Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top Dracut Stories

Today's Lowell Sun had the top three stories in 2008 from Dracut. They were:

1. Brian Martin vs. Dracut Pop Warner
2. Election of Matthew Sheehan over DJ Deeb
3. Canney Farm

Meet Paul Nutt

Great work by Shawn over at Dracut Forum introducing us to Paul Nutt, a potential candidate for School Committee. You can see his story here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Canney Farm Article

Dennis Shaughnessey had an article on next week's public meeting concerning Canney Farm. The biggest area of concern, it seems, is whether or not the park should have lights. Brian Bond, a committee member, says lights should be there but Selectman James O'Loughlin wants more information before they agree to that. Selectman John Zimini agrees with Bond saying that the lack of lights at Veterans Park really hurts those who want to use the popular park at night.

Meetings this week

Another slow week during the holidays: no town meetings this week.

Dracut Parade

At the last Board of Selectmen meeting, Chairman Robert Cox mentioned that he had hoped to have a parade on December 14 to honor Dracut High School's recent success in athletics. The parade never happened and I figured it was because of snow. But Shawn at Dracut Forum has the scoop:

This was really an ugly happening, that sort of upset people all over.

During the Selectmen’s meeting last month (just days after the High School Superbowl win), Cox explained that a number of people were working to have a parade on the following weekend to celebrate the high school sports team successes.

While the enthusiasm around town was high, they were trying to put together a quick celebration.

The event fell apart, and in terms a little less than “cheerful,” Cox told me that someone at the Schools was against the event, and threw a wrench into the gears to kill it. Ok, he used much more colorful and specific terms, but you get the point.

When I spoke with people from the School Side.. they had circled the wagons and gave out reasons such as “the band wasn’t ready”, “midterms”, and “it was too short a notice.”
Too short a notice? Boston shut down the next day after the Superbowl and the World Series wins.

Cox wasn’t looking to stop all commerce for a day.. just get people together for a couple hours while the enthusiasm was high. The band didn’t need to perform, but would have been in the parade as additional students to celebrate.

The schools later had their athletic awards night, and will have some sort of ceremony in a few months for the Football Team as well.. but I don’t think the enthusiasm would ever be the same as it would have been that week.

(Would you go down to Boston this weekend for a celebration of last year’s Superbowl if the Pats had won?)

All in all.. an opportunity was lost for the people of the town, beyond just the parents and elected officials, to congratulate all these kids for such a great season.

Elections 2009

Sorry for the slow postings - I was away in Pennsylvania for the weekend visiting some friends.

One of the first things I did when I got home was catch up on the news. Dracut made a splash in Sunday's Column with the focus being on the 2009 elections. First up was calls for the Martins (Mary Gail and Brian) to resign from the Dracut School Committee and Greater Lowell Technical High School Board, respectively, because of their impending move to Tyngsboro. They haven't sold their house in Dracut but it is on the market and they have a home waiting for them in Tyngsboro. If Mary Gail Martin does step down, that would mean there would be three open seats in May's School Committee election as Ronald Mercier and Nancy Gagnon are up for re-election. Martin's term is up in 2010. The Sun says no one is lined up to run for the seats but Shawn over at Dracut Forum hears that a local businessman named Paul Nutt is running.

The second piece was on the race for Board of Selectmen. Joe DiRocco is the only incumbent up for re-election this year and according to the Sun, Planning Board member Brian Bond and Ted Kosiavelon (who ran last year) are considering running.

Here are the two stories:

EXPECT A concerted effort by certain political insiders in Dracut to pressure Greater Lowell Technical School Board member Brian Martin and his wife, Dracut School Committee member Mary Gail Martin, to step down from their elected offices before the May 4 election.
The Martins have not hidden the fact that their Dracut home is for sale and they are thinking about moving into the Tyngsboro home formally owned by Martin's late mother.
"It would be the right thing to do," said one observer, adding that in 2004, former Selectman Dennis Williams stepped down from the board more than two months before moving to Nashua. On the School Committee, a decision by Mary Gail Martin to relinquish her office would open a third slot on the ballot, perhaps prompting more interest from challengers in the race. It would also eliminate the necessity of appointing someone to fill out the remainder of her term, which ends in 2010.


WITH THE new year come thoughts of nomination papers for the upcoming spring elections. Dracut Selectman Joe DiRocco has the benefit of being the lone member of his board on the ballot this year, meaning that anyone with thoughts of running against him has less chance than in other years, when two members of the board come up for re-election.
"It becomes more personal if you're challenging a lone incumbent," said one political observer last week. "When you're running against two people, you can always say, 'I'm just running for one of the seats.' Running against a single incumbent means you have to come up with a host of reasons to vote for you and against that other person."
Some of the early names circulating around town include Planning Board member Brian Bond, one of the driving forces behind the Canney Farm project, and Ted Kosiavelon, who ran an unsuccessful challenge against Selectmen Robert Cox and John Zimini last year.
Two people are up for re-election on the Dracut School Committee. Chairman Ron Mercier Jr. and Nancy Gagnon are both running for their third term. No challengers have yet emerged.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas Dracut

Saint Francis Church
December 25, 2006
Photo from www.saintfrancis.net



Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ogonowski's outstanding debt

Dracut's Jim Ogonowski owes a New Jersey consulting firm over $27,000 from his failed Senate bid. You may recall that Ogonowski planned on running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate but failed to get enough signatures to get onto the ballot. Before that, however, he spent over $500,000 on ads, consultants, etc. By the time it was over, his campaign had $50 left in the coffers. Now, Jamestown Associates has come calling asking for the money it is owed for its consulting services.

See the article here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Salvation Army Fundraiser

Congratulations to Warren Shaw, Shawn Ashe, et al for another successful Salvation Army fundraiser on WCAP. According to Shawn, they raised over $77,000! This despite two storms, power outages, phone problems, a bad economy, etc.

See the story here. Great job guys!

Meetings this week

There are no meetings listed on the town's website for this week.

Garry on the wrong side of history?

I was an intern at the Massachusetts State House during the summer of 1997. On my first day, someone was taking me to the office of the state representative for whom I would be working. We were going deep into the lower levels of the State House and I asked the woman if the representative was a newly elected one. She told me no, he's been around for a while. I said, "Oh, be voted for Voke, huh?"

You may recall that when Charles Flaherty (no relation) was ousted from office in 1996, Tom Finneran replaced him as Speaker of the House despite the fact that Richard Voke was Majority Leader and "next in line". Those who voted for Voke were summarily banished to lowly committees and status.

Now with Sal DiMasi poised to be the third straight Speaker to leave office in disgrace, the two potential replacements are Robert DeLeo and John Rogers. According to Kendall Wallace of the Sun, DeLeo has the upper hand. He also said that Rep. Colleen Garry is backing Rogers which may not bode well for her if DeLeo does emerge victorious.

Stay tuned.

Christmas Gifts

The Column ran its annual Christmas gift column to local movers and shakers. Dracut got six mentions. They were:

FOR DRACUT Selectman Robert Cox: a parade for the Dracut High School football team complete with Boston Duck Boats on Beaver Brook and a wide open Broadway Road with neon signs pointing to Coyle's Tavern.

FOR DRACUT Town Manager Dennis Piendak: the usual. A healthy revenue stream and funding for a new town hall. Oh, and a cell phone that gives him access to his voicemail without having to punch in his password.

FOR GREATER Lowell Technical School Board member Brian Martin and his wife, Dracut School Committee member Mary Gail Martin: a buyer for their home that no one is supposed to know is on the market.

FOR DRACUT Housing Authority Executive Director Mary Karabatsos: a board of commissioners that can actually come up with a unanimous vote.

FOR ALL Dracut employees who are not teachers: a similar contract.

FOR THE Dracut High football program: humble bows of respect from all the "experts" who insisted that little Dracut had scheduled beyond its means. (Keep dreaming big.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Public Meeting on Canney Farm

There will be a public meeting on January 5 at 7:00pm at Harmony Hall to discuss the proposed park at Canney Farm. Here is the official notice:

An informational meeting is scheduled for Monday, January 5, 2009 @ 7:00 PM in Harmony Hall, 1660 Lakeview Avenue.
The meeting has been arranged to keep the public involved in the design process of a public improvement that is being planned for in the Collinsville neighborhood (2166 & 2178 Lakeview Avenue.)
The improvement consists of creating a recreational park on the former Canney Farm. Components of the Park will include walkways that will accommodate access and circulation among the desired park elements and associated parking area, a tot lot designed for children under nine (9) years of age, a baseball diamond, a multi-use practice field (football, soccer, lacrosse), at least three (3) basketball/tennis courts, a concession stand, parking spaces, lighting, and accessory park related features.
A representative of the park design consultant, Coler & Colantonio, will give the presentation and will be available to address any questions or concerns that you may have.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Trash Savings

As mentioned at last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, Dracut has entered into an agreement with eight other towns to save money on garbage dumping. The contract, which begins in 2011, will cost the town $67 for every ton of trash with an annual $2 increase for the succeeding four years. Dracut will save $70,000 the first year alone.

Town Manager Dennis Piendak was quoted in the article: "Trash is a significant cost in all of our budgets. For us to have this kind of stability is significant."

Thinking of the homeless

Shawn Ashe of Dracut Forum has a really nice reflection on homelessness in light of the recent ice storm and power outages. It was also published in the Lowell Sun yesterday. See it here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Irish Eyes in Dracut

The Lowell Sun has a nice story today on the visit of Sean Burke, an educational guru from Ireland, to Lakeview Junior High and Dracut High. Burke is the cousin of Dracut's Special Education Director Steve Stone and is visiting family in the United States.

Burke said that Lakeview and Dracut High are beautiful schools, especially in comparison to what schools are like in Ireland. "By Irish standards, those are two beautiful schools. As an educator, I'd give my eyeteeth for a facility like that. The gymnasium, the auditorium with the beautiful stage. Magnificent."

I have a friend who taught in Ireland for a year or two and always comments on the poor conditions of the schools and the students. Granted he worked in a poor area but the stories he has pale in comparison to what we may find in Roxbury or Holoyoke.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meetings this week

Monday, December 15
Library Board of Trustees: 3:00pm, Library
Affordable Housing Partnership: 5:30pm, Harmony Hall
School Site Council: 3:00pm, Lakeview Junior High School
Capital Planing Committee, 6:00pm, Harmony Hall

Wednesday, December 17
Conservation Commission: 7:15pm, Harmony Hall

Thursday, December 18
Sewer Commission: 6:00pm, Dracut High School
Board of Appeals: 7:00pm, Harmony Hal

Carnac O'Loughlin

According to today's Column in the Lowell Sun, last year Selectman James O'Loughlin made three predictions about 2008:

1. There will be a major upset in May's town election
2. The Middies would win the Super Bowl
3. There will be a major resignation of a public official

O'Loughlin was right about numbers 1 and 2 - School Committee member DJ Deeb was knocked off by newcomer Matthew Sheehan and the Middies won the Super Bowl last week. What about the third prediction? Does O'Loughlin know something we don't? There are a few weeks left in the year...we shall see.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cost of raise

The Lowell Sun reported today that the recent raise included in the new contract for Dracut's teachers will cost the town $515,000. The good news is that the town already budgeted for the increase so the budget won't be impacted as much as one would think.

Another interesting tidbit from the article - 77% of the school budget goes to salaries of school employees.

See the article here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Garry and the Governor

I came across an interesting tidbit in the Country Gazette out of Bellingham. They did an analysis of the recent votes to override Gov. Deval Patrick's vetoes in the FY 2009 budget. Dracut Rep. Colleen Garry voted to sustain the vetoes 16.2% of the time, the fourth most of House Democrats. This makes perfect sense as Garry is one of the more conservative Democrats in the House, if not the Legislature.

Cheers for Gagnon

Today's editorial in the Lowell Sun praised School Committee Member Nancy Gagnon for voting no on the new contract for Dracut's teachers. Gagnon was the sole dissenter in the 4-1 vote. The editorial is as follows:

We commend Dracut School Committee member Nancy Gagnon for having the courage of her convictions.

Gagnon was the only one of five committee members to vote against approving a teachers' contract that amounts to an 8 percent raise over three years, retroactive to July 1.
It is rare for a member of any school committee, board of selectmen or city council to take this kind of stance and say, "We just can't afford it." Such a position puts the support of union members -- and their friends and family -- in jeopardy come election time. Most politicians aren't willing to take such a risk.

But if ever there were a time to take a strong stance against the typical public-sector contracts, now is that time.

Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi this week warned that local aid to cities and towns may be significantly slashed next year, by as much as 10 percent. A reduction of that size would have a significant impact on municipal and school-department budgets.

Clearly, Gagnon gets it. After the meeting, she said she would like to support a pay increase for teachers because she respects their dedication and talent but realizes Dracut simply cannot afford it. Granting pay increases today -- however warranted they may be -- could result in increased layoffs and reduced services tomorrow.

But what about the other members of the committee?

They said nothing about the contract during the meeting. It was approved, on a 4-1 vote, without discussion.

In fact, the details of the contract wouldn't have been publicly explained if a reporter hadn't requested it.

After the meeting, Mike Miles said he "went back and forth" on the issue, but looking at the accomplishments taking place in Dracut schools decided he had to support a raise for teachers.

The fact is, he didn't have to support it. He could have voted no. And Ron Mercier, Mary Gail Martin and Matthew Sheehan could have vote no, too.

We understand the union's argument that Dracut teacher salaries are about 10 percent lower than the state average. But sometimes -- such as during a national recession -- making a little less means more people get to keep their jobs. And there's nothing wrong with supporting that.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December 9, 2008 Board of Selectmen Meeting

The name of the game tonight was money. In light of Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi's comments that state aid may be cut 5-10%, the selectmen focused a lot of their meeting on Dracut's finances. Selectman James O'Loughlin feels that the selectmen need to be more involved in the budget process for the next fiscal year and asked the town manager to meet with them to discuss the budget and the priorities for next year beginning in January.

O'Loughlin said that he wanted to be "proactive" and have a keener insight into how the numbers look. He said the board is often "forgotten" in the budget process and does not have any input before the budget is presented to the June Town Meeting.

He also asked Town Manager Dennis Piendak if any steps were being taken to save money now and he responded that there is a hiring freeze and open positions are not being filled (Earlier in the meeting, Piendak also said that the town will be hauling its trash to a new facility in Haverhill beginning in 2010 which will realize some savings). Piendak also said fee increases are on the table but O'Loughlin was upset that the town only seems to raise fees in difficult times, thus hurting residents and businesses when they can least afford to pay extra money.

The meeting ended with O'Loughlin making a motion that non-emergency employees not work on Friday, January 2. He was adamant that town employees who have to work on that day not receive any overtime. He said that the offices should be closed for "fiscal reasons" (i.e. save on heat) and not for a holiday.

Teacher's Raise

At last night's School Committee meeting, the town ratified a new contract with Dracut's teachers. The deal is retroactive to July 1 and runs through June 30, 2011. The teacher will receive an increase of 2% from July 1, 2008, to the 90th day of the school year, and a 1 percent raise to June 30, 2009. In the remaining two years, the teachers will receive a 2.5% raise.

The vote was 4-1 with Nancy Gagnon voting no. She told the Sun, "It's just not the right time," We're hearing about budget cuts, and the possibility of layoffs is real. I don't want to take that chance. I have the utmost respect for our teachers and the job they do, but I believe that we have to be cautious for the time being."

Gagnon is up for re-election in May along with Chairman Ron Mercier.

Union President Joyce Desjardin felt that the raise was warranted since, she said, Dracut teachers are paid less on average and the schools have a tough time filling positions. "Competition exists among area communities for a limited number of qualified education professionals, Dracut has faced a challenge of enticing these professionals into its employment openings in recent years. They have been leery that a long-term contractual commitment was not in place, and they were receiving offers that were substantially higher in other communities."

Shawn over at Dracut Forum questions the wisdom of voting for a pay increase, no matter how modest, given potential cuts in local aid. Here is what he had to say:

House Speaker Sal DiMasi is warning that local aid next year could be cut up to 10%. That’s a big impact on a town like ours that gets nearly 40% of its revenue (I believe) from the state.But if you’re a union employee, I guess you don’t have to worry. Unless you’re on the bottom of the list.You see, the school committee voted last night for raises for the teacher’s union once again. 8% over the next three years. We heard about this a few days ago.The school administration must believe they have the funding for this. I’m not sure where it will come from. From this morning’s Lowell Sun story Nancy Gagnon is concerned as well. She voted against it, the others for it.What will happen if the salary funding does not increase enough to cover those raises, is that the newest and often most energetic teachers will be the first to be let go. Thats the union way.I don’t agree with Finance Chair Gary Marsella’s point that we voted the school committee in to make these decisions. I still believe as much of this negotiation should be made public as possible. If not during negotiation, then a summary of what was done should be presented to the public afterwards. Otherwise, how do we measure whether those negotiations were good for the town and whether those elected officials are doing what we believe is best?Warren Shaw's take on this during last week’s radio show was that this means that the schools must believe they have plenty of money to fulfill their needs. That’s one take on it.Why do I doubt its true?

Dracut and Gas

Yesterday in Manchester, I saw gas for $1.59 a gallon! Low gas prices are the silver lining in an otherwise miserable economy. But, for cities and towns, they're not realizing any savings as of yet.

Yesterday's Sun had an article on gas expenditures for Lowell and local towns and a lot of the focus was Dracut. I cannot find the article on-line but I still have my copy (yes, I am one of those who still subscribes to a newspaper). Since July 1, the article by Dennis Shaughnessey, states that Dracut has spent $115,000 for gas for vehicles. Last year, the town spent $244,000 but the budget was $170,000. Ergo, the town is still making up for that shortfall. The town budgeted $180,000 for gas this year and the fiscal year ends on June 30, 2009.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Middies

Congrats to the Dracut High Middies on their decisive win last night against Marshfield. It was a doubly good night for me as my alma mater BC High beat Brockton 13-7.

I've always wondered why Dracut High's team name was the Middies. Thankfully, Paul over at Richardhowe.com has some interesting possible explanations:

Like their namesake of the US Naval Academy, the Dracut Middies or Midshipmen, posted an impressive shut out yesterday. For its part, Navy blanked Army 34-0 (not to rub it in for our fellow blogger and veteran). My recollection is that the Dracut High School team nickname is rooted in a 1950s, maybe early ’60s, legendary game on Cape Cod that was played in a hurricane. I guess there was so much water in the air that it was like battling at sea. Coming off that game, somebody, maybe a sportswriter, started calling them the Middies, like the Navy team. Check Don Paquet’s History of Dracut (published in the 1970s) for the facts. I don’t have it handy. I don’t think there’s any connection between the team name and the section of Dracut called Navy Yard–that’s another story of name origin. Local historians track that town section name to a one-time company that built parts for ships and stacked them along Beaver Brook near the mill complex at Pleasant Street and Lakeview Ave. I’ve also heard the name might have something to do with the same mill complex, which is said to have produced clothing, uniforms, for the US Navy. There’s got to be a good reason for Dracut to have a Navy Yard. Dracut was notoriously described as “Somerville with trees” by a Boston reporter chronicling irregularities in the political scene many years ago, but it’s never been called “Charlestown with trees,” as far as I know. I grew up in the area sometimes called New Boston Village, where Hildreth Street and New Boston Road come together–that was a borderland between Navy Yard and the Collinsville section of Dracut, bumping up against Pelham, NH. And I’m DHS ‘72.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

1,000 Hits

I started this blog on November 9 and yesterday, December 5, at 12:37, this blog registered its 1,000th hit. Many blogs get 1,000 hits in an hour but for a little blog on the little town of Dracut, I am happy to get over 1,000 hits in less than a month.

Thank you for reading for all your support.

Slow week

Sorry folks, it has been a quiet week in the hamlet of Dracut. There are two things to note, however.

1. This Monday the School Committee will take up a new contract for Dracut's teachers. The Dracut Teacher's Association agreed on the three-year deal but the specifics have not been released. The teachers have not had a contract in ten months.

2. Today is the Big Game. The Middies set out from Dracut High School at 4:30 (after a 3:00 Pep Rally) and take on Marshfield at 8:00 at Gillette Stadium. Good luck boys!

Monday, December 1, 2008

O'Loughlin on Canney Farm

The Column this week had a mention of the letter Selectman James O'Loughlin referenced at last week's Board of Selectmen meeting (I blogged about it on Tuesday). It was a short piece:

BORROWING FROM the Rolling Stones, an attorney for developer and Lowell City Councilor Alan Kazanjian told Dracut officials "this could be the last time," in granting an extension to a purchase-and-sale agreement for the 14-acre parcel off Lakeview Avenue known as Canney Farm. "I really didn't like the tone of the letter," said Selectman James O'Loughlin. "I don't know if this is the feeling of the property owner or just his attorney, but the letter made it sound like we are dragging our feet and that's not the case. I was taken aback by the language and the tone." In June, Town Meeting voters agreed to buy the parcel and an adjoining lot on which a house now sits for $1.42 million. A design firm was brought in and is formulating plans to construct athletic fields on the property. The extension pushes the agreement off until February, while the project goes through the permitting process. Soil evaluation was conducted and small amounts of contamination were discovered on the site. Kazanjian has agreed to have it removed.
"What if they don't get it done in time?" O'Loughlin said. "Are they going to ask for an extension?"

Meetings this week

Monday, December 1
Recreation Committee: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall
Capital Planning Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall

Tuesday, December 2
Community Preservation Committee: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Wednesday, December 3
Conservation Commission: 7:15pm, Harmony Hall
Permanent Building Committee: 4:30pm, Harmony Hall
Greenmont Avenue School Council: 4:45pm, Greenmont Avenue School

Thursday, December 4
Veterans Park Concession Stand Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall

Tsongas' First Year

Yesterday's Lowell Sun had a good review of U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas' first year in Congress. Calling her first year "productive", Tsongas has not been the typical freshman backbencher:

"She sort of did everything right," said UMass Lowell political-science professor Jeffrey Gerson. "Traditionally, as a freshman, you're not supposed to do that much. You're supposed to sit back, listen and learn from the elders in the party."

Gerson said the traditional playbook would advise a freshman member of Congress to first focus of constituent services and make sure those who supported her campaign felt part of the transition process.
Tsongas maintained the Lowell and Lawrence offices run by her predecessor Marty Meehan, now chancellor of UMass Lowell. But she also opened an office in Acton, to work with community leaders and constituents in the western suburbs that proved crucial to her election.
She held town hall-style meetings throughout the year to hear from those in the community about concerns regarding home foreclosures and student financial aid, and she assembled a Veterans Advisory Committee bringing together local veterans and military families to offer advice on how better to serve 5th District veterans.
And perhaps most importantly, she succeeded in delivering more than $23 million to the district, including almost $400,000 to the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority and $10.6 million in defense spending for the purchase of protective military clothing manufactured by Polartec in Lawrence.

Globe calls it for Dracut

Chris Forsberg of the Boston Globe predicts the Middies will hold their own tomorrow against Acton-Boxboro:

Dracut over Acton-Boxboro -- Don't let the Middies hiccup against Methuen fool you. They still scored 33 points in that Thanksgiving Day loss and, while A-B's defense is surely better than the Rangers, it's going to be very tough for the Colonials to match Dracut blow for blow. A-B needs to own the clock to be successful (and 10-minute quarters will aid that cause), but we still see the Middies prevailing by putting enough points on the board to get to the big dance.

The Mumbai Sun

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has an interesting column on the future of the newspaper industry. The name of the game now is outsourcing: outsourcing news writing, preproduction (whatever that means), etc. Dowd quotes Dean Singleton of MediaNews Group, the owner of the Lowell Sun, on the future of newspapers: “If you need to offshore it, offshore it. In today’s world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”

One wonders what this holds for the coverage of local news in Lowell, Dracut, etc.

H/T to Richardhowe.com