Monday, March 31, 2014

Helen (Ice) Berg Strikes Again

A happy Helen Berg at Select Board meeting 3/31

At tonight's Select Board meeting during the 6:30 p.m. "public comment" period former (or maybe not) Select Board candidate Helen Berg confirmed she has contacted the ACLU and Attorney General regarding her complaint about ballot placement.

Berg, who came in a distant 3rd at the annual Town Election last week, complained to town officials when her name appeared 3rd of the 4 Select Board candidates.  Berg insisted she should be 1st as state statute says non-incumbents (in this case all four candidates) should be placed on the ballot alphabetically.

Town officials did throw out those ballots and arranged a do-over drawing of names because the original meeting of the Board of Registrars was not properly posted.  But they continued to use the traditional method of randomly drawing names from a hat rather than using the state method, which would have place Berg in the top position.

Either way the two top vote getters enjoyed a more than four-to-one margin of victory.  Berg will have a hard time convincing a judge that placement on the ballot alone cause such a dramatic thrashing.  Although, judges are known to be sticklers when it comes to rule of law.

Another town election would cost taxpayers $12,000.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Glazed Doughnut Shop in a Dead Man Walking building

One of the really hard things about renting commercial space for your mom and pop business -- which includes the vast majority of Amherst small business owners -- is you have no incentive to put tons of money into the physical structure, since you will only be enhancing the value for your landlord.

Which is why you sign a somewhat long lease at start up, because there are of course finishing costs particular to your business that you can't expect the landlord to cover, but consist of items you can't very well take with you when you leave somewhere down the distant road.   Hopefully, for a building you can call your own.

Like hot water heaters for instance.  When the Glazed Doughnut Shop first moved into the space formerly occupied by Family Wireless, the hot water heater was the size of a breadbox; and being a bakery you need a fair amount of hot water.  So out went $3,000 for a new larger unit with all the copper piping now required to meet commercial building codes.

In all owners Keren and Nick Rhodes, high school sweethearts who now probably see more of their business than they do of each other, estimate they spent $15,000 two years ago on finishing costs that they can't take with them.

Why leave a lovely location with three years left on a lease (and an option to renew for five more years)?

Well, town insiders pretty much now agree that the entire Carriage Shops complex is toast -- actively sought for a classy mixed use commercial/residential complex that will act as a major anchor for that side of the downtown.

And will be great for business in Amherst.  But not so great if you are a current tenant of the Carriage Shops.  Hence the problem.  On the one hand the Rhodes support the revitalization of the commercial complex but can't take the risk of losing the roof over their heads without another place to go.

Meanwhile, a doughnut throw away, a commercial spot opened up, larger and in an even better a location (although slightly haunted by frequent turnover).  A perfect port in a gathering storm.

Problem now is they need $15,000 to prepare the new space.  A big hit for a small business barely out of their rookie year. 

So they are turning to you.  "Mm going to try with a little help from my friends."  Which of course means a crowd funding website like Indiegogo.

Come on Amherst, we talk the talk about supporting local business.  Well, here's your poster family.

Racial Fallout @ ARHS

Kathleen Anderson addressing joint Amherst Pelham School Committee meeting

The NAACP seems to have the answer to recent troubling racial events at Amherst Regional High School:  sensitivity training for all employees, A-L-L employees.  And that these cultural competency trainings become a "graduation requirement for all students."

So yes, under those carpet bombing conditions the perp responsible for leaving racist notes in bathrooms targeting a teacher of color will probably be ensnared in a "competency training session", but you have to wonder if it will do him or her any good? 

Not to mention wondering how much all this training is going to cost.

Greenfield PD had a solution


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Saturday, March 29, 2014

N-word, C-word, F-word, Oh My!

So I guess if a staff member overhears a black student using the N-word to a white student, that's okay.

Or if ARHS teenagers decide to do "The Vagina Monologues" again next year, then the C-word will be okay.

Or if student calls another friend, who is not gay,  a "fag" in an endearing sort of way, then that's okay.

Let the witch hunt begin.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Phillips Street Fiasco

 33 Phillips Street, Amherst

Meanwhile, six weeks ago:

And, most recently:


The final piece of the puzzle has fallen into place in the school lock down scare with confirmation the perp who infiltrated Amherst Regional Middle School and asked a young student for his urine was simply trying to obtain a clean sample for his probation officer.

I guess drugs will do that.

Not to sound like a Gazette editorial, but on the one hand I applaud how quickly the school officials hit the panic button when the perp seemed to get lost wandering around the Middle School for a half hour.  But on the other hand, his easy access to an innocent school child mid-morning of a school day gives rise to security concerns.

I would also, for the first time in memory, give the schools high marks for transparency for sending out a series of alerts concerning the concerning situation.  Right up until Wednesday night 6:30 p.m. when they went silent.

While this final piece of information is troubling, it's still a bit better than some of the scenarios that sprang to mind when rumors first leaked out about the "concerning comment" made in a boys lavatory.

One of the reasons the schools are now in such hot water with the NAACP over how they handled the racist attack on a teacher of color (branded as "anemic") probably stems from the cover up that took place over the incidents that first occurred way back in October.

One of the refreshing things that came out of the "public accountability" session yesterday between UMass officials and students over handling of the Blarney Blowout was the insistence by Chancellor Subbaswamy that the process would be "transparent."

So if an educational bureaucracy the size of UMass can subscribe to the notion of sunlight providing the "best of disinfectants", why not our public schools?

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blarney Blowout: Standing Firm

Enku Gelaye, Chancellor Subbaswamy, VC John Kennedy

The day of the Blarney Blowout 4,000+ students took to the streets of Amherst with alcohol as motivation to do no good.  Enough of them indulged their demons to where the vastly outnumbered Amherst Police Department had no choice but to intervene.  And intervene they did.

On March 11, about 100 students held a protest march from the Student Union to Whitmore to underscore their demand that APD apologize for using sterner methods than saying "pretty please" to disperse the unruly crowds.

Today Enku Gelaye on her first day as permanent VC for Student Affairs, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and VC for University Relations John Kennedy sat before a crowd of about 60 students for a "public accountability" forum.

 Thousands were invited, few showed up

One student noted the lack of turnout for the event and then proceeded to talk about a prior incident of police brutality when he was arrested for Driving Under the Influence.  Not a great way to gain sympathy.

Another student clearly and succinctly stated, "Students like to get drunk."  He too was not a paragon of potential solutions.  

The Amherst Police apology demand never even came up, and a good portion of the talk about rough police treatment centered on UMPD response during the Red Sox Riot last October and the failed attempt of having a University sanctioned event at Southwest that night.  Which of course went very well right up until the moment the game ended and then quickly degraded into a riot.

UMass Chancellor Subbaswamy did not back down, or even so much as blink, from his stern condemnation issued the day after the Blarney Blowout.  

The Chancellor reminded the group that UMPD is under his direct control but Amherst Police are not.  And they had to make instant decisions, on the ground, without the luxury of time to call him or his staff for consultation.

But he reaffirmed how Amherst town officials are in favor of the extensive study (led by Edward Davis) commissioned by the University which should be completed in two months.   With an action plan that both the University and the town are now sorely motivated to make happen. 

Before the next Blarney Blowout, or whatever new juvenile name they come up with.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Middle School Scare

 APD at Amherst Regional High School this morning


The first emailed bulletin from the Amherst Public Schools this morning was a heart stopper:  Three schools had gone into "lockdown" because an unauthorized male was inside the Middle School.  An announcement over the PA system said he had ducked into a bathroom where he made a strange remark to a student using the bathroom.

The next bulletin an hour or so later gave the all clear, but little else.

Then at 3:08 p.m. the final bulletin gave more of the backstory and the exceedingly good news that APD had made an arrest, even though it was on an unrelated charge:

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Election Aftermath: Turmoil in the Making?

 Amherst March 25 election 2014:  Do over?

If Helen Berg -- 3rd place finisher in a 4-way race where the top two win a Select Board seat -- gets her way, Amherst taxpayers will spend another $12,000 for a "do over" of yesterday's election.

Ms. Berg finished 3rd garnering only 379 votes compared to the two winners, Andy Steinberg with 1,843 and second place finisher Connie Kruger with 1,700.

Or what most political insiders would consider not even close.  In fact, you don't even have to be a political insider to consider that not even close.

Helen Berg speaks at  3/17 Select Board meeting

The technicality stems from placing the order of candidates names on the ballot.  Traditionally the town has always drawn names from a hat for order of placement, thus giving our Polish friends with surnames ending in W a chance to be first on the ballot.

At the February 6 meeting of the Board of Registrars, that took about 45 minutes, all the contested town wide races and Town Meeting races were done this way.  Ms. Berg complained about her 3rd place drawing stating the town should go alphabetically, thus placing her first on the ballot.

The town currently operates under the Amherst Town Government Act which was enacted in December, 2001.   And the that document is silent on how to place names on the local election ballot.

Therefore the safest course of action would be to abide by state statute.  

Her complaint did raise a red flag, and it was then the Town Clerk noticed the February 6 meeting of the Board of Registrars had not been properly posted according to Open Meeting Law.

At that point -- with a do over already in the works, meaning a reprinting of all the ballots, both the town attorney and Town Manager looked at whether the town should go by state statute and simply list all candidates alphabetically (as requested by Ms. Berg), or do it the way it has always been done.

They decided to properly repost the Board of Registrars do over meeting for March 5th, redo the random drawing, and then reprint the ballots.  The only change in Select Board order was Ms. Berg moved up a notch to #2 on the ballot and Mr. Boothroyd moved down to #3 from his former #2 spot.

And it certainly seems like being #4 on the ballot did not hurt Connie Kruger any.


Another angry Select Board loser:


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Status Quo Election

Steinberg, Kruger and Appy it is

No big surprises as the 255th annual Amherst town election is now history ... but hardly historic.

Select Board winners -- the insiders -- Andy Steinberg (1,843) and Connie Kruger (1,700) far outdistanced outsider candidate John Boothroyd (259)  and particularly far out candidate Helen Berg (379).

The School Committee contest was the only race that seemed to generate any enthusiasm where incumbent Katherine Appy was given a scare by the populist nature of newcomer Vira Douangmany's campaign but still won a resounding victory 1,532 to the challenger's 1,012.

As consolation prize Vira was the top vote getter for Town Meeting in Precinct 7 for a three year seat with 239.  Her vote total in that Precinct for School Committee was only 158.

With the Amherst schools embroiled in yet another racism/bullying scandal the racial difference between the two candidates could have played a major role, but Douangmany did not overplay the race card.

The same can be said for the other low-key contest for a seat on the Amherst Housing Authority, where insider incumbent Peter Jessup easily bested newcomer Tracylee Boutilier 1,371 to 905. Although Ms. Boutilier did win a three year seat in Town Meeting representing Precinct 6.

Although the Amherst Redevelopment Authority has not met in over a year the open seat vacated by former chair John Coull had to be filled.  Pam Rooney won the tightest race of the evening against Paige Wilder 999 to 905 respectively.

But Wilder was #1 vote getter in her home Precinct 10 for a three year Town Meeting seat with 95 votes.  She also trounced Rooney in that particular Precinct 89-26.

 Voter turnout was a lousy 13.4% (which I called almost exactly), sad to say, about usual for a local election -- although not nearly as bad as last year's pathetic 6.6%.

Two years ago the Presidential election had a 69% turnout.  Historic all time high for Amherst was in 1992 when 89% of the voters turned out -- mostly for Bill Clinton.

Monday, March 24, 2014

4 Strikes & You're Out?

Patrick M. Lynn (mugshot courtesy of APD)

UPDATE Tuesday morning:  Mr. Lynn blew a 0.24% BAC, three times the legal limit!


Yes, you have to wonder how Patrick Lynn, age 31, could be arrested three times for drunk driving, not to mention robbing a bank in Springfield, yet still manage to get behind the wheel of car -- again under the influence of alcohol -- and drive in the wrong lane early Saturday night in the heart of downtown Amherst?

APD performs Field Sobriety Test on Mr. Lynn 8:05 p.m Boltwood Ave/Spring Street in front of Grace Episcopal Church.  He flunked.

The Blarney Continues

Start of the news cycle 

So they still have not found Malaysia Airlines flight 370 -- although they are getting closer -- and our local hometown newspaper continues the front page, above the fold drum beat over the Blarney Blowout.

Is a bitch session, err, I mean "public forum" between students crying to the UMass administration about how outnumbered police responded to a riot really front page material over two weeks after the event? 

Update 10:05 a.m

Malaysian officials announced they have found some remains of flight 370.  Sadly, it crashed with no survivors.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bear With Me

The wrong end of a bear (not that there's a right end)

In the past week a 300 pound black bear has made stealth appearances in three separate neighborhoods in our little college town.  Last night it was Fearing Street, immediately adjacent to UMass.

Starting next weekend, Fearing Street becomes a superhighway of students on foot looking for late night entertainment.  Although a hungry black bear probably does not qualify.  

Photos by Al Wilbur, used with permission

The other wrong end of a bear

On Friday the big black bear shown in these pictures paid a visit to a bird feeder at a Bed & Breakfast on Northampton Road (Rt 9) one street over from Amity Street, where a bear fitting the same description ambled around the Amity Place Condos complex last week. 

Local Election Fever

Noon today, Amherst town center.  Note Select Board candidates don't even bother

With actual town-wide contests on the ballot, Tuesday's election will draw twice the voter turnout as last year's snoozer.

Although, that's not saying much since last year Amherst -- where even the H is silent -- saw a pitiful showing at the election booth of only 6.6%; compared to 69% the previous year for the Presidential contest (which in Massachusetts is not much of a contest).

And with two of four Select Board candidates firmly representing the status quo establishment vying for two open seats, and with each voter allowed to vote for two candidates, Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg and Amherst Housing Authority Chair Connie Kruger are nothing if not unbeatable.

The other two candidates -- John Boothroyd and Helen Berg -- can flip a coin to see who's last. Although considering her eccentricities, let's hope it's Helen Berg.

When it comes to the Select Board race -- after the tumultuous years of Czar Anne Awad, his lordship Gerry Weiss and t-shirt tosser Rob Kusner -- the last six years have been pretty smooth sailing.

Well, other than the perennial national embarrassment over censoring the commemorative American flags in the downtown on 9/11.

So I'm quite comfortable with Steinberg and Kruger assuming top leadership roles in town government, as it's not like "changing horses in mid stream." 

The School Committee is a different matter altogether.  Amherst has champagne costs with lite beer results.  And the PC problem, also a PR nightmare, of racism and bullying has been an issue for many years; an issue the current School Committee has done nothing to solve.

So I'm more than up for giving an outsider a chance -- especially since Vira Douangmany is not your usual white-bread upper middle class automaton, and her husband owns a small business.  Maybe now the connection between expensive school costs bringing on high property taxes in a town that has a tiny commercial tax base will be understood.

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority is dead but if it is ever revived it wouldn't hurt to have a stakeholder with some passion on board, so I will be voting for Paige Wilder, even though we strongly disagreed on the Gateway Project.

Phillips Street was the only area in the Gateway that was officially ruled "decadent" (making it easier to take by eminent domain) by a certified consultant, so maybe some day the ARA will take the  street, flatten it, and build something we can all be proud of.  That is, if they ever meet again. 

Same can be said for Amherst Housing Authority.  While I would strongly disagree with Tracy Lee Saraia Grace Boutilier's quest to take Echo Village Apartments by eminent domain (they are not considered "decadent") she would still bring an impassioned outsider perspective informed by experience.

Ah, Town Meeting -- that overwhelmingly white, overly educated bastion of democracy. Until Amherst grows up and switches to a more professional Mayor/Council it's the only game in town (what the gambler said about a rigged operation).

I can't argue with the recommendations of Sustainable Amherst, but I find it interesting the long-time Town Meeting members they did not endorse:  Media mogul Isaac BenEzra, landlord Richard Gold, Nonny Burack, Rob Kusner, Mary Wentworth to name a few. 

Matthew Cunningham-Cook (the UMass student who brought us the $15/hr Minimum Wage article slapped down by Town Meeting last week), also fails to garner an endorsement, which, after the recent debacle is more than understandable.

We do have a handful of other students running for Town Meeting, so in all likelihood some will be successful.  Of course Town Meeting drags on until June, so it will be interesting to check their attendance records after UMass lets out.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Neverending Blarney

So the national media has its missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 obsession while our local hometown newspaper has its Blarney Blowout preoccupation, as here we are exactly two weeks from the day and it is still a banner front page above the fold story -- with fancy graphics no less.  Yikes!

And it made the AP national wire.  

Meanwhile, the Gazette sent a reporter last night to cover what one town official described as an "intense meeting to address horrible racist incident against teacher in #AmherstMA schools" and it didn't make it into today's print edition as a stand alone article.

 Meeting last night at Jones Library  in response to latest school incident

Meanwhile, Ch 40 is reporting -- using a lone High School Junior as a source -- contents of the note:  "f you Ms. Gardner" followed by the "n-word".   So what I'm trying to confirm is which version of the n-word was it -- the five letter version that ends in A or the six letter version that ends in R?

Because after the incident six weeks ago, it apparently does make a difference.  

Was the "f" word actually spelled out or did they write it like that?  Was the message etched on a wall, mirror or bathroom stall in traditional graffiti style, or was it a note written on paper?  If so was it printed letters or cursive writing, and did they use pen, pencil, crayon or print out from a computer?

And how exactly did that young lady know the content of the note/graffiti?  Did she get it from a classmate or school officials?  Obviously APD did not release anything and school officials surely should not have.  So if she got if from a classmate, then follow it back to the original source. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Racism Continues @ ARHS

A cold day at Amherst Regional High School

My first inclination was to ignore the tip that arrived early this morning in my inbox because obviously the perp (not my tipster) is only looking for attention, and racial incidents in a progressive little college town like Amherst can bring w-a-y more attention than they truly deserve.

But I share Principal Jackson's frustration.  And this swift public release of information is in stark contrast to the way school officials handled the recent incident of racial bullying which didn't fit the Politically Correct profile because it was black on white.

Yes this current incident involves the same teacher of color who was targeted back in October, although school officials thought it prudent to cover it up until mid-February, releasing the shameful story during "Warrior Week".  

After this current incident, you have to wonder about the effectiveness of  "Warrior Week" -- or any of the other measures undertaken over the past six weeks.

The "N-word".  Depends who is using it?

Thursday, March 20, 2014


The $2,074.02 cost in overtime for the Amherst Fire Department on the day of the Blarney Blowout doesn't sound like much compared to the $13,800 OT cost incurred by Amherst Police Department.

But Chief Tim Nelson laments, "Because of that $2074.02 expense I won't be able to send some of my firefighters to training courses that are not mandatory but but would enhance their EMS skills.  That translates directly to better patient care!"

Perhaps if rowdy "college aged youth" thought their mother or grandmother would be left waiting for an ambulance because their local FD was tied up carting drunk kids to the hospital; or the EMT who does come to her assistance is a tad less trained because of budget drains caused by immature behavior, maybe they would think twice. 

All Things Alcohol

All Things Local Cooperative Market, downtown Amherst

With a room full of cops concerned about the Blarney Blowout alcohol fueled riot looking on, the Amherst Select Board -- by unanimous vote -- issued a wine and malt off premises license to the new downtown food consignment store, All Things Local.

The cooperative market opened four months ago and already has expanded, taking 50% of the space given up by Food For Thought Books who recently raised $40,000 in a Indiegogo campaign to remodel their downsized operation and guarantee life beyond their 38th year.

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe pointed out her board has turned down the last two requests for this category of license,  Cumberland Farms on Rt 9 and the Hess Station on Rt 116, both over concerns of high-volume sales competing with long-time nearby liquor stores.   

Select Board member Jim Wald acknowledged the irony of the board handling four liquor license issues before getting to the public hearing on Blarney Blowout, but he added that it shows how carefully the town government does oversee the licensing of liquor establishments in town.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Minimum Wage, Maximum Rejection!

Matthew Cunningham-Cook:  Nowhere to hide

By an overwhelming voice vote after only a few minutes of discussion from the floor, Amherst Town Meeting voted to "dismiss" the only article on the warrant which would have asked the State Legislature to give Amherst the power to enact a $15/hour minimum wage law.

By dismissing the article rather than simply voting no, the legislative body guaranteed there can be no voter referendum of tonight's action.  If proponents of the article collected 880 signatures by March 26 it would have forced a special election.  An election in Amherst costs taxpayers $12,000.

Umass Prof Jeanette Wicks-Lim (also involved in ARPS school peanuts ban) speaks in favor

At one point Vince O'Connor suggested a motion to refer the article to the Select Board (also referendum proof) for further study, but Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe spoke emphatically against that pointing out they already rejected the article and it's up to the proponents to do their homework.  

 Amherst Select Board voted Monday night unanimously to "not support"

DUI Hopefuls

Two back-to-back DUI cases disposed of on Monday in Eastern Hampshire District Court gives me some hope for the future with all things alcohol.  And after the Blarney Blowout, I could use some positive news.

Both cases involved UMass grad students, so not your typical "college aged males" 18-22.   One case from an arrest back in August and the other one having just occurred over the weekend.

John Logan, age 25, made the mistake of sharing his vehicle with a loud mouthed friend, no doubt also under the influence of alcohol, who yelled out the window of the car at a female pedestrian near Amherst town center last August 18th.

When pulled over by APD Mr Logan reeked of alcohol, with glassy eyes, and admitted to having had "two beers," but he failed the Breathalyzer miserably with a .18 reading.

Mr. Logan accepted a typical 24-D plea deal:  45 day loss of license, $600 in fines, one year probation with a $65/month probation fee.

When the Judge asked the standard question:  "Where did you have your last drink" he replied "private residence."

Joseph Stadnicki, age 26, appeared with his lawyer who told the judge they would like to quickly "dispose of this matter."

The prosecution still read the charges:  Mr. Stadnicki was speeding through Amherst town center, took a wide turn onto Rt 9, swerved back and forth over over the yellow lines half-way into the other lane, then overly swerved back the other way hitting a curb.

When pulled over the officer noted the strong smell of alcohol, slurred speech, glassy eyes.  Stadnicki admitted to having consumed, "5 or 6 beers".  He failed the Field Sobriety Test and back at the station tested .10 on the Breathalyzer.

He too took the standard 24-D disposition.  When the Judge asked where he had his last drink he replied "High Horse Tavern" in town center. 

Both individuals were well dressed, polite and gave off an air of contrition.  As grad students, obviously they are into education.  I hope they learned a valuable lesson.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

$15 Minimum Wage Runaround

Amherst Select Board:  "Just say NO"

UPDATE 6:30 p.m. 
Amherst Town Counsel has concluded that even if Town Meeting passes the article and the State Legislature approves it, the powers granted to the town would then NOT apply to the University of Massachusetts, our largest employer.

Furthermore our lawyer confirms that a "motion to dismiss" if passed (majority vote) is referendum proof.  So that's what I'll do.


UMass Labor Grad Student Matthew Cunningham-Cook is fast becoming public enemy #1 in the little college town of Amherst, which he has called home for all of seven months now.

First he collects 200 signatures to call a Special Town Meeting when it would only have taken 10 signatures to put the exact same article on the normal Annual Town Meeting which starts April 28th.

Then he skips the public discussion period last night at the Amherst Select Board meeting where they -- like the Finance Committee last week -- voted unanimously NOT to support his article, branded by one SB member as "amateurish".

Although he did send them this email at 3:47 p.m. where he now pitches a small business exemption for mom-and-pops with 50 or fewer employees.  Yes, as a long-time small business owner even at peak success I had less than half that number of employees, so it would exempt the vast majority of Amherst businesses.

But, if you whip up a big batch of poison, I'm not overly reassured that small businesses are exempt from partaking.  If it's that bad for small business, how can it be good for BIG business?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Blarney Blowback

APD Chief Livingstone (officers standing in background)

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone defended his department's response to the Blarney Blowout this evening to a solidly supportive Select Board and Town Manager while dozens and dozens of Amherst police officers stood behind him in the Town Room.

Police Union lawyer Terence Coles:  Understaffing hurts response capability

Unlike the day of the Blarney Blowout, where police had do deal with unruly crowds numbering in the thousands, the Chief found plenty of support tonight from the board and audience members. 

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe was particularly effusive with her praise for the professionalism of all the public safety departments involved, pointing out how she listened, spellbound, all day on a scanner.

Attorney Peter Vickery:  Shut off all alcohol sales next year for Blarney Blowout 

Solace on St Patrick's Day

Growing up less than well off in a Irish Catholic single-parent household in Amherst, you couldn't help but notably mark St Patrick's Day.  To my mother it was perhaps more important than Christmas or Easter -- two pretty sacred days for Catholics.

So I've always tried to use it in a positive way.  Seven years ago today I started this blog, now fast approaching one million unique visitors.  Two years ago I gave up drinking, and today I don't miss it a bit.

From 1992 through 2001, March 17 was the start date of training for the bike race up Mt Washington, so from St Patrick's day until the end of August a day would not go by -- no matter the weather -- without an hour training in the saddle. 

At the impressionable age of 17 -- in the summer of 1972 -- in fell in love with both karate and journalism.  For you non history majors that was the beginning of Watergate, where dogged determination by two reporters over a (too) long time period led to the downfall of the most powerful man on earth.

I founded my karate school in 1982 to distract myself from not accomplishing a goal I had set at age 17:  Becoming the #1 ranked sport karate player in the nation.  But I did manage to come in at #3 that year.

Since then, two hip and one knee replacement later, my karate skills are not nearly what they were at peak when for a brief moment I was perhaps unbeatable.  But my journalism skills are better today than at any point in the past, partially because I accepted early on the awesome power of the Internet.

For the 1982 grand opening of the Karate Health Fitness Center and the following two years, I advertised in the weekly paper I had grown up reading, The Amherst Record. In fact my father and his father before him had advertised the Kelley Plumbing & Heating business in the paper as well. 

It was one of those traditional home town weeklies where you read about the people you would see in the downtown on any given day.

The Amherst Record folded in 1984 because of normal business competition not the upheaval cause by the Internet, which now threatens the entire print industry.

So why bring back the Amherst Record in digital form?  Because the more people shining a light on government, business and education the better -- especially in Amherst, where education is king.  And I have over 30 years of institutional memory to guide my spotlight.

I promise to pursue important stories with the same zeal and boundless determination I demonstrated in the karate ring, or while running a small business for almost 30 years.

Please join me in that quest: 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

All Blarney All Of The Time

A week later and Blarney Blowout is still front page news

So now its been a tad over a week and the ignominious day of debauchery known as Blarney Blowout is still in the news.

The entire above the fold section of the weekend Gazette; and the print edition of today's Sunday Springfield Republican also has a guest column from UMass Student Government Association President Zac Broughton branding the actions of Amherst police "inexcusable."

Of course he cites snippets of video posted to the juvenile party-all-the-time website barstoolsports who said last's year's blowout, "looked like fun."  Tellingly their support of this year's disaster has been less cheerleader-like, other than posting those videos.

Zac also asks why UMass has not come up with "alternative programming options" to preoccupy the kids.  Of course his Student Government Association was co-sponsor of just such an event on campus last October on the night of the Red Sox World Series win and, umm, that "programming option" turned into a riot.

The simple fact of the matter is students congregated into an overwhelmingly large mass, most of them under the influence of alcohol.   The disorderly crowd started throwing snowballs, bottles and cans along with other acts of vandalism, giving police no choice but to do their job:  protect public safety.

Amherst Police Department will soon be issuing video from that day on their blog.  Since their photographer was standing next to me, at one point I heard him get hit in the leg with an object thrown from the crowd, so I'm betting the video he took will be telling.

I hope they release the combat footage tomorrow -- as Monday is the start of the news cycle, and the Amherst Select Board is scheduled to discuss the Blarney Blowout at their meeting  in Amherst Town Hall.

Attorney Peter Vickery will start things off at 6:30 p.m. Public Comment period by asking the Select Board to use their powers as liquor commissioners to ban all alcohol sales next year for the Blarney Blowout. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

High Cost Of Blarney Blowout

Crowds on North Pleasant Street (note white pepper ball shot residue in road)

Besides the untold damage to the reputation of UMass Amherst, the flagship of higher education in Massachusetts, the Blarney Blowout also had real implications for hard pressed taxpayers who fund both town first responder services and UMass Amherst.

The recently announced "comprehensive review" contract awarded to former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis has a budget "up to $160,000," so we kind of know what that final bill will be.

I asked a grumpy UMass source how that much money could be so quickly consigned without a somewhat time consuming bid proposal and she replied, "By policy the University can sole source a contract."

Okay, fair enough, but that looks like it's limited to between $5,000 and $25,000 which $160,000 would seem to top that by a bit.

But at least the University did not ask the town to contribute half,  as they did recently with a  "town/gown consultant" to help map a strategy of mutual growth over the foreseeable future.  That contract has a top end limit of $60,000 with each entity paying half and was bid out in the normal somewhat time consuming Request For Proposals manner.

Chief Livingstone (white cap) assists officer with arrest

APD Chief Scott Livingstone had to muster all hands on deck to deal with crowd control starting well before noon, with the first arrest clocking in at 10:18 a.m .  At an over time cost to his department of $12,500 plus another $1,300 for indispensable Dispatch.

Plus the $160,000 "review" will tie up more of his time and that of his top brass.

And since the finished report -- which will not result in any formal charges of police brutality -- isn't due until graduation time, the Amherst Police Department will be operating these next few months under a dark cloud.

And that's bad for all of us.