Thursday, December 31, 2009
Shortly after Cunha was elected, a letter to the editor appeared in the Sun from Martin criticizing the deal which led to a debate between Martin and Selectman Bob Cox on "Saturday Morning Live." From there it was brought up at meetings and culminated in a heated DHA meeting in July at which the five selectmen had a major back and forth with Cunha and Martin. Commissioner Tom Salem left the meeting in the middle calling Cunha an a** hole and Selectman John Zimini accused people of "carrying the water" for the building's owner, Gerry Lussier. Prior to that, Cox said Zimini and others had "drank the kool aid" and Selectman James O'Loughlin (who was sitting right behind me) was arguing in a heated manner with Martin.
O'Loughlin accused me at a later Board of Selectman meeting for trumping up the heat and the tension but the headline the next day in the Sun showed pictures of Martin and O'Loughlin with the headline "Sparks fly between Dracut Housing Authority, selectmen over elderly housing" and the lead was "In a confrontational and heated exchange, members of the Dracut Housing Authority and selectmen fought..."
Anyway, there were more meetings, including a joint meeting of the selectmen and the DHA in September at which DHA consultant Marc Slotnick essentially sided with the Cox/O'Loughlin/DiRocco crowd and tore apart Martin and Cunha's argument that the building needed a lot of work and the wall behind the building posed a legal risk. O'Loughlin did a masterful job of asking Stolnick certain questions which led him to take apart Martin and Cunha.
But in the end, the DHA voted 3-2 to kill the project in October. A couple of months later, Brian Bond proposed an idea to build new housing over at the Richardson Farm property, an idea that was backed by Zimini and Cunha during the Louisburg Square discussion.
People say that the killing of Louisburg Square is tied to two events: Cunha fuming over losing re-election to the Board of Selectmen in 2007 to George Malliaros and Martin not being appointed to the School Committee to fill the Mary Gail Martin vacancy. Pundits saw killing an idea proposed by Cox and DiRocco as political revenge and an opportunity to embarrass them. Zimini joined the Cunha and Martin crowd - I saw him helping Cunha putting up signs during the campaign and he boycotted the meeting to fill the School Committee seat. Over the course of the summer, the selectmen meetings became more and more tense with Zimini all alone and on the losing end of many votes, including one for DA Gerry Leone to investigate his charges that people are carrying water for Lussier.
I picked this as the number 1 issue of the year because it led to a major coarsening of Dracut politics and it was a transformative event. Old friendships were destroyed and there are now two major camps on the political scene. The strength of both sides will be seen in the May elections as two selectman are up for re-election: O'Loughlin and Malliaros. I hear of at least 2 people running for the seats and am not sure if Bond is running again (he ran this year against DiRocco and lost). It should be interesting.
So there you go Dracut, my top ten moments of 2009 in Dracut politics. I will be joining Warren Shaw and Shawn Ashe on Saturday to discuss this list on "Saturday Morning Live" - be sure to tune in.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
You know the rest. Deeb lost re-election in 2008, Mullin turned out to be a bad superintendent and submitted his retirement in November (effective March 3). The School Committee advertised for an interim superintendent to serve from March 3-June 30 and many people were clamoring for Espindle to fill in (including the Sun). School Committee member Mike Miles was so determined to hire Espindle that he made a motion to do so without interviewing the other applicants for the job (it passed 4-1 with Ron Mercier voting no as he wanted to at least interview the others).
Espindle's return is major vindication for her and a complete exoneration from the School Committee. For Deeb and others, this is a complete slap in the face and the final nail in their political coffin. By the way, Miles has a major smackdown of Deeb over on Shawn's site. If you haven't seen it go there right away.
See my original story on this here.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Chief Kevin Richardson has exonerated Chartrand but now with the report that Chartrand was highly intoxicated, he was decided to look into it more. Some selectmen have asked for a change in policy for off duty officers (the Sun highlighted how other communities deal with intoxicated officers yesterday) but Richardson has the final say.
This is a continued saga between Chartrand and the police union. Chartrand and Union head Jerry Flynn are enemies and are always having backs and forth. Before this, they both accused each other of being drunk at a Lowell restaurant and arguing.
Warren Shaw has said that when he was first elected to the Board of Selectmen he was told that there was constant drama from the police department. I guess the more things change...
See one of my many stories on this here.
Monday, December 28, 2009
But, either way Mullin is out and the town must now shell out over $25,000 to find his replacement ($5,000 for the interim and $20,000 for the permanent). Mullin's retirement is a huge slap to former School Committee Member DJ Deeb who pushed for Mullin and who was the arch-enemy of Mullin's predecessor, Elaine Espindle (more on her later in the week).
Mullin never really fit in the position. He worked in Dracut for many years and he is a Dracut native but he wasn't ready for primetime.
See my original story on this here.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Selectman John Zimini refused to attend any of the meetings to vote on a replacement saying that the replacements should be made by the voters in May. There were some who felt that Zimini was angry that Dracut Housing Authority Chairman Ken Martin did not have the votes to take Mrs. Martin's seat. Martin and Zimini are political allies and when Mike McNamara was seen to have the votes, Zimini, the story goes, refused to participate. DJ Deeb, another Martin ally, made the same case to replace Mr. Martin.
In the end, McNamara and Victor Olson got the jobs and were elected in May. But, the ramifications were huge and Zimini eventually became alienated from his colleagues on the Board of Selectmen and the tone and tenor of their meetings changed dramatically. It all culminated in the Louisburg Square battle which I will get to later in the week.
See my coverage of McNamara's appointment here and Olson here.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Massive cuts to local aid.
Unemployment in double digits.
$250,000 mid-year cut to Dracut's schools at November Town Meeting.
Dracut teachers? They refuse to make ANY concessions to help the Dracut taxpayers with the town's budget. Every OTHER union in town made contractual concessions but the teachers in this town said no. They would not even take a temporary wage freeze.
They said this was because Dracut teachers are "behind our neighboring communities, and we made major efforts to bring our salaries somewhere in line with what the other towns are getting." Oh really? I discovered last month that the average Dracut teacher makes $61,290 which is on par with our surrounding communities and, in some cases, higher. They are not "behind" at all.
Complete and utter selfishness (originally mistakenly said selflessness - how ironic). Good luck getting any support on your next contract, folks.
See my original story on this from May here.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Later, O'Loughlin asked that DATV's board appear before the selectmen as he was concerned about DATV being used for political purposes and there was a very heated discussion and critique of O'Loughlin by DATV members, especially Jack Lyons and Mike McNamara.
You can see my story on the special meeting here and a rundown of the selectmen meeting that DATV attended here.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
In the end, the Planning Board agreed and voted the proposal down 3-2 in October. Brian Bond was one of the leading opponents followed by George Nangle and Robert Donnelly. Ironically when Bond ran for selectman in May, one of his campaign promises was to find a way to attract more businesses to town. I am glad he didn't stick to that!
See the original story here.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Anyway, in chatting with Pete he told me that he is running for selectman next May. There are two seats up this May - the ones currently held by Jim O'Loughlin and George Malliaros. Papers cannot be taken out until February so it's still unofficial but the race is on!
Upon review of the tape, it was discovered that it came from a camera within the school and the camera was damaged. The evidence led to Golec who hasn't been at work in months. He will retire in January (he was going to retire in June before this) and since September he has been using his sick time and vacation time.
The speculation is that Golec is angry at not getting the AD job that eventually went to Tim Woods. I have more information on this that I can talk about at another time.
See my original story on this here.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Mike Miles, saying the Dracut schools are "in crisis", made the motion to hire Espindle saying she would be able to begin right away and knows the players, the process of accreditation, budgets, etc. Ironically, Miles' biggest complaint about the hiring of Spencer Mullin was that they hired him before the applicants had even left the parking lot! Now, he said he doesn't even want to interview anyone. To be fair, Miles has been consistent saying all along that he wanted to hire someone from Dracut and he's been very vocal about his support of Espindle.
This move is major vindication for Espindle who was seemingly run out of town in favor of Mullin. She won't be permanent but it's an admission by the board that they made a major mistake in hiring Mullin (which they have said) and want to make it up to her.
Mullin, by the way, was not present at the meeting...again.
Anyway, the park should be fully operational in 2011 as the ground needs a full season to settle. Great job to all involved - we cannot wait.
See my post from that day here.
David Chartrand, Dracut's deputy police chief: "The state Legislature will approve casino gambling, and the Native Americans will collaborate with Lowell, Tyngsboro and Dracut to create a casino resort in the state forest. The financial windfall will save the local municipalities from certain doom and eliminate the necessity to make cuts in the police department."
Colleen Garry, state representative from Dracut: "Despite what some people think, Governor Deval Patrick stays in Massachusetts to finish out his term, House Speaker Sal DiMasi stays put, and nobody in the Legislature gets indicted."
James O'Loughlin, Dracut selectman: "I'm not saying who or for what reason, but somebody from Dracut will receive national recognition." He also predicts also that the Lowell political community will be "reeling by an unexpected resignation."
Chartrand was wrong although much of what he said seemed in jest. Garry was correct about Deval Patrick but WAY wrong about Sal DiMasi - he is going to be a guest of the federal government soon. O'Loughlin was correct about someone from Dracut receiving national recognition - Rebecca Duda - but no one from Lowell resigned "unexpectedly."
Sunday, December 20, 2009
You may recall that at the last meeting they asked Attorney Kevin Murphy to meet with Spencer Mullin's attorney to see if Mullin wants to leave before March 1. Either way, with a good deal of time between Mullin's retirement announcement and his retirement date, I am starting to wonder why the School Committee didn't just hire a permanent superintendent to begin on March 1.
1. Joe DiRocco, Bob Cox, Ken Martin, and Ken Cunha: Chinese finger traps so they can work together on a "successful affordable-housing project for the town's seniors."
2. Dracut seniors: town leaders who will "stop playing politics" and create "sorely needed housing."
3. Spencer Mullin: a Hawaiian shirt and Werther's Originals as he "embarks on his new career as full-time grandpa."
4. Dracut Students: a new superintendent who will "haul the struggling school district out of its current fiscal downward spiral and bring the school system up to par."
5. George Malliaros: a stress ball because of his recent heart attack
Eh, not bad. Here were last year's presents.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The new allegations surfaced after Chief Kevin Richardson's internal investigation cleared Chartrand of any wrongdoing and criticized the officers' union, the New England Police Benevolent Association, for orchestrating a campaign against the deputy chief.
Despite the new allegations, Richardson remains steadfastly opposed to rethinking department protocol for off-duty officers (there is none) and/or reopening the case into Chartrand's conduct.
We beg to differ. Serious allegations are being raised, and Richardson has a duty as chief to find the truth and enact changes if warranted. Union-management feud or not, the chief has a duty to safely protect his entire force and the vital interests of residents.
On the face of it, a new protocol for off-duty officers appears in order. No one who has been drinking should respond to a distress call without alerting headquarters and getting instructions.
In his bi-weekly Valley Dispatch Column, Warren Shaw says that while he thinks Chartrand felt he was doing the right thing when he responded to the call, he's not sure he should have done so. Like the Sun, he is calling for some change in policy:
But it seems to me that absent some policy, we are asking for trouble.
Forget the personalities for a moment.
Any off-duty police officer responding to a crime scene after consuming alcohol is in a very difficult place, regardless of good intentions.
Let's say that a responding off-duty officer is confronted by an aggressive party and is injured, or worse. The potential for legal complications is endless. What does the municipality do and how would its insurance company view the matter?
Does the officer assume his or her own risk by responding? What about an officer being forced to make an arrest under these circumstances?
"Your honor, at the time of my client's arrest, off-duty officer so and so had been drinking and we feel that based on that information, all charges should be dismissed" would likely be what gets the guy off in court. And then, if the guy is really lawyered up and wants to try making some money on the deal, we know what happens next.
Police departments have policies that clearly state that officers cannot have alcohol on their breath when they show up for work, but apparently nothing to provide guidance for off-duty police personnel.
No policy becomes a policy in itself.
Reviewing this issue by local police officials shouldn't be seen as a statement about what happened or didn't happen in Dracut.
It's clearly a "teachable moment" -- and one that should not be allowed to pass without some review.
Finally, in this morning's Sun, Selectman James O'Loughlin is calling for a change in policy (although the headline on the jump page called him Lombardo who is the chair of the Billerica BOS). His colleagues Bob Cox (whose son is on the force), George Malliaros, and John Zimini aren't calling for a change in policy (Joe DiRocco did not return calls). Malliaros said, "This reminds me of the phrase 'No good deed goes unpunished.' David Chartrand was off duty at a party, admittedly drinking, when a dangerous situation comes to his attention. He does what he thinks is the right thing...[he] made the right call."
Zimini said, "I don't think we have the right to set policy for the Police Department. That's why we have a chief." He may be right. The Sun said that the town has a "strong chief" system which means that the police chief "has sole authority and the final say over everything in his department." I did not know that.
As always, stay tuned.
Monday, December 14, 2009
It began with Ron Mercier criticizing Matt Sheehan for him saying that if Elaine Espindle wants the interim superintent job, she can have it. Sheehan made these comments on Saturday Morning Live a few weeks ago and Mercier said his comments prejudiced the search. Sheehan said he was only speaking for himself and not the whole committee. Shawn posted this discussion on Dracut Forum at the time and I listened again and Sheehan did say, "I'd love for Elaine Espindle to come back" and "If Mrs. Espindle wants to be the interim superintendent I am sure she will be the interim superintendent." You make the call.
Anyway, Mercier went on for sometime about this and Mike Miles jumped in saying the process that hired Spencer Mullin was "a joke." Mercier took offense to this since he was the chair at that time. Miles also brought up the DJ Deeb article from last week and said something about how Deeb won't answer his phone!
The discussion wrapped up with the committee once again directing Attorney Kevin Murphy to meet with Mullin's attorney to see if he wants to leave early as long as there is no extra cost to the town. All voted yes but Sheehan. The committee will also receive all of the resumes for the interim superintendent this Friday and meet on Monday to discuss the applicants as well as the process for hiring a new permanent superintendent.
As this committee evolves, I am sensing that Mercier is sort of the odd man out with Miles and Sheehan (and sometimes Bonnie Elie) one in the same with Mike McNamara as the wise elder statesman who is the voice of calm and reason. I get the impression that Miles and Sheehan work things out before the meetings, something Mercier alluded to saying that all discussions and vote counting should be done at the meetings, not before.
That's not to say that everything is worked out before hand judging by the continued confusion over the process of hiring the interim and permanent superintendent. At the last meeting, they tabled their discussion about the process to this meeting and now they're tabling it again to next week's meeting. This will be, as Warren Shaw said, the most important thing Sheehan and the others do so they need to get it right and be open and transparent about it (as Sheehan has promised time and time again, including tonight). Sheehan certainly has higher political aspirations so this will be his legacy. Thus, he needs to get a stronger hold on this and show his leadership capabilities. He's doing pretty good for a first timer but the committee and the process is looking a tad chaotic and, dare I say, amateur. But, better them than me! They'll get it done right, perhaps it's just a learning curve.
As always, stay tuned.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Paper & Toiletries Packs
PAPER TOWELS – TOILET TISSUE – FACIAL TISSUE -- TOOTHPASTE – SOAP -- SHAMPOO – CONDITIONER – OTHERS WELCOME
COLD CEREAL -- OLD FASHIONED OR QUICK OATS – COFFEE – TEA – HOT CHOCOLATE
THE KIDS ARE HOME ON VACATION!
SNACKS OF ALL KINDS – POP CORN – COOKIES AND CRACKERS – CHEF BOYARDEE & OTHER CANNED PASTAS – MAC & CHEESE -- PUDDING & JELLO
COLD WEATHER STAPLES
TOMATO SOUP – CHOWDER – BEEF STEW – RICE & PASTA SIDES – BAKED BEANS – ALL CANNED TOMATO PRODUCTS – HAMBURGER HELPER
I recall Warren Shaw saying that when he was first elected to the Board of Selectmen, he was told that there was constant drama and complaining at the DPD. So, this is something that is certainly new. But, with the USA Today reporting today that the average salary of federal employees reaching $71,206 (vs. $40,331 for the private sector) I think it's high time for public employees to be a little more grateful for what they have. They get paid quite handsomely, they get amazing benefits, and they will receive a pension when they retire. The only jobs that seem to have been created during this recession are government jobs - especially at the state and local level.
To be fair, the police union did make financial concessions to the town but I am sure when the economy turns around, they will be taken care of. Public employees rarely make financial concessions unless they get something in return down the line.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
See the whole column here but below is a taste:
Mr. Guinness won't be called in to document Shaw's accomplishment for his next edition, but it's a pretty impressive undertaking nonetheless.
At each stop, Shaw will solicit donations (he'll beg if he has to) for the Salvation Army, something he has done on his show for 14 years now.
Shaw's efforts are for a good cause. Once again, he and his team of sidekicks -- most notably fundraiser extraordinaire Fred Simon of Tewksbury -- will try to raise a bunch of dough for the Salvation Army.
Last year, they set a new record, raising $86,000 -- even though the radiothon fell on the same day as the infamous ice storm, causing the fundraiser to be extended through the following Saturday.
That was actually the impetus for the idea to hold this year's fundraiser over two Saturdays.
This Saturday will be what the team calls the "suburban road show," broadening the event to communities serviced by the Salvation Army of Lowell. Shaw will be asking for donations from patrons of the five businesses.
Then, on Saturday, Dec. 19, the annual auction will be held in the WCAP studios, with folks calling in to bid on assorted items, including tickets to New England's pro sports team, vacation getaways and other big-ticket surprises.
The week from Saturday to Saturday is being dubbed Salvation Army Week at WCAP.
This year's goal -- $98,000 -- is a nod to WCAP's call numbers.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
DJ Deeb has a column in this month's Valley Patriot about the recent attempt to make the Dracut Athletic Director a full-time position. He is very critical of School Committee Members Bonnie Elie and Mike Miles and Chairman Matthew Sheehan, calling them the "Gang of Three."
I've been tough on Deeb in the past and I fault him for Dr. Spencer Mullin but I have to give him some props for some of his analysis. He said
In attempting to restructure the Athletic Director position into a full-time administrative job to include Vice-Principal at the November 9th meeting, ‘Backroom Bonnie’ Elie read a prepared statement from a memo she said that she had received. The memo contained numerous talking points. No one else on the School Committee had the memo. This raises the obvious question, where did the memo come from? Ms. Elie claimed later that she e-mailed the memo to herself. Does she really expect us to believe that?
I agree. I was at that meeting and said the memo "came in her e-mail" the night before. That tells me someone sent it to her.
Again, this appears to be true. Sheehan ran on a platform of excluding former school committee members from serving in school positions after their term of office. Now, Woods has been off the School Committee for some time but either way, the spirit of Sheehan's idea is being violated here.
You can see the whole column here. I don't agree with everything he says but he does seem to have some valid points.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I am unenrolled so I support members of both political parties but in this Senate race I have found all four of the Democrats to be hard core left wingers. To quote Jon Keller, they appeal to those who "think abortion is a sacrament, that 'war is not healthy for children and other living things" constitutes a workable foreign policy, and that we shouldn't even consider the death penalty for some lunatic who blows up the Pru Tower.
On the Republican Jack E. Robinson is a complete joke (and a liberal) so for me the best choice is State Sen. Scott Brown. Brown is my dream candidate - pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, believes in small government...but he also isn't a reactionary conservative.
I don't think he'll win the general election but I hope enough people come out and support him to send a message to the Democratic nominee. Even if he doesn't win, he now has some name recognition to launch a bid for a state constitutional seat in November.
First my family went to the Gingerbread Competition at Harmony Hall. This 3rd annual event, sponsored by the Dracut Rotary, was very nice. There were about 20-30 gingerbread houses, free food and drink, and a table where kids could decorate their own gingerbread man.
From there we went to the Central Fire Station to see Santa. Unfortunately the line was pretty long and my son doesn't do lines (like most 2 year olds) so we just looked from the outside.
While my son napped and my wife worked on her scrapbooking, I took a ride to the library. In my humble opinion there is no better place to be on a snowy day then a library or bookstore. I took out a book on Dracut's history as well as a cookbook from which I made a very tasty orange and yogurt cake.
Finally, last night we went to the tree lighting ceremony over at the school complex. This event was sponsored by the Dracut Lions and they had music, free hot chocolate, and a beautiful set of lighted trees. It was a brief ceremony as it was cold and snowy but everyone there had a nice time.
It's days like yesterday that make me happy to live in a town with such active community groups and people. It was a great day.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
With the case closed in Dracut, the union is now calling on DA Gerry Leone to investiage. Gee, Leone's plate is pretty full with Dracut stuff - how's that investigation of John Zimini going?(sarcasm alert).
Friday, December 4, 2009
1. Warren Shaw kicks off the annual WCAP Salvation Army Telethon tomorrow with a multi-city/town tour during his radio show. They're going to travel between sites during the hard break at the top of each hour promoting the telethon which will continue into next Saturday. See more about this here. - CORRECTION: This is next week. My error.
2. There will be a Gingerbread House Competition on Saturday from 11am-7:30pm at Harmony Hall. There will be music, cookie making, hot cocoa, and a visit from Santa. See more here.
3. Santa Claus will be a busy man as he'll be at the Central Fire Station from 12pm-3pm
4. There will be a Christmas Tree lighting at the school complex on Saturday at 6pm (Santa there again, how does he do it?). See more here.
5. The Dracut Community Choir will have a holiday concert on Sunday at 4pm at the junior high.
Great community fun!
It was a $25 a person fundraiser so assuming everyone gave the minimum that's about $5,000! Nice haul.
Mercier also dismissed rumors that town officials were hoping to close the school so that the building could become Dracut's new town hall.
Now, perhaps town officials aren't hoping to close the school but they did raise the question at a recent selectmen meeting. If the school does become a Town Hall, will Mercier's words come back to bite him? I think the parents need, as Shawn said, to see the big picture. The town and the taxpayers are very generous to the schools - both financially and morally. If the town sees this as a good solution to the Town Hall problem, I think that would be a win-win for everyone.
Again, I am a parent and a teacher but I realize that Dracut is more than just for the schools.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
You could tell the boys wanted to get out and get to the football game...they didn't say a thing during New Business! Selectman Bob Cox was joking around and said something like, "You kidding me?" to Selectman James O'Loughlin. O'Loughlin usually has a couple of new business items and tonight he had nothing.
Selectman John Zimini was absent from the meeting for the second time in about a month. This was a special meeting time so perhaps he had something already planned. He did say at the last meeting that he wasn't aware of the date change.
Anyway, short and sweet. Nice way to end the 2009 meetings.