Friday, January 31, 2014

Sunshine Makes The Best Disinfectant

From: Larry Kelley  
To: Kathy Mazur ; Maria Geryk

Subject: Public Document Request 

Please consider this a re-request of my April 7, 2011 public records request for "copies of all separation, severance, transition or settlement agreements made since January 1, 2005 between the School and its employees with settlement amounts in excess of $5,000." 

This would now include any agreements made since April 7, 2011 up until this morning. In other words, specifically, the case of Robert Detweiler

Superior Court Justice Thomas A. Connors recently upheld the Public Records Division finding in a case exactly like the one I patterned my April 7, 2011 request on. 

As you may remember, the Public Records Division told you to release the full agreements including names of the 13 individuals. 

If you still insist on keeping these public records secret I will be forced to take it to Hampshire Superior Court, where Judge Mary-Lou Rup already found in a journalist's favor, forcing South Hadley to release settlement agreement information in the Phoebe Prince case. 

Larry Kelley 
Sent: Fri, Jan 31, 2014 11:18 am

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another Major School Shake Up

Rob Detweiler, former Director of Finance & Operations

UPDATE 8:00 PM  Kathy Mazur, Human Relations chief, is taking over the Budget Office with the part-time consulting assistance of former long-time Director Paul Carlson (who has come out of retirement); and Sean Mangano has been appointed Assistant Finance Director.


Director of Finance & Operations for the $50+ million ARPS school bureaucracy has become persona non grata and nobody seems to want to explain why.  Rob Detweiler, at $101,305, was in the top-ten for highest paid employees in a system chock full of highly paid employees. 

The Regional School Committee went into Executive Session Tuesday night and since it's, you know, an Executive Session, we have no idea what they talked about.  The agenda said "To conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with non-union personnel ..." (Which, coincidentally enough, the position of Director of Finance & Operations happens to be).

What I found fascinating is the original meeting, scheduled for January 21, was hastily posted with "EMERGENCY EXECUTIVE SESSION" screaming off the page, but then was cancelled due to bad weather.  If the Executive Session was a routine bargaining session, why the EMERGENCY?  

Detweiler came aboard the good ship ARPS in 2005 to replace Paul Carlson, who retired after holding the important position for 26 years.  At the time Amherst Regional school Committee Chair Marianne Jorgensen said, "We're very pleased with that pick.  Rob has the vision that will fit in with the school system."

Apparently one of them -- Detweiler or the school system -- have gone blind.

This vacancy at the top comes at a time when Superintendent Maria Geryk is under tremendous stress.  The controversial nut "ban" in the schools last fall is taking up more time (over an hour at Tuesday's Regional School Committee meeting) than the beleaguered budget discussion, which now proposes laying off a dozen full-time employees.

And of course the incident on Monday where because of an alleged "threat" of a kid carrying a gun to school to ward off bullying the High School was closed. Which some folks view as an overreaction. 

From: Larry Kelley
To: Gerykm
Sent: Wed, Jan 29, 2014 7:05 pm
Subject: Rob Detweiler

Hey Maria

Is Rob Detweiler no longer employed at the schools?  He was not at the BCG meeting on Monday morning, and also not at the Regional School Committee meeting last night.

An Anon posted on my blog earlier that he was no longer Finance Director (which by itself would not mean much, but when combined with the other two things ...)


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Maroulis named UMass PR Guru

Tony Maroulis Amherst Chamber of Commerce Director (supporting St. Baldrick's)

Tony Maroulis, my favorite guy in public service, has been named "Director of Community Relations" for our number one community builder, UMass/Amherst.

Good for him. Good for UMass.  And great for our community!

Tony, Town Manager, Sam

DUI Dishonor Roll

There but for the grace of God ...

So yes, if you have ever wondered about a journalistic conflict of interest in the stories I cover, here's a good example:  I live at 596 South Pleasant Street and my street is a main thoroughfare to and from Amherst town center only one mile away.  

Last weekend APD arrested two 21-year-old UMass students for (allegedly) drunk driving.   One of them -- Ashley M Cox -- at 525 South Pleasant Street, only a few hundred yards above me, towards town center.

And the other -- Zachary R Clements -- near Shays Street, only a few hundred yards below me, away from town center.  

Zachary drew attention to himself by crashing into a WMECO utility pole (that's reassuring).

And Ashley was speeding ... while under the influence of alcohol.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, "The rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25 year olds (23.4 percent)."  And it should not be surprising that "The highest percentage of fatal drunk driving incidents in 2011 was for drivers ages 21-25 (32%)."
In fatal crashes in 2011, the highest percentage of drunk drivers was for drivers ages 21 to 24 (32 percent), - See more at:
In fatal crashes in 2011, the highest percentage of drunk drivers was for drivers ages 21 to 24 (32 percent), - See more at:

I guess that makes these kids "average".  Not something to put on your resume.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Depends On How You Define "Busy"

Engine 1 Pomeroy Lane Cooperative

Although the Amherst Fire Department had to rely on "mutual aid" only once over the past weekend that doesn't mean they were not stretched dangerously thin. 

On Sunday night four calls came in close enough together to tie up the entire minimum staffing level of 8 on-duty professional fire fighters.

So when a trauma call came in at 10:35 PM for someone who had taken a fall, that person had to wait until a mutual aid ambulance arrived from another town.

But another incident, which is pretty much considered routine, occurred earlier Sunday afternoon when four calls occurred almost simultaneously -- one of them a fire alarm at The Arbors, a large capacity nursing home on University Drive.

Engine 3, with four Student Force responders handled that (potentially catastrophic) call, with one veteran full-time fire fighter in command.

If your beloved wheelchair bound grandmother was trapped in a large structure fire, would you prefer a crew of fully trained professional fire fighters to arrive first on the scene or a crew of student volunteers?

Fire is a most formidable foe.  Sometimes, even the pros don't return home. 

Because of the recently ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement AFD will have a minimum staffing of 8 professional firefighters 24/7 from August 15 through May 31st (excluding academic Winter and Spring Break) up from a previous minimum staff level of 7.

So now four ambulances can be staffed simultaneously, up from three.  But that leaves Central Station abandoned.  With our institutes of higher education back in session, AFD is now staffing 9 on busy Friday and Saturday nights through Spring Break.

After Spring Break, when party season picks up steam, staffing will swell to 13 on Friday and Saturday nights, partially subsidized by UMass.  That extra $80,000 pays for 4 additional firefighters (thus two extra ambulances) during the beginning half of the fall semester and the second half of the spring semester.

Or what high-tech business service providers might refer to a "surge pricing."  

We're Number One!

For the second year in a row the Amherst town website has been honored by the Mass Municipal Association for being top notch.  Last year an honorable mention and now this year ranked #1 in their category (15,000 to 49,999), although we share the top honor with Holyoke.

The town website is a huge time saver, easy to navigate, and a force for transparency.  Not to mention making the Amherst Public  Shade Tree Committee happy by reducing reliance on paper. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rental Permit Bylaw: Halfway Home

Building Commissioner Rob Morra reported to the Amherst Select Board this evening that the town's new Rental Registration process is going well, with 741 applications received out of a total of 1,570 (47%) properties that need to register.

The new law went into effect January 1st and requires all landlords to pay $100 annual fee for a permit.  The process includes submitting a parking plan and completing a self certification checklist acknowledging basic zoning and health & safety concerns. But the process can all be easily accomplished on the town website. 

Also neighbors or concerned citizens can file complaints about rental properties with the town or find the name and contact information for a rental property owner to take it up with them first.  

A map with color coded pins (red for "open" and green for "closed") shows all the complaints received dating back to April, even before the law went into effect.

Unfortunately the Code Violations and Complaints Map does not currently show properties cited by the Amherst Police Department for noise or nuisance complaints, a glaring oversight.

Commissioner Morra did say he would be working with Police Chief Livingstone in the near future to make that valuable data available on the website.

"Unforeseen Circumstances"

According to a source close to the investigation police ascertained the identity of the Anon poster with the vaguely threatening Facebook "confession" around 3:30 this morning.

A State Police bomb squad vehicle screamed through Amherst town center around 11:30 this morning heading North.

 Original Post 8:00 AM

Amherst Regional High School is closed today due to "unforeseen circumstance." 

Back before that darn Internet if you wanted to cause chaos at your local school you picked up the phone (or better yet used a pay phone) to call in a bomb threat.

Nowadays it's even easier.  Although this Facebook posting is a tad less direct.    School officials have confirmed they were made aware of the "threat" over the weekend but the robo call to parents on Monday morning gave no indication of why the sudden closure, leading to rampant speculation.

Amherst School Committee Vice Chair Rick Hood also confirmed this morning that the Amherst School Committee was not giving a heads up prior to closing down the school.

The number appearing to the left of the post is simply the ongoing count of Anon posts published on the site.  Interestingly if someone responds with a comment they are not anonymous.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Another Snoozer Local Election?

Amherst Town Hall:  pretty in snow

As usual the interest in serving as a venerable member of Amherst Town Meeting -- that bastion of pure democracy -- is minimal at best.  Yes, this in a town that prides itself on being vocal.

Out of 80 three-years seats up for grabs, spread out over 10 precincts, so far only 37 candidates have bothered to take out or file papers.  And considering it only takes one signature to get on the ballot (your own counts) it's not like there's much of a barrier to entry.

The election is March 25 and the deadline for returning papers to the Town Clerk is February 4. 

On the "townwide" front, two more candidates have taken out  papers for Select Board the highest office in town government, bringing the total to six potential candidates (for two open seats).

New entrants include John Boothroyd who helped lead a bitter battle against subsidized HAP housing in his neighborhood a few years ago; and Matthew E. Cunningham-Cook a, gasp, UMass Graduate Student who majors in "Labor Studies."

Every few years a Umass student enters the race for Select Board and at the very least livens up the debate somewhat, but since UMass students avoid the ballot box like an 8:00 AM Monday morning math class, no significant vote tally ever results.

The Amherst School Committee will also see a race as Viraphanh Douangmany has already filed her papers with the requisite 50 signatures.  Incumbent Katherine Appy has announced she's running for reelection but thus far has not turned in her papers.

And she does seem to have a problem with routine paperwork.  

Mexican Stand Off

One of the many benefits of living in a "college town" is the youthful demographic is a prime target for national franchises to set up shop.  Great for consumers of all ages, but not so great for local mom and pops trying to survive in the same zip code.

Take nearby Hadley for instance, a town smart enough to allow commercial development all along busy Rt. 9 even before the University of Massachusetts became such an overpowering presence.

A decade ago Chili's set up shop almost on the Amherst/Hadley border and it did not take long for Applebee's to come a calling directly across the busy street.  Just as a generation ago McDonald's and Burger King opened for business even before the busy Hampshire Mall was constructed.

Now withing a burger throw of both we have a Chipotle that opened recently and soon enough a "Moe's".  Our little corner of the Happy Valley is becoming all Mexican all of the time.

Which may not be a welcome development for local Amherst restaurants serving southwest cuisine:  Bueno Y Sano and La Veracruzana in the downtown and The Mission Cantina and El Comalito in South Amherst.

 October 27, 2013

Perhaps the local mom and pop most affected would have been Mi Tierra, except the devastating fire back in October instantly put them out of the restaurant business.  But they will rebuild.

Because mom and pops are nothing if not resilient.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Calling All Consultants!

$60,000 town/gown consultant contract up for grabs

Hear ye, hear ye:  The joint UMass town of Amherst Request For Proposals, a consultant contract worth $60,000, has just hit the Internet.  

The large Town Gown Steering (super) Committee -- made up of heavy hitters from both UMass and the town, hashed out the legal contract over four meetings

The cost of the consultant is also shared 50/50 by the two superpowers, although the University handled all the final edits and legal issues that go along with issuing a 15 page public document.

The main focus for the consultant will be double edged problems, probably endemic to "college towns":  housing and economic development.

Two recent town sponsored housing studies have concluded the lack of student housing drives up prices making it difficult for middle income families -- and impossible for low income families -- to find shelter.  

Plus Amherst  has an overwhelmingly skewed tax base, as the housing market represents 90% of the total tax base and the commercial sector a pitiful 10%.  

With the recent loss of 204 affordable units at Rolling Green Apartment complex the town has now fallen below the magic 10% threshold for Subsidized Housing Inventory and could be (within the next year) subject to a Chapter 40B mega development.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hit The Road

Gottago Taxi packing them in

The Amherst Select Board on Monday night will consider a "Recommendation to NOT approve a taxi license -- GottaGo taxi."  But fear not, 15 minutes later they will vote on a "New Taxi Business License Application:  Funky Cab."

So the net number of taxi cab companies licensed to do business in the town of Amherst will in all likelihood remain the same (9). 

The Selectboard renewed all the taxi licenses back in December, but that was "subject to outstanding documentation" including the positive recommendation of Police Chief Scott Livingstone.  GottaGo Taxi was the only company he did not recommend.

The Chief's memo will appear in the Selectboard packet tomorrow, but until then this incident should provide a little background.  The owner will have the right to respond to the Chief's recommendation  (or lack thereof) at the Monday night Select Board meeting.

He may not want to drive one of his cabs to the meeting.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Who Guards The Guardians?

Umass is looking for a "Director of Communications" to add to their luxurious stable of Public Relations folks, namely the Office of News & Media Relations (with a staff of 10). 

This gaggle of course does not include Nancy Buffone, Director of "University Relations," with a staff of three;  or John Kennedy, Vice Chancellor for University Relations.

UMass also has "Newswise" which seems to be just another name for News & Media Relations, although I notice former high-ranking editor at the (Springfield) Republican Larry Rivais now shows up as an "Associate News Editor" after retiring from the Republican on January 1st.

The retreat of journos into public relations jobs is certainly nothing new, but it has become worse over the past ten years or so with the decimation of traditional print media by that darn Internet.

In 1980 for instance Amherst hosted four weekly news publications, and now we're down to just one.  And that one -- The Amherst Bulletin -- had a full time staff of 13 stationed in Amherst back in 1980 (not to mention 15-20 part-timers), and now they are down to just two.

In 1980 the ratio of PR flacks to journalists was 1.2 to one, but by 2010 had climbed to an alarming 4 to one.   And they are better paid and better equipped than the beleaguered journos who try to cover their employer.

So who keeps a discerning eye and a flashlight on UMass, our flagship University and the town's #1 employer?  Hello?  Hello?  Is anyone out there?

Nancy Buffone's response regarding the "Director of Communications" position. 

DUI Dishonor Roll

It's tempting to assume that simply because UMass is back in session that the rate of drunk driving arrests will escalate dramatically with the influx of students.

And last week the arrest rate for that concerning category was 100%.

But fortunately that was only one person, although Stefanie Ibarguen, age 20, is a UMass student; and interestingly enough was stopped by Amherst Police Department early Sunday morning on UMass turf for speeding near Kennedy high rise dorm, on Massachusetts Avenue.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Rolling Green Apartments fire 1/21/13. Photo AFD Local 1764

A year after the tragic fire at Rolling Green Apartments two key questions remain unanswered:  What caused the fire; and did the victim -- UMass student Jake Hoffman -- originally escape the killer conflagration only to go back inside to retrieve something?

That rumor has persisted since even before the embers cooled.  And since the State Fire Marshall has not issued an official finding one way or the other, nobody wants to talk about it.

Twenty six years ago my Amherst apartment almost burned to the ground during a major structure fire.  After calling 911 and banging on doors of neighbors I went back in looking for my wife's favorite cat.  Repeatedly.

If not for a ranking member of AFD telling me up close, in no uncertain terms, to "Get the f-ck out now and stay out!" I may not have survived the deafening flashover less than 10 minutes later that shook the entire building and blew out windows in all four apartments.

Considering the chronic staffing problem at AFD we are fortunate fatal fires are far and few between.

But like that joke about helping God out by actually purchasing a lottery ticket to facilitate making the improbable happen, the one thing everybody needs to remember:  once you leave a burning building, stay the f_ck out!


Monday, January 20, 2014

A Storm Approaches

Amherst DPW sand/salt pile 4:00 PM

I can always tell when a storm is approaching as there's a run on the free sand salt pile in front of the DPW building, kind of like that run on milk and bread at the local grocery store.  

Amherst stopped using sand this season but the town continues to provide it to homeowners (at least until the supply runs out).  

And yes, I've been wondering if the high number of accidents on Saturday (23) could have been somewhat lessened if the town still used sand instead of switching to magnesium chloride.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Car slid sideways into tree trapping driver on Bay Road, South Amherst. Photo courtesy AFD Local 1764

The DPW seemed surprised at the severity of today's snowstorm, as crews hit the street in force after reports flowed in from all over town (and the Valley) of the havoc wreaked by the, otherwise, pretty white stuff.

In particular a single car crash on Bay Road in South Amherst around 3:40 PM tied up Engine 1, Engine 2, Rescue 1 and an ambulance, as the entire crew (8) of on-duty fire fighters used two sets of Jaws of Life to extricate the driver and transport her to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

Proper equipment wielded by properly trained professionals makes all the difference as crews managed to safely extricate the woman in 33 minutes flat.

Firefighters removed the roof, door and half the steering wheel to extricate lone occupant.
Photo courtesy AFD Local 1764

Dispatch had to tone out for extra off duty-firefighters to report in for station coverage at Central Station in town center as well as Engine 3 and Engine 4, staffed by Call Force, at North Station.

Between 3:45 PM and 5:30 PM emergency dispatch received 23 reports of motor vehicle accidents, just in Amherst.  Hadley PD was also swamped with calls for cars off the road and into trees or telephone poles.

The ambulance that was transporting the woman from the Bay Road accident to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital called back to Dispatch to report two cars off the road on the Amherst/Hadley border.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Major School Shake Up

UPDATE Sunday afternoon:  School Superintendent Maria Geryk responds with info

Original Post Friday evening
Not one but TWO Amherst Regional Public School principals announced their resignations late this afternoon in separate letters to parents.

Amherst Regional Middle School Principal Betsy Dinger and Fort River Elementary School Principal Monica Hall both announced they were stepping down from their leadership positions at the end of this school year.

But the district website contains no mention of this major development. 

I guess if you're going to clean house, the late afternoon gloomy Friday of a l-o-n-g weekend is as good a time as any.

Ms. Dinger stated she would be "returning to the classroom" (although she does not say where) and Ms. Hall is staying within the Amherst School bureaucracy,  taking a job in Central Office.

Last year Crocker Farm Principal Mike Morris stepped down as principal to move into a training position out of Central Office.

The position of Principal in Amherst schools has been somewhat the revolving door over the past few years, with Fort River having four in the last six years and the Regional Middle School closer to a half dozen.

With the current administration pushing for expanded (from 7-12) regionalization down to the pre-Kindergarten level, you have to wonder how the three other towns (Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury) will view this continuous lack of stability?

From the "It-could-be-worse" file:

(Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette print: Saturday, January 5, 2013)
Michael Hayes’ Dec. 17 resignation as principal of the Regional Middle School means that Amherst has lost principals in each of the last four years.

Ray Sharick resigned as principal of Fort River School in March 2011, while Matthew Behnke resigned from the same job at Wildwood School in April 2010. Glenda Cresto resigned as principal of the middle school in September 2009, just before classes started.

The job of principal of an Amherst school is a demanding one and has taken a grave toll on at least one occasion. In June 1993, John “Jack” Heffley, principal of Amherst Regional High School, had a heart attack and died at 56 while engaged in a heated argument with a parent.

The high cost of "administration" in Amherst Schools 

What If They Gave An Election ...

I've been told I left out an important point in my most recent report on expanded school regionalization where I bemoan the h-u-g-e disparity between Amherst school committee members (probably 5) for a total vote strength of 55.5%, compared to Pelham and Leverett (probably two each) considering Amherst makes up 88% of the Region.

I say "probably" because the governance issue is all kinds of hypothetical at the moment and besides, Shutesbury could still come around and join the party.

If that happens, then the (proposed but never officially voted on) plan is for each of the three hilltowns to have two members and Amherst will have 7, giving Amherst 53.8% of the vote.

Now the counter to all this and what makes it legal from a Constitutional (one man -- err -- person, one vote) perspective is all 9 members of the new super committee (or 13 if Shutesbury joins the party), will be elected in a regionwide election.

In other words, Amherst voters will help choose the Leverett and Pelham representatives thus giving Amherst voters 100% say in the make up of the new super committee.  Likewise, Leverett and Pelham voters get to help choose the Amherst representatives.

Which is all well and good if you have energetically contested elections, which we rarely do.  Hard enough now to get Amherst voters excited about their own candidates; safe bet Leverett and Pelham candidates will have zero name recognition.

Besides, what if Amherst only fields 5 candidates for the five available seats and Leverett and Pelham each manage to field only two candidates for each of the two seats?  Not much "selection" going on there.

Hometown ties run deep.  Will a Leverett or Pelham representative be less likely to support closing down their elementary school for the good of the Region? 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

No Public Safety Staff Increase

Town Manager John Musante right, Sandy Pooler, Finance Director, to his right

About the most interesting thing in Amherst Town Manager John Musante's  proposed FY15 Budget is what it doesn't contain -- an increase in staffing for either police or fire personnel.  Although if extra monies materialize he does support the hiring of one additional police officer for a downtown beat.

Interestingly in his Letter of Transmittal to his bosses, the Select Board, he does freely admit that UMass has increased enrollment 16% over the past ten years but town police strength has decreased by 10% (five officers) since 2007.

And while he champions the "sector based patrol system" no mention is made of joint patrols with UMass Police Department, recently jeopardized by a union grievance filed by one of their officers.

In calendar year 2013 Amherst Fire Department responded to 5,690 emergencies, a 3.6% increase over the previous year.  Because of the extra $80,000 per year kicked in by UMass for 2 extra ambulances on weekends, and an increase in ambulance rates the budget does call for an increase in minimum on duty staffing from 7 to 8 during the academic year.

But the Town Manager made it pretty clear he does not think an increase in staffing is warranted:  " ... and no increase in authorized staffing is necessary or recommended."

A picture is worth 1,000 words


Meanwhile Leisure Services (aka, recreation empire) is "level funded" at $529,299. But last year they were also pretty much level funded and still managed to lose over $300,000

The $20,947, 926 municipal budget is supported by $600,000 in "new growth" property taxes which indicates the local economy is on the move.  Amherst Town Meeting has final approval over the budget and will take up discussion in the spring. 

Expanded Amherst Regional School Update

The Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee voted on Tuesday to continue the mission of the Regional School District Planning Board by agreeing to explore amending the 50+ year old Regional Agreement to allow the current 7-12 Region to extend all the way down to pre-Kindergarten, with only three of the current four towns aboard (Amherst, Leverett and Pelham).

That new agreement, however, would leave open the possibility of Shutesbury joining at the elementary level sometime in the future.

The state recently agreed that such a "hybrid" Region would be acceptable.  

The Regional School Committee also appointed all 12 members of the RSDPB to act as their sub-committee to formulate the necessary change in the Regional Agreement.  If that draft document is then supported by a two-thirds vote of the Regional School Committee the agreement would go to all four Town Meetings in the fall for approval, but would require unanimous support of all four towns.

The major stumbling block for approval in Amherst will be the touchy "governance" issue.  Amherst makes up 88% of the Region yet the new 9 member Regional School Committee will, apparently, consist of 2 members each from Leverett and Pelham and 5 from Amherst.

That barely gives Amherst a majority stake at 55.5% of the vote.

Or what you might call, "fuzzy math."

Current Populations of Four Town Region

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Little Disruption Now And Then

Gotta Go taxi at the scene of a party house

In France the other day an angry mob of cabbie sympathizers attacked an Uber car, damaging both the car and the young businesswoman passenger.

Uber is one of a number of new companies that rely on the ubiquitous phone app to connect customer with product in real time, in this case a ride.

To protect the iconic cab industry the French government enacted a law saying Uber cars must wait 15 minutes before responding to an Internet hail from a customer. 

Which would be kind of like our government passing a law in 1908 saying automobiles cannot go any faster than a horse.

In Amherst, in spite of an extensive PVTA free bus system, the cab industry exploded over the past few years going from one or two sleepy companies to an energetic dozen two years ago. 

But once the town enacted stricter inspection process requiring each cab to have an expensive meter installed the number of companies dropped to nine and certified cabs went from a high of 61 to the current 19.

Since Amherst is a college town it should come as no surprise that this new way of doing business gained an early foothold.  Both UMass and Amherst College have embraced Zipcars which will somewhat impact the local cab industry.

But the real cab killer is  Sobrio, a ride sharing program run by the Student Government Association that connects riders with customers at the tap of a finger.  The program test run last semester was so successful (handling 350-500 rides per weekend) the SGA decided to kill the more expensive less efficient "Sober Shuttle" bus program.

For traditional cab companies doing business in Amherst the handwriting is now etched on an electronic wall. "While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping."

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Internet Marketing

The Internet has changed everything -- just ask a video store clerk or ink stained newspaper reporter -- but most would argue it has changed things for the better, especially with mass communication.

Internet petition sites make it cookie-cutter simple to promote a cause, and crowd funding sites make it simple for entrepreneurs to raise money for their projects.  The recent success of Food For Thought Books raising over $40,000 is a shining example.  Although "Homeless In A College Town" did not fare quite as well, raising only $7,511 out of a $20,000 goal.

And for a while there we had dueling petition on over the controversial nut ban at Amherst Regional Public Schools.  The petition opposing the ban has since been deleted but probably had around 100 signatures prior to termination and the supporting petition now has 172 signatures but no activity since well before Christmas.

And the majority of signatures are from outside over enlightened Amherst.

Cinda Jones petition to entice South Amherst's Atkins Farms Country Market garnered over 350 signatures promising undying loyalty to a satellite operation at the new Trolley Barn in North Amherst.
 Trolley Barn, North Amherst

All to no avail as Pauline Lannon, Atkins co-owner recently responded to the public suggestion box saying "We need to put our energy and resources into this store."

Atkins Farms Country Market, South Amherst

Twitter is a great resource for instant news all of the time, although broadcasting is so simple it sometimes gets folks in trouble.

Last week the bricks and mortar media (who should know better) made an issue of Northampton Mayor Narkewicz tweeting positive things about potential jury duty service as he was reporting for potential jury service (but before the judge said the shut off your damn smart phones) and again after he -- like a lot of potential jurors -- was dismissed from duty.

Mark Whipple has yet to be introduced as the new UMass football head coach and already his Twitter account has over 650 followers, compared to Chancellor Subbaswamy, who has 938 followers, but has been on Twitter for over a year.

Folks in Amherst hope he has lots of positive things to tweet in the near future.

Update 2:40 PM.  Coach Whipple now has over 1,150 followers

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Fair Share

UMass, Amherst & Hampshire Colleges account for 27% of all AFD calls

On Thursday all the head honchos -- Select Board, Finance Committee, Town Manager John Musante and Finance Director Sandy Pooler -- will meet in Town Hall for the unveiling of the Town Manager's Fiscal 2015 budget.

Don't expect any earth shattering changes.  Although maybe, finally, a much overdue increase in staffing for our beleaguered public safety departments.

One thing that should be discussed is reimbursement monies from our three institutes of higher education.  You know, the reason why Amherst is a "college town."

The main one of course is UMass.  The original 5-year "Strategic Agreement", which pays the town $350,000 in new monies annually, expired June 30, 2012 but was extended for a year.

NFD mutual aid ambulance, AFD Engine 3 Pierpont Dorm UMass for ETOH student 

In 2013 Amherst Fire Department responded to UMass 1,162 times with 843 of those (73%) responses for medical emergencies requiring an ambulance, with 219 of those (26%) for "substance abuse."  So that means the other 319 responses required a fire engine.  Ambulance runs generate insurance revenues, fire engine runs do not.

 AFD Engine 2 on scene Crossett Dorm Amherst College

In 2013 AFD responded to Amherst College 212 times with 152 of those (72%) responses for medical emergencies requiring an ambulance, with 39 of those (26%) for "substance abuse."  The other 60 responses required a fire engine (or two).  Last year Amherst College "donated" to the town $90,000 as payment towards those emergency services.

Although after the Crossett Christmas incident last month let's hope they go back to the $120,000 they gave us in 2007.

In 2013 AFD responded to Hampshire College 184 times with 71 of those responses (only 39%) for medical emergencies requiring an ambulance, with 17 of those (24%) for "substance abuse."  The other 113 of those responses required a fire engine.

AFD crew heading toward Hampshire Dining Commons for an  ETOH female 12:20 AM

So out of the three institutes of higher education AFD protects, Hampshire College has by far the higher percentage of responses requiring expensive equipment that does not generate insurance reimbursement.

Last year Hampshire College paid the town zero, zip, nada for emergency services received by the town.  And as a tax exempt educational institute they paid almost nothing in property taxes.  Yet they are one of the most expensive colleges in America at $57,130 per year.

And last year Hampshire announced it would offer an "undocumented student" $25,000 per year to cover those high tuition expenses.  At least that student will be well protected (at local taxpayer expense).