Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chinese Charter School on Probation

PVCICS:  Charter renewed with conditions

Despite cheerleader like support from 40 to 50 parents, children and staff in the audience--about half of them hoisting supportive signs--the state Board of Education and Secondary Education unanimously voted to support the recommendation of Commissioner Mitchell Chester to renew the five year charter for Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, but rejected amendments to allow expansion to high school or increased enrollment in the elementary grades by 120 students.
Signs of support (in English)

Although a last minute amendment by Commissioner  Chester grandfathered the seven current eight graders, so they may attend ninth grade but the school cannot solicit any additional students.  And since each additional student represents an average of $13,000 in revenue, a costly sanction indeed.

The lone voice and three minute testimony of the parent of a former student had the undivided attention of the board. The mother of the now 10 year old boy who was banished to a tiny room for seven hours--without parental notification--the day after an alleged shoving match took place in the boys room.

A Department of Children and Families investigation branded two school employees--one of them Principal Kathy Wang--guilty of neglect, and a follow up investigation by the Department of Education found four additional areas of concern:  discipline, special education, governance and leadership.  

Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner BESE

The mother asked the Board of Education and Secondary Education members four questions:

Why are the two employees who have been found guilty of neglect still working around children?

What pupose does a school's family handbook serve if the board of trustees can unilaterally overturn portions of it as they see fit? 

How can public tax money now be used to pay for the legal appeal of those found guilty of neglect?

Even if the State Ethics board found it legal for a husband and wife to hold the positions of Executive Director and Principal in a charter school, how can it be acceptable?

In closing, she countered the BESEs simple solution of telling the Chinese Charter board of trustees to shape up and provide more governance.  "To have the board of trustees try to correct themselves and be responsible for overseeing school administrators seems like a leap of faith, and high risk."

Paul Reville, Secretary of Ed.  Mitchell Chester, BESE Commissioner

So this morning, once again, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education listened to Commissioner Chester...and if the leaders of the Chinese Charter School were also listening today, they will take seriously Commissioner Chester's  demand to drastically improve governance and leadership by the September 30 deadline.
Maura Banta, Board of Ed Chair sends "clear message"

 David Roach, BESE member

Not that nearby Hatfield will mind if they do not. Hatfield Comment Pvcics 10 2011 Springfield Republican reports (from afar)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Party House brewing?

314 Lincoln Ave, Amherst (note Southwest towers looming in backyard)

Today's Gazette Property Transfer notices contain a brief entry the average reader would barely notice--unless of course you live on Lincoln Avenue in the shadow of our local Juggernaut, UMass.

Marie E. Desch, Richard M Gold, to Comm Properties LLC, 314 Lincoln Ave, Amherst $450,000.

"Comm Properties LLC" is owned by Chad O'Rourke of Hadley who also owns Pipeline Properties, manager of my very first Party House winner.   In fact, at the Zoning Board hearings last September,  Hilda Greenbaum asked Mr. O'Rourke how many properties he owns or manages?  Fifty four (54).  And he was the property manager of 314 Lincoln Avenue before buying it. 

One abutter presented a petition signed by 18 area property owners who asked the ZBA to either require the property revert back to the original "one family," or require it be "owner occupied" for two family.  Numerous other abutters testified to concerns of noise, lousy landscaping and deferred maintenance leading to a less pleasing curb appeal. 

Interestingly the parties involved with the sale submitted a letter of complaint between hearings requesting ZBA member Greenbaum be taken off the case due to a conflict of interest.  Hilda Greenbaum or her family owns approximately 70 rental properties in town; but since she does not own anything near 314 Lincoln Avenue, the complaint was ignored.

Since the property was once a fraternity the previous change to a 2 family (allowing 8 tenants) was deemed less of an impact on the neighborhood than the original fraternity.  Since Mr. O'Rourke is a long time provider of student rental housing, the ZBA approved maintaining "two family" status, and the $450,000 deal was done.

Another Pipeline Party House winner

Party House of the Weekend

186 College St. Amherst

The wild weekend continued over Saturday night into Sunday early morning as the Amherst Police Department responded to 186 College Street  for a report of a young female passed out due to alcohol consumption (ETOH).  Once there they found a bevy of dangerous problems all too typically associated with a Party House:

According to APD logs (12:20 AM early Sunday morning):  
ETOH 18-year-old female located stumbling around yard outside residence. A large crowd was attending a party inside first floor, where the female patient had originated from.  I made contact with RP (reporting party) who stated female was vomiting inside the house and had consumed too much alcohol.  Patient transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital by AFD.  Large crowd of approximately 200 cleared from residence.  Two tenants issued TBL citation for Nuisance House.  Significant code violations observed while inside, including no smoke detectors, unsecurable front door and an unstable living room floor which was concaved by approximately 12"

Issued $300 ticket for Nuisance House:
David Shamula, 21 Fairway Lane, Ocean, NJ, age 20
Gregory Cantor, 27 Tri Street, Ashland. MA, age 19

Mr. Gharabegian's other holdings in town.  Yikes!

UPDATE  11:30 AM   Look who came to visit (middle vehicle with blue plate):  AFD
AFD back on the scene

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Frisky Friday

72 Curtis Place 

Amherst Police were kept on the go last night all over town to quell loud parties and fighting, issuing five noise warnings all along North Pleasant Street with another four locations ticketed for noise (9 individuals total), nuisance house (8 total) and one underage drinking, for a grand total of eighteen $300 tickets or $5,400.

Perhaps the Perps spent early Friday consuming copious amounts of Red Bull before switching to the cheap beer.

The winner for 'Party House of the Night' goes to 72 Curtis Place as they garnered 4 noise, 4 nuisance house (meaning each resident was hit with $600 in fines) and one underage drinking (also a $300 offense), for hosting a loud event with 300 guests still going strong at 1:30 AM.

Arrested for Noise and Nuisance House violations:
Ross Lapetina, 72 Curtis Place #1, Amherst, Ma, age 21
Gregory Kuhn, 1 Falls Ct, N Attleborough, Ma, age 21
Stefan Valentin, 72 Curtis Place #2, Amherst, Ma, age 20
Mark Salhany, 72 Curtis Place #1, Amherst, Ma, age 21
Alden Michaels, 5 Coltin Drive, Newburyport, Ma, age 20, Possession Liquor under 21

Ownership Card for 72 Curtis Place, Amherst (Hilda and Louis Greenbaum)

51 North East St

 Arrested for Noise and Nuisance: Andrew Bridge, 34 Cook Street, Westborough, Ma, age 21

57 Woodside Ave 

Ticketed for noise: Anna Guigli, Amanda Holt, Elizabeth Wilson, Katherine Zoufaly, all age 21

UPDATE:  Sunday afternoon
AFD, via their Facebook page, reports a hectic Saturday night:  "With only seven people on duty, they handled a total of 17 calls on the overnight. These included: a car accident with entrapment and transport to Baystate Trauma Center, psychiatric evaluation, Stroke, Unconscious patient, Alcohol Overdose, Seizure, Lacerations, Shortness of Breath, Car vs Pedestrian, and several others."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Incendiary Library Debate

After extensive public discussion, one positive Town Meeting vote and two successive Override failures, the fate of Shutesbury's new library is now in the hands of a Superior Court Judge, as proponents of the library/community center refuse to take NO for an answer.

They will, however, learn to do that soon enough.

Interestingly, lead architect of the lawsuit and--questionably--its attorney of record, Michael Pill, makes a good living servicing NIMBY clients shouting NO.

Mr. Pill represented neighbors trying to stop the HAP Butternut Farm low-income project in South Amherst (and failed), the Amherst neighbors on University Drive opposed to rezoning property for senior housing combined with mixed use commercial (and won), and he's representing Amherst Woods neighbors opposed to a solar farm on the old landfill, which he will surely lose.

Of course win or lose, Mr. Pill always gets paid.

M.N. Spear Memorial Library, Shutesbury
Two of the eight challenged ballots (that the Board of Registrars allowed) just happen to be Mr. Pill's grown children, ages 28 and 32. And two other challenged ballots (also allowed) had close ties to the Powers That Be in rural Shutesbury:  The 25-year-old son of former town administrator David Dann and the 29-year-old son of Becky Torres the current town administrator who was Chair of the Select Board when the proposed library site was purchased in 2004.
Proposed site for new library
Christopher Buck was the only vote overruled by the Board of Registrars and thrown out because he voluntarily registered to vote in Kentucky shortly before the second Shutesbury Override vote.  And that clearly trumps any previous voting place.

Even the complaint filed by library supporters telegraphs their lack of confidence in throwing out the Paczkowski no votes, as they ask the judge for a remedy:  "Order the defendant Board of Registrars not to count the votes of Richard and Joan Paczkowski, or in the alternative if the Paczkowski votes are to be counted, then order the defendant Board of Registrars to count the vote of Christopher Buck."  Which would approve the Override by a count of 523-522.

Richard and Joan Paczkowski taking the time on 10/14/2011 to reregister in Shutesbury--their hometown for the past 37 years--trumps their previous registration in Florida where, like many folks of retirement age from the northeast, they winter. 

Much is made out of the Paczkowski's taking out a Homestead Declaration on that Florida property. Almost four years ago, however, the Amherst Board of Registrars took up that exact scenario with Anne Awad and Robie Hubley, who had taken out a Homestead Declaration on a house in South Hadley (where they currently reside) but used an empty condo that was up for sale as proof of residency in Amherst to not only vote, but also to hold elected office.

The Amherst Town Clerk testified at the 7/3/08 hearing: "There was no known legislation whereby the signing of a Homestead Declaration for a property in another community could be used to determine that an individual could not be registered to vote in the community in which they consider themselves to be a resident."

The Amherst Board of Trustees voted 3-0 to allow Hubley and Awad to maintain their voting rights in Amherst.  Just as the Board of Registrars did in Shutesbury on January 25 with Joan and Richard Paczkowski. 

Case closed.

 And NO, it will be

Sick stereotype

So yes, I find the Irish Yoga Trucker  Hat--with a  man on all fours puking green shamrocks--doubly offensive:  To the Irish, and anyone who practices yoga.  Doubled down if you are both.  

And to the millions of Americans who struggle daily with an addiction to alcohol. 

Urban Outfitters is an ultra hip, profitable retain clothing chain targeting a younger, impressionable, demographic.  A good corporate citizen doesn't do anything to anger or slight an entire ethnic group --at least not knowingly.  And since an article in Irish Central has now put them on notice about how offensive that image is to a high percentage of viewers (potentially 40 million Irish Americans), it will be interesting to see how Urban Outfitters responds.

Urban Outfitters, Northampton
No Irish Yoga hats, but the Northampton branch did have this t-shirt and "beer briefs"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ancient Secrets Revealed

Town Records dating back to 1759 stored in a locked vault in the basement of Town Hall

Who would have thought Amherst had to appropriate town money to outfit men serving in the cataclysmic war between the states?

Soon enough anyone will be able to access Annual Town Reports back to 1861 and Town Meeting records to 1759--the founding of our fair town.  Our Information Technology Department has scanned all the old records stored in a walk in Mosler Safe in the basement of Town Hall and will soon upload them to the town website.

Now that ought to increase traffic.

"Military:  Under the vote of May 1, 1861 we have borrowed and expended for the outfit of the soldiers in the Army from this town $535.17 and for soldiers' families to March 1st $1158.29.  Total $1698.46 of which amount $1116.71 is due from the state.  Between 80-90  persons have enlisted in the army from this town, 25 of whom have families, dependent upon them for support, requiring about $200 per month to satisfy their claims."

1861-1863 Annual Town Reports (just to whet your appetite)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cost of Bad Judgement

 Top of The Notch

In addition to the Amherst tax dollars consumed for a gaggle of first responders, the cost of rescuing a hiker on Bare Mountain last week needs to be measured in more than just dollars--even if it was $10,000.

According to AFD Chief Tim Nelson the late night rescue, "Came close to negatively impacting a medical emergency. The guy on the mountain made a bad choice but he had a choice. Those people who truly need our help don't have a choice."

Not to mention the potential harm to first responders negotiating dangerous conditions in order to carry out the mission, as evidenced by a police officer injured in the incident.  

Yes, you don't want people to hesitate calling 911 in an emergency if they think a bill will be presented for services rendered as a penalty, but at the same time you don't want taxpayers to subsidize irresponsible behavior.

And setting off on a hike in mountainous woods, late at night, in the middle of the winter is by most standards of measurement, a bad call.

In Alaska, Colorado or even our neighboring New Hampshire White Mountains, if someone gets into trouble on a hike and requires a tactical rescue, authorities send them a bill (assuming they survive).

Or if our ambulance picked up an unconscious citizen on the side of the road and transported them to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital their insurance company would cover the cost or Amherst would send them a bill.

And it would not be hard to itemize.

Amherst Fire Department costs:
Personnel – $2830.89
Apparatus Equipment $4800.00
Total – $7630.89

Amherst Police Department costs:
4 patrol officers at the scene times 3 hrs each: $437.04
1 Sergeant at the scene for 3 hours: $131.10                                        
1 Lieutenant at the scene for 2 hours: $104.64
And 4 shifts covered for injured officer 32 hrs. Total: $1165.44
Grand Total:   $1838.22

And these are just Amherst's costs.  South Hadley Fire District 2 also had a major response and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

What else AFD did that week (Dispatch statistics)

Polluted Library vote

Automotive trash pile behind building

In spite of the rosy Gazette headline (1/7/12) "Consultant finds no contamination at proposed Shutesbury library site" published just days before a critical second Override vote (1/10/12), even the most cursory perusal of the property would indicate otherwise.

Leading library proponent Michael DeChiara added even more emphasis on the "Yes For New Library" Facebook page by publishing the word "NO" contamination in all caps. 

In fact, the consultant hastily hired by the town after a whistleblower voiced concern over the contamination discovered, "All Extractable Petroleum Hydrocarbons 'were below the reporting level of the laboratory methodology with the exception of 19.1 PPM C19-C36 Aliphatic Hydrocarbons and 33.5 PPM CII-C22Aromatic Hydrocarbons detected in Sample FD-S-2."

The report continues: "The sample from beneath the drum was analyzed for Polychlorinated Biphenyls based on detection of PCBs in the petroleum remaining in the drum by Oil Recovery, Inc. A total of 39.9 parts per billion PCBs was detected in soil."

One of three drums left on site

Debris immediately behind building

Note to Gazette headline editor:  PCBs constitute "contamination."

When the town purchased the 22 acre site for $212,500 eight years ago from Amherst developer Barry Roberts, the property was only assessed at $137,500.  Even though it resembled a junk yard modeled after "Sanford and Son", no pre-sale environmental study was performed.  If any individual taxpayer tried that with a mortgage, the bank would demand an environmental site assessment as per normal business practice known as "due diligence."

Additionally, a fire station two doors down and a DPW across the street are what the consultant refers to as "Recognized Environmental Conditions."   Especially since the fire station is a known hazard contaminated by a leaky underground gas tank that has cost the town over $200,000 to date in clean up costs, with no end in sight.

The homeowner sandwiched between the fire station and the proposed library site has a contaminated well and receives potable water by special arrangement with the town.

Virtually all houses in Shutesbury have septic systems and well water. The elementary school is the only facility with town water/sewer, although much is made of the current library not having "running water."

You expect spin from both sides on any question as important as an Override vote, but when town officials downplay public health issues you have to wonder what else they would do in order to get their way?

Inside the former three bay auto repair facility, the concrete floor is cracked
Automotive fluid runoff  channeled to open floor drain

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quieter weekend for AFD

As usual, long weekends that empty UMass means less overstretch for the Amherst Fire Department, although ETOH (alcohol poisoning) and false fire alarms still occur with too much regularity--both on the campuses as well as in the town. 

AFD weekend run summary 2/17-2/20

Monday, February 20, 2012

Party House of the Weekend

 351 Main Street, Amherst

So yes, I suppose if you can afford the price of a pack of cigarettes these days, you (or Mommy and Daddy) can afford the $300 noise violation ticket garnered for desiring one last drag on the cancer stick.

Perhaps the town should also pass a by-law against entitlement, arrogance and stupidity combined. 

Just after midnight, early Sunday morning.  RP reports loud party, possibly playing indoor soccer.  351 Main Street #4

According to APD narrative:

Loud music and voices heard upon arrival.  Approximately eight guests outside talking loudly.  Approximately 35 guests inside talking loudly with loud music.  One resident was cooperative but in no hurry to end the party.  Second resident, Benjamin Lagasse, refused to assist his roommate in clearing the house.

Lagasse given several chances to go inside and assist, however he indicated that he could not do anything and he was going to finish his cigarette.

Arrested for noise violation:
Benjamin Joel Lagasse, 9 Winslow Way, Orleans, MA, age 20

Property Ownership Card for 351 Main St, Amherst

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Generator Glut?

17.5 KW DPW generator: Scrap metal.

The fiscal fallout from the freak Halloween weekend storm continues as department wish lists includes back up generators as part of their capital requests for the next fiscal year.

The Jones Library Trustees are seeking $105,000 for two units, one 500 KW unit @ $82,000  for the main downtown library and another 30 KW unit @ $23,000 for the tiny North Amherst branch plus another $20,000 for installation, for a grand total of $125,000.

Town Hall is slated for a $85,000 generator (a Town Manager request therefor a slam dunk), as key components of command and control are located there--namely the main wireless Internet routers,  with emitters sitting atop street lights--and tied into their power--around Town Hall.

When the power went off the night of the storm the downtown wi-fi went down, although the town website did not go dark, as the server is located in Holyoke. 

 Wi-fi emitter Spring Street Parking lot (uses power from streetlight)

The nearby Police Station, where 911 dispatch is located, has a generator which fortunately did its critical job during the extended outage.  The DPW was not as fortunate as their generator failed to function, but Mass Emergency Management Agency managed to get four rented generators delivered from a Springfield firm by Sunday late afternoon. 

The DPW is requesting $15,000 to replace that ailing unit with a new one in the 30 KW range.  Since DPW trucks were critical as first responders clearing the streets of snow and storm debris, and since gas pumps at the "the barn" require electricity to pump fuel, a working generator is--according to the itemized Capital Project Request--a "very high priority".

The generator at the Centennial Water Treatment Plant also doesn't work and is scheduled for replacement as part of a $4 million overhaul of the entire plant. On the day of the storm Centennial was off line and acting as a simple water tower to help keep pressure in the system.

A small booster pump (without generator back up) is the weak link. When that failed even light Sunday demand drew down water in the Centennial tank and, ominously, water pressure began to fall...

Luckily the Atkins Treatment Plant and Well #3 had working generators, otherwise town folks would have had to drink something other than water. 

Thirteen years ago in the hysterical run up to the new Millennium, then Town Manager Barry Del Castilho became overly influenced by a Happy Valley volunteer "Y2K Citizens Committee" chaired by a UMass secretary who relied on the early day Internet for research pointing to a doomsday scenario.

Del Castilho tried to browbeat the Finance Committee into using emergency reserve funds to finance a $60,000 back up generator for the downtown Bangs Community Center.  When that failed to spark enthusiasm, he talked the Select Board into placing the request as a stand alone article on the annual spring 1999 Town Meeting warrant.

In a rare rebuke for Del Castilho, the article fell short by a 20 vote margin, 81-61 (6/9/99) .  Of course New Year's Day 2000 dawned without airplanes falling out of the sky, and the power in downtown Amherst never faltered...until the night of October 29, 2011.

Like Bangs Community Center, the Jones Library does not have a generator--but then neither do the adjacent Ann Whalen Apartments or Clark House, subsidized rental units managed by the Amherst Housing Authority with a high concentration of senior citizens.  

 Jones Library 11/1/11
The North Amherst Library is not even worth considering because it's exceedingly small (under 1,000 square feet) and not ADA compliant.  The Jones Library is large and centrally located but no more so than the Amherst Police Department or Town Hall.
 Ann Whalen Apartments

When asked if Library officials have had a conversation with the Town Manager or other department heads to coordinate shared planning for emergencies like the October snowstorm, Library Director Sharon Sharry answered quietly, "No".

Safe to say the Joint Capital Planning Committee, or Town Meeting, will pull the plug on the Library's expensive wish.  And if it's that important to them, they can always tap their $7.5 million endowment. 

Amherst Bulletin Generator Column 1999  (back when I was a paid MSM journalist)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

That didn't take long

 Superbowl Sunday night, UMass Southwest

Unfortunately this is a dog bites man kind of story, but it underscores the problems a huge bureaucracy has dealing with rowdy student behavior:  Nineteen year old Cullen Roe filed a federal lawsuit  after the University expelled him only days after the Superbowl "riot" in Southwest.
And since he's only 19, safe bet parents had a lot to do with financing the lawsuit in order to protect the money already spent on Mr. Roe's fledgling years at UMass.  Sounds to me like throwing good money after bad.

Springfield Republican reports

Friday, February 17, 2012

Shutesbury Shootout continues

On Tuesday Town attorney Donna MacNicol filed an “answer” to the lawsuit  filed by Library Override supporters against Shutesbury election officials  and the Board of Registrars claiming they erred by discarding a contested yes vote for the new library, yet allowed two contested no votes at the January 25 recount, leaving the tally at  a 522-522 tie, meaning the measure fails.

Attorney MacNicol, in a feisty rebuke requesting dismissal, wrote: “The Plaintiffs’ Complaint is wholly insubstantial, vexatious, frivolous and not advanced in good faith...The Board of Registrars...reserve their right to move, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 231, Section 6F and Mass. R. Civ. Pro. 11, for sanctions, an award of counsel fees, costs, and expenses incurred in the defense of this action.”


Thursday, February 16, 2012

An eye on you?

The Jones Library plan to install 16 security cameras throughout the interior of the downtown facility at a cost of $60,000 received a decidedly cool cold response this morning from the Joint Capital Planning Committee, whose endorsement to Town Meeting--the ultimate granting authority--does not guarantee approval, but items disapproved are certainly Dead On Arrival.

And the JCPC is currently trying to cut 25% from departments requests totaling $4 million.

Finance Director Sandy Pooler expressed concerns over liability should something bad occur that is captured and recorded but an employee does not see it to intervene, the town could be held liable; but Pooler demonstrated he understands Amherst well after only one year on the job as his main concern seemed to be patrons privacy, and the inevitable "Big Brother" reactions from the general public.
Sharon Sharry, Library Director (left), George Hicks, Diana Stein

Amherst school wins Innovation $

Crocker Farm Elementary School Principal Mike Morris demonstrated an innovative way to break the good news his school won a $10,000 state innovation grant:  He tweeted it. 

Innovation Schools are a Charter-like public entity with increased autonomy and flexibility but--and this is a major but--all of the state funding stays in the district, mitigating the number one complaint about Charter Schools stealing money away from their sending district (costing Amherst schools and the Region millions).

As with a new Charter School, if approved, the Innovation designation is good for five years and the school must demonstrate that it has closed the achievement gap to win a renewal.

The comprehensive blueprint is expected to be completed by June (a committee has already been formed) and it will require a two thirds buy in from all faculty at Crocker Farm School, a majority vote of the Amherst School Committee and, of course, the permission of the Superintendent, who is supportive.

The state, by the end of July, will award implementation grants of up to $75,000. 
Good news re: Innovation Grant twitdoc.com/SWZ

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Olde Towne Tavern, formerly Charlie's Tavern

So last weekend's nightlife had its lighter moments, in spite of the obnoxious drain on AFD resources babysitting drunks at the Mullins Center Rusko concert, as usual, alcohol related.

According to APD logs (early Saturday morning 1:55 AM):  "A group of college aged individuals approached me and asked where there was a legal place for the them to urinate.  I advised them to ask the staff at The Sub to use their facilities.  They did not ask at The Sub and proceeded to urinate at the old Charlie's Tavern.  The three observed were identified and sent on their way."

Relieved no doubt.

Like The Pub, located next door, Charlie's opened its doors during the anything goes 1970s--happy hours, lower drinking age, smoking in bars, lax attitudes towards drunk driving--but weathered all the changing attitudes and regulations...until the spring of 2010, when Charlie's Tavern closed suddenly after a long run of thirty years.

Within months banners appeared announcing Olde Towne Tavern "Coming Soon."  The Zoning Board approved a Special Permit last year to take up business where Charlie's left off, and the Select Board approved the all important $3,500 liquor license.  Then, nothing.

The principals also own Stacker's and McMurphy's located uptown within staggering distance, so it's a safe bet they will indeed open for business; I'm told later this month or next, in time for St Patty's Day, the mother of all drinking holidays.

McMurphy's is infamous for its St Patty's Day "Kegs 'n Eggs" promotion--a Mardi Gras like atmosphere where the alcohol starts flowing at 10:00 AM, although the owner described the clientele as "an older crowd."

But hey, at least they have functioning bathrooms.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

When products compete

For the third year in a row there will be no competition for Amherst Select Board, the highest elected office in town, as incumbent Aaron Hayden was the only one to return nomination papers with 50+ signatures.  Definitely shows the 5-member board, unlike a few years ago when ideological zealots ruled the day, has become normalized.  Not a bad thing I guess.

Half the ten town meeting precincts do not have the full complement of candidates needed to fill 24 seats--even with the bar set frightfully low at only one signature required on the nomination paper (and that signature could be your own).

The School Committee race promises to be the most interesting with four contenders--two black (Irv Rhodes and Amilcar Shabazz), two white (Michael Aronson, Lawrence O'Brien), all male--vying for two seats.

Race became an issue last week when Mr. Shabazz was passed over by the Select Board and School Committee, who jointly voted to fill a vacant seat up till this April 3 election by choosing a white high school student over Shabazz, creating a backlash of disappointment.

In the venerable Amherst schools, children of color are disciplined more often than their white counterparts while the vast majority of teachers and administrators are white, although the superintendent is a woman.

I am not rerunning for the Amherst Redevelopment Authority, a position held since 1997, as I believe the ARA will not be a major player over the next few years, therefor, I suppose, it's safe even for anti-development queen Pat Holland, the lone candidate, to get on board.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Gateway, Guaranteed

UMass director of planning Dennis Swinford paid a courtesy call to the Amherst Planning Board on February 1st to talk about their "Master Plan" looking forward to the next fifty years, and at the end of the presentation he was queried about the Gateway Project.

You can tell by his reaction he was a tad unprepared for the question, perhaps why he blurted out the unvarnished truth.

 Dennis Swinford, UMass planning

Originally the Gateway Corridor Project was a joint development project between UMass, the town and the Amherst Redevelopment Authority. Umass would donate the 2 acre former Frat Row and the ARA would commission a private top shelf developer to build a grand mixed use project providing badly needed housing, parking and commercial business space--all of it on the tax rolls.

Neighbors, fearing a revival of the Animal House Frat Row days, lobbied long and hard, meeting after meeting to abort any part of the plan concerning housing. They brow beat town officials into altering the grand vision to an unrecognizable shell of its former self. UMass withdrew the offer of Frat Row.

On the night Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon broke the bad news to the ARA he stated reassuringly, UMass had no plans to build on the property "for the next five years."

Chancellor Holub and Town Manager Larry Shaffer signed a "Memorandum of Understanding" at the 9/1/10 community breakfast (in front of 400 witnesses) jump starting the grand Gateway Corridor plan. Shaffer would later run off from his wife and the town to Michigan, Chancellor Holub was run off by the by the rough and tumble Boston pols, and Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon just found another job with Kent State University.

And Gateway will become townhouse apartments (like North Village Apartments) and a signature building at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, North Pleasant Street, and Butterfield Terrace.

Now neighbors will get the devil they don't know.

Mullins Center Hogs AFD ambulances

This folks is unacceptable, completely unacceptable: All five AFD ambulances and ten of 11 firefighters--including all the extras brought in--were occupied carting drunks and druggies from the Mullins Center Rusko concert to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton on Friday night, meaning the entire town and our hilltown neighbors had EMT protection from another, more distant, department and Amherst had one crew of student volunteers for fire protection.

Besides the eight incapacitated folks transported to CDH, our EMTs also observed and then released another five patients (all alcohol related).

What more can I say? UNACCEPTABLE!

AFD weekend runs
Note almost all ETOH (alcohol) cases occur during time period University Health Services used to be open but is now closed.

Full Week Emergency Dispatch report (note times student force covered and mutual aid)

Springfield Republican covers UMass Health Services cutback Note spokesperson final quote about increasing demand on AFD ambulances, "It's too soon to tell." Not anymore Mr. Blaguszewski!

Party Apartment of the Weekend

 Crestview Apartments, North Amherst

Amherst Police were called to #35 Crestview Apartments very early Saturday morning (2:10 AM) for "loud music and voices coming from listed location."

According to APD narrative: "Upon knocking on the door observed a bong in plain view. There was also a marijuana grinder and marijuana joint in plain view on the table. Perp slammed the door and ran inside to hide the contraband. Door was finally answered. Items listed were seized and perp was issued citation for noise and marijuana less than an ounce."

Given citations for noise ($300) and marijuana ($100) violations: Jared Johnson, age 21

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Auf Wiedersehen and Do svidaniya

 Superintendent Maria Geryk

In order to trim their budget and stay within Finance Committee guide lines of no more than a 2.8% budget increase, the Regional Schools will nix Russian this coming year and German the following year.

According to Superintendent Maria Geryk:  "The decision to cut German and Russian at the Region was made about 3 years ago. Since that time, no new students have been added to the classes. We maintained enough FTE to support the students who were already taking classes in these languages. This year is the last group currently in Russian, and we have one more group left in German. For FY13, there will be a .4 reduction in these areas. Therefore, Russian is cut in FY13 totally and German will be cut in FY14."

At least they're still offering Chinese.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Party Concert

UMPD evidence confiscated early in the evening from one vehicle
UPDATE 6:20 PM:  Saturday night is not starting out so hot.  Another dumpster fire at Hobart Lane.  And the fireworks at North Amherst Winterfest stimulates a bevy of calls to 911

Like the melody of a song that gets stuck in your head, "200 Commonwealth Ave", the Mullins Center address, will stay with me for a while as that became a loop run for Amherst Fire Department ambulances starting even before the Rusko concert (drunken young woman fell and broke her arm).

UMass Police did their best to be proactive: patrolling expansive parking lots with an armored car and unmarked patrol cars--swooping in when alcohol was visibly in possession by minors--but on nights like this, you may as well bail out the ocean with a plastic red cup.

Riot buster on patrol outside Mullins Center

The concert started at 7:30 PM, but over an hour later coatless young men in short sleeve shirts and young women dressed in even shorter black skirts with midriffs exposed, streamed down Commonwealth Avenue from the Southwest area heading toward the Mullins Center, while many of the vehicles converging on the scene had out-of-state license plates.

The good thing of course is the concert kept thousands of students on campus, the bad thing, however, is our Fire Department became like a Domino's Pizza delivery service--carrying cargo from the Mullins Center to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

And the saddest thing? It's become routine.

AFD ambulance at the Mullins Center. Load 'em up

Friday, February 10, 2012

Loaded For Bear

Backpack Journo tools

Since a high ranking Amherst public official--obviously not a sports fan--once tried to have me arrested for using the expression "locked and loaded", I thought it safer to explain my use of the term "loaded for bear" on Facebook regarding tonight's ride along with UMass Police Department.

My weapons--I mean tools--include a Kodak z981 with 26x wide angle optical zoom and high ISO for low light conditions, flip camera for simply to use video (but better quality than a cell phone), portable tripod so the flip can become an instant dash cam, portable scanner with Amherst and Hadley first responder frequencies, digital audio recorder, and of course when all else fails, small notebook and pencil.

And no, I'm not hoping for a riot--or what photo journalists refer to as "bang bang". Any Friday night with APD or UMPD is a newsworthy evening. Although... it is unseasonably warm and there is a big concert at the Mullins Center tonight.

Amherst Fire Department will have extra staff with nine on duty professionals (7 is normal) split between Central and North Station as well as another special detail of two stationed at the Mullins Center covering the concert.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Cutting Bully Columns

UPDATE 5:05 PM Friday:
See Comment at 5:02 PM today from Bart Hollander, Catherine Sanderson's husband.
Catherine Sanderson, as usual, hit a nerve with last week's column in the venerable Amherst Bulletin questioning the glowing evaluation the Regional School Committee bestowed upon Amherst School Superintendent Maria Geryk by highlighting those inconvenient truths about the high cost of education in Amherst with mediocre MCAS results, currently the most failing in over a half-dozen years.

This week's Amherst Bulletin has not one but two columns ganging up on Dr. Sanderson, written by three-out-of-four remaining Amherst School Committee members. Interestingly not a peep from any of the four hilltown committee members who presumably were as offended as the Amherst members. Or maybe Amherst has thin skinned public officials--especially now that Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin are gone.

How dare she point out the rosy report was penned by a Pelham School Committee member with a spouse working under the Superintendent!

Massachusetts public officials--both paid and volunteer--are held to a higher standard. It's not called "conflict of interest", it is called the "appearance of a conflict of interest". Kind of like in criminal cases the evidence must prove "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" vs. civil cases were it is a "preponderance of the evidence."

And having your volunteer spouse critique your highly paid boss clearly has the appearance of a conflict. The state, however, offers a simple solution: disclosure. You know, that thing called transparency--which we see very little of in Amherst.

Some might even argue appointing a high school student to the school committee smacks of an appearance of a conflict. Although we're told by reporter Nick Grabbe that the teacher was joking, newly appointed school committee member Solomon Goldstein-Rose was greeted with "I'm teaching my boss now" by a teacher at the High School on Tuesday.

Yeah, and you damn well better not give him too much homework!

Both columns use the same lame excuse town officials have relied on for 25 years protecting the Cherry Hill Golf Course: Wait until next year. Katherine Appy even manages to throw in liberals favorite boogeyman to blame, President Bush.

Yes, it takes time to turn around a big ship in a sea of molasses. But other nearby towns navigate in the same sea and seem to do as good a job in a far more cost efficient manner. As President Kennedy once said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." And Amherst has a rising tide of red ink.

Neither counter column answers that nagging question of why our cost per student is by far the highest in the area at $16,413 per student while state average is $13,055. Is it too much to ask why we don't get average adequate yearly progress when we pay 20% above average for our system?

Indeed, nobody likes a critic--especially when they're right!