Friday, April 28, 2006

And Now, the Bad News

After our morning breakfast of puppy dogs and ice cream, we're enjoying an early lunch of disgruntlement, based on Councilor Dean Tran's landlord petition being sent to study.

First, we think Tran's proposal was worthy of passage, and offered another tool for the city to root out bad landlords. To repeat past arguments, this wouldn't be a problem for good landlords who already follow the rules, and there would be no new standards for these guys to meet. The fees were ridiculously insignificant and not a road block.

More importantly, opposition came last night from Councilors Thomas Donnelly and Norman Boisvert. These guys are both landlords in the city. If we're not mistaken, that means this issue effects the councilors and their private business. If we're not mistaken again, that means they have a conflict of interest in this matter. Certainly the way they voted puts their business interests ahead of the city's interests.

Simply, Donnelly and Boisvert should have sat this one. No commentary, certainly no voting. For them to do so is a breach of ethics and sends the message they care more about their business than the city. We've sat in local government meetings is over a half-dozen communities and probably three times that many boards in the last 10 years, and we've seen officials recuse themselves for far less, taking the appropriate thinking that the mere appearance of conflict is a conflict. Donnelly's and Boisvert's involvement in this matter was inappropriate and not in the best interests of the city.


Two Pieces of Good News

One day we're going to write the Save Fitchburg Manifesto. To summarize it today: We need all the good news we can get, one baby step at a time, to create a better community. In the last few days, we've seen two of those baby steps.

First, today's big news that the Senate and House have both increased education aid for public schools. The Senate has $200 million more, the House $173 million. Let's say they split the difference. That's roughly $187 million. We'd like to think the final number will be closer to the Senate side, but no matter, this is good news.

We don't have a vote on the School Committee, but we'll make the early request that any new money be targeted toward textbooks. We've ranted enough on the horrific need for books for students. It seems like the obvious starting point. "Moby Dick" for all freshmen classes, please.

The second is the city's new program that offers $2,000 grants to downtown businesses for new awnings and signs. This probably falls in the "little thing" category, but it's the long-term collection of these little things that will make downtown, and Fitchburg, better. This is a worthwhile program, and one that in the long term will make downtown better (let the "downtown is hopeless" comments begin).


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Safety vs. Rights

City Councilor Dean Tran is proposing a new regulation that would not allow a Level 2 or 3 sex offender to live within 1,000 feet of a school, library, park or day care in the city.

We understand the safety and protection value of the proposal, and like the fact that Tran is still providing more proactive, thought-provoking policy than the rest of the council combined, but we're really not sure about this proposal, for two reasons (UPDATE: Tran responds, informatively, in the first comment at the bottom of the post. It's a must read):

Like the ACLU, we're not sure how Constitutional this is. We're no experts, and we haven't sat down with a map to draw big circles around everything, but it would seem this would eliminate much of Fitchburg for sex offenders. Good for residents, probably, but there are some civil rights issues here that need a full airing.

Second, let's say a sex offender really wants to live in Fitchburg. Their job, family, friends are in the city. If you're taking away huge tracks of the city through this law, wouldn't that mean areas outside the exclusionary zone would see an increase in sex offenders living in their neighborhood? Should people move near schools or parks to ensure a lack of sex offenders? This might be an unintended consequence of the proposal.

Beyond those reasons, this proposal seems a little stereotypical. Not all sex offenders are child molesters. While we're splitting the hairs of heinous acts here, society tends to reserve top-shelf venom for child molesters and it's unfair to paint all sex offenders with that brush.

Finally, check this out from Councilor and representative wannabe Stephen DiNatale: "They're never going to be cured, but you hope to place controls in," he told the Sentinel. Really? They're "never going to be cured?" Couldn't one or two of "they" have made a bad mistake and not be a sicko? Especially the Level 2s, who are considered "moderate" risk, according to state law?

All that said, we're not opposed to Tran's proposal. We're not exactly for it either (yeah, we're taking a real tough stand here). We want to try it on a little bit and get some more details on the civil rights side. In the meantime, Tran should be cheered for continuing his work to make the city better.

For those that want to see it, here's the text of the proposal:


Ladies and

The undersigned Petition your Honorable Body

Establish a Sex Offender Residency
Prohibition Ordinance and restrict any person categorized as level 2 and level 3
in the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board from having permanent or
temporary residence within 1000 feet of any public or non-public school,
daycare, library and park. Ordinance will be applicable to new offenders
moving in to the city and existing offenders relocating within the

It is the interest of the city of Fitchburg to promote,
protect and improve the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city
by creating certain areas around locations where children regularly congregate
in concentrated numbers where certain sex offenders and sexual predators are
prohibited from establishing temporary or permanent

- Permanent residency is to be defined as a place
where the person abides, lodges, or resides for 14 or more
consecutive days.

- Temporary residence is a place where a
person abides, lodges, or resides for 14 or more days in the aggregate during
any calendar year and which is not the person's permanent address, or a place
where the person routinely abides, lodges, or resides for four or more
consecutive or non-consecutive days in any month and which is not the person's

Dean A. Tran


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meter Reading

Just quick update (and yeah, a quick comment) on a City Council committee's approval of higher parking meter fees. There's your update. In terms of comment, it seems from reading the stories that those calling for better enforcement of the two-hour rule are viewed as kind of whiney and aren't being listened to. But wouldn't that help be part of the solution to this employee parking program? Wouldn't a stack of $10 tickets be the best incentive of all? Is there are an effort issue here? It seems so simple.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Not Free Parking

The City Council is considering a proposal to increase parking meters from a quarter an hour to 50 cents. The goal is to get downtown business employees out of the meter spots and into the parking garage. Of course, generating new revenue has nothing to do with it.

As Councilor Ted DeSalvatore pointed out, the better way to get employee cars off the street and into the garage is to inforce the two-hour limit. A parking ticket is a much better incentive to move rather than an extra quarter an hour. It's also prudent to try to make parking as cheap as possible to alleviate one more reason to not go downtown.

The increase might help solve the problem, but it creates an unfair fee increase for folks who come downtown for business. Should someone stopping at the library or City Hall or Espresso pizza be nailed for an extra quarter just because employees can't do the right thing? A quarter isn't much to get riled up about, granted, but sometimes it's the little things.


We've neglected the state of affairs regarding a bike trail through Fitchburg and Leominster. Somehow, a narrow sliver of unusable land that used to be a railroad is worth $9 million? Six times what a local appraisal price tagged the land. It's possible (OK, very possible) that the $1.5 millino figure is too low, but there's no doubt the $9 million is way too high. Let the negotiating begin!

Obviously, a bike trail would be a benefit to both Fitchburg and Leominster. The trail would run from Carter Park in Leominster to Halloween World in Fitchburg. Somehow, Fitchburg needs to find a way to connect the trail to downtown in the future. That should be a no-brainer.

There is still a way to go on this, the state could step in, the land could be officially abandoned, CSX could get a little community-minded (CSX contact information), or some other turning point could present itself. The effort is being spearheaded by Twin City Trails. They have a website, and it hasn't been updated in a while, but we're sure they'd love to hear of some support.


Monday, April 24, 2006

The Mayor Strikes Back

Mayor Dan Mylott goes after the report ripping school spending, saying things aren't all that bad and that the state agency questioning the spending made things look worse than they really are.

If you can past the agendas, it seems like both sides agree the city is moving away from some of this ridiculous spending, and that's a good thing. The fact that the art museum funding is gone this fall is probably a good thing. However, there are still a couple of things that bug us about this story.

One is the ever-fluctuating cost of the FSC lease. One day it's $900,000, the next day it's almost $1 million, now the Sentinel pegs it at $880,000. Which is right? Why can't that be definitively nailed down?

Two is Mylott's insistence that the nurses in private schools are appropriate expenditures. He calls it a public health issue. Really? We don't want to be too stereotypical here, but it would seem that kids in private schools probably have better access to health care than Fitchburg public schools kids. Generally. Also, as we pointed out before, nurses in private schools should take a back seat to, you know, important stuff, like maybe, perhaps, textbooks.

It appears as if this whole thing has dropped the spotlight on school spending, and with budget time right around the corner, in the long run this is probably a good process for the city to go through.


Quite a conversation in the comments section this weekend on a wide variety of issues. There's way to much to get into (82 comments as of this writing), but we find it interesting that most of the conversation was started by our wondering if a casino was good for Fitchburg. Love it or hate it, but it's pretty clear gambling is a major issue that everyone has a strong opinion on. It's pretty clear, however, that the Legislature (the House, really), is pretty anti-gambling, so for now it's really a non-issue.

Interestingly, throughout the discussion there was no talk of housing if the airport were to close. Quality housing is always a must not just for Fitchburg but the region and the state. We're not in favor of closing the airport, but imagine the community you could put there -- mixed housing, open space, quality retail and restaurants, a community within the community -- with all that space. Fitchburg isn't going to win the big retail battle with the mall in Leominster and the Target et al Retail Mansion on the Hill, so the goal needs to be getting more people to live in the city and giving them the (non-chain) restaurants and shops they want.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Go to Free Parking

The city has created a handful of free parking spaces in the Main Street garage, hoping it increases traffic for visitors and businesses.

One of the hopes is that the free parking lures drivers who previously would troll for a parking meter or double park if they were stopping downtown. The unfortunate reality is that the parking garage is on the edge of downtown, and isn't convenient for many downtown visitors. Particularly when there are usually street meter spots available.

If nothing else, this move further validates the general emptiness of the garage on a daily basis. Someday, when there are hundreds of people living downtown and they are hosting weekend visitors, and the commuter rail is fast and comfortable and hundreds of people are taking the train to Boston to work everyday (hey, you gotta have a vision, right?), the garage will be full. But for now, it's pretty empty on a daily basis.

Our last thought on the garage today: Apparently, some people found the ticket system to pay for a parking spot too difficult and inconvenient. Really? The whole process takes about 90 seconds, and that includes walking to and from the machine. Use your debit card, and it takes even less time. The ticket system is beyond fine. It's practical and time-saving (no waiting in line to get tickets coming in or paying coming out). We've used it dozens of times and have never had a problem. We just can't consider that a viable compliant.


New feature: Over on the right, where we keep links and other goodies is a new poll section. Our first question is inspired by a comment yesterday, where someone ventured perhaps a casino would be a good replacement for the airport.

That got us thinking, should Fitchburg support a casino plan? Could that be the big-time economic engine the city needs to turn things around? A report by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston completed last year discusses the local impacts of a casino, if you want some research on the topic.

The question is a simple "yes" or "no" on supporting a casino. We're in favor of at least investigating it. Certainly, it would be a tough sell for the state, but it may be the bold idea Fitchburg needs to turn things around.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Meanwhile, at the Airport...

The airport and its need for repairs (and the sudden need for leases from tenants) was back at the City Council last night, when the owner of Bullock Charter, Richard Bullock, stopped by to urge the council to get the $300,000 loan for the repairs in place, no matter when the leases are ready.

We'll start by noting that we know Bullock very well (we've avoided this issue in the past because of our relationship with Bullock). We note that he's one of the most solid individuals we've ever met, and as decent as they come. We'll also note that for over 20 years, he's been the airport's biggest tenant and has paid his rent every month without a lease in place and he has no plans to stop doing so.

Now, the tenant has a problem. The roof leaks and the hangar is general disrepair. It all needs to be fixed. Instead, the council positions Bullock Charter as the bad guy, demanding the company sign a lease in order to get the fixes made. Oh yeah, the city is dragging its feet for some reason on the lease, and needs to find a new manager for the airport because the guy they wisely hired late last year bolted within six months. Great hire.

Bullock Charter has been conducting business in Fitchburg for over 20 years, and in most situations you'd see a community tripping over itself to make sure that business -- one which pays rent, pays big city taxes on jet fuel, and does at least bring customers from other places inside the city limits -- stayed in town and prospered. Bullock hasn't threatened to leave the city, and doesn't mind signing a lease. The company needs the repairs ASAP, whether or not a lease in place.

The council is instead either playing politics or stalling, as the leases remain unwritten. So a long-time company sits by, watching its infrastructure fall apart as the council gets nothing done. There's never been a history of antagonism between Bullock Charter, the airport or the city. Rent has been paid, and will continue to be paid. What, exactly, is the problem here?

It doesn't seem outrageous for the city to demand a lease from its tenants, at the airport or anywhere else. But to hold needed repairs back as a ransom for no real reason is unwarranted in this case, and is an anti-business stance that is as unnecessary as it is witless. The council should end this silly and petty game, and work on the repairs and the lease agreement at the same time. There's no good reason to do otherwise.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Why Can't We Be More Like... Lawrence

Today's Boston Globe has a story on the downtown housing market in Lawrence. Priced out of other alternatives, homebuyers are looking at condos in the city's downtown.

If Lawrence can do this, why can't Fitchburg? While we haven't been through downtown Lawrence in the last year or two, it certainly isn't better than Fitchburg's central district. It has the same old mill and factory space, the same urban renewal plan projects, and the same ability to reinvent itself as a lively, cheap alternative.

It's a well-known fact -- almost a cliche at this point -- that people are being squeezed out of the market and are looking at alternatives. In many cases, there's a little bit of a pioneer, ground-breaking feel to some of these new markets. For example, the first people who moved into Devens felt like pioneers in a new community. In Lowell, the first group of artists who moved into lofts felt like they were on the cutting edge of a new growth area.

Fitchburg should present itself with that same ground-breaking atmosphere. It should be luring folks who don't mind a bit of risk (in terms of future property values) with the prospect of being the first in a great growth area. The city needs to team with developers and position Fitchburg as a community with a bright, bright outlook.

As potential homeowners scour the region for opportunities, they are more and more open to different ideas. If it can happen in Lawrence, it can certainly happen in Fitchburg. And when it does, Fitchburg needs to tout it to the world, like Lawrence is doing.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Who's in Charge Around Here?

So, here we go, a ton of thoughts out of the weekend story on the city's use of school funding. A few days later, and we're still fired up about this one.

Last week, when the House slashed Chapter 70 funding and no one from Fitchburg (at least no one who was elected) raised holy hell, we wondered where the city's leadership is. After this weekend's story, we're asking again.

Between the superintendent(s) of schools, mayor, School Committee and City Council, no one thought a $900,000 a year lease was odd? No one found it ridiculous that the city was paying for school nurses in private schools? No one made sure the city was getting its money's worth out of the Museum Partnership? All of this at a time when education funding was tight and the city was scraping for every dollar.

Let's put it this way: The city couldn't afford textbooks or repairs to a roof, but was paying $900,000 a year in lease payments? You have got to be kidding. Hey, here's an idea, buy the furniture store building downtown for like $500,000, rehab it for another $500,000, and then be done with it. That's a year of lease payments for a lifetime. Just and example, but there has to be a better way than spending $900,000 a year. Really, no one thought to at least strongly question that, forget being outraged by it?

The school nurse thing, in particular, sticks in the craw. Essentially, the school system was helping its competition. Inane.

Where was someone to hammer away at this? Who stood up and pointed out this ridiculousness? No one, and that's just plain sad.

Now, let's look at the mayor's reaction to the report.

"It really isn't a matter of Fitchburg spending enough money, it's the state not spending enough money," he said to the Sentinel.

He notes that Chapter 70 funding hasn't increased in five years. If you go from 2002 ($36.6 million) to 2006 ($36.4 million), that's correct. However, funding is slated to go up to about $38 million (although we learned last week that's a fluid figure right now). More importantly, in 2001 Chapter 70 was at $31.8 million. so from 2001 to 2007, funding is up roughly 20 percent. Great? No, a little misleading? Perhaps. But it's a sign that state education aid has generally increased over the last decade.

More importantly, as the state aid spigot slowed, wasn't that the time to take a more careful look at what is going on with spending throughout the city? Wasn't that the time to take another look at $900,000 a year leases? And maybe cut back on school nurses for schools not in the Fitchburg Public Schools?

Finally: A few weeks ago we criticized the newly re-energized override talk for the public schools. We asked a lot of questions that would need to be answered before we'd even consider the question. We have one more question: If you cut your lease by two-thirds (hey, $300,000 a year is still $25,000 a month, and that's good coin), spent the $20,000 the musuem piece is worth according to the state instead of $100,000, and cut the school nurses (and their bennies, we're guessing), wouldn't that annually give you a nice chunk of change to avoid an override?


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Where Does the Money Go?

Today's Sentinel has a very interesting story on how the city spends its education money. Let's just say there are some questionable expenditures along the way.

The big two: $100,000 for programming at the museum that the state says should probably cost $20,000. Then there's the school nurses at parochial schools paid for by the city. Oh yeah, let's make it three: The $900,000 in lease payments to FSC.

We'll get into this more next week, but for now, let's just say "ugh."


Friday, April 14, 2006

LeBlanc at Least Considers Raising Money

According to the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance, former City Councilor David LeBlanc has created a campaign finance committee for his run for state representative. LeBlanc created the account on Wednesday, and Judith Kaddy is serving as the committee's treasurer.

Front-runner Stephen DiNatale set up a committee months ago. The third acknowledged candidate, former Mayor Mary Whitney, hasn't created one yet.

It's a reality in politics that there can be strength -- even if it's manufactured -- from raising money. Put together a big enough bank account, and you're taken seriously (on a larger stage, say hello to Christy Mihos). There's political power there, along with the buying power for signs, stickers, ads and all the other that comes with a well-organized, serious campaign.

When thinking through who's a serious candidate and who isn't, we look at the money situation as an indication of how we should think. Those who instantly create committees and start raising money (DiNatale) earn that respect. Those who wait awhile and finally get around to it (LeBlanc) earn suspicion and a big question mark. Those who haven't after months (Whitney) make us wonder why to even bother.

Unfortunatley for LeBlanc, he and DiNatale don't have to tell the world how much money they have until September. LeBlanc needs to prove his big earner if he's going to move into "serious contender" mode. If we were operating his campaign, we'd crow loud and often after that first $10,000 is raised by early summer. If that first $10,000 is raised by early summer. We're just saying.

It's also worth noting that DiNatale's website, while not the most engaging or updated page, notes the candidate started knocking on doors in late March. We're not convinced that kind of retail politics is super-effective, but it's one of those things candidates do to get attention and generate the illusion of campaigning hard. DiNatale has that illusion firmly in place, yet another big sign he's running a very serious campaign. At this point, the view that it's DiNatale and then everyone else way, way back is becoming more and more the reality.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

For Those Who Are About to Rock, We Salute You

There's a story in the Telegram and Gazette today about the potential traffic problems that will come with the Vans Warped Tour this summer.

We think that's good news.

It's good news when Fitchburg is hosting an event -- any event -- that will bring 20,000 people to the city even if it potentially makes driving around for a day a bit of a hassle.

City leaders say they are on the case, in an effort to streamline traffic for the day. Tie-ups for past events like the Vans tour have been minimal, so there needs to be some optimism that this will work out OK.

We've written in the past about how Fitchburg needs become known or good at something, anything, that makes it unique and attracts interest in the city. If that means hosting well-run, popular and safe rock festivals at the airport for starters, we're on board.


It appears from our second-hand information (maybe its third, but whatever), the Senate is partly scratching it head, partly aghast at the House budget and its reduction in Chapter 70 education aid from the governor's budget. The word is the Senate will restore the "cut" money and at least meet Romney's numbers. Then it goes to conference committee, but we're betting in the end the Senate prevails. We're still mystified as to why the House cut the Chapter 70 money, and we'll probably never get a straight answer.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Good and the Bad

First, the good:

A new apartment redevelopment is slated for the TD Banknorth Building on Main Street. Over 30 new apartments, most at market rate with others set aside for moderate income, is a welcome addition to downtown. The developer hopes to maintain as much of the turn-of-the-century charm of the building as possible.

First of all, this is some good news for downtown. More people living downtown creates more demand for quality services, restaurants and shops. It brings additional life and vitality to downtown.

Second, this is a good sign of a lot of teamwork helping Fitchburg out. The city is supportive, a regional group is involved, and even U.S. Rep. John Olver got involved. It's going to take that kind of teamwork to get Fitchburg moving forward downtown, and this has to be viewed as a good sign.

Interestingly, in the photo online, Rep. Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster is featured in the photo. Nowhere to be found is, you know, the guy from Fitchburg, Rep. Emile Goguen. This creates a nice segue to...

The bad.

While Flanagan was touting Fitchburg's new project, Goguen was on Beacon Hill fighting gay marriage. Again. Leaving personal politics aside (we favor gay marriage but won't quibble at this point if you don't), Goguen's pet project is just killing the city.

That leads us to this rant:

Where the hell is Goguen, the mayor, the City Council, the School Committee, the superintendent, someone, anyone, to rail against the House budget's reduction of the governor's Chapter 70 allocation?

The Sentinel wrote one story on it, and didn't quote anyone from Fitchburg. There are a million reasons why that might be the case: No one was called. No one called back. It got cut. No one said anything interesting. That's disappointing, but there's more than that. Why isn't Fitchburg being publicly proactive on this? Why isn't anyone publicly calling out Goguen? Goguen sits on the damn Ways and Means Committee. Sure, he doesn't really do much there, but call him out. The media loves a good political bashing story. Trust us on this.

Why aren't city officials lining up to criticize the House budget publicly? Where's the phone calls to reporters or the press conference? Where's the publicized letter to leadership? Simply, where's the outrage?

Sadly, where's the leadership?

Fitchburg needs someone to fight for it all the time, even when the battles are uphill. And those battles need to made publicly a lot of time. We need to know our leaders are fighting these battles, and working to get results. What we've since Monday is nothing. There's been more outrage on local blogs than out of City Hall. That has gotta change.


Monday, April 10, 2006

House Decreases School Aid

The House released its 2007 budget today, and amazingly, it cuts Chapter 70 education aid for Fitchburg compared to Gov. Mitt Romney's proposal.

According to the House budget website, Fitchburg would receive $38,070,719 in Chapter 70 aid. Romney's budget appropriation is $38,443,683. That's a difference of $372,964. For a school district that is whispering override and doesn't have enough textbooks, that's very, very bad news.

There are possible reasons for this. The number of students may have changed in the last few months, decrease aid through the funding formula. Some other quirk in the complicated formula may have had an effect (admittedly, we don't know how the formula works, we just know there is one).

Whatever the case, Fitchburg needs answers as to how this happened. It's less than 1 percent of the Chapter 70 aid, but really, every dollar counts. How many books could $372,000 buy? It could fix a roof or two, also. We someone get the feeling the school budget is being built with that money in mind. Traditionally, figures would only go up in the process, so this breaks that mold.

Whether its the mayor, state rep, School Committee, or whoever, there needs to be some answers. There also needs to be pressure put on Sen. Robert Antonioni to do whatever possible to get that money back and let it fought out in conference.

Otherwise, the Lottery aid is the same as Romney's budget. But with the schools talking override, this is not good news today.


Campaign Money

There's been some talk in the comments section lately on campaign money. Let us chime in.

First, candidates for local office like City Council do not need to file reports with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance (although Boston, Lowell, Worcester and Springfield do). They do, however, need to file reports with the city election office, and those are open to the public for viewing. We'd be very interested in seeing those reports, but getting to City Hall during business hours is impossible for us right now.

Second, candidates can do just about anything with their money, as long it advances their political standing. So, along with buying ads and campaign signs, they can also sponsor a church event (even if you don't agree with that church) or sponsor a hole at a charity golf tournament (even if you don't like golf or charities). That also extends to making donations to other political candidates. Certainly, a mayor may want to make contributions to top state officials to curry favor. A state representative may want to give money to the speaker to get a seat at the big table. It's all legal.

We did a quick OCPF search from January of 2000 to present of what consider the Big Four in Fitchburg politics: The mayor, the state rep, the rep heir apparent, and the state senator. Here's what we found:

Dan Mylott, through committees or individual donations, has give $740 to state political candidates. He's given to Sen. Robert Antonioni, Rep. Emile Goguen and Sheriff Guy Glodis. His most recent donation, and only one this year, was $100 to GOP gubernatorial candidate Kerry Healey.

Goguen has delivered over $3,000 to candidates, although only $300 are directly from his committee. He's donated to Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, 2002 Democrat gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien, House Ways and Means Chair John Rogers, and Leominster Rep. Jennifer Flangan, and of course Glodis.

Stephen DiNatale has donated $300 through a committee, including $200 to Worcester DA shoo-in Joe Early. He's given an additional $275 to candidate, including Antonioni and -- say it all together -- Glodis.

Antonioni has been very quiet, with just $200. Half to Goguen, and half to Robert Rice, who ran for the Gardiner rep seat.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Feel-good policing

That's what we'd dub the effort announced yesterday to get residents involved in public safety in some neighborhood areas.

We call it "feel-good" because of the usual fairly happy talk of getting people involved through events like neighborhood barbeques and improving communication.

All that snarkiness aside, this plan comes with $93,000 in funding from a couple of different sources. That's good money for a neighborhood crime effort. It doesn't put more cops on the street (that's maybe one cop for a year, that kind of money), but hopefully it increase input and accountability in some neighborhoods that sorely need the help.

These programs can work in the long term once people get invested in the program. Hopefully this one takes root and helps. Shoot, it doesn't hurt.


Voice of the People II

Day Two of results from our unscientific questionnaire. Today, we look at issues and what respondents consider priorities.

What’s the most important job for the new state representative?

Work to bring in more local and education aid for Fitchburg 17 votes/68 percent
Win funding for, and move forward, projects like the expansion of Route 12 and faster commuter rail service 8 votes/32 percent

Analysis: The message appears to be, fix the wide-ranging problems on multiple fronts before going all in on adding new things to the city. State aid would help cure a lot of ills, while Route 12 and commuter rail focus on downtown and access only.

What’s the most important issue facing Fitchburg?

Crime 13 votes/46 percent
Fiscal stability 10 votes/36 percent
Education 2 votes/7 percent
Infrastructure improvements 2 votes/7 percent
Lower taxes 1 vote/4 percent
Affordable housing 0 votes/0 percent

Analysis: No surprise here, especially with the shooting at The Compound late last week. A lot of the city’s ills seem to begin with crime, whether it’s criminals in lousy apartments, the unsafe feeling downtown, and well, shootings. The voices on this blog have repeatedly called for better public safety, and it’s a consistency in this vote.

What’s the most important area of development the city should pursue?

Continuing the business and residential redevelopment of downtown 19 votes/73 percent
Creating new housing opportunities throughout the city 7 votes/27 percent

Analysis: For years, city officials and residents have thought the return of Fitchburg will rise and fall with rehabbing downtown. That comes through overwhelmingly in this vote. It’s a tall, tall order, but apparently one that most people feel is a vital one to make a reality.

For state rep and mayor, would you rather have in office someone:

With little or no political experience (less than four years) and has no political favors or ties in his or her past 10 votes/40 percent
Has at least four years of experience in government along with political alliances and ties 15 votes/60 percent

Analysis: If anything surprised us, it was this one. Scroll through the hundreds of comments on this site, and time after time you hear a call for new blood, new management. “How much worse could something new be?” At the end of the day, however, people like a little experience. We wonder what people would feel if we asked about city councilors. We think the less experience numbers would increase.

Fitchburg should:

Maintain its current Mayor-Council form of government 12 votes/46 percent
Switch to a Manager-Council form of government 14 votes/56 percent

Analysis: Super-close from beginning to end. Clearly this is a controversial issue that people aren’t convinced on. History says that making government structure changes only happens when there’s a clear mandate for change. This is no mandate. Not that a lot of public officials have been talking change, but it seems like you can shelve that city manager idea.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

Voice of the People, Part I

It’s the first day of poll results.

We’ll break them down into two parts. Today, we’ll look at the opinions on politicians and candidates. Tomorrow, we’ll look at issues. We’ll give you the raw results, and a bit of our analysis.

We anticipate making polls a regular feature. We’re thinking something in the “question of the week” genre, but will hold on to the idea of doing multi-question polls later as well.

On with the show:

If the election were held today, whom would you vote for in the state representative’s race?

Stephen DiNatale 21 votes/78 percent
David LeBlanc 3 votes/11 percent
Mary Whitney 3 votes/11 percent

Analysis: This is the thumping we pretty much imagined. LeBlanc and Whitney have said they’re in, but haven’t done much (like even open a campaign account to start raising money). Unless there’s a late entry with some weight behind them, DiNatale appears very, very strong.

Who isn’t running for state representative that you would like to see in the race?

Matthew Straight 8 votes/38 percent
Ralph Romano 7 votes/33 percent
Thomas Donnelly 4 votes/19 percent
Dan Mylott 2 votes/10 percent

Analysis: No clear winner here. Straight has some fans in the Save Fitchburg community, and won narrowly. Romano was politically strong as a councilor and maintains a future if he wants it, and this vote confirms that. Not surprising to see Mylott poll so low. At least in this crowd, he’s an unpleasant option generally.

How would you grade Mayor Dan Mylott’s performance?

C 10 votes/32 percent
F 9 votes/29 percent
D 5 votes/16 percent
A 4 votes/13 percent
B 3 votes/10 percent

Analysis: There’s two ways of looking at this one: 45 percent of voters gave Mylott a D-grade or worse. On the other hand, 55 percent thought he was doing OK (with a C) or better. Interestingly, the middle-of-the-road C was the leading vote-getter. Also interesting, this question received more votes than any other. It appears Mylott is under the microscope, for better or worse.

Who is your current top choice for mayor in 2007?

Matthew Straight 9 votes/39 percent
Thomas Donnelly 4 votes/17 percent
Stephen DiNatale 3 votes/13 percent
Dan Mylott 3 votes/13 percent
Ralph Romano 3 votes/13 percent
Mary Whitney 1 vote/4 percent

Analysis: We’re assuming that most people consider DiNatale state rep, and that he wouldn’t run for mayor. Straight, again, is the leading vote-getter, but we’re more interested in the muddled mess behind him. Everyone else is sort of bunched together. It’s very early, but it appears folks are wide open on this one.

As a whole, how would you grade the performance of the City Council?

C 9 votes/32 percent
B 7 votes/25 percent
F 5 votes/18 percent
A 4 votes/14 percent
D 3 votes/11 percent

Analysis: We’ll take this to mean that voters point the finger more at the mayor than the Council, but that the Council leaves something to be desired. Over half (57 percent) give the board Bs and Cs, and over 70 percent give them C or better with the As included. We’re guessing that the frustration is targeted more toward individual councilors that the board itself.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Two Steps Forward

The city has taken small but good-to-see steps forward this week.

First, the city is putting the wood to a tenant and landlord on Prichard Street who have been ridiculous with their trash. Fines are being leveled on both. Save Fitchburg is shocked, shocked to see the landlord lives out of town (in Hopkinton) and couldn't be tracked down for comment. Hopefully this is the first in a series of similar takedowns by the city. This is an egregious case, from what it sounds like, and is a good start.

Second, the City Council voted boost the fines for dumping from $25 to $250. Considering the city charges $20 to $30 for picking up the stuff that gets dumped all over the city, that $25 fine had zero teeth. Hopefully the city can create a monitoring system that will help nail dumpers and smack them with these tougher fines. There's been some discussion of video cameras, but we're not sure how much that helps on 5th Mass Turnpike or other wide open areas that are tough to monitor. Enforcement will be tough on this, but it should be a priority and the new fines will hopefully get people to think twice.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Override Battle Returns

School Committee member James Connors proposed a debt exclusion override for the School Department last night, targeting school building upgrades, technology and textbooks.

Connors was a proponent of the operational override proposed last year. There was no solid price tag put on this one, but Connors is putting together a plan. The Superintendent says building upgrades would cost $5 million. There was no price tag on technology and textbooks.

Our thoughts:

  • For years, the state threw money at communities to build school buildings and do renovations, reimbursing up to 90 percent of the cost. Fitchburg let that run pass by, although there's hope state school building money is freed up again next year. The city should wait to see if it can get that state aid next year before barrelling into an override.
  • What, exactly, is "technology?" What would this "technology" be use for? Are we talking computers? Something else? Why hasn't "technology" been kept up in past budgets? What got us in the "technology" hole?
  • Finally, an override on textbooks is an inexcusable lapse on the part of school leaders. Textbooks are as fundamentally a part of school as teachers and desks. To let textbooks lapse to the point of needing an override is horrific.

We're not going to dismiss this override out of hand, only because there are a lot of questions to be answered. However, we're pretty sure we're not going to like these answers, and we'll oppose this thing.

School buildings -- any city building -- needs upkeep. Try the state aid first. We want details on "technology," and we want an accounting for why it hasn't been gradually built up. On the textbook matter, you can pretty much forget it.

What we have right now is the classic overheated override discussion. Safe buildings, shiny computers (if that's in fact the deal. Details, please) and new books for kids. How heartless can you be? Mismanagement, bad choices, and skewed priorities have gotten us to this point. School officials need to provide not just a detailed reason for this request, but also have to outline how we got to the point and what mistakes were made along the way.

What we'd rather see is a detailed, long-term plan that fixes all these problems. In a lot of ways, our opposition to this is similar to our opposition to the operational override. Bad decisions led us here. Overrides are an easy answer for administrators, but it's the tough way for taxpayers. If the School Department wants our investment, they need to prove it's necessary, and they're capable of handling it. Right now, they fail on both counts, particularly the second.


Healthcare for All?

When Save Fitchburg was on "Politically Speaking" last month, we spent a chunk of the show talking with Ralph Romano about the different constituencies state representatives have to manage. The conversation revolved around the tipping point between bringing home as much aid as possible to the home community, while also dealing with statewide issues of some importance.

A good example of that is yesterday's announcement of a new plan to provide some form of health insurance for every person in the state by next year. And it will cost money. $58 million from now until July, and then $125 million a year for the next three years.

This appears to be a good thing. Health insurance for everyone is one of those elusive goals that states have been wrestling with for a long time. It's been a constant Big Issue on Beacon Hill for a decade. Will it work? Will it result in lower costs for everyone? Will it be a better cost choice than the Uncompensated Care Pool, a state entity so convoluted will wrap it up by only saying it's expense is surpassed only by its inefficiency. Certainly, the efficiency and benefits of this plan will only be clear down the road, but it is an encouraging sign.

For Fitchburg (in an attempt to bring it on home), this plan should be very beneficial. There are likely thousands of people -- including children -- in town without health insurance. This provides them at least the basics in health care.

The law includes a $295-per-employee "fee" for businesses that don't offer insurance to employees. Considering the much higher cost of offering insurance, this should hardly be a burden on employers. Obviously this an issue for small businesses, and it will be interesting to see how harmful -- if it is at all -- this plan will be.

Supplying cities and towns with much-needed local aid is a priority for legislators, and it should be. But figuring a way to bring health care to everyone -- even if it's a system that will need adjustments in the future -- is just as important.


There's a new Fitchburg-centric blog out there. Welcome aboard, Fitchburg First. In the future, they'll be in the links section on the right.


We plan on closing the polls tomorrow, having given everyone a week to have their say. You can scroll down to find the questions, or click here. It doesn't look like we're going to have a scientifically-acceptible sample size, but it'll give us a lot to talk about.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Monday Roundup

A roundup after a roundup? A little flu, a slow trigger finger on the buzz, and here we are...

--The comments section from Friday's post say just about everything about last week's shooting at the Compound, so we'll add very little. This seems like a bizarre incident, but all the same, guns shouldn't be going off in the city. Add one more piece of pressure to the mayor and police chief to get things under control.

--Please, if you haven't already, take the time to vote in our big inaugural poll. Certainly the more the merrier, although some trends have already developed.

--Kind of proud day for us at Save Fitchburg, passing the 10,000 mark today. We hope you've enjoyed it, and thanks for reading.