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.


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?