Saturday, May 29, 2010

History should always note and long remember...

As we prepare for this most memorable of solemn holidays to honor those who gave their "last measure of devotion" keeping us free--perhaps it is time we consider imbuing another day with this ritualistic reinforcement designed to make Americans momentarily pause and, hopefully, to remember.

Especially since the state is considering eliminating two hack holidays for some state employees--Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day.

How about remembering that stunning morning.

Yes perhaps for any of us alive of an age old enough to understand rudimentary communication, 9/11 is forever seared into memory; a combination of shock, horror or perhaps guilt over feeling relieved it was not you or a loved one aboard those airplanes or trapped in those burning buildings.

But time creeps forward, so someday 9/11 will be a distant memory. We pause now to remember all those who perished for their country over our entire history. A hundred years hence none of us will be around to remember.

Hopefully we will have passed it down to our children and told them to pass it down to their children the awful damage inflicted that otherwise gorgeous Tuesday morning in America.

Declaring 9/11 a national holiday will go a long way to ensure that. And what better state to start than Massachusetts, where half the four planes--the two that created the most carnage--debarked from?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Boycott Massachusetts?

So now that the Mass State Senate approved a law requiring proof of citizenship for receiving state benefits it will be interesting to see if we become a target of scorn and outrage like Arizona. Hey, maybe Cambridge will secede and join up with New Hampshire, the "live free or die" state. But with a motto like that, probably not.

The Republican reports

The WSJ reports (leave Dora out of this debate)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don't mess with Mother Nature

Amherst College

So a powerful storm assaulted the Happy Valley late last night, felling trees, rattling windows, and scaring the Hell out of little kids and domestic pets. But today is a L-O-T cooler. A good thing--providing you have electricity.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Watchdog" awakens!

Sent: Wed, May 26, 2010 10:18 pm
Subject: Public Documents Request

In the PDF of the letter signed by five School Committee Chairs sent to the DA requesting a ruling on public officials who have blogs posted on the Shutesbury internet listserve, under the "permissions attached" pages, Farshid Hajir reads: This letter to Cynthia Pepyne looks great; I would like to sign on. My comments:

But then after the colon there are no comments.

Could I please be provided with a copy of those comments which seemed to have disappeared.


Larry Kelley
Sent: Wed, May 26, 2010 3:02 pm
Subject: The First Amendment and Open Meeting Law in the modern age

I certainly hope the local ACLU will weigh in on this 'Only in Amherst' tempest in a teapot I first railed about on my blog 6 days ago but now prominently displayed on the Front Page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

As a long-time insider of all things politics in the People's Republic I can assure you this effort to involve the DA ruling about blogs is an orchestrated (local) government attempt to quash Catherine Sanderson's First Amendment rights simply because she (very publicly) "calls 'em as she sees 'em".

And is not that what the First Amendment is all about?

Larry Kelley (concerned that I will be next)


So six days after it first hit the blogosphere (my piece of it anyway), the Daily Hampshire Gazette covers the story of five School Committee Chairs sending a letter of request to the District Attorney for legal clarification on blogs and the Open Meeting Law. Front Page. Above the fold no less.

The Gazette, finally, reports

And you would think, since that letter was instantly forwarded to the Gazette last week (in hopes of getting the headline they indeed got) with all this time to hash out the story, they could have done a better job.

Don't mind me, I'm just pissed off that I was referred to as "Larry Kelley, a Amherst watchdog blogger who posts frequently about "The Vagina Monlogues" and "West Side Story," is also a member of the town's Redevelopment Authority."

Besides misspelling "Monologues", the proper name for my committee is Amherst Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-state, independent body with four members elected by town voters and one appointed by the Governor. The only entity in town besides Town Meeting/Selectboard with the power of eminent domain.

And I have not posted about 'VM' or 'WSS' in over a year.

Details, details.

Obviously the problem, as the Old Guard sees it, is Catherine Sanderson and her School Committee blog. Because she is not afraid to speak her mind openly, in public, at all hours of the day and night. That should be encouraged, not threatened.

As the ACLU says about the First Amendment: The way to deal with bad speech is with more good speech--not censorship.

Mr Hood Commented on this blog a few days ago that his blog (still in its rookie year) garnered 129 unique visitors last week. This blog was almost 500. And Ms. Sanderson's open public sitemeter tells me she was about 33% over this blog last week, so I would guess her unique visitors were somewhere in the neighborhood of 700. Thus I would hardly lump Mr. Hood in the same category as Sanderson's "that see large volumes of web traffic."

Of course law is always going to lag behind technology. The Mass State Legislature recently tweaked a law to include text messages because some pedophile sending explicit messages to a minor got off because the original law talked dealt with graphic material being disseminated but did not clearly spell out "text messaging". Now it does. And of course we now have a law saying you can't text message while driving (who would have thought you need to make that a law.)

But what never changes is the intent/spirit of the law. And clearly the Open Meeting Law, enacted before the Internet revolution, simply wants to keep public matters kept public. And you don't get any more public than a blog.

It will be interesting to see if the Gazette or Bulletin issues an editorial on this issue.

Monday, May 24, 2010

In the blink of an eye...

UPDATE: 2:00 PM (Tuesday). So the "chicken little" in me is even more aroused as North Korea just announced they were ejecting South Koreans from the industrial complex just inside their border operated by South Korean companies that employ 40,000 North Koreans.

Even the South did not go that far yesterday in announcing economic sanctions. Since the only other industry in North Korea is that relating to the military this is a classic case of biting off your nose to spite your face. Or: Pride goeth before the fall.

As the proud father of two girls originally born in China and aware of how very many girls have come to our country over the past 20 years via international adoption I always figure the Chinese government would at least think twice before going to war with us as collateral damage could include so many of their own (not to mention all the Chinese who have come here for education or employment purposes.)

Severing this last co-mingling of two people who should be one is a bad sign.

Original Post: Yesterday
Having spent a week in Seoul last year getting to mix with the locals and taking a guided tour of the DMZ (which is a lot harder for the locals to do) I am frankly concerned about recent revelations that North Korea did indeed sink a South Korean warship.

Initially I figured the Cheonan inadvertently hit an underwater mine left over from the horrific war 57 years ago that, technically, has never ended. Mainly because North Korea actually seems proud of its belligerence, I also figured they would instantly take credit for scoring such a surprising blow on a highly trained military ship.

But considering the North never really acknowledged the secret "Tunnels of aggression" constructed under the DMZ and designed to deliver thousands of troops per hour into a sleeping Seoul I guess I should not be surprised.

So what is a concerned diplomat to do?

Box them into a corner and they will fight with the same tenacity exhibited so long ago only with more modern weapons of mass destruction. Let it slide and they will be encouraged to do it again.

Unlike our 9/11, all the causalities were military inflicted by another uniformed military in a disputed zone. More like Pearl Harbor, a dastardly act indeed, but if you believe "war is Hell" then certainly not something to start another war over, or maybe I should say a resumption of the war that never ended.

I'm reminded of what a US military officer told me when I was touring the furthermost military base on the DMZ (mainly staffed by South Korean military) that the 28,500 US troops stationed on the peninsula would merely act as a "speed bump" if the North decides to roll in force.

And then, President Obama--under terribly tense constantly shifting conditions--would face the same option presented to President Truman when the Chinese first entered the conflict in almost limitless waves: do we use nukes?

Either way, the slaughter will set a new standard for barbarism in the modern age.

How I spent my summer vacation in Korea

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Blame the blogosphere

So five local school committee chairs have officially requested in writing the District Attorney create guidelines about how and when a blog may or may not violate the Open Meeting Law--key word being "Open".

The irony simply abounds. The joint letter apparently was the idea of Shutesbury School Committee Chair Michael DeChiara, you know the guy who recently got the state legislature to pass a new law allowing towns to withdraw from school unions.

Shutesbury apparently had a beef with a shared Superintendent hiring a pricipal for only one year when most folks wanted them to get three. The issue caused Shutesbury to rethink Union 28 which shares the expenses of a Super between Leverett, Shutesbury, Erving, Wendell and New Salem.

So how is this any different than Amherst considering a withdrawal from Union 26 with Pelham where Amherst funds 94% of expenses and only has a 50% say in administration?

But back to the blogosphere. The issue of Amherst withdrawing from Union 26 has gone from obscure non-issue to raging controversy mainly because of the discussion on Catherine Sanderson's school committee blog.

The other School Committee chairs wonder if perhaps some Anons posting comments could be School Committee members thus potentially bringing together a quorum discussing something outside a posted public meeting.

Forgetting for a moment that a blog is public, these Chairs are not showing much faith in their fellow School Committee members if they honestly believe an elected public official would cowardly cower behind a cloak of anonymity.

The next question asks about the propriety of comment moderation where the blog owner could slant the discussion by nixing opposing comments. So it's the old "damned if she does, damned if she doesn't" routine?

What's a blogger to do? You can't allow Anon comments because it could be cowardly elected officials in disguise and you can't moderate comments because you could censor them. Hmm....

Gotta love the part about "Every committee has mechanisms and policies for making sure that its discourse is appropriate and civil," suggesting ways should be found to extend that control to a blog. Sounds like the South Hadley School Committee chair who was recently chastised by the ACLU for censoring public comments he did not find "appropriate and civil."

Another irony is that Irv Rhodes, Amherst School Committee Chair, currently in the center of the storm on the Union 26 issue and as a direct result of what he considered disrespectful behavior on the part of Regional Chair Farshid Hajir and Union 26 Chair Tracey Farnham, came up with a "Pledge" that he made to fellow Amherst committee members.

The opening one states:

"To be open, honest and transparent about any and all matters that come before the Amherst School Committee and keep you informed about any events that directly or indirectly involve the work of the Amherst School Committee."

Mr Rhodes, however, signed the letter sent to the District Attorney without giving Catherine Sanderson--the obvious target--a common courtesy heads up call.

And that official letter pretty much constitutes a (secret) joint meeting of five School Committees. Physician heal thyself!

Shutesbury's Internet chat room
PDF of letter to DA is at bottom of "discussion". And notice the only two folks who chime in are also Shutesbury School Committee members thus, with DeChiara (if he was still online) makes for a quorum.

The Bully covers Shutesbury School Committee Chair Michael DeChiara's crusade

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back!

This is almost tooooo funny for words. Now I'm told from a reliable source that a cabal of local School Committee Chairs has filed a letter of complaint/inquiry with the District Attorney questioning the legality of a certain (perky, forthright blond) Amherst School Committee member having a public blog.

Key word of course of course being PUBLIC. The Open Meeting Law is designed to ensure public matters do not get discussed in PRIVATE. What are they afraid of?

Or maybe I should cite "Revenge of the Nerds?" Although... he did rate a red chili pepper for "hotness" at but you still have to wonder about the lumberjack shirt for a public meeting.

Regional School Committee (you know that four town alliance where little old Amherst comprises 80% of total student body) Chair Farshid Hajir showed up at an Amherst School Committee meeting the other night to take advantage of the 'Public Comment' period and harangue the Amherst board over the handling of the Union 26 battle, a union of two where Amherst funds 94% of the overhead to Pelham's 6% but only has a 50% say in administrative matters.

Interestingly Mr. Hajir at an earlier Regional School Committee Meeting trumpeted that recent emails reverberating between himself, Irv Rhodes Chair of Amherst School Committee, Union 26 Chair Tracy Farnham and Superintendent Maria Geryk had "clearly violated Open Meeting Law."

This is of course the same as poking and then throwing raw meat to an aging, overweight, sleeping Rottweiler, thus--even the Daily Hampshire Gazette--asked for copies of the emails and received them in record time.

Of course the emails do not violate the Open Meeting Law because a quorum is allowed to discuss in writing over the phone or at the local bar "housekeeping issues" which clearly this tempest qualifies. Yes, if the discussion veered into the pros and cons of leaving Union 26 that would be a violation.

Obviously Mr. Hajir thinks the emails make Mr. Rhodes look bad while Superintendent Maria Geryk comes out the Gandhi-like peacemaker (although he did not get $135-K annual salary.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sex sells

So my buddy Izzy Lyman a former People's Republic resident and former (token conservative) Daily Hampshire Gazette columnist asked for a quote a couple days ago on this pre-teen risque public performance, knowing of course what my response would be.


COLUMN: A Woman's World
Comfortable with ugliness

By Izzy Lyman | 0 comments

The World of Dance is a high-energy, national urban dance contest. As a result of a recent WOD event, held in Pomona, Calif., last month, a spontaneous referendum on modern cultural ethos has broken out, due to the antics of some of its younger contestants.

Here's what happened: The proverbial YouTube video materialized -- which could have had a "viewer discretion" advisory on it -- showing a group of cute 8- and 9-year-old girls performing in the competition.

The little gals' routine, however, was anything but endearing. Arrayed in costumes that resembled suggestive lingerie, they gyrated to the Beyonce tune "Single Ladies."

The two minutes of racy showmanship were disturbing enough that mental health gurus, like Dr. Phil, were pronouncing it a pedophiliac fantasy.

Given how muscular and polished the performance is, it's obvious the small single ladies have spent many hours synchronizing their moves and effectively channeling Jay-Z's sexy wife.

So it was only natural, as it is in a country with a legal tradition of shielding its young from predators and which historically frowns upon age-inappropriate activities and dress codes for kiddies, when sensible folks muttered, as the video went viral, "Where are the moms and dads of these children?"

I'd add, "And who is the indiscreet choreographer?"

It turns out the parents of at least two of the girls -- Cory Miller and Melissa Presch -- were enthusiastically behind their daughters' "decision" to shake their petite behinds.

Miller and Presch, whose postures alternated between defensive and hip, appeared on Good Morning America, and coolly told us fuddy-duddies to buzz off. They explained that the risqu moves were "completely normal" for dancing that the video was "taken completely out of context" that they are "proud of their daughters and their accomplishments."

Really? This "accomplishment" was no spelling bee victory, folks. To be fair, it is jarring to be at the center of a national controversy and have strangers aggressively question your personal choices. But the lack of introspection, on the part of Miller and Presch, was also jarring.

Contrast their responses to the dance routine to that of Larry Kelley, who is a dad to a pair of active young daughters and once loudly complained on The O'Reilly Factor, when teenagers in his town's public high school wanted to perform The Vagina Monologues.

Kelley told me, "In this climate of constant bombardment, reiterating 'sex sells,' we should be especially vigilant about protecting our innocent children from growing up so exceedingly fast."

Most morally-engaged, common-sense mothers and fathers would not want their little girls sashaying, in skimpy ruffled outfits, in the spotlight, to music-impersonating drivel.

Besides, whatever happened to lasses rearranging doll house furniture, hosting tea parties, and reading Pippi Longstocking books or being inspired by Charlotte's Web? As for physical exercise, a capital choice is to enroll your daughter in a martial arts class, if she's game, and let her learn, early on, that her body, if need be, can be a potential weapon of self-defense instead of an object of lust.

The dance fiasco is not the first time kids mimicking socially-suspect adult behavior has created a rumpus. Nor will it be the last.

But it may well be a watershed moment. It has caused many of us to come to grips with how mainstream this practice of sexualizing minors in the name of art has become, and how too many parents, who should know better, are comfortable with an ugly trend.

Izzy Lyman is a freelance columnist and former Belgrade resident who contributes "A Woman's World" exclusively to the Belgrade News. Reach her at

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Keyston cops meet Jerry Springer (continued)

So this 5/13 public meeting just keeps getting better and better. If ACTV decides to come up with a "best of" annual list, this one gets my vote.

Keystone cops meet Jerry Springer

I don't even know where to begin with this episode of the Regional School Committee or was it Amherst School Committee or Union 26 meeting?

Simply put Amherst is in a "partnership" via Union 26 with Pelham and as such controls 50% of the vote but Amherst funds 94% of the business overhead (paying the School Superintendent.) Not a great deal for Amherst.

Classic case of the tail wagging the dog--and in this particular case, a stubby tail at that.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

ARA marches forward

With the Patterson property deal, the great White Whale of development, now dead in the water until the fall the joint Umass/Amherst Redevelopment Authority "Gateway Project" connecting the northern end of town center with the University moves up a notch on a very short shortlist as best hope for real development in town.

Much of the land (former Frat Row) is already cleared and graded and perhaps most important has the all important water/sewer infrastructure in place. The Patterson property on the other hand will require millions and million to extend those vital lines of development.

And for the first time in memory, the University actually came calling to the town.

Former Frat Row

Current Frat Row (shovel ready)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A tale of two Umass buildings

Tilson Farm Steam Plant (also called "Paradis Boiler Plant" located near Orchard Hill)

The new state of the art co-generation plant on Mullins Way
, using low sulphur diesel fuel, natural gas and effluent (gray water) from the Amherst Waste water Plant located nearby produces both heat and electricity.
Original coal fired steam plant built in the late 1940s; slated to be replaced in 1974 by Tilson Farm.

In fact, the old warhorse coal plant was under pressure from the EPA to shut down in the early 1970s so perhaps that urgency pushed Umass officials to become reckless in bringing on-line the new Tilson Farm plant too early.
The coal fired steam plant, continued operation until about two years ago.

View old power plant in a larger map
The difference between the new $138 million Umass co-generation heating/electrical plant on Mullins Way and the old $9 million Tilson Farm steam plant is as stark and simple as a light switch: one switched on and it worked, the other turned on and did not.

The Ward Commission, charged with investigating public building contracts during the 1970s, concluded that the Tilson Farm steam plant fiasco was an all too typical byproduct of the greed and corruption ingrained in the system of awarding state government building contracts. Essentially the foxes had free rein in the henhouse with little to no oversight.

According to an abstract of the Ward Commission published in the Boston Globe (1/3/1981):

"The $9 million steam power plant is a white elephant - now standing idle because the 1.5-mile pipeline designed to carry steam to the campus contains irreparable defects caused by backward operation during startup. After $96,492 paid to contractors produced neither a solution of the problem nor even identification of its cause, workers renovated an old plant at a cost of over $2 million. Meanwhile, attempts to "mothball" the new plant resulted in corrosion of valves and pipes."

The "backward operation" probably seemed like a clever cost saving idea at the time: pulling steam into the plant from the older one located 1.5 miles away to heat it during the first winter of operation.

Attorney General Francis Bellotti eventually won a $970,000 lawsuit against the building designers but by then the $9.3 million steam plant was abandoned. A "Building Condition Report" done by staff at the office of Administration and Finance dated 5/26/09 estimates $5 million in demolition costs for the 19,000 square foot plant, although no such action is imminent.

A recent inside tour shows the derelict four story building to be remarkably well preserved:

Perhaps a lasting legacy of the powerless powerplant is reflected in the shiny exterior of the new co-generation plant built 35 years later. As State Senator Stan Rosenberg, President Pro Tem of the Massachusetts Senate (D-Amherst) points out: state officials had learned a hard, expensive lesson.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Inside the Ghost Ship

Like a seafarers oft-told tale about an abandoned ship discovered on the high seas years after disappearing with everything aboard still intact except for the entire crew; or a once in a generation heat wave lowers the levels at the Quabbin Reservoir enough to expose the abandoned remains of what were once sleepy little towns forcefully abandoned to make room for one of the largest man made water supplies in the country, the Umass Tillson Farm Steam Plant is every bit as spooky.

Translucent panels on the upper floors allow sunlight to naturally filter in reflecting off a hive of interconnected aluminum pipes most with a layer of dust but still seemingly brand new. The 19,000 sqare foot 4 floor heating plant would normally be a busy noisy environment. Now it is all but empty--and deathly quiet.

Built for $9.3 million in tax dollars and first tested in 1973 the oil fired steam heating plant never threw a BTU of heat. According to an abstract of the Ward Commission tasked with investigating corruption in pubic buildings during the 1970s published in the Boston Globe (1/3/1981):

"The $9 million steam power plant is a white elephant - now standing idle because the 1.5-mile pipeline designed to carry steam to the campus contains irreparable defects caused by backward operation during startup. After $96,492 paid to contractors produced neither a solution of the problem nor even identification of its cause, workers renovated an old plant at a cost of over $2 million. Meanwhile, attempts to "mothball" the new plant resulted in corrosion of valves and pipes."

And a recent Umass "Building Condition Report" pegs the cost of demolition for the idle plant at $5 million.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Yet another firefight

Venerable Amherst Town Meeting will discuss as part of "capital items" $15,000 for the purchase of a Thermal Imaging camera. The hand held cameras allow firefighters to essentially "see" through dense smoke.

The current cameras are ten years old and beyond their rated lifespan--especially considering their routine work environment.

I vividly recall pulling into my Health Club on Saturday morning December 4, 1999 as an Amherst Firefighter was leaving my facility. I simply could not believe that Worcester--the second largest city in Mass--did not have thermal imaging cameras in their arsenal of standard firefighting equipment.

He just shook his head, despondently.

At the height of the Worcester cold storage fire (12/3/99) a commander on the scene issued a desperate dispatch for any surrounding departments to provide thermal imaging cameras as now six of Worcester's finest were unaccounted for in an intense conflagration at an abandoned structure later dubbed "the building from Hell."

They all perished in perhaps the worst state public safety tragedy in history--only eclipsed by the horrific event of 9/11 almost two years later.

A little before that fateful day AFD Chief Keith Hoyle had started a private fundraising endeavor to purchase two thermal imaging cameras (about $15,000 each) for our town fire department and had already garnered $5,000 pledges from Amherst College and Hampshire College.

I immediately volunteered my services and formed the "Eyes of Life" committee to help raise the funds necessary to purchase two of the cameras--target goal $30,000. And I figured with Amherst and Hampshire Colleges on board, Umass should be a slam dunk for an equal amount, thus getting us about half-way there.


Umass pleaded poverty even though at the time they were costing the town over $100,000 in fire/ambulance runs to the campus with no compensation. I did the usual: wrote a scathing Amherst Bulletin column, numerous Letters to the Editor, even took out small ads trying to embarrass the areas largest employer into helping out.

By then dozens and dozens of individual contributors had donated enough to buy a camera--but we still had a fairly long way to go for the two.

Ron Hall, my favorite long-time news journalist with forty years experience at WHMP radio called me at the Club excitedly saying Umass had just issued a press release about their $10,000 donation towards the second camera. I instantly called Umass News Services to get a copy.

On careful reading turns out the "donation" consisted of a marketing coupon--"buy one get the second at half price." And Umass was not buying one or contributing anything towards the half price camera (which was rebuilt). I was insulted, but even more than that--incensed.

Especially when the Chancellor denigrated the numerous folks who actually donated money by bragging the coupon was worth more than "mere money." Well gee there Chancellor Scott, if you can describe money as "mere" than why not come up with some it yourself?

I filed a warrant article with Town Meeting to thank Amherst and Hampshire Colleges while criticizing Umass for basically being cheapskates. Meanwhile the state appropriated money for public safety emergency equipment bringing Amherst $10,000 in a grant to help defray most of the cost of a camera.

Umass did agree to front the $10,000 as the coupon could only be used by them (although I came close to pulling off the deal without the Umass coupon) and I agreed to reimburse them from the "Eyes of Life" fund.

In the end the "Eyes of Life" campaign raised just over $33,000 plus the original $10,000 Chief Hoyle had secured from the two private colleges. And Amherst was safer for it.

RE. “USEFULNESS U” [Around the Pond, Fall 2000]: The press release distributed by UMass news services almost required a thermal-imaging camera to see through the smoke obscuring the story of the university’s involvement with “Eyes of Life” ­ a campaign that secured three thermal-imaging cameras for the Amherst Fire Department. Even prior to the 1999 tragedy in Worcester, Amherst and Hampshire colleges had each pledged $5,000 towards an $18,300 camera. UMass, however, orchestrated a “deal” whereby a rebuilt camera could be had for half-price. In other words, their “cooperative effort” consisted of a coupon.
Chancellor Scott’s comment that “the university is committed to employing its resources to benefit the community; in this case, our resources extend beyond mere dollars,” added insult to parsimony. Money spent on a good cause by concerned citizens and institutions denigrated as “mere” begs the question: If you have such a low opinion of “mere money” than why not contribute some like everyone else?

Larry Kelley ’83

The writer owns the Amherst Athletic Club and chaired the “Eyes of Life” committee. The director of the UMass News Office responds:

THE UNIVERSITY’S CONTRIBUTION toward the purchase of an additional thermal-imaging camera for use by the Amherst Fire Department has been clearly stated. Through the efforts of Donald Robinson, director of environmental health and safety, the campus was able to negotiate a cost-savings of $12,000 for a second and more sophisticated model of thermal-imaging camera for use by the town.
That translates into $12,000 that did not have to be spent by anyone for the additional camera, thanks to the UMass contact. Many in Amherst, including the town’s fire chief, have publicly acknowledged the value of the university’s involvement and its very real contribution to this effort.

Barbara Pitoniak

Friday, May 7, 2010

I'll see your boycott and raise you...

So my long-time friend Vladimir Morales generated headlines over the past few days requesting the 'People's Republic of Amherst' boycott all things Arizona due to their recent legislation essentially mirroring federal immigration law--except of course for the enforcement part.

Since Vlad has been active over the past ten years trying to get legal immigrants the right to vote in local elections (something I have always supported on the floor of Amherst Town Meeting) it's no big surprise he would jump in to this current international frenzy.

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe doesn't seem overly enthused about Amherst officially taking this up now as a cause celeb, as they are currently knee deep in annual Town Meeting and running a $60+ million enterprise takes precedence over symbolic meddling.

I was interviewing state Senator Stan Rosenberg this morning on another project and couldn't help but ask him about this recent dust up. Like Princess Stephanie, he does not think the Massachusetts state legislature will take up this crusade anytime soon because at the moment they are busy with issues that directly impact legal Massachusetts citizens.

Springfield Republican Reports

Recent note to Amherst Chamber of Commerce and Select Board from Kenneth Robinson:

"If the voters of Amherst want to elect people like comrade Morales to public office that is, or course, their business.

However, actions have consequences. If the Select Board votes to approve Morales' Boycott Arizona resolution I will implement my own Boycott Amherst policy.

I enjoy dining , upscale and casual, in Amherst. I like shopping local (especially at independent booksellers) and grabbing a coffee at a non-chain coffee house. But, I do not like subsidizing politically correct idiocy.

As a consumer I have plenty of choices where I spend my money. If Amherst wants to pass pointless, symbolic resolutions that I find offensive its businesses will not be receiving any support from me."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The pipes, the pipes are calling...

So besides hosting our 10th and 20th business founding anniversary party and the occasional visits I made earlier on while still a full-time Umass student, my most vividly memory about Charlie's Bar in downtown Amherst was the strategic role it played in the most heated political engagement of my entire career--the 'smoking ban in bars' battle.

Owner Rich Slobody was a long-time friend and one of my very first karate students joining up the day we opened in 1982. Rich is an experienced savvy businessman but also a law-an-order kind of guy who may grumble about the rules but follows them to the letter. He was also at the time a volunteer duly authorized Hampshire County deputy sheriff under my favorite cousin Sheriff Bob Garvey.

So in 1998 when the Amherst Health Department extended the smoking ban to bars and all Hell was breaking loose, Charlie's instantly conformed--the only bar in town to do so. Other bar owners carried on like that scene in Frankenstein where the villagers boisterously head toward the castle with pitchforks and torches in hand.

I instantly wrote an Amherst Bulletin column (one of many) in support of the ban and as a result was already receiving threatening Anon phone calls and a note written on a napkin left under the windshield wiper of my car.

At the time Dr. Valerie Steinberg was Board of Health chair and she had the typical small-frame runners physique. I made it a point to attend all the public meetings sitting in the front row in case things got physical, which in a few cases it almost did. The smell of alcohol and heated rhetoric makes for a disconcerting combination.

Town Meeting initially passed overwhelmingly an advisory article supporting the ban, but Town Manager Barry Del Castilho was less than enthusiastic and Select Board vice chair Hill Boss, a smoker, was downright rude.

Meanwhile Charlie's became the target of a boycott. Charlies's was the kind of bar you may start or finish a night of bar hopping rather than settle in for the night, so if you had other bars along the way suggesting they should be shunned for the good of the industry--it had impact.

Rich reported a loss of $10,000 that first summer because of a steep decline in patronage.

Another barowner filed a Town Meeting advisory article declaring the Board of Health ban went "too far" and variances should be allowed. The Select Board supported the article. After an hour of heated debate, it failed by almost 2-1. At that point even the wishy-washy Select Board came around.

And the Board of Health started playing hardball: issuing fines and pulling food permits which automatically voided the alcohol licenses issued by the Select Board. The resistance crumbled.

Rich sold the bar a few years ago and can't remember the last time I was there. But I'll always remember those gloomy dark days when the ban was besieged from all sides and it looked like the bullies would win. Charlie's was the only bright light.

And now they're--like all those clouds of smoking ban acrimony--just a memory.

Monday, May 3, 2010

With a little regret

So yeah, venerable Amherst Town Meeting--250 years plus--commences this evening and for only the second time since 1991 I will not be present.

After being elected with 3 or 4 write-in votes in 91' I took a brief hiatus during the 2004 Mayor/Council Charter battle (to replace Town Meeting) but have been an active participant ever since.

Not that I think I've made a difference per say. I always figured myself as the "loyal opposition," saying or doing things that lots of people think but don't have the guts to state publicly.

Stan Gawle, about the only other conservative in town, also resigned his Town Meeting position (I simply did not run for reelection) after the $1.68 million Override passed rather handily, also concerned that he was just whistling in the wind.

So Town Meeting will drone on over the next month or two without two fiscally conservative watchdogs--an endangered species in that body now bordering on extinction.