Monday, January 31, 2011

Gateway supporters show resolve

left to right: Todd Diacon, John Musante, Jonathan Tucker

If nothing else tonight's Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting reaffirmed the strong partnership already forged between the ARA, Umass and the town, as Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon and Town Manager John Musante clarified their vision for the Gateway Project before the ARA and a packed room of 50 onlookers, many of them concerned neighbors defending their backyards from the perceived spectre of the college town bogeyman: undergraduates.

Musante outlined four main objectives:

1) Create a development that the community wants.

2) Strengthen the neighborhood by constructing higher end housing to compete with seedy substandard slums.

3) Increase the towns tax base, stimulate jobs and bring customers to the downtown via the Gateway corridor.

4) Give the town a significant say in what gets developed there because indeed something is going to get developed one way or the other.

Deputy Chancellor Diacon called the Gateway a "signature attraction at the entrance to our campus". And to counter the constant complaint from neighbors about substantial undergrad student housing being a core requirement of the deal, Diacon pointed out the University is currently constructing 1,500 beds for the Commonwealth Honors College in the heart of the campus which goes a long way towards alleviating the needs for undergraduate housing.

If Gateway is built and the doesn't include undergraduates in the apartments that would "fine with us." The University is not demanding the housing be "only for undergraduates."

In his closing remarks, borrowing a them from President Obama (who borrowed it from 'Bob The Builder'), the Town Manager said confidently "I think we can do this. We have the talent. We can do something pretty special along North Pleasant Street."

Out of the four proposals received to lead the vision process, the ARA hopes to select a consultant by March 1st.
View from the head table

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Amherst's Berlin Wall: The news spreads

UPDATE (11:15 PM): public hearing Tuesday night has been canceled due to the weather

(10:15 AM) Note poll over on the right. You can only vote once and No, you do not have to live in the People's Republic in order to vote, as you may want to someday drive to Umass, the veritable flagship of our state higher education system.

Springfield Sunday Republican reports (click hotlink to read)

Yeah, the readership of the Sunday paper is probably twice that of other editions. Yikes!

If town officials were smart they would start this "experiment" on April 1st, and then after the deluge of cranky calls, emails and text messages overwhelms the system by the end of the day, nix the project the following day and just attribute the whole thing to an "April Fools Joke".

Friday, January 28, 2011

I shot an arrow into the air...

By the time the Challenger vaporized in real time before millions of stunned viewers 25 years ago I was already an avowed news junkie and I was auditing a course taught by the legendary Howard Ziff, founder of the highly regarded Umass journalism program.

Coincidentally enough he had scheduled the editor of the Concord Monitor, Christa McAuliffe's hometown newspaper, to be a guest lecturer that semester and he appeared only weeks after the disaster.

I asked him what he would have done if he absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the Challenger would explode that morning but had no corroboration. He looked me directly in the eye and said (with his voice somewhat trembling) he would have done "Anything--absolutely anything--to get the word out, including standing in town center naked with a warning tattooed to my butt."

Of course in 1986 the Internet was strictly a niche work area for nerdy scientists plus the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was not even born. Still, the viral spread of news about the stunning disaster was nothing short of amazing. Within an hour 85% of Americans had heard about it and most of them ran to their televisions to watch it...over and over again.

I knew one of the astronauts, Ron McNair--a traditional style black belt who fought in local karate tournaments in the Boston area even though NASA disapproved. And my only verbal interaction with him after we fought at Rocky DiRico's tournament was to tell him how cool I considered it that he still did what he loved even though it made his bosses nervous.

He said something to the effect that he also loved equally being an astronaut, and could not conceive of giving up either. Christa McAuliffe loved being a teacher. Ironically in a preflight interview she had said it would be cool to go from teaching history to making it.

I have often wondered if the Power of the Web had been harnessed prior to that ill-fated flight if it could have made the life or death difference? Perhaps a word of warning sounded by an engineer (on his personal blog) who helped design the o-rings and knew they were not safe in sub freezing temperatures would have brought further pressure to bear on bureaucrats who had put aside their engineer hats in favor of their manager ones.

But now I'm not so sure. Only nine months ago the Deepwater Horizon, a super-expensive, pride of American technology oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the worst environmental disaster in history. There too engineers put aside ethics in favor of expediency and the bottom line.

As Pete Seeger observed in a song so very long ago: "When will they ever learn?"


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"Of the people, by the people..."

And of course the most important part of Mr. Lincoln's eloquent quote, "for the people." Or to paraphrase President Kennedy 50 years ago: "Ask not what your town can do for you, ask what you can do for your town."

February 1st was shaping up to be the NIMBY Superbowl, as two volatile meetings were in conflict: the Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting (bordering on a public hearing) concerning the Gateway Project and the Amherst Department of Public Works committee's public hearing on closing off Lincoln Avenue to our largest by FAR employer, Umass, and used as a direct route to there for almost 150 years.

Of course the neighbors ensconced on Lincoln Avenue will converge on the DPW public hearing to champion turning their neighborhood into an exclusive enclave at taxpayer expense (not to mention creating a nightmare for travelers to and from THE major destination spot in Amherst.)

And some of those same neighbors will be pulling double duty by also attacking the nearby Gateway Project citing noise and increased traffic.

Some will even be a triple threat by invading the Feb 10 Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing to attempt blocking Amherst Brewing Company's move into the former Leading Edge gym's cavernous commercial space on University Drive.

Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone: Banana Republic indeed!

From: Larry Kelley

Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 11:27 AM

To: Musante, John; Mooring, Guilford; Tucker, Jonathan

Subject: Feb 1st ARA extravaganza

One of our PR friends at UMass just pointed out the Town Room is taken the night of Feb 1st by the DPW hearing on Lincoln Ave "calming". 

Now I know we have to keep Phil Jackson (and his band of merry NIMBYs) happy and all, but it strikes me that Gateway is a tad more important.

Is there any way we can move that DPW hearing to the Bangs Center or--better yet--the date, so Umass community relations folks can attend it and the ARA meeting???

Larry K

(Acting) Chair ARA

From: Mooring, Guilford To: Musante, John Tucker, Jonathan 

Sent: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 12:53 pm

Hi. This is the regularly scheduled PWC meeting. We could move as long as there is a big room available. They meet the first Tuesday of each month.

From: Larry Kelley
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 1:02 PM

To: Mooring, Guilford; Musante, John; Tucker, Jonathan

I will rent a very large tent (The ARA has a few bucks left in an Administrative Account.)

Sent: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 2:41 pm
Larry and Jonathan,

How about moving the ARA meeting to the previous night 1/31 in the Town Room? There will be neighbors interested in attending both ARA and PWC. I have checked with Nancy and Todd at UMass and they are available. Jonathan, the Town Room is reserved by my office for the Select Board that night but they are not planning to meet. Let me know ASAP.
John P. Musante

And so we did. ARA Meeting: Monday, January 31, Town Room, Town Hall.
A tad less busy in 1860

Amazing that Lincoln Ave actually predates the University or the original Massachusetts Agricultural College. Even more amazing that the People's Republic of Amherst named a major street after a Republican President (years before he became a martyr.)

Click on the two links below for the official DPW renderings (and how much did they cost?):

The Berlin Wall of Amherst

Close up of the Berlin Wall

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Amherst School Super Search: the ethical violations continue

9:25 AM
Umm...Since Michael DeChiara is Chair of the Shutesbury School Committee (you know, the guy who complained to the DA about Catherine Sanderson's blog being a violation of Open Meeting Law) and he used an in-house school email list for this Public Service Announcement and it clearly endorses one of the three School Superintendent candidates (the in-house one) it clearly violates State Ethics Law.

From: Michael DeChiara on behalf of Michael DeChiara
Sent: Tue 1/25/2011 7:30 AM
Subject: Please Be Counted: Attend Feb. 1 Interview for Maria Geryk

Please attend Feb. 1 Interview for Maria Geryk Jan. 24, 2011

Dear Shutesbury neighbors,

If your child attends the Middle or High School OR if she/he will attend soon,please
read this.

The search for a permanent Superintendent for the Amherst Region is coming to aclose. There are 3 finalists- the two men from out of state who have already beeninterviewed. Maria Geryk, our current interim Superintendent, will be interviewednext Tuesday, Feb. 1.

I believe that Ms. Geryk has done an excellent job since taking over the interim
position last spring. However, it is not clear how seriously she will be considered
by all the school committee members. If you think that she should be given a fair
chance and a real opportunity to be considered, I would urge you to show up for
her interview on Feb. 1 to be counted.

The interview will be from 6-8pm at the Amherst Regional High School library on
Feb. 1. Being there in person is important. At that time, you may also submit a
feedback form to the School Committee members with your thoughts.

*If you cannot attend, you may send an email to the those voting School Committee
members (see below).

**If you are a teacher and are worried about exposing your indentity for fear of
reprisal, you may submit your comments via anonymous form (see below).

Additional information can be found at:

Please share this with others.
Michael DeChiara
A parent of high schooler and 6th grader on her way to the Middle School

Monday, January 24, 2011

Let the battle begin

UPDATE 3:44 PM I just hit 500,000 page views. I'm going to Disney World!


Praise the Lord and pass the (verbal) ammunition, the Amherst School Committee race in the People's Republic just became downright interesting. We got us a contest.

And isn't that what democracy is all about?

Plus the difference between the two is downright stark--even though both are highly-educated white woman, married, with kids in the schools.

One is a crusading reformer, fearlessly forcing our bloated education system to take a hard look in the mirror and realize how bloated and ineffectual the once venerable system has become; while the other candidate is an apologist for the tired, expensive, business-as-usual scenario.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reports (late as usual)

The Power of the Web

State Senator Stan Rosenberg, Dave Sullivan (our new DA) and Congressman John Olver march in the Amherst 7/4 Parade.

So I noticed yesterday in the Springfield Sunday Republican "How they Voted" section that Amherst's long-time state senator Stan Rosenberg had voted against a bill (proposed by those miscreant Republicans) that would have mandated roll call votes also be posted on the state website in addition to being available in hardcopy buried deep in the recesses of an office somewhere at the State House in Boston.

Unfortunately "How they voted" doesn't explain why they voted that way. So naturally I took to Stan's Facebook page to ask:

I'm a little surprised, sitting here reading my Sunday Republican ("How they voted"), that you voted No to Rule S-6 requiring Committee roll call votes cast by our duly elected legislators on bills in their committee to be posted on the Legislature's website.

You were an early adopter of the 'Power of the Web' and have this wonderful Facebook page and are extremely accessible via email, so you know well how the Internet has fostered greater interaction between politicians and their constituents.

The average person these days (or I guess above average, since they would actually care about these "inside politics" voting sessions) could not easily make the trip to the Statehouse in Boston--especially in the winter--to view hardcopy available in the offices of said committee.What is wrong with greater transparency and a far superior means of dissemination?

And, true to form (even on a Sunday), I did not take long for a response:

Nice to hear from you as always. I have no problem with the proposal to post roll call votes in Committees. The problem is technical at this point. We are going through a complete changeover of our legislative website and while we are making progress expanding what is on the site we are having growing pains. We have not yet even been able to perfect the site enough to have all of our roll calls from Senate floor actions on the site. That is the plan and it is being worked on but not perfected. I expect we can add roll calls from committee action at some point but we just can't at this point so putting it in the rules will not work until we can actually do it.

Also you should know that probably 90 percent of committee actions are taken by voice vote so when it is finally able to be done there will not be that many bills actually moved by recorded vote. Not a reason to slow it down but just a point of information

Thanks Stan. I knew there was a good reason. And this exchange kind of proves my point about the power of the web and it's usefulness to democracy. Stay warm!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

That's Entertainment

Amherst Brewing Company hosted a catered meet-and-greet "Open House" last night at their proposed new location: Newmarket Center on University Drive, a busy direct artery leading to the heart of our economy, Umass.

The new-and-improved location would essentially double their footprint, double their seating capacity and provide bountiful parking--all for roughly the same rent they now pay in Amherst center where parking is hardly plentiful.

And since Amherst enacted a local option meals tax, what's good for a restaurant is good for the taxbase.

The previous tenant, The Leading Edge (formerly Gold's Gym), expired last fall after falling behind in rent so by now the vacant tomb has cost the landlord over $100,000 in lost revenue. No wonder the property manager did not hesitate to allow a viable prospective tenant to throw a party.

The three member Zoning Board of Appeals will hear their case February 10 and, unfortunately, the Special Permit requires a unanimous vote. Neighbors will be out in force to rail against increased noise and traffic.

And so it goes.
Looks like former owner Peter Earle did not put back ALL the equipment he snatched on Christmas day

A commercial location (for many years now)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Amherst School Super $earch: The drama continues...

UPDATE: Saturday 1:25 PM

The Springfield Republican reports

UPDATE 1/20/11 8:00 PM

So the venerable Amherst Bulletin went to bed late this week trying to keep up with this fast moving story, and at the very least they conjured up an adequate above-the-fold headline " controversy swirls around the search process." Indeed.

Center-of-the-storm Amherst School Committee member (and fellow blogger) Catherine Sanderson recently posted why these new developments make her "Disappointed in our community."

And I could not agree more. For almost 30 years I have watched the well organized "insiders" take advantage of voter apathy in our local elections and use fear and intimidation to squelch dissent.

Fortunately for us, Ms. Sanderson is not a wuss.

The Bulletin Reports

ORIGINAL POST 1/19/11 12:15 PM

From: Julia Rueschemeyer
To: Amherst Regional School Committee
Sent: Wed, Jan 19, 2011 11:44 am
Subject: Concerning campaign to undermine the search process

I am writing to inform the Committee of how disappointed I was to receive the following bulk email encouraging me to support Maria Geryk for superintendent. Please note that I received this email before the outside candidates have even had the chance to meet and speak to the community. This email calls into question the candidate’s willingness to relocate to Amherst. Certainly not something to be assessed simply from their resumes. It indicates to me that there is a well-orchestrated, deliberate campaign to subvert the selection process and keep Maria Geryk in control of the schools at all costs.

I am concerned that Jennifer Welborn, a District teacher, appears to be leading the charge to promote her current boss (who impacts her evaluations, work policy, promotion, etc.) This seems to be an extreme conflict of interest. Further, promoting her agenda to parents who might have students in her class, and might fear retaliation for a differing viewpoint, is also tremendously problematic. It would be one thing to write a letter expressing her personal opinion directly to the School Committee, but it is highly inappropriate to participate in an organized effort to recruit others to write on Maria’s behalf.

This campaign is being conducted by email blast, largely by, and directed at, affluent, white parents. Therefore the letters received by the school committee about candidates will be dominated by this socioeconomic group, disenfranchising other segments. It is also an effort to specifically thwart two outside candidates with significant expertise and experience with students of color, and is directly in conflict our critical District goal of social justice, our desire to have all segments of the community participate equally in the process.

The public opinion process had already been damaged by Maria’s releasing her name in the newspaper before the Search Committee announced the finalists, creating more press coverage for her than for any of the others. This campaign further corrupts the community responses.

If Maria were to be selected by the School Committee these actions will forever taint her appointment. People will always assume that she was hired not because she was the best candidate, but because she had the backing of the Amherst political machine.

I hope that the School Committee can rise above these political tactics, and make the right decision on the individual merits of each candidate, and what is best for the children in the school system.

Julia Rueschemeyer

Sent: Mon, January 17, 2:00 PM

Please read the letter below from Jennifer Welborn, a well-respected member of our teaching community, and contact our school committee members to (1) Delay the appointment decision (for at least a couple of days, instead of the currently planned couple of hours) after the last interview to allow for public input and thorough consideration of this extremely important appointment, and 2) indicate your preference for a candidate - and I am endorsing Maria Geryk for the same reasons as Jennifer - she has a proven track record in Amherst, she has roots here, and she has the support of our teachers. Please join Jennifer and me in urging our School Committee to come to the rational decision to not gamble on another potentially transient superintendent!

PS - As I was selecting you to receive this email I got the all-call from the school delaying tomorrow's start of the interviews due to the threatening weather forecast. That renders some of this message moot but it still is a good message to sent to the school committee to take their time, take the time to get public input, and make their time well spent by picking the best candidate. Many thanks for YOUR time!

Here's Ms. Welborn's message:

From: Jennifer Welborn Sent: Monday, January 17, 2011 5:30 Here is a copy of the letter I am sending to all members of the school committees. Feel free to copy/use as you wish and/or forward to other people.

I am writing to you with regards to the upcoming school committee vote for the next superintendent of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School system. I am: an Amherst resident; the mother of two children in the public schools and a teacher at the middle school. As a member of the aforementioned 3 different groups of people in town, I believe I have my finger on the pulse of both the community and at the very least, the teaching staff at the middle school.

Both my children are very active in the schools, in sports, and in the community so I am out and about every minute that I am not planning and grading! Everywhere I go, people--even people who do not have children in the public schools- talk about the need for STABILITY, CONTINUITY and COMMITMENT in addition to the skills and experience needed to cope with the challenging job of being a superintendent in our system.

Unfortunately, as you know, the superintendency has been somewhat of a revolving door the past few years. Of the three candidates, I believe that Maria Geryk is the one who shows the most promise of providing the long-term stability, in addition to the requisite skills and experience, (which she has ALREADY DEMONSTRATED) of leadership that we sorely need at this point.

I am sure, after reading the bios of the other two candidates, that they are fine men, with abilities and experience that may well be valuable and helpful to our system. I am not convinced, however, that either one of them, would/could commit to the position over the long haul.

I, and a plethora of other people (parents, community members, other teachers) believe we do not need to appoint someone from the outside, who will take at least 6 months to learn the ropes and get traction.

We need someone who already knows this community, has ALREADY demonstrated skill and expertise (Maria has successfully stepped up to the challenge two times now) and who is committed to staying for awhile and working with all stake holders to improve the schools. Thank you for taking the time to read this email.

Jennifer Welborn

Monday, January 17, 2011

BANANA byproduct

So it comes as no surprise that "new growth" is down fairly dramatically, and if some people had their way the town would see zero growth--as in a BANANA Republic (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.)

In 2005 a Texas company tried to build 200 units of upscale student housing (50 of them "affordable") just off campus--a project that today would be generating a half million dollars in property taxes.

Town Meeting recently voted down a development modification to the zoning bylaw that would have encouraged smart development--something highly recommended by our expensive Master Plan.

Critics seemed to make it a referendum on the Gateway Project, a mixed-use commercial development that will significantly improve the main approach to Umass, add desperately needed housing stock to a terribly tight market, encourage pedestrian traffic into our downtown, and provide significant tax revenues. A win-win squared.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Patriotic Deja Vu (all over again)

January 2011

So back in 1988 Tae Kwon Do debuted as a "demonstration sport" in Seoul, Korea--a nation that takes Martial Arts deadly serious. My kicking karate buddy Arlene Limas, from the tough town of Chicago, won an Olympic gold medal.

Standing on the elevated podium the exuberant lanky Polish/Mexican lady in her crisp white uniform patiently waits for the sound system to play the "Star Spangled Banner"...and waits, and waits.

Finally, she single-handedly starts singing our national anthem acappella--quickly joined by friends and family in the crowd--and shorty thereafter by almost everybody in the cavernous arena.

And that was 13 years before the world changed. At the normally routine Buckingham Palace changing of the guard, on an extraordinary afternoon just after 9/11, our former enemy for the first and only time in their exceedingly long history struck up "The Star Spangled Banner."

A Brit newspaper reported

Friday, January 14, 2011

Innocent on all counts!

So the jury spanked the "Special Prosecutor," recently retired B-I-G city District Attorney William M Bennet, by coming back ever-so-quickly with a slam dunk verdict of not guilty on all four counts in the God awful manslaughter trial of former Pelham police chief Ed Fleury accused (by Mr. Bennet) of negligence in the horrific death of an innocent 8-year-old child.

Not only the most serious charge of "manslaughter" but even the three lesser ones of furnishing a machine gun to minors. The DA got greedy: in trying to make a major statement and a legacy case he ended up looking like a heartless buffoon.

Mr. Fleury was indeed guilty of something--but certainly no more so than the innocent child's father who signed a waiver acknowledging the activity could lead to "death," ignored a repeated suggestion that his youngest son handling the micro-Uzi was not a good idea and then cheered while filming the disaster, until his son disappeared from the viewfinder.

Or the laconic DA himself, who ignored these highly publicized "machine gun shoots" for seven years, or the numerous cops who were at the shoot that day and said nothing, or the Westfield Sportsman’s Club that probably operates with a skeleton part-time staff made up mostly of volunteers. Or calling an "expert witness" who points the machine gun at the jury, while the judge denies Bennet's attempt at a repeat showing of the snuff video.

Indeed it's a cliche to say that someone like Ed has already "suffered enough". But in this "case" it most certainly applies. To all of us as well.

The Springfield Republican reports (and yes, the AP picked it up)

Story goes International

Town Manager presents "No Override budget"

John Musante (center), Andy Steinberg Finance Comm Chair (in red), Stephanie O'Keeffe SB Chair

Rookie Town Manager and still Finance Director John Musante presented his maiden budget to the venerable Select Board and adhered to the watchdog Finance Committee's suggestion of a level funded budget ($18.5 million), in other words a "No Override budget."

And when I asked if the fiefdoms who represent the other two-thirds of our $60+ million overall budget budget (mainly the schools at $33.5 million and the Library at $1.5 million) were also going to follow this precedent he replied:

"No consideration, to my knowledge, of another Override to support Fiscal budget 2012."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

From Health Club to Brew Pub?

The long shot attempt by exuberant former members to revive The Leading Edge--aka Gold's Gym--has already sputtered like an endurance athlete hitting the wall; now a game ending scenario looms with the Zoning Board of Appeals "Special Permit" hearing next month as Amherst Brewing Company, a downtown icon, seeks permission to move into the cavernous University Drive location, a snowball's throw from Umass.

The thriving brew pub opened in Amherst center in 1997 as an anchor tenant in the former First National Bank building, just one of Barry Roberts many successful downtown assets, and they have expanded three times since.

In 1998 founder John Korpita made national news by winning a $3,713 lawsuit for damages brought against an underage patron using a fake ID. Mr. Korpita was also one of only two taverns in town to stay out of the 1999 'Smoking Ban in Bars War' when Amherst lead the way in that public health initiative bitterly opposed by a rowdy gang of barowners.

Gold's Gym opened in 2003, jettisoned the franchise name two years ago in favor of The Leading Edge and then finally expired last October. Interestingly in 2002, a year before they originally opened, the Zoning Board of Appeals turned down a 'Special Permit' request for a restaurant/bar in that location due to neighbors concerns about "noise and crowding."

Original founder and now former owner Peter Earle was intercepted by the Amherst Police on Christmas Day attempting to remove tons of exercise equipment (last second Christmas shopping?)

According to Amherst police narrative:

I spoke with Joanne Delong who said the equipment is leased and can not be removed. Peter Earle and his partner have taken approximately 8 loads. Earle was advised that unless he can provide paperwork stating the items are his, nothing else will be moved. The Penske rental truck was observed with multiple weight stands, and loaded with weights in the truck. The truck was secured overnight. Earle will return in the A.M. and place that equipment back inside until proper documentation is retrieved. Peter Earle was also advised he may face criminal charges if he knowingly removed the property illegally.

This clip is actually from the recent January 10 Select Board meeting. Never hurts to have Princess Stephanie as a reference (shown here acting as Liquor Commissioner approving a new ABC stockholder). And these days the ZBA is a tad less cowering to noisy NIMBYs.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And so it goes...

High noon

Yes, venerable Amherst Town Hall is closed. But the DPW is going great guns (if I dare use that metaphor these days) as is the Police and Fire Departments. Interesting how it's those on the lower end of the payscale who are considered "essential personnel."

Lucky us: 13 reasons for optimism

Borrowing a page or two from Dave Letterman, rookie Town Manager John Musante presented the Select Board a lucky list of 13 reasons to "stay positive" in the coming year. The only thing his presentation lacked was a little background music, say, "The sun will come out tomorrow."

Regionalization of Emergency Dispatch (partners in place this Spring) Improve service and save substantial money.

Regionalization of Public Health Services ($tate grant for shared services.)

Kendrick Park. Public Process underway. Designs coming in the next few weeks. Substantial state grant to make it happen. Jan 27 Public Hearing on prospective designs from Kendrick Study Committee.

Road improvement. $4.5 million to deal with "most major roads" ($21 million backlog). Most ambitious in town history (starts this spring).

Atkins Corner road and business improvement in South Amherst. Mass DOT about to issue a contract.

Lord Jeff Inn reopens this summer. Anchor in downtown.

Boltwood Place (behind Judie's restaurant) breaks ground later this month. Direct result of zoning changes approved by Town Meeting to allow infill.

BID (Business Improvement District). Working closely with Chamber of Commerce to explore this privately lead, privately financed entity to enhance services in the downtown.

Gateway Project. Working with Amherst Redevelopment Authority and all the major stakeholders. Very intensive process will begin later this winter. Create vital thriving mixed use development, a boulevard connecting Umass campus with downtown.

Notion of neighborhood stabilization. Efforts to improve quality of life especially around Umass. Involving Code enforcement, rental properties, education, enforcement. Working with tenants and landlords.

North Amherst and Atkins Corner rezoning. About to awards contracts to consultants to finish job of translating broader principals of Master Plan for infill development in our Village Center (could come to Town Meeting next fall.)

Solar energy. Town will be a leader in the Region in renewable energy. Six bids to create a solar array at the old landfill. Great for environment significant financial benefits to town and reducing energy costs.

"Open Government to the Max". Trying to allow citizens to be much more interactive with the town.

And of course soon after presenting the last item on this list the Town Manager and Select Board retreated into Executive Session (to discuss collective bargaining.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gatekeepers hold back the horror

It's been almost a week since the deleterious death video was shown to a captive jury in the manslaughter trial of former Pelham police chief Ed Fleury--an accidental machine gun death where of an 8-year-child's head ended up on the wrong end of the gun.

And thus far not a single local, regional or national media outlet has shown the entire video. Thank God for small favors. In fact, yesterday Judge Velis did not even allow the prosecutor to replay it while a State Police "expert" was testifying about the micro Uzi.

One juror has already been dismissed and we will not know why until the trial is over, but it seems obvious since she was crying to the judge that the burden of having watched the video and hearing the heartrending testimony was simply too much for her.

As would the ghoulish video be for many people if released for mass distribution. Unfortunately something like that falls into the category of "know it when you see it"--but by then it's too late.

A hard to resist Siren Song, better left unseen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

South Amherst Robberies continue...

This photo was taken at 9:30 this morning before official word arrived that President Obama and Governor Patrick have ordered the American Flag to half staff to mourn the victims of the horrendous shootings in Tucson, Arizona.

A unlocked vehicle on Sherry Circle in South Amherst was entered under cover of darkness and a wallet removed from the owners pocketbook and of course all the cash--$500. But at least the thief was conscientious: they left the wallet in a nearby mailbox.

This may or may not fit the Modus Operandi of the numberous burglaries that have plagued Amherst and Northampton households since last summer, as leaving cash is in an unlocked car is never a good idea. As the Irish Catholics like to say, "An open door would tempt a saint."

Northampton Police will, however, soon make an announcement as they have issued an arrest warrant for a perp implicated in the Breaking & Enterings there. Time will tell if that person also orchestrated the Amherst capers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The price we pay (cheaper than the alternative)

"...right of the people peaceably to assemble..."

Well we all know the Main Stream Media loves irony, and any hard news editor with ink still left in their veins probably lives by the journalistic credo "if it bleeds, it leads;" thus the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a deranged gunman on Saturday morning (she is shown here only a few days ago reading the First Amendment) is getting a lot of ink, or bandwidth as the case may be.

Unfortunately politicians and pundits like to use compelling stories ripped from the headlines to push their political agenda. So now we're hearing talk about toning down the political rhetoric (directed at those evil conservatives of course) that is poisoning the public debate.

Sounds to me like an assault on the First Amendment.

As the ACLU would say, "The best way to deal with bad speech is with more, good speech--not censorship!" The First Amendment can--like life in the real world--be a tad rough around the edges.

But I find the thought of more government infringement far more nightmarish, as I envision the government's muzzle dangling over me like the Sword of Damocles.

Or perhaps it's a hangman's noose.

Bernie Goldberg agrees

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

And yes, it did not escape me or others in the MSM that one of the innocent victims--nine year old Christina Green (and my daughter Kira is nine)--was born on 9/11/01.

Let's hear it for USA Today, they know how to liveblog a press conference:

Update at 1:17 p.m. ET
: "The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means ... hateful speech more readily available than 10-15 years ago. That absolutely represents a challenge to us," Mueller said. He said the FBI is still doing an analysis of computers seized in the search.

Too bad Mr Mueller did not do his job in the months leading up to 9/11...

(For those of you new to my blog--and Google Analytics tells me that 23% per day are--click the Tag Label below "First Amendment" for previous diatribes.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Better to reign in Hell

UPDATE: Friday 5:00 PM

So not much happened last night at the meeting. The NIMBYs were as few as they were subdued (only two showed up, down fairly dramatically from our previous dozen or so meetings). The Request For Proposals seeking a consultant to do our "visioning process" were not due until today at 4:00 PM, and I just received word that four companies responded and they all seem to be "substantial, accomplished firms".

Thus our next meeting in two weeks should be far more interesting. And yes, I get to Chair that one as well.

Tonight the Amherst Redevelopment Authority continues its long slog through the morass of the public process as we continue to gingerly lay the foundation for the Gateway, a mixed-use development seamlessly connecting downtown Amherst with Umass, our flagship of higher education and number one employer in Western Massachusetts.

After 20 years of attending countless political meetings in the People's Republic of Amherst as spectator, participant and citizen journalist tonight will actually be the first time I have ever chaired a meeting.

Yeah, it should be--as the Chinese would say--"interesting."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

They've got a secret

The Select Board gave Larry Shaffer (on left) the thumbs up for his mysteriously sudden retirement
UPDATE: 4/17/11

How it all, finally, turns out
And continues...

UPDATED: Friday 9: 30 AM

The interesting thing is in the official minutes they did give me only one sentence is redacted. Hmm...

However, the entire one-hour-and-twenty minute executive session "discussion" was covered by Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe (demonstrating her PR flak background) in only two sentences. So the other way to look at it is they redacted half the damn report!

The other telling thing about the Town Attorney blowing me off is that he cites "Wakefield Teachers Association vs School Committee of Wakefield"; and that had to do with a middle school male teacher being disciplined for making inappropriate written comments to a couple of his young female students and being "disciplined" (No, strangely enough he was not fired only docked three weeks pay).

A judge ruled that since the documents in question had to due with the "performance" of a public employee it was exempt from Public Documents Law request. So I guess it boils down to who initiated the break between Shaffer and the town. Did he do it of his own volition because he was getting old and tired and simply wanted to retire or did the Select Board get wind of some inappropriate activity and implement disciplinary action?

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

Dear Mr. Cote,

I wish to appeal the recent decision of the Town Of Amherst denying me the vast majority of minutes from the 8/30/10 Select Board Executive Session to discuss the sudden retirement of then Town Manager Larry Shaffer, the highest ranking appointed public official in town with an annual salary of $127,528.

The Executive Session lasted over an hour and resulted in the Town Manager being released from his employment contract two years early, AND the payment of four months bonus pay. Since all the monies are tax dollars, The People who financed this arrangement have a right to know the details.

And since Mr. Shaffer almost immediately applied for Town Manager/City Manager positions in the state of Wisconsin, it's obvious he did not abruptly retire from Amherst due to a medical condition.

As always, thank you for service championing the peoples right to know by keeping government records open and transparent.

Larry Kelley
596 South Pleasant St.
Amherst, Ma 01002

So much for "open government" bragged about on the town website

Thought I was doing pretty good up to this point, but I just knew a "However" was coming...

Page 2 legal response via google docs

Party house of the weekend #2

So these bad boys at 1107 North Pleasant Street are already in the running for "party house of the semester"--and the semester has not even started.

Although APD only issued one $300 Noise ticket last weekend to this establishment they garnered five one night last semester (9/25/10). And apparently they know the cost because one of the tenants tried to avoid it by, umm, fleeing the scene (maybe he headed to Mexico).

According to police narrative:

"I observed a vehicle stuck in the front yard with its rear bumper in the roadway as well as loud music to be ongoing and unreasonable coming from the location. I observed approximately 50-60 guests inside. The resident who was at the front door fled from the scene before receiving a Noise Violation ticket which will be mailed to him by certified mail."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No graphic videos here

So as I feared, when the judge in the involuntary manslaughter trial of former Police Chief Ed Fleury ruled the jury could see the horrific video (but not hear the sound track) of a little boy accidentally shooting himself in the head at point blank rage, that opened the door for the evidence to go public--and in this day and age that guarantees Internet viral video status.

Judge Peter Velis , over the objections of the prosecution and defense attorneys, has now ruled the digital video can be turned over to the media. Ugh!

And even if my friends at the Springfield Republican and Daily Hampshire Gazette decide they are a family newspaper and the content just too graphic and disturbing to disseminate, somebody will publish it, and once it gets out it will explode across the web like a photon torpedo.

According to the National Press Photographers Association code of ethics:

"Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see."

As Mr. Fleury's attorney pointed out a few months ago, there is no dispute about the fact that an Uzi is a deadly weapon. And no dispute that it caused the death of an 8-year-old child. Does the jury really need to see the blood and brain tissue to be convinced?

I have the right to not to watch it, which--like the gruesome beheading of Danny Pearl video--I will choose to invoke. Unfortunately the jury in this case has no such choice.

My original lament

Ch. 22 reports

Monday, January 3, 2011

Party House of the weekend

Amherst Police issued only one $300 ticket for a Noise Violation to the responsible leaseholder at this single-family farmhouse at 92 Cowles Road (Yes, owned by WD Cowles, Inc) but, in addition, six cars were towed and two Bad Boy Brothers aged 18 and 20 were arrested for assaulting a police officer. According to Police narrative:

While attempting to clear the roadway of approximately 30 people, two became physically assaultive with Officers. With the assistance of OC (pepper spray) they were placed into custody.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gold's Gym, AKA Leading Edge revival loses its luster

A desperate price structure that already failed once yet still more than twice as expensive as Planet Fitness

So here it is January--peak month for health club member sales nationwide--and Lazarus has not yet arisen from the grave. 'The Leading Edge' went out suddenly on October 19th and almost immediately otherwise sane folks who are exercise addicts started a movement to reopen the club.

By "movement" I mean more in the Arlo Guthrie sense:

And if three people do it! Can you imagine three people walkin' in, singin' a bar of "Alice's Restaurant" and walkin' out? They may think it's an organization! And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day . . . walkin' in, singin' a bar of "Alice's Restaurant" and walkin' out? Friends, they may think it's a MOVEMENT, and that's what it is: THE ALICE'S RESTAURANT ANTI-MASSACREE MOVEMENT! . . .

Their Facebook page attracted under 150 like minded fans before disbanding last week in favor of the blog. And yeah I'm a BIG fan of the Power of the Blog, and what I love about Blogger is simple publishing and it's even simpler for Anon folks to interact with the site. So for them to now have under 500 "members" who pledged to join --but put down NO money--once the business opens (by simply clicking a link) is stunningly inadequate.

At its peak (when still called "Gold's Gym") the business probably had 3,000 members paying on average twice the low-end membership rate now proposed and even on the day they died 'The Leading Edge' probably had a 1,000 members, having lost a gaggle to 'Planet Fitness' and the new $50 million Umass Recreation Center two miles down the road.Yes, this billboard probably costs about $5,000 month

By now the vast majority of their former clientele--down 60% from those peak years mid decade-- have joined other clubs in the area. Even more important, the fitness instructors have found other options, either taking up with Hampshire Athletic Club or renting space in town by the hour or taking the major step of opening a storefront facility targeting group exercise aficionados thus draining away about one-third of the target demographic.

Simply put, the overhead at 'The Leading Edge' killed them: prime location rent, utilities sucked up by the cavernous commercial space, and of course the employees required to cover very extensive hours of commercial operation.

If long time members had been paying attention they would have seen the handwriting on the wall two years ago when the owners abandoned the 'Gold's Gym' franchise (in order to save money of course) and relaunched as 'The Leading Edge'.

Ironically the volunteer committee of former members attempting to orchestrate this long-shot revival have chosen the name of another former dead club 'The Gym', which was located at appropriately enough the Mt. Farms Mall back when it was known as "The Dead Mall".

And now the Mt Farms Mall--far from dead since Wal Mart moved in--hosts 'Planet Fitness' where predatory pricing is the norm. Thus even now with the proposed unrealistically low rates for 'The Gym' they are still more than twice as expensive as 'Planet Fitness'.

Although virtually all of them commence with good intentions the tragic reality is about one-third of new business start ups fail in the first year. The chances for survival of a committee-run gym are anexorically slim, especially in this cutthroat market.

But fortunately, we will never know--since 'The Gym' will never actually open.