Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yes, Virginia...(especially in South Deerfield)

Not all corporations are cutting back on public service promotions. Yankee Candle pulled out all the stops to entertain the kids with Santa and Mrs. Clause dropping in by helicopter. The huge crowd--most with children in tow--loved every minute of it (nice to see those expensive full-page, full-color ads in the bricks and mortar media still work)

And yeah, I'm sure some of the folks went on to buy candles.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Cinderalla Committee Expires at Midnight

According to the Select Board agenda posted on the town website the FCCC "report" is scheduled for 7:40 PM but the main attraction--"Select Board reorganization: Election of Officers" is scheduled for 6:40 PM. Maybe I will live blog it (although it will be hard to type and simultaneously pop the cork on champagne!)

Original Post 12:30 PM
So the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee, one of the goofiest named Committee's in a town know for goofiness, ceases to exist this Monday night. I"m told their Final Report will be ready after a final meeting at 9:00 AM for presentation to the Budget Coordinating Group at 1:00 PM.

Nothing like cutting it close; but, they did their job. Now it's up to the Select Board--hopefully under a new Chair.

The Amherst Bulletin gives a misleading impression with today's Front Page headline (the article itself is fine) strongly suggesting that the committee is endorsing an Override in the near future. Unfortunately all too many readers simply scan the headline and don't bother with the article.

Obviously "budget cuts" are going to happen immediately (and in fact already have), so with a headline screaming "Cuts and Override" that gives the impression that the FCCC was also equally endorsing an immediate Override. What they actually said is that one will be necessary over the next five years--but the cuts are needed yesterday.

And for next year they overwhelmingly supported a "Level Funded Budget", which by most people's definition means no use of reserves and no Override.

The Bully reports

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Story (one year later)

UPDATE: 11/27/08 Olga Hagelberg had to leave the home built by her husband so long ago. The electric candles in the windows that have come on at dusk since Dick died in 1993 now shine for her as well. She is currently receiving care at the Vermont Veterans' Home in Bennington, in her beloved state of Vermont.

(11/21/07) Only in Arlington would posing for the greatest illustrator in American history on assignment for media juggernaut The Saturday Evening Post pass for routine.

Richard (Dick) Hagelberg returned to the family dairy farm after surviving five years in the 9’th Army Air Corps, flying 65 treacherous daylight bombings missions over Europe, including D-Day.

One summer morning he sat beside his 51-year-old mother Saara (Finnish spelling) for an hour of modeling; and two generations later, the scene still resonates.

Rockwell desperately recruited the Hagelberg’s at deadline. Initially they refused, but acquiesced when he offered them each $15. After publication, as he often did with models, Rockwell offered to gift Dick the original painting. He respectfully refused.

Last year Rockwell’s ‘Homecoming Marine’ sold at auction for $9.2 million and ‘Breaking Home Ties’ (a farmer sitting on the running board of a pick up truck with his son dressed in Sunday best clothes heading off to college) brought an astonishing $15.4 million.

Rockwell’s 1943 ‘Freedom from Want’, an extended family gathering around a sumptuous turkey dinner, would prove more popular than the minimalist “Thanksgiving, 1945: A mother and son peeling potatoes.”

But the earlier Post cover had a distinct advantage.

Part of Rockwell’s public relations war effort, the epic series of illustrations based on FDR’s 1941 State of the Union speech, ‘The Four Freedoms’ heartened a battered America still reeling from Pearl Harbor’s infamy.

The US Government originally rebuffed Rockwell’s sponsorship proposal so he settled on his regular employer, The Saturday Evening Post. The blockbuster results appeared over four consecutive weekly covers from February 20 to March 13, 1943.

‘Freedom From Want” hit the stands on March 6, 1943, so unlike ‘A mother and son peeling potatoes’ that appeared on November 24’th, 1945, it was not simply a seasonal Thanksgiving tribute.

The Office of War Information printed and distributed millions of full-color reproductions of the ‘The Four Freedoms’ and sponsored the originals on a War Bond Tour of major cities that raised $130 million.

Americans adored ‘Freedom from want’; but with Europe in ruins our struggling and beaten allies didn’t want a reminder that America’s heartland escaped war’s devastation.

For his Thanksgiving, 1945 cover Rockwell journeyed to Maine for a change in scenery, starting work in mid-August--the day Japan surrendered.

Rockwell drafted a 16-year-old boy for the veteran and a friend’s wife acted as his mother. When the illustrator returned to his Arlington studio he couldn’t make it work—the young man didn’t exude the stress of war.

Rockwell recruited two more locals but once again didn’t like the results, considering it too staged. Fortuitously, Dick, recently returned from battle, arrived to deliver milk fresh from the nearby Hagelberg farm. The illustrator had his subjects.

Rockwell originally posed Dick in a wheelchair striking a pensive pose imitating Rodan’s ‘The Thinker’, but decided it was too sad. The selected scene is still slightly incongruous, as Dick is performing one of the military’s more despised chores—KP duty—yet he radiates contentment.

Saara Hagelberg’s loving expression—the look only a mother can give—to a son who survived the ravages of a conflict that had claimed so many sons, personifies Thanksgiving.

Rockwell rejoiced: this time the handsome young man had weathered the misery of war; this time his real mother sits by his side.

So why refuse to accept the original painting? Rockwell, as he often did with models, took liberties with Saara adding twenty pounds and twenty years to her appearance. In fact, Hallmark later used her Thanksgiving image for an “I love you Grandma” card.

The dutiful son knew his mother—although proud of the overall result—was mad.

Saara Hagelberg died of cancer only two years later, a few months before the birth of her first grandchild. By then a priest had purchased the painting and he donated it to an American Legion Post in Winchendon, Massachusetts.

A Rockwell Museum expert rediscovered Thanksgiving, 1945 in the late 1970’s; aghast it hung in a smoke filled building with no fire suppression. The Museum borrowed it, where it remains to this day.

In 1988 the Hagelberg family returned from Stockbridge, Massachusetts disappointed the painting was not on display.

In an apology letter curator Maureen Hart Hennessey explained, “The museum has almost 500 paintings in its collection and can only exhibit 40-50 at one time. We also rotate paintings for conservation reasons to help preserve them for future generations.”

A few weeks later the Hagelberg’s enjoyed a private showing.

In 1993 Dick Hagelberg, after helping build a home for his daughter Nancy high on a hill overlooking the family farm that he also built, succumbed to cancer. His wife Olga, a proud WW2 Marine veteran, still lives in that home in Arlington, Vermont.

And lately, even around Thanksgiving, she briefly struggles…but then vividly recalls—keeping alive those magnificent memories.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Torch will be passed (Thank God)

Perhaps if he spent more time on town affairs?

His Lordship Gerry Weiss, venerable Chair of the illustrious Amherst Select Board will lose his royal aura Monday night as rookie member (and you know how those young rookies can be hungry) Stephanie O’Keeffe will lead a coup d’├ętat by forcing a mid-year “reorganization” of the five-member board.

The vote will be 3-1-1 (with former Chair Weiss having the good sense to abstain, and his water carrier Diana Stein voting against)

What an auspicious evening! The Facilitation Committee will turn over its Final Report calling for a ‘Level Funded, Core Budget” thus making it impossible for town officials to use as cannon fodder for a property tax Override this coming year.

But with this Select Board reorganization and the rise of the “new majority,” perhaps the town will start operating more efficiently, lessening the need for a taxpayer bailout.

The Bully reports (sorry I missed it live)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cruch Time

7:15 PM Bangs Community Center Final "working" meeting of the Facilitation Committee as their Final Report is due Monday night before the Select Board (and if they don't get this done the SB may send them to bed without their supper).

7:20 Let the arguing begin. Irv Rhodes vs Kathy Feldman: about having the University cooperate with an accounting study of how much money they cost the town. Kathy (A Umass employee) says no way in hell (in so many words) will Umass cooperate and pay half the cost of that.

7:33 Bob Saul, co-chair, is worried they are getting into micromanagement with some of their suggestions for "closing the budget gap." Stan Gawle had suggested cutting some of the over $2 million in Capital spending and throwing the lions share of it to the schools (the town tries to keep Capital spending at about 7% of the overall budget).

7:37 Rich Spurgin wants them to recommend that town officials " develop a plan to reduce the pension and retiree health care costs." The motion passes unanimously.

8:07 Now discussing the many suggestions from private individuals that came out of the survey of almost 500 residents. Some FCCC members to keep the Committee's recommendations very general, but these suggestions are very specific (damn public!).

8: 12 Kathy Feldman does not like the Committee making official suggestions based on a sample that may not be representative of the population.

8:15 John Musante suggests all the suggestions from folks be placed in an appendix to the report.

8:20 Some are having second thoughts about the official recommendation to the Select Board to consider cutting Capital expenditures and reallocating it to operations (especially the Schools).

8:23 Alison thinks they are being "inconsistent" If you are going to "micromanage" the Capital budget then why not look at some of the other areas of the budgets and micromanage them (as in make very specific, concrete suggestions based on what respondents said in the survey).

8:27 Martha Hanner makes a motion "to let the open comments (from the survey) speak for themselves." Hey, it works for blogs!

8:36 Bob Saul wants to extract from the survey comments "just the facts" and include those in the Final Report. The word "sanitize" gets thrown around a lot. Martha wants to see it in writing before approving it. Stan suggests they meet on Monday morning to look that over.

8:40 Martha's motion to let the entire comments stay in the Final Report fails. Alison moves to have Bob reduce these 'mini recommendations' to their essential pieces.
That's all folks (battery is dying)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blind Justice

So the “Justice For Jason” roadshow came to Amherst ‘s taxpayer funded Bangs Community Center this evening for one of those organizational –community-activist- outreach –strategy- sessions. First of all, they could use some work on their signage.

Only a handful of folks attended compared to the mob that marched on District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel’s office last Wednesday to publicly pressure her into dropping charges against Vassell.

Yeah, now there’s an antic even PT Barnum would have had second thoughts about. Trying to physically intimidate a female DA while searching for self-styled justice reminds me of that old anti-war slogan from the 60’s: “Killing for peace is like Fu_king for chastity.”

Whatever happened to “give peace a chance”?

This and That (and not enough of either)

So I see by yesterday’s Springfield Republican that South Hadley may appeal the state Architectural Access Board recent ruling that their WalMart quality, quickie golf Clubhouse out at 'The Ledges' does indeed require handicapped access, but they will let them slide with just a $50,000 wheelchair lift installed by 2010.

A dozen years ago KidsSports fitness center in Hadley, now home to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School tried to get around handicapped access law and lost; and they also ended up installing a vertical wheelchair lift—that certainty was cheaper than installing an entire elevator. So it would be a tad unfair now if the state treats the town of South Hadley any differently.

In fact they should come up with a new rule: if you appeal a decision and lose you not only have to abide by the original decision of the Architectural Access board but you also pay a $10,000 fine. Maybe then folks would think twice about appealing these decisions.

I see by today’s Gazette the Amherst School Committee is questioning the Chinese language program (financed by a three year Federal Grant), now in its third year at Wildwood Elementary School.

Back when the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School was fighting to get a charter from the state (becoming only one of five finalists to survive the process that year) the Amherst Public Schools used their (part-time) Chinese program as a weapon to say that the (full-time) Immersion School was unnecessary because Amherst had this “pilot” program starting at Wildwood, one of four elementary schools in town.

Of course my concern then was that the program was only guaranteed for three years, and because of budget constraints may not continue after the Federal money runs out. And since the person who originally wrote the Grant Proposal—Wendy Kohler—has now retired, it’s unlikely another grant will be forthcoming.

Today’s Gazette article makes it sound like the program may indeed not continue after this year. Although one parent had a good suggestion: collaborate with Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School (who has already made overtures to Hadley).

Nice way to show there are no hard feelings over the previous war.

The Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee met this morning to hone their Final Report, due December 1, to the Amherst Select Board about what they will recommend for next years budget (besides a level funded "core budget" that reflects absolute priorities) and the following four years worth. Ouch!

Amazingly, for an Amherst committee, they have actually endorsed concrete revenue enhancement ideas that could (if anyone listens) make a BIG difference:

Formalize Payment In Lieu Of Taxes with the BIG three educational institutions--Amherst and Hampshire Colleges and Umass. But first commission an independent accounting audit to ascertain how much these tax exempt institutions cost the taxpayers of Amherst and then craft a PILOT to cover those costs.

Request the town seek legislation to require the Campus Center Hotel at Umass to stop circumventing the Local Option Lodging Tax that according to a committee Stan Rosenberg chaired would bring the town $70,000. And the committee also recommends town officials request the state increase that tax from its current 4% level.

The Committee also endorses the concept of a Local Option Meals Tax that will probably raise the hackles of restaurateurs (but hey, they have not been rankled since the 1999 Smoking Ban in bars war--so I guess they're due.)
Couldn't help but notice over on the (privately owned) Amherst Town Meeting listserve Robie Hubley responded to an email sent to Rob Kusner thinking it was intended for him (the original sender accidentally hit "send all"). Yes, this would be the same Mr. Hubley who resigned from Town Meeting as of 8/31 because he was now ensconced in South Hadley (golf anyone?).

So he's still part of that listserve--but I'm banned? Hmmm...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who knows why in Hell the bells toll?

So at high noon the bells, bells, bells of Grace Church directly in downtown Amherst pealed 8 or 9 times and then fell silent. In the distance I could hear the bells of St. Brigid's, perhaps a 1,000 yards north, still pealing to announce the end of Catholic mass. Hmmm...

But a moment or two later Grace Church started clanging once more--and this time a tad more forcefully--with a quicker rhythm (maybe the bell ringer was trying to keep warm as my auto's temperature gage read exactly a freezing 32 degrees). Yeah, this must now be the protest against Global Warming, 150 rings no less.

Of course ringing church bells at high noon on a Sunday is kind of like letting off fireworks on the 4'Th of July--par for the course. So I wonder how many people in downtown Amherst who heard the bells ring at noon-plus-3-or-4 minutes realized this was a Global Warming protest?

Last year the Grace Church faithful jumped into the waters of Puffers Pond in early December to protest Global Warming. At least that had a bit of contrast--so you could figure out something less-than-normal was occurring.

Next year they should invite Al Gore to see if he will get naked and jump into Fort River, Mill River or Puffers Pond. Now that would turn heads (if only to vomit.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22'nd

I guess the downside of blogging is that, like cable news it, becomes a twenty-four/seven, 365 days a year blank canvas with space to fill (at least for some of us). And certain days of the year call for comment--or at least remembrance. This is one of them:

What more can I say?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Six of one, A half dozen of the other

The Facilitation of Community Choices Committee meeting this morning attracted the same seven-of-ten members who attended Tuesday’s meeting. Thus nothing changed. The declarative statement essentially saying no way in Hell attempt an Override this coming year has been watered down like cheap wine.

The Committee, however, voted 6-1 to support “Level Funding” as opposed to “Level Services,” with Level Funding meaning what you see is what you get: state aid plus regular property tax revenues that stay within the limits of Proposition 2.5.

Level Services of course would require an Override.

So why they would not underscore the “Level Funding" recommendation by spelling out the obvious—No Override—is a mystery.

The Committee also agreed that sometime over the next five years an Override would be necessary, BUT they endorse the use of a “Menu Override” where each item or department is individually spelled out so a voter can support some but not all the expenditures.

Call it a private sector concept: when products compete they get better.

And he's in charge of the People's Republic?

Amherst Bulletin
Published on November 14, 2008

Filled with pride

To the Bulletin: I know that the flying of the American flag in downtown Amherst has been a controversial subject; I confess that I have not paid that much attention to the issue.

On Monday, Nov. 10, I drove into town and was struck by the beauty of all the flags flying to commemorate Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

The sight filled me with pride and love for my country, which has just achieved the amazing feat of electing Barack Hussein Obama president.

Our country is an ongoing endeavor but on Nov. 4 we progressed farther than I would ever have thought possible.

Let us hope, pray, and work for such progress to continue throughout the-hopefully-eight years of the Obama administration.

Amy Mittelman

Reader comments :

I’m glad somebody gets it! Actually, I honestly believe the vast majority of Amherst citizenry also gets it; unfortunately it’s our exalted leaders the former-Czar and now thankfully former-resident Anne Awad and her understudy Gerry Weiss that do not.

That American flag can represent whatever you want it to. Like you, I prefer to see it as indeed representing our "ongoing endeavor."

And yes, 'Only in America' would the Horatio Alger story of Barack Obama come true.

God bless him, our great country and all who serve her.
Larry Kelley Friday, Nov 14, 2008 at 03:15 PM

How about we fly the flags on inauguration day?
Gerry Weiss Tuesday, Nov 18, 2008 at 07:56 AM

Well if you did your homework there 'Your Lordship', you would know that the Select Board of 9/10/01 voted the six "holidays" AND Inauguration Day.

So yeah--you damn well better fly them!
Larry Kelley Thursday, Nov 20, 2008 at 10:37 AM

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wolves in the fold


So Kathy Feldman has now wimped out and decided not to “shut the door” on an Override this coming year. Looks like that’s a tiebreaker--and this Committee’s ticket to oblivion.

----- Original Message -----
From: Joan Golowich
To: ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; RSPURGIN@CLARKU.EDU ; 'Andrew Steinberg' ;
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 10:56 AM
Subject: RE: inputs for Thursday

Hi All:
I started with the four paragraphs we discussed last night and made some changes based on what I heard then and inserted some other changes of my own. I still do not want to completely shut the door on a possible override for FY10. That decision is for the elected officials.

----- Original Message -----
From: Katherine E. Vorwerk
To: Joan Golowich ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; RSPURGIN@CLARKU.EDU ; 'Andrew Steinberg' ;
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 4:01 PM
Subject: Re: inputs for Thursday


I really like what you, and the Committee, have done. It is strong and direct. It must have been a fruitful meeting.
And I agree with your position on an FY10 override.

They were supposed to be the Leading Edge, Vanguard, Tip of the Spear--the opening salvo in a campaign of Shock-and-Awe to pummel taxpayers and make them surrender to yet another Proposition 2.5 Override this coming year.

Ah, but as the Chinese would say, “be careful what you wish for” or better yet a British take: create a Frankenstein and it could turn against you.

The Facilitation of Community Choices Committee
Summary Findings and Recommendations

Override, Short Term: The Facilitation of Community Choices Committee does not recommend that the Select Board seek an override vote for FY 2010. In the current fiscal climate, the feedback from our outreach efforts indicates that there is little support for higher property taxes at this juncture. It is the opinion of the Committee that a general override for FY2010 is likely to be defeated.

Kind of says it all (lead paragraph no less), eh?

But, like most boards and committees, they had second thoughts about the, errrrrr, directness of the lead bullet for their Final Report, due December 1. Mainly because they know it will be a bullet to the back of the head for next year's Override.

And at last night’s sometimes heated meeting where 7-of-10 members attended, three members strongly agreed to keep in the succinct statements (Irv Rhodes, Stan Gawle, Alison Donta-Venman) and another three strongly wanted it out (Richard Spurgin, Joan Golowich, Gerry Jolly).

Co-chair Martha Hanner sounded like she could go either way. So we had a tie. Members Katherine Feldman (who at a previous meeting said she would not support an Override this coming year) was not present and neither was Isaac BenEzra, who probably never met an Override he did not embrace. So again we’re tied.

Co-Chair Bob Saul also was not present, but in written comments for the meeting suggested: “We blame the public (or at least our perception of the public sentiment). This wording avoids having the committee take a specific stand.”

Yeah, the old blame the public routine.

The Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee meets again Thursday morning for a final crack at the most important paragraph in their entire report. Will it stay or will it go? Stay tuned!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Much Ado...

Click photo to read


So our anonymous friend seems to have targeted at least one other Town Meeting—Brookline, so I guess it wasn’t John Calipari. Now I’m thinking Elvis.
Springfield Republican scoops the Gazette (again)
Brookline Tab scoops the Gazette
The watchdog who did not do it

Original Post 10:00 PM (yeah, I left early)

So the buzz on the floor of Town Meeting this evening was not the usual microphone feedback, or the snide murmurs one sometimes hears when certain speakers stroll to the microphone: everybody was all a twitter tonight about a “mysterious” anonymous post card that arrived in the mail today with a Tennessee postmark (pretty good timing.)

Apparently two versions exist (I received the longer version) one stating Town Meeting attendance would be recorded and mailed to all of Amherst and the longer one where “vote positions” would get the same treatment (and obviously you have to be in attendance to vote).

The Moderator asked for a show of hands and a little over half the members present confirmed receiving one version or the other. Amherst has 247 Town Meeting members so even at 100% saturation the weirdo would spend $67.

But sending the voting or attendance results to all of Amherst with about 7,000 mailboxes (and another 1,500 PO Boxes) would be over $2,000. Hell, I’ll publish it all here for half that.

From: "Town Meeting Coordinating Committee"
Subject: Peculiar Postcard
Date: November 17, 2008 4:31:01 PM EST

A Message from the Moderator: Many, if not all, Town Meeting Members have received a peculiar postcard postmarked Nashville Tennessee. The writer voices an intention to attend Town Meeting this week, record everyone’s votes, and “mail your vote positions to all citizens in town of Amherst.” Nothing illegal or violent is threatened in this message and I don’t believe there is any reason for members to be alarmed. But I have informed the Amherst Police and they are looking into the matter. I look forward to seeing all of you tonight.

Harrison L. Gregg

Town Moderator, Amherst

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

Unfortunately today’s Gazette Internet edition completely buries one of the more interesting Amherst articles by not providing a link on the main page, although the print edition gives it prominent placement.

Besides the usual gloom-and-doom hand wringing and whining the Town Manager telegraphs his feelings about that quick and easy budget balancer, every bureaucrats favorite fall back: the BIG O—as in Override.

“The point is, we won’t be able to fund everything we’re currently funding without an Override,” declared the Town Manager; now that it’s starting to dawn on him the Facilitation Committee is not going to be the Poster Kids for an Override, so he will simply have to lead the charge himself.

And we saw how well that went two years go.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And so it grows

So you know how that concealed area of your humble abode tends to attract clutter --that then exponentially increases the rate of accumulated crap? Or that tucked away inner city open lot where a midnight dumper unloads their crap and the city does nothing about it, and soon thereafter others pile on and it looks like the local landfill?

Yeah, well the People’s Republic of Amherst decided that the DPW would be the bone yard for dead carbon producing internal combustion vehicles –at least until they can sell them off as scrap for pennies on the dollar.

Now if this were a bedroom neighborhood (and since there are three private homes within sight lines, it is) you just know a NIMBY neighbor would complain to the Planning Board, or Zoning Board who would then sick their enforcer—the Building Inspector—on the offender for storing unregistered vehicles without a junk-yard or used-car sales permit.

And yeah, I just happen to be one of those homes. And no, this really doesn’t offend me in the least…on most levels (as the DPW is as good a neighbor as you could ask for). I just don’t like the “Do as I say, not as I do” aspect (which comes from 'Powers That Be' slightly higher than the DPW)

Thursday, 11/13/08

Friday, November 14, 2008

Figures don't lie...

So the crusty Gazette did an interesting “investigative” article yesterday about the salary woes at our favorite flagship University after requesting the documentation from Umass, presumably under Public Documents Law--or maybe they just said please.

Of course all they needed to do is surf to their competition the Springfield Republican, who put this nifty data base on MassLive of not only all Umass salaries (including “pot washers”) but another database as well of all state employees.

Umass payroll database

I hope somebody can do that for all employees in the town and schools of Amherst someday.

What’s interesting about Umass is not the salary of the average professor--either $83,477 according to the Gazette or $112,000 according to Chronicle of Higher Education--who presumably does a fair amount of actual teaching.

Just scroll around the database for any job title with the term “provost” in it:
Vice Provost (2) at an average of $200,000 each
Associate Vice Provost (1) at $202,389
Provost for Academic Affairs at $272,595
Associate Provost (six) at an average of $157,689

And of course my favorite Associate Provost is Bryan Harvey, former Amherst town government superstar (and State Rep wannabe) who comes in at only $144,000 --slightly below average--but more than made up for by having his wife Lynn Griesemer pull down $172,934 as a “Staff Administrator” for the Donahue Institute, which describes itself as “the public service, outreach, and economic development unit of the University of Massachusetts President's Office."

Curiously none of their employees show up on the Umass database, so you have to go the other web database of all state employees to find any of the salaries of the 99 Donahue Institute staff (yes I said 99…yikes.)
And yeah, you just gotta love the Gazette's artsy photo of the guy working on the UMass $50 million Recreation Center at sunset, soooooo he's getting time-and-a-half at prevailing wage...Safe bet the Center will come in a tad over budget.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Not Mike Dukakis’s snowblower

So if your spouse or teen-ager drove the family van to a Vermont ski resort from the People’s Republic of Amherst and forgot to check the oil and somehow missed the illuminated idiot light warning of imminent disaster, would you simply cough up $19,000 for a brand new van to replace the one with a seized motor?

Probably not. But Amherst taxpayers did that for the LSSE recreation empire in FY08. A Ford Windstar Van with only 54,000 miles sits forlornly in the DPW parking lot (actually moved onto the grass to make room) waiting to be sold “as is”--meaning it will bring in little to nothing.

Comparative healthy vans with that low mileage resell for anywhere between $4,000- $6,000.

One of the (many) quirks of municipal budgeting is that capital items are treated separately from the operation budget (as is insurance and employee benefits). When I buy a treadmill for my Health Club it's financed out of my everyday revenues, and if the revenues are not there then I don’t buy the item. And when I do buy an expensive item like that I take good care of it.

But municipal bureaucrats get to purchases capital items ($22,000 lawn mower for the Cherry Hill Golf Course for instance) outside their everyday operation budget. And as a result, that money is not always well spent.

And, as you can see, items purchased don't always get the best of care.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

There he goes again...

In America’s national pastime you’re only allowed three strikes and in today’s crusty Gazette the Town Mangler strikes out, lying for the third time about the finances of the Cherry Hill Golf Course by insisting the Money Pit is actually making money.

At the close of FY07 LSSE marketing flacks issued a press release claiming $7,200 in profit (by ignoring $31,000 in hidden costs paid from other parts of the overall budget). Shaffer crossed a line when he told the Select Board Cherry Hill required “no tax support". Even Finance Committee chair Alice Carlozzi disagreed with that assessment.

And this spreadsheet from Comptroller Sonia Aldrich created four months ago proves it. Note very bottom line, where FY07 shows up as a $10,708 loss instead of $7,200 profit):

If Cherry Hill really can carry its own bloated weight, including Big-Ticket capital items (this years $22,000 lawn mower) why did Assistant Town Mangler John Musante say back in April when asked when Cherry Hill would be "fully self-sufficient and pay its own capital too?"

Musante responded sheepishly, "We haven't given that serious consideration because the revenue has not been there."

Amherst Bully (for them) article

And it's not there now either. Revenues for the first half of the current Fiscal Year (July 1-Nov 1) are a pretty paltry $110,000, including concessions. Dan Engstrom the twenty-year manager who was fired 3/17/07 told the Select board the easy way to project total annual intake is to simply double the amount at Fall closing.

Thus under Engstrom’s formulae Cherry Hill will generate $220,000 total. Yes, the operation budget is only $208,000 but that does not include hidden costs of employee benefits, clubhouse insurance and liability insurance (the Finance Committee in FY07 pegged that total at $31,612). Or the $22,000 capital item, a lawn mower.

Even more important, factor in the $30,000 guaranteed annual payment from Niblick Management to privately manage the 9-hole-course. South Hadley pays a management company $515,000 to run their 18 hole White Elephant.

With all costs considered Cherry Hill's break even point is $290,000; and with the year half over it's safe to assume they will will once again miss the green.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Amherst Remembers

10:45 AM Amherst Town Center
Brief speeches, poems, a lone bagpiper and the town flag at half-staff, all under mournful grey skies. The veteran, and their friends and family, never forget. And neither should we.

4:45 PM

Belchertown Remembers as well

Monday, November 10, 2008

Scenes from Amherst Town Meeting

7:35 PM

His Lordship Gerry Weiss walks past the big screen receiver where the Select Board meeting he chaired had been projected into the auditorium from the back room where they huddle immediately prior to the start of Town Meeting (No, unfortunately we can't start without them)

Yeah, I’m the taxman

Click to read

After Board and Committees reports to Town Meeting tonight : the Finance Committee’s routine gloom and doom and the five minute follow up of even more gloom and doom from Facilitation of Community Choices Committee, the first issue Town Meeting votes on is to raise the collection fee notice from $5 to $10 for all the tax scofflaws in town.

A couple years ago the town hired some hustlers from the Boston area to search and assess small businesses in town adding a little over 200 to the 600 that were already on the town radar.

Of course the company fudged some of the assessments (because they were in a hurry and worked for commissions) and I’m pretty sure we no longer use them.

So the Amherst Athletic Club gets brought on the tax rolls for “personal property”--which is kind of a misnomer since they mean “business property”--for the first time in 25 years.

Town Meeting had told the assessor about ten years ago not to bother with smaller amounts since he stated that 90% of the total amount collected came from only five large companies and the other seven hundred and fifty were what you might call diminishing returns.

The town got greedy a couple years ago and targeted all the little fish, but last year went back to the high exemption meaning I—and almost everyone else-- no longer has to pay it…well, except for last year’s bill.

When you get behind on water/sewer the town simply tacks on a 12% interest charge and lets it go for years. But with this personal property tax they sick the sheriff on you.

Just another one of those anti-business vibes the town is famous for.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Please come to Boltwood...

And you don't even have to be the number one fan of the man from Tennessee.

11:30 AM

So tonight marks the final moments of operation for a downtown legend, linchpin, anchor, or…just plain old icon. The Lord Jeff Inn and Boltwood Tavern expire tonight after a couple generations of serving the general public from that ornate, prime, mid-town center location.

While I’m not a big fan of business run by non-profits or government, the venerable Lord Jeff--owned by tax-exempt Amherst College but always kept on the tax rolls—earned my respect.

Unlike the Campus Center Hotel, owned by Umass (or I should say us taxpayers) The Jeff at least, always tried to survive under private sector conditions.

And now, due to forces above their control… Not a good thing. Bad for Amherst taxpayers who have to pick up the property tax slack and certainly horrible for the image of owner Amherst College, arguably the number one ranked Liberal Arts College in America.

According to an April 13,2007 Amherst Bulletin article (yeah, appropriately enough, a Friday): Tony Marx, the president of Amherst College, called the inn "a beachhead in the center of town" and admitted it is "not the magnet it could be."

Yeah Tony--and we know the historic importance of a ‘beachhead’. What if Canadian and US forces surrendered those prime beachheads on D-day because the cost was so significant? Kira would be studying German or French today, rather than Chinese.

Let’s hope Tony appears tonight for the Irish wake and buys a round (or two).

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Post Mortem

Ok fine, I'll say it! So when all is said and done—and thank God it is—the final results failed to live up to the advanced hype. I had predicted an 85% turnout and the Amherst Town Clerk was a tad more optimistic prognosticating a historic 90% turnout.

We ended up with a not too shabby 67.89%--but still a far cry from either of our predictions (although slightly ahead of the national turnout of 64%). Especially considering in the popular vote John McCain only lost by 3%, 51% to 48% (Note: figures corrected in 'Comments') so if only 1.5% of folks had changed their minds in the privacy of the voting booth it would have been dead even. Yet most media outlets describe his loss as a “landslide”.

In 1992 Amherst had a historic high of 89% turnout when Bill Clinton first became President, and even four years later against a lame, aging Republican Bob Dole (who later retired to do Viagra commercials) our turnout was 67%. In that watershed year 2000 when President Bush (the 2’nd) first came to power we only turned out 59% and then four years later when Darth Vader ran for reelection we mustered 65%.

So 68% is good--but hardly historic. Of course 25 years from now you will have thousands of extra folks claim they actually voted in the bucolic town of Amherst for their first time in this historic—not to be confused with histrionic—election.

Like when Jimmy Carter had us boycott the 1980 Olympics and suddenly Walter Middy athletes everywhere could tell members of the opposite sex (or same sex for that matter) at the local bar that they had “made the Olympic team, but that damn President Carter…”

Interestingly on a National level the 64% turnout was indeed historic, but not much better than the previous high of 63% in 1960 when a youthful Irish Catholic from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Republican Tricky Dick Nixon.

A thousand or so days later, on an otherwise routine Friday afternoon in late November a succinct news bulletin stunned America: “Three Shots fired--Presidential motorcade!”


On a local level—the first time ever a Select Board seat is contested on a Presidential election—the turnout (meaning those who bothered to take the second ballot containing only the local Amherst Select Board race) was dramatically less at 44%, meaning over one-third of the overall voters couldn’t be bothered--probably a good thing.

Not to take away from Aaron Hayden’s Select Board victory with 4,152 votes to long distance runner up Vladimir Morals with 2,491. Hayden trounced Morales in nine out of ten precincts, only losing Precinct 6 by a scant nine votes 576 to 567

Of course the irony is that this Select Board election was called to replace Anne Awad (who moved to South Hadley in April but only grudgingly announced her resignation in late June) who first vaulted to power in 2000, defeating incumbent Hill Boss with the considerable help of many first-time student voters coming out to support the local decriminalize pot resolution on the ballot that year (that passed 1,659 to 981).

In 2000 Amherst turned out 20.4% almost double the 1999 amount when only 11% of local voters bothered to trudge to the polls. Of course the highest local turnout occurred on May 1, 2007 when 31.46% turned out for the $2.5 million Override that lost 2,650 to 2,383. Presidents and pocket books seem to attract the attention of the average Amherst voter.

For instance over 10,000 voters (over 2,000 more than who voted in the Select Board contest) voted on the CPA tax increase from 1.5% to 3% and the Question only lost by a scant 2% (now if this were national Presidential race we could use the word “landslide”).

But obviously you had an awful lot of first-time student voters who didn’t have to worry about that $50 -$60 annual tax increase on their homes if the feel-good measure passed. So I think if the CPA tax increase had been on the normal Spring ballot it would have lost by at least 60% to 40%, or a genuine “landslide.”

And for our Select Board contest all we need do is divide by 2.5 to adjust for the Presidential bloat: In other words Hayden’s 4,152 becomes 1,660 and Morales runner up 2,491 becomes 996, Keenan's 812 was really just his hard core following of 325 (but enough to tip the balance in a future Override vote) and last place Mr. Brower falls off the radar.

Interestingly Morales on his blog complained: “As the Select Board campaign draws toward a close on November 4th, the Gazette/Bulletin's endorsed candidate's campaign manager and supporters have descended to mudslinging tactics similar to those they used to drive Anne Awad from office.”


Thursday, November 6, 2008

What if they gave a meeting...

7:45 PM
So the Facilitation of Community Choices Committee’s last public forum occurred this evening…errrrrr, sort of. Scheduled for 7-9 PM in Town Hall’s Town Room--the ultra prime location (where the venerable Select Board meets no less) tonight’s extravaganza attracted five committee members (of 10), one spouse, and zero members of the general public.

Considering just over 5,000 residents voted in the May 1’st, 2007 Override (that failed 2,650 to 2,383) you must wonder if maybe everybody is suffering from election fatigue.

Or maybe the failure of the CPA tax increase (a thinly veiled perpetual Override) on November 4’Th sent a message. Let’s hope.

Next week under Article 1: ‘Reports of Boards and Committees’ the FCCC gets to present their report/update to Amherst Town Meeting, a large captive --although clueless-- audience. But I’m told the grumpy Moderator is only allowing them a total of five minutes.

So...these folks have been meeting weekly since May 15, and they are charged with laying out a FIVE-YEAR economic strategy for our $65+ million dollar Ship of State, and they only get five minutes.

Yet we have a plethora of Town Meeting members that will drone on all by themselves for over five minutes about world peace, saving the whales, or taking public transportation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post Mortem

The only thing that surprised me about the Amherst results in this Mother of All election was the razor thin defeat of the CPA tax increase doubling to a plush 3%. I thought in this trying economic time and with "sensible center” types like O’Keeffe and Brewer campaigning against it (while simultaneously promoting an Override) that it stood about as much chance of passing as Question 1.

But if you asked me three months ago I would have predicted it to pass handily. I guess politics is like New England weather…

With Hayden’s hands-down, slam-dunk victory for the Select Board that body now tilts towards the center (about as center as you can get in the People’s Republic.) So His Lordship Gerry Weiss, although still Chair, will have to start reigning in his socialistic ways.

He already telegraphed that recently with his “compromise” edict on flying the flags on 9/11 (as idiotic as that compromise was but at least they flew this year.) He knew a head-to-head vote such as I have requested annually over the past five years (although once or twice I believe Czar Awad did not even allow the Select Board to formally vote on it) would have resulted in a 2-2 tie. And they were already getting hammered in the mainstream media.

Of course now you also have an entire Select Board that is overly fond of Overrides. And they do not need Town Meeting approval to place an Override on this coming Spring election ballot for any amount they choose.

So our wallets and purses are, barely, safe from the plundering of a CPA tax increase for now; but we better watch out for the shirts on our backs this coming Spring

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

And now, the end is near...

7:40 PM
So the wait in line for free ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s was way longer than my wait to vote just now. Can you imagine if Amherst Brewing Company across the street was giving away a free pint to everyone who voted?

Hey maybe that is how we can increase turnout for the local town election this spring, when the winner of today’s Select Board contest has to run again. And rather than the 85% turnout we get for the Presidential election the usual 15% trudge to the polls to vote for the local hands-on government that has WAY more impact on everyday life here in the People’s Republic of Amherst.

But still, I savor this election turnout: God bless America!

Amherst Town Center: a tad later

3:15 PM
Kind of the "low rent" time period, with a little less traffic flow. The favored candidates are off sucking down cappuccinos at Starbucks bolstering themselves for the busier after-5:00 PM time (although visibility becomes a factor)

High Noon Amherst Town Center

Actually a tad after 1:00 PM so they are packing it in until the 5:00 PM rush
I wonder how the dog would vote?

Even in Amherst

10:30 AM
Of course if McCain wins somebody will need to call out the National Guard for this Amherst abode.

Monday, November 3, 2008

And the winner is...

(8:50 AM) Unidentified Pilot: “Anybody know what that smoke is in lower Manhattan?”

Yeah, I know many weeks back I predicted a McCain victory on Mary Carey’s About Amherst blog but a week later kind of wanted to take it back. Not that I changed my mind about voting for him, only that a majority of Americans would not follow suit.

But now with the bewitching hour fast approaching I will go on record on my own blog about who will tomorrow’s epic contest. McCain.

Not that Obama made any major screw-ups over the last month (that I was anticipating) although a few smaller gaffs BUT one big one from his running mate. By saying that President Obama “would be tested” in his first few months in office by folks who want us all dead Biden returned the focus to the one issue that makes all the difference in the world to me: the safety of my family.

And yeah I do think race, unfortunately, will play a role. In the privacy of the voting booth you can do things you don’t confess to for any reason at all, even a bad one. But I think safety is the crucial deciding factor --and that’s a good one.

Springfield Republican‘s stunning Sunday editorial

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A horse is a horse...

So Kira placed in every event she entered yesterday at Muddy Brook Farm horse show including a Blue Ribbon for costume division. Not bad for her first time out.