Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Breaking "news" (9:30 PM)

Soooooo with four Precincts (out of 10) reporting we can conclude: T=P (Turnout is Pathetic)

Precinct 4: 7.9%
Precinct 5: 13%
Precinct 7: 13%
Precinct 10: 7.7%

Looks like Rhodes and Rivkin are our next two new School Committee members.

Scary race at the moment is for Amherst Redevelopment Authority with anti-development, tree hugger Rob Kusner leading former business owner, former Chamber of Commerce Director (and most importantly, Dad to Princess Stephanie)John Coull in a squeaker: 261 to 258.

UPDATE: 10:15 PM: Whew! According to the Springfield Republican John Coull pulled it out for ARA 909 to Rob Kusner's 832.

And naturally Gazettenet is reporting the School Committee race ass backwards showing Rivkin #1 with 1,454 votes and Rhodes #2 with 1,153 votes when those numbers should be about reversed:
Irvin E. Rhodes 1,564 , Steven G. Rivkin 1,240

Freudian slip?

Click to enlarge

So notice how Mr. Kusner ties his name more closely with "authority." Yes, this from the guy who as a cycling Selectman slammed his hand on a car he thought cut him off and shouted for them to pull over under his authority as "Select Man". Maybe we should issue them badges and guns; after all, we only pay them $300 annually.

Of course aligning his name with Redevelopment is a big stretch. This from the guy who received a -24 as a Town Meeting member (the lowest score in his Precinct) from 'Sustainable Amherst', those middle-of-the-road, sensible center types who want to have their cake and eat it to.

Yeah, I scored a +17, second highest in my Precinct, but then I was not in Town Meeting in 2004 and 2005 (showing support for the Charter Commission Mayor/Council initiative) so just for fun I looked up the 8 votes they rated back then and found I would have scored another 7 out of 8 in agreeing with them.

But the one where I would have been penalized is a tad troubling. The Town Meeting vote supporting the "recommendation" to the Select Board to roll back the Town Manager's sudden mid-year pay raise in order to keep up with the new Superintendent's pay jump over the previous one.

The real budget buster in this town is the pay scale and all the associated costs of employees. Just a tiny giveback from the unions can save millions (in fact completely solve the current crisis).

But when it goes public that the new Superintendent is coming in at almost 20% over the previous SUPERSTAR and another 10% over with housing/auto allowance, the union give backs are dead in the water.

So if the Select Board forces the Town Manager to take his COLA this year (which in an unusually statesman like move he decided to forgo) and Town Meeting hears a advisory article this Fall against it, 'Sustainable Amherst' would support spending more?

Doesn't sound very sustainable to me.

What if they gave an election...

Crocker Farm Elementary School/Voting Precinct 8:00 AM

(Yes, I violated my Trespass Order)

So it's going to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood--should help voter turnout, eh? Nah! The excuse will be that it was such a nice day we would rather spend it playing ultimate Frisbee, hacky sack or contra dancing on the town common.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Vote early, vote often.



So once again activist Amherst will turn out a pathetic 15 to 20% of the vote to cast ballots in the annual town election. Last November it was closer to 80%. And it’s not like the President of the United States has a big impact on little old Amherst.

The Schools spend the vast majority of our $60+ million budget so the School Committee race will be telling. Rhodes is a shoe in, as he will most likely be almost everybody’s second vote (providing they don’t “bullet vote”.) So the only question is will reformer Rivkin or maintain the status quo Rosa get in.

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority race between tree hugger Rob Kusner and former Chamber of Commerce director John Coull should also be interesting. With the power of eminent domain the ARA can be a formidable tool for development not just in the downtown but also in the North and South Amherst Village Centers.

In the League of Women Voters insert in the Amherst Bulletin Mr. Kusner highlights his experience as committee chair for the Norwottuck Rail Trail, but fails to mention his recent three year stint on the Amherst Select Board (not that they were all that distinguished.)

And as usual, nobody cares about Town Meeting as no contests exist for 3-year-seats in eight out of ten precincts, meaning 64 do-gooders (over one-quarter of the body) are guaranteed election.

Let’s hope none of these folks get to serve out their full term. Charter change for accountable government. Coming soon.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dim all the lights sweet darling


Since the People's Republic of Amherst is the center of the universe, I'm surprised the Earth Hour folks did not use an Eastern Standard Time zone for their worldwide hour of activism.

So tonight at 8:30 PM lights will go out in Town Hall to show solidarity and fight Global Warming. Unfortunately...Town Hall is closed tonight at 8:30 PM; so maybe we will bring in a Custodian (at time-and-a-half) around 6:00 PM to turn on all the lights and then shut them off at 8:30 PM and then back on for a moment at 9:30 PM and then back off till Monday morning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Per your request...


Poor Mr Kendrick. His altruistic trust spends over sixty years to clear a three acre parcel of all structures so the town can have an open landscaped park (now worth well over $1 million), but the town manager wants to construct a “comfort station” with $100,000 grant from the PVTA so bus riders will have bathrooms on the outskirts of town center.

Perhaps Vince O’Connor can tweak his presentation to Town Meeting about taking by eminent domain the Fiber Arts Building from Amherst College (at half price no less.)

That building is located directly on a bus route in the heart of the downtown. And the $100-K from PVTA could spruce up the bathrooms.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Citizens to School Committee: Et tu, Brute?

Nero fiddles while Rome burns

Closing Marks Meadow Elementary School, thus saving $600,000 annually combined with teachers pay raise giveback this coming Fiscal Year, thus saving $1.2 million, are simple solution to the current School budget crisis.

Yes, closing an entire school is not easy.

And after teachers discover that the proposed new Superintendent is being offered almost 20% more than the previous superstar Jere Hochman, the chances of a pay raise giveback are almost impossible.

And of course that also has a ripple effect swamping the chances of a townside (police, fire, DPW) giveback as well, which the Town Manager has already requested in writing.

Outgoing School Committee member Elaine Brighty said that Mr. Hochman was a “rare event” and the town was “spoiled” by his divine presence. He came in at controversial $135,000 to replace Gus Sayer who was making $104,000 before his sudden “retirement.”

But to his credit Hochman never accepted a raise over his five-year tenure, although he did leave rather suddenly for twice the pay to Bedford N.Y.

And Town Manager Larry Shaffer has already stated he will not be accepting a raise this coming year --although he will not be happy that the new Super will be making W-A-Y more money.

When Hochman came in with his pay boost for the position the first thing previous Town Manager Barry Del Castilho did was whine for a pay raise, which the Select Board granted mid-year, because his ego was bruised.

Considering this is the same School Committee who hired acting co-superintendents Alton Sprague and Helen Vivian for the same $135,000 we were paying Hochman and did not even bother to put in the one-year contract that if you resign your pay ends that day. So as a result taxpayers had to give them $22,500 after their sudden resignation.

One parent has already threatened that if Alberto Rodriguez’s contract is greater than $135,000 she will organize a Boston Tea Party and burn tax bills in a hibachi in front of the Superintendents office.

I’ll be there with my camera and some hot dogs—tofu dogs of course.

The Bully Reports (faster than ever)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Signs, signs--everywhere sign.


The Amherst Cinema added time and temperature to their marquee. So even if you don't care about the avante-garde film offerings, still worth looking up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paved paradise...


UPDATE: 11:55 AM Now I'm told by my reliable source that the current structure was only about $1,000 in labor and material costs for the concrete slab. The town has tons of bike racks in storage and the plastic shelter was donated by PVTA. Mr. Shaffer is trying to get BIG bucks from the PVTA, who already received a large sum from the Feds. Of course, if the money does come through we tear up the new structure and put in the newer and BIGGER one. At some point you have to wonder what Mr. Kendrick thinks of all this as his Trust decree states:

“…to convert the land so acquired into a landscaped park to be known as ‘Kendrick Park’, for the use and the benefit of the general public, and to maintain said park for enhancement and beautification of that area of Amherst, and to erect thereon a suitable marker commemorating its benefactors.”

This is the new "Comfort Station" at Groff Park built for $140,000. About two-thirds of the structure is taken up by Handicapped Accessible bathrooms, with the remainder some storage space and a Snack Bar nobody uses.

It took over 70 years to slowly clear the three acre site of 11 structures (first house was acquired in 1937 and the last one moved last year); and one of the first things the town does is erect a structure. Hmmm...
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UPDATE: 10:45AM
So I'm now told be a reliable source the the brand new bus stop shelter that went up almost overnight is not the same one Mr. Shaffer was talking about in that Gazette article six weeks ago (posted in Comments). Mr. Shaffer is talking about a much larger shelter/building that would have public restrooms and OF COURSE a LARGER bike area.
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ORIGINAL POST: last night Well at least this new bus stop on Kendrick Park will will get a lot more use than did the "skating" rink. Although at $100-K, also a lot more expensive...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!


So my fellow blogger, the perky Amherst School Committee member Catherine Sanderson (shown here working part-time for my competition), has kind of publicly painted herself into a corner.

She most definitely telegraphed her support for Steve Rivkin as a candidate for School Committee, and there are 2 open seats with 3 people running. But she very publicly stated on her blog that she would not endorse any of the candidates because she will have to work with them in the very near future.

Or maybe not.

My reliable sources tell me if Mr. Rivkin is the odd man out on 3/31 Ms. Sanderson (to her husband’s great delight) will resign her School Committee seat the very next day, April 1’st—no foolin!

So come on folks, let’s get working. Steve Rivkin for School Committee!

Yeah I know. he’s an Amherst College professor—of economics no less. But then, who would have thought that Catherine Sanderson, an Amherst College Professor of Psychology, could demonstrate such astonishing backbone?

Miss Emily's facelift

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Duh!

video
Princess Stephanie: try to keep up.

The time to put a Proposition 2.5 Override on the current local ballot election (3/31) has long since passed. So if you want to do an Override it will have to be a stand-alone election costing the taxpayers an additional $12,000 to $14, 000. And, like the last time, you will get your ass kicked.

Since it takes the Town Clerk about 35 days to do all the legal stuff she needs to do in order to make an election happen (and you don’t meet again until March23’rd) you would be pushing the unwritten law (that Comrade Gerry Weiss seems to take so seriously) about not having an election when the students are away, courtesy of Eric the Rat --a dead Hippie who would have been happier at Hampshire College rather than Umass.

So just tell the folks the reality: President Obama may come to the rescue via Federal money, but forget about local money via a Proposition 2.5 Override.

Amherst Town Hall Thursday morning

10:30 AM

Hey, at least the building was wide open (although abandoned) . So I got to walk around with my RPG looking for a soft target (nothing sprung into my crosshairs).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Numbers are slippery things". Hmmm...

video
Dr. Ben Ricci was my favorite Umass Professor (friend and mentor—even though he gave me a C in Kinesiology.) He single-handedly, against all odds, took down the State School in Belchertown--a government operated warehouse for the mentally retarded.

And amazingly he did it in the pre-internet age (early 1970’s) when activism was a Hell of a lot harder than it is today.

He had a saying he used in class about once a week (born out of his political activism no doubt): “Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure.”

Now we have a new post-internet age slogan from rookie Selectman Aaron Hayden: “Numbers are slippery things.”

No Mr. Hayden, numbers are not slippery things. They are simply numbers. They are what they are! And you or anybody else should not be afraid of them. And if so, what are you trying to hide?

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cherry Hill: the pampering continues...

video
Yes Alisa, Cherry Hill Golf Course is the ONLY seasonal beer and wine license in the town.

The category was specifically created for Cherry Hill ten or 12 years ago and at about half the charge of a comparably license. The argument was they were only open for seven months out of the year so pro-rate the charge. Amazing how business friendly the town can be with itself, eh?

So back when Cherry Hill was an Enterprise Fund it was charged $700 (never paid it of course). And yes having alcohol out there probably increases the liability insurance but who cares, the insurance—like the brand new $22,000 lawn mower they bought last July—comes out of a different fund other than their Operation Budget.

And that is why I say Mark ‘Harpo’ Power got such a great, sweetheart deal, a few years back when Czar Anne Awad and Barry Del Castilho gifted him (in a no-bid contract) complete use of the new Clubhouse for only $150/month--and that included the liquor license (which alone should have been $100 per month)

And of course Mr. Power was granted a three-year contract by the former town manager. Yet when a management company offers to take the entire turkey off our hands for $30,000 per year, the new town manager turns him down because they wanted a three-year contract.

Funny how quick Aaron Hayden wanted to rubber stamp the damn thing and move on. You would think a mid-level, long-time Amherst College employee would not be so quick to do a favor for their main competition.

Amherst College does own Amherst Golf Course, the only other nine-hole operation in town. Although, unlike Cherry Hill, they do pay taxes on it ($7,000 last year.)

Come to think of it, Mr. Hayden probably should have abstained on that vote.

No smoking!

UMass/Amherst new $130 million Power Plant 9:00 AM, 34 degrees
Side view. Yeah, I think it is supposed to be doing that. Security? What security.

Monday, March 16, 2009

There he goes again

Vince O'Connor, activist

So comrade Vince is at it again. After miserable failures on the floor of Amherst town meeting as late—the “dark sky” initiative (turn downtown Amherst into North Korea after dark) or the “abolish the Amherst Redevelopment Authority” (but then comes in second in a write-in race for the one open seat that year) you would think he’d come up with something that stood a chance of passing, especially when it only take ten signatures to get anything on the warrant for Spring Town Meeting.

Now he want s the town to take by eminent domain the downtown building recently purchased by Amherst College (thus eventually removing it from the tax rolls) and use it for “economic development” and eventfully resell it to anyone but a tax-exempt entity.

But Mr. O’Connor thinks we take it away from Amherst College (who paid $2.3 million) for only $1 million (the actual assessed value). Hmmm…I would think a court would disagree and force the town to pay fair market value, which has now been established to be $2.3 million.

Not exactly the loose change the town can find stored in a bottle somewhere.

Interesting that Mr. O’Connor spearheaded the taking of Cherry Hill Golf Course for $2.2 million twenty-two years ago by eminent domain (which may be the last time the town used that power--and did so under an "emergency" clause that made the Town Meeting vote referendum proof) in order to prevent development.


Fiber Arts Center building

Friday, March 13, 2009

Amherst Town Ctr Friday the 13'th 2:15 PM

The approach from Umass heading south.
In front of Antonio's Pizza (best slices in town). Gotta wonder if the High School let out early
Amherst College Chapel Hall. With AC you never know. Maybe their chief financial investment advisor died of a heart attack.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

There they go again

Gotta love the one on one audience exchange (the right idea wins)



UPDATE: 6:00 PM
Naturally this embarrassing story goes national before the local media even makes a peep.
Michelle Malkin (female Bill O'Reilly)

So to no big surprise conservative author Don Feder’s hate crime speech this evening at Umass, the flagship of higher public education in Massachusetts, never got off the ground. Well...more like that Airbus A320 that sort of, briefly, got off the ground and then crashed into the Hudson River.

“The way to counter bad speech is with good speech. “ ACLU

And if the Justice for Jason crowd had brought in a black speaker expounding on racist hoonkies hiding under every bed, would the conservatives on campus (not that there are all too many) have interrupted, harassed and shut down his presentation?

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," Evelyn Beatrice Hall

If the purported 400 protesters did not want to hear Feder's opinions, then they could have simply stayed home and played hackey sack. They trampled--in a hateful way--his First Amendment right to free speech and the rights of those who came to actually hear his presentation.

Got to wonder what they are teaching in Umass classrooms these days (at least the ones those nitwits attend.)

“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Benjamin Franklin

Depends on how you define value

UPDATE: 1:15 PM

This from today’s Gazette concerning the $5,000 CPA request for an appraisal:

But Ziomek said his department can use existing CPA money to complete the $2,500 to $3,000 appraisal, and doesn't believe there is a need to add to the fiscal year 2010 requests.

Hmmm…if the appraisal total is only $2,500 to $3,000 (forgetting for the moment they already have the funds stashed away to cover that) why request $5,000? Ah yes, government work.
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The CPA Committee controls a large pot of money the town spends like a pickpocket using a stolen credit card. And they just received $600,000 in gimme, gimme requests. One of the smallest was for $5,000 to complete the appraisal for 20 acres of property on Meadow Street owned by Leigh Andrews and Don Laverdiere.

You gotta of course wonder if the "appraisal" will include the $500,000 the landowners spent in legal fees and the $150,000 the town spent fighting over that piece of property.

Town Meeting spot rezoned the property Flood Prone Conservancy to prevent development and keep it as open space (would not want to scare any cows.) After a protracted battle in Land Court the judge sided with the property owners and overturned Town Meeting. The town appealed and, against the odds, won. But a costly battle it all was.

Normally I’m not in favor of using tax money to buy property to prevent development thus reducing the tax base (yes, the Cherry Hill Golf Course springs to mind); and with Amherst more than half owned by tax-exempts about the last thing we need to do is take more property off the tax rolls.

But in this particular case, after Town Meeting mugged the landowners they deserve to be treated fairly for once. And with Czar Awad long gone, Vince O’Connor and Rob Kusner (Amherst’s Axis of Evil) now marginalized, regrettable incidents like this should become a thing of the past.

But then, this is the People's Republic...

Friday, March 6, 2009

Control or chaos?


Rent Control, Amherst’s failed experiment in socialism finally pays off--but not for the tenants it was designed to help, now long gone.

A judge decided the $100,000 held in escrow since 1998 by fired (oops, I mean former) town attorney Alan Seewald should go to the town rather than the state.

The 1987 Rent Control fiasco represents the high water mark for liberalism gone amok. Not only did Town Meeting create a ‘Housing Review Board’ to dictate the rent a landlord could charge, but they gave these untrained amateurs the power of subpoena to bully and threaten landlords into compliance.

Within two years Amherst’s Rent Control went the way off the Dodo Bird; and oh yeah, the Berlin Wall also came down.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's the little things...


With Umass Amherst churning out faculty pink slips like a gay pride print shop and deferring building maintenance while escalating student fees $1,500, today’s Springfield Republican carried a Legal Notice RFP for sandblasting McGuirk Stadium, estimated at $35,000.

So hmmm… they are going to hold off on routine maintenance for buildings used year-round, but gussy up a football stadium used only a few months per year for a very expensive athletic program? Yeah I know, it is also used for Commencement another one time annually.

Maybe the 91 professors who received lay-off notices should form a Workers’ Collective to place a bid. According to bid specification they have to get paid at least prevailing wage.

Yes we can!

Click to enlarge

With all this talk about parking in downtown Amherst—specifically the lack of it—and with me actually agreeing for the first time in quite a while with today’s Gazette editorial suggesting the town NOT give away parking for free to stimulate business, you would think town officials would remember that the once controversial Parking Garage (costing about $40,000 per addition space gained) was specifically designed to e-x-p-a-n-d.

In fact, the Amherst Redevelopment Authority donated the prime location (valued at $350,000) under only one condition: that the garage be built strong enough to support a second (much cheaper to construct) deck.

Well at least one former town official remembered, as he snail-mailed me the actually blueprint from 1998. And at the time the cost was $1.3 million for 55 new spaces gained—or a Hell of a lot cheaper than the original cost per space for our quaint little garage.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Amherst Sundown


5:05 PM (looking west)

Three card monte

So I guess now the Amherst School Committee can go on that “retreat”—you know the one that skirts the Open Meeting Law.

Their choice last night off Alberto Rodriguez, with very little actual Superintendent experience, indicates they want a nice guy who plays well with others and, unfortunately, will probably go along to get along.

Unless of course while in Florida he learned how to swim with the sharks.

Amherst School Committee chair Andy Churchill was his usual diffident self--first expressing a preference for David Sklarz, who is white, but then changing his mind and supporting Rodriguez (the Gazette points out he is Cuban-American, not to be confused with Puerto Rican or just plain old Hispanic.)

Mr. Churchill also had trouble a few months back with Catherine Sanderson’s suggestion of an electronic suggestion box:

"I'm having trouble figuring out how to vote on this. I think it's a relatively small thing, but the people who would be implementing it don't," Churchill said. "I guess I'm going to vote against it, even though I support it, even though that's lame."

And you gotta love Ms. Brighty’s worship of former Super Jere Hochman likening him to a “rare event” (as was of course the coming of Christ). So I guess Jere set a new standard, a high benchmark and she would just simply have to settle for Mr. Rodriguez, which she seemed to do strongly.

Regional Chair Michael Hussin originally abstained because no candidate could compare to Barack Obama, although I’m pretty sure he was not talking about race. But, he too, finally settled for Rodriguez.

Let’s hope Rodriguez turns out to be a tad more like Truman: suddenly thrown into a thankless job and rising to the occasion.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Depends on how you define "flush"


So I figured the Daily Hampshire Gazette, after publishing an AP story on the Front Page “Charter Schools Cushion: As critics howl, surpluses are defended”, would have showed some due diligence and requested the financials for our local Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, the one my daughter attends.

The one that created a Hell of a stir two years ago fighting for its very creation/existence in an Israeli sort of way (powerfully opposed by Amherst school officials, individuals now gone or in the process of going.)

PVCIC is after all a public school, and although autonomous from our local school committees still subject to Open Meeting Law and Public Documents Law.

I just wish the AP had done a better job of “fair and balanced” research/reporting. For instance, they headline how Charter Schools ended the Fiscal Year (2006) “flush with cash,” but did not bother to ask Regional Public Schools about their E+D accounts (Excess and Deficiency).

For instance, the venerable Amherst Regional High School has almost $1 million stashed away for emergencies ($927,546 to be exact) in the current Fiscal Year--one everybody considers a crisis.

And 10 years ago the state reimbursed the town 80% of the $22 million Override to renovate the High School. Charter Schools, on the other hand, cannot get state funding for buildings from the Massachusetts State Building Authority.

As of June 30, 2008 the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School had an “excess” of $104,881, WELL below the statewide$365,000 (2006) average surplus for charter schools cited in the AP story.

PVCIC generated total revenues of $841,603 against total expenses of $736,822, so unlike most businesses in The Happy Valley this past year –mine included—they showed a “profit.”

But the interesting math to do is simple division: total costs divided by number of students. PVCIC served seventy-seven children or an average cost per student of $9,569; below the state average and well below Amherst’s $14,000 average.

But even more interesting is that state tax education money (Chapter 70) from sending districts--the ones who whine that Charter School robbed them of that money-- came to $488,611 (58% total) and the other $352, 367 (42%) came from Grants (mostly Federal) and Contributions.

These figures do not include the recent $1.5 million Federal Grant paying out over five years for curriculum development because the Feds consider Chinese a “critical language.”

So…as far as Amherst taxpayers are concerned, the average cost to educate was only $6,345 (or less than half the cost of the venerable Amherst Schools)

Pretty good bang for the buck.

In like a lion