Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Centennial After The Horror

About 50 people gathered in front of Amherst Town Hall to hear Select Board member Jim Wald read a proclamation issued by the town to remember the "mass extermination" of the Armenian population 100 years ago.

Ellen Story addresses the crowd.  Adrienne Terrizzi and Gregory Bascomb on her left, Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy and Jim Wald on her right

Even today Turkey, in an attempt to whitewash history, bans the word "genocide".

But as long as there are good people who pause to remember the horror and pass it down through talks and the written word, it's a sad chapter in human history that can be avoided in the future.

  Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy, author of the book, 'Sacred Justice: The Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis', addresses the crowd

Bad Omen?

Town Meeting standing vote last night (which will be negated with electronic voting)

After a somewhat contentious 1.5 hour discussion Amherst Town Meeting narrowly approved hiring a $85,920 Economic Development Director, the pride and joy of Town Manager John Musante's FY16 budget.

The Tally Vote (another thing that will be negated by electronic voting) was 99-88. So if only a half-dozen people had changed their vote ...

I actually thought about voting NO simply because I think UMass should cover half the salary of this position since it was one of the main recommendations of the $60,000 Town/Gown consultant that UMass contributed $30,000 towards.

But I'm certain that the vast majority of NO votes represents the dyed-in-the-wool Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) crowd.

Which is a bad sign for the other favorite articles promoted by the Town Manager: Articles 21, Affordable Housing Property Tax Incentives and Article 22, Inclusionary Zoning which requires 10% of units in developments bigger than 9 units be "affordable."

The pro-business "sensible center" types (of which Town Meeting has far too few) are already being told to vote No on Article 22 (IZ)  if the tax incentives in Article 21 fail. 

Article 22 is a zoning article that requires a two-thirds vote so it stands little chance of passing if Article 21, which requires a majority vote, fails.

And with left wing ringleaders like Vince O'Connor, Mary Wentworth and Carol Gray portraying the tax incentives as "corporate welfare" it could get dicey -- as in hacked to pieces. 

Smoke and Mirrors Savings?

Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee 4/28/15

The Amherst Regional School Committee spent the better part of two hours hearing a presentation and then discussing the financial aspects of expanding the current four town grades 7-12 Region all the way down to pre-Kindergarten.

The presentation assumed all four towns (Amherst, Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury) agree to expand the Region, a pretty BIG assumption, and the bottom line savings presented -- a BIG incentive it would seem -- came to $662,113.  Or did it?

 Powerpoint slide presented to RSC

Both the $300,000 in "Medicaid Reimbursement" and the $55,000 in "New Choice-In Revenue" is money that comes to the town of Amherst anyway, so it's not "new" revenue.  

Since the state does not reimburse non-regional entities for transportation costs the $286,695 in "New Transportation Reimbursement"  is indeed "new money." 

Even the $75,800 in "New Bonus Aid" comes with a caveat:  It's only for five years and diminishes over that time:

Year 1 - $75,800 
Year 2 - $60,640
Year 3 - $45,480
Year 4 - $30,320
Year 5 - $15,160

So when all is said and done the real savings in year one of Mega-Region (3,385 students) comes to $307,113 or less than $100 student on an average per pupil cost of over $20,000. Providing of course all goes according to plan and you can avoid Murphy's Law.

Representatives from Pelham and Leverett also presented testimony to the Regional School Committee that painted a desperate picture of their elementary school's current financial condition.

Chair of the Regional Agreement Working Group (and now Amherst Select Board member) Andy Steinberg echoed that gloomy scenario saying he is concerned that someday soon our partners in the current 7-12 Region will choose to support their stand alone elementary schools at the expense of the Region. 

Amherst beware: A major deal based on pity often goes astray. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

No Means No!

Fade post (needs more up votes!)

In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 28 UMass police responded to a reported sexual assault that occurred on Phillips Street, immediately adjacent to the campus.

Because the victim, a college aged female, was also ETOH (overly intoxicated) she ended up at UMass Health Services and, as a result, required transportation by AFD to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

Since the (alleged) assault occurred on Phillips Street, which is town jurisdiction, UMPD instantly turned over the matter to APD.   Although my reliable source seemed to doubt the victim would file a criminal complaint, partially because of the alcohol involvement.

And that's seems to have been the end of it.

Yes, this horrendous act occurred on the very weekend the jury was still out deliberating the fate of Emmanuel Bile, accused of participating in a gang rape at a UMass dorm, where the victim was clearly intoxicated but could still telegraph the concept, "No!"

After an outstanding job by the prosecution Bile was found guilty, in spite of the prominent role alcohol played in the horrific incident.

So I find it beyond appalling that a major corporation with an advertising budget as BIG as a third world country's GDP would highlight/promote the more nefarious aspects of alcohol consumption.

An insulting ad campaign that endangers women by painting a giant target on them, with Bud Light being used as the weapon of choice.   

And even insulting to men by suggesting the only way they can successfully find a sexual partner is if she's out of her mind drunk.


Show Me The Money

The Amherst Police Supervisor's Union staked out Amherst Town Meeting

The 13-member Amherst Police Supervisor's Union picked the perfect night to picket Amherst Town Meeting.  Opening night is always the most highly attended (191 checked in out of 240) and the majority of members use the northern most entrance to the Middle School. 

 Passed unanimously

Although it had nothing directly to do with the public protest, Town Meeting did vote early in the evening to reopen the police budget from last year and add $29,200 for "anticipated costs" associated with the contract settlement.

If that does become the exact amount needed it represents a 2% raise. 

The current contract is almost two years expired and it's the last remaining municipal labor contract still outstanding.

Most other municipal unions received around that 2% figure for a raise.

 Leaflet distributed to Town Meeting members

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Less Destructible Dash

Dash with partner, officer TJ Clark

click to enlarge/read

DUI Dishonor Roll

 Colm Dunphy, age 20, stands before Judge Payne on Monday morning

This could be one of the first local DUI cases to be impacted by the moratorium on breathalyzer results called by District Attorney David Sullivan. 

Although safe to say the state will have sorted out the problem by the time Mr. Dunphy returns to District Court for his pre-trial hearing May 27th.

Interestingly UMPD just had their breathalyzer machine sent out for calibration a few weeks ago. 

A Matter of Respect

I did an interview yesterday with a couple of UMass journos working on their final project and one of the questions they asked was, besides Blarney Blowout or Hobart Hoedown what other kinds of things do UMass students do that causes friction with the locals.

I brought up the incident a few years ago where a throng of students descended on Puffer's Pond beach just before graduation and left it a pig pen.  And the time or two students have been seen or arrested for urinating on the Emily Dickinson fence along Main Street.

But had I been aware of this incident I surely would have used it as an example:  I grew up a couple hundred yards from this l-o-n-g time business on lower Main Street, and they are a symbol of everyday hard working small-town business. 

 Click to enlarge/read
Brian Hurley, age 20, stands before Judge John Payne on Monday.  His case was continued to May 27 so he can hire a private attorney

Monday, April 27, 2015

Party House of the Weekend

Yes, this now makes two weekends in a row for a humble abode to make my ignoble Party House list.  But three or four years ago around this time it was not unusual for 4 or 5 addresses to be in contention for the top spot. 

 Click to enlarge/read

In Eastern Hampshire District Court this morning Tanner Baloh, Caleb Engelbourg, Alex Mercer, and Alfred Schofield -- all of them UMass students -- took the standard deal offered by the prosecution:  Pay $300 each for one of the charges ("Noise") which will be converted from a criminal to civil violation, and the other one ("Nuisance") will be dropped.

Contrite crew stands before Judge John Payne this morning

Twitter DM 6:18 PM

Perhaps another reason the weekend was relatively light on arrests was the heavy presence of police.  Early Saturday afternoon I counted six Mass State PD vehicles staged at the entry to Hobart Lane.

 MSP on scene Hobart Lane Saturday afternoon

Many Amherst PD vehicles were stationed around Townhouse Apartments on Meadow Street most of Saturday afternoon, as the east quad area started to fill up, but petered out by 6:00 PM.

Next weekend is the last one prior to UMass graduation so it's a safe bet police will not be taking any chances and will once again be out in force.

 Townhouse east quad Saturday 3:30 PM

Drunk runs (ETOH) to UMass were w-a-y way down over the weekend. But to Amherst College and Hampshire College, not so much:

Drunk Driving Clarification

Christopher Dalkas, age 22, stands before Judge John Payne this morning

In what is perhaps the first Driving Under the Influence case brought to a Judge since District Attorney Dave Sullivan suspended use of Breathalyzer results in upcoming trials, Christopher Dalkas accepted a standard 24D disposition plea, available only to 1st time offenders.   

Dalkas will lose his license for 45 days, pay $650 in fees/fines and be on probation for one year.  

 Count 1 standard 24D disposition, Counts 2&3 "dismissed", Count 4 "not responsible."

Amherst police arrested Dalkas in the early morning hours of April 16th for speeding on his Harley Davidson motorcycle on Amity Street in town center, where he was clocked at 55 MPH (more than twice the speed limit).  

Dalkas was unstable on his feet, smelled of alcohol, had blood shot eyes, and slurred speech.  He failed the Field Sobriety Test miserably, losing his balance four times and missing the turn on the "Nine Step Walk and Turn" exercise, and pretty much could not hold one leg up for the "One Leg Stand."

In response to the usual question "Have you had anything to drink?" he admitted to the classic "two beers" at McMurphy's Uptown Tavern in town center. 

The Assistant District Attorney did mention at the very end the Breathalyzer result of .11%, but since then the DA's office has issued the following statement.  According to Steve Gagne:

"The moratorium that we announced regarding the use of BT evidence was focused on cases scheduled for trial, but the case that was resolved via plea this morning in Belchertown highlighted the need for clarification re: cases being resolved by way of plea.  We have since advised our prosecutors to omit any reference to BT evidence during pleas, and to proceed instead on non-breathalyzer evidence (which there almost always is in OUI cases)."

For Those Who Served

Ladder 1 on scene, UMass Mullins Center

The 5th annual Ice Stars For Wounded Warriors slid its way across the Mullins Center practice arena in style with skaters from across New England (including the Skating Club of Amherst) as well as public safety departments and UMass fraternity rival hockey matches, all performing in behalf of our wounded military.

 UMPD leads the parade

The two day event kicked off on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a parade led by UMass PD motorcycle division down Massachusetts Avenue then across Commonwealth Ave to the Mullins Center, where they entered the arena under a h-u-g-e American flag held aloft by AFD Ladder 1.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Sweet It Is

Treasure map of sugary delights

The "Amherst Mega Dessert Crawl" was a BIG success, attracting around 400 participants on a sunny Saturday afternoon who paid $10 for ten desserts served by downtown restaurants.

 David Mazor at starting point, Kendrick Park

The money raised benefits "Reader To Reader" a program founded by David Mazor that donates books worldwide to the underprivileged.

Restaurants also benefited by bringing in new customers for a low cost sample.

Jean-Loup McIlvain-Cellier, Amherst College, Ashley Gratton, UMass

Two student participants who just completed the ten restaurant tour and deemed it "awesome," confirmed that prior to the event they had only set foot in half of the ten restaurants.

By the looks on their faces there's a good chance they will return to many of them in the near future.

Meanwhile, on the main Town Common, the Amherst Sustainability Festival attracted an environmental crowd -- although not nearly as large as the turnout for Extravaganja last Saturday.

Amherst Town Common 1:30 PM

And just across the street further south on the common in front of Amherst College Memorial Hall, a hawk dropped in to sustain himself (or herself) via lunch.

Scratch one squirrel

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hadley Hoedown

Party goers converged on foot and via taxis

Hadley police with the assistance of Amherst, UMass and State police shut down a large party of 500+ college aged youth around 3:15 PM at a North Maple Street back yard before it could grow into a Blarney Blowout. 

After one Hadley officer reported having a golf ball thrown at him police made sure they had pepper balls on hand, although none were needed to disperse the crowd.  The party host used the PA system that had been blasting music to announce loudly that the "party is over!"

State Trooper intercepts young women before they make it to party.  "Don't make me get out of this vehicle" he bellowed.

Amherst police have been on high alert all day, and a half dozen Massachusetts State PD vehicles were stationed at the entry to Hobart Lane most of the early afternoon.

When Hadley called for mutual aid both APD and MSP were quick to respond (including K9 units).

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

 Butterfield Terrace below, Pokeberry Ridge well above

One of the routine arguments put forth by NIMBYs to uphold the sacred BANANA covenant Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything is the tired old refrain, "I moved here thinking my neighborhood zoning was etched in uranium depleted mortar shells." So now that can now never-in-a-million-years, change.

The efforts by homeowners on Pokeberry Ridge, nestled high on a ridge line 100 feet above and perhaps 400 feet back, to torpedo a zoning change on Butterfield Terrace is all too typical.
4 properties propose rezoning from RN to RG (shown in yellow)

Since the four lots in question (currently RN) are already contiguous with (higher density) RG zoning, and are situated within crawling distance of the bustling UMass campus and Amherst town center, it would be hard to find property more suitable for such a change.

Especially since the overly expensive "Master Plan" from a few years back specifically supports such density tweakings.

And even if Town Meeting gives it a two-thirds endorsement required for a zoning change the current owners would still have to get a Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals for any development.  And that requires a unanimous vote of all three sitting members.

The Planning Board, who are the appointed experts on such matters, voted 6-1 to support the zoning change and the Finance Committee supported it unanimously.

But the Select Board, demonstrating they are elected rather than appointed, took the easy way out and voted unanimously to recommend "referring the article back to the Planning Board for further study."

David Markland Feb 18 Planning Board meeting

The neighbors who have led the charge to fight the proposal only purchased their house less than a year ago.  And then quickly set about clear cutting their backyard to enhance the scenic vista.

 Before picture

 After picture

Although that does nothing for the backyard view of the houses down below on Butterfield Terrace, and even worse -- since trees naturally prevent storm water run off -- now when it rains, the steep incline turns into a mud slide.

Pokeberry neighbors on either side not as ambitious with tree clearing

I'm pretty sure when the residents on Butterfield Terrace purchased their homes they expected the steep hillside behind them to remain as a forested buffer from their neighbors up on Pokeberry Ridge.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Arbor Day Dilemma

All trees marked for death have 8.5" by 11" tree hearing notice attached

As usual when a choice has to be made between perfectly placed pavement and living breathing trees, it's the trees that end up taking a fall.

In spite of all the good they do -- sucking up storm water, absorbing carbon dioxide, and providing a shaded respite from summer sun -- the safety needs of pedestrians walking along busy Pine Street comes first.

The Planning Board & Tree Warden will hold a joint "Scenic Road Public Hearing" on May 6  to confirm the removal of ten trees currently standing a tad too close to Pine Street, a renovation project that has dragged on far too long for most area residents.

A new sidewalk is the main cause of the death sentences.  The majority of the trees are past their prime, but a few will no doubt be missed. 

And not just by the Lorax.

Amherst Town Hall:  Promoting Green

Thirsty Thursday DUI

Scott Pascoe arraigned in Eastern Hampshire District Court this morning

Amherst first responders scrambled to mid-Main Street early last night for reports of a "car vs pedestrian."  Fortunately the cyclist was fine, but Amherst police quickly arrested Scott Pascoe, age 44, for driving under the influence and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

Click to enlarge/read

In Eastern Hampshire District Court this morning Pascoe had a plea of not guilty entered in his behalf and his case was continued until May 21 so he could hire his own attorney.

Right around the time Pascoe was taking the Breathalyzer at APD headquarters, District Attorney Dave Sullivan announced a moratorium on using breathalyzer results in Court due to a small percentage that seem to be problematic -- most likely due to calibration errors.

I have observed dozens and dozens of DUI  24D disposition plea deals and almost 100% of them had breathalyzer results used for evidence. And I've only observed two DUI jury trials, but in both cases the defendants won and each of them had refused the breathalyzer (a fact that cannot be told to the jury).

The state needs to get to the bottom of this breathalyzer problem -- pronto!