Saturday, June 30, 2007

A little too much information

When my business phone rings and caller ID reads “unknown caller” it’s almost always a pesky salesperson, so I don’t bother answering. On Tuesday the unknown caller tried a second time so I had to give them the benefit of the doubt. Turns out it was Rich Alcorn calling from China to tell me to check my email because we needed to get a Legal Notice in the newspapers immediately for the Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School (opening this September in a, thus far, secret location.)

As a founding member of PVCIC my job was Public Relations (mostly counter-fighting the overly territorial Amherst Regional School Committee) and Display Advertising to get interested parents in the door.

We were the only Charter (out of ten applications) approved this year and even prior to that, were quickly oversubscribed for students…. so I did my job.

I simply cut and paste the Legal Notice from Mr. Alcorn’s email and added an intro sentence:

We need this to run ASAP (full press run Legal Notices). Bill to Larry Kelley, 596 South Pleasant St, Amherst, Ma 01002


Larry Kelley
413 256-0080
413 xxx-xxxx (home)


Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School:
Application Deadline & Lottery Date

The deadline for submitting applications (aka:
"lottery enrollment form" for the current enrollment
cycle is July 31st, 2007. Applications can be sent to:
PVCI Founders, c/o R. Alcorn, 188 Pleasant St.,
Easthampton, MA 01027, FAX: 413-527-5155. Parents or
guardians must attend an information session to submit
an application. If there are more applications than
open slots, then a pre-enrollment lotteries will be
conducted July 11th, 2007 and August 1st, 2007 at
1:30pm at 188 Pleasant Street, Easthampton, MA.
Enrollment in the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion
Charter School is subject to final approval of the
school's opening by the State of Massachusetts.
Additional information is at or

Well, they forgot to take out my intro sentence with my name, address and home phone number. Yikes! Today they published a make good at no charge without my intro. Luckily I didn’t write “please bury this on the page where nobody will see it.”
Sunday Afternoon Update:
A fellow Amherst blogger sent me a funny email regarding this post enclosing the Gazette story from June 7’th with the cute comment:

Like the old Calgon commercial used to say: "Ancient Chinese secret, huh?"

Chinese charter school sets sights on Hadley

HADLEY - The founders of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Language Immersion Charter School have chosen a Route 9 location in Hadley as the temporary site on which their school will begin life in September.

-----Response Message-----
Sent: Sun, 1 Jul 2007 2:32 am
Subject: Re: Whaddya mean "secret?"

And we just know how perfectly correct the Gazette always is, eh?

Monday Update: I loved Diane Lederman's lead (only thing I would have added: and nobody will notice)
Amherst plans big parade, fest
Monday, July 02, 2007

With Independence Day dividing the work week, government activity will slow down.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Potholes or Potties?

So once again Amherst town officials hoodwinked the Gazette. Today’s editorial effort (one of three, so I guess it would constitute an editorial lite) regarding the pothole situation in overly enlightened Amherst seems to have bought hook line and sinker the prospect that the town actually ran out of money in the pothole repair budget and as a result let most of the town resemble the Navy Vieques testing range.

The REAL STORY is the DPW was kept busy in the downtown this spring constructing a sidewalk and is STILL preoccupied at South Amherst’s Groff Park “comfort station” (outhouse, potty place, bathroom, restroom, toilet).

Most cities and towns in Massachusetts contract out those kinds of construction projects to the private sector freeing up the public DPW to concentrate on more basic services like potholes, water/sewer repair, and pruning trees.

When the town manager informed the Select board on May 31’st that the hot patch budget had gone ice cold we were still in FY07 and last year at the start of FY07 with no talk of an Override the last thing anyone worried about was potholes or snow and ice removal (another prime DPW function).

So the failure of the Override at the May 1’st Special Election, that cost taxpayers $12,000…enough to fill all the potholes in town on May 2’nd, is clearly connected; like two BIG DOTS (or potholes).

Daily Hampshire Gazette Friday, June 29, 2007
In Our Opinion: Worth noting
In a financial rut
There's been a lot of talk about the problems towns and cities in Massachusetts are having tending to their basic responsibilities because of tight budgets and inadequate state aid. One good example occurred recently in Amherst, which had to cobble together money from different accounts simply to fix the numerous potholes in town.

It first appeared that Amherst might not have sufficient money in its pothole fund to smooth out the city's roads. The problem was averted, though, when Guilford Mooring, the city's superintendent of public works, said he had discovered additional money for road improvements in some capital accounts.

The problem is that money won't always be waiting, tucked away in other accounts, the next time the road repair budget runs dry in Amherst. The problem isn't limited to Amherst, either; other communities in the Pioneer Valley have found it difficult in recent years to come up with sufficient funding to pay for road projects.

A reliable road system is essential for economic development. Road maintenance will continue to pose a challenge as residential and commercial development continues throughout the Valley. Even the state is facing a pinch; it's estimated that Massachusetts faces a nearly $20 billion shortfall for roads, bridges and other transportation projects across the state.

Former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato used to jokingly call himself "Senator Pothole" - a reference to the importance of tending to the basic concerns of local communities, such as road improvements. It's clear there's something wrong when the state and local communities cannot tend to such basic responsibilities as road repairs. This is a conversation that's long overdue. Amherst may have been lucky this time around in finding the additional money for road repairs, but it would be a mistake for anyone to assume this problem is just going to fix itself.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Safe for Democracy?

The last lonely potholes in Amherst were filled yesterday—the DPW access road-- thus making the town safe for summer travel. But the brawny town manager cautions that the road ahead (FY08 starts July 1), because of lean budgets, could be a tad bumpy.

So perhaps if we have a bad winter and the DPW “snow and ice removal” budget is expended (as routinely occurs with even a moderate winter) they can just sit back and let Mother Nature bury the roads in white.

After all, they have to come up with something to show that the May 1’st Override failure will result in pain.

Maybe have the cops only respond to three-out-of-four 911 calls. Dispatch could deliver the message to the unlucky 4’th caller “Sorry but our emergency staff are all tied up, please call back later and maybe you will be the lucky winner.”

What the heck, most of the fire calls are false alarms. Responding to three-out-of-five should catch most of the real ones.

I suppose you could shut down Town Hall one day during the business week, but they pretty much do that anyway when the weather is nice. It’s called Friday.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hell, by any other name...

As we approach that Rockwellian summer holiday celebrating the birth of our great nation a tiny island that once loomed large in the never-ending war to keep Americans free has popped up in the news again.

Japan reinstituted the name Iwo To, as it was originally called before Japanese officers mistakenly called it Iwo Jima. Either way, the almost 7,000 marines who died there in some of the most Hellish fighting of the war are still dead (as are the almost 21,000 Japanese defenders.)

US military personnel are currently searching the island for the remains of Sgt. Bill Genaust a marine cameraman who also captured that iconic (second) flag raising on Mount Suribachi and like almost half the men involved in either flag raising, failed to survive the battle.

Unlike civilian AP photographer Joe Rosenthal, who snapped the famous still photo, Genaust was a marine who also carried a rifle. And when things got tough he chose the rifle over the movie camera. Days after the Mount Suribachi triumph, with the battle still in doubt, he used his camera light to help fellow marines peer into a cave. He was killed and his body never recovered. The cave forgotten…until now.

And Charles Lindberg (not the aviator) died Sunday. He was one of the marines who helped raise the first flag on Mount Suribachi.

Although smaller than the more famous second raising it was nevertheless visible enough to marines hunkered down on the beach and navy ships off shore to set off a cacophony of celebratory cheers, whistles and horns--until the enemy counterattacked.

The men may have perished back then or just now, but their spirit lives on forever. Semper Fi.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Going down with the ship.

Okay, back from international intrigue to the mundane. Just to demonstrate how selfless our DPW is, they filled potholes all over town last week but didn’t get the one in the middle of their own access road (that I share).

July 1’st, the start of the new fiscal year, is almost here. It also marks the Town Manager’s one-year employment anniversary. Guess I can’t call him a “rookie” anymore.

Friday, June 22, 2007

How soon we forget

So did you read the paper today—hardcopy or Internet? Notice anything missing? I usually scan 3 or 4 per day, and today--only 96 hours post mortem--not a mention of the catastrophic South Carolina inferno that snuffed out the lives of nine firefighters.

Hard to believe just seven-and-a-half years ago the media for days and days on end covered the stunning tragedy of Worcester’s “building from Hell” where a half-dozen firefighters paid the ultimate price for simply doing their job.

I was in the control room of Springfield’s Ch. 40 TV as they covered live the funeral ceremony with Senator Kennedy orating better than I have ever heard him speak.

Dave Madson, forever anchor and as good as they come...lost it. He choked up, his voice cracked. Reminiscent of Walter Cronkite, the “most trusted man in America,” gulping as he announced live to millions of anxious Americans that President Kennedy is dead.

Of course it has everything to do with 9/11, where we lost 343 firefighters. And that’s the #1 problem with terrorism. To get the media’s undivided long-term attention they have to break a record, to do the unthinkable, to bring about devastation so catastrophic we can’t even compare it to previous tragic events.

On that awful, awful morning I declared to my long-time business partner that this day, 9/11, would be most historical day of our life. And now, five and half years later, every night I pray that prediction holds.

UPDATE: (one hour after original post):

Yes folks, that first comment (exactly 15 minutes after initial upload) originated from Ankara, Turkey. And he used the Blogger search to find me, so he probably punched in "9/11".

UPDATE #2 (Saturday morning). Well at least the Springfield Republican had a Front Page story today about the fire and the Daily Hampshire Gazette as well, although not as prominently located. No further word from my philosopher friend in the Mid East.

UPDATE #3 (later Saturday morning). DUH! All I had to do was click on his comment and it lead me to his blogger web page. Note video of "assassin America".

UPDATE #4 (Sunday morning). I was not the only blogger Mr. Kurkut visited and left behind his Koran calling card. I noticed a comment on his most recent blog post in Turkey from a Canadian blogger, so I also left one. I'll see your scripture and raise you Shakespeare.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Amherst TM Sopranos Finish

Hey if Hillary Clinton can cash in on popular culture (and we know what a hip lady she is), so can I.

But seriously—and it was hard to take Mr. O’Connor and his “Dark Sky” initiative seriously—at least Town Meeting pulled the plug on this article that would have slapped businesses with $100 per day fines for shedding light after hours.

The Select Board tried to compromise and have the article referred back to the Town Manager but (off duty) Prosecutor Rich Morse pointed out our $125,000 a year Town Manager does not have unlimited time; after all, he has a golf course to revive and he doesn’t work on Bunker Hill Day.

Mr. O’Connor also had his ‘kill the Amherst Redevelopment Authority’ article dismissed by an overwhelming vote. I’m not keeping score, but I don’t think Vince has had a single success this Town Meeting.

The scary thing about Dark Sky is that, in this overly enlightened town, it’s the kind of weirdness that could easily pass. And then what’s next, a fine for driving SUV’s?

In China when the temperature is under 45 degrees and you walk the streets with your newly adopted daughter, it seems no matter how warm you dress her old women will come up and suggest with hand signals that she could use another layer.

Well intentioned for sure. But when government starts acting like overly concerned grandmothers…

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel (or broken front axle)

So after the Town Manager told the Select board on May 31’st that the potholes would simply have to wait until July 1 (start of the new fiscal year) because of budget constraints and even after Finance Committee Vice Chair Brian Morton reaffirmed that travesty to Town Meeting last week, suddenly, mysteriously the potholes on Hulst Road—after Taxpayers for Responsible Change Chair Stan Gawle declared it the worst road in Amherst—are filled.

A particularly irate resident of that neglected street called DPW chief Guilford Mooring and suggested the neglect could be political (as in payback for the Override failure). He again heard profuse apologies and was assured that it was not political, and it was strictly one of those routine budget things. A few hours later Mr. Mooring called the resident back and said the potholes would be done on Monday.


I sent the following message out over the Town Meeting listserve (about 100 subscribers):

So either the DPW found some money in the sofa or little elves came out of the woods one night to make Hulst Road recognizable as a road. About time!

Select Man Kusner responded within minutes:

In a message dated 6/20/07 10:17:35 AM, writes:

You're welcome....

UPDATE#2 (2:00 pm) Terry Franklin gets funny line of the day award:

“… or little elves came out of the woods” writes:
You're welcome....

From: Terry Franklin
Rob, I always did figure you for an elf.

UPDATE #3 (2:15 pm) The Gazette is paying attention:
June 20, 2007
South Amherst potholes filled after numerous complaints from residents
Posted At : 12:50 PM | Posted By : newsroom
Related Categories: Amherst, News
AMHERST - Town officials have responded to complaints voiced in the Gazette last week about potholes in South Amherst.

Public Works crews were on Hulst Road, South East Street and Station Road on Monday and Tuesday filling in the holes in the pavement with asphalt, said Superintendent Guilford Mooring. He said last week there was no money in the budget for the work.

"There was some money left in the capital accounts that we thought was all spent," he said. "It showed up when we were ready to close the books for the (fiscal) year."

He encouraged residents to call 259-3050 to report potholes.

"Hopefully, we'll get all caught up and get back to the routine of doing potholes when they're called in," Mooring said.


Read more about the pothole situation in Friday's Gazette and on and

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why is this man smiling?

After a vigorous day mountain biking 20 of the 27 mile Acadia Park Loop Road and climbing a smaller mountain as a warm-up for Mount Cadillac, we drove to the scenic wonder known as “Thunder Hole” a cave-like crater bored into the side of a massive rock wall by the pounding of ocean waves.

And when the tide is just right, the combination of waves bouncing out of the large fissure combined with an incoming wave create a loud BOOM, like far off thunder.

Since it was almost 5:00 pm I figured it past business hours, so I pulled over at convenient parking spot reserved for tour buses located immediately behind ones reserved for handicapped parking.

A white mini-van with Virginia license plates pulls in front of me and parks in one of the three handicapped spots. Three precocious boys ages 4 to 8 tumble out of the car and the driver gets out almost as quickly.

He’s dressed like Washington bureaucrat on vacation and I think, “Yeah, you’re probably connected, so you can park anywhere.”

He bounds to the back of the van and pops the hatch like he’s done it a thousand times before, and drags out a wheelchair. Then he hustles to the sliding door, bear hugs his young daughter who looks to be twice as old as Kira, my 5-year-old (that I carry around less and less these days) and easily twice her weight.

Donna and Kira had sprinted ahead, so I hurried down the stone stairs to catch up. The next time I saw them, they too had descended the 100 granite steps to get out close to the churning waves. I then realized there was no elevator or chair assist. He had carried her the entire way, and they were holding each other as the waves performed.

Infrequently, a particularly strong incoming wave erupted into a geyser that splashed spectators--draped like laundry--over the iron fence. He had been smiling the entire time. As most folks shrieked at the sudden unexpected drenching, for the first time, safe in the arms of her dad, she smiled.

(Last night Amherst Town Meeting approved, with little comment, $80,000 to make the East Street School handicapped accessible.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

A view from the top

So Kira, my five-year old daughter, had two milestones on our brief getaway to Bar Harbor: She lost her first tooth and climbed her first mountain…fortunately the two were not interconnected.

Mount Cadillac rises 1,532 feet,the tallest mountain on Mt. Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park. About half the height of Mt. Greylock or a quarter of Mt Washington it is nevertheless challenging enough so that the majority of folks you encounter at the top got there by automobile.

Before starting out we assisted two women with horses move a cart around a locked gate on the carriage road by dragging and lifting the cart up a grassy incline and over a small boulder or two.

Kira and Donna were so enthralled with the horses that my wife forgot to pack water for our climb, and we didn’t notice until we had hiked for perhaps 15 minutes. Knowing water was available on the summit we decided to keep going, strait up.

The weather was virtually perfect on this late morning with the sun shining brightly in a cloudless sky, 72 degrees and low humidity.

But after about 45 minutes of steady climbing with sweat dripping freely from our brows I started to question in my own mind the decision not to return to the car for water. About then we came upon a small group of teens--three boys and three girls—sitting clustered comfortable in a shady area under a small pine tree.

One of them dropped a half-full water bottle and it rolled quickly down a rock outcropping and then cascaded out of sight. Just a stark reminder to pay close attention as we continued upward.

Kira never complained, even though she occasionally had to scamper on all fours when things got really steep. Donna or I would hold her hand for extended periods and on occasion I would give her a boost up to a safe perch with Donna then pulling from above.

As we neared the top a couple coming down marveled at Kira having made it that far. I said, “we’re bribing her with the hotel swimming pool” .

We made steady progress and arrived at the summit in about one hour and thirty-five minutes, heading strait for the cold water. On the way down we again encountered the half-dozen teenagers still heading towards the top. And way down near the bottom of the mountain, we found the bottle of water they had lost.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sorry Kids (and parents)

So at tonight’s Town Meeting we learned the War Memorial Pool (you know, a Summer item) would not open until mid-July and the wading pool at Groff Park will not open at all. The town manager thinks it more important for the DPW to be tied up at Groff Park constructing a “comfort station,” polite term for a bathroom--you know the kind of thing most municipalities contract out to the private sector. Even though folks have gotten along just fine for the past two years with good old reliable sani-cans.

And the reason it is taking them so long to do the comfort station is because they were preoccupied constructing sidewalks in the downtown (another thing that could have been contracted out).

And the one thing EVERY municipal DPW lives for—filling potholes—will not happen until July 1’st, because they have no money for hot patch, no money for manpower (or women power) and no leadership from the Select board or Town Manager to get the job done.

Okay, on another less angry note. I’m leaving for Bar Harbor early this morning for a few days. Now I will find out if I’m addicted to this blog stuff or not.

Only in Amherst: Pothole Alley.

If I lived on Hulst Road I would engage in civil disobedience to draw attention to the moonscape that once was a road. Unsafe for cyclist (I almost crashed), unsafe for cars, or even pedestrians.

Somebody should collect the hubcaps and dump them on the Town Manager's desk.

Stan Gawle, founder of the Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change has a great letter in this week's Amherst Bulletin:

To The Editor,

The Town of Amherst is projected to collect $1.4 million in motor vehicle exise taxes this year.Yet our Town Officials have declared a pothole fixing moratorium until July 1st because we ran out of monies to patch potholes, I recently took a ride to visit some friends in South Amherst. As I entered their street, I was impressed with the amount, variety and depth of the potholes. The road appeared to have been a receipient of a B-52 carpet bombing run. A caring resident had even gone so far as to paint circles around some of them.

I am nominating Hulst Rd. as the worst maintained road in Amherst. It is yet another example of the Town's failure to provide basic core services while wasting tax dollars on non-essentials like Leisure Services. If the Town can put off its basic responsibilities, so can we.

I encourage the residents of Hulst Rd. and other neglected streets, as well as other sympathetic taxpayers, to take the first step and not pay their exise and property taxes until the day they are due.
Stanley Gawle

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Town Officials Can't Take The Heat

Feeling scorched, Town Meeting revisited the shameful pool closing decision and reversed course—the pools will open. Unfortunately no such luck with the money pit Golf Course. And that too, is only going to get hotter.

Last night for the first time in memory Cherry Hill came up early in the meeting…first no less.

Since the Town Manager had stated many times publicly and privately that he wanted to give Cherry Hill one year to ascertain the effectiveness of this new management ‘surge’ (with only a one-quarter time LSSE bureaucrat in command perhaps ‘drip’ is a better description) I honestly thought Town Meeting might agree to hold him to his word.

My motion was to give them $150,000--more than enough money to get from July 1’st to fall/winter closing (giving new management fifteen months total), and then do a mid-year analysis and see if the surge is working. If not, put it out to bid or put a bullet in its head (fade to black).

Select person Hwei-Ling Greeney and, twice now, prosecutor Rich Morse have tried to get a strait answer number out of the Town Manager to use as a benchmark for success or failure. He simply refuses to go there.

On May 31 Mr. Shaffer told the Select board Cherry Hill had generated $174,412. Interestingly the math challenged Ms. Awad warned him to be careful with his figures.

According to the Comptroller Cherry Hill is a few thousand under his figure (that, amazingly he described as "up almost 10%") and last year was at $167,897 or only about 3% less than current. So factoring in inflation, they are exactly where they were a year ago with only June remaining in the Fiscal Year.

And with a rainy June thus far they will be lucky to hit the same $28,771 from last year. But even with a 10% surge that still only closes June with $31,648 and a Fiscal year total just under $205,000 or less than last year’s revenue goal of $206,903.

With the FY07 budget as approved by Town Meeting Cherry Hill requires $224,000 to break even. Last week the Finance Committee used an emergency$16,400 transfer from the Reserve Fund cover budget overruns. So $19,000 in revenues shortfalls combined with $16,400 in budget overruns comes to losses of over $35,000… when we could have privatized the White Elephant for a positive $35,000.

Last year Cherry Hill lost $59,649, a 20% greater subsidy than the War Memorial Pool. Next year will be worse. “When will they ever learn? When will they…ever learn.”

From: Aldrich, Sonia
Cc: Shaffer, Larry
Sent: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 10:57 am
Subject: RE: Cherry Hill


We won’t have the May revenues finalized until the end of the week. The funds are in the bank just the allocations have not been completed…..busy time of year. The total recorded to date for May is $37,581.21 and year-to-date $171,399.80.


Hey Sonia,
So about how much more could it be for May? A few thousand, or ten thousand?

Cc: Shaffer, Larry
Sent: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 12:00 pm
Subject: RE: Cherry Hill

A couple days, a few hundred maybe a thousand.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Uncharted territory at that.

Darn! I grudgingly have to award Larry Jackson (those damn movie producers) the premiere line in Nick Grabbe’s Front-page Gazette article ‘Activism goes with Territory’.

Said the sagacious former Hollywood Honcho: “The community seems to go to great lengths to not do or say anything that will offend anybody—unless that person is a Republican.”

I would have used “Conservative” rather than “Republican,” although most folks—especially in Amherst—think they are interchangeable. If I ever switched to Republican, however, my staunch Irish-Catholic mother would broadcast a banshee wail from beyond the grave.

I’m just happy the headline editor didn’t steal the name of my blog, although Regional school committee member Michael Hussin whines about the often-used phrase (usually accompanied by a rolling of the eyes) “Only in Amherst.”

But then, Mr. Hussin was a BIG supporter of the school allowing ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and was in fact the only Committee member who spoke publicly in favor of it.

And Mr. Hussin also acted as the Regional School Committee’s (toothless) attack dog, assailing the Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School, the only proposal of ten to receive a Department of Education charter this year.

Fortunately Hussin shoots from the hip; and he’s a lousy shot.

I’m sure somebody will accuse me of racism for stating Amherst “takes minority opinions a little too seriously.” Mr. Grabbe left out my illustration: The ‘West Side Story’ fiasco happened because of the actions of ONE 17-year-old Puerto Rican girl who collected 288 signatures (out of 1,600) on a petition circulated at the High School decrying the play as “racist”.

About a year earlier another Senior (white male, so nobody took it seriously) collected 300 signatures on a petition demanding the right to leave school premises during the day so students could smoke, presumably cigarettes. So much for the judgment of High School kids signing petitions.

In a 4-1 closed door School Committee meeting in 1948 my mom (back when her maiden name was Connors) was fired from her job at the Amity Street School where she taught for two years resulting in a firestorm (even covered by the Boston papers) with mobs of concerned citizens attending School Committee meetings and writing Letters To The Editor to voice their outrage at her dismissal.

Nobody raised the issue of her Irish heritage, but many folks thought it had a lot to do with the firing.

Kevin Joy, who revived the July 4’th Parade in 2002, and I hosted an overnight Irish Wake on the town common with a replica of the Twin Towers on the eve of First Anniversary of 9/11, a woman later complained to the Bulletin: “Irish storytellers tales are compilations of the vernacular of the tragic. This keeps the tap flowing and the bottle caps flying.”

As a teenager Emily Dickinson whimsically wrote to her brother requesting he come home and deal with all the Irish that had washed ashore and flowed inland to Amherst (for work on the railroad) suggesting, “To kill some—there are so many now, there is no room for the Americans.”

Forty years later, after retreating into a literary world where the Irish exclusively and faithfully served her, Miss Emily requested in writing a simple funeral with six Irish pallbearers and my great, great Grandfather Tom Kelley—even though he had only one arm—acting as the Chief pallbearer.

Recently the Select Board voted unanimously to fly the Rainbow Flag in front of Town Hall for a week to commemorate the Third Anniversary of the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling allowing gay marriage. Only moments later, they unanimously took “no position” on my request to fly 29 commemorative flags in the downtown to mourn 9/11.

And earlier this week Town Meeting resoundingly defeated my Special Town Meeting Warrant Article (requested by 200 Amherst taxpayers) to reissue a Request For Proposals to privatize the always ailing Cherry Hill Golf Course.

Last year practically the identical article proposed by Irv Rhodes (and only requiring ten Amherst taxpayers signatures) passed Town Meeting by a vote of 72-62. Irv Rhodes is black.

As Stephanie would say, Hmmmm.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hey Kids: No Pool For YOU!

Only in Amherst would Town Meeting vote to continue squandering ten$ of thousand$ of tax dollar$ on a Golf Course that attracts mostly white, middle-aged males from outside Amherst and then vote to kill the War Memorial Pool that, conversely, attracts mainly Amherst children--many low income and ethnically diverse.

And I do mean kill! Because if the War Memorial Pool does not open this summer for the first time in over 50 years, the infrastructure damage caused by deterioration of components requiring moving water could be fatal.

Last year Town Meeting, over the Finance Committee’s objection, supported privatizing Cherry Hill; last night Town Meeting overwhelming voted against essentially the same measure and this time it had the unanimous support of the Finance Committee.

Town Meeting is supposed to control the purse strings, but every year they pass a Cherry Hill budget built on wishful thinking and outright lies, requiring year-end infusions of copious amounts of cash.

Immediately before the Cherry Hill privatization debacle, Town Meeting voted to increase the Finance Committee’s Reserve Fund because the $50,000 emergency account was completely tapped out, with Cherry Hill budget overruns absorbing $16,500.

Last week the Town Manager told the Select board there was no money until July 1 for pothole maintenance because the DPW budget was depleted.

No money for potholes, no money for the War Memorial and kids wading pools, but endless amounts for golf.

Now I know my background music for the YouTube upload: “No it isn’t very pretty what a town without pity….cannnn doooo.”

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Revenge of the Potholes

Monday night the schizophrenic Finance Committee voted unanimously to support Wednesday night's Special Town Meeting warrant article to "strongly urge" the Select board to "strongly urge" the Town Manager to reissue the Cherry Hill Golf Course privatization proposal but with a three year contract.

Yes, these are the same fiscal watchdogs that wrote in the 2004 Annual Town Report: “The Town should no longer operate Cherry Hill Golf Course. Instead, requests for proposals for outside management should be put out by the fall of 2004. If this is not done the course should be closed.”

Barry Del Castilho did put the course out to bid (telling the Select board the minimum bid needs to be $30,000) but garnered no responses. The Finance Committee then went back to supporting (losing) business as usual at Cherry Hill. They predicted a loss of $8,710 for FY06 countering the Pollyannaish outgoing town manager’s prediction of a $16,084 profit. Actual losses that year were $59,649

And last year they opposed Irv Rhodes Town Meeting article that “strongly urged” the Select board to reissue an RFP for the beleaguered golf business. Town Meeting supported it anyway and the rookie Town Manager then turned down an offer for $30,000 to $35,000 annually because the respondent wished for a three-year commitment.

Perhaps the Finance Committee feels guilty about spending one-third of the emergency Reserve Fund on golf, leaving no money for filling potholes.

Yesterday Fin Com member Andy Steinberg, in an attempt at damage control, wrote on the Town Meeting Listserve: “The $16,425 was due to costs associated with the change in management, unbudgeted increases in utilities and some additional seasonal help that was required.”

Yeah, sound like typical cost overruns to me.

Superintendent Dan Engstrom, believe it or not, made $60,000 annually running Cherry Hill for 7 months out of the year. But he was paid in $5,000 monthly installments. After his sudden resignation on March 17 (or be fired) he collected his final salary check on April 1. So his impact on the budget normally would have been $15,000 over the last three months anyway.

On August 18,2006 the rookie Town Manager issued a press release announcing that “the Cherry Hill Golf Course operation has been assigned to the Director of Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department, with Barbara Bilz assuming oversight of the course operations on a day to day basis,”

Interestingly the press piece closes with: “The town is fortunate to have Dan Engstrom, Course Manager, to continue his expertise in maintaining one of the highest quality public golf course in Massachusetts.”

Well, big old Dan continued to offer his expertise only until March 17’th, when the luck of the Irish suddenly and mysteriously ran out for him. Now if only the taxpayers could catch a break!

Breaking News Update: 2:45 pm. Turn About Fairplay

Vince O’Connor, everyone’s favorite activist and longtime Town Meeting member and member of the Public Works Committee filed a written complaint on June 1 with the DPW department with a list of streets where “potholes constitute a safety hazard to both motor vehicles and bicyclists." He closes with “Even tho the Department has expended its budget on other projects I believe these areas constitute such a hazard as to require a trip to the Finance Committee Reserve Fund”

Vince will be disappointed to learn the Finance Committee Reserve Fund is spoken for, with Cherry Hill Golf Course yelling the loudest. Now if only Vince had not been so instrumental in the original Taking Of Cherry Hill 20 years ago…

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Question of Priorities in The People's Republic

Filling potholes is one of those mundane tasks of local government that goes unnoticed until it doesn’t happen. Like forgetting to brush your teeth once to often and then having to fill a cavity or endure tooth replacement.

Mayors have lost elections because snow and ice removal was ineffective after a particularly bad blizzard, or garbage collection languished in the middle of a blistering heat wave, or because an influential individual had their luxury car’s suspension ruined by a cavernous pothole.

Town Manager Larry Shaffer reported to the Select board Thursday night that the $27,600 DPW asphalt budget was depleted, so we would have to wait until the start of the new fiscal year (July 1) for pothole maintenance.

Excuse me?

Would a restaurant in Florida wait a summer month for air conditioning repairs because their HVAC maintenance budget was expended? Divert from another budget, take out a loan or rob a bank.

I quickly asked if the $50,000 emergency Reserve Fund controlled by the Finance Committee could be tapped and Mr. Shaffer responded that it was completely encumbered.

Moments later the Town Manager championed the Cherry Hill Golf Course; but he made the mistake of releasing current revenues—$175,000—with only June remaining in the Fiscal Year. And last June they generated $28,000, so even if they do 10% better that still brings them in at $206,000. The Finance Committee declared $224,000 in revenues required for break even.

Even worse, the Town Manager projected operations at $213,000 a $21,000 overrun from the $192,385 budget approved by the Finance Committee and Town Meeting. $18,000 in revenue shortfalls combined with $20,615 budget overruns equals tax losses of $38,615 for FY07 (not counting the $17,000 Payment In Lieu Of Taxes no longer made).

So if the Niblik privatization contract had been in effect, rather than a $38,615 loss we could have had a $35,000 gain or a $73,615 turnaround, significant enough to fund teachers, police or human services.

Last year Cherry Hill lost $59,649 and the Finance Committee covered $13,419 of that from the Reserve Fund.

On Friday I called FinCom chair Alice Carlozzi to confirm the current status of the Reserve Fund. She corroborated that it was entirely tapped out and, indeed, Cherry Hill will absorb $16,500 of that—or one-third of the total fund created to cover “unanticipated emergencies.”

We can spend emergency money on golf, but not on potholes? Only in Amherst!