Planning for Worcester Bloggers Night at the Tornadoes – Please Vote

I know that some folks had wanted to do a night at the Worcester Tornadoes, and that July worked for at least some of you.

If this is something that you’d like to come to, please indicate (in the poll below) which dates/times on the Tornadoes homegame schedule work for you.  Whichever date gets the most responses by Friday (July 1) will be the one I coordinate with the Tornadoes.

Love Fest

Tonight’s City Council meeting will feature the yearly evaluation of the City Manager.

I do not dislike the City Manager, and I don’t think he does a horrible job.  My feelings about his job performance are complicated, but are tempered by his excellent hair.

[Seriously, folks, if Mike O'Brien left his post, the Good Hair in the upper echelons of city government would be reduced by 50%.  Ponder that for a moment!]

You may recall that while the City Manager is supposed to be evaluated in four specific categories (Finance, Economic Development, Management Efficiencies, and Delivery of Public Services), last year’s evaluations were rather free-form.

The City Manager’s self-evaluation is available for your perusal.  He lists the following categories: Fiscal Discipline and Stewardship, Economic Growth and Expansion, Neighborhood and Housing Development, Infrastructure Improvements, Delivery of Core Municipal Services, Management Efficiencies and Improvements, and Awards and Legislative Accomplishments.

(So, somewhere in there the four categories are included.  I’ve tried perusing the minutes of Municipal Operations meetings to see if the evaluation categories have changed, and I couldn’t find any notes indicating a change.  If you find it, please let me know.)

As I said, with few exceptions (Barbara Haller’s being the most notable), last year’s Council evaluations did not evaluate the City Manager by those categories (and sub-categories).  This is unfortunate for the City Manager, and it’s equally unfortunate for the citizenry.

It’s not that the City Manager’s doing a lousy job.

It’s that this is the one time of the year for our elected officials to evaluate him based on mutually agreed upon categories, and the one time of the year when we’d have the opportunity to prioritize and set goals.

Last year, we turned the evaluation into a love fest.

And there’s really no reason this year’s evaluation shouldn’t involve a certain amount of measured admiration for our chief executive.

But the City Manager deserves — and we deserve — something more than a random listing of accomplishments bookended by numbers 4.7 and 5.0.  There are always areas for improvement, and there are always areas we should see our elected officials leading and directing our appointed officials.

This should be one of them.

(Self-promoting Note: I published a two-part series on Weak Mayor/Strong Mayor around this time last year, in anticipation of last year’s evaluation of the City Manager.  My opinions haven’t changed, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to read about the theoretical strengths of a Strong Mayor and the paradoxical strengths of a Weak Mayor.)

Asking a blunt question

Scott Croteau’s T&G article about marijuana citations and their discontents was quite good, in a connect-the-dots kind of way.

The great thing about the article — though it’s unsaid — is that it compares Leiceister’s marijuana citations (2010 census population = 10,970) versus Dudley’s (2010 census = 11,390).  Both towns have a small college, and they’re pretty close in population size, diversity (or lack thereof), and per capita income.

Unfortunately, the article has a lot of apples and oranges.  We’re told that Leicester has 126 unpaid citations that have been issued over the last two years; we don’t know how many have been paid (or issued, for that matter).  (We do know that “100+ decriminalized tickets” were issued in 2009, according to the Leicester PD website.)

We know that Dudley has 8 unpaid from the last seven months (out of a total of 22).  If you assume that there’s been a similar rate of paid/unpaid (and I wouldn’t necessarily assume), that rate would be about 88 over a total of two years.  (Where, again, Leicester issued more than 100 in the first year alone.)

According to the article, Worcester (2010 census = 181,045) has had 58 citations from September 11, 2009 to March 3, 2011, or roughly 18 months.  Again, assuming a similar rate, that would be about 77 citations in two years’ time.

That means that Leicester likely issued more tickets in one year (2009) than a similarly sized town did over two years, and that it issued more tickets in one year than a city sixteen times its population did over the course of two years.

That, my friends, is the real story.

Here’s what would help flesh this story out:

1) We need to know how many tickets Leicester has issued over the past two years.  Worcester’s rate of tickets paid vs. issued is 64% (37 paid/58 issued).  Dudley’s is also 64% (14 paid/22 issued).  Perhaps Leicester’s rate is the same; if they’ve issued roughly 340 tickets (which seems a distinct possibility), their rate is roughly equivalent to that of Worcester or Dudley.

2) It would help if we were comparing the same periods in this article.  Comparing a seven month period to a two-year period (with incomplete data) to an 18 month period makes for difficult reading.

3) It would help to know what a good rate of return is on these types of tickets.

The larger question, of course, is why the town of Leicester assumes that ticketing for possession of marijuana can make enough of a budget difference to pay for more than half a dozen part-time officers, or why Chief Hurley feels the primary reason people like me voted for this law is that we felt it would be a new revenue stream.

I didn’t vote for this because I wanted small-town cops in someone’s business about a relatively minor offense, and it doesn’t bother me in the least that it’s unenforceable.

I knew when I voted for it that it was unenforceable.  That was the point.

I am straight edge.  I really don’t see much difference between someone using that drug and using a legal drug like alcohol.  I certainly don’t see why someone should be punished for having a small amount of marijuana when they can carry a fifth of whiskey with no consequence.

And I should clarify: I don’t think Chief Hurley’s bad.  I wish the Worcester PD had a weekly column like his.  I drive through Leicester quite a bit, and I’ve never noticed predatory speed enforcement like I have in other towns.

But I think he’s really wrong about this, and it’s really unfortunate that he’s taken the law as a fiat from the electorate to offset municipal budget cuts by targeting stoners.  And I wish someone had asked why he’s taken it that way.

Cheap Dior Alert

I know I should save this for a Cheap Worcester Wednesday, but there is this absolutely awesome Christian Dior skirtsuit at Goodwill on Park Avenue for $15.  It’s a size 8, it’s purple-and-blue-striped, and even my husband feels it’s pretty nifty.

There is no way I am ever going to be able to squeeze myself into a size 8 skirt this lifetime, but if there’s one thing in the world j’adore, it’s Dior.  So if you are a size 8 and you, too, adore Dior, do not walk but RUN to Goodwill and pick up that outfit. 

And then send me a picture so that I can drool.

(Yes, I know I should take pictures of the new design of Goodwill.  Soon, mes amis!)

Matrix or Vortex, you be the judge

I’m in a big funk about this city.

It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even get excited about a Scott Wolfe letter to the editor.  If your biggest complaint about the City of Worcester is that it’s populated by Irish Catholics who charge you $10 to park downtown, I Will Teach You To Park For Cheap Or Free Downtown.  As long as you’re willing to walk a few blocks.

In more “shticks that grow tiresome” news, there’s a letter to the editor about pools not being open.

I often say it, but it’s always true: Worcester is like the Matrix.  There are about 1,000 real people in this city and everyone else is a scowling, perpetually grumpy, be-sunglassed dude in a suit continually gumming up the works to perpetuate their own negative view of the city.

This is how we have letter to the editor that says the following:

It’s June and it’s getting hot and still neither of the two pools that are safe enough to use is open. The pool at Crompton Park is locked down, barren and full of leaves. The Webster Square pool is empty save a little dirty rain water collecting.

At this point, I’m not sure whether it’s the city not doing enough publicity about (a) which pools they maintain and which the state maintains, (b) when the Crompton Park pool and Greenwood spray park are opening (July 1), or (c) details about what the Wheels to Water program does…or whether folks are just willfully not paying any sort of attention to anything that happens in this city. 

The Webster Square/Bennett Field/Veterans Memorial pool is owned & operated by the state, and it was open this weekend.  (The tip that it was going to open this weekend was that the purple mushroom/psychedelic shower in the pool was operating earlier in the week.  One has to take the oracles one is handed.)

In fact, the letter-writer said the following:

That means no kids have been able to jump into a pool since the summer of 2007.

While this may be true of city-owned pools, this is not true of state-owned pools.  The Webster Square/etc. pool was open last summer.  It’s unclear whether the letter-writer is even aware that the Shine Pool exists.

While I agree with some of the other points of the letter-writer (that is, that the city has not been clearly communicating about the schedule for the other pools, that private entities have been picking up the slack left by the city government, etc.), this letter absolutely crosses the line dividing opinion from mis-information.

Of course people have the right to send letters to the editor.  This gentleman has a right to his option.

But we seem to have an epidemic of folks — including this letter-writer — who are living in some time vortex from three years ago.  How many phone calls will various elected officials get about pools that are already open or which will be open in a few days’ time?  How many people will get riled up about a program that is providing a bit of a summer camp experience for kids who might not otherwise afford it?

The Telegram continues to publish letters that have little basis in fact.  I’m not talking about letters that could make sense (or not) depending on one’s point of view; I’m talking about letters that are written by people with more of a passion for making complaints than looking at the calendar on their fridge to see what year it is.

There are pools.  There should be more pools.  The city should do a better job of communicating with residents.  None of that is in question.

There are enough outlets for perpetuating myths, hallucinations, and outright lies in this city without the Telegram Letters page.  At the very least, there should have been an editor’s note to correct the obvious mistakes.

Summer Reading

I’ve written about summer reading in greater detail before; what follows is just a few links about summer reading…

The WPS Summer Reading lists can be found here.  For the most part, the book lists are suggestions (that is, a kid can read a book that is not on the list and have it count towards the requirement).  Reading Rockets is also a great resource for book ideas.

The Worcester Public Library will be doing summer reading programming (but I don’t have many details).  In the meantime, check out the TumbleBook Library and TumbleReadables

If you know a teenager, AudiobookSync will be offering two free audiobook downloads every week this summer.  You can find a complete list here; it seems that they’re pairing a popular YA title with a classic title every week.  Really, this is great stuff (really!) and could help a teenager you know with his or her summer reading.

You can find more about the Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program here.

CWW: Children’s Concert Next Week

Worcester Public Library will be hosting two concerts with the musical storyteller Odds Bodkin on Thursday, June 30:

11am-noon at the Main Library
3pm-4pm at Frances Perkins

Description from the library website:

Odds Bodkin, musical storyteller, is the winner of many awards including the Parent’s Choice Gold Award and the Storytelling World Award. His all original music on 12 string guitar, Celtic harp & other instruments makes his collection of stories resemble pieces of musical theatre as much as storytelling.

While the concert is free, you need to pick up tickets at the Children’s Desk (if you want to attend a concert at the Main Library) or the circulation desk (if you want to attend a concert at Frances Perkins).  Get them today!

Other upcoming events of interest:

For kids, the Great Dewey Race will be on July 21.

For adults, there will be a “playtime” with e-readers and audio devices on June 30.  More information here.

Indulge me while I complain about the Research Bureau

Among other, more exciting topics on tonight’s city council agenda are items 11a and 11b, which are communications from the Research Bureau.

Before I completely dump on the Research Bureau, there were some interesting parts of these documents.

On page 4-5 of the 10 Questions about Worcester’s FY12 Budget Report, there’s this tidbit:

According to data used by the Department of Revenue (DOR) to calculate local aid in FY11, Worcester’s per capita income is $18,336, or 31st lowest in the state. (The state average is $35,852.) Worcester’s equalized value per capita (the measure of a community’s relative property wealth) is $75,726, or 12th lowest. (The state average is $165,919).

On first reading, I was not a fan of 10 Questions; on second and third readings, I’ve found that I like the presentation of data (that is, where the city’s revenues come from and what we spend money on) and (as you might expect) do not like the direction of their analysis.

Question 10 – Are there any ways to generate revenues other than raising taxes? — on page 14, is answered in a predictably Research Bureau way:

a) Lower the business tax rate.

b) “Worcester should divest itself of noncore assets, such as Union Station, Hope Cemetery, Worcester Memorial Auditorium, the DCU Center, and the Worcester Senior Center. Cumulatively, these facilities, which are owned and (except the DCU) operated and maintained by the City, cost taxpayers about $2 million in annual subsidies.” 

c) “Raising student achievement in the Worcester Public Schools…”

d) “maintenance of public infrastructure and continued success in making Worcester a safe community with a relatively low crime rate.”

Regarding item (b), one can only wonder who would buy Union Station or the Memorial Auditorium, especially since the state was only able to find one bidder for the old courthouse.  It’s one thing to say “the city should”; it’s another, very different, much more important thing to explain how exactly the city can sell those properties in a way that would be beneficial to the city at large, ensure historical preservation, and make us money.

Item (b) is one of the reasons I (and other citizens) have serious issues with the Research Bureau.  It states the obvious (“we need to dump the white elephants”) without doing the real tough work of telling someone how to achieve the (near-impossible) task of divesting the city of the white elephants.

It is also, of course, of concern that an institution like the senior center is lumped in as a nice-to-have that we could sell to a for-profit – and then not have to worry about the old folk ever again.  The Research Bureau consistently fails to understand any of the reasons people want to live in a city, and the things that make a city livable.  Do we really want to live in a city that provides no activities or meeting place for seniors?

One can only wonder how one can achieve (c) and (d) without also breaking one of the major tenets of the Research Bureau — that is, cutting spending and paying people the absolute lowest you possibly can.  Spitting out three sentences about improving schools and making the city a safe place to be when you’ve previously said that you’re not too concerned about a decrease in uniformed police presence.   To wit, on page 7:

Spending cuts could have future, presently unknown consequences. The layoffs and recent operational volatility could lead to a general lack of preparedness for any emergency that may arise.

Or, to put it another way, “We’re mildly concerned that there might be fewer cops on the streets, but not concerned enough that we’d actually advocate spending money (!!!) to employ them.”

Similarly, you cannot put out an annual report with the theme of “regional transportation” and fail to note the irony in the following statement:

As noted in the text that follows, making the greater Worcester region an attractive place to live and work cannot be all about cutting expenditures. The Research Bureau also promotes policies to expand our tax base to give us the capacity to improve services, and hence, the quality of life. Increasing commuter rail, expanding freight rail and airport service, improving public transportation and access to highways all provide opportunities to attract people and businesses to the region.

One can only wonder how cutting expenditures will increase commuter rail and improve public transportation.  In the world of the Research Bureau, businesses should spend money to make money, but city government is in some parallel universe where cutting spending will somehow build bridges, cause more trains and buses to run, and make all our students overachievers.

I can get a more informed debate from 140 character tweets and I can get more “accuracy and insight” from a Scott Wolfe letter to the editor.

Worcester deserves better than an organizaton that only scratches surfaces and has no clue about urban livability.

Cemetery Water

I think I’ve written about this before, but the plumbing for the water spigots at Hope Cemetery is in very poor condition in places, and that’s why the cemetery has put out blue water barrels.  The plumbing is extremely old in spots, the pipes are extremely small, and the only solution at this point would be a complete overhaul of all of the plumbing.

A bit more than a week ago, the truck that’s used to replace the water in the barrels had a broken part and, as it’s a specialized truck, it took a bit of time to get the part for the repair.

We’ve had a relatively wet Spring, so we’ve been pretty lucky on the water front, but I should remind folks that if you have any concerns about the condition of Hope Cemetery to bring them first to the cemetery office and also let a commission member (like me) know.  At each of our meetings we discuss the condition of the cemetery.  While we do try to take note of items of concern on our trips to Hope, it’s a big cemetery and we might not see what you see.  Let us know if there’s something you’re concerned about and we will bring it to the folks in charge.