Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wow, I'm somebody now!


The Valley Advocate, no less, gave me a Halo as opposed to Horn (which Town Mgr Larry Shaffer earned):

Granted, we wouldn't relish the idea of having Amherst blogger-provocateur Larry Kelley (onlyintherepublicofamherst.blogspot.com) lurking around our fence, snapping shots as we yank dandelions from the garden. But that doesn't mean that Kelley wasn't well within his rights to raise questions, and do some investigative reporting, about how Select Board member Anne Awad planned to represent the town now that she was selling her Amherst home and moving to South Hadley. Awad and her sympathizers branded Kelley's reporting "harassment," obscuring the very legitimate issue he raised.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Why not Amherst?


You would think overly enlightened Amherst, where “only the h is silent,” could lead the way on issues concerning school improvement.

The schools are never very shy when it comes to asking for more money from residents, but an email suggestion box--that could turn up money saving ideas--is considered the Devil’s work.

Williamstown listens

Amherst does not

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A balmy New York excursion

The Chrysler Building beaming thru the flog
The Holland Tunnel was a sea of cars trying to become a narrow stream.
A New York Irish Pub. The perfect thing after a long drive in from Washington
A block from Rockefeller Center
The tree at Rockefeller Center
We take a Pedal Cab from the lights on Broadway to our car six blocks away
video

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Breaking News or Broken News?


Only in Amherst can you peruse a newspaper with nothing of note to report dated 12/26 on Tuesday evening 12/23.

Sooooooo…. if terrorists hijack a C-5 and torpedo Amherst Town Hall tomorrow, we would not read about it for a week-and-a-half in the venerable Amherst Bulletin.

Now you know why the bricks-and-mortar media (especially weeklies) are endangered.

Monday, December 22, 2008

When products compete...

So I of course have to wonder how all the folks who joined the original 'Golds Gym' in Amherst now ‘The Leading Edge’ (without a franchise fee) who are currently paying anywhere from $30 to $50 per month are going to like this new branch operation in Greenfield giving it away for $9.95 per month?



Not quite as large as the Amherst location but not that much smaller.

All That Glitters...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amethyst Brook in a storm

1:30 PM
So there’s nothing like an hour-and-a-half -hike on snowshoes in the middle of a storm to clear out the cobwebs.
One of many bridges over the brook

With sharp teeth in front snowshoes allowing for easier climbing than with cross country skies.

A large meadow enclosed by forest

Ancient abandoned autos in the middle of nowhere

Downhill is also easier with snowshoes (at least to this non-skier)

One last bridge to cross

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When bad things happen

UPDATE Thursday 12/18 4:38 PM So I suppose if I were to headline this as a New Post I would use Shakespeare’s dark “For tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” Because yeah, I’m depressed.

But if I titled this brief return-from-a posting-pause “Recovering,” local blog aficionados would remember the incident with pioneering guru Tommy Devine’s last upload a little over a year ago before he-- having entered rehab-- vanished for a month (and scared the Hell out of a lot of his devoted readers with such a L-O-N-G pause).

I have a wake to attend. And I would much rather cycle up Mt. Washington in the wintertime.
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Original Post 2 days ago:
So almost thirty years ago when I first thought about opening my karate school (that later morphed into a Health Club) a fatherly salesman gave me unsolicited counsel: the average number of funeral attendees was –I forget the exact number—somewhere around a dozen.

Therefor if you disappoint or anger a customer with lousy service, chances are they will share that gaff with at least the number of friends and relatives who will someday attend their funeral. Those folks will of course tell their friends and relatives, and so on.

These days on the Internet it’s called “going viral.”

I have been doing this blog for a little less than two years, so in Karate terms I’m still a Green Belt--and yeah--I’ve become pretty obsessed with my sitemeter (that is public by the way so feel free to click it.)

Sunday's "In Memory of..." post had the second highest number of unique visitors in my history (356), above weekly average by 100-125 (and more than double average for a Sunday, the slowest day of the week). But the number of folks who arrived here via a search engine was unprecedented. And over 100 of them (the vast majority) had sought information about 'David Pollack'.

They came from Amherst, Connecticut, Washington DC, California, the United Kingdom and lots of places in between. So I hope they found something of what they were looking for with Ed (all-things-UMass) posting under 'Comments' the heartfelt message from David's Umass Graduate Dean, or the link to Amherst Fire Department website. One great thing about the Net is you can tie together all these tiny islands of information.

Today the Gazette published his obituary (and Dick Johnson’s as well); but since they are a paid subscription operation (even on the Net) here's a Connecticut publication smart enough not to charge.

David Pollack remembered

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Memory of...


So on some days I would just assume not open email or answer the phone or for that matter read the Gazette obituaries (yeah, I’m now at that age where I go there rather quickly.)

As of now I learned all three ways about that irrevocable thing we call--oftentimes only in a whisper--death. And the People’s Republic of Amherst is now ever so diminished by the loss of these three individuals.

From an email I learned of the sudden sad passing of Amherst Call Firefighter David Pollack (the song refrain “Only the good die young” springs to mind--but that would cast a shadow on the other two, who were not exactly young but still full of life the last time I saw them.)

I only met David a few times (the most recent 9/11 ceremony at the Amherst Central Fire Station was the last time) but we obviously shared that core respect for all things American that he was happy to tell me about and encourage me to fight on.

Homer Cowles, the quintessential Yankee Farmer, also passed last week that I was surprised to see in the Gazette. Strangely enough, in addition to forever farmer and long-time service in Town Meeting and a half-tenure as Select man he was also a former call firefighter who worked his way up to Deputy Chief in charge of training the Student and Call force (although retired by the time David Pollack came on board)

I can honestly say in my 15 + years enduring Town Meeting Purgatory, the ONLY person I ever looked forward to walking up to the podium to speak was Homer Cowles who just had that engaging homespun way of telling a story.

And my long-time neighbor--and even longer time commercial landlord--Dick Johnson, a larger than life kind of guy (who always wore a cowboy hat and at well over 6 feet tall let’s just say he stood out in a room) succumbed to cancer.

When I was a teen-ager living in the Amherst Irish enclave of Crow Hill, THE upper crust place to be (that my mother only dreamed about) was Echo Hill Development (built by Dick Johnson and his long-time partner Gerry Gates).

And as part of the attraction they had an indoor swimming pool and outdoor tennis courts that spun off from the housing development and became the stand-alone Hampshire Fitness Center, my main business competitor for the first ten or 15 years of my existence (now of course it is Ponzi scheme idiots like Planet Fitness)

Although he tried to stay below the radar over the past 40 years or so I did hear that in the late 70’s or early 80’s Dick ran for Select Board and lost. No big surprise since that was about the time Amherst started down the road to anti-business zealotry.

Rest in peace my three friends. You will be—and in fact already are--missed.


AmherstFD website

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Houston, we have a problem."

UPDATE: 11:50 AM Okay, as one or two of you noticed, I posted a hot link for Amherst School Committee contact info (apparently located on the old site) and for some reason the link just would not work. So then I simply went to the new site (you know the one that does not want an Electronic Suggestion Box) and was stunned to learn Amherst had cancelled school today regionwide. Yikes!

Hmmm…so I had no problem whatsoever getting my daughter to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley this morning. What’s up with that? ‘The Powers That Be’ allow a health hazard to exist at Wildwood but they are ever so super-conservative about calling off school for a tiny snow dusting? And their security is such that anyone can walk in the front door unchallenged (well except for a sign saying report to the office first which is of course like a bank posting a sign at the entryway saying "please check masks and guns with the security guy sleeping in the corner.")

Well anyway, here’s the link to the fancy new District Web Page and somewhere on there you should be able to find contact info for the venerable Amherst School Committee. Tell them to do their job!

Amherst Regional Public Schools


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UPDATE: Friday morning 10:10 AM


So normally I update or correct at the Post in question. Somebody just emailed and wanted me to point out on my upload three days ago (an eternity in Internet time) about the School Committee nixing an electronic Suggestion Box should have mentioned that not all School Committee members voted against the common sense idea.

Well, I did reference Mary Carey’s article in the UltraCrusty Gazette (and will post hotlink to the repeat in today’s Bully). But she’s right. And I also think the entire issue is germane to this current controversy because parents with children at Wildwood could have used the Suggestion Box to request the schools abide by Public Health standards and provide hot water.

So just for the record: the two who voted in favor of hearing from the taxpayers who fund our expensive schools were: Catherine A. Sanderson (yes she’s also the ONLY one who voted against the School Committee's “retreat” next month--something that pushes the envelope on the Open Meeting Law.)

And Kathleen Anderson--who is nothing if not independent--also supported the idea of hearing from us little people (and apparently she will not attend the “retreat” because the facilitator is not of color.)

The Bully reports


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FINAL UPDATE
(for tonight) 11:04 PM: So the brand new Wal-Mart thermometer did not contain mercury and there was no broken glass to clean up (as it fell in the sink.) And—perhaps more important--I’m not a Pedophile, or a Stalker or even a “Town Provocateur. "

The initial Comment to this post (that published at 3:20 PM) occurred at 3:48 PM with great concern (not about the cold or dirty brown water that apparently has been the norm since September) but about the possible “mercury poison” from a tiny thermometer.

And when Co-Superintendent of Schools Al Sprague (who splits $125-K with his wife) called me at 4:18 PM on my unlisted home phone number he initially ranted about the mercury thermometer (and almost seemed disappointed to learn it contained no mercury). I particularly liked his antiquated line admonishing me to “act like a man” and talk to school officials “face to face”. Something I may soon take him up on.

When all is said and done, however, the simple fact remains: Wildwood’s “HOT” water temperature was ONLY 70 freaken degrees! How many of you nitwit Anon’s (or Gazette editor's for that matter) take a shower or bath in 70 degree water? And would you frequent a restaurant that washed dishes at such a sub-tepid temperature?

Sure you need to worry about scalding children (Co-Superintendent Sprague was shouting something about that as well) or even saving money on energy, but the cursory Google research I did on hot water and children’s safety routinely states: “If your water-heater setting is at a safe level (between 120°F and 125°F, you don't have to do anything. There is no advantage to setting the thermostat below 120°F.”

And what the Hell was the all that brown crap that came out of the other sink? When the Amherst DPW “flushes the lines” they always warn everybody there may be some sediment stirred up and to let the water run for a little while longer. I did not see that town-wide advisory this afternoon.

Former Czar Anne Awad tried to have me arrested for proving she moved to South Hadley (and where is she now?) to no avail; so school officials should forget ‘Attacking the Messenger’ and get down to solving the real problem: Wildwood has no hot water!
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UPDATE: 8:00 PM: Well the Comments are still coming fast and furious. I had to teach my wife’s Karate class (she’s in Mexico doing her other job—the one that pays) and I had children to feed (my own) and now need to put them to bed. But I will have one more UPDATE before the night is done.

UPDATE: 5:58 PM: The ‘Comments’ are coming fast and furious. I agree, in this post 9/11 world an adult should not be able to just waltz into an Elementary School and do whatever they please (even if only going to the bathroom).

Spin it any way you want: the need for more money via an Override to “save our schools” or “what the hell is going on here where water temperature is only 70 degrees and the color is a tad scary.” And if you can believe those damn anonymous folks on MassLive, this has been going on since SEPTEMBER!

So go ahead: beat up on the messenger (I can take LOTS of punishment); but something certainly ain’t right at Wildwood Elementary School in the People’s Republic of Amherst.
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UPDATE: 4:45 PM So I just got a call from Al Sprague “Interim Co-Superintendent of the Schools” who seemed a tad perturbed. He demanded to know if the thermometer contained mercury (and of course it did not) because he was about to send out a Hazmat Alert (can you imagine how much that would cost state taxpayers?)

Then he asked if I “signed in” to enter the building, which of course I did not. I pointed out that if you tried to enter the Pioneer Valley Chinese Charter Immersion School at 2:00 PM you would have to ring a buzzer to get in (the doors are only open at 8:15 AM for drop off and at 3:30 PM for pick up and the Principal is usually standing in the doorway greeting parents.)

He then threatens to get a “restraining order”. So I verbally assured him (with my almost 2-year-old daughter as witness) that if I ever feel the need to return to Wildwood Elementary School I would be happy to “sign in”. No restraining order necessary (that too cost money.)
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ORIGINAL POST 3:20 PM

I entered Amherst’s Wildwood Elementary School (the one my daughter almost attended if Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School had not found a roof over their head two years ago) at 2:00 PM with my camera in one hand and an empty clean glass and thermometer (brand new from Wal-Mart at 99 cents) in the other.

And I figured the kids all would all have had lunch by now and the Men’s bathroom probably had not seen a lot of use over the past hour or so. I was, once again, the only one in there for the entire time (about 6 minutes)

At my house, where I have a brand new home heating system including new water heater (my old one died about a month ago) I set the thermostat on my new water heater as low as it would go. Then I ran the hot water for 60 seconds captured some in a glass and gingerly lowered the thermometer in and waited 2.5 minutes. Temperature came to 98 degrees


Repeated that same exercise at Wildwood Elementary School: Temperature came to 70. Kind of a big difference.

Sorry for the blurry photo but I was holding the thermometer and white paper background in one hand and taking the photo with the other and then dropped the thermometer (and it broke) so I could not take another shot or two with different light settings. But trust me, the temperature read 70 degrees.

In the other sink (this bathroom had two) I ran the hot water and got that nasty looking reddish/brown water--and it felt as cool as the sink that I used in the temperature test.

Something is definitely amiss in the People's Republic.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do as I say! (Not as I do)


UPDATE: Thursday, 9:20 AM

So the Crusty Gazette did not cover /expose the health hazard going on since September at Wildwood Elementary School in this morning’s edition. Now you know why I call them Crusty.

But they did cover the “restructuring “ of our elementary schools proposal that somebody posted as a Comment yesterday (so I’m not sure if that qualifies as scooping them or not).

The article by Mary Carey is of course a lot more thorough than what you might find in the blogesphere but then that’s why she makes the big bucks. There was a, perhaps inadvertent, odd juxtaposition of paragraphs that I found illuminating:

Just keeping the schools running at the current level would require an increase of 7 to 8 percent in the $20.6 million budget. The schools will instead be aiming to increase the budget by only 2 percent over last year.

"I've never dealt with decreases of this size," the co-superintendent said.

Only in Amherst is a 2% budget increase considered a “decrease”
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ORIGINAL POST: Wednesday afternoon
So if you can believe those damn anonymous “spurious” and “ugly” comments posted on local online forums; well actually there’s only one, Masslive (Amherst) Forum, as the Crusty Daily Hampshire Gazette spiked their lively one seven years ago: Wildwood Elementary School (built in 1970), entrusted with over 400 Amherst children, has no hot water.

And furthermore, if you can believe another anonymous commenter who provided (in a journalistic sense—if you acknowledge anonymous sources) corroboration, they have been running on cold water since September!

I decided to be that investigative journalist I always wanted to be and took a trip up to Wildwood this afternoon, figuring a formal Freedom of Information request could take weeks.

Sure enough, no freaken hot water! And then I went back to recheck over an hour later (figuring maybe multitudeness kids used that bathroom and temporarily overwhelmed the hot water heater). The video is from the second visit.

Now if Puffton Village or Southpoint Apartments lost running hot water in the wintertime, the People’s Republic of Amherst Building Inspector would instantly shut them down. And since private management knows that, the problem would be corrected overnight.

Last month the US economy shed over 500,000 jobs--mostly from manufacturing, construction and retail. But, education and government actually experienced job growth. Ahhh…the dramatic difference between 'I'm-here-to-help-you' Government and the 'source-of-their-funding' Private Sector.

God help us!


video

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hear no evil


This from Mary Carey's article in Saturday's Crusty Gazette about the School Committee voting down an online suggestion box: " We don't see a need for a blind suggestion box, a blog site for people to complain," said Alton Sprague, interim co-superintendent, summing up the view expressed by a majority of School Committee members.

In his 40 years working in public schools, "nothing good has come from a suggestion box," Sprague said. Comments about school employees on local online forums have been "spurious," he said. And the tenor of some of the email officials have received in response to a fatality involving a school bus earlier this year and the coming closing of the middle school pool has been "ugly."

So you gotta wonder how the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee, feels about that Old-School statement denigrating anonymous surveys—after all, the FCCC relied almost exclusively on the 497 responses from Amherst taxpayers to formulate their budget recommendations to the Select Board and Finance Committee.

Perhaps Mr. Sprague was a tad unhappy with the Masslive Amherst Forum “discussion” of the tragic bus accident that took the life of a toddler. Somebody questioned why the Sprague’s were on vacation at the Cape at the beginning of the school year; kind of like a Health Club owner taking off the first two weeks in January--the best month of the year for the industry (New Year’s resolutions.)

And somebody offered up as a defense their (slightly) advanced ages. Yikes!

The recent anonymous survey of town employees turned up problems with the Town Manager’s style of leadership and resulted in the Select Board at the very least suggesting he work on it.

Many industries specifically solicit employee feedback for cost containment and often will reward good ideas with a chunk of the money saved. That way everybody wins. If you don’t like what somebody writes then don’t act on it (other than to delete).

But how are you going to know what you don’t know if you refuse to even listen?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday, December the 7'th


Another one of those dates we should never, never, never forget.

Even if your knowledge of the awful event only comes from Hollywood movies, the sights and sounds reinforce the Hell that was “A date which will live in infamy”.

Had their never been a Second Wave of fighters and bombers swarming like angry bees—but way less effective because all the smoke from dying battlewagons now obscured the fleet--and even if the First Wave broke off the attack ten minutes into it, about half the personnel damage had been done.

The Arizona had already become a tomb for 1,177 of her crew.

UPDATE: 7:30 PM

So amazingly the People’s Republic of Amherst, unlike last year (or the previous twenty or so) actually remembered to bring the town flag to half-staff. Not so for the blue blood private colleges like Smith, or Amherst College and even our public flagship Umass (although they remembered last year but maybe those budget cuts axed the flag protocol person).






Or even the town of Hadley.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yes, Virginia, even in Amherst.


UPDATE: Monday, 12/8 9:30 AM As Mary Carey pointed out the great thing about a blog is that you have expert readers who can set the record strait. So I just received an email from an overly reliable member of Amherst PD who wanted to correct one of Ed's comments about traffic control:

The Univ. Police Dept. is ENTIRELY in Charge of the Traffic Detail for Commencement. It is THEIR plan and they hire us. (APD). They tell us where they would like officers to be and which direction they want traffic routed. I believe they use a plan that was designed by the students themselves.

ORIGINAL Post 12/5 8:00 PM Okay so this year the Merry Maple (not to be confused with a Christmas Tree)is a tiny bit more merry than last year when it looked like the poster tree for a North Korean anti air raid illustration. The Umass band under the amiable direction of George Parks was outstanding as always.

video

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The politics of a terrible tragedy

Pelham (population 1,440) Police Chief Ed Fleury

UPDATE: Saturday 2:45 PM

So my forever buddy Izzy just jokingly emailed that she was gonna suit for my use of Chief Fleury’s photo (above). I had done a Google Image search and found it (so I assume it’s free game but now that somebody has used a bunch of images from my blog in his youtube trailer for a Hollywood screenplay I’m actually going to research the legality of using Google images without permission of the original owner)

I just now redid the search and realize the Google credit was to ‘MassNews’ and not ‘Masslive’. I had wondered why the Springfield Republican (the owner of Masslive) used the Gazette mug shot of Fleury and had to credit the competition on the Front Page of yesterday's paper.

So the photo credit goes to: Isabel Lyman former (and probably only conservative columnist) for the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette, a tireless champion of home schooling and former co-owner of a private, Christian Middle/High School in the overly education-oriented People’s Republic of Amherst.

And yes, I’m certain her article from over five years ago will not go a long way toward engendering sympathy for Chief Fleury. But again--it points out that he never tried to hide anything when it came to machine guns (note photo of Mount Holyoke co-ed using one, which I’m now sure was illegal.)
Fleury Gun profile from 2003


ORIGINAL POST THURSDAY 12/4/08
Tomorrow the hard-copy news will be front-page banner headlines all the way. Gazette, Springfield Republican, probably the Boston Globe and Herald as well: “Crusading DA indicts small-town Police Chief for involuntary manslaughter in child’s machine gun death”, or something like that (you can tell I don’t normally do headlines)

Of course the DA is quoted saying that Machine Gun Shoots are "clearly a violation of the law.” Well gee Mr. DA, where the Hell were you over the past few years when these things having been routinely promoted—and I mean PROMOTED—in this state?

It’s not like they were secretly holding cock fighting in a basement somewhere. If you did your job and shut these events down a year ago that child would be alive today.

If you are going to indict somebody then how about the father who picked out the gun? Or your office for dereliction of duty.

The jury will never convict. But another life has been destroyed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How quickly they forget.

So I was about to post a comment/response over on Ms. O’Keeffe’s blog—or whatever she calls it—but then thought if she is no longer going to post, why bother?

As most “inside baseball” aficionados know, Ms. O’Keeffe first came to public notice via her blog ‘Stephanie’s Town Meeting Experience’ started in the Spring of 2006 when she won a seat in Amherst Town Meeting back when nobody really paid attention to the antiquated 240 member body, most of whom are AARP members in good--if not longtime--standing.

Then after the public limelight started to shine Ms. O'Keeffe added “InAmherst” where she tried to be “another source for local news and information,” and oftentimes succeeded.

Within a month of winning her Select Board seat she stopped posting at both sites. Of course a month or two before the election she started ‘Stephanieokeefe.com’ which was even more instrumental in winning her Select Board seat.

It’s what I jokingly refer to with fellow bloggers as “behold the power”.

But now that she’s become the Star Trek equivalent of “Captain Dunsel”, the Select Board recaps and summaries may go the way of her previous two websites. Hmmm...

Hey Stephanie (sorry, I mean “Madam Chair.”) Remember where you came from, remember what made you: communication is key!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rearranging deck chairs


Okay so our illustrious Select Board is under new management…but will it make a difference? Well of course it will--a houseplant could replace His Lordship to make things better. But will Ms. Okeeffe’s meteoric rise to Chairwomen of the most important elected position in town make a significant improvement in this time of fiscal crisis?

Hell no! Because at this point, she’s taken command of the Titanic ten minutes after scraping an iceberg.

Only in Amherst would someone snatch the premier position of political power based on having “the time.” If Amherst moved to a professional Mayor/Council then perhaps others would decide to make “the time”

One of the hidden gems peppered throughout the survey responses from Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee's outreach to Amherst citizens is the underlying belief that we need a lot more from our local government: More professionalism, more accountability and more creativity.

And that simply can’t happen with our fragmented current form of government populated by part-time, volunteers (no matter how many hours they are willing to donate) where ultimately the buck stops nowhere.

The Springfield Republican reports

Monday, December 1, 2008

Changing of the guard


6:32 PM Select Board meeting Town Hall

Looks like no Questions during the 6:30 Question Period

6:34 PM Gerry cuts to the reorganization chase, but is reminded (by Diana Stein) that Alisa Brewer is not here yet.

6:35 PM She just walked in. All five present and accounted for.

6:40 PM Alisa nominates Stephanie for Chair and Mr. Weiss seconds.

Ms Brewer gives him parting gifts--even though they have not taken the vote.

6:45 PM Vote is unanimous. The gavel has been passed!
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In other news from this evening: The Town Manager had good news/bad news concerning recreation. The Town Attorney's opinion is that the town can get away with the CPA spending on Plum Brook Soccer fields mainly because they already did the expensive renovation and legally committed to the ten-year loan before the Seidman vs Newton case was decided by the SJC (but it certainly sounds like in the future that spending would not fly)

Town Pools may not fare as well as soccer: A new Federal regulation spurred by a horrific hot tub drowning of a child requires a retrofit that could cost $100,000 per pool--the Middle School indoor pool and both outdoor pools (Mill River and the War Memorial). Ouch.
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The Select Board decided to post on the town website all the working written materials concerning the Town Manager's evaluation from the five members of the Board . Sound like a cure for insomnia to me.
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And the Facilitation of the Community Choices Committee managed to make their December 1 deadline and presented the first chapter of the Final Report, containing almost no good news at all.

Community Choices Suggestion Box

Of the almost 500 folks who took the survey to provide feedback to town officials on the budget over the next five years a couple hundred had written "suggestions". The FCCC will publish them all unedited in an appendix of their Final Report (presented this afternoon to the Budget Coordinating Group and this evening to the Select board.) I culled these ten in no particular order of importance:

The town needs to become business friendly and develop means of generating income through technology and tourism.

Make hard choices without compromising ESSENTIAL services -- fire, police and schools.

Ask employees for a giveback on their raises

We must stop subsidizing ambulance services to Hadley and the other towns, and not accept a long-term contract in lieu of actual cost payments. We must foster economic development and business growth so that property owners are not the principal source of revenue.

No increase in budget. Aggressive initiative to change our form of government. It is dysfunctional to try to make choices by surveys. The results don't reflect to true political will of Amherst. The results only reflect those who go to meetings and fill out questionnaires . . . and there is no way for those who do participate to be assured that their concerns will be addressed our can they hold anybody accountable for choices made. Who will be held accountable for the choices made? Town Meeting? The community Choices Committee? Who and how and what consequences? Why not put all your efforts to finally changing our form of government to a fully accountable government of professional politicians that are paid and held accountable for their choices. It is the way the State, US and hundreds of thousands municipalities govern themselves. And please, don't respond that we have to work with the government we have. If you er-call, the first vote on the charter lost by 14 votes in an election where 9,000 registered voters didn't vote. If the "Choices" committee put their efforts into changing town government, perhaps two years from now we may still be in this mess, but we can be assured that choices will be made by people we know and who we can hold accountable. Jim Pitts

Prioritize better, focusing on maintaining public safety and education -- everything else is frosting on the cake. Close the branch libraries! Eliminate bus lines with low ridership; increase fees on remaining lines. Eliminate the human rights staff position, if it still exists. Increase LSSE fees to better cover costs. Close the Cherry Hill golf course. Open only one public pool in the summer, and/or charge a per-use fee (perhaps with summer pass option). Work very hard on business development, and on making sure we retain the businesses that currently exist (and generate revenue!). Quit using tax dollars for charity donations, that's inappropriate when we can't pay our own basic bills. Charge the farmer's market sellers a fee for use of the land each week. Pay attention to the fact that Hadley doesn't have a revenue problem -- I don't want to live in Hadley (weak schools, poor zoning), but they are very smart to use business development to create a strong tax base. We can be smarter about zoning, but still see some business growth.

Close branch (North and South) libraries Reduce budget at main library Negotiate for more money (PILOT) from UMass, Amherst and Hampshire colleges Renegotiate town employee’s wages/salaries and health insurance to lower cost Elementary Schools Reduce Special Ed program Make fee based ALL after school programs (academic and extra curricular) Regional Schools Eliminate and/or make fee based Russian and German language programs and Make fee based ALL after school programs (academic and extra curricular) Reduce Special Ed program

Increase tax base through business development, focus on core services, move to a mayoral form of government that provides greater accountability to the budget process.

Stop spending! This is not easy, nor is it popular but it must happen. Our town asks too much of its taxpayers. When times were more prosperous, we could better afford the wonderful services we have. Now, times are tough in the US and the world and we need to be satisfied with much less. We are ready for a mayor who has the skills to make the really difficult and unpopular decisions that need to be made. Amherst can remain a beautiful, New England college town without all the "extras" we have come to expect in the past. Please act responsibly and stop overspending!


Town should lives within its means--like any family budget.