Fresh Meat

The 2013 Municipal Election calendar was approved at last night’s City Council meeting with no comment from the public or City Councilors.

It’s a tight calendar, which means it’s a bit tougher for newer candidates to gather signatures.  Candidates can pick up nomination papers on Tuesday, March 5 at 9am, and the nomination papers need to be submitted by Tuesday, May 21 at 5pm.

I made the offer two years ago to gather signatures for any candidate, and I’m happy to make that offer again.  If you’re running for office, and you’d like me to get folks to sign your papers, I am more than willing to help.  So send me a note if you’d like some assistance.

As of right now, I count two non-incumbent candidates for City Council: Chris Rich, who’s running for District 1, and Michael Gaffney, who’s running for an at-large seat.

Lance was the first to notice Chris Rich [Facebook, Twitter] and we found out from GoLocal Worcester that he was running for District 1.  Frequent readers have long since realized that I know nothing about politics, so perhaps his decision to take on Tony Economou makes more sense to the rest of the world than it does to me.  But I suspect it will be an uphill battle to show that Economou has been anything but responsive to his constituents and/or otherwise uninvolved.

I met Michael Gaffney at last night’s City Council meeting; we made comments regarding the same item.

He’s running for an at-large seat, and he, too, has a Twitter account and a Facebook page.

He’s also donated money to Activate Worcester.

Do you remember when you were young, and you’d meet a great guy, and think, “Wow, he’s boyfriend material”, and then find out the guy liked Dave Matthews Band?  And suddenly he went from The Perfect Man to Deal Breaker?

It’s a bit like that whenever you meet a candidate and find out they’re with Activate Worcester.

I’m no fan of Activate Worcester.  I like that they try to get people active (applying for city boards, registering to vote, getting folks to serve as poll workers).  I like their TV show, especially when Ron Motta hosts.

But I don’t like the hypocrisy (asking for volunteers to “Help people who need Absentee Ballots to fill them out NOW” while complaining when Neighbor to Neighbor helps people vote at polls), and I don’t think anything excuses the shenanigans certain members of Activate Worcester participated in during the September 2012 primary election.

There may be valid reasons why someone would support Activate Worcester.  If you’re a Republican of a certain persuasion in Worcester, you don’t have many conservative political organizations to choose from.  If you’re a conservative who wants to be more active, you can either go rogue or join AW (or another Tea Party group).

So I’d be interested to see why someone like Michael Gaffney would be a member of Activate Worcester, and I’ll ask him that when he files his nomination papers.

I think it’s valid to ask what someone likes about the organization, what they agree/disagree with, and why they think it’s worth being involved.

If Donna Colorio uses Bonnie Johnson as her campaign manager again this year, I think it’s valid to ask why she would work with someone who is so polarizing.

The answers these candidates give — whether you agree with their reasons or not — would give more insight than we usually see in political reporting in the city.  Rather than ignore these candidates’ membership in a non-partisan organization, we should use that as a springboard to finding out more about candidates, just as we would information about their education, family, and other activities.

I look forward to getting to know these candidates better, and I hope there are more new faces on the horizon.

Win or lose, these folks are our neighbors.

(Well, except Bonnie Johnson!)

CWW: Worcester Chamber Music Society Free Family Concert

Sunday, March 3
3:00-4:00 PM
Mechanics Hall, Worcester Massachusetts

WCMS brings a virtual zoo to Worcester as they present Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals in a new chamber arrangement by Mark Berger.  A perennial favorite for children of all ages, Saint-Saens animals come to life in a magical way that can only be achieved through music. Visit the “Art Gallery”  where there will be a display inspired by the music, created by the students at the Worcester Arts Magnet School.

Receive a $2.00 discount coupon at the door for admission to the ECOTARIUM. Bring a new or gently used book to be donated to Reliant Medical Group Foundation’s Reach Out and Read program and be entered into a drawing to win a free family membership to the ECOTARIUM.

Reception treats by CocoBeni Confections.

WCMS is committed to educating audiences of all ages. Our family concerts offer an opportunity for families with young children to experience the beauty and excitement of classical music together. We strive to make these concerts accessible to families who would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend.

(Image: DSC_2202, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic licensed image from Travis Nobles’ photostream.

Worcester’s new export industry

In the heart of the village of Rochdale is a sign reminiscent of the newer ones in Worcester:

"Sheldon Street"

In case you can’t see it, here’s a closer look:

Sheldon Street

My first thought was — is there a Sheldon Street in Worcester that now lacks a sign?  The answer is no — and there also isn’t a Sheldon Street on the books in Leicester/Rochdale.

My second thought was — could this be a secret retreat/hideaway for one of Worcester’s lovers of  hearts & serifs, like Mike O’Brien or Bob Moylan?  If so, why choose a fictitious street name?

Perhaps this is the abode of a kleptomaniacal DPW Sign Shop worker who really loves what he does to Worcester’s street signs all day?

A peek at the assessor’s data reveal that the owners of that blue house actually have the surname Sheldon.  Is our DPW department now selling street name signs as souvenirs?

Who knows, perhaps this could be the way to plug the fiscal gap created when UMass took a bunch of properties off the tax rolls.

wormtown-fleet

I’ve written about parking so much I’m out of clever titles

Tonight’s City Council meeting has among its many topics item 8.7 B (Transmitting Informational Communication Relative to the On and Off Street Parking Program Assessment Study).

To sum up the memo:

  • Worcester’s parking garages are running in deficit, and have done for some time.
  • Municipal surface lots have operated with a very small surplus.
  • On-street metered parking rates are set by the City Council; off-street (lots, garages) rates are set by the Off-Street Parking Board.
  • Our revenues are low because we’re not charging a lot for parking.
  • So — one entity should be responsible for the parking in the city, and we should likely privatize at least part of the operations.

As usual, there are numerous problems with the conclusions and the “evidence” supporting them. Certainly it’s never clear why we need to pay consultants for these kinds of reports.

I’ll present some comments to the City Council tonight.  Here’s a slightly more detailed version of what I’ll say.

The numbers from the memo don’t match what we’ve seen in the budget

The city’s budgets have traditionally showed that the net expenditures for all forms of parking equal the net funding sources.  (You can find this on page 190 of the FY2013 city budget.)  But the memo from Commissioner Moylan shows that we are running a deficit when it comes to the parking garages, and the numbers from the budget do not reflect the numbers in his memo.

For example, the FY2013 budget shows that FY2011 actuals for on-street parking meters had an income of $75,917, with expenditures to match (so, netting to zero), but the memo says that for the same year, the meters had an income of $237,588.24, and expenses of $245,372.72 (so, a loss of about $8,000).  It is unclear which of these is the correct figure, so it’s impossible for me as a citizen to evaluate whether the suggestions he makes in his memo are good financial sense.

If we have had concerns about deficits in parking for a few years, why hasn’t the city budget reflected accurate actuals so that we would know this was coming before we reached a crisis point?  And if parking operations have been running at a deficit, then what is making up the difference: parking ticket revenue, tax levy, or something else?

We’re not provided with all the information

Indeed, because of the way the city budget is structured, it’s not clear exactly how much it costs to administer the Parking Ticket Division, which is something that we would need to know before evaluating the merits of another way of doing business.

When we’re shown comparisons in the revenue between various cities, especially in their revenue from parking meters, we’re never told how many meters each city operates.  How can I compare whether Portsmouth is making a killing if I don’t know if they have more, less, or the same number of meters as Worcester?

Apples and oranges

In Commissioner Moylan’s figures for the parking meter revenue for other communities, he neglects to mention that many of those figures include parking tickets/fines.

Take the case of Manchester, NH.  Much of the $1,092,000 in revenue he mentions is not from regular meter fees but from parking tickets.  Indeed, according to its FY2012 budget, Manchester takes in $1,222,000 in parking ticket revenue, which is less than Worcester’s $1.8 million.  Manchester takes in a net of just $376,332, excluding fines, of parking meter revenue.

In the case of Portsmouth, NH, the figure the commissioner gives as meter revenue is either revenue for the entire city parking operation, including the parking garage, or else it is the raw parking meter revenue (which does not take operations expenses into account, which could significantly lower Portsmouth’s revenue from meters alone).

The Commissioner is comparing apples to oranges — he’s including parking ticket or garage revenue for the other cities and not for Worcester.  While that is partly due to the city of Worcester’s designation of this account as appropriation rather than enterprise, it does not follow that we will be raking in the money if we follow his suggestions and privatize our parking operations.

Why is Pearl Elm comparatively successful?

Pearl-Elm is the only garage that’s currently operating in the black.

I believe (but am not sure) that there is a 99-year lease (expiring around 2090) of 200 parking spaces in the Pearl-Elm garage with One Chestnut Place.  How much does that account for the comparative success of that garage?  What other long-term leases do we have that might be affected by this plan?

Let’s take the good from Portsmouth

Portsmouth, NH has a program where they provide heavily discounted parking rates in their garages for times when there is a parking ban.  You can get a coupon from their parking office ahead of time, park in a garage for the length of the snow ban, and present the coupon to pay $3 for the entire time you parked.

Portsmouth also has free downtown parking in the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s.

If Portsmouth is our model, are these ideas also going to be considered for Worcester?

CWW: Worcester Chamber Music Society concert on Saturday

This is a reschedule from February 9 — note that this is in the afternoon, not evening; as always, WCMS concerts are highly recommended.

WINTER DIVERTIMENTO

Saturday, February 23, 2013
3:00 PM (2:30PM pre concert talk)
Clark University
Razzo Hall/Traina Center for the Arts
92 Downing Street, Worcester

Free Admission

Program
COPLAND   Threnody I & II
JOHNSTON   String Quartet No. 4 “Amazing Grace”
MOZART  Divertimento in Eb, K. 563

Tracy Kraus, flute; Krista Buckland Reisner and Rohan Gregory, violin
Peter Sulski, viola and  Joshua Gordon, cello
With guest Geoffrey Burleson, piano

(Image: Aaron Copland drawing, a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licensed image from Richard Hurd’s photostream.)

If you’re interested in more free & cheap events, you can look on this calendar.

Notes from last night’s D5 Open Space Meeting

Reminder: if you have comments about what should be included/mentioned in the Open Space plan, including any properties you think the city should look at acquiring, email parks@worcesterma.gov, subject line: Open Space.

The Happy Valentine’s Day Open Space Meeting

The beginning is the same as the previous meetings – you can review the D3 meeting for more details.

When they started this process, they had 65 parcels for Con Comm – through a review they are up to 110 properties.

Community garden locations will be listed.

Discussion (based on question from attendee) about passive vs. active recreation; it seems that those who advocate passive recreation have showed up at the meetings more.

Comment/question about how many passive recreation people there are, and how to track them.

Suggestions: enlisting college students with clickers; quantifying geocache sites.

Another comment: older people tend to be more active in community things.  She recommends a demographic poll of age range.

Response: the survey will ask for an age range.

Another comment: has Worcester compared sports usage versus what the national parks & rec standards are?

Longer discussion of national formula vs. local character.

Colin: can we have an insert about the online survey in the annual street listing?

Question about making sure marginalized communities, residents of housing authorities, etc., the vulnerable, are included in the survey.  Potentially state/federal funding to support this.

Response: they will be meeting with the housing authority administration.

They will also be preparing an environmental justice map as part of the plan.

Gerry: curious about Cook Pond – land is labeled brown and “Other”; Patches is purple/Conservation Commission.  What’s up with the colors around the various bodies of water?

Response: it has to do with ownership.  Green is Parks; Purple is Con Com; Brown is private owner (like GWLT, Audubon, etc.)

Question: private and public cemeteries: are they allowed to be used for passive recreation?

Response: no answer from diocese (question was specifically about St John’s).  Still open space, question about public use.

Question about whether there will be a section on the history of the parks system.  Response – yes.

Question about seven year action plan?

Response: it’s a DCR/state requirement.

Further response: no requirement for a municipality to complete an open space master plan, but if you’re applying for grants, you need to do this, and it’s in your favor if what you’re applying for in a grant is in your master plan.

Gerry – an older master plan will not end up getting done before a newer one; the queue is not necessarily in order.

Response: correct.  It’s not a perfect science; they do try to map projects to year one, year two, etc.

Question: wonders if they could consider having these maps in hospital lobbies, etc. – to build bridges, inform community, etc.

Comment: improve Mill Street beach.  Cheap alternative to building a pool, annual maintenance would be less than a pool.  Also, environmental justice piece.

Further comment: people’s perception is that it’s dirty, would need outreach.

Comment: Hillside beach – keep open mind, make it happen after Mill St beach improvements.

Colin – Parson’s Cider Mill – conservation restriction on the land across the street from 1978.  On D2/D3, section of bikeway not on the map should be on the map.  As a policy matter, city came up with the shopping list of everything everyone mentioned – then there was an open space top 10 list from there, to share priorities with city and open space folks.

Comment: objects to parks policy of closing access to parking lots in Beaver Brook – denying public access to Knights of Columbus parcel.

Comment: ConCom property on Glendale Street – trying to get signs that say no dumping – police take notice.  If there are signs that might be a deterrent.

Gerry – Patches – no way to drain it.  Becoming filled in, shallower.  How do you get a system to drain it down?

Response from the audience: dam needs to be replaced/repaired/removed.

Longer discussion of the area – used to be a brook corridor, and it will go back to that without human intervention.

 

CWW: February Vacation Week events

The Worcester Historical Museum will hold the grand opening of the Alden Family Gallery on Saturday, February 16, from 11am-3pm.  There will be free admission that day and during February vacation week (February 19-23).  More info here.

Events at the Worcester Public Library:

  • Wednesday, February 20 at 10:30am at FPBL – Winter Animals Sing-a-long and Storytime
  • Thursday, February 21 at 11am in the Saxe Room – Magic Greg McAdams Kids Show
  • Thursday, February 21 at 3:30pm in the Saxe Room – Tanglewood Marionettes, for those with free tickets.

Other free/cheap events of interest during February vacation week:

The skating rink on the Common will be open every day, with free skating on Wednesday, February 20 and a curling exhibition on Saturday, February 23rd.

AAAS Family Science Days, a free event geared towards kids in grades 6-12, will be at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center February 16 and 17 from 11am-5pm.  More info here.

Admission for kids 17 and under is free at the Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston during vacation week, and there will be programming specifically for kids.

And for the dinosaur- and Dinotopia-lovers, James Gurney will be giving a lecture at Kinnecutt Hall, Salisbury Labs 115, WPI, on Thursday, February 21 at 7:00pm:

Know of an event I missed? Leave it in the comments…