Choose Your Co-Activists Carefully

My evening commute was a bit longer than normal today because there were fifteen-ish bicyclists cruising down Shrewsbury Street.  All of them were in the right lane, except for one dude who thought it would be cute to hold up the traffic by riding his bike in the left lane.

There was another bicyclist who was videotaping the event, and I told him that I was sympathetic to urban biking, but that this guy’s antics were quickly making me very unsympathetic.

The videotaper’s response?  “Yeah, he’s an asshole.”

Why, yes!  Yes, he was.  And if his point was that you can be just as much of a jerk on a bike as you can in an SUV that gets 12 miles to the gallon, he succeeded!

I’m still not sure what the point of the event was, either.  Next time, get a banner so that I know what you all are about.

God’s Acre Cleanup Tomorrow

Thanks to all the readers who’ve agreed to come down tomorrow and help!

Here are a few details about the cleanup:

We’ll be meeting for our Earth Day Cleanup at the corner of Swan and Paris Avenues at 8am (or thereabouts) this Saturday, May 1st. 

We’ll work for about four hours and are planning on having a pizza party afterwards.  For those who are interested, we can also take an abbreviated trail walk/discussion of the history of God’s Acre.

The REC will provide bags and gloves — all you need to bring is your positive attitude (and a wheelbarrow, if you have one).

In addition to the areas on the map, we may also clean the litter around Mill Swan school on Mill Street.  So, if you can’t lift heavy items, that might be up your alley!

If you can’t help tomorrow, but would be interested in helping with trail improvements later in the spring and summer, let me know.

Also, a HUGE shout-out to Dennis O’Connor of Superior Waste & Recycling who will not only be providing us with a roll-off, but will also bring a garbage truck (which is extremely helpful at this site).

The first year I coordinated this site, I was getting really depressed in the week before the cleanup because I’d had limited success getting volunteers.  Then I got a call from Dennis, and he brought a garbage truck and ten volunteers, and was able to remove a lot of waste that we never would have been able to do on our own.  Dennis is absolutely the real deal and there would be a lot more trash in this area if it were not for his dedication.

(Also, every time I see him, I’m literally crying because I am so grateful for what he’s done.  So, he also deals with hysterics.  Yet another point in his favor.)

Follow Up

Here’s an update (kind of) on a couple of items that we’d been discussing:

  • I haven’t written more about pit bulls because I’ve been waiting to get some reliable statistics.  Councilor Haller let me know that she still hasn’t received dog bite statistics (along with other crime statistics) but when she gets them, I’ll put together another post on pits.
  • If you’re a member of a third party and want to serve on the Election Commission, I’ve got good news for you! The fifth member of the Election Commission must not be registered as a Democrat or a Republican. The wording has been amended in the online advertisement from the previously advertised “unenrolled.”

Speaking of the latter, I was going into City Hall the other day around noon, and a very nice young lady (goodness I feel old) asked me if I could sign Jim McGovern’s papers.  I explained that I wasn’t a Democrat. 

“But if you’re not enrolled, you can still sign,” she said. 

“Well, actually, I’m enrolled as a [the party I’ve been registered for since I registered on my 18th birthday],” I said, apologetically.

I was going to try to console her by telling her I usually vote Green, though, but I don’t think that would have been much of a consolation.

Other bloggy things I need to follow up on:

  • The deplorable state of the swings at Elm Park
  • The proposed closure of significant parts of Swan Ave

My usual method of getting my way in my real work (i.e., showing cleavage and hitting on the people in charge) doesn’t have great results in the city government.  Major problem.  So I’ll have to rely on my other, more limited, powers of persuasion.

CWW: Hazardous Waste Day and other DPW awesomeness

In honor of National Public Works Week (May 16-22), DPW will be having a Hazardous Waste Day.

By appointment only — 508-929-1300

Saturday, May 22, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm at the drop-off center at 1065 Millbury St. (formerly Ballard St.).

Limited to Worcester residents only. They’ll accept old and unwanted hazardous chemicals, oil paints and solvents (no latex paint), waste fuels (no motor oil), poisons, insecticides, polishes, degreasers and so on.  Please call Customer Service for a more complete listing of acceptable and restricted materials.  There’s a limit of 25 gallons or 25 pounds of hazardous waste material.

You can also shred two bags’ worth of paper on the same day.

Also, on May 29, there’s going to be a rain barrel pickup for those who order rainbarrels; more information here.  (And, frankly, if you’re thinking of ordering your rain barrel, they also have excellent prices on compost bins.)

–And one more recommendation–

Since water and sewer rates are likely to increase, perhaps DPW&P should solicit some water saving ideas from the citizenry (along the lines of this article) on Facebook or Twitter, and compile them.

Here are two of mine:

1) I have long-ish hair, and when I wash it I wet it, and then shut the shower off, shampoo, and then turn the water back on.  It might not sound like a big deal, but scrubbing long-ish hair while the water is running is kind of wasteful.

2) A few years back (well, probably more than a few), during a time when water resources were tight, DPW had suggested that people not flush every time they used the toilet, and an irate citizen wrote to the Telegram that she was disgusted at the suggestion.

I remember reading that and wondering if she lived in the same New England that I did.

My siblings and I grew up with the mantra “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.  If it’s brown, flush it down.”

My husband’s grandmother had a sign on the bathroom door of her place on the Cape that said, “In this land of sun and fun/we never flush for number one.”

So I took it on faith that most people, in the comfort of their homes, just didn’t flush for pee.  (Though we always flushed at other people’s houses, out of politeness.)  And obviously I was mistaken.

But I’d be interested to hear other tips to save water.  And preferably ones that don’t embarrass me further than the above.

Youth, Parks and Recreation Committee, April 28

First, let’s get all the disclaimers out of the way:

Paul Clancy is the councilor I’d most like to sit down and have a Murphy’s Stout with while discussing Stanley Kunitz’s poetry.  I don’t always agree with him, but I like the guy.  (And he always answers my emails!)

As we’ve previously established, Joff Smith looks exactly like my brother.

And I have an abiding fondness for Robert C. Antonelli, Jr.

So this may not be the most unbiased meeting report you’ve ever read.

The meeting was about youth employment opportunities for the summer, and summer aquatics.  I’ll write a bit about the latter now, and the former later tonight.

Construction and renovation of aquatic facilities

The goal had been for the pool at Crompton Park to be completed by July 1.  According to Antonelli, “we knew initially that we were pushing the envelope [with the aggressive schedule].  We may be a little late, but we’re going to open this pool.”  There have been a number of issues with the Crompton Park pool, including abatement of PCB, PCB caulking, and asbestos, so at this point, it’s about two weeks behind schedule.

Antonelli feels that Fontaine Brothers will do whatever it takes to get Crompton Park finished as quickly as possible.  Regarding the appearance of the pool, when the facility is ready for public use, “the only area that you will see something that would look incomplete would be the front area that has the playground. … The interior portion of the facility will be complete.”  (They’re not going to have grassy areas in there because of maintenance and larger equipment.  There will be grass seeding on the front part.)  “The pool itself will be operational.”

Regarding the state-owned pool at Bennett Field, they are “slightly behind [schedule], but they [the state] felt they could make up the time.”  They’ve also had abatement issues, but they’ve benefitted from their experience with Vernon Hill.

Regarding the Greenwood spray facility, Councilor Clancy said that the commission voted an additional 75,000 today so that spray park water can be recycled, which would make this a $575,000 facility.  The restrooms will be refurbished (unlike at Crompton, which is a complete demolition and rebuild).  When the spray park is ready, it will accommodate over 200 people at a time.

According to Antonelli, “We’re looking for [the Greenwood spray park to open in] late summer.  The window of use [for such a facility] is much larger [than a traditional pool].”  (Mid-May to Late September)  “In the end, it’s less staffing [than a traditional pool], and it’s operational for a much longer period of time than eight weeks in the middle of the summer because that’s when we have lifeguards.”

Crompton Logistics

Antonelli anticipates a large draw at the Crompton Pool when it opens.  There are some state regulations that we would need to follow.

“The baseline availability of that pool is 220 participants.” There would need to be 1 lifeguard/25 participants, and Antonelli anticipates that we will fund that pool for the entire summer [July 1-August 15].  The 220 number is for people who are in the pool, so there could be more people on the deck area around the pool.  “Usually when you look at how that pool operates, 25% of the people in the pool complex aren’t in the pool.”

“There will be no police” assigned to the pool.  The head lifeguard will manage the eight other lifeguards as well as control the other horseplay that can happen behind a lifeguard’s back.  There will be maintenance staff there as well, and the entrance will be staffed with someone to inform the public about the pool rules & regulations, including education about babies and the need for swim diapers.  “We’re going to try to control that and make sure we get to people beforehand.”  (There was mention of fecal matter in pools at this point.)

Wheels to Water and summer aquatics

If Crompton is not completed on time, the students in Green Island will still have a place to go.

“We want to give those students an opportunity to go to other places as well,” said Antonelli.  “The program we’re looking at this summer is an excellent one.  We’re going to be including some recreation sites as well.”  There are plans to hold summer programs for MCAS training and non-aquatic recreational program as well.

Regarding Wheels to Water, Antonelli said that the “best part about the program is that it’s a structured program.  …It was a well-controlled model, and worked well with our community partners.  We got a much better product for the money we put out there.  750 students received swim lessons.”  He emphasized that the structure of the swim program was one of the main reasons so many children could have regular instruction in swimming.  [Editorializing for a moment: I think learning to swim is one of the most important things someone can do, so this is totally awesome.]

Regarding pools and beaches, they’re scheduled to be open from July 1 to August 15.   “We expect all four beaches [to be open]; we’re currently working with the YMCA on the Shore Park facility”; the YMCA will pay for lifeguards at Shore Park.

What about the other pools?

After the Crompton Park and Greenwood are complete, DPW&P will provide a breakdown cost analysis of how much it cost to demolish/abate each, so that they can estimate how much it will cost to demolish/abate the other seven pool facilities and re-sod to put back into park use.  Clancy specifically wanted an estimate of the annual cost over a 20 year period, because it would be a capital expenditure.  (Just as a note, they are operating under the assumption that the other seven pools will need PCB and/or asbestos abatement.)

According to Antonelli, the draining/pumping of the non-operational pools will begin in the next couple of weeks.  Some of them, because of cracks, draw water anyway; they will need to be drained on a regular basis.  Many of the drains in the pools are blocked or broken, so they need to have manual intervention to be drained.  When the pools were operational, some of them were losing 1/3 of their water a day.  [Oh, gracious!]

They don’t use pool covers.  “We’ve tried covers in the past,” said Antonelli. “In our experience with covers, they were slashed, the cords were ripped up. … We used to do that, but the function of keeping them on…was more than” having someone come out and pump.

Regarding safety at the non-operational pools, they continue to review all pool facilities for fence breaks and other breaches.  As the staff are taking care of facilities, they take a look at the pools to make sure there hasn’t been any unwanted access.

Non-aquatic facilities

Eddy requested that DPW&P look into the feasibility of constructing a skateboard park in the West Side, specifically in Logan Field above the baseball diamond; anywhere on the hill that faces Mill Street, accessing via Airport Drive.

Smith requested cost analysis/feasibility of handball court in GBV.

Summer Employment for Youth

Jesse Edwards from the Youth Opportunities Office (YOO) discussed the summer situation.

I was taking notes while trying to get a wifi connection without success, so here’s what I got:

In 2009 — $2.5 million in funding thanks to stimulus, $1.7m funding toward youth wages.  1,770 jobs.

2010 – because of funding cuts, $700,000 in funding for youth jobs.  They are expecting 1/3 of the funding from last year through YouthWorks.  $1.9mil last year in stimulus; $400,000 left over for this year.  Thinking they’ll hit 1,000 jobs this summer.

Worcester Community Action Council has applied for and received funding for many of the youth programs.  YOO worked with them to try to leverage as many $$ as possible.

To be eligible for the jobs: income and eligibility requirements.  Federal government (Workforce Investment Act funding) comes with more strings for youth eligibility funding.  YouthWorks funding from the state = free or reduced lunch through the schools. 

YOO works with Colleges of Worcester Consortium to provide free summer camp scholarships; they work with Gang Unit to find out which youth might be eligible.  Work to provide opportunities for after school, which continues to be a challenge for the office.  More opportunities available in the summer.

(Those are what my notes look like…there was a big attachment to the agenda with many more details for those who are interested.)

Budget Stuff

Now on Budget Central

Budget Recommendation Presentation (and a letter, in case you prefer words to Powerpoint).

Of note to those of you who share my passions (and/or who care about my limited official capacity), there’s a proposed elimination of $700,000 in DPW&P, which would include closing off three yard waste drop-off sites; reduction in Hope Cemetery maintenance; closure of the Summer City Beach Program; and elimination of the Nuisance Team Program, Keep Worcester Clean, Neighborhood Cleanups, and Graffiti “Grime Watch” Team.

On the aspect of those cuts that is under my extremely limited purview, I’ll ask what I can do personally, as a private citizen, when we meet in a couple of weeks.  (How’s that for anonymity?)

Article on St. V’s in the Globe

For those of you who didn’t see it yet, here’s an interesting article about the for-profit hospital in the center of the city. 

Worcester’s mayor, Joseph C. O’Brien, praises the hospital’s commitment to community care. Saint Vincent is one of 16 hospitals statewide that have an especially high share of poor patients. The hospital also pays more than $1 million in property taxes and close to $1.3 million in sales taxes, and spends about $2.3 million on free care and almost $300,000 on other community benefits and sponsoring local events, according to a 2008 filing with the state attorney general’s office.

Note that eleven years ago, it was estimated that this would generate $5-6 million in tax revenue.  Also, the city’s share of the MedCity project was about $42 million.  (It was also supposed to improve pedestrian traffic, but let’s not get into that.)  Even six years ago, it was paying $1.7 in property taxes.  So I’m not that impressed with the tax amount they’re paying, especially if you consider that the taxes are kind of like a payment for the city’s initial investment in the project.  (If you have difficulty with these links, follow the instructions in this comment.)

On a slightly ligher note, my two siblings were born at the old St. Vincent’s (I was — gasp! — not born in Worcester), so here’s a story:

My parents are married but do not share a last name.  Because of this, they experienced some hostility from the staff at the hospital, who were under the assumption that they were an unmarried couple who had the temerity to have children out of wedlock.

Also (because I guess this is what was done in those days in the City of Worcester) both of my sibling’s birth certificates were stamped Illegitimate.  This made my mother incredibly upset, not only for her children, but for all the other people who had that stamped on their birth certificates.  As she tells it, it took an act of God (well, a relative who was an elected official) to get the birth certificates changed.

You Knew I Had to Say Something About This

I slacked off on my usual end-of-the-week blog roundup on Friday, but I’ve been meaning to write about how much this column meant to me.  One of my grandfathers served in an Allied (not American) navy during the second world war; the other grandfather tried to enlist in the American armed forces more than once, but had such poor eyesight that he was not able to serve.

Albert Southwick’s column on the boredom of war, and the flukes that saved his life, reminded me of the stories my grandfather (who served) used to tell.  He had a friend who relieved him so that he could have a short smoking break; during that break, his friend was killed.  The boredom of war was also related to me by a former coworker who served in World War II.  So the column was a nice reminder of two gentlemen I knew and admired.

So, this.

Specifically, this:

…overly nostalgic looks by Southwick of a city that really never existed. A city that wasn’t racist, classist – or even dirty.

Let’s look at some of what Albert Southwick has written in the past two months:

This is, of course, contrary to someone’s idea that Southwick is discussing an ideal society that never existed.  (In fairness, though, one might argue that his column on Jeffery Amherst could have been more sympathetic to the Indians who contracted smallpox via infected blankets, and that Southwick’s dismissal on the “war is hell” grounds is not convincing.  But, on the whole, Southwick is more sympathetic to non-Wasp males than the Canal District Chick would have her readership believe.)

Southwick has written and continues to write about the unvarnished history of our city in an interesting way.  His columns are usually as relevant to the issues facing the city as anything the two local columnists write.  And he can spell.

My love for Albert Southwick is a bit excessive, but it may not be as irrational as once I thought.  Southwick is a continual reminder that there is at least one person in the greater Worcester area who is literate, intelligent, well-read, and well-spoken.  Should there be younger writers on the Opinion page?  Without a doubt.  But let’s take advantage of hearing from a local gem as long as we have the opportunity.

A post that shows why I’m better at Metaphysics than Ethics

A week ago, the city manager said that arrangements to see the CSX facility in Atlanta (paid for by CSX) are in the works.  If they are, I hope part of the process with be a discussion with the State Ethics Commission.

According to this PDF from the Ethics Commission’s website, a public official could accept travel related to a speaking engagement or a “legitimate public purpose”; I suppose the trip might be considered the latter.

According to this PDF, “you may not ask for or accept anything worth $50 or more from anyone with whom you have official dealings. Examples of regulated ‘gifts’ include: sports tickets, costs of drinks and meals, travel expenses, conference fees, gifts of appreciation, entertainment expenses, free use of vacation homes and complimentary tickets to charitable events.”  (emphasis added)

Now, according to this (section 5.05 on Free or Discounted Travel and Admissions), there’s an exemption for trips related to a speaking engagement or legitimate public purpose:

“An elected state or county employee, prior to any travel, shall file a full disclosure as required by 930 CMR 5.05(l)(a) with the Commission. An elected municipal employee, prior to any travel, shall file a full disclosure as required by 930 CMR 5.05(l)(a) with the city or town clerk in the respective municipality. Such disclosure shall state that the speech serves a legitimate public purpose and that the benefit to the government of the elected public employee’s participation in the travel or event outweighs any non-work related benefit to the employee or the private sponsor taking into account the extent to which such free or discounted travel may convey an appearance of special benefit for the elected public employee.”

You can find out more about what constitutes a “legitimate public purpose” on page 2 of this PDF.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, and it’s obvious that I have no ethics, but I would suggest that any trip paid for by CSX be fully vetted by the State Ethics Commission before it happens.  As I’m sure it will.

Worcester Newspaper Guild Letter

Glad to see that the Worcester Newspaper Guild took my advice and wrote their own letter to the New York Times Company.

(Next time, you can send me the press releases in addition to the larger media outlets.  I personally think the T&G should become employee-owned.)

Update — as T notes in the comments, Lee Hammel spoke with Emily Rooney today (mp3), starting at the 19:30ish mark. 

Some quotes:

“We were unhappy to read about it, given what we’ve been offered over the last four years” [regarding bonuses at NYT Co., 20:45ish]

“We’ve been in negotiations — the contract expired in 2007, and we’ve been in negotiations ever since, and they have been very steadfast in saying that they will not give us any pay raises.  But on top of that, … they’re stripping away many other rights that we had and many other benefits, or they want to do that, and that’s why we’re in negotiations.”

Regarding health benefits: “They want to take away the clause that says ‘substantially equivalent,’ so that they could give us virtually any health plan at all.  There would be no limit on what they could take away.  Similarly, they … could charge us as much as they want for those benefits.”

Rooney asks what the T&G newsroom could do if Sulzberger and Robinson gave them $1mil of their bonuses.   Hammel notes that the bonus means that Sulzberger essentially doubled his salary, and that that bonus could have paid for approximately 75 employees at NYT Co.

Regarding cutbacks at the paper: “We’ve had to make some very, very difficult choices … there’s been a tremendous loss of space; there’s not as much space to write stories…the stories are shorter and there’s fewer of them.”

“There are fewer things we can do, there’s fewer things we have space to do, and there are fewer people to do them.”

Rooney asks about the Telegram’s plans to charge for some online content.  He didn’t know enough of the details to be able to comment.

Rooney: “Is it still valuable, to be a newspaper guy?”  (after a brief dismissal of news that one can glean from the web)

Hammel: “It’s the best job in the world.  I love it, and I’ve done it for 38 years.  …If you don’t have the space to run your stuff, and you don’t have enough people to go out and gather it, it’s hard.”

There was an interesting discussion of the NYT Co.’s opinion of their guild around the 26 minute mark. 

Good for you, Lee!  Call me when your paper is interested in enlisting citizen journalists for news gathering!