Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Just Say No

East Pleasant/Triangle intersection, gateway to UMass

The Amherst Select Board responded Monday to Town Meeting's in your face 95-77 passage of an "advisory article" undoing five years worth of work by DPW staff and hard-working volunteer committees:

Drop dead!  (Or something like that).

 Vince O'Connor led the charge on the advisory petition to sabotage roundabout

After an hour of discussion including DPW Director Guilford Mooring and Public Works Committee Chair Christine Gray-Mullen the Select Board unanimously decided to stay with the roundabout concept rather than take the advice of Town Meeting and simply tweak the current traffic signals.

Mr. Mooring pointed out in order to see any improvement in the traffic lights phasing a new electrical cabinet and poles would need to be installed at a cost of between $140,000 - $200,000.

Ms. Mullen added that a roundabout is far safer than a traditional lighted intersection reducing fatalities by 90% and collisions with pedestrians by 40%.

 Christine Gray-Mullen and Guilford Mooring present to Amherst Select Board

Since work has been ongoing since Spring and all the concrete for the roundabout ordered and paid for the completion of the roundabout itself will only be another $250,000-$300,000.  That will come out of Ch 90 money which does not require Town Meeting approval.

Last year Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported an easement from Bank of America to assist with the roundabout and the town already cut down five trees at the corner of Kendrick Park.

A state $1.5 million Massworks grant is paying for the undergrounding of utility lines and pole removal near this intersection and the DPW did much of the work in-house to save money that will be applied to the roundabout.

Eversource is expected to be done with pole removal by March and the DPW will work full-time through the spring and summer, but take a brief break during graduations.  The overall roundabout should be completely by September 1st.

 The north end of downtown is being revitalized

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Pressure Grows: Raise That Flag

Amherst Select Board will stick heads in sand and hope flag controversy goes away

So as usual I crossed that line between journalist and activist -- which, after 30 years I do pretty well -- and asked the Amherst Select Board during their 6:30 Public Comment segment to get involved with the Hampshire College flag fiasco by pressuring Jonathan Lash to do the right thing.

Since it was public comment their policy is not to discuss or engage with the speaker but I notice a few hours later just before they adjourned Chair Alisa Brewer brought it up because she wanted to give some "direction" to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, a Hampshire College graduate.

Ms. Brewer found the appearance at the rally of Springfield Mayor Sarno "weird" since he has no connection to Amherst in general or Hampshire College in particular.  She struggled with the idea of attending because she is after all Amherst's highest elected official but decided it would be "awkward."

Andy Steinberg pointed out each of the five Select Board members are kind of like one fifth of a Mayor so it's hard to act like an actual mayor aka  Mayor Domenic Sarno.

None of the five Select Board members expressed interest in now getting involved in the dispute since Hampshire College is a private tax exempt facility.

Although that would be some leverage since unlike Amherst College who pays the town $120,000 Payment In Lieu Of Taxes for Amherst Fire Department services Hampshire College pays the town nothing.

Thus this internationally embarrassing flag flap is now only going to get worse.  I told the Select Board another rally was planned for December 10th but now I see from my Facebook feed that one will also be held this Sunday as well.

Maybe this time Chair Alisa Brewer will attend to experience the power of people rising up in defense of the America way.   Even in Amherst.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Awash In Red White & Blue

Large crowd was orderly and respectful

If Hampshire College is trying to forget what our flag looks like, well over 500+ folks from all walks of life showed up Sunday at their front gate to remind them.  Let's hope that even institutes of higher education can benefit by a teachable moment (or in this case a teachable hour).

Video taken 12:30 PM
 The crowd started gathering before noon for the 1:00 PM rally

Video taken 1:50 PM
B2 briefly put a flag back up on Hampshire College main flagpole

 Only their main flag in campus center was banned
Hampshire College Police Department and Alumni Relations flags still fly
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno
Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan

VFW Post 754 main sponsor of the demonstration  getting ready at 11:30 AM

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Homeless Shuffle

Daniel Davenport storms away from APD  Friday morning last week

The "streets of Amherst" will be shy one of our regulars for a while as Daniel Davenport was arrested last week about 12 hours after I took his photo stomping away from the Amherst police department angry about a perceived mistreatment.

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday the Commonwealth had his bail revoked from a previous case of Breaking & Entering where he was found guilty and both cases will be reviewed on November 29th.

Just last night an officer on patrol called Dispatch to have them leave a note for DPW that the lower level of the parking garage was a total mess, with trash and debris strewn about and an overpowering stench from feces and urine.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Those Who Fail To Learn From History

Hampshire College is the 3rd largest landowner in Amherst (but pays no property taxes)

So you know an issue has really gone stratospheric on the national stage when Snopes weighs in on it.  

The flag controversy at Hampshire College -- or perhaps I should say the lack of a flag -- is streaking along the same fast track to Public Relations nightmare Amherst regrettably wallowed in 15 years ago ... a shit-storm only pigs would love.

On the eve of 9/11 the Amherst Select Board voted to allow 29 commemorative flags to fly in the downtown on only 6 occasions and to keep them down until the first day on that list -- Veteran's Day.

At that now infamous 9/10/01 meeting a UMass professor branded our flag "A symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression."  It would be later dubbed by the Wall Street Journal in a front page article as "The ill timed quote of the century."

Because of course only 12 hours later terrorism and death and fear and destruction reined down from a crystal clear blue sky, and before the smoke cleared 3,000 innocent people were dead.

To show what a slows news day 9/11 started out as, the Associated Press put out a brief mention of the Amherst flag flap story around dawn that morning.

In the wake of information overload a few hours later as stunning images beamed worldwide of Twin Towers making their last stand, both Fox News and CNN erroneously reported that Amherst was banning the rights of private citizens to fly the American flag.


And now we have Snopes correcting that same mistake about the current flag flap.

Obviously Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash has little to no institutional memory, otherwise he would have leaned from the Amherst 9/11 commemorative flag debacle.

Especially since Hampshire College students and a professor were involved with burning American flags at an Amherst College rally only six weeks later, which garnered nationwide condemnation. 

Let's hope Mr. Lash shows up Sunday afternoon for the rally-round-the-flag demonstration at his front gate.

After all, seeing is believing. (But you have to remove your head from your ass.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

In The Name Of Freedom

On Sunday Hampshire College will learn a valuable lesson that one would think an institute of higher education would find self evident:  Don't mess with Old Glory.

Or to be more precise, Free Speech is a two-way street.  You have a right to say what you will but folks have the same right to respond.

Removing the American flag from the prominent location it formerly occupied in the center of campus borders on hate speech.

From half staff to gone

As a private institution Hampshire College can do whatever it wants with their flag, but by choosing to cave in to demands of privileged white kids they have embarrassed the town on a national stage.

So lets bring some glorious colors to Hampshire this Sunday afternoon:  red, white, and blue.

Decision universally panned on Hampshire College Facebook page 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


It's one of those touchstone moments that comes along maybe once a generation, and is then handed down from that deleterious day forward to all future generations.

For the current generation it was that gorgeous late summer Tuesday morning when death came calling from the skies, bringing down those majestic Twin Towers of glass and steel with thousands of innocent people still inside.

For our grandparents generation it was December the 7th, 1941, a date which thus far has lived in infamy.

But for us aging baby boomers it was that early Friday afternoon exactly 53 years ago when breathless breaking news bulletins first somewhat prepared us for the unthinkable:  "Shots fired on the Presidential motorcade". 

All too many of which, found their mark.

Never have gray November skies seemed so cold and lifeless, never has silence been so sustained as the world seemed to come to a complete stop for days on end.

While our innocence was lost that awful day in Dallas, our resolve was not.  We are still the greatest country on the planet, although we bear scars from all these catastrophic events. 

As long as we remember who we are and from where we've come, the future beams brightly indeed.

Let's Put On A Demonstration!

Wildwood School Building Project: Back to the drawing board
Parents and their children demonstrate in front of Middle School auditorium

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always had the perfect answer to a social problem requiring a sudden infusion of cash:  "Let's put on a show!"  And with talent like Ms. Garland, how could it fail? 

Last night almost 200 Town Meeting members had to negotiate a gauntlet of Mega School supporters numbering over 100 but all confined into a rather small space directly in front of the entry to the Middle School auditorium where Town Meeting convenes.

Had this been an election and the auditorium a polling place they would have been required to stand a lot farther back as election law bans demonstrations within 150 feet of the polling booth.

Last night was our 4th and thankfully last session and since no Town Meeting member made a "Motion to reconsider Article 2," the only chance for the $67 million Mega School is for the Select Board to call a Special Town Meeting by a simple majority vote or for citizens to collect 100 signatures to call one by petition, either of which has to happen before February 2nd.

But it's not like the make up of Town Meeting is going to change over the next two months so the likelihood of another Special Town Meeting suddenly supporting the school project borrowing with a two thirds vote is pretty much zero.

Town Meeting was criticized yet again for ignoring "the will of the voters" who ever so narrowly supported the new school at the November 8th election.  But it did fail to even garner a majority since 10.4% of the voters did not bother to weigh in on Question 5.

Amherst had a 68% turnout for the Presidential election and Question 5 passed 45.21% to 44.38% or less than one percent. 

Town Meeting on the first night had a 88% turnout and Article 2 failed by 50.47% to 49.53% or less than 1%, which sounds pretty identical to the "will of the voters" to me.

Unless you think a demonstration of will is washing down that second slice of chocolate cake with a diet coke. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

And Our Flag Was NOT Still There

Barren flagpole at Hampshire College this Sunday morning

Hampshire College has symbolically seceded  from The Union, although I'm sure the Governor or President will not bother sending in troops to bring them back into the fold.  No great loss.

Last week Hampshire College acquiesced in the best Neville Chamberlain fashion to the vocal minority and lowered the flag to half staff as a sign of mourning over the surprising election of a Presidential candidate not of their choosing.

Since our flag is only lowered to honor and remember the dead, doing so for petty reasons only demeans the sacred act itself.  A better choice would be to fly the flag upside down as a symbol of distress.

Then after miscreant students burned the flag they put up a new one in time for Veteran Day, but still at half staff.

But now they have sunk even lower by removing the American flag entirely.  Although the brave bureaucrats chose the perfect time as area colleges and UMass take a Thanksgiving break and then we're on a fast track to Christmas, err, the "Holiday Season," and the end of the semester.

 Although as of Monday morning a flag is still flying at Hampshire College PD

It would be one thing if Hampshire College were an upstanding good citizen of Amherst but they are the only tax exempt institute of higher education  who pays nothing for our vital ambulance and fire department protection and yet continually tie up AFD with "cooking smoke" false alarms.

And they loved getting all the free press from the left leaning bricks and mortar media for their scholarship program for undocumented students who do not have official citizenship.  

So yeah Hampshire College, by all means, lets welcome those who come to this great country to make a better life for themselves through education but at the same time show disrespect for the ultimate symbol of who and what we are:  the American flag.

Amherst College flag atop Johnson Chapel.  That's the way I always heard it should be

DUI Double Dishonor Roll

Matthew Dupont, age 38, stands before the Judge

Let's hope this weekend closes out one better than last weekend, although only one drunk driving arrest was still better than average.

But in the case of Matthew Dupont, his second offense, and with a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .23 -- almost three times the limit -- he was a deadly event waiting to happen.

And we already had one too many of those this year.

Click to enlarge/read

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Friday Follies

Craig's Place Homeless Shelter at First Baptist Church opened November 1st

Maybe it was the nice weather combined with the recent reopening of the Homeless Shelter but in the span of just a couple hours APD responded to three separate calls relating to our less fortunate denizens who call "the streets of Amherst" home.

Police had to respond to Town Manager Paul Bockelman's office because one irate homeless man was angrily confronting Mr. Bockelman about a perceived injustice in his treatment by either APD or District Court.

But police did not have to go far to find him because as they headed to Town Hall he left and headed to the police station to yell at them.

Kind of funny in one respect I suppose.  But the real problem with these types of antics is it diverts police from potentially mores serious activities.

About a minute before the Town Manager called, Dispatch sent two units to an apartment complex in East Amherst for a possible domestic abuse in progress.

Since these calls can be very serious (a leading cause of death for police officers) you always send in more than one unit.  But since no other units were available one of them had to break off and divert back to Town Hall to assist the Town Manager.

 Homeless man angrily walks away from APD

Fortunately the domestic situation was nothing serious and after blowing off steam yelling at the Town Manager and police the homeless man stomped off towards town center.

A few minutes later police responded back to town center because another group of homeless individuals loitering in front of businesses were hassling a UPS delivery man and other store patrons.  Officers quickly "moved them along."

 Police moved along a gaggle of homeless folks from in front of downtown businesses

And over the course of the day Dispatch fielded a few calls for "Football Phil" walking in and out of traffic holding his nasty anti-Hillary sign.  You may remember Phil as he also did the same last spring holding a nasty anti-Bernie sign.

 Football Phil with a political sign instead of his football in front of AFD Central Station

Like an Internet troll, Phil loves to rile people up.  He also came close to being arrested for aggressively confronting Amherst Regional High School students who walked out of school in protest on Monday and marched to the downtown, which is of course his personal playground.

Saturday 2:00 PM.  The entire APD shift called to town center after woman calls 911 saying Phil punched a woman.  My guess is she got physical with him first.  Which is of course exactly what he wants.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Kickin' Kurt Strikes Again

Kurt Geryk, age 51, stands before the Judge

It's been a bad week for the Geryk household. 

On Monday night Amherst Town Meeting killed the $67 million school building project almost singlehandedly hatched by (former) Superintendent Maria Geryk that would have somewhat salvaged her legacy in spite of the $309,000 she coerced out of the diffident Amherst Regional School Committee three months ago.

Just as President Obama's legacy is already somewhat under a cloud because you-know-who became President instead of the anointed Queen.

Over the weekend Geryk's often volatile but always behind-the-scenes husband Kurt was arrested for assaulting a church door, messing with the last guy on APD you would want to get physical with -- Lt. Gabe Ting -- and even somewhat assaulting a Catholic priest.

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Tuesday Kurt Geryk accepted the somewhat standard plea deal for this somewhat unusual incident:  Count One (Assault & Battery) was dropped and he was found "responsible" for Count Two (Trespassing), but it was diverted to a civil rather than criminal complaint. 

He was fined $100 which he paid immediately (probably out of the $309K).

Click to enlarge/read
Click to enlarge/read

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Best Laid Plans

Town Meeting redirected the preliminary path hatched by town officials to deal with four major building projects by turning down the two-for-one $67 million Mega School that would have orphaned Fort River, a preferred site for the new DPW thus allowing the new South Fire Station to occupy their former (really) old site next to my house.

Fort River Elementary School

Last night Town Meeting added more delay by voting down the $350,000 for Schematic Design of the DPW a kind of stage 2 process, but did approve $75,000 for South Fire Station stage 1 study.  But if that study shows the DPW site to be the best choice for the new Fire Station then that confirms the additional delay of a at least a year.

 Current DPW is located in 100 year old former Trolley building

And the town has already squandered 50 years delaying the new South Fire Station.

Preliminary figures bandied about for the new Fire Station are in the $12 million range and the new DPW three times that with no state reimbursement.   The Jones Library expansion/renovation in the $32 million range with the state paying $15 million, private donations of $5 million, and a taxpayer Debt Exclusion Override of $12 million.

And the just torpedoed $67 Mega School was to be 50% state funded the other half a Debt Exclusion Override.

AFD Central Station a sardine can for expensive equipment

If the town really wanted to score points with some of us curmudgeons they would tap our $12 million in stashed away reserves and light a fire under the new Fire Station process.

With that vital necessity out of the way the other projects stand a better chance because the town would have demonstrated it knows how to set priorities. (For a change.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sour Grapes

Amherst School Committee 11/15/16

Rather than accept the losing vote as an indication that something was not right with the exceedingly expensive building project, three-fifths of the School Committee chose to bitterly blame Town Meeting for not upholding the "will of the people" from last week's ballot vote.

But you have to wonder if those three are math challenged since the two votes mirrored each other almost identically ... except for the outcome.

In 1968 President Johnson beat challenger Gene McCarthy by 7% in the New Hampshire primary but not nearly the margin he should have won by.  So he quit the race.

A 50.47% margin is fine when only a majority is required but still, to quote Eric Nakajima, "indicates the town is deeply divided."  But when that same measure required 66.67% a razor thin majority is NOT EVEN CLOSE.

In fact even the "popular vote" last Tuesday they are so quick to cite the question DID NOT GET A MAJORITY.  Out of the 15,089 votes cast 1,571 (10.4%) left the Mega School question blank.  So the overall vote carried by only 45.21% in favor to 44.38% against or less than a majority.

Perhaps Mr. Nakajima is showing his experience with elections.  He told his fellow committee members that he voted for the measure in Town Meeting, "but was not surprised by the result".

And now it's time to move forward to address those two buildings shortcomings in a manner that will win broad support.

"Everyone in town owns the solution."

Marla reads SASS statement.  Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer sits behind her.  Rockwell Town Meeting iconic illustration top right

Marla Goldberg-Jamate read a statement to the Committee during public comment from the winning side, Save Amherst Small Schools:

Click to enlarge/read

Acting Superintendent Mike Morris told the Committee he has ten days to ask the state for an extension but will not since Town Meeting, "Emphatically said no."

And he would start the process to reapply to the MSBA as soon as possible but would do so under the "core program" and not the "accelerated repair program" since both buildings needs extensive work.

Since Wildwood has been updated more over the recent past it may very well be Fort River that will now step up to the plate for MSBA funding.  Fort River is in need of a  $1+ million roof replacement while Wildwood is in need of a $400,000 new boiler.

Ironically Town Meeting appropriated the $400,000 for the Wildwood boiler a few years ago but then that money was diverted into the $1 million schematic design that came up with the just defeated Mega School.

 Vince O'Connor tells School Committee the $350,000 Town Meeting will vote on tonight for DPW schematic design should be redirected to school building issue

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Just Say No

Town Meeting members had to negotiate a gauntlet of No supporters to get to auditorium
After two hours and twenty minutes of discussion Town Meeting voted no

In spite of narrow (50.8%) ballot support last week, 100% Select Board support, and a rah rah Daily Hampshire Gazette editorial, Amherst Town Meeting rejected the $66.4 million new Mega School by almost the same margin it passed on November 8.

The measure required a two thirds vote to pass since it involved borrowing but did not even muster a majority, losing 106 to 108 or 49.53% yes to 50.47% no.

The fatal flaw was not so much in the bricks and mortar construction -- the idea of twin schools under one roof -- but in the paradigm shift it would bring to neighborhood schools turning Crocker Farm into an "early childhood center" (Kindergarten and 1st grade) and building a Mega School for co-located 2-6 grades.

After the fall of former Superintendent Maria Geryk (who landed on a $300,000 cushion) the Select Board should have delayed both the ballot vote and Town Meeting article.

They have until February 2 so there's plenty of time to call another Special Town Meeting to try again, but with the stunning setback last night it's highly unlikely it would prevail.