Next thing you know, it's June

Remember when I used to blog?  If it weren't for my frequent presence on Channel 17, you might think I'd disappeared entirely.

The thing is, I am dealing with Town stuff all the time: pre-meeting stuff, post-meeting stuff, attending other meetings, dealing with issues, going to events.  So when I have some free time, writing about all this is not high on my list.  But how did I lose the whole month of May?  Life is a blur right now.

I hope I'll do a comprehensive post describing the state of the budget situation, but this is not that post.  So here are some odds and ends:

  Breaking news:  Tonight I received an e-mail that the mythical parade banner has been located.  People always talk about it, but no one knew where it was - in fact, not everyone was sure it had ever actually existed.  This is good news indeed, as the Hadley 350th parade is coming up June 14th, and they were gonna wonder about this group of anonymous interlopers.

  Speaking of parades, I had the privilege of being part of the Memorial Day Parade last week.  A funny moment was when we went by a person I know through delivering meals-on-wheels (though she's not on my route) and I could tell by the look on her face that she was thinking "What the heck is SHE doing in the parade?"  Some people only know me as the lunch lady. 

  Oh, and that other parade:  Yes, I know I meant to follow up on the long and interesting July 4th comments, but that topic wears me out.  Nutshell: we've got a month.  I am still hoping the firefighters and the town equipment will be there.  Stay tuned.

  I have spent every non-holiday Monday morning for more than a year doing "office hours" at the Black Sheep.  Yet owner Nick Seamon decided that the best way to raise his concerns about the parking restrictions and street closure for the 250th picnic was in a letter to the Bulletin and by complaining during SB public comment.  Maybe I'm invisible?

  Speaking of letters to the paper, I had a letter published in the Boston Globe a couple weeks ago.  A few years ago, I had one in the NY Times, but it was on a considerably less-weighty subject.

  The SB has decided to meet twice in July and twice in August (with a possible third meeting 8/31 - scheduling gets a little weird then because of Labor Day.)  If this is successful and productive, I hope we might carry a bi-weekly schedule into the fall and beyond.  We'll see how that goes.  Of course, we met Monday after having last week off, and it was probably my most-clumsily chaired meeting yet, so maybe I need weekly meetings to keep my "skills" up.  Nah.

  My weird, er, clever husband has turned the Town Meeting warrant into a word design again.  Available on t-shirts, mugs and more from CafePress.  Still time to get yours before TM resumes on the 15th.

  I'm finding that Facebook is just enough to satisfy my low-intensity blogging urges (SB stuff here, pet pix and what I ate for lunch there,) so that got me thinking:  maybe I should add a Twitter feed to this site.  Surely I could stay more timely with 140-character posts.  But then I realized it would be a long series of:  "is at a meeting."  "is at another meeting."  "is leaving this meeting to go to my next meeting."  So never mind.

  Last night, for the first time since I started attending SB meetings a couple years ago, I FORGOT to turn on my little digital voice recorder.  Don't know what happened, but I didn't realize it until about 45 minutes in, during the Town Manager's report.  That was bad enough, but I very nearly made it worse by uttering a naughty word when I noticed it.  Swearing on TV = to be avoided.  I may have to record the audio of that part from the ACTV streaming video,  just so there are no holes in my archive, but that might be a little too obsessive.  (Too obsessive?  Moi?)

  Finishing on a serious note:  our budget situation is terrible.  We are $6.9 million dollars short of level services from FY09 - what it would cost next year (beginning 7/1) to fund everything we are currently funding this year.  That shortfall is equal to more than 10% of our budget.  This means tough cuts, using money from reserves, and pursuing every possible option for new revenue.  (Lots of nitty-gritty detail here.)  The Massachusetts Senate and House are working to reconcile their respective State budget proposals, which are devastating to aid for cities and towns.  (Did you know that the Senate version has only allocated a pittance of the proposed sales tax increase to local aid?  You might have thought the sales tax hike was going to "solve" our problems, but so far, no.)  This is why the local option taxes for meals and lodging are so crucial - they help to take our revenue fate out of the hands of the State, and let us decide as a community if these taxes are appropriate for us.  (And they are!  The meals tax in particular would allow us to reap some tax benefit from all those denizens of our vast non-taxable land supply - students.)  The local option taxes don't come close to solving this year's budget gap, but:  a) without them, we will have to cut more; b) it is an important tool to have going forward.  Please contact our local legislators - Senator Stan Rosenberg and Representative Ellen Story - and let them know that you urge their strong support for these local option taxes. 

As always, thanks for checking in, and for paying attention.


YourAdmirer said:

Good letter to the Globe (and a good thing you didn't record that last sentence on a legislator's answering machine early one morning, after a long, anguished elecction night ;-)!

Ron said:

Oh Please Stephanie find some moderate ground to make the July 4th Parade being something we can all be proud of.

Tom G said:

Even if she is his boss, Stephanie has nothing to gain by interfering with town dispute arbitrator Larry Shaffer, Shafferesque policy on parades: Concede to town's preferred participation rules including protest or forgo the use of Amherst police and fire equipment.... not that Shaffer or O'Keefe find the Parade Committee's policy so objectionable that they themselves will not be marching. No, it's suits their own interests to march.

Beyond the question of whether Shaffer is a competent dispute moderator, what is the town's interest in moderating this dispute between two private interests? If the town does have an interest, is it to decide which party is right or is it to find a solution that both parties can live with? I would argue it is the later and not he former. Shaffer has chosen the former.

Has Shaffer succeeded in resolving the dispute? No.

Are both parties satisfied with the solution? No, neither are.

Is Shaffer's successful resolution of this dispute one of the objectives on his job goals for the year? Can somebody please give the guy a hand so we can get passed this?

Alisa V. Brewer said:

on a lighter note:
My weird, er, clever husband has turned the Town Meeting warrant into a word design again. Available on t-shirts, mugs and more from CafePress. Still time to get yours before TM resumes on the 15th.

How about he designs us some "Select Board" T-shirts to wear in the Hadley 350th -- color to match banner, of course (is it safe to assume blue ink on white banner? don't think I've ever seen it:-) I just ask the questions:-) Don't forget the bullseye target on the back, of course...

I just can't see any kind of "business casual" for walking *slowly* 1.8 miles on a Sunday June afternoon.

Alisa (one of three SB members in Hadley 350 parade, as Diana & Gerry away)

Larry Kelley said:

Wow the Boston Globe! Good thing they published it before they go the way of the dinosaurs.

And while people are contacting Stan and Ellen to support local option taxes, remind them to STEP UP and file legislation requiring that the Campus Center Hotel (owned by Umass) pay it.

Six years ago a commission headed by Stan concluded:

“Eliminate UMASS Amherst Campus Center's exemption from hotel motel tax (that tax doesn't cost the state anything, doesn't cost the university anything, shouldn't be an edge in competition against local hotels / motels). This could be a significant ($70,000+) help to Amherst.”

Tom G said:

Looks like the town manager has one set of rules for the 250th anniversary parade (rules that look very much like the rules the 7/4 Parade Committee want to have if even not more discretionary and more controlling with regard to excluding protest) while not allowing the 7/4 parade committee to have the same control.

Is there a reason why the two standards make any sense?

The 7/4 parade committee should be allowed to adopt the same control over their parade and be allowed to have town fire and police equipment in it too. LINK

Abbie said:

To Tom G,

Isn't the 250th anniversary parade sponsored by the town? If that's correct then I imagine that accounts for the different standards.

I do wish a way could be found for the July 4th folks to "rent" the equipment. I understand that stringent conditions and fees would need to be developed so folks wouldn't try to rent firetrucks for birthday parties...But unless there is some legal block to "renting" it out, it seems like a win-win to me. The July 4th folks get their precious fire truck and the town gets some cash. (A we wouldn't have to deal with it anymore...)

Tom G said:

What rationale justifies the town to restrict protest and use town fire vehicles in the 250th parade but does not allow the 7/4 parade committee to restrict protest and use town fire vehicles?

Abbie said:

The rationale seems pretty clear to me, one is a Town parade and the other is PRIVATE and I still don't understand why the 7/4 folks feel ENTITLED to use town equipment. Tom, if the option were available, would you be willing to pay for the use of fire equipment/trucks?

Tom G said:

Why is it ok for the town to prohibit protest in the 250th anniversary parade while trying to convince the Independence Day Parade committee to allow protest by withholding the use of the safety vehicles?

Is the town for protest in parades in Amherst or against it?

If it's for protest in some instances and against it in others, what differences between those two situations justify the different policy on principle?

Claiming that two the different situations are self-evidently different and therefore merit different policies does not address the question: If it's for protest in some instances and against it in others, what differences between those two situations justify the different policy on principle?

Abbie, if you don't know, please refer the question to someone who is accountable for providing these kinds of answers.

Anonymous said:

Good question Tom.
I thought the private committee had come up with a good compromise.
EVERYONE is allowed.
ALL are only allowed a sign to say who they are.
That sounds pretty inclusive and equal to me. Why is Shaffer making it more complicated?
Bring back the trucks and let the kids enjoy a simple parade!

Tom G said:

Gerry Weiss wants the parade committee to make another concession - allow a protest section - a concession in addition to it's policy to allow all groups but no protest signs.

Weiss wants the concession in order to WORK AROUND an unjustifiable policy that the Select Board's DIRECT REPORT Larry Shaffer invented in order to "persuade" the parade committee to allow protests.

At the same time, the town' 250th anniversary parade will not allow protests. WTF?

Is the SB and Town Manager for or against protest in parades? If they are in favor of protest, why not the 250th anniversary parade too.

We don't hear Weiss making a plea to the 250th anniversary parade to concede their right of free speech, do we? Why not? Because the Select Board does not want protest in the 250th anniversary parade.

Once again, Amherst government leaders are bending over backwards asking the wrong party to relent.

They should be all over Larry Shaffer for his ineffective and bone-headed arbitration and problem solving ability that has left them in this position.

Also, they, the Select Board, will all march. So much for a principled objection to the parade committee's policy.

Nancy said:

Well, great, so Lincoln Ave gets to be disconnected from the University whence much of their incomes are derived....

they have sidewalks. What will the Select Board do for those of us living on South East Street, East Pleasant St, Pine Street, North East Street?????

Curious said:

Stephanie, can you tell us what happened to the Town Hall Tower Clock?

Nancy said:

I don't think this site is being read much, by owner nor by constituents, more's the pity.

I have not talked to one Amherst resident that supports the blocking of Lincoln Avenue, using tax payers' money to maintain the street etc. There are sidewalks on that street. How about the dangerous streets in Amherst, like PINE St? bikers and walkers take their lives in their hands on that pot-holed obstacle course with cars racing by. Money for barriers for Lincoln could be used to mitigate that street's real dangers.

The University is NOT a big bad ogre "taking" from Amherst. Our town's economy is very much tied to the Unviersity. And I would surmise, many of Lincoln Ave's residents livelihoods as well....did they not NOTICE the University when they bought their houses?

How can the SB justify spending funds from a lean, lean budget to shut off a thoroughfare?

Nancy is right -- my attention to this site has had to decrease as my attention to so many other Town issues has increased. Being on the SB requires more time than I would have expected, and being Chair requires WAY more time than I would have expected. That isn't a complaint, but a reality, and I'm doing the best I can to juggle it all.

The last two weeks of Town Meeting -- five sessions, four of which were preceded by SB meetings -- has been particularly time consuming, with all the required preparations for each. That has me a bit behind in the Post-Meeting Lists, but I will catch up.

Per the parade stuff: the Town and the Parade Committee are in a good place with this right now. The Select Board's efforts to reach out to the Committee have had the full support of the Town Manager. All involved are pleased with the current agreement. A lot of the criticisms about this stem from an oversimplified or unrealistic sense of how compromise and accommodation works when you are dealing with a bunch of differing view points. This is not about whether people are for or against parades -- it's about the fact that Town government represents the WHOLE town. And when done best, Town governance focuses on the best outcomes for the WHOLE town, and NOT on the personal preferences of any of the individual officials. (To me, a key difference between good and bad government is process. If I am fighting for a specific outcome based on my personal beliefs and to heck with what everyone else thinks, then that is lousy process. If I am willing to use lousy process to get the outcome I want, then I also have to accept others using lousy process to get the outcomes they want. And I am not willing to accept that. That's my philosophy for everything the SB confronts, not just the parade.) We have achieved a good understanding on the parade situation, and I appreciate the efforts, compromise and optimism of all involved to get us here and move us forward.

Per Lincoln Ave.: I've already written about that here and I don't think anything has changed since then. It is an experiment. It will only last a couple of weeks. Maybe it will be valuable and maybe it won't, but we will never find new solutions if we're afraid to consider new ways of doing things. Let's just see how it goes.

Per the clock: I happened to run in to Ron Bohonowicz, Director of Facilities, as I was heading to Black Sheep last Monday morning and he was heading over to check out the clock. His staff has cleaned and refurbished it, and it looks magnificent. I can't remember if he said it involved new parts or just cleaning, paint removal and new painting. They have done a great job.

Nancy said:

Thanks for your update; we do appreciate them, truly, and I know that the time you spend on SB is much more than any of us would realize from the outside. And I also appreciate the information you convey thorough this site, it's really great to hear such detail from the SB Chair.

I know you have expressed that it's worth trying the Lincoln Ave barriers, but experiments cost money. Which we have an extreme lack of this year. The observations I've heard from folks, and feel strongly about myself, is that a street of quite pricey homes is given more consideration to their traffic concerns than streets with legitimate safety problems.

Those residents had and took the time to be vocal and tenacious and were rewarded. That is questionable. Good government requires the ability to say "no". My goodness we're laying off teachers. (and I know it's separate budgets but the pie is the pie. We collect exactly so much revenue, let's spend it wisely on real problems.)

It is all of our tax dollars going to maintain their street AND their sidewalks--. They have sidewalks. (and I remind you we spend a lot of tax $ to repair Woodside Ave bridge to be traffic worthy as it is a throughfare on the books but we keep it blocked for the few who live there to have it "their way". Lincoln certainly appears to be same ole, same ole)

Perhaps SB and Mr. Shaffer should try biking or walking along the streets I've named over and over and compare that to walking along Lincoln Ave on Sidewalks! Very different.

I've walked and biked on, South East, East Pleasant, Pine, Lincoln, Strong, and Lincoln and Woodside etc. for many years (~30) and Lincoln and Woodside are very very safe compared to the others. If I felt unsafe biking on Lincoln I could take the option of walking my bike along the sidewalk. But I've not felt the need there and I ride on it right after 5:00 on many days. I've also never felt unsafe walking on Lincoln's sidewalks Riding on Pine, as I've said, is EXTREMELY dangerous; walking is little better. With no options. the potholes, the narrow shoulder, the speeds that the cars travel and the disregard that motorists on that street have for bicyclists is a perfect storm of danger....why not spend $ there?

And I can't just jump into my hybrid--can't afford my bike IS my green transportation.

I just don't understand the need for the town to spend $ on a comparatively safe street when there are so many dangerous streets within town. Even for an experiment.

I suspect Mr. Shaffer made the decision because the residents kept up the call; but I truly feel that he and the SB need to better assess where true pedestrian and traffic dangers are.

Thanks again for the opportunity to express all this.

Thanks, Nancy. I understand your concerns, and I have some skepticism about this also. I don't happen to buy the "people w/ expensive homes have more clout" argument, but there is no denying the squeaky wheel factor. The more I learn about Town government, the more I realize how true that is.

But that is how an issue gets attention, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The question is what happens once the attention is there. In the case of Lincoln Ave., there have been many complaints and many proposed solutions for many years. But no action was taken (until the speed cushions) and that's because despite the volume of complaints, there didn't seem to be a good option for addressing the concerns. So that squeaky wheel wasn't getting any grease, which says to me that the process (I know, I'm like a broken record...) is working. This time, the experiment with the diverters has the backing of the DPW Superintendent and the Public Works Committee. And again, it is an experiment, not a permanent change, which also seems to me to be a responsible way to proceed. It allows for testing the impact, and all those negatively or positively impacted can provide feedback, and that will inform what happens next.

I am personally looking forward to the Town-wide traffic calming policy (which has been delayed, as pursuit of Federal stimulus money has tied up much of the DPW Superintendent's time) so that we have standardized ways of addressing traffic concerns. You note safety concerns on other roads -- be sure to express those concerns to the DPW. The pothole-related ones they know about, but there may be others of which they are not aware. It doesn't mean they will automatically be addressed, but they want to have those issues on their radar.

Per the cost of the diverters experiment: my impression is that it will be very small -- I think they will put up some concrete barriers which we may well already own. But I will try to find out more about that. I don't think anyone would be advocating for this right now if it represented any significant expense. But I'll check on that and let you know.

Anonymous said:

Why can't we just put simple old fashioned speed bumps on Lincoln Ave? They have them in the big apartment complexes in South Amherst, etc, where police and fire respond often and seem to be able to drive over them. Why does it have to be such an expensive and drawn out issue?

Curious said:

Thanks for the info on the clock. I appears to me the entire facade has been replaced. There used to be metal numerals around the perimeter, but now it looks like a smooth panel. I'm wondering what was done and why.



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