Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Last month I stated that unless a major catastrophe occurred which, thankfully, did not, the March 8 Blarney Blowout would be my 2014 "story of the year" -- as it was for the year 2013. And indeed it is.
But because the aftermath of that debacle has been so subdued, with our college aged youth falling in line through better behavior, I have great hope -- matched by confidence -- that it will not repeat in 2015. After all, a third time is not very charming.
Thus what was to be my #2 story climbs into a tie for #1: When Political Correctness collides with teen-aged angst under the roof of the Amherst Regional High School.
Specifically the way school officials treated Dylan Akalis, a white kid from Holyoke who dared like a lot of kids do to use the (modified rap version) N-word with an African American friend, who took no offense.
Other African American kids did, however, and responded with bullying both online and in person that was reported to school authorities, who did nothing. Dylan, in self defense, took matters into his own hands and made a "threat" on Facebook suggesting he came to school packing a pistol.
In a panic, the school was closed for a day. Dylan was summarily suspended, but his tormentors were not. His father who worked (with his hands) for the schools was later fired for using a common electrician term in front of an African American school employee.
Although his diploma reads Amherst Regional High School, officials would not let Dylan march in his cap and gown with fellow students and friends at the June 6 Mullins Center graduation ceremony, or attend the senior prom the week before. Although a young woman who violated his privacy rights with a public Internet petition was allowed to march in the graduation ceremony.
Had Dylan not been white, the story would have played out in a radically different way.
From cancelling "West Side Story" because it was "racist" to allowing kids to perform the R-rated "Vagina Monologues," ARHS is a shining example of the mayhem that results from Political Correctness run amok.
As usual the response of school officials is to throw money at the problem: They spent $38,000 enlisting smooth talking Calvin Terrell, who terrorized 7th and 8th graders back in October and should have been instantly fired. He returns next month.
The schools spent $48,000 hiring a "Media & Climate Communications Specialist" (fancy term for PR flack) to deal with racial issues, and the first thing she does is get into an embarrassing public fight with a long-time prominent local radio station over transparency.
And of course the Carolyn Gardner affair was mishandled at the start when school officials kept the original graffiti incident in October a secret, something that could come back to haunt them when the Mass Commission Against Discrimination takes up their investigation.
No, I don't have high hopes that 2015 will be any better when it comes to the race game played in our little "college town."
Attorney Chamberland stands with his client Steven Cuoco, age 50
In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Steven Cuoco, who gave his address as "the streets of Amherst", had a plea of not guilty entered in his behalf and the Judge assigned him (at no cost) a Public Defender.
He told the Judge Poehler he was "off his meds."
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
In 2011 twice as many deaths involving drunk drivers occurred on weekends vs weekdays
It looked for a moment that 19-year-old Alexander Osowski was going to strike a plea deal with the prosecution after being arraigned before Judge Poehler on Monday afternoon in Eastern Hampshire District Court, but he must not have liked the idea of a 24D disposition and opted instead to have his case continued until next month.
Neither a private attorney or a public defender will have an easy time beating the official breath test results that is allowed as evidence in a trial, so he should have taken the state's offer.
Alexander Osowski stands before Judge Poehler
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Nikolai James stands before Judge Poehler (in a secure lock up)
So here's one you will not read about in the bricks and mortar media, mainly because they can no longer afford to send reporters to Eastern Hampshire District Court.
And the only way you learn about anything involving "domestic abuse" is to view it in person when the perp is arraigned.
Because this case involved "domestic assault and battery" Amherst police had to redact it from their daily logs so it becomes that tree that falls in the forest with no one around to record its sound.
In court yesterday before Judge Patricia Poehler the mother and father of Nikolai James tried to have him remanded into a medical treatment program in Springfield. The father tearfully told the Judge his son suffers from schizophrenia.
A probation officer told Judge Poehler that Nikolai James had created a "level of frustration" within his department due to his chronic failure to abide by any of his probationary conditions: He failed to report in with his probation officer, failed to pay mandated fees, and tested positive for marijuana and alcohol,
This most recent arrest over the weekend by APD comes at a time when he is on probation (through 2016) for three separate incidents, including the one where he injured two Amherst police officers.
Judge Poeler did not allow the motion to transfer Nikolai James to a medical treatment facility and instead remanded him to the House Of Correction pending a hearing for violation of parole.
Monday, December 29, 2014
One East Pleasant Street (as proposed)
To no great surprise an abutter (and competitor) to the recently approved One East Pleasant Street, a 5-story mixed use project that will revitalize the north end of downtown, has filed an appeal within the 20 day deadline to overturn two Special Permits as well as the entire "site plan approval."
Joel Greenbaum, who is also a major Amherst landlord, filed the appeal in Hampshire Superior Court naming Archipelago Investments LLC (the developer), eight members of the Amherst Planning Board, and the town of Amherst as Defendants.
The suit alleges the mostly residential project violates town zoning bylaw because it is a "large scale student housing project". Of course the developers would disagree, citing the demographic of their initial downtown 5-story mixed-use project, Boltwood Place, that attracts tenants other than just students.
Furthermore the suit alleges the project fails to comply with Amherst's zoning bylaw mandating affordable housing units in any housing project that requires a Special Permit.
The town attorney has already found that since the project is allowed "by right" and the two Special Permits are relatively minor tweaks, the affordable housing clause does not apply.
Statement from the developers:
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The appeal stands little chance of winning on its merits and killing the project, but will most certainly slow down the bulldozers. The tired old strategy of "death by delay".
In spite of being dead wrong about predicted golf revenues for his entire tenure as Town Manager, John Musante optimistically insists on predicting a higher number ($268,000), that's always presented to Town Meeting in the spring and is always proved wrong come the following July 1st end of the Fiscal Year.
Town Manager's 2015 budget report "letter of transmittal"
All you need is a calculator to see it did NOT cover all its costs from user fees
The beastly White Elephant of a municipal "business" continues on its losing ways with end of season revenues being well below break even levels.
And -- even worse -- expenditures at disproportionately higher than average levels as well.
Current revenues stand at $102,347 vs expenditures of $143,684. Former long time manager of the course Dan Engstrom (who mysteriously disappeared on St Patrick's Day 2007) always used to tell town officials you could simply double revenues at season close in order to project full fiscal year (which ends June 30th) totals.
Town Manager's 2014 Budget report "letter of transmittal"
Although the real formula is closer to doubling the numbers and then increase that total by another 20%.
Either way, the ailing business will not intake $268,000 by July 1st. This, on top of "actual" losses exceeding $100,000 last year (although, as usual, predicted to "cover its operating and employee benefits entirely from user fees").
Town Manager's 2013 Budget report "letter of transmittal"
Cherry Hill itsy bitsy clubhouse (note lack of solar panels)
In a July 7th memo to his bosses the venerable 5-member Amherst Select Board, Town Manager Musante did, finally, admit "This ongoing evaluation will likely include revisiting the cost-benefit of privatizing operations of the Cherry Hill Golf Course."
Town Managers 2012 Budget report "letter of transmittal"
Let's hope that commons sense proposal is included in his FY2016 budget rather than the standard wrong headed projection about the beleaguered business covering its costs "entirely from user fees."
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Kendrick Park 12/26/14
Kendrick Park this morning
One of the sacred principles taught by scouting is to "leave no trace behind." Which certainly was in evidence (or lack thereof) this morning at Kendrick Park in the north end of downtown Amherst.
Yes, after a month on the municipal park selling Christmas trees (or if you prefer, "holiday trees"), a market that has zero demand from 12/25 through the following Thanksgiving, you cannot even tell they were there.
Kendrick Park is a major underutilized gem in the town's recreation and parks portfolio. Let's hope when Kendrick Place apartments opens next fall, Kendrick Park will get the attention it deserves.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Puffer's Pond Conservation area, North Amherst
Pretty sure this is not what the town has in mind when touting the benefits of going green -- buzzwords we hear all too often these days. But at least the paint will wash off.
Sand Hill/State Street intersection about 75' from Puffer's sign
Thus it may not rank up there with Greenpeace leaving self-promoting graffiti at the Nazca archaeological site in Peru recently, but it certainly shows the same level of "look at me" obnoxiousness.
Friday, December 26, 2014
Hadley FD trucks and Amherst FD ambulances on scene Maple Farms Foods
A very large number of first responders are at the scene of a carbon monoxide incident at Maple Farms Foods on South Maple Street in Hadley.
One victim has already been transported to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, the nearest hospital with a critical care unit and at least one other has been transported to Cooley Dickinson in Northampton.
Hadley PD and FD on scene staging behind the building
Apparently the problem was caused by use of a forklift inside the building and the person who was operating it was the one transported to Baystate Medical Center.
About a half-dozen shoppers were also being evaluated by AFD after exhibiting symptoms of possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
North Korea looms in the distance
But still, not exactly Academy Award material.
Of course the delicious karma of using the Internet as a main means of distributing the comedy only ads to the payback.
After all, the first shots fired in this free speech battle occurred in cyberspace with the anonymous hacking of Sony International Entertainment which provided material to bully and threaten them over releasing the movie.
And by extension threatening the rights of all Americans to choose what to see and when to see it.
If this entire back story saga were to someday become a Hollywood movie the target work being threatened would probably not be a comedy, and would no doubt take on a high brow issue like racism, sexism or some other noble cause.
The ending of the movie tries to have it both ways. The fluffy entertainment "journalist" exposes Kim Jong-un as a tyrant with daddy issues who can't feed his people, and then lies about it via propaganda.
Rather than letting this "truth to power" live exposé bring him down, they still feel the need to take him out via a tank round. Killing the revered leader of a sovereign nation -- even if the reverence is built on deception and fear -- is not overly funny material.
Neither will be their response.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
You have to wonder if the young man who wrote this -- naturally as a Cowardly Anon Nitwit -- gets up in the morning and curses the mirror when it reflects a big fat zit on his scrawny face.
When the hard core minority of party hardy idiots who give all students a bad name lash out in such a juvenile manner, you know the heat is getting to them.
A closer look at the tickets handed out by APD for bad behavior demonstrates there is a hard core minority who just don't seem to get it.
Noise tickets were down dramatically this semester from 91 to only 17, but the "Nuisance House" tickets -- a higher level of mayhem -- were not down all that much, going from 33 last fall to 25 this fall.
It will be interesting to see the UMass report on off campus student discipline for violation of the student code of conduct covering this fall, which of course will reflect the same dramatic drop in number of sanctions imposed (since they are based on APD arrest/ticket reports).
And the severity of the sanctions handed out will probably be pretty mild.
What UMass really needs to do is seek out the hard core party types (reflected in Nuisance House tickets, Resisting Arrest, and Assault and Battery on a police officer charges) and be rid of them once and for all.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
239 children died in drunk driving incidents in 2012
Yes it's probably overly disconcerting to be arrested for drunk driving during the holiday season, but certainly nowhere near as disconcerting as the potential carnage these drivers could have caused to innocent folks going about their daily routine at this busy time of year.
William Zimmerman stands before Judge William O'Grady
In Eastern Hampshire District Court yesterday Shannen Mcmahon, age 22, and William Zimmerman, age 32, had pleas of "not guilty" entered in their behalf with their cases continued until next month.
Zimmerman was also charged an extra $50 fee for the arrest warrant which was issued after he failed to appear in Court on Friday morning as scheduled.
UMPD Statement of Facts
Shannen Mcmahon stands before Judge O'Grady
Hadley PD Statement of Facts
Monday, December 22, 2014
Stan Rosenberg, Dave Sullivan, John Olver July 4th Parade Amherst town center 2009
As someone greatly concerned with government transparency at all levels -- especially when it concerns corruption or conflict of interest -- I can honestly say the recent soap opera backstory concerning our favorite State Senator doesn't have me concerned in the least.
At least not yet.
I've known State Senator Stan Rosenberg for 25+ years and have always found him to be the most responsive hard working politician in the state.
When he came out on July 4th, 2009 I called him a stand up guy -- both here on the blog, and in person as he was marching in the July 4th Parade I helped promote.
But even ten years before that, Stan attended as a guest speaker a controversial rally I organized on the Amherst town common decrying the (1999) cancellation of 'West Side Story', to this day one of the all time greatest stains on the reputation of our little college town.
Both he and ACLU Western Massachusetts Director Bill Newman gave a spirited defense of the First Amendment while lamenting the cancellation of the play at Amherst Regional High School. Stan even tried to find state funds to bring a traveling professional troupe to Amherst to perform the iconic play.
And no matter how controversial the July 4th Parade became over the ten years it stepped off in Amherst (only in Amherst could a July 4th Parade become a heated controversy) he could always be counted on to march.
So if anyone understands the light of media attention that can shine with blinding speed and luminance, it would be a guy who has had to deal with it for most of his adult life -- one who doesn't duck away from controversial issues.
Thus far he has handled the problem created by his significant other with a textbook response: admit there's a problem and clearly outline a simple solution.
Erecting a "firewall" between his personal relationship and the duties of a powerful politician about to get more powerful is exactly the right answer. Sort of like newspapers erecting a solid brick wall between editorial and advertising (or at least they used to back in the day).
Western Massachusetts always seems to fly under the radar with folks at the Boston Statehouse. Our region will become a much bigger blip with Stan Rosenberg as State Senate President.
Rest assured Western Massachusetts: we're still in very good hands.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
That thin blue line that stands between civility and chaos -- us and them -- just got a little thinner, and we all are diminished by this tragic loss.
Even the most ardent critic of police involvement in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown should be taken aback by the cold hearted assassination of two patrolmen, partners, sitting in their cruiser Saturday afternoon. Assuming of course you're a rational human being.
Neither officer involved in the Garner or Brown deaths got up that morning thinking they were going to kill a black man. Unlike Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who clearly decided he was going to kill that day, with the only prerequisite being the victims dressed in blue.
Unfortunately for them and the families they leave behind, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were in his line of sight.
Amherst Police Station 12/7/14 #Ferguson protesters shut down Main Street
Have highly publicized demonstrations over the past few months -- some of them here in Amherst -- contributed to this outrage? How could they not -- especially with chants like "Fuck The Police".
Self serving denials ring cold and hollow, like a freshly dug grave.
When a large group of college aged youth demonstrated in front of Amherst police station two weeks ago, they chanted in choreographed unison, "Who do you protect, who do you serve?"
Now the men and women in blue will be giving much more thought to protecting their own.
We are heartbroken over the shooting of two #NYPD officers. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim's families, friends and coworkers.
— Mass State Police (@MassStatePolice) December 20, 2014
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Zachary Amadon, age 20, arraigned before Judge Shea on Friday
If you are on your way to a court mandated alcohol education class you probably should not be smoking pot ... or driving with a suspended license due to a previous DUI.
Friday, December 19, 2014
The rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25 year olds (23.4 percent) - See more at: http://www.madd.org/statistics/#sthash.FMPelWkJ.dpuf
The rate of drunk driving is highest among 21-25 year olds (23.4%) MADD statistic
Christmas time is certainly a time for good cheer, but unfortunately for all too many folks, that takes the form of too much alcohol.
In this case Amherst police arrested 21-year-old Laquan Wood after he crashed into a telephone pole on Snell Street, a busy cut through connecting Rt 9 and Rt 116, the two busiest roads in town at a somewhat busy time of night.
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Laquan Wood is arraigned before Judge Michael Mulcahy in Easter Hampshire District Court yesterday
Amherst Town Common 12/18/14
As per tradition the public menorah has joined the Merry Maple on the Amherst town common, as this year Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish celebration, started on Tuesday, December 16 and concludes on Christmas eve, December 24.
For those concerned about separation of church and state or playing favoritism with a religion, the town does not ban religious symbols in the public square, so if someone wished to put up a Christmas tree or erect a manger (but probably not with live animals) Town Hall would not deny such a permit.
After all, anti-war protesters demonstrate in town center every Sunday for the past five decades , so why not a symbol commemorating a battle for religious freedom?
Dedication monument a few feet from the menorah
Thursday, December 18, 2014
NASA Space Station photo taken 1/30/14
Normally, I would not be in favor of our government spending tax dollars on Public Relations, prefering to let actions speak louder than advertising.
But in the case of a rogue nation invoking 9/11 in a cowardly anonymous threat to trample the First Amendment rights of a major private business, I'll make an exception.
The United States government should buy out the rights to "The Interview" from Sony Pictures Entertainment and release the movie for free on Christmas Day via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and any other Internet or TV provider.
That way all Americans can, in the safety and privacy of their own home, send Kim Jong-un a collective "Fuck You."
Cyber attack against Sony was not just attack against company & its employees, but on our freedom of expression & way of life –JCJ
— Homeland Security (@DHSgov) December 19, 2014
"We are not going to tolerate … attacks from outlaw states by the strangest collection of misfits, loony tunes, and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich." President Ronald Reagan, 1985
134 Montague Road
The shopping experience at Atkins North, a proposed bookend satellite operation of an iconic South Amherst mainstay business, will be a tad more pleasurable -- not to mention safer -- thanks to the Amherst Planning Board, who voted unanimously last night to allow commercial use of the driveway at 134 Montague Road for deliveries.
Amherst Planning Board 12/17/14
The Site Plan Review, Special Permit permission applies only to Atkins North and limits deliveries to smaller type vehicles (no 18 wheeler semi-trailer trucks), so it's not a carte blanche approval for all future businesses opening in The Mill District.
Those businesses will still have to come before either the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals to get the same permission to use the more convenient access via Montague Road for commercial deliveries, something W.D. Cowls, the current owners, have done for centuries.
Atkins estimates only 10 deliveries daily
According to Planning Board Chair David Webber:
The Planning Board also voted (mostly) 6-1 to allow around a half-dozen Mill District commercial signs (some of them illuminated) for the convenience of the general public being able to more easily find their destination.This is a great example of two highly successful Amherst businesses, Cowls and Atkins, creating economic growth by providing much-needed services in North Amherst. Hopefully Atkins North will serve as an “anchor” tenant for further redevelopment of the Mill District.
Cinda Jones President W.D. Cowls, Inc largest private landowner in Massachusetts
Mr. Webber also pointed out the business signs may slow traffic as drivers will realized they are coming into a commercial zone and may watch more carefully for pedestrians and other vehicles entering or exiting the 12 acre emerging development.
Montague Road current traffic is 5,712 cars per day
As this is only the first step in the commercial revitalization of North Amherst, the former "dirty hands district."
A not overly happy Louis Greenbaum