Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fade to Black

Amherst July 4 Parade 2002-2012

They say you don't really appreciate something until it's gone. Especially those service oriented endeavors you learn to rely on as part of a favorite routine--a funky restaurant, a comfortable health club or a one of a kind movie theatre.

Sadly, we will soon find out if a good old fashioned patriotic parade makes your list. Because this July 4th--for the first time in ten years--downtown Amherst will not host an endless line of slow moving firetrucks, police cars, construction trucks, tractors, marching bands, floats, veterans, cheering crowds and more flags than Amherst sees all year.

The last town sponsored July 4 Parade stepped off in 1976. After a 26 year hiatus and as a direct response to the horror of 9/11, Kevin Joy reconstituted a private July 4th Parade Committee to put on a family oriented extravaganza while giving public thanks to our public servants--police, fire, EMT, and military.

And since 2002 the parade committee has done exactly that. But from the very beginning the committee was harassed and bullied by the town because the rules of the parade called for a celebration, not a protest.

In 2008 then town manager Larry Shaffer arbitrarily decided the town would run a 7/4 parade and the private committee would not be issued a permit.  As you can see, I did not take that very well. Neither did the ACLU, and the town quickly backed down.

Last year with a new town manager and normalized Select Board, for the first time in our short history there was no controversy--no mention of anti war protests one way or the other. Like all the previous years, the parade itself went off without a hitch.
So why surrender now?  Costs mainly.   The entire committee donates their labor but the bands,insurance, police, and a dozen other items amounts to serious money.  Plus fundraising is never easy--especially in this economy.

Besides that we're tired.  And now, sorry. So very sorry.

The Springfield Republican reports

Sent: Thu, May 31, 2012 9:55 am
Hi Kevin, Helen, Larry and others --

I just wanted to tell you how sorry I was to hear from Scott Merzbach yesterday that the parade won't happen this year.  You all have done such an amazing job with that and made it a special part of the July 4th events.  It's hard to imagine that day without it.  I will miss it, as will so many others, and I hope it can come back next year.

The work it takes to make the parade happen is incredible -- and beyond what most of us probably imagine.  The careful organization of the whole thing, particularly the check-in and set-up by Amherst College, and how smoothly that runs, has always been so impressive to me.  An enormous task that you all made run like clock work!  (Scott's article today is erroneous in suggesting I said it may not be too late for others to put together a similar parade -- I don't think that would even be possible.  My comment about "maybe it's not too late" was my reaction when he told me that you couldn't raise enough money for this year.)   Your attention to the logistics of it all made for such a professional and well-run event.     

Thank you for your work on this for all these years!  It has brought happiness to so many!  

Stephanie O'Keeffe
Chair, Amherst Select Board

One last time, into the fray

Shutesbury:  Where the welcome sign is not the only thing frayed

The back-and-forth in the sad saga of the Shutesbury library vote is enough to give an observer whiplash.

With the June 30 deadline looming for the town to accept a $2.1 million state grant, the Supreme Judicial Court last week refused to hear an expedited appeal of Judge Rup's decisive decision to throw out two previously counted yes votes of attorney Michael Pill's grown children thus bringing the (never say) final vote to 522 "no" to 520 "yes" in the $1.4 million override request required to match the state grant.

Originally library proponents had filed suit against the Board of Registrars requesting the court, "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."   Either of those two alternatives would have changed the outcome of the library vote from a failure to passing.

Instead Judge Mary-Lou Rup not only upheld the Board of Registrars decision to allow the challenged Paczkowski votes but then she went a step further and negated the votes of Shoshana Holzberg-Pill, and Jacob Holzberg-Pill.  To date the only negated vote that now seems unchallenged is that of Christopher Buck, who signed a legal document (license) in Kentucky, where he has been  employed full-time for the previous two years, clearly stating Kentucky is his sole legal domicile for voting.

Since town attorney MacNicol is now being so accommodating there's probably enough time for "direct appellate review" by the appeals court of Judge Rup's decision, which most experts believe will be upheld.  By then, however, the June 30 deadline will be at hand and no compromise possible between the opposing sides to get a piece of the $2.1 million state grant.
The picturesque M.N. Spear Memorial Library

The year (1923) Babe Ruth broke the record for all-or-nothing home runs, he also lead the league in strikeouts.  Those who fail to learn from history...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Conservative Values

Governor Deval Patrick addresses large crowd at formal  Paul C Jones Working Forest dedication ceremony

When Cinda Jones throws a party,  a who's who of federal, state, and local officials come to dance--no matter how hot and humid it may be.

Retiring Congressman John Olver directly thanks Cinda Jones for her conservation efforts 
Large crowd of conservation minded officials and friends of the Cowls family
Under a blazing sun blocked by a large white tent nestled on the side of a country road, Governor Deval Patrick and a wagon train of federal, state and local officials came to dedicate the renamed (from Brushy Mountain) Paul C Jones Working Forest, a 3,500 acre (5.4 square miles) swath of God's green earth.

Representative Ellen Story Senator Stan Rosenberg 
Last December, after four years of negotiations, the state paid the W.D. Cowls Co--the largest private landowners in the state--$8.8 million for the development rights to the scenic property.  Cowls will continue to log the land and act as stable stewards, as they have done for the past 125 years.
Paul C. Jones Working Forest
The entities who made it happen
Representative Dan Winslow R-Norfolk (an Amherst native)
Governor Patrick applauds Cinda Jones

No Conservation event is complete without Smokey Bear 

Retiring camera maestro Gordon Daniels gets the shot 

The Official Press Release

Springfield Republican reports

 A previous heartfelt tribute to Paul C. Jones

Party House of the Weekend

807 Main Street, Amherst

At the risk of being branded a bully I still gotta ask, "What were these Nitwits thinking?!"  Just what you need in the neighborhood: noxious fumes from old mattresses with God-only-knows-what having stained them.

According to APD logs:
RP passing by (1:00 AM early Saturday morning) reporting a large outdoor fire, AFD enroute.  Large fire with trash and mattresses being burned.  Citation issued for unpermitted burn to one of the tenants at the address.

Milo S Newman, 807 Main Street, Amherst, age 22, Open Burning without a permit

Monday, May 28, 2012

Amherst remembers the fallen

Amherst Color Guard leads the parade

This morning Amherst celebrated Memorial Day in a somber but fitting manner, reaching back 150 years to the most bloody conflict in American history, the Civil War.  Retired Amherst College physics professor Robert Romer discussed the 300 men from Amherst--57 who gave their last measure of devotion (5 of them black)--to save the Union and emancipate the slaves.

Continuing with this historical perspective Stan Rosenberg read aloud the letter from President Lincoln --made famous by the movie "Saving Private Ryan"--to a mother who lost five sons in the great conflict.  Stan also announced that before the 150th anniversary year of the war closes he and Representative Ellen Story will find a way to get the restored "Sacred Dead Tablets" put on public display.
Bob Romer, retired Amherst College professor, discussed the town and Amherst College's contributions to the Civil War

Stephanie O'Keeffe, John Musante, Stan Rosenberg, Diana Stein, Alisa Brewer
Amherst Fire Department
Amherst Police Department
AFD Quint
Goodwin Memorial Zion and Hope Community Church Choir
Hopkins Academy Marching Band (parked) 

The event at War Memorial Pool (built soon after War World 2 ended) was rich in symbolic ceremony: The Star Spangled Banner, the Pledge of Allegiance, taps played twice, the second time in a hauntingly softer manner, reading names of veterans lost over the past year and finally restoring Old Glory from half to full staff with everyone in uniform standing at attention saluting, the crowd with their hands over their hearts. 

Nearby house


Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark or even eagle flew --

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hadley Highlights Parade

Hadley Color Guard front and center 
God and Hadley make a great team:  He (or she) provides stunning weather, and the town puts on a grand old fashioned patriotic parade reminiscent of Norman Rockwell's glory days.  Trucks, tractors, Boys and Girl scouts, politicians, high school marching band, horses, antique cars and cheering folks aplenty lining both sides of Rout 9.  Of course, aging veterans led the procession with the stars and stripes held high.

Joyce Chunglo Hadley Select Board, DA Dave Sullivan, Senator Stan Rosenberg
Hadley Fire Department
Hadley Cub Scouts
Hopkins Academy Marching Band
Kathy Roberts, Muddy Brook Horse Farm
Patriotic Wagon
Lots of tractors, but no cows
Antique car
Yes they allowed candy tossed to the kids. Parents supervised. My kids got a ton
A yard a few houses down from parade route

Oh say you can't miss

Amherst Town Center Sunday 12:25 PM

Amherst has broken out the really BIG ceremonial flag purchased last year to accompany the 29 commemorative flags in the downtown on the six holidays they are allowed to fly.  Friday of course the big one went up to honor and remember Memorial Day, so tomorrow it will be at half staff from sunrise until noon.

Today, as they have done for almost 40 years, the anti-war protesters showed up at high noon.  Although not as many as Occupy Amherst turned out yesterday, their longevity underscores a resolve that's hard to beat.

Weird lady shows up sporadically but keeps to herself (much to the relief of organized protesters).

Occupy Amherst Center

Occupy Amherst town center 12:25 PM

A few dozen folks descended on the most visible corner in Amherst town center Saturday morning, the same one "occupied" by anti-war protestors every Sunday for the past 40 years, and they even had a brass band.  By 1:15 PM they were gone.  It was kind of hot and muggy.

According to their press release speakers were going to address:

  • Corporate Personhood,
  • Student Debt,
  • Racism in the Amherst schools,
  • Justice for Charles in Springfield,
  • SComm and immigrant rights,
  • Shutting down the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant and
  • foreclosures in Hampshire and Hampden counties. 
Hmm...Okay it's Amherst so I can see the anti Corporate Personhood, and Amherst Town Meeting just overwhelmingly passed an anti SComm advisory article to champion immigrant rights. And we are loaded with students (although not at the moment), so the student debt issue could resonate. Although I wonder if anyone held a bow and arrow to their heads to force them to take on the debt in the first place.

But the one I question is, "Racism in the Amherst schools". Really?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Like loaves & fishes

 249 South Pleasant Street, Amherst

The Planning Board will discuss this cute Amherst College owned house in my neighborhood as AC goes before them on June 6 for the easy to attain site plan review permission to double from a one to a two family dwelling thus allowing, duh, two families--or as is the case with conversions in most other parts of town, eight unrelated housemates (code for "college students").

This makes the third Amherst College owned house (out of 31 formerly "single family") to recently double in ocupancy, although planner Christine Brestrup confirms it will be the last for a while.  Amherst College is also busy building the new $200 million science center, and a bevy of renovation projects including a dormitory, Pratt Field, and the old Fiber Arts building in downtown Amherst.

Fiber Arts Building, downtown Amherst


I think perhaps my daughter Kira will start backing up my Public Documents requests from now on.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shutesbury Library: Noose Tightens

 And NO, it will be

The desperate motion by attorney Michael Pill and FRIENDS OF THE M.N. SPEAR MEMORIAL PUBLIC LIBRARY, INC. for a review by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of Judge Rup's recent decision to throw out his grown children's two yes votes in the overly contentious failed Shutesbury Library $1.4 million override vote has been denied.

The case remains in the appeals court but this attempt to leapfrog that judicial arena would have fast tracked the case thus giving it a chance to be heard before the June 30 deadline for the town to accept a $2.1 million state grant towards construction of the $3.5 million library.  Now it as all but assured the June 30 deadline cannot be met.  A very expensive overdue notice for sure.
Maybe now would be a good time for, um, compromise?

  Supreme Judicial Court for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

RE:    No. DAR-20760


Franklin Superior Court No. FRCV2012-00014
A.C. No. 2012-P-0843


Please take note that on May 24, 2012, the above-captioned Application for Direct Appellate Review was denied.

Susan Mellen, Clerk

Dated: May 24, 2012

To:  William A. McDermott, Jr., Esquire
Michael Pill, Esquire
Donna L. Macnicol, Esquire
Alan Seewald, Esquire
Franklin Superior Court Dept.

Wasted Legal Expenses

Amherst Regional High School

One of the main reasons cited by the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee for hitting the snooze button on deciding later start times for Amherst regional secondary schools was the impact on the already fragile condition of school athletics--underscored by no longer sustainable annual subsidies of $50,000.

Yet this same diffident committee has looked the other way after deciding 18 months ago to fire attorney Giny Tate from "Special Education" matters for the school system. However they allow Tate (or more specifically allow Superintendent Maria Geryk to allow her) to continue litigating an expensive case or two when the other legal provider (Dupere & Dupere) could have handled them for no extra charge.

If Murphy Hesse Toomey & Lehane (Tate's firm) really were all that good, then why does Amherst (according to the state DOE website) spend twice the state average for "legal settlements"?

And this additional superfluous legal expense has already exceeded $42,000 for the first three quarters of the current fiscal year.

Tennis anyone?

FY12 Legal $ Amherst Region

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Más Mexicano

 Mission Cantina 485 West Street, South Amherst

Although Form Based Zoning, an attempt to stimulate development and create a village center, did not pass muster at Town Meeting for the Atkins Corner in deep South Amherst, the commercial area about a mile north of there is doing just fine--and this new restaurant in particular is thriving.

Mission Cantina opened last summer nestled in the spot formerly occupied by Andiamo and ever since then the parking lot is routinely full. The Mexican restaurant goes before the zoning board on June 7 to seek permission to expand into the adjacent space formerly occupied by South Amherst Liquor Mart who sold their assets to Cousins Market in the center of town last year.

Currently the restaurant only has four tables so, unless you arrive at 4:00 PM opening, waiting is all but guaranteed.  But the expansion should alleviate that. And a bit of competition perhaps.

Because meanwhile, a sombrero throw away, El Comalito, another Mexican restaurant, prepares to open in the old space formerly occupied by Latinos.  Mission Cantina has already proven that customers will flock to South Amherst like it's the American Southwest, so perhaps another offering will only enhance that atmosphere of a culinary destination place.

El Comalito 460 West Street, South Amherst

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When Seconds Matter

AFD Ladder Truck #1

One critical component of war that has not changed since the dawn of civilization is the advantage of occupying the high ground--the quicker the better.  A major structure fire is a formidable foe where warlike strategies are brought to bear for a quick decisive victory, that oftentimes can make a life or death difference.

Ladder Truck #1 is like a big ol' battleship: a formidable tool for dealing with a formidable enemy...but, she requires lots of maneuvering room and a firm ground for footing.

A dozen years ago when the downtown Boltwood Walk Parking Garage war raged (yes, politics is also warlike)  one of the details NIMBYs pounced upon was the public safety concern that AFD could not maneuver the ladder truck over most of the new garage if an underground component was added.  

Town officials came up with simple plan for the ladder truck to get to the adjacent Clark House, a six story structure operated by the Amherst Housing Authority, loaded with senior citizens and folks with physical handicaps.  

Artisans beveled the curb at the Main Street garage entrance 20 feet across to allow a large heavy vehicle to easily pass up and over, and granite pavers were supposed to be sprinkled throughout the lawn area to add stability so that a firetruck would not get stuck.
Curb beveled to allow easy vehicular access but no pavers added to greenway

Fast forward to today.  The pavers were never installed, two "Handicapped Parking" signs are now a direct obstruction and a ginkgo tree was recently planted that years from now may also be in the way (although all firetrucks carry a chainsaw).
 Signs need to go, large tree (center) needs branches pruned back
Clark House southern end 

Adjacent Ann Whalen Apartments are more easily accessible via Kellogg Avenue and using the parking lot the ladder truck could get to the halfway point of Clark House, but not the southernmost end

Rear side Ann Whalen (right) and northern side Clark House (left) which combined contain 180 units of affordable housing for the elderly, disabled and low income families

As it currently stands the ladder truck can only get to the southern end of Clark House with great difficulty because of two extra, time consuming 90 degree turns. Town officials or the Amherst Redevelopment Authority need to revert back to the original more efficient safety plan. Soon.

Yes, both apartment complexes are sprinklered--but then, so were the Twin Towers. And we already saw the horrific results of innocent civilians having to chose between death by fire, or death by fall.