Saturday, March 31, 2007

Costly Votes

When Umass students (a fresh faced, idealistic bunch) lobbied town officials to allow a central voting precinct in the heart of the sprawling campus, Select board Czar Ann Awad was more than happy to accommodate them; after all she surfed to her initial Select board victory on a tide of student votes that came like a once in a generation tsunami in 2000 to support the non-binding Pot Legalization ballot question.

So it was no coincidence 18 months ago Ms. Awad would support the idea and help get it on the fast track to spend $25,000 (Umass eventually reimbursed the town…but without interest) for the four fancy vote-tabulating scanners. Just in time for her reelection bid last year.

OF course last year no real candidate emerged to challenge Ms. Awad. Sorry Mr. Keenan no disrespect intended but your “campaign” was a tad lackluster. Even Ms. Awad on election night called it a very “collegial” campaign. And Mr. Keenan was seen getting into a limo with Ms. Awad on the morning of the election. I guess the opponents who vote together…

Not that the student vote would have mattered much that year as only 26 students bothered to vote at the new convenient location (combining 4 precincts), or a tad less than 1.25% turnout. Okay, so it was the debut year…these things take time. Ms Awad likes the metaphor (often applied to the floundering Cherry Hill Golf Course) that it’s “Like turning around a tanker at sea.”

So how did the young citizens fare this year? Only seventeen total, or less than 1% turnout. Ouch!

$3,216.14 in staff pay plus $240 for programming the machines and printing ballots divided by 17 kids comes to a whopping $240 per student vote. On the town side 3,356 voters requiring $8,455 in staff and $2,143 for programming and printing comes to $3.16 per townie vote.

Back in 2000, Select man Hill Boss (we always called him Boss Hill) sparked a controversy by suggesting the only sure way to increase student voter turnout was to place a couple kegs of beer at the polling place.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Pride of the ARA

Only in Amherst would a infamous activist call for the “abolishment” of an important state agency—the Amherst Redevelopment Authority—and then run a last minute write in campaign to win election to that very board.

Vince O’Connor wished to win a seat to orchestrate legislative suicide. In a letter to ARA members two weeks ago Planning Director Jonathan Tucker informed them of Mr. O’Connor’s citizen petition that “proposes to dissolve the ARA,” and went on to state: “Before undertaking any action with regard to this petition, the Town wants to understand the preferences of the members of the Redevelopment Authority.”

Anti-garage activist Nancy Gordon won a seat on the ARA (uncontested of course) two years ago, but the ARA has not had a meeting since. Pretty safe bet how Ms. Gordon would vote on the agency drinking that Kool Aid or who leaked the Planning Director’s letter to Mr. O’Connor.

My Blog post (“Vote early, vote often”) and three small ads in the Amherst Bulletin (costing $99.77) provided enough of a one-two punch to garner 67 write-in votes to Mr. O’Connor’s 18.

So now the ARA will not willingly vote itself out of existence. And with all the moderates who won seats in town meeting (60 out of 71 endorsed by sustainableamherst prevailed), it’s a safe bet Mr. O’Connor will be dealt another overwhelming defeat on the floor of Town Meeting.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Empress has no clothes.

Amherst voters shouted a loud and clear message to the current ruling regime: Wake up and smell the herbal tea. The times they are a changing. We’re mad as Hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.

The astounding defeat (to quote him) of incumbent Robie Hubley by a two-to-one margin to Alisa Brewer clearly demonstrates a chink in the armor of Select board Czar Anne Awad. If she were on the ballot instead of her husband, she too would now be standing in the Selectman unemployment line (or maybe Mr. Weiss).

Mr. Hubley also acknowledges his antiquated but quaint style of campaigning was no match for the power of electronic media—web sites, list serves, and Blogs. Although Mr. Hubley’s campaign did raise the hackles of some by posting campaign briefs on the Town Meeting yahoo list serve.

Even amiable, school champion incumbent Gerry Weiss came in second to Brewer, thus defying conventional wisdom that he was everybody’s second vote. Yes, the common sense concept of bullet voting (not using your second vote) may now be mainstream.

It’s certainly no coincidence that the two candidates—Alisa Brewer and Andy Churchill for School Committee—endorsed by came in first and second overall and within .001% of each other.

And while overall turnout at 21% was a tad better than the usual 15% it is still pathetic when compared to Presidential election turnouts averaging almost 80%.

I won a three-year term in Town Meeting (I too was endorse by and I’m still waiting to hear from the Town Clerk if my last minute write in campaign for Amherst Redevelopment Authority was successful.

Native son Barry Roberts—sometimes described as an “evil developer”—garnered over 300 votes in his initial debut Town Meeting victory run…a very good sign!

And for those of you who were as confused as I about the Gazette front-page headline “Brewer unhorses Hubley in Amherst”, it was a Middle Ages reference to jousting. Not that I could picture either of the candidates in such a physical arena.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More typical Amherst election anecdote

A moment after taking the photo of the vandalized Hubley lawnsign Select man Kusner rode in on his mountain bike. Ironically, I asked him to pose with his rolling campaign billboard thinking this is—albeit a tad offbeat—an example of positive campaigning.

Of course after posing he heading directly up the hill to Crocker Farm School main entrance (Precinct 7 voting place) and proceeded to violate the 150 foot restricted area around voting booths.

And Mr. Kusner, of all people, should know well this rule as he almost got into a physical confrontation with town clerk Anna Maciaszek three years ago over her ordering the removal of campaign signs to close to a voting precinct in town center.

From: (Town Clerk)
Sent: Tue, 27 Mar 2007 9:14 AM
Subject: RE: Mr. Kusner caught in the act (well a moment or two later)

Thanks for the visual. I already received a complaint about this and I have advised the Town Manager of my obligations to uphold the 150’ law. My latest information is that Mr. Kusner has left Precinct 7. Hopefully he will not show up somewhere else.


Beyond divisive!

I hate this! I hate it that cowards take matters into their own hands under cover of darkness. I hate it that they believe vandalism can further their cause.

No folks, this is definitely not a typical Amherst moment.

"Smells like...victory"

God how I love early morning on Election Day, when the possibilities are endless. Well, not really. Either I win or I lose; and the very few candidates I support win or lose. And then all the acrimony goes away…for a while.

In this case an even more acrimonious--the overused word of the week is “divisive”-- campaign commences for a $2.5 million tax Override, thus carpet-bombing homeowners with a permanent tax hike.

Two week ago the Select board—in another one of their chaotic meetings—managed to set the date, May 1, thus guaranteeing cost to the taxpayers as elections such as the one today cost an average of $12,000 to produce (if I dare use that word).

You would think they could have come up with a better day. Obviously nobody on the board is a history major as May 1’st conjures up images of tanks, missile launchers rolling thru Red Square with high-tech fighter jets swooping overhead.

And if anything brought down the formidable Red Army, it was a lack of money. Hmmmm…maybe May 1’st is an appropriate day after all.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Vote early, vote often

So besides running for Town Meeting in Precinct 5 I am also mounting a write-in campaign for Redevelopment Authority, also known as the ARA (Amherst Redevelopment Authority).

This is an at-large seat, left open when hotel magnate Curt Shumway decided not to seek another term and nobody collected the 50 signatures required to be on the ballot.

I had been the Governor’s appointee to the ARA (5 members with 4 elected, one appointed) since 1996 first under William Weld.

Jane Swift reappointed me and then my term expired in 2005. Strangely enough the Select board unanimously approved my reappointment last year in a letter to state authorities that somehow seems to have gotten lost in the mail. In the waning moments of his governorship Mitt Romney appointed Jeanne Traester, a Republican who was beaten by a 3-1 margin in her bid against (D) Ellen Story for State Representative.

The ARA has not even had a meeting in two years, so why do I care? Well, the ARA has Design Review approval in the Center School complex Urban Renewal Project area…in other words Boltwood Walk, home of the bitterly opposed downtown Parking Garage.

When the ARA donated the property to the town we did so with only one condition: the Garage had to be expandable. The inclusion of supports in the foundation capable of supporting an additional deck added tens of thousands to the $4 million project. Still a good deal for the town, considering the donated parcel had a market value of $350,000.

IF the town is going to expand parking in the downtown and IF the Boltwood Garage affords an economical way to do that, then the ARA could once again lead the charge.

I also find it appalling that the ARA approves something as mundane as Pinocchio's restaurant changing the color scheme on an outdoor sign, but nobody seems to have done anything after the restaurant had to close because of a structure fire, almost two years ago, that left much of the building uninhabitable.

Recently everyone’s favorite community activist Vince O’Connor (who received almost a zero rating from filed a petition for Town Meeting calling for the “…abolishment of the ARA.”

Vince helped lead the charge to oppose construction of the parking garage and even wanted Town Meeting to take the ARA parcel of land by eminent domain. Of course, the ARA came into possession of the land in the first place by using eminent domain.

Thus, it would have been a reenactment of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.

I think the ARA still has some important work to finish and I want to help make that happen.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"One is the loneliest number..."

Since a flock of folks have asked how I’m voting in Tuesday’s election I’ll let you in on the secret: Sorry Alisa, but I’m bullet voting for you (sorry meaning I hope that didn’t just cost you a few votes); and I suppose if somebody pressed a flamethrower to my head and required that second vote I would hold my nose, close my eyes, throw salt over my left shoulder and vote for Mr. Weiss (no apology--and I do hope it costs you some votes Gerry).

So why does Mr. Hubley come in last in a race where two out of three win? Well, lets forget the frequent Reagan moments because he was pretty lucid when stating he “slid like a zombie” into his current position (perfect metaphor) or that Open Space is better than development, which is like a firefighter suggesting gasoline as means of fire suppression.

I could, however, most eagerly flip-flop (like the Select board did Monday night on an additional May 1’st Override Question) with only one condition: I would bullet vote for Hubley as long as his wife, current Select board Czar Anne Awad, resigns if he is reelected.

An acquaintance asked an attorney if it’s a conflict for two of five Select board members to be married (to each other)? He quickly responded: “While it is not illegal under State Ethics Law or Open Meeting Law for married people to serve on the same board, as a matter of public policy it’s a very bad idea.”

Now lawyers are far from infallible but this one makes sense. He continues:

“When three of five Select Board members make a quorum, and when two Select Board members are married, it’s very easy to violate the open meeting law.

Robbie and Anne have recently been cited for violating the open meeting law on two occasions by using emails to discuss important town business.

By having a married couple serving together on the Select Board, the likelihood of further violations is significantly increased.”

He went on to cite state ethics law c. 268A: "act in a manner which would cause a reasonable person, having knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to conclude that any person can improperly influence or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties, or that he is likely to act or fail to act as a result of kinship, rank, position or undue influence of any party or person."

And all the state requires to nullify this possible conflict is simply to disclose this “kinship” publicly.

I think she broke trust with her supporters by not disclosing her close personal relationship with another Select board member in last year’s low-key campaign. Although I do have to admit, their affair was the worst kept secret in Amherst.

Of course, the certain way to solve this problem of a five-member Select board with possible conflict of relationships is to switch to a strong Mayor form of government.

Let the revolution begin!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Golf anyone?

To no surprise nobody showed up for the “mandatory” site visit at the Cherry Hill Golf Course yesterday so now another Request For Proposals (maybe they should have said “please” in the ads) has gone bust and we’re stuck with the White Elephant.

So in next year’s budget the town still has on the chopping block five firefighters, two cops and the outdoor War Memorial Pool, all costing less than the golf course--even though the former are far more utilized by Amherst taxpayers than the latter, where half the season pass holders are from out of town.

Hence the title of this Blog: Only in the Republic of Amherst!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

No wonder

The town took Dave Keenan's house on Shays Street (well, besides the $50,000 in back taxes owed). Makes a great political sign location. And all three Select board candidates are equal opportunity users.

Out of the Chaos

As I said before sometimes you just have to be there, rather than watching from the comforts of home. Now I’m told the Select board did NOT go into Executive Session at the end of that rousing meeting characterized by one of them as “drama in the town room.”

Why the confusion? Executive Session was the last item on the Agenda (but then it’s almost always there). Mr. Hubley made the final motion and used the awkward phrasing “adjourn the Open Meeting of the Select Board meeting of March 19...”

And at least one reporter seemed to think they went into Executive Session.

Still, since my protest to the DA is two-fold and I’m sure that the second part of my complaint is still valid, at least I can’t be arrested for filing a false report.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"There they go AGAIN"

Northwestern District Attorney
Elizabeth Scheibel
One Gleason Plaza
Northampton, Ma 01060

Amherst Open Meeting Law Complaint

I wish to file a formal complaint about the abuse of Executive Session by the Amherst Select board in general (as in overuse) and in particular their most recent 3/19/07 meeting where they adjourned into Executive Session without first giving a reason justify it or announcing if they would return to Open Session.

According to Chapter 39: Section 23-B: “…the presiding officer has cited the purpose for an executive session, and the presiding officer has stated before the executive session if the governmental body will reconvene after the executive session.”

If you analyze a year’s worth meetings I think you will find the Amherst Select board is a statistical outlier in their use of Executive Session when compared with Executive Branch boards in comparable--or even larger--cities and towns.

Sincerely Yours,

Larry Kelley

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sex, Lies and Voice Mail

So reaction to my Blog has been pouring in via email, telephone, and live encounters in the bricks and mortar world. Selectman Kusner called, again, to complain. This time he had a point…. albeit minor.

I used him as a source in my debut Blog to expose the tipbit about the new Town Manager making a surprise inspection last summer (you can tell he’s a US Army veteran) out at Cherry Hill and not being happy with what he found thus demoting Superintendent Engstrom. I wrote that Mr. Kusner had originally called to complain about something I posted on the net.

Well I sit corrected: Mr. Kusner, as he grumpily pointed out on my voice mail, actually had called to congratulate me on the state Department of Education awarding a Charter to Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School (I am one of 15 original founding member). During this chummy chat he revealed the Engstrom episode.

Interestingly this time around he admonished me about “treating your sources respectfully,” but didn’t deny he was a source, or take issue with the information I had used about Engstrom. Yet he couldn’t have been to overly angry as he closed with “good luck with your beginning as a reporter.”

Now combine that corroboration with another source that reported Engstrom had moved into the Clubhouse for a few months last summer. Little wonder why the Town Manager was unhappy with what he discovered in early August. With a 60-K annual salary, you would think Engstrom could afford an apartment.

Of course, that other caller had some interesting things to say about risqué web sites and what may or may not be found on a town computer’s hard drive, but I’ll leave that for the real reporters to ferret out.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Steal this! (Politicking Amherst style)

Okay…I was lazy (actually I had to teach a karate class at my club till 7:30 pm) so I did not traipse to Town Hall to attend the League of Women Voters Candidate’s night, last Thursday 3/15/07, preferring to stay at home and watch it live on public access TV.

Anyone who has ever attended live events—concerts, baseball games, or Broadway plays—knows that there’s nothing quite like being there (except, of course, if Fox News wants you attend a High School performance of ‘The Vagina Monolgues’). So what did TV viewers miss?

Apparently some folks left flyers from on the table as you first walk into the Town Room that endorsed a slate of Town Meeting candidates (amazingly I’m on that list) as well as Alisa Brewer for Select board, even though there are two seats on the board open and every voter gets to choose two candidate. That’s a not-to-subtle way of suggesting a Bullet Vote for Alisa, rather than voting for two candidates.

The best way to defend Bullet Voting (political lingo meaning you only vote for one person when you, strangely, have the ability to vote for two) is to tell a supporter of one particular candidate, say Alisa Brewer, who may feel it is their civic duty to cast that second vote for either Gerry Weiss or Robie Hubley: “How are you going to feel if Alisa losses by one FREAKEN vote to the candidate you threw your second vote to?”

So if you really are coming out that day for one particular candidate, then vote for ONLY for them.

Meanwhile back at Town Hall:

Pat Church, in a rash response, proceeds to impound the flyers, after getting permission from Select Board Czar Anne Awad, married to Robie Hubley who is up for reelection. And many insiders predict he will be the odd man out at the 3/27/07 election where two of the three candidates are in.

Now some of you may remember Pat Church. She attended the infamous ‘Only In Amherst’ Select board meeting of 9/10/01 (The Eve of Destruction) advocating against the flying of the American flags in the downtown.

And she was also the culprit who took down the Puerto Rican flag in front of Town Hall back in 2004. At the time she was a town meeting member and more appropriately Chair of the Solid Waste Committee; attending her usual Sunday afternoon Peace Rally in town center and somebody told her the Puerto Rican flag was the flag of Texas (to honor President Bush’s reelection the week before).

Here’s a snippet of the Gazette coverage at the time (11/9/04):

'I'm mortified,'' said Church when she learned of her mistake Monday. ''This makes me really embarrassed.''

She immediately asked a friend to fetch the flag from her house and take it to the police station, she said. Town Manager Barry Del Castilho said it would be returned to the flagpole today, she said. Police said today they would not pursue charges.

But the matter didn't end there. Vladimir Morales, the School Committee member who is president of the Puerto Rican Association, says he has demanded a formal apology from Church. The two were active in the campaigns of rival candidates in the Democratic primary for governor's council, said Church, who had not yet responded to Morales' request Monday night.

Removing the flag would not have been justified even if it had been the Texas flag, Morales said. ''You have to respect any flag, no matter where it's from,'' he said. ''Flags are flags. They're symbols.''

And he expressed surprise that a participant in a peace vigil had taken matters into her own hands by removing the flag. ''They're there for peace, for heaven's sake,'' he said.


One of the folks responsible for the flyers called Ms. Church to complain about her thievery. Ms Church defended her actions by saying the flyers violated campaign law. Oh really?

Campaign law bans advocacy within 100 feet of a polling station on Election Day, or anytime at the Town Clerks office. But the town room at town hall almost two weeks before the election is hardly that sacred.

Ms. Church also lamented to the caller about how “divisive” this election campaign has gotten. Well, at least she’s one for two.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Could Be Worse: Could Be South Hadley

Saturday's print edition of the Gazette left out the last two sentences from the Internet version that makes it very clear the state sided with me on my public documents request:

States asked to rule on Ledges record request
Daily Hampshire Gazette 3/17/2007

SOUTH HADLEY - A candidate for Selectboard has asked the state's supervisor of public records to intervene in obtaining the names, ages and addresses of people who are members at the town-owned Ledges Golf Course.

Daniel Champagne this week sent a letter to Alan Cote, supervisor of public records, requesting assistance after a written request for this census data made to Town Administrator Patricia Vinchesi was denied.

Though Vinchesi provided information about season passes and total rounds played in 2006, 55 and 28,031 respectively, in a letter sent to Champagne Tuesday, she pointed out more specific details are not available.

"We do not track different players or the number of South Hadley golfers and no public records exist to this effect," Vinchesi wrote.

Champagne, whose letter is co-signed by Sherrie Champagne, a candidate for Town Meeting, isn't sure of this.

"Being business owners for 26 years, we know of no business that would not want to track client census information," Champagne wrote in his March 12 letter to Cote.

The Champagnes have been critical of January's Town Meeting decision to construct a nearly $700,000 clubhouse at the course. Supporters have argued that the clubhouse will help reduce the annual deficits the course has been running.

Champagne's letter requests that, in addition to the people who are members, the names of all players in 2006 and those who purchased gift certificates also be released.

A similar public information request was made in Amherst last Spring, where golf course critic Larry Kelley was initially rebuffed in his effort to get the names, ages and addresses of people who are members at Cherry Hill Golf Course.

In April, Cote supported Kelley's request to get this information from Amherst officials:

"(G)iven that the Cherry Hill Golf Course is a municipally funded and managed facility the course is subject to the Public Records Law," Cote wrote.


Last year I sent out this release:

Amherst strikes out in Public Records contest

Former Amherst Bulletin columnist Larry Kelley requested (1/10/06) the names, ages and addresses of the 196 season pass holders (2005) at the municipally owned Cherry Hill Golf Course. The town invoked Exemption (C)“intimate details of a highly personal nature,” to deny the request.

In a letter to (now retired) Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castillo Supervisor of Records Alan Cote directed “You are herby ordered to provide Mr. Kelley with copies of the responsive records…”

At a public (1/9/06) Select board meeting, where the fate of the golf course hung in the balance, Mark Power, a Town Meeting member who obtained a no-bid concessions contract at the golf course testified: “Over 80% of membership at Cherry Hill are college students, teen-agers under 17, and senior citizens.”

However, a 2003 marketing study commissioned by the town and directed by a Amass Sports Management professor revealed exactly the opposite: Users over age 65 came in at 5% and those ages 12-17 barely registered at 2%.

In 1996 the Public Records division also sided with Kelley on the release of public documents concerning the sexual harassment case filed against Superintendent Dan Engstrom by a seasonal employee. The town investigated (costing taxpayers almost $20,000) found him guilty, and then tried to keep it quiet.

Of course, only in Amherst would town officials meet in private to discuss how to react to an order to release public documents:

In a message dated 4/12/06 7:19:34 AM, writes:
I've put this item on the agenda for the next 3 way meeting of chair, vice-chair and manager (Friday - not open to the public.)

In a message dated 4/17/06 6:29:45 AM, Amherst AC writes:
Hey Gerry,
So am I going to get the names and addresses by Wednesday, April 19'th? In a follow-up phone conversation the Public Records folks said you had ten "consecutive days" (not business days) to respond. And your letter arrived Monday, April 10'th.

In a message dated 4/17/06 11:18:27 AM, writes:
I asked John Musante for the info for my own use and he agreed that he had to send it to you. Anne Awad suggested the town send out a notice to all season pass holders that you have requested this information and that we must send it out per instructions of the Public Records dept. I'll remind John Musante of his deadline.

So I complained to the DA about this Friday 3 way meeting (And of course, at the time nobody knew Selectboard Chair Awad and Selectman Hubley were secretly married):

Northwestern District Attorney
Elizabeth Scheibel
One Gleason Plaza
Northampton, Ma 01060
Amherst Open Meeting Law Complaint

I wish to file a formal complaint about a closed meeting held April 14, 2006 on town property between interim Amherst Town Manager John Musante, Select Board Chair Anne Awad and Select board Vice-Chair Gerry Weiss where matters of public concern were discussed and actions suggested.

On Monday April 10’th the town of Amherst and I received a letter from the Secretary of State’s Office overruling Amherst’s denial of my Public Documents request for the names, addresses and ages of Cherry Hill Golf Course Season Pass holders.

Since Mr. Weiss quotes Ms. Awad suggesting the town take actions (sending out letters) concerning this issue, obviously a public policy discussion took place at that private meeting Friday, April 14’th.

If one-less-than-a-quorum of Select board members routinely meet on Friday’s to set simple housekeeping details with the Town Manager for their weekly Monday night meetings, that’s fine…but when discussion takes place, I believe that crosses the line. Circumventing the Open Meeting Law by ignoring the spirit of that essential regulation.

Sincerely Yours,

Larry Kelley

The DA found that since a quorum was not present no violation occured. Go figure!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Luck of the Irish not with Cherry Hill

I promised a reporter (who is also now a born again blogger) that I would be up and running (or I should say snowshoeing) on St. Patrick’s Day. And since we’re both Irish, I figured I had better keep my promise. So here goes:

Today’s Front Page Gazette story by Nick Grabbe (above the fold, no less) “Cherry Hill Boss Resigns” was about as surprising to me as the announcement that Select Board Czar Anne Awad and Select board minion Robie Hubley have been secretly married for a while.

Dan Engstrom may be a decent golfer (I heard he took a lot of weekends off to play at tournaments) and turf manager (with a degree from Umass Stockbridge a most reputable institution) but anybody with an ounce of sense would almost instantly realize he’s not a brain surgeon…I mean, MANAGER.

Mr. Grabbe called me last week and wanted my files (that go back 19 years) from 1996 where Engstrom was found guilty of sexual harassment. It was my first use of Public Documents law and I had to appeal the town turning down my request.

State Public Records Supervisor Alan Cote agreed with me and the town had to release the investigation, with the name of the young women blacked out for her protection.

Now if it had been a DPW worker, firefighter, or police officer found guilty of sexual harassment in overly PC Amherst you can bet they would have been summarily fired. But not the “Boss” of the golf course. I think at the time Town Manager Barry Del Castilho (who married his secretary) figured Big Old Dan was irreplaceable, especially in mid-season.

Engstrom did absorb a one-month suspension (with pay however), and I’m fairly sure the part-time seasonal help did the pesticide applications, even though they did not have proper state license for handling potentially deadly chemicals (the neighbors will be happy to hear this now, but that’s what they get for the reverse NIMBY lobbying that brought us Cherry Hill in the first place).

Another disconcerting event for neighbors occurred in 2000 when Engstrom burned the remains of the old clubhouse to avoid the $55 per ton dump (I mean landfill) fees. Town Meeting had been told they could build a 1,500 square foot new Clubhouse for $100,000. I told Town Meeting they were out of their minds and it would cost at least $130,000.

Former Conservation guru Pete Westover (Supervisor of Dan Engstrom at the time, although he had no business or management experience but was great at playing in the woods) in response to a question from the floor about huge bonfires for almost a month replied, “As far as I know brush was the only thing burned.”

So I went to the site early one morning and started digging (literally). And with the very first turn of the spade uncovered burned nails—some of recent vintage and some colonial vintage (the Clubhouse, a former barn, was ancient).

I complained to the Department of Environmental Protection, the fire chief did an investigation and Engstrom finally admitted they “accidentally” included construction debris with the brush, with a housing project less than a football field downwind. The DEP found them in violation but issued no fines.

Five years ago I noticed in a budget spreadsheet (acquired thru Public Documents Law) that “building maintenance” had gone from a budget projection of $2,000 to $32,333 (a Big Dig style overrun) in FY01 and then back down to $2,000 in FY2002. Now you have to wonder how a brand new building requires $32,333 in maintenance?

Yeah, they had fudged the books by using an extra $32,000 to during construction, thus making the $100,000 Clubhouse a $132,000 Clubhouse (pretty damn close to my prediction to town meeting in November, 1999).

And they were to cheap to use an actual contractor to do the foundation work so they stole a crew of DPW workers (and a backhoe) for a day or two and used the town engineer for a full-week to do the blueprints for the Clubhouse as well, thus impacting the DPW budget thousands of dollars.

In March 2004 Dan Engstrom testified before the Select board “things I believe are turning around” in response to then-Chair Carl Seppala’s question about current revenues/expenditures. Yeah, right.

That year Cherry Hill went on to lose $127,201, the second highest loss in history ($136,000 in FY01 being the record--but $32,333 of that was from the Clubhouse overrun).

About three weeks ago Select Board member Rob Kusner called me to complain about something I posted at and in the course of the conversation let slip that the rookie Town Manager Larry Shaffer had paid a surprise visit to Cherry Hill in early August and was not impressed with what he found.

On August 17’th Shaffer issued a brief press release saying Engstrom was no longer manager and was now a groundskeeper and would be working year round rather than getting five months off with pay.

Of course Engstrom would still be collecting his $60,000 annual salary (more than the highest paid classroom teacher in the venerable Amherst school system). And, although his business has required $900,000 in taxation for operations over his tenure, Engstrom doesn’t even live or pay taxes in Amherst.

So NO… I’m not surprised he “resigned”. What do I think happened? Sexual harassment again? Maybe. But, during his one-month paid vacation he was required to undergo professional counseling.

Theft? Maybe. Cherry Hill is a CASH business. Six years ago Dan left over a thousand dollars in cash in the temporary clubhouse overnight from a week-end tournament Cherry Hill hosted and the shed was broken into and the cash disappeared. Police never found the culprit.

For the Record I issued this statement on the Town Meeting listserve yesterday (mainly to scoop today’s Gazette article):

I do not celebrate the demise of Dan Engstrom. I have ALWAYS felt he was in way over his head as a manager--and certainly others in town administration should have noticed that. The real villains are former Town Manager Barry Del Castilho, the Select Board, the Finance Committee and Town Meeting. And the real losers are the taxpayers who have thus far spent over $900,000 on the operation of a sub-par golf business.