Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cherry Hill: Missing the green...again!

If only cup cakes or alcohol consumed in a closet didn’t impact your waistline, dieting would be a snap. And if our ailing golf business, no longer an Enterprise Fund, didn’t have those pesky $31,612 in hidden costs, insurance and employee benefits, (beancounters call them “indirect costs”) this past fiscal year Cherry Hill would have broke even for the first time in a decade.

But as usual, in FY07 Cherry Hill trampled its operation budget of $192,385 by $20,000 coming in at $212,260 and revenues fell short of the $220,000 at $219,440. Thus the $23,000 Reserve transfer rubber stamped by the diffident Finance Committee on 7/11 should, almost, cover the actual overall losses of $24,432.

Although I still take issue with using a fund designed for “unanticipated emergencies” to cover routine losses at our sinkhole golf business.

And considering Cherry Hill generated $245,932 five years ago, when managed by that guy who mysteriously disappeared (after 20 years) on April 1’st, allowing town officials to scapegoat his mismanagement for business woes, you have to wonder about this super-manager, Barbara Bilz.

Alice Carlozzi tried to get Finance Director John Musante to declare the difference “a wash” at the 7/11 Finance Committee meeting, perhaps I’ve been running a small business too long, but I consider $24,432 a very expensive John Edwards kind of wash.

The rejected Niblik bid for private management at $30,000 per year in GUARANTEED profit instead of a minus $24-K equals a $54,000 difference…or one police officer, a teacher, a building inspector.

And the golf budget Town Meeting approved on June 12 has a $15,000 higher operations and an additional $15,000 in capital for FY08. So IF Cherry Hill intakes the same $220,000 losses will total $35,000 and then add in the guaranteed $30,000 we could have had with private management…

ARA (1) Select Board (0)

And since nobody seems to have spotted my update posted last night at 7:45: NO, the ARA did not scurry up to the Town Clerk's office on a hot and humid Monday afternoon to post a meeting we were specifically excluded from.

Subject: Re: ARA Vacancy Election August 1, 2007
From: Gerry Weiss gerryweiss@comcast.net


I was out of town yesterday, so I instructed Larry to deal with this. I believe he agreed that we should wait until September. If however, the ARA has posted a meeting for this Wednesday, then I believe we could proceed with the election on Wednesday night. If the ARA did not post a meeting, then we will have to wait if the ARA wishes to have a joint meeting. Please let everyone know if the meeting was posted. thanks,


To: Alisa Brewer
Cc: Larry Kelley ; Jonathan Tucker ; Jeanne Traester ; Nancy Gordon ; Gail Weston ; Larry Shaffer (TOWN MGR)
Sent: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 5:28 am

Monday, July 30, 2007

How hot is it?

-----Original Message-----
From: Alisa Brewer
To: Gerry Weiss

Subject: ARA Vacancy Election August 1, 2007

Hi Gerry-

If it turns out that all of the current ARA members can come at 7:00 Wednesday, I personally have no reason to prevent them from voting in a joint election. Of course, they'd need to post their meeting today -- right now -- to get the 48 hours notice. Perhaps it would be wise for them to do so, anyway, since they might have a quorum that might have some substantive discussion even if they aren't part of the election?


Take care,
-- Alisa V. Brewer
Cc: Larry Kelley ; Jonathan Tucker ; Jeanne Traester ; Nancy Gordon ; Gail Weston ; Larry Shaffer (TOWN MGR)
Sent: Mon, 30 Jul 2007 12:20 pm
UPDATE: Mon, 30 Jul 2007 7:45 pm Did the ARA post the meeting with the Town Clerk for Wednesday? Well, no.

The hot seat

His Lordship Gerry Weiss must think the sun rises and sets upon the Amherst Select Board.

At their July 23 meeting Mr. Weiss complained he had made it s-o-o-o pubic about the ARA opening (“over a month ago”). Yeah, well that meeting (June 13’th), buried in a backroom at the Middle School, had Amherst Redevelopment Authority on the agenda but the minutes show “No action taken”.

And on June 18 ARA chair Fran Van Treese appeared before the snobby Select Board to argue against Vince O’Connor’s Town Meeting proposal to “Abolish the ARA”.

Ms. Van Treese effectively advocated for the ARA as the Select board voted unanimously to dismiss Mr. O’Connor’s pernicious proposal. So why didn’t Mr. Weiss advise Ms. Van Treese at that meeting the vacant seat was such a burning issue?

Select Man Kusner came to our July 10’th ARA meeting (where we signed a draft letter of formal notification to the Select Board). Of course he later told the Select Board we were unqualified to pick a replacement, something he dared not mention to us that night.

I received a chatty email from Select Man Alisa Brewer on June 22 saying “The clock's ticking, man...the SB gets to do the appointing our own selves if you all don't tell us within 30 days, and the ARA (during the time you were not an ARA member) already blew the 30 days by not letting the Town Clerk know to put *two* positions on the annual ballot. Given that drop in the ball handling, I talked SB and Larry`` into using the date of Town Counsel's letter about that issue.”

The town counsel’s letter (date June 18 and stamped ‘Received June 19’) clearly says, “The ARA may not have been aware of nor in a position to notify the Select Board of this vacancy. This statute’s preference is to offer to the authority which incurs the vacancy a roll in filling out its membership. Therefore, it may be appropriate on the part of the Select Board and ARA to jointly fill the post upon delivery of written notice as proscribed above.”

The Town Manager confirmed to the Select board at their July 25 meeting: “At its last meeting (July 10) the ARA did vote to provide formal notification to the Select board of the vacancy” And that vote (not to mention signing a draft letter) was well within the one month period from the town counsel’s letter.

This ARA (hot) seat has been vacant since the election of April 4, 2006. And since nothing happens in Amherst between July 4’th and Labor Day another month is not going to matter.

Installing a (Manchurian) Candidate on the ARA without their input may further the goals of the Select Board, but it will be a setback for downtown development.
9:30 UPDATE:
So I just now received a “reply all” email from fellow ARA member (Governor appointed) Jeanne Traester to the Select Board, ARA, and Town Manager confirming she would be at the August 1’st Select board meeting.

I didn’t get the original email sent July 20 (Chair Fran Van Treese just confirmed she did not get it either) from Town Hall, but it was an invite to a JOINT MEETING August 1’st with the Select Board to appoint a new ARA member.

The attached memo from the Town Manager dated July 19 and billed as “New Business” for Select Board meeting of July 23 states: “I recommend that the Select Board and ARA utilize the process employed by the Select Board and School Committee for filling of the vacancy on the School Committee created by the resignation of Alisa Brewer.”


Of course Ms. Traester is showing up thinking she’s invited…yikes!

UPDATE: 10:20 Just received another email from Gail Weston that, sort of, clarifies things:

From: Weston, Gail
Sent: Friday, July 27, 2007 4:54 PM
To: Tucker, Jonathan
Subject: Amherst Redevelopment Authority Election

The election for the Amherst Redevelopment Authority will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the 8/1/07 Select Board Meeting. Amherst Redevelopment Authority members are invited to attend but it will not be a joint meeting. Will you notify the members or is this something that I should do?

Gail Weston

Assistant to the Town Manager

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Tree (or two) Grows in Amherst

Since half of Amherst is tax exempt (owned by Amherst College, Umass and our Conservation Department) the other half has to pick up an awful lot of slack. And then, within that taxable half shouldering twice the burden, homeowners contribute 90% while commercial property only accounts for 10%.

So now when property goes off the tax rolls it’s like throwing a drowning person a 25-pound Olympic weight plate rather than a life preserver.

Recently Umass purchased and demolished Frat Row, five funky big old houses at the gateway to Umass that previously generated over $50,000 in taxes. And Amherst College outbid developers for the Dakin Estate next to college owned Amherst Golf Course. Although the property was valued at less than a million the purchase price was four times that so if, say, Barry Roberts, had won the bid he would have paid Amherst $60,000 the last two years and much more when his development was completed.

And speaking of Roberts, the town now wants to purchase 7 of his 13 lots in North Amherst (the more mountainous ones) for anywhere from $500,000 to $700,000 to quiet the NIMBY types mostly those living in Leverett. Thus, instead of adding $2 million to the tax levy Amherst gets less than zip.

Any time anybody wants to develop or expand their property the neighbors are quick to cite turtle habitat, swamp fauna, or increased traffic that will endanger the kids. I fear greatly that Amherst College is going to discover that sad fact when they go before Town Meeting to get the zoning change (requiring a two-thirds vote) for the $5 million expansion of the Lord Jeff Inn, which would more than double tax revenues to Amherst (yes, the Lord Jeff and the Golf Course are on the tax rolls).

While the trees in question are common—maple and fir—they are pretty BIG. And in this town, as long as they are large enough to hug…

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Amherst 7/4 Parade Déjà vu: Much Ado About Nothing

So about half our Committee (four) met with Amherst Town Manager Larry Shaffer this afternoon at 2:15 to discuss next year’s parade permit. And like last year, he opened the “discussion” with the declarative statement: “I’m going to sign your permit.”

If he was not such a gregarious guy, you’re tempted to say “Okay, thanks…I’m out-a-here!”

Like last year, the only indulgence requested was that we hear his mediation if problems occur. Once again we replied exactly the same: “Of course!”

For those of you just tuning in the Amherst July 4’th Parade, as a town function, last occurred during the 1976 Bicentennial, when my cousin Sheriff Bob Garvey lead it as Grand Marshall (his wife Jane Garvey was FAA chief on that awful 9/11 morning).

In 2002, in the turbulent wake of 9/11, Kevin Joy, 5’th generation Amherst townie and former FBI counter-terrorism agent, revived the parade via a volunteer private committee.

And the US Supreme Court unanimously declared that a private committee has the First Amendment right to mitigate off-topic messages: Insidious groups like the KKK, Skin Heads, NAMBLA; or even simply controversial issues like abortion, gun control, gay rights, etc.

The first year we had some whackos in Halloween masks (Presidents Nixon and Clinton) jump into the parade distributing vile literature. Another year an anti-war group wished to march with placards displaying the Bill or Rights (minus the Second Amendment, of course) and we allowed it.

Last year the Amherst Democratic Committee boycotted us (although Congressman John Over, State Senator Stan Rosenberg and Representative Ellen Story happily marched); and…alas, this year the Amherst League of Women Voters SUDDENLY (after five years) boycotted.

Strangely, since our debut in 2002, we have not officially denied anybody marching rights. The League of Women Voters sent a press release to the Town Manger dated June 23 saying they voted in May to boycott.

Hmmm—took you long enough to tell people about it; and no, they did not copy the Parade Committee.

And since we agreed LAST YEAR to discuss ANY Parade problems—especially inclusion—obviously the Town Manager did not take the League letter seriously, otherwise he would have called us.

Next year we are BIGGER than ever (the Town Manger agreed to march again). And, I’m thrilled to say, whackos need not apply.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Selectboard Skullduggery!

So maybe I should delete my last two posts, because the July 10 ARA meeting that hot summer night must have been a figment of my imagination.

Was Selectman Rob Kusner actually there? After watching Monday night’s Select board meeting I can only wonder. He’s either crazy (like a fox) or…

Because it was so routine--what bureaucrats call “housekeeping”--I didn’t even mention that we started with an informal but unanimous agreement to a joint meeting with the Select board in August to fill a vacancy in the 5-member ARA (4 elected one appointed by the Governor, one spot currently open).

The Town Manger wrote it down in his little black book and he even mentioned that he had contacted Peg Roberts who agreed to apply. Since she served over 20 years with the ARA (mostly as Chair) we were all thrilled. In fact, Nancy Gordon (duly elected) said she was in Maine for August but fully supported Peg Roberts. Thus, the “straw vote” was unanimous.

Last March when I was elected with 67 write in’s (Vince O’Connor had 18) the ballot should have showed two openings. That, of course, doesn’t make my election any less credible--especially since I served as the Governor’s appointee for over ten years.

But according to cantankerous Kusner: “Also given the last election did not include the full number of vacancies on the ballot I think that calls into question whether the participation of the currently elected members is appropriate in electing the final one.”

Hmmmm…So Fran Van Treese, who has served over ten years (as Chair) duly elected each time, is suddenly not qualified to participate? Or Governor Romney appointee Jeanne Traester?

Twice Mr. Kusner declared “the Select board alone should be the body that appoints the interim member until the next election.” The others agreed and they set the “election” to a time/date certain: August 1’st at 7:00 pm.

Particularly galling (especially in PC Amherst) was Kusner’s ageism slap at Roberts when he stated into the camera: “I would hope we have more than one candidate,” (we need) “new dynamic people to serve.”

So why the power struggle over who gets to appoint this open seat? Well, the ARA does have the power of eminent domain; and did I mention that the ARA has the power of eminent domain? And Kusner is a power mad puppeteer.

The reason the ARA has eminent domain power is so that we can do DEVELOPMENT. Mr. Kusner, if he had his way, would turn back the clock to when the entire Happy Valley was submerged under Lake Hitchcock.

Stay tuned

Monday, July 23, 2007

Big Doings in little old Amherst

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority 7/10 meeting became a walking tour of the downtown as we exited historic Town Hall and headed over to the equally historic Lord Jeff Inn. Knowing Town Meeting’s affinity for old brick buildings, I was relieved to hear the $5 million renovation would not alter the current structure. Amherst’s skyline is safe.

The expansion behind the historic brick building will require the demolition of a house or two currently owned by Amherst College. Selectman Rob Kusner mentioned a small stream that runs immediately behind (or under) the Inn, although currently it’s bone dry.

They could always use “replication” and install a large aquarium in the new lobby.

The Town Manager pointed to the Spring Street parking lot and explained his grand vision of an Intermodal (rhythms with yodel) Transport Center melding a 400-car garage, bus depot, rail station, and bicycle storage.

Even if Amherst College donated the current parking lot (they politely declined) the cost for the transportation hub approaches $10 million and even if the Feds paid half, that still leaves a $5 million tab for the town.

Yes, the Boltwood Garage cost a little over $4 million--but Senator Rosenberg brought home the bacon in the form of a $3 million state grant. And the ARA donated the land, valued at $350,000 (with only one condition: the garage had to be expandable).

Even then it took years and years of wrangling to overcome the NIMBY concerns of neighbors, for the most part folks living in a complex the ARA renovated from a school to senior housing.

Selectman Kusner then floated the idea of taking land a little further east, closer to the tracks. Aha! No wonder the ARA has become such a hot prom date. We have the power of eminent domain, and a recent legal opinion saying we can use it anywhere in Amherst

Classic Chevrolet, 40 Dickinson Street, has been in business since 1883. Although the facility is a tad tired, it is one of those old brick buildings that Town Meeting and the Historical Commission (who can delay demolition for a year) are quite fond of. And since it touches Kelley Square, I’m kind of fond of it as well.

And, unlike the adjacent Amherst College parking lot, they pay taxes (over $8,000 last year). So NO, I would not be in favor of taking it from Ms. Fungaroli, who has owned it since 1953.

To Be Continued…

Thursday, July 19, 2007

That which survives

In the middle of a sizzling heat wave, I anticipated a boring, unproductive Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting last week, where we barely managed a quorum.

The surprise attendance of Town Manager Larry Shaffer and Selectman Rob Kusner, however, suddenly foreshadowed an interesting evening after all. More on that later.

ARA staff liaison Planning Director Jonathan Tucker is also a townie and an avid local historian. He tossed me an Amherst Record article dated 6/18/1868 detailing a “serious accident” that befell Irish laborer Tom Kelley, my great, great grandfather.

In my October, 2000 Amherst Bulletin column “A fifth Generation Found” I had stated Tom lost his right arm after falling from the roof of the Henry Hills House on Gray Street, founding family of the famous hat factory. Renowned Dickinson scholar Aife Murray placed him falling off the actual Hills Hat factory.

I relied on the remembrance of his granddaughter Catherine Kelley who was in her 90’s when a family member transcribed her recollections. Upon rereading them now, seven years later, the hesitative verb in the sentence “I think grandfather was working on the Henry Hills roof when he fell” should have raised a red flag.

Thomas William Kelley’s life altering event occurred at the Lamp Black Factory (kind of a blacksmith business) on Main Street, while installing a “fire proof roof” after the building had already burned down twice.

Tom plunged thirty feet to a cement floor impacting his right side, shattering “his pelvis two or more ribs and badly breaking the bones in his elbow join.” The arm was soon amputated.

A fellow worker J.M. Cutter also plummeted to the unforgiving floor and “landed on his feet,” but received “such a jar he was insensible for some time”. He later died. Tom is described as “about 33” (he was in fact 31) and Mr. Cutter as 59, but “in good health.”

At that time amputations had a 50/50 mortality rate. And even after constant round-the-clock care from his wife Mary and sister-in-law Maggie Mahar (Emily Dickinson’s “Northwind”) and various children he still was not ready to return to work until summer’s end.

Even after the completion of the fireproof roof the factory later burned to the ground. and did indeed became home to the Hills Hat factory, that also burned down…twice.

Tom migrated a stone’s throw away to Miss Emily’s distinctive Main Street brick house where, along with his sister-in-law Maggie and various sons and daughters, he became a Dickinson “domestic”.

Even with only one arm, his work ethic inspired the respect and friendship of the reclusive brilliant poet, who once wrote to her sister Lavinia, after hearing tragic news “ran to his blue jacket and let my Heart break there—that was the warmest place.”

And after almost 20 years of routine service—including grounds keeping, plumbing, and delivering her letters, poems and gift baskets to the neighborhood—his final act for Miss Emily was the most impressive: To carry her white casket out the back door, acting as Chief Pallbearer along with five other Irish workers, and transport her all the way to West Cemetery.

According to the 5/25/1886 Gazette “The sun was shining in glory, and all the air was sweet with perfume of blossoming trees, as the mortal part of this gifted woman was laid beside those of her parents.”

Tom had purchased land in 1864 from Edward Dickinson for $1,216 (who acquired it from the Railroad five years earlier for $100) just down the hill and on the same side of the tracks. At peak “Kelley Square” —as it is still known today on assessor maps—hosted three houses, fruit trees, roses, grapes and a barn.

Now just an abandoned, overgrown patch of woods minimally taxed as “undeveloped land”. Emily Dickinson’s majestic brick Homestead looks identical today (perhaps better) as 150 years ago. But the Dickinson’s are—although far from forgotten—long gone.

The Kelley’s still remain.


So the Amherst Bulletin not only published Mr. Bowser’s diatribe about pay raises for the municipal head honchos (that I published last Sunday) the crusty old Gazette did a news article on it 7/20, published his letter 7/21, and this week's Bulletin also carried that news article on the Front Page. Not bad BANG for his buck! (or whatever two first-class stamps cost these days.)

And, finally, I heard back from the Town Manager on my July 6’th formal response to him concerning the League of Women Voters boycott letter with a request for a quick turnaround of our July 4'th 2008 Parade Permit.

With the line “We would be happy to meet and discuss this further if you think there is anything new to be said,” I was hinting that a meeting to discuss the same old, same old issue (let anybody and everybody march carrying whatever they want) is a waste of time.

The Parade Committee has scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday night at the VFW to discuss strategy prior to setting up the pow-wow with the Town Hall Chief (if we decide to meet).

In a message dated 7/18/07 2:13:55 PM, ShafferL@amherstma.gov writes:

Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for inviting me to participate in the 4th of July parade. I appreciate your kind thoughts.

Let’s discuss next year’s permit. Please call so that an appointment might be scheduled.

Thank you.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

To Hell with BankofAmerica

So yeah, they are about as BIG a bank as you can get, what pundits often describe as “Too BIG to fail” (until, of course, they do), and as a result they can squander funds any way they please.

Since Bank of America touts its ‘Community Impact’ by heralding “the financial resources and expertise to help communities achieve their full potential as desirable places for people to live, work and raise families,” then why are they not rebuilding their bank at 75 East Pleasant Street, a prime commercial location?

I’m sorry for the fire, believe me. I know all too well what it’s like to have something burn down around you. My apartment complex, however, was rebuilt. And if anyone else in town owned that prime property I could assure you they would rebuild.

Last year the building was valued at $555,500 so a brand new building would probably be valued over $600,000, thus providing at least $9,000 in property taxes.

The land itself is valued at $246,300 so now Amherst loses $4,500 in revenue. And since banks, unlike Health Clubs, are exempt from the town’s “Personal Property Tax” (equipment) the drive-up ATM will not be taxed at all.

But my main concern is the loss of vitality. A cold, automated operation where once human beings dwelled to help assist customers. And those employees probably had lunch, shopped, or ran errands in our desirable downtown.

Bank of America should be embarrassed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Take this job and...

So a few people have now wondered (in that biting sort of way my mom used to observe I could do karate all day in the basement, but couldn’t take out the garbage) if Donna’s Letter of Resignation is a public document? Well yeah...as a matter of fact, it is!

I neglected to mention that our nine Charter School Trustees (which I never was) are all volunteers… as in uncompensated. Same deal for the 15 original Founders (which I was).

And yes, I WAS Director of Marketing and Public Relations (I made up that title; they just said at the time, “Larry you handle the media”) back when we were just an enthusiastic group of concerned parents and educators collectively known as “Founders”.

But that extended firefight with certain whiney public school officials made a few folks nervous (not me of course, since I knew we were going to win.) Our entire existence as a Charter School is devoted to the language and culture of China, an overly formal nation where folks tend not to question their government (at least publicly).

And some Founders viewed local Public School officials as part of the government.

So reverting back to my old job for a moment: Yes, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School will most certainly be open this September in the beautiful Village Square of South Amherst.

And although my wife is no longer a Trustee she, like me, can now be a “parent advocate”. Our involvement is far from over.


To: Board of Trustees
Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School

From: Donna Kelley

July 16, 2007

Dear Board Members:

I have decided to resign from the Board of Trustees of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School. I have made this decision after my husband, Larry, violated the board’s policy relative to media contact last week. Larry acted out of a concern I share about lack of communication with parents and the negative reputation Kathy and Rich have garnered with the media. I was not aware of his actions beforehand, however, and I did not approve of what he did. Because Larry’s relationship with the media is at the opposite extreme to the high level of cautiousness endorsed by the board, I decided that it would be best for me not to be involved at a board level of the school.

I do, however, hope the school will adopt more of a middle ground in their public relations approach and develop a positive relationship with the media. We may all have negative opinions about the media, but having grown up with a father that served in a higher-level school administrator role in a regional school system, and having recently talked with him about this issue, I strongly believe that PVCI should recognize the importance of public relations.

I know there are a number of priorities that need to be tackled right now, but I must also strongly emphasize that regular communication with the parents should not be put on the back burner right now. It is an issue the board should be concerned about because it will impact school enrollment and broader, even long-term, attitudes about the school. It clearly is not optimal for parents to feel out-of-the-loop or that they're getting things second hand, nor to draw their own conclusions. We should connect with these parents regularly, and on an emotional level. We need to make them feel more comfortable about the risk they’re taking with us, and build and maintain their excitement about the choice they’re making for their child.

Please realize that these concerns are being aired in the spirit of helping the school. They are only a few issues that can be resolved fairly easily. I also realize that we aren’t going to get everything right in the beginning. I believe the range of challenges that have been tackled so far by everyone involved is tremendous and reflects the commitment and belief in the values of Chinese language and culture learning, in addition to excellent scholarship. Kathy and Rich are doing a tremendous job.

This resignation does not reflect a lack of commitment on my part to the school. I intend to be an active parent and serve in any capacity that can be helpful to PVCI. In addition, my resignation presents an opportunity for the board to add new members that can bring expertise in areas relevant to the stage of the school and the particular path it has taken since the board first came together. As the consultant stated during our board training, we have strengths in a number of areas relevant to the school, but we should identify areas where we have fewer strengths, and seek to fill those with board members that can bring new perspectives to the school’s governance.

I thank you all, and especially Rich and Kathy, for the great experience this has been so far. I intend to be in contact with Kathy and I will look forward to seeing many of you as the PVCI vision becomes a reality.


Donna J. Kelley

CC: Kathy Wang
Sent: Tue 7/17/2007 10:07 AM
To: Kelley, Donna
Subject: RE: Letter of resignation


PVCICS’s bylaws state:

“A Trustee may resign at any time by filing a written resignation with the Chair of the Board.”

It would help of you could provide a signed copy of your letter for our files. I don’t know if an email meets the bylaws requirement. As the Chair of the Board is included in your of addressees, I don’t think you need to change the text, but it would be great if you could address a copy directly to the Chair of the Board to ensure all requirements are met. The school’s mailing address is:
188 Pleasant St Easthampton, MA 01027


Richard Alcorn

Chair, Board of Trustees

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A whistleblower wails.

Yikes! I certainly hope Mr. Bowser continues to be a town employee, as Amherst could use more Stand Up Guys (and gals). And if the Gazette or Bulletin doesn’t print his on-the-money diatribe, some of us will go hmmmm…

In a message dated 7/13/07 9:07:08 PM, bowserextradry@comcast.net writes:


I submitted this letter to the editor to both the Bulletin and the Gazette, not sure if they will ever post it. Thought maybe you could spread the word or post on your blog

Monday night July 9th the Select Board voted to approve a recommendation by the Personnel Board to reclassify over 20 non-union employees. These employees are mostly management positions, department heads, directors, and their assistants. These reclassifications will result in at least 1 level increase for each employee over the next fiscal year (a few received more than one level). These reclassifications are being phased in and some will argue that the fiscal impact is very small. But since most of these management positions are long-time employees they are probably already on the top step of their current levels and they will be to the top of their new levels again in 1or 2 years. The difference between each level is anywhere from approx. $3000-$5000. This money could have been used to help ease the health insurance burden for all employees instead of giving a select few employees an increase. On top of this increase in regular pay any COLAs, longevity and other costs based on their salary (taxes, unemployment ins, benefits, etc) will increase each year also. This will have a huge fiscal impact in the next several years and we will again be struggling to balance our budget with this added burden.

I cannot believe given the fiscal crisis that the Town is in and the grueling Town Meeting that just resulted in several cuts to personnel that the Select Board could in good conscience agree to such a recommendation. We are cutting police officers, school teachers, reducing positions/hours for lower level employees in, for example, the Finance Dept and Health Dept, and then turning around and giving their supervisors increases.

This is a slap in the face to all of us Town employees and to everyone who fought so hard to keep the Town budget under control in this recent Town Meeting. Town Meeting members and Select Board members mentioned several times about not allowing COLAs and steps and then less than a month after Town Meeting adjourns the Select Board goes behind closed doors and approves large increases for management employees and a 1% COLA. This year’s budget will now be in danger of going over due to these increases in salaries.

As a result of this year’s budget woes the Police Chief has said that response time for non-emergency calls may be delayed. The Department of Public works was not filling potholes for a time, not filling vacant positions and is possibly still dealing with a hiring freeze as well as holding off on many purchases so they do not run low at year end again. The Town Hall will be reducing its hours. Property tax increases, Water and Sewer rate increases and permits for things such as driveway permits, street openings, sewer connections have all gone up to help balance the budget.

For example a driveway permit has already increased from $50 to $200, that’s 400%! What will it have to go up to next year?

In the future I hope the Select Board does not dare ask for another override. I did not vote for this last one because I knew the Town could not stick to the Amherst Plan and curb spending. This blows that 3 year plan out of the water. They have created this problem themselves and I hope that everyone will remind them of this when next year’s budget woes come up.

Jeffrey Bowser
Town employee and Town of Amherst taxpayer

Unlike Mr. Bowser, for those of us who were not paying attention to the July 9’th Select board meeting I borrowed this from Stephanie O'Keeffe. Blogging colleen of InAmherst:

Executive Session – Collective Bargaining Agreements/Open Session – Salary Chart

The Select Board went into Executive session at approximately 7:25 p.m., with members of the Personnel Board and with Human Resources Director Kay Zlogar and Assistant to the H.R. Director Eunice Torres, for the purpose of discussing collective bargaining agreements. They reconvened in open session at approximately 8:10 p.m.

Personnel Board Chair Flo Stern said that the Personnel Board had been working on amending the non-union employee salary scale chart since January of 2006, conducting interviews with 74 employees. She said that various factors had prolonged the process, including the change of Town Manager and the National Guard deployment of the DPW Superintendent. Mr. Weiss thanked all concerned for their work on the chart.

The Select Board voted 4 to 0, 1 absent, to approve the amended salary chart.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Let the sun shine

Okay, so that duel post disappearing act probably violated a sacred rule or two of blogging, but it was either delete or divorce.

Apparently nobody actually reads these posts fully. I clearly said I was NOT a Charter School Trustee:

I am indeed one of 15 original founders of PVIC, however, after granting a Charter the state requires a smaller more concentrated Board of Trustee’s actually oversee the school; and I’m not a Trustee.

Although I didn’t mention my wife is a Trustee--or more accurately--WAS, having resigned over this tempest in a teapot. A blog is, by its very nature, a (sometimes too) personal diary--not an official proclamation.

Obviously Regional School Committee Chair Elaine Brighty read only Stephanie’s headline on inamherst.com and reacted EXACTLY as predicted in my (now defunct) lead paragraph:

So that banshee wail you’re about to hear echoing over Amherst will come from school officials hissing a spontaneous “I told you so!” as the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School--with our backs to the wall and the clock ticking--reveals that, gulp, our temporary home is none other than the People’s Republic of Amherst.


And I’m still waiting for any offended Trustees (current or former) to indicate errors in the Gazette headline: “Chinese charter school settle on site in Amherst” or that all-important lead: “After months of trying to find a location elsewhere, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School will open a temporary location this September in Amherst.”

News experience tells me 30% of average readers scan only the headline and another 30% also read the lead paragraph and MAYBE the remaining 40% bother with the entire story. And under ANY of those scenarios, Wednesday's (7/11) Gazette article was uncharacteristically perfect…other than sparking an instant firestorm by mentioning my blog.

Trustees issued a routine email Wednesday morning (unaware of the Gazette article or my blog) to all parents saying PVCIC would temporarily set up in Amherst…although apparently not overly specific with the address. Obviously the news about this new location was coming out Wednesday anyway.

And our local scribes need not be a Woodward or a Bernstein to uncover basic information. PVCIC is a PUBLIC entity (yes folks, Charter Schools are Public Schools.) We should be as transparent as possible.

He Ping!

Friday, July 6, 2007

To Hell with Ch. 3 TV

Considering Ch. 3 is a CBS affiliate, I should have figured they would be unfair and unbalanced covering a “conservative issue”…you know, American flags, Mom, Apple Pie, or this quaint combination of all three: a small-town Rockwellian CELEBRATION in the form of a July 4’th Parade.

Let’s see, we had over a dozen Parade Committee members or volunteers running around (or cycling) on July 4’th wearing bright red t-shirts emblazoned with “parade staff” on both sides; but these “journalists” could not bother to interview a single one to cover the other side of the story.

I would have been happy to highlight the hypocrisy of the Amherst League of Women Voter’s exceedingly new President Carol Rothery citing the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence to define our current “freedom.” Hmmmm, didn’t the preamble to the Constitution declare, “All men are created equal”? Women couldn’t even vote until 1920. And let’s not even talk about the 1820 Missouri Compromise.

The first thing I would have pointed out is we did not deny a single request from anyone to participate.

If the League of Women Voters did their job Amherst, Massachusetts (home state to the Revolution) would have a far better local election voter turnout than the miserable under 20% we have averaged for the past generation.

WFSB “report” aired 7/4/07:

WGGB CH 40 shows how it SHOULD be done (click on 'One Group Bows out of Parade' over on the right under Top Stories):

July 4 Parade 2007: Let the fireworks begin

Amherst Town Manager

Dear Mr. Shaffer,

As a July 4’th Parade Committee founding member (since the event was resurrected in 2002) I feel obligated to respond to the 6/23/07 Amherst League Of Women Voters letter to you signed by their new President Carol Rothery.

Having marched this year with Congressman John Olver, State Representative Ellen Story, and Amherst Select Person Hwei-Ling Greeney, surely you must be aware that the Parade unfolded flawlessly (other than the inclement weather); and a good time was had by all—especially families.

As we have stated many times, the distinct advantages of having a private group run—and finance—the July 4’th Parade is twofold: (1) the event will actually happen! Please note there was NO parade from 1976 until 2002.

(2) Based on a 9-0 Supreme Court decision upholding the rights of a private organization to deny marchers who “impart a message the organizers do not wish to convey,” our committee can legally filter messages that everyone in Amherst would universally abhor, such as KKK racist rants or those NAMBLA sickos.

Controversial political issues worthy of sustained open discussion—abortion, gay rights, the Iraq War, etc—can easily be addressed in a multitude of ways in this opinionated town, without disrupting the narrow focus of a July 4’th Parade CELEBRATION that only happens once a year and lasts just under an hour.

Since this last-minute (non) issue created by the League received extensive media attention—and especially since Ms. Rothery blatantly suggests you negate future Parade permits—we request a quick turnaround for our 2008 permit. That will ensure participants and spectators know Amherst will continue to have a July 4’th Parade friends and families can take pride in.

We would be happy to meet and discuss this further if you think there is anything new to be said. Thank you for attending this year’s Parade, and we sincerely hope you—and the multitudes of loyal local residents—can attend next year.

Larry Kelley
Amherst July 4’th Parade Committee (but speaking strictly as an individual)

Cc: Amherst Select board, Attorney Michael Serduck, Amherst July 4’th Parade Committee, League of Women Voters of Amherst, onlyinamherst.blogspot.com
UPDATE: (11:00 am) Since a few folks have now asked, yes, I did choose the photo of a military missile carrier to send a subliminal message (darn, I thought I was being subtle)

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pride not politics

So after all of the sound and fury, capturing the attention of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Springfield Republican, Ch 40 Television and, amazingly, NPR and the Associated Press, the protest portion of the Amherst July 4’th Parade was a complete non-issue.

Perhaps because of the fairly inclement weather. You know, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country" the protestors in The Peoples Republic of Amherst were almost non-existent this July 4’th.

The spectators, however, were numerous, enthusiastic and especially appreciative. Parents, children and senior citizens applauded and cheered the expansive line of march…and for about 45 minutes Amherst could easily have been a heartland farm community or a town located near a major military base.

Only ‘The Raging Grannies,’ who know a bevy of anti-war songs but probably don’t know the words to the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’ and a couple with pro-Iran signs, and another couple with an “Impeach Bush” banner bothered to stake out the sidelines.

And they were outnumbered hundreds to one by folks coming out to celebrate the birth of our great nation. Happy birthday America, land of the free and home of the brave.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

That's what I'm talkin about!

The South Amherst bicycle parade—the greatest kid oriented event a parent could ask for—has been happening every July 4’th for twice as long as I have been alive. And like today’s installment, it always gets a great turnout. And amazingly, no war protestors.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Take my toys and go home!

The spoilsports are at it again. This time it’s the Amherst League of Women Voters who wishes to rain on our Parade.

They sent a letter to the Town Manager last week (knowing it would be picked up by the media) saying they are boycotting the July 4’th Parade because we, as a private entity, were not allowing everything and anything to march.

Kevin Joy and I met with them three months ago in my office and both Kevin and I really thought we had come to terms. They were not aware, for instance, that a public parade sponsored by the town (and I really worry about the 250’th Anniversary Parade two years from now) would have to allow anything and everything protected by the First Amendment.

Yes we all know you can’t yell “terrorist attack” in a crowded movie theatre. But there are some amazing things you can do.

For instance the F-word. Okay yeah, I use that one on occasion but NEVER in public. Or the famous, Only In Amherst, use of the C-word (for female genitals) or the N-word…that is, apparently, okay for rappers to use but not white guys. I would ban anybody from using it.

The League of Women Voters expressed concerned that our Parade Committee has no “elected” town officials. Well last time I looked, Kevin Joy and Larry Kelley are elected Town Meeting members and as such we even have Foreign Policy experience.

And last March 28’ I was also ELECTED to the powerful Amherst Redevelopment authority (after serving over ten years as the Governor’s appointee).

Interestingly at this point, only days from the Parade, we have not denied ANYBODY marching rights. Although yes, because this event is a Politics Free Zone, if someone wanted to march with an anti-Iraq war sign they would be denied.

But if someone wanted to march with a PRO-Iraq war sign, they too would be denied.

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

Monday morning update: So naturally, the Gazette puts this trumped up deja vu controversy on the Front Page. I just found this exchange from last year:

In a message to Amherst listserve dated 7/65/06 1:24:02 PM, Amherst AC writes:

For those who have not followed this story this year, and I’m assuming that is this entire listserve, let me run it down chronologically: Without coming before the Parade committee to even ask what is allowed this year, the Democratic Town Committee sent a letter to the Amherst Bulletin (without sending it to the Parade Committee) saying they refused to march in the parade this year because they could not push their anti Iraq war policy.

The Gazette picked up the issue before the Bulletin went to press and then the Springfield Republican followed up with a Page One story also covered by Ch. 40 TV.
(That reminds me, I have to send the Democratic Town Committee a ‘Thank You’ note for the thousand$ in free publicity).

The parade went off perfectly. The protestors got their headlines and plenty of visibility from the sidelines. The parade committee maintained the integrity of the line of march. As far as I’m concerned, EVERYBODY won.

Then I’m forwarded an email circulated to the Democratic Town Committee suggesting they flood the Select board and Town Manager with critical comments about the parade, before we can get another permit.

So I call the Town Managers office early on July 5’th and I’m told another group (ACTV) has reserved 7/4/07 for a parade, and the town only allows one per day along any given route.

Kevin Joy and I go to Town Hall (Wednesday) and while standing there filling out the form Charlie Scherpa walks in and immediately signs it. So we hand in our completed form (something ACTV has not yet done).

The Town Manager requests a meeting for the next day (Thursday) to discuss the permit. Meeting could not have gone any better as far as we were concerned. He ran down his service background (Army, early 1970’s) as well as his family and then quickly said, “I’m going to sign your permit.”

A few hours later we get a waffling email. I respond immediately reminding him of what took place in the meeting. Again Mr. Shaffer says he will sign the permit. I assume he’s a stand up guy, so I assume the permit is now signed.

But, last year a mysterious addition appeared in the Parade Permit process saying you need to go before the Select board to get permission for a “street closing.”

So in the very near future we will go before the Select board to request the street closing. And yes, if they attempt a quid pro quo—street closing for allowing all signs—then we will refuse, they will reject our permit, and we will go to Superior Court.

Only in Amherst (Maybe I’ll start a BLOG)

In a message dated 7/6/06 11:38:52 AM, ShafferL@amherstma.gov writes:

Larry, Kevin and Attorney Serduck,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me relative to the Parade Permit for July 4, 2007. At the meeting, I told you that it was my intent to sign the permit. I intend to do that in the short term. However, what remains important to me and what I will continue to pursue with you, is how the parade might serve as a means to bring us together as a community to support traditional American values espoused by the Independence Day celebration (Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and, in particular, the Bill of Rights). To the degree that the Parade continues to be a vehicle that celebrates and educates our community on traditional values, then you will have my support. However, I will continue to respectfully request that those who wish to espouse a position that may run counter to the views of the parade sponsors be allowed to participate. Let’s continue to discuss how that might happen.


Larry Shaffer

In a message dated 7/6/06 12:42:20 PM, Amherst AC writes:

Hey Larry,

Thank you for taking the time so early in your tenure to consider what some may deem a frivolous issue. However, as someone who loves written communication, it always makes me nervous when “however” appears more than once in a short dispatch.

My impression of our meeting was that you would sign the permit, PERIOD: No quid pro quo. I made it perfectly clear that the Parade Committee would not allow Mary Wentworth to march with blatant anti-Iraq war signs, just as we would not allow the KKK to march with racist signs.

We already allow “those who wish to espouse a position that may run counter to the views of the parade sponsors to participate”. Last time I looked, not a single member of the July 4’th Parade Committee was a member or supporter of SAGE, a peace activist group that disparages the current Commander in Chief, at a time when our nation is at war. Yet they have marched all five years, with placards celebrating the Bill or Rights (well, except for the 2'nd Amendment).

We are, of course, always open to discussion about who may participate in the parade. And if their message “celebrates and educates our community on traditional values”, we will most assuredly not have a problem,

Larry Kelley
Amherst July 4’th Parade Committee
(But speaking as an individual)

In a message dated 7/6/06 1:13:49 PM, ShafferL@amherstma.gov writes:


Thank you for your note. I shall sign the permit. But in conjunction with that assurance, I would like a commitment that the parade be as inclusive as possible because of your regard for the principles that are celebrated on July 4th. As Lincoln said, I wish to appeal to your better angels.

I would very much encourage everyone to look towards a resolution that brings the community together rather than an outcome that divides us.

I know I can count on your understanding and cooperation.


In a message dated 7/6/06 4:24:02 PM, Amherst AC writes:

Hey Larry,

Thank you!

Rest assured that (although speaking for myself) our utmost concern is to bring together the community for a brief shining moment to celebrate the principles that created this, somewhat flawed, but most wondrous experiment in democracy.

Lincoln also said “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”


New to the post, Shaffer to tackle parade concerns

AMHERST - This year's Fourth of July parade went off without a hitch, but some parties remain concerned over the private organizers' banning of would-be marchers with anti-war messages.

Now, Laurence Shaffer, the new town manager, has been drawn into the still-simmering debate.

'I need to be able to add to the value of the community by bringing disparate groups together,' Shaffer said Thursday.

By his third day on the job, Shaffer, the former town administrator in Vernon, Conn., had already heard from critics of the parade objecting to the limitations imposed by the private organizers.

Last year, the Select Board discussed whether the town could take over the parade or refuse to allow municipal employees to march in it as representatives of the town, but nothing came of the discussions.

Shaffer has now weighed in, after meeting with parade organizer Larry Kelley.

The new town manager said he will sign the permit for next year's parade, but he wants to meet with the organizers again to discuss making the parade more inclusive.

'To the degree that the parade is divisive in the community, it is counterproductive and inconsistent with everyone's goals of celebrating traditional American values,' Shaffer said.

Kelley, meanwhile, insists that the parade organizers will not allow protesters to march with 'blatant anti-war signs, just as we would not allow the KKK to march with racist signs.'

Shaffer said he expects the Select Board 'will take an interest' in the topic, 'and they will want to understand what opportunities might exist to push that agenda along, presumably.'

Mary Carey can be reached at mcarey@gazettenet.com.
Thank you for submitting your comments!
View all comments (1)

Larry Kelley [ Posted on: Friday - July 07, 2006 at 01:02 PM]
Actually, the new Town Manager met with original refounder of the parade, Kevin Joy and our attorney Michael Serduck as well. And in that meeting (Thursday morning) very clearly said he would sign our Parade permit without any stipulations (other than to give "consideration" to all groups, something we always do). My comment about not allowing KKK signs as well as anti war signs is not to compare peace activists with the KKK. It should also be noted that we would not allow PRO Iraq war signs either. Can't we all just get along for one holiday a year?

In a message dated 7/7/06 1:59:17 PM, terryfranklin@yahoo.com writes:

Larry --

I like the idea of an unrestricted parade. [See
letter to Nick Grabbe below.]

Of course it would have to be a different parade on
a different day than the 4th -- since so many groups
would drop out after they saw who I would invite.

-- Terry F.


To the Editor,

I am intrigued by the proposal being discussed for
another parade, in which no one would be excluded.
In addition to the fire engines from Holyoke, and
the bagpipers from Pittsfield, we would have the Ku
Klux Klan from New Bedford, The Aryan Nations from
Boston, the Nazi Party from Lowell, and the Outlaws
Motorcycle Gang from Worcester.
I'm serious. I'm not being "tongue in cheek" this
time, as I often am in my letters.
Amherst is a town which pays a lot of lip service
to the First Amendment, but which really despises
it. If we could actually welcome people with
different views -- no matter if they were
distasteful or offensive -- we would be a shining
light for the rest of the nation.

Terry Franklin

In a message dated 7/7/06 2:19:28 PM, Amherst AC writes:

Hey Terry,

Yeah, I think you would have trouble getting police, fire, Vets, and the Dakin Animal Shelter with that list. I mentioned to the ACTV guy who wants to steal our 7/4 Parade, that very notion: unrestricted signs could interest the KKK (who would probably love to march in the Peoples Republic of Amherst)