Sunday, February 28, 2010

Health Insurance Costs

Very good article in the Boston Globe today about the crippling costs of health care for municipal workers. As everyone already knows, cities and towns are paying small fortunes to employees and retirees for Cadillac health plans with low co-pays and premiums. Not only that, apparently under state law workers are guaranteed health insurance for life if they work for the city or town for 10 years.

The Globe has a chart of 25 cities and towns highlighting the change in health insurance spending between 1999 and 2009. Dracut is not on the list but Lowell is - they've gone from 9.7% to 17.6% of their budget being spent on health insurance for city workers.

But, unions refuse to make concessions or changes and they continue to get benefits that private sector workers can only dream of. The Legislature, in the meantime, is more concerned about the hacks then helping out cities and towns. All the while, local aid is slashed, school funding gets cut, sports fees go up, library hours go down, etc. But don't worry, municipal workers are only paying $5 co-pays and don't have to go on Medicare when they turn 65. Isn't that nice.

See the whole article here but make sure you've taken your blood pressure meds first.

Quote of the day

From today's Sun article on Spencer Mullin bailing early:

"That's the real Spencer Mullin. Everybody gets to see the real Spencer Mullin one more time on his way out the door."

- School Committee Member Mike Mikes

Power of blogs

Just to show how the news gathering world is changing, Shawn Ashe and Dracut Forum had the Spencer Mullin story 36 hours before the Sun reported it. Shawn posted the story on Friday afternoon but the Sun didn't have the story until today.

Now granted, the Sun has most stories before blogs do and much of my content comes from Sun stories. But, every now and again the blogs scoop the paper and have information long before they do. It's fun sometimes getting a story before they have a chance to report it, it's good for competition. I think as a result, they've added more coverage of local meetings and Erin Smith is almost always at School Committee and Selectmen meetings as Shawn and I usually blog about them within minutes.

On second thought...

Today's Column reports that School Committee candidate May Paquette attended an organizational meeting for Mike McNamara's campaign the night before she pulled her own papers to run. There's no political scandal here, I don't think. Paquette had been on the fence for a while and decided after attending McNamara's meeting that she would run.

I really like Mike McNamara but I am glad Paquette is running so there is so debate and competition (Mike Miles, another good guy, is also running for re-election).

Speaking of McNamara, he is having a campaign party on March 7 from 3pm-7pm at O'Hara's Tavern in Tennis Plaza. The donation is $10 and there will be a light buffet served.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Liar!

Huge breaking news from Shawn Ashe - Superintendent of Schools Spencer Mullin has left days before his official March 3 retirement date. Shawn exclusively reports that at 3:36pm, Mullin e-mailed School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan that he was taking the last few days off and had designated Linda Trouville to serve in his absence.

This despite the fact that he said over and over and over again that he would serve until the last day. He has turned in his school cell phone assuring that no one will be able to reach him.

That fire you see behind you, Dr. Mullin? A bridge.

Policy coming

Today's Sun is reporting that Police Chief Kevin Richardson is working on new guidelines for off-duty police officers who respond to calls. This comes in the wake of Deputy David Chartrand responding to a domestic assault while off duty in September. Chartrand was allegedly "highly intoxicated" when he responded.

The article also quotes Chartrand's attorney, Michael Najjar, who sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen which seemed to accuse the members of slandering Chartrand during a recent meeting. However, Najjar said in response:

"I was absolutely amazed that they said I was going on the attack when the whole point of this letter was to calm people down and get them to not hurt someone's reputation."

Fighting the power Part II

One of the most corrupt laws on the books is the one that allows developers to bypass local zoning laws if a municipality does not have a housing stock that is 10% affordable, says Warren Shaw in today's Valley Dispatch. The law, known as 40B, has "ruined neighborhoods and made local zoning and community land-use planning a waste of money" said Shaw.

There is a movement to repeal the law called Repeal 40B and they have submitted enough signatures to petition the Legislature to get the measure on the ballot. However, if the Legislature does not approve it, they can bypass them and put it directly on the ballot themselves with 11,000 more signatures.

Shaw urges folks to contact their legislators to vote for this measure - Rep. Colleen Garry's number is 617-722-2380 and Sen. Susan Tucker's is 617-722-1612.

Fighting the power

Man, Tyngsboro has some good elected officials. Today's Sun is reporting that Selectman Bob Jackson is proposing a meeting between Lowell, Dracut, Tyngsboro, and Dunstable elected officials to discuss a joint opposition to the Greater Lowell Technical High School's request for a 15% increase in next year's budget.

Dracut, you may recall, is being asked to increase its assessment to the school by 19% ($2.9 million). Town Manager Dennis Piendak has previously told the Sun that the town cannot afford that. Piendak and Selectman Chair George Malliaros have agreed to attend Jackson's meeting but Piendak told the Sun that there is a state law that punishes communities who do not fully pay their assessments to regional schools.

Jackson said that it's not fair that cities and towns throughout the state have to make drastic cuts but GLTHS can simply send "a bill" for their funding. Jackson pointed out that he once asked GLTHS Superintendent James Cassin how many people he has laid off in his seven years - the answer was 1!

I urge everyone to contact Dracut's representatives, Victor Olson and Paul Morin, and ask them to fight this increase and to call upon the school to make cuts to their own budget. Their phone numbers and e-mail addresses are here.

Mr. Cassin and the School Committee picked the wrong year to submit this budget. All hell is about to break loose. The fun and games are over boys, I hope you've enjoyed your run.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Insert Town Here

Dan Phelps' column today in the Lowell Sun deals with the teachers of the North Middlesex Regional School District in Townsend. I guess they did not take their scheduled pay raise last year but now they want it. Phelps points out that this scenario is playing out all over the state with teachers being exposed for their greediness.

Here in Dracut, of course, our teachers refused to take a pay freeze last year, being the only union in town to refuse to make any concessions. Now the schools are looking for a 2.77% increase in their budget with the increase going in part to salaries. This despite the fact that the average salary for Dracut teachers is $61,290 (FY 2008).

Here is Phelps' conclusion:

Most teachers are happy to be teachers. I mean, why else would they do it, right? They enjoy it, and they know they're making a decent living with better-than-decent benefits. And if they had to make do without a raise for one or two years, most would probably understand that it is in the best interests of the children.

But they can't say so lest a teacher close to the union bosses overhears them.

You simply can't buck the union.

But the rub is that you can't buck John Q. Public either. And Johnny isn't too happy when he sees valuable programs his children enjoy at school being cut while the teachers continue to bring in 3 percent raises each year -- and worse, acting as though they are entitled to it.

It used to be that you weren't entitled to a raise. You earned it. Now, even when folks earn it, they aren't getting one.

Unless you're a member of a municipal union -- a public servant, as they used to be called.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Legal action?

When I was recapping last night's Board of Selectmen meeting, I forgot to mention the letter the board received from the attorney of Deputy Chief of Police David Chartrand. Less anyone forget, Chartrand got in a bit of hot water last year when he went to a call despite being off duty and allegedly intoxicated.

The case prompted a call from some, including Selectman James O'Loughlin, to look into a policy about off duty officers who have been drinking. Chartrand's attorney accused the board, specifically O'Loughlin, of "slandering" his client at a recent board meeting. O'Loughlin had Town Counsel review the tape of the meeting in question and he said he was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Either way, O'Loughlin is not backing down. He said, "If this is an attempt to intimidate or silence me, I can tell you attorney Najjar's letter has fallen short."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Little bit of everything

Tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting was a potpourri of topics. The two biggies were:

  • Former Tewksbury's chief Al Donovan's investigation into the missing drugs from Dracut Police is almost complete but the Feds are now looking into the case. Thus, Donovan has to delay releasing his report until the federal agency (who Donovan could not disclose) decide if they're going to press charges.
  • Selectman Joe DiRocco announced that the Dracut Housing Authority spent about $145,000 (I believe that was the number - folks correct me if I am wrong) into Louisburg Square before voting to kill the project last fall. DiRocco and Selectman Bob Cox were angry that they spent this money when they were fully aware they would kill it (as evidenced by the Richardson Property project going on at the same time).

Last hurrah

Last night was the final School Committee meeting for Superintendent Spencer Mullin. I did not see the meeting (my wife had the baby on Sunday so I've been back and forth from the hospital and taking care of our 2 year old) but today's Sun has the following headline:

"Little praise as Mullin says goodbye to Dracut."

Ouch.

Shawn said there was more talk from the board about a teacher who recently retired from the Campbell School than there was for Mullin.

The Sun said they asked Mullin about his retirement but he said, "No comment." There's one thing you can say about Mullin - he's consistent. He's been horrible about communication since he got here and he's leaving the same way!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ar Dheis Dé Go Raibh a Anam

News tonight that the father of Rep. Colleen Garry, Martin, has passed away after a long illness. I confess that I did not know him but Shawn calls him a "true servant" to the people of Dracut.

Our condolences, Rep. Garry.

Going viral

The Dracut Library, one of my favorites places in town, is going super viral - they now have a blog, they're tweeting, and they're on Facebook.

The blog is here, their tweets are here, and their Facebook page is here.

Be sure to check them out.

He's in

Shawn had the story first but yesterday's Lowell Sun picked up on School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan's intent on running for state representative against incumbent Rep. Colleen Garry.

Sheehan is running as an independent which means, of course, that he gets to bypass any primary election. There is talk that Selectman Bob Cox is still thinking of taking on Garry in the Democratic primary but no word from him as of yet.

Garry should be a formidable candidate against either - she has been around for a long time and her votes are pretty consistent with the values of the area. In addition, she has $13,384.54 in her campaign coffers.

The one weakness I hear about her is that she's not around enough and doesn't make many public appearances. But to be fair, she was having some back problems last year which kept her out of the Memorial Day parade and more recently, her father has been very ill and she has been devoting her time to him.

As always, stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Must be nice

The last time you changed jobs, did you get a lump sum check for your unused sick time from your former company?

Yeah, I didn't think so.

But, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the 351 cities and towns are apparently so flush with cash that they can afford to pay people for the sick days they never took. The latest beneficiary of this High Hack Benefit is former Dracut High School Vice Principal Hank Golec. Golec, you will recall, had not been at work since September when he was essentially put on leave for allegedly tampering with video equipment at the school.

He officially retired on January 31 and was given a lump sum check for $16,081.77 according to today's Lowell Sun. Golec had 241 1/2 unused sick days and 9 unused vacation days when he retired.

Now from what I hear, the school department made Golec take the time off, it wasn't his choice (he was also going to retire at the end of this academic year anyway). So it begs the question: how many sick days/vacation days did Golec have that he was able to take all that time off AND get $16,000 in buyback pay? Or, did Golec not have to dip into his sick/vacation time to take this hiatus?

This whole situation has been waaaay too quiet for my taste. I get that they have to be careful for legal reasons but now that Golec is retired (and receiving a monthly pension of $5,615.61) we are entitled to the whole story, either from Golec or the School Department. Also, the fact that he is Selectman George Malliaros' brother-in-law makes it a little more imperative that the whole story come out. I am not saying Malliaros is involved in this at all, in fact, he has steered far clear from this. But, for transparency sake, we need to know everything.

By the way, which lawyer is telling the schools to clam up? Kevin Murphy? The same Kevin Murphy who is taking taxpayer dollars as the school department's attorney and then goes and defends liquor establishments in town before the ABCC after they've had their liquor license suspended by Board of Selectmen?

If they refuse to tell us the whole story, I say we refuse to fund their 2.77% budget increase at Town Meeting in June. If they have the kind of money laying around to let Golec go AWOL and get paid and then then give him a check $16,000, they don't need anymore of my money apparently.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

He's in

Looks like Dracut resident John Kelly is officially running against State Sen. Sue Tucker this year. He has a Facebook page now and a website (although it doesn't seem to be up yet).

A Democratic primary and Republican opposition! Should be fun.

This I like

Now this is how you deal with public employee unions who refuse to do anything to help the taxpayers (take notes Mr. Sheehan):

From the Providence Journal:

The teachers didn’t blink.

Under threat of losing their jobs if they didn’t go along with extra work for not a lot of extra pay, the Central Falls Teachers’ Union refused Friday morning to accept a reform plan for one of the worst-performing high schools in the state.

The superintendent didn’t blink either.

After learning of the union’s position, School Supt. Frances Gallo notified the state that she was switching to an alternative she was hoping to avoid: firing the entire staff at Central Falls High School. In total, about 100 teachers, administrators and assistants will lose their jobs.

Gallo blamed the union’s “callous disregard” for the situation, saying union leaders “knew full well what would happen” if they rejected the six conditions Gallo said were crucial to improving the school. The conditions are adding 25 minutes to the school day, providing tutoring on a rotating schedule before and after school, eating lunch with students once a week, submitting to more rigorous evaluations, attending weekly after-school planning sessions with other teachers and participating in two weeks of training in the summer.


See the whole article here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Washington's Birthday

I posted this as well over at my other blog...

Some may think that they have tomorrow off in observance of President's Day. Nope. There is no such holiday called President's Day - tomorrow is Washington's Birthday.

For many years, Washington's Birthday was celebrated on February 22 but in 1968, Congress decided to move it to the third Monday in February (they moved other holidays to Mondays as well). There was some talk of changing the name to President's Day but it never happened. The national government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts still call the third Monday in February Washington's Birthday.

The National Archives did a nice article on this some years ago - see that here.

Jumping in?

On "Saturday Morning Live" yesterday Warren Shaw discussed the possibility of School Committee Chair Matthew Sheehan running against State Rep. Colleen Garry. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he said that. Sheehan has only been on the School Committee for less than two years and one has to wonder if he ready to make the leap to state representative already.

He is obviously very ambitious judging by him becoming School Committee chairman in his second year but this may be too much too soon. Garry is a very polished pol who knows the law and knows the issues. I cannot see Sheehan holding his own in a debate with Garry (and missing them by saying he has to work won't fly this time).

I've met Sheehan a couple of times and he's a a good guy. I like that he is making the superintendent search very open and transparent and he has the kid's interests at heart. But me thinks that he should stick around on the School Committee for a little while longer, bone up on the issues, hone his public speaking skills, and maybe in a few years he can go for it. If he runs this year, he will get slaughtered by Garry and may tarnish his chances for future runs.

Have you no shame

Today's Lowell Sun reports that Greater Lowell Technical High School is seeking a 15% increase in funding from Dracut, Lowell, Tyngsboro, and Dunstable. 15%!!

Dracut's assessment will go from $2,447,544 to $2,909,733 - an 18.3% increase, the largest percentage increase of the four member communities.

Are these people insane??

Town Manager Dennis Piendak put it bluntly saying "We just can't afford it."

To be fair, the budget is very, very preliminary but it is just another example of this school being completely and utterly out of touch. Their total budget for 2010-2011 is projected to be $32.6 million....FOR ONE SCHOOL. The entire budget for the SEVEN Dracut schools is around $28 million.

Time for some serious housecleaning up there. Please bring some sanity to that place Mr. Olson and Mr. Morin.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On the air

I'll be joining Warren Shaw, Shawn Ashe et al tomorrow on "Saturday Morning Live" to discuss some of the goings on in town. I'll be on at 6:30am. Be sure to listen in.

Of course you can listen on-line here.

Keep it going

In his Valley Dispatch today, Warren Shaw is hoping Dracut shows the same passion for the town elections that they did the special Senate election where 55% of voters turned out.

In the column, Shaw traces the history of the current bad blood that exists in town saying it dates back to the funding over Canney Farm.

He also compares the people in the race to the Scott Brown (he wrote this before Cathy Richardson got into the race):

And if the field remains as it is, we'll have a guy that drives a truck in Brian Bond. And, like Brown, George Malliaros is a lawyer and is a good basketball player.

Pete Wilde can sing, kind of like Brown's daughter, Ayla, but he never made it to American Idol.

Jimmy O'Loughlin has a dominating debate style, much like what Brown displayed in his debate win over Martha Coakley.

So, why not give this race your full attention! I promise you, this one won't disappoint you.


See the whole column here.

New entry

Shawn had it first but there is a new entry in the Board of Selectmen race - Cathy Richardson. According to Shawn, Richardson is the head of the Dracut Republican Town Committee.

This now makes 5 people in the race for 2 seats. Will this increase the odds of an incumbent being ousted? Being the only woman (right now) may be an advantage for Richardson. I've only been living in town for 4 1/2 years and I've never heard any mention of a female member of the selectmen. Has there ever been one?

There are still only two running for School Committee - incumbents Mike Miles and Mike McNamara. Clee Ace is running for the Library Board of Trustees and Paul Mercier and F. Russell Taylor are running for one seat on the Dracut Housing Authority.

No one has pulled papers for moderator but I seem to recall that last year Gary McCarthy waited until the last moment to pull papers.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Half day?

Good thing Dracut schools had a half day today, huh??

At least they didn't cancel like Lowell.

Guess you can't blame the superintendents...damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More on business

Last week I blogged about two new small businesses here in town and how successful they've been. At tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting, the board approved the expansion of Owen and Ollie's Restaurant to include a function hall. The selectmen were unanimous in their support and the lawyer representing Owen and Ollie's predicted that this would bring 15-20 jobs to the town.
Selectman John Zimini called it a "great story." I agree, things are looking good especially in this economy.

I was also impressed with the positive tenor and tone of the meeting. The boys seemed to be getting along.

More tension?

At tonight's Board of Selectmen meeting, a letter from School Committee chair Matthew Sheehan was read asking that the board appoint a "town official" to serve on the interview committee for the superintendent of schools. Selectman John Zimini mentioned that at a prior School Committee meeting, Mike Miles said that he did not feel that a selectman should be on the interview committee since "what do they know about the schools."

Now I missed that meeting so I can't confirm this exact quote but Chairman George Malliaros said he heard that too. Zimini said he was upset that a member of the School Committee would say something like this about the selectmen, especially inferring that they do not know anything about the schools or that they may not care about the schools.

The selectmen agreed that one of them would serve on the committee and would decide who that will be after they check their calendars. Selectman Bob Cox agreed to serve if Malliaros is unable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Espindle's contract

School Committee chair Matthew Sheehan read soon to be interim superintendent Elaine Espindle's contract to the public tonight. Some highlights:

  • Will be paid $400 a day for her 82 days of work (maximum total pay of $32,800)
  • She will not receive any sick days, vacation days, personal days, etc.

The contract was approved 5-0.

School Budget

The budget for the 2010-2011 academic year was presented again tonight and represents an increase of 2.77% from the 2009-2010 academic year. The increase is due to transportation increases and pay raises for employees.

So, once again the teachers refused to make any sort of financial sacrifices for the taxpayers of Dracut. I wonder if anyone even bothered asking them this year...perhaps more effective to talk to a wall.

Lest anyone forget, during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the ONLY group of town employees who did not make any contract concessions last year were the teachers.

Open government

Good article in the Sun today about the Greater Lowell Technical High School Committee looking to be more open and transparent. They're looking into posting their agendas, meeting times, sub-committee information, and meeting packet information on the school's website. That would be a very positive step for the board and I applaud them for doing it. Kudos to Dracut's Paul Morin, a member of the committee, for bringing the motion to the floor.

I think Dracut's boards could follow the example of the GLTHS committee. While I don't think they're trying to hide anything, I feel that the town could do a much better job with the posting minutes of meetings, sub-committee work, etc. The Board of Selectmen, for example, have a number of sub-committees but I've never seen a meeting time posted, their locations, minutes, etc. You only hear about them at full board meetings.

The School Committee does a decent job posting agendas and minutes but I feel they meet in Executive Session too often. At a meeting of the selectmen and school committee last year to fill Mary Gail Martin's term, they were trying to come up with a date to meet again to fill Brian Martin's seat. Ron Mercier was going through their calendar and mentioned executive session and one of the selectman said, "You still meet in executive session?"

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Staying put for now and election 2010

Not much of new news in the local paper this morning about the hometown. There was a small piece in the Column about how Town Manager Dennis Piendak has no plans to retire anytime soon (thank God).

There was an article on the selectmen's race but this time with some interesting quotes and campaign ideas:

Pete Wilde: "I want to return communication and family values back to the town," said challenger Pete Wilde, a Collinsville resident who wants to add more fire hydrants in East Dracut. "We need to stop the shenanigans going on at the selectmen's board."

Brian Bond: "Honestly, after last year's election, I didn't think I was going to run again because of the political games being played," Bond said, "but after talking with my family and friends about all the positive things that could be done, I decided to turn around and run again. It's time for a change. Selectman O'Loughlin has been in that seat for 18 years. He just feels entitled to be there."

James O'Loughlin: "My focus right now is being elected to the Board of Selectmen because that's where I think I can be most beneficial to the town," O'Loughlin said. "I don't feel I have an entitlement for the seat. I've been very fortunate that the voters of Dracut have kept me in that seat.

"All I will do in this campaign is address the voters of Dracut and what I can do for them," he said.

O'Loughlin said he refuses to be "baited into any sophomoric arguments" with his opponents.

George Malliaros: Malliaros said it's "probably a healthy thing that we have so many people willing to serve in government.

"I wish my opponents the best of luck," he said. "I think the town of Dracut is in a good place as far as other towns and communities in the area are concerned, so I don't think we need a change of pitchers."

There is certainly no love loss between Bond and O'Loughlin, these guys hate each other with a passion. Look for them to go at each other in debates with Wilde and Malliaros staying out of it. Bond may be right to mention O'Loughlin's 18+ years in office as there is an anti-incumbent mood out there right now. I also think Wilde has a good approach going after the constant back biting that takes place at the selectmen meetings. I'm not entirely sure where he's going with the family values thing but I'm sure he'll spell it out as we go on.

As for O'Loughlin, he can run on his record and him being a good selectman for the town. He does clash with people but I do think he is good at his job. It's just up to the voters to decide if his ability overrides his personality. Malliaros has had a heck of a year as chairman and has really come into his own. He has done a nice job handiling the "shenangians", as Wilde calls it, without getting mixed up in it. I think he'll win, maybe even come in first.

It should be a lot of fun, stay tuned as always.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Small business in Dracut

Despite the poor economy, it seems like some small businesses are thriving here in Dracut. Two cases in point: Jewelry Gone Wilde on Lakeview Ave. and Tony and Ann's Pizza on Broadway.

Pete Wilde and his wife opened his jewelry shop late last fall in the JFK Plaza and business has been so brisk that they will be taking down a wall and expanding into the location next door! And of course, the biggest story of the past month - the resurrection of Tony and Ann's. They have been so busy that there have been 3 hour waits for pizza. I went in two weeks ago at 3pm and was told to come back at 6pm! Unfortunately, when I got back they were closing as the owner's relative was dying and they were going to see here. They were closed last weekend to grieve but today they're back at it. One of these days I will try that pizza and I cannot wait.

Lines and business is so great that they have put up a Pizza Cam on their website so you know how long the wait will be.

The Wildes and the Getmans are making an investment in the town of Dracut and it's paying off. This comes on the heels of Warren Shaw building a new farm store last year. Let's keep supporting these local businesses.

Campaign 2010 Events

I have begun a list of campaign 2010 events in the right hand column. If you want to promote any, feel free to e-mail me at brianflaherty [at] ymail [dot] com.

Dracut resident running for Senate?

I noticed over at the Office of Campaign and Political Finance that one John Kelly of Daybreak Drive in Dracut has formed a committee to run for the state Senate seat currently held by Susan Tucker. Kelly is a Democrat so will there be a primary this fall??

Kelly is listed as the president of IBEW Local 2321 so he is a connected union guy which would be huge in a Democratic primary.

UPDATE: I've heard from Mr. Kelly and he said that his campaign is still in the "exploratory stage" so no word yet if he's going to jump into the race. Stay tuned.