Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Globe on Louisburg

I did an interview this afternoon with a correspondent with the Boston Globe about Louisburg Square. The article will run in the Globe North section within a week or two so keep your eyes open.

Fixin time

At last night's School Committee meeting, the members revealed their evaluation of Superintendent Spencer Mullin's first year. Not surprisingly, the biggest concern was his communication skills (or lack thereof). They said he needed to do a better job of communicating with parents and school committee members and he needed to be more visible in the community.

Mullin took the criticism well and said he was overtaken by the budget process and the constant flux in the numbers. He spent most of the year, he said, focusing on that and on student achievement. He said he was unprepared for the public aspect of being a superintendent and vowed to work better at that.

I for hope he is able to turn things around. I have been very tough on him this past year but I do think he has a vision and the schools are in pretty decent shape. Not to say that everything is perfect but the schools are looking good.

In other news, Shawn Ashe mentioned on "Saturday Morning Live" a couple of weeks ago that the school department wasn't paying some vendors. Mullin and Business Manager Tom Rose addressed this last night say they will now meet every Wednesday to go over any and all outstanding bills and ensure that everything is paid on time. Rose and Mullin said the unpaid bills were an oversight and they now have a process in place to address this in the future.

Finally, the town has chosen a firm to do a Feasibility Study on the high school and that work will begin this week.

I only stayed at the meeting for about an hour as I wanted to get home to catch part 2 of Ken Burns' "National Parks" movie! But I don't think I missed anything big.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One final hurdle

I usually save non-Dracut stuff for my other blog but I feel passionate about one issue that I wanted to weigh in on it here.

The House and Senate, as you may know, passed bills that would give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim senator to serve between now and the January 19 special election. The governor used to have the power to appoint an interim senator in cases of vacancies but when Sen. John Kerry almost got elected president in 2004, the Democratic Legislature changed the law to take the power away from the then Republican Gov. Mitt Romney. Not only that, Republicans and Romney proposed the exact bill that is being debated now in 2004 and 2006 but were rejected by Democrats.

Now, with the governor being a Democrat, the legislature is changing the law once again to meet their needs. We cannot allow a political party to keep changing the rules to accommodate their political agenda.

Rep. Colleen Garry voted yes on this bill and Sen. Susan Tucker voted no. However, when a bill is signed by the governor it cannot take effect for 90 days unless 2/3 of the House and Senate attaches an emergency preamble to the bill saying the bill can take effect immediately. If the emergency preamble is not attached to this bill, Patrick will not be able to appoint an interim senator until Christmas.

Please, if you care about democracy, call Rep. Garry and especially Sen. Tucker and ask them to vote no on the emergency preamble. There will be enormous pressure on Tucker to switch her vote so let her know where you stand. I called her office today and asked her to stand pat.

I'm not sure Rep. Garry will vote against the preamble as she voted for the bill but perhaps she can be swayed. I like Rep. Garry a lot and have an enormous amount of respect for her. I respectfully disagree with her stance on this bill and ask her to please reconsider.

Rep. Garry's phone number is 617-722-2380 and Sen. Tucker can be reached at 617-722-1612.

Moving forward

I couldn't make last night's Dracut Housing Authority as my wife is out of town this week and I was home with my son. But thankfully Dennis Shaughnessey is back on the Dracut beat (for now at least) and he has the lowdown.

The big news is that Louisburg Square seems back on track. Last week's joint meeting of the DHA/Selectmen/Finance Committee really changed the tenor of the project (and the politics surrounding it) and the DHA seems to be moving to support the project.

Commissioner George Nangle motioned that "in the spirit of cooperation" they continue to work with all parties until the second appraisal is completed:

"I just want to show the selectmen and the owner of the property that we're all in favor of this project, and we are committed to keep working on our differences," Nangle said. "I think a strong vote from this committee will go a long way."

Chairman Ken Martin is still concerned about DHA not being indemnified if anything should happen to the building and the retaining wall that is on the neighbor's property:

"The crux of the issue is not the purchase price," Martin said. "It's what are we getting and what are we responsible for?"

While I can certainly understand Martin's concern, they would be taking the same "risks" in this building that already exist in their current proprieties. The Phineas Street property, for example, could catch on fire, rot, collapse, etc. How is this different?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tucker on the The Bill

The biggest political issue in Massachusetts right now is the bill that would give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim senator to serve between now and the January 19 special election. This despite the fact that the legislature changed the law in 2004 at the behest of Sen. Ted Kennedy and in 2006 voted down the exact same bill being proposed today.

Rep. Colleen Garry voted yes on the bill and Sen. Susan Tucker, who represents Dracut in the state Senate, told the Sun that she is unsure how she will vote but is leaning towards no:

"There are very good arguments on both sides, but I'm leaning against it for one overarching reason and that is that Beacon Hill has to restore trust among the citizens and to the average voter this just look likes (sic) more political shenanigans."

Amen, Sen. Tucker.

I confess that I have never voted for Tucker but she's been impressive on some issues lately - she voted no on the recent state budget because of tax hikes, she played a huge role in Dracut getting the $2.7m for Louisburg Square, and she recently sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas asking if there is any way the town could receive some financial assistance for Town Hall.

Good work, senator.

Golec is out

Warren Shaw had the exclusive word today on WCAP that Dracut Vice Principal Hank Golec is out of a job. He will be taking all of his sick time/vacation time and then be headed out to greener pastures.

Golec, of course, is alleged to have tampered with security cameras at the high school in an effort to show the football team practicing over the summer. MIAA rules prohibit football players from practicing outside the season and Golec sent them video of players in the weight room. But the workout was open to all students, not just football players, so it was no problem.

It is widely believed that Golec is still angry about not getting the Dracut Athletic Director's position some years ago and was trying to embarrass current AD Tim Woods.

Woods, by the way, called into "Saturday Morning Live" today to make sure people don't forget the kids had nothing to do with this and we should focus on their accomplishments on the field. So true, so true.

Good luck to the Middies tonight against Everett. I wish I could go but my own school has a game tonight. It should be an event over on Lakeview Ave., have fun.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On air

I will be joining Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe tomorrow on WCAP from 6:30am-7:30am to talk about Wednesday's Selectmen/Finance/Dracut Housing Authority meeting.

Be sure to listen in.

Senator Bill

Dracut State Rep. Colleen Garry voted yes yesterday to give Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim senator who will serve between now and the January 19 special election. This despite the fact that in 2006 she (and most Democrats) voted no on the exact same bill that was proposed by Republicans.

This is a very controversial bill with many state Democrats being pounded by both sides: by the White House who want a 60th vote in the Senate and Republicans who can now charge the Democrats with playing power politics for the second time in five years.

The Senate will take up the bill next.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teachable moments

Tonight's joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Dracut Housing Authority, and the Finance Committee seemed to put Louisburg Square back on track. After a rather contentious start in which DHA Chairman Ken Martin and Finance Chairman Gary Marsella questioned as to why they were there, the meeting was actually civil, productive, and educational.

The key part of the meeting was Selectman James O'Loughlin asking DHA Consultant Marc Slotnick if the project as currently laid out and financed (mixed financing, that is, some market rate rentals) works. Slotnick said yes! He said that the bathrooms and kitchens do not all need to be replaced and the work can be spread out over ten years. The units' conditions currently meet acceptable DHCD standards and are not in need of replacements. Slotnick said that the state was very pleased with this project because it was existing housing and was a creative solution to elderly housing. This creativity was a major factor in the state giving Dracut a $2.7 million grant.

You could sense a major sea change as Slotnick was answering O'Loughlin's questions and the wind came out of Martin and Ken Cunha. Their demeanors changed dramatically and they were not as "forceful" in their statements and questioning.

There was some political drama as DHA Commissioner Tom Salem got up and said DHA was fine with this project all along until very recently. "I don't know what happened" he said "But all of a sudden there was a collapse. Slotnick has done an exemplary job and the questions are with those two guys (pointing to Martin and Cunha)." You may recall that at a summer DHA meeting, Salem walked and called Cunha an "a** hole" so there is no love loss there.

Marsella did not come across very good as his questions at the end of the meeting were, to quote O'Loughlin, "inflammatory." He kept on asking questions about the covenant, the appraisal, etc. and his intent, it seemed, was to fan the flames. After O'Loughlin called Marsella "inflammatory and arrogant" and accusing him of playing to the cameras, Marsella desisted with his questions but without a parting line about how O'Loughlin too plays to the cameras.

The meeting ended with a resolution by the selectmen asking that the project move on that the discussions continue. This passed 5-0 with Selectman John Zimini joining his 4 political adversaries!

All in all, it seems like this meeting was beneficial and this project may not be dead after all. We shall see.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cryptic Statement

Tonight's School Committee meeting was short and sweet (less than 30 minutes) but Chairman Matthew Sheehan made a rather cryptic statement at the end saying damage was done to school property, an investigation has begun, and he hopes the investigation is completed.

Shawn Ashe gives us a hint as to what this is all about over at Dracut Forum. I would be sure to get the Sun tomorrow, this will be good.

Well done

Despite the heavy rain, my wife, my son, and I attended Old Home Day on Saturday. A word of thanks to all the organizers, the volunteers, etc, etc - it was a fantastic event (as usual) and a demonstration of what makes Dracut such a great place to live.

Until next year...

Mullin: Year One

Yesterday's Column had some very frank criticisms of School Superintendent Spencer Mullin. The School Committee is currently evaluating Mullin and the Column expects him to get very poor marks on communication. One member of the School Committee told the Sun:

“I’m getting tired of having to apologize for him to the parents. I hear it everywhere I go, baseball games, school functions. It’s embarrassing.”

Yikes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

School cash

Just happened to catch School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan on "Saturday Morning Live" and he announced that this week the schools heard they will be getting $1.6 million in federal stimulus funds. He said that the monies are going towards operation costs (i.e. salaries) but Sheehan said that is how the state is directing the money be spent.

Warren Shaw was asking some pretty tough questions about whether or not that is wise since the money won't be there in FY 2011. He also brought up the fact that all of the municipal employees took a 0% raise but the teachers are getting their raise this year (and next year).

Must be nice!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rather quiet

Tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting was pretty quiet and mundane but of course, there was discussion of Louisburg Square.

Shawn has a good rundown so there's no need for me to rehash. He did mention that the broadcast of the meeting cut out early. If that's the case, one selectmen should feel pretty lucky (you had to be there).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Per diem

One of the more controversial perks state senators and representatives receive are per diems. Essentially, legislators get reimbursed for their travel to and from the State House! Legislators do not have to take the per diem but many, of course, do. So far this year, $300,000 has been paid to legislators in per diems.

According to the Lowell Sun, in 2009 Rep. Colleen Garry has received $1,872 in per diems (72 days) while Sen. Susan Tucker has received $1,206 (67 days).

Locally, the representative who has requested the most per diems is Lowell Rep. Dave Nangle who so far has received $3,354 for 129 days of travel into town. This is no where near Rep. Dan Bosley (North Adams) who has received an embarrassing $9,810 this year!

I do have a real concern that we pay per diems for our legislators to travel to work. Legislators say they work very hard and spend a lot of time going to and from the State House in addition to their other jobs (Garry, for example, is an attorney). They do work hard for sure, especially Garry. But...so do you and me.

I travel 50 miles round trip everyday, some days I stay at work very late, I go in on weekends, work evenings, come home to get my son and then go back to work for a night event, etc. If I ever asked my boss to be reimbursed for my travel I'd find myself in the unemployment line.

In this economy, legislators should be leading by example and not accepting these per diems (or the 5.5% raise they got).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's over

On "Saturday Morning Live" this morning Selectman Bob Cox called in to discuss Louisburg Square. Cox said the project is dead since the seller (Draco Homes) will not extend the December 31 sale date and the Housing Authority can't meet that deadline.

Shawn should have the audio today, check out Dracut Forum later.

Friday, September 4, 2009

SML

I will be on "Saturday Morning Live" on WCAP tomorrow from 6:30-7:30 to talk about the goings on in town with Warren and Shawn. Listen in.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

All quiet on the Dracut front

With Labor Day weekend at our door, things are pretty quiet in our little hamlet. I went back to school not too long ago so I haven't been able to devote as much time to the goings-on...good thing there is nothing going on!

The biggest issue, of course, is Louisburg Square. Warren Shaw thinks its dead and the Finance Committee seems prepared to pull its support. Finance Chair Gary Marsella was on Shaw's show last weekend to discuss this and Shawn Ashe has the audio here.

At the last Dracut Housing Authority meeting, a sub-committee was formed to work on the project with DHA members and selectmen. Wonder if that committee has met (or even been formed). The selectmen meet this Tuesday after their summer "break." We shall see.