Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't mess with an angry angel

So Amherst's annual Halloween Fest attracted hundreds of family folks to the downtown this afternoon for some trick or treating around the downtown businesses (well, except maybe for the bars) and the big parade from Sweetser Park to the Bangs Community Center for more games and activities. My little angel had a ball.

Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, the Gazette managed to assign veteran ace photographer Gordon Daniels to cover the festivities (and when you have a photographer like him, who needs a reporter for a 1,000 words or so?) so watch for his artwork in an upcoming ink and paper edition.

As an old school legacy entity the Daily Hampshire Gazette is really good covering weekend events as long as you give them a few months notice. Breaking stories is another story altogether.

As in, if 9/11 happened on a Friday/Saturday/Sunday, we would read it in print on Tuesday.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Death to Ninjas

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

A martial arts instructor who ineptly led a band of Ninjas into a late night breaking and entering that turned into a sadistic murder was sentenced to death by a Florida jury.

As I mentioned last year with a post concerning Supreme Court Justice Sotomayer during her confirmation hearings, my first extensive brush with The Media as a "source" started around the fall of 1983 when I undertook the Sisyphean task of getting a federal law passed to ban mail order martial arts weapons into states--like Massachusetts-- that had declared them illegal.

My main concern was the safety of children, who were indeed getting their naive little hands on dangerous weapons. I figured if it was happening in the bucolic, venerable Amherst schools what the hell was happening in some of the tougher inner-city urban districts?

The crusade started about this time of year as I remember one of the first follow up press releases I issued after the more urgent SOS about the easy availability of the ninja weapons--a byproduct of the karate media's fascination with the Ninja fad--was just before Halloween, warning parents not to let their children dress up as Ninjas, since the black outfits were designed to merge with the night and the last thing you want is kids going around the neighborhood invisible to traffic.

My secondary concern was the image and reputation of the martial arts industry--specifically the thousands of karate schools nationwide that were teaching the true tenets of the martial arts and exposing hundreds of thousands of children to the proper aspects and benefits the discipline offers.

Nunchakus (two billy clubs connected by a chain) and multi-pointed throwing stars had become a hot item with street gangs, and with industry leader Black Belt Magazine glorifying Ninjas on the cover about to behead an opponent with a sword, I figured it was only a matter of time before some impressionable nitwit did it for real.

Sure enough, along came California mass murdered Charles Ng (1985) a self-described "ninja warrior" who used the weapons in a most sadistic way on terrorised kidnapped victims, all while he videotaped the mayhem. And sure enough, Newsweek Magazine (back when they ruled supreme) put his haunting face on the cover with the banner headline "Karate killer!"

I hate it when history repeats itself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


So as I pointed out on Saturday when I was the only reporter to show up at the Amherst Police Station turned War Room to observe the coordination of officials from various fiefdoms handling what could have been a major health alert, Princess Stephanie reaffirmed on Monday night that indeed public officials were on edge. As well they should have been.

Twice now in the past 13 months--both events at most inopportune times--the town has undergone this public health scare. If I were a terrorist trying to maximize damage from sabotaging the public water supply in Amherst, I would probably choose Labor Day weekend when the students return in waves (last year) or the first ever Phish concert at the Mullins Center (this year) which brought an extra 20,000 people to the town.

Unfortunately the Town Manager reported to the Select Board that we may "never know" the cause of the false coliform and E. coli positives (but then, how do we know they were false?)

The Springfield Republican reports

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Gateway Project creeps forward

So tonight's Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting was pretty much the same old, same old. Although tonight we had all five ARA members present--including Governor appointed Jeanne Treaster--and only five NIMBY concerned citizens, where usually there are a dozen or more.

And tonight we had four representatives from Umass our major partner in this project: Vice Chancellor Todd Diacon, Nancy Buffone,Executive Director, Office of External Relations--both of whom have been regulars for the past three months or so (gluttons for punishment that they are.)

Also joining the festivities this evening a couple of new folks: Dennis Swinford, director for campus planning and Lisa Queenin, Director of Community and Regional Legislative Relations. What a way to break them in.

But at least we know Umass is plenty serious about this development project, as are we.

Feed me

Out with the old (right), in with the new (center)

Amherst took one giant leap into the space age of trash removal by installing solar powered trash collectors in the downtown. The $4,000 units, purchased with a state energy grant, hold about 5 times the amount of normal trash. A built in sensor detects when full and then engages the compacting phase. And it's powered by solar cells located on the top of the unit. Thus saving labor and space at the landfill.

Downside is you can't practice basketball with crumpled paper like you can with the basic $100 receptacles because you have to grab the handle and open the unit, which some germphobes may find a bit disconcerting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Health Club wars

UPDATE: 10/26 Tuesday morning
So who needs reporters when we have Faceboook? Sounds like the meeting last night of Leading Edge "gym rats" at Basta e Basta was about as disorganized as the final days of the Club itself.

A former member reports:

Original upload: 10/25 Monday afternoon

The Springfield Republican reports (via a Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter)

So I'll try to be a tad less critical of my friends at the Gazette and Republican as today's Business Section long form article simultaneously published in both is a pretty good analysis of the current state of the volatile fitness market in the healthy, Happy Valley.

Reporter Scott Merzbach did his homework and even took into consideration feedback posted to the original Gazette breaking story (as late as it was) on the sudden closing of 'The Leading Edge' gym in Amherst and the diatribe the same nitwit posted on my blog.

The Anon insists of course that the appearance of a low-cost chain outlet like 'Planet Fitness' and the $50 million Rec Center (otherwise known as the Deathstar) going on-line one year ago, had little impact on 'The Leading Edge' and the "real story" was the soap opera antics of the two owners Peter Earle and Joanne Delong. Yeah, and Santa Claus is Muslim.
All the average person need do to assess the impact of a 'Planet Fitness' or others of that ilk is to consider what would happen with their buying habits if suddenly a sparkling new gas station (owned by a regional chain) opened on Rt. 9 in Hadley charging only $.69 for Regular--four times less than the prevailing price of $2.79?

Sure, somebody with business sense might wonder "How can they do that?"; but as long as you get your gas at that ridiculously cheap price, why would you care?'Bally Total Fitness' pioneered the low-cost, high-volume, pack-them-in-price modality 40 years ago, but they were smart enough to tie consumers in for 24 to 36 months to an unbreakable contract.

And when they killed the other clubs in the market they would also raise their rates.

'Planet Fitness' doesn't do that (I guess that is to their credit.) They simply sell as many memberships as possible at give away prices and hope most of their clients never show, which is probably close to the truth.

But I have to admit the soap opera aspects of the recent demise of 'The Leading Edge' is kind of fascinating. Apparently after the two experienced Gold's Gym franchise owners in Boston (who had given Peter Earle his start in the industry with a sales job) wisely bailed in 2004 two years after founding Gold's Gym Amherst, Ms. Delong--an attorney not known for her level of fitness--came to the rescue and bought in as half owner.

Interestingly she used her ownership of a business condo at 30 Boltwood Walk in town center as the major payment "transferring" one-half ownership to Mr. Earle. Although the legal papers (probably drawn up by her) were not legal and now Mr. Earle has filed a lawsuit against her.

Either way, I had toured that particular location in 2004 just after Pruddy Gomez finally gave up on his boisterous bar Amherst wished to quash for a slew of zoning violations. Interestingly, Pruddy used his landlord Joanne Delong as an attorney, so she was making money off his rent and his legal troubles.

Regardless, the place was beyond a dump by that point. I think the asking price was about $200,000 and if it was in turn-key shape I probably would have purchased it, but the state of disrepair required another major investment to rectify. At the time the valuation was $200,500.

Thus half-interest was worth $100,000. Sweet deal to buy half of Gold's Gym back when it still had that Gold Standard name for essentially a worthless piece of paper. According to industry standards a recreation business is valued at about double annual sales, and I assume Gold's did at least $1 million in sales in 2004, thus making the value of the business $2 million.

It would be interesting to see how much cash Ms. Delong came up with in addition to the worthless $100,000 property deed?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Amherst dodges another bullet

Epilogue: So here it is 9:15 PM and my friends at the Springfield Republican still have not covered this rather important piece of news. Umass sent out perhaps 15,000 emails to staff and students yesterday and posted the potentially catastrophic news on their main website as did the town of Amherst at about 3:30 PM and it took both the Gazette and Republican till almost midnight to get it up on their websites. Inexcusable.

And only now at this late hour has the Gazette put up a "breaking" news story telling readers that boiling water is not necessary. It broke...a long time ago.

Town officials disappointed me a tad as well. They obviously knew I--the only reporter who took enough interest to show up-- was sitting out in the hallway waiting for the results, which they had around 1:15 PM.

I actually thought I heard clapping in the room about that time but it was muffled and a young college student who was waiting to report a stolen Mac laptop was distracting me. At 1:20 PM they send out the reverse 911 robocall from Town Manager John Musante saying the coast is clear. Info Tech Director Kris Pacunas had told me earlier that it only takes a few seconds to make that happen. Then at 1:31 PM the town website is updated with the news. SB Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe even emailed a few folks at 1:40 PM to give them the news. Meanwhile I'm pacing the hallway ten feet away worried I'll get a parking ticket. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, "I don't get no respect!"
Liveblog: Arrived Police Station town center 11:45 AM

UPDATE: 1:47 PM Water tested safe. I'll drink to that!

12:04 We will know any minute now.

Town officials are hunkered down in the war room: new phones brought in, a couple hardwired computers (for Internet, since the anticipated results will be emailed). Stephanie O'Keeffe Select Board Chair and Town Manager John Musante just arrived. Guilford Mooring DPW Chief, has been here for a while. Fire and police officials of course (we are, after all, at the Police Station.) Kris Pacunas, Director of Technology.

12:17 PM Still waiting out in the lobby. Yeah, they threw me out of the war room.

12:24 PM Dave Ziomek, Conservation Chief, just left the room saying he was "the runner."

12:26 PM He just returned, and I asked if the "Results were in?". "No", he replied

12:47 PM Still nada. And my battery is running low. Wonder if they're serving coffee in there?

12:58 PM GRRrrrrrrr...

1:14 PM I just noticed the change the time on the town website to say after 1:00 PM for info up from 12:30 PM. Not sure what the hell is taking so long.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Cross your fingers folks

UPDATE: 10:00 PM Still waiting for my friends at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Springfield Republican to get on this story. Even the Umass Daily Collegian got it up around 6:00 PM. I went to bed but they did both get around to the story just before midnight--better late than never.

3:45 PM
So Saturday just after high noon we will know if the town of Amherst--who supplies Umass all of their water--will have to issue a "Boil water" alert. And if you live in a dorm that could get tricky.

Normally that would not be a huge B-I-G deal, an inconvenience for sure, since it is mid-October and Umass is in session. But Umass is hosting the sold out Phish concerts this weekend at the Mullins Center and they tend to attrack a H-U-G-E crowd. Presumably that crowd of 20,000 will require water. Although any excuse for them to drink other beverages will probably go over well. Yikes!
To the Campus Community:

During recent routine water testing, the Town of Amherst identified
limited instances of total coliform and E. Coli bacteria in its water
system, which supplies the campus. Further tests are being conducted
and results will be available Saturday afternoon. Public health
officials will determine at that time whether a “Boil Water Order” is

Should such an order be issued, the university will activate a campus-
wide precautionary plan to minimize any potential health risks. This
will include ample supplies of bottled water and hand sanitizer and
detailed instructions on how to take preventive measures.

Further details about the water testing can be found on the Town of
Amherst web site at

The university will continue to communicate with all members of the
campus community on the status of this health advisory.

Donald Robinson
Environmental Health and Safety

A history lesson about water--or lack thereof in Amherst

Town website gets the word out

And another one gone

Adios Andiamo

While the old conventional wisdom that "half of all start ups fail in the first year and by the 5th year 90% have failed" turns out to be false, it is safe to say that half of all small businesses fail by year five--perhaps as high as two thirds. And restaurants and health clubs certainly make the short list as usual suspects when it comes to a high failure rate.

Thus making sane folks who like the safety of steady employment working for someone else think twice about starting their own business. Although in this economy, there seems to be no such thing as safe, steady employment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another one bites the dust

Postcard mailed to all of Amherst last week: one way to try to compete against "free"

Not good when a "partner" suits a partner!


So apparently a move is afoot--on Facebook naturally--to form a co-op and have the (former) members take over the recently deceased gym. What the hell, it works for Collective Copies and Pelham Auto and, hmm, maybe 1 or 2 more out of Amherst's 700 or so businesses.

Sorry folks, hate to hail on your parade, but unless you get Donald Trump (or Barry Roberts or Curt Shumway) on board to buy the property and adjust the rent downwardly out of the goodness of their hearts, with the current rent/lease costs you have less than a snowballs chance in Hell. Although, Greg Boisseau is no slouch. And he lives next door, so he's motivated.


Hi All (fellow gym Rats),

Greetings. I took the liberty of creating an email list of all the folks (from the Edge) I have email addresses for in order to keep us all "in the loop". If you know of someone who should be on this list please forward me their information (and forward them these emails).

I was extremely surprised and shocked to find our gym (our community) closed as of 5:00 on 10/19/10! I am sure you all share this same frustration and anger. There are a couple of things I would like to share with you: I do not know much but there is a move afoot to re-open the gym. To that end I would like to have a meeting with as many of you all as possible. At that meeting we will have a potential principal owner present. This meeting will be a great venue to express your ideas and thoughts about how we can move this forward. The new ownership/s will need our help getting the gym back on its feet. There will be no monetary financial solicitation!! I would like to have this meeting soon, I am thinking either Friday (10/22) or Monday (10/25) evening (6:00 ish). Let me know what works best for you so I can secure a venue.

On another note, I know there are three sides to every story (his, hers, and the truth); as it pertains to the two principal owners and the email letter we received (as to the sudden closing of the gym), I do not put much (or any) stock in, nor do I trust the author of that letter. If you feel the sudden closing and slanderous accusations (in the letter signed by Joanne DeLong) was insulting, disruptive, etc, I would invite you to express those thoughts/opinions in to the press and or social networking sites.

Keep smiling and Be well


ORIGINAL POST 10/19 3:30 PM (W-A-Y before the DH Gazette)

So the "Leading Edge" gym, formerly "Gold's Gym" is no more. As Captain Renault in Casablanca would say, "Shocked, shocked to find..."

Kind of hard to compete with that other nearby chain facility charging only $9.95 per month, when current nationwide averages for the Health Club industry are at the very least four times that.

Or that state owned $50 million recreation facility on the Umass campus that charges undergrads (a favorite target demographic of 'Leading Edge') exactly ZERO.

No, as a former competitor for 95% of their lifespan, I don't take great joy in this unsurprising news, and I will try hard not to gleefully say I told you so. But...

And yes, I will dance an Irish Jig naked in the Mountain Farms Mall parking lot when the next domino falls: Planet Fitness.
I told you so!

The Deathstar

The Joys of competition

Amherst Fitness, Inc
October 19, 2010

Dear Members:

It is with profound regret that a decision has been made to close the Amherst gym as of Wednesday, October 20.

Peter Earle whohas had full financial control and management control for the past 13 months, voluntarily resigned as of Friday, October 15. It became immediately apparent to his corporate partner, Joanne DeLong, that the business was left in such a condition that it could not survive without major changes -- such as dues increases and reduction in classes which, it is believed, would not be tolerated by the many members who have maintained their interest in and loyalty to the club -- some since the opening in December, 2003.

For those of you may be interested, we are offering the opportunity to continue at the Greenfield club (in the Home Depot plaza directly off Rte. 91, on the Mohawk Trail). You will have 6 weeks of free membership, including all of November. No enrollment fee will be collected for continued membership at $9.99 or $19.99 per month, upon signing a Greenfield contract. Anyone who has paid a year in full in Amherst will have the option to continue membership in Greenfield for the balance of their term or the unused portion of your deposit will be repaid to you. If you have been working with one of the Amherst trainers, there is a likelihood that they will be able to transfer to the Greenfield facility if they wish and continue training you there.

For those of you who are interested in this option, PLEASE BE PREPARED TO TAKE A COPY OF THIS EMAIL AND YOUR IDENTIFICATION KEY CARD WITH YOU TO GREENFIELD as your "ticket". For those who do not transfer to Greenfield we will reimburse you any unused portion of the dues already paid to Amherst as soon as possible.

We cannot say enough to thank you for your friendship and loyalty. This decision was not made lightly; and we are sincerely sorry for what we know is far more than a mere inconvenience to you.

Joanne DeLong

Press Release:

The Leading Edge gym in Amherst is closing its doors as of October 20,2010 -- another victim of the economic downturn. A decrease in membership -- partly related to the opening of Planet Fitness and the Umass gym -- has resulted in an inability to meet financial obligations, despite the efforts that were made in May to address the situation.

The Leading Edge gym in Greenfield is a completely separate entity which is quite healthy and thriving, mostly because of the lower costs associated with operating a health club that is not full service (classes, childcare and the like) as Amherst was.

Amherst members are being given an opportunity to join the Greenfield gym and continue their training and fitness program. New equipment is being added to Greenfield over the next few months, making it even more inviting.

The Amherst gym opened in December, 2003, as a Gold's Gym. In 2008, the owners determined that it was more important to present themselves and be recognized in the community as a locally owned gym than just another cog in the corporate wheel. Initially, as The Leading Edge, membership continued to build and the business did well. A decision was made to open a second facility in Greenfield, following the trend to establish a discount gym. Simultaneously, upgrades in equipment and flooring were made in Amherst. Unfortunately, the economic downturn was happening at the same time, negatively impacting the ability of a full service club to thrive.

One of the owners, Peter Earle, who took over full management of the Amherst gym about a year ago, resigned from all active involvement in the gym on Friday, October 15. His corporate partner came in immediately and over the next few days determined that the gym had to close. "It is with deep regret that this decision is being made," declared Joanne DeLong, "knowing the terrible impact this will have on loyal and dedicated employees as well as the many, many wonderful members who have come to rely on our services."

Joanne Delong
Amherst Fitness, Inc
Note to Virginia: Join Hampshire Athletic Club.

Monday, October 18, 2010

When will they ever learn?

So you have to figure that maybe--just maybe--the denizens of this humble abode at 88 Pelham Road on the border of Amherst/Pelham will get the message: don't invite over 300 Facebook friends (on a Sunday night no less), allow them to consume copious amounts of alcohol and then get belligerent with responding officers of the law--especially in the town of Amherst.

And why might they now get the message? Yeah, maybe because cars parked illegally around the humble abode were ticketed and a few towed; or that one "guest" was arrested for "disorderly conduct".

But mainly because the three responsible "tenants" were each issued two $300 tickets--one for "noise violation" and the other for being a "nuisance house". $600 each, times three. Ouch!

Bet that is more than next month's rent. Although in Amherst, maybe not--especially since this particular choice piece of real estate, valued at $292,700, sold last year to Onesta Properties LLC c/o Pipeline Properties Inc for $320,000.

And the mortgage payment on a 300-K fixed rate loan these days is about $1,800 month. Then add on the whopping Amherst property tax rate.

Pipeline Properties Inc does show on their extensive list of Amherst rental property a location nearby (6 bedrooms, but only 1.5 baths) at 109 Pelham road for a measly $3,000 per month.

Interestingly enough, Pipeline does post on their website under General Rules the following warning: "You live in a community and have neighbors, please be respectful of them, there is a noise ordinance in the each town and you can be fined for violating this. You are responsible and liable for the actions of your guests."

Let's hope the $1,800 in fines will drive home the point.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Amherst PD scores major Federal grant

Demonstrating the collaboration businesses refer to as a strategic alliance, the Amherst Police Department and Umass PD will share a $173,643 Justice Department grant to better deal with domestic violence and sexual assault.

Considering last year (the most under reported story of the year), 10 Amherst woman, 5 children and another 6 students on the Umass campus endured the traumatic crime of rape, this money will be exceedingly well spent.

APD reports (on a blog no less)

Springfield Republican reports, in paper and ink no less (but with a big circulation)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A fitting symbolic tribute to George N. Parks

McGuirk Stadium 6:05 PM

Springfield Republican reports

So yeah, it would have been better if Umass did not lose by a lousy point (11-10) at the last minute--but at least the American flag outside the stadium was where it should have been.

Not sure if state employees did it under orders of the (local) 'Powers That Be' or some friends, students and admirers of George simply took matters into their own hands.

I was disappointed cycling down Massachusetts Avenue around 6:00 PM and seeing the main flags near Whitmore at full staff. The Springfield Republican published an article recently about today's commemoration ceremonies and mentioned the Governor gave his okay to flying the State flag at half staff to honor the memory of George Parks.

The Governor has no authority to order the American flag to half staff if not for a member of the military or a federal politician; he can do whatever he wants with the state flag.

But then, just around the corner at McGuirk Alumni Football Stadium, at the twilight's last gleaming: a respectfully large Old Glory flapping in the stiff breeze at half staff--as well it should be!

RIP George N. Parks.

Massachusetts Avenue near Whitmore Administration Building 6:00 PM

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jones Library Trustees make nice

Bonnie Isman,Director. Trustees: Chris Hoffmann, Emily Lewis, Pat Holland, Sarah McKee

So in spite of absentee Trustee (cutthroat) Carol Gray's disembodied head peeping in from Cairo, Egypt via skype, tonight's Jones Library Trustee meeting was exceedingly cordial.

The Trustees--those who could legally participate--unanimously accepted the retirement of 30 year Director Bonnie Isman (out the door on December 10) and tentatively discussed plans for her succession, which could include an "interim Director", or appointment of a current staff member (unlikely) or a appointment of a "team" of three current staff members to run things via committee.

And we see how well things went recently when a team of three Trustees decided to initiate a coup d'├ętat and try to run the Library now don't we?

The big stick is having impact

Sounds like increasing fines to $300 for alcholol related infractions is getting the attention of the target demographic.

On Monday night the venerable Amherst Select Board heard this fresh faced, clean cut student make a plea for reducing the $300 fines for first offenders to community service instead.

Since only the start of the school year Amherst PD has issued approximately 140 of the town bylaw citations with the $300 fine. Ouch! Just think of how many textbooks can no longer be afforded.

Interestingly since the loosening of pot laws to a "civil infraction" police can only give out $100 fines for possession of less than an ounce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gateway Project: Another brick in the wall

Former Frat Row

Current Frat Row (shovel ready)

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority this evening voted unanimously to issue a Request For Proposals seeking a consultant to help define and flesh out the mixed use 'Gateway Project'--so named because it connects the northern end of Amherst town center with the main entry to Umass, our double Goliath: higher education flagship and #1 employer in Western Massachusetts.

The deadline for response is December 3 with a budget cap of $30,000. The ambitious project is a joint venture between Umass, the town and the Amherst Redevelopment Authority--a separate legal entity with the compulsory power of eminent domain.

The idea of course creates a win-win situation where Umass gets more housing (a minor win) for students and faculty while the town gets a desperately needed increase in the commercial tax base (a major win) now hovering below a pathetic 10%.

Neighbors of course complained most vociferously right from the getgo--even though we have yet to propose anything.

Heated controversy ensued just after the meeting adjourned (8:37 PM) and seemed to center around "Public Comment" not being heard before the vote to issue the RFP was taken. I for one, heard nothing remotely new or compelling in the 'Public Comments' portion of the meeting to change my vote on issuing the RFP.

ARA Member Peggy Roberts, bless her heart, tried to assure the neighbors that their concerns would be heard all along the way--and, in fact, already have been.

And so it goes...

Gateway Project RFP as voted by the ARA

From: Tucker, Jonathan
To: ARA Sent: Thu, Oct 14, 2010 3:42 pm
Subject: Minutes

For the record, Ms. Russell’s assertion at last night’s meeting notwithstanding, the most recent approved ARA minutes on the Town website are those of the meetings of July 7 and 14, not the meeting of June 23.
Jonathan Tucker
Planning Director

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thu, Oct 14, 2010 3:56 pm
Subject: Re: Minutes

And for the record, all of the outstanding meeting minutes yet to be "officially approved"--including last night's--have been covered (almost instantly) on my very public blog for the whole world to see (and even Comment, if they wish).
Larry K

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jones Library: The friction continues...

The Republican Reports

Sent: Tue, Oct 12, 2010 1:33 pm
Subject: A public apology for my recently released email.

Recently, a personal email I sent a group of friends in reaction to Library Director Isman's retirement was made public. That email has understandably upset some people. I apologize for the tone of a personal email written in the heat of the moment. But one of my principles is you don't write anything in private that you aren't willing to defend in public. I genuinely believe that what happens over the next few months may determine whether our library can stay a first-rate institution.

I hope those who have read my letter understand the reason for my passionate reaction. At issue isn't a controversy over policy, nor clashing personalities, and it's certainly not about "politics". It's about what the rules are that define a library. We have been struggling with a constitutional crisis.

At heart the question is: who is going to run our library, professionals or politicians?

Fortunately, we trustees have agreed to the equivalent of turning to the Supreme Court for an answer and are hiring a facilitator to meet with us this November. The facilitator is also an expert on trustee/director/staff roles and relationships. She will be educating us on those in addition to helping us resolve our differences. I'm sure I have my share of misconceptions to be corrected, and there may well be more public apologies she'll be asking of me!

I remain hopeful this process will succeed. At our last two meetings we've demonstrated we can still work as a team. And if you look at the times we've kept away from trying to manage the library and stuck to governing it, I think this board can claim a pretty darn good record of accomplishments!

Chris Hoffmann
Trustee, Jones Library System

The "personal email" in question

-----Original Message-----
From: Emily Lewis
To: Chris Hoffmann and listserve

Let me say something now; I have been silent, but my silence, is not agreement.

THe board is not comprised of politicians. We are elected, but being elected does not a true politician make. I have no funds, no political party, no political leaning in my decisions. I am making no money at what I am doing. We have been elected to ensure that a public institution is not run without oversight or question, by a private person.

This is completely a controversy over policy, despite Chris' statement.

Further: the Supreme Court analogy is inaccurate at best.
We will be meeting with a facilitator to learn how to work together.
There may be advice; one can hope for this.
Further: I do not want any more apologies. I want direct discussion with me. At this point I do not trust my fellow trustee; what I want is that trust back....before the summer is when I had it.

That's it for now.
Thank you.

MEETING TIME: 4:30 PM. Friday 10/15
LOCATION: Jones Library, Large Meeting Room.
LIST OF TOPICS: Agenda. Minutes: 7/27/10, 8/4/10, 9/28/10 for approval.
Public comment. Formal acceptance of the Director's notice of retirement.
Interim Director. Plans for seeking a new Director. Board priorities for
transition period.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Deja vu all over again.

So yeah, I know how easy it is for an aging chicken hawk who was once combat ready (at least in a hand-to-hand sense) to second guess those young--perhaps too young--warriors who failed at a rescue attempt in Afghanistan. And as a result, a young woman is dead: killed, apparently, by a hand grenade throw by friendly forces.

A hand grenade! I'm sorry, but if you are engaged in a surgical operation try using a scalpel rather than a chain saw.

I flashback 28 years to that other ill fated attempt to rescue hostages, where grenades also ended the mission...miserably. The 1972 'Munich Massacre'; which should have been a wake up call to all Americans that exceedingly evil forces are out there, and all they want is front page press and are willing to do anything--absolutely anything--to get it.

Hazards indeed

Yet another event we should never forget

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What's the big secret?

So the reporter in me wonders what's the the big deal? Why did two Regional School Committee Chairs refuse to release current Interim Superintendent of Schools Maria Geryk's resume to elected members of the Amherst School Committee?

I'm told an interested party--who also happens to be an attorney--requested the resume in writing and was rebuffed. They however, did not use the magic words: "Public Documents Request."

Ms. Geryk recently updated her resume, but that one only becomes a public document if she applies and becomes a finalist for the current position she occupies, Superintendent of Schools--the highest paid public employee in Amherst.

She could easily, however, have it released now.

Thus, I would have thought she would desire the newer-and-presumably-improved resume released; but hey, that's just me--an unemployed blogger with a lowly Umass Bachelor's degree.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And so it ends (badly)

UPDATE: Sunday night 8:15 PM (What more can I say?????)

Dear Chris Hoffmann, Bonnie Vigeland, and Will Bridegam,

Your letter below, Chris, I received from a Friend of the Library. Usually, when a writer mentions someone in a letter, the writer sends a copy to that person. When writing on behalf of the Jones Library Board of Trustees you should send a copy to all trustees. But clearly from the tone of this letter, you were not writing on behalf of the Board but instead attacking the action of one member and insulting three members.
You failed to copy all of these fellow trustees.

Measured criticism of the action of a fellow trustee is perfectly legitimate, indeed an obligation, but in my view should be done face-to-face or within the Board itself, not to a presumably broad number of “undisclosed recipients.” Insulting language is completely inappropriate. And, as your elder, I will add that insulting one’s elders is also inappropriate.

You apologized once at a Board meeting for losing your temper at meetings, and said that you'd "meant no disrespect" for other trustees. I hoped you would not do it again.

But you have.

Your latest example of the trustees’ “harassment”, the queries Sarah McKee has been making into how other library trustees are informed of a library’s finances, is not harassment in any sense. Instead it is an example of a trustee working on behalf of the Board and the financial stability of the library. Sarah’s research rises directly from the request made to Bonnie back in March, described in the minutes of the March 19th meeting, that she provide monthly cash statements and information on all library accounts. Bonnie has been providing cash statements, as you know, but we still do not have complete information on monies from gifts and bequests. Trustees at other libraries say they are amazed that the Jones Library trustees do not have this information. Such information is absolutely necessary to meet our fiduciary obligations. The Massachusetts Public Library Trustees' Handbook, a publication of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, lays down clearly that trustees' responsibilities include "[k]nowledge of the library's financial base and ... [k]nowledge of supplementary sources of revenue." Page 7.1.

You say: “Would you apply for a job knowing you'll be starting out with the level of harassment and muzzling that Carol, Pat, and Sarah are certain to be dumping on you? Would someone who agrees to come to the Jones with the expectation of playing second fiddle to the Carol faction even be someone you'd want running our library?” I take great personal offense at your language of “harassment” and “muzzling” and “dumping”, and your snide term the “Carol faction.” Your asking people “to put Carol and Sarah in their place as an annoying but impotent minority” is a rallying cry of the most undignified sort. I respect Carol and Sarah as I do all the trustees, present and past, who have contributed to the Board’s work for the library.

I also have great respect for the many good works done by the Friends of the Library. To Bonnie Vigeland, president of the Friends, and Will Bridegam, our former trustee and emeritus librarian of Amherst College, and to those who signed the August 3rd petition for a review committee, I hope you will do independent research into Chris’s accusations of harassment.

Chris, I am pleased that both you and Bonnie are willing to go forward with the facilitation, and I am also pleased that you are urging others to run for trustee of the library. May the best people win.

Patricia Holland
President, Jones Library Board of Trustees

From: Chris and Anne Hoffmann
Date: October 8, 2010 8:50:38 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: [Friends] Bonnie's resignation announced, and a plea for candidates.

As most of you already know by now, today Bonnie Isman announced her retirement, effective December 10th.

I was at the Jones this afternoon to talk with her. Unsurprisingly, she's in a very good mood thinking about her upcoming life of leisure. Her decision to retire now is largely personal -- it is a good time in her life to retire. But I'm sure the harassment from board has taken its toll on her and influenced the timing.

As just the latest example of harassment, yesterday I learned that Sarah had been talking with the director of the Forbes library and has wants to get a meeting between Pat, me, and their treasurer. Sarah continues to believe our accounting practices are negligent (or worse) and won't even listen to the accountants we hire to go over the books who are continually telling her everything is OK and our current methods are quite good. Sarah was actually upset with me because I cc'ed Bonnie and Tina in my reply to a message she'd sent to Pat, nme and the Forbes' director: Quoting: 'I find it disturbing that you included Bonnie and Tina on an email that I'd sent to Pat and you only. It is up to Trustees to specify the financial reports to be made. This is not to exclude the staff. It is to bring them in further down the line. It would waste their time to bring them in now.' This is how bad things are, folks.

Bonnie and I both want the planned meeting with the facilitator to go forth. So does everyone in the staff I talked with while there. I hope there will be no resistance from the rest of the board. If there is, I'll be sure to let you know.

And now my plea from me to you:

It's clear that next year's Jones Trustee election will be one of the most critical ever

A search for a director will take at least six months. The two people elected next spring will almost certainly be a third of the votes cast for our next director. Since we were founded in 1921, The Jones has had only five directors! They tend to stay for a long time. We have got to make a wise choice.

Beyond the problem of choice, also think about the work environment potential applicants are going to have to consider. Would you apply for a job knowing you'll be starting out with the level of harassment and muzzling that Carol, Pat, and Sarah are certain to be dumping on you? Would someone who agrees to come to the Jones with the expectation of playing second fiddle to the Carol faction even be someone you'd want running our library?

Folks, I've asked for help before. But I really mean it this time. Someone needs to step up and agree to run. Even if you can only commit to a single term, that should make all the difference. If we can create a solid core of rational people who are able to put Carol and Sarah in their place as an annoying but impotent minority, in three years' time the trustee culture should be so improved that finding replacements won't be the nearly impossible task it is now.

Next year, I am up for reelection. Pat's second term is up. I don't think she wants to run again, but you know Carol is going to be putting a lot of pressure on her to stay. So we need one REALLY GOOD new candidate in case this becomes a contested race.

A Select Board member recently told me "we ignore the Library Trustee [races] at our peril". Indeed we do. Please. Help. Step up.


Original Post Saturday morning

Forever Jones Library Director Bonnie Isman announced her retirement, effective December 10, 2010. Yes, this is roughly the time frame cold bloodedly calculated by Trustee Carol Gray--currently ensconced in Cairo, Egypt--but I'm sure Ms. Isman figured out that her pernicious presence would be felt over the next year since she refused to resign as Trustee and would haunt future meetings via Skype.

Score one for the bad guys.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Freedom's just another word...

So a Mississippi Judge who obviously--like a few too many judges--thinks of himself as God, threw an attorney in jail for failure to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Although the attorney did respectfully stand while the courtroom came to attention.

In the 1995 Hurley decision the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the First Amendment also prevents an individual or group from saying something they do not wish to say. In this case a private parade committee; thus, as a private organization, the judges upheld the notion that they can select which messages are expressed to onlookers and which messages are not.

The town of Amherst already ran afoul of this clear-as-day decision when they tried to deny the privately run Amherst July 4 Parade Committee a permit due to restrictions on the signs that marching groups could carry. You know, the very same rules the town used when it organized a 350th Anniversary Parade.

The ACLU instantly set the People's Republic strait, and the Parade continues in the traditional old fashioned way.

The greatest freedom our flag represents is the right to burn it.

But I do indeed cringe when unbalanced individuals or groups push the envelope, such as a pastor threatening to burn the Koran on 9/11, or the KKK wanting to publicly dress up in their sheets or neo-nazis to march through Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago.

The Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments about whether a whacko religious group that should be ignored has the right to hold homophobic signs while picketing outside the funerals of American soldiers who died for their country in far off Iraq or Afghanistan. Icky. Icky. Icky!

But, that is the price we pay for our freedom. I remember once seeing my wife and another dear old friend wearing burkas, and it was not a pretty sight.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fuck the ACLU

What do I love most about the American Civil Liberties Union?

If local, state or federal authorities squelched my blog now over that provocative headline, and I called Bill Newman, Western Mass ACLU Director, he would instantly do everything in his considerable power to fend off the government intrusion on my First Amendment rights, all without sending me a bill.

Just as the national chapter did in the 1971 Supreme Court case of Cohan V California.

I first met Mr. Newman back in November, 1999 when I invited him to speak at a public rally on the Town Common I organized to protest the cancellation of 'West Side Story'. To date, the People's Republic of Amherst is the only entity in history to nix the award winning play.

And in his brief presentation he said, "The way to deal with bad speech is with good speech and more of it--not censorship." Although I'm sure he did not for a moment believe 'West Side Story' actually constituted "bad speech."

So yes, I despise Cowardly Anonymous Nitwits who march under white sheets, or an organization that advocates for sex between men and boys, or protesters who picket the funeral of American military personnel with homophobic signage--but that is the price we pay for our most cherished American ideal, the Freedom of Speech. A small price indeed.

So thank God (yes, another freedom I have) for the ACLU these past 90 years!

The Springfield Republican reports

Just say No

So my friends over at Localocracy have an interesting discussion/poll happening now at the request of my ultra-transparent blogger cohort Catherine Sanderson asking, "Should Amherst elementary schools continue to be part of Union 26?"

A century old alliance where Amherst now provides 90% of the students and 95% of the funding, but only gets an equal vote when it comes to hiring a Superintendent. And since the Region is considering hiring one soon (or keeping the current one) it is certainly an issue worth pursuing.

The yes votes are the usual suspects who were associated with the schools back in the glory blank-check days when the schools could spend money like the rains falling from leaden skies. Perhaps the 'high water' mark represented by the $215,000 purchase of portable classrooms three years ago for Marks Meadow Elementary School that were never used as classrooms, and now sit idle as the town wisely downsized this past fall by closing the facility.

Town Meeting was warned about buying the portable classrooms