Monday, June 29, 2009

Not so fast...

Shawn is reporting that the state budget that was agreed upon in Conference Committee last week was not final and the school department has to cut an additional $600,000! Shawn said the town can absorb $200,000 of that and the schools need to come up with $400,000 in cuts.

I am thinking the wage freeze to the teachers is sounding much better right about now.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Column on Videogate

The Column today has a rundown of last week's encounter between the Board of Selectmen meeting and DATV's board. There is nothing new for faithful readers of this blog but here is the copy:

IN AN INTENSE and heated discussion, selectmen and Dracut Access Television Board members attempted to clear the air about two incidents.


During a special meeting at the Town Hall lunch room on May 18, selectmen were surprised to see a DATV cameraman show up.

So surprised that DATV board members said Selectmen Chairman George Malliaros slammed the door in the cameraman's face.


During Monday night's selectmen meeting, Malliaros said he did it in a joking manner.

"I just didn't expect a televised public meeting," Malliaros said. "If I was inappropriate, I apologize."

Some selectmen weren't dressed as they would normally be for a regularly scheduled (and televised) meeting, and felt it would have been common courtesy for DATV to tell them they planned on taping the meeting.


"I don't think we have to notify you to dress appropriately for a public meeting -- that's common sense," said DATV board member May Paquette.

DATV board members were also upset about comments made by Selectmen Jim O'Loughlin, who was concerned about DATV being used as a political tool, after a political candidate wanted to pay a cameraman to use DATV equipment to tape a political advocacy show.


"If I insulted anyone, I apologize. If I defamed anyone, I apologize," O'Loughlin said on Monday. "I do not apologize for raising the issue that I had a concern that cable was being used for political issues."

O'Loughlin also questioned how DATV spent their money, after he was told DATV was a "corporation" and he had no right to question it.


DATV board member Mike McNamara said on Monday that O'Loughin's comments attacked the board's reputation.

"The only thing that Mr. O'Loughlin manages to accomplish is to tarnish the reputation and integrity of the entire DATV Board, a board that has given literally hundreds of hours of volunteer service to the community," McNamara said, while reading from a statement.

Louisburg Square purchase

The Sun had an article today on the purchase of Louisburg Square which will be used for elderly housing. The town is purchasing the apartment building for $2.7 million which will come from Community Preservation funds and in turn the Dracut Housing Authority will pay $70,000 a year for 20 years.

The Sun also quotes Selectman Joe DiRicco who said the town is looking at recently repossessed property on Lakeview Ave. and considering turning that into elderly housing.

See the article here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Selectmen fireworks

Shawn has a pretty good rundown of last night's marathon Selectmen meeting so I won't duplicate his good work. But I do have some thoughts on James O'Loughlin and the DATV Board.

As it was noted last night, the whole matter has become pretty silly but DATV's board did a good job defending itself. O'Loughlin sat there and took the criticism like a man but when it came his time to talk, I felt he could have been a little more diplomatic. I would have said "I was concerned about DATV becoming political and in the heat of the moment I said some things I shouldn't have. I did not mean to impugn the integrity of the DATV Board and if I did, I am very sorry."

Instead, he read a statement that was very defensive and made a snide remark to Mike McNamara ("I too have a prepared statement Dr. McNamara").

I didn't catch all of the exchange as my wife made me change the channel but when I came back O'Loughlin was gone from the table. Did he go speak to the DATV Board? Did he apologize before they left?

O'Loughlin is a good guy who works hard but his temper and harsh comments at meetings may hurt him someday.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Big selectmen meeting

There is a lot going on at tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting so I will live blog as the night goes on.

7:05: Chairman reads letter from Warren Shaw saying neighbors were promised no lights when park was built

7:10: Brian Duff, president of Dracut baseball making a case for lights at Veterans Park. Said technology today is so good today that the lights are not bright enough to be seen 10 ft. away from field

7:15: Dennis Piendak backs up Shaw

7:18: Mae Paquette: baseball would need lights as would football - public hearing included light for baseball field and practice field. Neighbors asked if more lights would be granted in future, said no but wasn't a "big discussion" or a "promise"

7:20: This is the first time Paquette has heard of promise of no new lighting

7:23: Neighbor said no promise made at public hearings, has no problem with lights

7:25: Mike Blatus: no promise made when he was selectman - "show me"

7:29: Arlington St. (abutter) did not receive formal notice of the meeting, Piendak takes blame. Zimini calls to close the meeting since not all interested parties were notified of the meeting

7:31: Dracut Pop Warner: "Let's put this to rest"

7:34: Pop Warner: hoping for some arrangement to be made

7:35: Cox seconds motion to continue hearing

7:36: Meeting will continue but will happen again to accommodate others who did not know about meeting

7:43: No more testimony

7:44: New letters will go out to abutters and organizations for July 14 meeting

7:46: Recess for 5 minutes

7:52: Show cause hearing against Nassons Quick Mart for selling alcohol to minors

7:54: Owner has no lawyer

8:12: Got a phone call, sorry

8:12: Motion made for 30 day suspension

8:22: Motion passed and may have to get $100,000 insurance

8:23: Now Dracut Center Convenience is up

8:30: Languare barrier happening

8:38 12 day suspension (from previous incidient) and then want to revoke license all together

8:41: 30 day suspension on top of 12 day, not being revoked

8:45: Going to get some sherbert

8:59: My wife is making me change the channel!

9:11: Back: DATV Board now before BOS

9:14: Jack Lyons introuducing the board, roles, etc.

9:15: Executive director and staff decides what gets televised, have about 3 volunteers to tape

9:16: Lyons: Disputed Special Meeting was important and interesting - good it was televisied...Steve Russo felt it would be good to televise the meeting given Walgreens is a hot topic

9:18: Lyons taking exception with O'Loughlin's comments at BOS meeting about DATV, called them "disturbing"

9:23: Bob of Bob and Gay said it was an open meeting so the selectmen should not have been concerned about their appearance. "Are you kidding?" he asked

9:24: Lyons: Should the meeting have even been had in Town Hall given the lawsuit? What if a handicapped person wanted to attend?

9:26: O'Loughlin does not respond

9:27: Paquette: "Offensive to call into question their intergrity."

9:30: Paquette: DATV official who was taping was drilled with questions and door was closed on his face. Also, told Selectmen that they should not be informed that a camera is showing up to dress well - it is common sense to dress well for a meeting!

9:33: O'Loughlin is getting killed - he should be careful for what he wishes for. But, he is taking his lumps like a man

9:37: Mike McNarama just destroyed O'Loughlin

9:43: George M. apologize for being inappropriate - he was the one who shut the door on the cameraman

9:45: George and Bob going after each other - Bob gaveled out of order

9:48: O'Loughlin: Bond did have political motivation to send DATV crew to meeting, DATV is not the issue, Bond was

9:50: Jim: DATV was not meant to get involved in political matters

9:52: Jim: Meeting was taped for political reasons

9:55: Jim: Was told I had no right to ask questions or to call in the DATV board (referring, I think, to Zimini)

10:01: Getting repetitive...wife making me change the channel

10:24: Back. Where did O'Loughlin go?

10:30: Talking schools, wage freeze, etc.

10:38: Adjourn. Phew.

Will have some thoughts on this tomorrow.

Mullin's raise

Now to be fair, it was the School Committee, not Dr. Spencer Mullin, that called for a wage freeze among school employees. But, it seems rather odd that Mullin is taking his 2% ($2,600) raise when he makes $130,000. It would seem that he could afford to not take that raise given his pretty high salary. Either way, very few town employees are getting raises this year, shouldn't Mullin follow suit?

Now Mullin works very hard and despite his poor communication skills seems to be a fine superintendent. But, he receives the following benefits:

  • $130,000 salary
  • automatic 2% raise
  • Reimbursement for "reasonable" expenses, travel
  • 15 sick days
  • Can accumulate up to 45 sick days (buy back)
  • 25 vacation days (which can be carried over year to year)
  • 15 paid holidays

So Mullin is doing pretty well. Me thinks he can pass up the raise for the sake of the town, even if it is a symbolic gesture.

Big meeting tonight

I grew up in Melrose and the School Committee and Aldermen meetings would go for hours on end. I am always surprised by how quick and benign the meetings are in Dracut. But this week is a different story with last night's School Committee going long and tonight's Selectmen meeting should be no different. On the agenda are lights at Veterans Park as well as DATV appearing before the board to discuss Videogate.

The Sun has an article today on the lights issue. Nothing really new in it but see it here.

Sun's take

The Sun has an article today on last night's budget deliberation. One thing I missed during the meeting was that the state projected Dracut to have a $34 million budget as opposed to the $26 million one decided on last night. The article also mentions the possibility of laying off an assistant principal at the high school.

One humorous aside - the article refers to Matthew Sheehan as "Matthews" a few times.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Budget fireworks

The tension was high and the patience was low at tonight's School Committee meeting. Dr. Spencer Mullin presented a $26 million budget to the committee, down from about $28 million. To make up the difference, 70 teachers were laid off but because of retirements and extra money, about 35-40 will be called back. The rest of the gap will be covered by utilities savings, etc.

The members questioned Mullin as well as Tom Rose and Steve Stone about various line items and it became obvious that lines were being drawn. Bonnie Elie asked Mullin about his raise which Mullin said is "contractual" (you can view his contract here). Mullin will receive a 2% raise which comes out to $2,600 since he currently makes $130,000. Mullin did not seem happy that Elie brought up the fact that he is getting a raise and made some reference to a discussion they had at an executive session meeting.

Ron Mercier, Mike Miles, and Chairman Matt Sheehan were conferring with each other throughout the meeting and whispering back and forth. On many occasions, when Elie or Mike McNamara would raise a point or ask questions, Sheehan would look exasperated, drop his pen, look over at Mercier, Miles would laugh, etc. In the end, the budget passed 3-2 (Elie and McNamara voted no) with some conditional provisions, namely looking at the creation of an Assistant Superintendent position that would come from the "merger" of two positions.

The committee was concerned that the budget relied on one-time money and Mullin stressed that the FY 2011 budget would be much leaner and may require the closure of a school and reconfiguration of the entire school system. The obvious school that would be closed is Parker Avenue School. The committee discussed this at the end of the meeting and asked that preparations begin to made for that possibility. A sub-committee was formed to begin work on this.

The committee also asked that every school employee consider taking a 2-day unpaid furlough which would save the district $167,000.

I must say that the meeting was somewhat chaotic with members talking over each other, people speaking without being recognized, etc. Sheehan kept looking to Mercier for guidance and did not come across as very patient or diplomatic since he would hardly look at Elie or McNarama and did not seem thrilled when they raised a point. But he is still new and I'm sure he'll be fine.

Teacher layoffs

The new Dracut reporter Bridget Scrimenti had a good article yesterday on teacher layoffs in the area. As usual, Dracut Schools did not provide any numbers for their layoffs but Shawn's sources tell him 70 pink slips were given out. The union had no comment for the Sun either.

School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan told the Sun again, "The School Committee gave them raises; now all we're asking is for the teachers to put it off for one year. The teachers can save jobs."

But the union is on record as saying they have no interest in putting off the raises as they are the lowest paid teachers in the region. I am sure that is true but they also get first class benefits like pensions, health care, etc. I wish them the best but they seem to be shooting themselves in the foot.

Moving on

Shawn alluded to it and you may have noticed it but Dennis Shaughnessey is no longer covering Dracut for the Lowell Sun. He has moved over to Lowell covering police, fire, murders, etc. as well as helping Jen Myers with City Hall, UMass, etc.

I've met Dennis a few times and he's a good guy and very down to Earth. He also seems like your typical old-school newspaper man, he is right out of central casting! I am sorry he is now on the other side of the river but he said he will be doing some work still on Dracut.

His replacement is Bridget Scrimenti who has already done some great work. Good luck to her.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

No on budget

Rep. Colleen Garry (and most of the Lowell delegation) voted no on the FY 2010 state budget yesterday. Sen. Susan Tucker voted yes. According to today's Sun Garry et al were concerned about the tax increases and the impact they would have on the border communities up here. Gov. Deval Patrick has said he may veto the bill because Ethics reform hasn't been passed yet. But, the budget was passed in veto-proof majorities in both houses.

Garry consistently votes against higher taxes and always looks out for the taxpayers. Thank you Rep. Garry.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Shaw on Meal's Taxes

With the State Legislature about to pass the FY 2010 Budget, Warren Shaw weighs in on the Meals Tax Option for cities and towns. Shaw says he not opposed to the meals tax because it may drive business to New Hampshire but because once the recession ends, the government will still be taking the extra revenue.

He artfully points out:

Before this recession began to play itself out on state and local revenues, everybody had plenty to pay for local services. Because of the skillful budget work of our Legislature, Massachusetts had a $4 billion rainy-day account.

Most local communities had $1.5 to $2 million in free cash.

These new taxes will eventually lead to a dependence on them and set the bar for the next downturn in the economy.

What then?

Amen.

Dracut Local Aid

The Conference Committee of the House and Senate has finalized the state budget. I believe the bodies will be voting on it today so it could still be changed but it should be all set.

If all stays the same, Dracut will receive the following in state aid:

Chapter 70 funding (Education): $17,062,255
Unrestricted General Government Aid: $3,086,981
Potential Allocation of Federal Funds from the ARRA State Fiscal Stabilization Fund: $1,650,418

Total: $21,799,654

h/t to richardhowe.com

Cox behind in taxes

Shawn picked up on a Lowell Sun story that many Massachusetts restaurants are falling behind in paying meals taxes to the Department of Revenue. In all, the state is owed $91.5 million in meals taxes!

Selectman Bob Cox, who owns Coyle's Tavern, was one of those restaurants. He told the Sun that he was behind in his taxes by as much as $57,000:

Dracut Selectman Robert Cox, who owns Coyle's Roadhouse Tavern on Broadway Road, admits his business has suffered dramatically over the past year, causing him to fall behind in meals-tax payments to the state. At one point, he owed $57,225 in meal-tax payments, including interest and penalties.

Cox said he has worked out a payment plan with the DOR and Coyle's was recently taken off the DOR list, indicating that his debt has been paid off. But business remains difficult.

Cox, who bought the tavern with his wife, Leslie, seven years ago, said things began looking bad about a year ago. Business slowed during the summer, the recession hit, and road construction rerouted traffic away from Coyle's.

"It was like a snowball going down a hill," said Cox.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lights at Veterans Park

The issue that won't go away...

At Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, the board will hear input from the neighbors around Veterans Park about more lights going up there. That portion of the meeting will begin at 7:05 and I am convinced it will be heated!

See the letter here.

UPDATE: For some reason the link to the letter keeps on breaking. Go to the town's website and link to letter is in the left hand column.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Revealed

It seems that one of the local blogs very coyly revealed the area's worst kept secret. Curious? You should poke around the blogosphere.

UPDATE: Lowell Shallot is where you should look

Who should pay?

Interesting article in today's Sun about a Dracut man who graduated from Dracut High School last year but is still receiving services from the schools. Craig Allaby, 19, has Aspergers, ADHD, and anxiety and is currently attending Middlesex Community College. But, his mother felt that he was not ready to graduate last year and the Department of Education is making the town continue to pay for services.

Now, the town wants to end those services saying Allaby has moved on and is no longer a student in the public school system. Dracut filed suit in federal court against the DOE. School Committee Member Ron Mercier told the Sun, "This is a touchy issue. This could set a precedent that could create a domino effect. As a taxpayer and School Committee member, I have to sit back and say the student graduated from high school and now goes to college, at some point Dracut should no longer be responsible."

See the whole story here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mr. Mill City's Two Cents

One of the funniest blogs in the area is Mr. Mill City. Yesterday one of the boys chimed in Walgreen's plan to build a store in Dracut. While his post is pretty hard on us Middies, you can't help but laugh.

See it here.

Still in progress

I am still alive folks. The end of the school year is upon us and I've been working on exams, attending commencement activities, cleaning up, etc. I haven't been home much since Sunday as we've had night events all week.

So, I am a little behind the eight ball on local happenings and meetings but did catch that the Planning Board is still working on the proposed Walgreens. Last night's meeting will be continued on July 8 and the board feels their work will be completed by August.

I for one cannot see how the Walgreens will be built given the amount of opposition in town. If the company proceeds, there will be so much ill-will towards the store that they may not even survive. I seem to recall that a town in Vermont refused to shop at a Home Depot and the store eventually closed. If Walgreens is allowed to build, I would hope that Dracut residents would boycott it.

Politically, any Planning Board member who votes for the Walgreens can kiss their political careers good bye. Brian Bond is not sure if he wants to run for Selectman again next year but if he votes to approve the project, I predict that he will be crushed.

The Sun has stories here and here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

O'Loughlin has company

This is not about Dracut politics per se but relevant to Videogate.

It seems that another Massachusetts public official has a problem with open meetings being recorded. This time it is Michael Travaglini, the Executive Director of the state Pension Reserves Investment Management Board.

I guess at a recent meeting a reporter with the State House News Service put a tape recorder down on the meeting table and Travaglini upbraided him saying he had "no right" to record the meeting.

Interestingly, the Attorney General's office in response said the following:

“A meeting of a governmental body may be recorded by any person in attendance by means of a tape recorder or any other means of sonic reproduction except when a meeting is held in executive session; provided, that in such recording there is no active interference with the conduct of the meeting.”

Sitting pretty?

Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not Rep. Colleen Garry would be punished for supporting Rep. John Rodgers over Rep. Robert DeLeo in the race for Speaker of the House. It turns out that she wasn't but by not voting for DeLeo, she may not get caught up in the Sal DiMasi case.

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has the story here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 2009 Town Meeting

The June 2009 Town Meeting is a wrap. All of the warrant articles were passed or withdrawn so there was little controversy. The biggest issue was the $2.5 million expenditure for the Greater Lowell Technical High School. The town feels that the school should not be asking for an 8% increase from last year given the financial realities. In addition, it was brought up that GLTHS has about $1.5m in reserves and Town Manager Dennis Piendak said they should tap into that.

Selectman James O'Loughlin pushed for a zeroing out of the GLTHS appropriation as a way of bringing the school back to the negotiating table. The town, of course, will pay something but they want to see if it can be reduced. This motion was passed and the ball is now in GLTHS' court.

One of Dracut's newest representatives on the GLTHS School Committee, Victor Olson, asked that the town not take this route and advocated for the appropriation. That was disappointing, in my mind, as Olson should be advocating for the town and doing all he can to reduce costs.