Thursday, July 31, 2008

SouthCoast Photo of the Month


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

There are so many things I love about Fall River, the food, the culture, the history, but sometimes it's something as simple as a sunset. This photo by Alexey Sergeev captures the Braga Bridge and the USS Massachusetts during a fantastic sunset.


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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

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Fall River Thoughts

Criminal Thoughts

When it was decided to build Fall River's new courthouse on South Main Street there was a lot of outcry by seniors who lived nearby complaining about having to contend with a criminal element in their backyard. Now we find out that this new courthouse will handle all the criminal cases currently handled in New Bedford. The reason given is that the 19th century courthouse in New Bedford doesn't have adequate security measures and the new courthouse will have state of the art stuff.

I somehow doubt that this was a recent decision. Maybe this was the plan right from the get go and was kept quite to prevent further neighborhood opposition? To all the people who live in that area and who were concerned about their safety, this is an injustice.

House 1418, What changed?

Bill #2383 has passed both the House and the Senate and now goes to Governor Patrick's desk for his signature. The bill is designed to provide buffer zones between LNG facilities in heavily populated areas. The bill requires 5,000 ft between and LNG facility and a residential home, hospital, school, or other such structure. LNG tankers would need to have 1,500 ft clearance to the same structures. Representative David Sullivan has worked for over 3 years to get this legislation passed. Sullivan has said that 2383 is really the same bill as 1418, yet 1418 was never able to get passed the house. What's changed? What opposition stood in Sullivan's way the last time that isn't there now? Hmmm.

Want to learn about Lizzie Borden? Go to Salem!

There are plans afoot to open a 'Lizzie Borden Museum' in Salem. What does Lizzie Borden have to do with Salem? Absolutely nothing. Do the letters W, T, F, mean anything? If we were talking about a crime museum that would feature a Borden exhibit, I'd say great. If we were talking about a museum of famous women of Massachusetts, I'd say Okay. It's not that Lizzie Borden belongs to Fall River, but that the history of Lizzie Borden belongs to Fall River and much of it still exists to this day. A Lizzie Borden museum in Salem makes no sense at all. Why not have a museum about the Salem witch trials right here in the Spindle City! Heck, we've been wanting to increase tourism, let's open up one for the battle of Bunker Hill, Paul Revere, JFK, and why confine ourselves to just Massachusetts!

Mr. Pickel's Lizzie Borden Museum strikes me as circus attraction intended not to celebrate history but rather to cash in financially on the mystique of a century old mystery.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Here's the Scoop

Recently (within the last several months), one of my favorite blogs blogged about some great places to get ice cream. Two in particular caught my attention, Simcock Farm in Swansea and Wood's Premium Ice Cream in Westport.

Now Simcock Farm, I am very familiar with. I've been there countless times. It's a great place to go to beat the heat. As the name implies it's a real working farm, with a little farm stand attached to the ice cream stand. So, you can stop by and have some dessert and pick up some fresh veggies for tomorrow's supper. Also the milk from Simcock Farm is sent out to be churned into the creamy delicious ice cream that they sell. Pretty neat huh?

Wood's Premium Ice Cream on the other hand I had never heard of, despite frequent visits to Westport. This was someplace that HAD to be visited! A pleasant drive through the back roads of Westport brought us to Wood's. The conclusion? very good! The premium ice cream at Wood's is from Gifford's of Maine. Oh a few trips, and a belt notch or two later, I've tried Lobster Tracks, and Maine Maple Walnut both of which I enjoyed and Bear Claws, which was a bit too sweet for my tastes. I can tell you that Caramel Caribou is highly recommended so is Peppermint Stick!

Here's the thing, when I read the blog reviews for these two places, Simcock Farm has gotten a 'Good' rating, while Wood's received an 'Excellent' rating. Over here at A View From Battleship Cove, we see things a little bit different. We really enjoyed Wood's Premium Ice Cream, it was a nice country drive and good ice cream, but hands down we thought that Simcock Farm was the better of the two. So Simcock Farm gets '5 battleships' and our 'Excellent' rating and Wood's Premium Ice Cream '3 battleships' and a 'Good' rating.

Sorry Laura, we just don't see eye to eye on this one. However, New England Bites gets our 'Excellent' rating too!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fall River Eats

From chow mein sandwiches to 'chourico and chips' subs, Fall River is a great place to eat. Those of us who live here know just how great the food in this area is. However, those who are quick to dismiss Fall River as a 'tired old mill city' never bother to divert off the highway and as a consequence our great cuisine is a local secret.

A new blog focusing on Fall River food may help change that. Fall River Eats has just been launched. The blogs author is a frequent visitor to the city who has discovered all the joys that we take for granted and is now sharing them.

As a local I enjoy blogs that focus on the eateries in our area. Often the post is about someplace I've been and it's interesting to see if the author agrees with MY opinion. Sometimes things have changed since I've been there last and the review serves as a reminder that I need to go again soon! Sometimes the author is reviewing a place that even as a local, I haven't. Here is a great opportunity to find out about someplace I may need to visit!

I urge you to check out Fall River Eats and wish them much success!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fall River Thoughts


You have to feel sorry for the Herald News. This week they've had two 'Dewey defeats Truman' stories(Covered in detail at Fall River-tastic.) At the same time, their parent company's stock has plummeted in value and could now be placed on the McDonald's Dollar Menu. Recently they've been asking readers to submit photos of potholes and I have to wonder if it's because they laid off photographer Omar Bradley and don't have the manpower to replace him!

*****

Speaking of the Herald, did anyone catch the story about Anderson-Little? It seems that the grandson and great-grandson of the company's founder is bringing back the famous label. Anderson-Little started with a single store in Fall River in 1936. It grew to a chain of over 100 stores before closing in 1998. The Anderson family is now brining back the brand as an online store. The company will start by offering its classic blue blazer for sale this August and will expand the line to meet demand. Sounds great, but the manufacturing will be done in Florida! The Anderson family wanted to manufacture here in Fall River but couldn't secure a loan from the city. Okay, maybe there is a good reason the city wouldn't give them a loan, but considering that we certainly have the capacity and the experienced workers in need of just that kind of work, I'd like to know what those reasons are.

*****

I also enjoyed Marc Monroe Dion's piece on Government Center. Marc makes some observations about the privacy afforded by the handicap ramps, the gloomy interior, the need to power wash the building, Christmas decorations and more. I've been saying much of the same thing for awhile.

*****

Did anyone else have their radio tuned into WSAR this afternoon? Fast Eddie and the Hurricane provided some entertainment by attempting to get Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah to come on the air with them to clarify his recent comments on the house floor. Bishop in opposition of the bill to designate the lower Taunton River as "wild and scenic" said:
"The only part of this river that is scenic is the graffiti that is found on the bridges and human embankments that are part of this river system. The only thing that's wild about this river are the gangs that wrote this graffiti in the first place. ... It's not wild and scenic if you can look over and see McDonald's on the bank."
Of course, Bishop never came on air but Herren lectured one of the congressman's staffers about the slight. He advised the staffer that Fall River was one of the country's oldest cities, that there was no graffiti on the waterfront. He went on to say there was no gang problem in the city and even added some patriotism by mentioning that the submarine John F. Kennedy was moored right here at Battleship Cove.

Here's the problem. The submarine is the USS Lionfish, the Kennedy is a destroyer. Also it's not named after the late president, it's named after his brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. No gang problem in Fall River? If that were the case our police department wouldn't expend so much effort battling gang issues. A quick google search of "Fall River" gangs brings up interesting articles like this one. What about the graffiti on the waterfront? Herren says he hasn't seen any, yet tonight on the news there's a story about the city buying a graffiti removal machine for $50,000. The news story shows this being used where? You guessed it, at the Marine Museum and the boardwalk. Doesn't that qualify as the waterfront? And Fall River was incorporated as a city in 1854, which doesn't make it anywhere near one of the country's oldest cities.

Herren finished the call by telling the staffer to have the congressman check his facts. DOH!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Mysterious Police Station

Once upon a time, before the old Fall River police station on Bedford Street was considered a vital piece of downtown revitalization, it was just an old police station.

By the early 1990's the police station was cramped, outdated, and in serious need of repair. I seem to recall reading that the roof was in such poor condition that it couldn't be repaired. With much fanfare the police department moved into a new facility in 1996 and the story for the old police station seemed to be over.

I can't recall any talk of renovating, revitalization or reuse. The building was in deplorable condition and it seemed like the wrecking ball was soon to come.

This is where things get mysterious. Suddenly deplorable became restorable. Now there was talk of the old police station becoming the new home for the Narrows when they were forced to move. There was talk about it becoming part of an arts movement (this was in the Herald in early 2001). I guess a pre-arts overlay district. I think there was even talk about using it for a new courthouse location and the city said they couldn't part with it and intended to use it for an arts complex. Not only was deplorable now restorable, it was also an important piece to downtown revitalization.

Now this is where things get more mysterious. Five years after the old police station was vacated it was suddenly being discussed as an important part of the city's art renaissance. Still, the old building needed work and things should have been done to 'protect and preserve' and keep it from deteriorating further. It's distressing to read that in the mid-90's the city could have repaired the roof for about 5k, and now the cost to repair the roof is 6 times higher. So if mystery number one is how the building suddenly became restorable, mystery two is why no action was taken to do critical repairs.

The third mystery is how the old police station went from being a key piece of development that the city had plans for, to being up for sale! In 2005 the Lambert administration decided to cut ties with the building and offered it up for sale. Now, this is where the story gets familiar to most of us. The city sold the building by sealed bid, deciding to focus on best use and not highest bidder. This was a move I fully supported. First time around the building was awarded to Anthony Cordero his bid was only for 25k but he had plans to demolish the building and construct a new office building in its place. So, the building went from restorable back to deplorable (at least in Cordero's assement) but here was a great long term opportunity. Except, that it turns out that the property should have been assessed first and that value used in determining the floor price for bidding. After a lot of confusion the building was put back up for sale and eventually sold to John Pavao for about $160,000.

Now Pavao said he had plans to renovate the building but shortly after purchasing it he had it listed on his company website, for sale, for about $700,000.

So now the final mystery is who the hell owns this damn building?! Pavao now says that he sold his interest months after buying it and the building seems to be changing hands like it was an episode of "Flip This House." Now it seems that the building is owned by Casper Holdings LLC, which apparently purchased the building for 1.2 MILLION DOLLARS. Read that again and then realize that this is a building that we almost excepted a $25k bid on. Obviously this makes no sense and Mayor Correia is asking the Attorney General to look into this (GO BOB!). The manager for Casper, the friendly holding company, believes that the old police station is "going to be a very valuable piece of real estate." Well, someone please have him email me. He can purchase my house for half the price, and the roof doesn't leak. Okay, so Casper owns it and Bob is requesting the AG look into the sale, end of mystery right? No. Back when Lambert requested the properties be put back up for rebid he talked about protecting the city's interests.

"I’m also going to recommend that the bids in the future spell out that the winning proposals will be required to agree to fulfill the plans as submitted or the property would revert back to the city, or maybe we’ll do it with a performance bond. But we’ll require a significant financial penalty and fees if the plan is not fulfilled."


So, what happened to that recommendation? Is there a reverter clause? If so can we take the building back? What the hell is a performance bond? Are we slapping someone with some freakin' penalties? Or did we drop the ball?

Lefty's View: The bottom line is we should have taken the $25k and run! As much as I like to see history preserved there was the chance to see something better take place on that land. Now, we're the victims of people who are interested in paper assets and not the actual property. We need to aggressively pursue actions that will put the old police station back in our hands. Maybe the biggest mystery is how do we KEEP DROPPING THE BALL! Selling to the bidder with the best proposal is a great idea. What happened? We sold to Pavao when he had no detailed proposal to submit. Protecting our interests is crucial, so what happened to to the reverter clause? I can already imagine this happening again and again with the old Durfee Technical building and with all these empty school buildings. For the sake of the city, we better start getting this right.

Further reading

From Fall River Community:
Confused

Previous posts - A View From Battleship Cove
Take it back! - Why I think the city should take the old police station back by eminent domain

Former Police Station For Sale, Again!

An Arresting Development

Monday, July 14, 2008

Fireworks Fizzle

Like many other Fall River residents I made my way down to Heritage State Park to watch the Fourth of July fireworks display.

The last time I was able to go to the city's display was in 2005, the last year they were held at Kennedy Park. How much different it is now. Live music played from a portable stage on the green and the parking lot housed a small amusement park. Families crowded along the boardwalk to see the show. I had to wonder if the boardwalk was designed to hold so much weight. Those jockeying for the best view paid $3 to watch the show from the deck of the Big Mamie. They needn't have bothered, the display was brief and disappointing. It seemed like the firework display was almost an afterthought.

How much different it all was the last time I went. People didn't go to Kennedy Park to hear the live music or to go to the amusement park. People went to Kennedy Park to see the fireworks, to sit under the blanket of darkness and to hear and feel the booming explosions and watch the night sky erupt into streams of color. People didn't crowd boardwalks or pay to watch from battleships, instead Kennedy park became a sea of blankets. It's sloping expanse becoming a natural grandstand.

At Heritage Park the mindset seems to be 'come celebrate with us' at Kennedy it seemed understood that families had already had their cookouts and celebrations and this was like a simple yet perfect dessert after a great meal.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Formica Town

What have we gotten ourselves into? Here in Fall River we've just spent 5 million dollars on new athletic fields for Durfee High School. They're brand new, sparkling and pristine, and it's already apparent that we just threw our money away.

There's been a lot of concern from our city officials about potential abuse and wear and tear on these new facilities. After all, the city spent a lot of money on this stuff and we want it to last a long time. We can't use it for graduation ceremonies and we don't want people walking on it. The school department was nice enough to open up the track and tennis courts for public use and look, in a matter of days they're already being littered with trash and dog waste. Is the best way to protect the public interest is to bar the public?

The problem is there are people who show no pride in our community and abuse and 'wear and tear' is going to happen. These are the things that should have been taken into consideration before all these improvements took place. The new football and practice field are covered in a polyethylene turf. It's the same stuff the New England Patriots play on. This is top of the line stuff but the maintenance and upkeep are expensive. Not only are we fearful of the public using these new fields, we don't even want the kids using them to drink Gatorade or other sugary drinks because of possible mold issues! Can you believe this? We have invested in new athletic fields that are the equivalent of your grandmother's front parlor! Grandma's best furniture, covered in plastic to protect it. Not that it mattered because no one was allowed in there anyway. How long before the city and school department take the same approach?

If you ever go into a home remodeling store and look at kitchen counter tops, granite is the stuff everyone seems to want. It's great to look at, in many ways it's very durable, but it's expensive and requires some upkeep and maintenance. Then there's Formica, it's looks decent, not great, but decent, it too is durable, and it requires very little maintenance. No, it's not as nice as granite but it's a hell of a lot cheaper and it gets the job done. Would you install a granite counter top if you didn't have the means to maintain it and you dreaded every time you set down a pot or pan?

The new athletic facilities at Durfee are like that granite counter top, and Fall River is a Formica town.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

It's time to retire "double dipping"

Durfee High School principal, Ralph Olsen, is double dipping, and according to the Boston Globe, he's happy to be doing it. Olsen, who retired as principal of Framingham High School in 2004, earns $140,000 as Durfee's principal and collects 87,311 in retirement pension.

In the not to distant past this would have been impossible because Massachusetts law bars public retirees from earning more in pension and salary combined then they would have if they had not retired. However fears of a widespread shortage of educators prompted the Legislature to create an exemption for certain educators in 2000.

Now, I don't fault Ralph Olsen for what he's doing. This exemption is a great incentive for a retired educator to come back to work. Still I have to wonder do critical need waivers make sense?

I suppose the concept of 'double dipping' isn't new. It's not new for someone to retire and collect a pension and go back to work in a new occupation or as a consultant. But, the system in place actually encourages educators to take early retirement and then apply for a waiver to continue to work! Think about it, in the case of Principal Olsen what would be the incentive for him to delay retirement and simply take the Durfee job? It's a legal abuse of the pension system and one that encourages the abuse. Is this a good idea?

The purpose of critical need waivers is to help school districts staff hard to fill positions. Given that the waivers need to be renewed yearly it's not supposed to be a long term solution. However as the use of critical need waivers increases so does the likelihood that it becomes a long term solution. If you, utilizing a waiver, hire an experienced professional and get good results, where is the incentive to replace them? This brings into question, what is critical need and how do you prove it? Communities are supposed to make 'good-faith efforts' to find applicants for these positions but according to the Globe, in dozens of cases this just isn't happening.

Think about the situation we currently have in Fall River. A reduced school department budget has resulted in educators being let go. While these non-retired educators search for employment how many waivered educators does Fall River employ? What about the surrounding communities? Does the use of waivers hamper the efforts of non-retired employees to move into these positions?

Perhaps most puzzling of all is the reason we have critical need waivers in the first place. The Legislature created this exemption because they believed that an early-retirement incentive program would send hundreds of teachers into retirement, creating a widespread shortage. According to the new State Education Secretary, these shortages do exist. So instead of creating a loophole for legal pension abuse, why not do away with the early retirement program?

The use of critical need waivers is not going to change any time soon but steps should be taken to limit the potential for abuse and decrease the need. Strongly limiting the number of years a waiver could be renewed would emphasize the need to hire non-retirees. Decreasing or eliminating pension payments a retiree can receive while working with a waiver would certainly be more in line with the intent of the state pension plan.

It's time we 'retire' the early-retirement incentive program and revise just how critical need waivers work.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Keri in the morning, was this a good idea?

It's been months since the media changes took place that relocated 'Afternoon Drive Diva', Keri Rodrigues, to mornings at WSAR. The move was met with some criticism. Why take your highest rated host from a time slot that works for her and move her to mornings?! Didn't the Karam's know the old saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it?"

The move resulted in the departure of long time host Mike Moran. This too was met with some criticism. Just what were the Karams thinking?!

Well this all came down to ratings. No, WSAR never officially said so, but if the morning show and Moran's hour broadcast were pulling in good numbers do you think they'd make a change?

What about all that criticism following Mike Moran's departure? I remember listening to Don Imus on his show a few years back. He was relating a conversation he had with a GM of a station that had, in an effort to improve ratings, just switched from their own local programming to Imus' syndicated show. The station GM was being besieged with complaints by people who did not like the programming change. The GM thinking perhaps he made a mistake took his concerns to Imus. Imus basically told the GM 'of course you're getting complaints you idiot. These are the people who were listening to whatever lousy programming you had on before!' Likewise those who complained about Moran's departure were his loyal audience.

If the move was all about ratings why move your highest rated host? To answer that question I had to do a little research. Arbitron is the all-knowing authority on radio ratings, so to get some answers I referred to the 2008 Radio Today report on their site. According to the report News-Talk-Information is the number 1 format in New England and mornings (6am-10pm) is when NTI draws its biggest audience. So what does this mean? It means that when NTI stations like WSAR sell ad time, they're able to sell that ad time based on the strength of being the number 1 format. Now it goes to reason that since NTI's biggest potential audience is in the mornings those spots should command the most money and that is why morning ratings are so important.

Now we understand the logic behind moving Keri, but did it work? Was this a good idea?

I think it's funny how many times I've had just that conversation. I think it's funny how many times I've heard people having that conversation. So, to get to the bottom of this I went to K-Rod herself.

Unfortunately the Arbitron ratings are copyrighted and Keri couldn't just tell me the numbers. But I was able to learn that the station's morning ratings have gone up. I asked her if they were as good as her afternoon ratings. She said they were comparable. So I asked her if WSAR's morning ratings were now the strongest of the lineup and she said that would be fair to say.

As much as I was critical of the departure of Mike Moran, and as much as I questioned the wisdom of moving Keri Rodrigues from her successful afternoon spot to mornings I guess it's a move that has worked. WSAR's morning ratings have improved and as I pointed out before morning ratings are important to revenue. I guess there's a reason the Karam's own a radio station and I don't.

Of course things are still early and I would guess it would take a few rating cycles to see if all these moves continue to pay off. If not I hope the Karam's will consider expanding Keri's talk show to two hours (maybe from 8-10 in the morning) or moving her back to afternoon drive!