Friday, November 21, 2014

If you had to do it all over again would you?

So, here we are in the final stretch of the recall process. We've gone from wondering if recall organizers could get enough signatures to wondering if the Mayor would get enough voided out to avoid a recall, to wondering if the Mayor could be on both parts of the ballot, to wondering if his name should go first, to wondering if there should be a preliminary, to wondering how many flaws a recall law can possibly have!

So, like I said we're in the final stretch and we very likely could see an end result that has Mayor Flanagan recalled on the first part of the ballot, only to win election on the second part of the ballot. For all the people out there who think this whole recall process is a waste of money won't this just be an "I told you so" moment. Of course there are those who support the recall that think that Judge McGuire's ruling is idiotic or the fix is in or something. I think the truth is  McGuire probably made the right call both on Flanagan being a candidate and on there being no preliminary election. Logically, it doesn't make sense. It seems pretty clear what the intent of the recall law is and having someone recalled in part one only to have them as a candidate in part two seems pretty stupid. Having a preliminary would seem to make a lot of sense because it would narrow down the field of candidates to two and limit the advantage an incumbent with a united base of support might have. But what's intended and what's legal are two different things. Your great aunt could tell you she wants to leave you a nice cash inheritance when she goes but if the will doesn't stipulate it legally you might be out of luck. I spoke to a friend of mine who is a lawyer about Flanagan being a candidate and after he read the ruling he thought McGuire made the right call. After McGwire decision about the preliminary I read his ruling and have to admit it sounds like he got it right again. Also I have to imagine that if the judge ruled the other way, decided despite his legal findings that the intent was clear, these would just become points of appeal for the Flanagan camp. 

But hey, all's not lost! If the people who want to recall the mayor get their vote out and unite behind a candidate Flanagan can still be ousted from office! Yeah, good luck with that! Following some of the discussion on the internet, well Facebook really, what I see is people firmly behind "their" candidate and not a lot of people who seem undecided or even unwilling to budge. Don't get me wrong I think most recall supporters are willing to back one candidate, just as long as it is their candidate. Still, it's a recall election in December, at Christmas time. It's impossible to say what sort of voter turnout we'll have, and that means, that really it's anybody's race. Flanagan has an advantage but if any of his challengers can spark the city's voters to come out and cast a ballot, who knows?

But that brings me to my original thought for this post. If you had to do it all over again would you? If you're one of the original 12 who organized this are you now thinking if you knew about all the loopholes and how everything would pretty much go the Mayor's way that you wouldn't have bothered? What if you're one of the ones who signed the petition in some store parking lot. Do you now wish you didn't? Do you now think if you hadn't you could have helped avoid a bunch of BS and expense? If you have a candidate that you like are you now thinking of staying home on December 16th because, heck the Mayor is just going to win so what's the point?  

I really don't know how many people read anything I blog anymore but I really would love to know what people feel and if they feel this has all been a wasted effort. My take on this? I would sign the recall petition just as eagerly today as I did then. The "intent" behind the recall act is still valid.People should have a right to replace ineffective leadership, flaws and all I support the principal behind the recall law. If on December 16th the majority vote NOT to recall Will Flanagan then he should go forward knowing the majority of those who care to voice their opinion stand behind him. However, if Flanagan IS recalled in the first part of the ballot but manages to win election, I think it's still a victory for those who support the recall. He clearly won't have the support of the people he leads. Will he get the message? I'm not sure but it would be interesting to see how he would handle that and clearly put the focus on 2015. And this is why I also think you should vote for the candidate you think is the best to lead the city forward because the focus is going to be on 2015. People are afraid to vote for a candidate they don't think can win and a candidate who gets strong support now is going to be considered that more seriously then. If the the whole recall does nothing more than get more people involved in their local government then its been a success and well worth the money spent. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stolen Flag Highlights Problems

It's rather disappointing, maybe discouraging is a better word, to learn that the American flag that flies from the flagpole of the Iwo Jima memorial was stolen. I can remember the first time I saw the memorial and how stunned I was by its majesty. I really had to ask myself how did this end up in Fall River? I knew, of course, but I was in some disbelief that somehow, someway, other communities with deeper pocketbooks and maybe more influence didn't figure out someway to get this incredible monument installed in a more 'desirable' location.

Really I couldn't help but to think then that the monument, Bicentennial Park and the entire boardwalk was just an amazing development for Fall River. This development of our waterfront was something we could all be proud of. This was first class, something people from OTHER communities would want to come and see. Seeing the development of restaurants in the area just hint at what the future could hold. At the same time I couldn't help but wonder how long it would be before that element would come in and vandalize the monument or the boardwalk, For a long time the boardwalk and park stayed pretty clean and 'vandal' free. However, the theft of the flag highlights an issue that has been creeping up on us, that the park and boardwalk are being neglected and vandalized on a regular basis.

Over the last year or so I've noticed graffiti that isn't being cleaned up. I see broken balusters on the boardwalk railings, and broken lights (particularly in the area of the Iwo Jima memorial) that just aren't getting fixed. There is this whole broken window theory that basically states if things are not being maintained it's an invitation for vandalism and the more the vandalism goes unchecked the more it invites further vandalism. It makes sense that once you see this element taking hold you have to combat it pretty aggressively. Eventually fixing the balusters and cleaning graffiti are great but if you can't get ahead of the vandals its a losing effort.

The whole area from Heritage State Park to Bicentennial Park is still just an amazing benefit for our community. In warm weather I see all sorts of people utilizing and enjoying it but we need to fix the 'broken windows'. We need to clean up the graffiti, fix the boardwalk, install vandal proof lighting. There's some talk about cameras maybe we should consider it. Perhaps we could find some way to bring in park rangers (possibly a volunteer program?) to tour all our parks and keep an eye on things. The important things is, we need to do SOMETHING. It would be a terrible shame if we let same old elements creep in and rob us of something that truly has been a wonderful highlight for our city.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Who should be the next mayor of Fall River?

So, here we are facing a recall election with a large group of candidates running. I'm curious to see who people are supporting and WHY! Here's my thoughts on who I think the "top" candidates are and assessments about them:

Mayor WIll Flanagan - Regardless of feelings on the Mayor, I just can't see how he could lead and UNIFY the city if he were to retain office after the recall election.

Dave Dennis - A former City Councilor who always seems to be a candidate for office, ANY office. I just don't know if I can support a candidate for Mayor who always seems to be looking for his next elected position.

Sam Sutter - He's got a great reputation as District Attorney but I'm not sure if that's really relatable experience for Mayor. I'd like to learn more about him but I really feel we need someone who has a solid knowledge of the issues Fall River faces.

Mike Miozza - Current City Councilor, always strikes me as a guy who does his homework and is willing to listen. Seems to be a team player on the council, someone that leaves his ego at the door. I think probably THE candidate that can hit the ground running on day one.

Shawn Cadime - He wants to be mayor and seems to have had concerns on the Flanagan administration but those concerns don't come to light until he wants to run for office? There is no doubt that he is good with the finances. Everybody gives him credit for that but that's not the job he's running for and I never thought that he showed much leadership on the school committee

So who do you think the top candidates are? Who are you supporting and why? Is there someone else running that you support? In this recall election your vote CAN make a difference!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Double Dipping and the Need to Consolidate

Good news Recallers, Judge McGuire has ruled the recall can go forward! Bad news, he has also ruled that Mayor Flanagan can be listed as a candidate for election. Personally I can't see how the judge arrived at this conclusion. Having Mayor Flanagan listed as a candidate is sort of like double dipping. The Mayor now has two opportunities to retain his seat. If his supports can't defeat the recall they can vote for him as a candidate and in effect re-elect him. This is baffling because you could have the majority vote for a recall, which obviously means they are unhappy with the mayor, but still see Mayor Flanagan return to office because he has the most consolidated support. The is very likely to be exactly the outcome of the recall. because while there are a great many people who would like to see the mayor removed from office they do not stand united behind any one candidate. The mayor's supporters however do, and they are likely going to be motivated to come out and vote.

According to the Herald News article, the recall organizers are not likely to challenge the judge's ruling but really SOMEONE should challenge it! It seems very clear that the intent of recalling the mayor in part one should preclude him from being a candidate in part two.

That said, if no challenge to the judge's ruling is forthcoming then there is a real need for the other candidates to regroup and decide just WHY are they running and realize that there is a real need for them to consolidate. This is a time for the people who are running for office to really show some leadership by stepping aside and uniting behind a singular candidate. I doubt this will happen because besides all of the platitudes and spoken love for our city and belief in its future, most of these individuals are running not because they want to be mayor plain and simple. Well news is folks none of you are going to get elected if you split the vote a dozen ways. Who should step aside and who should run? Well, if you've never held office, have no name recognition, and no campaign team behind you, you probably should call it quits. I think that will bring it down to about 4 serious candidates and then it's just setting aside the egos and uniting behind the best candidate to face against the mayor.  Easier said than done!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Confidence in No Confidence

So, City Councilor Dan Rego has announced that he plans on asking for a "no confidence" vote against the mayor at next Tuesday's City Council meeting. Why? Really what is the point of this? Anybody who has been paying attention for the last few months can probably figure out where most City Councilors stand on this. Is a vote really necessary? As it is the relationship between Mayor Flanagan and the City Council is as tense as inviting your ex to Thanksgiving dinner. Really, what purpose does this serve? Mayor Flanagan is in the middle of fighting a recall, he's the focus of an ongoing investigation for his late night meeting with Councilor Correia, and of course he and his administration are under fire for "window-gate". If the Mayor doesn't realize that people are seriously questioning any confidence in his leadership already, well then this vote isn't really going to change things!

I mean, hey the whole thing is wonderful drama and great entertainment. I suspect now that TLC has canceled "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" that it's only a matter of time before they come calling to make "The Adventures of Fall River Government" the next program in their dysfunctional lineup. But the problem with a no confidence vote, and to a larger extent the problem with Councilor Rego is our elected officials should strive to stay above the fray. Councilor Rego on the other hand has kind of gotten in the middle of it. He's been featured on YouTube, he has posted on Facebook, and now he's calling for a vote of no confidence. When your role on the City Council seems to be more about getting rid of the guy on the 6th floor than working to improve the city, that's a problem.

Lefty's View: There is so much more I wanted to put into this post but I guess it will have to wait for a sequel! I know to some Councilor Rego's request is welcome and maybe overdue but really I think the only think this does it to create more friction between the City Council and the Mayor. Believe me, I support the recall process but it IS a distraction and how can you get things done when the relationship between the Mayor and the Council makes it impossible for them to work together? There is a certain decorum that elected officials should maintain. I think the idea behind a vote of no confidence is more about show boating then sending a message. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cadime for Mayor?

There are a few things that Fall River has plenty of; Chinese restaurants, hot dog joints, Dunkin Donuts, and apparently mayoral candidates. Former City Administrator/former School Committeeman Shawn Cadime is the latest to announce a run for the big seat at Government Center, which brings the current number of candidates to 10!

On the surface, Cadime would seem to be an ideal candidate. He has name recognition and a feel for both the city's affairs (thanks to his position as City Admin) and of our school system (thanks to his experience on the school committee), however Cadime never struck me as a leader on the school committee and I'm not really sure if being up on the city's finances makes qualified to lead the city and move it forward. Sure, Cadime could be a great mayor, but we'll need to hear and learn more. 

Cadime's announcement might have been billed as the big news story on WSAR today, but the really interesting part of the story was Cadime's insight on the goings on at Government Center. Although Shawn was very professional during the interview with Barry Richards it seems he made it rather clear that Mayor Flannagan often bypassed policies and made decisions on his own. Cadime stated he was often kept out of the loop (remember he's supposed to be City Administrator) and cited personality differences with Corporation Counsel as a big part of the reason that his contract was not renewed.  Shawn indicated that the Mayor relied more on the opinion of Corporation Counsel than of his own, which unless its in regards to a legal matter is rather startling. Shawn also said that the money that was bonded for Government Center repairs was very specific in that it was for bathrooms on the 1st floor and work in the treasurers office and that the Mayor decided to use that money for work to the legal department's offices and the Mayor's office and 6th floor. Cadime also said that mayor is the one who authorized the replacement of at least two windows in the Corporation Counsel's office and that Cadime himself wasn't aware until he saw staging set up outside the building! Certainly for those who feel that Mayor Flanagan is acting more like he was ordained king vs. elected mayor, Cadime just bolstered that argument!

Lefty's View: Just by throwing his hat in the ring, Cadime becomes one of the few contenders with a legitimate shot at winning election. Cadime not only has name recognition, as a former member of the Flanagan administration his criticisms of the Mayor will ring with a certain authority. If there are any Mayoral forums leading up to the recall election expect fireworks if Flanagan and Cadime are allowed to exchange barbs. As entertaining as all this may seem the downside is, that if Flanagan is allowed to have his name on the ballot candidacies like Cadime's, Sutter's, Miozza's, etc, will simply split the vote and give the Mayor an easy "re-election".  

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Sixth Floor Windows Upgrade!

WSAR broke a story this morning that in 2013 a total of 22 windows were installed on the 6th floor of Government Center. The windows were installed in the Mayor's office and the Corporation Counsel office. The windows were installed by Global Glass of New England. This is where the story gets interesting because apparently Global bounced a check to a subcontractor that resulted in an investigation by the Fall River Police Department and that's when it was discovered that there is no paperwork at all in regards to this work. Nothing was sent out to bid, no purchase orders were issued. Somehow 22 windows got installed at Government Center and nobody knows a thing about it. Now what gets even more interesting is when WSAR had Mayor Flanagan on to discuss this he states that since no money changed hands no laws have been violated and that Global did the work at their own peril.

I think the mayor misses the point. You can imagine that 22 windows probably cost quite a bit of money. On top of that there is the cost of installation. The subcontractor was supposed to be paid $50,000 so you can imagine that the total job is substantially more. Global Glass of New England owes the city back taxes so any money they would get paid would have gone towards their tax bill. Somehow we managed to have 22 windows installed. We didn't pay for them and have no record of authorizing the work and the mayor is happy enough to point out that we're not on the hook for any money and because no money changed hands no laws were violated. Maybe this is his idea of great fiscal management? Maybe we can just have contractors do all sorts of repair work at Government Center, not issue paperwork and then not pay them and say 'hey they did it at their own peril!' The fact that we didn't violate any laws because of a missing paper trail is very little comfort in the face of the fact that we had 22 windows installed, nobody questioned why they were being installed and we never paid for them. Where is the oversight?! How do you not ask questions when you see all the windows in your office being replaced?! But you know the mayor isn't the only one who should have been a little intellectually curious what about the work going on at Government Center, really anybody who would have had this paperwork cross their desk, anyone who would have had to approve a purchase order or contract should have wondered 'gee who authorized that'. It didn't happen.

And really the fact that we didn't violate any laws because no money changed hands may comfort the mayor but I really don't think we should sit back and feel we "scored" 22 free windows. Global Glass did the work they deserve to get paid for it by way of having this applied to their tax bill.

Lefty's View: If you heard the baffling exchange today between Mayor Flanagan and Barry Richards on WSAR you'll probably feel that those crystal clear windows are the only thing offering up any transparency on the 6th floor of Government Center!

Update!!! Here is the link to the Mayor discussing this with Barry Richards. Well worth a listen!

Net School Spending, A Flawed Concept?

Net school spending is the amount of money that each school district in the state must spend on education. It is arrived at through a formula and includes a combination of Chapter 70 money and a contribution from the local city or town. 

The issue with net school spending is when a district fails to fund that net school spending at 100%. Communities can actually 'under-fund' the net school spending requirement to 95% but would need to pay additional 5% the following fiscal year. I suppose there are instances where an unintentional shortfall can be made up the following year but what happens when the community is struggling to hit these requirements to begin with and fall short. How does a struggling community pay 5% OVER what it needs to fund to reach 100% because of a carry over amount? And really what good does it do to pay that 5% (or whatever that shortfall amount is) the following year?

To me, this is a little bit like being required to keep your house at a 65 degrees during the winter but because of unforeseen expenses and maybe some budgeting you end up running the thermostat a few degrees cooler. The following winter you're told you need to keep the temperature at 68 degrees to hit the 65 degree requirement plus the shortfall from the previous year. Heck, if you had trouble heating the house at 65 degrees can you afford 68? And will running the thermostat at 68 degrees this winter really do anything to make the house warmer last winter? Of course not. So my concern is twofold, if you struggled to meet your requirements the previous year is it foolish to think you're going to be able to hit them and shortfall the following year? And if you do pay the shortfall forward how does that really help the student who in 4th grade may have been short changed? I just don't believe adding money the following year is going to really make up for the shortfall the year before.

The other issue with net school spending is there are expenses that we have to pay toward a school department that don't count toward that formula. I'm not an expert but I'm pretty sure health insurance is one of those costs. This is a little bit like buying a bunch of stuff off of Amazon and you're hoping to qualify for free shipping but you have a bunch of purchases that don't count toward "Super Saver Shipping". So your total bill is over the amount but you still need to come up with more money to hit the requirement! With something like health insurance cities and towns have been struggling for years with rising health insurance costs, meaning the total spending for the school department is increasing but it doesn't effect the bottom line for net school spending. 

Lefty's View: I really do understand the need to ensure that communities are properly funding their educational system. This is especially true when so much of your local school districts money comes from state funding. However, what that net school spending amount represents as far as a direct impact to the classroom is just not clear. Net school spending does not include health insurance and I believe other real school department costs that the community has to fund. What does it include? When we fund at 95% what impact does that have on the classroom? Net school spending should either represent every school expense or the amount that directly impacts a student's education. If it goes to the amount that directly impacts a student's education we shouldn't be allowed to under-fund it. If it doesn't than a waiver may be appropriate or perhaps, paying back the shortfall over the course of a few years to help ease the financial burden.