Thursday, June 30, 2011

ARA stays the Gateway course


Tonight the Amherst Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously to:
  1. Adopt "the vision" put forth by our consultant for the Gateway Corridor
  2. Continue to be the lead agency charged with realizing that vision
  3. Request the Town Manager prioritize this project and provide town staff support
The emphasis will be narrowed to focus on the 2 acre former Frat Row currently owned by UMass--what Gianni Longo described as a "catalyst". And with the added good news that Robert Holub will continue as UMass Amherst Chancellor for another year, this ambitious signature project can now move forward with all due speed.

ACP consultant Gianni Longo


Chancellor Robert Holub

I hear a train a comin'

Station Road South Amherst crossing 1:30 PM


Okay folks, hold your breath. The tracks are about to open for business as usual.

video video

Fate of the Gateway

Nothing really new came out of last night's joint meeting between the Amherst Redevelopment Authority and the Amherst Planning Board: A vision of what the Gateway Corridor could be was presented, residents raised concerns and committee members took it all in.

Tonight at 5:00 PM, in the first back-to-back meeting in over twenty years, the ARA meets again to decide the critical issue of where to go from here. Do we bow out gracefully now that a "vision" has been articulated and let the town figure out how to proceed? Who will take up the negotiations with UMass for the former Frat Row--a signature piece of property that our consultant called a "catalyst" for positive change?

Tomorrow is July 1st--start of the new fiscal year. At this exceedingly late juncture we don't even know who will be running UMass/Amherst in the near future.

The retirement of Building Commissioner Bonnie Weeks will also delay the hiring of a new building code enforcement officer, so slum lords get a reprieve while owner occupied houses in residential neighborhoods will once again have to endure party houses when UMass students return, and the cycle resumes yet again.

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow..."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The price of deferred maintenance

Rotted railroad ties don't provide much structural support

As a long time health club owner I know how easy it is to put off routine machine maintenance to save money--especially when revenues are in steep decline. A treadmill belt start to slip occasionally and a new belt costs $300 so you try to let it go just a little longer. The liability exposure is enormous should someone get injured.

And a runaway train can do a world of hurt.
A spike works its way to freedom
This one succeeded
The question is why is this clamp not doing its job?

Somehow I just can't imagine taking a couple hundred yard amble down a runway at Barnes or Westover Air Force base and spotting loose nuts and bolts littering the airstrip.

Looks like some ties were replaced...a l-o-n-g time ago

Monday, June 27, 2011

Strike two!



UPDATE: 8:40 PM Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe, obviously concerned, asked the Town Manager tonight if Amherst had the authority to prevent the trains coming through town if they don't get their upkeep act together. Unfortunately the answer was "no".
######################################
Thank goodness the maintenance program for C-5A aircraft that routinely lumber over Amherst is so top shelf because if one of those babies ever falls from the sky...And if it happened a month ago, like the first train wreck in Amherst, the entire fleet would be grounded until they figured out what caused the mishap and then corrected it.

Two trains derailing within a stones throw of each other in less than a month's time is unacceptable--especially when both occurred within a half mile of Lawrence Swamp where wells are located that supply half the town's drinking water and an overpass where automobiles and bicycles routinely travel directly underneath.


Moving on up


My friends at the venerable Amherst Bulletin--affectionately referred to by insiders as "the Bully" (although probably less so now that the term's negative aspect is in vogue)--have a new home closer to town center, so as my British friends would say: "bully for them."
Old location. University Drive

Not so sure it is going to increase interaction with the general public, as these days folks do not like to walk up a flight of stairs to get anywhere, but the rent is probably a tad cheaper than their previous location on University Drive and reduced overhead adds to the bottom line--especially helpful when advertising revenues tank due to increased competition via the Internet.
New location. East Pleasant St. 2nd floor

I do like the fresh new look of the website, which mirrors the Daily Hampshire Gazette--so much so that I actually thought it was the Gazette. And it would be nice if the Gazette or Bulletin resurrected the online forum for reader interaction that ten years ago was far more active than Masslive's moribund Amherst Forum.

Twenty years ago upper management kept the Gazette and Bulletin completely separate, so that reporters for one paper considered those working at the sister publication competition and would work hard to scoop one another even though they all worked for the same owner. Nothing like a little competition to fire up motivation.

The actual competition, 100+ year old weekly Amherst Record, ceased publication in 1984 leaving the Amherst Bulletin as the sole paper devoted to Amherst. The Bully and Gazette pretty much merged into one seamless entity, where the Gazette would break a story in the beginning of the week and the weekly Bulletin would flesh out all the fine details by distribution on Friday.

Of course the problem now for the newspaper industry as a whole is that readers want their news almost before it happens, rather than waiting until the end of the week. And even daily publications have trouble printing a story before readers have already heard about it on Facebook, Twitter, or those pesky blogs.

In a one mortician town, who buries the undertaker? Let's hope the Bulletin never has to cover its own funeral.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guppies unite

Groff Park wading pool opened this weekend, just in time to keep the little ones off the streets. Kudos to the DPW.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Where were they then?


Today's Daily Hampshire Gazette has an above-the-fold, long-form "investigative" story about the residency of our elected register of deeds Marianne Donohue, who lives a fair amount of time away from her current husband in Florida with her ex-husband in a house located on Bridge Road in Northampton to qualify as a "resident" of the district she has served for 22 years, with a current salary of $90,000.

But where was the Gazette three years ago when Amherst Select Board member Anne Awad and her town meeting member husband Robie Hubley purchased an expensive home in South Hadley, left their condo on North East Street abandoned and up for sale and had even declared that South Hadley home as a primary residence in a legal homestead declaration filed at the registry of deeds, but still wanted to maintain their elected town positions in Amherst?

In fact the Amherst Bulletin even printed a Letter to the Editor from the wayward couple claiming they had not realized a homestead declaration was equivalent to admission of "principal residence" so they had refiled a new homestead declaration back on the Amherst condo.

A simple check of the exceedingly accurate land records website proved that statement a lie.

When I took a photo of Ms. Awad from a public road tending to her garden in that South Hadley home I was accused of stalking and the Amherst Select Board even considered passing a public motion sternly reprimanding me.

Strangely enough the only support I received besides the Masslive article came from the left of center Valley Advocate who awarded me a "halo" that year for my investigative reports.

Today's front page Gazette article also includes a photo of the house Ms Donohue occupies while living in the district. Although she did not react quite the same way as Ms. Awad, she did note that "who needs a reporter calling me and asking where I live?"

And the answer is: the people who pay your salary have a right to know.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gateway Project Dress Rehearsal

So tonight's Amherst Redevelopment Authority meeting was simply an extra study session with our homework--the final draft from our $30,000 consultant on the Gateway Vision and Action Steps--before the B-I-G public unveiling next Wednesday evening in a joint public hearing with the Planning Board.

The key question tonight came from someone in the audience: Is the University of Massachusetts still interested in donating the signature property of almost 2 acres (former Frat Row) now that the preliminary design vision wants to keep half of it green space?

Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon dodged the question for now, but confirmed he would be talking to the new President, Robert Caret in July. And of course the fate of current UMass/Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub could also have a major impact.
################################
June 29, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM @ Town Room, Town Hall

MEETING TIME: 7:00 pm. LOCATION: Town Room, Town Hall. LIST OF TOPICS - Joint Mtg. w/Amherst Redevelopment Authority - A. Presentation: Gateway Corridor Vision & Next Steps, Gianni Longo, ACP; B. Board questions and comments; C. Public questions and comments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

There they go again

Town Meeting 5/16/11: Solar Farm wins resoundingly

This from the minutes of the June 6 Town Meeting Coordinating Committee meeting (which I missed, but had planned to go just for the photo op):

Photography at Town Meeting: Several non-TM people were conspicuously photographing during some sessions this year, including a Daily Hampshire Gazette photographer, a local blogger, and someone shooting in support of an academic paper. There was concern that these may have been distracting or intimidating to speakers. The committee discusses whether flash photography should be restricted, and whether photographers should be restricted to certain areas of the auditorium to prevent them from interfering with proceedings. The committee agrees to discuss this with the Moderator.

Of course you know who the "local blogger" was; and yes, I'm "non-TM" but did indeed toil almost twenty years in that aging institution. At one point, from my photographer perch, I almost had to revert back to my bar bouncer days to separate an obviously teed off Vince O'Connor from another member a few years older than Vince, who used a speech stopping 'Point of Order' to distract Mr. O'Connor (more so than my camera).
Vince O'Connor angry

But hey, at least I'm in good company with Carol Lollis otherwise known as "the Gazette photographer".

Now the Middle School Auditorium is, you know, rather l-a-r-g-e and town meeting members are many, and they do sprawl all over the place.

Can you imagine chaining a photographer to a single desk way off in a corner like they do the two reporters at a Select Board meeting? Obviously town meeting is a (occasionally major) public event and its members are, for that brief period, public officials.

Ironically Rockwell's revered illustration (especially by town meeting aficionados) for 'Freedom of Speech' used a local town meeting for inspiration as he captures a member speaking his mind in bucolic Arlington, Vermont during the war years.
But the First Amendment also holds equally sacred freedom of the press. Even more ironic that TMCC discusses these new restrictions on June 6th, a day many aging Americans pause to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands of men who charged head long into harms way to defend these freedoms.

This photogenic dude spoke against the Solar Farm


Mary Streeter, TMCC member and owner of a town meeting listserve of 153 members--more than a quorum (a violation of Open Meeting Law if not for town meeting being exempt), uses an in-session photo on her website.

Reach for the sky


Boltwood Place is now in full construction mode as they race to ready for a Fall opening. The five story mixed use LEED certified building is the first major construction project in the downtown in a l-o-n-g time.

Technically described as "infill," the building, five floors reaching 50 feet in height on only a 2,500 square foot postage stamp of a footprint, will most certainly stand out on its own, and will also stand in as the poster child for exactly what the Amherst Redevelopment Authority had in mind when we donated the prime adjacent property to the town for the construction of the Boltwood Walk Parking Garage ten years ago.

The ARA meets this Friday to receive and discuss the Final Report from our consultant on the Gateway Corridor Vision in anticipation of the joint meeting with the Planning Board/public hearing on Wednesday, June 29 in the prime location Town Room from 7:00 to 9:00 PM.

Gateway Vision area

Gateway Vision Final draft (hot copy) It's a big file so you have to download the PDF

Interesting comparison of construction potential for Gateway

Monday, June 20, 2011

Taste of Freedom


Now that the 20th annual Taste of Amherst is safely stowed under under a bulging beltline, it's time to start thinking about the next B-I-G thing in Amherst town center. And just so folks will be reminded, the red white and blue July 4 Parade banner went up this morning for a week of flight in that prime location.

Both Senator Scott Brown and Governor Deval Patrick have been invited and their offices return called to inquire about the particulars. After the devastating tornadoes that ripped their way through western Massachusetts it sure would be nice if our top political leaders showed their faces out this way to celebrate the birth of freedom and power of resilience.

No easy money



Maybe because of the tough economy people are more prone to this nonsense, or maybe because greed has been around since man (and woman in heels) first started to walk uprite it will always be around.

These days scamers have embraced the Internet, since email fishing is free.

Amherst PD witnessed two instances over the weekend of this pernicious, prevalent crime--the first where a reporting party simply came into the station to report receiving a fictitious check via the (snail)mail where the unknown party asked him to cash it, send back half and keep half for his trouble. The individual was smart enough to know it was a hoax.

The second incident went a tad further: A bank manager at Northampton Cooperative Bank wanted to have an officer investigate a "possible larceny of funds". A gullible customer had deposited a $4,000 check that proved fraudulent and then withdrew $1,500 cash after responding to a Craigslist job ad for shipping packages.

The individual is returning the cash today, having learned a valuable lesson for free: If it sounds to good to be true, then it's almost certainly a scam.

My previous report

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Solar in South Amherst

Looking east towards new storage facility (in red)

While not nearly as ambitious as the controversial 4.75 megawatt Solar Farm proposed for the towns' old landfill, the solar facility west of the new storage shed at Atkins Farm Market will provide all the power needs of the bustling business and with state and federal governments falling all over themselves to provide tax breaks and grants, probably a cost effective installation as well.

Since no homeowners are within sitelines of the modest installation and it is being constructed on private land not currently used for jogging, dog walking or nesting by a threatened species of tweety bird chances are, unlike the town Solar Farm, it will fly through the permitting process.

Atkins (founded 1887) is one of those rare private sector, for profit, businesses that is Politically Correct enough to easily negotiate the deadly Amherst permitting process, having recently won a coveted beer and wine license from the Amherst Select Board and property tax breaks from Town Meeting.

After all, farms have relied on sunlight forever.
########################################

Amherst Planning Board

July 6, 7:05 PM - 8:05 PM

PUBLIC HEARING: 7:05 pm. LOCATION: Town Room, Town Hall. LIST OF TOPICS: SPR2011-00010/M9393, 1150 West Street - Pauline Lannon c/o Atkins Farm Market. Request site plan approval to construct a 48 KW ground-mounted photovoltaic array system with a 6 ft. tall vinyl-coated chainlink fence, west of the new warehouse, as an accessory use.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Et tu, Pelham?


Union 26, where Amherst pays 94% of overhead (Pelham 6%) provides 90% of the costumers but only has a 50% say in governance was one of the more fascinating kerfuffles over the past year and, as always, anything school related--especially if it involved Catherine Sanderson--brought out the worst in people.

Yes, almost 150 years later, another Civil War was fought over (Amherst) attempting to leave a Union.

The entrenched good-old-boy establishment reared up to protect the status quo, where Amherst subsidizes our predominantly white affluent neighbors to the east; and one of their complaints was how the Amherst School Committee (at Sanderson's urging) was daring to consider leaving Union 26, but had not officially notified Pelham.

"Unfortunately, we the Pelham Elementary School Committee were not formally notified about the Amherst School Committee's decision to review it's participation in the Union 26, the governance structure that articulates the partnership between Pelham and Amherst elementary schools which has functioned successfully for years. Nor are we fully aware of what prompted the decision to review the partnership at this time. Naturally , it would be our hope that the spirit of fair and balanced partnership with which the Union was created, rather than the politics of the day, would inform any discussion of the Union and its continued success."

An email to which Amherst Regional School interim Superintendent (later strongly supported by Pelham School Committee and Union 26 for her permanent hiring) replied:

From: Maria Geryk
To: Tracy Farnham, Kathy Weilerstein, Nora Maroulis (Pelham School Committee)
Date: 4/9/2010 11:13 AM

perfect!
#########################################

But last night the Amherst Regional High School website advertised a meeting for Pelham residents (Amherst folks need not apply) at their library to talk about a reorganization that will sever the current partnership with Amherst and create a competing entity.

And on May 3 the Shutesbury School Committee also discussed joining this regional operation (at the expense of their current involvement with Union 28). "Endorsement of preferred option. Motion by Michael DeChiara: I move that SESC approve the concept of further exploring the Outer Ring Region (K-6 Elementary) with Leverett and Pelham as our preferred model. Patrick seconded. Passed unanimously."

Now I wonder, where's the outrage?
#########################################

UPDATE: 6/20 Monday morning (quarterback):

From: Maria Geryk

To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Mon, Jun 20, 2011 10:30 am
Subject: Re: What's up with Pelham?


Hi Larry,
Pelham began an educational study group September 2010. Amherst has been aware of these meetings all along. All the meetings are public and notes are posted.

Maria

Trailer for sale or rent...

Springfield is in need of modular classrooms after taking a direct hit by an F3 tornado. Amherst just happens to have surplus modular classrooms in like new condition, never used as actual classrooms, purchased at the recommendation of the old guard school committee for an elementary school the soon thereafter closed to save over a half million dollars annually.

It's not like they are doing Amherst any good, so why not donate them to a good cause?

Yes, the cost to move them is probably in the tens of thousands but considering the plight of Springfield school kids it would not be hard to enlist civic minded plumbers, electricians, carpenters and a freight hauler who would donate their skills.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is Amherst burning?

brianjeffrey.wordpress.com

No, in spite of a dramatic turn around and a decisive win in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, all was quiet in Amherst last night as all our potential hellions have gone home for the summer and it appears that even in Boston the celebrations were kept under control.

Although the same cannot be said of fans in Vancouver, some of whom demonstrated a distinct lack of class in handling defeat: turning over cars, setting fires and making lots of noise.

But in Amherst, where riots previously occurred over Boston teams winning big, all was quiet...well, except for one "disorderly conduct" arrest--a disgruntled Vancouver fan.

And why is that? Obviously because the usual suspects have left town for the summer (or at least that small minority of which cause B-I-G trouble). But I also notice nothing in the Boston Globe about disorderly crowds or party houses, something Amherst had to endure all year.

Since the "solution to pollution is dilution" perhaps spreading out the young hellions over a very large Boston area reduces the likelihood of a bad crowd reaching critical mass. Or perhaps living at home or in a neighborhood near fellow family members--or where those members would read of bad behavior in the local paper--increases accountability.

This September UMass will start enforcing the Student Code of Conduct rules for off campus behavior. Let's hope they read the Amherst police logs.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recreation Roundup

On right: Stan Ziomek, Alisa Brewer Selectboard liaison to Rec commission

At tonight's Leisure Services and Supplemental Education Commission meeting the board discussed all things recreational as they prepare for the peak summer season. The War Memorial Pool repairs will be voted on this Fall by Town Meeting and the commission passed a motion requesting Town Manager John Musante implement an "early bidding process" so they can be accurate with Town Meeting money requests and then get an immediate start.

Without a fall start on the extensive renovation project there would not be enough time to get it done for reopening in the summer of 2012.

The Middle School Pool reopening to the general public in a joint effort between the town and the Regional Schools may not sound like a lot of hours (Mon-Fri 5-8 PM) but they correspond to the hours Mill River (outdoor) Pool is used for swim lessons and not available for general use. And the weekend hours 1-6 PM Saturday and Sunday are an extensive enough block for a family to make a day of it.

The total cost for the two months (July 1 opening, August 26 closing) is about $20,000 with three quarters of that expended for certified lifeguards and $4,500 payment to the School for electricity and chemicals.

Commission Chair Stan Ziomek questioned LSSE Director Linda Chalfant about whether it was true the night Town Meeting was told War Memorial Pool could not reopen because competent lifeguards could not be easily found (May 9). She responded that it's "never easy" but this tough economy made it easier and the reduced hours at the indoor pool requires less lifeguards.

The Middle School pool is a turn-key operation and requires no time consuming advance maintenance.

Families will be happy to hear the wading pools at Mill River and Groff Park will open 6/25 and the War Memorial Wading Pool will be open but not until July 2 because of a lack of electricity and water due to construction for the "comfort station" (bathroom). Mr Ziomek pointed out that the power line to the scoreboard was accidentally cut and the doner who paid for the scoreboard happened to be attending a game and was not happy about it.

A permanent electrical pole has been delayed because WMECO is busy with tornado related repairs in the region.

The 4th of July fireworks (a few hours after the 4th of July Parade) suffered a setback when a major sponsor pulled out leaving a $5,000 hole to fill. Mr. Ziomek asked if in place of the fireworks could the $10,000 pyrotechnic costs be donated to tornado relief efforts? Ms. Chalfant said vendors have been lined up who rely on crowds coming to see the show and sponsors have donated money for that particular event.

The fireworks will go on.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oh, say can you see


Amherst unveiled a sparkling new, m-u-c-h larger, American flag measuring 8 ft by 12 ft on the main pole in town center during Flag Day observance--one of the six holidays the 29 commemorative flags can fly. Unfortunately the new flag is also a "ceremonial" one and will only fly on those same 6 holidays: Labor Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Patriots Day and of course the 4th of July.

The other 359 days a year Amherst will display the much smaller 5' by 8' flag. And unlike last 9/11 or the one before that, the 29 commemorative flags and the nifty new larger one will fly this coming 9/11 (and every five years thereafter), the tenth anniversary of the saddest spectacle in most Americans collective memory.

Death, dogs and taxes

In addition to providing 8 call firefighters, an ambulance, and a technical search and rescue team to tornado ravaged Springfield, Amherst also provided some of the "unglamourous" support, as Animal Control officer Carol Hepburn went to Springfield to aid in search and rescue of animals (often the forgotten causalities in a natural disaster); and principal assessor David Burgess will trek to hardest hit Monson to help town officials there reconstitute property tax records.

video

Monday, June 13, 2011

Pool to open this summer


No, not the War Memorial outdoor pool closed two years ago--but town officials decided to think outside the empty pool box and provide a way for folks to beat the heat this summer. The Middle School indoor Pool will be open for the first time in four years to the general public on a limited basis for open and lap swimming. Some of the $65,000 Town Meeting appropriated last month will go to pay the school department to cover the overhead and the balance put towards repairing the War Memorial Pool for a reopening next year. The town will also apply to the state for grant money to help cover the costs, estimated at $175,000.

And speaking of family values, at the very beginning of the three-hour meeting Alisa Brewer made it a point to actually affirm that the Amherst Select Board is officially marching in the privately run July 4 Parade. The past few years some of the five marched as individuals. Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe, and Ms. Brewer are confirmed, Aaron Hayden probably yes and Diana Stein due to "bad knees" will not march. Jim Wald was absent from the meeting. video

When all else fails, lawyer up

Click on Lawsuit for entire document

If a judge can throw out an arrest where perps are busted red handed with guns, drugs and a bootleg cable/Internet connection because the search warrant had the wrong house color or some such nonsense, then I suppose the NIMBY lawsuit filed against the town (and threatened against BlueWave Capital) to prevent a solar farm from sprouting on the old dump by citing a technicality, stands a chance...like snow in the Sahara.

The state is now on a crusade to encourage public/private renewable energy projects, and solar farms on old landfills is a shining example. The disputed deed restriction (or lack thereof) was/is between the town and the Department of Environmental Protection.

According to Boston based attorney John Wadsworth, who specializes in Environmental, Energy and Natural Resources law: "If there is any violation it is a violation of DEP solid waste regulations for not recording the restriction, not something that prevents DEP from revising the restriction for this use."

If DEP had any concerns, then why did they grant the permit last year for the Final Comprehensive Site Assessment?

Since the eight households have a combined assessed value of around $4 million, safe to say they can afford the litigation co-op entry fee (when Mary Streeter tried to rally NIMBYs on Larkspur Drive to legally battle the decision to allow Dr. Kate Atkinson to build a medical office in the Research Park out that way the entry fee would have been $2,000 each).

But the $8,000 to $10,000 cost to squash this nuisance lawsuit will be spread out over 10,000 housing units who will benefit many times over by the $1 million per year net gain in economic benefit to the town. A bright future indeed.

Amherst B&E continues...


In addition to petty theft from intruders gaining access via unlocked doors or windows over the weekend, Left Click Computer, a downtown business, was hit by slightly more professional perps who cut all the outside phone lines and disabled another interior alarm system located in an upper corner closet.

Thieves made off with a couple Macbook computers and a small amount of cash leaving behind a single plastic glove on the ground near the northeast corner of the building where "entry appears to have been gained". O.J. Simpson, currently incarcerated, is not considered a suspect.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Free at last

Station Road May 31

Station Road is finally now open for routine traffic after a train derailment the last day of May. The very next day Amherst was also visited by violent weather that had unleashed a devastating tornado on downtown Springfield.

Obviously the two unusual events are not connected.

Although...this other Amherst "news" website may try to tie them together. Yikes!

Station Road June 12

Friday, June 10, 2011

Charter school suspends staff

Congressman Richie Neal flanked by PVCIC Executive Director Rich Alcorn and his wife Principal Kathy Wang.
Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School Principal Kathy Wang and 3rd grade teacher Regan Hall were suspended without pay by the school as of Monday June 6.

Since Kathy Wang was under suspension, her husband PVCIC Executive Director (the Charter School equivalent of a School Superintendent) Rich Alcorn sat in for her at this morning's previously scheduled 'Principal's Chat' to update the 40-50 parents who attended.

The Department of Children and Families recently found that disciplining a 9-year-old student by placing him in solitary confinement for an entire school day constituted"neglect," and named Wang and Hall individually as a responsible "perpetrator".

According to the PVCIC handbook such a finding is automatic grounds for suspension, a bylaw the school's attorney deemed "archaic". The Board of Trustees--the Charter School equivalent of a School Committee except all are appointed rather than elected--will meet in a private executive session on Monday June 13 to discuss their fate.

The possible outcomes range from termination to immediate reinstatement with back pay.

Amhersty Art

A mural shaped like Hampshire County, lamenting the cost of war, was unveiled last week perched on the side of the Amherst Cinema building in downtown Amherst. The activist art project is a collaboration of area high school youth and Hampshire College mentors who are members of 'Get Up Get Down' a program run by the Youth Action Coalition. The project cost about $500 in supplies and was sponsored by Amherst area businesses.

Neighbors immediately filed a lawsuit over the presence of Wind Turbines, citing noise, visual pollution and disturbing the nesting ground of the Conservativo Republicas, an endangered species in Amherst.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pay the Piper

23 Tracy Circle To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Mon, Jun 6, 2011 5:39 pm
Subject: [Only in The Republic of Amherst] New comment on Party House repeat offenders.

So Larry as you can see, this is matt. i just want to ask you in a civil manner to please take down the names and home addresses from you "second offense" page. Yeah, we were arrested, for watching the bruins play the flyers in game 4 if you need more facts about loud tv and yelling. but please, im asking you refer to us as "residents" "children" or any of you other nicknames youve given us. i understand that the information was probably in a police report or something you research. but when a family member puts my families home address in google and sees this, i get questioned clients, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles all have to hear about it without knowing the facts.
i realize that some of the members in our house may not be the most mature people in the world, but that is why were in college now and you once were. stupid things happen to people by circumstance too so dont be so quick to judge.
i will answer anything you have to say privately and not on this blog if you want info to write about. get back to me

ill be watching the bruins
###############################################

Matt,
Yes, I was a UMass student once and strangely enough I worked as a bouncer at 'The Pub' in downtown Amherst to pay my way, dealing with rowdy UMass kids.

And yes your name was indeed on a police report--which is a public document. Perhaps why if you Google yourself you will also pick up the Amherst Bulletin article that came out a few days after mine:

"xxxxxxxxx, and Emerson E. Rutkowski, 19, and Michael H. Upham, 20, both of Swampscott, were arrested on charges of violating the town's noise bylaw and violating the town's nuisance house bylaw, police said. Each charge carries a $300 penalty, meaning the three men could be subject to $1,800 in fines."

Have you asked Scott Merzbach to remove your name and address from the Amherst Bulletin website?

Larry

################################################
Sent: Tue, Jun 7, 2011 5:33 pm
Subject: Re: Party House winner

Actually Larry i have asked him too.
his article is in archive and not a direct link so it doesn't return a page when searched
cant you just respect my wishes as being enough? i feel like you're taking swings at me here for no reason. all i want is the names off, is that really too much to ask?
################################################
Well when I Google your name and town I do indeed come up #1, but Gazettenet and the Amherst Bulletin come in at #2 and #3--and the Bulletin is free so a paywall would not interfere with folks pulling up your offense.

Have you paid your fines?

################################################
yeah i paid my fines. fun story though the town of Amherst screwed up yet again. i paid my fines; they took my money and, luckily, gave me a reciept but never acknowleged it in their books. i then get a call from a friends in high places saying there is a warrant out for my arrest. as steve miller would say they took the money and ran. i went to the courthouse today. and for the second time the judge, 2 different judges, laughed at the charges blamed the town for yet again another mistake dismissed the warrant and charges and wiped my record completely.

just take it down

################################################
From: amherstac@aol.com
To: xxxxx@student.umass.edu
Sent: Thu, Jun 9, 2011 10:06 am

Matt,

Chief Livingstone just confirmed that you paid $600 for the most recent noise violation and a previous nuisance house violation. So I'm going to bend the rules of journalism and delete your name but not Emerson E. Rutkowski, 36 Puritan Park, Swampscott, MA age 20 and Michael Upham 53 Sherwood Road, Swampscott, MA age 21.

I'm tempted to demand you write a letter of apology to your Amherst neighbors and the APD as well as remove the term "Zoomass" from your Facebook page, but then I would run the risk of being called a "bully".

Tell your friends that my friends in high places confirm that an arrest warrant will be issued in August if they do not make good on the fines. And until then, if anyone should Google their name and hometown…

Larry

Development Tornado

Lincoln Apartments Wednesday 6/8

In addition to the town allowing the clear cutting of trees in the Atkins Corner Road Reconstruction project, our neighbors to the north are also whacking some sizable timber around Lincoln Apartments.

UMass is of course exempt from local oversight, so the Amherst tree warden has no authority--not that he defensively chained himself to any of the trees in South Amherst, now gone like the wind .

Speaking of Atkins Corner, the dirt piles all around Atkins keep getting bigger. I'm told that the town sponsored project in front does have in the contract a "general dust control clause". Let's hope they institute it today, as the temperature once again soars into the high 90s.

Atkins Corner Wednesday 6/8

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Stop the sun from shining

Save the sparrow message fell flat at Town Meeting

Not surprisingly 13 NIMBY residents filed suit in Hampshire Superior Court casting yet another shadow over the old landfill where town officials hope a private company can construct a solar farm, a potential $1 million annual net gain for town taxpayers while reducing our dependence on oil and other bad by-products of energy production.

I suppose if the neighbors can afford the castles that ring the old landfill they can afford Micheal Pill of Shutesbury, a lawyer who specializes in land use issues. Although Mr. Pill did not have shining results--other than delaying the project and running up a tab--when he took on the town over low income housing on Longmeadow Drive at neighbor request, or when Town Meeting rezoned property out on Meadow Street to flood prone conservancy.

In only a few months the neighborhood concerns have ricocheted from (1) 30 or 40 mysterious barrels of potentially dangerous chemicals buried in the old landfill back in the 1970s by DPW workers under orders from a grouchy boss, to (2) lead arsenate soil from the Atkins Road reconstruction project being used to regrade the old landfill cap, to (3) the alleged serious degradation of the protective cap with added weight of solar panels causing a catastrophic crack; and now it's protection of the grasshopper sparrow, a little birdie that is only "rare" and not "endangered".

Obviously NIMBYs will never go extinct--especially in the People's Republic.

Diana Spurgin fell flat at Town Meeting

The Springfield Republican reports (ahead of the Gazette)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hot Time in the Town


UPDATE: Thursday 6/9
So I'm now told that School Super Maria Geryk and Town Manager John Musante have been in negotiations for a month about possibly opening the Middle School Pool this summer as a public service (some would argue 'Public Safety Service'.) Let's keep our flippers crossed for a positive outcome.
############################################

With public schools not yet in summer recess, today's gorgeous weather will only serve as a distraction to our youth, but a month from now it will act as an oppressive tormentor. And the town will provide little respite.

Back in 2005 venerable Amherst Town Meeting approved spending $140,000 to refurbish the War Memorial Pool area "comfort station" (bathrooms) a 50 year old cinderblock structure that also serves as Stan Ziomek's office for all things baseball.

That money has sat in an account all these years and is only now being used for its original purpose. Meanwhile the town closed the adjacent War Memorial Pool two years ago due to either budget restrictions or maintenance issues (depending on who is spinning the facts) and current studies show the pool needs $175,000 for proper renovation.

Last month Town Meeting approved spending $65,250 in a last minute vote to give the pool a death row pardon this summer, but town officials quickly nixed the idea and decided to stash the cash as a downpayment towards the $175-k required "to do it right" for next year.

But that $65,000 was based on operation costs for a season. Since the pool usually generates $20,000-$25,000 in membership fees, Town Meeting was clearly thinking it worth $40,000 in business losses to keep kids happy.

So why not take $10,000 of that money and purchase pool memberships at Hampshire Athletic Club and distribute them to the most needed families in town? LSSE charges $85 for a one month pool pass (out of the reach of many families even if War Memorial was open for business) while Hampshire Athletic Club--with a well maintained indoor pool--only charges $69.

And if the town went to the owners with that much cash in hand, I'm sure they would institute a corporate non profit discount on those passes; plus if each person also kicked in $10 or $20 in matching monies, a couple hundred citizens could be well served.

Such a public/private partnership is a B-I-G win situation: Hampshire Athletic Club acquires new members at the slowest time of the year, the town helps facilitate a valuable public good and--most important--children get to cool off.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A birthday bash to remember

For the first time in ten years the Amherst July 4 Parade is steaming towards showtime free of political fireworks. Yes, hard to believe in Amherst we can now actually have a civic celebration with all the pomp and circumstance minus the minions who think any event on public property is fair game for pushing a political agenda.

After a hiatus of 26 years, the July 4 Parade was revived in 2002--that dark time immediately following 9/11--as a venue for thanking civilian public safety and military personnel who routinely lay their lives on the line to perform their duty: keeping our citizens safe.

The traditional Parade is a loud, festive and fun affair--especially for children. Again this year the patriotic showcase will feature marching bands, color guards, farm equipment, dancing horses, politicians, firetrucks, police cruisers, and military hardware, including F-15 fighter jets, those magnificent war birds from Barnes Air National Guard in Westfield.

The July 4 Parade launches at 3:00 PM starting on South Pleasant Street near Amherst College Orr Rink and ambles directly through town center all the way to Triangle Street. The Parade Committee is made up entirely of unpaid volunteers and it's financed via private donations from individuals and businesses.

Contributions can be sent to: July 4 Parade Committee, PO Box 2145, Amherst, Ma 01004


Party House of the Weekend

64 Pomeroy Lane

Maybe I will not have retire this weekly feature for the summer, as kids continue to just wanna have fun--at their neighbors expense. File this one under: Welcome to the neighborhood.

According to police narrative from backup officer having been called to 64 Pomeroy Lane South Amherst at 1:45 AM early Saturday morning:

"Loud party at location. Residents stated that they had just moved in to apartment three weeks ago. One male gave false information to officer, found in possession of alcohol and was later identified as resident of apartment."

According to the original responding officer: "Attempted to make contact with tenant at rear of building where crowd was located. Individuals fled on my approach. Many of whom were identified as minors in possession of alcohol. One male failed to identify himself while in possession of alcohol. Was later identified as tenant and placed under arrest for unlawful noise and being minor in possession of alcohol."

Michael Odonnell of Medway, Mass, age 20: $300 ticket for Unlawful noise
Matthew McMorrow of Norwood, Mass, age 20: arrested and booked for underage drinking, unlawful noise.

Assessor Card for owner of 64 Pomeroy Lane (repeat offender)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

State names names in Charter School neglect

Despite PVCIC Executive Director Rich Alcorn's assertion to the media that a state investigation "has made no finding" against the school "or any member of the staff," I received a copy of the letter sent from DCF (dated June 1st) clarifying the findings, and naming Alcorn's wife Kathy Wang, school principal, as one of two responsible parties:

"After a review of a recent investigation of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School conducted by the Department of Children and Families, it was learned that the support decision for the neglect of xxxxx cited the school itself. The Department's regulations do not allow for an investigation to support an entity. Attached is the correct letter that you should have received."

The Correct Letter from DCF (click link to read)

Let the Spin begin


Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School officials circled the tanks to form a defensive perimeter of denial, while parents and friends of students enrolled in the 4-year-old language immersion school have launched a counteroffensive against the negative press resulting from a seven-hour "timeout" forced on a third grade boy accused of pushing another boy in a bathroom in an effort to make a hasty retreat from another boy's physical assault. The punishment was meted out the morning after the incident without parental notification.

An unbiased and presumably professional agency--the Department of Children and Families--found support for the allegation of neglect in response to the child's physician who, acting as a "mandated reporter," filed a 51A report with the state. The case is now in the hands of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

This unfortunate incident comes at a precarious time for the rapidly expanding school. Back in 2009 PVCICS filed amendments to expand their original K-8th grade capacity from 300 to 420. Considering those extra 120 students bring with them the average overhead education cost of the sending district, that amounts to around $1.5 million per year in tuition revenues.

And the amendment to e-x-p-a-n-d by adding grades 9-12 will easily amount to another $1.5 million. The school voluntarily withdrew those amendments but did refile in 2010 the one for adding 120 students K-8. Dr. Mitchell Chester, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, rejected that request. PVCICS appealed the decision to the full Board, and lost.

In order to meet this ambitious student expansion proposal the school renovated space last summer for $1.2 million to add four classrooms and now has on the drawing board a major construction project, estimated to be no more than $8.664 million, for a three-story addition on the back of the former health club which will double the size of the building, adding 14 classrooms, a library, resource rooms and office space.

In 2008 PVCICS was awarded a $1.5 million FLAP grant to "plan implementation through grade 12; and 2) create a 6-9, partial immersion program for late-entry 6th graders that will eventually expand through grade 12." If the school cannot expand to grade 12, however, it could jeopardize that $1.5 million.

No wonder parents are concerned.

#########################################

Sent: Wed, Jun 1, 2011 11:53 am
Subject: Deadline tonight! PVCICS support letter

Hi, PVCICS Families ~

So far, 98 parents and guardians have signed the letter that will be submitted to the editors of both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Republican. If you would like to add your signature please click on the following link and follow the instructions: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PVCICS_Sign_Support_Letter.

The deadline for adding your signature is TONIGHT (Wednesday, June 1) at 11:59 p.m.

Here's the text of the letter:

For the past four years, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School has provided our children with an innovative educational opportunity without parallel in Western New England. At PVCICS, the region's children can receive the foundations of a 21st century education that prepare them to live and work in a world that has grown far beyond the one we knew at their age.

Although the school's test scores show the success of the educational component, we also see the excellent social and emotional results in our children every day—especially in the way they interact with each other and with the staff of PVCICS. We see them becoming global citizens through the school's unique blend of academics and culture.

As parents, we hope that we make good choices for our children. Our choice of PVCICS has in fact been a great one, full of rewards for our children and our families. Our children are not only happy, but are excelling in ways we did not imagine. The policies and decisions of PVCICS have brought success—on MCAS tests, in the classroom, in our communities, and in our homes.

At a time when education reform is the rallying call in national and local politics, we are proud to be part of a community of learning at PVCICS that is leading by example.

Best regards,

xxxxx

P.S. It was not possible to remove from the distribution list the names of those who already have signed. If you are receiving this message but already signed, please disregard it.