Friday, July 31, 2009

A somber but proud position

UPDATE (Sunday morning): So if I were the President I would order the flags down to half staff to remember Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher; and hoist a beer to remember his sacrifice.
A long lost pilot will be coming home

Big Y, Amherst
Amherst College (that majestic flag high on a hill.)
Hadley Town Hall
Amherst Town Hall
Amherst Post Office (University Drive)
Amherst Post Office (Town Center)

Of course the Feds are not subject to state law. But only the Federal Government can send our troops to war.

-----Original Message-----
From: State House Events (BSB)
Sent: Wed, Jul 29, 2009 1:10 pm
Subject: Half Staff Notification for Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Afternoon Everyone,

Governor Patrick is ordering the American and Commonwealth Flags lowered to half-staff on Friday, July 31st from sunrise until sunset for Corporal Nicholas Xiarhos who was killed in action.

Pursuant to gubernatorial protocol which states,

"The U.S. flag shall be flown at half-staff at all state buildings from sunrise until sunset on the day of interment of any soldier from Massachusetts who is killed in action in a war zone while on active duty,”

Please be advised that Governor Patrick has ordered that the United States flag and the Commonwealth flag be lowered to half-staff at all state buildings from sunrise until sunset on Friday, July 31, 2009, in honor of Corporal Nicholas Xiarhos of Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts who was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 23, 2009.

State House Event Coordinator

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A-Rod leads the charge

So our newest highest paid government employee must think he's a superstar baseball player or something as he is already championing a Proposition 2.5 Override.

The Gazette forgot to mention in addition to his $158,000 salary (a tad above former Golden Boy Jere Hochman's $135,000) rookie school superintendent Alberto Rodriguez also gets $15,000 in housing/transportation for two years. And he left his family behind in Miami to simply rent rather than buy a home here which of course is more directly subject to the vagaries of property taxes.

Plus he's a rookie to not only Amherst in particular--but to Superintendency (if that is a word) in general.

The 3.5% negotiated teachers union raises this year alone are costing taxpayers over a $1 million and the Teachers Union already told the Town Manager to go to hell on forgoing them. Can't really say I blame them, since the new guy came in to replace the old white guy at a 15%+ increase.

School Superintendent Rodriguez admires President Reagan as an influential role model because of his insistence on smaller more efficient government. But Super A-Rod now heads that part of local government that consumes the vast majority of tax dollars and he's already advocating an expansion of that expenditure.

Ch. 3 TV reports

The Bully reports (better late than never)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sign, sign everywhere a sign

UPDATE: Friday High-Noon.
So my other friends at Hampshire Life--the Friday weekly magazine published by the Gazette also addressed this Rt. 91 sign issue (and since they are a weekly with a bricks-and-mortar deadline, I'm fairly sure their story was in the pipeline before my upload on Tuesday). Although I find it even more alarming that these signs will appear over ALL of the 776 miles of state roadways at a cost of $1,720,000):

So while my friends at the Springfield Republican are ridiculing the $timulus $igns that cost $2,700 each (as of course they should) informing folks their tax dollars are at work, I'm kind of wondering about all the new signs along Rt 91 that designate every .2 of a mile and at every mile a larger one with the Rt 91 logo.

Hmmm, so five signs per mile times the 55 miles between the Connecticut and Vermont border is how much? And if your clunker breaks down do you really, really need to know within .2 of a mile exactly where you are?

The emergency call boxes, spaced about every mile, are equally useless. Massachusetts is the only state to use them on Rt. 91 and I bet they never get used because the three in a row I tried did not work. The technology looks like something from the 1970's and does not even allow voice communication.

And in this day and age where everyone has a cell phone why not spend the money on making sure there's cell reception along the entire route and replace the call boxes with cell phone stations?

Yes, I hit the top button not one of the emergency ones. Nothing happened (no beep, no light.) Waited two minutes. Then tried the next one down the road; same thing. Then the third one, where I sat for 25 minutes just in case a wrecker showed up. It did not.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Who's bluffing whom?

So tonight in two hours Amherst Town Meeting disposed of seven articles,raising taxes on local restaurants and hotel/motels, while giving Atkins Farm Stand (a thriving business) a tax break to expand, purchased two solar panels that are advertised to generate $2 of electricity for every dollar of investment; but denied by a vote of 96 to 78 the Jones Library an additional $34,704 to bring their budget up to minimum state standards--and risking the $70,000 to $80,000 of funding that comes with it.

Apparently less than 10% of Massachusetts' cities and towns have been granted a waiver of the state minimum threshold for funding by town tax dollars. Select Board Chair Princess Stephanie in prepared remarks (not prepared enough apparently as she went over the time limit by 22 seconds) boasted if the state rejected the certification waiver request. the Select Board would quickly call a Special Town Meeting in the fall and suggested town money would then be forthcoming.

Let's hope the state official who decides waivers doesn't read that remark and call her on it.

I voted in favor of the higher number...mainly out of pride. Amherst. where education is the number one industry, with a town seal denoting a book and plough, begging the state to drop minimum library standards.

Seasonal Amherst?

Click to read

Yeah, back twenty years ago the town pretty much rolled up the streets in the sumertime (and the living was not easy.) But these days Amherst is a lot busier with all the summer camps and conventions at our tax exempt institutions (Judie's was busy last night for instance.)

So I find it a little odd that Papa Gino's, who only opened this past March closed for the summer (reminds me of those "gone fishin" signs). It does demonstrate that employees are the number one overhead--but rent in that location can't be far behind.

This from the March 2 Daily Hampshire Gazette:

Company representatives who came before the Select Board, including manager Joseph Kimmel, said they are confident that, even though the popular pizza-by-the-slice Antonio's restaurant is located directly across the street, many college students are already familiar with its products from living in the Boston area.

Friday, July 24, 2009

And another one gone, and another one gone...

So you would think a national franchise selling ice cream could at the very least survive the Summer in the People's Republic of Amherst into the Fall; and by then the students (swallows) return to Amherst (Capistrano).

But that location-- and its congenital twin (the vacant store next door)--is probably the most expensive rent in Amherst, if measured by $ per square foot. And normally I would say that labor is the #1 cost of doing business with rent #2.

But with Ben & Jerry's the actual rent was probably number one overall. And a decade ago, even McDonald's could not survive in that location (killed by Antonio's Pizza back when still owned by Bruno Matarazzo)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

An innocent victim

So Bank of America better hope the Conservation Department does not take note of the dead tree in their overhead walkway. The bank--in the very heart of downtown Amherst--has been closed for a while now due to renovations (and obviously somebody forgot to water the tree.)

Bank of America or KFC?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What informed readers want.

So first of all, Amherst has according to our toothless watchdog the Finance Committee (report of January, 2007) approved 10 of 18 Overrides over the past 25 years. Yes, some of them were menu Override where on the same day/ballot a few items appeared, but still The People’s Republic of Amherst has on numerous occasions approved tax Overrides. Thus saying “only 2” is not even close, even by hand grenade measuring.

And of course the other hilarious hypocrisy is the Gazette touts “transparency” as a reason why Northampton just passed a $2 million Override; but the Gazette has also recently taken them to the woodshed (which indeed they should) for not keeping good Public Records notes during executive sessions --especially since those sessions seemed to be related to a $1.2 million buyout of homes near the landfill.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cherry Hill Golf Course shanks again

So before the Town Manager or LSSE, our expensive recreation empire, spews a disingenuous positive spin on the numbers, here’s what the illustrious business of golf really cost taxpayers this past year (FY-09, ended June 30, 2009):

“Operation Budget: $211,000
Hidden costs: (employee benefits, insurance): $31,000
“Capital costs” Commercial lawnmower $22,000
Total taxpayer funded budget: $264,000

Total Revenues (with about half the patrons from outside Amherst): $254,000

Or a loss of $10,000.

Not bad...compared to the six consecutive years of $100,000 losses between 1999 and 2005, or South Hadley’s usual annual losses of $500,000 on their B-I-G-G-E-R white elephant, the Ledges.

But this loss does not reflect the $30,000 “opportunity cost” of privatizing the operation. The Town Mangler rejected Niblick Management because they wanted a 3-year-deal.

But Shaffer wants Town Meeting next week to approve a 5-year lease/buy on experimental photovoltaic, solar panels for two in-town locations. Hmmm…

And even if you ignore the $30,000 privatization opportunity had Amherst never absorbed Cherry Hill for $2.2 million over 20 years ago (still the most expensive land purchase/taking in town history) the former owner would be paying property taxes of almost $10,000 per year.

As former Czar Anne Awad told Town Meeting in June 2006 (back when she still lived in Amherst): “Numbers can be used in many ways, statistics in many ways” Yeah, for sure. It would help if town officials told the truth.

Hey, at least he was accurate (gotta love the facial twitch) when admitting the golf business would not cover capital.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A haunting reminder

This "ghost bike" appeared near the spot on University Drive where cyclist Misty Bassi was run down by a hit-and-run driver on Memorial Day morning. She was hit head on, so at least her death was instantaneous.

When Umass students return and The Hanger starts packing them in again, maybe more folks will be reminded that a car is a deadly weapon.

CBS reports

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

The cost of doing business

So yes, as an Amherst Town Meeting member with too many years business experience I will of course support the property tax break for Atkins Farm stand my South Amherst business neighbor. But if somebody asked me over the past 20 years or so for a list of the top retail businesses in Amherst, Atkins would be high on my list.

And I remember 45 years or so ago when they were neck-and-neck with Wentworth Farms for farm stand fresh produce sales. At the time Atkins was on the other side of the main road and they had a GIANT bright red apple on top of the tiny farm stand.

But today anytime you drive or cycle by during business hours the Atkins parking lot is overflowing. Wentworth Farms is long gone.

Good for me of course since the building I have occupied for the past 26 years or so was originally apple storage for Wentworth Farms, thus if they had not gone belly up due to Atkins…

But how about the Lord Jeffery Inn? Yeah, I know--they are owned by tax-exempt Amherst College who has a BILLION in their endowment. But a year ago it was a LOT higher than that. Thus they cancelled the $20 million renovation of their cozy Inn, although they seem to find the cash to do millions in renovations to their other tax-exempt infrastructure.

Now the decaying Lord Jeff sits forlornly in town center as a high profile public embarrassment. Why not offer Amherst College a tax break over the next five years or so to do the damn renovation?

The Lord Jeff generates collateral business for everybody in the downtown and when Amherst increases the hotel/motel tax to 6% (that too, I will support) the Lord Jeff would pass thru over $100,000 annually to the town.

If we can subsidize Atkins why not Amherst College?

Fast turnaround (Joys of dealing with the Private Sector)

A week from dirt to pavement, not bad.

Last week

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sotomayor & Me

Top row: Nunchakus, brass knuckle knife, push dagger
Middle row: Ninja claw, throwing stars
Bottom row: Balisong Philippine knife, and my favorite: a razor sharp double-edged dagger made from plastic rather than metal so you could easily sneak it aboard commercial airplanes.

Sotomayor on martial arts weapons

While I don’t agree with Ms. Sotomayor playing the race/gender card or her ruling upholding reverse discrimination in the Connecticut firefighter case (recently overturned by the Supreme Court) we wholeheartedly agree about Martial Arts weapons.

Back in the mid-1970’s (yeah, well before that tank ride with goofy oversized helmet) Governor Mike Dukakis signed "emergency legislation" outlawing double-edged knives, samurai swords, throwing stars, nunchakus and such because they were being used against Boston Police trying to keep order during the tumultuous busing crisis.

A very sad use of the American flag

After I first opened a Karate school in the early 1980’s we did an anonymous survey of what else could we offer to customers, and a bunch of responses craved “weapons classes”. We could tell by the handwriting they came from young children.

I then discovered lots of kids were getting their na├»ve little hands on dangerous mail-order martial arts weapons. Because, after all, the mail carrier does not check I.D’s. “Latchkey kids” could order anything and monitor the mailbox over the next month before Mom or Dad returned home.

The martial arts industry went from the Bruce Lee era (mid 1970’s) to the Ninja mania craze in the early 1980’s. Now it is of course the Mixed Martial Arts which has better staying power then either of the previous fads (although to this day they don’t come any better than Bruce Lee.)

Ninja’s were Japanese assassins who would kill their grandmother in her sleep if the price were right; not something you want American kids worshipping. And of course they used all sorts of nasty weapons to achieve that ignoble end.

The martial arts media hyped it because they sold advertising and magazines. And the weapons dealers loved it because they sold tons of cheap weapons.

So around 1984 in the middle of my five year run as Top Ten nationally ranked tournament karate competition (and professional writer for the national karate magazines) I started my crusade against mail-order martial weapons into states—like Massachusetts and New York—who had declared them illegal.

My theory was the Federal Government should not overrule state government especially on this public safety issue.

And precisely because of my use of the term “states rights” in a cover letter to all US Senators containing a throwing star with the tag line "illegal weapon legally enclosed" on the outside of the envelope, southern Senator Strom Thurmond (Judiciary Chair) co-sponsored legislation with northern Senator Edward Kennedy. Yikes!

At that point even a novice like me could get the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Springfield Union, Boston Globe and Boston Herald, New York Times and NY Post, and finally LA times and LA Herald (where the karate magazines were based) to do editorials supporting the Kennedy/Thurmond bill.

The Senate Bill 1363 passed the Judiciary Committee 11-1 with only Arlen Specter dissenting. Although Orrin Hatch (grilling Sotomayor on nunchakus yesterday) was a Judiciary member back then, he did not show up to vote that morning.

The bill never made it before the full Congress and thus died. But because of all the national press the industry started to police itself (using the disclaimer “will not ship to where prohibited by law” and something about only “adults” can order.)

I never wrote another word for the martial arts media; and I was blackballed on the national karate tournament circuit. A small price to pay.

The Christian Science Monitor reported (way back then):

Typical ads circa 1985 (click to enlarge)

UPDATE: Thursday 11:40 AM

AOL main page is doing an interesting "poll" about Sotomayor: So far 57% do NOT want her approved but (Question #2) 84% think she "will win" approval. Politically speaking is it a BIG enough deal (I would guess not) for those unhappy campers to vote against their Senator in the next election who approved Sotomayor.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Inside baseball (of the Gay variety)

So that disembodied voice you hear responding, “No, I was hoping the Select Board would comment, so I have no comment,” was indeed me. I had emailed the entire Select Board earlier that morning suggesting they make a (brief) public statement in support of Massachusetts State Senator Stan Rosenberg, who ever so casually mentioned in a Daily Hampshire Gazette July 4th column that he was, gasp, gay.

Even earlier that morning, finishing up a bike ride, I ran into (almost literally) former SB Chair Gerry Weiss and pitched the idea face to face. When I got home two minutes later I emailed the entire Select Board.

From a PR perspective I can see Princess Stephanie’s point (play-it-safe, keep silent), as back when she actually worked for a living as a flak in the Detroit car industry (obviously W-A-Y back in the good old days) you let a negative lie low (or is it lay?) and blow over. Don’t address it because it simply feeds the news cycle. But my theory is that Stan’s being gay is not a negative

And today’s crusty Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial demonstrates (better late than never)they agree with me: What Stan did was pretty damn courageous and should be publicly applauded; while what the Amherst Select Board did was pretty damn cowardly.

Of course the little old Gazette is happy Stan Rosenberg did it on their editorial page rather than their competition the BIG city Springfield Republican. Although I couldn’t help note that when the AP picked up the story they did so from the Springfield Republican's article a few days later and not the Gazette.

Today's Gazette editorial:

Worth noting: Sen. Rosenberg's news

We have to admire the courage of convictions, no matter what they are or how they are demonstrated. It is why State Sen. Stan Rosenberg's disclosure that he is gay generated a bit of news, after it appeared as a brief mention in a guest column on this page.

We live in a time when, right or wrong, we want to know about our elected leaders' private lives, as well as their public pronouncements. Rosenberg, 59, the Amherst Democrat, widely known as a hard worker, good listener and a consensus builder, is not one to speak in sound bites. He didn't do that this time either.

His 750-word column published July 4th spoke to the historical reasons Massachusetts is considered in the vanguard when it comes to tolerance, equal rights and social justice. Halfway through, he offered this insight into how his own political views were shaped: "As a foster child growing up as a ward of the state, as a gay man, as a Jew, I understand what it's like to be cast as ¿the other.' "

It made perfect sense that he would include these pieces of information about who he is to explain a belief system he holds dear.

Perhaps to explain why he has never come out as a gay man before, Rosenberg said he doesn't practice "identity politics" - and indeed the fact that he is gay, Jewish, and was a foster child, does not make him a spokesman for the gay community, the Jewish community or adopted people.

It does, however, make him sensitive to their issues. That's not identity politics, that is simply letting all of who you are guide you in the opinions you hold and the decisions you make.

It is also letting the public you serve know you more fully.

Since the column was published, Rosenberg has declined requests for interviews. Since he does not practice identity politics, we suspect he does not want his hard work on policy and legislation to get derailed by this news.

It is his choice to make such a statement and then move on, especially considering that the only reaction to the column and the news from his constituents has been positive. That may well be because Stan Rosenberg has a distinguished political career of 22 years on Beacon Hill. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1987 to 1991; and in the Senate since then. People see him doing the job they elected him for, and that's what counts.

So, bravo, Stan Rosenberg, for making this announcement and doing it in the way that felt right to you. Your constituents are glad to get to know you a little better.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wed, Jul 8, 2009 10:45 am
Subject: A vote of support for you know who.

I hope the Select Board will take a moment at tonight's meeting to remind the general public that the town of Amherst is an "equal opportunity employer" and does not discriminate based on race, creed, color, religion, gender, transgender, sexual persuasion or political affiliation (although the last one I'm not so sure about.)

Larry K

Monday, July 13, 2009

What you lookin at

You can run, but...

After a year of waiting 2 new Dodge Chargers are, finally, here. Six cylinders rather than eight so they will get a bit better mileage than the Crown Victoria’s. Although some Town Meeting members wanted the Chief to purchase "hybrid vehicles" for even less of a carbon impact.

Country road

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Let the sun shine

So the Town Manager wants to experiment with two photovoltaic solar panels, one on the DPW and another at the transfer station at a cost of $24,000 but will produce twice that amount in savings over the five year buy-out period.

Almost sounds too good to be true.

But I can’t help but wonder if the Town Manager went before the Planning Board, Zoning Board, Design Review Board and Historical Commission to get approval for the placement on the roof of the DPW building, which was originally the turn-of-the-century main Trolley station.

The Springfield Republican reports

Friday, July 10, 2009

Abierto! (Finally!)

So after leaping more hurdles than an Olympic track star, Latinos, the little restaurant underneath my health club is finally open. Only took and extra 15 months.

Because, yeah, going from the Amherst Fish Market with take out, eat in and delivery to a Latino Restaurant with take out, eat in and delivery is such a monumental change in use.

And you wonder why Amherst has an anti-business reputation?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grin and Bair it

So FDIC Chair Sheila Bair she may be the “second most powerful woman in the world” and might even make the ‘top ten’ for most famous person to live in the People’s Republic of Amherst, but that still does not garner her an over 50% profit when selling her humble Amherst abode.

Purchased for $355, 000 in 2002 and renovated to the tune of another $89,500 the Victorian house went on the market this spring for $795,000 then quickly dropped to $695,000 to almost exactly its assessed value ($692,800) then, puff, came off the market to await better times.

The (currently rented) house is directly across the street from Amherst’s by far most famous resident, Miss Emily’s brick family home, owned by Amherst College. You would think (since the Dickinson Homestead will never be torn down to make room for a Wal-Mart) that would increase the value any property within spitting distance.

Oh well. I’m sure Ms. Bair’s salary and benefits, as FDIC Chair will allow her to carry the property for a year or two. And even if she gets the higher price, it probably will not be enough buy her a comparable sized home in Washington, DC.

Thus highlighting one of the problems in bucolic Amherst. Whiz kids come to our illustrious flagship Umass simply to use that position as a stepping-stone to BIGGER-and-BETTER things, and then want to flip their property for 50% over what they paid a few years earlier.

Thus the town Assessor considers those sales and, like a rising tide, increases the evaluations of every home in the neighborhood. Where some folks have lived all their lives (and their parents and grandparents before them) and simply can’t afford to pay those outrageous town property taxes.

Gentrification—of the snobby kind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's old is new

The "Reclaimer": This bad boy digs down 18" and shreds the material for reuse.
Job is farmed out to Warner Bros. but under oversight by Amherst DPW

Work, finally, begins on repaving North Pleasant street--the gateway to Umass. Let's hope it's completed by Labor Day in time for the 'The Surge' of students returning to The People's Republic.

Safe bet it will be done by September 27 for the official Amherst 250th celebration Parade (you know the one that does not allow protesters.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lazy summer day

Yesterday: 7:00 PM

One of Amherst's "loved to death" treasures (kind of like Free Speech.)

The Springfield Republican reports:

Monday, July 6, 2009

A stand up guy comes out

State Senator Stan Rosenberg, Dave Sullivan (our next DA) and Congressman Olver march in the Amherst July 4 Parade.

UPDATE: 4:00 PM: The Associated Press picked up the story (from the Springfield Republican, not the Gazette.) Yikes!

UPDATE: Tuesday 10:00 AM
The Springfield Republican reports:

I had wondered how my friends at the Springfield Republican were going to handle this story. After all, it is news.

But then, Stan went to their competition the Daily Hampshire Gazette (with a five or ten times smaller readership) with his coming out column, although he also distributed it July 4th morning to a large email listserve as well.

Safe bet the Amherst Bulletin will reprint Stan's column this Thursday, but it will be interesting to see if they assign a reporter to also do a follow up story on the reactions thus far (note to reporters: feel free to quote any of my Anon Nitwits.)

Original Post: Monday morning
So Stan's well-written, well-timed coming out column in the July 4 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette reminded me of Michael Jackson's sudden death: initially shocking but after a second or two of reflection, hardly surprising.

And yes, kind of like the courtship/marriage of Anne Awad and Robie Hubley--the Select Board sweethearts--it was one of the worst kept secrets in Amherst.

If the American flag and July 4 represent anything at all it's freedom. Gay marriage, a Massachusetts's milestone, certainly qualifies. Stan Rosenberg has always been a stand up guy. On July 4th he never stood taller.

From: Rosenberg, Stan (SEN)
Sent: Mon, Jul 6, 2009 11:30 am
Subject: RE: Today's July 4 Gazette column
Thanks again both for your email and for coming up to me at the parade. It means a lot to have such a positive response to the column and from a very wide ranging group of people all across my district and beyond. Have a great summer now that he sun has returned!
From: []
Sent: Monday, July 06, 2009 11:35 AM
To: Rosenberg, Stan (SEN)
Subject: Re: Today's July 4 Gazette column
Hey Stan,
You're welcome.

Getting on my bike right now!

The new Quint is here, the new Quint it here

Yeah, you would kind of think a town with a $60+ million budget could afford a press relations person to let folks know when cool new equipment like the Quint arrive--especially since we paid almost $635,000 for it.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Old fashioned July 4th Parade (even in Amherst!)

Amherst PD motorcycle cops lead the parade.
Immediately followed by VFW color guard
And then Parade Co-Grand Marshal's Police Chief Charlie Scherpa and Fire Chief Keith Hoyle (both BIG men in more ways than one)

Tractors representing Amherst's agrarian youth
Smokey the bear (he too is anti-smoking)
A very, very BIG tractor.
Hadley's colorful Quint (Amherst has one coming soon)
Yeah, the Amherst League of Women Voters carried "approved" signs although I'm told they were pretty aggressive about handing out literature along the parade route and turned off a lot of women and children (my family for sure.)

And what if they gave a war protest and nobody showed up? John Langford (at age 70, the epitome of aging hippie) had an unapproved war protest sign but never managed to actually hoist it in the air.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it does it make a sound?