Tuesday, May 31, 2016

3 Strikes

Claude Bolling (poster at Town Hall)

Besides tying up ambulances for frequent transports to the hospital, scaring away customers in the downtown and leaving unsightly debris in their favorite haunts another problem with our homeless population is some of them can be downright dangerous.

Over the weekend APD arrested Claude Bolling for Assault & Battery on a family member.

Because of the two year old domestic abuse law designed to protect victims the justice system will not release any paperwork concerning that crime.

But Mr. Bolling had two other charges.

In Eastern Hampshire District Court today in front of Judge William O'Grady he had his bail revoked for the previous offense of "failing to register as a sex offender" (which has to be done annually) and he had a Superior Court Warrant outstanding for a probation violation.

He is currently being held for up to 90 days in the House of Correction on the bail revocation, so he will not see the "streets of Amherst" for a while. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

School Ban Battle Escalates

Aisha Hiza (overcoming obstacles)

It has now been 10 weeks since a stay away order was summarily imposed on Aisha Hiza after she repeatedly demanded Pelham School officials find a way to keep her young daughter safe from bullying.

Last month, after media inquiries, Superintendent Maria Geryk stated she would not release any information unless Aisha Hiza signed a release, which her attorney advised her not to do.

And thus far she has not signed such a release.

But on Friday, Amherst Regional Public School officials broke their silence on this sad affair ... and it did not take long for Aisha to respond (scroll down Scribd document for her response).

Click headline "School Ban War of Words" to go to Scribd to better read documents

Amherst Regional Public Schools Superintendent Maria Geryk

A Grateful Town Remembers

Town flag at half staff Amherst town center

Over 100 people of all ages and walks of life turned out at the VFW Post 754 this morning -- including police, fire, politicians, veterans and families -- to honor and remember all those who have paid the ultimate price to keep us free.

A reminder of course that freedom is never free and must be defended with utmost vigilance, as the men and women of our armed forces have done for 240 years.

 Master of Ceremonies Selectman Doug Slaughter.  Flowers from SB and Boys & Girl Scouts

Guest speaker Ray Elliot, who served four years in the South Pacific, reminded the crowd how far we've come as a nation in the past 100 years.

 Ray Elliot

His father before him, William S Elliot, a Buffalo Soldier, had served in France in WW1 after white commanders in the US refused to lead black soldiers in battle because they questioned their intelligence and bravery.

 William S. Elliot

His all black squadron would go on to win the highest honor France could bestow on troops -- black or white.

Even on that infamous December 7th, "a date which will live in infamy", the US army was still segregated.  Ray Elliot told the hushed audience he was once chased down by a white crowd in Biloxi, Mississippi when he strayed outside the black district, fearing he would be lynched.

Black troops would flash each other a "Double V Victory" sign using both hands to indicate not only victory over the Axis powers trying to enslave the world, but also as a sign of victory over racism at home.  

At the conclusion of his speech, which had centered around respect, he was given a standing ovation.

 State Representative Ellen Story

In her last appearance at a Memorial Day ceremony as our State Representative  Ellen Story reminded us that this somber ceremony tradition started out soon after the Civil War when citizens would visit cemeteries to leave flowers on the graves of the fallen, both Union and Confederate.

Veterans Agent Steven Connor

Steven Connor announced The Healing Wall, a portable version of the iconic Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. will be coming to the Eastern States Exposition this August.

The names of all 58,307 troops killed or MIA, out of 3 million who served during that controversial conflict, are inscribed on the wall so we as a nation can never forget them.

Today we also remembered all those Amherst residents who served their country, lived to tell about it, but have passed away since our last Memorial Day:

Click to enlarge/read

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Requiring A Life Saver

Rolling Green fatal fire 1/21/13 (photo by Stephanie Jernigan)

Sprinklers are a firefighter's best friend, an automated system on duty every minute of the day or night, making a monumental difference by catching a fire before it voraciously feeds and transforms to killer beast.

 Southpoint Apartments four alarm fire 8/9/14

Amherst Town Meeting just approved $390K in Community Preservation Act money to assist the Amherst College owned Evergreens Museum and First Congregational Church next door with installing protective fire suppression sprinkler system in their historic structures.

Since 219 Amity was constructed a long time ago they do not have a sprinkler system even though they are currently commercial housing and were "grandfathered" so town officials could not just suddenly require them.

 219 Amity Street near town center

But after the fire on Friday night, new codes will now kick in with the relevant three being: "Would otherwise require sprinklers" (Yes); "Sufficient water pressure available in the area" (Yes); and "Work area exceeds 50% of the building" (No).

And it only takes one "no" to avoid sprinklers.

State law, however, gives extraordinary authority to a fire chief, so Chief Nelson can simply order them to install sprinklers as part of the renovation.

After the fatal fire at Rolling Green Apartments, where a sprinkler system could have been a life saver, and the major fire at Southpoint Apartments 1.5 years later, which fortunately did not cause casualties, Chief Nelson required sprinklers in the newly rebuilt/renovated structures.

At the time he told me, "As a general statement, with few exceptions, we always lean toward sprinkler use in occupancies."

If the 219 Amity Street fire happened when UMass was in session that rental property would have been far more densely populated. 

Obviously the saving of just one life justifies the cost of a new commercial sprinkler system.

Every time.   

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fiery Friday

219 Amity Street this morning

While many of us townies were enjoying the Rotary sponsored Community Fair, which lit up the night sky like a giant Christmas tree, AFD was busy battling a blaze on a large rental two blocks away that most folks mistake for a rooming house at the corner of Amity and Lincoln Avenue.

Amherst Community Fair Town Common last night

In addition to this home turf battle AFD also assisted via mutual aid their brothers and sisters in Northampton for a potentially catastrophic fire at a senior care facility and a structure in Leverett that was "fully engulfed" when our Quint (Engine 2) arrived to assist.

 The Quint on scene Shutesbury Road, Leverett last night

Plus AFD was pretty much flat out earlier in the day with ambulance runs and an unattended death.

The timing of the fire was both good and bad.  Since the house is pretty much a student rental and UMass is no longer in session the number of potential victims was lowered.

But for the same reason AFD no longer has the "Impact Shift" operational, which is funded by $80K from UMass to assure four extra firefighters are on duty (bringing shift total to 13) during the busy weekend evenings when ambulance runs for substance abuse are all too usual.

Although, even is this had been one of those weekends the Impact Shift does not report for duty until 9:00 PM and the fire broke out about 45 minutes earlier than that.

I asked Chief Nelson about all this Saturday morning quarterbacking on my part about staffing and a proposal he mentioned a while back at the initial DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee about the town  hiring a consultant to do a (badly needed) staffing level study and he responded:

"Our minimum was eight last night. It goes to seven on June 1st. We go back to eight in the fall.

At the time of the fire last night, one ambulance was at the hospital with another one returning to town. That meant we had 4 personnel in town at the time of the fire; 3 at North Station, 1 at Central Station.

The returning ambulance was backing in as E-1 was pulling out of the bay and an off duty AFD FF ran across the street to join the response. That gave us 4 Firefighters arriving initially with 3 Firefighters coming from North Station.

If this had been September we would have been at nine minimum from 5pm to 9pm. At 9pm the impact personnel come on duty.

 When we first began the impact shifts I convinced John Musante that it was a good idea to go to nine from eight personnel in order to keep an odd number which allows us to staff 4 ambulances and keep 1 Captain in town for command & control.

Once we instituted the Paramedic Firetruck we changed that posture to staffing 3 ambulances and staffing the Paramedic Firetruck with 3 personnel. ALS care in addition to Fire/Rescue coverage that doesn't leave the town potentially without protection.

Luck played a part last night but the main reason we were successful was because of the people I'm fortunate to work with on this department.

The RFP submittal period closed on Thursday. Now the submittals will be reviewed and consultant chosen."


I can't count the number of time I've heard informed sources say AFD is a victim of their own success:  A talented, dedicated group of professionals who do so much for so many with so few.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Going, Going, Gone

Little Red Schoolhouse, Amherst College, Wednesday
In the end the much fought over Little Red Schoolhouse, which was granted a one year stay of execution by the Amherst Historical Commission, went down in a matter of days.

And no, surprisingly, Carol Gray did not chain herself to the building as the backhoes rumbled in to do their job.
Little Red Schoolhouse Thursday

 Finally, Little Red Schoolhouse Friday:
 Click photos to enlarge

Not A Glitch

Requires majority vote of 5 member Select Board to hire new Town Manager

With two of the final three candidates pulling out of the Town Manager search it's not overly surprising that some folks were concerned when the Select Board somewhat suddenly cancelled an executive session scheduled for today at 3:00 PM

So naturally I asked if we should be concerned that something had gone wrong in the 11th hour over negotiations with Paul Bockelman, and received this reply from Chair Alisa Brewer:

"Actually, it's the opposite: we scheduled today just in case something weird came up -- and it did not.  We are hoping to go over final proposal Wednesday 06-01-16."
Then I asked about the confusing agenda for June 1st which makes it look like they are approving the new Town Manager contract in Open Session before going into Executive Session to discuss the contract.

Click to enlarge/read

To which she replied:

 "Our Agendas are not in chronological order these days. We will start in open, go immediately to exec, decide in exec if terms are agreeable, get finalist on phone if necessary (that's why 2 sections of MLG exec cited) also see if exec session minutes are complete and can be approved if not actually released, or maybe released, then come out to open, announce the result, and vote to execute a contract.

Alternatively: if something surprising comes up in exec, we have some unanswered questions but can't fix it over the phone, need more time, we'll come back out to report that.

Hopefully won't happen since we don't have any extra meetings posted between Wed 06-01-16 and Monday 06-06-16 at 6:00."

Protectionism Or Preservation?

North Pleasant Street on west side of Kendrick Park is a big concern

As former Chair of the Dickinson Local Historic District Commission and a petitioner before them (not while Chair) of the most complicated project they reviewed -- a $500,000 renovation of historic Hills House on Main Street -- Jerry Guidera has a unique perspective on how Local Historic Districts work and he deemed his overall experience "onerous".

 Historic Hills House on Main Street
Jerry Guidera and Tom Ehrgood present to Linclon Sunset Local Historical District Commission last night

Even Steven Bloom Chair of the Lincoln/Sunset Local Historic District Study Committee freely admitted to the 25 or so people at the public hearing that it would be "Another layer of bureaucracy, another hoop to jump through."

 Bill Gillen (right) Steven Bloom (left)

Committee member Bill Gillen, a long-time architect, thought the hearings would be good for developers as it would give them an early insight into what the general public thinks of their project, kind of like acting as a canary in a coal mine.  

Although in Amherst, ANY project is opposed by somebody.

About two dozen attended the public hearing

During his original presentation Dickinson Local Historic District Chair Tom Ehrgood ruled out simply adding this new proposed district to his Committee's oversight as they are already overburdened and could not handle a 500% increase in jurisdiction area.

Only seven audience members chose to address the Committee and barely a majority favored forming the new Local Historic District, and not all that passionately.  

The Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose the inclusion of North Pleasant Street along the west side of Kendrick Park as it is contiguous with the downtown and the last remaining area ripe for development.

After hearing from prominent local developers earlier in the week over that particular concern, Bloom told the crowd the current proposed area "Is not set in stone, it's a trial balloon."

If the Committee decides to move forward with the project it could come before Amherst Town Meeting next year where it would require a hard to achieve two-thirds vote.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Art Is In The Eye

Hope The Cow was privately funded

Despite the best efforts of Selectman Jim Wald, who managed to invoke President Kennedy, Robert Frost and deceased Town Manager John Musante all in one presentation, Amherst Town Meeting voted to refer (89 to 72) "Percent For Art" back to the Arts Commission, a nice way of saying No.

The article was changed at the last minute many times but the main change was to reduce the amount of the diversion from public construction projects from 1% to .5%.

That still comes to $500,000 if you consider the $100 million in town money on just the four main building projects coming up: Wildwood Mega School at $30 million, Jones Library $20 million, new DPW $30 million and the forever talked about new South Fire Station at $20 million.

"Portal" in Kendrick Park.  $10,000 covered by private fundraising

Thus the town would have gone from spending zero tax dollars on public art over the past six or seven years to spending $500,000 in the next six or seven years. Yikes!

But the main reason it did not pass is because the bylaw would not fund performing arts because they are too ephemeral. And apparently Hell hath no fury like a pissed off performing artist.

Others also had concerns about who would be the Art Czar.

The bylaw gave the Town Manager final authority on what project goes where and since art appreciation is not part of a Public Administration degree program those decisions could be controversial.

Although when the Select Board announces they have come to terms with new Town Manager Paul Bockelman, they should do a photo shoot of him riding aboard Hope.

Economic Development Czar On A Roll

Geoffrey Kravitz addresses Town Meeting
The town's relatively new Economic Development Director Geoffrey Kravitz is two for two with Town Meeting issues, speaking against a Planning Board article on Monday and a Vince O'Connor (who is a one man Planning Board) "citizens petition" article last night, in both cases on grounds it could stifle development.

Planning Board lost another one 

The Planning Board wished to tweak the rules governing a "mixed use" building which allows a little more leeway on the part of developers and Mr. O'Connor wished to close what he views as a loophole allowing developers of mixed use buildings to avoid the town's Inclusionary Zoning bylaw that mandates 10% of residential units be "affordable."

 Vince O'Connor lost another one

Of course Mr. O'Connor's article only failed because it requires a two-thirds vote. Since the article did garner way more than a majority (100 yes to 61 No) Mr. Kravitz had better remain vigilant.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Shunning Continues

Black Scholars Rising Celebration

Last night's Black Scholars Rising celebration in the Amherst Regional Middle School auditorium was better attended than the most recent Town Meeting sessions held there as hundreds of friends, families, students, civic leaders and school officials came together to celebrate the miracle of education.

Notably absent, however, was a proud black single mother trying to do her best for a young daughter.

The stay away order issued against Aisha Hiza on March 15 is still in effect, although apparently some school officials were not overly concerned that she would turn into a ninja/zombie with an AK47.

Either way, Superintendent Maria Geryk didn't go out of her way to make Aisha comfortable ... and an opportunity for healing was lost.

"It's just one more thing," said Aisha.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

There Goes The Beer Money

APD & AFD on scene West Cemetery yesterday for intoxicated mid-40s male

Amherst police arrested five homeless individuals -- Mark Jarrott, Angel Rivera, Matthew Roy, Paul Scace, and Troy Ward -- on Friday night behind the Jones Library on "open container" town bylaw violations.

 Mark Jarrott stands before Judge O'Grady

Click to enlarge/read

Now on any warm fall or spring semester weekend on the outskirts of UMass, it's not unusual for APD to make two or three times that number of arrests for the same infraction.  But kinda of a big difference between college aged youths and these gentlemen, who are pretty much repeat offenders. 

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday all five had their charges converted from criminal to civil and were assessed the town's $300 bylaw fine fee.  They were, however, credited $90 for "time served," three days at the Hampshire County House of Correction.

Usual suspects at Strong House Historical Garden

See The Light

I'm going to have to start a "stupid criminal of the week" series.  Sean Dowers takes the time to dress up like a Ninja, uses burglary tools to neutralize a back door lock under cover of darkness, but then turns on the lights in a closed storefront business with lots of windows.

Click to enlarge/read
Sean Dowers, age 22, stands before Judge William O'Grady

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Dowers was assigned a public defender ($150 charge assessed) and had his case continued until next month. He was released on $250 bail taken out of the original $1,000 bail posted for his release.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Soaring Sunday

Design Building

As much as I'd love to show aerial shots of construction projects going up in the downtown by private sector taxpaying entities, I can't shoot what doesn't exist.

 Crotty Hall

But there's plenty of construction going on at our favorite institutes of higher education, with UMass in the lead by a l-o-n-g shot.  Of course they are also a lot bigger by a long shot than Amherst or Hampshire Colleges.

 Ye Old Chapel
 UMass South College
UMass Science Building
 Amherst College Greenway Dorms
Hitchcock Center Living Building.  On Hampshire College property

Slow Ride, Take It Easy

Corner of Rt 9 and South Pleasant Street opposite Town Common

When those ubiquitous white tents pop in town center like mushrooms on a moist summer morn you know the last of our institutes of higher education is jettisoning their graduates off to the real world,  while sending Amherst into summer mode.

 Boltwood Avenue, other side of Town Common

And since this is their 195th such occasion you know I can only be talking about Amherst College, our number one landowner, number one taxpayer, and an entity so enthralled with our little college (before we had any) town, they named themselves after us.

 Main quadrangle this morning

Lord Jeffery Inn, Boltwood Avenue

Of course they caved to pressure brought by rebellious students last winter, a movement that is now ABD (All But Dead), and announced they would be changing the name of the Lord Jeff to something that could not trigger a reaction, but they have yet to announce what that name will be.

Maybe someday I'll have to change the name of my blog.

 Only in Emilyville.