Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bond/DiRocco on Suntalk

I am going to provide some updates on the Suntalk debate between Brian Bond and Joe DiRocco

6:00: DiRocco very positive about the progress in Dracut since he's been on the board

6:01: DiRocco wants to be on the board to select new town manager

6:04: Bond thinks more to be done

6:04: Bond says we need to address waiting list at Louisburg Square - 800 on list

6:05: Jimmy O, not DiRocco was the driving force behind reduced price of Canney Farm says Bond

6:08: Town meeting on May 5 to discuss Canney

6:09: Bond is dominating the discussion in my mind - DiRocco seems annoyed to be there

6:11: Biggest issue is Canney Farm - town is in good shape if a park is the biggest issue!!

6:12: "Biggest difference between me and Brian": cost of Canney

6:13: DiRocco: "We need more public housing."

6:15: Bond: "Can't get it quick enough."

6:18: Should Parker Ave. School be closed? DiRocco punts, Bond says no

6:18: Campy knows his Dracut issues

6:21: Go forward with new high school? Bond says yes, DiRocco wants to see what the study says (new school, renovate, etc). But, won't happen anytime soon he said.

6:23: Need new business in town?

6:24: DiRocco says no to Walgreens

6:27: Bond wants to see traffic study first

6:29: Walgreen's will bring in $31,000 a year in tax revenue

6:34: DiRocco budget issue came up again

6:35: Bond questions DiRocco having Piendak taking time looking up the fire budget

6:35: "Never, not once" did DiRocco go over budget

6:38: DiRocco explaining the overages (equipment, new stations, etc).

6:39: Bond: "DiRocco did not waste taxpayers money."

6:43: Bond would have voted against the liquor store transfer on 110

6:44: DiRocco was asked about Bond's performance and said he can't think of anything because he has only been to one meeting since Bond's been on the board. 6 years Bond said he's been on the board!

6:46: Hoping for extension on Town Hall (current one ends in 2011)

6:49: Bond: sell some land to pay for Town Hall?

6:51: Get rid of Quinn Bill?

6:52: Quinn Bill cost town $120K last year. Bond doesn't understand the issue.

6:53: No light promise at Veterans Park is simply a "rumor" says Bond

6:56: DiRocco talked to Buxton, Shaw, Blatus, etc - deal was made

7:02: Bond: knocked on 1,200 doors, made 500 phone calls

7:03: Final statements

7:04: DiRocco: "Recreation is not my only priority." Rim shot!

Last chance debate

Don't forget that tonight is the final debate between Joe DiRocco and Brian Bond. Hosted by the Lowell Sun's Jim Campanini, you can watch it at 6pm by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May 2009 Election Predictions

Here are my predictions for this year's town elections (predicted winners in bold):

Moderator:
Eugenia Balkas and Gary McCarthy

Selectmen:
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

Talking on, and on, and on, and on...

The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee are interesting contrasts. The School Committee members seem to ask very few questions at their meetings and when they do, they're typically leading questions or very brief. The power, it seems, is really with the Superintendent and his team.

The Board of Selectmen, on the other hand, tend to talk...and talk...and talk...and talk. They ask very good questions of people like the Town Manager and people who come before the board but I never look forward to the "New Business" portion of the meeting. This usually takes place at the end of the meeting and is typically a chance for the members to give shout outs or to talk about the goings-on in town. I don't blame them for bringing stuff up but man, sometimes they need to learn the art of getting to the point!

I have a feeling that the vandalism at the Assumption Church will get a lot of air time tonight and everyone will want to get a word in. Again, I would be upset if they didn't bring it up but when it takes 10 minutes to make a 2 minute statement, it gets frustrating. It's like that scene from "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" when John Candy is yapping to Steve Martin on the plane and Martin starts pulling at his collar like he is choking.

Lowell Sun holding steady

Circulation numbers for American newspapers came out this week and the Lowell Sun is only down 0.5%, the best performance of all the Massachusetts daily newspapers. The Globe is down 13.6% and the Eagle Tribune is down 7.6%.

Congratulations to all the folks at the Sun. The distinction is dubious, I know, but it is relatively good news.

See the story here.

God Bless Rep. Garry

Boy do I like Rep. Colleen Garry. She truly has political courage because she will continue to vote her conscience and district's way no matter the political pressure. This time, it is Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo's push to raise the state income tax to 6.25%. Garry was only one of 51 members of the House to vote no, even after major arm bending by the speaker to get a veto-proof majority.

Kudos also to Lowell Rep. Kevin Murphy who told the Sun, "We haven't even started debating further budget cuts, and we're already raising taxes. We're putting the cart before the horse."

Amen.

"No mercy"

I am a member of Saint Francis Parish and if anyone defaced the Church the same way people defaced the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church, I would be furious and want some sort of justice. Selectman George Malliaros, according to today's Sun, is "very close" to the Assumption Church and said he wants the person(s) who did this to be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." I agree. But, I think Malliaros must have been absent from the Religious Education classes on forgiveness and compassion because he also said, "No mercy."

OK, perhaps Malliaros was angry and speaking what we're all thinking. But, even Jesus forgave those who crucified Him! To be Christian is to show mercy, Selectman. Remember the old adage by Alexander Pope, "To err is human; to forgive divine."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meetings this week

Monday, April 27
Finance Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall
School Committee: 7:00pm, High School
Recreation Commission: 7:30pm, Historical Society

Tuesday, April 28
Board of Assessors: 10:00am, Town Hall
Board of Selectmen: 7:00pm, Library

Wednesday, April 29
Permanent Building Committee: 4:30pm, Harmony Hall
Historical Commission: 7:00pm, Historical Society
Planning Board: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Thursday, April 30
Economic Development Committee: 6:30pm, Central Fire Station

Minutes Update

I haven't forgotten about the School Committee Executive Session minutes. I was at a conference on Friday and Saturday and today I am going to enjoy the outside! I am on vacation this week so I will be looking at them and providing some feedback.

Technical Candidates

Continuing his great profiles of all the candidates for local office, today Dennis Shaughnessey highlights the four men running for the two seats on the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee.

They all seem like good, stand-up guys and it's too bad that two of them will lose. You can read the whole story here but the Sun also had the following breakdown:

Running for one two-year seat:

Victor Olson
Age: 47
Family: Married with 5-year-old son
Occupation: Civil Environmental Engineer
Education: Bachelor of science in civil engineering from Northeastern University
Political Experience: Appointed to Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee in February. Four-year member of the Dracut Conservation Commission.
Priorities: Ensuring fiscal responsibility and accountability, continuing community outreach projects in Dracut, implementing cutting-edge technology offerings and teaching tools.


Kieran Lennon
Age: 43
Family: Wife KIm, sons, Brandon, 16 and Jared, 13.
Occupation: Retired corrections officer for the Middlesex Sheriff's Office. Currently works part-time at UMass Lowell and Belmont Public Schools.
Education: Master's degree in criminal justice administration from Western New England College.
Political Experience: none
Priorities: Maintaining low class sizes, promoting parental involvement, making sure the school has he most modern technology available.

Running for one three-year seat:


Paul E. Morin
Age: 61
Family: Single with one adult son.
Occupation: Retired culinary instructor at Greater Lowell after 30 years.
Education: Bachelor of science degree from Fitchburg State College. Certified in Special-needs education.
Political Experience: none
Priorities: Examine the budget thoroughly to
avoid cutting jobs, making sure that Dracut does not pay a disproportional amount in its assessment, seek to lower transportation and athletic fees.

David Norkiewicz
Age: 47
Family: Married with three children
Occupation: Vocational Instruction Director at Shawsheen Valley Technical High School in Billerica, Owner of Davco Refrigeration.
Education: Master's degree in Vocational Education from Fitchburg State College.
Political Experience: none
Priorities: To come up with a five-year plan for capital improvements at the school, revisit the program offerings making sure that viable programs are maintained, provide a conduit between the school and the town.

Zimini antics

Today's Column talks about an "incident" last week in which Selectman John Zimini waived his backside at a Lowell Sun reporter. Zimini was holding signs for Dracut Housing Authority Candidate Ken Cunha when he told the reporter to take a picture of his bum.

Of course Zimini was messing around but this is not the first time he has acted a little unbecoming. At a Board of Selectmen meeting a few months ago, Chairman Bob Cox was reading the Community Calendar and mentioned the Dracut Food Pantry's "Pantry Raid." Zimini was laughing like a teenager and told Cox to say it again fast. This caused Cox to giggle throughout it with Zimini laughing hysterically. I am not the King of Protocol at all and I love to laugh and joke around but I found it a little gauche.

Here is the whole story about Buttgate:

BEHAVIOR UNBECOMING a selectman.

Was that Dracut Selectman John Zimini standing on a corner last weekend, waving his behind to a Sun reporter? Sure was.

Zimini, who is supporting Housing Authority candidate Ken Cunha, was among the many sign holders on street corners around town last Saturday morning. When the Sun reporter approached the opposite corner with a camera, Zimini called out for a picture of his backside, turned around and repeatedly wiggled his derriere in the direction of the reporter.


Those who know him know that Zimini is a jovial guy with a good sense of humor, but what about those who don't know him? Traffic was busy at that intersection and many motorists passing through must have been perplexed by the spectacle of one of their selectmen acting like a adolescent.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Lakeview Avenue

I just caught part of "Saturday Morning Live" and Shawn Ashe and Warren Shaw were discussing a potential town meeting warrant article that would have rezoned ALL of Lakeview Avenue for business. Thankfully the article was pulled as that would be a complete disaster. Dracut would lose much of its charm and, as Shawn said, Lakeview Ave. would become Route 38 in Tewksbury.

Shaw Farm Happenings

In his weekly column, Warren Shaw highlights some of the developments down at his farm. I am really glad to see that the farm is growing and evolving rather than dying and contracting. I discovered Shaw Farm a few months after I moved to Dracut and I remember sitting in my car afterwards and being so happy to live in a town with a real dairy farm! It could have been any farm really but it made me realize that Dracut was a unique place, a big town with a small town feel and places like Shaw Farm, Brox Farm, etc. really drive that uniqueness.

Anyway, see Warren's column here.

School Committee Debate

The Lowell Sun held a debate between the three candidates for School Committee Thursday night and Bonnie Elie came out against the pay raises recently doled out for teachers. In response to Ron Mercier, who defended the raises, she said "We were talking about the bad economy back in September, and you went ahead to give them raises." She was also critical of the treatment of former Superintendent of Schools Elaine Espindle, calling it "dismal."

I think Elie is smart for going after Mercier on these matters. The raises are very unpopular with some people and while Dr. Spencer Mullin has done a nice job, it appears that he comes off as arrogant and non-responsive to some parents so perhaps Elie is trying to tap into their frustration by invoking Espindle.

You can see the whole debate here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Executive Session Minutes Update

I received a copy of the School Committee Executive Session minutes for 2008 and many from 2009 (up to January 26). The rest cannot yet be released because the matters are still under negotiations. A word of thanks to the School Committee for the quick turnaround on my request.

I thumbed through the minutes and I will do a more thorough reading after I have put Baby Flaherty to bed tonight. One thing I did notice is that the Nurses demanded to be placed on the same salary scale as teachers. Thus, nurses are considered teachers in terms of salary.

Hmmmmm....

Concerned East Dracut Residents

I received the following e-mail from a resident of East Dracut who is concerned (along with the person's neighbors) about the building of a pump station in the neighborhood. They asked if I could post it to begin a public discussion:

I am a Dracut resident and have an issue that I would like to raise. I live on a very quiet, serene cul-de-sac in East Dracut where sewerage is currently being installed. I am totally in favor of sewerage; I have voted for it. However, the town of Dracut is planning on placing a pump station in the center of our cul-de-sac: a mere 30 feet from the front yards of abutters! Not only is this an obtrusive eyesore, it also poses other safety and aesthetic concerns to all our neighbors. There is more than sufficient land available adjacent to this property which could house this facility. Our entire neighborhood has banded together and has attended sewer committee meetings with alternative choices for the town to consider. They are not being very receptive, but are quick to admit that they would not want it in their front yards either. They seem more concerned with "not establishing a precedent" than doing the right thing and preserving our neighborhood's curb appeal and property values.

One neighbor has gone to his own expense to have photos taken of before and after changes to our neighborhood as well as getting real estate comps to show what this will do to our real estate values. The neighbors have begun posting signs on the cul-de-sac as well as on their own properties voicing their unhappiness at this situation.

Ours is an evolving neighborhood. As children grow and families move out, we as residents and Dracut as a community, would hope to attract new, younger families to our neighborhood. Young families are attracted to areas with cul-de-sacs as they provide a safe environment for their children to grow and play. This building will cause potential homebuyers to drive around the circle and just keep driving....

I believe this issue addresses an interesting political dilemma as this same situation could happen in many neighborhoods where unwitting residents would be given the easiest, cheapest solution rather than consider what would best serve our neighborhoods and residents.

From Brian Bond...

On May 4th, residents of Dracut will be asked to make important decisions about the leadership of the community, including educational and housing authority. In preparation for these decisions, residents look to a variety of sources for information about current and future community issues. Local radio stations, internet blogs, and local newspapers, including the Lowell Sun are key sources of this information. In recent weeks there have been a number of stories about Dracut projects that have misrepresented the facts or prior community decisions. This letter is intended to clarify some of these misrepresentations so that Dracut voters can make more informed decisions. One issue in particular needs clarification.

The development of Veteran's Park was a tremendous accomplishment and is now a valuable community resource. It has been reported that development of the Park only received neighborhood approval because there was a promise that no lighting would be installed on the rear football field or walking paths. It has also been suggested that neighborhood meetings occurred with abutters where “no lighting” promises were made. Is it possible that a meeting occurred between a few people and not an official committee meeting? Maybe. Also, according to town officials, in review of meeting minutes there was no vote indicating that the Park would not install lights. At the time, there was no need or requests to install lights except for the football practice area and the baseball fields. However, the Park has become a valuable, but underutilized space.


Not only is this an issue near and dear to me because of the recreational value it represents, but I grew up in this neighborhood, so it is a bit more personal. Recent conversations with immediate abutters on Blackberry Field Road, Arlington Road, Ansonia Avenue and Montaup Avenue reveal no public conversations took place - or included them, in reference to no lighting at Veteran's Park. In truth, as many as 17 current abutters have absolutely no problem with installing lighting in Veteran’s Park. Many believe, as do I, that the Park would be even more resourceful if lights were installed. Lighting would enhance the safety of the Park and extend the use of the Park until early evening. The Park could be used by even more recreational groups, young people and families, including working adults who are not able to use the Park during the daylight hours.

Brian J Bond
Candidate for Dracut Selectmen

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Amateur hour

Over the years, I have been struck by the pettiness and bush league tactics of some on the Lowell City Council. From what I am told, City Manager Bernie Lynch is arrogant, politically tone deaf, bundled the Arena and Spinners deals, and and has brought in a lot of his minions...but he knows his stuff (sound familiar Dr. Mullin?). But, the way the City Council takes him on in public is also arrogant and good old boy politics.

This week's Column highlights the relationship between Lynch and the Council. On March 24, the City Council voted 8-1 to raise late fees on excise tax bills from $5 to $30. Done. So Lynch and his administration do exactly as the Council says and once people start getting hit with the fees, people like CC Rita Mercier and Mayor Caulfield start going nuts that the fees were actually implemented. Caulfield said he is upset at the Council, not Lynch but dollars to donuts, they're blaming everything on Lynch when they speak to constituents.

Mercier is a great old fashioned politician who watches out for the people of Lowell. But, her grandstanding and tongue lashings get very old and annoying at times. For example, at last week's meeting she said the following to City CFO Tom Moses: "You can create your mumbo jumbo all you want Mr. Moses. Spin it any way that you want but if they tell me they were six days late I am not going to call them a liar."

Oh man.

By the way, a similar vote came up at last year's Dracut Town Meeting and I was the only one to vote no but Town Moderator Gary McCarthy didn't hear me. I was sitting in the back and Brian Martin happened to be sitting in front of me and joked that McCarthy didn't hear me. I don't think we should raise fees just to generate revenue, the amount should just be whatever it costs to process a new bill.

Merrimack Valley and the Revolution

Tony over at richardhowe.com has a great take on the role and and geography of the Merrimack Valley on the eve of the American Revolution. Take a look here.

Why Dennis Shaughnessey is the best reporter in town

Kudos to Dennis Shaughnessey for his profiles of the folks running for office in Dracut this year. Between the blogs, candidiate nights, and Dennis' articles, NO ONE can say they don't have a good grasp on the people and the issues.

Today Dennis highlights the three candidates for School Committee - incumbent Ron Mercier, Bonnie Elie, and Paul Elmstrom. He does highlight the fact that there are not many issues that separate the three and they all seem to come across rather tepid on wage concessions for school employees. They say it is "difficult" to ask the workers to reopen contract negotiations but I say it is a no-brainer. If school employees do not consider concessions, they are living in a fantasy world. It is very simple - take a wage freeze or lose your jobs.

People, unfortunately, do not pay close attention to local government so I doubt many people know Mercier supported the 8% raise for teachers and the 2.5% raise for administrators. Mercier certainly isn't hiding that fact and I am surprised that hasn't been raised (no pun intended) as an issue by the other two. I think Elie and Elmstrom have a ready made issue to go after Mercier with but I bet they don't want to risk upsetting the many school employees who live in town (and who vote en masse).

Why Shawn is the best blogger in town

You got to admire Shawn Ashe, he really gets his hands dirty doing this whole blogging thing. At last week's Candidate Night, Selectman Candidate Brian Bond took on Selectman Joe DiRocco for his failure to remain within his budget when he was fire chief. So, Ashe got the numbers from Town Manager Dennis Piendak and then did a pretty substantial interview with DiRocco about them. Great stuff, see it all here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jeanne Balkas' responds

Jeanne Balkas, a candidate for Town Moderator, was not at Thursday's Candidate Night because it was Orthodox Holy Thursday. She had the following response to Gary McCarthy, the incumbent:

Yes, I was unable to attend the debate (it was my Holy Thursday) but, I was allowed by the committee that presented Candidate's Night to send in a written statement about my candidacy. They are a very understanding and accommodating group of ladies that always provide the voters of Dracut with an insightful look into candidates seeking public office.

A friend taped Candidate's Night and I was able to review my worthy opponents statements.

It was mentioned that all a moderator does is run town meeting. This is not an entirely correct statement. It is the civic duty and responsibility of a moderator to provide the people with all the information needed to make fiscally sound decisions. Elected leaders are accountable to the public and we must have transparency in government.

That is why if elected, I will have a Moderator’s link on the Official Town of Dracut’s website with my contact number as well as my e-mail address. I will provide the public with important information and documents related to this office online. Town meetings should be educational as well as productive. When there are complex issues, we need to give voters all the information they need so they fully understand the issues, and can make fiscally sound decisions. I will also try to foster better communication between town departments prior to Town Meeting so that voters understand not only the articles and the motions, but why they are being placed before voters. While the moderator must abide by the town’s bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order, he or she still has a fair amount of discretion regarding what motions are made and how the meeting is conducted.

Other duties of the Town Moderator include the appointment of the Finance Committee, The Committee on Rules (which oversees the business of Town Meeting and considers all proposed changes in it’s conduct), The Committee on Government Regulations (which reviews and reports on all warrant articles that would, if adopted, amend the Charter or affect the By-laws of the town), and the Permanent Building Committee (which is responsible for overseeing the construction or re-construction of all town buildings).

As always, I have done my homework and have found that other communities such as North Andover, have the Finance Committee prepare a report along with a simplified version of the warrant articles prior to Town Meeting. To save on expenses, I will provide this on the Town Moderator’s link on the Official Towns website, and on local cable, and if requested, a handout.

I hope this clears up any doubts or uncertainty about what my candidacy proposes.

Thank you,

Jeanne Balkas

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Minutes Update

At the last School Committee meeting in March, the School Committee did release a number of Executive Session minutes. From the way they were talking, it sounded like they were from 3-5 years ago but I have heard that more recent minutes were part of that release.

Thus, I should have no problem getting the 2008 and 2009 Executive Session minutes from the School Committee. I mailed my request two days ago so I should be getting a response within a week or so as required by law. The only ones I won't get are the ones that pertain to ongoing contract negotiations.

I will keep you posted.

Meet Paul Morin

Paul Morin, a candidate for the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee, sent along the following:

My name is Paul Morin and I am a candidate for the Greater Lowell Technical School Committee. The son of the late James and Lillian (Cregg) Morin. I was born and raised in Dracut and I have been a resident of Dracut my whole life.

I am the proud father of Scott Bordeleau from the town of Tyngsboro, MA. I have three sisters Pat Johnson and Susan Spellissy of Dracut and Elaine Joncas of Nashua, N.H. I have two brothers James Morin of Dracut and Auxiliary Bishop Roger P. Morin of New Orleans, LA, soon to be the Bishop of Biloxi, MI.

I attended Fitchburg State College and received a Certificate in Vocational Education. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, a Certification in Special Needs and was involved with the Curriculum Frameworks Education Reform for the Massachusetts Department of Education.

I retired as a member of the faculty of Greater Lowell Technical High School after over 30 years of dedicated teaching. I am presently employed, part time as a security officer at Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union. A member of the Dracut Knights of Columbus, and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Middlesex Shelter in Lowell, MA.

People ask me why run for school committee when things are so bad with the economy? Because I know we have the greatest vocational school in the country with the most dedicated educators and I would love to make sure that it stays that way. I know and understand the needs of the students and faculty having been a part of the system for so many years.

My goal will be to examine the budget thoroughly, to avoid cutting programs and jobs. Also looking into any added funding that can be used in the future.

I feel that with my education background and very deep concern for all children, I will be an asset to the school committee.

Finally I would like to say that “a member of the school committee should aspire to the position for only one reason and that reason is to serve and not to be served.”


Monday, April 13, 2009

No minutes released

The School Committee did not release any Executive Session minutes tonight so I will send the following letter to Chairman Ron Mercier tomorrow morning:

April 14, 2009

Dracut School Committee
Attn: Ronald Mercier, Chairperson
2063 Lakeview Avenue
Dracut, MA 01826

Re: Massachusetts Public Records Request


Dear Mr. Mercier,

This is a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M. G. L. Chapter 66, Section 10).

I am requesting that I be provided a copy of the following documents:

- School Committee Executive Session minutes for 2008 and all of 2009

As you are aware, I must be provided with this information within 10 days. If you cannot comply with my request, please provide an explanation in writing.

Sincerely,

Brian M. Flaherty

School budget cuts

At the last School Committee meeting, Superintendent of Schools was asked to ask the unions to take a salary freeze for FY 2010. Mullin told the School Committee tonight that they could make a $667,267 decrease in salaries and still maintain a "modest" 1.16% proposed budget increase. If the unions do not make wage concessions, the schools will have to cut a number of administrative and teaching positions.

Mullin will continue to meet with the unions and Mullin said they were "open minded" with one exception. That one exception, according to Shawn Ashe's contacts, are the nurses. Mullin will provide an update on the negotiations at the next meeting. Mullin said that the recent raises (8%) were necessary because Dracut is losing a number of teachers to rival schools.

In my humble opinion, the teachers MUST take a wage freeze. I don't think Mullin has to worry about teachers leaving en masse since every district is in the same position and not hiring. I am a teacher at a Catholic high school and I am not getting a raise next year and I will never receive the level of pensions and benefits public school teachers get. If the unions do not take a wage freeze, they are being selfish.

School Committee Member Matthew Sheehan says that we should not "drag" these people down and they deserve what they got. But these are trying times and if the teachers do not agree to a freeze, they will demonstrate that they are living in a fantasy world devoid of any reality and appreciation for the financial times we are in. They say they care about the kids, and I am sure they do. But, cities and towns can no longer afford the gravy train pensions, automatic raises, sick-time buy backs, etc. and teachers and other school employees need to come down to Earth.

Executive Session Minutes

For months now, the School Committee's lawyers have refused to allow the School Committee to release recent Executive Session minutes. These minutes, we believe, pertain to contract negotiations and the lawyers said they are still reviewing them.

This has been going on for too long now so I have written a Freedom of Request Act letter to Ron Mercier requesting copies of all School Committee Executive Session minutes for 2008 and 2009. If the minutes are not released tonight, I will mail my request tomorrow morning. Then, the School Committee has 10 days to provide me with the minutes or provide a reason in writing as to why they cannot release the minutes.

Considering that negotiations are finished, they have no reason to keep the minutes private. In fact, state law states the following:

A governmental body shall maintain accurate records of its meetings, setting forth the date, time, place, members present or absent and action taken at each meeting, including executive sessions. The records of each meeting shall become a public record and be available to the public; provided, however, that the records of any executive session may remain secret as long as publication may defeat the lawful purposes of the executive session, but no longer. All votes taken in executive sessions shall be recorded roll call votes and shall become a part of the record of said executive sessions. No votes taken in open session shall be by secret ballot.

More Sun coverage...

Dennis Shaughnessey has been a busy man lately with election updates. Yesterday it was the Housing Authority race and today it is the Selectmen and School Committee races.

The only real difference, it seems, between Joe DiRocco and Brian Bond is lights at Veterans Park. Bond wants to put them up but DiRocco said they promised the residents they wouldn't when the park was built 10 years ago.

Shaughnessey also touches upon the irony of School Committee Chair Ron Mercier getting elected 6 years ago based on anger over the contract given to former Superintendent Elaine Espindle but now finds himself the one who voted for big raises for teachers and administrators.

You can read it all here.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Housing Authority Race

It may not be a very sexy race but the election for Dracut Housing Authority is heating up. 30 year incumbent Bob Audet is being challenged by former Selectman Ken Cunha. Cunha told the Sun that he is running because there has been no "appreciable increase" in housing for seniors since the 1980's. "Oh, there's been a unit here and a unit there, but nothing of any significance or impact."

Furthermore, Cunha feels that the recent contract given to DHA Executive Director Mary Karabatsos was "exorbitant." You may also recall that the process by which Karabatsos was mired in political shenanigans, another black eye for Audet who supported her.

See the whole Sun story here.

Town Meeting Tutorial

Jeanne Balkas, a candidate for Town Meeting Moderator, is showing a tutorial of sorts on the role of town meetings on DATV. Called "Town Meeting and You", the schedule is 6:00pm on Tuesday, 7:30pm on Thursday, and 2:00pm on Friday.

Meetings this week

Monday, April 13
Finance Committee: 6:00pm, Harmony Hall
School Committee Executive Session: 6:00pm, Dracut High School
School Committee: 7:00pm, Dracut High School
Housing Authority: 7:00pm, 65 Phineas Street

Tuesday, April 14
Board of Assessors: 9:30am, Town Hall
Board of Selectmen Working Session: 6:15pm, Library
Board of Selectmen: 7:00pm, Library
Veterans Park Concession Stand: 7:00pm, Central Fire Station

Wednesday, April 15
Conservation Commission: 7:15pm, Harmony Hall

Thursday, April 16
Board of Appeals: 7:00pm, Harmony Hall

Radio reflections

So I joined Warren Shaw on his Saturday morning radio show yesterday morning. I have seen Warren before at his farm but this was the first time I've met him. He was very welcoming and very warm when I got to the WCAP studios. I was joined by Tommy Bryne who also was very kind and welcoming to me. I was nervous driving in but once I got there, I felt very much at home. Once we were on air, it seemed like I was just having a conversation with friends, that's how comfortable they made it.

We talked Dracut politics for about 20 minutes and at 7:30 switched over to Lowell talk and then eventually Westford, Billerica, and Chelmsford talk. Sam Chase from Chelmsford joined us around 8:30 and was a good guy. I read the Sun everyday so I am pretty well versed in the goings-on in these towns but Shaw, Byrne, and Chase did most of the talking as they knew more of the minutia. I was able to contribute some things but it was fun just listening too.

It was great to be on the radio as I listen to many hours of talk radio every week. I can see how people get the "broadcasting bug" and hopefully I will have the chance again.

Burning bridges

In today's Column, Dennis Shaughnessey takes DJ Deeb to task for his incendiary letter to the editor in the Valley Dispatch. In case you missed it, Deeb's letter accused School Committee candidate Bonnie Elie for engaging in backroom politics when she was on the School Committee from 1999-2002. In fact, he called her the "queen of backroom deals."

Deeb also took on former Superintendent of Schools Elaine Espindle and Warren Shaw, saying, as usual, that Shaw controls Dracut politics.

Shaw addressed this letter on his radio show yesterday and accused Deeb of having issues with powerful women. I don't know enough to comment on that but I am puzzled by Deeb's constant flame throwing. He lost re-election last year to a cook with no educational experience and he dropped out of this year's Greater Lowell Tech. race because he knew he would lose again and he wanted to avoid being embarrassed two years in a row. His aproach does not seem to be working!

Deeb may no longer be in elected office but he does serve on the town's Government Regulations committee. Deeb is a smart guy as evidenced by his three masters degrees and his college teaching jobs. But, his seems to lack any sort of "political charm." Thus, I think his political future will be limited to appointed office but if he keeps on burning bridges, he may find himself on the outside looking in very soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Shaw on Bond

He never says his name but Warren Shaw addresses the DATV/Brian Bond issue in his Valley Dispatch column this week. In doing so, he also addresses the contention of some that he "controls" Dracut politics and wants to maintain "power."

I have posted it below in its entirety:

I'm always amused at how some in the political arena try to make something out of nothing.

Such was the case last week when we looked into the rumored use of Dracut cable-access television for political campaigns. What we got for our troubles was the accusation that we were "used to having power and control," and it was slipping away, and that we were making a big thing out of it.

All because we asked a few questions about the use of the local cable network for campaign productions, a practice that had not been employed in the past.

Big deal? Our interest was in making sure that all candidates were aware of this new practice. Our radio broadcast on the matter never mentioned the name of the candidate or suggested there was a problem with it.

Asking questions before we either write about or talk about local issues is what we do in order to be fair and accurate. Had we just gone public with the street talk on the subject, the candidate would have had a real beef.

Oh, and as for power and control, one wonders what that suggests about the people who run our town government today.

Voter apathy

In his weekly Valley Dispatch column, Warren Shaw tackles one of the biggest problems in American political life: voter turnout. Town elections are in full swing this Spring and turnout has been horrible - 18% in Tewksbury and Chelmsford, 15% in Billerica, 26% in Dartmouth, etc. Local elections are never really sexy but I contend that our local officials make decisions that impact our lives the most.

I registered to vote the day I turned 18 and since then I have only missed one election - the 2003 elections in Boston. I just could not make it to the polls that day and I've always kicked myself. I've voted in every other election - general election, special election, primary, tax override vote, etc. I love voting and am blown away by those who don't bother.

Dracut is in good shape and people seem content. Thus, one wonders if that will keep voters away on May 4. With a hot School Committee race, I think we will see a lot of parents and school employees coming out to vote but very few rank and file citizens.

I will make predictions on turnout the weekend before the election as well as election predictions. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Radio debut

I don't have the complete details yet but I will be on Warren Shaw's "Saturday Morning Live" this Saturday to discuss Dracut politics. I am pretty excited about the opportunity, especially during election season.

I hope I don't embarrass myself, though. Warren has forgotten more about Dracut than I know but it should be a lot of fun!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bond vs. Shaw

Shawn has the whole rundown of the Shaw/Bond showdown so I won't go into the details here. I was working all weekend so I am just catching up with this story. From my perspective, it seems a little blown out of proportion but that is what makes politics so exciting.

Brian Bond, I am sure, was quite innocent in offering to pay Lenny Proposki to run the camera for a campaign spot on DATV. If Bond knew the rules about paying people, I am sure he would have just asked Proposki for a favor and not even brought up money. Shaw hears this story and, well, the guy needs to fill four hours of airtime and needs ratings and there is only so much talk about zoning laws that will keep people's attention. Political intrigue, no matter how silly, is fodder for talk radio and Shaw went for it.

Bond has learned a good lesson about politics - never put something in writing if you don't want others to see it. But, I wonder if Shaw should have asked Shawn to post e-mails on-line. But, Howie Carr always says, "Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."