Sunday, February 28, 2010

Equal opportunity flag disparager

So at least His Lordship (about to become a mere Commoner) Gerry Weiss even has problems with a People's Republic of Amherst town flag, in addition to the 29 commemorative American flags that he likes to see as little as possible unfurled in town center.

And since those US flags only cost $40 each, safe to say a new flag of the same size with the town seal (or whatever a committee comes up with) will not be overly expensive.

Mr. Weiss loved to champion the subsidy of golf at Cherry Hill and considered $10,000 in tax monies nothing when applied to that pursuit, but God forbid we spend a couple hundred on a flag.

Gotta love the cocky, self centered body language at the very end.

What are town officials afraid of?

Click to enlarge/read

So when No More Overrides! gets back up and running (and I promise never to attempt tweaking ever again) you will note the salaries for town employees including the schools, as many of them are quite notable.

The town salaries are FY10 (the current year) and the School salaries are for upcoming FY11, so they do include the COLAs and step increases that may be reduced due to a teachers union giveback--although I'm betting the amount will be pretty token/negligible.

Curiously, MIA (somewhere in Miami) School Superintendent Dr. Rodriguez coughed up the requested salary information, but ignored the other part of the request for the additional cost per school employee for benefits package, which are typically about 30% more.

Stan Gawle has filed an appeal with the Supervisor of Public Records in Boston.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The taxpayers strike back!

No More Overrides! (click here to save your hard earned dollars)

UPDATE: 5:30 PM Where's Mr. Hood when you need him? So I was trying to add a sitemeter to the website and somehow managed to republish a draft version from a month ago. Yikes! Have contacted tech support and our other webmaster, so hopefully it will be restored to the version seen above soon.

UPDATE: Saturday morning: So Ricky Boy Hood, unfortunately a shoe in candidate for School Committee, is reporting over on Catherine Sanderson's blog that A-Rod is having a medical procedure done in Miami (which had originally been planned for mid-to-late April, when of course the weather in Amherst turns rather pleasant.)

Ricky Boy does not explain the sudden change in plans, or why the Superintendent did not think it important enough to let the Regional School Committee know or why officials did not post it on the ARPS website for all to see.

Hmm...so much for "transparency."

ORIGINAL POST:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Winston Churchill (no relation to Andy)

Where's A-Rod?

Click to enlarge/read

UPDATE: 2:00 PM (Friday) The New York Post is reporting that black/blind NY Democratic Governor Paterson is ending his reelection campaign because of the scandal involving interference with an investigation against one of his top advisers for sexual assault that he tried to cover up.

Gotta wonder what the People's Republic of Amherst School Committee member Kathleen Anderson, who is black but not blind (although sometimes I wonder about the latter) will chalk this one up to.
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10:30 AM So according to the memo/spreadsheet that stated, "In keeping with the spirit of transparency and maintaining our lines of communication open, listed below are the dates I have been, or will be out," a memo Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez tossed to the Regional School Committee on February 9th; it clearly indicated he was taking "vacation" from February 16 through February 19, and then on Monday February 22 a "sick" day, and then nothing more until April.

Today is February 25. And now I hear (from two reliable sources) Dr. Rodriguez is staying in sunny Miami until March 8th. Hmm...

Interestingly an Anon posted a Comment on this blog at 8:46 AM questioning his current whereabouts. At 8:55 AM--about ten minutes--later I get a hit from somebody in Miami, Florida doing a Google search for this blog. Hmm...

Click to enlarge/read

I had forgotten that only four out of nine Regional School Committee members voted in favor of his salary/benefits contract (one now gone and another stepping down--and both of them championed the modular classrooms costing taxpayers $215,000 at Mark's Meadow School that never hosted a class of students.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Umass, Town, ARA team up for development

Thursday update: I live-blogged this last night and participated as an ARA member so please excuse the quirky writing style.
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7: 30 PM
First meeting in forever: All 5 ARA (Amherst Redevelopment Authority) members are present, four members elected one appointed by the Governor, a quasi state agency with the power of eminent domain. Aaron Hayden, Jeanne Treaster, John Coul, Margaret Roberts and me (or is it I?).

First up election of officers: John Coull Chair, Larry Kelley Vice Chair, Clerk Jeanne Traester (the Governor's appointee who's term is up soon.)

Town Manager Larry Shaffer making a presentation: Concept of a "Gateway Redevelopment District" near the University of Mass. He's been approached by two large corporations who wish to build large upscale student housing projects ($80 million worth) and a luxurious Hotel project ($25 Million worth.) Umass is talking about increasing student population by upwards of 3,000 students.

Downtown is split up between a few heavy hitters. These new folks require 2 to 5 acres of contiguous property for their projects. UMass may convey property to the town (or ARA) the former "frat row" on North Pleasant Street, now just level open space.

ARA could bundle or assemble these properties for the developers. We want the property to be taxable, and close to the downtown so they provide business for our merchants. Grow our tax base (currently 2 billion) by 10%.

7:40 PM Town Manger wants ARA to be "lead agency". Actually had 2 developers talking about hotels--each requiring about 2 or 2.5 acres of property. Frat Row is 1.8 acres. Construction costs are at historic lows. He's been in touch with all the local heavy hitter (Jones family, Barry Roberts etc) but just can't "puzzle our way" through it. Too many property owners each with too small a piece of the overall pie.

Umass would give up Frat Row to the ARA, with conditions (about the projects undertaken). Umass thinks it will not be a problem to convey the property. Looking at taking a Sorority just north of Frat Row and the University Lodge (20 unit hotel owned by former ARA member Curt Shumway) just south, both contiguous with what once was the 4 rowdy frathouses to make for a larger contiguous property.

Private developers need the help of the town (to keep the NIMBYs at bay).

7:55 PM: Rezoning would be required: two thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting...ouch!

8:20 PM: Jonathan Tucker (Planning Director): In order to go forward you need a plan and the state has to approve it.

8: 30 PM Unanimous vote of the ARA to "prioritize the Gateway Redevelopment District" as a near and present project.

ARA would shape the project and then put it out to RFP (Request For Proposals bid) and let the private sector do the actual project.

Next Meeting March 10 with Umass officials (some of it will be in Executive Session)
Big green spot in middle is former Frat Row: church and commercial hotel immediately below and sorority above.

Previous post on Frat Row.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Public safety held hostage


So first we had Jones Library Trustee Chair Patricia Holland boasting that closing Friday afternoons would inflict the most damage to the public for the least amount saved ($8,575): "This will be an argument for the Override," she naively declared.

Now we have the Town Mangler telling the Select Board to place the snuffing of street lights back on the death row Override list (saving $40,000 if 400 are doused due to Override failure) because it will scare the Hell out of old people who vote, and anal cyclists like former Select Board member Rob Kusner, who may still have a friend or family members who vote.

I have been teaching self-defense for over 35 years and the best advice I can give people is not to be there when trouble arrives. And trouble thrives under cover of darkness.

Street lights help to prevent rape, assault, and other crimes too numerous to mention. Threatening basic public safety to score political points is fearmongering at its worst. Only in Amherst--and Iran.

The Blunders Continue

The Internet Petition to support the Override is still floundering, only garnering 631 signatures in six weeks (many from "name not displayed," or kids too young to vote, or folks from outside the state.) Recently Select Board member Aaron Hayden signed on:

12:11 pm PST, Feb 19, Aaron Hayden, Massachusetts
This year the override is a sound investment in the value of our homes, the quality of life in Amherst, in our children and for our safety and well being. This investment is equal to the cost of a cup of coffee each week - it is hard to be wise because it is easy to taste that cup of coffee right now while we don't need the Fire Department's help today and won't need to return our library books for a few weeks yet.

Hmmm...

So, 52 cups of coffee divided into the cost of the Override for the average homeowner at $264 works out to over $5 per cup.

Amherst College must pay Mr. Hayden really, really well.

I'll drink to that!

So the illustrious Amherst Select Board last night approved placing on the town meeting warrant this spring an article increasing fines for all things alcohol related in the People's Republic from around $50 per infraction to a whopping $300. Now that should get the attention of those damn students!

After two late night ride-alongs with Amherst PD over the last nine months I would guess well over half of all the activity garnering police attention related to drinking. So this bylaw fine escalation should be a Hell of a money maker.

The same coalition committee of Umass folks and town officials are also considering a by-law before Town Meeting (who has to approve the fine increase on open container, nuisance party houses anyway)enacting fines for "public urination."

What an entrepreneurial concept! Generate municipal revenues via the chaotic byproduct of alcohol via open container and noise infractions and then even more fine revenues for public urination, another natural byproduct of alcohol consumption.

The Umass student newspaper otherwise known as Daily Collegian scoops the crusty Gazette

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Transparency indeed!

Even the Crusty Valley Advocate gets on board

So the crusty Daily Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin finally exposed the story of Amherst's highest by far salaried public employee taking advantage of the Schools "generous as compared to private industry" sick leave benefits.

Interestingly, reporter Nick Grabbe quotes snarky anonymous Internet comments and attributes the controversy picking up steam via Catherine Sanderson's School Committee blog, when in fact she has never posted a word about it (other than to say no comment) and refused to comment when the reporter called her for an interview.

Obviously the issue first broke on this blog--although I was smart enough to simply post the public documents without any editorial comment, knowing the racism charge would quickly follow.

When I submitted what turned out to be my final column for the venerable Amherst Bulletin in 2004 railing against the High School becoming the only one in the nation to allow teen aged girls to perform the 'Vagina Monologues' editor Nick Grabb told me I couldn't use a particularly devastating comment posted on Masslive Amherst Forum because Gazette policy did not allow use of unattributed anonymous sources.

Fortunately I knew the person, former Jr. High School principal John Burruto, and he gave me permission to attribute the quote to him. And it stayed in the column. Maybe the venerable Gazette has loosened their standards in the past six years.

But being an official reporter for a bricks and mortar newspaper has its advantages as the Superintendent took reporter Grabbe's call while in Florida at his other home: "I'm a victim of transparency," Rodriguez whined. "At what point does transparency creep up into my rights?"

Naturally School Committee member Kathleen Anderson was quick to play the race card: "In U.S. culture, there's a tendency to see the same behaviors in a person of color differently than a person of European descent."

I wonder if some school principal or lower level teacher took that many sick days in advance and casually slid a memo/spreadsheet to their boss showing they were taking those days with no further explanation; would they get away with it? Probably not, no matter their color.

If Alberto Rodriguez owned his own company he could do as he damn well pleased. But he works for the taxpayers of Amherst (and to some extent Leverett,Pelham and Shutesbury.) Since the Regional School Committee hired him and can fire him, he should have been a tad more respectful by providing them a bit of explanation for that "transparent" 2/9 memo.

Arrogance goeth before the fall.

The Bulletin Reports (finally)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Winter morn


UPDATE: 2/18 Off to Disney for a few days

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The benefits of Benefits

SCHOOL COMMITTEE BENEFITS POLICY FOR PRINCIPALS

Vacation Time: The Principal is entitled to twenty-two (22) days of vacation annually to be scheduled through and subject to approval by the Superintendent. Unused vacation shall be cumulative to a maximum of forty-four (44) days. Upon completion of fifteen (15) years of administrative service in the local school systems, the Principal will be eligible for twenty-seven (27) days of vacation annually, cumulative to a maximum of 54 days. Should the Principal request 30 or more vacation days for use at one time, she/he will submit such request to the Superintendent at least 6 weeks in advance of the date on which such vacation use is proposed to begin.
Holidays: The following days shall be recognized as legal holidays:

New Year's Day Patriot's Day Columbus Day
Martin Luther King Day Memorial Day Veteran's Day
President’s Day Independence Day Thanksgiving Day
Labor Day Christmas
Sick Leave:
a. Sick leave is intended to provide insurance against loss of income due to personal illness. An Administrator shall be entitled to eighteen (18) days of sick leave with full pay per contract year. Each eighteen (18) days of sick leave shall exist as of the beginning date of contract, provided that the administrator is present to assume his/her contractual obligations. In the event of non-appearance caused by accident or illness, the administrator's pay may be withheld, with due notification to the person, pending the assumption of contractual responsibility. Sick leave shall be cumulative to 240 days.

b. Absence by reason of death or critical illness in the immediate family shall not be charged against sick leave.

c. An administrator who has completed fifteen (15) or more full years of service with the Committee, may upon retirement or the administrator's estate upon death, be compensated for that portion of his/her unused accumulated sick leave in excess of 120 days, at the rate of $20/day for each unused accumulated sick leave day in excess of 120 days.

11. Personal Leave: Up to three (3) days per year of personal leave will be allowed for each full-time administrator. Such personal leave will not be charged against sick leave. Additional personal leave, up to a combined maximum of eighteen (18) days per year may be granted by the School Committee. Such additional leave is normally charged against sick leave at the discretion of the School Committee. Personal leave will be used to take care of problems or business for which absence is not authorized under any other portion of this contract and will be granted without reference to the specific nature of the request. Personal leave shall not be used to gain extended vacation time, and personal leave shall not be cumulative.

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So the Superintendent gets the same benefits package as do the Principals and the document entitled "School Committee Benefits Policy For Principals" was attached to Alberto Rodriguez's original contract. But there's something else called Family Medical Leave Act:

This is a federal law which entitles anyone who has worked in a job for a year to twelve weeks unpaid, intermittent sick leave to support a family member or oneself if validated by a licensed physician.

There are forms (FMLA) that must be completed to be granted this. For sake of consistency, the Amherst Schools use these forms as validation of an illness even if someone, like Dr. Rodriguez, has not worked here a full year.

Furthermore, the Schools permit staff to use 10 of their own sick days in a school year to support family illness, so they suffer no loss in pay. They permit staff to accrue up to 245 total sick days. (In general, staff get 12-15 sick days annually.)

In Superintendent Rodriguez's case, he has not been here a year--but was instantly granted 20 sick days upon signing his contract last spring. All staff, regardless of their length of service, are required to complete the FMLA paperwork if they have either a planned sick leave or an unexpected sick leave which is more than 3 consecutive days.

So Dr. Rodriguez's 2/22 "sick day" does not trip the FMLA paperwork--because it's only one day--and neither does the April 15th and 16th sick days; but 4/20 to 4/23 will because it is 4 days.

UPDATE: 1:00 PM Reliable sources confirm that Nick Grabbe, forever reporter with the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette, is on the story.

And according to this puff piece in the Bully, he can take the heat.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Amherst School Super's super contract

Click boxes to read


Wikipedia:
Paid sick days, sometimes referred to as sick leave, guarantees workers time off to stay home when they are sick without losing pay or their jobs. Some paid sick days policies also allow paid sick time to be used to care for sick family members, to attend doctor or medical appointments or to address health and safety needs related to domestic violence or sexual assault.
Nearly half of workers in the private sector (48 percent) do not have a single paid sick day to recover from illness or to care for a sick family member. As a result, they face difficult choices: lose a day's pay or even their jobs, or go to work sick and risk infecting coworkers and customers. Parents who lack paid sick days are often forced to choose between their jobs and their sick children. Nearly half (49 percent) of working mothers miss work when a child contracts a common illness. Three in four low-wage workers (79 percent) do not have a single paid sick day. These workers are least able to afford to take unpaid time off or risk losing their jobs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Let the backstabbing begin...

Hitchcock's Psycho Shower Scene: Flickr.com


From: Jackie & Andy Churchill
To: Richard B. Morse
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 08:46:35

Rich--

I've just read your 7:30 AM comment on Catherine's blog. My take is that over the last few weeks or so, you've been baiting a number of people to come out and play on her and Larry's blogs.

Here's my other take: You were once a measured, thoughtful citizen with strong, challenging opinions. You've now become a bitter, public asshole.

I'm sorry to say that. With no sarcasm, I truly hope all's well with you.

Jackie


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Mrs. Morse pulling the same stupid stunt 3 years ago


Soooooooo, Overriders are already desperately eating their own--or I should say formerly one of their own.

I can't think of a more "centered" (although listing to the left) mainstay for all things Amherst than Rich Morse, who I always affectionately refer to as the "Grumpy Prosecutor"--with no disrespect intended to his vital profession.

And he freely admits to voting for every Override that has come down the pike in his relatively brief years inhabiting the People's Republic.

So when he
recently started to question the wisdom of this current Override I knew Overriders were in serious trouble. This nastygram from Mrs. Churchill only confirms that!

How soon they forget:

When the 'Amherst Plan' Override failed 3 years ago Mr. Churchill received a threatening phone call from then Selectman Rob Kusner:

The Amherst Bulletin gleefully reported (with audio file no less)

Mr. Morse's offending remark from this morning (Oh my!):

Marty K's post may be the most vivid demonstration that we may not be able to have an honest debate on these issues in this town.

And last time I checked, Rivkin and Sanderson are in the majority on the local School Committee. In other words, the touchstone of effectiveness in elected office in Amherst is not whether or not one is able to work with Andy Churchill. It's forging working majorities. And for the time being they have one.

Rich Morse

February 12, 2010 7:31 AM

Lay on Macduff...


So the die has been cast, the Rubicon crossed or as General Custer so famously last exclaimed, "We got 'em boys!"

As expected the Select Board this morning rubber stamped the orchestrated package presented to them by the Budget Coordinating Group--albeit slightly less (looks like the Regional Schools cut their demands a bit, maybe by tapping the $1 million stashed in their E+D Account.)

Now the amount is $1,680,441 and it's a single amount, all or nothing lump sum with "allocations". And because it's a General Operation Override, it is FOREVER.

But yes, the following year the "allocations" are gone; only the tax amount remains--plus 2.5% of course.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Never forget. Never, never, never...

Where were you when they came down?

Live from Town Hall: It's BCG Wednesday morning!


10:36 AM
Well, this will pretty much decide the amount of the Override and structure.

10:38 AM Stephanie starts (without the Town Manager). John Musante on cell phone, presumably calling the town manager.

10:45 AM John Musante Updated Cut list. Let's hear from the heads of those budgets. Streetlights put back on list if addition funds come in. Grand total for town budget is $537,252. If state aid is only cut 5% then Pubic Safety (including Police Animal Welfare Officer) are safe. (the Governor's budget actually calls for 0% cut)

10:48 AM Elementary Schools: (Rob Detweiler Business Agent) $400,000 is our request from an Override. SC voted 5-0 for that.

Regional Schools: Asking for $950,000 from the Override. Amherst taxpayers will pay almost $750,000 of that (since we are three quarters of the Region.) Region vote was 8-0-1 (one abstention)

Library: met last night reconsidered the Override and went back to an amount of $88,994 from an Override.

Stephanie: Did they make any strong statement on the Override?

Pat Holland: "No"

Gerry Weiss: Trustees voted for this amount ($89,000) but they are not asking for an Override???

Holland: They are not taking a position on the Override. (Gerry looks a tad pissed)

11:05 AM The Town Manager has entered the room! (who needs Elvis?)

John Musante: $1,765,000 is the new (and improved) grand total for the Override.

11:10 AM Stephanie: Priorities are good--but they are inexact. Doing the best we can. We do not have strong Ra Ra support from all the boards. Looking at $1.8 million Override and $2.5 million in cuts. What is our best way to go forward? With a goal of getting some restorations would a Menu Override have a better chance of getting something passed or would a lump sum work better? Had this discussion before but it's now a "fever pitch" point with the general public. Do we want some rather than none?

11:15 AM Irv Rhodes: our 5-0 vote was NOT to support an Override, it was simply to put the $400,000 into the mix but not an official vote on the overall Override. If we had more time we would have come up with a different number. Very, very imperfect number (the $400K.)

Stephanie: "It's clear the School Committee is not vociferously supporting this."

11:20 AM Gerry Weiss reads the entire SC statement. Stephanie: "Again, not strong support for the Override." So how do we get them (schools, town, library) the extra money? Some of this is not "sexy". Library has a serious PR problem with its request (I assume she's talking about the recent six digit gift the Jones Library received)

Catherine Sanderson told Regional School Committee she strongly supported a Menu Override. Andy Churchill on the other hand strongly supported one lump sum (we all rise or fall together.)

11:25 AM Stephanie parses the written report of the FCC. They said to "consider" a menu override and that is what we are now doing. (Hmm...but they were a tad more definitive than that Princess Stephanie--and they also said an Override would be necessary in the next FIVE years.)

Gerry Weiss: Why did FCC recommend Menu?

Stephanie: Because it allows many different people speak to aspects of an Override. The problem is it gives people the right to say NO to certain parts, and it's only a tiny statement. "We give choice too much credit" (Hmm..why am I reminded of President Reagan's observation that the scariest line ever is, "I'm here from the government and I'm here to help".)

11:30 AM Gerry Weiss: "I think a lump sum Override will sink. As a lump sum we're holding each other hostage."

Bonnie Isman (Library) The voters are going to be skeptical. If schools are not ready now, why not go to Town Meeting and have them vote a budget contingent on an Override.

11:45 AM Irv Rhodes: I would welcome a delay. Otherwise, a Menu Override.

11:47 AM Stephanie: Extraordinary amount of discussion with unions (Police and Fire) giving up COLA's. Not fair to now NOT have the Override on 3/23. Contingent Override via Town Meeting is still a "safety net" if the 3/23 Override fails.

11: 52 AM Stephanie: BCG sent preliminary report to Select Board Monday night suggesting "lump sum". Do we now (BCG) still support that?

Gerry Weiss: Yeah, MOST people at this table still supports that (Lump Sum with Allocations)
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HERE IT IS FOLKS:

Shall the Town of Amherst be allowed to assess an additional $1,765,441 in real estate and personal property taxes for the purposes of funding the following expenses: Town Operation Budget ($537,252) Elementary Schools Budget ($400,000), Regional schools district Budget ($739,195) and Library Operating Budget ($88,994) for the Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2010?

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Musante: Explain it to the community this way. Extra state aid would be a "Great problem" to grapple with. We can then not levy to the limit as the town in 2004 when that $2 million Override passed. We got an extra $650,000 from the state and the town did reduce the levy of the Override amount that year. (Yes John, but what about the following year and the following year. Amherst has only had two general operation Overrides over the past 30 years and they are still both to this day generating extra revenues.)

Heated discussion between Musante and Rhodes (voices raised), Stephanie acts as ref.

12:08 PM GOTTA GO. If I had to guess they will put the above lump sum Override on the ballot for this coming 3/23. But as Bill O'Reilly would say, "I could be wrong."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gold plated potties?


UPDATE: Wednesday morning

Nostradamus strikes again. Yesterday I predicted the Region would cave in to the bully Select Board and ask for $1.1 million (+ or minus $100-K) piece of the Override pie and apparently last night they requested $950,000--nice price point.

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ORIGINAL POST: Tuesday morning
So at last night's Select Board Override extravaganja festival Stan Gawle, 'Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change' spokesperson, mentioned the $140,000 sitting in a Capital Accounts slush fund for over a half-dozen years that Town Meeting appropriated for renovations to the "comfort station" at Community Field, recently renamed Ziomek Field.

And of course this particular comfort station is also Stan Ziomek's summer office for all things baseball.

But my sources tell me the reason the money was never spent to actually do the renovations is because LSSE (and Stan Ziomek is on the LSSE recreation Commission) wants to build a gold-plated $10 million Recreation/Teen/Senior Center on or around this site and it would look fiscally irresponsible to renovate the bathrooms and a few years later have to tear it down to make way for the Taj Mahal.

Since the town closed the War Memorial Pool next door after more than fifty years of continuous summer operation, and since the Town Manager is talking about replacing it with a water sprinkler park, why not roll that $140-K into that less grandiose idea?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Live from Amherst Town Hall: It's SB Monday night!

UPDATE: Tuesday morning

This damn good column in the Boston Globe from fellow Umass grad Kevin Cullen should be required reading for the all the Amherst town employee unions--especially the teachers union.

What Goes Around

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ORIGINAL POST:
Last night
The School Committee across town must be pretty busy as this meeting is fairly dead. Maybe a dozen folks in the Peanut Gallery.

Stephanie starts on time (no surprise).

7:02 PM
First up: Andy Steinberg, Chair Finance Committee
"Long collaboration" from the Budget Coordination Group. Best work from "all of us". Not something new. Been engaged in lengthy process. Started in 2008. Had to make substantial cuts last year and did so with no Override. Identified core services and how to provide most efficiently. Even made LSSE (recreation dept) cut back on tax support...

7:10 PM. Andy is still talking. (pretty good for not having a script). Process this year was "very difficult" Schools are still working thru it tonight and tomorrow (Regional meeting). Even with Override something will get cut. BCG reached conclusion we need "some amount" for an Override--but not to exceed $1.9 million.

Ties it all together: Schools, Library, Public Safety need this Override. Did consider a "menu Override" but decided to simply go with the all-or-nothing.
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7:17 PM Open to Public Comment. First up, Clare Bertrand leader of the Override movement (replaced Ricky Boy who did such a lousy job three years ago). We've "made some really hard decisions (concerning cuts). Don't see this kind of collaboration often and we should cheer it.

Yeah, I guess as long as they agree with the Override, eh?


View it as one townwide effort (all for one and one for all). We don't want to lose "what is dear to us." One vote for the community to say what it wants.
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7:20 PM Next up Stan Gawle spokesperson for anti-override 'Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change', and chief architect of the torpedo sinking of the 'Amherst Plan' Override three years ago:

Excessive salary increases of 3 to 7.5% is what's causing this Override. He sites Longmeadow where the teachers union just settled for 1% per year for two years. Talking about capital items: $140,000 sitting in an account for bathroom rehab at Community Field and it's been sitting in an account for five or six years now.

Two portable classrooms we paid $215,000 for and were never used as classrooms and now are being sold as surplus.

Will the town promise to put an Underride on the ballot if more money does come in after the Override if/should pass?

Need to reduce Capital appropriations by $300,000 that could go to other things in the budget.
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Yuri Friedman, Amherst town meeting member: Put it on the ballot let the public get informed and make the decision.
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7:33 PM Rick Spurgin, Amherst Town Meeting (also a "Financial Economist"). The longer we put this off the harder it's going to be.
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7:35 Another pro Overrider. We're heading towards becoming an Argentina. Need revenue to maintain and restore some of the things we believe in. We also need Universal Health Care (what do you wanna bet he voted for Obama?)
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7: 40 PM Hwei-Ling Greeney: Voted against the last Override. Tonight I'm here to say I'm happy what the town did after the last Override failed. Applauds LSSE becoming more self supporting and the regionalization of emergency dispatch. So I'll support this Override IF shared sacrifice. Those on town payroll give back some of their payraise and step increases. If that happens before March 23rd election then I'll support the Override. I believe voters will be more likely to vote yes as well.
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7:45 PM Vince O'Connor. First confirms that Overrides are forever. Stephanie agrees this one would be a permanent increase in the tax levy. Vince would like to see a Menu Override. Can draw more people into the process, who will be interested in their niche programs.

Better to have some winners than no winners.
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7:53 PM Pat Holland President Board of Trustees, Jone Library. We are only a "little sliver" out of the total pie. Mass regulations require a certain minimum amount of tax support from the town in order to maintain state library certification. Our Trustees had different opinions. About half supported an Override. Others think question should not be the domain of the Trustees but should be decided by voters. That is why we did not take an official stand. If passed, Override would keep open the main library on Friday afternoons. Jones has about 1,000 visitors per day.

Recent gift of $293,000 is "designed to go into the endowment" (currently around $6.5 million, Hmm...) It's up to the "Friends of the Jones Library" weather to spend it avoiding all the cuts that the Override would obviate (a tad under $70,000).

8:05 PM End of 'public discussion.' Now the ball is in the Select Board court.

Princess Stephanie: If Override passes and unanticipated $ comes in, we will not tax the full amount of the Override (doesn't mention the year after, or the year after...)

Conor White-Sullivan, fresh scrubbed Umass student : We're launching a new website where everybody can make comments and discuss the Override (plus other political issues) at Localocracy.org

8:08 PM Gerry Weiss. This started out at $4.3 million short. Revised state cut from 10% down to 5% that brought us down to $3.2 million. Came up with $1.3 million more cuts and now we're at $1.9 million. The cuts are a "done deal" with or without Override. Town Meeting sets the budget so even if we promise not to tax the full amount they could still spend it (good point Gerry--but for the wrong side)

Points out the town has cut $6 or $7 million over the past three or four years. Yeah, Gerry that's true, but the town never would have done that if the Amherst Plan Override passed three years ago--and if it had passed back then, it would have now generated over $6 million in taxes from homeowners.

8:20 PM Town Manager Larry Shaffer: When the Gov announced his zero cut budget I put back restorations to Public Safety. As money becomes available we will prioritize according to a restoration list.

400 street lights have been identified for termination. (apparently not impacting public safety...apparently)

8:30 PM. Gotta go home and tuck in the kids. You can read more in tomorrow's Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Overriders last chance

UPDATE 2:00 PM. So yes--thanks for asking, I will be live-blogging the illustrious SB 7:00 PM segment tonight concerning the Override. And if I had to guess, it will indeed start pretty much on time (one thing Princess Stephanie does better than Mussolini). I would love to have Catherine Sanderson at the meeting also live posting to her blog, but she has a School Committee meeting tonight and that will prove more important than tonight's Select Board dog and pony show.

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ORIGINAL POST 10:00 AM Thus far the property tax Override campaign has been about rocky as the dark side of the moon. The Select Board had hoped to slam dunk the Override amount ($1.9 million) tonight and the structure they most prefer--lump sum general Override--but instead they will simply take "public comment" starting at 7:00 PM.

So Overriders will pack the meeting, demanding the Select Board "save our schools"--even though up to this point the School Committee has not gotten on board. And neither has the Jones Library, but that is less surprising since they did not join the lemmings parade three years ago.

The Republican Reports

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

12:25 PM
Not much going on up at Winter Fest in the remote outskirts of North Amherst, otherwise know as the municipally owned Cherry Hill Golf Course. Who would have figured that town officials would have to pay money over the last 24 hours to make snow while in Washington D.C. they are getting buried in the worst snowstorm of their existence?!

Oh well...hence the problem with things like golf or skiing: relying on Mother Nature as a business model partner is a fast track to bankruptcy (unless of course you can rely on taxpayers for life support.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

BCG: Why bother, when it's a done deal?

The Bully Reports (factual errors and all)
Of course you non news wonks will wonder what the big deal is: the Governor either submitted a level funded budget or a lousy 5% cut from last year budget (as reported in the Bully). But the difference to Amherst is $1 million. Kind of a BIG difference.

Just as someone could say what the hell difference does it make for the teachers to give up their little 3% raise and COLA next year. Well, that makes a $1.3 million difference. That too is pretty damn big.

UPDATE: 3:55 PM


My reliable sources at the BCG meeting tell me the Override will be a lump sum general amount (almost certainly $1.9 million) but "With Allocations" (meaning it will include ballot language that will allocate so much to the libraries, so much to the schools, etc.)

The BCG will meet again Wednesday at 10:15 AM, after more School Committee meetings next Monday and Tuesday. The Select Board will definitely meet next Friday at 8:30 AM, as scheduled in advance in case they needed to, to finalize things.

And Amherst School Committee lightening rod Catherine Sanderson posted this interesting strong arm incident from Tuesday's School Committee meeting:

"One final thing - I asked Stephanie O'Keeffe at the meeting last night three questions:

1. Whether it would be possible from the BCG/SB's perspective for the SC to vote simply to put an override on the ballot to let the voters decide (without the SC taking a specific stand supporting the override). She said no -- that the SB would not include the schools on an override ballot if the SC didn't take a position supporting an override."
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11:30 AM
So I'm sitting here trying to liveblog this meeting (the wireless keeps coming and going.)

Starts on time. First 'public comment' mentions "menu Override". He states that 3 members of the Facilitation's Committee are here and last year they stated an Override would be necessary withing the "next five years," BUT that Override should be a Menu Override, meaning voters can pick and choose what they support rather than an all-or-nothing, lump sum number. Maybe they should get a chance to explain that position?

I, of course, ask why we're here in the first place, since this body is supposed to forward a dollar amount and structure to the Select Board, who is meeting on Monday night, and that I also thought the Select Board on Monday would hear "public comment" on the Override--both structure and amount.

But, I'm reading today's Amherst Bulletin (dated tomorrow) that trumpets a definitive $1.9 million Override on a Front Page story--above the fold no less. So if it's a done deal, why bother with this meeting, and why bother with public input on Monday night?

Stephanie deflects by saying she can't speak for the Bulletin and they (the Select Board) are still in the process.

Vince O'Connor said he agrees a Menu Override would be best.

11:53
Andy Churchill (School Committee). Some are saying to delay the Override vote to April (thus setting up a standalone election that will cost $12,000 And since the Town Clerk is scheduled to lose an employee that's just what they need. )

The Region consists of 4 towns and the other three should have some input. They are comfortable with allowing the Amherst School Committee to come up with a figure for the Elementary Schools. The Region, however, does not meet until this Saturday.

12:05 PM
Andy Churchill actually uses the word "hardball" for the way the Select Board is strong arming the School Committee to get behind (in lockstep) with the Override. Hmm...

12:08:
Jones Library. Did not take a formal vote on supporting or opposing the Override--i.e. "took no position." They only voted to support the total amount needed so that they do not lose state certification.

Princess Stephanie (SB Chair) parses that to say that they "support" an Override. Hmm...

12:10
Town Manager asks if they are "silent on the Override". "So far," they respond.

12: 15
Gerry Weiss starts to browbeat Jones Library Trustee Chair Patricia Holland. "So, you want an extra $60,000--but you don't want to ask the voters? You want the Select Board to do that!"

12:16
Town Manager: "One option for the BCG is to give the Select board a number NOT to exceed..."
The community is expecting the Override on 3/23, so Shaffer is recommending for the SB to keep to that date. "The train is leaving the station."

12:20
Andy Churchill: "We need another BCG meeting next week and the Select Board should not make a decision this Monday night."

12:21
Gerry Weiss: "It's not feeling good to hear you're not ready. Delay is a bad idea."

12:30
Alberto Rodriguez (School Super)
How can we deliver school services cheaper? What are we going to bring back? Two different budgets (elementary and Region) but we're trying to integrate them and think more like a seamless K-12. Some cuts may go, so may come back. I met with Principals and they are working on a reprioritized list of cuts but will get them to me later.

In other words: they are still working on it. But says Mr. Rodriguez, "We will come up with something that everyone dislikes," eliciting the first chuckles of the meeting.

12:32
Princess Stephanie: We can still move forward and give the Select board a recommendation. We're committed to keeping the 3/23 date? (Andy Churchill and Regional School Chair say "no")

12:35
Town Manager uses metaphor, "We're not a speedboat, we're more like the Titanic." Yikes! (A few folks jump in to correct that image.)

12:40
Stephanie mentions the $12,000 cost for a stand alone election if after the normal 3/23 town election.

Alberto Rodriguez says you would get a better turnout on the already set 3/23 date.
Stephanie closes the discussion by saying it's going to be 3/23. Now moves on to THE AMOUNT.

12:45
Town Manager: "We're right around the $1.9 million figure." (Gee, he must have read the Amherst Bulletin.)

12:50:
Stephanie moves on the "the form" of the Override. Gerry Weiss wants to talk about the "surplus" the town seems to find every year, that goes into Free Cash savings. That with-or-without an Override we will still have a surplus (because of cuts.)

12:53
Musante: Recent surplus was about $720,000. Previous two years was a little over $1 million each year. Reserves are beginning "to rebound." Better than they were two years ago.

12:55
Sorry folks. I gotta go pick up my daughter. Will make a few calls in the next few hours to see what happened.

Hadley barn destroyed

UPDATE: 5:00 PM So as you can see, most of the critters are just fine. Although I have unconfirmed reports that up to a half dozen "show cows" perished in the fire.



9:00 AM
Amherst, Northampton and South Hadley FDs assisted Hadley in snuffing out the smokey fire at Goulet Farm just behind the two Malls.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Massachusetts miracle indeed!


Early this morning I was pleasantly surprised to read a guest column by Izzy Lyman, my forever friend and once the token "conservative columnist" for the Daily Hampshire Gazette. We were kind of bookends as I was then the token "conservative columnist" for the Gazette's sister publication the Amherst Bulletin.

Izzy of course submitted this over a week ago and only today it saw the light of ink. So yeah, a tad dated. Now you know why I call the Gazette crusty.


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On one recent evening – specifically January 19th – I wished I still lived in Massachusetts.

For many years, bombastic Amherst was Home Sweet Home, and I spent a chunk of that time happily writing bombastic newspaper columns.

What I would have given to cover the People’s Candidate’s victory party.

Oh, to watch herstory become history.

Oh, to be able, after years of seeing a “D” after every name in the congressional delegation, to simply gaze at the lone “R.”

Oh, to take a stand against Wall Street bailouts, ACORN hustlers, Cash for Clunkers boondoogles, and Rachel Maddow’s point of view.

Oh, to be in Massachusetts on a wintry election day and vote for Scott Brown for the seat formerly held by Teddy Kennedy.

Candidly speaking, however, Senator-elect Brown is not this Tea Party sympathizer’s cup of tea.

Brown, after all, isn’t really a social conservative. He supports civil unions, and he is pro-choice. Two strikes.

He is also “passionate” about improving that dinosaur known as public education. The Cosmo Centerfold strikes out, even with Kurt Schilling’s staunch support.

But these are times that try men’s and women’s souls, and, for once, improv, not hard-line stands, seemed the better way to take a shot at taking down the mighty Massachusetts Liberal Machine. For once, voting for a third party candidate was not only a wasted vote but a wasted opportunity.

Plus, there was something about Scott. Unlike Bill Weld, the quintessential Rockefeller Republican, as well all those other colorless moderates the Massachusetts GOP endlessly promotes, Brown comes across as playful and credible. He is of the masses and yet a cut above them - campaigning in the beloved truck, the wife and daughters who didn’t flinch in front of the camera, the grueling triathlon training, the J.D. degree, and the national guard service. If Brown insists on continued support of the War on Terror, at least, he is no chickenhawk. He has been a Minuteman-in-waiting for quite some time.

On a more wonkish note, Brown’s lack of enthusiasm for nationalizing health care, as well as his unabashed support for free enterprise and lower taxes, were deal breakers in wooing social conservatives and free-thinking libertarians to his camp. And if the Next Big Thing in the U.S. Congress is passing comprehensive immigration reform, Brown’s opposition to amnesty is a stand for economic justice, especially when the unemployment rate is over 10 %. Same goes for his opposition to granting driving privileges and in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

The saintly Gerald Amirault, declaring himself a Scott Brown supporter, gave the campaign gravitas. Amirault, falsely accused of child rape in the notorious Fell Acres day care case, deserved a small measure of justice for the extra time he spent in prison, thanks, in part, to Cruella de Coakley badgering Gov. Jane Swift to deny Amirault clemency.

And that brings us to the Attorney General. “Marcia” is that instantly recognizable cliche – the Northeast Corridor feminist who practices law and crusades against ‘hate’ crimes but sticks up for open borders - aloof, earnest, dull, and out-of-touch. Martha Coakley didn’t lose this race because she is a woman. It’s that she is “that woman.” The kind of gal that would have pimped, legislatively-speaking, for this Democratic administration by supporting the largely-discredited public option. Also the kind of gal that hassled little old ladies in gardening clubs, over their financials, while receiving support from Emily’s List.

No thanks.

She just wasn’t Kennedy-torch-bearing material. She was more like someone Barack Obama would have appointed ‘Social Justice Czar.’ Aloof, earnest …

Conversely, a creative thinker might argue that the silver-haired, athletic, public-servant- oriented Brown could have been a distant Kennedy cousin, albeit one who hung out with showbizzy Protestants, snuck peeks at Fox News, and shopped at Big Box stores.

It will be interesting to see how this all turns out, but supporters of Scott Brown need to remain engaged, since he is up for re-election in 2012. He is now Ken to Sarah Palin’s Barbie, and his every move will be scrutinized. The Bay State’s establishment press, academia, and branches of government remain unapologetically statist, so he will need all the help he can get from bloggers, tweeters, podcasters, youtubers, and every other establishment-rocking citizen journalist and alert citizen around. Perhaps Brown could be persuaded to go rogue vs. elite, and have a few coffees with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), instead of rushing to play hoops with the President. Being schooled by the elder statesman from Texas on how to honor the Constitution is, I would argue, the better use of this rookie’s time.

Meanwhile, January 19th remains a date to remember. It was on that day that the good people of Massachusetts liberated themselves from that ball and chain known as ‘politics as usual.’ They have now joined the mainstream.

Welcome!
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Of course at this moment State Senator Stan Rosenberg must be thinking: DAMN!

What if they gave an election...


So venerable, iconic, ancient, Amherst Town Meeting, that bastard--I mean bastion--of democracy continues to suffer from the snooze factor.

By yesterday's Ballot deadline for the 3/23 election (and it only takes one name--your own--to get on the Ballot) out of eighty 3-year-seats available seventeen of them lack a single candidate, or better than 20%.

And only one of ten Precincts (each with 8 open 3-year-seats) actually has a contest...although barely: 9 candidates for 8 seats.

As I titled yesterday's post, "When Products Compete" (they get better). When there's no competition you get, well, mediocrity.

Even this Collegian puff piece didn't help

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When products compete

Maryland, roughly the same size and population of Massachusetts, has 24 school Superintendents while Massachusetts has 279. One good reason the state is now pushing cities and towns to regionalize schools. Obviating a couple hundred highly-paid bureaucrats adds up to real savings.

In overly educated Amherst the School Superintendent's position is the platinum standard of public employment.

When Gus Sayer suddenly left seven years ago at $104,000 and Jere Hochman arrived at $135,000 then Town Manager Barry Del Castilho whined his way to a mid-year $10,000 raise, but still only topped out at $125,000, which remains the salary level of the current Town Manager (+ $6,000 or $7,000 car/cell phone allowance.)

The new Amherst School Superintended Alberto Rodriguez debuted at $173,000 ($158,000+ $15,000 housing/auto allowance)--a 20% raise over his Golden Boy predecessor Jere Hochman. The School Superintendent of Longmeadow makes $124,000

No wonder Amherst spends well over the $401 per student state average on administrators: $550 per student in the elementary schools and $582 at the Amherst-Pelham regional schools . Longmeadow, on the other hand, spends $331 per pupil on administrators.

But now the Town Manager and School Superintendent, our two highest paid public employees, are hoping the teachers union will enact "give backs" on their FY11 contract--specifically step increases and COLA, which combine for a whopping $1.3 million.

Chances of that happening are right up there with Scott Brown winning over Amherst three years from now in his Senate reelection bid.