Looking the gift horse in the mouth

When I think about the way the city works, I often pretend I moved to Worcester five years ago.

If I’d moved to Worcester five years ago, I’d have no idea who Ed Augustus was.

So — for those of you who need a refresher — here’s a quick recap of the career of Ed Augustus.


When Ed Augustus ran for School Committee in 1989, he was just 24 years old, but already had more natural political savvy than Worcester had seen in a long time.  He began working at the Worcester County Sheriff’s office in 1987, and would work there until 1993.  He had already worked for then-Sheriff John “Mike” Flynn’s 1986 campaign, and had worked on other campaigns as well.  He had already been a delegate to the Democratic State Convention three times.

From a Telegram article in 1989:

Augustus spent more than any other candidate in the School Committee race –  $1,000 came directly from a corrections officers group, for instance – and ran a high-visibility campaign. Augustus had helped Flynn in 1986 and Flynn returned the favor.

“Anybody who is good to me and qualified, I hope I have enough savvy not to forget somebody,” Flynn said.

Augustus served on the Worcester School Committee for two terms, from 1990-1993.

In that time, he continued to work at the sheriff’s office, and also worked on various campaigns, including serving as the Worcester coordinator for US Rep Joe “Early’s unsuccessful re-election campaign against former Republican congressman Peter I. Blute of Shrewsbury.” [quote from the T&G]

Augustus stepped down from the School Committee in September 1993 in order to work at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.  He held various posts there over the course of about five years, including chief of staff to the assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs and northeast coordinator for the National Performance Review. While in the chief of staff position, he oversaw “a staff of 120, a $20 million budget and 11 regional offices across the country.”

Augustus remained politically active, and in 1996 he took some time off to work on Senator Kerry’s re-election campaign.

He left the Department of Education in 1998 to be Jim McGovern’s campaign manager in his re-election race for US Representative, and served as McGovern’s chief of staff from 1999-2004.

He left McGovern’s office in 2004 to campaign for state senate, and served as state senator from 2005-2009.

He decided not to run for re-election in 2008, and he worked for a bit more than a year (from 2009 to early 2010) as the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California.

He left Children’s Defense Fund in 2010 to be Jim McGovern’s campaign manager.

And from 2011 to the present he has worked for the College of the Holy Cross as Director of Government and Community Relations.

Political allies

This brief resume does not really describe who Ed Augustus is.

He’s someone who’s often on the good side of a successful politician, and someone who’s a very successful political organizer.

He picked a powerful ally in Sheriff Flynn.

In that very first School Committee election, when he was just 24 years old, Augustus raised $16,000 — more than twice that of any other School Committee candidate — and “was endorsed by a number of well-known local figures, including Sheriff John M. Flynn, former Sheriff Theodore Herman, former state Sen. Thomas P. White, former state Sen. John P. Houston, state Rep. John J. Binienda, the International Brotherhood of Corrections Officers Local 254, the union to which he belongs, and the Ward 7 Democratic Committee.”

Augustus was a quick study.  By the time he ran for re-election at age 26, he had 400 volunteers working for him.  On a Worcester School Committee campaign.

Augustus has lent support to (or otherwise been associated with) nearly every major Democratic candidate in the Worcester area: Jim McGovern, Tim Murray, Rick Rushton, Stephen Abraham, James Leary, among others.

And when Augustus had some legal difficulties in 2007 about whether his legal residence was in Worcester or Boston, he called on none other than the ultimate insider, Michael Angelini of Bowditch and Dewey.  (This particular gentleman is worthy of his own blog post, and perhaps I will write one after consulting with my attorneys.  Until then, it’s just better to imagine that Metallica dedicated a whole album to Angelini and that the man seems to operate on absolutely no sleep.)

What’s so bad about the guy, anyway?

Proponents of Ed Augustus’ candidacy for city manager — and make no mistake, it’s a candidacy — would like to put anyone who questions his qualifications on the defensive.

But it’s those who keep telling us he’s the “right leader to move Worcester into the future” — even though it’s only supposed to be a nine-month position — who need to tell us why he’s right for the job.

If I were going to campaign for elected office, Ed Augustus would be a wonderful choice for campaign manager.  If I were then elected, he’d be an equally great choice for chief of staff.  He obviously knows how to run a campaign and how to run an office.

But at some point, one’s qualifications to run a city have to be more than not wanting to disassemble the government and not having a bipolar diagnosis.

When Augustus served on the School Committee, he recommended a former campaign worker, Joseph M. Foley Jr., to serve as a long-term substitute in the Worcester Public Schools, despite Foley’s not having been certified as a teacher.  He opposed “a suggestion to require written notification to the board when relatives of local elected officials or top school administrators are recommended for school jobs or promotions” and also “opposed a committee review of school hiring policies.”

This very situation is what has me worried about Augustus’ bid for city manager, and about the push for strong mayor we will see in the near future.

When we consider someone’s political connections to be “qualifications”, that is an insult to everyone who works hard for this city without desire for political gain.

When we are presented with a candidate whose resume is not nearly as impressive as his political experience, how can we then expect any candidates with actual management experience to take this position seriously?  They will surely know that the fix is in, and that who you know is more important than what you can do.

I don’t have a problem with Ed Augustus.

I have a problem with a system that looks at the most important position in this city as a prize to be given to whomever a favor is owed.

If our elected officials continue to place more value on their friends than the oaths they made, if they look at the obligations of political favors to be greater than the obligations to the people of this city —

and if we, the citizens, do not ultimately ask why “pretty good” makes someone’s friend qualified to oversee a city whose budget is over half a billion dollars —

then we deserve whatever comes our way.

Suggested reading:

“Sheriff’s loyalists wield political sword in elections”, by Bob Bliss, Telegram and Gazette, 19 November 1989

“Augustus announces candidacy”, Telegram and Gazette, 2 July 1989

“Early, Augustus will duel if Chandler doesn’t run”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 9 January 2002

“Augustus seen as good fit for governor’s chief of staff”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 11 November 2006

“Augustus writing campaign strategy”, by Kimberly Newton, Telegram and Gazette, 14 October 1991

“Augustus’ vote, tax break in question; Worcester senator, Boston home”, by Shaun Sutner, Telegram and Gazette, 30 November 2007

“‘Something bad’: Favoritism has no place in school hiring”, Telegram editorial, 9 November 1992

CWW: Story Land discount Friday only

I featured this last year — and it’s back again this year!

If you’re the parent of pre-teen children (or know someone who is), there’s a one-day-only discount today on tickets for the 2013 season at Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire.  If you’re unfamiliar with Story Land, it’s a wonderful theme park near the White Mountains which has as its focus the many children’s stories with which most of us grew up.  There are gentle rides for toddlers and more exciting attractions for the older kids (and those of us who haven’t been kids for years).  There’s something for everyone, and all of the rides are included in the price of admission.  You can easily spend an entire day at Story Land and not get to see/experience everything.  If you went there as a child and haven’t been there since, you should also know that it’s many times larger now, and gets a new attraction or two every year!

The details are as follows:

Go to www.storylandnh.com click on tickets and season passes and enter the promo code in the promo box to get the deal.  This is for Black Friday only, beginning at midnight, and will likely sell out within hours.

2014 Season Passes (VERY LIMITED QUANTITY) for $35.00 per person, ages 1 & 2 are free. NO promo code needed. Limit of 5 per transaction.

2014 Day Passes (LIMITED QUANTITY) for $19.99 per person, ages 1 & 2 are free. Promo Code: dinoroar14. Limit of 10 per transaction.

Rage Against the Machine

It might come as a shock to my loyal readers, but I often attend City Council meetings under the assumption that I live in a normal city.

Invariably, I am thrown off my game at some point during any given meeting.

Either Carol Claros has a different hair color, or Jo Hart only insults half the City Council, or some dude who used to be my state senator gets appointed city manager for life.

Or — as happened last night — all three…

In the past week, I’ve read various media accounts about how former city manager Hoover suddenly resigned, and how the City Council had to scramble to find a replacement, when Mike O’Brien dropped out of the sky and became the anointed one.

That is not how many of us remember it.

The way we remember it, a gang of City Councilors led by then-Mayor Tim Murray decided that they wanted Hoover gone and their guy in.  They waited until a few councilors were out of the meeting and then told him to tender his resignation.

And then there was no need for a nationwide search, because the perfect candidate had been in Worcester all along.

Last night was the first City Council meeting after Mike O’Brien tendered his resignation, and there was an item on the agenda to discuss that:

Mayor Joseph M. Petty request the City Council accept the Letter of Resignation from Michael V. O’Brien as City Manager, effective January 5, 2014, and further, request to proceed to discussion concerning an interim and permanent replacement City Manager, and further, request the City Clerk provide the City Council with details regarding the process and timeline followed during the 1993 City Manager search and appointment process.

If we lived in a normal city, we’d assume that that meant the City Council was going to discuss potential interim managers and beginning the process to find a new permanent manager.

But we live in Worcester.

The machine has its favorites queued up, and it’s planning on playing the same game it played so well ten years ago.

So Rick Rushton can say “Bottom line is Ed Augustus will be city manager whether you hold it under privilege or not, it’s not going to stop” in a meeting without fear of contradiction from his colleagues and with no worries about being made a liar.

Is it too much to ask the machine to pretend the game isn’t rigged?

So, in future, rather than the mayor mentioning a candidate, he could mention two (or even three!) candidates.  We will of course know that there’s only one really viable candidate, because he will have the halo glowing over his head, but we can at least pretend there’ll be a choice.

Then, after Phil Palmieri talks for 10-15 minutes, Rick Rushton can pretend that he and Bill Eddy didn’t already have their marching orders, and make sure not to let it slip that “we” haven’t yet spoken to that candidate, even though the mayor just brought his name forward for consideration five minutes earlier.

Then we can have a real Municipal Operations meeting, preferably not at 2:00pm on a Friday afternoon, where a few citizens might share their opinions and city councilors might occasionally glance at them.

And then we can select the candidate for an interim position, or a nine-month contract.

A nationwide search will be conducted, and we’ll all agree at the end that the best candidates are homegrown, and no one will be surprised, and everyone will be pleased, when our man is selected as city manager.

That’s how you do it, gentlemen.


Some people read self-help books to change their lives.

I read 600+ page books on parking.

I haven’t had the time to write as fully as I would like about parking in the city of Worcester, but I hope I’m not the only one who has noticed how much this topic comes up at City Council meetings and in the news.

Whether it’s Worcester State neighbors requesting resident-only parking on their streets, or Worcester State creating a huge parking lot on Goddard Memorial Drive (in order to shuttle students in), or a residential developer near CSX proposing more parking spots than zoning requires, parking’s a big issue.

At tomorrow night’s City Council meeting, there’s going to be a discussion of a proposal to create a new overlay district to make parking requirements more flexible in downtown and its environs.  (You can read the full memo here, and a Telegram article about opposition here [$].)

My views on parking have evolved quite a bit in the past couple of years, and may evolve still more in the future.

If you have time, I recommend you read this article from Los Angeles Magazine about Donald Shoup and his ideas on parking.  If you feel that more parking is essential, or that paying for parking is rarely a good idea, I especially recommend reading the article.  You may just find that your mind is changed.

Job Openings at the Worcester Public Library

It appears as though the head librarian’s position is open (!!!!!!), and — as was previously reported in various news outlets — the WPL Foundation is looking for a new executive director as well.

Due to myriad obligations, I have not been able to attend regular meetings of the WPL Board, but I may have to again.

I serve on the board of the Friends, but the following opinion is mine and mine alone:

I’ve said it before, and I hope I will never have to say it again: it would be great to have a head librarian who lasts more than a year and a half!

Worcester Public Library needs stability in leadership, and we will now be going through our third head librarian search in less than a decade.

This is something the City Council needs to consider when selecting new board members in a few weeks’ time.

More to come…

Hiding from the Bondo

Too much salt can be unhealthy:

rust1I’m not sure a vehicle in that condition would be allowed on the road in Massachusetts, but this one got its plate/inspection in New York, where standards seem to be a bit lower.

Maybe it looks better on the other side?

rust2Maybe not.


Crisis in City Government

Over the coming weeks, I expect we’ll hear a lot about how we should move to a strong mayor form of city government now that Mike O’Brien is abandoning us.

If you came to this blog to find out the pros and cons of a strong mayor form of government, you’ve come to the wrong place.

If you wanted me to complain about the wordy signoff the City Manager wrote, look elsewhere.  I sat through the same Ray Mariano graduation speech twice a year through each year of high school.  I am a connoisseur of wordy valedictions.

What I do want to talk about is the crisis we’re going to be facing in the coming months.

It’s a crisis of good hair.

Our city government doesn’t have many hallmarks.

Sure, we use “EPA” like it’s a swear word.  “Perception is reality” is our “John 3:16.”  And park land = buildable parcels.

But if we don’t have our good hair, we don’t have anything.

And with the loss of Bob Moylan and Mike O’Brien, we’re only left with Tim McGourthy as a bastion of perfect hair in the upper echelons of city government.

So I urge citizens to put aside the light questions of strong mayor vs. weak mayor, or whether Tim Murray will become the next city manager and/or lead a strong mayor campaign.

For once, think of the children.

If we don’t have leaders with a beautiful head of hair, preferably in a perfect Just For Men Touch of Gray color, then what are we telling our kids?

That what’s in one’s head is more important than what’s on it?

I think not!

November City Boards and Commissions Vacancies

The next selection meeting for city boards & commissions will be this Wednesday, November 20 at 6:30pm in the Saxe Room of the Main Library.

The list of vacancies can be found on the City website.

UPDATE: a loyal reader says the Memorial Auditorium Board may be the one most pregnant with possibilities.  Or just the most pregnant.  You should definitely apply.

If you live in D3, there are openings on the Conservation Commission and the Community Development Advisory Committee.  Check out this video for more details on the latter:

There are other openings for folks who’d like to volunteer on city boards.  Some highlights:

  • There are openings on some other influential city boards.  There are three openings on the Historical Commission.  There are also two openings on the Zoning Board of Appeals for residents of D2 and D4.
  • The Cable Television Advisory Committee, which was recently in the news, and my favorite board (or, at least, my favorite board I don’t serve on) — the Off-Street Parking Board — both have openings.
  • If advocacy is your thing, there are openings on the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, Elder Affairs Commission, and Commission on Disability.
  • The Mayor Thomas Early Scholarship Committee has two openings.
  • And there’s more on the website.

If you’d like to see how the process works, watch Worcester Boards and Commissions 101.

Please consider applying for the boards that look most interesting…and get the word out to those you know.

I encourage folks to attend meetings of the board(s) they’re applying for, and to be flexible if members of the CAC recommend that you try for a board you didn’t apply for.