Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SouthCoast Photo of the Month

Here it is the March SouthCoast Photo of the Month!

Lately the Photo of the Month has taken a beating. Originally I thought it would be a great way of sharing my novice picture taking efforts and invite reader participation. Well, truthfully the reader submission part never really took off, except for a few blog supporters. For the most part the photos have been mine, which is fine, because I enjoy playing around with the camera but lately I find that my hectic schedule often has me leaving my camera at home. There's been a few months where I never did get around to posting a picture.

I chose this month's photo because it featured a rainbow, and I figured that fit in pretty well with Saint Patrick's day. Sadly you have to really strain your eyes to see the rainbow, but trust me it was there when I shot it! It is also a photo I took with my cell phone! I find it amazing that the resolution of my phone camera is nearly equal to my first digital camera and judging by the quality of this photo I may have to use it a bit more, especially on those occasions when the digicam is sitting at home.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fall River Thoughts

And an Eagle rises from the ashes...

Of course I've just talked about the dire situation at the former Central Congregational Church. Not only does its closing cast a bleak picture for any chance of working out the the financial problems the school finds itself in, it has also left several couples stranded with no refunds and no place to hold their reception.

So the Herald News reports that Jerry Donovan has stepped forward and offered the remodeled Eagle as an available venue. For couples who are facing a wedding nightmare, Donovan may have just saved their day. The Eagle may not be as majestic as the Great Hall but it is an incredible location. I hope this works out for all involved.

It's Spring, now where's that shovel?

The weather has been warming up recently and Spring is officially here. Soon people will be planting flowers and doing yard work. Of course here in the South End the biggest landscaping project will be done by Pat Casey when she oversees the moving of McGovern's monument and the restoration of Miller Green. I've already had people ask when this was going to happen. Pat, don't wait too long on this, let's get this behind us and make it right. Where's that shovel?

A Tip for the Republican Road Trip.

The Massachusetts GOP is launching a grass roots effort to rebuild the state party. This maiden effort is likely to resemble the maiden voyage of the Titanic. As a Republican I would love to see the state party rebuild but it's not going to happen if the party sticks to the 'your either with us or you're not' mentality that has gripped it for far too long.

You don't have to look any further than in our own backyard to see the problem. Fall River, like most of Massachusetts is a very Democratic place. Yet, our local party leaders continue to preach and beat the bully pulpit on every conservative view while at the same time labeling everyone Republican who dare disagree a RINO (Republican In Name Only).

News to Linda Rapoza and every other blockhead in the leadership of "our" party, this is Massachusetts, it is a liberal state. For decades and decades this state and most of New England had a great reputation for liberal, moderate, Republicans! New England Republicans held firm to the cornerstones of the Republican Party, such as smaller government and fiscal conservatism. Now as the national party continues to drift right, and right into insignificance, more and more New England Republicans find themselves pushed of of their party by these morons who tell them they don't belong!

By constantly championing the issues to the right and far right and ridiculing any party member to the left of that YOU have eroded the party base. Voters who once believed in the ideals of the Republican Party now find themselves registering as independents and wondering who will represent their views. Particularly in a state like Massachusetts the party should be reaching out to moderate Republicans and building coalitions on the views that they DO share. They should continue to reach out and firmly shake the hand of independents and conservative Democrats.

If the Republican Party is going to insult moderates by calling them RINO's, if they are not going to reach out and work to build on common grounds, they should save the effort, save the gas, and save their breath.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How do we save the Abbey Grill

It seems sudden. The International Institute of Culinary Arts, which includes the Abbey Grill and the Great Hall has closed its doors just weeks after finding out that the building is slated for public auction.

Honestly, we should have seen this coming. I've heard complaints over the last few years about the declining state of the service and food, always sure signs of a restaurant in trouble.

When George Karousos purchased the former Central Congregational Church in 1997, I was excited about what this could mean for Fall River. The idea of a culinary arts school seemed just the kind of high profile project that could generate some buzz for Fall River. I had high hopes for Karousos' endeavor and if it didn't instantly revitalize Fall River it did, for a long time, become a place that attracted outside attention. And it saved a piece of Fall River's history that seemed doomed from the wrecking ball.

What went wrong? Maybe it was Mrs. Karousos' passing away that started the school's decline? Perhaps the real estate boom was part of the problem? Mr Karousos purchased the former church for under $150,000 a decade latter it is valued at over a million dollars and the increase in real estate taxes must have been significant. Maybe the building itself is the problem and it's upkeep proved too much to handle. Perhaps it is a combination of all those things and more.

Whatever the reasons, why didn't the city recognize them. Karousos owes the city money in back taxes and money for police details related to the structural problems with the steeple. Why didn't they intervene? The Fall River Office of Economic Development couldn't offer any assistance, or at least refer Karousos to someone who could? Two years ago Senator Joan Menard referred the institute as our adopted treasure. Where's the effort now to save it?

I'm not saying that Fall River or the state should bailout the school but I would think some reasonable efforts would be appropriate for an "adopted treasure". What resources already exist that could have and still be used to help the Institute? Right now the Mayor or his representatives could be sitting down with the school and the bank to try to work out an agreement. Menard, Kerry, Kennedy and the rest could be looking for available funds or loans that would allow the buildings problems to be resolved.

It's shameful if these things don't happen, because the school still represents something exciting in Fall River.

How do we save the Abbey Grill?

The first option has got be to work with Karousos. I've outlined the basics above. The city needs to step in to negotiate more time and offer whatever resources may be available. Meanwhile our elected officials need to work to find what resources are available to assist. However, we can't overlook that part of the Institutes' problems may be Karousos himself.

If that's the case what can we do to secure the buildings preservation? Over a decade ago it was a citizens group that saved the building and allowed Karousos to buy it. However now the building is worth 10 times as much. How could they raise that kind of money? Perhaps we should reach out to Aerosmith! The band filmed parts of the video for the song Cryin' there in 1993. Maybe they could donate some money or mobilize their fan base to assist.

Maybe Fall River's own Emeril Lagasse could be persuaded to help. Certainly if Emeril were to partner with, or purchase the Institute it would generate a great deal of positive press. Emeril's name would add credibility and bring people into the city to dine at the Abbey Grill. Even if Emeril never taught a class his name could mean success. Perhaps Emeril could visit the city a few times a year and do public demonstrations or even film a few episodes of his cooking show from the the cooking school!

Okay maybe those suggestions are far-fetched but hey, anything is worth a try!

If there is anyway to save the Abbey Grill, we better do it soon before we let another piece of Fall River history slip away.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lefty to state: Please take over our schools.

It seems like for the past year all our school department and our school committee have done is squabble. They've squabbled over which schools to close, they've squabbled over money or the lack there of, they squabbled over how well the department was doing. They squabbled over who should get the credit for the good, and who should take the blame for the bad.

Finally this January Superintendent Nick Fischer resigned his position and Mayor Correia asked the DESE to come to Fall River and evaluate our school system and now our school committee is squabbling over that!

The findings of the DESE team paint a bleak picture of how our school system is being run. The report is too lengthy to be discussed here in detail but can be found on the Fall River Public Schools website. To briefly cover some of the points in the report, they found that the school system is underfunded, the school committee is meddling in the management of the school system and is often uncivil at meetings, the district lacks a dedicated chief financial officer. A high turnover of superintendents! The school district lacks many mechanisms to identify and evaluate flaws. The list goes on and on.

Ironically, the report states that Superintendent Fischer actually did many things that improved our school system. That makes me wonder if we did not give him enough time to do the job and enough resources to do it right. Fischer's leadership certainly had major flaws but maybe we could have built a team around him to take advantage of his strengths and make up for his weaknesses. Hopefully our new Superintendent Meg Brown can fill all those voids.

We've been working to improve our school system for over a decade and now we find we're not moving ahead we're falling behind! We're failing the children of this city. In a letter to Mayor Correia the Commissioner of the ESE states that he would have recommended that they take over our school district if not for the Correia's effort to look for guidance. The initiative may be commendable but right now what our school system needs is a firm hand and strong leadership, that is unfiltered by political motivations and unhindered by squabbles. We need a clear plan and swift action to get us there.

Commissioner Chester we've had our chance to right the Fall River School system and we failed! Please, for the sake of our children, take over our schools.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Go to the Library and check out Pawtucket Rising

If you STILL haven't seen Jason Caminiti's documentary Pawtucket Rising, here is your chance!

The Friends of the Fall River Public Library are hosting a showing of Pawtucket Rising tomorrow (Thursday, March 19th). Visit Fall River Blog for all the details!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why LNG is still not a good idea..

The global economy is struggling and those effects are being felt right here in Fall River. Times are tough. The city is struggling with budget issues and layoffs that have impacted every city department, especially those dealing with public safety.

We need tax revenue, we need jobs, we need something that will stimulate our local economy. Councilor Leo Pelletier thinks that something is LNG!

Now, to be honest, I'm not surprised by this at all. I knew that with the tough economy that there would be some who would say it was time to revisit the LNG proposal. It is somewhat of a surprise that it would be one of our city councilors.

The argument for LNG is this simple, it would infuse 3-4 million dollars into the local economy over a span of 3 years. Also we're now being told that their would be 150 permanant job, which is a lot more than the 30 or so that we were told before. It's interesting to compare what is listed on the Weaver's Cove website vs. what is being said now by Leo and Hess. If the facts have changed shouldn't the website be updated? Anyway there is also the benefit to the local economy because of supplies and stuff that would be bought. So Leo looks at this and he thinks, hey why keep fighting them and spending money when we can get some money and jobs into our city.

But LNG is still not a good idea for our city.

After the facility is built all the construction jobs will cease to exist. The money added to the tax roles will be used, at least in part, to cover the additional safety costs. By the way, how will we ever deal with a safety issue on a floating platform? Will we now need boats for fire and medical?

The quality of life for hundreds of residents will be affected, either by the restrictions that will be placed on our waterways or the fear of living near these large tanks of liquid natural gas. Oh, I know, it's safe! We've all heard about the fantastic safety record. However what if the site did become a more tempting terrorist target? And airflight is touted as safe too, unless you're in a plane that crashes. LNG may have a great safety record but I don't want to see a facility wedged into a packed residential area become the site of one of the exceptions.

The biggest reason why LNG is not a good idea is that it robs us of our ability to set our own course. If we allow LNG on our waterfront we will lose the chance to ever develop it to the potential that many of us envision for our city's future. There are those who will say that we've failed to develop anything meaningful in decades. I would argue it's because of that short sighted thinking that believes that a dollar today is more important than investing in our future.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hague not Vague on opposition to LNG

Council Vice President Raymond E. Hague called his colleague “courageous,”
adding, “I’m not saying I agree with him.” The audience laughed. - Fall River
Herald News

If anyone has missed it, Councilor Leo Pelletier caused some shock waves when he announced he was now supporting the Weaver Cove LNG Project. When I read the quote above in the paper this morning, I thought nothing of it, except that Councilor Hague was showing a little wry humor.

This afternoon I heard the last hour of "Hurricane's Highway Home" and heard Mike Herren blast Leo Pelletier for his stance. Herren was also blasting Councilor Hague for his support of the project! Had I missed something? I didn't know that Hague was now supporting LNG! It turns out that Herren was interpreting the same statement from above as support for Pelletier's position and LNG.

Councilor Hague called into the show to say that the Hurricane was misrepresenting his position. Hague went on to say that he thought it was courageous for Pelletier to take such a controversial stance but that he himself did not share that stance. The city councilor said that he had sent an email outlining his record on LNG that Herren could read on air if he wanted. It went unread. The rest of the conversation might have been 'good radio' but it was not constructive and it was not civil.

Lefty's View: There is nothing in Councilor Hague's statement that would lead me to believe that he now supports LNG. Mike Herren may believe otherwise and he's entitled to his opinion, but without proof, it's just his opinion. I give Ray Hague a lot of credit for calling into Herren's radio show to try to set the record straight. He certainly must have realized that he was not going to be treated cordially. In fact, the reason I wrote this post was because whether I agree with him or not, Councilor Hague deserves the right to defend his record and I wanted to give him the chance to be heard and for Fall Riverites a chance to hear him. Councilor Hague's email follows.

Ray Hague's position on LNG in Fall River.

Opposed to LNG since day 1, voted for all anti LNG resolutions

Drafted letter adopted by the city council hand delivered to FERC by Ed Lambert showing unanimous opposition to LNG in Fall River

Sends yearly donation to coalition against LNG

Has been at times the only city councillor to attend public hearings about LNG

As chairman of the public safety committee has held joint meeting with coalition against LNG

Supported all budget request to fight LNG

Continues to oppose LNG in Fall River and will continue to vote in opposition of LNG untill the battle is won

Mayor Bob Correia - The State of the Campaign

A few hours ago, Mayor Bob Correia delivered his State of the City address. It is no secret that Fall River is facing some of its darkest days. It is also no secret that Mayor Correia has made many unpopular decisions and has many detractors.

As Mayor Correia delivered his speech I'm sure that those who are critical of him were unimpressed and unswayed. They will mock his claims of accomplishment and decry his downplaying of failure. Still despite their unwillingness to admit it, this was a very good speech.

Most voters hibernate between elections. They don't pay close attention to the little details that revolve around the decisions and actions that are made by our local leaders. To them the beginning of an election season is much like the beginning of spring. They wake from their long hibernation and take in the scenery just as everything is beginning to bloom.

The Mayor's speech is perfectly tailored to these voters, because while the speech certainly has flaws and points to be contended with it offers many points that will agree to those just tuning in.

Mayor Correia concedes that his leadership style may not have been best suited in his role as Mayor. He offers as an excuse, or apology, his experience as a legislator where there was a need to push and champion your own ideas and his enthusiasm for getting things done and achieving goals.

He defends his decision to not raise taxes by pointing out the struggles that many of us are facing in difficult times, including the 7,000 residents that are out of work.

He defends his rain water fee by stressing that 70% of households are saving money. He stresses the success and benefits of the community learning center that he pushed for as a candidate and the beginnings of his envisioned Restaurant Row.

He continually states the need to work together, for unity, and on his own part, a new approach.

Those who support the Mayor will see this as a great speech and those who are sympathetic will see this as reason to have continued faith in Bob Correia.

Not only was Mayor Correia delivering the State of the City address he was delivering the state of his campaign, which is just beginning.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Will of the people?

Last night mayoral challenger Will Flanagan kicked off his campaign at the Water Street Cafe. According to the Herald News there was a turnout of over 150 people.

Wow, that seems pretty impressive for a kickoff for a candidate that has never before held office. What's his appeal? Oh, that's right he's not Bob!

There is no doubt in my mind, that as the only announced challenger to Mayor Correia, Will has benefited from the support of the 'Anyone but Bob' crowd. Big surprise. The truth is has anyone ever eroded their popularity quicker than Mayor Bob Correia?

But is that enough reason to enthusiastically stand behind Candidate Flanagan? It certainly isn't for me, that's why I was hoping to attend his kickoff and hear first hand his plans for our future. Unfortunately I was unable to attend but was disappointed when I read the write up in the Herald News.

Will didn't offer up anything exciting, or concrete, of substantive. Instead he threw out a wish list of stuff, (much of which we've heard before), without any specifics of HOW he would make it happen. Did the Herald somehow omit those details?

Will says if elected he will repeal the storm water fee introduced by Mayor Correia. What he is not telling us is if he is simply going to raise water and sewer fees or if he plans on raising that revenue through some other source.

He's going to bring in new business and make sure our workforce is trained. How? What is he going to do that's different from previous mayors? How is he going to pay for this training?

Will says he is going to begin relocating Rt. 79 and work with state and federal officials on the Rt. 24 interchange. How? How would Flanagan begin moving Rt. 79? Where is that money going to come from? How much influence is Flanagan going to have with the Rt. 24 interchange, and really what expertise does he have that would aid in the design and construction?

Will says he would begin the process of decreasing the student to teacher ratio. Where is the funding going to come from for more teachers? Maybe his plan is to get rid of some of the students?

Will also says he would implement a '311 system' that I believe was first talked about by Representative David Sullivan. How much is this going to cost?

Lefty's View: Honestly, I'm disappointed. Maybe there's more detail here than what the Herald reported. I hope so. I imagine that there are going to be a few more hats tossed into the ring and if Flanagan wants to compete he needs to get the specifics of how he is going to get things done out there.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Layoff Crisis

On Friday union leaders reported that the city will layoff almost 100 police and fire department members. Of course the layoffs don't stop there, the Mayor has previously stated that a minimum of 175 municipal workers would need to be laid off to close the budget gap that the city faces. The cuts will likely affect every government department and certainly have an impact on city services.

The Herald News story has the Mayor's spokesperson saying that the Mayor and his financial team are tyring to save as many jobs as possible. This has me believing that the cuts will likely be less severe than we are hearing.

Still what will be the impact of all these layoffs?

Look, I've played sim city trust me when I tell you what will happen if you cut
police and fire, your tax base will shrink, houses will burn! - from a
conversation I've recently had

Let's be honest, Fall River is a city with problems and challenges. Our police department has its hands full with gang issues, drugs, and the types of crimes that go with it. Our fire department is challenged by the city itself! Fall River is a tapestry of congested neighborhoods filled with 100 year old wood structures, with balloon construction, that practically touch. The mills that once made this city an economic power house contain timbers soaked with machine oil, making them gigantic prestone logs!

“One thing that concerned me,” Saucier said, “is no one had an answer on
what’s the number of police and firefighters they can lay off before you can no
longer provide adequate protection to citizens.- Fall River Herald News

How will this impact public safety and how will this impact the safety of the men and women who serve our city?

What of the public outrage over the city's rat problem? Is that likely to get better with cuts to our DPW? You practically need a jeep to get over the rutted pot hole filled streets now, is this likely to get better?

Now, I do feel some sympathy for our Mayor. The current budget situation is not an easy one. But laying off people is not the answer. It's time to consider innovate ideas and to scrutinize city government to see where we can save money. It's time to consider a moderate increase in taxes because the city needs revenue and as citizens we need the city services that are going to be impaired.

Lefty's View: The old saying goes 'desperate times call for desperate measures', but desperate times call for real leadership. Real leadership is not just about making difficult decisions it's about coming up with difficult solutions. As a citizen I urge the Mayor to go back to the drawing board and look for ways to close the budget gap without destroying city services. Certainly there has got to be a better solution than drastic pay cuts or drastic layoffs.