Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Election Day Thoughts

When I woke up this morning Fall River was covered in a fog, which I imagine some will find a pretty fitting  analogy. The dust has settled and for the most part there has been little change in Fall River's political makeup.

Shockingly the school committee had no turnovers. It's the same makeup as before with the exception of Paul Hart filling the seat vacated by Marilyn Rodrigues. It's tough to believe with the all the issues in the school department that voters are happy with the status quo. We have had budget disasters, the threat of DESE takeover, controversy over pay raises and THIS was the quietest race of all! Does this vote represent satisfaction with the performance of the school committee and the school department? If so how do you explain Joe Martins being the top vote getter? Joe is very much not a supporter of the superintendent so it seems odd that if Joe is #1, that some other candidates clearly looking for change didn't make the cut. However, I liked Paul Hart when he was on the City Council and think he'll be a positive addition to the School Committee.

Of course the City Council is the place that had the most change and the most surprises. The biggest change is the addition of 3 new city councilors! Dan Rego, Mike Miozza, and Dave Dennis will certainly add a new dynamic to the council especially considering that Leo Pelletier will be one of those not returning. I've already discussed the Leo dynamics in another post but last night the voters decided not to return Leo to the council. It wasn't even close he was several hundred votes from even being close to the 9th place. It's interesting that Leo lost his seat despite finishing in 9th place in the preliminary ahead of Pat Casey, who this time around managed to leap frog over him and take the 9th place spot for herself. I thought Leo could be in real trouble but couldn't quite figure out how people would feel about the indictment, the Herald News editorial and the rest, but I was sure Pat Casey was done. And I know others I talked to felt the same way. But she is safe and Leo becomes the only incumbent not reelected. But that doesn't minimize the change on the council because the people who did make it were ahead of incumbents! Dan Rego took the number 2 spot, which honestly is startling. Mike Miozza finished 7th and Dave Dennis 8th, both ahead of Pat Casey. Just as shocking is Linda Pereira being the #1 vote getter. I don't want to imply she doesn't deserve it, because obviously more people voted for than any other councilor and so she deserves it, but I never got the impression that Linda was the most effective councilor over the last 2 years. In fact I was very much in agreement with the Herald endorsements of Ray Mitchell and Eric Poulin. I was reading this morning that Joe Camara and Ray Mitchell are both eyeing the City Council Presidency and I have to wonder if Linda might be eyeing that herself.

That brings us to the Mayor's race. What can I say? Well obviously there are a lot of people disgusted with outcome. There are a lot of people who felt that Will Flanagan was not the right choice, was not a good mayor and did not deserve reelection. There were more people who felt that the Mayor is hard working, passionate and intent on moving the city forward AND that a two year term is not enough time for a Mayor to do what he sets out to accomplish.  I imagine a lot of people will try to figure just what happened here. Was it ever close? Was it the message? Money? What? Cathy Ann Viveiros has run several times before and just can't seem to win. Is it the candidate? Cathy has always struck me as very intelligent and very capable, but I've had more than a few people mention her "baggage" to me. Regardless Flanagan's victory was decisive. I have not been the biggest fan of the Mayor and I can only hope he is serious about trying bring the city together because that has been a big flaw in his first term. The mayor has set his own time line, by saying two years isn't enough he is implying that we should see real change and real results in these next two. I guess we'll have to wait and see.



Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's Election Day!

It's Election Day! Go out and vote and be heard!

I have to say, despite a lackluster election season today has turned out to be a pretty exciting Election Day! Who will be Mayor? What new faces will be on the council? Who will be elected to the school committee? What incumbents will bounce back and hold on to their seats? Or will those incumbents make way for new faces?

I knew, as I think most everyone did, that this year would Flanagan versus Viveiros again. I truly felt that if that was the match up come election day that Will would win easily. I felt that way through most of the summer.But over the last month or so there has been an energy around this race. Suddenly it seems that Cathy could really beat Flanagan, despite his "Shock and Awe" campaign strategy! Now I'm not saying she's going to win. I'm saying I wouldn't put money on HIM winning. I'm saying if you are a Cathy supporter GO OUT AND VOTE because your candidate IS FIRMLY in the RACE. The opposite is true, if you're a Flanagan supporter GET OUT THERE because YOUR CANDIDATE needs your vote. DON'T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED!! It's exciting when the race is close and hopefully it means a better than expected turnout.

The council race also has some interest there are open seats could candidates to fill them that NEED your support. There are long time incumbents on the verge of being voted out. It's up to YOU to decide if they stay or if they go! There is an open seat on the school committee and really maybe a few other seats that need to be switched out. Do you believe in our school committee? If so stay home or vote the status quo. If you don't go out there and vote to change it.

For the past 5 years all I have heard is "we need change".."we need change".."we need change". Fall River voters are starting to sound like a beggar on a street corner. THIS election season I see more opportunity for change than ever before. It will be interesting to see who is in, and who is out, when the votes are counted.

Where in the world is Leo Pelletier?

Leading up to today I've had the usual conversations. "Who will win mayor?" "Who will be the top vote getter for the council?" "How do you think so-and-so will do?" Most of these questions I have firm opinions on. Even if I see something close I can rationalize how things may go if this happens or that happens. The one question I have been asked that I really have no certainty for is how do I think Leo will do. 

How will Leo do? I thought his 9th place finish in the preliminary could spell trouble for him but I also realized it could mobilize his supporters come November. Then the indictment came along and I thought does this hurt him? It should! It would other councilors. Or does this help him? Do people who like Leo and support Leo now come out and vote for Leo because they see him as a victim? I don't know. I have talked to some who feel this isn't new Leo has gotten into this kind of trouble before and should have known enough to stay clear. However these people are not the ones who usually support Leo. I think the people who usually support Leo feel he's one of them, an average Fall River guy, who just happens to represent them in the city council. He's the guy who gets pot holes fixed, trash picked up, and answers their calls and gets them answers to their questions. How do those people feel? 

Let's see... Leo had a 9th place finish, he was just indicted, and the Herald News wrote an editorial saying it was time from him to step down. That all sounds ominously bad on election day. On the other hand Leo just had an event with from what I hear, a very large turnout. 

People keep asking me where do I think Leo will finish and I have to say I really don't know!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bad signs for the local paper?

We've been hearing for a while that print journalism is becoming extinct. Newspapers seems to be struggling to find new identities in a world where people are reading their news on their smart phone and not at the breakfast table. I saw a story the other day that was a subtle reminder of this, that by itself would mean little if not for another story I saw last night on the Herald News. 


The first story was on WPRI's website. (That alone is an indicator of how tricky the media world now is, when a TV station is also providing print news content online!). An post there stated that the Projo's circulation is down. What struck me is that the article also stated the circulation figures from the Herald News and the Standard-Times.




I was a bit surprised that the Standard-Times sold that much better than the Herald. I was also surprised that considering the surrounding area how low those totals seemed, at least to me. 

Like I said, I found it interesting but by itself I didn't mean much until I saw an article in the Herald stating that they would be moving their printing operations to a regional location along with several other papers. I'm pretty sure that only recently the Taunton Gazette moved it's printing to Fall River and now both, along with the Projo and one of the Boston papers are moving to a regional location. Well despite the best spin this has nothing to do with advantages in technology it is a cost savings measure plain and simple and it's happening all over the country. 

It's a sad thing to see local papers struggling to remain relevant because the digital world doesn't cover the types of stories that have made local papers part of our community and a fixture in our homes for decades. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

“A message from Mayor Flanagan”

Apparently there has been an email circulating around with the subject line stating to be 'A message from Mayor Flanagan' but wasn't sent out by him or his campaign and features some videos that don't really show the Mayor in the best of lights.

Sadly, nobody thought to send this email to me….

Mayor Flanagan is upset, understandably that someone is sending out an email that at best is misleading and at worst is intentionally meant to look like it came from the Mayor or his campaign.  Alright so the Mayor issued a press release and got himself in the Herald News to set the record straight. Sounds good right? Except that Mayor isn't just setting the record straight and he isn't just denouncing the email he is flat out accusing his opponent of sending it!

He is quoted as saying "it's the modus operandi" established by the Viveiros campaign, and that Cathy "represents all the dirty tricks of the past" He says she should acknowledge her role in it or condemn it.

Unless his press release to the paper offered more detail than what the paper quotes (and it doesn't appear to be posted on his campaign website) how in the world can he come out and accuse Viveiros or her campaign of sending out this email? Without proof isn't what he is doing just as damning, maybe even more so than what he is accusing her of doing? After all IF she was responsible then the worst you can say is that she sent out emails with a misleading subject line. On the other hand if he is wrong he is basically engaging in character assassination!

I also have to ask why would Cathy Ann Viveiros need to send out emails under some misleading context. One of the videos highlights the Mayor's possible interest in running for U.S. Senate and another a report on Flanagan's use of state funds to support private development. Both topics are legitimate campaign points so if her campaign wanted to get this out there why not just send it from the campaign where it would likely get the same amount of notice? Of course I can't say she didn't send it but I can't really see any logical reason why she would.

And other than trying to make Viveiros look bad I can't figure out why the Mayor would want to bring attention to this. He says he has no concern about the videos themselves just the misleading manner it was put out there. He HAS to be telling the truth because he has pretty much guaranteed everyone under the sun is going to want to watch those videos now! Even if you're not worried I can't see why you would help promote anything that negatively reflects on you.

Fifth Time’s a Charm?

As we entered our latest election season there were two things of which I was certain, that Cathy Ann Viveiros would once again make a run for mayor, and that Will Flanagan would win reelection. Well obviously the first has held absolutely true but the second? I'm not so sure.

Despite my efforts to be unbiased, open-minded and fair, I do not like Will Flanagan. I think he mishandled the entire casino proposal and more than just mishandling it, it was a flat out mistake. I think his wanting to micromanage his own board appointees shows a lack of leadership. His idea of 'transparent government' is a joke. I think his 81 million dollar school budget proposal absurd. I can't decide if threatening layoffs to Government Center workers if they didn't take a pay cut only to suddenly find the money is a sign of incompetence or a deceit. And still I have thought he would be reelected. First, not everyone agrees with MY opinion on the above, and secondly there are things that he has accomplished, getting up to date with the DOR, keeping the Durfee Textile building from becoming 'misdeveloped', supporting and building strong ties with neighborhood associations, to name a few.

My opinion all along has been the Mayor has made several mistakes but no challenger had come forth who was strong enough to take advantage of them. Even recently I have thought that Cathy Ann just wasn't getting enough traction to beat the Mayor and I STILL think she needs to cut back on the intellectual reasoned approach and let fly with a little passion! However I'm hearing from people who are not happy with the Mayor. Some didn't support him before but some did and they are not going to support him this time around. I'm watching the debates where I think Cathy has always done a better job than Will Flanagan. And now I'm looking at the Herald News endorsing Cathy Ann Viveiros for mayor!

I'm honestly surprised, happily so, at the momentum building behind her. Is it enough to win? We'll find out Election Day!

I know it’s been awhile…

I know it's been awhile since I've blogged anything new. Somehow October has come and gone and I haven't found the time or the energy to comment on a single thing. It seems the ol' blog is just sitting around gathering dust. ..






It's not that I don't have anything to say or have run out of opinion to share. A big part is life just catching up with me. The year has been eventful, some good, some bad. The good has taken my attention away from blogging. The bad has sapped my interest and motivation to blog. There are other factors. It seems that blogging in general has just STOPPED. It's not that I'm not blogging, it seems NOBODY is. That's depressing because I miss the opinion and creative thought that was shared. Part of this is because of the local paper's comment section makes it easy for everyone to put in their 2 cents. I would say that is a good thing, but honestly I don't think the comment section nurtures thought out opinions as much as it does attacking commentary. It's more arguing than debate and the paper does a poor job of moderating it. Then too there is facebook, which honestly I have thought about trying to build a presence on but a lack of motivation to blog has also meant a lack of motivation to really give that much attention. Then there is also the FOCUS of this blog, which has always been Fall River. Lately, Fall River seems to be in a malaise. I don't see exciting things happening. I don't see the city moving forward. A few years ago it seemed to me the city was rising from the ashes, but now it seems like it's too tired to make the effort.






I know the feeling…






Well, I'm going to try to blow off the dust and brush off the cobwebs and get some new content on here. After all I did pay for the domain name I may as well use it. At this point I'm not sure how many people are stopping by and how many people are reading but if you still are, I thank you, and if you haven't been hopefully some new content will bring you back.






Lefty

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why Make Up Missed Time?

Apparently parents at the Talbot Middle School are not happy about the way the school department handled a recent shutdown. The school department shut down the school to conduct air quality tests after learning some of the caulking used in the building contained PCB's.

Now I understand parents being irked by the last minute notice and by the inconvenience of it all. I don't know how long the school department has known about the caulking and if it could have been done before the school year. I would have to say I hope not because that would mean they decided to let kids attend school knowing of a potential risk, which I think would be a MUCH bigger issue. So I am going to assume that the PCB's came to light after the school opened for the year and the decision was made to be safe and not sorry. And the good news is the tests have come back and the PCB levels are well below any levels of concern. What I don't understand is the feelings of some parents quoted in the Herald News who don't believe their kids should have to make up the lost time.

Are you kidding me?!

These parents think the closing was badly handled, it's not the kids fault and they shouldn't have to make up the time.

In a city where the state school department has one hand on the "takeover" button, where drop out rates are still too high and MCAS scores are still too low their parents feel that their kids should have LESS school?

When it comes to education in this city our kids already have two strikes against them. And it's not because we have lousy teachers. (Because I don't believe that.), It's not because we have poor leadership. (Although I believe there is certainly room for improvement.) It's because we're a poor community with all the social economic problems that come from that and because we can't providing more funding to combat some of these issues.

Let me tell you something, if it were up to me I would strongly consider making EVERY school in this city an expanded day learning school, because our kids need more education not less. And parents need to stress the importance of education. When a parent basically compares education to some burden like paying the rent it sends the wrong message.

"Gee the heating system in my apartment let go and I had to move out for a week, so I shouldn't have to pay rent for that week."

"Gee they closed school for a week to make sure it was SAFE, my kid should have to make that up!"

Education is something that is NEEDED, it's essential and we shouldn't be fighting for less of it, we should be making sure our kids get everything they can from it.

"Gee the stove was broke and the appliance guy didn't fix it until 2PM.. so Johnny shouldn't have to eat lunch."

Obviously most parents would say hey we're back in business let's get some lunch together! If I were a Talbot parent I would be fighting to make sure the school department didn't throw 5 lousy half days on to the end of the year. Personally I would probably be fighting for some Saturday classes. Five Saturdays in school NOW seems better than a full week in June.

I'll bet no matter how they go about making up these days a lot of parents will just keep their kids home. And in the end, it's not the 5 absences that will have a negative effect on a child's education. It's the attitude behind them.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Mayoral Race

If I had my way the primary election would result in Cathy Ann Viveiros and Stefani Koorey making it through to the general election. I don't think, however that this will be the likely outcome. Mostly, because I imagine Mayor Flanagan will safely be one of the top two vote getters. Not that I think he should be, more because of the advantages of being the incumbent. The Mayor still retains a core of support and if nothing else has made efforts reaching out to neighborhood associations that should serve him in good steed come election day.

Of course two years ago I would have bet the outcome was going to be Mayor Correia and Cathy Ann Viveiros facing off in the general election. It just goes to show you that sometimes the unexpected happens and "conventional wisdom" is just flat out wrong.

The thing that amazes me the most about the current race is that nobody has really seperated themselves from the pack. I've watched to forum at White's and listened to the WSAR forum and watched the Richard Urban Show, and never once thought someone had clearly run away with it.

Obviously the disadvantage to being an incumbent is you have a record to defend and for the most part Will Flanagan has managed (at least in these forums) do a passable job at that. Now don't get me wrong I'm not saying he's done a great job at it, just that he's kept his opponents from scoring any direct hits. Now those who really pay attention will say that I'm wrong that he evaded, or soft shoed his way through and I would agree with that. But it's a soundbite world and the average voter will pick up on the buzzwords, 'jobs' 'safety' etc. and never focus on the lack of substance in those responses. But other than doing that I don't feel that he has inspired people with his vision or leadership. I don't walk away blown over by his passion (although I did see glimpses once or twice), instead much like two years ago I walk away mostly unimpressed by Will Flanagan.

There seem to be 3 great certainties in life, death, taxes and Cathy Ann Viveiros will run for mayor. I knew when she lost 2 years ago that she would be his challenger in this race, and so did everyone I talked to. Fortunately the Mayor has made plenty of mistakes for Cathy to seize onto but for some reason her passion doesn't come through, her leadership fails to inspire. I almost wish someone would piss her off before these things so she would go out fiery and worked up. I think back to her debate against candidate Will Flanagan, and that night she did seem to be energized, passionate, ready to win. Sadly I think by then too many people had already made up their mind. Then like now the thing that impresses me about Cathy is her ability to give an answer, share a vision and give specifics and details that she has really done her homework, thought long and hard about the subject and has a knowledge that her opponents often seem to lack.

Stefani Koorey is, too me, the most interesting candidate if for no other reason than because I don't think people know what to make of her. Maverick? Vested outsider? Critic? Advocate? Is she serious? Is she nuts? Right from the start I have felt that she faced an uphill battle to wage a successful campaign. She doesn't have the name recognition or background that we look for from our political candidates. But Stefani is certainly is very intelligent woman who can speak knowledgeably on many of the issues that face Fall River today. She is perhaps the current administration's biggest critic and certainly has become a watchdog over local government. She has been very involved, attending countless city meetings. She is also a dedicated advocate in many causes. She has an "outsider's perspective" which basically means she sees the positive and isn't held back by years of self-doubt about the city's future. It's easy for some to dismiss a candidate who is critical of the current administration, but mostly unknown before running and has no previous experience in government. But two years ago we elected that person as Mayor of Fall River. Could we do it again?

I get the biggest kick out of Carolyn Burton. I don't mean that at all in a dismissive way. Nobody does a better job of taking on the "citizen politician" mantle. She tells us, she is just one of us an average Fall River citizen who is concerned about the city and she's 100% believable (at least to me). She lacks polish, she lacks specifics yet she has such terrific passion, such charisma and such and honest belief in common sense that you wonder if she could overcome her own shortcomings and actually move the city forward.

I have to admit I just don't get Richard M. Renzi. With his suits, stylish glasses and perfectly coiffed hair I'm ready to award him best dressed candidate. However with his almost monotone voice he comes across to me as a cross between Alec Baldwin and a televangelist. Neither would I want for mayor. He has big ideas some of them good, but no specifics on how he thinks he could implement them. There is no way this guy could be elected mayor and implement what he wants. Government doesn't work that way. He also projects a supreme confidence in his ideas and ability to lead, which I'm not sure is the right tact for someone who hasn't even lived in the city a full 6 months yet.

With election day quickly coming upon us I'm still not sure anyone has really stepped up and really convinced us why they should be mayor. Will Flanagan hasn't really defended his record or promoted his accomplishments and while others have been quick to point to his faults they haven't always shown how they will do things differently or accomplish more than he been able to.

Who are you leaning toward on election day?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"You know what they should do?"

Mike Moran's latest column in the Herald takes a somewhat critical somewhat complimentary look at the Green Futures proposal for the former Hess LNG site. He gives them credit for suggesting a plan for the Weavers Cove site, although calling it naive. At the same time he seems to be saying that those who say "you know what they should do" are basically looking to waste your time with their ideas that they can't possibly implement. Politicians and government can really only play a supportive role and it's private business that makes the difference. I take a different point of view on this.

Government has to play more than a "supportive" role in development. If we want a vibrant downtown, then it's up to local government to work to make that happen. That means marketing, changing zoning, looking for ways to finance redevelopment, courting businesses that we feel fit that vision. You can't sit back and wait for private business to say "you know what they should do" and then hopefully go and do it. The same principal applies to the waterfront. Citizens, activist groups, idealistic politicians, etc. who share there ideas aren't living out some pipe-dream they are hoping to inspire someone who can implement a vision. In the case of Green Futures vision for the LNG site, obviously they are building on the seeds of a vibrant recreational and commercial waterfront and pointing out that it should be included in the "vision" we have for the rest of the waterfront.

Once upon a time someone said, "you know what they should do?" and then said we should tear down the elevated Rt. 79 and now we're moving closer to that reality. More recently someone said "you know what they should do?" and then said we should paint the Braga a new color to brighten up the skyline. Certainly painting the bridge isn't going to have the same impact as getting rid of the elevated highway, but the point is neither change would have happened if someone didn't first say "you know what they should do?"

A blue Braga isn't going to change the future of Fall River but removing that elevated roadway will. A boulevard along the waterfront is going to open up land and development possibilities that haven't existed before. Someone's pipe-dream is becoming a reality. Weavers Cove has to be one of the most important parcels of land in the city. It's in a prime location. It has great highway access can be connected to rail and proposed bike paths. It would be a shame to see the city not try to have a hand in developing that site in ways that fit with our vision of the future of our waterfront. What's for worse than saying "you know what they should do?" is saying "you know what they should have done?"

Benefit to the Community

This past Sunday the Herald News ran an article asking city council candidates to share their thoughts about what to do with the surplus of former school buildings. The candidates had a choice of 3 options:

1.    The highest bid

2.    Benefit to the Community

3.    Potential for future tax revenues.

I know what my answer would have been. I've stated many times that the most important consideration when looking at options for these buildings is finding the best fit for the neighborhood and the city. It's a somewhat pleasant surprise to find that 9 respondents, including four current city councilors share that basic viewpoint.

Two councilors, Mitchell and Poulin use the example of the former police station to highlight the pitfalls of going after the highest bid and it's an example I myself have cited constantly. The city bypassed the option of taking a smaller bid from an experienced developer with a great track record and instead ended up accepting a higher bid amount that has resulted in an eyesore that is now a safety hazard! The idea of getting your money upfront is appealing but it won't take long before the money is all spent and we'll be left with the consequences of our shortsightedness. The one candidate who answered that the highest bid is the way to go is Bob Boutin, an experienced realtor.  He brings up good points in his answer. He says we should get valid appraisals and that the city needs to be professional in the business of selling these schools. I would dare say the way the potential sale of the Belisle was handled looks like a comic fiasco that does nothing to make others want to even consider trying to submit a bid. He also points out that the present zoning could possibly hinder sales. Now I still say highest profit is wrong thinking, but these points are not contrary to the idea of benefiting the community. If we have a fair, accurate appraisal we know what the building is worth and parties submitting offers for less than the appraised value should have to justify their reasoning. If the Osborn Street School is worth $750,000 (let's say), and a party bids $100,000 but offers a plan to restore the structure and cites those costs as the reason for the low bid, well perhaps that is enough reason to accept a low bid. If medical offices wanted to locate there and in doing so would create 35 new jobs THAT might be a reason why you would accept a lower bid. As long the intended use was complimentary to the neighborhood and the city and as long as we had assurances (contractually) that a low bidder could not flip the property for a higher profit and that they would do the required work within a set timeframe the bid amount should be secondary.

Only one candidate answered "potential for future tax revenues". It's an interesting answer and one I'm not sure how to calculate. Of course it would exclude selling these buildings to any non-profit organization and it exchanges what is best for the neighborhood for maximizing profits, which I flat out disagree with. I think I read that Meditech pays somewhere between $400,000 to $500,000 in taxes to the city, but their building sits on 17 acres and has 120,000 square-feet of space. None of the former schools is comparable to that. Taking a look at the property record for the Belisle School shows an assessed value of $3,288,500 and if you applied the commercial property tax rate to that you would get just over $70,000. Well that sounds decent enough if you can find someone to buy the school and use the property as is and they don't get it re-assessed (because I think that assessment is probably too high) and they don't somehow get a TIF agreement for coming to Fall River. Chances are the Belisle is going to fall victim to the wrecking ball and become Belisle Commons or some other name for some cul-de-sac. (By the way keep your eyes open on this one to see what well connected developer manages to get a deal on the former school property.) The property is roughly 6 acres, so how many houses can we fit on it? I wouldn't doubt if you could squeeze 24 houses there which not including streets would mean about ¼ acre a house. That's actually pretty generous for Fall River! Well let's assume 24 houses all worth about $250,000 each that would give you a tax bill on each house of just over $2,500! Multiply $2,500 by 24 houses and you get a nice 60k in new taxes! Sounds good right? Well 24 homes probably mean 24 families. If each family had 2 kids that's 48 more kids in the school system. 48 more kids are enough for 2 classrooms! So it's reasonable to assume that so many new kids could mean the addition of at least one teacher in the school department. That's at least 45k a year (salary plus benefits). These kids would require materials, books, paper, etc. and there is a cost to that. These homes will require trash pickup, snow plowing, road salting, electricity for street lights what's the cost of all that? Suddenly you're not looking at 60k in new revenue and you're starting to wonder if you'll break even! So needless to say I have my doubts that we should be pinning our hopes on the greatest potential for future tax revenue.

What bothers me the most is the candidates that didn't answer. This is crunch time and hopefully voters are trying to make informed decisions. Most appalling is the 2 candidates for office that currently SIT ON the real estate committee, including the chair Pat Casey!  (Committee members Poulin and Kilby did submit answers.) Certainly voters might be interested to know the opinions of the members who currently sit on the committee, especially considering its dismal track record.

Monday, August 29, 2011

TRUST




Despite my lack of blogging, I have certainly been watching the mayoral race. Honestly I have some pretty firm opinions on who is going to make it past the primary and who isn't. Right from the start I have thought that Stefani Koorey was going to have a real battle on her hands to get some name recognition and build a base of support. However this campaign video on Youtube is probably one of the best things to come from her campaign (or anyone else's).


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

You Can Always Go... Downtown!!

A friend brought an article that is in the OJornal to my attention. The article brings attention to the many vacant storefronts downtown. The article points out that once thriving Columbia Street is also falling victim to hard times and vacant storefronts.
 

How do you revitalize downtown has been a topic of discussion probably longer than any of us can remember. In my last post I stressed that this was one of 5 areas that I thought we should utilize resources to develop and market.

 

But good things do seem to be happening downtown. Last weekend I was driving down South Main Street in the evening and was amazed at the amount of cars and the amount of traffic I saw. I talk to co-workers who live nowhere near Fall River who drive down to listen to bands at a downtown venue. There is a comic and card shop that also seems to be known outside of our community.  I don't recall who gets the credit, either Mayor Flanagan or former Mayor Correia but the idea of trolley/restaurant tasting tours is something we need to continue to do. We lost First Night, which on those occasions that I attended, I thought did a lot to help introduce people to downtown.  The problem with First Night is that it was usually so cold but why can't you have a Downtown Summer Festival that would run from late afternoon and flow into evening with live music venues and street vendors, performers etc? What happened to Artist Storefront program which got a lot of hype but doesn't seem to be as embraced as it needs to be? My friend pointed out that a simple Google search brings up all sorts of empty storefront ideas including an indoor Farmer's Market. I have said in the past that a temporary Lizzie Borden exhibit with mock courtroom should be set up and the city SHOULD exploit the interest in the Borden case. And of course the case itself has some wonderful downtown ties.

 

Lefty's View: As corny as this is, as I write this post, I can't get the 60's song "Downtown" out of my head. If you're not familiar with it, it basically says downtown is a place to go to get away from it all. It speaks of bright lights, movies, music, all-night shops and the bustle and energy of someplace you want to be. Now I'm not saying Fall River's downtown can be transformed to rival New York but I do think we have to embrace the idea of making downtown someplace you want to be and a place where things are happening that you don't want to miss.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Five Better Places for Economic Development

So as I discussed in the last post Boston's Urban Land Institute is donating its service to the Fall River Office of Economic Development. FROED has decided the best place to focus these services on is a roughly 70 acre parcel owned by the Atlantis Charter School. Now coincidentaly I wrote my post a week after the article originally appeared in the Herald News and I noted that there had been no confirmation that Atlantis Charter would even consider selling. Hours after I posted the Herald had a new article saying that ACS would indeed consider selling if the deal was good for Fall River.

The fact that Atlantis Charter is willing to sell makes FROED's plan more plausible but (in my opinion) there are five locations that the Urban Land Institutes's service could be better put to use.

1. Weaver's Cove - Now that LNG is no longer being considered finding ways to market the former Shell Oil site has to be a priority for Fall River and you would think for FROED.

2. The Waterfront - There has been LOTS of discussion about developing Fall River's waterfront and a lot of back and forth about the right and wrong way to do it. Why not use ULI's expertise to come up with a plan to market and develop our waterfront.

3. Downtown - If there is any part of Fall River that needs some expertise to market and develop it's downtown. Perhaps ULI could come up with ways to help market Fall River's downtown and revitalize it in ways we often discuss but so far have not found a way to do.

4. Former School Property - The one thing we've all learned about our city council is they can't sell schools. The city is "blessed" with a surplus of interesting old school buildings that all require unique and innovative ways to market them. Perhaps FROED could have partnered with the City Council to use the ULI resources to find the best uses for each building and the best way to market them.

5. Weaver Street Mills - This is my own personal soft spot. You see for the past 10 years I have had jobs that have had me going up Route 79 and onto Route 24 (and of course back again). I have been driving by these mills for years and for years I have thought that they were perfectly placed for development. Not self storage or warehouses but office space some retail, loft apartments. Now with a new bridge ready to open this area seems even more tangible to market. Also marketing THIS area could tie in to revitalizing the Brightman Street area that has been devastated by the traffic changes dictated by the new bridge.

Lefty's View: Even if ACS is willing to sell that doesn't mean they will sell. Why invest resources to market and develop a site when there are other sites that area where marketing and development are sure to have an impact?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

You can't sell it if it's not for sale...

Let me ask you, why would you waste time and energy and resources and squander advice and expertise to try to come up with ways to market and develop a piece of property that might not even be for sale?

An article that ran in the Herald News about a week ago said that Boston's Urban Land Institute would be providing free services to Fall River. The article goes on to say that Fall River Office of Economic Development officials hope to market a large tract of land off of Jefferson Street that is currently owned by the Atlantis Charter School.

The article has a sprinkling of quotes about how beautiful the land is and the possibilities for office and commercial use but it's this quote from Ken Fiola that inspired this blog post…

"If we can come up with the right development scheme, we can at least begin discussions with the charter school," Fiola said of possible re-use.

What? We're going to take all this time and assemble panels and devote who knows how many man hours and come up with ideas and plans AND THEN BEGIN DISCUSSIONS with the property owner? Are you kidding me??

In fact in the entire article there is not ONE SINGLE COMMENT OR QUOTE from anyone representing the Charter School. That is either a glaring oversight by the Herald News or a very telling revelation.

Now Atlantis Charter purchased this property to be the site of a future campus that would allow them to expand to grade 12. As far as I know that is still their plan and unless they continue to want to occupy multiple buildings and figure that it might be cheaper to buy some surplus school building to serve as a high school. If that's the case they certainly haven't shown any interest in any of the former schools and again why wouldn't there be some comment from them if they had any interest in selling the land?

Why wouldn't you use these resources for parcels of land that you KNOW are going to be sold and where we could really use some assistance in marketing them and coming up with a strategy to bring in investors? Why wouldn't you offer to work with the city council with these resources in order to market the former school buildings? Why wouldn't you possibly use these resources to come up with plans to market the Weaver's Cove site? Why wouldn't you have worked with First Bristol Corp to see if perhaps there were office and commercial opportunities for THAT Jefferson Street location? Why does Ken Fiola even have a job?

Perhaps the Atlantis Charter School has expressed interest in moving the property, if so this could be really beneficial. However if Atlantis isn't interested in selling the property than not only are we wasting valuable assistance but we have to once again question the value of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, at least under its current leadership.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Wal-Mart Disappointing

When the wrecking ball tore through the mills on Jefferson Street that had been there for over a century the word was the site was going to be the home of the new Lowe's.  Personally I would rather have had the old mills and remember when that the cluster of mills in that area were a bustling bunch of outlets. But somehow we let the outlets wither on the vine and watched the Wrentham outlets bloom and grow.  All things considered maybe a Lowe's could be a benefit to the city, but the property sat for far too long. Then I heard rumors it was going to be a Market Basket! Well I had already heard all this hype about New Bedford's new Market Basket and thought this might be a nice addition, if not the best use for the property. Finally, word comes out that the location will be the home of a new Super Wal-Mart and I am well underwhelmed.

A new Super Wal-Mart? Why? Oh don't get me wrong I have gone to the Super Wal-Mart in Raynham enough to see the benefit of having one. The current Wal-Mart seems to have tried to cram so much into their space that they no longer offer much of a selection of anything. But what waste of an opportunity to put a Wal-Mart there on a site that has so much more potential.

Over the last several months I have driven by and thought gee with the site right next to highway access, and it being waterfront property to boot this could be an interesting place for maybe commercial development , maybe some residential. Maybe this could be shopped as a potential site for companies that want to be near the ATMC.  Oh I admit what I'm talking about is idealistic and maybe unreal but a Wal-Mart? We HAVE a Wal-Mart! Why not just have Wal-Mart expand into the mall? Nothing else is really in there!

A Super Wal-Mart isn't going to bring many long term jobs and they're certainly not going to be high paying jobs. Any jobs it brings has to be offset by the jobs you lose by closing the existing store and the negative effect that could have on the struggling mall.

It's just so disappointing. Now don't get me wrong if I owned the property I would embrace this deal with open arms. This isn't a situation of people not having any vision. It's a situation of Fall River not having done more to make itself more marketable so you could bring in better proposals. And it's not like a Super Wal-Mart is the worst thing that could have happened it's just not something that I see as a building block for a better Fall River.

I thought about it afterwards. If the site is going to be retail center what would be the ideal fit? What would be something that would a draw for the community? What would be something that would ideally draw from OUTSIDE the community? Well my best thinking was an IKEA. I have to think an IKEA would go over great in Fall River. The furniture has a somewhat upscale look and feel to it. It's affordable and it's perfect for hauling up to the 3rd floor. On top of that IKEA is a big draw and I have to think one in Fall River would draw from Providence and out toward the Cape.

But again, the problem isn't that we didn't think of IKEA (or anyone else) it's that they didn't think of us.  This seems like some corny slogan but if you want people to be attracted to Fall River you have to do more to make Fall River attractive. So far we've done a horrible job of realizing that and making that a priority.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Budget Compromise? or Compromised?

Good news! Mayor Flanagan has dipped into his (our) piggy bank and found some extra money for education! And he has promised even more once the GIC becomes a reality! Thankfully the city will now be able to 100% net fund the school budget and education will continue without mass layoffs!

HIP HIP HOORAY.... HIP HIP HOORAY

If you're detecting a tone of sarcasm here it's not by accident.

I do think that it is a good thing that the Mayor has come back with a proposal that SHOULD* restore educational funding to the bare minimums of what is needed. But I really can't pat him on the back and let his supporters start planning the victory parade.

Why?

Well first off because the reason he came back with this proposal is because the council rejected his budget. His original proposal of net funding to 98% is pure economic stupidity. I can't believe anyone believes that we are going to have the ability to fund education to 100% the following fiscal year PLUS the 2% we would have been short for fiscal 2012. He is already saying the fiscal 2013 budget will be even tougher so why would you budget this way?

Secondly, All the focus has been on the school budget! Meg Mayor Brown has had to figure out where to make all the cuts and all the political pressure has been on the school budget. Damn this pisses me off because really every aspect of the budget should have been looked at for savings. Folks if there is fat in the school budget, then there is fat in the municipal budget too. Long term budget scrutiny would have been a very worthwhile thing.

Flanagan's compromise is basically pulling out reserve cash and a few other things and then promising the extra money if GIC passes. Well what if it doesn't? And even if it does how watertight is that promise? Oh he'll sign something! I want something binding, better yet cash up front. Let him fund it all now and use the GIC money to payback the 1% cuts he would have to make across the board.

I'm still confused by his numbers! If we're getting an extra 4.5 million dollars for education and he claims 1.7 is being eaten by Charter tuition increases BUT really we're getting an additional 1.2 million to offset that.. Where is the rest of that 4.5 million going? I'd like to see this cleared up.

That said the Mayor's compromised budget is almost certainly going to pass. The superintendent is already showing she is on board and the council has no appetite to deny a budget that she is happy with and that would almost certainly result in one with municipal side layoffs.

I had the opportunity to watch the city council meeting from 6/15 and while this is a great opportunity to say "good job City Council" what I found most interesting was the talking points from the business leaders that were invited to attend. Some of what was said are exactly the things that I have said here (And obviously many many others have said too), how education is vital to the future of the city, that OUR children will have to compete against those from communities that HAVE funded education and so on and so forth. But one of the things that REALLY, REALLY struck me were the comments by Bob Karam. What he said was, and I'm recalling from memory here.. we can't continue to run government the way we have. We have to look outside the box on how to save money. He mentioned the idea of privatizing the DPW or at least trash collection. He pointed out that he knew that such actions would have real consequences on real people but the alternative was the endless cycle of budget cuts and layoffs because we can't afford to pay for these services. He said he recognized the city was in a death spiral and Pat Casey took some offense to that and said that this was a great city but HE'S RIGHT! Yes, Fall River is a great city but we're nosediving and unless someone figures out how to right the flaps or pull the damn nose up it's going to get uglier! We have got to find ways to either increase revenue or drastically reduce city spending or BOTH. In the end Flanagan's compromise is another band-aid approach that taps our dwindling resources and doesn't solve the issue, just puts off the problem for another day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

School Budget and the New Math

It seems the more I try to figure out what the truth is with the school budget the less sense it makes.

The Superintendent presented an 86.3 million dollar budget and the Herald News reported that "Mayor Will Flanagan announced Wednesday night that he will seek to cut the system’s budget by $3.3 million."

So...

86.3
- 3.3
____
83

So we're looking at an 83 million dollar budget! Oh.. hold on. The Mayor wants to cut from the current figure of 84.3 million.

Ok... change the 86.3 to 84.3 and then cross out the ... 81 million..

But hold on 86.3 million is a level service budget.. so we need to spend more just to maintain the same level of services. Level funding would be another year at 84.3 million but that won't pay for the same level of services.. so 81 million is a pretty big drop...

But wait.. the Mayor says the effect of all of this is less than a one million total cut in educational spending! "He says despite the operating budget drop, total education spending in the city would drop by only $912,861 from its current total just under $129.1 million." Well this SOUNDS impressive but it seems the total educational spending includes lots of things that don't factor into the classroom. So we could theoretically paint every class room and increase total spending but obviously do little to improve educational quality.

But in the same article we find out that we're getting 4.5 million increase in Ch. 70 money! Well this should plug the hole!

81
+ 4.5
____
85.5

Maybe THAT is how the Mayor is figuring out the total drop is less than a million.. no that wouldn't make sense...

But hold on the Mayor says most of the 4.5 million is eaten up by a 1.7 million increase in charter school tuition costs and a 1.6 million cut in unrestricted state aid.

1.7
+1.6
____
3.3 (odd how that number comes up..)

4.5
-3.3
___
1.2

So there is still 1.2 out of the 4.5... so does that mean we're really at 82.2 million?

Oh wait...

According to this the amount of money we receive from the state increased by 1.2 million!

So.. 1.7 - 1.2 = $500,000 and $4,500,000 - $500,000 = $4,000,000 but then take away 1.6 million from.. hold on WHY are we taking away money flagged for education to make up for a loss of "unrestricted state aid"? Ugh.. well $81,000,000 + $2,400,000 = $83,400,000.

Of course if you argue that the mayor should use all of that money for education and not plug holes and now $81M + $4M = $85M.

How in the world is the Mayor arriving at 81 million and where is all this other money going?

Now the Mayor says that he is going to fund just 98% of the city's requirement for education and that IS allowed but he will have to pay the difference the following year! If we can't fund 100% this year and we are either spending 4.3 million, 3.3 million, or 900k less this year how are we going to pay 100% next year AND the shortfall for this year?

I can't wait to see the numbers that get thrown out then!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lazy Cakes, Lazy Politics

This week the city council will consider a proposal from the Mayor that would ban the sale of Lazy Cakes in Fall River. It's not too often that the leader of a city will take a stand against baked goods but our Mayor is THAT kind of leader.

On the surface assuring "Brownie Excellence" in Fall River seems like a good thing. The brownies contain high levels of melatonin and kid friendly packaging. After doing a bit of reading it seems pretty obvious that the brownie's manufacturer is hinting strongly at marijuana laced brownies and that there have already been a few reported incidents with children. Suddenly this seems like a slam dunk, something we can get behind our Mayor on!

Except...

Well for one the packaging specifically says it's not intended for children. It also says it's 2 servings and suddenly the amount of melatonin doesn't seem quite so absurd. And then I walk into a store here in the city and see one of these puppies on the counter and I'm thinking, maybe I should try this and see what it's all about and find out it's THREE DOLLARS!!!

Three dollars for ONE BROWNIE that can induce sleep? WHAT KID IS INTERESTED IN THAT????

Now don't get me wrong I can see, especially after all the media attention (BTW Will you have probably done more to increase sales of this stupid thing than any man alive. There are rumors that the company is going to rename it Flanagan's Fudge..) I can see some teens maybe wanting to see what this is all about and I KNOW that not all shop keepers are going to "catch" underage sales. However, from what I've read I'm not convinced that eating a whole brownie would do much more to your average teenager make them sleep for 12 hours. But personally I see the average teen with 3 bucks to spend more interested in an energy drink than a relaxation brownie. Now if you average teen is interested in a brownie $3 will buy you a whole box of Little Debbie's, and 7-11 has one kick ass Reese's brownie for 1/2 the price!

Still maybe was worthy of some discussion some consideration but that brings me to the thing that bugs me the most about this. Banning brownies is worthy of a press conference but cutting 3.3 million from the school budget, even POTENTIALLY cutting 3.3 million from the school budget isn't worthy of even a little advanced notice? A press release? SOMETHING?

When a bedtime snack is the priority of your elected leadership you know you've gotten your just deserts

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Flirting with Takeover

Ok... let's play this out. The Fall River School Department gets reviewed by the DESE. The findings are that although we're making progress we still have a long ways to go and there is some concern that we could slide backwards. The head of the DESE makes it a point to say he's disappointed that Fall River hasn't made more progress. Now none of this is old news, or ancient history. This is all recent, really recent.

So, Mayor Flanagan decides that instead of level funding the budget (which I have issues with to begin with) he's going to cut the school budget by 3.3 million.

Let's do a little math problem

Shaky progress+DESE skepticism-3.3 million = State Takeover

For the past several years we have patted ourselves on the back for level funding the school budget despite all the other financial obstacles the city has had to deal with. Great job! We LOVE education! We level funded!! OUR KIDS ARE IMPORTANT!

Except level funding basically making do with the same amount of money, it does not mean maintaining the same services. If you haven't gotten a raise lately you've been "level funding" your household budget. If you bring home $350 a week and the rent has gone up $50 a month and gas is now $4.00 a gallon, and the grocery bill is now consistently $30 a week higher you're STILL level funding your budget but you obviously can't afford the same services as before. THAT is what we've been doing with the school budget. We haven't technically cut the budget but we've given nothing to compensate for rising costs of materials, salaries, insurances, upkeep, and whatever else. The fact that we're making ANY forward progress in the school department says a lot about the work and dedication of our teachers but a 3.3 million dollar cut is going to be devastating.

Notice that the Mayor dropped this little bomb at the last possible minute? How long has he known? Is there really no other place to cut from? Education has to be the number 1 priority. A quality educational system is vitally important to Fall River. A well educated child is more likely to be a success and less likely to be a burden and drain on the system. People MOVE to communities that have quality educational systems. Companies locate to communities that have quality school systems. How much money have we wasted on legal fees? How much money have we spent on our legal department? It was supposed to be mean and lean and instead it's the envy of unemployed lawyers everywhere who insist they would and could do the work for much less.

I understand Fall River is in a really tough financial situation. I am sympathetic but if your solution is to cut 3.3 million from education you haven't worked hard enough on solving the problem, go back to your office and come back later!

Now the silver lining in this is that if the state does takeover they will FORCE the city to fund the school department. They have that power. This is great for education but bad for every other city department. The only person in Fall River who should be happy with Flanagan's incredibly stupid decision is Cathy Ann Viveiros who now had a very important campaign issue to run on. If she can come up with some workable ideas/solutions she will have the support of lots of parents, and lots of educators.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Leo Pelletier - The Teflon Councilor

Today, is Teflon Day! I can't think of a better time to discuss our own non-stick city councilor, Leo Pelletier! Leo's Internet cafe was raided the other day. It was big news. It made all the papers! I saw stories in Boston papers and the Providence Journal. It seems most conversations I had would eventually include "did you hear what happened to Leo?"
 
Now in a way, I'm not surprised. I had conversations with some friends months ago about how gaming cafes were coming under scrutiny. Some states had simply gone and regulated it and others taken such businesses to court apparently with much success. Even Leo admits that to having doubts saying he went to Sam Sutter looking for an opinion on whether this was legal. When one didn't come, he opened up anyway. Months ago I thought this was something Leo should stay away from. Its legality was uncertain. Why as an elected official would you want to associate yourself with something that may be found illegal? It seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the state took a closer look on how legal these gaming cafes were, so why get caught in the middle of it?
 
Now you think the stigma of a city councilor involved in a possibly illegal activity would tarnish his reputation and make him vulnerable to political attack. But not Leo! Instead people in Fall River will sympathize with him and say it wasn't technically illegal. Leo has this Teflon coat, and he'll be viewed as the little guy trying to make a buck. Now I'm not saying Leo is guilty of anything but I am saying that normally having your business raided isn't good for your image, but in Leo's case it will probably put him back as top vote getter in this year's council race.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fall River Schools

A few days ago a reader pointed me to a Boston Globe article with the headline: "Fall River and Holyoke schools may face takeover".

I had, in fact, already read the article and I've thought a lot about it, talked to others about it, and read the follow-up stories in the local paper. The first thing that hit me is another article, one that I blogged about that stated that most people in Fall River give the school system high marks. I didn't get any reaction which kind of surprised me because I think most people think the school system has issues. The second thing I thought was the superintendent had the right take on this; Fall River has made progress but needs to continue to make progress if it wants to avoid takeover. One of the things that really surprised me in the article was that the issues mentioned for Fall River seemed to be things we were aware of and working on. It also seemed that Holyoke had far more severe issues than we do.

I think Fall River has some troubling issues. I believe the move to larger schools was a mistake. I have talked to teachers and parents and hear disheartening things about some of our schools. The city's largest elementary, the Carlton Viveiros, particularly concerns me and the news that it is currently without a principal does nothing to make me think what I have heard is an exaggeration. I think we pat ourselves on the back for too much for maintaining level funding year after year. Level funding means making do with the same amount of money, however it does nothing to cap costs. So when the price of heat and electricity goes up that means somewhere you have to spend less. I can tell you I try to level fund my household budget and lately it hasn't worked. The reality is you have to spend MORE just to maintain. I have concerns that we have moved to this philosophy of inclusion. This concept that we should put all kids together regardless of their ability. I think when we do this we hamper our brightest and frustrate those who simply need more help.

However I also think we have bright spots. I think the expanded day program is a great concept. I think we have a great music program in the district. It looks like our dropout and graduation rates are improving. It has taken me a long time to come around on this, but I think the GATE program (Gifted & Talented) is an important tool and one that should be expanded and made more flexible.

When the head of the DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) says we are at risk of state takeover, I wonder what does that means. What does it mean? What will happen in a state takeover? If the Fall River School Department is doing such a horrible job educating our children and they are unable or unwilling to take the steps necessary to offer a quality education, well maybe we should be embracing takeover! What comparable community is doing a fantastic job at educating their children? I don't mean just better MCAS scores. I mean what community is getting "it" right?

Yes, there are things here in Fall River that absolutely could be run better. There are changes that have to be made. However overall I'm not convinced the issues in the district are enough to prevent a child from getting a quality education. Don't get me wrong I'm sure we could dig up individual examples but overall I think the tools are there for a child in this city to get a great education and go on to better and brighter things. I'm also not convinced the DESE could step in and do a better job.

So if kids have the opportunity to get a great education why is Fall River at risk for state takeover? Well, I think it's simply because of the test scores and a few other benchmarks that get used to define a failing district. Really if our kids got great scores the DESE wouldn't be looking at issues with management, the school committee and so-on. The way these test scores get used has always amused me. 'The 8th grade in Lefty Elementary improved it's math test scores over last years' but last years 8th grade is now in high school! It would be much more interesting to track a class or a student and see if there is improvement from year to year. I think it would also be interesting to breakdown the scores by economic indicators and follow those year from year.

Why is our is school system under performing? Certainly there are some house cleaning issues that need to be addressed. However one of the big reasons Fall River struggles and will continue to struggle is demographics. There are all sorts of studies that show that the poorer a community is the less successful its children are in school. If we want to see real improvement in our schools we have got to find ways to get parents involved and make them more accountable. There are some parents who view school as nothing more than daycare. The problem is that attitude not only harms their child but yours too. If their kid doesn't want to be there and becomes a distraction it's your child that suffers for it. But it's not all bad parenting you also have single parents who struggle to find the time to be involved. You have parents who for one reason or another don't promote the importance of education to their children. Whatever the causes I believe it's the biggest obstacle we face in improving our school system. Children must come to school believing in their ability to succeed and prepared to do so. Ask any educator, the children who are backed by involved parents do better. We must find ways to make it easier for parents to be part of their child's education. We also need to better fund, not level fund our schools. And if that means we can't find ways to give our schools more money we have to find ways for them to save money so the savings can be put back into the classroom. This might mean a top to bottom review to see where there is waste. But it could also mean regionalization for purchasing supplies. It could mean sharing services. Certainly long term there has to be some review of health insurances and pensions which just seem to be crippling local communities.

Are there things we could be doing to improve education attainment in Fall River? I'm no expert so this is all just opinion. I've already said the biggest challenge is reaching children where education hasn't been reinforced as a priority. I personally, would like to see the Expanded Day program put into each middle school. Expanded Day can offer students enrichment opportunities, culinary arts, music, theater, dance, karate, that they might not get otherwise. These enrichments can really keep kids interested and engaged in school. At the same time there is also more time for traditional academics and the enrichment classes can be used to reinforce what goes on in the classroom. I would like to see Expanded Day dropped from the elementary schools and the concept of looping introduced. Looping is where one teacher works with one classroom over multiple years (usually 2-3). From what I've read the results are very positive and elementary seems the perfect place to have it. Most elementary teachers teach all or the majority of the subjects anyway, versus middle and high school where kids have different teachers for every class. The benefits include stronger bonds between teacher and student, better familiarity with teachers and parents, and the ability for a teacher to cover more ground in subsequent years because he or she already knows the students and their strengths and weaknesses. I think we need to expand mentoring programs focusing on elementary schools. Every child can benefit from the addition of another caring & supportive adult in their lives. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference in a child's life is to have that one adult who says "I believe in you".

Come to think of it, sometimes a little bit of praise is all anyone needs to succeed. That's something Commissioner Chester should keep in mind for future reference.




Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tobacco Ban is Pointless

Tonight the City Council with have the opportunity to ratify and ordinance that would prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco. The Bold Coalition, which supports the ordinance, believes passing would send the right message.
 
While it's a good thing to see citizens, particularly young adults participating in local government, and while I personally detest tobacco products, it is just wrong to place a ban which to me seems harassing and discriminatory. I support banning smoking in public places because it's a ban that protects people from having to breath in second hand smoke. Banning the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies doesn't protect anyone. Nobody is even claiming that it will stop people from using such products. Everybody agrees people will just go somewhere else to make their purchase. So what's the point? Oh, it sends the right message. But just what message is that? The people who support this want you to believe that there is some horrible conflict having a pharmacy (which is supposed to promote good health) with tobacco products (which are not good for your health). First off most pharmacies are more 'mini-mart' than drug store and I would argue profit is what they're trying to promote. Secondly if pharmacies should promote good health, well why stop at tobacco? Where's the ban on candy? Diabetes is one of the top 10 causes for death in the U.S. Obesity in general is a HUGE (no pun intended) issue this country. Why not get rid potato chips, salted nuts, beef jerky and other "non-healthy" snacks. Why not go after diet sodas that we're told are not very good for us. In fact what about those artificial sweeteners that seem to live under cloud of health concern. Maybe all those products should be banned too! When you look at the rates of childhood obesity in this country it would probably make a LOT more sense to ban candy and chips and leave the cigarettes alone. After all when is the last time you saw a parent buy their 6 year old a pack on Winston?
 
The ban just doesn't make sense. The message it sends is it's OK to harass a segment of the population because they use a product you don't like.  It won't make smokers quit and it doesn't protect the health and safety of the people of Fall River. If you want to make the city a healthier place for our children you'd be better off striking pizza off of the school cafeteria menu.
 
You have to ask yourself is this ban just and is it fair? I don't think it is. And after reading the submitted post on Fall River Blog, I'm not even sure it's the decision of the City Council. But if we really want to see pharmacies stop selling tobacco products we would better off petitioning them to do so voluntarily and not have government overstep its bounds.
 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Eric Poulin - Our Best City Councilor


I recently ran a poll on Fall River Blog asking who you thought was Fall River's best city councilor. Councilor Eric Poulin came out on top with 50% of the vote. The next best finish was Councilor Ray Mitchell with 14% of the vote.

That Eric came out on top and by a wide margin was no real surprise. It seems most everybody I talk to has pointed to Eric as not just the best addition to the city council but as the best city councilor period.

The consensus is that Eric does homework and does his best to stay independent. People respect his honesty, sincerity, and tenacity.

It seems Eric's recent proposal is a good example. Poulin submitted a resolution that would move public input time to before the start of the Finance Committee meeting and remove the 30 minute limit that is currently in place. Poulin's proposal would allow the public to speak without having to endure a sometime multi-hour wait and also allow them to speak on topics the Finance Committee may be voting on prior to those votes. He also proposed removing a time limit that is seldom enforced and would be unrealistic if it was. Nothing earth shattering, just two simple changes that would seem to improve the way things work. Yet, it failed with 6 councilors voting in opposition!

Let's see... a proposal that would improve the public's ability to participate in Government and a majority of councilors who don't think that's worth doing. Is it any shock that Eric Poulin is thought of as our best city councilor?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Potholes Fixed/Budget Problems Solved!

 
1995 Lada Niva picture, exterior
 
The other day the Herald News ran a few stories about the pothole issue in Fall River. Now I certainly didn't need to read the paper to know there's a pothole issue. I was able to figure that out just by driving around the city! In fact I think most of us have probably wondered if we needed something like the runabout above to get around town.
 
Well I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and we were talking about the horrible condition of the roads when my friend said to me that there is one town in Germany where you can buy a pothole! It seems the German village of Niederzimmern is selling potholes for 50 Euros apiece and using the money to repair them and mark them with the "owners" name. Now I'm sure how much it costs to fix a pothole in Fall River but if we can figure out a way to make a little profit on each repair, well there's enough potholes in this city where the profits could add up to big bucks. It could even give us a budget surplus!
 
But just in case this idea doesn't catch on, I'll be searching the want ads for a used army jeep.
 
 
 
 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

State of the City

To a "packed" council chamber and with mostly polite applause Mayor Flanagan delivered his State of the City speech. All such speeches are designed to put our elected leaders in the best possible light and Flanagan's was no different. His speech ambitiously sought to be passionate, unifying, optimistic, and demonstrating of our resilient character. While the speech itself was not bad, the Mayor's delivery was mostly flat and failed to live up to the theme the words were supposed to convey.
It's not the speech I would have wrote for the Mayor. It was a bit too lofty, its attempt at inspiration a little too heavy handed. Personally I would have suggested a speech that offered an honest assessment of some of the successes of the past year, some of the goals for the future and some of the challenges we face.

To be sure, there are things that I applaud. The decrease in our dropout rate while at the same time seeing an increase in our graduation rate is certainly good news. It's also no easy feat considering the school department has been able to do really no better than level fund services over the past several years. A call for parents to place a greater emphasis on education is also something that I whole heartily agree with. The effort to increase our public safety is also hard to take issue with. I think we have clearly noticed the impact that reducing our police and fire has had on our city and clearly we need to do what we can to keep these departments adequately staffed.

There are also things that I would like to applaud but can't. The Mayor's positive spin on Anderson Windows utilizing the closed Silver-Line site sounds good, and certainly it is good news that the city was able to work with Anderson to get them to reoccupy the site. However, the 200,000 square foot facility that once employed over 500 is now employing about 50. Yes, the 50 jobs are important but the Mayor's boasts could have been tempered.

Likewise his spin on the biomanufacturing-facility seems a bit too congratulatory after months of pursuing a casino while claiming we could have both but risking that we could end up with none. If nothing else the Mayor's pursuit delayed a facility that would have already broken ground and would have already been providing jobs for its construction.

The Mayor says he will be introducing a waterfront plan and emphasizes the need for bold swift action but if that's the case why have we waited a year before hearing this?

It's also great that he applauded local companies for their "green" efforts and it's a great idea for the city to move in the same direction but there was no details on what we would be doing, how we would be doing it, or how we are going to pay for it.

And honestly I even have an issue with his boasts about public safety considering so much of rehiring efforts are only possible due to stimulus money that is a short term patch for a very long term problem. There are real concerns about how we are going to foot the bill after the money runs out.

One area where I think the Mayor really could have taken some credit that he failed to mention is with the city audits. It's really good news to hear that we should be all caught up sometime in March. The issue was one this administration inherited not from the previously elected mayor but the one previous to that!

Lefty's View: Filled with rhetoric, striving to be inspirational the State of the City didn't really discuss much about the state of the city. Considering the tough times ahead, an honest assessment would have been appreciated.







Thursday, February 17, 2011

Free Skippy Gaining Momentum

In the grand scheme of things, considering what is going on in the world, with the economy and problems in our city, I'm not sure why a story about a pet gets so much attention and seems to pull at the heart strings but it does. And from the moment I read about Freetown's decision to euthanize Skippy, a four year old Golden Retriever, I felt it was wrong. The town wants to destroy the dog on the assumption that he is a vicious animal. They base this on the fact that Skippy has twice attacked his owner's granddaughter. I admit that sounds damning but the child is toddler who was not properly supervised around a dog that was not accustomed to being around children. After the first incident the owner was told to have Skippy neutered and to keep him in a quarantined area, after the second attack it was revealed that wasn't done.

So the town has stepped in and the dog is to be destroyed. This despite the fact that granddaughter was only temporarily staying in the home and despite the fact that precautions were not taken that should have been. The town has been presented with multiple options that would allow for a more merciful handling of this situation. Skippy's breeder, who is in Canada, has offered to take him back. Certainly a move to Canada should leave Freetown selectmen feeling safe? But no that idea has been shot down. The Lakeville dog officer, after working with Skippy and believing he can be trained to be a good pet, offered to take him but that offer was also rejected.

But the momentum to free Skippy is growing! Just the other day I learned of a Facebook page that has been established to "Free Skippy", that page is gaining attention and has already been mentioned on WSAR and now in a story on the Herald News!

A few posts back I stated that I was a big supporter of our local animal shelters and I am. I've looked at dogs to adopt in local shelters and online and I have found many where the dog has been assessed as not being suitable for a home with children. These shelters and organizations don't line these animals up like they were at Auschwitz. They simply make sure to place the dogs in homes that where they can succeed and be good pets. I believe that is what should be done here with Skippy. An organization the Center for Animal Rescue and Education has forwarded a proposal for Skippy's release. They would foster him, neuter him, assess him, and prepare him for adoption. They would release Freetown of any responsibility and agree not to adopt him to anyone who has children or anyone living in Freetown. It's a proposal that I would urge to the Board of Selectmen to accept.

That Facebook page is urging people to tell the Freetown Board of Selectmen to reconsider their decision and rescind Skippy's death sentence. You can do that by contacting the Freetown Board of Selectmen (contact information below) or by attending today's Selectmen meeting (2/17/2011) at 5:30PM at the Freetown Elementary School Library. Also show your support to that Facebook page, comments on the Herald News, call into WSAR, and of course feel free to leave your comments here.


CONTACT:
Lawrence N. Ashley 2011 Chairman
Jean C. Fox 2013
Lisa A. Pacheco 2012
Elsie A. Soares Administrative Assistant

3 North Main Street
Assonet, MA 02702
Phone:(508) 644-2201
Fax: (508) 644-3342
E-mail:
esoares@freetownma.gov

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I know it's safe...right?

For years the opponents of the Weaver's Cove facility have argued that an LNG terminal represents a safety risk to those who live in close proximity. Representatives from Hess and those in favor argue that LNG has a fantastic safety record and opponents are just using scare tactics. So I was interested to hear this news story the other day...

At least one person is missing after an explosion and the ensuing fire at a petroleum plant in Texas, the spokesman for the Enterprise Products company said Tuesday.

"We're trying to find out where some of the contractors are," Rick Rainey said.

The fire broke out after an explosion at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Enterprise Products petrochemical plant at Mont Belvieu, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Houston.

Witnesses said that the huge blaze caused several trucks parked in a nearby lot to explode, and flames more than 30 meters (almost 100 feet) high could be seen from downtown Houston.

"We store liquid natural gas at the plant, which comes up when we extract natural gas from the ground. For now, we know of no one injured. We're still trying to confirm that," Rainey said.

Several squads of company and county firefighters are on the premises working to put out the fire.

Though the operating equipment has suffered no damage, the company announced that it will shut down the gas pipeline connected to the plant.


I know someone is going to point out that this wasn't an LNG explosion at a facility, it was a natural gas explosion in a pipeline. That maybe true but the pipeline was part of the infrastructure that serves an LNG facility. Right now in Fall River there are miles of gas pipes running under the ground providing service to businesses and homes. Nobody much thinks about them until something catastrophic happens. Well what happens if the pipe that fails isn't going to a home but is going to or coming from a major storage facility that just so happens to be located in a congested neighborhood? Is it wrong to wonder if something like what happened in Texas could happen here? And if it did and there was a huge blaze with flames shooting up over 100 feet high would we just be told 'technically it's not LNG. LNG is safe..it's got a great track record...