Thursday, July 31, 2008

Comment Malfunction

For some reason Haloscan is acting up. I can't read any comments you might have written, and it appears you can't even click on the comments right now at the bottom of a post. Hopefully that gets fixed right soon. Sorry.

UPDATE: Things seem mostly back to normal. Feel free to fire away.



Do the Sox Lose the World Series Today?

I haven't written one word about the Sox this season so far. My Celtics obsession took over all sports talk. But today seems like a good day to talk about them.

Of course, they've been stinking out the joint lately. But they're still firmly in the playoff mix. But they might lose the World Series today. The Manny Ramirez rumor mill is on high alert this morning, and likely will be all day. Update relentlessly, y'all.

Manny's gone before the 2009 opening day. It might not be until after the season, it might be today, but he's very much gone, from all reports. But if it happens today, the Sox might knock themselves out of the World Series before we get into August.

This isn't a defense of Manny, just a defense of his 30-something homers and 100-something RBI. The big rumor this a.m. is a three-way deal that ends up with the Sox getting Jason Bay from the Pirates. Bay has some 30-HR, 100-RBI seasons in his recent past, and by numbers he'd replace Manny's thump in the middle of the lineup. But can he get settled in a new league -- and more importantly go from meaningless baseball to the game's biggest pressure cooker -- and perform? It's a question that you have to consider.

Most other options for the Sox at this point is the usual buffet of prospects. Rarely do you get even money when you trade a superstar. And while a bucket of prospects for Manny might be a long-term decision, it means the end of this season. And if they offer Manny arbitration in the offseason, they'd get two sandwich picks for him, which is a nice little haul.

Trying to see past the current lackluster stretch, the Sox lineup is keyed around the 3-4 spots (nothing too revealing there). Losing Ramirez means it's quite likely Ortiz sees fewer quality pitches in the 3 hole. It means, perhaps, that Jason Varitek moves back up a spot in the lineup. It likely pushes Youkilis back down in the order. And so on.

The chance to win a World Series is precious, despite what recent history might tell us. If the Sox trade Manny today, they might be throwing away a chance to win it all. In the end, I hope Manny stays through the end of this year, and then they say goodbye in the fall and find a big bat to get in the lineup. I like the Sox' chances a lot more with him than without him this year.


I have very minimal interesting in touching off a public rehashing of yesterday's chaos. But if anyone has questions about how I operate or what I'm trying to do here, you can send me a comment with your e-mail address or e-mail me at I won't post either the comment or the e-mail (when I said "minimal," what I realy meant is "no interest at all," but I will discuss things with you. Also, while I'm here, barring a disaster today Save Fitchburg will get its 300,000 hit in less than three years. Good stuff.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Mayor's Bad Night

Last night won't go down in Lisa Wong's books as "one of my best nights as mayor." She saw her pick for DPW boss go down the drain, and based on early returns, that trash fee idea doesn't look so hot right now. Talk of "education" and "not the right time" is not heartening for trash fee supporters.

The trash fee was tabled by the committee, and maybe we'll hear more about it in the fall. What isn't going away is the DPW commissioner search after last night's rejection.

In case you've missed it, Wong wanted to hire James Shuris, who was fired from the very same job in 2003. Depending on who you ask, Shuris was an insubordinate who didn't file reports on time, or he got rolled by a personality conflict with Mayor Dan Mylott. He sued the city for wrongful termination, and lost.

If we can start to pull together an operating procedure by Wong, the Shuris appointment fits the bill. She reviewed the resumes, did interviews, checked the background on Shuris, and decided he was the best guy for the job. Forget the crap before, he's the best guy, and that's all that matters. The search committee -- including two councilors -- agreed. There was no complaints from that committee about Shuris' selection.

However, Wong took an already politically sensitive appointment and made it more so with a contract that looks bad -- $92K a year, 119 sick days from before, and a company car. Councilors hated that contract, and said so last night. But when Wong offered to go into executive session to discuss, they turned her down. Why? If the contract was the big hold up, why not talk about it.

It's interesting in that six months ago, councilors couldn't wait to get Dan Mylott out of City Hall. You'd think they'd take a second look at what happened in 2003, and maybe give Shuris and Wong the benefit of the doubt. But this appointment was pretty much DOA. If the contract was the main issue, why not go into executive session and discuss? I wonder if the contract was a convenient reason to vote against, or if there was something more there. But rejecting Wong's offer to discuss makes it interesting.

After seven months, it's probably a good bet to say yesterday was Wong's worst day in office. It exposed her weaknesses in politics (the Shuris appointment), her balancing act on finances (the trash fee), and her managerial style (she apologized for her handling of Bob Bourque).

Go way back to a year ago, when Wong was running for mayor. There was talk of the city going from mayor to manager. A lot of people said Wong would be that manager, in the Mayor's Office. From the very beginning, she said what she thought was best for the city was her main interest, with politics on the back burner.

So far, Wong the administrator has had a solid seven months in office. She balanced the budget, hired a good police chief, and rolled out a new monthly event that brings hundreds of people downtown. Not bad. But in some cases, the political talent haven't matched the administrative skills, and that was evident last night.

Now what? She'll need to find another DPW chief, one she at best likes, and doesn't love. Meanwhile, a potential step forward in finances looks weaker today than it did yesterday. No one said this was going to be easy, and that was proved last night.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

A Hot Summer Night

For a midsummer meeting, tomorrow night's City Council get-together is going to be pretty interesting.

You've got the appointment (or not) of James Shuris as commissioner of DPW. If you've missed the curious tale of Shuris over the last few weeks, it's kind of too long for retelling here (scroll down to past posts for more). But council President Tom Conry came out against voting for him over the weekend, and past comments from Councilor Dean Tran make it seem unlikely he'll approve. Suddenly, Mayor Lisa Wong needs six votes from nine people. Should be interesting to see what happens there.

Then you have the Return of the Trash Fee, back after a little summer vacation. Wong sent councilors a bunch of info last week, including a slew of different proposals and a bunch of frequently asked questions about trash fees. You can see all the proposals and the FAQs by going here (of course).

Who knows where the trash fee stands? It seems Wong's original proposal has minimal support in the council, but what about some of the other proposals, which include just a flat fee and a bunch of different bag fee-only amounts? A few councilors have outright rejected a trash fee, but not enough to kick the thing to the curb. So what's the motivation at this point? The whole ride? Bag fee only? The council makes no decisions tomorrow night, but perhaps it will give an indication of where its leaning.

Enjoy the summer fireworks.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

About the Police Chief

I glanced at the headline this morning, and thought, "Jeez, suspect #1 rolled over pretty fast." Yesterday's headline had me muttering, "Chief DeMoura gets his man."

Thinking about it a little bit, I'm kind of wondering where folks stand on new police chief Robert DeMoura. Sure, it's only been three or four months, and I would say any grade other than "incomplete" would be folly, but I'm sensing there's an overall feeling that people are warming up to him.

I'm not going to dig back into comments from early this year, but overwhelmingly the reaction around here was very negative to DeMoura's hiring. Since then, it's been pretty quiet. If anything, there's been some spotty "Gee, the chief is doing a pretty good job" comments here and there.

I'll say this: I liked him before he got the job, and I like him now. He has been, from I've seen, everywhere. Just about every event I've been to, I've seen him. And inevitably, he ends up talking a person or a couple. I don't eavesdrop, but he seems to listen and pay attention to what people are saying.

So, what's the current mood of the populace on DeMoura? It's been less than six months, so I don't think it's time for ultimate decisions, but in terms of a snapshot, better than expected? Worse? About what you thought (and is that good or bad)?



Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Two Minutes to Paradise

Let's all let out a groan together... it's time for some Fitchburg Pride pimping.

If you frequent the website regularly (and you really should. And while there, sign up for the e-mail updates through the button at the top of the home page), you've probably noticed we've started an audio feature called "Two Good Minutes." Two Good Minutes is an interview of a specific length with someone connected to a story that's in the news. It's generally a bit lighter and sometimes actually gets toward amusing, and is not simply a rehash of a story you've read or an interview we've done.

Anyway, you can go to the website to check them out (there's four so far), or you can go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast. The second is an option I heartily recommend. You can go directly to the podcast page by clicking here and opening up iTunes. That way, subsequent podcasts will dropped right on your iTunes. Isn't life easy?

Thanks for listening. Now go.



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Next Stop, West Fitchburg

Once again, the West Fitchburg commuter rail station idea is picking up steam. There's talk of landing $750,000 in grant money to study what it would take to get a station in West Fitchburg and make the connection on an old railbed from that spot to downtown to add on to the commuter rail.

I'm a fan of the commuter rail (once upon a time it took it all the time) and think the effort to speed up the current trip is a good idea. Shortening that trip as much as possible is vital.

But I just can't fall in love with this West Fitchburg idea. Yes, people are skipping the downtown stop to go to North Leominster, and a West Fitchburg station would likely scoop up a bunch of folks from west of Fitchburg that go to North Leominster, but the West Fitchburg station goes against the reasoning behind the recent expansion of the downtown station, and the proposed rail upgrades.

Locally, the idea behind the faster service and the big downtown station and garage was to lure people downtown. Some of those people are from out of the neighborhood or the city who park there every day. Some would be downtown residents, able to walk to the train station for their daily commute. A West Fitchburg station gives a whole bunch of Fitchburg residents a reason not to go downtown every day, and elminates those out-of-towners once and for all. It would, essentially, make the "new" garage downtown obsolute and unnecessary, just years after it was opened.

The problem, in many ways, is perception. From the Route 31 exit on Route 2, the difference in time between from the downtown stop to the North Leominster stop has to be under five minutes, especially when you consider what a cluster that Route 13 exit is. At night, when people want to get home, the time difference has to be less. Coming out of that North Leominster station, you're stuck for multiple light cycles to make the left turn to Route 13 and then have to make an unlighted left turn onto Route 2. It can take 10 minutes sometimes.

I'm sure there's not grant money available for a "Our train station isn't really that far way," but city officials should pay more attention to marketing the downtown station and trying to reap the benefits that is supposed to produce than moving into West Fitchburg.



Friday, July 18, 2008

Recent Comments

It's been a while since I've had to deal with the issue of comments. In fact, for so long, it probably set some kind of record. But in the last few days I've heard too many complaints/comments/requests to ignore it any longer.

The rules for getting a comment posted here are pretty simple: Be clean, don't libel, and be fair. And by fair, I mean don't write "Councilor X is moronic poopiehead." "Councilor X makes terrible mistakes and is killing the city" is much better.

There are comments that I let through that are purely opinion -- and often opinion I not only don't agree with, but think is flat wrong -- and aren't backed up with one bit of fact. Not my preference, but who am I to judge someone's opinion? I try, as often as possible, to present some fact -- or at least some reason -- to what I write. I'm sure I often fail, but I do try.

There are certainly some folks with agendas, and some who shoot first and ask questions later. There some some comments that present supposition, rumor, and guess as facts. If it's not libelous, I allow it. I'm not opposed to opinion and discussion. I'm against unfairness and illegal stuff and name-calling. No one wants to be called a jerk. We've been through all this before.

I hear from a lot of people who don't like many of the comments here. I don't like them all either. But I also think most people are able to recognize the sound of a grinding ax when they hear it. If you can hear it enough that you're bringing it up to me, perhaps you should consider that when you read the comments.

So, for those who have said or written something to me in recent weeks, I hear you and am not ignoring you. Everyone who visits here is interested in the city and its future, and in general are smart enough to figure out what qualifies as insightful and not. Use your best judgement, join in, and try to enjoy. Thanks for listening, and thanks for reading.



Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Good News, Bad News

OK, we're back. A couple of quick things.

The bad news first: Gov. Deval Patrick knocked out the $150,000 in state funding for Crocker Field as part of his budget vetoes. That's all I know at this point, working on trying to find out a bit more on the prospects for an override of the veto. Check the Fitchburg Pride website later on for more.

The good news: Treasurer Tim Cahill was in town this morning promoting economic stimulus, and announced a $5 million loan program that will put that money in local banks to be turned around for local businesses starting or expanding. Not really sure when economic development became part of the Treasurer's Office duties (unless the treasurer wants to be governor someday), but every little bit helps.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sharpen Your Knives

Yesterday afternoon, a guy walked into City Hall after the mayor's press conference and handed out to reporters copies of two citizens' petitions he's organizing. One is to recall the mayor and the entire City Council. The either forces the city into receivership. You can read more about this particular guy's ideas here.

On the recall: I'm not a big fan of recalls in any circumstance, and I'm not really sure what horrible thing the mayor and council has done in the last six-plus month to warrant their heads on a platter. Sure, you might not like the cuts being made, but that's what overrides are for. Let's say, for example, a library override failed, 56-44 (the same numbers as the current Fitchburg Pride poll question on the subject). Isn't that sort of a tacit endorsement of the action? And then some of those people are going to nail the council and mayor for it? Seems a little skewed logically.

You want a recall? Vote 'em out next year. I'm not a big fan of recalls for four-year terms, but for two-year terms it seems really far-fetched. So, they all get recalled out in November, and a new batch is elected, say, in February. Then they all scramble to put together a budget no one likes and are voted on again in November? Silliness.

Anyway, this is a real long shot, and won't go very far, but it's out there.

On receivership (or, let the rant begin):

I've written about this so many times that I'm thoroughly repeating myself, but it's worth repeating again (and again, and again, and again). Receivership isn't just a bad idea, there's no basis for it right now.

I know, I know. Things suck. Ask the cops, firefighters, librarians, kids who can't go swimming, and on and on. But receivership isn't for when things suck. Receivership is for the day City Hall and schools don't open because the lights are turned off. Actually, receivership should only be considered a couple of days after that when there's still no electricity.

The city has a balanced budget. You might not like it, but the thing is balanced. The city anticipates bringing in enough revenue to cover its costs. The Department of Revenue -- the very white knight everyone thinks will fix everything for us poor commoners -- said last week that things are looking better. Not fixed, but looking better. There's a difference between tough and catastrophe, and the city is in the middle of the former and not even close to the latter.

What, exactly, do people think the DOR would do, anyway? What changes would they make to the current -- balanced -- budget that would make everything better? Would they come with a money tree to plant in the Upper Common that would shower downtown in $100 bills? Would they pan for gold in the Nashua River? Would they demand the historical society give up the secret treasure map to John Fitch's buried booty under Rollstone Hill?

Here's the dirty little secret no one seems to get: It isn't getting better overnight. But it's getting better. There were no cries this year that the budget was balanced with voodoo economics. A sliver of money is being put into stabilization. There's budget projections that actually include conservative growth numbers. This problem doesn't go away overnight. It takes baby steps now, and hopefully bigger steps later. Right now, the city is shuffling in the right direction. But it's the right direction. DOR has no fairy dust that will fix it overnight.

Fact is, solving this problem starts at home. First and foremost, it means making the city an attractive place to live and work. That starts by people pulling their heads out their backsides and start acting like we live in Fitchburg, not Kabul. Fake it until you make it, if you have to. But our obsession with the bad far outweighs the celebration of the good. That has to change. I know many of you won't even consider it. Let me be Michael Corleone here: "Don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever." But into the context of the movie, and it makes more sense than you think.

Second, who wants an override? I hear nothing but crickets. Fine, but in a weird, twisted way, an override lets us help ourselves. You want more services, you're going to have to pay for them. Let's say you go to L'espalier for dinner. You're paying partly for the service (which is fantastic, by the way). Let's say you go to Chili's for dinner. You're paying for the service there, too (which is fine, by the way, but, you know, not L'espalier). My point? You get what you pay for, and if the city is so resolute to not help itself (I know, I know, higher taxes and all that), why should the state come in to help us.

Finally, forget the fact that there's no legitimate reason to go into receivership. Forget the budget is balanced. Forget DOR says things are getting better (slightly). Forget that other communities far worse off than Fitchburg -- Lawrence and its school system make Fitchburg look like a thing of beauty, and Springfield was tens of millions of dollars in the hole -- managed to avoid it. Receivership is the ultimate community stain. Chelsea still hasn't scrubbed it away, and that was over 15 years ago (and Chelsea isn't exactly a gleaming waterfront community now). It's a signal that all hope is lost and there's nothing else that can be done (how about a little Andy Dufresne right now: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.") It's waving the white flag, admitting complete and total defeat. It's taking on a black mark that will take decades to wash off. It's something to fight against until very, bitter end, not something to willingly accept. It's the last act of a sinking ship.

Fitchburg isn't sinking any more. It's treading water, and furiously at that, but it's not sinking. I'd rather kick until the end rather than grab what appears to be a lifeline, but is really a lead weight. Don't even let this receivership petition get close to the ballot. This isn't an endorsement of the current slate of city officials. This is an endorsement for the city and its future. "It's not that bad, really," isn't the most inspiring catchprase, but it's true. Fitchburg is a good thing. And no good thing ever dies. Receivership isn't a magic bullet. It's a bullet, period.

End of rant.

If you've come this far, thanks. Now, you should know that I'm outta here this afternoon and won't be near a computer until Monday night. I'll be checking comments throughout the day, but after 2 p.m. or so, don't expect to see your stuff here until Monday evening.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Most Unusual Phone Call

Unless I'm pimping a story at the Fitchburg Pride website (which you should visit, and sign up for the e-mail breaking news alerts -- they're good and good for you), rarely do I talk about newspaper/journalism stuff. But today there's enough interesting politics involved that I figured it was worth writing during an otherwise slow, hot July week.

This has nothing to do with Fitchburg, except that Deval Patrick is governor here, too.

On Monday morning, the governor held a conference call with local reporters to discuss some economic development grants. And it wasn't one big statewide call. It was a series of calls with reporters from different regions receiving grants. Each session was about 15 minutes long (based on the fact that a Patriot Ledger reporter jumped on the call after about 15 minutes of our call, and was told to hang on for just a minute).

So, for 15 minutes, a reporter from the Telegram and I had the governor to talk economic development in Leominster (you can read the story here if you wanna). As a local reporter, it was a valuable opporunity to get the governor on the phone. As a reporter who has been covering local and state politics for almost 15 years, it was unheard of.

I was a reporter at the local and state level during the Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney administrations. The first three were pretty accessible to the State House press corps (Weld was the best when he was engaged and ready to have fun). Romney would look right through unless you had a TV camera or were from New York or Washington (to the point where last year, Mrs. Save Fitchburg and I were in Florida and watching a news report about Romney in a nearby community. She covered the Romney campaign and the first year or so of his administration. We agreed if she bumped into Romney on a beach he'd have no clue she was -- an example of his ridiculousness, and not Mrs. Save Fitchburg's greatness, mind you).

Anyway, none of the above were hopping on a conference call to yak with weekly newspaper reporters, who are usually only useful during campaigns, and even then they have minimal value, truth be told. But Patrick is making an effort here, and it's uniqueness is worth noting.

And it's working. Usually these announcements come in press release -- often through a state department or the local representative or senator's office. In those cases, the governor's name is buried or completely eliminated. But check out my story, and the Telegram's. Patrick is at the top of both. How can he not be? He's making the announcement, and he is the governor, after all.

It's a savvy move by Patrick, and fits the grassroots style he fashioned during his campaign.

It will be interesting to see if this was a one-off, or if it's something he'll be doing more often (I vote for more often).

Finally, I'm particularly intrigued by this because in my last job, I was working on a political campaign where we cleaned up with endorsements and solid stories in the big media, but were absolutely croaked by the small-town newspapers. In the end, we lost, and at the time I wondered if big-media influence was dying, and that screaming from the local rooftops was the way to go. Perhaps Patrick is thinking the same thing. I don't know, but I think while the topic of Monday's conference call was typical boilerplate grant announcement, the politics of the thing was interesting and worth noting.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Remember the Fun

Not sure if you need the reminder, but tomorrow is the Civic Days Block Party. If you didn't go last year, it was ridiculously packed, almost to the point where there was too many people. It was a very good time.

This year's event sounds like it should be pretty similar. Old cars, tons of food (stay away from Country Good, people. There was none left for me at like 8 p.m., and that's just not right), the old inflatable activities for the kiddies, and of course the fireworks at dark. Yippee.

Obviously, you should go. If not for the good time, go to see that Fitchburg can actually put on a good event and get people downtown. You'll feel better about things. Really.



Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Remember Nate Negative from this morning's post? He's been fed, and he's very, very happy.

If you need a little sliver of hope for Fitchburg -- I suggest a slice, actual -- look no further than the Sal's Pizza that opened today on Whalon Street. The Save Fitchburg family enjoyed tonight, with some whoppingly big cupcakes on hand to wash it all down.

Since the news about Sal's first popped up, a lot of folks were unsure about its prospects. Kind of isolated out there, tough to get in and out, it's not Espresso, and so on. It was packed tonight, with a half-hour wait and no slices on hand. They were pretty much turning people away. That's something they're going to need to get a handle on (although a half-hour meant a half-hour, which was good. Ahem, Parkhill Pizza), although you'd have to think it was bit busier than they would have ever expected.

So anyway, Sal's is open. The city's pizza options just got a whole lot better.




I don't really know what else to say today.

Let's start with the fact that today is the first day of the new Fiscal Year. Or, the day when all the horrible things in the budget start to take effect. Goodbye police officers and firefighters. The library cuts are in effect. And so on.

If that wasn't bad enough, there's a bunch of little financial news today, none of it good. The state is going to review changes, which isn't horrible news, but a reminder that times are bad.

The library wants the city to pay back a loan the city used to fix the library elevator. There might be an argument to make here that this was more an accounting maneuver than a loan, and the library did benefit from the loan, but I'm not sure it's a compelling argument. And now, of course, the library wants its money back. Can't say I blame them, but at some point this bickering needs to get resolved.

A new audit report discovers $8,000 found in a desk drawer. I don't whether to get supremely upset, or merely shake my head in quiet, shocked, disapproval. I guess it's more head-shaking, but good lord. Why can't that be my desk drawer?

Finally, someone was shot in the Parkhill Park yesterday afternoon. It's particularly troubling in that one of the Save Fitchburg tots was at the splash park during that time. From reports from her friend's mom, there was some confusion if there were even shots fired, which reinforces the feeling that the incident was far removed from the splash park, but there are a bunch of kids at that splash park every day, and this incident is disconcerting for every parent who has a kid that goes there. The SF clan goes there rarely, but it will do so probably only after second thoughts at this point.

Let's try to end on a high note: It looks like Sal's Pizza is opening any day now over near Twin Cities. Can't come soon enough. If you missed the news last month, Sal's Pizza is most tasty, and we'll be enjoying some tasty Sal's as soon as we can.

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