Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks!

South Pleasant Street overlook

If you had to travel anywhere this morning give thanks to Amherst Police, Fire, Dispatch and DPW highway and tree crews as they joined forces to deal with the aftermath of our first major storm of the season.

 Amherst town center 7:05 AM

And for many of them, it was an "all nighter" of above and beyond the call of  duty grunt work

Main Street looking east 7:10 AM

The heavy snow brought down trees and large limbs all over town, in many cases taking utility lines with them, although the power outages never came to close to the total devastation of the Halloween 2011 Snowmageddon storm.

 Tree limb into house Farview Way, North Amherst
Tree limb Snell Street took out streetlight

A downed tree on Potwine Lane knocked out power to less than 200 homes in South Amherst and a huge limb crashed into a house on Farview Way, but did not cause any injuries or serious structural damage.





PVTA bus caused traffic tie up at The Notch yesterday during the storm
DPW clearing Town center during height of the storm


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Tide Is Turning



No single issue has dominated the public discussion in our little college town over the past too many years like the problem of unruly off campus student behavior.

Yes, let me quickly interject that it's only a small minority that indulge in downright dangerous antics, tie up emergency services for preventable alcohol related calls and disturb the tranquility of neighborhoods all over town.

But when the majority of your population consists of "college aged youth,"  that small percentage adds up to significant number -- especially problematic considering our woefully understaffed Public Safety Departments.



Plus they all seem to want to get out of control around the same time:  Thursday night through early Sunday morning.

In response to problems emanating from student rentals the town, 40 years after it was first proposed, enacted a Rental Registration and Permit Bylaw.  As of today 100% of the rental property in town is registered and have a permit that can be revoked.

Neighbors now have easy access to contact information for those adults who are owners/managers of Party Houses and a simple mechanism to file complaints with the town should they not get satisfaction from them.

UMass, the Goliath that provides the vast majority of housing consumers, has also started taking things seriously after student bad behavior started receiving the continuous attention it deserved (kind of like the bad behavior of Bill Cosby should have been exposed many, many years ago).

For over four years now I have focused attention on the weekend circus with my "Party House of the Weekend" reports, naming names of both the arrested perpetrators of the mayhem and the landlords who own the property.

These days I get requests almost weekly to take down a post because a Google search brings it up and prospective employers are probably not overly impressed (although we all were young once I suppose).

March 8, 2014

The Blarney Blowout was also a major turning point as my spotlight on rowdy student behavior was amplified a thousand times over by national and international media coverage.

In spite of the $160,000 Davis Report suggesting overwhelmed police overreacted, the average citizen -- both taxpayers and students -- knows full well the alcohol fueled mayhem was a significant black mark for the University and its student body.

 But you can still buy UMass branded shot glasses at the Textbook Annex

And it has served as an unmistakable wake up call,  or some would argue an attention getting slap in the face.

So why do I, a grumpy old get-off-my-lawn cynic, think things are improving?

Last year between August 15 and November 15 Amherst police responded to 322 noise complaints, while issuing 91 Noise Violations and 33 Nuisance House violations.

This year between August 15 and November 15 Amherst police responded to 214 noise complaints, while issuing only 17 Noise Violations and 25 Nuisance House violations.

In other words total number of $300 tickets levied have dropped from 124 to 42 in just one year.  A stunningly significant decrease. 

Now that's worth partying over!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ARPS: The Drama Continues

Props from a recent Shakespeare play adorn the front lawn at ARHS

Perhaps someday the Amherst Regional Public Schools can can synthesize the past year long racial "event" -- for lack of a better term -- into a teachable moment school play.  Or better yet, a Hollywood movie.

Maybe we can get Meryl Streep to play Superintendent Maria Geryk and Oprah Winfrey as math teacher Carolyn Gardner.

Clearly we are in a full blown Us vs Them situation divided along racial lines.  And now we can throw Ferguson into the volatile mix.  

The Amherst-Pelham Education Association and heavyweight Massachusetts Teachers Association just issued a statement supporting Carolyn Gardner while trumpeting their "commitment to confronting racism."

But do we really have any proof that these unsettling acts perpetrated against Ms. Gardner were genuinely racist, as opposed to kids being kids, or an adult trying to stir up racial turmoil?

Or what on the all powerful Internet is simply known as a Troll. 

Either way, the case is now before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, who will spend the next 18 months deciding if indeed there is merit to the charge.

Until then candle light vigils, long winded comments at public meetings (with a side order of hissing) and press releases designed to win the hearts and minds of citizens are a waste of time and energy.  

Not to mention a monumental distraction to the sacred mission of educating all our children.

 Jean Sherlock reads NAACP letter of complaint to Regional School Committee

The NAACP issued a press release, err, I mean statement at the tense Regional School Committee meeting last week charging the schools with "illegal application of disciplinary measures" against the non-white student population.

Maybe they have not been paying attention but last year Maria Geryk presented to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee statistics from the 2011-2012 school year showing 65% of the out-of-school suspensions were given to non-white students at the high school (who make up 35% of the student body) and in 2012-2013, 58%.

Back in July the Schools announced major changes to address these racial disparities, replacing two secondary school deans with "climate control coordinators".  Geryk also told the RSC last December that the plan was to pretty much eliminate suspensions as a form of discipline altogether (except in extreme cases of assault or weapons possession).  

So why now after the schools have been addressing this racial disparity for the past year is the NAACP suddenly bringing it up?  And where were they for the previous 20 years or so, if indeed the Schools have been out of compliance since 1993?




Mini Hobart Hoedown

Matthew Langford stands before Judge O'Grady

Hobart Lane is kind of like Phillips Street in that it will probably never live down its (well deserved) party reputation, even though there has not been a "Hobart Hoedown" in many years.

For you nubies the Hoedown preceded the Blarney Blowout, but of the same basic idea:  day drinking until you get completely out of control, and when police arrive throw dangerous objects at them.

Amherst police encountered two rowdy party goers very early Sunday morning trying to force their way into #29 Hobart Lane.  When they refused to comply with instructions to leave -- and physically resisted police -- officers had no choice but to arrest Kyle Bisceglia and Matthew Langford, both age 20. 

 Click to enlarge/read

Matthew Langford (6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 200 pounds) was charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and Assault and Battery on a police officer.

 Kyle Bisceglia arraigned before Judge O'Grady

Kyle Bisceglia was charged with Resisting Arrest and Disorderly Conduct.

Both are hiring their own attorney and they will return to Eastern Hampshire District Court in mid-December.

Party House Of The Weekend

297 West Street, directly across from Crocker Farm Elementary School


These party house problems are getting fewer and farther between -- which is of course a good thing. 
Alexander Elkins stands before Judge O'Grady

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Connor Bertram, 19, and Alexander Elkins, 20, both took the typical plea deal offered by the Commonwealth:  Criminal charges are "converted" to civil with one of the two $300 tickets thrown out plus four months probation. 

Conor Bertram standing before Judge O'Grady

Monday, November 24, 2014

Restorative Justice

Kyle Kielbasa and Attorny Kokonowski stand before Judge William O'Grady this morning

Kyle Kielbasa, 28, came to terms with the Commonwealth this morning in Eastern Hampshire District Court for two separate arrests made by Amherst Police. The first on the day of the infamous Blarney Blowout, where Mr. Kielbasa was waiving a handgun around near Rafter's and The Hanger Pub & Grill while under the influence of alcohol.  A l-o-t of alcohol!


And the equally serious incident seven months later, a roll over drunk driving accident on Bay Road that took out a utility pole and closed the busy road for the night. 

His lawyer told Judge O'Grady that he was prepared to vigorously fight the first charge and had already prepared a "motion to suppress" evidence: the gun and extra ammo clips recovered in the car on March 8th.  But Mr. Kielbasa told him "No, I need help" (with alcohol problem).

Assistant District Attorney Bob Opsitnik recommended the "Restorative Justice Program" and two years probation with a requirement for continuing with therapy for the gun charge; and a standard 24D disposition, with $600 in fines, loss of license for 45 days, one-year probation ($65/month cost) and alcohol screenings plus two weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the Driving Under the Influence charge.

The Judge agreed.  

Kyle Kielbasa's right to carry a weapon was also revoked after the first incident.


Going, Going ...

DPW gingerly lifts Amherst Chamber Welcome building 

The iconic, so-ugly-it's-cute building that has squatted on the town common for as long as anybody can remember was quickly and efficiently moved this afternoon by the DPW to a location on Sunset Avenue.  


 ?

The rumor that Walter Jones sneaked it onto a concrete pad poured overnight can be somewhat disproved as there was not a concrete pad under the building.

 Note dirt floor


video