Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Menard Maneuver

I have thought from the start that one of the toughest challenges facing a Fall River casino would be removing the legal restrictions that specifically prohibit a casino from being built on the site. After all, why would any legislator who is vying for a casino in their district vote to increase the competition they might face?

It turns out that Senator Menard has come up with a clever solution to that particular problem, she has put forth an amendment to the Senate's casino bill to allow a casino to be built on the land originally intended for a BioPark. Menard's maneuver is quite simple, if the casino bill passes the restriction on the Fall River land would be reversed. Joan was obviously counting on more senators voting in favor of a casino than would be worried about the land use provision she amended to the bill.

Of course one colleague who is worried about the amendment is Senator Mark Montigny of New Bedford. Mark is opposed to Menard's amendment citing environmental concerns. Menard is quick to point out that New Bedford is also in the running for a casino and believes this is Montigny's true motives.

The result of all of this was another delay on the voting of the senate bill but a decision will have to be made on Thursday, as the Senate President has stated she will not allow for any more delays.

I have to give Joan credit, her little maneuver would certainly solve a big issue rather neatly. However I'm inclined to agree with Senator Montigny that this amendment doesn't belong in the Senate's casino bill. The whole issue of bringing legalized gambling to Massachusetts is complicated enough without scheming for the supposed best interests of one community at the same time. On top of that the land use amendment deserves serious discussion all on its own. Despite all the rosy sentiments of Joan, Will, & Cedrick about how everyone down here wants a casino there WAS a reason such a restriction was put on the land. I believe that restriction was to stop the city from impulsively deciding to expand the landfill or build a casino rather than developing the land as it was intended. It looks like it was a smart idea that we have decided to ignore.

Lefty's View: It's clear that by adding this amendment to the casino bill that Senator Menard is looking for the easy win, rather fitting since it involves gambling. The truth is reversing an earlier decision is worthy of serious discussion and not a free pass. Back in 2002 would Fall River have been allowed to create the BioPark if the 'no casino' clause had not been part of the deal? It's easy to say that the majority is in favor but that is not enough reason to override an earlier decision without revisiting the reasons behind it. Allowing this to be so easily bypassed sets a horrible precedent and makes any safeguards to preserve land for specific uses practically worthless.

Fresh Idea

Just when I thought I would never be able to praise Mayor Flanagan again, he announces plans for a downtown farmer's market.

Bravo!

Really I can't begin to describe what a wonderful idea I think this is. It's a simple, small project that costs very little in investment and could pay huge dividends. The Herald speaks of the lawyers and clerks that will now dominate the area with the new courthouse, but the area is also full of seniors and bankers, and tellers, and employees of Government Center. To think of the vibrancy this could bring to downtown as all of these folks take advantage of buying fresh fruits and veggies. Maybe the purchase will be some fruit to snack on or some veggies for dinner. Perhaps local eateries will feature some tasty treat with garden fresh produce. Of course the idea is to also bring in artists and musicians that will help transform old second street into an open air market.

I hope this is the beginning of a renewed effort to revitalize downtown using what we already have to our advantage.

Shame on who?

So apparently the Joe Martins saga continues. Joe who made the suggestion that the Durfee handbook should be updated, as a way to update parents, of the events and activities of a Boston Gay Pride Youth forum that children in Gay Straight Alliance may attend, continues to have his motives questioned.

Now a Durfee teacher, Gary Bigelow, has decided to come forth and express outrage of Mr. Martins suggestion and obviously knows what Joe’s REAL motives were.

Saying that one doesn’t “have a problem” with a certain kind of student is like saying that I have no problem with short people or old people or green people.

Perhaps Mr. Bigelow saying one doesn’t have a problem with a certain kind of student means JUST that and the reason you HAVE to state it is because political correctness has been distorted to the point that you can’t say anything without worrying about some group of people taking offense. Somehow Mr. Bigelow feels that an earlier statement about not thinking guitar playing was as important as a medical course proves that there was prejudice and bigotry. What?!

Mr. Bigelow tries to make the point that parents must sign field trips and how diligent the school and faculty are. Well sorry, I know for a fact that communication between the school and parents needs improvement.

Believe me I understand why people are questioning Joe Martins motives here. I’m aware of the beliefs that he and his wife have expressed in the past. However, all he was suggesting was that parents be better informed. Personally I don’t think the handbook would do the trick, but that is where discussion could have taken place. Mr. Bigelow says “they do not pose for disgusting pictures”, yet Mr. Martins furnished pictures of kids posing. But here is another chance for reasonable discussion. Do the pictures accurately represent what is going on there? If so do parents have a right to be informed about this?

When I read Mr. Bigelow’s letter I don’t see a teacher reaching out trying to assure parents that this event is a positive thing for their children. What I see is an individual who instead of pointing out prejudice and bigotry is practicing it.

However Mr. Bigelow is not the only person I’m disappointed in regarding this incident, I’m also disappointed in Joe Martins. You see I’m no psychic. I don’t profess to be able to read Joe’s mind and therefore know his true motives. That’s why I have tried to look at this objectively and seeing merit, give him the benefit of the doubt. However there is no doubt that whatever his intentions may have been his words and his actions have upset and offended. The other night 2 members of the Gay Straight Alliance came before the school committee and explained that to Mr. Martins. They went a step further and invited him to attend next year’s parade and see it for himself. He declined. Joe, whatever your personal views, if you claim to have no issue with this group you should rethink that invitation. Going to the parade would be a gesture of good will and an example of tolerance and acceptance.At the same meeting, another gentleman rose to speak and pointed out that the application to participate in the parade states any items given away must be age appropriate, which certainly puts into question some of Joe's concerns. If Mr. Martins were to go to the parade he would have a chance to either prove that his concerns are valid or take comfort that the event is not the concern he thought it was. By declining this invitation Mr. Martins simply reinforces the image and belief that many have already expressed about him.

Lefty's View: Shame on Gary Bigelow for being reactionary and simply slamming Mr. Martins when he could have done so much more to enlighten us on what takes place during this event. Shame on Joe Martins for missing an opportunity to show support and tolerance for the GLBT. Congratulations to the members of the GLBT who respectfully addressed Mr. Martins, extended him an invitation, and had the courage to stand up for themselves in a public forum.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Why did Prodigy Fail?

The other night Mike and Suzanne Ramos, owners of the Club Prodigy, an under 21 club, sat in the middle of the city council chambers. The owners came before the council to speak about their failed business. They were angry, frustrated, bitter, and sad. And the whole time they seemed to be venting that the city council didn’t do enough to support their business and in effect had let it die.

The blame seems misplaced. The spectacle that took place in the council chambers makes it seem that the closing of Prodigy is somehow the fault of the city, but really why did Prodigy fail?

The Location?

If you don’t know where Club Prodigy was, it was right in the same building as Ocean State Job Lot in the space closest to America Street. If you’re familiar with the area you know that the plaza really just kind of runs into a residential neighborhood with no buffer zone to speak off. Now back in April the Herald said that about 40 neighbors got together to discuss the issues and concerns they had with the club. Noise particularly the thumping of bass late into the night was an inconvenience and nuisance to several neighbors. Really this shouldn’t be a surprise. I imagine every home near a club of some sort has issues with loud music. Didn’t Mr. and Mrs. Ramos consider this when looking for a location? I think it would have been the first thing I would have considered. Again the location they chose runs right into a residential neighborhood with no buffer to speak off. When the club would close the kids would spill out into the parking lot and many would walk home. Picture it, dozens of kids walking through a residential neighborhood late at night or early in the morning, laughing, joking, and calling out to friends. There were even complaints of kids urinating outside. Is it any wonder some neighbors had issues with the club? It seems it was recognized that the owners were making efforts, if late, to alleviate some of the issues they had with neighbors. I don’t think location is what caused Prodigy to fail.

The Press?

Prodigy’s owners seemed to insinuate that the negative press from the Herald News played a part in the clubs troubles, citing the stories in the paper and the “blogs” on the Herald website. Well I’ve read the stories I personally don’t think they were that negative or alarming, nor were there that many (2). As for the “blogs” as many seemed to support the club as didn’t. Oh, and they’re not blogs, they’re comments. THIS is a blog. Yes I know I’ve ranted about this before but for those of us who take the time to write original material for our blogs, it is an important difference.

The Council?

This is the most puzzling of all. What exactly did the council do to cause the club to fail? What exactly was the council supposed to do to support it? Maybe somebody will be kind enough to write a few COMMENTS here and let me know because I am at a loss to understand this one.

The Economy?

Now we’re getting somewhere! How much did it cost to open Club Prodigy? What were its monthly expenses? How much did they need to make a week to cover it all? The club charged $10 for entry. Where were kids getting this money from? For this age group I can imagine the majority of the money comes from mom and dad. Let’s see 18% unemployment, foreclosures on the rise, is it possible that enough kids weren’t coming to the club? And what was their marketing strategy? They talked about walking kids home and that makes me think they were pulling from just their immediate area. That’s not going to work. You can’t expect the same kids to go day after day or week after week. You’ve got to pull from the entire city and the surrounding communities. Were they doing that or trying to? If so I’m not sure their strategy was successful.

Inexperience?

Starting a business is a risk, one that often fails. I would think before you go and protest at a council meeting maybe you’d take a good hard look at what YOU did wrong and what you didn’t properly plan for or foresee. You always hear that most new businesses fail and a quick Google search brings me to a statistic that says more than ½ will fail in the first 4 years. It’s a statistic that Prodigy’s owners should have been aware of. And why do so many fail? I can only assume it’s do to some flaw with the concept or the management. I am certainly assuming that is the case here.

What were they trying to do? It all gets played up as this fantastic service to provide a safe and fun place for teens to hang out, but really weren’t they trying to make money? They saw something they thought the city lacked and they opened up Prodigy with the expectations of it being a successful money maker. If that wasn’t the plan it should have been otherwise you’re opening up a business without knowing if it can sustain itself.

Why did Club Prodigy fail?

Without knowing the whole story, without seeing it all for ourselves, it is tough to know why Prodigy failed. I’m only making some observations and drawing conclusions from them, but I think they’re fair conclusions to make. How long was the club losing money? Did I hear right was it 7 or several months? I thought they said 7 at the council chambers which basically means almost from the start. That’s tough to blame anyone but yourselves for. If it was only ‘several’ and the losses came after the Herald’s story maybe they could make a case that the paper, the neighbors, and whatever else played a part. But I would argue that it could also just have been a downturn in business and their inability to weather it probably means that Prodigy was always fated to be one of those businesses that was never going to be around 4 years later.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Casino – No sure bet

There was a moment, just a moment where I thought a casino was definitely going to come to Fall River. The Senate had released their initial proposal that called for 3 licenses to be issued with one being designated for an Indian casino. The minute I read that I figured that Mayor Flanagan had found the Golden Ticket that guaranteed a casino would come to Fall River. However, the plan the Senate finally put forth did away with the 'Indian provision', deciding that fair competition is better for the Commonwealth. And suddenly the Mayor is once again little Charlie still searching for that free pass into the chocolate factory.

By now I've had a chance to casually encounter 3 of Fall River's city council and ask them what they thought about bringing a casino to Fall River. Almost universally the answer has been jobs, jobs, jobs, revenue, and jobs.

Personally I think believing that a casino is going to solve all of Fall River's problems is a lot like believing that playing the lottery will solve all of yours.

Of course say you're not FOR the casino and all you hear is that you have to read up on Bethlehem, PA and see how it has been a success there! Well to be honest I haven't done much reading on it, but I'll admit I haven't come across anything negative. The problem is that is ONE example. How many casinos have gone in that have not worked out, have harmed more than helped? What special ingredients does it take to make a successful casino and can we do that here? C'mon we're the city that can't figure out parking around a courthouse, or how to sell a surplus building. Can we really pull this off? Do you feel that confident? I don't, and I think if we're going to go down this path we better damn well make sure we get it right.

Truthfully I think we're already starting off on the wrong foot. First, we've basically conceded giving the BioPark to someone else, hopefully Freetown but who knows. Fall River really needs an image makeover and being the hub of life sciences for Massachusetts just seems more prestigious that hosting the Biff Tannen Casino. Of course the argument is that a casino will give us more jobs upfront and more of the jobs that Fall River residents need and will qualify for. Here's the question though, how many jobs? I keep hearing 3,000-5,000, which by the way is a pretty big spread. But when people throw out this number there is never any breakdown! 3,000-5,000 what? How many of these jobs are full time vs. part time? How many will pay over 50k a year, over 35k, etc. etc.  You know 5,000 thousand jobs that are marginally over minimum wage just doesn't cut it. No, the people of Fall River need jobs you can support a family on, not the kind that keeps you clawing just to hang on. And if a bunch of those jobs are part time, how much help is that? Not to mention with shops, a mall, spa, etc. there is a chance that this going to cost some jobs in the area. So let's see some breakdowns on all of this and stop believing that we're talking about 5,000 great paying jobs because that is just not going to be the case. There was a letter to the editor a few weeks back that mentioned that a casino in Niagara Falls employed far fewer people despite being bigger and located near a major tourist attraction. The letter, written by Alfred Lima, said that Niagara only saw 1,500 new jobs. Whoa that is a LOT fewer than 3,000-5,000. Now an interesting thing is the Herald News included a little postscript saying the figures we've been told include the people hired during construction. Well that goes against what one councilor told me when they insisted it was 3,000-5,000 permanent jobs AFTER construction. Already our city leaders don't have their facts straight.

Now to build this economic jewel we've got to jump through several hoops. It requires a local ballot question, which will likely have no trouble passing but can't happen until November. It requires a change in the deed of the land to allow a casino there. That could be a lot trickier and I really can't see members of the legislature who may be vying for a casino in their own communities voting for something that could potentially put one in Fall River. It requires the legalization of gambling! Yes, Massachusetts seems to have caught gambling fever but there are major differences between the Senate and House bills. This could potentially deadlock the issue for quite some time. And once that is all settled the state has to choose which locations will get a license. We're only talking about 2 or 3 for the entire state so if there is no 'Indian preference' that puts Fall River up against lots of competition. Now the Wampanoag's have very nicely threatened that if there is no 'Indian preference', they will simply ignore that state license and build the casino anyway and feel they can do this because it will be on Indian land. The problem there is the federal government doesn't allow tribes to do that unless they were recognized officially like 80 years ago. Our casino loving Indians weren't recognized until 2007. Even if at some point the tribe COULD do this, I think they would still have to deal with the commonwealth and by making these sorts of threats I'm not sure they're making friends. Really, if the BioPark were to go to New Bedford instead and you have the Wampanoag's threatening to not give the state a dime (assuming they can get the land in trust) why wouldn't the governor just say the hell with the those new exits on route 24?

So as I've already said before instead of getting both, which is what the Mayor keeps saying, we're going to be lucky if we get one. The casino is no sure thing, however the BioPark though much slower to 'ripen' was a sure thing. So now we have another Indian tribe that wants to open a casino in Fall River and we quickly tell them no. No?! Why no? The Aquinnah Tribe has put forth a proposal to build a casino on 240 acres of land near the Westport and Dartmouth lines however instead of giving it any serious consideration it has been dismissed as not viable. Apparently one issue is that it could take an additional year to develop over the Wampanoag proposal (3 yrs. Vs. 2yrs.) But consider this, with all the obstacles that face any Fall River proposal the Aquinnah site would allow for the immediate development of the BioPark (think construction jobs, roads etc.) while still keeping a poker in the fire for a gaming facility. Now I am not in favor of any casino, mostly because I worry about the negative effects they may have on our city, but if you HAVE to have one why not explore the option that gives you a chance at a casino AND still keep the BioPark?

I think it's this arrogant assumption that scares me the most. There's no need to slow down or consider other options because THIS will just fall into place. They'll be no negative effects no competition from other venues. THIS will be a success. But what if it's not? What if we haven't planned this out well enough? What if we should have considered other options? But people need jobs! But they might not get them, because a casino is no sure bet and the BioPark could go somewhere else…

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Defending Joe Martins

It's amazing that when it comes to an issue like gay rights that some people can be so narrow-minded and intolerant. I know that seems like an odd way to start a post about defending Joe Martins, but in this case I think the narrow-minded and intolerant ones are those who standing on the "political correctness" soap-box and would prefer to lash out instead of listen.

A little over a week ago Joe found himself in hot water when he proposed a change to the student handbook at Durfee High School. Martins brought up a point of concern regarding the Gay Straight Alliance's involvement in the Boston's Youth Pride Parade. Mr Martins wanted to make sure that parents were aware that if their children were involved in the Alliance that they would have the option of participating in the parade. He wanted parents to have an understanding of what their children may be exposed to if they are involved in the Youth Gay Pride Parade. Personally I saw this as nothing more than the committeeman wanting to make sure that parents were properly informed of what their children may be exposed to and give them the opportunity to decide if they felt it was something they wanted to their child to go to. However his fellow committee member Marilyn Roderick was highly offended by what she perceived to be Martins bigoted and religious views. After the story was reported in the Herald it spurned a letter to the editor and an editorial, both condemning Joe for his daring to question if the parade was a suitable event for all families and all children. And yesterday I heard a WSAR editorial that further spit on the intentions of Mr. Martins.

That night Joe brought up several good points before discussing the Gay Straight Alliance. The first three points all addressed improving standards for educational excellence from raising the passing grade bar (currently a meager 60), changing GPA guidelines for vocational and technical education courses, and the last involved tightening the language on early graduation requirements. It's a shame that the Herald did not find any of those topics worthy of discussion and instead focused solely on the one that caused controversy. It's a shame that Mrs. Roderick introduced the first truly ugly sentiments of the night by accusing Joe of bigotry as if there would be no other reason to possibly question it.

The fact is this has little to do with gay rights or Mr. Martins personal or religious views regarding them, despite what the reactionary and close minded would have you believe. This has everything to do with allowing parents to decide what is appropriate for their child to take part of and be exposed to. I would be willing to bet if the alliance and the parade had nothing to do with homosexuality but instead focused on heterosexual teens and would have kids handing out free condoms and provocatively dressed adults and candid references to sexual preferences and activities NO ONE would have questioned Joe's motives. I'd also be willing to bet parents would be outraged not to have been better informed before.

Of course I would imagine such things are not the true focus of the parade and in reality is only a minor part but it is a part. Why do these concerns turn into bigotry, intolerance, and insensitivity just because it involves a gay pride parade? I think Joe is right to believe that some parents would object to their child being involved in this parade, not because of some intolerance to homosexuality, but because their child may be exposed to things that as a parent they might not feel are appropriate for children of a certain age. In that context it really isn't much different that wondering if parents should be notified when the class in going to see a movie with possibly objectionable language or violence, or go to a museum that may expose children to the images of naked men and women? I don't think so. And somehow I doubt if Joe raised concerns on those issues that anyone would label him as being against cinema or against the arts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

News from New London

New London Likes Dr. Nick, kinda.....
It seems Fall River's former superintendent is wrapping up his first year in New London and is getting mostly high praise. An article in "The Day" reports that Dr. Nick is getting good marks for progressive thinking, setting high standards, and strong leadership. However he is also getting criticism for being confrontational, dismissive and bullying.

Hmmmm.

It all sounds pretty familiar and it will be interesting to see if Dr. Fischer's experience in New London mimics his tenure here in Fall River. One interesting thing is quite unlike Fall River, he was praised for his handling of the budget process.

If Dr. Nick continues to receive high marks and New London sees improvement in their school system, would that mean that the chaos and the problems here might have been our own doing?

THIS, is why we need a casino in Fall River.
A story in the Boston Globe reports that the parents of a 1 year old and a 10 year old left their children in the car while they gambled at Foxwoods. The parents come from right here in Massachusetts, one in Dedham and the other from Milton, both were arraigned in New London Superior Court. It only goes to reason that if we had a casino here in Fall River they'd be so much closer that the negligent duo could have just left the kids at home!

Friday, June 04, 2010

“How government can be made more transparent and accountable through technology?”

I was recently contacted by the Pioneer Institute and asked if I would be willing to help promote the "Ultimate Citizen Award". What's the "Ultimate Citizen Award"? Well I would urge you to visit Fall River Blog to get the full details, but in a nutshell it's a competition to hear the ideas and opinions about how government can be made more accountable and more transparent by the use of technology.

After reading their email and visiting their website I knew it was something that I not only wanted to help promote but also to participate in. The competition runs through June 15th and basically is looking for me to get YOUR responses to 3 questions:

· What government information do you think people should have access to?

· In what format do you think this information should be delivered in?

· How do you think technology can be used to make government more transparent and accountable to citizens?

Now the reason I decided to participate in this and ask you to share your thoughts is because this is a topic that I've discussed with readers, fellow bloggers, friends, and local politicians. We all think government should be more accountable. But for that to happen people need to understand what's going on. It makes sense that the more accessible government is the more transparent and accountable it becomes.

A few hours ago I mentioned this post and this contest to somebody and they immediately threw out an idea that I had never thought of, yet it was an idea that would certainly promote participation and make government more accessible. And with today's technology it was not only doable but affordable! And I know amongst all of you, there are probably hundreds of other good ideas just waiting to be expressed. So please read the questions above and I hope you'll participate.

Lefty