Thursday, July 31, 2008

And the winner is...


6:30 AM I love Thursday morning’s—so full of anticipation. What will the venerable weekly Amherst Bulletin, available around 10:30 AM, deem important enough for Front Page treatment—especially that valuable location above the fold?

So we will have "Chinese Charter School wins Federal Grant"--but probably not above the fold as they’re mad I scooped them (and my daughter is a student). Monday night’s Select Board meeting and the entertaining antics of ‘His Lordship’ Gerry Weiss will of course produce another two: "SB caves to ghost of hippy activist and changes election to replace X-Czar Awad" (well maybe that’s a tad wordy) and of course little old me: "His Lordship wants Kelley pilloried in Town Square".

Hmm…the election story should get top billing.
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10:45 AM Okay, I was almost perfect: The Election screw up was the lead story--but they used a “Pull quote” to hype His Lordship’s attempt at censor/silencing me (so in a sense the story still made the Front Page, above the fold). Chinese Charter School story just below the fold.

Of course the other funny thing is, once again, I have scooped the Bully with their own paper. They really need to light a fire under their I.T. person and make the WWW sooner.

Yeah, whenever they publish I will post the link to the "stalker story", carried in yesterday's Gazette. Reporter Scott Merzbach added more, however, which is good. He interviewed a police officer who subtly pointed out the state stalker law is designed for "domestic abuse" situations and also requires a "pattern" of abuse (not one visit to her South Hadley home on a public road located over 100 yards from their front door in the middle of the afternoon). Something Greg Saulman also pointed out in his fine MassLive Local Buzz op-ed piece.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bully Pulpit indeed

video video
2 videos = 1 pissed off Irishman.

Okay folks, according to Wednesday’s Gazette, here is the evidence for Ms. Awad’s serious charge of a “physical threat”--I kid you not. (No wonder the cops laughed):

Behold the great threat!

Select Person Stephanie's take :
Some folks get it

Proof that I explained verbally to Mr. Awad (oops, I mean Mr. Hubley) the expression "locked and loaded" well before her resignation.
God I love blogs as public records!

This post (also pre-resignation) explains it better


Not the first time 'His Lordship' has freaked over little old me (10/11/07):

This was soon after the Northwestern District Attorney agreed with me that the Select Board violated the Open Meeting Law (yet again). You could tell he rehearsed this attack as well.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Election runaround

So after over two hours of discussion and only minutes after a 3-2 vote to have the Select Board election as a stand alone one on December 2'nd, the Select Board then changed their minds and voted unanimously to have the Special Election to replace X-Czar Awad on the Presidential election November 4.

Money Talks (Chinese)


Last year the Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter School was the only entity to receive a public school charter by the State Department of Education. This morning Congressman Richie Neal announced the school was one of only 8 public schools in the nation and the only charter school--to win a $1.5 million foreign language grant from the Federal Department of Education

The press conference, attended by a bevy of parents and children, was held in their new location the former KidSports health club in Hadley. The first year of operation the Chinese Charter School was located in South Amherst and consisted of Kindergarten and First grade. This coming September the school will add second grade, and every year add another grade until eighth, where full enrollment is expected at 300 children. video

Microburst! (again)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Expensive votes!

My favorite ancient ‘Only in Amherst' political yarn goes like this: Back when any citizen calling Amherst home could attend a Town Meeting and vote, Umass students (although they may have been called “Mass Aggies” at the time) were upset about some ordinance or other passed at the previous Town Meeting.

So they showed up unannounced at the next Town Meeting in Legions.

And they proposed and passed an ordinance mandating a perimeter fence around the entire town common and then all marched out of the Meeting in force singing the school song (Rah! Rah! Rah!).

Funny story! But like most urban legends--completely untrue.

Yet for 25 years now, I’ve heard paranoid scenarios just like that where the students are the “sleeping giants” of town politics and one of these days they are going to awaken, pissed off, and really do something.

Other than the 2000 local election with the Legalize Pot Resolution on the Ballot student participation has been pathetic at best (although ironically, some credit their involvement with Anne Awad's victory that year).

Umass provided a voting place (combining 4 precincts) on campus two years ago, spending $56,000 to lease the high-tech machines, to make it easier for the Sleeping Giants to sleep late and still vote.

In 2006 only 26 students bothered to vote at the new convenient location), or a tad less than 1.25% turnout. And in 2007 only seventeen total, or less than 1% turnout. Ouch!

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

Changing the election date to replace outgoing, X-Czar Anne Awad from the September Primary (that usually gets a better voter turnout than our annual spring election) to a stand-alone election December 2 at an extra cost of $8,000 is a BAD idea.

For the handful of students it would enfranchise at an overhead of hundreds of dollars each--this time covered by Amherst taxpayers-we could simply spend a fraction of that on student outreach and advertising to promote the September 16 election, with better results.

Or...put it on the November 4 Presidential ballot--where turnout will be a whopping 80%.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Meet the Manager

So, I’m sure the Town Manager will report to the Select Board Monday night that we had a cordial meeting of the minds, everybody got a chance to speak, everyone seemed to listen, no raised voices, no name calling; and, in the end, no deal.

Well, actually the Committee did not take a vote. Probably next week. But I get the distinct impression it will be “No deal!”

Essentially the Town Manager wants to bribe the Committee with insurance and a police security detail (under $1,500 value, and something we have managed to pay for the past seven years). And he would throw in police and fire vehicles (even though the Select Board indicated no town equipment next year for any parade).

In exchange, the Private committee would allow a “protest division” that the town would administrate. A parade within a parade if you will. The town manager would issue a separate permit for the town protest division, but it would still be part of the private parade.

If I’m correct and the answer is "no deal", then the town manager said he would have to meet with the Parade Committee Chair and talk about the time and route of the private parade next year so it does not conflict with the town parade.

So let’s hope the Select Board shows some spine on Monday night during the discussion to make it perfectly clear the town should not waste time and tax money organizing a July 4’th Parade next year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A little better...



UPDATE: 6:15 PM.
Amherst Bully: sort of on top of things (click to read)
So yeah, I feel like I’m sending up a flare on a beautiful Friday afternoon.

Will the Bricks-and-Mortar media take note? Probably not. They could not find any interns to fill in for the month of July.

But anyway: Could we get a report on what happened during Thursday’s Hampshire County Retirement Board meeting (you know the folks who expend millions of tax dollars) where Ms. Awad wanted to feather her nest with taxpayer funds for her retirement in South Hadley?
#################################################################################
Original Post: early Friday morning
Well let me just reaffirm how much I look forward to Mr. Shaffer blogging on the town website.

So he believes there’s no negative way to spin Cherry Hill’s annual “BIG fish that got away” tall tale, eh?

Well, how about the town document that clearly exposes last year—you know, Mr. Shaffer when you told the media that “no tax money” was involved in the business—Cherry Hill required $20,435 in tax money? Or that same document showing they only lost $10,000 the year before, when Dan Engstrom was still in charge rather than these LSSE superstars.

So why should we believe anything you now say about that money pit?
Maybe it’s time you moved to South Hadley with that other liar.

Mid May Bully puff piece Click here

Of course if he were “watching it close” you gotta wonder why LSSE did not send him the idiotic press release before sending it to the local media

Mid-May Town Meeting (UGH!)
video

God I had forgotten about Assistant Town Manager John Musante's twitchy performance at the Select Board meeting about a month earlier (Damn I'm so glad Blogger creates a, hopefully, permanent public record.
video
Amherst Bully (for them) article And you just know next year at this time these idiots are going to issue a press release about how well the Golf Course did by ignoring this $22,000 item, the $30,000 in employee benefits and insurance and of course the $30,000 we could have had free and clear simply to walk away from the Turkey.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and statistics


UPDATE: 2:45 PM (Just sent this email to a bevy of local media folks (reporters and editors) and copied to a few town officials:

So you should pull up last year's LSSE press release and the resulting ink in the Springfield Republican (I remember you emailing me almost instantly when Diane Lederman's story first appeared on their website a full 12 hours before it appeared in print). And of course you held off and came out with a(slightly) more accurate article a day later.

As you may remember, the Town Mangler claimed "no tax revenue" was involved in Cherry Hill that year (FY07)--that they were "in the black $7,200". And I even went to the following Select Board meeting to ask him during the 6:15 Question Period (bending the rules, because the 'Question Period" is usually directed at the Select board) if perhaps he was misquoted. And he denied it and repeated the lie.

The excel spreadsheet from the Comptroller proves him a liar. He must have gotten it from Anne Awad.

As Stan Gawle taught me: use their own documents against them!
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(Original Post early this morning)
Well, as I feared, the Springfield Republican headline writer was not paying attention. They should have said that golf revenues were up over last year. Of course if you go back six years to FY02, they generated $245,932; adjusting for inflation at 2.5% Cherry Hill would need to generate $282,821 significantly more than FY08’s $264,036 total that town officials now gloat about.

At least their favorite term used in the propaganda press release (that I still have not been given) “net profit” was nowhere to be found in the Republican article.

Although once again the Town Manager uses the $207,000 Operation Budget figure as though that is the total cost to taxpayers in golf overhead, ignoring the $30,000 in employee benefits and insurance costs and $15,000 in capital improvements.

The excel spreadsheet sent to Town Manager on Monday by the Comptroller clearly shows a deficit of $20,435.10 for FY07 rather than the “net profit” of $7,200 claimed by LSSE in a press release last year at this time (where they really faked out the Springfield Republican).

And last year the Town Manager crossed the line into flat out lying territory by claiming “no tax support” was involved in the golf course; even the Finance Committee said otherwise--and now this accounting spreadsheet corroborates it!

(Yeah, I just noticed they spelled my name wrong. Yikes!)



Note: Bottom Line (now you know why the private sector uses that term) shows "DEFICIT" of over $20,000 last year yet they sent out Press Releases claiming $7,200 in "net profit". Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Turbo Sucking at the public trough

UPDATE (Wednesday, 2:00 PM) So the Gazette just called as well. Tomorrow morning we will have both Bricks and Mortar articles and some of what you read here will be included. You gotta wonder about these town officials: what the Hell do they think--that the Gazette or Republican would simply run their dumb ass press release without at least making a token effort to check the facts? I just hope the headline editor is paying attention and does not trumpet the "Revenues up 20%!" nonsense.
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Amherst Leisure Services recreation empire once again employs deliberate deception to sell the expensive game of golf .

Well…only expensive for Amherst taxpayers subsidizing the minority who actually play the grandiose game (over half of whom live and pay taxes outside Amherst).

Last year LSSE claimed $7,000 in supposed “net profit “ by ignoring $30,000 in hidden costs (that the Finance Committee covered with an emergency transfer from their Reserve Fund thus leaving no money for pothole repairs); and this year LSSE would have you believe it's $50,000 in "net profit", once again ignoring $30,000 in hidden overhead plus $15,000 in capital items (underground storage tank and security fence) AND the guaranteed $30,000 to simply outsource the ailing business to a private enterprise.

Even our toothless “watchdog” Finance Committee clearly pointed out to a clueless Town Meeting two years ago that when Cherry Hill dissolved as an Enterprise Fund--where the state requires a clear accounting of ALL expenses--$30,000 in routine overhead (employee benefits and clubhouse insurance; but not including Capital) would be dispersed/hidden to other parts of the budget.

And this past year the golf business required an additional $15,000 in Capital items. Not that "Capital" items are a once in a Blue Moon kind of thing, because in the current year (started July 1) they also required $22,000 for a fancy new lawn mower. In fact, a study done at Town Meeting request five years ago discovered two-thirds of their heavy equipment (and golf courses require a lot of heavy equipment) were beyond their rated lifespan.

So capital items will be pretty routine over the foreseeable future.

Two years ago Niblick Management, a private firm, offered Amherst $30,000 free and clear to take over the Black Hole, White Elephant, Money Pit. But Noooooooo, the rookie Town Mangler wanted to prove he had a bigger penis than Barry Del Castilho, the long-time previous Town Manager, who squandered twenty years and $1 million in tax dollars pursuing this Moby Dick.

So here are the actual numbers:
Total revenues $264,00
Total supposed expenditures $207,000

"Expenditures" do not include:
$30,000 employee benefits and Clubhouse insurance
Plus: $15,000 in Capital improvements (Underground gas storage tank and security fence)
Plus: $30,000 in Opportunity Revenue for privatization
Plus: if you did not expend the damn $200,000 on a golf business, and simply left it in Free Cash or Stabilization it would have generated $10,000 in interest revenue.

Actual losses: $28,000 (give or take).

July 4’Th Parade: Fireworks to Fizzle?

So while I was in China (the country) elements of the Amherst 7/4 Parade Committee had lunch at Amherst Chinese (the restaurant) with the Town Manager.

And it was pretty much the same old, same old: “You folks do a great job, I really appreciate all the hard work, BUT...where in the parade can we put those pesky protesters?”

Of course at that point the Committee contemplated a Chinese government response, as in run him over with a tank; but being peace loving folks, simply reminded the Town Manager what the July 4’th Parade is all about: a gala celebration, a party to commemorate all the good things America represents.

About then, the Town Manager made it a tad more interesting, offering to save the Committee money by negating the substantial overhead cost of police security and liability insurance (currently about $1,500). Hmmm….

So on Sunday afternoon at the VFW on Main Street the full committee met among themselves to discus the offer. Responses ranged from “Tell him to go to Hell”, to “Oh, why not, they (the protesters) show up anyway, so we may as well get some reduced overhead by allowing them to march in the back.”

The committee decided more discussion is needed before taking a vote. The Town Manager has agreed to show up this Friday at the VFW to have a beer and continue the negotiation. I’ll drink to that!

###################################################################

From a series of emails garnered under Public Document Law that resulted in the District Attorney’s office citing the Amherst Select Board for violation of the Open Meeting Law

From: Anne Awad Select Board Chair
Sent: Tuesday, July 12, 2005 2:47 PM
To: Barry Del Castilho, Amherst Town Manager
Subject: RE: 7/4 Parade

Anne Awad: I think a SB fall town meeting article to give $2000 to LSSE to organize
a community parade is in order for next year. {sorry}

Barry L. Del Castilho: Even if that were enough money, the timing couldn't be worse: staff getting ready for pools, summer camps, outdoor sports and what
they already do for the 4th. And their part-time staff has to be cut to
make room for the camp scholarships and special needs funds that were
not funded but not cut from the needs list. Perhaps $2000 for
"co-sponsorship" i.e. the Town provides funds for expenses in return for
a seat at the decision table.

Anne Awad: LSSE IS THE LOGICAL ENTITY TO TAKE IT
ON...IF NOT THEM, SOME OTHER TOWN STAFF.

From: Anne Awad, Select Board Chair
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2005 8:56 PM
To: Del Castilho, Barry
Subject: RE: parade issue

Barry,
On reflection, I am going to take a step back on the parade issue. Yes,
there might be something the Select Board could initiate with the goal
of open access for community members who wish to celebrate the 4th in a
parade...but considering the priorities I have set out for this term
(budget process and committee policies), I think I need to focus on
those. The parade committee seems to have enough challenge from
community groups and residents without us jumping into it. I do not
plan to bring this to a Select Board meeting for action.

Anne Awad

Monday, July 21, 2008

There is a season turn, turn, turn

If the crusty Gazette manages to cover this loss for our little town, they will probably lead with something like "President Johnson had just shocked the Democratic party by announcing he would not seek reelection, '60 Minutes' debuted on TV, 'In The Heat Of The Night' won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the average price of a gallon of gas was 34 cents, and Pizza Rama served its first pie (probably to a Umass student)."

But I have better stats: In an average year 2 out of 3 small business startups fail to see their First Anniversary; and 90% have failed by year five.

Read this autobiographical obituary's closing paragraph: it's not too hard to understand how they managed to stay in business for 39 years.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tear down this barrier


If Governor Duval can visit Amherst, the alien outreach of his Taxachusetts empire, then President Bush can and should visit China for the Olympic opening ceremonies.

Not that he listens to his critics—and no president in US history has had such virulent critics. But some folks are calling on President Bush to pull a Jimmy Carter and boycott the opening ceremonies next month beginning precisely at the lucky moment 8:08:08 pm, August 8, 2008.

The Olympics is all about sport—healthy competition that breeds mutual understanding. When you mix politics with sport you end up with a Munich Massacre. “They’re all gone,” reported Jim McKay to a stunned world over 35 years ago. And the Olympics have never been the same.

The Chinese people are sooooo proud of this upcoming extravaganza. The Olympic mascots seem to emblazon everything.

The debacle of the Olympic torch relay—especially during the Tibet crisis—seems to have passed, negated by world sympathy and the quick response of the communist government to the devastating earthquake. And in China--as in the US--THAT awful day is remembered in shorthand, simply by the numerals: 5/12.

Tibet, unlike the students at Tiananmen Square, received little sympathy in China--perhaps because many Chinese considered it a PR stunt designed to cash in on the Olympics. Or maybe because China’s One-Child policy does not apply to Tibet (only to Han Chinese that comprise about 90% of the population)

Or because China invested so very heavily in an expensive train system to connect Tibet to the homeland.

Everywhere we went the people were as inquisitive as they were courteous. In one hotel room Donna dropped a 100 Yuan note ($15 US dollars) on the floor after we had exchanged some travelers checks. The young man cleaning the room (who probably made less than that per day) left it on my computer under a piece of chocolate.

On an over packed shuttle bus (ubiquitous in China) to our air terminal another young man gets up and sacrifices his seat to my daughter, Kira. And at the airport check in, while I was holding Jada and Donna was fumbling with our passports, an older man behind us in line lifts our heavy bags unto the conveyor.

Yes Mr. President, we need to stay on friendly terms with such an already-emerged Superpower. You’re already halfway there, as The People are as friendly as can be.

(But since you are destined to hang with the power elite, you may want to think about jet black hair polish.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Gov came calling


So I checked out the Governor’s public happening in the People’s Republic of Amherst (located west of I-495 otherwise known as “the boonies.”) The affair was scheduled from 2:00 to 3:30 so I arrived with my new young daughter just after 3:00 PM hoping maybe for a Photo Op with the Gov.

A can’t miss combo: Handsome black dude, adorably cute Chinese baby girl--probably the most recent US citizen in the state (almost certainly in the town of Amherst.)

But he was pretty tied up sitting at the head table flanked on both sides by attentive aids otherwise known as his cabinet. And most of the speakers—A Hadley Select Man, a Greenfield Mayor, or a South Hadley Select Woman—spoke at him rather than to him.

And of course, everybody wanted more money.

The room was beyond packed—probably 175 or more (probably a fire code violation) with many standing along the perimeter. A half hour after the scheduled finish they were still going at it.

Jada started to squirm and then whimper, and I knew banshee bellowing was not too far behind, so we left.

But yeah, it was indeed good of the Governor to stop by. Although I have to wonder if maybe he could have learned a lot more with a lot less investment of time and tax money if he simply invited an Amherst DPW worker, firefighter or cop (off duty of course) out for a beer or two.

Yeah, when you Da Man you can park anywhere

And in case you did not know he was Da Man

Battle of the Blogs

Will the Town Manager’s new blog become the ‘Air America’ of the blogosphere?

Yeah, when insiders figured out just how politically powerful conservative talk radio had become, suddenly the Libs thought “I can do that”.

Except they did it very poorly. As in BORING!

And the problem with bureaucrats is they don’t wish to offend ANYBODY, and as a result usually sound like a Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial: “On the one hand; but, on the other hand…”

Still, I can’t wait until the Town Mangler steps up to the plate (where I tend to throw bullet-like fastballs, low and inside)

Bully article

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How the seat was won

After the no foolin April 1’st election, Precinct 9 had two open seats because Stephanie O’Keeffe and Diana Stein were elevated to Select board.

Robie Hubley and two others all had received one write-in vote for Town Meeting (probably their own). So on April 16 the Town Clerk convened a meeting of Precinct 9 Town Meeting members to fill the two open seats and Hubley came in second with eight votes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Simply because we say so

July 1, 2008

222 North East Street. Unit 5
Amherst, MA 01002
June 29, 2008

Board of Registrars for the Town of Amherst
Town Clerk
Town Hall
Amherst, MA 01002

Dear Sirs and Madams:

We have received your mailing that advises us of a complaint against us which claims that we are not residents of the Town of Amherst and therefore we are not legally registered voters in Amherst

Mr. Lawrence Kelley has made his determination that we do not live on Amherst on several erroneous assumptions:

1. Voter residence and registration. Both Anne Awad and Robie Hubley are registered as legal residents and voters in Amherst, and nowhere else. We both affirm that that is the case. It is the burden of the complainant to prove that we are not residents and voters of Amherst for this procedure to move forward. If the complainant cannot prove those allegations the complaint must be dismissed.

2. Homestead Act. Mr. Kelley maintains that a Homestead Declaration equals residence. Actually, MGL Chapter 188 says “An estate of homestead…may be acquired…by an owner or owners of a home…who occupy or intend to occupy said home as a principal residence.” [emphasis added]

3. Mortgage documents language. . The mortgage document relating to the South Hadley home includes a phrase that we should take occupancy by June 10, 2008. Mr. Kelley maintains that the occupancy date is an inflexible and compulsory matter of law. Florence Savings Bank officers have assured us that this provision is a rule of the bank, not a matter of law

If summoned by you, we shall appear and respond to any questions you may have about our residency. You have here our declaration that we, Anne S. Awad and Robie Hubley, are and remain long-time residents and registered voters in the Town of Amherst. We live here, sleep here, eat here, and go about our lives here. It is true that we purchased a house in South Hadley and we plan to move to that house when it is appropriate. When that occurs, we shall register as residents and voters in South Hadley, and proper notice will be given to the Registrars/Town Clerk to remove us from the voter rolls for Amherst.



________________________________________________________________________
Anne S. Awad Robie Hubley

Monday, July 14, 2008

More than one way to skin a rat

Office of the Secretary of The Commonwealth
One Ashburton Place
Boston, Ma 02108
7/14/2008

Dear Secretary Galvin,

Please consider this a formal complaint under 950 CMR 56:00 regarding the (in) actions of the Amherst Board of Registrars taken—or I should say not taken—on July 3’rd, and a request for a formal investigation by your office.

I requested a local hearing in accordance with Chapter 51, 48 to decide whether there is “sufficient grounds for an investigation” concerning the legal residency of Amherst Town Meeting member Robie Hubley and his wife Anne Awad a member of the Amherst Select Board (resigning as of 8/31).

On April 10 Mr. Hubley signed a Homestead declaration for a new home at 4 Jewett Lane, South Hadley. He and his wife Anne Awad also both signed another legal record that day.

The FDIC backed mortgage from Florence Savings Bank, signed under pains and penalties of Federal Law, clearly states: “Borrower shall occupy, establish and use the Property as Borrower’s principal residence within 60 days after the execution of the Security Instrument and shall continue to occupy the Property as Borrower’s principal residence for at least a year after the date of occupancy”

And as I’m sure you know, a Homestead is a notarized one-page legal document that clearly states: “I own and am possessed and occupy said premises as a residence and homestead.”

In response to this legal information going public, the couple published a Letter in the Amherst Bulletin declaring: “The homestead declaration, cited frequently by this newspaper as proof that we are already living in South Hadley, was an error on our part. We were unaware that such protection can only apply to one’s primary residence. We removed the homestead declaration as soon as we realized the error. It now applies only to our Amherst home as it has for years."

But according to a check of the Registry of Deeds this afternoon the Homestead for the South Hadley residency was never “removed” and is still in legal effect.

At the July 3’rd “hearing” the Amherst Board of Registrars completely ignored the Homestead evidence and they declared the mortgage residency requirement a “private matter.” Both Anne Awad and Robie Hubley attended the hearing but were not asked any questions by the Board of Registrars.

The Board unanimously voted, after a half-hour discussion, that there were no grounds to move on to a formal investigation.

To allow this Keystone Cops “investigation” to go unchallenged will only undermine the confidence of Amherst voters in our system of government when a vital national election is only four months away.

Sincerely Yours,


Larry Kelley
Amherst Town Meeting
Amherst Redevelopment Authority
5Th Generation Amherst resident

Friday, July 11, 2008

Only in America (There's a place for us)


At 4:35 PM this afternoon, as she was carried off Continental Flight 88 from Beijing in New Jersey’s Liberty Airport, Jada Kelley became an official All American Girl.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

You can go home again


Professor Li, a Chinese visiting scholar to Babson College and a friend of ours lives here in Hefei and picked us up at the airport. His university is only a few blocks from the Novotell and he once had the main manager as a Grad student so he got us a room upgrade from economy closet to penthouse suite.

He also hired a comfortable van and driver for the two-hour trip to Kira’s orphanage and came along with his 11-year-old daughter to act as interpreter.

Although we had prearranged the visit a week prior to leaving the US and paid the $150 tour fee plus $50 to our adoption agency for delivering the cash to the orphanage, the director still seemed surprised by our mid-morning visit.

He said we could take pictures outside the main gate but had to stow the cameras upon entering the compound. Ten years ago the BBC aired a documentary—“The Dying Rooms”--about the horrors of Chinese orphanages; the proud country became enraged and shut off international adoptions for a while.

Thus they are still distrusting of anyone with a camera. Probably a good thing.

The orphanage is bordered on one side by a graveyard and as we stood at the front gate swarmed over by dozens of children anxiously grabbing the small toys and trinkets we brought a cacophony of booms rang out, like the grand finally at a July 4’th fireworks.

Professor Li was told it emanated from the graveyard—to ward off evil spirits.

As the sun climbed higher in the pale blue sky the concrete/tile structure oozed heat. Combined with oppressive humidity and carrying my new 25-pound daughter who screamed if I even thought about putting her down on the ground, I was once again bathed in sweat.

The compound, about half the size of a football field, consisted of a perfect square made up of four narrow hall-like walls two stories high allowing for a large courtyard inside with an overgrown garden and one small, recent play structure (monkey bars, slide and swing)

Kira’s old room still looked the same: 21 ft by11 ft with one large open window in the center back wall. Three metal cribs on each sidewall with two babies per crib. The room was stifling. An air conditioner mounted on a wall up near the ceiling went unused.

Just as well, because the stench—even with the window wide open-- was overpowering. The white plaster walls, discolored and streaked with a sooty grayness, added to the somber scene.

They use industrial strength brown reusable diapers that look as rough as burlap and then cover them in plastic. Large 10-gallon red clay pots are lined up outside each room as bathrooms. Although we would occasionally see children simply squat in the courtyard and relieve themselves.

The older children helped the caregivers distribute baby bottles with formulae. The toddlers knew enough to lie flat on their backs to receive the bottles. And the nipples had extra large holes so the formulae flowed swiftly.

The second floor had four rooms marked “infant rooms” although only one, with five babies in residence, were what I would describe as infants (under one year old). The other three rooms were at full capacity (one dozen) and they all seemed to be about Jada’s age (18 months) or even older,

While Jada now eats solid food, drinks from a glass and dresses in normal clothes (over diapers) these children were still on the bottle and probably stayed in nothing but diapers the entire time.

The Huainan Children's Welfare Institute currently houses 100 children with responsibility for another 30 outsourced to foster parents in the community.

They have 30 employees. The director was not the same as five-and-a-half years ago when we adopted Kira. He was in his early 30’s and seemed as harried as he was bored.

My batteries died after only 3 or 4 photos out in the unrestricted area. One of the workers who shadowed us the entire time looked mentally challenged, so I’m sure if my camera was working I could have seriptiously snapped a few photos.

The wide-eyed kids with open sores on their face, a child with no hands, an albino boy, and the less than hygienic condition of the kitchen or piles of dirty diapers in the doorways.

But no camera could capture the most stunning assault on the senses: the smell, that awful smell. Smells like…misery.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Last leg of a long journey


For American adoptive parents in China no matter where you spent the last week picking up your child all roads lead to Guangzhou, home to the only American Consulate that does entry visas for these children about to become American.

Around 3:00 Tuesday afternoon, 31 sets of parents boarded a bus at the White Swan Hotel and took a 30-minute ride to the American Consulate. We took an oath that everything stated in the US Immigration paperwork was true and then received our entry papers to the United States of America for our adopted child.

The moment we land on American soil (beautiful New Jersey) Jada becomes an American citizen.

In Guangzhou we lost our novelty status as we shared the streets with about 100 other western couples with Chinese babies all staying at the White Swan. And like us, many of them were on their second or third adoption.

It was an odd mix of Average America—most of the couples older, many of them overweight. In fact, the majority would not survive the newer stricter adoption regulations recently enacted by China.

We are now heading to Hefei, capital of Anhui Province a small city of 2 million, where we will once again be an oddity. We will stay at the Novotel (a nice 4 star hotel half the price of the White Swan). In 2002 we first met our daughter Kira in their ballroom.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Night and Day


View from the 15'th Floor of White Swan

We need the Top Cop

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
July 7, 2008


Dear Attorney General Coakley,

On May 20 I requested you undertake a ‘quo warranto procedure’ to remove from office Amherst Town Meeting member Robie Hubley. On April 10 Mr. Hubley signed a ‘Homestead’ declaration for a residency in South Hadley and also signed (with his wife) an FDIC mortgage from Florence Savings Bank that also requires “primary residency” at the South Hadley home.

The Amherst Town Attorney wrote to you and politely suggested you stay out of the matter until the local option occurred, G.L.c. 51, 48—a hearing before the Amherst Board of Registrars.

On Thursday, July 3’rd the Board did meet (as I am currently in China adopting a second daughter, I did not attend) and according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette both Robie Hubley and his wife Anne Awad (who recently resigned her Select Board seat) attended but did not speak, because—amazingly--the Board of Registrars did not ask them any questions!

The issue of the “Homestead” declaration was not discussed and the bank mortgage “primary residency” requirement was dismissed as a “private” matter.

One of the three Registrars, Harry Brooks, is a personal friend of Anne Awad and failed to recuse himself from the proceeding.

The Town Clerk (who moderated the meeting) serves at the whim of the Amherst Town Manager. Anne Awad and Robie Hubley were both Amherst Select Board members two years ago and made the decision to hire him. Town Manager Shaffer has steadfastly defended the couples right to declare Amherst their home no matter the evidence to the contrary.

Since this initial July 3 hearing was simply exploratory to ascertain whether “sufficient grounds for an investigation” exists, it is beyond comprehension the Board of Registrars unanimously decided that no such grounds exist —right up there with the earth is flat, Apollo 11 never landed on the moon and Elvis is alive.

Obviously the proceeding was far from impartial and if allowed to go unchallenged will undermine the confidence of Amherst voters in our system of democracy.

Could you now, please, bring your office into this matter?


Sincerely Yours,

Larry Kelley
Amherst Town Meeting
Amherst Redevelopment Authority
5’Th generation Amherst resident

via email

Sunday, July 6, 2008

There are two China's

Those who can afford Guangzhou’s luxurious five-star White Swan Hotel, and everybody else.

At $150 night (Internet an extra $15)--twice the room rate of the Regal Hotel we just came from, plus $45 for a dinner entrée (a la carte) $5 for a 12 once can of diet coke and with $1,000 statues and artwork available in the numerous boutiques a hip young Chinese couple could easily spend in one weekend what a farmer in Guiyang makes in an entire year.

The White Swan’s window washers, bellhops, cooks and maids are like Amherst’s police, fire, and DPW: they built and keep the operation running, but could never afford to call it home.
The Community Park around the corner Monday morning:

Same Park Sunday morning:

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America


Here in this far flung city in the South West region of China—consider the “boonies”—I can have breakfast at Starbucks, lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken, dinner at Pizza Hut, catch a cab instantly to go shopping at Wal Mart and then retire for a luxurious night at the Sheraton.

Other than seeing only one other westerner over the past week, this city of 3.5 million could easily pass for Boston or New York (locals even wear the white “I love (red heart) China.”

China Daily, the overly pro-establishment newspaper, (kind of reminds me of the Amherst Bulletin) carried a Front Page tearjerker article yesterday including a photo of an attractive young woman in a wedding dress clutching a framed photo of a soldier in uniform.

He had recently perished of “acute exhaustion” after a month of performing earthquake relief. He was being hailed as a “martyr.” A few pages later another photo shows a supine child on a stretcher saluting the “Peoples Liberation Army” soldiers carrying him out of the rubble.

Another Front Page story briefly covered a riot of 30,000 citizens over the death of a 17-year old middle school girl. Rioters thought she was raped and murdered by the relative of a government official. The government denied the charge and claimed she committed suicide. And I’m sure that is the end of the story.

Because the one thing that distinctly differentiates this county from home is that one dare not criticize the government.

In China, my repeated requests to remove a public official over residency would probably land me in jail. And in fact, if the right Chinese official happened to see the AP wire story where that high-ranking local Amherst official branded me a “stalker” the adoption would have been cancelled (at that point I probably would have become a stalker).

At the recent Select Board discussion of the July 4’TH Parade, His Lordship SB Chair Gerry Weiss described America as a country that slaughtered native Americans, enslaved blacks, and withheld from women the right to vote.

But that is the America of the past. Like the dragons in Chinese architecture, I prefer to look forward. America is, quite simply, the best--and she continually strives to become even better.

Something to celebrate!(There but for the grace of God...)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Grand Falls

China Thursday

Like the opening scene of a classic Godzilla movie the monster is heard way before being seen.

Huangguoshu, or The Grand Falls, is the largest waterfall in Asia and a Mecca for folks all over the continent, including China’s last half-dozen leaders.

It was drizzling as we boarded the 7-passenger van with our driver, Mr. Hung who just recently returned from earthquake relief volunteer work. And our guide/interpreter, Xiao Xiao (pronounced show show).

The falls were a two-hour drive from our hotel thru some of the most scenic farmland in China.

This province, in spite of the modern city of Guiyang, is predominantly agrarian and one of the poorest in China. We would pass huge open fields of rice segmented like a patchwork quilt. Some of the fields were flooded, the crops lost.
Rice and corn seemed like the predominant crop and many rows of corns were planted in terrace like steps up the side of mountains.

The round trip cost 1,5000 yuan or $225. With the price of gas (also a little over $4/gallon) and the tolls ($40 round trip) we thought it was well worth it…even though it was raining.

By the time we arrived at the main building to get our tickets ($30 each, plus 30 cents mandatory insurance, children free) it was pouring. The price of admission also included a rain poncho like the kind you can buy at Disney or Bush Gardens for $10.
The Falls were about a mile trek with a 900 foot vertical drop negotiated by stone stairs far more refined than the ones we used to climb the top of the mountain to the ancient Buddhist temple.

Before the descent we passed thru a Banzai Garden (some of the trees are over 100 years old) and within minutes we could hear the distant roar of the monster falls.
After about a half-hour of careful walking we caught our first glimpse and for the next 10 minutes it was constantly in view. The trail under the falls was closed due to high water levels but we got close enough to where Kira was getting spooked.
After a few minutes trying to shoot video in a pouring rain and shrapnel like mist coming off the falls we decided to head back, almost continuously upward.

Three older matronly women gently accosted me, complaining about Jada not being properly protected from the elements (both the mist of the falls and the driving rain). They realigned my poncho and suggested I tuck Jada under my shirt. As they were “helping”, two other younger women snapped pictures.


As we excited the attraction you had to pass a gauntlet of booths selling all sorts of food, souvenirs and clothing. Donna purchased a metal ornate teapot marked 300 yuan ($45) but he ended up taking 100 ($15). It pays to bargain, and it helps to have a translator.
We had lunch at a little fat food restaurant near the main parking lot. An old woman dressed in black aggressively tried to sell us a kid’s trinket for 2 yuan (30 cents) and Jada started screaming. The shop owners chased her away.

It continued raining the entire two-hour trip home. The driver talked non-stop to our guide. As we pulled into our hotel Kira announced she was going to puke.

Donna leaped up grabbed her head with one hand and opened the sliding door with the other…barely in time.

Just then the sun broke through the clouds.

Taken about 10 minutes after the first video after the rain stopped and I no longer feared for my life.

For whom the bell tolls

At least the Gazette is (somewhat) paying attention to this greedy (Only in) Amherst residency scam. Someone emailed me the Jpg of this morning’s article so I could post it, but the Internet connection here is now slower than customer service at a Bank of China.

But in reading the article directly at Gazettenet I was reminded that today’s 3:00 PM hearing at Town Hall is kind of like a Grand Jury indictment proceeding, in that they do not definitively decide the issue today, they simply weigh the evidence to see if there is “sufficient grounds for an investigation”—as in proceeding on to a trial.

So under those laissez-faire conditions, there is no way in Hell they can decide that Hubley/Awad are “beyond a shadow of a doubt” full-time Amherst residents with all the rights and privileges to vote and/or hold local office. Remember, OJ beat the criminal rap but lost the civil case because it only required a "preponderance of the evidence."

I will not be flying 17 hours to attend the hearing so here’s the only question I would ask each of them if they continue to insist--even under oath--that Amherst is their “primary residence.”

To Mr. Hubley: You signed a ‘Declaration of Homestead” on April 10 legally declaring 4 Jewett Lane South Hadley your “Primary residence”, were you lying then or are you lying now?

To Ms. Awad: You signed an FDIC approved mortgage on April 10 (under pains and penalties of perjury) from Florence Savings Bank with a ‘Residency Requirement’ for a home at 4 Jewett Lane South Hadley within 60 days; yet you now claim Amherst is your primary residency. Are you lying now or were you lying then?

Either way, mortgage fraud or voter residency fraud notwithstanding, it's perjury and perjury is a federal offense. And the only good thing about Amherst's system of town government is they have a bylaw banning anyone who has a Federal rap sheet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Even In China

Yeah, and this Super Wal Mart was located directly across the street from the giant Mao statue in the Guiyang center, directly in line with his stare. Maybe they should add a few tears. video

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

To the top of the mountain.


Qian Ling Park reminds me of New York City’s Central Park: an oasis of green among a sea of concrete, although in this case it just outside the capital city and a lot harder to reach via a mile hike with a 500 foot vertical gain.
At the top of the mountain lies the main attraction: the oldest Buddhist temple in the provice dating back 500 years. And it is still active as the sprawling facilities with shrines. Prayer centers and enormous Buddha statues still houses 42 monks, their sleeping quarters, and a vegetarian restaurant.

Our guide (who is a Buddhist) said she recently met the 92-year-old head monk and he is the picture of health.

The base of the mountain, with a peaceful stream, is where the “park” amenities cluster with amusement rides, games, fast food, and ubiquitous trinkets for sale. The Olympic Logo (which reminds me of Teletubbies) in flowers attracted native tourists as a backdrop for photos.
The weather was an almost perfect 72 degrees and only slightly muggy but it was not very long after starting the climb up 12” rock steps cut in the mountain, hugging Jada to my chest, that I was sweating profusely.

About 10 minutes into the climb we spotted our first wild monkey. Our guide warned us they could get aggressive. On her last tour a five year old got too close and the monkey slapped him in the face.
Naturally with hundreds of people making the trek daily the monkeys are no longer afraid of humans and since they get plenty of food some of them are looking a tad overweight. But they are government protected so they thrive.

Because of the steep grade the rock staircase would curve as it snaked its way to the top.

The monkey was sitting on top of the rock guardrail and we stopped to take a picture. Folks coming down the trail stopped to let us get the shot resulting in a slight traffic jam. I noticed the other tourists were far more interested in our multi-racial family than the monkey.

The top of the mountain looked nothing like the tourist attraction clustered down below. It is an active monastery and many of the folks who made the climb performed prayers, the gong of ancient ritual bells frequently pierced the air and the smell of incense was everywhere.

The huge Buddha statues (including the bright gold “laughing Buddha”) were off limits to photographers and robed monks in sandals sat in the entryway to all the buildings.
We descended via a paved road on the other side of the mountain (naturally many tourists prefer to drive to the top rather than hike). About half way down at a sharp corner we could hear the loud whine of a motorcycle so we stepped completely off the road.

Two kids, one about 18 and his passenger maybe 12, were showing off by going to fast and pointing to us. He cut the corner to sharply and went down with a loud crash, sliding sideways down the road for perhaps twenty yards.

They were both stunned into silence. Our interpreter ran over and pulled up the younger one, wiping his bloody arm with a tissue who looked like he was in shock. He had “road rash” on his right arm (exposed because he was only wearing a t shirt) and probably his right hip/leg as well.

The older kid looked like he suffered little damage. The bikes front cover blew off but it managed to restart. Our guide told them to be careful, don’t show off and be respectful.

They restarted the bike and tore off. Our guide shook her head. About five minutes later we came across them on the side of the road as the bike had died.

Almost down we spotted metal tracks looping below. Kira recognized them from Disney World and yelled “roller coaster”. Donna and Kira took a ride ($2.25 each) while I sat with Jada and our guide.
The owners of the ride—a husband and wife about my age—came over and sat next to us at the picnic table. The women gave me a thumbs up and told the interpreter we were “good people” for adopting Kira and Jada.

The husband, who looked Mongolian, said he was ashamed his people would abandon these little girls (as he we speaking I noticed our guide/interpreter wince slightly). I really didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was not patronizing me and genuinely felt bad.

We shook hands, as my other one hugged Jada close. video

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