Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An Open Council Seat

Tucked away in a story yesterday on the state rep race was Steve DiNatale's "confirmation" that he would not serve out the rest of his term as city councilor if he win the House seat next week.

Our understanding is that if DiNatale steps down next calendar year, the City Council would choose someone to fill the at-large seat.

The political conspiracy fans believe DiNatale would try to rig it so his son, Marcus DiNatale, who is currently on the School Committee, would get the seat. We think that would be a long shot, considering the heavy nepotism overtones to such a move.

We're a little surprised DiNatale is stepping down. The law allows him to do both. The question now is, what happens to the seat?

Jay Cruz finished just out of the money in the 2005, finishing sixth by 83 votes behind Annie DiMartino. Cruz should start paying attention to City Council meetings. We think a vacancy should be filled by the runner-up, which is often the case in many communities (not a big fan of giving the council so much leeway in picking DiNatale's replacement, by the way).

By the way, Cruz on the council would continue the reshaping dynamic the council experienced in the last election, and that's not such a bad thing.

From all expectations, DiNatale has this thing wrapped up. That means there will be more local political drama after the election, as the City Council goes into the process of filling his seat. Hopefully the Council doesn't look forward to the next election and its own self-preservation and does the right thing by simply picking runner-up Cruz.


Candidate Q&A, Part 2

From Monday to Wednesday, we’re featuring House candidates’ thoughts on six questions posed to them. The responses from Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura are presented unedited. Our brief analysis follows their answers. Remember, the election is next Tuesday, Nov. 7.

What do you see as the top priority as a “big project” for the city?

DiNatale: That is a very complex question that has many components of city government which are linked as stakeholders. I believe increasing our police presence on Main Street and a continuing effort to link FSC with the downtown. We must also continue to make an effort to increase job opportunities in the region and in so doing decrease the number of individuals who struggle with poverty. Linkages with Devens and pursuing a knowledge based economy particularly with FSC are some of the ways we can improve our economic state.

Niemczura: The implementation of a RT 2 connector, preferably connecting the John Fitch Highway to RT 2 via the Airport Rd/ Crawford St corridor. A new exit should be created on RT 2, and not continue to funnel traffic through Rt 12 or Rt 13. We need a multi pronged effort to look at all points of ingress and egress to Fitchburg, so that it can assume its rightful place as the pre-eminent city in the Montachusett area.

Another big project for the city and state should be establishing one tax rate only for Fitchburg and all cities and towns in Massachusetts. The current system puts every business in Massachusetts of potential jeopardy of high taxes on plants and equipment that has already resulted in companies and people moving out of the state and citizens being forced into lower paying jobs. I will introduce legislation that will eliminate the ability of cities and towns to raise taxes on businesses 20, 30, 50% or more over property taxes paid by families. My government reform package will make such increases unnecessary, saving jobs and encouraging growth and prosperity.

Our Thoughts: Maybe we didn’t word the question very well, but Niemczura’s Route 2 connector seems a lot more like a “big project” than DiNatale’s answer. The Route 2 connector is ground well covered, and most think it’s never going to happen, but good for Niemczura for trying. I wonder a little bit how Niemczura fills in the tax gap if business and residential are taxed equally. Do property taxes go up? Residents vote, businesses don’t.

Education and public safety are two of the priorities for the city. How can those services improve? If more funding is the answer, how does the state provide that funding within its own budget? Would cuts or budgetary slowdowns be necessary in other areas? Which areas would you target?

DiNatale: We as a legislature need to reexamine the formulas for funding to cities and towns. The Board of Ed also must be careful when placing demands on already strapped systems with mandates that take away from learning and add levels of bureaucracy. Also these mandates come with no added revenue. The state has made a step in the right direction recently however, the gap still exists to bring Chapter 70 funding back to levels of 3 or 4 years ago. Public safety dollars can come in the form of community policing grants (with significant increases) and also increases in local aid. Of course the added revenue that is provided to the city will have to be spent prudently and streamlining of services or elimination all together of certain costs would have to follow. We also need to consider the fixed costs that are chocking municipal governments with regard to health insurance and retirements.

Niemczura: Education: Empower Superintendents to expel students who are non- conforming to the schools disciplinary code. These children act as distractions and make it hard for teachers to teach and students to learn.

We should also lengthen the school day and the school year. Focus on reading writing and arithmetic old way and new way with every subject taught. Reform tenure and encourage private sector involvement in teaching. The teachers unions now prevent the private sector from getting involved.

Public safety: Work for more cooperation between State and Local police forces. State Police should be more than just a highway detail organization to act as flagmen on construction projects. They should be assisting local chiefs with drugs, gangs, and fugitives.

(On the funding portion of the question:)
1) Reduce funding to persons whose immigration status cannot be determined. Illegal immigrants should not be eligible for public assistance dollars, other than for humanitarian aid, or passage back to their native land.

2) My reform package will eliminate the competition for the never ending increases in taxes and funding required by special interest groups and the politically connected.
1) My reform package will reform all regulations so that people’s rights are not hindered by Legislative regulations. Environmental regulations will have to meet the requirement that property rights will not be taken away in the name of environmental protection. We will protect the environment and restore property rights at the same time. I will introduce legislation that will reduce the total of all state regulations and restore liberties taken away by special interest groups and the Democrats desire for socialism.

Our Thoughts: We’d like some more information on Niemczura’s reform package. His website doesn’t have anything on it. The gap in Chapter 70 DiNatale refers is about $3 million if you look at 2004, and about $2.5 million if you look at 2003. Of course, if 40 percent of state revenues is targeted to local aid, those numbers would disappear quickly. DiNatale is picking up the city’s message on unfunded mandates from the Department of Education. However, we feel ed reform has benefited the state’s schools, and it’s going to continue. The funding issue is part of a larger discussion on local aid, Prop 2 ½ and other factors. Oh yeah, don’t forget the city has done very little to improve education funding on its side.


Monday, October 30, 2006

DiNatale and Niemczura Campaign Money Information

Note: Edited at 10 p.m. Monday.

We hate to tip our hand to the Big Daily Media, but House candidates needed to file campaign finance reports today. Democrat Steve DiNatale has been slightly outspent, but Republican Ed Niemczura doesn't have any cash on hand as he hits the home stretch.

Here's the short and dirty (for all the details, click here, go to "online campaign finance reports," and you'll be fine):

From his early-September pre-primary report to late October, DiNatale raised $7,530 and spent $10, 307. He has $4,651 on-hand. In his previous report, he reported $13,171 in receipts, meaning his raised $20,701 for his campaign and spent $16,050.

His major expense this time was media. There's just over $3,000 in Sentinel and Enterprise ads, and exactly $3,000 for WEIM.

If he wasn't the Establishment Candidate before, he sure seems to be now. Quickly, we found Tom Conry, Ted DeSalvatore, Tom Donnelly, Emile Goguen, the Early Committee and Brian Knuttila all gave during this period. There are more, but go find them yourselves.

Niemczura? He took in $7,275 (for a total of $22,750 for the campaign), almost all of it in form of $6,500 from himself. Mayor Dan Mylott chipped in $100.

Niemczura spent $9,783, almost all of it on advertising, including Comcast ($4,000), the Sentinel ($3,600), WEIM ($750) and Triton Properties (which we assume is a billboard, $840). Niemczura heads into the home stretch with $24.13 on hand, and yes, the decimal is in the right place. Niemczura said he'd dump as much as $30,000 of his own money into the campaign. He's dropped over $20,000 already, and another $10,000 may not make a big difference.


Candidate Q&A: Part 1

From Monday to Wednesday, we’re featuring House candidates’ thoughts on six questions posed to them. The responses from Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura are presented unedited. Our brief analysis follows their answers. Remember, the election is next Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Tax cuts have dominated the political conversation this year. Do you think it’s prudent to cut taxes at this point? Which tax cut would be better to cut, the property tax or the income tax?

DiNatale: I certainly respect the wishes of the voters and I would not be opposed to the voted upon roll-back. I would also like to research what services would be impacted by such a roll-back and also examine possible elimination of excess spending.

If the roll-back was instituted I would also favor a graduated decrease toward 5.0% that would be tied to revenue growth i.e. increases in revenue would correspond to decreases in the percentage of income taxed.

If we can reach a predictable revenue-sharing partnership with cities and towns we will have the ability to see some form of property tax relief.

Niemczura: Yes, it's always prudent to cut taxes. This money is better placed in the hands of taxpayers who can invest it, and grow the economy and not used by Beacon Hill on more boondoggles, pet projects, and patronage jobs. The tax that needs to be cut right now is the state income tax, which the voters have already stated needs to come down back to 5%. Beacon Hill should be more responsive to voters when their will is made known. If cuts need to be made, lay off mid level managers and consultants, not rank and file state workers.

The income tax reduction to 5% was approved by a majority of voters. The Democratic controlled legislature has refused to honor the taxpayer’s decision. I will support all votes to return the income tax rate to 5%.

High property taxes reflect a number of problems in Massachusetts. The high cost of municipal and state employees, with retirement benefits more lucrative than those of France, the most Socialistic country in Europe, State employee insurance costs, and the over regulation of land use brought to the Commonwealth by the Democratic controlled legislature and radial special interest groups over individuals land use has created the housing cost crunch that prevent s your children from being able to afford housing. Reducing the number of State employees through automated computer processing, reform of the State pension system to 401K plans, eliminating the 80% of pay benefits and the passing of legislation that prevents Nepotism at all levels of State and Municipal government, and reform of over zealous regulation will help reduce expenses, lowering property taxes.

Our Thoughts: DiNatale seems a little more willing to roll back the income tax than he did back in September. Maybe it’s the difference in reading an answer instead of hearing it. We’re not surprised they both target the income tax cut. It’s easier to explain politically, and it’s a lot easier to make happen rather than creating a new system to decrease property taxes.

Cities and towns continue to struggle with their budgets, constrained by Prop 2 ½ and are desperate for more state aid. Even affluent communities pass essentially annual overrides to cover expenses. How can the state ease the financial pinch on cities and towns? Should Prop 2 ½ be repealed or amended?

DiNatale: I would retain Prop 2.5. It is an effective protection for taxpayers. The state needs to enter into a predictable revenue-sharing partnership with cities and towns. I would support the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation recommendation that 40% of the revenues from corporate, sales, and income taxes be returned to cities and towns in the form of local aid.

By earmarking 40% of all state revenue for the cities and towns so that they have a predictable level of funding and can make multi year budgets. Beacon Hill tends to keep any money they get their hands on. There should be a set aside plan so that a certain percentage of money is automatically allocated to cities and towns. The municipal level is where the most visible service of government is rendered. Reform of pay and benefits for State employees, elimination of rampant nepotism in State hiring and State employee pay schedules comparable to the private sector will lower costs and reduce the need for higher and higher taxes, the vast majority of which go to pay salaries. My opponent will not implement these reforms because he is tied to the State employee benefits free for all system in his present job and wants to preserve it, not reform it. This will require taxpayers to pay more and more to the ruling class.

Our Thoughts: Interesting move by Niemczura right at the end there to tie DiNatale to the state’s pension system. Of course, Niemczura would eligible for the pension if elected. This 40 percent business will be Christy Mihos’ legacy, but this would demand a total overhaul of state government, including laying off thousands of people and shutting down programs that would be picked up by the municipalities. Is it more efficient for 351 cities and towns to run programs currently handled by the state? We need a ton more details on these 40 percent plans.


Friday, October 27, 2006

The Issue of Parking

A residents-only meeting on parking last night inflamed an already volitile situation last night (read the stories here and here) as Fitchburg State and its neighbors try to get a handle on the issue.

The two sides are dug in. Residents don't want to deal with the trash, congestion, and blocked driveways that come from college students parking on their streets. College students don't have a clue about their impact on the neighborhood, and don't really care.

As the fall as dragged on, the issue has become more and more a sore spot. Residents have dozen of stories about students who show disregard and disrespect to the neighborhood. Residents, however, have run out of patience and are starting to turn on the college to the point of looking more NIMBY than concerned. The students may not be residents, but they are neighbors.

Here's a couple of questions:

Why do residents have to pay for parking stickers? $25 certainly isn't a huge financial detriment, but what is there any charge at all? If there has to be a charge, why is it $25, and not $5 or $10? What's the reason for it?

Students will stop parking illegally when the tickets pile up. But the city has to go after the non-payers. Also, why can't the city boot and tow repeat offenders? Boston does it. Why can't Fitchburg? Booting and towing is good money.

Does "Stand Firm, Stand Together, No Deals" really set the stage for a long-term peaceful coexistence with the college?

Forget about a parking garage. The state won't pony up the millions necessary until there's an absolute meltdown, but before it gets to that stage the city will likely take action.

In the long term, the city should be moving toward resident parking in the area, but it needs to justify the cost to residents for a sticker. Until it does so, the public streets are open to parking by anyone. In the short term, the city should be ticketing the holy hell out of the area, and following up on non-payers. Also, they should boot and tow those with five or more tickets (the Boston standard). The message will get sent.

Public officials say in unison that the city and the college have a great relationship. But as this issue drags on, and tensions get frayed and the rhetoric increases, you have to begin to wonder if that's the truth or just happy talk.


Candidates on the Issues

Starting Monday, Save Fitchburg will feature a Q & A from the candidates for the House seat. They'll give their views on taxes, education, what they want to do in their first term, and more. And if you're concerned DiNatale will take another pass, don't worry, we already got his answers. It'll run three days, two questions a day, and hopefully will do a decent job contrasting the two candidates. Their answers will run without edit, and I'll throw in a little analysis, because I can.

Coming later today (after the Sentinel story is available online): A look at last night's FSC-area parking meeting. A solution is necessary up there, but at this point I'm not sure either side is right (yes, that's Rachel going ballistic right now). From reading the Telegram story, residents have a sense of entitlement (the "they consider themselves residents" line is particularly troublesome) that fueled with DeSalvatore's "no deals" line is pretty tough to see as open to compromise. Students, of course, are infused with that late-teens/early-20s sense of being above it all, and look down at the neighborhood, without question. I want to read the Sentinel story first before getting too much into this, but it's worth noting early today that this issue is a big, big problem not just in terms of the issue of parking, but in the attitudes of both sides.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

12 Days to Glory

During last night's gubernatorial debate, during the discussion of illegal immigrants, Kerry Healey seemed to be finally gearing up to fight. She said something like "ever-increasing tax revenue," and started to turn toward Deval Patrick. She had kept her debate performance rather, well, tamed, to that point.

If this moment was to be like every other one in the debates leading up to last night, a Patrick ripping was on the way. But it didn't happen. Healey sort of hesitated for the briefest of moments, and moved on.

She made up for it later, using the last half of the debate to go back after Patrick, but the first half was as laid back as Healey has been in a debate. She didn't attack from the beginning, and only warmed up in the second half.

It's probably still a bit too early to start talking about what a Patrick Administration means, but not for too much longer. Healey's performance last night won't deliver the big gains she desperately needs. As he has throughout the general election, Patrick has played the pre-shot clock Dean Smith four corners to perfection, letting the clock leak out.

Healey supporters have long said there's a big October surprise coming. Something that's going to change the face of the campaign. It had better come soon, like today.

I'm not a huge believer in the precise numbers of polls, but I'm a big believer in poll trends. Not even Camp Healey is pitching the "single-digits" internals anymore, with three polls this week putting Patrick up with a lead in the mid-20s.

If Healey does in fact have an October Surprise, she needs to unveil it quickly. Making up 20-something points is no easy task in 12 days. If she has a bomb, she needs to throw it now. She can't wait until next week, unless it's so blockbuster we'll all be left speechless.

Patrick hasn't been overly tested in this general election, as his early tactic of rope-a-dope ended up working as Healey backlash took over. He wasn't pressed too hard in the primary either, as Gabrieli ran a desperate, short-term campaign and Tom Reilly made his fatal errors all by himself. In short, a Governor Patrick will be relatively untested and scouring the state for a new administration. He and his campaign have done an extraordinary job of building an organization and grassroots support, but have really skated through this election to this point. If he does win, it will be interesting to see if he's as good a governor as he is a campaign organizer.


Reminder: Republican Edward Niemczura, who is running for the Fitchburg House seat, is on "Politically Speaking" tonight (7 p.m., FATV Channel 8). He'll answer your questions if you have them. You need to e-mail them in a hurry to get them in.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Three for Fitchburg

Randomly, I've been thinking about what Fitchburg can do to make downtown (and by extension, the city as a whole) a better place to live in and visit. Things that would have a deep impact, but could be done in the next year or two with commitment and leadership. Here's my three. Feel free to add yours, and rip apart my foolishness:

1. Free WiFi downtown. So every one can read Save Fitchburg, of course. But seriously. Wireless is the wave of the future, and is an added attraction to areas that have it. Free WiFi would perhaps lure an extra person or two to downtown coffee shops that will surely spring up as downtown gains more residents. It's an incentive to business to come downtown. It sends the signal that the city is technologically progressive and moving forward.

2. An anchor downtown attraction. Whether it's a movie theater, a Jillian's-type entertainment complex, or something else, there needs to be something downtown that brings people in for dinner-and-funX on a Friday or Saturday night.

3. A stake-in-the-ground, big-deal, annual event. This is a reaction to going to Keene last Saturday for the city's pumpkin festival. Somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 people were downtown for the event. Fitchburg needs to find its pumpkin festival, whatever that might be, and grow it into an annual event that draws tens of thousands. Smarter and more creative people than I can tell you what that is.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

You Don't Have to Go Home, But You Can't Stay Here

The city continues its crackdown on problem bars and clubs, dropping the hammer on some problem establishments.

More interesting were Mayor Dan Mylott's comments on the issue. He'd like to see Fitchburg set a 1 a.m. closing for all bars, and mandate an automatic 11 p.m. close with establishments needing annual permission from the city to stay open until 1. We don't like either idea, particularly the second.

We don't get out like we used to, but we've always considered the 2 a.m. closing time to be fairly important. For people who want to go out late, the 2 a.m. closing time is a consideration. For the night owls, rolling back to 1 a.m. means business will leave for other communities with the later closing time (not mention, Mylott is painting all establishments with a broad brush here).

The 11 p.m. closing time is pure death to a bar or club. They might as well shut the doors rather than even try. Plain and simple. It's a move communities make when they want to get rid of problems. If Mylott wants to clear the town of bars and clubs (not a great move for a city trying to establish itself as vibrant and energized), this would be a great way to do it.

Cutting back on 2 a.m. closing times isn't the issue. It's the oversight by owners, managers and the police. Rolling back last call is a politically expedient move, but isn't good for business. Rolling it back to 11 p.m. would be a disaster for the city.


Outside the city, there's a huge doing tonight over at Devens and the surrounding towns, as they vote on whether or not Devens should be its own community. All signs point to this passing, and it will be years before Devens is self-supporting. MassDevelopment will still play a role in the community for a long time.

This has an impact on Fitchburg. With its open space, motivated residential base, a powerful state agency on its side, and fast permitting process, Devens has a number of advantages on Fitchburg and the rest of the region. Its future will play a role in the entire region as Devens grows. The plans for housing (nearly 2,000 homes) and more jobs will effect the area. It's worth paying attention and watch what's going on at Devens. For a little blip on the map, it will have an outsized impact on the city and North Central Mass.


Monday, October 23, 2006

DeSalvatore Parks in Spotlight, Again

Councilor Ted DeSalvatore is proactive again, this time pitching a FSC neighborhood meeting for this Thursday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m., at the Library Auditorium. It's a residents-only meeting (a separate meeting for students will be held later) to discuss parking. In usual DeSalvatore form, the announcement is pretty charged up.

"Neighborhood parking should be your choice," the announcement begins. "Admit it, this problem has gone on long enough! Join us on the 26th to take part in the solution. STAND FIRM, STAND TOGETHER, NO DEALS!"

Later, "(C)ollege officials dribble strong measures for illegal parking followed by silence an no action..."

We'll continue to give DeSalvatore credit for taking action on important neighborhood issues. He is certainly one of the most proactive councilors in the city right now. He has a way of ruffling feathers, which can be good and bad.

We still think DeSalvatore is jonesing for a mayoral run at this point. He's certainly getting his name out there quite a bit. It's a high-stakes balancing act, however. He needs to be able to point to some results when this is all said and done. Taking action is one thing, but taking action that works for the city is another. We'll see.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Nothing to Feel Shame About

Angel Soto, who was wounded up at Saima Park, said in today's Sentinel he's "ashamed" by the incident. Not sure we'd feel that way, and Soto definitely shouldn't when it follows it up by saying, "I want to say to the parents and the kids, start talking and listen about this tragedy."

Soto joined other residents involved in the incident and encouraged parents and the community to work together to make sure something like this never happens again.

There's really not much to say, other than this: That was a nice thing for Soto to do, and if the city can't listen to him and take action, then what is it going to take?


If you're into this kind of thing, Republican governor candidate Kerry Healey comes to the region tomorrow. She'll be at the Leominster Elks Lodge (134 Main St., Leominster), 1 p.m., for a town hall/rally. You can for yourself if Healey has blood dripping from her fangs and is backed by an angry mob (kidding, kidding). I'd expect a lot of talk about "differences" and maybe, just maybe, a reference to a local rapist of some recent note.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tax Rate Set; IG Says City Deal Not Quite Right

The City Council set the tax rate this week ($11.52 per $1,000), and slid some of the burden from the residential to the commercial side. In recent years, that wasn't always the case.

Of course, the business community was opposed to the move (their pleas went no where, the Council approved the rate with no discussion), and claim the city is anti-business, or at least has that reputation.

We're with Dean Tran in that the city should be building its residential base in an effort to create a critical mass of people attractive to business. This move fits in that effort. Also, there are opportunities for new business to get a break. Let's put it this way, no one from the city was offering me a TIF when I bought my house.


The state Inspector General says there are some flaws in a 2004 agreement between the city and Ron Bouchard where Bouchard knocked down the Thunderbird Motel and was given access to some fill owned by the city.

The IG claims the city didn't properly keep track of how much fill was going in and out of the place, and maybe it was worth more than it should have been. The IG's office says the city didn't do a good enough job documenting the deal. Mayor Dan Mylott says he gave the IG everything it wanted, and couldn't fathom what paperwork was further needed.


You have a choice tonight: Patrick, Healey, Mihos and Ross; or Romano, Lefferts, DesChenes and Sven. I know, I know, this isn't a tough choice. The Gov folks will stick by their usual: Patrick is hope, Healey is fear, Mihos is slightly crazy, Ross is surprisingly eloquent for someone hoping to get 4 percent of the vote. Boring.

Instead, flick over to "Politically Speaking" (7 p.m., Channel 8), and check out a heaping dose of political talk from a roundtable of the very best minds possible. Expect some good talk on: The national elections (do the Dems take over a house?), the Register of Deeds race (umm...), the House race (can Niemczura pull this off?), and the governor's race (or, more garbage about fantasy football, as I analogize Patrick and Healey to meaningless football action). Set the TiVo for the gov's debate, and get the real lowdown on "Politically Speaking."


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hey, Batter Batter. Swing Batter

Save Fitchburg is worst kind of junkballing Whiffle Ball pitcher. We mix up an OK overhand curve with an absolutely nasty slider that starts at your head and ends up low and away. Then, we throw in an ephus pitch just to get your timing off.

We bring up this mini-scouting report because a new venture got City Council approval to open up out on Ashburnham Road. Part batting cage/part indoor Whiffle Ball field (now you get it), the space is expected to open in January.

The city has, as everyone knows, some surplus mill space. This kind of use is a fantastic idea. It's fairly creative, family friendly, and will lure in the softball geeks who like to shake the rust off before the season starts in the spring. Throw in the opportunity to junkball our through an outing, and we love this idea.

From the story, it appears the crux of the business will be the batting cages. The nearest indoor facility is Worcester, so there should be a good core audience of youth teams and parents lining up for a crack at the new facility in Fitchburg.

Hopefully this business works out and can stand as an example of creative and family-friendly options for the city.


On a more serious note, Mayor Dan Mylott says it's no wonder Fitchburg schools are flounders, the state Department of Education keeps changing the rules.

"Again they're changing the rules in the middle of the game," Mylott said in the Sentinel. "You can't keep up with all the requirements they've imposed on us."

A bunch of other school districts, however, seem to be keeping up OK. Six microscopes in a classroom isn't the fault of updated school regulations.

It's a still a little unclear what's going to happen next Tuesday, and how it is going to effect the school system. It appears there will be shifting of funding, which should be, um, interesting to watch. The issue of education and school funding is beyond a matter of simple repair at this point, it seems.


Day-before warning: I'll be part of a panel discussion tomorrow night on "Politically Speaking," 7 p.m. on Channel 8. Expect to hear some about the state rep race, some about the governor's race, and whole lot on the greatness of the Aaron Brooks All-Stars.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Good News, Bad News

Good news first, today:

A bunch of local and state political and business leaders introduced the North Central Massachusetts Economic Development Council yesterday (Telegram, Sentinel). Funded with $250,000, the council will try to lure business to the entire region.

Look around the region, and it's obvious business is interested. It's relatively close to the Big City, there's good highway access all over the place, Devens is growing, and the Fitchburg/Leominster area is seeing the infiltration of big chains that -- for better or worse -- comes along with the identification of a critical mass of population and spending power.

Fitchburg is one of 26 communities in the consortium, so the city won't be the lone focus of the enterprise. Hopefully, however, it's one more tool for the city to use in revitalizing downtown and the city as a whole.

Individual states -- and individual regions in those states -- are fighting for every new business opportunity. Hopefully the council produces new opportunities where the region was lacking before.

Now, the bad news.

School Superintendent Andrew Ravenelle warns the state is about to start rattling its sword at a school system that is horribly behind on MCAS scores and other areas.

As usual, the culprit is a lack of resources. There are only six microscopes in the biology class. Class sizes at South Street are at about 24 students.

School officials note additional state money doesn't come with the Department of Education's warnings. So, the district is stuck with what it has.

The city plays under the same rules for state aid as every other city or town, fair or not. The constant cries for state money can be joined with the other 300-something districts looking for more cash. The city's commitment to ed money, you may remember, is suspect. Remember, Mayor Dan Mylott's original budget actually cut $100,000 of education spending out of the city side of the budget. It was eventually replaced, sort of, but the city did not make a stride forward on funding its own schools.

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: Education must be the chief concern for the city. It needs to start with a top to bottom review of how the School Department spends its money, and identify areas that are overspent and areas that are underspent. The city must also increase its investment in the schools. New budget dollars, when they're available, should be targeted to education as much as possible.

New homes are being built in Fitchburg at a fantastic rate, wherever developers can build one. If you live near Rollstone Road, you've noticed a home sold a few months ago was subdivided for a new home tucked in the corner of the property. For now, people are still moving into the city. But if the schools don't shape up, many are going to move out when their kids can't use a microscope in biology class.

Money doesn't cure all the ills of a school system. Good management, quality teachers, and energy and commitment from top to bottom all play a role. But until the mayor and the City Council make education a chief priority, they're sending the message that education is a back seat issue in the city.


Saima Park Incident Rembrance

Councilor Ted DeSalvatore sent us a heads up on a "space for community healing" even this Thursday, from 3-5:30, in remembrance of the Saima Park shooting. All the details are below.

By now, I am sure you have all heard of the tragedy that occurred at Saima
Park in Fitchburg where five people were shot at a sweet fifteen
party, and unfortunately a young fathers life was taken.

As a
result of all of the amazing efforts of Sayra Pinto, Neddy Latimer, Miggie
Velez and Dolores Thibault-Muñoz, a space for community healing will occur
on Thursday, October 19th from 3:00-5:30, at the Elm Street Congregational
Church in Fitchburg. All community leaders, residents and
interested community members are encouraged to attend.

This is a time more than ever to come together as a community to
promote peace and healing for all.

If you have any
questions, please contact Dolores Thibault-Muñoz, Director of the Cleghorn
Neighborhood Center, at dolores_t@cleghorncenter.org.


Monday, October 16, 2006

A Bridge to Somewhere

City Councilors Jody Joseph and Dean Tran are refloating the idea of creating a real-life exit/entrance to Route 2 in both directions off Mt. Elam Road. Currently, you can get an on and off from the westbound side, but the eastbound side has no access to Fitchburg.

This idea has come up in the past, and the folks on Mt. Elam Road are, obviously, opposed. Traffic would increase -- but by how much? Coming off the highway, we can't imagine too much from the eastbound side, and the westbound side already has access. Certainly in the morning, traffic going to Route 2 would increase exponentially.

We're not sure this would help create a "connector" to downtown, there's a lot of residential to slog through to get to downtown from Mt. Elam, even though the ride is less than 10 minutes. It most definitely would be a convenience for those who live in the area. Driving around to South Street from the Rollstone/Mt. Elam area can be a pain, especially in the morning commute. This is a project that would benefit hundreds, if not thousands, of residents of the area (Tran lives in the vicinity, and it would certainly improve my morning commute).

However, considering all the rest of the wants and needs of the city, how much of a priority should this be? This is something that would be funded by the state or feds (more likely the state), and there's only so many times you can go to the well. If they say yes to this multi-million project, what do they say no to in the future? Although if all signs point to other stuff getting trashed, you might as well grab the cash for this one.

While the South Street situation is something of hang up, it's not particularly brutal for us (although, admittedly, we're hitting it at 6:30 in the morning, and things are just revving up), and if things were so bad, we'd take Oak Hill to Route 2 and spin back around at Route 31 (which often happened during the South Street bridge reconstruction).

So, we think this is a good idea, but can think of other good ideas that we think are more important (preserving Route 12 and URP money, getting commuter rail faster).


Friday, October 13, 2006

DiNatale: Yes to Casinos

The Sentinel reports today that Democratic House candidate Steve DiNatale favors casino gambling in Massachusetts, and even in Fitchburg.

We wholeheartedly agree with the first part, and are amenable to considering the second.

It's time for Massachusetts to stop the flow of gambling revenue to Connecticut and keep at least some of it in-house. The days of the mob running casinos unfettered is pretty much over. People gambling over their heads is a problem, but so is alcoholism, and you can buy booze everywhere. You can also buy a lottery ticket and play Keno everywhere, and Connecticut isn't that far away.

As for placing it in Fitchburg, we're listening. There's no guarantee a casino would create economic stimulous through new business outside the casino. Casinos are designed to keep every dollar that walks in on the property. It's big business done craftily. They don't have clocks on the wall for a reason. They don't have windows for a reason. They have ugly carpet for a reason. Crime generally goes up slightly, but traffic is generally the biggest concern.

So, we'd like to where, and how much. Where would a casino be? Certainly the closer to Route 2 the better. How much would the city's take be? Certainly the more the better.

Of course, a casino in Fitchburg is a longshot. But it's interesting DiNatale is interested. It might be the first real interesting insight we've gotten out of this House election.


DiNatale, Niemczura to Meet on WEIM

So, we wouldn't call it a debate, but Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura will be on WEIM at the same time on Tuesday, Oct. 24, from 7 to 8 a.m.

Interesting move here. DiNatale made it clear this week he would only debate Niemczura once. Like we said, we're not sure we'd call the 'EIM time a "debate," but it's certainly a face-to-face meeting. Is DiNatale changing his mind again? Also, I'm starting to get a bit of a complex here. What did I do to the guy?

Anyway, for those of you who missed it, WEIM spent some air time this morning pointing out that the Nov. 2 debate isn't on radio (for reason only the Sentinel can really explain, we think) and a portion of the city's voters would be excluded from hearing the candidates together. Good for WEIM for making a stink. Good for the candidates to make this happen.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ed Niemczura Wants Your Questions

In a pretty savvy political move, Republican Ed Niemczura wants to answer your questions when he's on "Politically Speaking" on Thursday, Oct. 26. If that date seems to familiar to you, well....

Anyway, Niemczura will be on for a half-hour, and offered to answer as many reader questions as possible in that time. As you might remember, this whole Fiasco DiNatale started yesterday when I asked for reader questions for the now-deceased Oct. 26 debate. At least one guy wants to hear what's on your mind.

So, send them on in and we'll pass them along. Make 'em pointed, make 'em direct, make 'em thoughtful and thought-provoking. Just make 'em. Show the guy and the viewing audience that we care. You can drop them in the comments below, or e-mail them.

Before Niemczura gets his turn, however, I'll be on "Politically Speaking" next week with host Ralph Romano. We'll be part of a roundtable with Donna Deschaines and Dave Svens from FATV. We'll be talking electoral politics, on both the local and state level. Romano usually puts on a good show, but with the four of us battling to suck out the most oxygen in the room, it should be a real hoot. That's at 7 next Thursday, Oct. 19, 7 p.m.

By the way, thanks again for reading. One of the things I've thought about a lot in the last day is how this whole debate started because Ralph and I wanted to crank up the public discourse leading up to the election. But I've also thought about the fact that people I don't know and wouldn't recognize if I bumped into them on Main Street take the time every day to read and get involved and have created something of a community here. I'm sorry things didn't work out this time and I feel like I've let some people down. However, I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned here that will be very applicable in the future. It might be too late to do much about this November, but next year's election is perhaps more important to our city's future. I think that lesson can be well used next year.


On Second Thought

As you may have read yesterday in the comments section, the Oct. 26 House debate has been cancelled. City Councilor Steve DiNatale informed us yesterday he will not participate.

DiNatale said he had not been contacted since winning the primary and his schedule is full. He also decided he will debate Republican Edward Niemczura once, on Nov. 2 at Fitchburg State College.

The folks who put together the now-dead Oct. 26 debate -- myself, Ralph Romano and FATV -- acknowledge we haven't talked to DiNatale since the primary. In fact, yesterday, we all agreed that this week we all independently thought we needed to contact the campaigns.

However, we all agreed that contact was a mere formality, a checking in, if you will, with the candidates. In our minds, this thing was booked.

Why did we think that?

We announced our debates (a primary election debate, including DiNatale, was held on Sept. 7) on June 22. The press release (which you can find on that date in the archives, right) notes the Oct. 26 debate. Also, since a bit later in the summer, debate information has been posted on the right side of the front page of Save Fitchburg. See, it's over there right now.

And don't think for a second think DiNatale or people very close to him don't read the site. Yesterday's post, which mentions the debate, was posted at 12:30. DiNatale called me less than an hour later. So they're reading.

Our largest source of confirmation came from DiNatale himself. At the end of the Sept. 7 debate, Romano invited all the candidates back, on the air. After the debate, Romano and I independently reminded each candidate of the Oct. 26 debate. I know I made a point of getting to DiNatale, because I was pretty sure he would win the primary. He gave every indication he was in.

Finally, the Oct. 26 was mentioned in the Worcester Telegram on June 26, Aug. 16, and Sept. 8.

Above and beyond all that, DiNatale knew the debate was on for at least a while. In our conversation yesterday, he said he was going to wait “until the last minute” to tell us he was out, but decided after yesterday’s post that it wouldn’t be decent to wait, because we were moving forward. So clearly, he knew about it because his original game plan was to make us wait until what, Oct. 24 to drop the bomb on us.

DiNatale is pointing, and will point, the finger at us for not communicating with him since the primary, and he has something of a point. However, as the above shows, this Oct. 26 date was not a secret, and he told Ralph and myself at the Sept. 7 debate that he was on board.

Why not debate Niemczura twice? He made it clear to Romano and I yesterday he was meeting the GOP candidate only once. What can he possibly be afraid of? Is Niemczura really that good? That much of a threat? It’s a cautious and play-to-not-lose move.

Is DiNatale under any obligation to do two debates? No. The point is he told Romano and myself he’d be there, and he won’t be. So, if you care about this race, make sure you watch the Nov. 2 debate. It’s the only chance you’ll get, because that’s the way Steve DiNatale wants it.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Giving a Little to Get a Little

The Johnsonia Building and its 46 condo units gets its bridge to a parking garage, at least according to a City Council subcommittee that approved the plan last night.

It wouldn't seem like the foot bridge would be a hindrance to downtown, and it helps the Johnsonia developer. Good move by the city to approve. Perhaps it's a good-looking bridge and becomes something of a focal point that area of downtown.

The unfortunate reality is the city is a position of weakness when it comes to development downtown. It needs to take whatever reasonable steps necessary to generate growth and activity in the city center. The bridge seems reasonable, and the committee did the right thing moving it along.

Now, did you hear Ted Kennedy was in town yesterday?

We're not even going to link to the stories, they were so fluffy. You'd think Kennedy was president or pope, based on residents going all goo-goo over the guy. Are we really that desperate for attention that we trip all over ourselves for a Kennedy? Yes, Teddy is a legend. Like him or not, but a guy who will eventually rack up 50 years in the U.S. Senate is a legend. But good lord, a little civic decency might have been in order yesterday.

By the way, the next big Save Fitchburg/"Politically Speaking"/FATV/WEIM debate is on for Thursday, Oct. 26. Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura will face off head-to-head for the first time. As we did during the primary debate, we welcome your questions. You can post them in comments, or e-mail.


Giving a Little to Get a Little

The Johnsonia Building and its 46 condo units gets its bridge to a parking garage, at least according to a City Council subcommittee that approved the plan last night.

It wouldn't seem like the foot bridge would be a hindrance to downtown, and it helps the Johnsonia developer. Good move by the city to approve. Perhaps it's a good-looking bridge and becomes something of a focal point that area of downtown.

The unfortunate reality is the city is a position of weakness when it comes to development downtown. It needs to take whatever reasonable steps necessary to generate growth and activity in the city center. The bridge seems reasonable, and the committee did the right thing moving it along.

Now, did you hear Ted Kennedy was in town yesterday?

We're not even going to link to the stories, they were so fluffy. You'd think Kennedy was president or pope, based on residents going all goo-goo over the guy. Are we really that desperate for attention that we trip all over ourselves for a Kennedy? Yes, Teddy is a legend. Like him or not, but a guy who will eventually rack up 50 years in the U.S. Senate is a legend. But good lord, a little civic decency might have been in order yesterday.

By the way, the next big Save Fitchburg/"Politically Speaking"/FATV/WEIM debate is on for Thursday, Oct. 26. Democrat Steve DiNatale and Republican Edward Niemczura will face off head-to-head for the first time. As we did during the primary debate, we welcome your questions. You can post them in comments, or e-mail.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Magnan v. Boisvert, The End

The State Ethics Commission wrote in a letter this week that School Committee member Patrick Magnan was wrong when he claimed City Councilor Norman Boisvert illegally voted on the city budget.

Magnan claimed Boisvert shouldn't have voted, because Boisvert's wife is a teacher's aide, and a raise was part of the school budget. The Ethics Commission said Boisvert was voting on the entire budget, which was fine. If he was voting on a specific line item that includes a raise, he would have been wrong.

So, Boisvert has nothing to worry about, but what about Magnan?

Comically, Magnan goes from protector of the public to weirdly secretive. He told the Sentinel he wouldn't comment, and said he thought the commission's letter was supposed to be confidential. But in June, the guy is standing up after the mayor's weekly presser, with all the city's media in one room at once, publicly accusing Boisvert of dealing in dark political corners.

At the very least, Magnan owes Boisvert an apology. It would help if he could explain his motivation behind all this a little bit, because it's just plain bizarre.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Just Plain Angry All the Time

So, waaay back in the winter, we signed up online for the e-mail alerts gubernatorial campaigns put out regularly. It's good times to see what the campaigns are sending their supporters. Our Patrick request never went through, and we never got an e-mail from them. We might try again just to be fair. But Team Healey is burning up the inbox lately.

Check out this missive today. Even their propaganda to friends is aggressive. Jeez.

TO: Healey - Hillman Team
FROM: Mike
Mass. Republican SWAT Team
RE: Columbus Day Event w/ Kerry and

Hello all,
Yesterday was a great day for Team
Healey Hillman!
I had the pleasure of joining Kerry Healey, Reed Hillman
and about 40 or so volunteers from around
Massachusetts for the City of
Worcester Columbus Day Parade. Thank you to all of you that came down
Worcester for the parade. It was a great day for a Parade
with outstanding weather and a perfect Parade route
that ended right at
the Worcester Healey-Hillman Headquarters. All of those that participated
got free
Healey Hillman TShirts and helped drum up support along the 1 mile
route (right past the Worcester Devil (I mean Deval)

The best part was that Deval Patrick and Tim Murry were completely
absent from the Parade.
They didnt even show up! They had supporters there
and were passing out stickers but they did not show up!
All along the parade,
we got great feedback from the crowd, thanking Kerry and Reed for "showing up".
I can defenitely
say that there were some dissapointed "deer in the
headlights" Deval supporters. We were loud, yelling chants for
Kerry Healey
and Reed Hillman, led by Central Massachusetts own Rep. George Peterson!
Even the signs that their
supporters were carrying fit, they were as one
sided as their candidates!
Convicts, Rapists and Cop Killers for Spend
it All Deval! - "Together we Can... raise
set convicts

... monoplize

... Let Illegals get drivers licenses

1) Please
click on the link below to vote for the Healey Hillman Float as peoples Choice
2) Select Float, then type in "Healey-Hillman
http://columbusdayparade .homestead.com/PeoplesChoice

3) Call or email your local Regional Coordinator to sign up for
phone banks, request yard signs, hold standouts!

29 Days left - We
need everyones help to WIN!

Michael Scully
Founder, Mass.
Republican SWAT Team

PS - If you havent seen it yet, check out the
"Book of Issues" that Kerry is about at
http://www.healeycommittee.com/issues.html - Print
it & pass it around to all those that are being suckered in to the
Deval camp.


From WEEI to the State House

The Herald reported this back in the summer, but we were reminded again today that Ted Sarandis, former nighttime WEEI talker, is running for Governor's Council. It has nothing to do with Fitchburg, but it's political entertainment all the same, and we couldn't help ourselves.

Sarandis, if you never listened, was a proponent of college sports and a retractable roof stadium for the Red Sox, and was sometimes laughable as he'd get wound up by a caller. His BC game calls are legendary. He was finally let go by WEEI a few years back, and it's likely he hasn't been missed. We had forgotten about his run this fall until we saw the small ad that was tucked into the Herald sports page today that offered nothing but "Ted Nation" reference and a web address.

He lives in Winthrop, and he wants to be a Governor's Councilor. His website lambastes the executive, judiciary and legislative branches all for being in cohoots, raising judicial pay, and creating landing spots for hack jobs in courthouses around the state. He ties it all in with the GC somehow.

He is taking no donations, and has used about $14,000 of his own money to fund his campaign. We don't have any poll information on this race, but we don't like Teddy's chances.

The whole thing, however, is perfect for the Governor's Council, an anachronism from 300 years ago that is just about useless. Occassionally the council will get a burr in its saddle and give a judicial nominee a hard time, but rare is the council that actually turns down a judge. They also approve the state's warrants that pays the bills, but that is a meaningless exercise.

At this point, the GC does little more than offer one more resting place for some pols looking for a cushy landing. Throwing Ted Sarandis into the mix just adds to the comedy.

So, vote Teddy, I guess.


Cops? Gangs? The Mayor? Whose Fault?

Comments sections in a number of posts below get into the Saturday night shooting that left one dead and three wounded at the Saima Park function hall, where a family was celebrating a 15th birthday. Some comments allude to gang involvement, almost all decry it as a another black mark on the city in general and the mayor and police chief in particular.

We're pretty uncertain about the gang part. Yes, it doesn't do the city any good, but we're not sure how much of an indictment this is on city leaders. Here we go... First, the alleged story: A family throws a birthday party. Late in the evening, some kind of fight starts outside, and it ends with shots. A 17-year-old is arrested in the shooting. Stories in Telegram, Globe, and Herald don't mention gangs. At all. (Sadly, as of 9:15 this morning, the Sentinel website has zero on this. Nothing. Yikes.)

So, for now, we're putting the gang issue aside until we're told otherwise. You can make some assumptions, but they likely would be based more on ethnic and age stereotype rather than publicly displayed facts. That said, it has all the earmarks of gang violence or the act of a gang member. We're not taking that as fact, so we're going to go with "youth violence" as our description for now.

In every city in Massachusetts, gangs and youth violence is an issue to some degree or another. If it was easily remedied, it would be by now, don't you think? The reality of this battle is that it is just about unwinnable. All the authorities can do is suppress it as much as possible. The question is, is Fitchburg doing all it can? There are about 90 cops on the police force. This is overly simplistic, but with three shifts, that means there are 30 cops a shift available. Obviously, some get days off. So that leaves, what, 20 cops a shift? Which means maybe 10 cars out on the street at once. Is that realistically good coverage for the city on a Saturday night, with or without shootings at 15th birthdays?

The city is adding officers when it can, but obviously has a long way to go. What would help in the aftermath is a good description of what the city is doing to battle gangs and whatever category of things that lead 17-year-olds to have guns. Is there a plan? What is it? To what extent is there a gang problem in the city? How many gangs? Roughly how many members? How good of a grasp does the PD have on where they operate and how they can be squeezed?

To expect the police to know that problems would happen at this particular event is too much. But to expect the city to crack down on the problems that created this incident is not. We ask a lot from the cops -- protect downtown, make sure my neighborhood is safe, fight gangs, get rid of the drugs, watch the parks, and so on. For a short-handed force, that's asking a lot. But such is life. The police can't be everywhere all the time -- Saturday proved that -- but they can be where the help is needed most day-in an day-out, making the city safer in the long term.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Updates, Patrick and LaGuer

The Fitchburg PD dropped the hammer, sort of, on Fitchburg State students yesterday, ticketing at least seven cars in the neighborhood around the college.

It's a move to help appease the neighbors, but who knows if it creates a long-term solution. I'm guessing a lot more than seven cars park in the area, so it's really just a dent on the big cheaters, not folks who just park in the street where legitimately available.

In the long-term, there's really only two things that can be done: Build more on-campus parking (where?) or figure out a way to get more kids to park at the arena and take the shuttle. Whether it's through some kind of reward (how about free coffee and donuts while the kids wait for a ride) or some kind of punishment for kids nailed for illegally parking (what, I don't know). There were some official quotes about the usual early-in-the-year learning process, but does this have to happen every fall? Jeez....

Please, don't feed the geese. That's the message from animal rights folks to the city. The best way to get the geese out of Cogshall is to stop feeding them. They'll leave when the food runs out.

We're not the biggest fan of geese (they're dirty, territorial, and make lousy pets. Trust us, we know). We're also not sure this policy would be effective. As Mary Whitney points out, for decades kids (and more than a few adults) have fed the geese down at the park. Would a "suggested" no-feed policy work? Especially with a playground just steps away? Color us skeptical....

Finally, the region is in statewide news as the Ben LaGuer case and Deval Patrick become the Issue of the Week in the governor's race. The Globe advances the story light years today with the news that Patrick donated to the DNA test that eventually sealed LaGuer's fate. The Sentinel wraps up the Healey-Patrick sniping, with some Mazzarella thrown in.

Patrick wasn't the only one roped in by LaGuer back in the day, and his support of LaGuer pre-DNA test isn't really the issue for me. What is, is Patrick's fumbling of this issue. He held back details, allowing them to trickle out. Last week, he walked out on a press conference when he didn't like the questions. That's two rookie mistakes on the big stage in a week. His campaign has been passive since the primary, floating along on strong poll numbers and favorability ratings.

Needless to say, Camp Healey understands you don't end the war with bullets left in your pocket. The Healey campaign has managed to set the tone and issues of the campaign thus far. It's only a matter of time before it catches traction in the polls. Patrick needs to figure out he's in a dogfight and not just fire back, but reclaim the agenda. He did an excellent job on that in the preliminary, but has sucked at it so far in the general. If he wants to win, he needs to get moving. Passive won't win this race.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Is It the Idea, or the Size?

So, the city solicitor and police chief stated their case of caution against the sex offender residency restriction law last night. The council ignored their testimony last night and passed it, so in the end it doesn't mean much policy-wise, but the situation is too weird to ignore.

First of all, this law was proposed waaaay back in the spring. There's been a good six months to go over this, take a look at it, and comment on it. For some reason, last night was the first time the solicitor and chief argued against the restrictions. It was also the first time, as far we could tell, that there was a real discussion over just how much of the city would be covered by the restrictions.

We're not surprised it covers 80 percent of the city. When this was first proposed, we wrote about our concerns on it, because it seemed like a lot of the city would be covered, exposing small corners to a possible concentration of sex offenders in some neighborhoods. Unlikely, but possible. Last night seemed to be the first time the issue was discussed in depth.

That's important, because it seems like a lot of opposition from the solicitor and chief are based not so much on the law's intent, but it's widespread effect. I'm not a lawyer, but what percentage would make the law more legally secure? 60 percent? 40 percent? All of this should have been hashed out and detailed before. In some ways, it was a bit irresponsible to go ahead on this without knowing all the details, but someone whould have mentioned it a long time ago.

The spoken intent of the law is to protect kids at parks, schools and day cares. Noble cause, no doubt. Intentionally or otherwise, the law also cuts out four-fifths of the city from sex offenders moving to Fitchburg. Is that a bad thing? I think most people would say no. Is it a civil rights violation? Hmmm, maybe. Again, I'm not a lawyer. But again, at what point is it not a civil rights violation? Half the town? A third?

The city -- and Dean Tran especially -- has become a leader in this issue statewide. That's commendable and something to be proud of. The solicitor and chief expressed concern the city is exposing itself to a lawsuit. While that means a drain on time, energy and some cash, it's worth it. Not only is the city's safety at stake, but this is an area where the council and mayor have somewhat boldly and energeticly staked its ground. It should stand by its guns and continue to show the leadership on this issue they have from the beginning.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sex Offender Residency Ordinance in Danger

Councilor Dean Tran blasted out an e-mail today urging supporters of his sex offender residency ordinance to get to tonight's City Council meeting (7:30) and support his petition, which for some reason is suddenly on thin ice.

Tran's e-mail notes the council has unanimously voted in favor of the regulation five times, but that it's not in effect until Mayor Dan Mylott signs it. We'll let Tran take it from here for awhile:

Now for whatever reason, the Council is being asked to recall the
ordinance, get rid of it because we should not regulate sex offenders and leave
the situation to the state. This is an incredibly obscene request simply
because certain individual(s) do not feel comfortable telling sex offenders
where to live.

I am outraged as an elected official, a taxpayer, a
concern resident and a parent. The City Council has worked extremely hard
to pass an ordinance to protect our children.

Tran is looking for folks to come to the meeting tonight and urge councilors to keep the petition moving along. He finishes by calling the move "politics as usual and we should not tolerate it in the expense of our children’s safety."

Tran's a little short on the details in all this. We're wondering what happened to get this thing called back. This is a bizarre turn of events and we're wondering where the change of heart came from.

This call to arms might come a bit late (jeez, an afternoon's notice is a bit tough), but it sounds pretty legitimate. Who knows what the council is up to here, but Tran is looking for some voices to support his ordinance, which for some reason is suddenly on life support.


Another Override Attempt

School Committeeman James Connors is expected to file a petition today for a $6 million override to benefit the city's school (Sentinel, Telegram). The debt override would pay for, in Connors view, building repairs, computers, textbooks and other materials.

This isn't a new idea. The School Committee has been sniffing around this idea almost non-stop for a while. It's a school system desperate for cash.

As usual, however, there are few real details. What, exactly, does this money go to. How much for books? What kind of repairs? Where will the computers go? We could go on and on.

$6 million represents between 10 and 15 percent of the current school budget. That's a big increase. Is the $6 million just a shock figure, with plans to eventually come in and say, "We really need $6 million, but we understand we can't ask that of taxpayers, so how about $4 million?" How much does this effect the average taxpayer? Deval Patrick has been touting an increase in local aid since he started running for governor. Shouldn't wait to see if he's elected and what that really means for local aid?

We ask these questions now, but they'll only get tougher if this thing moves toward the ballot. Consider a local election is barely a year away, we're not convinced this makes it to voters between now and November 2007, but once again the override effort is cranking up.


Monday, October 02, 2006

New Comments?

Note the question mark in the headline, because, well, I'm not sure what this means.

I've turned off the Blogger comments, and have signed up for Haloscan. I'm going to have to get used to this system, so bear with me a little bit. We'll figure it out together. What it does mean, however, is that I should be able to track IP addresses of commenters (thanks, Derek, for the info).

I won't use your IP address for anything but banning you if your comments get to be a bit, you know, too much. So, cracker, faygoluver (I appreciate the kind words at fitchburguncensored. Don't worry, buddy, the family is making it even though my career at the Sun fizzled. I'd say you should all go check it out, but the racial sewage in one post is truly horrifying.), big420, and all the rest, you're officially on notice.

I don't know if "anonymous" comments are acceptible or not (like I said, I'm learning this one here), but in any case I should be able to track IP address and put unwanted commenters on the sideline. I'm not going to warn people, I'm just going to bounce you (I think for most people for whom this really applies, I'll be able to figure out it pretty quickly).

I don't know if by finding an IP address, I can find your name. If I can (and I won't be actively trying to do that), I will never use it publicly. I just want to ban the people who need banning. (UPDATE: I can't, so the above paragraph doesn't really matter).

This is an unfortunate and perhaps big step, but I think it's an important one. This site still generates great conversation, and I don't want that to end, especially a month before an election and a year before council/mayor elections. I'm sure some of you will scream bloody murder and talk about what a censoring ass I am, but I've spent a good chunk of the last nine months asking people to act like adults, and some haven't done it. If you're not going to respect my wishes and play nice, forget it.

This site is doing better than ever. Since the September debate, the page has averaged over 400 hits a day. I really appreciate it. Thanks for reading, thanks for participating, and let's keep trying to Save Fitchburg.