Monday, June 30, 2008

SouthCoast Photo of the Month


Here it is June's SouthCoast Photo of the month!

By the time I was able to go back to the car and grab my camera, this rainbow was already starting to fade away. There is something about rainbows that really are just magical. The bands of color streaking across the sky never cease to bring out the innocence in children, and the child in all of us.

"My heart leaps up when I behold A rainbow in the sky" - William Wordsworth


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Are you an avid picture taker? Do you have a shot you're particularly proud of? Perhaps just a shot that you'd like to share? Submit it here for the SouthCoast Photo of the Month! Send submissions to aviewfrombattleshipcove@google.com

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Notable Home for Sale in Fall River's Highlands

Photograph by Shelley Dziedzic

Does your current home feel oppressive and cramped? Is your home not in the 'best' of neighborhoods? Would you just kill for a larger, more prestigious home, in the fashionable section of town?

Have I got the house for you!

The Charles M. Allen house in Fall River's Highland section is once again for sale. The 14 room house, located on French Street, sits on a large city lot. The house was built in about 1889 and is one of Fall River's most famous homes.

You're not familiar with the Charles M. Allen house? That's probably because its second owner christened it with the name by which it is more recognizably known, Maplecroft.

Maplecroft?!

That's right, the beloved home of Lizzie Borden is once again for sale according to a recent post on Mondo Lizzie Borden! Maplecroft's current owner Robert Dube who purchased the home in 1980 is looking for close to $700,000 for the Fall River landmark.

Emma and Lizzie Borden purchased the house at 7 French Street from Charles M. Allen in July of 1893 for $11,000*. The sisters apparently moved there that Fall. Lizzie christened the home Maplecroft and had the name chiseled into the top step leading to the front door (something the society folks considered quite in bad taste!) In fact, despite their wealth, and their new home in the fashionable Highlands, the Borden's were more or less shunned by Fall River society. A disagreement between the sisters resulted in Emma leaving in 1905, never to return.

A two story addition and a wrap around porch were added in 1909. A garage was added in 1911. Maplecroft boasts beautiful wood paneling, several fireplaces, and a legacy like no other home in Fall River. Maplecroft would be Lizzie's home for over 30 years (until her death in 1927), no other owner would reside there as long.

If Mr. Dube should find a buyer for Maplecroft, hopefully it will be someone who is sensitive to the homes history and someone who will work to preserve it.

* The house was renumbered 306 French Street in 1896.

Sources: Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890's
Joyce G. Williams, J. Eric Smithburn, M. Jeanee Peterson, editors

Lizzie Borden Past & Present - Leonard Rebello


Monday, June 23, 2008

Baseball and Indian summers

Professional baseball in Fall River? That's the pitch that Fall River Community is delivering.

At first I thought this was a far fetched idea. How many local baseball teams can one area support? But, the more I think about it the more I see the potential.

Fall River has a baseball history and one that goes back to the infancy of the game itself. The city once boasted its own team, the Fall River Indians of the New England League. The Indians dominated the New England League in the mid-1890's winning 4 consecutive championships. Their most famous alumnus, Nap Lajoie, would go on to become one of the legends of the game and a member of Baseball's Hall of Fame. Fall River native, Charlie Buffinton, was a 7 time 20 game winner in his 11 year career. Pitching from 1882-1892 some historians believe is was Buffington who invented the curveball. Russ Gibson, Dick Siebert, Luke Urban, Greg Gagne, Jerry Remy, and even "Moonlight" Graham have ties to the Fall River area.

Building a 3,000-6,000 seat ballpark at the former Quaker Fabric site on Ferry St. would tie this in with our waterfront development and the proposed trolley loop. The ball club would now become another 'waterfront attraction' but would also be located in an area where it could best serve as a catalyst for economic growth. A ballpark at this site could also be used as a venue for outdoor concerts and possibly soccer. The ballpark could also house a small museum showcasing this area's baseball history. FRC also points out that creating a 3,000 seat facility at the new Nokona bat factory would be very doable, and an excellent tie in!*

What team would come to Fall River? Just over a decade ago Fall River made the pitch to bring the Pawtucket Red Sox here. It was an idea that met with a lot of favor, including from our current mayor. In the end, the Pawsox decided to stay in Pawtucket. Today it would seem that the best options for establishing baseball in Fall River are with the Can-Am League or the Atlantic League.

The Canadian-American League, which is made up of 8 teams, already has 2 teams in Massachusetts and adding a third team could make for some good competition. Several of the teams use small ballparks. Worcester's Fitton field has the smallest capacity at just 3,000. This should mean that a Fall River team might be able to share facilities with one of the local high schools or make use of a small facility at Nokona.

The Atlantic League is also an 8 team league. It requires a 4,000-7,500 seat facility and is already considering expansion to Massachusetts! The downside is the requirement of a larger ballpark means more financial commitment.

This is an idea that could be a real boost to the area both economically and socially. Bringing professional baseball back to Fall River requires careful planning and research to ensure that this area can and will support a team. At the very least the idea of exhibition baseball at Nokona's field should seriously be considered. It's a great tie and if we can't bring in a new Fall River Indians team, maybe we can bring back the Indians from the 19th century!

*To clarify, FRC is actually suggesting that to better maximize the economic benefit that Nokona could perhaps relocate to the location of the new ballpark, preferably on the waterfront or along I-195

Friday, June 20, 2008

Revenue Runoff

Mayor Bob Correia is proposing to generate 5 million dollars in revenue by implementing a new CSO/stormwater fee. The fee would charge for storm water runoff from 'impermeable surfaces', such as parking lots. However it would also apply to residential property in the form a $35 flat fee per quarter. City properties, including schools, would also be charged the CSO/stormwater fee. The ordinance for the proposed fee has yet to receive council approval.

Lefty's View: The idea of charging for stormwater runoff from 'impermeable surfaces' has a lot of merit. Certainly such stormwater puts a demand on the sewer system and for that demand their is an associated cost. However, the flat fee to residential properties seems to go against the reason this fee is supposedly being implemented. According to the FY2009 budget, the proposed system would require that everyone pays their fair share. But what if you don't have a driveway? What if your driveway pitches toward your backyard and not toward the street? What if you live on a street where there's no storm drain? Does a flat fee seem fair? Also does it make sense to charge city properties the same fee? Does it make sense for the city to burden the Fire Department, the Police Department, the School Department and other city departments with this new fee when at the same time we're cutting budgets for those departments? The concept has merit, the implementation is all wet.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Finances, Audits, and the City Council

Last night Fall River Mayor Robert Correia addressed the city council to discuss some of the finding of the audit and the steps he actions he plans to take to put the city's financial management on solid ground.

The Mayor requested a total of 1.2 million dollars be allocated from free cash to 3 separate funds. These funds would be used to create new systems, fix past deficiencies, bring the backlog up to date, upgrades and training for city technology systems, as well as program management, assessments, evaluations and improvements. A two-thirds vote of the council would be required in order to utilize these funds.

Clearly, the audit shows that there are issues with how the city has conducted its financial management. And while I remain somewhat critical of the audit and the audit process, these are not new issues. As much as I sympathize with Ed Lambert and feel he's being used as a scapegoat, I wonder why he didn't address these problems?

The city's annual audits have pointed out issues for years. Why wasn't more done to address them? Where was the oversight? If the former mayor didn't do enough to address these problems what role does the city council play?

There are basically two issues here, how to fix the problem and how do we make sure the problem doesn't happen again. The Mayor seems to have the first part under control. However, I assume and I hope that the City Council will have some oversight on this. I want to know exactly what we're spending this money on. I want to see different options, presentations, bids, the works. I'll be very disappointed if the Mayor simply comes back to the council and says 'here's what I'm doing and here's how much I want.'

The second part is a little tougher. How do me make sure this doesn't happen again? We have to ask ourselves why did it happen this time. Honestly, we had a mayor that didn't put financial management on the top of his list. Fine, let's get past that and realize that it could happen again. Where's the fail safe? How do we make sure that the city council provides better oversight? Is it time to create a job description as former council candidate Mike Miozza suggested? Should there be a guideline or goals? If not, should the duties of each council committee be better defined? I think transparency is key. The most current audit is available on the city website. Perhaps all annual audits, past and present, should be on the website. The easier it is for citizens to look at and scrutinize the audit, the easier it is to hold our elected leadership accountable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Audit - more questions than answers!

So, at long last we have an independent audit on the financial condition of Fall River. The findings? Not good. According to the audit results the city's financial records and infrastructure are a complete mess.

According to this report, our record keeping is sloppy, we're years behind in submitting financial information to various agencies, we've failed to collect payments owed to the city, our IT department is inadequate, overall the our entire financial management is in dire need of an overhaul.

This is sobering news. I'm not surprised that the audit found issues. I think it's fair to say we knew that we have some financial management issues. I am shocked at how complete the problem seems to be.

Mayor Correia has pointedly blamed the previous mayor for leaving the city is lousy financial shape. What surprises me is that for the last few months Ed Lambert has very publicly defended his administration. Why would Ed Lambert do this? Why would he argue that Mayor Correia is wrong, that his administration left the city in good shape with a financial surplus? Seriously, Bob is now on the 6th floor and has all the records at his disposal. Bob is the one having an audit done. Ed Lambert knows this and I can't figure out why he would defend his legacy if he knows his argument will be proven wrong. Don't tell me it's to try to salvage his legacy, because we call that digging ourselves in deeper.

I think Ed Lambert is much to savvy to defend his administration just to be humiliated when his defense is proven false. My guess is that he either did not know how badly the city's finances were being managed or that what we're now being told about this 'mismanagement' is being fed to us with a healthy does of spin.

Now, the former mayor is challenging the findings of the audit report. In a letter submitted the Herald News and sent to all members of the city council Mayor Lambert states that the report is factually wrong on many points.

Some of Mayor Lambert's points of contention are:

The auditor's report states that the city failed to collect approximately $800,000 in payments from the Fall River Housing Authority. Mayor Lambert states that the city actually collected $871,208.97. The former mayor says that documents, including canceled checks he was able to obtain bear this out.

The report states that losses on investments cost the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars." the former mayor states that the city actually accrued a net gain on these investments and cites a "total return of $727,116.40."

The auditor's report states a discrepancy of 1.5 million dollars existed between the city's books and bank statements. The report does not clarify that the error was in the city's favor and that the city actually had 1.5 million more than what was on the books.

This brings up more questions than answers! What type of quality control went into this report? Who was responsible for providing information to the state? If the auditing team was having issues locating needed information why was the former mayor not contacted? Why was the city not able to provide information, that the former mayor, without benefit of staff, able to locate on his own in a matter of days?

How much are we paying for this audit?! If what Mayor Lambert says stands up to scrutiny the city should refuse to pay for such a botched audit. After reading the recent post on Fall River Community, I have to wonder if we should have requested an audit at all?!

Now, Ed Lambert isn't off the hook here. The auditor's report clearly points out severe flaws in how our financial management system works. Several audits performed by Hague and Sahady have also flagged issues. Why didn't the Lambert administration aggressively address these issues? In 2005 Mayor Lambert strongly opposed the need for and the cost of a state audit. However, referring again to the post on Fall River Community, why didn't he make use of free resources available through the state?

So where does the cause of our present budget problems lie? I'm not sure. The auditor's report that should have provided answers, is now in question and it seems like Ed Lambert is the victim of a witch hunt. It seems that Ed Lambert might have had a weak financial management team but prioritized maintaining city services. On the other hand it would appear that the financial team under Mayor Correia will be held accountable but city will just have to do less with less.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fall River Blog

It was several months ago that I first put together the basis for what would become Fall River Blog. The idea was to put the best of Fall River blogging all in one place! It's a site where you can instantly see what's going on in local blogging.

In the main area are Featured Blogs. These are some of the more established blogs and blogs that have a good history for focusing on Fall River. The list is subject to change or be added to as more blogs enter into the local scene.

On the top right we have a list of Fall River Area Blogs. These are other area blogs of note. Some are well established but don't really focus on Fall River. Others are newer blogs, not yet established but worth knowing about.

Both the Featured Blogs list and the Fall Area Blogs list are sorted by the most recently updated. Which means a quick visit to Fall River Blog shows you what new posts you need to read!

In the right hand column there's also a place to see some of the latest headlines from the Herald News, the Standard Times, and the Fall River Spirit. There's also an area to see the latest comments that have been left on some of the Featured Blogs.

Fall River Blog will also publish your blog posts. After all, everyone has an opinion but not everyone has a blog. If there's a Fall River topic that you want to share your view on, FRB is the place to submit it!

For Fall River Blog there are three objectives:

1. To give readers an easy way to keep up with the latest in local blogging.
2. To give bloggers an easy way to get the word out about new posts and new blogs.
3. To give a people a chance to express their opinions by guest blogging on Fall River Blog.

I hope you'll pay it a visit!

www.fallriverblog.com

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lefty's Rules of Local Blogging

There seems to be a sudden surge in local Fall River blogging! I've seen this before. A new blog appears and maybe after one or two posts it just sits there abandoned. Still it's exciting to see new blogs and new bloggers. It's interesting to see what topics they've chosen to blog about and to read their take on something of local interest.

In the interest of encouraging my fellow local bloggers I offer some advice, some opinion, and some conclusions. I encourage you to learn from my experience, heed my wisdom and to take this all with a grain of salt.


Lefty's Rules of Local Blogging
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1. Blogging is Hard!
2. Blog Opinion, not news. The expiration date on news is too quick!
3. Use the Bloggers Code of Conduct as a guide.
4. Write assuming that no one will click on the links
5. Try to respond to comments.
6. When putting your work out there for others to read, realize there will be critics.
7. If you want to build a readership, you need to post with some frequency.
8. Firefox has a built in spell check.
9. Don't blog about a hot topic unless you have something to add.
10. Blog about what interests you otherwise the effort isn't worth it

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bob, the honeymoon is over!

Remember those first 100 days? Mayor Correia was praised for a strong leadership style and quick and decisive action.

This was all great when it was directed at things that were popular but now the Mayor is pushing on to areas where the support isn't quite so universal. Hey, enforcing professional standards for city workers and an aggresive cleaning program sound good but how about reducing public safety? What about cutting back on education? How do you feel about scaling back on the LNG fight? Is dumping hazardous waste in the landfill to save money a good idea?

The honeymoon is over and Bob Correia has managed to use up all of his goodwill in a matter of a few weeks!

Yes, we have elected Mayor Correia to make decisions, to use his judgment, his skills, experience, and leadership to run our city on a day to day basis. However, elected officials must consider the will of the people. A mayor must make tough decisions but he serves at the consent of the governed.

Let's see what the people of Fall River voted for and let's see what their getting.

Education

“As State Representative, I’ve delivered millions for our public schools. As Mayor, I’ll ensure our schools deliver for our kids." -Bob Correia

Candidate Correia promised to bring back accountability to our students, re-allocate resources where they are most needed and to create Community Learning Centers. However just months into his first term the school department budget is a nightmare of shortfalls and no 're-allocation' seems to be taking place. While running for office the Mayor spoke of bringing the expanded day program to all elementary and middle schools. Instead of expanded day we're facing expanded schools with increased school populations and classroom sizes hovering in around 30 students per class. Has the Mayor taken an active role in improving our schools, or just renaming them?

Public Safety

“Ensuring the public’s safety is government’s first responsibility." – Bob Correia

While running for office, Mayor Correia pledged to provide better state of the art equipment and funding. He also proposed putting more uniformed officers in the streets. However, the budget proposed by the Mayor would result in a reduction in the police department of 15 officers and some support staff. Likewise the fire department would see a reduction of 16 positions. It's hard to believe this is not going to have a negative effect on public safety.

LNG


“As Mayor I pledge, as a top priority, to commit whatever is necessary in resources and leadership to stop this dangerous project,” - Bob Correia

Bob says he's opposed the Fall River project right from the start and that "horrendous idea" to locate this facility in such a populated area. Bob pledged to fight this tooth and nail but now he's advocating a budget for LNG litigation of just $250,000. The city has spent more than twice that for the last 3 years! How have we gone from spending 'whatever it takes' to budgeting less than half of what we usually spend?

Now, to be fair, Mayor Correia has moved forward on several of his platform points. "Restaurant Row", Community Learning Centers, and a city wide cleanup come to mind. It's also fair to point out that Mayor has found himself in a budget situation he didn't foresee. But isn't that the test of real leadership? I agree with Correia when he says that in tough economic times the city must do its share of belt tightening. I agree that ever rising municipal spending must be curbed. And I worry about the effects of higher property taxes and the burden that will put on city residents. Still I ask myself, are we tightening in the right areas? Does curbing mean cutting? And in such dire circumstances shouldn't a tax increase be considered? I certainly don't want to pay more taxes, but I also don't want to send children to schools that are taking a step backwards, or live in neighborhoods that are less protected.

Lefty's View: The city is in a budget crisis, several campaign 'promises' will never see the light of day, and more and more people are criticizing the Mayor's authoritative style. For Mayor Correia, the honeymoon is over.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fire Chief Debate Heating Up!

It was quite a shock to hear this morning that the petition submitted to override the home rule petition vote of the Fall River City Council would have no effect. The Mayor is looking to change the way fire chiefs are hired in Fall River. Although the council voted to send the measure to Boston, over 7,000 certified voters signed a petition to override the council's actions.

Basically, it's the opinion of Assistant Corporation Counsel John J. Coughlin, and of the Mayor that "... You can’t have a referendum petition against a home rule petition".

Now here's the problem. I agree with the city's position. You can't have a referendum petition against a home rule petition. However, in my opinion, the referendum petition isn't against the home rule petition. It's against the council vote. I admittedly am no lawyer but from reading the wording of the petition and of the section of law the petitioners referenced I don't see this as being against the home rule petition. Again, my legal knowledge consists of a few seasons of Boston Legal but to make sure I'm not spouting absolute crap here, I have reviewed this with a friend with a legal background. The verdict? My friend says my take on this is right on target. No surprise but Bob Camara, a district fire chief who led the petition drive, feels the same way, and backed by the opinion of the law firm Rossman & Rossman this could be headed for litigation.

How does the law firm Rossman & Rossman arrive at one conclusion that seems so clear that even a local blogger can see it, yet the city's legal council arrive at a different conclusion? Could this be some sort of political roadblock? A legal maneuver simply used to buy enough time for the home rule petition to make its way through the legal process in Boston? Considering how this was forcibly maneuvered through our City Council, I can't help but wonder.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Deadline Approaches

The deadline for the Referendum Petition is approaching and a final push is needed to make sure this effort is a success. If you have a petition that needs to be picked up please use the contact information below. If you have not yet signed and want to visit the Fall River Community blog and print out a copy of the petition. While you're at it get some friends to sign too!


All petitions MUST be returned as quickly as possible so they can be submitted by a Wednesday deadline!!

Contact Information for Pickup of Petitions:

Call Todd Young @ 774-644-6733

Call Keith Fallon @ 774-930-6790