Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nickel and diming

Every year I buy tickets to the Spinners for my wife, son, sister, and parents. We used to go to Red Sox games every year but because the Red Sox bandwagon is full of Pink Hatters, yuppies, and the elite who want to be seen, it is impossible to get near Fenway Park anymore.

So I bought the tickets this morning and got hit with an $8.40 "Internet fee" and a $5.00 "processing fee." These fees equaled roughly 30% of the entire cost. I can't imagine what they will look like after the new RFP is signed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New website

Paul Elmstrom, a candidate for School Committee, has a new website up and running. The link is off to the right under Campaign 2009 Websites.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

By all accounts Superintendent of Schools Spencer Mullin and his administrative team are doing a fantastic job. They have spearheaded a number of new initiatives, the high school is one of the best in the area, morale is high, etc. Last night's celebration of the football team, last week's DSF telethon, and this weekend's production of "South Pacific" are all testaments to the great job the schools are doing. Bravo to all.

Where it seems that Mullin et al fail is communication. Faithful readers of this blog may recall that it took a Freedom of Information Request to get Mullin and School Business Administrator Thomas Rose to even acknowledge my existence. I e-mailed them three times for budget information with no response. Once I sent in the FOI request, I got a reply right away. Why should it take the threat of sanctions to get Mullin and Rose to get back to people?

I thought it was just me but this past Saturday, Warren Shaw interviewed the candidates for School Committee and TWO of them (Bonnie Elie and Paul Elmstrom) said they had called Mullin for something and never received a call back. They were not calling as candidates, they were calling as parents of children in the school system. That is not good.

Being an effective leader is more than having good ideas and results. You need to also have good PR and good communication skills. If Mullin and Rose keep ignoring people and only call back those people they know, they may find that their success will be fleeting.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shaw and the Candidates

Warren Shaw is interviewing candidates for Selectmen and School Committee for about 5 minutes each today. I will be listening and posting updates as they come on.

Ron Mercier: Came in late on this interview. Said the high school is not on the backburner but he didn't sound confident that it would happen now given the economy. He said the School Committee would need to sit down the town to see what to do.

He said he rather wage freezes than layoffs.

Mercier said that he has worked hand in hand with the Selectmen and they work well together. He said he enjoys his job and likes looking out for the taxpayers and children of Dracut.

Up next, Joe DiRocco

Joe had a long career with the Fire Department and has chief (1995-2002), they built two new stations, modernized the trucks and equipment, brought in new workers, etc. Now, DFD is "second to none in service, men, and equipment."

DiRocco said he likes being involved in the town and likes serving the people. He said that Dracut's financial success can be thanked to its "very conservative" fiscal management: DiRocco said the town doesn't spend what it doesn't have and only does what it can afford.

Finally, DiRocco said he would not support installing lights at Veterans Park because when the park was built, they promised the neighbors that lights would not be put in.

Brian Bond is next.

Brian talked about his long involvement in the community and said he is interested in bringing that involvement to another level. He said he would be a dedicated and active member of the Board of Selectmen.

Brian feels that the Community Preservation Program is a great program, it saves farm land for the town, and the future of the program "looks great."

Bond credited Dennis Piendak with keeping the town's finances in amazing shape and feels that he has done a great job "steering the town into the right direction."

Regarding lights at Veterans Park, Brian things the neighborhood has changed and the times have as well. A lot of people use the park now and need the lights for playing and safety. He has spoken with neighbors and said they have no problem with lights there.

Bonnie Elie - candidate for School Committee.

Elie said that she always been involved in her children's schools, all kids graduated from DHS and her grandchildren go to Dracut schools now. They, she said, are her inspiration to run again. Elie is retired and can be a fulltime member. She said will bring dignity and honor to the School Committee.

In terms of the high school, Bonnie thinks the town should spend the $1.4m stimulus money should be spent on the high school and not operations. When you add extra money to the budget that is not always there, you "give yourself a bigger cliff to fall off down the road."

Elis feels that we need to ask schools to take wage freezes, can't ask one half of the town to do so and not the schools.

Shaw asked for her opinion on Dr. Mullin and she said she called him about something about a month ago and never got a call back. That concerns her.

Paul Elmstrom: School Committee candidate.

Elmstrom is a parent and and feels that parents should be represented on the School Committee. He feels that the board should not be a stepping stone to a future political office, just to serve our children

He supports a new high school as constriction would not only help the students but also give jobs to workers. Perhaps the decision should be put to a vote.

He also supports a wage freeze, "especially if people will keep their jobs."

Like Elie, Elmstrom and his wife called Dr. Mullin and never got a call back.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Salaries: Take 2

Facing a potential $735,000 budget shortfall in the school budget, the School Committee last night gave Superintendent of Schools Spencer Mullin the authority to renegotiate salaries with the Dracut teachers. They do not want to lay anyone off and want to maintain current class sizes so the only option is salary cuts or freezes in raises.

I feel the teacher's pains. I am a teacher myself at a Catholic high school and we're not getting a raise next year and we all teach 6 classes. In addition, I advise two groups and am involved on a number of committees, most with no compensation. I won't tell you what I make in salary but I guarantee you that I make over $10,000 less than my counterparts in Dracut given my education (Masters degree) and years of experience (3).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Live chat transcript

If you haven't had a chance, head over to Dracut Forum and read the transcript from last night's chat with Selectman Joe DiRocco. They talked about a ton of issues and sounded like a great event.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Live chat tonight

Don't forget to check out Dracut Forum tonight at 6pm for the live chat with Selectman Joe DiRocco. I have a work commitment tonight so I will not be with Shawn tonight. I can't wait to read the replay!

Meetings this week

Monday, March 23
Board of Assessors: 9:00am, Town Hall
Finance Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall
School Committee: 6:00pm, Dracut High School (Executive Session)
School Committee: 7:00pm. Dracut High School

Tuesday, March 24
Board of Assessors: 9:00am, Town Hall
Board of Selectmen: 7:00pm, Library

Wednesday, March 25
Board of Assessors: 9:00am, Town Hall
Historical Commission: 7:00pm, Historical Society Building

Thursday, March 26
Sewer Commission: 6:00pm, Dracut High School

Not smarter than a DHS senior

I was hoping to head down to the DSF Telethon this week but work has been crazy busy. I am a high school teacher and one of the classes I teach is AP US History. The kids take their AP exam in about 6 weeks and I currently at the Great Depression. That means we have to cover 60 years of American history in less than two months! Needless to say, I have been working (at home) many late nights planning the classes so I know I get everything in. Not only that, our boys basketball team was in the NHIAA tournament so I went to one of their games this week. Not only that, I have a 2 year old son and my wife worked OT all week so I was alone with the boy until he went to bed.

Long story short, I am sorry I missed the competition between the School Committee and Board of Selectmen. I find it very ironic, as reported in the Column today, that the School Committee did worse that the Selectmen considering that the questions were from MCAS exams. That's got to hurt.

Election rundown

Dennis Shaughnessey has a full rundown of this year's town elections in today's Lowell Sun. Faithful readers of this blog won't find much new but it does do a fuller profile of Selectman Joe DiRocco, School Committee Chair Ron Mercier, and Housing Commissioner Robert Audet.

Mercier does responds to potential criticism of his vote to give the teachers an 8% raise by saying "It's important to keep good teachers in town. Otherwise we lose them." He also praised Superintendent of Schools Spencer Mullin, giving him an "A."

Meet Jeanne Balkas

Jeanne Balkas, a candidate for Town Moderator, e-mailed me the following about her and her candidacy:

Let my education and knowledge work for you:

Rivier College
Bachelor of Arts in Political Science
Masters Degree in Education/Administration

University of Massachusetts/Lowell
Educational Administration/Principal Program

A good leader must be a great servant:

Former Chairman, Dracut Charter Review Committee
Former Vice-Chairman, Dracut School Committee
Dracut Citizens Police Academy
Dracut Community Emergency Response Team
Volunteered/raised money for The Salvation Army
Volunteered/raised money for Dracut Skateboard Park
Collected money and food for Katrina flood victims in Father Morin’s parish in New Orleans
Boston Diocese Camp Counselor
Sunday School Teacher

A new vision, a new direction, I promise results and offer change:

*I promise to make warrant articles more simple, understanding & reader friendly before Town Meeting.
*I promise to provide registered voters via a Handout, the Internet, or Cable television, a simple explanation of the operational and procedural process of Town Meeting so that citizens can be active participants.
*I promise to let citizens know the power they have in the management of their town, and will insure they have all the information they need to make fiscally sound decisions.
*I promise that when controversial issues are to be voted upon, there will be a private ballot.

I have purchased from the Massachusetts Moderators Association, an informational video entitled “Town Meeting and You”, which explains open town meeting. I have also reserved time with Dracut local cable access for this to be shown.

I’am focused on what really counts, the hard working taxpayers of Dracut. A vote for me is a vote for YOU I WIN --- WE ALL WIN!

I respectfully ask for your vote on Monday--May 4,2009 Thank You!

***I will not accept the stipend I receive or the health insurance. Instead, the money will be evenly distributed to the Dracut Scholarship Foundation (In memory of Dennis McNamara) The Mike Miles Fund-Raiser for Memorial Fund, The Dracut Food Pantry, and The Dracut Senior Center.

Lennon Fundraiser

Kieran Lennon, a candidate for Brian Martin's old seat (and Victor Olson's current seat) on the Greater Lowell Technical High School School Committee, will be holding a fundraiser on April 9 at 7:00pm at Lenzi's.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Busy week

Sorry for the lack of postings this week folks. As a teacher, a husband, and a father of a 2 year old, life can get busy!

As you may know from Shawn Ashe, Selectman Joe DiRocco will be the guest this Sunday on our live chat. Unfortunately, I will be away at a work commitment that evening so I will not be able to attend and Shawn will be flying solo. But, he is an old pro and can do it standing on his head.

I want to piggy back on what he said on his blog about the success of the Sunday night chats. We started these chats as a way for the people of Dracut to become engaged in this year's elections. There are of course plenty of forums like the Sun, WCAP, DATV, candidate nights, etc. but we wanted to add another voice to the mix and have some fun with it.

The times are changing and blogs and technology are dominating the landscape. This is the future of media and information and Shawn and I are really on the cutting edge. Does this mean we are the dominant voice? Of course not, we're just another voice. There can never be enough people in the mix.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Meet the candidates

Today was the final day for candidates to return their papers to run for office this May and so the list is now final. Big surprise is that Nancy Gagnon never returned her papers so she will be leaving the School Committee when her term expires in May. Also, Ted Kosiavelon announced that he will not be running for the Board of Selectmen.

So here is the lineup for May:

Eugenia Balkas and Gary McCarthy

Brian Bond and Joe DiRocco

School Committee (2 seats):
Bonita Elie, Paul Elmstrom, and Ron Mercier

School Committee (unexpired term):
Mike McNamara

Library Trustee (2 seats):
John Dyer, Mary Lee Matthews, and Cheryl Storm

Housing Authority:
Robert Audet and Ken Cunha

Regional Vocational School:
Paul Morin and David Norkiewicz

Regional Vocational School (unexpired term):
Kieran Lennon and Victor Olson

Water Commissioner:
William Zielinski

Water Moderator:
Donna Yackel

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Night Live: Meet Brian Bond

Meetings this week

Monday, March 16
School Site Council: 3:00pm, Lakeview Junior High
Affordable Housing Partnership: 5:30pm, Historical Society
Finance Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall
Dracut Housing Authority: 7:00pm, 971 Mammoth Road

Tuesday, March 17
Board of Assessors, 9:00am, Assessors Office
Community Preservation Committee: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Wednesday, March 18
School Committee Finance Sub-committee: 4:45pm, Administration Building
Conservation Commission: 7:15pm, Harmony Hall

Thursday, March 19
Sewer Commission Meeting: 10:00am, CDM Trailer
Board of Appeals: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

New faces

Dennis Shaughnessey of the Lowell Sun has a good article in today's paper about all the new faces in this year's election. With the deadline for submitting nomination papers looming at 4pm tomorrow, this year's elections are going to be hot.

Brian Bond, a candidate for selectman, won the lottery with a picture of him speaking with a voter in the print edition and on-line.

You can read the whole article here and see why some people are running. They all seem like good people who just want to see the town continue to succeed. Even Bond said he likes everyone on the Board of Selectmen and the first person he called when he decided to run was incumbent Joe DiRocco.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paul Elmstrom Fundraiser

Paul Elmstrom, a candidate for Dracut School Committee, is hosting a fundraiser on Friday, March 20 from 7pm-11pm at the Dracut American Legion at 574 Broadway (Rt. 113).

There will be live music from Tequila Mockingbird and the suggested contribution is $10.

Election Update

March 16 is fast approaching (* means the papers have been returned and # means the candidate is no longer running):

Moderator: 1 seat – 1 year term
Gary W McCarthy
Eugenia Balkas *

Selectman: 1 seat – 3 year term
Joseph DiRocco Jr. *
Ted Kosiavelon
Brian Bond *
Alley Catyb #

School Committee: 2 seats – 3 yr term
Nancy L Gagnon
Paul M Elmstrom *
Paul W Nutt #
Ronald P Mercier, III *
Bonita Elie
Kenneth R. Martin

School Committee/Remainder of Term: 1 seat to expire May 2010
Kenneth R Martin
Paul M Elmstrom
Paul W Nutt #
Michael F McNamara *

Trustee of the Public Library: 2 seats – 3 year term
John Earle Dyer *
Mary Lee Matthews
Cheryl Storm *

Housing Authority: 1 seat – 5 year term
Robert J. Audet *
Kenneth Cunha *

Regional Vocational School Comm: 1 seat – 3 year term
Dennis DJ Deeb, II #
David J Norkiewicz *
Robert Richard Reinhart #
Paul E. Morin

Regional Vocational/Remainder of Term: 1 seat – term to expire May 2011
Kieran Lennon *
Victor A Olson *
Joseph Dunn
Paul E Morin


Commissioner: 1 seat – 3 year term
William “Zee” Zielinski *

Moderator: 1 seat – 3 year term
Donna M Yackel *

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sun picks up on Deeb story

The Lowell Sun picked up on DJ Deeb's decision not to run for re-election under its Breaking News section. Deeb offers some insight into why he is not running:

After 12 years on the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee member at the Greater Lowell Technical High School, Dracut resident Dennis "D.J." Deeb is calling it quits.

"Time is a precious commodity and I don't have enough of it," said Deeb, a teacher at Reading Memorial High School who also serves as an adjunct professor at Bunker Hill Community College and UMass Lowell. "I've been going back and forth in my mind for a while now, and I feel as though it's the right decision."

His decision leaves David Norkiewicz, an HVAC instructor at Shawsheen Valley Technical High School, as the only declared candidate for the seat, although several people who have taken out nomination papers for the two-year term vacated by Brian Martin have until March 16 to decide which term they will run for.

Victor Olson Fundraiser

Victor Olson, a member of the Greater Lowell Technical School Board, is having a fundraiser on Sunday, March 29 from 1pm-4pm at Coyle's. The donation is $20 and anyone who cannot attend but would like to contribute should mail their contribution to:

Committee to Elect Victor Olson
80 Sue Ann Drive
Dracut, MA 01826

Olson replaced Brian Martin and is running for the seat in his own right.

Deeb out

DJ Deeb has announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee. He does not give a reason but Shawn Ashe said that he has heard this rumor for sometime now.

I think Deeb realized that he faced an uphill battle with a number of people running for the seat. He lost his seat on the Dracut School Committee last year and he was facing the prospect of losing a second seat in as many years. On the plus side for Deeb, he was recently appointed by Town Moderator Gary McCarthy to serve on the Government Regulations Committee (to replace Brian Martin) so he is still involved in town government.

Thus, in a blink of an eye, the Dracut delegation to the Greater Lowell board has been completely revamped.

Monday, March 9, 2009

No meetings tonight

All town meetings were cancelled tonight, including the Finance Committee and the School Committee. This is the second straight week the Finance Committee was cancelled.

There is a lot of snow out there but it has stopped and the roads are fine. Why the cancellation? Seems wimpy to me.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Night Live

School Committee Executive Session Minutes

At the last Dracut School Committee meeting, the attorney, Mr. Morris, said that he would review the recent Executive Session meetings and then present them for a vote at the next meeting (which is tomorrow).

This has been going back and forth for months now so if the minutes are not released at Monday's meeting, I will be filing a Freedom of Information Request on Tuesday morning.

Meetings this week

Big week for meetings:

Monday, March 9
Finance Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall
Dracut School Committee (Executive Session): 6:00pm, Dracut High School
Dracut School Committee: 7:00pm, Dracut High School
Recreation Commission: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Tuesday, March 10
Board of Selectmen Budget Workshop: 6:15pm, Library
Board of Selectmen: 7:00pm, Library

Wednesday, March 11
Library Board of Trustees: 4:30pm, Library
Greenmont Ave. School Council: 5:00pm, Greenmont Ave. School
Agricultural Commission: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Thursday, March 12
Assessors Meeting: 11:00am, Town Hall
Open Space Committee: 6:30pm, Central Fire Station
Veterans Park Concession Stand: 6:30pm, Central Fire Station

Attending meetings

The lead article in The Column today was about the spotty attendance of Gary McCarthy and Jeannie Balkas at Town Meetings. Why is this a big deal? They're both running for Town Moderator - McCarthy as the incumbent.

Typically the lead article in The Column is about Lowell, I rarely see a Dracut story be the top dog. I wonder who dropped Dennis Shaughnessy the dime on this one. It would not have been McCarthy or Balkas since they're both criticized. However, Shaughnessy seems a tad critical of Balkas with lines like "Balkas...who has run for almost everything in Dracut at one time or another..."

Anyway, if you're interested in talking to McCarthy and Balkas about this issue, you can chat with them tonight at 6pm during the live chat Shawn Ashe and I will be hosting.

The story is below:

EUGINIA BALKAS says she is running for town moderator in Dracut because she is unhappy with the way Town Meeting is run.

Could that be why she has failed to attend even a single Town Meeting since 2005?
Incumbent Town Moderator Gary McCarthy's attendance record from 2002 to 2006 is also spotty, but he claims he had a perfect attendance record from 1986 to 2001 when he served as town clerk.

According to voting records at the town clerk's office, Balkas, a one-term School Committee member in the 1990s who has run for almost everything in Dracut at one time or another, attended Town Meeting just once in 2002, once in 2004 and twice in 2005. McCarthy missed six out of 10 meetings from 2002 to 2006, before being elected in May 2007. He missed Town Meeting a month later when he was undergoing treatment for cancer.

Balkas told The Column last week that her dismal attendance record was due to "family health issues." McCarthy said that his role as superintendent of the Dracut Water Supply District, which holds its own annual Town Meeting, is his top priority.

"When I was involved in town government, I never missed Town Meeting," McCarthy said. "After I left town government, my obligation was to the water district."

Town Meeting is held twice a year and usually adjourns in less than three hours. The town moderator is paid an annual stipend of $550 and is eligible to enroll in the town's health-insurance plan, although

McCarthy said his health insurance is covered by the water district.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sunday Night Live this week

This week's Sunday Night Live will feature the two candidates for Town Moderator: Gary McCarthy and Jeanne Balkas. Kudos to the hard working Shawn Ashe for lining this up. The chat will be here and over at Dracut Forum at 6pm tomorrow night.

Nothing new

Warren Shaw's weekly column in the Valley Dispatch this week is a more detailed explanation of the ongoing drama with the Dracut Police Department. Shaw talked about this last week on his radio show and mentioned that the DPD has always had a lot of drama, dating back to his time on the Board of Selectmen in the 1970's.

Here is what he had to say:

When I first got elected to the Board of Selectmen back in the late '70s, one of the first things brought to my attention on a regular basis was the drama in the Dracut Police Department.

So when I read the story about the latest round of bomb- throwing in that department, frankly, it was like a trip down memory lane.

What I can tell you firsthand is that it is more of a surprise when there is peace and harmony in that department and in fairness, most other small police departments.


You got me. I've known most of these folks over the years and find them to be pretty dedicated cops, and good people. They all take this position seriously, and want to give the town their best.

And, no disrespect to anyone currently wearing the uniform, but being a Dracut cop is a pretty good gig. Great pay, good benefits, a fabulous retirement and all the outside details you want to soak up. On top of that, the obvious benefit of almost being able to walk to work; no traffic reports necessary.

And Dracut always promotes from within, so advancement is always a possibility.
What is clear from comments made to The Sun is that members of the Board of Selectmen are upset and will step in. Nothing angers selectmen more than to have a public feud going on in a department. Selectmen Joseph DiRocco and James O'Loughlin make up the board's public safety subcommittee and have experience in these matters.

Before becoming a selectman, DiRocco served as fire chief for seven years and had no grievances get beyond his department, while O'Loughlin has been on the board's subcommittee for more than 10 years.

All the good intentions on the part of the board to resolve the current problem will mean nothing if the department can't or won't function as a team.

It wouldn't be right to finish a column about the Dracut Police Department without acknowledging the great piece of off-duty police work done by Lt. Steve Chaput.

After hearing a call about an attempted abduction while driving his own car, Lt. Chaput spotted the vehicle and followed the suspect, resulting in a confrontation and capture.

Bad guy off the street.

So, next time you see the Lt. Chaput, thank him for a great piece of work.

May 2009 update

With the deadline for passing in nomination papers quickly approaching, the May 2009 election is coming into picture.

Here are the candidates who have pulled papers as of Friday (* means they have returned their papers):

Moderator: 1 seat – 1 year term
Gary W McCarthy
Eugenia Balkas

Selectman: 1 seat – 3 year term
Joseph DiRocco Jr. *
Ted Kosiavelon
Brian Bond *
Alley Catyb

School Committee: 2 seats – 3 yr term
Nancy L Gagnon
Paul M Elmstrom *
Paul W Nutt
Ronald P Mercier, III *
Bonita Elie

School Committee/Remainder of Term: 1 seat to expire May 2010
Kenneth R Martin
Paul M Elmstrom
Paul W Nutt
Michael F McNamara *

Trustee of the Public Library: 2 seats – 3 year term
John Earle Dyer *
Mary Lee Matthews
Cheryl Storm

Housing Authority: 1 seat – 5 year term
Robert J. Audet *
Kenneth Cunha

Regional Vocational School Comm: 1 seat – 3 year term
Dennis DJ Deeb, II
David J Norkiewicz *
Robert Richard Reinhart
Kieran Lennon

Regional Vocational/Remainder of Term: 1 seat – term to expire May 2011
Kieran Lennon
Victor A Olson *
Joseph Dunn
Paul E Morin


Commissioner: 1 seat – 3 year term
William “Zee” Zielinski *

Moderator: 1 seat – 3 year term
Donna M Yackel *

Busy week

Sorry for the light posting this week folks. I am a high school teacher in New Hampshire and we went back to school this week after our February vacation. It was a busy week getting back into things and I worked late the past three nights.

New postings soon...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Local boy makes good

Today, Pope Benedict XVI named Dracut native Roger Morin the Bishop of Biloxi. Bishop Morin is currently serving as an Auxiliary (assistant) Bishop in New Orleans to Boston native Archbishop Alfred Hughes.

Bishop Morin was ordained on April 15, 1971 at St. Therese's Church (now Ste. Marguerite's Parish) on Lakeview Ave. and became a bishop on June 15, 2001.
You can read more about his appointment and his biography here and here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

No chat this week

Shawn and I are going to cancel the Sunday night chat for this week due to some personal obligations but we'll be back next week.