Showing posts with label John Musante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Musante. Show all posts

Monday, August 22, 2016

First Day

 Paul Bockelman, Amherst Town Hall

Paul Bockelman started his first day on the job as the new permanent Town Manager replacing Temporary Town Manager Pete Hechenbleikner who replaced acting Town Manager Dave Ziomek who replaced John Musante when he died unexpectedly almost one year ago.

While Mr. Bockelman was heading back up the stairs to his new office the Amherst Cable Advisory Committee was meeting in the room next door, fomenting revolution.

The CAC is very unhappy with the final offer from Comcast on a ten year cable license renewal with a drop dead deadline of September 26.

Temporary Town Manager Hechenbleikner was happy enough with it to recommend it to the Select Board on his final day in office, August 1st.

But at their meeting last week the Select Board unanimously passed a motion underscoring their unhappiness with the proposed contract as well:

"Voted that the Town Manager communicate to our counsel that the Select Board is not satisfied with the proposed contract with Comcast because of the need for a more specific understanding about the availability of high definition and electronic program guide for PEG channels and our conclusion that the proposed capital budget does not meet our community's needs and expectations as expressed through the ascertainment process and our knowledge of community needs."
In addition the town is currently in a water crisis just as our #1 demographic -- college aged youth -- start returning to our institutes of higher education as Amherst is a three company town: UMass, Amherst & Hampshire Colleges.

Well, mainly UMass -- our states flagship of higher education.

And our public schools, once a source of civic pride, are in chaos after the sudden sour departure of Superintendent Maria Geryk, the highest paid town employee.  With first day of school only a week away.

Perhaps Mr. Bockelman should be wearing something more comfortable on his first day, as he most certainly will need to hit the ground running.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Story Of The Year 2015

John Musante

The sudden tragic death of Town Manager John Musante on an otherwise beautiful Sunday morning last September, just as summer turns to fall, is my local story of the year. How could it not be?

Like a large projectile fired into a calm expanse of water the detonation created ripples bordering on a rip tide that will be felt for many years to come.

Not that he was the perfect Town Manager. Heck, he wasn't even the first choice of the Select Board almost ten years ago when they chose, ugh, Larry Shaffer over him.

But the Select Board got it right the second the time around when he was chosen (2010) without an expensive time consuming search after Mr. Shaffer suddenly disappeared. And as I said at the time, immorality is something you never have to worry about with John Musante. Or bad financial decisions.

Although his diffidence in dealing with NIMBYs did cost us greatly in losing the Gateway Project, a collaboration with UMass that could have resulted in a potential $50+ million addition to the tax rolls in badly needed commercial/residential mixed use development.

And the original solar array project on the old landfill was also sabotaged by NIMBYs, although he turned that around just before his death.

While our current form of government is inefficient and outmoded, with John Musante at the helm the good ship Amherst always stayed on a slow steady course of financial solvency.

Still, the vital asset I will miss most about Mr. Musante was his keen sense of humor. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Appointing A New Leader

Town Hall in a fog since untimely death of John Musante September 20th

Since Amherst citizens are nothing if not outspoken the Amherst Select Board -- who expects to appoint a new Town Manager this summer -- wishes to hear your input at three upcoming forums about criteria for hiring that new leader:

Bernie Lynch from Community Paradigm Associates, seen here at 12/21 Select Board meeting, will facilitate

My only suggested requirement is that he/she have a thick skin.  But I'm sure they will be forewarned about the blogosphere.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Lonely At The Top?

Town Manager John Musante in happier times (2013)
Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek (center) October, 2016

Undoubtedly the sudden shocking death of John Musante left a cavernous hole to fill in town government's top position.

And for anyone having known and worked beside him for a good number of years, I can see why they would think twice about it even if it is the 2nd highest paid position in town.

I was a bit taken aback on Monday night when Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer, her voice shaking, announced that Interim Town Manager Dave Ziomek would not be seeking the job permanently so he could return to his Assistant Town Manager/Conservation Director position by January 31, 2016.

Having just sat through a two hour heated discussion over a beer/wine permit for a local convenience store in the north end of downtown I should have been more prepared for that bombshell announcement.

Because there's a distinct connection between the two issues.  The main reason Amherst Center Store was granted a controversial liquor license by a 3-2 vote is that Glenn Hamill is a mom-and-pop small business owner with a solid reputation for hands-on management.

 Glenn Hamill countering NIMBY criticism at Monday night Select Board hearing

When you own a small business there are a thousand details a day to occupy your undivided attention and not enough time during a 24 hour cycle to attend to all of them.  And if you're really lucky, you maybe get Christmas or Thanksgiving off for a very brief reprieve.

 Amherst Center Store, one of three convenience stores owned by Glenn Hamill

Although since Mr. Hamill's  new Amherst convenience store is open 24/7, probably not for him.

Running a $80+ million college town is probably almost as hard, even with the top shelf department heads currently in place.

 Assistant Chiefs Don McKay, Lindsay Stromgren (ctr) and Chief Tim Nelson

A few years ago when AFD Chief Keith Hoyle retired number two in command, Assistant Chief Lindsay Stromgren, was a shoe in to replace him.  Except he did not apply.  As with Mr. Ziomek there's personal life beyond the job, and where the buck stops eats into that all the more.

Chief Livingstone at Select Board beer/wine permit hearing Monday night:  "I have zero concerns on this particular license."

When APD Chief Charlie Scherpa retired in 2009 there was an in house competition for his replacement by two very good men, Scott Livingstone and Mike Kent. And when Mr. Kent did not get the nod he soon left the department for the Chief's job in Burlington, Mass.

So in house competition does have its draw backs.

 Ad to appear in tomorrow's Amherst Bulletin

Especially now with the Amherst For All Charter change enthusiasts fast closing in on enough signatures to bring the idea of altering our form of government to the ballot this coming spring.

The big mistake the last Charter Commission made a decade ago was to cater to the popularity of then Town Manager Barry Del Castilho by retaining that position while replacing Select Board/Town Meeting with a (weak)Mayor and Town/City Council.

 Barry Del Castilho attending John Musante's funeral service ceremony in town center

This time around it's unlikely that major mistake will be repeated, so the new Town Manager will be out of a job, or demoted.  Thus it's very likely to impact the search for a new "permanent" Town Manager coming up over the next few months.

After all, who wants to apply to be captain of the good ship Titanic? 

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Lasting Legacy

It's fitting the first expenditure out of the $200,000+  Eva Schiffer fund, established when her gifted home on Kendrick Place was sold to benefit Amherst Housing Authority lower income clients, will be a charitable donation in the name of beloved Town Manger John Musante, who died unexpectedly on an otherwise glorious Sunday morning a few weeks back.

 27 Kendrick Place sold for $225,000 netting the AHA $209,000

The home was eventually purchased in an open bidding process by Finance Director Sandy Pooler who was Town Manager Musante's first appointment almost five years ago after he replaced Larry Shaffer.

Connie Kruger, at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Monday, who also worked closely with Mr. Musante in her other role as a Select Board member, liked the idea of a donation to the Amherst Community Center.  That project was one of his last major endeavors.

Since the community health facility will be locating in the nearby Bangs Community Center, chances are many AHA tenants will be using its services.  Kruger deemed that, "resonate with what we do."

But she also suggested the money go towards something tangible like a dental chair that would be long lasting and could hold a plaque attributing the donation in his honor.

The Board did not come up with a final amount, leaving that until their next meeting, but did unanimously pass a motion "to contribute in John Musante's name to the Community Health Center with funds coming from Eva Schiffer account."

AHA Commissioner Peter Jessop confirmed, "I think Eva would approve."

Denise LeDuc Director, Judy Brooks Chair, Laura Quinn, Connie Kruger, Peter Jessop

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pay The Piper

UMass is by far the town's largest employer

These days -- or most any over the past 35 years -- it's not often I find myself in agreement with forever activist Vince O'Connor, but on this particular issue he's dead on correct.  There, I said it.  Step one in any good multi-step program.

UMass currently pays the town under $500K as a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes courtesy of a "5 year strategic agreement" signed w-a-y back in 2007.  Thus it expired over three years ago but has been extended annually ever since.

I'm told by a reliable source that a new multi year agreement had been on Town Manager John Musante's desk for many, many months now.

His unfortunate passing two weeks ago today could obviously delay even longer the ratification of that new agreement -- if indeed it is worth ratifying.

Because if the amount is under $1 million per year -- which it probably is since Mr. Musante seemed not overly interested in jumping on it even though he had come under pressure of late by the Select Board to get an agreement resigned -- I would tell UMass to go fly a drone, err, kite.

With a Public Safety budget of $10 million and our police and fire/EMTs dealing with UMass students on and off campus amounting to 25% of our emergency services utilization, that alone comes to $2.5 million the town should be reimbursed.

 Amherst FY16 (ends June 30, 2016) budget

And with UMass grad students sending their children to our public schools (56 total, times our high $20K per year average cost to educate) that comes to another $1 million plus per year.

If UMass were smart -- and they are after all a "higher education" enterprise -- they would seek to cut a new five year deal as soon as possible.

Because if Representative Kulik's bill passes to force tax-exempts to pay 25% of their assessed value, and Amherst and Hampshire College end up paying for more than UMass there will be hell to pay.

This year Amherst College paid the town $130,000 -- up from the previous year's $90,000 -- for AFD fire/EMS services while Hampshire College paid us a BIG fat zero.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Skin Of The Earth

Sculptured artwork "Essential Voyage" Amherst North Common

Perhaps it's fitting that in one of his final acts as Town Manager John Musante approved the placement on our historic North Town Common the fragile artwork "Essential Voyage," a life sized sculpture made of raw clay, hemp fiber, chicken wire and wood.

Artist creator Valerie Gilman sees it as microcosm of life and, all too inevitably, death:

"As the clay dries it will shrink and crack and as the rainwater falls on it, it will wash away the clay.  This process of decay is part of the piece.  We are part of the skin of the earth and our lives are temporary here."

Ms. Gilman has dedicated this timely public art project to the memory of John Musante, gone from this life far too soon.  

There will be an open reception during the Chamber of Commerce Art Walk on Thursday, October 1st with the artist and her collaborator Margaret Bowrys, who was the model for the sculpture.  Bowrys will also perform an improvisational dance.

Over the course of the next few months the artwork will, by design, degrade.  And on December 1st, that which remains will be removed. 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Remembering John Musante

Amherst Select Board met briefly this Monday morning
Scroll down for updates

In a brief sorrowful meeting this morning in the Town Manager's office the 5-member Amherst Select Board came together in an emergency meeting more for grief therapy than policy work. 

Chair Alisa Brewer, her voice cracking, thanked town employees and the general public who have stepped up in this time of sadness and grief.

The town flag was lowered to half staff yesterday at her order and will stay in that somber position of mourning until interment, which has yet to be finalized.

 AFD Central Station in mourning over the loss of John Musante

Just prior to the scheduled 8:30 AM meeting SB member Connie Kruger apologized to the press for the confusion and slightly late start of the meeting saying, "None of us have ever been here before."

During the meeting Ms. Kruger asked if other symbols like black bunting could be placed on Town Hall so people coming in today would understand the somber atmosphere or maybe even decide not to do routine business today.

The Select Board will still meet tonight at 6:30 PM and their first order of business will be to appoint Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek interim Town Manager.

Chair Alisa Brewer closed the meeting at 8:51 AM saying, "I hope we all can find a place and space to talk about our friend, John."

 Snow globe occupying Town Manager John Musante's office chair
 Dave Ziomek Interim Town Manager, SB Chair Alisa Brewer 

The Select Board voted unanimously at their regularly scheduled -- although far more somber than usual -- 6:30 PM meeting to make Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek Interim Town Manager.

Hopefully after the shock of losing John Musante somewhat subsides they will also vote unanimously to remove the term "Interim".

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Sad, Sad Sunday Indeed

Amherst Town Manager John Musante 1961-2015

Some days I wish I did not listen so closely to first responder radio traffic, or know the town and town officials so well.

With medical calls I try not to listen all that carefully mainly because they are, usually, private and only subject to public scrutiny if it involves a high ranking pubic official.

Well in our little town they don't come any higher ranking (or nicer) than Town Manager John Musante.  And it's my very sad duty to report he passed away in his sleep, possibly from a heart attack. 

Amherst Ambulance (A4) with four aboard (usual crew is two) responded to his home Sunday morning around 8:45 AM and had a major Amherst police escort to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.  Umass and Hadley police assisted with traffic control at intersections along the way.

As many of you may remember our Town Manager suffered a head injury four years ago after falling while out walking his dog.  And in late July he fractured his foot in another accident while walking  back to his dorm room where he was attending a professional development course at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge.

 John Musante was kick off speaker at town's Solar presentation last week and seemed happy with the public response to a solar array on closed landfill

But he seemed happy and healthy of late.  I would often see him walking along Main Street around the lunch hour for exercise, and he was out mingling with the general public at the Celebrate Amherst Block Party on Thursday night.

John Musante, a long time Amherst resident, replaced Larry Shaffer as Town Manager in 2010 but had served as Finance Director since 2004.

Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek, who is in Philadelphia at the moment, will become interim Town Manager.

 Town Manager John Musante with Amherst Select Board. Chair Alisa Brewer (center)

The Amherst Select Board has a regularly scheduled Monday meeting tomorrow night.  Open Meeting Law allows for, "Topics the Chair did not reasonable anticipate 48 hours before the meeting".

And this shocking event is something nobody could have anticipated.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Troubles At The Top?

Town Manager Musante (right), SB Chair Alisa Brewer (left)

Tonight the long awaited evaluation of the Town Manager by the 5 member elected Select Board on his progress with 15 goals in various areas of responsibility showed interesting criticism from the two most experienced members of our executive branch -- Chair Alisa Brewer and Jim Wald.

Ms. Brewer gave Mr. Musante "unsatisfactory" a total of nine times (out of possible 44) while Mr. Wald checked it off five times.

Brewer and Wald were in unanimous agreement in response to goal #5, "Relationship With the Select Board"  by giving him "unsatisfactory" to the same five of eight statements. Ouch!

Brewer and Wald checked off "unsatisfactory" to 5 of 8 statements

In fact the other three SB members did not issue a single "unsatisfactory" out of all 44 response statements.

Last week 13 current and former Regional School officials evaluated Superintendent Maria Geryk, currently the highest paid town employee ($158,000), on a bevy of criteria but only a single "unsatisfactory" was issued.

The Select Board will meet again before the end of the month in Executive Session to make Mr. Musante a contract offer and presumably a raise from his current $150,000 salary.

So it will be interesting to see -- especially with this surprising number of "unsatisfactory" scores -- if he gets the 5.5% raise necessary to make him the highest paid employee in town.

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Although statement G should probably include Blogs, Facebook and Twitter 

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 Selectman Jim Wald reacts to media coverage (and my title) on his blog

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Recreational Alliance

Community Field (rt), War Memorial Pool (ctr) High School Field (left)

The Amherst Center Recreation Working Group looks like it is finally getting off the drawing board as members will be announced before the end of August with a kick off meeting to take place in September.

Since the group will be looking at both town and school owned property, it's fitting that the first meeting will occur in September when our education oriented town springs back into life after an all too brief summer hiatus.

Town Manager John Musante originally announced the study committee back in December, 2014 although the Leisure Services & Supplemental Education (Rec Dept) Commission originally complained back in 2010 about the embarrassing conditions at Community Field.

 Field named after "Mr. Baseball" Stan Ziomek, father of Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek

Then Town Manager Larry Shaffer first floated the idea of a spray park to replace the ailing War Memorial Wading Pool, since demolished by the DPW.   Currently the town is considering Groff Park (not part of the Working Group's study area) as a possible location for a spray park.

 Former site of the War Memorial Wading Pool

The adjacent "big pool", built 1960, was renovated in 2012 via a $200K state grant but the surrounding children's play area has not been updated since President Kennedy was in the White House.

At the Select Board meeting Monday night member Doug Slaughter, who is also a school employee, volunteered to be "liaison" to the new study group.   Director of Facilities (for both the town and schools) Ron Bohonowicz is also expected to be a member.

SB Chair Alisa Brewer strongly suggested Slaughter should be more than just a liaison, aka he should be a voting member of the group.  The Town Manager makes the appointments but they must be approved by the Select Board so it's a safe bet he will take that suggestion.

 Wildwood School (below), Middle School (left), Hawthorn property (top right) High School field (top left corner)