Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday quiz: Name the voting rights crusader

Which champion of voting rights said the following yesterday?

I'm disappointed at the lengths people will go to disenfranchise voters and to win at any cost.
  • Al Gore, recalling voting irregularities in Florida in 2000
  • John Kerry, recalling voting problems in Ohio in 2004
  • Hillary Clinton, complaining about the plight of primary voters in Michigan and Florida
Would you believe Jim Ogonowski? That's right, a Republican is concerned about the disenfranchisement of voters. Of course, he's worried about opponents disqualifying his voters. But still, it's refreshing to see a Republican in favor of growing the voter pool. I'm looking forward to his fervent support of same-day voter registration, mail-in voting, and strong opposition to identification requirements.



Edited to correct the spelling of "Ogonowski."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Knuuttila's stormy Tuesday

The line of thunderstorms that descended on the North County yesterday wasn’t the only ill wind blowing. Heavy weather also has engulfed the campaign for the senate seat being vacated by Bob Antonioni, as charges of broken promises, double-dealing, and confidentiality breaches have begun to swirl.

The basic question is this: Did Brian Knuuttila tell Jennifer Flanagan that he was dropping out of the race, only to renege a couple of days later, or did the Flanagan campaign publicize a private conversation between the candidates to try to force Knuuttila out of the race? And why was Knuuttila so evasive when asked about the meeting?

At least three stories have been published in the Telegram and the Sentinel over the last 24 hours and by piecing the three together, we might be able to come to some sort of a comprehensive narrative. First, the Telegram posted the following update on its web site yesterday afternoon:

Brian A. Knuuttila said this morning he will make today's 5 p.m. deadline to file nomination papers for the Worcester and Middlesex state Senate seat.

Mr. Knuuttila, a former state representative who lives in Gardner, said a glitch with signatures obtained in Townsend delayed his filing.

He said the Townsend issue has been resolved and the signatures certified.

The delay in filing might have led to speculation that he would drop out of the race, Mr. Knuuttila said, but he vowed he's in it to stay.
Now I’m not the most tapped in observer in the North County but I think I am better informed on local races than most, and I hadn’t heard one whisper that Knuuttila might be jumping out. Where might that sort of speculation come from? Let’s go into the Sentinel’s coverage in this morning’s paper for a clue:

BOSTON -- Former state Rep. Brian Knuuttila had everyone guessing over the weekend about whether he would continue his campaign for Senate after telling his opponent he was prepared to call it quits.

Knuuttila, of Gardner, turned in his nominations papers Tuesday to the Secretary of State to campaign for retiring Sen. Robert Antonioni's seat, but not before he told both Antonioni and state Rep. Jennifer Flanagan on Friday that he planned to bow out Both he and Flanagan are competing for the Democratic nomination to replace Antonioni in the Worcester and Middlesex County state Senate seat...

Antonioni said Knuuttila asked for the weekend to notify his supporters, and tentatively planned an announcement for Tuesday morning at Antonioni's Leominster district office.
If this account is correct, the “speculation” mentioned in the Telegram story is probably a cryptic way of saying that the press had been told to be ready to head to Leominster on Tuesday for Knuuttila’s withdrawal. The press had been tipped off, everyone has settled in for a nice holiday weekend, and then, according to the Sentinel’s account, Knuuttila changes his mind:

...On Saturday night, Knuuttila called Antonioni to tell him he was reconsidering. Knuuttila told the retiring Senator he now believed he had been given bad information about how much money Flanagan had already raised for her campaign and thought he could compete.

With renewed confidence, Knuuttila told Antonioni he was still trying to make up his mind.

"The whole thing just sounded very different. It had all been decided until he called me that night," Antonioni said.
So whoever tipped off the press (and it must have been someone involved with either the Flanagan campaign or Antonioni’s office, my money is on the Senator) has to call the reporters back, tell them that there is no withdrawal announcement after all, and then starts spilling the beans about the meeting. In both the Sentinel account and the follow-up in today’s Telegram, the accounts from Flanagan and Antonioni are remarkably consistent. Each contains the following claims:

  • Knuuttila was looking to get out because he couldn’t raise enough money to compete

  • He wanted to mend fences between Flanagan and Sheriff Guy Glodis

  • He might be moving to Florida in the fall

  • He gave Flanagan a hug and told her she would be a “great senator”
If all of that is true (and let’s be clear, these versions of the story are based on discussions the newspapers had with Flanagan and Antonioni), it makes a pretty convincing case that Knuuttila’s heart isn’t really in it. But I haven’t seen any indication that Knuuttila’s enthusiasm is waning. On the contrary, I’ve seen him out on the stump a handful of times and he looks like he is working his tail off, and enjoying himself to boot. The man was standing alone outside the Sterling Town Meeting a couple of weeks ago holding a sign and waving to voters. Not what I’d expect from someone who was getting out.

(Even so, the mental images that go along with the accounts in the paper can’t be good for Brian. If this were a high-profile, nasty campaign, a mass mailer with Knuuttila in a Disney hat with a cold drink in one hand and a speech bubble with the caption “Jenn Flanagan will make a great senator” inside would probably be forthcoming. But I don’t think it would ever come to that.)

Knuuttila didn’t help himself when he tried to deny to the Telegram that the meeting never took place. He probably figured that what happens in Gardner stays in Gardner, and when the Telegram confronted him with the story of the meeting, he was caught completely off guard:

Yesterday, Mr. Knuuttila initially denied that he even met with Mr. Antonioni and Ms. Flanagan on Friday, and said he had no idea how any rumor that he was leaving the race might have gotten started.

“No” he said when asked by a reporter, “Didn’t you meet with them?”

After an interruption during a telephone interview, he then said, “I apologize. There was a discussion,” and he acknowledged that, in fact, he had met with the Ms Flanagan and Mr. Antonioni….

At one point yesterday, Mr. Knuuttila said he had not even, at any point, considering dropping out of the race. “No, I did not have second thoughts about running last week,” he said. At that time he attributed what he called “rumors” about his dropping out to “some desperation tactic on the part of people supporting my opponent.”

Later, however, after being told of Ms. Flanagan’s and Mr. Antonioni’s account of the meeting, Mr. Knuuttila acknowledged that he did meet and talk with them about concerns he had that Ms. Flanagan might outspend him many times over and that he might find that campaign funding advantage “insurmountable.”

“We told them if that fiscal information was correct, things looked pretty bleak for us,” Mr. Knuuttila said of the conversation at the meeting.

“We didn’t come out and say we were formally out of the race. We didn’t come out and say that … It was never actually said. I was looking at it very seriously based on the information we had, because of the huge margins,” Mr. Knuuttila said last night.

“I did not say I was dropping out of the race. There was a misunderstanding and I don’t know what to say more about that misunderstanding,” he said.
It seems pretty clear to me that Knuuttila didn’t expect to get that phone call. He absolutely made a pigs’ breakfast out of his explanation. By the time the Sentinel got to him, he had honed his response:
"We had a short conversation about keeping the race positive. We had heard she had been raising a significant amount of money and we had to face the possibility of her outspending us seven to one,"

Knuuttila said. "I said let me sit on this awhile. I never made a commitment. This was all supposed to [be] kept in confidence."
Which is what he should have said in the first place.

So what does all of this mean? Ultimately, I don’t think it will mean that much to voters. I doubt many of them are paying much attention this early in the process. The first debate of the campaign won’t be held for another four weeks (shameless plug: June 23 at 6:30 pm at the First Church in Sterling, hosted by the Sterling Democratic Town Committee), and while this issue might come up, I don’t think too many voters are that interested in this kind of inside baseball. And it certainly won’t be an issue come September.

Where it may hurt Knuuttila is in the wallet. If he wants to be able to compete financially, he needs to start raising money and this sort of story can only hurt. He claims to be afraid he might be outspent seven-to-one, and it seems like the worst way to keep the money flowing is to signal to donors that your heart might not really be there. No one wants to give money to someone who doesn’t think he can win. (Check out Save Fitchburg for another take on the race and a more detailed breakdown of what a “seven-to-one” money edge might look like.)

I hope Knuuttila is in it until the end. The district deserves a spirited race with candidates who hold divergent views on many issues, so that the voters have a clear choice. Filling an open seat with an unopposed candidate would not be the best thing for the district.

Who knows, perhaps this little kerfuffle might make for a more lively campaign, or at least fewer hugs between the candidates.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I've read plenty about it, Ive heard about it, but seeing it for my own eyes is still startling. For the first time, I've seen regular unleaded gas listed above $4.00. I passed this full-service station in Berlin on the way home from work this afternoon.



Not "Wheezy"...WEEZIE!

Every so often someone will toss a comment into a post I did months or years ago. Of all the posts that I've written, the gift that keeps on giving more than any other is the one I wrote two Decembers ago about my quest to pick up Christmas Cards I ordered from Wal Mart

In it, I use the nicknames "Slacker McSkaterdude" and "Master Shaggy" in referenfcing a long-haired, multiply pierced, photo clerk and refer to his manager as Louise Jefferson because of her resemblance of the late, great Isabel Sanford.

Earlier this morning, a commenter named "Kam" didn't get the joke:
There is no need to judge someone on their hair, piercings and only what I can assume could be weight with the comment of "wheezing". How pathetic is that? It makes me want to stereotype you as an old religious nut who judges those who have some sort of individuality.
No, you see I didn't say the manager was wheezing or wheezy, I called her "Weezie" as in "George and Weezie." You know, George Jefferson's affectionate nickname for his wife, Louise?

I'm not sure how anything I've written could cause one to stereotype me as a religious nut, but I suppose using TV characters from the late 70s is enought to stereotype me as old...


Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

Pictures (mostly of Jackson) from Memorial Day weekend...

memorial day 010
Veterans marching in the Sterling parade.

memorial day 008
Jackson marched along the sidewalk as the band passed.

memorial day 013
Michelle teaching Jackson about the colors of the flag.

latemay 004
Playing in the "jumpy thing" at his cousin's birthday party.

latemay 023
Looking through the porthole.

Enjoying strawberry shortcake at a pool party.

memorial day 017
Giving his buddy Rowan a hug.

latemay 045
Snuggling with Summer.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Michael Graham’s unwavering support for Veteran candidates

As I’m sure he did in 2000 and 2004, Michael Graham takes on those who would oppose a Vietnam veteran’s campaign for president this morning in a post titled "We Support The Troops...Unless They Run For President." Among the excerpts:

Berkeley liberals attack a Marine recruiting office and even try to cast spells on it. Cambridge shuts down a Boy Scout drive collecting gifts to send to soldiers in Iraq. Harvard chased the ROTC off campus during the Vietnam War and still won't allow them back.

But whatever you do...don't question the Left's patriotism!
It’s always nice to see a right-winger support the candidacy of a Vietnam veteran. One of the hallmarks of conservatism in the 21st Century is its unwavering support of presidential candidates who fought overseas...

Now, I wasn’t a listener of Graham’s back in 2004 (OK, I’m not now either; you got me), and I wasn’t reading his columns or blogs or whatever he might have been writing then. But I imagine that if I was I’d have found this:

We Support The Troops...Unless They Run For President.

Georgia conservatives attack a triple-amputee Vietnam War hero and tie him to Osama bin Laden. Conservative religious leaders preach that God sent the 9/11 attackers to punish America. Thousands of delegates to the Republican convention sport purple band-aids to mock the war wounds of a decorated war hero.

But whatever you do...don't question the Right's patriotism!
I’m sure I’ll find that link in the archives somewhere. Just got to keep looking...


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sal DiMasi: Government by Decree

So, the whole thing about needing a special election should Senator Kennedy resign...House Speaker Sal DiMasi says "never mind":

BOSTON — The leader of the Massachusetts House says he will support giving Gov. Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim successor to U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy if that becomes necessary.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature stripped Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of that authority in 2004 because of fears he would name a Republican to replace U.S. Sen. John Kerry if he had been elected president.

Instead, state law now requires a special election for the seat no sooner than 145 days and no later than 160 days after the vacancy occurs.

But House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi said yesterday if Kennedy should step aside or have to be replaced because of his brain tumor diagnosis, he'd be in favor of a gubernatorial appointment.

"That was a good political reason (then)," DiMasi said of taking the power away from Romney. "It's a good political reason to change it back."

No, Mr. Speaker, bald-faced politics was not a good reason then, and would not be a good reason now. If one wants to argue that the law needed to be changed in 2004 because it was a bad law, I can get behind that (although I don't think it was necessarily a bad law). But to suggest that the old law was bad because the governor was a Republican, but now that the governor is a Democrat it was a good idea after

It seems to me that if the legislature changes the law each time it suits the Speaker or his party (in this case, my party) our government ceases to be a government of laws, but rather government by decree.


Media missing the fine print on possible Kennedy succession

In every article I've read about the procedure to replace Senator Kennedy should he choose to retire because of his illness, the law regarding succession has pointed to a special election between 145 and 160 days after the resignation is announced. Here is this morning's Globe, for example:
The law says a special election would be held 145 to 160 days after either a vacancy is created or a senator declares he or she is vacating the seat. It specifically bars a temporary appointee until voters can choose a replacement.
That is what the law says, but it also says something else, which I have not seen reported anywhere:
If a vacancy for senator is created after April 10 of an even-numbered year, but on or before the seventieth day preceding the regular state primary, the precepts shall appoint the day of the regular state primary and the biennial state election for holding the special primary and special election required by this section.
In other words, if Senator Kennedy were to announce his retirement on or before July 8 (the seventieth day before the September primary) the special election would be placed on the November 4 ballot along with the other races, including the presidential race and the contest for John Kerry's seat. In that case, a special primary would be held on September 16 along with the regularly scheduled primary.

This is in no way to suggest that Senator Kennedy should or will announce a retirement early this summer. I hope along with the everyone else in Massachusetts that Senator Kennedy makes a full recovery. But if the Senator believes that his prognosis is bleak, the timing of a possible decision to retire becomes very important, as the prospect of another election this summer looms.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sad News

About 1:30 this afternoon, I came across the news bulletin that Senator Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. It is very sad news. Not that I'm sitting at my desk weeping, but the critical illness or death of one of the icons of your youth changes your perspective and has left me feeling a little hollow. A little piece of the world as I've known it appears to be irrevocably changed.

(I felt the same way when Ronald Reagan died. While I was no supporter of his, he was the first president who I was really aware of, and his death left me feeling that a little tie to my life growing up was gone.)

I've known three people who have suffered brain cancer and the two who developed it as adults suffered terribly before succumbing to the disease (the one who survived his fight was diagnosed and treated as a child). Based on what I have read this afternoon, the fact that the cancer was not discovered until after it had begun causing seizures is not good news at all.

Hopefully Senator Kennedy will make a full recovery and return to continue his work as one of the most accomplished Senators the nation has known.

UPDATED: Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia broke down this afternoon when speaking about Senator Kennedy:


Flanagan kicks off her campaign in style

Last night, I attended the official kickoff for State Rep. Jennifer Flanagan’s campaign for state senate. (News coverage is here and here.)

Flanagan’s event last night was very much a corporate affair. The event was held at the Sheraton Conference Center in Leominster, which has the only real business-class meeting facilities in the North County. Most of the men were in jackets and/or ties and many of the women were in business attire as well. The cash bar was open and the waitresses were circulating with toasted raviolis and stuffed mushrooms and all of the other standard hors d’oeuvres you’d find at a wedding reception or a business meet-and-greet. There were a number of important political figures there to lend support, including members of the Leominster city council, Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, retiring Senator Bob Antonioni, District Attorney Joe Early, Jr., and other elected officials.

Like any stereotypical political event, the candidate was preceded to the microphone by the aforementioned dignitaries. Mayor Wong spoke for a couple of minutes, noting that she knew of Flanagan and her work for the district long before she had met the Representative. The District Attorney told the crowd of Flanagan’s tenacity in working the state house to increase funding for his office so that he could hire more prosecutors. Senator Antonioni praised Flanagan for her hard work for the district and expressed confidence in her ability to continue his work for the constituents.

For her part, Flanagan seems a little uncomfortable with the praise and adulation. While a little shyness and humility can be endearing, it can also serve to dilute and discount the impact of the praise. For instance, when she took to the podium, Flanagan thanked the speakers and then gave a little more background on the stories Early and Antonioni shared. Early had mentioned that Flanagan wrote his budget request on a “pink sticky” that she then carried with her to meetings with the DA the house speaker. In Flanagan’s comments, she mentioned that the reason she had a pink sticky was because Early had called late in the morning and that’s all she had to write on. That served to make her look a little less heroic and dampen the impact of Early’s testimony.

Similarly, Flanagan recounted the call she received from Antonioni when he let her know he was retiring. She recounted that he said (and I’m paraphrasing) “This is your chance, you’re running for senate.” That discussion was probably held in the context of discussions Antonioni and Flanagan had held over a long period of time where the two had discussed their plans for the future, but the way the story was related it sounded as if Antonioni had told Flanagan what to do. Again, in an effort to be self-deprecating Flanagan had undermined herself.

(As a piece of unsolicited advice, I’d suggest Flanagan retire that anecdote, or at least stash it away when she comes to Sterling and Lancaster. At our combined Democratic Town Committee last month, the Sterling and Lancaster delegations were not entirely thrilled with Antonioni’s record in relation to the towns, to the point where a member from Lancaster suggested that Flanagan had done more for the town—despite not representing it in the house—than Antonioni had as Lancaster’s senator.)

But once Jenn got the niceties out of the way, she made a passionate and effective plea for support. She recounted discussions she had with house colleagues who tried to talk her out of leaving her house seat for a run at the senate. They told her that she had it easy in the house as one of the few members whose district included just one city, and that she was crazy to give up her seats since she had already ascended to the vice-chairmanship of a house committee in just her second term. Flanagan said that she understood what she was giving up, but that she believed that she had more to offer the region, and that she saw an opportunity to be an advocate for 110,000 more citizens than she currently represents in Leominster.

She mentioned her ties to other towns in the district, specifically mentioning that her family was originally from Sterling and that Flanagan Hill Road is named after her family. She had recounted that story when she spoke to the Democratic Town Committee last month and I wondered if it was just a little pandering, but last night’s crown was definitely a Leominster crowd—I think there may have been just two of us from Sterling—and she left it in.

I was fascinated at how different Flanagan’s kickoff event was when compared to the announcement tour staged by her opponent, Brian Knuuttila. As I recounted last month, Knuuttila’s event in Clinton was held on the steps of town hall on a dank, dreary afternoon in front of a crowd of about 20, with as many or more out-of-town supporters as Clintonians. He spoke for about 15 minutes and then took questions from a couple people in the audience. After the crowd broke up, Knuuttila and a local newspaperman and I chatted for quite a while before the candidate had to pack up. It very much had the feel of an old-time grass-roots campaign. That impression was further solidified last week when Brian was standing alone in front of the Chocksett School last Monday, greeting Sterlingites who were headed in to Town Meeting. In contrast, Flanagan’s event had all the trappings of incumbency.

One of the reasons I decided to attend Flanagan’s event was the opportunity to meet some people and network a little bit. When I worked as a college basketball coach I had a reputation of being somewhat of a schmoozer, but that quality was based on being in a position of power. It’s easy to work a room or visit with a recruit’s family when you are offering something that someone else wants (admission to college, a spot on the team, a scholarship, etc.). But I find that I have a hard time “schmoozing up.” It’s difficult for me to walk up to an elected official or business executive and strike up a conversation. Going to an event like this and being essentially alone is good because it forces me to either strike up a conversation or sit alone on the sidelines eating toasted raviolis (not that there is anything wrong with that).

I had the chance to talk to a few of the elected officials in attendance. I got to catch up with Leominster city councilor Bob Salvatelli, who I’ve known for a long time from his days as a basketball referee and my days as a coach. I talked for a few minutes with State Committeewoman and Register of Deeds Kathy Daignault about an upcoming rally that the party will be holding in Leominster. I also had a nice conversation with District Attorney Early about some of the changes he’s made at the DA's office since his election in 2006. He was telling me about his work with the Molly Bish Center and his efforts to fight against cyber-bullying and intimidation in schools. I told Early that for years the only Republican I ever voted for was whoever ran against John Conte and that I was happy to see the changes he’s made. That probably came across as a total kiss-up, but it was absolutely true.

I introduced myself to Senator Antonioni and spoke with him briefly (Antonioni has perfected the neutral introduction. When I told him who I was, he nodded and said “yes” in a way that would have sufficed if he had met me before, but was also appropriate for meeting someone for the first time. Politicians need this skill because they meet so many constituents that there is no way to remember them all, even though the constituent probably assumes that the senator would remember an encounter). After I left the event, I was kicking myself for not taking the opportunity to lobby Antonioni to support Representative Naughton’s house budget earmark for the Wekepeke when the budget goes to the joint conference committee. I’ve got to remember when I have someone’s ear not to be shy about talking into it.

My only real disappointment was not getting to meet Mayor Wong. I have followed her rise to the Mayor's office through the news and was hoping to meet and congratulate her, but she had to leave the event before the speeches were over.

Now that I have seen both candidates up close and in their element, I have a decision to make. While I have committed to remaining neutral until after the Sterling Democratic Town Committee’s candidates’ forum on June 23, I will probably jump into the water with one candidate or the other after the event. I’ve decided that I want to be involved in the campaign in some capacity; it’s just a matter of deciding how and with whom.

Photo from the Sentinel and Enterprise.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Just in the nick of time

Like many evenings, I had settled in to watch something I had recorded from the National Geographic Channel (I have this inexplicable fascination with plane crash investigations...I think I've seen every episode of "Air Emergency" and "Seconds from Disaster"). I usually don't worry about switching over to the Red Sox until 9:30 or so, since they always seem to go three-and-a-half hours and I figure I can catch the last three innings. So tonight, I switch over to find the Sox are up 7-0 with two outs and a 1-and-2 count on the batter...

and Jon Lester threw one more pitch, completing his no-hitter. Good thing I didn't check the Spurs-Hornets score before switching to the Sox.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Town Meeting: Groundhog Day

Either the Telegram and Gazette has made a mistake, is trying to play a cruel joke on the people of Sterling, or someone has made the mother of all motions to reconsider. According to today's online version, we're all getting back together Monday for Town Meeting:
Friday, May 16, 2008

Town meeting to act on $18.6M budget
Wachusett articles also on warrant

By Sandy Meindersma CORRESPONDENT

STERLING— Voters will be asked to spend $18.6 million for municipal and school budgets as part of the 61-article annual town meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday.
One nine-plus hour Town Meeting is enough, thank you.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Town Meeting: No to WRSD spending, but will it matter?

Sterling’s town meeting, which began at 6:30 Monday evening, finally ended Tuesday about 20 minutes before it would have been Wednesday, much to the relief of the 100 or so exhausted townspeople who took over nine hours to slog through 77 articles across two warrants. The decision that was potentially the most important was the town meeting’s vote to reject one of the proposed amendments to the Wachusett regional School District Agreement. From Article 61:
To see if the Town will vote to approve the amendment of Section 16. CAPITAL EXPENDITURES FROM SURPLUS of the Amended Wachusett Regional School District Agreement, as recommended and approved by vote of the Regional District School Committee on January 28, 2008, or act or do anything relative thereto....

Summary: The proposed amendment deletes the words "Regional District School" where they precede the word "Committee", deletes the clause after "Section 16" which reads: "not to exceed $250,000 in any fiscal year or for any single project, and", and by inserting the fraction (2/3) after the words "two thirds", a copy of the proposed Amendment is on file with the Town Clerk in a report entitled "Wachusett Regional School District Committee Recommendations for Changes to Regional Agreement Annual Town Meetings 2008."
The article was one of five articles regarding changes to the district agreement. All of them appear to essentially be an effort to modernize the language in the agreement. The other four articles were easily approved, but this article is a little different. In addition to modernizing the language, the amendment would strike the provision which requires the school committee to get approval from member towns to spend more than $250,000 from the district’s surplus funds. The town’s Finance Committee recommended against passage because removing that language would give the school district carte blanche to spend whatever they please from the surplus without any oversight. The article failed by a rather large margin.

The townspeople at the meeting probably believed, as I did, that we had killed the amendment because we had voted it down, but it appears the amendment could still pass over Sterling’s objections. During discussion of the article, I asked the members of the School Committee if all five towns in the district had to approve a change in the agreement in order for it to pass or it the rules only required three or four towns to approve. I and the rest of the town meeting were assured that all five towns needed to approve any changes. Unfortunately, that is incorrect:
This Agreement may be amended by recommendation of the Regional District School Committee and approval of member towns of the District by majority vote at an annual or special town meeting provided that not more than one town disagrees.
So while we thought that the amendment was dead, in reality it only takes four of five towns to approve the amendment in order for it to take effect. Paxton and Princeton have approved the amendment; Holden and Rutland have yet to hold their town meetings. If either Holden or Rutland rejects the change, it will not pass. If both approve, then the amendment will take hold regardless of Sterling’s vote.

(Just to be clear that I am not accusing the members of the school committee of any sort of deception here. I honestly think that they probably hadn’t thought about it before the question was asked and believed that a unanimous vote was necessary. The more I participate in government--town meeting, Democratic Town Committee, etc.--the more I am coming to the conclusion that if one is going to be involved and hopes to be make the most informed decisions possible, he or she needs to be prepared. While it would have been nice to get the right answer when I asked the question, I could have looked it up before the meeting or brought a copy of the charter with me. As it is, the information on whether or not five or four towns is needed to pass an amendment wouldn’t have changed the vote, but it would have helped voters understand the impact—or lack of impact—of their decision.)


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Town Meeting: In it for the long haul

I breezed into last night’s town meeting at 7:00 on the dot, figuring that by the time everyone got signed in and seated we’d be ready to start in on the 62 articles up for resolution. I didn’t plan on attending the Special Town Meeting at 6:30 since it essentially was just to clean up any loose ends from the current fiscal year and appropriate whatever leftover funds we had to necessary accounts. Nothing to it, really.

Or, maybe not. It took us 2 hours and 55 minutes to get through what I thought would be 15 rubber-stamp decisions. The Regular Town Meeting did not begin until 9:25, and we only got through nine of the articles before adjourning at 11:10. So we’re back again tonight for the remaining 53 items.

What took so long? For one, the town debated the question of whether or not to give merit pay increases for the last six months of 2008. The increases would only have been for those workers who received favorable reviews from their superiors. The merit raise would have been 3%, and the town meeting was being asked to appropriate the $25,000 necessary to pay for the raises. After well over an hour of discussion, the motion was defeated by a relatively close vote.

I was stunned. To me, it seemed like this was an easy thing to do. Take $25,000 of money that is left over from FY08 revenues and use it to fund merit pay increases for town workers who have earned it.

But the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee did not do a very good job explaining the article. Instead of framing it in small terms (for instance, a DPW worker making $14.00 would get an increase to $14.42 per hour, or less than $17 per week), the article was described as a 3% increase which was payable over the last six months of the fiscal year so it was really only a 1.5% increase as far as the town was concerned since they were only paying it out over the last half of FY08. That begged the question from many townspeople of whether the increase was really 6% since there is an automatic 3% step increase at the start of FY09. The response from Finance was that it was really just a 4.5% increase during calendar year ’08 since it was just 1.5% in January and 3% in July. But since people get paid weekly and not by the fiscal year, isn’t it really 3% now and 3% later so town workers are really getting a 6% raise…and around and around for over an hour.

Understandably, many in the audience were confused. Perhaps someone could have stood up and made the point that we were looking to spend a very small sum of money—about the cost of a family car—so that the guys who dig ditches and keep our water flowing and electricity running could get paid another $17 per week (and I do not exempt myself from that criticism. I could have made the point and did not). But instead, we squabbled over whether or not the increase was 1.5% or 3% or 4.5% or 6%.

The evening was further lengthened by about a half hour when we got to the final article of the Special Town Meeting and organizers realized that the paper ballots required for this particular question had not been distributed when we signed in, so the gymnasium was cleared and all 175 or so of us had to line up and sign in once again to get our ballots.

The most interesting dynamic to part one of the miniseries that has become Town Meeting was the significant level of distrust many townspeople and the personnel board have toward the Board of Selectmen. For reasons I don’t understand, the personnel board opposed both the merit pay raise and the creation of a part-time Human Resources position, which was defeated around 11:05 last night. It seems to me that the personnel board would be working on behalf of workers who would benefit from both merit pay increases and a professional dedicated to HR issues, but the personnel board opposed both. Further, there was a general thread among many of those who spoke that “something else is going on” with the Selectmen and that they were somehow “trying to sneak one in” with the changes they hoped to make in the personnel area.

I haven’t seen it, but I guess I’ll get another four or more hours of evidence tonight.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Town Meeting: How far should we extend the "Right to Farm?"

Town meeting is tonight. Responsible citizens like me (pat, pat) will head on down to the school at 7:00 and spend four or so hours on the hard bleachers slogging through 62 articles. How a town with an otherwise sleepy political landscape can manage to put 62 articles on the warrant is beyond me (fellow sleepy political town Lancaster had only 20 articles when they met last week, for instance). As I combed through the pile of appropriations for this project or that, one article stands out.

The most interesting is the proposal that Sterling become a “Right to Farm” community. Right to Farm towns generally make it easier for local farmers by making it harder for abutters to sue them if they don’t like the odor, dust, loud machines, and other aesthetic byproducts of farming. Sterling has had a long history of family farming and still hosts a number of orchards, stables, and other farms.

In theory, I think this is a good idea, although not everybody agrees. But there is one section of the bylaw that I strongly object to. The law provides that all new home buyers receive a written notification of the Right to Farm provisions and that all landowners also receive the notice yearly. The notification states (emphasis mine):
It is the policy of this community to conserve, protect and encourage the maintenance and improvement of agricultural land for the production of food, and other agricultural products, and also for its natural and ecological value. This disclosure notification is to inform buyers or occupants that the property they are about to acquire or occupy lies within a town where farming activities occur. Such farming activities may include, but are not limited to, activities that cause noise, dust and odors. Buyers or occupants are also informed that the location of property within the Town may be impacted by commercial agricultural operations including the ability to access water services for such property under certain circumstances.
In other words, good luck if your well is fouled with manure or fertilizers, or runs dry because a farm in the aquifer uses more water than the aquifer can replenish. Considering the recent discussions Sterling has been having in town about water rights, and the widespread opposition to Clinton’s Wekepeke proposal at least in part on the basis of its potential to affect other wells in the aquifer, this clause needs to be struck from the proposed bylaw in order for me to support it. The ability to access clean water is just as important when the threat is from a farm as it is if the threat is from a big retail corporation. To leave this clause in the bylaw would be hypocritcal.

While the water clause is in the sample bylaw provided by the state Department of Agricultural resources, many towns have omitted it from their bylaws. Sterling should do the same.

The other issue I have with the notification is that the annual notice to residents “shall be provided by the Town to landowners each fiscal year by mail.” Printing and mailing 5,000 or so notices seems to me to be an unnecessary expense. Sterling should provide the notice in a publication that is already printed--such as the Annual Report--and on its Web site, saving the extra cost.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Here are a couple of random cute pictures of Jackson, as well as a couple of pictures of our Mother's Day...

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Jackson dancing at his Great Grandmother's 80th birthday party.

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Summer and Jackson playing on the couch.

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Jackson driving his car.

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Jackson and Michelle pose for a Mother's Day picture.

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My mom and me.

My mom and me, 36 1/2 years ago.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Magic Number: 7

Jim Tankersley at the Chicago Tribune takes Barack Obama's lead in the Democratic Primary race and compares it to a baseball pennant race. If anyone has been having a hard time figuring out exactly where things stand, this analysis might help bring it into focus (at least if you're a baseball fan):
Clinton and rival Barack Obama have combined to secure about 88 percent of the available delegates in their nomination battle, the rough equivalent of playing 142 games in a 162-game baseball season...

At a similar point in a baseball playoff race, fans start obsessing over their team's "magic number," the games it must win--or its opponent must lose, or a combination of the two--to wrap up a postseason berth.

Obama needs to win about 36 percent of the remaining delegates, according to The Associated Press, to wrap the nomination. If the primaries were a baseball season and Obama were a team, there would be 20 games left to play, Obama would have a 14-game lead and his magic number would be seven.
If this were baseball, a Clinton comeback would be the greatest comeback in baseball history. It wouldn't happen in baseball and won't happen in politics. That's why Obama has started working on his getting his playoff rotation set instead of worrying about remaining contest.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mail bag: Whither Hillary?

I present to you the first No Drumlins mail bag (and most likely last, since it's taken me three years to get a letter) . Earlier today, a reader e-mailed:

[Will] Hillary back out now or will she refuse? ... When will she realize what is best for the party and just stop?

You will be proud. I'm leaning to vote D in 08. However, if Hillary happens to get the nomination, all bets are off.
I think she will go the Huckabee route and stay on for the next two weeks, then drop out after the May 20 primaries. She might as wellhold on a little longer, since she will win West Virginia May 13. Oregon and Kentucky will split on May 20 (OR for Obama and KY for Clinton) and Clinton will drop out the next day. That will allow her to drop out on a high note without embarrassing Obama, since he will also post a victory on May 20. If she drops out now, big losses in WV and KY could be embarrassing for him.

But I think the tone of her campaign will change. I think she will be going hard after McCain and stop the negative stuff against Obama. In a sense, Hillary will use the next two weeks to help mend the fences and start the process of getting her supporters to line up behind Obama, the same way Huckabee did after McCain essentially wrapped up the Republican nomination.

(By the way, this isn't original thinking on my part. One of the talking heads on MSNBC last night was passing on this scenario and I think it's right on. But you can give me credit for it if you pass it along.)

Now I am hoping against hope (and against "a place called Hope") that Obama resists calls to put Hillary on the ticket as VP. I think that would hurt him quite a bit in the general election. Obama won't pick up one vote by adding Hillary, but I'll bet there are those who would turn away from him if he did. If he feels like Hillary needs to be rewarded, he ought to promise her a spot on the Supreme Court with the caveat that if anyone in her camp breathes even a word of it, the deal is off. Not only would that reward Clinton (and she would probably make a good Supreme Court justice), it would keep her out of the 2012 race if Obama wins.

You'll be sorry to hear that Jackson is becoming a little Hillary supporter. He couldn't get to sleep last night so I brought him downstairs to watch the end of the Celtics game with me. During a commercial, I switched over to MSNBC to check the results and Hillary was just starting her speech. Every time her supporters would cheer he would clap his hands and yell "yay!" I asked him if he wanted to watch basketball and he said "No."

He was absolutely mesmerized by the speech (which wasn't very good, she sounded defeated. And by the look on Bill's face, it was clear that he had just realized that there would be no interns frolicking with him in the White House for the next four years. He appeared devastated). At one point he was chanting "Hill-a-ree! Hill-a-ree!" along with the crowd on the TV. When he got up this morning, I asked him who the lady in the blue jacket on TV was last night and he replied "Hillary."

On the bright side, he's developing his father's antipathy toward the NBA.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sentinel blows it (again) on Nashoba turf

Two articles this morning characterize the effort to appropriate money for a synthetic turf field at Nashoba High School in directly opposite terms. Can you guess which one is wrong? First from the Sentinel and Enterprise:
LANCASTER -- After barely managing to squeeze its item onto the Town Meeting Warrant, Nashoba Regional Schools got their wish last night. Residents at the Annual Town Meeting voted to approve a $1.28 million bond authorization to install a new track and artificial surfaces on the schools' six playing fields.
And from the Clinton Item:
Lancaster voters may have said yes to the Nashoba field project by saying no to an article to disapprove a bond notice, but it was all moot when Bolton voters, at a simultaneous town meeting, voted to disapprove the borrowing.

Voters in all three members towns – Lancaster, Bolton and Stow – needed to not disapprove the bond in order for the schools to go ahead with the borrowing.
If you guessed that the Sentinel got the story wrong (which would be your default guess even if you hadn't read the articles, since they seem to get everything wrong), give yourself a cookie and a hearty 'Huzzah!'

Despite the Item's mind-bending attempt at a lede ("needed to not disapprove"? a double negative?!), they at least have a fundamental understanding that Nashoba is a regional school district, which means that all three towns needed to approve the project in order for "Nashoba Regional Schools [to get] their wish last night".

The Sentinel is apparently unclear on the concept. (Shocking, I know.)


Sterling Democratic Town Committee goes online

The Sterling Democratic Town Committee is now online; please go and check it out.

I created and am maintaining the site. I'd love to hear what you think in the comments to this post.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Clinton Predictions

Not that I have any insight at all into what will happen in tomorrow's town election in Clinton, but I'm going to guess how the Selectman's race will turn out anyway. My prediction is based in large part on the number of yard signs I see on the way to work each morning. Here goes...

Joe Notaro will easily be reelected. The second slot will be a toss-up that could go to Robert Pasquale, Steve Mendoza, or James LeBlanc. Until a week or so ago I thought Mendoza would regain a seat, but I have a sneaking suspicion that LeBlanc will pull off the upset. Pasquale will come up short, leaving him with a lot of time on his hands. Kathy Sheridan won't be competitive.

I probably won't even be close, but there you have it.

Update, 10:30 PM: Shows what I know...according to the Times and Courier, Sheridan won in a landslide and LeBlanc will apparently squeak into the second seat. That both incumbents were voted out is a stunning rebuke of the Board of Selectmen's policies of the last three years.


Friday, May 2, 2008

BREAKING: Naughton secures funds for the Wekepeke

The Consolidated Budget Amendment for Environment and Transportation was just posted to the House of Representatives' budget site. It includes the following line item:
...provided further, that not less than $250,000 shall be expended for the purpose of aquatic management for the Wekepeke Reservoir in the town of Sterling...
While it is less than the $1 million that Naughton originally requested, to get any money out of the budget in this year's financial climate is a significant accomplishment.

Note that the line does not specifically reference dam repair as the original proposal did. In fact the money was allocated in the Department of Conservation and Recreation line item instead of the Office of Dam Safety line item. The effect of that change is unclear.

The amendment has not officially passed yet, as debate will begin this afternoon, but approval in the House is just a formality. The appropriation will still need to be passed by the Senate and the Governor, but it is on its way.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Kerrigan takes on Naughton: Quixotic quest or shrewd politics?

This morning's Telegram & Gazette contained a certified campaign stunner: State Representative Harold Naughton of Clinton will not be running unopposed after all. Former Lancaster Selectman Stephen Kerrigan will compete with Naughton for the Democratic nomination:
Mr. Kerrigan, 36, a Democratic strategist who lives in Lancaster, said yesterday that while he has supported Mr. Naughton in the past, he has wanted to work in the Legislature for some time.

“I’ve worked on behalf of my community, the commonwealth and the country for nearly 20 years, and I consider this another opportunity to continue to use my experience and skills for the people of Massachusetts,” Mr. Kerrigan said....

“I want to do this job,” he said. “This has nothing to do with Hank (Naughton). When it comes right down to it, I just want to work in the Legislature. I have a desire to serve.”
I suppose it's not a total stunner, since I predicted back in February that Kerrigan would run for the seat, but I assumed Kerrigan would run because Naughton would be a candidate for State Senate. If you'd have told me that a Democrat would take on Naughton in a primary fight for his seat in the house, I'd have said you were nuts.

There is no way Naughton can be defeated as long as he is running for reelection. However, it's possible that Kerrigan isn't running to beat Naughton, but to be ready if Naughton steps down before the September 16th primary. The rumors have been circulating. More from the Telegram:
Mr. Naughton yesterday denied rumors that he is in line for a district court magistrate post, passing it off as expected because he is a lawyer and former prosecutor, and because there are a few court magistrate positions open in Central Massachusetts.

“I’ve had several fundraisers, and there is one coming up on June 16. I am running for re-election,” he said.
As of today, I believe that Naughton fully intends to be reelected. If the situation on Beacon Hill doesn't change, Naughton will be easily reelected and be sworn in for another term next January.

But the situation on Beacon Hill could change. The vultures are starting to circle embattled Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi, as he fights charges of impropriety. According to the Boston Herald, two powerful lawmakers are already drumming up support in the race to succeed DiMasi:
Two top lawmakers jockeying to succeed embattled House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi are keeping daily head counts of their backers and even courting members with expensive steak dinners in cut-throat maneuvering that threatens to undermine debate on the state’s $28 billion budget.

Backers of Ways and Means Chairman Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), a DiMasi ally, and House Majority Leader John Rogers (D-Norwood), are each claiming they have more support among rank-and-file members, even as supporters of both powerbrokers met with colleagues Monday night at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a restaurant at the base of Beacon Hill.
This is where Naughton's situation could get dicey. If DiMasi steps down, Either DeLeo of Rogers will be the next speaker. Now, we don't know which representative Naughton will support in a potential leadership fight (although I'd guess he would support DeLeo: Naughton serves with DeLeo on the Ways and Means Committee and recently brought DeLeo to Clinton to speak to area seniors), but we do know that the stakes are high. Representatives who support the winner are in line for powerful committee assignments. Those who are on the losing team become relative back-benchers.

If DiMasi steps down and Naughton's candidate is elected, Naughton will stay in the house because his power and responsibility will be enhanced. But if Naughton supports the runner-up, he just might find a court magistrate's position a better career move than being just another representative.

In that case, Kerrigan would be the only candidate standing.



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