Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rush to judgement

UPDATE: Wednesday morning

So Izzy Lyman, my conservative cohort and former (Happy) Valley Girl--also known on the Masslive Amherst Forum as 'Icky' Lyman--just jumped in with her take on the sad Phoebe Prince affair.

The Castillo Chronicles

ORIGINAL POST Monday morning
Why is it Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel took so long to issue her findings of no-fault in the tragic death of two-year-old Abraham Espinoza under the wheel of an Amherst school bus?

Even with two accident reconstruction police reports (Amherst PD and State Police) completed in May both declaring the event a tragic accident, her final report did not come out until early September--almost a full year after the horrific event.

In the equally tragic troubling case of Phoebe Prince a young girl who committed suicide, the DA after a lightening like two month investigation brings criminal charges against nine youths, some of them--"stalking" or "Statutory rape"--quite serious.

Actually, considering the overwhelming public interest in this case, any charges rendered by the DA are serious. Like for instance, "disturbing a school assembly."

Six months ago, when I published my complaint about the length of time taken on the Espinoza case, my friend the Grumpy Prosecutor replied: "A terrible fact of life is that tragic things happen, but they do not always involve criminal conduct. Not every tragic death can be vindicated in a court of law. But this case, and all the people concerned about it, deserved a thorough review, and the amount of time involved is one indication that that happened here."

And in a follow up comment: "The point is that we need the folks who are bringing criminal charges to be careful about it. Because, guilty or not, the person being charged is going to be very miserable. You remember being publicly accused of engaging in "stalking" and how that felt, don't you, Larry?"

All too well, all too well indeed.

Yeah, even the venerable Washington Post gets it

Justice delayed

Yeah, this is what I'm talkin about

Monday, March 29, 2010

The best disinfectant

Supervisor of Records
Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth
McCormack Building, Room 1719
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

I wish to appeal the recent decision by Amherst Regional High School Committee Chair Farshid Hajir denying my Public Document request of March 14 for a copy of his "four notebooks" worth of "impressions" of the (former) Amherst School Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez.

Mr. Hajir boasted about those general impressions in a highly public Springfield Sunday Republican Newspaper article admitting they were garnered during meetings between Superintendent Rodriguez with staff and parents that he observed in his official capacity as Regional School Chair.

Under the recent decision of District Attorney for the Northern District v. School Committee of Wayland, 455 Mass. 561, 567--568 (12/31/2009), our Supreme Judicial Court held that evaluation of a school superintendent was not subject to an exemption under the open meeting law and must be discussed in public.

If any personal information about Mr. Hajir or his family appears in the notebooks, an independent third party can redact that sensitive information.

Since Alberto Rodriguez was the highest paid public employee in town and left suddenly after only 8 months into a 3-year contract, the taxpayers have a right to know what precipitated his demise--especially since he is receiving full compensation through 6/1/2010.


Larry Kelley
460 West St.
Amherst, Ma 01002


To: amherstac@aol.com; Kathy Mazur; Debbie Westmoreland
Sent: Thu, Mar 25, 2010 4:57 pm
Subject: Re: Public Documents Request
Dear Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for your reminder (March 24th) of the request you made on March 15th
(attached) for a copy of my notebooks referenced in an article by Diane Lederman
in the Republican Newspaper. The notebooks mentioned in the article contain
some of my personal impressions and ideas from my work as a member of the
Regional School Committee. Some of these were jotted down during meetings but
most of the notes were written at home as I reflected over the day's events, in
the form of a diary. The notes written during meetings were not an official
record, transcript, or minutes of the meetings, and I did not communicate them
to anyone; they were the thoughts that occurred to me as the meetings took
place. I consider my notes my personal reflections for my personal use.
Inasmuch as they constitute a record merely of a public official in dialogue
with himself, in my judgment, they do not constitute a public record and I do
not have any obligation to reveal them. You may, of course, take a different
position, and take the appropriate steps to make a determination to the
contrary. If it is determined that my notes are a public record, it's my
understanding that it would still not be appropriate in that case for the
material to be made public because they would then constitute written documents
for the Superintendent's evaluation and therefore be exempt from public
disclosure in accordance with the Supreme Judicial Court Ruling of 2009 in the
Wayland case.

Thank you for your interest in the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools.

Farshid Hajir

Mass General Law Chapter 4, Section 7, Paragraph 26:

"Public records'' shall mean all books, papers, maps, photographs, recorded tapes, financial statements, statistical tabulations, or other documentary materials or data, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any officer or employee of any agency, executive office, department, board, commission, bureau, division or authority of the commonwealth, or of any political subdivision thereof, or of any authority established by the general court to serve a public purpose, unless such materials or data fall within the following exemptions in that they are: (e) notebooks and other materials prepared by an employee of the commonwealth which are personal to him and not maintained as part of the files of the governmental unit."
Mr Hajir is not an employee of the commonwealth in his role as Amherst Regional School Committee Chair--although he is as a Umass Math Professor @ $85-K per year.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Can't you read the sign...

UPDATE: April 2 (Somebody must have read the sign).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Power of the Web in Amherst Override election

Stephanie O'Keeffe Select Board Chair (center), John Coull,her dad, Amherst Redevelopment Authority Chair (ducking), Jada Kelley (cute kid).

(Note to readers: This was just submitted as part of my Umass online Journalism course as my mid-term project, so it is written for folks--unlike yourselves--who may not be insiders.)

Ballot questions are decided for a multitude of reasons, with numerous hard to measure independent variables playing a role--from weather to marketing.

The Amherst property tax Override of 2010--which passed 58% to 42% had almost exactly the same voter turnout--31.5%--as did the Amherst Override election of 2007 which failed 47% to 53%.

So why the dramatic difference?

The price point of course is number one: $2.5 million Override losing vs. $1.68 million winning. And at the 11th hour an orchestrated $350,000 "teacher giveback" and higher state aid than anticipated made it seem the most recent Override was even lower as town officials promised not to tax to the full extent of the new higher levy if such "unforeseen revenues" magically appeared after the Select Board set the $1.68 million figure in early February.

Because after the 2004 $2 million Override passed (although voters turned down a $2.5 million Override on that same ballot), $650,000 in extra state aid did materialize and the town negated that amount in 2005, but took the full amount plus 2.5% every year since.

On a more mundane level this time Override proponents (two separate ballot Committees) used lawn signs, and the main Vote Yes For Amherst group raised $5,000 to the No More Overrides group $4,000 as of March 8th filing. 'Save of Schools' spent money on lawn signs (using the maroon/white colors of Amherst Regional High School) but reported zero spending.

Both groups had a web page, but the Yes group was far more extensive, interactive and updated frequently. The local political blogosphere is dominated by two blogs--Larry Kelley's 'Only in Amherst' and Catherine Sanderson's 'My School Committee blog'.

And while Sanderson never took a formal position on the Override, her lack of cheer-leading which she provided in 2007, spoke volumes. In fact, Override supporters cast her as a villain for not providing that lock step support commonly demanded for anything pertaining to the Schools.

'Only in Amherst' launched about a month before the 2007 Override and was a constant source of irritation to pro-Override forces. Even more so this time around, peaking with nine uploads on election day and over 800 viewers.Click to enlarge/read

On the Web front, Override proponents first salvo was an online (blank check) petition started the first week of January with a inauspicious goal of 1,000 signatures targeting Amherst's five member Select Board the gatekeepers of all things Override. A blog counterstrike.

Rules allowed for anyone of any age to sign and obviously an Internet signature collection is far and away easier than acquiring ink-and-paper signatures. Today, even after getting 3,058 yes votes on paper ballots the Internet petition stands at only 658 signatures (many from "name not displayed," or out-of-state, or High School aged non voters.)

Localocracy, a website founded by two Umass/Amherst students dedicated to getting local voters involved with local elections launched in early February using Amherst as a beta test market. Rules were you had to be a town registered voter to post comments or vote on issues and you were given 10 rating points to vote up or down comments that supported your views thus driving them higher up on the page. But anyone could come "view" the results.

By election day Localocracy garnered 816 views (after almost two months) for the Override issue with 53 votes cast giving the Override a whopping 4-1 margin of victory rather then the actual 3/2 victory. Conversely on election day alone 'Only in Amherst' received 827 views and 'My School Committee Blog' 673 views.

But 'Only In Amherst' strongly advocated against the Override while 'My School Committee Blog' tried to remain neutral. So who had a bigger impact?

Since the Web loves to be free, wild and woolly anytime you place restrictions--having to register, or using a real name for posting comments--you greatly restrict participation. And both local Amherst blogs receive a majority of hits from viewers outside Amherst.

Recently Sanderson enabled "Comment Moderation" which suspends comments until "Blog owner approval" thus slowing down the freewheeling give-and-take. As a result, her daily visits have decreased by 20% or so, but still well above Localocracy.
Neither Sanderson or Localocracy use photos or video while 'Only in Amherst' almost always does. The Comments on Localocracy are limited to a Twitter-like 500 characters although you can post comments more than once (not obvious to neophytes.) On some posts Sanderson receives over 100 comments and even now with moderation enabled she still gets dozens and dozens of comments per post.

Sanderson's power emanates from her public role as elected School Committee member just telling her thoughts (and sometimes feelings) in a strait forward manner that blogging so easily encourages. Localocracy provides a somewhat stilted platform for engaged voters to do the same. But in Amherst, the average voter is not overly engaged.

While local spring elections for town offices average a 15% turnout (Override and changing the form of government Charter questions get twice that) the Presidential election every four years garners over a 75% turnout.

Another reason Localocracy may have failed to become a hot bed of comments and discussion like two the local blogs is Override opponents are typically older/retired and may not have fully embraced the Web. Also, Baer Tierkel, a leading architect of the 2007 and this 2010 Override is listed as one of only three members of their "advisory board," thus creating mistrust.

But if you viewed the module dedicated to the Override discussion at any point during the six or seven weeks it was up for discussion/voting clearly the outcome was predicted.

The Override victory was won, not in cyberspace, but simply by having more boots on the ground.

Over a hundred volunteers using traditional methods: displaying hundreds of lawn signs, making thousands of phone calls, huddling in town center and media advertising in the same newspapers that editorially supported the Override.

This time the Dinosaurs won. This time...

Sunday 3:45 PM. Peak day being Tuesday Election Day


Standing out

Friday, March 26, 2010

Regional School Committee pulls a rabbit...

8:10 AM

So freshly minted Amherst School Committee member Sir Richard Hood thinks the Teachers Union members were a tad confused when they voted to give up 3 paid "professional development" days worth $350-K in exchange for voters approving the $1.68 million Override; in that they thought the money would stay in the school budget on top of the extra $1.1 million generated by the Override.

Now in order to appease the confused Teachers Union, the Regional School Committee is going funnel $255-K from reserves out of Excess and Deficiency account to bolster the Regional budget on top of the extra $$739,195 created by the Override.

As a separate legal entity the Region has its own slush fund called Excess and Deficiency (currently with just over $1 million stashed away for a rainy day) and the Elementary Schools do not have such a fund as they are 100% town of Amherst. Although Amherst children make up a whopping 80% of the Region.

The Elementary Schools will simply have to make due with the lousy extra $400,000 created by generous taxpayers.

The Springfield Republican Reports:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

...not even the beginning of the end

Don't you just love those legal disclaimers printed on motor oil, "Do not drink this product?" According to outgoing School Committee Chair Andy Churchill, the Amherst Vote Yes Overriders garnered stunning advice from their Northampton counterparts: Don't worry about the No voters concentrate on those likely to vote Yes.

Hmm...must be a bevy of brain surgeons and rocket scientists among their group.

Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change distributed a mailer to almost 4,000 voters over the age of 50. Between postage and printing about 50 cents per unit. So I went over all the mailing labels first, cross referencing for names posted on the Blank Check Override Internet Petition website and the signature ad from 3 years ago to cross them off the list, thus saving us about $300.

Ironic thing is if Mr Churchill learned at the start of his six year Amherst School Committee service how to educate children at Northampton's $4,000 per child lower cost, it would have saved Amherst taxpayers $12 million per year and then we would indeed realize the dream of "No More Overrides"

The Springfield Republican reports

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The end of the begining

So I'm preparing a more detailed analysis of the election for my Umass online journalism course mid-term assignment but figured I would throw out some off-the-cuff analysis for now, as I think both sides were surprised by yesterday's margin of victory (and no, unlike Cherry Hill Golf Course I'm not going to blame it on the weather.)

1) The 31.5% voter turnout was almost exactly the same as the Override that failed in 2007 so it's hard to blame voter turnout (although we usually get almost 80% every four years for the Presidential election.) So why the different outcome this time?

Well first off, there's a big difference between $2.5 million (that failed in 07) and the current $1.68 million. And if you listened to Andy Churchill at the forum last week sponsored by the crusty Gazette/Amherst Bully he made it sound like the $350,000 teacher giveback was already factored into lowering the Override amount. Which of course it did not, although town officials claim they will not use that amount by not taxing to the full extent of the new higher levy (one year only of course.)

And this year the Vote Yes folks were smart enough to order lawn signs (in two different varieties no less.) The Amherst Bulletin ran a rather long rambling editorial supporting the Override but then the Gazette followed suit with a tighter one, probably more widely read than the bloated Bully version.

But either way, two bricks-and-mortar newspapers supporting the Override certainly ads a fair amount of value that would have to be made up with paid advertising.

The Yes folks also raised more than the No folks ($5,000 to $4,000) although I still have not figured out how they spent that last $3,000. And I did notice that their "Vote Yes" lawn signs do not appear as expenditures on the Campaign Finance Report.

Their carefully crafted message got out: The town cut $7 million over the past (I heard either "two years" or "three years" and you could not tell whether they were including this upcoming year's cuts into that figure or not.) But the fact remains, the 2007 $2.5 million Override would have generated almost $8 million by now and over $10 million if you throw in next year.

And if THAT Override passed safe bet there would not have been ANY cuts. Yet somehow the town seems to have survived...

No way to start the day

A truck stalled in the middle of a busy intersection on Rt. 116 around 7:45 AM

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


9:45 PM

So yeah, by now you know the Override passed handily. But the real victory (for us crotchety conservatives) is Rob Spence winning a seat on the venerable Amherst School Committee.

And although they will never admit it, the Vote Yes folks did everything in their power to take him out.

As I stated earlier today, for the first time in at least a generation, a majority of sane fiscal conservatives controls that all-volunteer, amateur committee of do-gooders overseeing well over half the $65 million Amherst town budget.

I will actually sleep well tonight.

Collateral damage

6:15 PM

So if you ask recently retired Amherst Police Chief Charles Scherpa for a shortlist of the hardest working most dedicated person in Public Safety, Animal Control Officer Carol Hepburn would be exceedingly high on that list.

And as you can see from this afternoon's photo, she is also an Elections Warden.

But when the Override goes down, her full-time job as Animal Control Officer goes to half time, thus costing her $21,820. I bumped into her at the Hess Station in front of my Club early one weekday morning and she asked me how I thought the Override vote would go? "Down," I said--and then quickly added, "Sorry about that." "Why," she responded curiously.

"Because your job is half at stake."

"Don't worry about me," she said with Yankee certainty, "I'll be fine."

I hope so.

No concentration of power there...

1:55 PM

So here we have (dead center), Princess Stephanie O'Keeffe, Chair of the venerable Amherst Select Board and to her immediate left John Coull, Chair of the venerable Amherst Redevelopment Authority who is also, of course, her Dad.

Below Mr. Coule is my stunning daughter Jada. Interestingly the Amherst Select Board and Amherst Redevelopment Authority are the only two entities in the People's Republic with the awesome power of eminent domain.

Override rage continues...

1:45 PM

Hmm...so this is a public Facebook post brought to you by an Amherst Middle School teacher (you know, somebody vested in the status quo); and normally I would say 'who cares' as she is one in a hundred or so and certainly entitled to her opinion under the First Amendment.

But what is particularly scarier is she is also part of that elite insider group known as the Middle School Principal School Search Committee. You know, that secretive little group outspoken, overly-public School Committee member (and blogger) Catherine Sanderson was recently purged from.

An anonymous letter-snail mailed to me last week from a school insider indicated great concern about not hiring an "insider" for that ultra-important position of Middle School Principal. Double Hmm...


These are turbulent times on the Amherst School Committee, made worse by
poor conduct on the part of Committee members associated with ACE. I've been
to several meetings of the Regional School Committee and watched, appalled,
at how Sanderson and Rivkin display open contempt and mistrust of Educators
and Aministrators, attempt to undermine the Committee chair, and are hostile
toward Committee members who don't share their views. They vote as a block,
work together to get their motions forwarded, and communicate behind other
Committee member's backs in open meeting. Adding Spence into this mix would
create an even larger "block" of these like minded folk, who really don't
represent a majority view in Amherst, and choose divisiveness over true
leadership. We need diverse views that represent the community on the
Committee, and there are several candidates that will do this. Read and
learn about all of the candidates and vote!

My Anonymous Snail Mail
Letter post

Who shoots the photographer?

11:00 AM

Gordon Daniels, is by far the very best thing about the Bricks-and-Mortar Daily Hampshire Gazette. A Grand Master photographer with over 30 years experience. Look for this scene on their Front Page...umm, tomorrow.

None of the Above (mostly)

Click to enlarge

10:30 AM

So I can now confirm the No votes are in the lead--as is Rob Spence for School Committee.

Riders on the storm...

9:45 AM

So it's nice to see Ricky Boy Hood outnumbered in town center by 2-1. And notice Rob Spence for School Committee supporters are not, unlike Jonathan O'Keeffe, also holding a pro-override sign. Irony is if Spence gets elected the School Committee--for the first time in a generation--would have a majority of sensible center types and might actually wrestle that Sacred Cow under control thus obviating the need for Overrides.

All roads lead to...

The Ballot Box

7:15 AM So we're off. And already the Overriders have me confused. No large display ad in this morning's bricks-and-mortar Gazette. So where the heck did they spend the remaining $3,000 in campaign contributions? (60% of total raised!)

Maybe they figured out this was going down and they are saving it for round two, after Town Meeting comes back with yet another tweaked version of this Override. You know, Custer thought it was a good idea to divide up his cavalry...

Overriders current campaign disclosure

Monday, March 22, 2010

Prime location promo

Wow, the town must really be taking this election seriously as the red reminder to "VOTE tomorrow" displaced the cute Cherry Hill Golf Course logo on the town's main web page.

Left out in the cold

The Republican reports

The town spins it

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Say it isn't so

So this Amherst Bully web article falls into the "You gotta be kidding me category!" 105 faculty and staff of Amherst Regional High School sign a petition supporting their boss Mark Jackson, after he made an ass of himself bullying School Committee member Catherine Sanderson at the 3/9 SC meeting.

Goes to show what lousy institutional memory they have. After all, 8 years ago that many staff signed a petition penned by ARHS journalism teacher Bruce Penniman supporting pedophile principal Steven Myers, who almost days later disappeared in the middle of the night.

And in 1999 a 17-year-old Puerto Rican girl garnered 158 signatures in one day at the High School decrying the production of 'West Side Story' as the Senior class play; she managed to convince the spineless School Committee to cancel the production--the first time in history any entity has ever banned 'West Side Story.'

ARHS The Graphic 1/25/02 Click to enlarge/read

Override is not the answer! (neither is WAR)

Springfield Sunday Republican reports

So yeah, this concerns me a tad: the highest read edition of the 3rd largest newspaper in Massachusetts publishes this routine overview article. Concerns me only because the uninformed voter may read it and think--because of outgoing Amherst School Committee Chair Andy Churchill comments--that the override is now down to $1.12 million, which of course it is not.

What town officials claim is that if unexpected tooth fairy revenues come in--as they always do--they will do as they did in the 2004 Override scenario and not tax to the full extent of the levy in the first year.. However after that one year they will tax to the full extent of the $1.68 MILLION Override amount PLUS THE 2.5% ALLOWED BY LAW.
Original Post 1:00 PM

So I rolled through town center at around 12:30 PM and the anti-war folks, who have been on that corner every Sunday for 30+ years, outnumbered the "Vote Yes" people--mainly Ricky Boy Hood family and tenderfoot Field Marshal Clare Bertrand--three to one.

You know the drill: click photo to enlarge. The exceedingly small contingent of "Vote Yes" drones are, fittingly, on the extreme left.

A question of priorities in the People's Republic

Click to enlarge/read

Couldn't help but notice on the 2nd tier "gray area"--meaning possible restoration with an Override and unexpected state aid--sits the $61,092 LSSE "Customer Assistant Registrar."

Gotta wonder how that makes the average cop or firefighter feel when they make less than that--not to mention classroom teachers or DPW laborers.

And notice all the Cherry Hill Golf Course was willing to give up is $7,600 in Maintenance/Equipment/Supplies (must be those savings garnered from using convict labor.) But even then their Operation budget is up 2.6% next year while the Police budget is up less than 1%.

And while town officials keep trumpeting how the LSSE Recreation Empire is almost break even, like the Golf Course, they do not tell you that those figures ignore the employee benefits and health insurance costs. ($200,000 next year.)

And of course Capital items are also not included (and LSSE has a quite a fleet of trucks and vans.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Overriders raise some serious cash

Click to enlarge/read

Unlike three years ago Overriders filed their campaign finance report with the Town Clerk on time.

So counting Ricky Boy Hood's $211.83 for payment of buttons, that makes just a a tad over $5,000 raised thus far for this Override campaign. And I'm impressed, I really am. What a hard sell that must be when hitting up folks for contributions: "Could you please donate money so that we can wage a campaign to raise your taxes?"

Since they have only spent $1991 and have an ending balance of $3073 as of 3/15 (but includes the half-page "signature ad" in the 3 /19 Amherst Bulletin with F-A-R less signatures than three years ago), prepare for a blitzkrieg over the next 72 hours

Behold the Power...

Interesting article on the Front Page of the downsized Springfield Republican about politicians using social media to connect with their constituents. They lead with local success story Catherine Sanderson's School Committee Blog pointing out posts that generated 150 comments and 10,000 hits per month.

Two weeks ago at the height of the School Superintendent A-Rod coup d'├ętat she came within a whisker of breaking the 1,000 mark--two days in a row.

I noticed three years ago when I first launched this blog my numbers almost tripled the days immediately before the May 1 Override vote. And during the recent A-Rod affair (a story broken by me three full days before the Crusty Gazette) my numbers also more than doubled, and now have stayed there as yet another Override looms.

So I think when people really want to be informed and they want it NOW they come to the Blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc. When they want to leisurely sip cappuccino and passively peruse the local news, they pick up the brick-and-mortar media.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rope-a-dope while avoiding Overriders rage

As Rod Serling would say, "Respectfully submitted for your perusal."

In this case, the reason why angry yellow jacket No More Overrides signs will not swarm in Amherst center over the final days of the campaign. Three years ago--a day or so before the May 1 Override vote--some Nitwit woman crashed her vehicle narrowly avoiding cyclists and pedestrians who would not have made out as well as the 4,000 pound auto she rear ended.

So in the interests of public safety--especially since our Police and Fire departments are understaffed--the Amherst Citizens for Responsible Change have decided not to stand around in town center and distract drivers.

Original Post 4/29/07

As a passive aggressive sparky school supporter was driving thru the downtown around high-noon Saturday she rolled down the window and leaned out shouting while shaking her fist: “You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

A split second later she rear-ended the SUV in front of her. Stan Gawle, without missing a beat (after he stopped laughing) exclaimed, “God is on our side!”

"Brother Against Brother" Civil War

Hmm...a Yes and No sign on the same lawn. Perhaps a husband going one way and his spouse the other. Kind of like Select Board incumbent (with no competition thus guaranteed reelection) Alisa Brewer (Yes) and Umass Prof husband Steven Brewer (No) fighting it out over on Localocracy.org

(And yeah, I gave him 5 of my 10 ratings points to drive his comment to the top.)

Override ruminations

Override passes
Override fails

So yeah, I have trouble sleeping at night being the big meanie I am. Maybe that lead to the late night visit from the 'Ghost of Christmas Future' who showed me the two possible scenarios for the average homeowner after the March 23 Override vote.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"...failure to communicate."

Click photo to read lettering on the Bus

So I guess if you don't trust the professional DPW (who are, after all, at the bottom of the town pay scale) to get the job done on time-even with last minute notification, you call in the convicts.

But don't get me wrong: I believe that hard labor--chain gangs or cycling up Mt. Washington--is a good thing. And in Northampton, the Honor Court (recovering alcoholics) keeping the city clean is a great thing.

But you still have to wonder if these noble efforts by convicts could be put to better use other than sprucing up the most exclusive endeavor in recreation--golf ? (Well, #2 if you count those indoor Japanese downhill ski facilities.)

But hey, at least the Town Manager did not put them to use fixing up his humble abode on Amity Street now up for sale.

Trial Court Community Service Program

"Our goals are to promote public safety by making participants stakeholders in the community and enrich communities by performing meaningful service."

(key word being "meaningful")

Even the Town Mangler can't afford the Override...

Click to enlarge/read

Maybe he's moving to South Hadley.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Peyton Place/Harper Valley continued...

Click to enlarge/read (2 of 3)

"Helen" (Vivian) and "Al" (Sprague) are/were the married $125,000 interim Co-Supers who flew the coop almost exactly a year ago,four months early with full pay. "Jere" is of course the Golden Boy long-time (six whole years!) Super described by long-time School Committee Chair Elaine Brighty as a "rare event."

(Page 3 of 3)

Peyton Place meets Harper Valley PTA

Click to enlarge/read (1 of 3)So yeah, I thought twice (maybe three times) about actually publishing this. It is of course Anonymous. And over the past three years, I've gotten ever so adapted to Anons and their wild claims and obnoxious insults.

But...something about this snail mail Letter--sent to Catherine Sanderson as well--rings believable. So I've redacted the names (not necessarily to protect the innocent.)

To Be Continued...

Cherry Hill Golf Course: Municipal bloodsucker

Bad enough the golf course produces more red ink than a Chinese flag factory, but now they're sucking the lifeblood from other departments.

Because the foundering LSSE Recreation Empire is down ten$ of thousand$ they can't afford to spruce up the golf course, so the Town Manager orders the DPW Parks and Recreation Department to drop everything, run out to North Amherst and get the business ready for its Grand Opening (in two days.)

Forget the town common, the ball fields, or the soccer fields; in the People's Republic of Amherst when a White Elephant bellows--you run!

On a losing course at the half way point

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sincerest form of flattery

Three years ago Sir Richard Hood showed up in Amherst Town Center a few days before the May 1 Override vote with his Van festooned with posters ripping off the angry yellow jacket design to shout No More teachers, police, or firefighters.

Of course the problem with that hyperbole is it perfectly demonstrates the "fear factor" town officials like to use when strong-arming the taxpayers. Three years ago the Town Manager put five firefighters hired with a Federal Grant on the Override chopping block even though the terms of the grant would have caused much larger repayment to the Feds.

Three years ago I simply chalked up the copycats "sky is falling" rhetoric to the general incompetency of allowing such a naive rookie to take command of the campaign and at that point, in over his head, he simply lost his head.

But now, under new command, they went it did it again. Yikes!

A reason to miss 'His Lordship'

So Mr. Weiss must have had too much cake at his going away party preceding the Select Board meeting last night, as he couldn't even spit out a spirited counter using his taxpayer funded Bully Pulpit of his previous spot-on pubic statement that the People's Republic has been "living beyond its means."

And if my memory serves he specifically pointed out the raises and step increases granted to the town employees--mainly the Teachers Union. The concessions made to the Town Manager (Police) and now most recently the Regional School Committee are token at best.

And I believe Mr. Weiss was also the attribution/source used by that damn "anti-Override organization" disclosing the over-$1 million surplus last Fiscal Year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A very public bribe

Amherst teachers agree to contract givebacks if override passes
Staff Writer

AMHERST - The teachers union voted Monday to turn three "professional days" into unpaid furloughs if voters approve a tax-cap override on March 23.

The vote would affect about 380 employees at the elementary, middle and high schools. It would reduce the budget impact of salary increases next year from about $1.3 million to about $930,000.

The average teacher would receive about $1,000 less than if the union had gone along with its negotiated contract, said president Tim Sheehan.


Damn! Voted on Monday and it made the Gazette already. How very bloglike of them.

So let me get this strait: If the Override passes, they still get their full raises and step increases but the teachers are going to give up three days of paid professional development and simply take them as "unpaid furloughs." But they will still take all of them as days off...probably not to engage in "professional development."

When the Override fails, 95% of them will still get their full raises and step increases AND those three paid "professional days," only there will be a few less teachers.

National Sunshine Week: T.G.F.F.O.I!

Thank God for Freedom Of Information, Public Documents and Open Meeting Laws.

From: amherstac@aol.com
To: westmorelandD@arps.org; mazurk@arps.org; hajirf@arps.org
Sent: Mon, Mar 15, 2010 9:20 am
Subject: Public Documents Request

Amherst Regional School Committee


Could I please get copies of the evaluation materials mentioned in the Sunday Springfield Republican article on the sudden departure of Dr. Alberto Rodriguez specifically from Regional School Committee Chair Farshid Hajir: four notebooks filled with "impressions" of the Superintendent's performance created during meetings with faculty and staff which Hajir attended in his role as School Committee Chair--thus making the materials a public document.


Larry Kelley

The Sunday Republican reports

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Even the spotted salamanders know better!

Click photo to enlarge/read

So for those of you new to the People's Republic of Amherst (living here less than 20 years and probably still pronouncing the h in Amherst) this inside joke references one of the first things I experienced as an 'Only in Amherst' event dating back to the late 1980s.

The spotted salamanders crossing bucolic Henry Street in the far reaches of North Amherst during that time of year when they get, umm, horny (early April) were getting squished by the ever-so-occasional auto. The town installed "Salamander tunnels" so the critters could safely cross under the road (Hell, at Hampshire College you would be awarded a degree for that).

But of course nobody told the Salamanders about the tunnel--even in Amherst town officials do not speak or write Salamander and do not have a Star Trek universal translator to communicate with them.

Thus to this day volunteers go out to this site in early April at dusk with flashlights to assist the little critters crossing the street.

Do-gooders herding salamanders into an expensive tunnel: Only in Amherst.

Yes, the NEW YORK TIMES (actually) reported

To this day Henry Street is not exactly "busy". Obviously the NY Times, as they say in journalism, "phoned in" this story.

And of course some of you townies will remember that then Select Board Chair (Umass History Professor) Richard Minear the year before spearheaded the socialistic takeover of the Cherry Hill Golf Course for the most money this town has ever paid out for such a heavy handed taking. And the only time the town used an obscure provision in the law making that taking "referendum proof" by the taxpayers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

No More Overrides: Even the White Elephant Golf Course agrees!

Click to enlarge/see the angry yellow jacket No More Overrides lawn sign

Ten years ago some Nitwit wrote a scathing 'Letter to the Editor' published in the venerable Amherst Bulletin complaining most vociferously about a pair of political lawn signs in this exact location promoting the election of George W. Bush for President.

Gasp! How could the People's Republic of Amherst allow town property to be used as a platform for the likes of him, a--double gasp--Republican.

Turns out, when the town snatched the Cherry Hill Golf Course from Dave Maxon in 1987 for $2.2 million (the highest price ever paid for land acquisition) using eminent domain under an "emergency measure" so that it was Referendum proof, that astronomical price did not include the nearby Maxon homestead, where his family still lives today.

And obviously they have good taste when it comes to political issues.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

School bullying--even in Amherst

UPDATE: 3:40 PM Okay, so here's the prequel leading up to Principal Mark Jackson's insubordinate rant.

Notice how Maria Geryk whispers to Farshid Hajir the School Committee Chair about Mark wanting to speak. And of course, Hajir was too demure to shut down the overly aggressive Jackson when he crossed the line and attacked fellow School Committee person Catherine Sanderson. And now Maria Geryk is Mark Jackson's boss for the next 16 months. Obviously he will have it pretty good.


So forget that Principal Mark Jackson, the second highest paid "public servant" in the People's Republic @ $131,236, is better than twice Catherine Sanderson's size, and forget for a moment that as a School Committee member she is in charge of hiring the Superintendent who can then fire Jackson, this was just plain inappropriate.

And I'm trying to figure out how he's so sure what was in those "evaluations" of the Superintendent when Alberto Rodriguez was, two days ago, Jackson's direct boss.

The 15 or 20 anonymous evaluations collected from administrative staff (including Jackson's) should have gone directly to Chair Farshid Hajir and then to the entire Amherst Regional School Committee--but nobody else.

There they go again

This time it's the staid Finance Committee disingenuously spinning figures to aid town officials in their faltering battle to raise taxes.

According to their unanimously approved manifesto, the FinCom lays the blame on Prop 2.5, which Amherst overwhelmingly voted against 30 years ago: "Even with careful management, costs for local communities to provide education, libraries,public safety and other community services increase at an inflation rate greater than 2.5 percent."

But our supposed watchdog financial consultants are conveniently forgetting "new growth" allowed by Prop 2.5. The Facilitation of Community Choices Committee recognized that in their financial report two years ago by clearly pointing out:

"Prop 2.5 allows for an annual increase in property taxes of 2.5% plus any new growth in taxable property such as new construction or additions.

Amherst has averaged 1.5% per year during the last ten years for a total average increase of 4% in the tax base."

And last I looked, inflation was below 4% over the past ten years--and in 2009 almost 0%.

Particularly troubling, rookie Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg (also a long-time Town Meeting member) was a member of the FCCC and present on the day the discussion of "new growth" took place.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Transparency--what a concept

From: amherstac@aol.com
To: westmorelandD@arps.org; mazurk@arps.org; gawles@verizon.net; nhoffenberg@gazettenet.com
Sent: Tue, Mar 9, 2010 10:50 am
Subject: Public Documents/Open Meeting Law Reqest

Hi Debbie,

Could I please get a copy of the
discussion minutes and any votes taken during the Executive Session of the Regional School Committee last night.


Larry Kelley

From: Debbie Westmoreland

To: amherstac@aol.com; Kathy Mazur
; nhoffenberg@gazettenet.com; gawles@verizon.net
Cc: Tracy Farnham
; Farshid Hajir
Sent: Tue, Mar 9, 2010 1:37 pm
Subject: Re: Public Documents/Open Meeting Law Reqest

Hi Mr. Kelley:
The School Committee has not yet voted to release the minutes from last night's Executive Session; therefore, they are still considered confidential. I am not sure when the School Committee will officially release the minutes, but I will be happy to forward them to you once they do.
Best Regards,

From: amherstac@aol.com
To: WestmorelandD@ARPS.ORG; MazurK@ARPS.ORG; nhoffenberg@gazettenet.com; gawles@verizon.net
Cc: FarnhamT@ARPS.ORG; HajirF@ARPS.ORG
Sent: Tue, Mar 9, 2010 1:51 pm
Subject: Re: Public Documents/Open Meeting Law Request

Thanks Deb!

Just make sure I'm in line ahead of the Crusty Gazette (a few seconds here and a few seconds there...)


$igns, $igns everywhere $igns...

So in addition to those nickel-and-dime political lawn signs springing up around town like mushrooms after a summer rain, this Big-Boy went up yesterday on Rt. 116. Thankfully the State pays the $2,700 tab for the sign, and Palmer Paving--who won the bid--installed it.

The $2.3 million road resurfacing starts next month and will extend from Snell Street down to Hampshire College but skip the center of South Amherst, where my business is located.

The town "took over" (at tens of thousands in annual upkeep) this section of the state highway four or five years ago in order to redo the South Amherst center in the image and likeness of a quaint little French Village. That was years ago; thus far we did get a used traffic control signal--but no crosswalk.

And no little french bakery.


So back from my bike ride fertilizing the ground underneath all those green Vote Yes pro Override signs (Locked and loaded with a super-soaker squirter gun so I could fire from a public road.) I could not help but notice a second $2,7000 State sign on the other side of the 3-mile project.

And furthermore could not help but notice that they are only ONE-SIDED SIGNS. Hmm...even our overly-amateurish, do-gooder local politicos wanna be's with their loose change lawn signs figured out the value of two sided.

But not our illustrious state.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Better dead than red

You can tell Mr. Hood is a "webmaster", as he picked a lively color scheme for his lawn signs (which, unlike the green pro-Override signs, will still stand out when the grass comes in.)

I guess he learned from his boo-boo three years ago that lawn signs are an essential evil in a political campaign. Although it is a tad odd that he--of all people--a true blue, blue-state kind of guy, would use red.
Yeah as one of my Anons pointed out, he borrowed from the wholesome milk company.

The Color of Money

So Overriders picked the perfect color scheme for their lawn signs. Hey, at least this time around they were clever enough to order them. Three years ago they did not bother--one of the many huge mistakes they made under the leadership of Rick Hood, now a candidate for School Committee.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A-Rod strikes out!

Catherine Sanderson reports on the Gazette report

The Springfield Republican follows up (actually using the Gazette as a source)

UPDATE Monday Morning
(quarterbacking): The crusty Gazette finally caught up with this story. Must be a tad embarrassed as they threw up a brief last night on Gazettenet, but back dated it to Saturday. And intrepid forever reporter Nick Grabbe had to resort to using persons "with direct knowledge of the situation," as sources but of course unnamed.

The Regional School Committee meets tonight in Executive Session to try to put together Dr. Rodriguez's going away present. For sure he will demand the rest of this year's salary (about $40,000) but he may ask for all of next year's as well ($158,000.) Probably will not have the gall to also ask for the $15,000 in housing/transportation. If so, let's hope the School Committee pays him off in pennies so he gets a hernia dragging them back to sunny Miami, Florida.

UPDATE: Saturday around noon:

So sorry for not responding to all the Comments that occurred after I, finally, hit the "publish" button close to midnight last night as I then retired.

And sorry for deleting the post "We interrupt this regularly scheduled program..." which had garnered a few comments because I was sitting on this "A-Rod Strikes Out" story in draft for sooooo many hours that when I finally got the corroboration I needed for some reason it published below the placeholder, throw-away post signaling something BIG was in the offing.

So I just deleted that entire post (only the 2nd time in three years I have done such a thing.)

When someone taunted me by email about being out of touch on this story with the bricks and mortar media possibly beating me to it (and at that point it was written, the photo uploaded and my right hand was hovering over the publish button) I instantly flashed back to that great scene in "Tora, Tora, Tora" where the lowly staff Sergeant had tried to get his commanding officer to do something after the rookie commander of the USS Ward reporting attacking an enemy submarine at the mouth of Pearl Harbor, early on the morning of December 7.

The Commander, not happy about working on a gorgeous Sunday. barked "Corroboration, I need corroboration!" A few hours later he bursts into the same office with his eyes wide open and jaw hitting the floor and the lowly Sargent (busily answering the phone and stamping forms at a frantic pace) looks up, points his hand at the huge picture window overlooking the Harbor now filled with burning, dying ships and shouts, "There's your corroboration!"

ORIGINAL POST: late last night

After less than a year as the highest paid Amherst "public servant", School Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez will go the way of the previous (less than) Super, Alton Sprague who took his co-Superintendent wife, two months of taxpayer funded salary, and flew the coop.

In this case, Rodriguez will be winging back to Miami, Florida where "we play hard, hard, hardball" he bragged to the Amherst Bulletin last year, declaring he would have no trouble surviving in the People's Republic of Amherst.

Once again Maria Geryk steps up to cover as she did previously after the aged co-supers disappeared with two months left on their one-year contract, and most recently for the numerous days A-Rod took as vacation/sick time.

4. TERMINATION: This Agreement may be terminated or modified by mutual written agreement of the parties. In the event that the Superintendent desires to terminate this Agreement before the term of the Agreement and his employment expires, he may do so by giving at least one-hundred twenty (120) days’ notice of his intention to the Committees. This Agreement may be terminated by the Committees prior to its expiration, for good cause, but not without prior written notice to the Superintendent of the proposed reasons for termination.