Monday, November 30, 2015

Wait Another Week

Mark Rees in the hot seat
Peter Hechenbleikner in the hot seat

After a fair and balanced one hour public interview with each of two candidates, the Amherst Select Board delayed until December 7th choosing a temporary Town Manager to relieve current Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek, who returns to his Assistant Town Manger position on January 31st.

The 5 member Select Board wanted more time to mull their important decision but also to allow more time for public input on which candidate is the better fit for our little college town.  

Both candidates are drenched in public service experience.   And both are equally white, older, and currently retired.

One key difference is Peter Hechenbleikner made it perfectly clear he does not want to become the permanent Town Manager while Mark Rees refused to rule it out.

Hechenbleikner also seemed to indicate he would work part-time, somewhere between 25-30 hours per week, while Rees stated he expected to work four to five full days per week stressing, "I would be a  full-time Manager."

Both candidates pronounced the name of the town wrong on occasion but also got it right on occasion as well.

But Mark Rees seemed to have a better grasp of Amherst (with or without the H) and gave fuller more direct answers to the same questions concerning economic development, affordable housing and how to deal with, ugh, a Representative Town Meeting.

The Select Board also decided to task HR Director Deb Radway and SB member Doug Slaughter with coming up with a recommendation for a professional consulting firm to help with hiring a new permanent Town Manager.

The town received four response proposals ranging in cost from $11,000 to $18,000.  Radway said she preferred two of the four: Community Paradigm, the least expensive, and MMACG, the most expensive, because they stressed the importance of public outreach in the process.

 Vince O'Connor during public comment

If the Amherst Police Department were a private rather than public agency they would have grounds for a slander/defamation lawsuit against Vince O'Connor, who requested the Select Board task the temporary Town Manager with "rooting out once and for all the practice in APD of making stops of blacks and Latinos without just cause" which he branded "unjustified harassment."

Of course Mr. O'Connor offered no evidence whatsoever to back up his outlandish allegations.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunny Sunday Over The Valley

Mt. Sugarloaf, South Deerfield
Puffer's Pond, North Amherst
UMass West Experimental Station being deconstructed piece by piece
Crotty Hall going up next to Gordon Hall North Pleasant Street
 Amherst College Greenway Dorms
Olympia Place:  private dorms near UMass
Only two usual peace demonstrators, Vince O'Connor and Pat Church, this afternoon's stand out near main town flagpole 
Owen's Pond sundown
Gull Pond
Let's hope the Fed's don't start requiring kite registration

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Anti-Charter Cheerleaders

Typical TM demographic:  Older, white, with 2 much time on their hands

If this is material that passes for a hatchet job these two country bumpkin impersonators may want to start patronizing a better arms dealer. 

First off they need better props.  Who in Amherst still reads a newspaper?  Yes an older crowd for sure, which is the prime make up of Amherst Town Meeting.  But invoking that particular demographic is pretty much preaching to the converted.

Over one-third of the registered voters in our little college town are "college aged youth," and they have not picked up a newspaper since the last time they used a phone booth.

And if you're going to call out people by name at least get their names right.  "Suzie" la Cour, the Business Improvement District director, may have been a cheerleader in her youthful past but her name is Sarah.

And her husband Niels left Town Hall Planning Department for UMass, at least according to former Town Manager Larry Shaffer's announcement on the floor of Town Meeting, because he got a $10,000 raise.  So who wouldn't leave?

Just as one must assume Hope Keenan recently left her marketing gig at the Business Improvement District in favor of a UMass job because of better pay.

Or maybe it was just to have less dealings with entitled socialistic has-beens-and-never-weres who wish for our downtown to stay forever locked in the Eisenhower era.

When asked why he frequented a fixed game the gambler responded, "Because it's the only game in town."  Which is why of course 13-of-20 Amherst For All Steering Committee members are Town Meeting members.

And anyone who has spent so much as one night in Town Meeting knows all too well how outmoded, cumbersome and naive it is.

Can you imagine a multi-million per year corporation being run by a group of 135 or so (out of the 240 who bother to show up) rank amateurs who come together 10 or 12 nights per year to run things?

Apple Inc would be in the business of selling real (organically grown) apples.

The other laughable charge directed at Amherst For All Steering Committee is that they are  "All white, with no disabled and no low income."  Talk about the pot calling the kettle of color.

Anyone looked around the floor of Town Meeting lately?  (Or anytime over the past 256 years).

Amherst Town Meeting counted standing vote May, 2014

Amherst For All is now over two-thirds of the way to target goal of 3,215 signatures of registered voters who agree it's time to study our current form of government and come up with a better one.

Thus these two Town Meeting cheerleaders will someday soon be out of their obviously all too coveted volunteer job.

Friday, November 27, 2015

And So This Is Christmas

 The sign itself should be declared historic

Okay NOW the Christmas season can officially begin -- the Boy Scouts have set up their 60+ year traditional fundraiser selling Christmas trees at Kendrick Park in the north end of downtown.

Some of you remember when then rookie Town Manager Larry Shaffer first demonstrated what he was made of when he proposed a controversial $1 per tree tax on the Boy Scouts operation that was met with a tsunami of criticism and eventually dropped.

Of course the Town Manager went one better not long after when he tried to cancel a July 4th Parade because organizers would not allow rag tag protesters to march.  Again, after a Desert Storm of criticism and threatened lawsuit by the ACLU, he backed down.

The Merry Maple (a PC version of a Christmas Tree) in town center -- the BIG original maple tree of old -- scheduled for lighting December 4th continues the grand traditions leading up to the most holy of Christian holidays.

Crews spent three days decorating the ye old Merry Maple so it should be good

Marking Our History

Christopher Thompson had temporary marker at town's 2011 commemoration ceremony

The Amherst Historical Commission on Monday night voted unanimously to approve placing a request before the Community Preservation Act Committee for $5,000 to purchase a granite marker to remember Christopher Thompson who is buried in sacred West Cemetery.

Although it is not known exactly where he is buried the marker would probably be placed next to his son Charles Thompson.  Both father and son served in the 5th cavalry, a black regiment, during the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our entire history.

The funding request came via the newest member to the Historical Commission, retired Amherst College professor Bob Romer.

In September, 2011 Mr. Romer was instrumental in motivating the town to host a ceremony at West Cemetery to commemorate the five black soldiers buried there who fought in the Civil War, including Christopher Thompson and his son Charles.

Bob Romer, Veterans Agent Steven Connor, Reynolds Winslow, Dave Ziomek 9/18/11

Likely image of Christopher Thompson

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Over Amherst

7:20 AM, 400 feet up looking east
Around same time looking north
Downtown 3:30 PM looking south
Downtown 3:30 PM looking north

Bramble Hill Farm 4:10 PM 175 feet up
 Bramble Hill Farm 4:20 PM 400 feet up

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DUI Dishonor Roll

Kaitlyn Vahey, age 19, stands before Judge William O'Grady

As usual I'll let the public court documents speak for themselves but would again point out that a rear end collision caused by driving with a blood alcohol concentration almost twice that of the legal limit, on Main Street at 4:12 PM, in the busy college town of Amherst, could easily have resulted in the death of a pedestrian or cyclist.

Click to enlarge/read
Patrick Homyak, age 26, arraigned before Judge O'Grady

Interestingly enough, a police Statement of Facts cuts both ways.

Safe bet Leandro Celadilla's attorney will point out the BAC showed .06 which is a tad under the legal limit of .08. But the Commonwealth does not exclusively rely on the Breath Test results, although one over the limit pretty much makes prosecution a slam dunk.

 Mr. Celadilla was in lock up so no photo available

And since Mr. Celadilla was also charged in the same incident with domestic abuse (but that Court document is impounded) the state will still have plenty to bargain with when his case comes up for pre trial next month.

Don't Feed The Trolls

Page seems to have been active only since November 22. Already removed UMass logo

A raging fire requires two things:  fuel and a source of ignition.  In other words if you enter a dark building and smell the strong stench of gasoline, don't use your cigarette lighter to illuminate the immediate area.

Anyone who has spent more than a day on the Internet should realize the new "UMass Amherst Area White Students Union" is a parody account.  And their sole reason for being is to incite a response -- especially a negative one.

So the rules of engagement are pretty simple:  ignore them.  Unlike this morning's Daily Hampshire Gazette which splashed them across the front page, above the fold no less.  Suckers.

Dog bites man story:   Internet trolls are a pain in the ass 

Terrorists unleash the most horrendous public act possible in order to attract media attention.  And I don't agree that names of mass murderers should be withheld in order not to give them the notoriety they seek.  Usually, before the presses run, they are already dead.

Because they are a billion dollar corporation who, like all mega corporations, is averse to negative publicity, chances are Facebook will pull the account.  

And since they are not the government they can ban whatever content they wish without regards to the First Amendment.

Just as Smith College or Amherst College, as private entities, can ban reporters from covering an event on their campus even if it is blatantly newsworthy.  It's just kind of stupid to do so.

But again, if you've spent more than a day on the Internet, you know all about stupid.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Party House of the Weekend

Considering how nice the weather was on Saturday, and the fact that booze first started flowing at the UMass football tailgate at 9:00 Saturday morning, I'm surprised there were not a few more Party Houses for me to illuminate.

But the fewer the better as far as I'm concerned -- and they are becoming far fewer over the past year or two.

Although with the Patriots now 10-0 the town and UMass should already be planning for a Superbowl eruption should the Patriots win it ... or lose.

Click to enlarge/read
Patel and Parikh both accepted the standard plea deal offered by the state:  pay one of the $300 tickets and stay out of trouble for the next 4 months.  Charges were dropped before arraignment for Bahnam because his name was not on the lease

The hard to miss little yellow house at 219 East Pleasant Street, just barely outside town center, is certainly a frequent flyer when it comes to attracting a police response.

The town's Noise and Nuisance bylaws do allow for fining the landlord $300 after the 3rd offense, but to date the town has not done that.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Little Red Schoolhouse: Status Quo

Little Red Schoolhouse:  Worth $1 million to move?

After an hour of one-sided overly enthusiastic discussion the Amherst Historical Commission decided not to take any action on the one year demo delay (which expires in May) currently in effect for the Amherst College owned Little Red Schoolhouse.

While that may sound like a victory for breathless zealot Carol Gray, it fell far short of what she repeatedly asked the Commission to do: mainly go on a public relations warpath against Amherst College, and try to force a meeting with President Biddy Martin.

Commissioners expressed exasperation with Ms. Gray who simply refused to answer simple questions with a yes or no.  Like whether she has raised a single dime towards the preservation effort over these past six months?  Well, no (after 10 minutes worth of other ideas that will never pan out).

Or whether she secured property off the Amherst College campus for the building to go?  Umm, no.

Amherst College representative Tom Davies said the College wants the building gone but will not put money into moving it, and their estimates are more like $1 million vs Ms. Gray's overly optimistic $150,000 (which did not include relocation site work).

He also pointed out, when he could get a word in edgewise, the College takes historical preservation very seriously and has won awards for doing so. 

Little Red Schoolhouse is currently standing in the way of the new $214 million Science Center which the College hopes to break ground on next year.

 Amherst Historical Commission:  Carol Gray 2nd from rt, Tom Davies rear center

Sunday, November 22, 2015

As Sad Anniversaries Go

Town flag at half staff to honor the Paris terrorism victims

It is now the middle of three tragically defining moments in American history where none of us who were over the age of 6 will ever forget, right down to the tiniest mundane details.

The stunning sneak attack on Pearl Harbor forever branded December 7th as a "date which will live in infamy."

Just as 9/11 will forever be remembered as the most shocking, sad and frightening event in over a generation.

Fifty two years ago on a most typical Friday in late November, as the Kennedy motorcade ambled through Dealey Plaza, shots were fired.  Two of them found their mark.

The world, or maybe just our little part of it, stopped. 

Overpowering sadness descended from sea to shining sea.  As a naive 8-year-old I wondered when that gloom would lift.

Today, 52 years later, I still wonder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Where All The Lights Are Bright, Downtown

Work stringing lights on the Merry Maple continues for the 3rd day
The art project at base of Merry Maple is scheduled for removal December 1

Kendrick Park tree had been the better of the two for the past few years

Light pole docorations look better than last year
Amherst College new mascot?  The Golden Domes

Intersection Of Alternatives

Intersection of Sunderland and Montague Roads just before North Amherst Library

Option D

So it looks like Option D will be the chosen one out of four possible proposals for the funky intersection of Sunderland and Montague Roads less than a field goal kick from the intersection of Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant Streets in the heart of North Amherst center.

Last night the Public Works Committee joined the Planning Board and Transportation Task Force in signaling their "preponderance of approval" for Option D, which terminates the final length of Sunderland Road running past the North Amherst Library and turns it into green space contiguous with the town owned playing field.

Montague Road, which is a state road, and Sunderland Road will both remain two way and the intersection behind the library may get a traffic signal or could simply become a four way stop. 

The three influential committees did not take a formal vote as they all wish to wait for more public input at the December 8th public hearing which is a follow up to the June 24th well attended hearing.

DPW Chief Guilford Mooring also told the Public Works Committee last night the $500,000 renovation of the traffic control signals at Pine/Meadow/North Pleasant was turned down by the state for a MassWorks grant so they are coming up with a make due method costing around $200,000 which could happen next year.