Monday, February 28, 2011

Party house of the weekend: Girls gone wild

19 Farview Way

After Amherst Police broke up a large party at 902 East Pleasant Street by clearing the house of loud partygoers and issuing one $300 ticket about twenty of the revelers decided to pile into 2 or 3 taxi cabs and descend on another party house, this one a at 19 Farview Way, where a neighbor had already lodged a noise complaint.

At this point the neighbor plaintively reports: "The music is getting so loud that two of her children got out of their beds and crawled into hers." Police issued $300 ticket's to all five young ladies ($1,500 total) who rent the "single-family" abode.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

APD quintet honored

Left to right: Officers Corsetti, Gutierrez, Soverino, (Detective) Lopez and Officer Guiles

I hate the Umass basketball radio commercials that seem to flood our local airwaves, but it was nice of the Athletic Department to honor five Amherst police officers for their military service to our country (some of it still ongoing) during a recent half time show.

And I guess it does tie in to the military style theme they use in those ubiquitous radio advertising spots.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Diminishing downtown

After five years tucked away behind the second ugliest bank building in Amherst (both owned by Bank of America), 'Essentials' has succumbed due to a confluence of factors: the economic downturn, competition from high volume large scale retailers, and the ever present exponentially expanding competition from countless culprits harnessing the power of the Internet.

Interestingly, owner Sydne Didier issued a heartfelt SOS via the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette with a guest column published on the last day of 2010 where she admitted that she simply could not compete--at least when it comes to price.

And while she did not request donations as a life preserver, Ms. Didier did eloquently point out that concerned citizen (and citizens should be concerned when a town's economic engine starts to sputter) held the key to 'Essentials' survival, and a legion of other struggling Mom-and-Pops: shop locally.

In her own words

Friday, February 25, 2011

Having their cake and eating it too

Dennis Swinford, center back row (blue shirt) His headache has only just begun

Springfield Republican reports

No wonder Umass PR folks stayed out of the Lincoln Avenue blockade fiasco.

Obviously they knew what a major inconvenience it would be for their employees (and to some extent, students) and probably received an earfull, or inbox full, of comments 18 months ago when the town first attempted the closure; however they probably figured it would look hypocritical to oppose the idea when they knew the concept of closing off North Pleasant street was soon coming up...again.

Lousy timing Mr. Swinford.

Daily Collegian profile

Google Map North Pleasant Street

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lincoln Avenue blockade: the delays continue

UPDATE: Thursday 7:30 PM
The Springfield Republican catches up

UPDATE: Wed 2/23 7:00 PM
The venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette is reporting that town officials have, mercifully, ditched the idea of blockading Lincoln Avenue. I of course had extreme strong suspicions yesterday that was case when I first learned the town had postponed yet again the public hearing from 3/1 to 4/5, but could not get corroberation.
Original Post: Tuesday 2/22
So the March 1st public meeting to hear, err, discussion from the general public on erecting a Berlin Wall separating Umass from its multitudinous employees who use that public road (constructed circa 1860 or so) has been postponed yet again--this time until April 5 in the Town Room at Town Hall, a prime location.

The DPW Projects page on the town website has also posted the most recent comments received to date on this latest round of indulgence to all things NIMBY. This one is my favorite, as they manage to weave in the threat from speeders texting while driving, Level 3 Sex Offenders, and track teams running in packs. Yikes!

Another People's Republic breaks rank

Berkeley recently voted down a measure that would have welcomed freed Guantanamo Bay detainees to come live in their sunny city, thus leaving Amherst (and Leverett) high on the shortlist for providing Bed & Breakfasts for those cleared of terrorism charges, but still under confinement at our leased Cuban military base.

Perhaps Amherst Town Meeting should have dispatched Ruth Hooke to the Berkeley City Council chambers to pitch the proposal, and while there she could also have advocated on behalf of Amherst's most recent foray into national defense policy decisions: the "Bring the War Dollars" home resolution.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Congressman Richie Neal flanked by PVCIC Executive Director Rich Alcorn and his wife Principal Kathy Wang. Kira center front (black t-shirt)

So after almost four years my 9-year-old daughter Kira said her goodbyes last Friday to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, originally founded in Amherst almost four years ago and now located in Hadley, as she will transfer back to Crocker Farm Elementary School only a half-mile from our home.

Today Kira left for her homeland with her mother for a month. Since this week is vacation week she will be missing three weeks of school. Apparently Charter Schools have a harder time granting "extended leaves" or "alternative education opportunities" than their public school counterparts.

After 5 days of school absence Kira would have been considered "absent without leave" and summarily unenrolled from the Charter School. My education oriented Ph.D wife, naturally, plans to hire a private, native Chinese tutor (A Grad Student from an elite University) the entire time Kira is in her homeland to keep up with her, you know, Chinese--although it's hard not to when you will need it every day simply to get around.

We had also assumed Kira (currently an A student) could keep up with homework assignments via email and Skype. But according to Barry Barnett, Coordinator of Federal Programs for the DOE Charter School Office in an email to Principal Kathy Wang:

"When the child leaves for a period of time greater than your enrollment policy allows s/he is disenrolled from your charter school." Ouch!

He then goes on to (sort of) explain, "Only school committees can approve home schooling, charter schools cannot. If, aside from home schooling the parent wants to try to obtain permission for any other form of ongoing education for their child, whatever that might be, they would need to pursue that with the school committee of the town in which they reside. The parent may also wish to consult with an attorney in this matter."

Of course what I then considered a simple matter easily accomplished--going before the venerable Amherst School Committee for permission (although I always get a tad nervous when a high ranking state official suggests I may also want to "consult with an attorney") --quickly became a classic Catch 22.

The Amherst School Committee could approve--and I'm sure would have--Kira's three week absence so that she would not be considered according to state law AWOL, resulting in her parents arrest, however she would still be "disenrolled" from the Charter School.

Charter Schools are indeed less regulated than their tradition public school counterparts and as result that usually works for the betterment of the kids.

This case, however, is an exception.

Not so Public, Records

So according to today's venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette my Public Documents appeal for the redacted sentence (one of only two sentences covering the entire meeting) from the 8/30 Executive Session of the Amherst Select Board granting Town Manager Larry Shaffer a sudden retirement with four months pay as a going away present will be denied due to the "personal" nature of the discussion, which lasted a full hour and twenty minutes.

Oddly enough a state attorney updated me via email last week saying they were waiting to talk with the town attorney before making their decision; and I of course responded with a request for that final decision to also be sent to me via email. Apparently that request too was denied.

Since today is a federal holiday, safe bet I'll get the official letter (dated 2/15) tomorrow via good old fashioned snail mail. I guess the Post Office could use the business.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ABC MIA from Town Center?

Once again the Zoning Board of Appeals seems poised to cast another, gasp, pro-business decision; this time in favor of the Amherst Brewing Company, an established bar/restaurant, to relocate its successful operation a mile from town center into a larger commercial space located on a busy direct route to Umass, the Golden Goose of stable employment for all of Western Massachusetts.Formerly The Leading Edge, aka Gold's Gym

Thus it appears the NIMBYs power to snuff development in Amherst is, finally, beginning to wane--on a couple of major fronts. The ZBA, after a protracted hearing process, allowed the variance required for Dr. Kate Atkinson to practice family medicine in a Professional Research Park, thus she will construct a $2.5 million dollar LEED certified 16,000 square foot building, enhancing the taxbase not to mention providing quality medical care to her thousands of patients.

And last week the public hearing to allow ABC to move into the former Leading Edge Gym location in a larger commercial building a mile down the road seemed to garner major public support--including Stephanie O'Keeffe, the Chair of the Amherst Select Board, and Tony Maroulis , the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and a plethora of patrons far removed from the college aged stereotypes neighbors seem to fear the most.

Those speaking in favor of the variance pointed out the previous tenant, a Health Club operation open 100 hours per week, was far noisier than the brew pub and the Jones Library currently adjacent to ABC has never had complaints about either the noise (and a library would notice) or any odor complaints due to the brewing process or routine cooking.

Meanwhile the Amherst Redevelopment Authority is steaming forward with the Gateway Corridor Project, an urban renewal joint effort between Umass, Amherst and a private tax paying developer to significantly beautify the main corridor connecting the campus to the downtown. We have whittled down the original field of four consultants for the "visioning process" to only two and both will come in to pitch their expertise in person at the next two meetings (in Executive Session.)

The ARA will award the consultant contract by March 1st. The ZBA meets again March 10 to present their decision concerning the ABC. I'll drink to that.

The infamous Anon letter mailed to the neighborhood a few days before the 2/10 ZBA meeting.

Former Amherst Bulletin Columnist Baer Tierkel countered in an email to the Planning Department saying "I received an anonymous letter asking me to write against this move, so be aware that there is a campaign against this move being hatched-anonymously My guess is it is from people who want their Gym (Leading Edge) back , of which I was a member, but do not have a viable plan to make that happen. So they are sabotaging another local business with their anonymous campaign."

They also plan for outdoor dining during the wonderful weather season

Providing hope to developing nations via business

So my lovely wife Donna Kelley, a Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College and proud Umass MBA, is giving a presentation in Washington D.C. on "Entrepreneurship and Economic Development" this morning to the State Department and other government agencies advancing the idea of entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment problems in developing nations.

Many of these countries, like Egypt, have invested heavily in higher education, producing well educated college graduates who then find less opportunity in the job market. Entrepreneurship stimulates the overall economy by providing more--and oftentimes higher paying--employment opportunities.

Individuals can create their own jobs as well as build firms that can employ others when society cannot provide enough jobs. And when people are gainfully employed, they are less likely to engage in desperate, destabilizing activities.

The presentation is based on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor research data culled from 59 economies worldwide.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in

Former Town Manager Larry Shaffer, standing center (way back in his angelic days)

From: White, Donald (SEC)
Sent: Mon, Feb 14, 2011 10:30 am
Subject: Public Records Appeal - SPR11/009

Mr. Kelley,

I wanted to provide you with a brief update on the status of the public records appeal that you submitted to this office. I have been in communication with the counsel for the Town of Amherst to discuss the information redacted from the 8/30/10 Amherst Select Board Executive Session Meeting Minutes. At this time, town counsel has withheld that information and asserted Exemption (c) – The Privacy Exemption. Although the town has asserted this exemption, I am awaiting further information that will support the use of this exemption. I expect to speak further with town counsel next week, as they are out of the office this week.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any further questions, but I at least wanted to provide you with the information that I had on the appeal to date. Thank you.

Donald White
Staff Attorney

Dear Mr White,

Thank you for the brief update. Nice when a government agency in charge of Open Meetings can be so open themselves. I hope when you make your final decision I can also receive the results via electronic mail.

As I'm sure you know, 'Exemption C The Privacy Exemption' is the #1 reason cited by municipal officials for turning down Public Documents requests. But public officials have a lesser expectation of privacy than the taxpayers who fund their salaries.

And the state allows the exception to be trumped when "there is a paramount public interest in disclosure."
Indeed I strongly believe the sudden departure of Town Manager Larry Shaffer, taking with him four months of salary, rises to level of "paramount public interest"; and since he very soon thereafter reentered the job market in Michigan, I'm sure it was not a medical condition that fueled his hasty flight.

The redacted lone sentence I seek represents one half of the 120 minute Executive Session, as Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe covered the entire meeting with only two sentences. That too is questionable record keeping.

Maintaining public trust should be your paramount concern. When elected local officials hatch backroom deals in a private manner financed with public taxpayer money, it diminishes that sacred trust.

Again, thank you for considering this important matter.

Larry Kelley

Correction: The Executive Session was one hour-and-twenty-minutes (80 minutes) not two hours (120 minutes). Still, pretty hard to capture in only two sentences

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

School Committee/Union 26 accept $uper counter

Permanent Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk (far left)

3:20 PM

The Amherst Regional School Committee and Union 26 quickly voted last night during an executive session to accept Maria Geryk's counteroffer, doubling her length of tenure as "permanent superintendent" from one to two years with an annual salary of $140,000 but closer to $145,000 (when factoring in annuity/life insurance) up slightly from her current $139,000 salary that previously escalated from $109,000 when appointed to the position of "interim superintendent" last year.

Whew, that was a mouthfull.

Monday, February 14, 2011

School Super Search: Secret meeting to decide

Still waiting, with finger poised over the publish button. Really l-o-n-g lunch they are having.
UPDATE: Tuesday 12:45 PM
So yes, I'm still waiting for official word that the ink is dry on the new Super contract, because Regional Chair Rick Hood told the Springfield Republican last night that they had a verbal deal and the signing of the contract was only a formality that should be done by noon. Maybe they are having a long lunch.
Original Post Last night 8:00 PM
So the Amherst Regional School Committee and Union 26 met just long enough in open session tonight to amend Irv Rhodes "compromise" motion passed on February 6, by striking the 6/30/12 end date on the contract offering the Superintendent position to Maria Geryk for one year, with an evaluation to take place six months into said contract.

Safe bet she came back with a counter offer requiring a minimum of three years.

The joint meeting retreated into Executive Session with the announcement that they would not return to open meeting. I actually questioned the committee's actions, inquiring as to whether they needed to come back to open session to adjourn? They said no.

Tonight's Gazette editorial (championing a two year contract) states: "Under the Open Meeting Law, the panel must return to open session to vote on awarding a contract." Hmm...

Party house of the weekend

Over the weekend Amherst PD issued twice as many warnings (six) for "noise violations" as they did actual tickets (three). Probably a good sign, as the perps must have come into instant compliance with orders from responding officers to lower their late night decibels.

But two locations (out of eight) failed to get the message and as a result garnered an expensive Scarlet Letter: a $300 ticket for violation of the town's noise bylaw. Rolling Green apartment #18 gets the not-so-coveted 'Party House of the Weekend' award since two responsible parties (both age 20) each received a ticket and the runner up at 1 Edgehill Place (age 19) only garnered a single ticket.
1 Edgehill Place

Friday, February 11, 2011

A public apology: the backstory

Amy W February 8 at 12:37pm via Facebook
please remove my name from your blog. it was not intended for your blog. you may use my comments but not my name.

Larry Kelley February 8 1:30 pm
via Facebook
Doesn't matter for whom it was intended. It was "published" (with full advance knowledge that it written was for publication) in a VERY public place. Yesterday Ms. Sanderson's blog had more readers than mine.

Amy W February 8 at 1:56pm via Facebook
just please be a decent person and remove my name. you may keep the content. it's a very simple request. thank you.

Larry Kelley February 8 at 2:26pm via Facebook
Maybe you should be a decent person and apologize to Catherine, either on her blog or mine. Preferably hers.

Amy W February 8 at 2:44pm
via Facebook
it's not your business if i apologize to her or not. i don't see why you cannot just remove my name. i said you could keep the content. that should be sufficient. or at least remove my last name (you can post amy w.) thank you.

Larry Kelley February 8 at 6:31pm via Facebook
(quoting from Amy W's follow up comment left on Catherine Sanderson's blog): "...if you are a public official and you choose to blog, you end up with all sorts of public comments on your blog. create a problem - suffer the consequences. finally, cathy, today's post made my day!!! thank you for your decision!"

As you said Amy, "create a problem--suffer the consequences".

Amy W February 10 at 7:44pm via Facebook
i apologized on cathy's site. now you can stop having me slandered on yours.

amy w (on Catherine Sanderson's Blog) February 10, 2011 4:35 PM

i wanted to issue an apology for name calling feb 7th on this blog. i was really angry, but in hindsight, it didn't solve anything. i realize now that name calling is not a good role model for our children. my anger was the result of the situation in the school committee and as a concerned parent with a child in the school. i know there are always better ways to channel my anger. i hope people can accept this apology. thank you.

Larry Kelley February 10 at 10:07 pm via Facebook

I removed your name as per your original request

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

District Court upholds Noise Bylaw

This past Friday the U.S. District Court dismissed a case brought against Amherst filed in October, 2009 by a disgruntled tenant alleging his arrest for violation of the town's Noise Bylaw (now carrying a $300 fine for the first offense) was a violation of his "civil rights" along with 13 other choice charges, and that the noise bylaw itself was "unconstitutional."

Of course the perp made two mistakes: being a repeat offender (although on the second offense APD apparently only gave him a "warning") and using himself as an attorney.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lincoln Avenue blockade redux

Ed Cutting (left), DPW chief Guilford Mooring (center) who would probably rather be dealing with a Nor' easter, Steve Braun (rt) Committee Chair and Lincoln Ave resident.

Strangely enough the Public Works Committee hearing tonight--postponed by last week's snowstorm--heard more of an earful from folks who do not live on Lincoln Avenue and had no sympathy for folks who would purchase their homes in the shadow of Umass, the largest employer in Western Massachusetts, and then wish to turn their neighborhood into Walden Pond.

Five individuals spoke against, and only three (all residents of Lincoln Avenue) spoke dispassionately in favor of the blockade. One of those opposed, Ed Cutting, is also a Lincoln Avenue resident.

Not surprising I suppose, since the survey I did (see results top right) indicate over 90% of respondents opposed permanently closing one end of Lincoln Avenue--the end abutting Umass.
MIA: Phil Jackson, lead architect of the blockade, and any Umass External Relations/PR folks, who will have to deal with the tsunami of protest from their workers should the embargo be enacted.

A failure to communicate

10:55 AM (Original Post)
So the B-I-G news today is not who turned in nomination papers for a spot on the March 29 local election ballot but, she who did not. Indeed, now we know for whom the bells toll. They toll for all of us who care about accountability and transparency in our expensive system of governance--particularly for those who work incredibly hard to better the Amherst schools for all our kids.

For almost three years Catherine Sanderson has been a lightening rod for controversy--all too often resulting in an avalanche of rude public comments within earshot of a husband and children. Thus, she's decided to take a breather, step back from the breach, let somebody else lead the Charge of the Light Brigade.

In other words she will not seek, nor will she accept the nomination to Amherst School Committee for a second term. A dark day indeed for those who respect the rays of sunlight she brought to a system that prefers operating in the shadows.

Take this for example, posted yesterday on Catherine's blog:

catherine sanderson - you are an embarassment to this commmunity. your arrogance and self serving behavior are unconscionable. you had an agenda prior to the search - you wanted an ivy trained PhD and would settle for nothing less. you don't listen to your constituents either. many SC members mentioned that maria had overwhelming support from parents, community members AND staff. you ignored all of it. you are a disgrace and i hope your loss in the upcoming election is HUGE.

as for comments about you being outspoken, you are not outspoken. you are a BULLY. you only do things for your own ego - not for the common good. you didn't even look at maria during her interview. for all i know, you were doodling on your notepaper the whole time. i never saw you look her in the eye. how can you possibly know what she had to say if you weren't even listening????

you are a LOSER.

February 7, 2011 11:28 AM


UPDATE: 5:45 PM So no competition for the two open Select Board seats or the School Committee seat now occupied by Catherine Sanderson in the upcoming election. Seems like Amherst is a $65 million enterprise that nobody wants to actually compete to oversee. A race for the two Jones Library Trustee seats, but they only absorb under 2% of the overall budget. Only in Amherst.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Party "house" of the weekend

Salem Place unit #11

According to APD narrative: "Approximately 50 people cleared from residence. Two residents identified and issued Town Bylaw Noise citations. Citations were issued in hand and explained in full. Both residents declined to sign the citations."

Cha-ching: That will be $600!

Okay, so it's a condo and not exactly a house; but like most winners in this category, it is not owner occupied.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superintendent Super Sunday: It's Geryk by a nose.

UPDATE: 5:45 PM. Well I can let my headline stand (unlike the Chicago Tribune) as Union 26 did, finally, confirm Maria Geryk as permanent Superintendent--but with one major caveat: it's only for one year (until June 30, 2012) and the evaluation of her performance is due in January, 2012. Irv Rhodes (Chair Amherst School Committee) changed his vote to break the 3-3 deadlock.

UPDATE: 4:15 PM okay, so like the Chicago Tribune in the famous Dewey/Truman Presidential race I was a tad too quick to hit the publish button with a Page One Headline. Union 26, made up of three Amherst School Committee members and the three Pelham school committee members, also had to approve the original vote to make any of the three candidates permanent Superintendent. That vote tied 3-3 with all the Amherst representative voting NO to Ms. Geryk by supporting Dr. John Bayless. We still have a horse race!

3:10 PM

Acting School Superintendent Maria Geryk, the local lady (and as a result the inside candidate) who made good, received the narrow nod with 6 out of 10 votes from the Regional School Committee charged with hiring a new permanent School Superintendent for the venerable Amherst School system, which also includes Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury. Even though four out of five Amherst School Committee members voted against her. And Amherst makes up over 75% of the Region.

Rick Hood, Amherst School Committee, Regional Chair but not a committee member to Union 26
1:03 PM
So while most of America in now comfortably curled up in front of the large screen flat panel watching all-to-far-in-advance coverage of the Super Bowl folks in Amherst are glued to cable access watching this School Committee meeting choosing the next School Superintendent for the Amherst Regional School system.

Discussion starts concerning the three candidates. Nobody seems to want to go first.
Rob Spence (Amherst School Committee): I favor by a slight margin Dr. Gerald Kohn and my second choice is Dr. John Bayless. Considering experience and background. I favor the strongest candidate with the best background. Either of them can move the schools forward. That's very important.

1: 15 PM Kristen Luschen: Doesn't seem to like Dr. Kohn (simply because he "turned around a district" as Amherst is not a district that needs turn around). Emails and calls were overwhelmingly in favor of Maria Geryk. She supports her "hands down."

Okay so now we have a tie. Eight to go.

1: 23 PM Kip Fronsh: All the candidates are good but there are profound differences. Attributes the "diversity" of womanhood to Maria Geryk (sounds like he's going to vote for her.)

It's been overwhelming the support for Maria Geryk. Her mother was a maid her father a mill worker. Twice she has stepped into the breech (to act as temporary Super). Conducted herself with class. Yep, he's voting for her.

1: 35PM
Catherine Sanderson jumps in to mention she's getting text messages about ACTV not airing this live. And I'm switching back occasionally to Comments to see that it is indeed the case. Let's hope they fix it soon.

Debbie Gould: Instantly dismisses Dr. Kahn. Sounds like she's voting for Maria Geryk. Dr. Bayless was okay, but he's from California which would increase his "learning curve" for how things are done here in Massachusetts. 85% of the feedback she received favored Maria Geryk. Okay I've heard enough to call her vote. We're now at 3 for Geryk and 1 for Bayless.

Steve Rivkin (Amherst School Committee): Cites the schools objection to transparency "troubling," especially when comparing how much we spend for education per child vs. Northampton. Mentions declining enrollment and attributes it to academic performance of the schools even though the student teacher ratio is pretty small.

Rodriguez came in but could not navigate threw our dense system. Cites hostility towards Catherine Sanderson for her championing of evaluation and results. Says either Dr. Kohn or Dr. Bayless could make an improvement in our system. Seems to favor Kohn (but acknowledges some risk in supporting him). Bayless seems less creative but very solid otherwise. Sounds like anybody but Maria Geryk.

1:50 PM Catherine Sanderson: Cites drop of 99 students in Elementary schools and 30 in kindergarten. Families are choosing not to attend our schools. I hear the "passion" folks have for Maria Geryk. I appreciate the work she's done but, I have real concerns about her being able to handle the problems we currently face. Have not seen a budget from her yet for elementary schools or the region. Have not seen a sense of "urgency" on her part. She was appointed 11 months ago as acting superintendent only by a very divided vote and she has not even tried to "reach out" to those on the School Committee who did not support her. She's way more comfortable in dealing with her "supporters".

I hoped I could vote for Dr. Kohn but it would require "too much of a leap of faith." I feel quite comfortable taking the leap of faith with Dr. Bayless. Score another one for Dr. Bayless.

2:05 PM

So far no surprises. The swing vote is going to come down to Rick Hood Regional Chair. And I bet he's going to go last. (Great for the ratings I guess)

2: 07 Ms. Weilerstein. I was disappointed that there were not more stronger candidates from Massachusetts. Striking how different individuals can have such polar differences in hearing the same presentation. This is a challenge. Immediately dismisses Dr. Kohn. Sounds like she likes Dr. Bayless but the fact that she's taking him up second means she's going to vote for Maria Geryk. That makes four votes for Geryk.

2:25 PM Nora Maroulis (Pelham School Committee). Geryk all the way. Now we're up to five. One more does it. Mr. Rhodes (Amherst School Committee) will go next.

2:30 PM Irv Rhodes: Appreciate all the feedback from citizens. In a popular election Maria Geryk would win by a landslide. I'm aware of that. Large majority wants to see her remain as Superintendent. Her performance at the interview was "astonishingly great". But then he uses the magic word "but". Sounds like he's not going to vote or her. As I said earlier, it will come down to Mr. Hood and if I had to guess he's going to put Maria Geryk over the top.
3:00 PM Yeah, Irv does talk a lot but he supports Bayless. Now it's up to Mr. Hood...

3:02 PM Dismisses Dr. Kohn instantly. Starts talking about Dr. Bayless second so that tells you where this is going. Describes some of Maria Geryk's weaknesses (math and special ed problems.) Cites her creation of an ombudsman for the schools. She has strong qualities. Do I want to work with her to address her weaknesses or just hire somebody else? I support Maria Geryk.

That's it folks.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Let the floodgates open

Four viable consultants responded to the Gateway Project RFP

February may be the shortest month of the year, but for the Amherst Redevelopment Authority it will be our busiest in over a generation with three meetings scheduled to peruse proposals submitted by consultants competing for the job of leading a "visioning process" to ensure public acceptance of the proposed Gateway Project, the most ambitious undertaking for the ARA since founding almost 40 years ago.

At our last meeting 1/31 we were presented with the four consultant proposals and a legal opinion from the town attorney stating that Umass is indeed exempt from all local zoning when it comes to the Gateway Project, meaning they can do whatever they damn well please with that property--especially since they paid $2 million to acquire it, and tens of thousands more to demolish the five frat houses.

Of course if vocal NIMBYs had their way, the ARA would be spending the next three meetings playing solitaire. Their unelected leader, John Fox, appeared before the Amherst Select Board on 12/20/10 to submit a petition that requested a moratorium on the current consultant search.

Ironically the consultant is being hired precisely to attract and engage ALL stakeholders (including taxpayers townwide) in a process that allows EVERYONE a voice to shape what develops at that strategic location--not just those immediate neighbors with a misguided sensitivity fueled by a bawdy recent past.

This outreach curation will include at least six provincial stakeholder meetings and then another three Charrettes--a kind of Three Ring Circus where everybody gets to come under one big tent to share feedback.

By March 1st we will have chosen a consultant; they will spend 8 to 10 weeks dealing with a myriad of planning details--not to mention voluminous feedback from the general public.

Then the consultant provides the ARA with an initial draft of the "Gateway Project Vision" and we put it under our microscope. They then come back with a revised version incorporating our suggestions and that version, hopefully, is finalized by a majority vote (preferably a unanimous vote).

And even then, the finished proposal is formally presented in a joint public meeting of the ARA and the Planning Board. All leading up to the biggest hoop of all: a two-thirds vote of Amherst Town Meeting to approve the new zoning required for turning this dream into reality.

Yes, more hoops than a Chinese hula hoop factory. But in the end, well worth it.

Snow be gone

Walmart Hadley roof snow removal

Blue Flag on a blue/white background. (I hear it's hot in Egypt about now.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Expanding my audience


So my radio debut went well if I do say so myself. As usual, the only problem is not enough time or bandwidth to properly discuss "All things Amherst." I had planned to highlight four hot button issues (any one of which could end up being the issue of the year) and really only managed to work in two of them: the impending Superintendent search decision and the somewhat intertwined School Committee race between upstart incumbent Catherine Sanderson and newcomer Katherine Appy.

Did not have the time to touch on the other two, Umass related, issues: Blockading Lincoln Avenue access to Umass for the first time in 150 years; and the Gateway Project, an ambitious significant infrastructure upgrade dressing up the main entryway to Umass formerly stained by the slummy presence of Frat Row.

Oh well, there's always next week.
ORIGINAL POST: Wednesday night
So tomorrow morning I start my weekly gig at WHMP radio with a 7:40 AM eight minute segment on Chris Collins Morning News broadcast talking about "All things Amherst." I've always loved radio because of the immediacy--kind of like the Internet.

Fifty years ago my mother routinely set the clock radio alarm to WHMP during school days to rouse us in the morning (and during the winter hoping for a school closing announcement, as she was a public school teacher in Easthampton.)

So I would almost always awaken to the sound of the legendary newsman with a golden voice, Ron Hall.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Ghost of Christmas yet to come?

So yeah, I'm sticking my oversized neck out by publishing this but, unlike WikiLeaks, I will provide background and context for this important document, obtained under the legitimate protection of an Executive Session Monday night at the Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting (legal advice from the town attorney is exempt from disclosure under Mass Public Documents Law.)

Kind of an "Executive Decision" on my part--as the acting Chair of the ARA and, as such, I of course take full responsibility.

I consider it a journalistic "correction" for something I previously published. When overly concerned, outspoken neighbor John Fox (a retired Washington attorney) visited the Amherst Select Board to rail against the Gateway Project and present to them a petition signed by 147 fellow "concerned citizens" he also attached to that petition an email exchange he had with town planner Christine Brestrup declaring Umass was subject to local town zoning and as such was limited in what they could develop on the former Frat Row, a now vacant prime piece of property (worth millions) sitting at the entry/Gateway to Umass.

Turns out our town attorney disagrees with that assumption. And it's an extremely critical point: UMass does not need the town or the ARA to build anything--including any kind of housing--on the former Frat Row. Backs up what Mr. Diacon pointed out an an ARA meeting months ago; they could build a 20 story residential project designed exclusively for undergrads if they so desired--all of it off the property tax rolls.

Key sentence of attorney Bard's email being the close: "It is therefore my opinion that, were UMass to retain ownership of the Gateway site and to development it for its own use in furtherance of its essential governmental function, such development of the site would not be controlled by the Town's Zoning Bylaw."

So NIMBY neighbors: be careful what you wish for. Torpedo the Gateway Project as envisioned in this joint coalition between the town, ARA and your own risk.