Sunday, January 31, 2010

One for all, all for one

Longmeadow has about half the total population of Amherst, with a property tax rate slightly higher ($18.28 vs. $16.95 per $1000), a school system consisting of three elementary schools with grades K-5, two middle schools with grades 6-8, and a single high school for a total school population of approximately 3,100 students or almost exactly the same as Amherst's 3,086.

Longmeadow's $11,356 per pupil expenditure is well below Amherst's $15, 223 at the elementary level ($16,131 at the Regional High School) or a difference of over $12 million per year.

The Longmeadow School Committee just announced a two-year teacher contract with ZERO Cost Of Living Allowance; and only a 1% step increase both for the current Fiscal Year (2010) and FY 2011 that starts July 1.

Amherst teachers finagled a 3% COLA in FY11 (in FY10 it was 3.5%) and about half the teachers will also receive an additional step increase of 4%. This combo alone comes to $1.3 million next year.

If our diffident School Committee had negotiated the same contract benefits (besides staying employed) of only 1% step increases next year, it would make a million dollar difference. And $1 million would obviate many, many teacher layoffs.

The Republican reports:

And The Republican reported way back when:

Friday, January 29, 2010

Baby, it's cold outside

6:10 PM

Just received this from Umass (advantage of being a "non-traditional" student I guess):
To the Campus Community:

Staff at the Central Heating Plant are monitoring a potential problem,
which could disrupt the delivery of steam and heat to campus buildings.
Please be advised that the probability of an outage is low, and that all
necessary precautions are being taken. Campus activities will continue
as planned this weekend. We will advise the community of any changes in
the situation.

UMass Physical Plant
Hey, what do you want for a new state-of-the-art heating plant originally scheduled for $118 million and coming in closer to $138 million.

The Catcher retires

Coming of age in 1969 as a freshman at St. Michael's High School in Northampton you could not help but be smitten by J.D. Salinger's stunning work, 'The Catcher in the Rye'. Plus, the similarity between Mr. Salinger and Emily Dickinson, The Belle of Amherst, was strikingly similar.

My freshman English teacher Sister Bernard Francis whom we all called "Bernie"--but never to her face--had assigned a book report presentation before the entire class on any novel that struck our fancy.

I decided to accompany my daring talk on 'The Catcher in the Rye' with a photo slide show almost like a PowerPoint presentation ; and, being the rebellious Holden Caulfield type, I could not resist shooting the scene where Caulfield--who hates profane graffiti especially when it is within the view of children--erases a "Fuck you," while noting he can't possibly erase them all.

Probably one reason 'Catcher in the Rye' is high on the list of books banned from schools and libraries--although equally high when measuring books taught in public schools.

But this was St. Michael's, a classic old style private Catholic school. The nuns could do whatever they wanted, including corporal punishment.

For my final slide I projected a rather large "Fuck You" etched in white chalk on the red brick exterior of the school; I took the photo holding the camera in my right hand while my left hand used an eraser to cover only the F--so everybody instantly got the idea.

Yes, it caused a bit of a group gasp. And then almost everyone turned to look at the teacher who was sitting in the back of the room with the lights down. Her face had turned scarlet red--readily noticeable against the backdrop of her black-and-white nuns habit. But she said nothing.

As she slowly got up from the small wooden student desk and walked toward the front of the room, I was sure my hand would soon be stinging from the impact of a wooden ruler. She simply said, "Thank you Mr. Kelley, return to your seat."

In those few moments, as she angrily approached me, the angst between her roles as an English teacher and Catholic nun played out, and--fortunately for me--the English teacher won.
Miss Emily (of course).

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
My other blog reports

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Struggling in a bog

11:45 AM

So this must be serious as the Budget Coordinating Group is meeting twice in one week. They are the budget Override Czars comprised of components of the Select Board, School Committee, Library Committee, and the Town Manager.

I have a young daughter to pick up So I can't cover the entire meeting. But it looks like before the meeting is over we will know what the Override amount will be on the 3/23 ballot. I feel kind of like the Mac folks sitting around yesterday watching Apple unveil the new ipad and anxiously awaiting that all important PRICE point.

11:50 AM
John Musante, assistant town manager, talking about $2 million in cuts and possibly a $2 million Override. Budget growth next year for town about 2.5% (amazingly, corresponds to Prop 2.5) and Elementary Schools about 4% and 3.3% Regional School.

12:00 Noon
Possible going for an Override and if unanticipated money comes in from the state then the town will not implement the extra levy if the Override is approved.

12:40 PM
So Daddy duty called and I will not be able to cover the rest of the meeting (posted to end at 2:00 PM) but I can prognosticate based on the minor amount I observed:

The Override amount will be just under $2 million (and they will promise that if passed they will not come back for another Override for a few years--reminiscent of the "3 year Amherst Plan" that failed three years ago.)

And it's a safe bet the Override will be an all-or-nothing single general amount (actually maybe two) but certainly not a "menu Override" where taxpayers get to pick and choose programs they really cherish.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Say it isn't so Mike

Retired Chief Charlie Scherpa on left and Captain--now Chief--Mike Kent

So I've known a lot of cops over the years and they don't come any better than Mike Kent. Having come of age during the somewhat wild and woolly days of the early 80s where guts and instinct mattered most, to successfully straddling the gap into the new millennium where training, education and professionalism are now paramount.

After almost 30 years of patrolling the streets of the People's Republic of Amherst (not to mention many, many miles of long distance running) Captain Kent transitions to Chief Kent for the town of Burlington.

Not overly surprising to those of us who pay attention to Public Safety. When Captain Kent, who filled in as acting Chief for six weeks, and was then passed over for the permanent position in favor of boyhood friend Scott Livingstone, the writing was clearly on the wall.

Although gracious as always Mike responded: "No doubt he'll do a tremendous job; I will try to be the best second in command I can be." But as the old saying goes, "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."

And comparing the departments perhaps those roles are reversed: Amherst PD serves 27 square miles with a permanent population of 34,000, using only 26 patrol officers, 7 sergeants, 3 lieutenants and two captains with an annual budget of $4 million.

Burlington PD serves a 12 square mile area with a permanent population of 25,000 residents, using 42 patrol officers, nine sergeants, four lieutenants and two captains with an annual budget $6 million.

Sounds pretty heavenly to me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Override rumination

The Jones Library is runner up to the venerable Amherst Public Schools in the pecking order for Sacred Cows in the People's Republic of Amherst. Three years ago the Library Trustees failed to fall into line and vote to support 'The Amherst Plan' $2.5 million Override that narrowly failed.

Recently the Jones Library received an unanticipated bequeath of over $500,000 to stash with their current endowment of $7.6 million.

Yet to save a piddly $8,575 they plan to close on Friday's next Fiscal Year because it is the most visible cut they can make to promote the Override--and apparently Friday's are a popular day for patronage. "This will be an argument for the Override," Trustee Chair Patricia Holland boldly declared.

Well hey, at least she was honest.

Monday, January 25, 2010

And the verdict is...

So now I have done my civic duty twice within a week. Last Tuesday voting in the distinct minority--at least as far as Amherst and Cambridge are concerned--for Ted Kennedy's Senate replacement and today reporting for duty to the Superior Courthouse in Northampton for Jury duty.

There were about 60 of us crowded into a room that looks built to handle half that amount, with one older medium size color tv in a corner with somewhat lousy reception. We arrived at 8:00 AM and let go about two hours later.

Apparently the perp decided to plead guilty at the last moment, after 7 of 14 jurors had been selected last week and seven more would come from my group of 60. The judge told us that our willingness to serve could easily have set the stage for the last minute plea bargain.

Since the case concerned sexual assault and it would have taken seven days of trial, I'm relieved that I did not have to serve, although going through the process would have been interesting. Except of course, jurors can't read newspapers, watch TV news or use the Internet. Going cold turkey for a week would have been hard on this humble news junkie blogger.

Thus the system worked. And like country that created it, perhaps not perfect but certainly better than anything others may offer.

Which is why I defended the right of convicted terrorist Ray Levasseur to speak at the Umass Library symposium on those turbulent days gone by. The man paid his dues and did not forever surrender his rights as an American citizen.

And I also supported on the floor of Amherst Town Meeting the idea of allowing CLEARED Gitmo refugees to relocate to our little town. As long as the word cleared equates to innocent.

If we as Americans cherish our system of justice, then let it apply to all! Bring 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to New York City for a civilian trial. Let the justice system he tried to destroy demonstrate to the entire world why we cherish it so.

President Obama bows out of jury duty

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Now you know why we're the People's Republic

The Boston Globe reports

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bad news Overriders, good news Taxpayers

UPDATE SATURDAY MORNING: "No school district will receive less this year than last year," Patrick said to applause.

6:30 PM

So Governor Deval Patrick has just announced (on Twitter no less) that his state budget this year will have no cuts to Chapter 70 education money thus giving bean counters about $1 million more to the Regional High School and $600,000 more for the Amherst elementary system than previously expected.

And since hardly anybody in this town seems to give a damn about Public Safety or the DPW, the threatened cuts there on the town side when an Override fails (now guaranteed) are not going to generate a slew of support.

Even with the sky is falling rhetoric of Overriders only concerned with the schools, as of today they could only manage 337 signatures on the blank-check Internet Override petition.

Outside the box

Patty Bode's chilling diatribe
So my friend Mr. Morse accused me of "obsessing about the Open Meeting Law"--even though as a (grumpy) prosecutor he should appreciate that the state has agreed with me more often than not on both Open Meeting Law and Public Documents appeals after initial stonewalling from town officials.

But even a zealot like me has to question a guest column in today's crusty Bulletin, one of many attacking School Committee black sheep Sanderson and Rivkin's overly dramatic Column two weeks ago comparing the abuse they get for speaking their minds and questioning authority to the Bush administration questioning the patriotism of critics at a time when patriotism was considered a good thing.

Patty Bode, a former Amherst teacher naturally, worries that Sanderson's blog could violate Open Meeting and Public Documents because it discusses "school committee business" outside the arena of a school committee publicly posted meeting, and that her blog attracts a high number of Anons who could very well be other school committee members thus creating a quorum.

And she also worries about certain postings that have been "disrespectful and slanderous to school personnel," but fails to give any examples. Kind of ironic considering her slanderous charge that some fellow School Committee members could be masquerading as Cowardly, Anon, Nitwits in order to circumvent the Open Meeting Law.

And would that really be a violation anyway?

The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure that business is transpired in public. So what the Hell does Bode think a blog is? A private little antiquated listserve? A smoke filled backroom? Sanderson teaches aerobics so it's a safe bet she doesn't smoke. A blog is the public arena.

Bode closes with the question, "Why would a public official want to establish a forum that tolerates disrespectful communication?"

Well how about that most basic, fundamental, bed rock American value: the First Amendment!
Don't stray from the flock!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Ich bin ein" NIMBY!

Okay, so as you tell from the photo taken from my private driveway the DPW fortress is within spitting distance of my abode. So anything I say should be taken with a truckload of salt. But I'll say it anyway.

Sure, the idea of having round-the-clock shifts (4 a.m. to noon, noon to 8 p.m. 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.) to create cost efficiencies makes perfect sense--on paper. Just like an engineer can demonstrate, on paper, that bees cannot fly.

Last year snow and ice removal was over $200-k and much of the work was done by workers garnering overtime. Under the new system, crews would be on duty anyway and thus only be receiving regular pay.

The union last week voted not to give up their negotiated COLAs next year. The 38 men and women are some of the lowest paid town workers and those raises would only amount to the salary of one employee. Besides, the Town Manager refused to guarantee no-layoffs even if they did give up their raises. Not much incentive there.

While police, fire, and emergency dispatch are 24/7 operations Public Safety employees knew that when they signed on. The DPW workers, some who have worked many, many years built their lives around a normal work schedule. So not only will morale plummet, but safety as well. As the sign once displayed in the garage area window said: "Warning: Every machine in this place can hurt you."

Digging ditches is hard enough during normal hours, I can't fathom doing it routinely in the middle of night.

The Bully reports:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown wins!


So the Washington Post is tweating that Martha Coakley has called Scott Brown to concede the race. Now if only she showed that personal touch with the voters over the past six weeks...


So in a sense Scott Brown has already won. He shook up the complacent, take-voters-for-granted, uber-liberal establishment in this state like a once in a lifetime perfect storm.

Back in my days as a nationally ranked karate competitor we called it "fighting not to lose": A highly-ranked, well-known competitor fighting some unknown upstart knew they could rely on the judges to give them the benefit of the doubt on any exchanges, so they could safely somewhat coast.

Thus it all came down to how you define "somewhat coast." Martha Coakley went into a complete stall after winning the democratic nomination and made the biggest mistake in the history of competition: underestimating your opponent.

While at the same time arousing the normally complacent voters by taking them for granted.

Obviously Scott Brown will not win the People's Republic of Amherst (even with my vote and that of my wife.) But Amherst is out of touch with the rest of the state--except of course for Cambridge--so it should be interesting...very interesting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let the Judge decide!

State Ethics Commission, Enforcement Division
One Ashburton Place
Room 619
Boston MA 02108

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to file a formal complaint over the inappropriate use of a taxpayer funded town digital asset (High School website) to further a partisan political cause--the passage of a Proposition 2.5 Override ballot question.

Although the Amherst Select Board has not yet formulated the structure or amount for the Override, Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe has publicly confirmed they will place an Override question on the March 23 local ballot.

On January 14 an ad appeared on the Amherst Regional High School Parent Center, a page contained within the High School website (

Petition for a Prop 2 1/2 Override
Submitted by Baer Tierkel on January 14, 2010 - 6:10pm.

Override Petition If you are interested in supporting a Proposition 2 1/2 override to help avoid the most drastic cuts to our schools, libraries, and town services, there is a petition being circulated at:

Since the Override online petition drive is clearly an effort to influence the outcome of the ballot question, it should not be promoted at taxpayer expense.

Sincerely Yours,

Larry Kelley

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Brown Bomber

(Jim Young, REUTERS)
UPDATE: Monday, 3:45 PM

Okay, I have now taken my phone off the hook after the 9th or 10th political advertising call so far today.
So previous Cover Boy and current State Senator Scott Brown must be doing something right as the desperate Dems had to dispatch heavy hitters to protect sacred ground: President Obama today, and of course Slick Willy (the other "first black President) was around on Friday before jetting off to Haiti to save that part of the world.

And of course they try to brand Brown as a right wing water boy for the failed polices of Bush/Cheney.

Fun to watch the all-powerful Democratic establishment squirm--something that almost never happens in Massachusetts (Well, except when a Republican gets elected Governor). How can you blow a 30 point lead in no time? It helps if you're business-as-usual at a tumultuous time when business is anything but usual.

My buddy Howie Carr described Martha Coakley as "Mike Dukakis in a skirt." Ouch! Remember the tank driving incident?

And of course Martha thought Curt Schilling--Red Sox Nation superhero--was a Yankee fan. Double ouch!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And the children shall lead...

With a little help from the adults--both with vested interests.

Funny how this supposedly fair and balanced "news" article in (ARHS) The Graphic extensively quotes Nina Koch, a teacher, and Rick Hood, a pro status quo School Committee member wanna-be, slamming Catherine Sanderson's School Committee blog for being too negative, and then of course they pile on some more.

Yet each of them chime in rather regularly on Sanderson's blog. A blog is a perfect example of interactive free speech: if readers don't like what you publish then they can freely rebut. As the ACLU would say, "The way to counter bad speech is with good speech--not censorship."

In the Free Market of ideas and opinions, may the best one win.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

So in both today's Gazette and Amherst Bulletin we have the perfect example of warm and fuzzy emotional arguments trying to undermine that cold cruel scientific world of statistical data. As Commander Spock would say, "fascinating".

Two young ladies (editors of the school newspaper no less) poke Catherine Sanderson's assertion that ARHS needs Advanced Placement courses next year while she simultaneously does not bemoan the cutting of ceramics, woodcutting or gay/lesbian literature ("Vagina Monologues" anyone?) in a Guest Editorial aptly headlined "We're Students, Not Statistics."

"Simple statistical analysis cannot be the answer," the young women insist. Yeah, woodcutting is w-a-y more fun than advanced calculus, but now that Cowls Building Supply is closing down their lumber mill...

And in the Amherst Bulletin former School Committee Chair--you know right up there with being Captain of the Titanic--Elaine Brighty decries Stan Gawle's Bulletin column from last week that used a devastating comparison between Amherst and Northampton school industries. Mr Gawle dared to ask the question:

"Why does it cost Amherst $12,344,000 more to educate our students than Northampton? Northampton has a comparable school population; has more kids in special education; zero study halls while we have two; and more advanced placement course offerings than we have."

Brighty insists "Comparing the cost to educate students in different towns and cities is more difficult than it should be." She goes on to suggest that some towns hide education costs (retirement, health insurance, and other benefits) in the town government budget rather than schools.

Even if true it would not make up a $12 million difference! And doesn't address the BIG difference in forced study halls and AP courses offered.

Mr Gawle also pointed out: "The town employs approximately 920 employees. Ten earn between $100,000 to $157,000; 24 earn between $80,000 to $100,000; and 433 earn between $50,000 to $80,000." And in the current Fiscal Year "Amherst gave $2,171,526 in raises and had only $1,459,084 in projected revenues to cover those costs."

Ms. Brighty declares: "Our employee compensation is comparable to that of other communities." Maybe, but apparently not Northampton where--according to the Mass Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education--teachers earn an average salary of $54,000 compared to Amherst Regional High School's $62,500. And 100 teachers at a $8,500 difference adds up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Blank check petition

UPDATE: Thursday, 8:00 AM

Okay now that the crusty Gazette and Bulletin (Front Page no less) have caught up with this cyber "story" the Overriders should have little trouble getting the remaining 750 signatures or so. Only a slight vested interest on the part of our local media as the Gazette and Bulletin get to charge "open rate" (highest possible) for political ads and Overriders tend to love those boring but large signature ads.


Found this blast from the past on the failure of the "Amherst Plan" Override three years ago published in the 5/7/07 Amherst Bulletin:

Although not as decisive as Select Board member Hwei-Ling Greeney would have liked it to be, the vote would send town officials a message, said Greeney, who campaigned hard for the "No" side. "Now I feel we're in a strong position to say, 'You need to go by what the voters want, which is to live within our means.'"

Override supporters said the 267-vote margin hardly constitutes a mandate.

"I think it's pretty positive," said former Select Board member Bryan Harvey, at Town Meeting members Patricia Blauner's and Peter Blier's house, where supporters met on Tuesday night.

"This is the hardest sell you can imagine," Harvey said. "Big number, multi-year, all the risk about - will it work?" There is no harder sell, and the result is we have to change 130 minds. We'll find 130 people," Harvey said.

"We have to figure out what the town really wants to do. There was some doubt about this particular package, but strong support for doing something."

Baer Tierkel, a supporter, said parents hadn't turned out in the numbers he had hoped to see. "It's up to parents to have a voice in how our schools are financed and what their level of quality is," Tierkel said.

He said he was disappointed by some residents he would have expected to support an override.

"Amherst politics always surprises me," Tierkel said. "There are a lot of people who align themselves as liberals, as progressives, as believing in using taxes to distribute the wealth.

"I understand people who are against taxes and big government being on the 'No' side," Tierkel said.

"I don't understand people who believe in government's role in providing for schools and for services to those who can't afford it, aligning with the 'No' side."

Update 5:10 PM
(EST rather than PST where is located) Look who just signed the petition!

Jennie "trash talking" Traschen. You know, the Umass Prof who on the night of 9/10/2001 (about 12 hours before the fist plane impaled the North Tower) pontificated before the illustrious People's Republic of Amherst Select Board that the American flag "is a symbol of tyranny and fear and destruction and terrorism." Yikes!
12:32 pm PST, Jan 12,
Jennie Traschen, Massachusetts
To understand a society, look at how it spends money.

Original Post 10:45 AM

So these folks--many who work for the schools--want the illustrious Select Board to put an Override on the ballot this March 23rd; and I guess they really don't care if it's for $1 million (costing the average homeowner an additional $150 in taxes) or $10 million--which would cost ten times that spare change amount.

I'm surprised their goal is only 1,000 signatures because in Amherst collecting petition signatures is a popular pastime; and using the crowd sourcing Internet, they should have gotten that piddly amount, like, yesterday.

Maybe somebody should start a petition targeting Governor Patrick demanding state workers get a raise or the Feds to give those living on fixed incomes a Social Security hike. After all, their local taxes are about to skyrocket.

Yes, we the undersigned want to pay higher taxes

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Baaaaaack

So for the third strait year the Town Manager, who has the ultimate authority over the park, assigned the DPW the task of constructing a skating rink.

Let's hope this year it works out better than the last two.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The problem with a delayed lead.

So my friend and fellow blogger/town official Catherine Sanderson is experiencing a bit of a backlash from today's Amherst Bulletin column invoking the still sensitive specter of 9/11 and the immediate aftermath to make a valid point about questioning authority and current paradigms concerning revered institutions. And in the People's Republic of Amherst, none are more revered than the public schools.

I for one took no offense at the 9/11 comparison to our "little Peyton Place" and the "Harper Valley hypocrites." I just thought it was dead wood that detracted from their admirable main point. This is after all Amherst--so I can't blame her for sucking up to the average Bulletin opinion page reader by opening with Anti-Bush sentiment.

But the "appalled" response by California transplant Baer Tierkel on an Amherst Town Meeting listserve he founded was a tad over the top. Mr. Tierkel was one of the main proponents of the "Amherst Plan" Override that failed in 2007. Disgruntled, he took both his children out of the venerable Amherst public schools dividing them between a Charter School and a Private operations. Although one has now returned. So I guess he's entitled to use the term "our schools."

Tierkel doesn't agree with the "racist accusation" but "fully agree with people's right to criticize you." Hmm...So if Anonymous Nitwits call her a "dumb bitch", would that be just fine because it's their Neanderthal way of criticizing her???

As those Southern California surfer dudes would say Mr. Tierkel, "lighten up."


Catherine & Steve

I was appalled at your use of the death of thousands of people as a
comparison point, in any way, to our schools. As someone who knew peoplekilled in 911 and as the child of a military family who has given a great deal to our country, I'm just appalled at your using their sacrifice to further your agenda.

Additionally, I feel that you do not have a fundamental understanding of theimpact of your tone on your ability to accomplish your goals in our schools.

You seem to have no concern for the collateral damage you cause with yourstatements and the impact that has on creating more effective and efficientpublic education in Amherst.

Your column also seems to indicate that you are above criticism. I would
guess that I agree with 70% of your positions, yet I fully believe that in a
democracy it is ok for people to question and criticize your approach and
your positions. Indeed that seems to be what you are defending - your rightto question. In fact as you say, we need an unfettered debate and hardquestions need to be asked. It seems to me that there are people asking those questions of you and criticizing you. And you don't like it.

Someone calling a position of yours 'racist' is not challenging your right
to ask questions. It is someone criticizing your position. As is their
right in a truly open debate. You might not like it, but that's the way
debate works. I don't agree with the 'racist' accusation, but I fully agree
with people's right to criticize you. Honestly, I haven't talked to anyone
who questions your right to engage in debate or ask questions. I've talked
with a lot of people that don't agree with you and your approach.

I also don't understand why you would waste column space (5 of 7 paragraphs)writing about yourselves, rather than the issues.

As always, I thank and applaud your work for our schools. I just wish you
take a different approach than using a tragedy of the death of lots of folks
as a way to leverage your work for our schools.



Today's offending school Bulletin Column

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Slip sliding away

So it's January in the People's Republic of Amherst and it is of course freakin cold. So where's our skating rink at Kendrick Park???

Anyone remember those ill-fated attempts over the past few years that generated almost no results after plenty of DPW worker time expended? The Town Mangler is quoted in today's bricks and mortar media extolling the virtues of "mutual aid" in the God awful fires in Northampton, where AFD ended up as the first responder to the killer fire on Fair Street.


A few thousand expended for mutual aid assisting our real "Sister City" to the west on a public safety matter is one thing (especially when they reciprocate in a heartbeat). But the same amount expended for a half assed skating rink that nobody uses?

Last year around this time

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Ladies and Gentlemen, We Got Him!"

Maybe not as notorious and sought after as Saddam Hussein was in an international sense, but in a local sense--i.e. the Happy Valley--certainly comparable.

Anthony P. Baye, age 25, the alleged arson who terrorized his home city of Northampton with a late night fire spree was captured yesterday, charged with the murder of two innocent people.

Now it gets interesting.

Are we really a nation built on the premise that everyone is "innocent until proven guilty?" Or do we seek the convenience of declaring evidence close enough for a conviction, rushing to judgement to put this sorry episode behind us and allow the victims (that includes most of the city of Northampton) to get back to a normal life?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Open Government

So let's hear it for the state, finally, cracking down on those who would use their government positions--either paid or unpaid--for personal gain: The new Conflict of Interest regulations require online training for all municipal employees and provides real punishment for those found in violation.

• Criminal penalties for bribery have been increased: up to a $100,000 fine, or imprisonment in state prison for up to 10 years or in jail or a house of correction for up to 2½ years, or both.

• Civil penalties for bribery increase from $2,000 to $25,000. Civil penalties for all other ethics violations increase from $2,000 per violation to $10,000 per violation.

The Open Meeting Law will now be enforced by the Attorney General rather than local District Attorney and cities and towns will now have to publish on the web campaign contribution forms for any local office.

Unfortunately the state did not enact fines on individuals found guilty of violating of the Open Meeting Law--something watchdogs have long requested. And private citizens who challenge the actions of a governmental body and wins still cannot collect costs and attorneys' fees for bringing those actions.

But hey, half a loaf is better than none.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

But history does "long remember."

So last week on the drive back from a Christmas stay with my Sis in Washington, DC we immediately got lost but my navigator wife said as long as we were heading north we would be fine. About an hour later on a road I thought to be fairly countryish I pull off at an exit announcing food and bathrooms, but when I get to the end of the ramp another sign says "3 miles."

About half way there I spot the first large granite memorial--the kind you see in many quaint New England town centers. Then another, and another. And suddenly a sign saying "Welcome to Gettysburg."

Like the epic battle itself, we stumbled upon it by accident. The historic national park, as "hallowed ground," is maintained much as it was on those fateful three days in July, 1863--including cannons and wooden barricades used to slow down an advancing army long enough for withering fire to decimate their ranks.

And decimation is perhaps too kind a word. The Battle of Gettysburg--considered the turning point of the Civil War--was the costliest engagement in a conflict that pitted American against American, brother against brother.

Arguably the greatest speech of all time.

The wrong end of a cannon

Rookie Commander of the Grand Army of the Potomac, General George Meade, is said to have bested the legendary Southern commander General Robert E. Lee (outnumbered as usual) in that confrontation, but Lee managed to escape back to Virginia. A main reason the dreadful conflict carried on for another two years.

And if General Lee had not been stopped at Gettysburg, he too could have ended up in New York City.