36 units all market rate

A project with nothing but market rate (or even above market rate) units still helps lessen the demand for housing in an overall sense thereby making it less likely for greedy speculators to buy up and convert old single family units to packed in student units.

And a market rate project would have a higher value assessment, paying the town more in property taxes and Community Preservation Tax Funds.

Had this wording been in effect three years ago it would have impacted Boltwood Place and the current project, Kendrick Place, now under construction. 

Carriage Shops proposed redevelopment, 78 apartments all market rate

Or, neither of them would have broken ground.  Which is quite possibly what some of the signers of the petition article have in mind.  The article will require a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting to pass.

The really interesting question is will this petition article impact the King Kong sized redevelopment of the Carriage Shops right up the street from Kendrick Place?

Back On Top Again

 ARPS School Superintendent Maria Geryk

Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk has regained the coveted #1 position as highest paid town employee (technically the "schools" are a legally separate entity) at $158,000 up from $147,000 and now eclipsing Town Manager John Musante who briefly leapfrogged her last week with his Select Board approved 2% raise bringing him to $150,628.

But you have to wonder what the impact -- using the school's favorite buzzword these days, equity --  would be if all school employees received a 7.5% raise?

Between the Regional and Elementary schools total salary costs in FY15 is $32.5 million, so that generous raise would have cost taxpayers an additional $2,437,500 -- to a school system already sky high in average cost per child to educate:  $18,388 per elementary student and $18,026 for Regional student vs state average of $13,636.

Although her current $158,000 salary after 4 years now at the helm only matches exactly the incoming salary for Alberto Rodriguez back in 2009.  After an annoying blogger made public a document showing Rodriguez was taking a total of 40 days off in his first year as Superintendent, combined with internal criticism about his management style, Rodriguez parted ways with Amherst after only 8 months. 

Geryk is now closing in on the last Superintendent with any longevity, Jere Hochman, hired in 2003 (at just over $130,000).  Hochman lasted five years, voluntarily leaving for his old stomping ground Bedford Central School District (N.Y.) with a slight pay increase to $262,000.

When Hochman was first hired his $130,000+ salary raised eyebrows, nowhere more so than the Town Manager at the time Barry Del Castilho.  The Select Board suddenly gave Del Castilho a mid-contract raise of $10,000 to sooth his ego.

 Town Meeting Annual Warrant 2004

Hwei-Ling Greeney brought an advisory petition to Town Meeting demanding the Select Board roll back the raise.  Article #38 passed 81-71, but the Select Board simply ignored the will of Town Meeting.

Of course in 2007 when Town Meeting voted to oppose flying the commemorative flags on 9/11, the Select Board routinely cites that shameful vote for an excuse to keep the flags down 4 out of 5 years.

This past year the Amherst Regional Public Schools have been in disarray over racial incidents, one particularly mishandled event which led to the High School closing down for a day.

And according to the Mass Dept of Elementary & Secondary Education neither the Regional Schools or Elementary Schools are making much progress toward their target goals.

Regional Schools 1-10

Elementary Schools 2-10

After a year like last year, what kind of a message does it send to reward leadership with a whopping 7.5% raise?