Sunday, May 31, 2009

Special meeting

I finally caught the May 18 special meeting of the Board of Selectmen last night on DATV. It was pretty interesting, actually, to hear the arguments and you could tell that Selectman James O'Loughlin was very, very annoyed. The others kept their cool and were quite diplomatic and professional. O'Loughlin kept on saying, "If they want the peer review, they got it. I don't want them to be able to use us an excuse." The "they" being the Planning Board.

At one point, O'Loughlin turned to the camera, pointed his finger and said something addressed to Brian Bond. I was talking to my wife at the time so I didn't catch exactly what he was saying but I felt it was strange for him to do that nonetheless.

Anyway, I am grateful to O'Loughlin and the others for fighting the Walgreens project. He can be a powerful voice but he needs to calm down.

Pure democracy

Don't forget - Town Meeting tomorrow at 7:30pm at Dracut High School. The warrant articles are here. Don't complain if you don't show up!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

O'Loughlin responds

Selectman James O'Loughlin called into to Warren Shaw's radio show this morning to discuss the Walgreens project and the disputed peer review. He said that the Board of Selectman was not playing politics with the peer review when it would not accept the funding for the peer review prior to the May election. Some in town felt that the Selectman did not vote for it to save incumbent Joe DiRocco from having to vote on a very unpopular project.

Rather, O'Loughlin said, the board did not want to accept the donation so as not to give a ounce of support for the project. The entire neighborhood is opposed to the project and woe to that person who lets this things happen (my words, not O'Loughlin's). But, O'Loughlin said that he changed his mind on accepting the money and letting the peer review be published after he heard Planning Board member Phil Greene ask for the study just so they can know all the details. O'Loughlin said that Greene is a very non-political person and felt that the town needed to play fair and let the process work itself out.

O'Loughlin said they had a special meeting on accepting the donation on May 18 because if they waited until May 26, the Planning Board would only have a day to prepare as they were meeting the next day. The vote, by the way, was 3-2 with DiRocco and Bob Cox opposed.

Shaw and O'Loughin did not discuss the matter of the meeting being videotaped and O'Loughlin wanting DATV to appear before the Board of Selectman. That would have been interesting!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Shaw on business

With the fight over a Walgreens in town brewing, Warren Shaw asks if the town is moving away from its small business roots to becoming a corporate town.

I for one hope not. My wife and I moved to Dracut four years ago and decided soon after we got here that this is where we want to stay and raise our family. Dracut is our home now and we feel that way because of the town's rural/suburban mix and lack of big-box stores. I grew up in Melrose which had a similar bent against big business but over the past two decades or so, a Shaw's, Walgreens, Dunkin Donuts, Rite Aid, etc. have moved into the city. My wife is from West Roxbury which may not have a ton of big businesses but take a ride down Centre Street or Route 1 in neighboring Dedham/Norwood on a Saturday and tell me how long you're in the car!

Anyway, I am dead set against a new Walgreens in town and I hope the Planning Board and other powers that be see it the same way (I am also against the CVS being planned for 113). It will not ruin the town but it will start a slippery slope.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Transparent government

Shawn Ashe has a good post today about Selectman James O'Loughlin's tirade over DATV filming the special May 18 Board of Selectmen meeting. While I think Dracut does a decent job about having open government, it seems to me that they could be doing better. More meetings could be televised, ALL meetings could be posted on the town's website, open positions on boards could be advertised better, minutes could be posted, etc. The powers that be seem to be doing the bare minimum required by law.

For O'Loughlin to fly off the handle because someone wants to keep the residents of Dracut informed about an issue is troubling to me. I've always felt that while O'Loughlin is a thoughtful selectman and asks good questions, I have also been concerned about his rants at meetings and his loooooooooooooong, drawn out speeches during New Business.

O'Loughlin will soon be facing re-election and I am not that convinced he will lose. But, if the word gets out that he is looking to drag citizens before the Board of Selectmen because they dare question him and he gets upset that meetings are televised, then his reputation will take a big hit.

Dennis Shaughnessey has a story on this today as well. See it here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More on Videogate

As most people know, Walgreens is proposing a store over on Lakeview Ave. in Collinsville. As part of the process, they need to submit a peer review which is essentially a traffic study. Walgreens pays for the peer review (which costs $7,500) and the Board of Selectmen have to accept the monies in order for the study to be published.

Prior to the elections earlier this month, the Board was asked to accept the $7,500 but no one would second the motion to do so (Selectman John Zimini made the motion). The project is very unpopular with the neighbors and there are "Stop Walgreens" signs all over that section of town. Some feel that the board did not vote on it to save Joe DiRocco from having to vote on a very unpopular matter so close to the election.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Brian Bond, who lost to DiRocco in the election, was at Town Hall and saw a notice about a special meeting of the Board of Selectmen on May 18 at Town Hall to discuss the peer review. Bond then went to DATV and asked Steve Russo, the director, if they would consider broadcasting the meeting.

DATV agreed and showed up to tape and apparently Selectman James O'Loughlin was apoplectic. I have not seen the meeting but I am told he was furious, especially at Bond.

The board voted at that meeting to accept the peer review. Some, like Bond, feel that the board did not want to vote on this matter at a regularly scheduled meeting and wanted to do so a low-key, relatively unknown meeting so as not to upset voters. It has the feeling of backroom shenanigans but who knows. This is not the end of this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chaos at the Committee on Government Rules & Regulations?

At tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting, the warrant articles for Monday's Town Meeting were discussed. One of the warrant articles was submitted by a member of the Committee on Government Rules & Regulations but Town Manager Dennis Piendak said that the committee is considering withdrawing the article so it was tabled.

As they were discussing this article, it came out that there are only two members serving on that committee: DJ Deeb and Bill Morin. The other three members did not want to be reappointed after their terms expired this year. The Board of Selectman kept on asking questions about this to Piendak and it was obvious they knew the answers, they were just trying to expose the fact that shortly after Deeb was appointed to the committee, 3/5 of the members have stepped down. Certainly this connection was never explicitly made but I am pretty confident that is what they were getting at.

From what I hear, Town Moderator Gary McCarthy regrets appointing Deeb to the committee and is looking for a way to get rid of him. I for one was shocked that McCarthy appointed him to replace Brian Martin given Deeb's toxic nature and political death. This last stunt certainly spells his end.

DATV Fireworks

The other day I received a comment on my blog about camera crews from DATV showing up unannounced at a quick meeting of the Board of Selectmen that was being held in Town Hall. I didn't publish it because I wasn't sure what it was all about and I was looking into it.

But, tonight my question has partly been answered. At tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectman James O'Loughlin asked that the director of DATV appear before the board to discuss who "ordered" DATV to tape the meeting. O'Loughlin said he had no problem with the meeting being taped but felt that the board should have been notified that it was going to be taped.

Selectman John Zimini, who serves on the DATV Board, ripped into O'Loughlin saying that the meeting being taped is no different from Lowell Sun showing up and tape recording the meeting. The two went back and forth with O'Loughlin saying that the DATV should open its books, see who is being paid what, etc. Zimini shot back saying he did not appreciate the insinuation that something "shady" was taking place.

Chairman George Malliaros settled the two down and got them to agree to have Steve Russo (the director of DATV) and the board members to come to a meeting in June to discuss their finances, chain of command, etc.

I think there is more to this and I hope to have more this week. This should be fun!

Grimard headed to court

Very sad story over at today - star Dracut High quarterback Matt Grimard was charged with assault on his girlfriend this weekend. He was arraigned in Lowell District Court today on charges of assault and battery. He allegedly pulled her hair, punched her in the jaw, and poured beer on her head while they were at a party in Lowell.

Grimard, of course, was the Massachusetts Player of the Year last year and is headed to Saint Anselm College to play football in the fall.

The girl's name was not mentioned in the article. While people focus on Grimard's potential fall from grace, we shouldn't forget the alleged victim. Hopefully, if the charges are true, she is OK.

Memorial Day Parade

My wife, son, and I went down to see Dracut's Memorial Day parade yesterday. We stood in front of Ste. Marguerite's Church on Lakeview Ave. and had a perfect view. There was a small contingent of Selectmen (John Zimini and George Malliaros) and four of the five School Committee members (Mike Miles was absent). But, they didn't have signs or anything so if you didn't know them, you would not know who they were.

There were a good number of police and fire officials, music, the Dracut High School Band, and other civic groups. It was a nice time and folks seemed to enjoy it. Good job to all involved.

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Tucker votes

I saw in today's Lowell Sun that Sen. Susan Tucker not only voted no on the increase of the sales tax but she also voted no on:

  • Increasing the gas tax to 19 cents
  • Increasing the gas tax to 11 cents
  • Increasing the income tax to 5.95%

She also voted yes on a state hiring freeze and pay freeze as well as an amendment to abolish Evacuation Day and Bunker Hill Day as state paid holidays.

I think I had Sen. Tucker wrong!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

I just got off the phone with Sen. Susan Tucker's office and she voted no on the amendment to raise the sales tax. I thought last night that she would vote yes but I was wrong.

Well done, Senator.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sales tax going up

Tonight the Massachusetts Senate passed a 25% increase in the state sales tax. Funny, they haven't passed squat in terms of reform but they're not afraid to raise taxes.

Anyway, I can't find a Roll Call yet but it is a safe bet that Susan Tucker, our state senator, voted for it. But, there were 10 no votes and there are only 5 Republicans in the Senate and I am sure they all voted no. Not sure who the other five were. Will keep you posted.

Selectmen on Business

I didn't catch the whole exchange but at last week's Board of Selectmen meeting, the members took Edward Morgan, the owner of the Rally Cap Pub, to task for the boorish behavior of his patrons. Morgan held his own, I thought, but I was kind of glad to see him dragged in as I drive past that bar a lot and there seems to be a number of undesirables hanging out there. It is sad, however, to see people there on Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving. Dennis Shaughnessey has a story on it here.

But,the Rally Cap Pub notwithstanding, the Board of Selectmen seem to be very antagonistic towards businesses when they come before the board. They ask good questions and they are very meticulous but the manner in which they ask questions, in my opinion, is a little too rude. They put businesses on the defensive and interrogate them as if they're asking for something illegal.

I remember that some cell phone company came asking for a tower on Rt. 110 and one of the selectmen (I think it was George Malliaros) asked if he felt that it was safe for people to be using their cell phone on that road. But, the law states that people can use their cell phones when they drive, why ask the question? The chairman, Bob Cox, ruled the question out of order.

Anyway, I admire that the selectmen are doing a thorough job when people come before the board for licenses, etc. but I feel that the people could be treated a little more civilly at times. Just my two cents.

Monday, May 18, 2009


The Globe did a very nice article today on Caroline Ogonowski, the daughter of 9/11 victim and Dracut native John Ogonowski. Caroline is graduating from Boston College today and told the Globe that she hopes to be a mental-health counselor.

You can read the very touching article here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Finance Committee Time

At last week's School Committee meeting, it was announced that the school's budget for FY 2010 will go before the Finance Committee on Monday (tomorrow). That meeting is at 6pm at Harmony Hall.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Martin loses

Brian Martin lost the race for the Tyngsboro seat on the Greater Lowell Technical School Board last night to Steve O'Neill by only 44 votes. Martin, of course, is a former Dracut resident who served on the same board representing Dracut.

One has to wonder if last week's disastrous debate killed Martin's chances. Being such a close race, you have to think so.

See the story and other Tyngsboro election news here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Elmstrom says thanks

Paul Elmstrom, who came very close to being elected to the School Committee last week, sent in a letter to the editor of the Sun thanking the people who helped him. He also proposed a change in which schools communicate with parents, that is doing it electronically. This was actually brought up at last night's School Committee with Mr. Hill, the principal of Greenmont Ave., joking about the frequency of him sending electronic communication to parents.

Paul's letter doesn't sound like he will run again but he should consider it. He has a great story and he may have won the race if people didn't bullet vote last Monday.

Sun on teachers

Dennis Shaughnessey of the Lowell Sun has an article today on last night's School Committee meeting and the ensuing budget problems. As I reported last night, the proposed FY 2010 budget will not result in layoffs and is projected at over $29 million. Part of that money is coming from the federal stimulus package with 30% of that going to salaries.

Dennis interviewed the president of the Dracut Teachers Association who said "The teachers have decided that we're not interested in renegotiating. The situation is well-known," she said. "We are so far behind our neighboring communities, and we made major efforts to bring our salaries somewhere in line with what the other towns are getting."

School Committee Chairman Matthew Sheehan, who voted for the recent teacher raises, said in response "We're not asking them to give anything back. We're not taking anything away. We're just asking them to push it off a year," said Sheehan. "But they're refusing to play ball and now we'll have to spend the stimulus money on salaries instead of fixing windows or replacing the canopy outside the school."

In addition to the teachers, Dennis is reporting that 8 nurses have refused to take wage freezes. The nurses were also given a wage increase by the School Committee last year after they demanded to be paid the same as teachers.

You can see the whole article here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

School Budget

While I think many of us were expecting big news at tonight's School Committee meeting, there wasn't a whole lot. Dr. Spencer Mullin said that the schools went back and looked at the budget and revised it so it is now $29,261,122.65. They're going to bring the budget to the Finance Committee next week and hope it gets approved for Town Meeting.

In talking with people afterwards, it looks like Mullin will not have to do layoffs with this budget. The teacher are taking a very hard line about a wage freeze. Dennis Shaughnessey will have great quotes from the union president and Chairman Matt Sheehan in tomorrow's paper. I overheard them but I don't want to steal Dennis' work!

I guess Mullin is hoping to use about 30% of the federal stimulus spending on salaries which does not sit well with me. You could use all that money for improvements on the schools but instead have to fund salaries with one-time budget receipts. That is not good business and I don't think Dennis Piendak would do something like that. That's what got towns like Tewksbury into trouble.

Another interesting development was Ronald Mercier finally being able to speak...and did he ever. He spoke a lot at tonight's meeting after 3 years as having to be relatively silent as chairman. He had some good things to say and I felt he was quite assertive with Dr. Mullin.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the newest member of the committee, Bonnie Elie. She is a very pleasant lady and very approachable. I think she will do good work.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Easier domain

I was on "Saturday Morning Live" this morning with Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe where we discussed the recent Dracut elections.

Warren and Shawn were joking about the length of my website address and were right! I said that I should buy the domain name...and I did this morning. Soon you will just have to type to get to the old blog. I will let you know when it is ready.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Final thoughts on election 2009

The two big hitters for the local media, Dennis Shaughnessey and Warren Shaw, both offered their expert analysis on Monday's election.

Shaw feels that Brian Bond went too negative on Joe DiRocco and got bad information on DiRocco's record as fire chief. He also feels that Bond's push for light at Veterans Park, even after the town promised not to erect them, was a poor move. He does not have much else to say about the other races but he felt that Paul Elmstrom could have pulled off a victory if the election was another two weeks or so. "His campaign appeared to be gaining ground, and it seems every day, someone was asking about him."

Shaughnessey's analysis was pretty much the same but was blunt in his assessment that former Selectmen Roger Daigle and Mike Blatus were the "kiss of death" for Bond. Shaughnessey does quote Daigle and Blatus with Daigle being more conciliatory. Daigle said, "The people of Dracut obviously do not want change," said Daigle, who hosts a cable-access television program called Inside Dracut Politics. "People are satisfied with the status quo. Most of Joe's support came from public-sector employees and those with special interests."

But Blatus had this to say, "Joe DiRocco can say whatever he wants. In my estimation, he has been a very weak selectman and adds nothing to the structure of town government."

Sheehan on the Unions

New School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan has wasted no time in using his new bully pulpit. In response to the Dracut teachers' refusing to take a wage freeze, he said:

"We're not trying to take any money back, we're asking to push everything back one year. It is unfortunate that the decision of a small group of people will effect hundreds."

Talking the election

I will be joining Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe on WCAP tomorrow morning from 6:30-7:30/8:00 to discuss Monday's elections. Join in the fun.

You can always listen on-line here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gonna be layoffs

Shawn has the scoop that Dracut's teachers are refusing a wage freeze for next year and so Dr. Mullin has no choice but to begin massive layoffs.

As a fellow teacher, I feel for the folks but desperate times call for desperate measures. I am not getting a raise next year, my workload is increasing, and I will never get the sort of pensions and other generous benefits Dracut teachers will get.

Well, guess they will have to reap what they sow. Good luck finding another job in this economy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's Sheehan

I was not the only one to be confused about the time of tonight's meeting as Shawn Ashe got the time and location wrong too!

Anyway, he confirms that Matt Sheehan, who has only been on the School Committee for a year, was elected chair tonight with Mike Miles as second chair and Mike McNamara as third chair.

Some people last night were saying that Sheehan should be a regular member for another year or so to get more experience but I saw him and he seemed very upbeat and confident. Best of luck to him and the other members.

My mistake

Tonight's School Committee meeting was at 6pm, not 6:30. I got there around 6:25 and everyone was gone. So, I don't know officially what happened and I don't want to give out bad information so I will confirm who the new chair is and pass it on as soon as I hear.

Town Meeting Warrant

The June Town Meeting will be on Monday, June 1 at 7:30pm. The warrant is posted on the town's website and you can click here to see it.

School Committee Organization

Tonight at 6:30, the new School Committee will meet to elect a new chair and to organize other positions. I know who is going to be elected chair but I have been asked to hold off saying anything until the meeting. I am hoping to attend but my son will be accompanying me since my wife is working late. I e-mailed DATV to see if the meeting is going to be televised but I did not receive a response. The folks at DATV do great work but I wish they televised more meetings.

Monday, May 4, 2009

May election analysis

So 21% of the town's registered voters voted today (4,071 out of 19,415), lower than expected by Town Clerk Kathy Graham.

Selectman Joe DiRocco crushed Brian Bond 2,366-1,605 with only 95 blanks and 5 write-ins. At Town Hall after results came in, I overheard DiRocco give Dennis Shaughnessey a money quote as to why he won. I don't want to steal Shaughnessey's quote so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to read it. Trust me, it's good stuff. Bond had an uphill battle considering the town is in good shape and DiRocco is a well known public figure. Plus, Bond could not come up with a good reason to make a change although he had a good showing at his last debate with DiRocco. I overheard some people saying that Bond was a "one trick pony." I assumed this meant his focus on recreation.

Ron Mercier topped the ticket for School Committee with 2,089 votes. Bonnie Elie came in second with 1,945 and Paul Elmstrom came very, very close with 1,880. There were an astounding 2,215 blank votes. My guess is that folks just voted for "their candidate" and didn't want any one else getting votes. Elmstrom was at Town Hall tonight and looked very upset that he lost. He seemed to come on strong in the end but Mercier and Elie are too well known and entrenched. I was surprised that Mercier came in first but not that he won.

For me, the biggest shock was Ken Cunha beating Bob Audet for Housing Authority 1,932-1,897. Audet has been on the board for 30 years and Cunha is perceived by some as a politico connected to Ken Martin et al. But, Audet may have been hurt by the hiring of and contract given to DHA Executive Director Mary Karabatsos.

For the Greater Lowell Technical School, Paul Morin won easily 2,153-1,593 and Victor Olson retains his seat beating Kiernan Lennon 2,014-1,578. I don't know much about these races but I guess Morin's teaching experience at the school and the fact that his brother, Bishop Morin, may have helped.

May 2009 Election Winners

Here are the winners of today's election. Analysis to follow.

Gary McCarthy

Board of Selectmen:
Joe DiRocco

School Committee:
Bonnie Elie and Ron Mercier

School Committee (Remainder of term):
Michael McNamara

Library Trustees:
John Earle Dyer and Mary Lee Matthews

Housing Authority:
Ken Cunha

Regional Vocational School:
Paul Morin

Regional Vocational School (Remainder of term):
Victor Olson

You heard it here first

Today's Sun has an article about the folks in East Dracut who are concerned about a pump station being built on their street. These folks also appeared before the Board of Selectmen at last week's meeting to press their case. But, before the Sun had the story your humble blogger had a posting about the issue back on April 27. One of the residents sent me an e-mail and asked if I could post their thoughts.

I heard that someone at the Sun once said that blogs only repeat what's in the paper. In a lot of cases that's true but I think blogs and other websites also get some news long before the paper does. I think I had the Mary Gail Martin story days before the Sun as well as news of the contention the Selectmen had with School Department raises. T0night, Shawn and I will have election results on our blogs, I am guessing, before the Sun does. I am not competing at all and I think Dennis Shaughnessey does an amazing job. But, the higher-ups can't say blogs don't help with the news! Like I've said in the past, we're just another source of news and information, not a threat.

Shaw's last take

The Valley Dispatch doesn't come with my Friday Lowell Sun anymore and I often forget to check the new edition on-line. Thus, I am a few days late with Warren Shaw's column. Polls close in less than 2 hours so this posting will be as stale as days old bread but the column is worth reading.

The whole column is here but I have posted some good parts below:

It's the Friday before election and the end is in sight. One more Saturday of people standing at intersections smiling and waving. They are out there to keep up with their opponent. They have no idea who they are waving to or if they like them. I've been waved at by people who have been angry at me for years.

It's not easy.

You're out there waving away and thinking, what is wrong with me? Is it possible these motorists would rather just go about their business and not be waved at? Is it getting me any votes? What would happen if I just didn't show up?

The reality for these campaigns is they have to do it, even if it is a complete waste of time. If your opponent is out there and you are not, there will be "talk." Doesn't he/she really want to win, or is it that the campaign has no support?

One way or another, one of the best elections in recent memory is coming to a close. Seventeen people had the courage to put their names on the ballot and offer to be part of making this community run. To some that might not be a big deal , but I find it encouraging.
Monday we find out if all of this campaigning has caught the interests of the voters, and they turn out in decent numbers. It's sad to say that if we break 20 percent, we will be ahead of most other towns.

School committee representation, both in Dracut and at the regional technical school, will be just about completely overhauled by the end of this election.
Gone are the days of Dennis "D.J." Deeb and his friends the Martins controlling four of our seven elected school committee seats.

Pumped about election day

Dennis Shaughnessey has a nice column today on election day in Dracut. I'm with him as I love election day - national, local, overrides, special elections, whatever. The anticipation of seeing who has won, the excitement about new beginnings all get me worked up!

Y0u can see Dennis' thoughts here.

Did my civic duty

My son and I went to vote today around 4:30 at the junior high. I was impressed by the number of sign holders at the entrance on Lakeview Ave. as well as down near the back. Ron Mercier was holding a sign but he looked like he was trying to be incognito as he was wearing a baseball hat, sunglasses, jeans, and a long sleeve Middie Football championship shirt.

I looked at the counter on the ballot machine and it said I was in the 600's. That seems low but I'm not sure how many people live in my district.

Today is the day

Election day has arrived! Be sure to get out there and vote between now and 8pm. I am hoping to make it to Town Hall around 8pm to get results but it all depends on when my wife gets home. Stay tuned and happy Election Day!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thoughts on Bond/DiRocco debate

During last night's debate on Suntalk, I felt that Brian Bond had a good command of the issues and came across very confident. At the beginning, Joe DiRocco's body language made him seem annoyed to be there. DiRocco is not a good speaker and there were moments of long pauses when he tried to think of his answers.

I think Bond looked a little desperate trying to bring up the fire budget issue but he ended well by saying he didn't think DiRocco wasted money, just overspent. DiRocco had the best line of the night when he said in his closing statement that he has more priorities than just recreation, a shot at Bond's seemingly single focus on Canney Park and lights at Veterans Park.

In the end, I still think DiRocco will win re-election since he has the town employees behind him, name recognition, and the power of being the incumbent. Bond held his own and may be able to come back next year to run again.