Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A sad symbol, misused?

In case you were wondering why the American flag is at half staff today (and will be "until further notice"): it's not for a Massachusetts soldier who died defending their country or the passing of an ex-President; it's for Middlesex county Sheriff James V. DiPaola who died November 26...by his own hand.

According to the 'Mash' theme song, "Suicide is painless." And for the perpetrator it probably is--especially in this case--with a gunshot to the head. But for the loved ones left behind it is a wound that never heals.

DiPaola was in the media spotlight even before he ended his life as investigative journalists in Boston exposed his scheme to collect both a $98, 500 pension and $123,000 sheriff's salary. Attorney General Martha Coakley was also investigating alleged campaign finance irregularities.

And now Governor Patrick, a fellow Democrat, has ordered all state flags to a position of mourning as a final tribute. I guess if the American flag represents anything, it is indeed freedom.

Although, the freedom to kill yourself is not high on my list.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Party House of the Weekend

All was quiet on the Western Front this past weekend as most of the party hardy types went home for Thanksgiving. No $300 Nuisance House or Noise Bylaw tickets issued.

So my winner this week is a 2006 black Toyota driven off the road by a 29-year-old male who was charged with texting while driving and operating under the influence. Yikes!
And on another (sour) note: Amherst Police know the identity of the Antonio's pizza perp, but at the moment can't charge him with anything. I guess this is where a local politician decides "there ought to be a law," and files legislation to make it a crime to order lots of pizzas and not bother to pay for them

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Floating over Springfield

The Big Guy got time off from Yankee Candle to attend
Sheriff Michael Ash. Scandal? What Corrections scandal?
Always dapper Mayor Sarno.
Cute kid watching big penguin
This one made me hungry
Raggedy Ann looking, well, raggedy--especially compared to the Mayor.
Hometown hero. The Cat in the Hat (after a breakfast of green eggs and ham).
Garfield striking a ta-da pose

We were located at the end of the parade route and by then Dora The Explorer had evidently gotten lost. But I assured my daughters that Yankee Candle would give Santa Claus December 3rd off, so he can attend the Merry Maple lighting ceremony (otherwise known as a Christmas Tree)in the People's Republic.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reteaching an old dog...

For my new feature "Party house of the weekend," I attend the press briefing at Amherst Police Station around 9:00 AM on Monday morning, which until now pretty much consisted of only one reporter, Scott Merzbach from the Daily Hampshire Gazette; convenient enough for me, as I drop off my 3-year-old at the Spring Street Preschool 100 yards away at 8:45 AM.

Thus I had the story of the $3,900 scam suffered by the greatest little pizza shop on the planet, Antonio's, at the same time as Mr. Merzbach.

And like a lot of things concerning Amherst, I have a bit of a personal connection. Out of all the business owners I have known and called friend over the past 30 years none were better than original founder Bruno Matarazzo, may he rest in peace.

And of course I can beat the Gazette by a few hours--even on a really bad day. But I also had what I was looking for: a "party house" with 500 "guests", three tenants arrested for bad behavior and ticketed for violating the newly-escalated-in-price Noise and Nuisance town bylaws to the tune of $1,800 total.

The overwhelming plus side of a blog is the speed of publishing, downside is you only have a Front Page. What's a news blogger to do?

I drove from the Police Station to the party house about a mile down the road for a quick photo. Antonio's would have been closer by half. The loss to Antonio's was $3,900--a hell of a lot for sure, but their markup has got to be at least 50% so it was really less than $2,000. Thus roughly the same economic impact as the $1,800 in fines handed out to three denizens of the party/nuisance house.

So I went with the party house story. The Gazette online went with both a few hours later and the next day's print edition carried a slightly more fleshed out article about the pizza rip off (with better placement than the party house article), including an interview with the owner.

The Daily Collegian had followed up quickly online (getting an important fact wrong), then the Springfield Republican, local TV stations and then the motherload: the AP National wire.

Even this morning my friends at the Springfield Republican published an editorial about the affair. As of now over 200 news outlets have picked up the story. Yikes!

So don't worry too much about Antonio's losing $3,900. This amount of press is priceless in an advertising sort of way.

And for me, I relearned an old lesson from my 'News Reporting and Writing' class almost exactly 25 years ago: "Dog bites man, not a story; man bite dog, now that's a story."

Only in Amherst would an out-of-control, alcohol-fueled party of 500 collage-aged kids packed in a one-bedroom house resulting in 3 arrests (one charged with possession of a stun gun) and $1,800 in fines be considered routine.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful to be here, in my hometown

So I can always tell when something bad is brewing in Korea as I get a ton of visitors to Heart & Seoul, my tour of the DMZ a year-and-a-half ago. Google analytics reveals it to be far and away the most viewed post out of all 1,350 put up over the past three-and-a-half years.

I first noticed it on my sitemeter 8 months ago when the South Korean warship mysteriously exploded and sank in disputed waters; it just started again a few days ago with the stunning announcement of North Korea's new uranium processing plant, and then escalated after the North pounded an island with artillery killing two South Korean soldiers and two civilians.

So yes, once again I fear for my friends in Seoul. Because if the North Koreans decide (or I should say the new kid in charge) on all-out war, the carnage on Day One will be incomprehensible.

Thus I am thankful to be here in my hometown, with family and friends, safe and warm . And it makes me even more thankful then ever for the men and women in our military who lay their lives on the line to make it so--especially those in far off places under imminent threat of death.

As well as police, fire and public safety folks right here at home.

If I had to pick my favorite post out of all 1,350 it would be A Thanksgiving Story, also about war. And I'm so thankful to have know Dick Hagelberg--a poster boy for the "Greatest Generation".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't bother the Juggernaut!

Trailer for sale or rent. Mark's Meadow abandoned classrooms.

So as I've mentioned many times before, Umass generates over 50 school-age children from their tax-exempt housing (including Chancellor Holub's ornate house) impacting the Amherst Public School System at a per head cost of over $16,000 with zero remuneration.

Yet, according to the 5-year Town/Gown "strategic agreement" signed four years ago:

“If, in the future, the Town builds a new elementary school and vacates the Mark’s Meadow facility, the Town, AES, ARPS and the University will negotiate a new agreement in which the University may reimburse the Town for a portion of the net costs of educating students living in University tax-exempt housing. "

Well, last I looked not only has Mark's Meadow been vacated and returned to Umass, but we also left behind never-really-been-used modular classrooms that cost Amherst taxpayers $215,000 only a few years ago.

Furthermore, last week our School Superintendent informed (after the fact) the School Committee that she had authorized donating $96,000 to Umass for a "training partnership." I'm still trying to find out what we are actually getting for our money?
amherstac@aol.com> 11/19/2010 1:44 PM >>>
Hey Rob,
Could I please get the document showing how/where Umass spent the $96,000 for a training partnership using ARRA funds given to them by Amherst schools?

Larry Kelley

From: Rob Detweiler
To: amherstac@aol.com
Cc: Maria Geryk
Sent: Mon, Nov 22, 2010 7:54 am

Hello Larry,I have forwarded your request to the attention of the Superintendent. Hope you enjoy your day.

Rob Detweiler,
Director of Finance and Operations

Thanks Kathy, correction made. Now not to be a complete pain in the butt on a Friday afternoon, but could I also get the number of teachers in the Amherst School System who took advantage of the "free" education courses at Umass School of Education last Fiscal Year? Maria said at the most recent SC meeting the $96,000 we donate annually to Umass School of Ed goes towards grant writing and education/training courses for Amherst public school teachers.

From: Kathy Mazur
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Fri, Nov 19, 2010 12:54 pm
Subject: Re: Public Document Request

I will ask Maria about the "in kind" services you are referring to. One thing though, this was a one-time payment of 96K for a training partnership using ARRA funds. It's not donated annually.


From: amherstac@aol.com
To: cmccormick@educ.umass.edu
Sent: Fri, Nov 19, 2010 1:02 pm
Subject: Public Documents Request

Hi Christine,
Sorry to bother you on a Friday afternoon but could I please get a breakdown (rough is fine) of how the School of Ed spent the $96,000 the Amherst Public Spends expended for the "partnership to support teaching and learning"?


Larry Kelley

From: Christine McCormick
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Mon, Nov 22, 2010 3:01 pm
Dear Mr. Kelley,

Thank you for your interest in our partnership. We are very excited about this collaboration. Last Friday when you sent your email inquiry, the School of Education was focused on ensuring the success of the major event described in the notice below. I am only in today for some key meetings and will be traveling tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with family. In the meantime, I would encourage you to contact Dr. Rebecca Woodland, who will be glad to fill you in on the accomplishments of this partnership.

Christine B. McCormick
Dean, School of Education

Declare victory and go home

Princess Stephanie once again demonstrates her PR flack background (although odd such a true blue Dem would borrow from Tricky Dick Nixon's handbook) as she spins nothing but positives with her postmortem analysis of the just completed Amherst Town Meeting.

She forgets to mention of course that the Select Board was 0-2 on articles that garnered any press attention: A much needed zoning change, championed by the Select Board and Town Manager (and her husband on the Planning Board and her dad, Chair of the Amherst Redevelopment Authority) but panned by town meeting; and the typical anti-war advisory article the Select board had voted 4-1 for "no recommendation," but was overwhelmingly approved by Town Meeting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Party House of the Weekend (stunning)

While not exactly "One riot, one Texas Ranger" the Amherst Police Department still did an outstanding job quelling in about a half-hour a loud drunken party of 500 individuals all crammed into a one-family house at 51 North East Street.

Officers on the scene issued three "responsible" tenants two $300 bylaw violation tickets each ($1,800 total) one for Nuisance, one for Noise; and just for good measure they arrested all three as well--thus costing the perps a few more bucks for the bail bondsman to make his midnight rounds.

One even had in his possession an illegal stun gun. I guess the shocks on him.
According to Police Narrative:

Approximately 500 people cleared from residence with loud voices and DJ equipment. Many of the guests refused to leave and hid in various rooms inside the residence while continuing to party. Residence had a large amount of trash (cans/bottles) in the yard and three males were observed actively urinating in the backyard. One individual was identified as being a minor in possession of alcohol. Residents placed under arrest for Unlawful Noise and Nuisance House.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Encore for Jonathan M. Curtis

1:30 PM Sunday afternoon: Note vapor trail from large commercial passenger jet high in the background

So there has to be an honorable balance somewhere between the overreaction of Lt. Calley in Viet Nam's horrific 1968 My Lai massacre and the overly conservative response 15 years later of our military in Beirut where a suicide truck bombing slaughtered 299 American and French soldiers while they slept, and the perimeter sentry forces--in order not to overreact were required to keep ammo clips in their pockets; and one guard reports how as he fumbled to load his weapon he could clearly see the look of rapture on the truck drivers face as he rammed his explosive laden vehicle into the barracks with devastating results.

Perhaps the response of 24 year old Jonathan M Curtis and Private 1st Class Andrew Meari, 21, who both perished foiling an insurgent from getting to 7 of of their comrades with a suicide body bomb is it. They did their job, saved fellow soldiers and the only other casualty was the bad guy, intent on doing way more damage than what actually occurred.

The Boston Herald reports

-----Original Message-----
From: State House Events (BSB)
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Thu, Nov 18, 2010 11:19 am
Subject: Half Staff Notification for Sunday, November 21, 2010

Good Afternoon Everyone,

Governor Patrick is ordering the American and Commonwealth Flags lower to half staff position from sunrise to sunset on Sunday, November 21, 2010 in honor of Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Sent: Thursday, November 18, 2010 12:00 PM
To: Events, Sh (BSB)
Subject: Re: Half Staff Notification for Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hey Suzzette,

Not to question your efficiency and that of the Big Guy, but did we not already lower the flags for Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis on 11/9?

(Not that he doesn't deserve another!)

Larry K

To: 'amherstac@aol.com'
Sent: Thu, Nov 18, 2010 12:23 pm
Subject: RE: Half Staff Notification for Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes, November 9th was his out of state interment. November 21st is his in state memorial service.

I hope that helps.


Sent: Thursday, November 18, 2010 12:27 PM
To: Events, Sh (BSB)
Subject: Re: Half Staff Notification for Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hey Suzzette,
I figured it was something like that. And as I hinted: nobody is more deserving.

To: 'amherstac@aol.com'
Sent: Thu, Nov 18, 2010 12:28 pm
Subject: RE: Half Staff Notification for Sunday, November 21, 2010

I totally agree!

Suzzette Waters

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dig this

"Activists" Vladimir Morales and Rob Kusner facing camera--and probably not buying vegetables at today's final Amherst Farmers Market of the season.

UPDATE: Sunday morning. Somebody alerted me to the discussion that took place over on Mother Mary Streeter's antiquated town meeting listserve over the past few days concerning this tempest in a teapot.

Leave it to Isaac BenEzra to dub his PR event a "LOVE IN". The 60s must have been good to him.

From: Isaac BenEzra
Date: Fri Nov 19, 2010 9:40 pm
Subject: Re: [AmhTownMtg] SAVE THE MARKET
Send Email Send Email

Dear Gerry,
John Musanti has moved a meeting with Mr. Spineti from January 2011, to next Tuesday, That is a positive step to early resolution.
Saturday's LOVE IN at the Market (11:30am) will contribute to affirming how we feel about the folks who put the food on our table.
The proposed plan to reduce the walkway between farm stands by 18 feet needs to be revisited by all concerned.

On Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 11:07 AM, Isaac BenEzra wrote:


The Amherst Farmers' Market's space and future are in jeopardy.
Please join with the farmers and Friends of the Market on
Saturday, November 20,
8 am - 1:30 pm
to show your support for the market?

P.S. Pass this along!

Original Post Saturday afternoon.

So this one really takes the (carrot) cake. Our dilapidated downtown is finally getting a much needed makeover--with state money no less--and the folks who have used a central prime location rent free for 37 years are whining about being moved 100 yards or so next year.

And the guy leading the charge, John Spineti, is not even an Amherst taxpayer.

Talk about self righteous gall. But hey, they are farmers and the Farmers Market is right up there with Mom, Apple Pie--and if this were anywhere but the People's Republic of Amherst--the American Flag.

Local activist and former Mayor-Daley-like Boss at ACTV (now called 'Amherst Media') Isaac BenEzra took his ever so, um, fair-and-balanced cable show (one sided) "Conversations..." on the road today (an entire half mile) to the Farmers Market in downtown Amherst, where he pretty much hangs out every Saturday anyway, so why not drag a few unpaid interns along to shoot this one-sided propaganda.

And being the consummate PT Barnum spinmeister, BenEzra even pre-alerted the Daily Hampshire Gazette that he would be taking up this cause to highlight the unfairness of the evil DPW paving paradise to put up a parking lot (not to mention sidewalk). Don't it always seem to go?

BenEzra even compares this to the Boy Scouts Christmas Tree fiasco thee years ago (a story I broke) where the scroog-like Town Mangler suddenly charged the Boy Scouts $1/tree "rent" for using Kendrick Park, a downtown location they have traditionally inhabited every December for the past 60 years.

Kind of a big difference in that Kendrick Park was not about to undergo major construction.

Any business owner who has ever endured a construction project in their front yard understands that short term inconvenience is more than made up for by the long term benefits--not just to the businesses--but also the local citizens who fund it all.

Talk-show host targets forced relocation of farmers
Staff Writers

Friday, November 19, 2010

AMHERST - The possible displacement of the weekly farmers market next summer from its long-time home on Spring Street will be the focus of a forthcoming installment of the "Conversations with Isaac BenEzra" program on Amherst Community Television.

BenEzra said Thursday that he will be interviewing both farmers and customers at the Saturday market beginning at 11:30 a.m.

The Only in Amherst Christmas Tree Fiasco

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gold plated Amherst School employees?

If you have ever wondered why Amherst public school student cost per child is sooooo much higher than our Sister Republic of Northampton, all you need do is look at the salary comparison School Committee member Steve Rivkin (a data wonk) distributed last night at the Regional School Committee meeting. Yikes!

The Amherst elementary schools spent $15,846 per pupil and the Amherst Regional High School spent $16,909 per pupil in fiscal 2009. Northampton public schools spent $11,699--well below the state average of $13,062 (which Charter Schools also come in at).

Of course Amherst Regional High School Principal Mark Jackson pulls down $131,236 and has two assistants (this does not include the extra bonus $19,419 he was awarded to also oversee the Middle School for seven months), while Hamp's Principal is under $100-K with only one assistant.

And what's this $96,000 payment to Umass for "partnership to support teaching and learning"? Last I looked Umass sends about 60 kids from their tax-exempt housing (including two from Chancellor Holub's fancy house high on a hill) at an annual cost to Amherst taxpayers of almost $1 million, yet we also pay them $96,000?

Some partnership!

Figures don't lie! (click the hotlink)

Townwide salaries

>Dare To Compare!

If it sounds to good to be be true...

Yesterday marked a milestone as I sold off the last of the remaining equipment from my dead Health Club, having starting almost five months ago with over 100 large, heavy pieces and pretty much selling them one by one--mainly on Craigslist (where selling is free) and a few on Ebay where they take a cut of the proceeds.

Since I was listing a dozen items per day on Craigslist I would start every morning with a scam email response, usually with just one sentence: "Is this item still available?" Once I responded in the affirmative they would come back saying they will take it--sight unseen--and will be sending a money order via courier or US Mail, and once cashed, their shipper would come pick up the item.

I was too busy with honest costumers to pay much attention to the scamers, but when I got down to the final item I decided to play along.

From: Timothy Jungbluth
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Thu, Nov 4, 2010 2:07 pm
Subject: Re: Reebok bench steps with inserts - $45 (amherst)

Ok. I'll take 4. I will be paying with money orders, and i'll also arrange for a pick-up myself. I can't come to you now, because I'm on Vacation in London, So I'll instruct my assistant to mail out your payment which you will get between 3-5 working days. Once you have cashed your payment, I'll arrange for the pickup. If this is fine with you, please respond with your full name and mailing address.

Timothy Jungbluth

Sent: Fri, Nov 5, 2010 1:03 pm
Subject: Re: Reebok bench steps with inserts - $45 (amherst)

Your payment has been sent but there is something i must bring to your notice immediately. I just discovered there is an error in the payment sent to you. My assistant sent the payment meant for another item that's more expensive than yours. I have called the post office to see if they could retrieve it but nothing positive. I really don't know what to do now. Please and Please, you can go ahead and cash out the Money Order at your Bank when you receive it, deduct your payment and send the balance via western union to the details i will provide you with. Can i trust you to do that for me? I'm so Sorry for the inconvenience this may cause.

Timothy Jungbluth

Sent: Fri, Nov 12, 2010 12:24 pm
Subject: Re: Reebok bench steps with inserts - $45 (amherst)

Hello Larry,
Waiting to hear from you.


From: amherstac@aol.com
To: tjungbth@gmail.com
Sent: Fri, Nov 12, 2010 1:54 pm
Subject: Re: Reebok bench steps with inserts - $45 (amherst)

Hey Timothy, My very long-time banker said in order to be super-safe I should wait 10 business days (two weeks) to be absolutely certain the money orders clear, because they are as you know "international money orders" and take more time than simple in-country checks or money orders. I was forced to close my Health Club after 28 years and have been selling off all the commercial equipment over the past four months on Craigslist and have generated a fair amount...but the remaining balance I owe my bank still is far greater, so I can't afford to lose $1,910 should there be a problem with the money orders (although MoneyGram is a reputable company). Not quite sure where to go from here? I already packed the four Reebok bench steps and they are ready for pick up. But for only a $180 sale with time/travel expense to the nearest Western Union outlet to wire you back the extra balance, it really does not seem worth the risk...

Thus ended the exchanges with my pen pal, supposedly in London. I guess I should not have mentioned operating a small business for 28 years, because he probably figured that kind of experience makes a person harder to con.

Notice the return address on the money orders and envelope are in Boston but the postmark is from California. And that little problem of sending cash via wire transfer to London, which is virtually impossible to recover once sent.

The Money orders are impressive forgeries and the serial numbers are from ones previous used (but oftentimes for a much smaller amount). Any bank in America would cash them as long as you had enough money in your account to back them up, and when they returned as fraudulent the bank simply takes it out of your account.

While the Internet provides cheap overhead for these scammers to ply their pernicious plans, it also provides a medium to educate the general public about all the con artists looking to steal your hard earned dollars.

As PT Barnum's freak show competitor once said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Craigslist Scam Alert Page

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Backhand attack on The Gateway

So oddly enough, NIMBY attack dog John Fox used the Gateway Project as a hammer to pound a much needed broader zoning change (that failed to muster the two thirds required for passage) to aid smart development in overly enlightened Amherst.

And yes, it would have been a positive sign for The Gateway Project surviving the gauntlet known as Amherst Town Meeting at some future point.

Mr Fox, a former Washington lawyer no less, told town meeting he did not "understand how this will be implemented."

Hmm...Over the twenty years I suffered through town meeting with zoning articles every year, nobody in the room ever completely understood how something as complicated as zoning would be implemented and how it would look "in five years, ten years, fifteen years."

My friend and fellow blogger and still Town Meeting member Gavin Andresen came up with a new and improved acronym. BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. Indeed! But probably another "only in Amherst" thing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Party House of the weekend

47 Hobart Lane: note load of beer cans in back of pick up truck

So I had a hard time deciding a winner. On the one hand, we have 21 Hobart Lane which garnered two (2) $300 "Nuisance House" town bylaw violation tickets, but my favorite is 47 Hobart Lane (owned by Jones Properties) which only garnered one.

According to police logs narrative by the responding officer: "Resident (Brian P, age 21) called stating their were to many people surrounding his house that he did not know. Approximately 100 people observed around 47 Hobart Lane. Brian P approached me in the roadway asking to help clear people from his house. I advised him to enter his house, turn the music off and tell people to leave. Officers began to clear people out with minimal cooperation. Several underage drinkers observed who were summoned. Approximately an additional 150 people were cleared from the house. Empty beer cans/bottles and trash covered the ground surrounding the house. Brian P issued Nuisance House bylaw citation."

The reason why I like this one is because the perp called it in on himself. Priceless.

Not a great sign when the Hobart Lane street sign has been replaced by a beer can

And this, of course, is #27 the house in between #47 and #21-all odd number appropriately enough. This one is also owned by Jones Properties. Gotta wonder if Watroba's misses their banner?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A coward dies a 1,000 deaths...

So after twenty years of enduring the "purest form of Democracy" in the People's Republic, one of the many things that drove me crazy about Amherst Town Meeting is fairly apparent here if you turn up the volume.

After twenty minutes in wasted preaching Town Meeting comes to a voice vote on Article 14, "Bring the War Dollars Home." Notice how surprisingly competitive the "No" vote initially sounds?

Yet when it came time to stand and be counted, more than a few of the "No" voters played it safe and stayed seated.

Also note the official 74-32 vote does not add up to a quorum (128); and even with the ten or 15 "No" voters who abstained during the standing count (and counting the Moderator and Town Manager) they would still be shy the total amount required.

Notice too, at the very last second, a Town Meeting member questions the quorum to longtime Czar--I mean Moderator--Harrison Gregg, who simply shrugs it off.

But if that same member had used a "point of order" to question a quorum five minutes earlier, Town Meeting would need to quit for the night or get the constable to go out and beat the bushes to bring a bunch of them back to the room.

Fred Hartwell gets the line of the night. Speaking against the naive resolution (while predicting it would pass 3-1) he sagaciously pointed out: "Ironically, this vote only has significance if it should fail."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All the ingredients...

3:30 PM

So the temperature is in the mid-60s with nary a cloud in the sky. Two out of three (and the 3rd does not have a football team) of our local institutions of higher education--Umass and Amherst College--have home games today.

For Amherst College it's the 125th contest against arch-rival Williams College and this weekend is officially "Homecoming" while for Umass, a chance to bump off Delaware currently considered number 1 in the nation.

And Umass students do not require much of an excuse to party hardy, especially when the weather is nice this late in the fall.

The Amherst Police Department incident logs should make for interesting reading come Monday morning.

Atkins Corner road project inches forward

Baltazar Contractors Inc. out of Ludlow, Mass is the low bidder at $6,006,220. The Town has $7 million in Other People's Money to get the job done. And the state--who is overseeing the project--will accept or reject the bid over the next 30 days.

Since the highway realignment project has been talked about since World War 2 ended, what's another 30 days?

If the bid is accepted the project--that includes two roundabouts--will take two years to complete.

Friday, November 12, 2010

With the twitch of a finger

So you know you're getting old when a vivid memory exceeds the reach of the online union news archives, which only reach back to 1988. Twenty five years ago I was in the middle of a UMass journalism course--'News Reporting and Writing'--taught by a Springfield Union News reporter, who would get the assignment to cover the local news event of the decade.

I'm not sure if it was just the stunning nature of the tragedy or her writing skills sketching the funeral scene; but the front page feature brought tears to my eyes as I'm sure it did many, many readers back in the days when newspapers were as widely read as Facebook is today.

Two young Springfield police officers--Alain Beauregard and Michael Schiavina--pull over a vehicle on a rather routine stop and approach it, like cops are trained to do, from both sides. The 18 year old driver Eduardo “Crazy Eddie” Ortiz, 18, cut them both down with a 357 magnum handgun.

The violent deaths of two officers simply doing their jobs set off an emotional groundswell I had not seen since November 22, 1963. The somber funeral procession along streets they had previously protected, flanked by thousands of brother and sister officers was something to see, but certainly the kind of thing you hope never to see again.

The Springfield Republican reports (25 years later)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amherst reinforces reputation

Amherst Town Meeting voted to pull the rug out from underneath our military in the field last night by supporting a "Bring the war dollars home" resolution, and since they also torpedoed the zoning change allowing for common sense development, the town is going to need to get money from somewhere besides overburdened property owners, who just last year approved a Proposition 2.5 Override.

The zoning defeat was simply a preemptive attack on The Gateway Project--a coalition between Umass, the Amherst Redevelopment Authority and the town that did not of course hinge on the zoning vote last night, but certainly was painted that way by NIMBY Town Meeting members.

Kind of like marching a herd of sheep through an enemy mine field to discover where the dangerous items are hidden. Unfortunately, by the time the Gateway Project goes before Town Meeting for a zoning vote, all the mines will be replanted--and then some.

Since the two-thirds required super majority only failed by a few votes (96-62) it would be interesting to calculate what a difference it could have made if the Conflict of Interest law applied to Town Meeting.

Pissing off a Umass Collegian columnist

Veterans Day: Umass remembers, and the Springfield Republican reports

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Prize Lecture

Two time Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Weingarten spoke this evening at the Umass Student Union to a good sized crowd of perhaps 125, mostly students, almost all of whom will find it much harder to follow the same path Weingarten used to win that most coveted award in journalism, namely, finding a job writing or editing for a newspaper.

Weingarten doesn't normally do the speaking circuit but came as a favor to old print buddy, and current acting director of the Umass Journalism program Maddie Blais, herself a Pulitzer Prize winner.

His first Pulitzer in 2008 came for an event he staged in the Washington Metro where he observed, recorded and interpreted how a busy crowd on their way to work reacted (or didn't) to the virtuoso performance of violinist Joshua Bell, dressed like a common street musician playing for food.

I guess if he really wanted to get a reaction he should used The Flying Wallendas.

The second Pulitzer coming this year, I find far more impressive and something (unlike staging a street theatre event) I could never do: interview 13 parents who lost a child because they had left them in the car on a hot day.

His harrowing piece, aptly titled "Fatal Distraction", won over the Pulitzer Prize Committee but not so much the online commenters who reacted to the Washington Post feature article. Weingarten reported that about two-thirds of them were angry with him for portraying the parents in a sympathetic light rather than pillorying them.

In spite of technical problems with the overhead projector Weingarten kept the crowds interest, telling stories--mostly funny--of days gone by.

Maddie Blais does the intro.

The Daily Collegian reports

This one's for you Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis

Sometime soon Amherst Town Meeting will discuss "Bring the war dollars home" resolution recently endorsed by our Sister People's Republic, Northampton.

The article, placed on the warrant by Ruth Hook who also created a bit of a buzz last year with the Welcoming Gitmo Detainees to Amherst resolution, failed this time to get the endorsement of the illustrious Select Board who voted 4-1 to "not take a position".

Best summed up by rookie member, and history professor during his day job, Jim Wald who said: "I think there are better things to do with our time." Indeed.

But, Town Meeting will pontificate for over an hour then pass it rather handily, thus demonstrating how out-of-touch somebody is in town government.

Scary thing is these people are also in charge of a $60 million budget.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

There they grow again

93 Fearing Street. Lincoln Apartments (brick building behind fence) in back.

Umass is in the process of purchasing 93 Fearing Street, probably because of its prime location abutting Lincoln Apartments, recently renovated family housing (105 units) set aside for Graduate Students and faculty. The house,currently assessed at $403,000, has been owned and occupied by the same family for 50 years.

Obviously owner-occupied houses in that neighborhood are not the problem when it comes to rowdy student behavior.

Next door neighbor Gretchen Fox appeared before the Amherst Select Board on 10/25 to complain about the purchase and husband John Fox has also been routinely attending the ARA meetings over the past six months to question The Gateway Project.

Since this will take the three-family house and property (over one acre) off the tax rolls it will cost Amherst about $6,500 annually in lost revenue (plus 2.5%.) Umass is the #2 landowner in town behind Amherst College and overall tax exempts own half the property in town.

-----Original Message-----
From: Todd Diacon
Cc: Nancy Buffone ; MusanteJ@amherstma.gov ; casanderson@amherst.edu ; nhoffenberg@gazettenet.com
Sent: Fri, Nov 5, 2010 3:36 pm
Subject: Re: Umass/town relations

Dear Larry: Thank you for your thoughts and query.

I have met with John Musante to discuss 93 Fearing Street, and soon will follow
up on the meeting with a memo explaining our plans for that property.

As to the other issue, we believe the Gateway Project will produce the win-win
situation of additional housing that individuals affiliated with the university
will find attractive (undergraduate students, graduate students, new faculty),
while contributing to the town's tax receipts.

Todd Diacon
Deputy Chancellor
University of Massachusetts Amherst

On Nov 5, 2010, at 1:13 PM,
Amherstac@aol wrote:

Not asking as an ARA member, just as a nosey blogger. The bricks-and-mortar
media sleep from around noon Friday until Monday 9:00 AM, but I do not.

What is up with 93 Fearing Street? I could not help but note the Fox household
has divided to fight a two-front war: John Fox continues to hammer The Gateway Project (and I would not take heart that he failed to show for last night's ARA meeting) on the Commentary pages of the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin and wife Gretchen attacks Umass for purchasing 93 Fearing St via public comment at the SB meeting Oct 25.

Since the sizable property is contiguous with Lincoln Apartments, I'm assuming it will be used as housing of some sort? And IF melding seamlessly with Lincoln Apartments that would seem to indicate Grad students or faculty, thus making the neighbors happy?

Of course the upside for the neighborhood is a downside to the town as Grad
Students/Faculty have a far greater impact on our public schools. Last I looked
we had about 60 kids (@ $14,000 per) attending Amherst schools from tax-exempt housing located at Umass, including Chancellor Holub's two daughters.

And speaking of which, what is the status of the Amherst school department's
modular classrooms at Mark's Meadow?

The 5 year "Strategic Agreement" signed with Umass about 4 years ago did clearly state that if Mark's Meadow closed Umass would sort of, maybe, consider a Payment In Lieu of Taxes to cover the $750,000+ in education costs for children in the public system from Umass?

And if the purchase of 93 Fearing street goes through, that will cost the town
another $6,500 or so in property taxes per year. If I were your PR flack I
would be thinking about all of this (especially now).

Larry K

Tax-exempt house with a view

Friday, November 5, 2010

The good old days?

Back when I was growing up in the People's Republic of Amherst I used to love those stories--since my dad fought there--about Japanese soldiers finally coming out of their caves in far flung South Pacific islands where they hid for decades refusing to believe the Empire had lost.

My bricks-and-mortar friends at the Republican and Gazette report today about a "firestorm" on the Internet yesterday that I somehow managed to miss, involving Cooks Source magazine out of little old Sunderland stealing copy from a blogger without permission and then refusing to pay a token amount (as a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism) saying the writer should be thankful for publication.

Especially thankful, since the kindly old editor, with "30 years experience," had rewritten the piece and in fact should charge the writer. Yikes!

Such arrogance I have not seen, oh, since the rise of the Internet. Back in the day, only 15 or so years ago, the bricks and mortar media were indeed the gatekeepers who "bought ink by the barrel". And could treat writers with complete disdain (many did).

Those days are L-O-N-G gone. Thank God! (or the Internet.)

The LA Times reports

Thursday, November 4, 2010

There grows the neighborhood

So after eight L-O-N-G years of bitter strife--including of course the courts, costing the developer over $100,000 the town $10,000 and the neighbors about the same in legal fees --the "low income" housing project in Orchard Valley South Amherst is going full steam ahead, even on a rainy day.

I put low income in quotations because the 24 units will work out to $350,000 per unit in simply construction costs. And since it is "low income housing", it will pay reduced local property taxes.

Amherst is currently around 50/50, where half of all property in town is owned by tax exempts--although our assessor is getting vigilant about finding innovate ways to tax them, even if at reduced rates.

HAP, inc is a private 501c3 nonprofit organization serving all of Hampden and Hampshire counties and is funded by Federal, State and Private donations--in other words Other People's Money.

The 24 unit development springing up on Longmeadow Drive was approved by our ZBA under the the state's Chapter 40B affordable housing law, even though Amherst is not below the 10% threshold. HAP argued that Amherst has a less than 1% vacancy rate and that there was a strong "regional need" for the housing.

Hence the ire of the neighbors. The project development manager called it "the most extensive opposition of all the 40 projects we've done in western Massachusetts."

Let's hope the neighbors on the other side of town do not break that record in trying to torpedo 'The Gateway Project'.
Much of South Amherst was once an apple orchard harvested for generations by competing farm empires Atkins and Wentworth who both used lead arsenate--the insecticide of choice from around 1892 through the 1970s.

Since it was routinely sprayed on orchards in high concentrations, some of it would drip and bond tightly with the the top 10 or 12 inches of soil then separate into lead and arsenic, either of which is hazardous--especially to young children.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When will they ever learn? (sequel)

So missiles in the form of beer cans launched from the snipers lair located on the 3rd floor balcony of this humble abode at 27/28/29 Phillips street resulted in three $300 "nuisance house" tickets to the responsible parties late Sunday night/early Monday morning.

Since they were "beer cans" it's safe to assume they were empty--even so, any metal object hurled from the 3rd floor of a building gets a fair amount of assist from gravity and can do damage if you happen to be on the receiving end.

The nitwits are lucky APD did not charge them with "assault with a dangerous weapon."

And yes, I'm sure I will hear about incidents like this Thursday night at the Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting as we continue to move forward with The Gateway Project, where the former 'Frat Row' directly across Phillips Street is headed for a mixed-use private development partly to provide new higher end student housing, but mainly to connect the downtown with Umass and to increase our pathetic commercial tax base.

Naturally, neighbors think the Gateway Project will result in more rowdy student behavior rather than less. Kind of like your toddler wailing over their first flu shot, not realizing the overall benefits.
Phillips Street is less than a beer can throw away from the heart of the Gateway Project: Former Frat Row, owned by Umass but about to be donated to the ARA

When will they ever learn (Original)

Frat Row circa 2005

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In the mainstream, mostly

UPDATE: Wednesday 10:00 AM

So I was almost perfect in my predictions yesterday. Amherst went W-A-Y overboard supporting all the Ds including the Governor, and voting "No" to all the binding ballot questions except for the non binding vote on taxing pot where we voted strongly in favor.

Turnout was 45%--a little more than half what we muster for a Presidential election and certainly twice what we normally muster for a local town election.

My only surprise on a state level was the repeal of the booze tax. Of course Amherst voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the tax. But considering what happened on a national level yesterday a lot of folks in Massachusetts will be crying in their chardonnay for the next two years, so I guess it makes sense they would want to repeal the tax on alcohol.

Original Post: election day 10:00 AM

So it's not too hard to predict how the People's Republic of Amherst will vote today: All Ds all the way, as in the straight Democratic ticket will win by more than a landslide (somewhere in the vicinity of 80% of the vote.)

The binding Questions will be about the same: Nix sales tax on booze or reduce the overall sales tax to 3% will lose by the whopping margin, as will the Question to repeal 40-B the affordable housing state law. And of course the non-binding question to tax pot the same way we tax booze will pass handily.

Voter turnout will be half what we get for a Presidential election and more than twice the average turnout for an annual spring town election (where the candidates have far more influence on 'All Things Amherst'.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

No longer fearing the 1st

So today marks the very first 1st of the month in 28 years where I did not experience some degree of trepidation brought on by making the rent. Actually my longtime landlord, Dick Johnson, told me early on that payment was due on the 1st but as long as it arrived by the 10th that was considered "on time." Naturally I took to getting it there on the 9th or 10th.

But the 1st of the month always set off that reminder alarm that a sizable chunk of my total monthly overhead was now due, and the clock was ticking.

Yes the Amherst Athletic Club closed June 21 but my new landlords were kind enough to allow me three months at greatly reduced rent--that I pushed to four--so I could try to sell a hundred or so very large, heavy commercial exercise machines one piece at a time; that otherwise would have sold for a song at public auction in the middle of a very hot summer.

Yesterday was the final, final day although I ended up with four pieces remaining--three of which "sold" Sunday morning but the deals never went through.

Although I now have one more week (gratis) to sell them, not having to worry about paying November's rent made the finality hit home this morning--and the weight of treadmill lifted from my tired shoulders.

So again tomorrow I will awaken, minus trepidation, and get through an entire day, without trepidation, and go to bed, minus my old friend, trepidation. Feels weird... Empty.