City Council Meeting, 1/12/2010

Yes, I’m here, and I’ll be leaving shortly, but I have very little to say, beyond my disappointment at the Montvale decision, and that my irrational crush on Mike Germain continues unabated.  (Note that I reserve the term “irrational love” for Albert Southwick alone.  If Germain had voted my way on Montvale, we may have upgrade it to “obsession”, but crush it remains.)

I’d promised to put together a voting guide to the City Council, comprising the issues I think are important.  I put together a draft that you can find here, as a pdf.   Please send me any feedback on votes that you consider important or formatting changes you’d like to see.

Now that Tracy has helped me connect to the Wifi here, I’ll also be liveblogging the Historical Commission meeting on Thursday.  I won’t always be able to attend meetings of that commission, but I’m going to try to attend at least one commission or committee meeting a week.

Update, 9.43 pm: I should never shut off my computer just as Rick Rushton gets up to speak.  (I swear, this blog will not turn into Rushton-bash-central, so could another councilor say something that ticks me off next week and let Rick off the hook?  Thanks!)

Rushton’s reference to “Judge Van Winkle” (8.41 mark) was completely inappropriate.  While one might argue (and I certainly would) that the judge took quite a bit of time to decide on the case, it is not his fault that the public has been kept from records in the name of preserving privacy, and it’s not his fault the words “drama” were redacted not once but twice.  Shaun Sutner is also not his fault.  If there had been a public comment period (and maybe there was and I just missed it!), I would have taken the Council and especially the City Manager to task for totally disregarding the public’s right to know.  We had more discussion tonight about researching regionalizing police and fire services to/with surrounding communities than we did about what our own police officers may or may not be accused of. It’s all about the benjamins and not at all about accountability.

WorcesterPD on Twitter, part two

I agree with Jeff regarding RedactionGate, especially the last paragraph.  The city government should not be in the business of preventing the public from knowing what is being done in its name, period.

At the height of the insanity, I hoped that the WorcesterPD would be able to use social media like Twitter to better inform the public about public safety news.  As I mentioned last week, the Worcester Police Department’s use of Twitter has been somewhat spotty.  Here’s a review of the past three tweets from Worcester PD:

So, this week it’s a bit more prompt, but I’m not getting much more information (in a much quicker fashion) than I would from the Telegram. 

Part of the reason this has been on my mind is that the BBC World Service recently broadcast a documentary featuring the best of a podcast called Street Stories, put together by the Tulsa Police Department.  The podcast seems to no longer be produced, but it’s a great example of what a police department could put together as both public service and public relations.

WGBH vs. WBUR: midday lineups

When I previously wrote about the morning lineups, the WGBH noon-2pm slot was not yet ready.  Today was the first day of the new lineup (Emily Rooney from noon-1pm, and Callie Crossley from 1pm-2pm), and here are my thoughts:

Noon to 1pm

WGBH’s new radio program with Emily Rooney debuted with a lot of big-name guests (Deval Patrick and Donald Carcieri, Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino) and a relatively lousy theme song.  I don’t watch Emily Rooney on TV (she conflicts with Go, Diego, Go!), so beyond catching her here and there a few times, I’m not familiar with her work.  I think the emphasis with this and the Callie Crossley show is for WGBH to offer a bit more of a local alternative to what’s being offered on ‘BUR, and, if that’s the case, they certainly succeeded today.

The problem with the Emily Rooney program today was that she didn’t ask any hard questions of the politicians or have anything insightful to say (one of her suggestions: perhaps MA and RI can work together on renewable energy projects — like wind farms on the ocean — because they are next to one another); that I learned nothing of value from the discussion of political polls (news flash: no one’s thinking about the governor’s race!); and that I really don’t want to listen to a program to which two-thirds of the time is devoted to an executive at the Red Sox who seems to think that ticket scalping only began in the internet age.

Robin Young had much more going on in her show, with a bit more variety: Congress back in session, human rights in North Korea, an anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, plus lighter fare (Jay Leno, accordion music).  I went back and listened to Emily Rooney’s show (which I’d listened to live) to see if I’d missed a guest or a topic, but I hadn’t.  Young is able to pack much more into one segment of her show, asking guests like Don Schmierer some tough questions, than Emily Rooney was able to do in a whole hour.

Advantage: WBUR, and not just because my husband thinks Robin Young is cute.  Or because I love the accordion.  (Roll out the barrel!)


WBUR has Fresh Air with Terry Gross; WGBH offers the Callie Crossley Show.

I usually don’t listed to Fresh Air because I usually can’t deal with Terry Gross, but I listened today for comparison’s sake.  Today, there was a discussion of civilian contractors injured in wars and a review of the new Mary J. Blige album.  Typical Terry Gross: interesting topic with a good amount of time devoted to the guest, along with a touch of fluff.

From what I heard on Callie Crossley, I don’t think I’ll be listening again.  Her first segment was on “generational shifts” and differences in the way boomers and millennials use (and are comfortable with) technology.  The show does have a call-in component, and the first caller for this segment was an intense luddite.  At first, I thought she handled it well (steering him to a question, moving to the guests when the caller began an anti-technology rant), but then she and the guests laughed at the guy.  (Which was extremely ironic, considering Dr. Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot later spoke about relating to one another in respectful ways.)  The caller’s question – about how today’s youth don’t write as well as previous generations, which I thought was pretty legitimate – wasn’t answered.  The “millennial” guest, Alexa Scordato, responded that her generation feels “connected” and they “get things done faster” (note, not better).  By not responding to the caller’s concerns and by speaking in generalizations, she proved the caller’s point.  Scordato proved to be a particularly poor guest, making simplistic statements about racial issues (“My children will never have to be taught that an African-American is a person [because we elected the first African-American president]”; around the 10 minute mark of the day’s broadcast).  Crossley had some fluffy guests for the second half (a dancer who won So You Think You Can Dance!, an owner of a local bakery) who were much less painful to listen to; unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to redeem the show for me.

Advantage: WBUR, especially if you prefer a bit more “hard” news at this hour.

On a related public-radio note: Unfortunately for those of us in church on Sunday mornings, WGBH offers Bob Edwards Weekend Sundays from 10-noon; his guest at the beginning was Carl Kasell.  I wonder if it would be possible for WGBH to carry the weekday show as some sort of competition to Morning Edition on WBUR, because I think they’d pick up a decent amount of listeners that way.

What I Learned From Blogs This Week

Administrative Stuff

I’ve put up a few items on the Virtual Assignment Desk for next week.  I’ve noticed that the Municipal Calendar for next week does not yet include the City Council or School Committee meetings, but I assume they are on.  I will likely be going to the Historical Commission meeting next week, and I’d like to encourage people to go to meetings, especially commission meetings, that you do not think the local media will be fully covering.

I’m also thinking of keeping a scorecard of important Council votes for the next couple of years that could be spun into a voting guide, so I welcome any thoughts about what might constitute ‘important’ votes.  Maybe I’ll do it for School Committee too; let me know if you have any thoughts on it. 

I am also open to people sending me links for “What I Learned from Blogs This Week.”  I tend to collect news-ish items during the week, but please let me know if I’ve missed anything of note.

What I Learned This Week

Karl had the single best post on the Salvation Army thing this week.

We had an inauguration and City Council meeting

Also, thanks to the person who wrote the following on the Virtual Assignment Desk about the Council meeting:
“Nat Needle gave his yearly ukulele crooning to the council. Rushton wanted the lyrics before Nat sang, but the rest of the council just passed the motion without him. Joe O’Brien lost his voice before the meeting and was sucking down coffees (or teas?) throughout the meeting. Konnie Lukes was cool as a cucumber and came to the meeting prepared. Many of the council members have gained weight over the holidays.”

Oh!  School Committee tooTwice.

Mike bought Inside Worcester so that I didn’t have to.  (And now I likely never will.)

Sean shows Rosalie Tirella some love for this post.

This week, it was Jeff’s turn to skewer Z. Nemeth  (I’m leaving out the “Robert” because “Z. Nemeth” sounds jazzier).  Jeff also scooped Dianne Williamson on the WRTA/Planned Parenthood ads.

Update, 3.30pm – Rosen and Novick on Saturday nights.

Library Magic Show

There will be a magic show with magician Steve Rudolph on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 7pm at FPBL.  Get your tickets now!  (Or send me an email and I’ll pick them up on my way home tonight and drop them in your mailbox.  You know who you are.)

Also, for those who missed Tanglewood Marionettes’ presentation of Hansel and Gretel at the Main Library a couple of weeks ago, my husband has informed me that the Overlook in Charlton is hosting a performance on Saturday, January 9 (tomorrow) at 11am.  Admission is $5 for adults and free for children. (Trust me, this is a really good deal!)

I will also be doing some interviews at the Worcester Public Library in a couple of weeks.  I especially want to touch on involvement with Worcester Public Schools (see the discussion of summer reading lists here), outreach to the elderly, the new Chat with a Librarian service, and (if possible) my first visit to the Worcester Room.  If you have anything you’d like me to ask, please let me know in the comments or via email.

The Ecotarium also kindly sent me an email about this post, so if you have any questions regarding the capital campaign or plans for the museum, please let me know as well.

You should definitely follow the library on Twitter or Facebook.  The only reason I mention this is because you can now fan me.  (Is that the right term, or should it be “follow me”? Obviously I know nothing about Facebook, but “fan me” sounds like something a Roman emperor would say, right after having a grape popped into his mouth…and “follow me” sounds like I’m a cult leader.)

Library Books of the Week

I love reading to my kids, and lately I got a little obsessive about children’s book authors.  Here are three of the better biographies I’ve read, all available at the library.

The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan is the fascinating story of Dare Wright, author of The Lonely Doll and its many sequels.  If you’ve never read The Lonely Doll, it’s the story of a little doll who receives a visit from two teddy bears, how she gets into much trouble with the younger bear, and gets spanked by the older one when he returns.  The book was written in the 1950s and is at once incredibly stylish (awesome black-and-white photography by Wright) and a little bit disturbing.  Which is precisely how a lesser biographer might describe Dare Wright herself.  The Secret Life is the story of Dare Wright’s sad childhood, her weird relationship with her artist mother, and her inability to completely break free from a dream world/childhood and become a full-fledged adult.  The book is chock full of her beautiful photographs, especially her self-portraits.  (The woman looks better at age 50 than I will ever look in my whole life.)  I found it nearly impossible to put down, and equally impossible not to read passages and show photographs to whichever listener was nearest at hand.  If you’ve ever read The Lonely Doll and wondered exactly what the author was like, pick this up the next time you’re at the library.  You will not be disappointed.

Awakened by the MoonMargaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon isn’t exactly a page-turner, but I knew nothing about MWB before I read it, and a lot after, so that’s saying something.  The most interesting points were about her experiences at Bank Street, which goes a long way to explaining the sing-songy, almost rhyme of much of her work for young children.  Did you know she was involved in a long term relationship with Michael Strange, the former wife of my favorite actor of silent and sound movies, John Barrymore?  Yeah, me neither.  Marcus doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult aspects of Brown’s personality, like her shunning of Esphyr Slobodkina when she found out E.S. was Jewish.  While the book gave me a lot of knowledge about Brown, she always remained a somewhat cloudy figure, though perhaps she was that way in real life as well.

Little Black Sambo has received a lot of attention with the publication of three revisions in the past few years (The Story of Little Babaji is our favorite, but Sam and the Tigers and Christopher Bing’s version are also quite good).  LBS obviously has a notorious reputation these days, and I was interested to read (via a library in Western MA) Sambo Sahib, a biography of Helen Bannerman, author of LBS and numerous lesser works.  The good news?  She wasn’t a racist and she and her family were horrified at the debasement of her best-known book.  The biography is a good cautionary tale in copyright law.  Bannerman lived much of her adult life in India, and had a friend negotiate her publishing contract in England.  The friend sold Bannerman’s rights to the book for a pittance, and that’s how a relatively poorly-illustrated book got turned into the most controversial children’s book of all time.  It’s also a reminder of how much the children’s book publishing industry has come in the past hundred years.

As a special to those of you who tolerate these posts of mine… I have an extra paperback copy of The Lonely Doll and will be giving it away to one lucky person who comments on this post by Monday morning.  So, if you’ve never read it and want to see what it’s all about, or if it’s a lost favorite of your own childhood, comment on this post and you may just win it!

EcoTarium Capital Campaign

I’d meant to write about the EcoTarium Capital Campaign [press release here] more than a month ago, so I emailed to request an interview, but I never heard back, so here I am at the same point I was at earlier. 

I’m a member of the EcoTarium, and I take my kids there a lot.  There are definitely things that need to be improved with the facility, but for the most part, the kids have a great time when we go (our visits usually last 2-3 hours).

Most of what I have are questions, but perhaps someone else has more thoughts on the direction the EcoTarium should go in.

Things I like:

  • Expanding out the top level of the building.  (For interesting reading on the history of the main building, read this article in the New York Times.)  Every time I walk in, I always think of the wasted space in the building.  I think this will go a long way to making the museum a bit “fuller.”
  • I was actually very ambivalent about the top-floor Mount Washington exhibit when I read about it in the newspaper, but I think the press release explains it a bit better.  It’s great that they’re focusing on (a) New England and (b) something the museum doesn’t already have an exhibit about (weather). 
  • I also like that they’ll be pursuing American Zoological Association certification, because I think that can only improve conditions for the animals there.

Things I’d like to hear more about:

  • How big is the climbing wall for the top level going to be?  What are the safety precautions necessary?  (Yes, I know I sound like a mother there, but it’s also a liability concern.)  Are any of the rocks used going to be from the museum’s existing collection?
  • Kenda is getting old.  The EcoTarium is not going to be replacing her when she dies, and is going to continue to focus on animals native to New England.  Will the focus be on rescued animals alone?  What kind of impact will the loss of Kenda be for the museum?  Do they have any plans for the space Kenda currently occupies.
  • How much of the focus of the other floors is going to be on New England?  (Personally, I love the idea of the museum having 75% of its focus on local natural history.)  Are there plans to phase out the non-local stuff, most notably the taxidermied African animals on the lower floor?  (If they phase out the African animals, can I have the Greater Kudu?  Also, if you get rid of the Curator’s Workshop on the lower floor, my children will cry.)
  • The EcoTarium usually has one or two travelling exhibits.  Are there plans to make more permanent exhibits to reduce the reliance on traveling exhibits?  Also, are there more plans for interactive exhibits?

I’d also like to hear more about the direction/focus of the EcoTarium.  Is there going to be more of a New England focus?  I also think the museum needs to have a better sense of what age groups it wants to serve going forward.  This is a great place to take the under-8 set, but I don’t think I’d keep up a membership if my sons were teenagers.  And that’s not necessarily the end of the world — there are other science museums that better serve older children and adults — but I think that it would be best to be upfront about who will appreciate a trip to this museum the most.