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.


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.