Head Librarian’s Report for October 2011

Youth Services Division Report: October 2011

Fall programming for both teens and children is well launched.  Our first two gaming sessions for children were modestly attended.  The kids were great about taking turns and working with Children’s Room staff as we work out logistics for running several gaming sessions simultaneously.  Many thanks to the Friends for game equipment and to Joel for patiently teaching staff to change the AV settings in the program room!

The generosity of the Friends of Worcester Public Library allowed the Children’s Room to host a balloon artist on Sundae Sunday, October 16th.  Nathan Murphy, a UMass student from Granby, wowed children and parents alike as he created an original balloon sculpture for each child, on demand.  Nathan, aka Mr. Balloon, overstayed his contracted time so as to leave no child without a balloon sculpture.

Terry Popek has started booktalking visits to Worcester schools interested in participating in the 2011-2012 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award.  Terry presents a book talk for each of the 25 titles nominated this year at each school visit.  In addition, Terry started the monthly discussions of MCBA books on October 26th with a student selected title, The Prince of Fenway Park by J. Baggott.  Pat Avis, Venerini school librarian, brought a student to the discussion and wrote, “Thank you for the fabulous Prince of Fenway Park book discussion.  You planned such a terrific event.  Your baseball game was really fun and of course the snacks were a huge home run!  Simon just beamed telling his classmates about all the fun he had at the library!” Continue reading

Library Board Openings

From the City Hall Notebook:

The City Council is looking for candidates to fill two upcoming vacancies on the Worcester Public Library’s board of directors.

The council will be electing the two new members at its next meeting Tuesday night.

So far, only two residents have applied for the positions. Interested residents have until noon on Friday to file a letter of interest and resume with the city clerk so they can be considered for the openings.

The city clerk will accept letters of interest and resumes via e-mail at: clerk@worcesterma.gov; via fax at: (508) 799-1194; or through the mail at: City Clerk, Room 206, City Hall, 455 Main St., Worcester, 01608-1889.

Letters of interest and resumes can also be hand-delivered to the city clerk’s office in City Hall during regular business hours from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

All applicants must be residents of Worcester.

The library board has 12 members who serve six-year terms. Two openings come up on the board every year.

There are also lots of openings on city boards and commissions.  Next hearing is December 7.

Recap for the liveblog-phobic

(Jeremy’s liveblog; Lee Hammel’s article)

There was a gentleman who sat in front of me in the gallery last night.  He, like me, lives in the neighborhood near 1398 Main Street.  He, unlike me, was opposed to the proposed triage center there. 

He overheard me talking with Jo Hart and proclaimed that I was “his kind of girl” because I sounded like I didn’t take crap from anyone.

When those who opposed the 1398 Main Street site tried to shout down Barbara Haller, he told the folks nearest him that that was inappropriate behavior for the Council chamber.  That took guts, even for someone on their side.  He was my kind of guy.

So much of the debate surrounding the proposed triage center has involved folks shouting others down (and worse).  I’d like to thank that gentleman for reminding me that folks can disagree without being disagreeable, and that people like us can shake hands at the end of a hearing.

Yes, the triage center will be moving to 701 Main Street.

But the real news is that we have rewarded folks for their anger, fear, and bad behavior.

Folks have a right to be angry.  I think the lack of communication is cause enough to be angry.

But anger does not give you the right to shout down people who are trying to speak at a meeting.

Folks have a right to be afraid.

But fear does not give you the right to spread misinformation and to stereotype others.

I have rarely been so disappointed in my fellow citizens as when I heard them shout down Barbara Haller last night, when she pointed out that the 1398 Main Street location had multiple community hearings (as a contrast to 701 Main Street, which will have had none).

Folks said that those weren’t community meetings because they weren’t allowed to speak.

But who didn’t allow them to speak — elected officials, or their own neighbors who acted in an absolutely uncivil manner?

I said this last week: “when things get ugly, it’s very easy for the Manager to ignore everyone, or to shut down a meeting.  And then the voices of the more reasonable or more quiet among us are silenced.”  And, as I predicted, plenty of us have been silenced by the shouts of our own neighbors.

The losers in this are not just the neighbors of 701 Main Street, but any of us who long for a real dialogue about homelessness, and for those of us who believe that civil discourse is an essential part of our democracy. 

An infrequent reader let me know that it wasn’t clear whether I was for or against the triage center in my neighborhood.  I apologize for my lack of clarity — I was not opposed to the triage center, for a variety of reasons.  I tried very hard to show how the lack of communication fanned the flames, and I tried (perhaps too well) to see things from the point of view of those with whom I disagree.

There have been so many little topics swirling in my head: whether neighborhood councils would have helped or hurt in this situation; why folks seem to (over-)emphasize the negative aspects of city living when there are so many positives; why more people showed up at these meetings than actually turned out to vote

…but it’s past my bedtime.

More to come, I’m sure.  And hopefully in a lucid manner.

For further reading: Mending Fences, as discussed a long time ago on P&C, and Opening Doors to Group Homes in Worcester

City Council, SMOC portion, liveblog

7:29 – the City Clerk is reading item 10a.  This is to recommend that the triage center be at City Hospital or 701 Main Street.

City Manager – “30+ years of an emergency shelter that became a permanent shelter” — “Those costs both from a human perspective and from a community perspective are great.”

Housing first, rapid rehousing, wraparound services, etc.  You know the drill.

“That former failure of the PIP shelter…ceased in 2009 and began a process of triage and assessment.”

600 people have been placed through that system.

He has a guarantee that SMOC would cease triage at 701 Main Street after 12 months, has a commitment for Good Neighbor Agreement.

He will also plant trees. Because that helps.

http://twitter.com/#!/blackjew/status/141676550998343680

He’s talking the same stuff the folks in Main South have likely heard a million times before.  As far as I can tell, the WPD will be at 701 Main Street 24/7.

There is some memo that outlines all this.  There are likely details in that.

7:39 – Haller — talks about an older situation where she asked about why something was being put in D4.

“other neighborhoods are strong enough to apply pressure … to prevent those kinds of programs from happening.  … Very disappointing to me.”

“This is a different day.”  She talks about her many years of experience with PIP.  She is breaking into tears at various points in speaking.

 “We’re a recovering neighborhood, you need to give us a chance to recover.” (quoting from a Jim Connolly?)

“The progress has been slow” around 701 Main Street.

7:43 — “we knew that closing the PIP would not transform that neighborhood…[but it was] required for that transformation to start.”

She is completely convinced that a triage center pretty much anywhere in the city will be a success.  “The triage center is not the problem.”

moving back to Community Healthlink — “smoke and mirrors” — this is just to make it go back to 701 Main Street.

“I’m not worried about the triage center, but I don’t think the neighborhood is ready.”

“We will see.  We have a year.  We will see.”

This is Barbara Haller at her absolute best, folks.

“I’m not going to support this.  I find this incredibly insulting.  And difficult for me in my final weeks on the council.  But I understand.  Because District 4″ is the only place for these programs.

She gets applause.

7:48 – voice vote on resolution.  All Yeas except Haller and O’Brien.

Haller notes that community meetings were held for both MLK Center and 1398 Main Street, in this case there were no meetings.  I guess there will be after the fact.

She was shouted down by folks who said there were no real community meetings.

O’Brien’s Hot Potato

The meeting tonight at South High regarding the SMOC Triage Center ended much earlier than planned.

Traffic backed up along Apricot

The parking areas filled early and many cars had to park along Apricot Street.  The auditorium was nearly full – approximately 600 people — watched over by six uniformed WPD officers and a few that seemed to be plainclothes version of the same.  Cruisers were strategically placed at various points outside.

The meeting was due to begin at 7:00 p.m., but as minutes passed and seats filled, there were several mini-meetings held at the front of the auditorium between members of city government/administration and SMOC.

By 7:15 the crowd had waited long enough and began clapping loudly in unison.  Michael Angelini, a lawyer representing SMOC, spent five minutes presenting where SMOC stood on the matter of the controversial relocation of its triage center to 1398 Main St.  His comments suggested a certain flexibility about the location of the triage center.  Many questions/comments were shouted at him, but he mostly dodged them in an effort to keep things focused.  He turned the microphone over to Mayor Joe O’Brien around 7:20 or so.  Mayor O’Brien spent about ten minutes explaining the city’s position and fielding several irate questions from people who came forward to speak at microphones at the front of the hall.  He finished by announcing that the meeting was being shut down early, as an agreement had been reached to have the city council reconsider the site of the SMOC Triage Center at tomorrow night’s meeting.  In what must have been an instinctive gesture of a naturally courteous man, he invited everyone in the hall to come attend that meeting.  City Hall’s going to be really interesting tomorrow.

Dozens of voices cried out for City Dictator Manager Mike O’Brien to speak or answer questions.  He never acknowledged these calls — in fact, once he took his place on stage, he almost never looked at the audience.  He alternated between tickling the touchscreen of his smart phone or gazing intently at the speaker at the podium.

Tonight’s last-minute pre-meeting huddle seems to have been to secure SMOC’s willingness to abandon plans for 1398 Main St. should the City Council ask it to.  Now chef Mike O’Brien is leaving it up to the Council to either undo what he’s been carefully cooking up with SMOC, or else rubber stamp the menu and take all the heat.

He’s now adroitly tossed them a very hot potato.  To be fair, an earlier City Council tossed him the rather unpalatable potato of the PIP shelter, and he’s now cooked it up in true O’Brien style, single-handedly igniting a neighborhood as he did so.

Now it’s up to the City Council tomorrow night to cool it off, or else force-feed it to the angry residents who attended the foreshortened meeting tonight.

Yum.

Added, 10:30 pm — According to Joe O’Brien, one of the alternate locations for the triage center would be 701 Main Street (the former PIP Shelter).  SMOC attorney Angelini mentioned a “Plan B”, but it’s unclear whether that referred to 701 Main Street or to another site.

Joe O’Brien said that if the 1398 Main Street site were voted on at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, that there would be yet another meeting at South High School on Wednesday night to answer the questions that were not answered tonight.

One wonders why the city and/or SMOC couldn’t solicit questions beforehand and prepare a FAQ sheet that could be handed out and posted online.  Now people have gone to at least two meetings, have not been able to ask questions, received no answers, and are becoming thoroughly disgruntled.  They have been told they could attend a City Council meeting tomorrow, and might still need to go to yet another meeting on Wednesday to actually get their questions answered.

Whether or not you agree with their concerns, the only thing the city and SMOC could do to make the information dissemination any worse would be to hire BP as their spokespeople.

I’m not sure if meetings and decisions have been postponed in the hopes that fewer and fewer people will show up at these meetings.  If tonight’s meeting was any indication, it’s that silence and evasion will only draw in crowds.

At the rate we’re going, South High School will not be able to accommodate all the interested parties.   What’s next — the DCU Center?

“City Dictator” vs. Deadmeat Ave. — Round Two

City Manager Mike O’Brien may be a competent manager, but his people skills are sorely lacking — at times it could be said that he elevates leadership tone-deafness to an art form.  This time his secretiveness and his my-way-or-the-highway approach to manangement has crossed paths with the angry feline of Valley Falls.  If anyone wonders where the ferocity of the anti-SMOC movement on the western edge of Worcester is coming from, one need only look back about 7 years or so to a period when certain powers-that-be in city and state government were plotting prospective routes for an access road to Worcester Airport.  They quickly settled on a route that would have involved a massive land-grab in Hadwen Park, as well as eminent domain takings all along Grandview Avenue — a one-way street that connects Main Street to Stafford Street.  A local wag who shall remain nameless christened Grandview “Deadmeat Ave.” around that time, as it was looking like the project might be steamrolled through over resident’s opposition.

Then came ROAR (Residents Opposing the Access Road), an anti-access road citizen’s group which raised enough of a ruckus that the project was shelved — at least for a while.  But the poor residents of Grandview may be forgiven for feeling like a Sword of Damocles still hangs over their narrow byway, because few doubt that the master planners of state & local government would still like to bring that access road through so that cargo haulers can more easily get to the airport.

What’s all that got to do with the anti-SMOC vitriol?

Assume for a moment, as many people do, that most homeless people also abuse alcohol.  Whether there’s truth to that is of no immediate relevance.  If you were the imbibing sort, and if you were to find your homeless self temporarily housed at 1398 Main Street, where’s the closest place to get your fix of intoxicating hooch?  Stafford Liquors at the corner of Stafford & James, near the bridge.  An easy stagger straight down Grandview from the new SMOC Triage Center.

For those who (understandably) make that packy-run assumption, then once again Grandview Ave. = Deadmeat Ave.  Mike O’Brien has blithely put the Grandview Tiger back in the crosshairs, and he’s about to hear his target ROAR.

I have to assume that Mike O’Brien (or “City Dictator”, as the late Jeff Barnard called him) is either oblivious to the lingering ire left by the last attempt to steamroll Deadmeat Ave., or else he failed to appreciate how long memories of attempted “injustice” can be.  These folks want to be part of the process early on, like they were when Mass DOT was planning how to handle the closure of the James St. Bridge.  Too late for that now, unfortunately, so the Dictator needs to start mending some fences and acting like a diplomat instead of an autocrat.

My advice to the City Manager tonight (& tomorrow) is to be as forthright/conciliatory as possible — and that’s going to be a huge challenge for Mike O’Brien.  Make sure that all of the neighbors’ concerns are dealt with.  And promise not to drop another controversial project on Deadmeat Ave. without consulting them.

Good luck, “C.D.”  I don’t envy you having the tiger by the tail.

One mile radius

It’s at times (and with controversies) like the SMOC Triage Center that I especially miss Jeff.  He and I would likely have had a different perspective on this issue.  He probably would’ve gotten more pictures of happenings in my own neighborhood than I ever could.

This rant is for you, Jeff…

If you live in the Wild West like me, you’ll likely have gotten a flyer telling you that the proposed triage center (or New PIP, or whatever we’re hyperbolically calling it nowadays) is within a mile of five schools.

Here’s a one-mile radius of the proposed site (via freemaptools):

(At this point, I’m beginning to be concerned that the proposed site is a mile away from the cemetery!!!!)

When you live in the Wild West, the primary modes of communication are flyers and signs posted on the backs of pallets. (Photos to come of both signs and flyer.)

To put things in perspective:

  • Someone was shot, killed, and buried within a mile of my home.  There were no flyers reporting this, none of our “neighborhood activists” demanded community meetings, and no signs posted on the street about a safety risk.
  • SMOC is going to put in a homeless triage center within a mile from my home for one year.  As a result, I’ve gotten a flyer warning me that my children might have to encounter homeless people who smoke (!!!).  Numerous signs proclaim the second coming of the PIP shelter.

In the Wild West’s version of Rock-Paper-Scissors, Smoking clearly trumps Gangland Murder!

I’ll be sending my research assistant to tonight’s SMOC meeting at South High School and will post a full report later tonight; I’ll go to City Council tomorrow for the second (third? fourth?) bout.

WTHHLN: “She’s Homeless”

This is a continuation of a series of posts about What The Hell Happened Last Night. Like previous installments, it is heavily biased reportage.

There were two main topics of interest at last night’s Council meeting: Occupy Worcester and homelessness.  I’ll cover the latter in this post.

The homelessness issue was, unfortunately, split up into two parts: an abridged non-discussion of the proposed SMOC triage center at 1398 Main Street, and the Human Rights Commission’s request for a new ten-year plan to address homelessness.

SMOC/Triage Center

I showed up at the last night’s City Council meeting on the early end of things and sat down on a bench outside Esther Howland chamber.  A man sat next to me and we started talking.  He lives in the area close to the Anna Maria Rest Home, and spoke with great hostility towards the project.

He said that if the proposed triage center moved there, he would burn it down.

Sadly, after reading the T&G account of Monday’s meeting on the triage center, this sort of violent rhetoric is not out of the ordinary.  In fact, it appears to have been encouraged by at least one elected official.

Whoa, that was quick…

The public first found out about the triage center as a brief mention in the November 15th Council meeting.  Last night, since Phil Palmieri held the item, no one really spoke on it.

Next week’s Council meeting will be November 29.

The temporary triage center is set to open on December 1.

…because that’s the city’s M.O.

The city has never learned the most important lesson of public scandals: it’s the coverup, not the scandal, that will do you in.

We are so often presented with these projects as a fait accompli rather than a collaboration between the neighborhood and the city (or social service agency, or large business).

When people are presented with a done deal in their own backyard, their reactions can seem like NIMBY.  But part of that reaction is a (perceived or real) lack of respect and loss of agency.

If the city administration is willing to act on a plan and disenfranchise you right from the get-go, without involving any of your elected officials, why would you then trust any assurances they make about the safety of your neighborhood or the appropriateness of the site?

Not involving the appropriate people at the appropriate times is the hallmark of the current city administration.  And — in fairness — none of our city officials are willing to consistently require that of the City Manager.

[An example of a process I thought worked relatively well was the James Street Bridge.  There were hearings, and I didn't get the sense that everyone's minds were made up before the process began.  Was it perfect?  Was everyone ecstatic?  No and no.  But there was a level of respect and fairness that this process is lacking.  The difference?  It was run by MassDOT, not the city.]

Clarification of the neighborhood

Last night, Councilor Eddy said that “property located in an institutional setting is a better fit than in a residential neighborhood.”

But the Anna Maria Rest Home is not located in a residential neighborhood.  There’s a vacant lot that was once a car dealership on one side, and a building that used to house a restaurant on the other.  While there are people who live all around it, and while there are purely residential streets adjoining it, the corner of Main Street and Goddard Memorial Drive is hardly a residential neighborhood.

Should there be concerns about folks who might be wandering around the neighborhood?  Probably, though it’s been noted that the Queen Street area didn’t see an uptick in crime.

The two areas I’d expect to see more foot traffic would be from Anna Maria to the convenience store on Goddard (for folks to get smokes and snacks) and down Grandview to the liquor store at the corner of James and Stafford.

But not everyone who’s homeless is a drinker (despite what the gadflies would have you believe), and it’s unclear what sort of behavior would make someone unwelcome at the triage center.

And it is worth remembering that the behaviors so many of us associate with the homeless — including staggering down the street in a drunken stupor – occur in neighborhoods all across the city, including the very neighborhood we’re talking about.

Homeless people do not just fall out of the sky

Many people have argued that a triage center for the homeless should not be located so close to three schools (Sullivan Middle, South High, and Caradonio) and to school bus routes.

Those folks seem to forget that many students at the Caradonio New Citizen Center are refugees, and that 12% of students at South High School are homeless.

The next hearing on the proposed triage center will be at South High School.

If the discussion next Monday deteriorates in the same manner it did last Monday, what kind of message will that send to the homeless students at South High?

Homelessness is not just a problem for Main South or the Village of Piedmont.  This is a problem that affects the whole city.

Much of the online discussion seems to equate being homeless with being a criminal.  We can certainly ask questions and ensure safety for both existing neighborhood residents and those who might use the triage center — but without resorting to rhetoric that only serves to stereotype and fan flames.

Mission accomplished?

Part of the reason we are facing a temporary triage center in our neighborhood is that the city had a three-year plan to end homelessness that was declared a success . . . but which has been, in fact, a failure.

There was no way City Manager O’Brien could have won in this situation.  But he could have done much to minimize the now-inevitable ill will the neighborhood will bear towards him.

The biggest misstep, as I said before, was not including the neighbors earlier on in the process.  As the City Manager should know by now, this allows neighbors to spread their own forms of disinformation amongst themselves because there’s a dearth of real information.

The mushroom policy has been in effect for years now.

They’ve kept everyone in the dark.  If they had kept neighbors apprised of the situation, there would still be opposition, but everyone would be in the same place with same set of facts.

But by keeping people in the dark, the Manager has made sure that neighbors feel the only way they can have any impact on this situation is to take things into their own hands, wherever their visceral impulse leads them.  It could very well get ugly, and for some people this is the only way they feel the city administration is going to listen to them.

And when things get ugly, it’s very easy for the Manager to ignore everyone, or to shut down a meeting.  And then the voices of the more reasonable or more quiet among us are silenced.

Mike O’Brien needs to take a crash course in Diplomacy 101 and polish this turd the best he can.

What we’re seeing here is the difference between a relatively competent manager and a leader.

And this case clearly shows his skill deficits.

What a difference a week makes

Regarding the proposed temporary triage center (if something can be called “proposed” when it’s already a done deal):

Last Tuesday:

No opposition was voiced by the City Council when the plan was announced last night. District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy, in whose district the temporary site will locate, noted City Manager Michael V. O’Brien assured that there will be good supervision and noted its short-term nature.

Last night:

District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy called it “a very poor process” and called the location “a very poor choice.”

But the best part of the meeting:

Finally, after an hour, City Manager Michael V. O’Brien announced that the meeting would have to end because the Fire Department declared that the hallway was overcrowded.