Monday, November 2, 2015

On the Eve of the 2015 City Election ...

I've procrastinated this as much as possible, but many of you have asked who I am or would be voting for in the races on tomorrow's ballot. So here I go. As usual, this is just one person's opinion, though probably a person who has researched and followed these things more than most. I'm opinionated about most of these people, based on public, non-public, and private observations and conversations. If you're voting you should be opinionated, too. Use your own judgment, and your ballot, please.

Ward 2 City Councillor:

This one couldn't be any easier for me to pick. 100% Heather Famico deserves re-election. Councillor Famico has a unique blend of thoughtfulness and a willingness to question both the city and her constituents. The former isn't necessarily uncommon among politicians. The latter is utterly uncommon among the political class. Ward 2 is used to having a Ward Councillor who immediately takes up the cause of whichever favored constituent shrieks the loudest, whether they make sense or not. Famico's response is much more nuanced. "I'll have to research this and its impact on the entire ward before spittle flies out of my mouth like it did from Sosnowski's, but if it makes sense I'll take up the cause with vigor." (That's a massive paraphrase, and not the way she'd ever say it, but it's her process.) Nobody with sensible requests should have a problem with that.

For her opponent to claim she lacks substance (and he has) is simply laughable (except the parts that reek of sexism and ageism). He also can't seem to decide why he's running. The reason keeps changing as the last one loses traction. During his SATV video he said he was running because he went to some meetings about the proposed revamp of the Gateway Center project, and never heard "his ward councillor" speak in opposition. That's certainly odd. She spoke at the 9/17 Planning Board meeting chastising the developer for failing to provide information. She spoke at the August 26 Design Review Board meeting criticizing the design. I was at that one, Jenkins wasn't. At the July 30 Planning Board meeting where the Gateway Center proposal was introduced, Famico criticized the density and design, and referred to the developer as a used car salesman. Jenkins was at that meeting, along with his handler/ghost-writer Mr. Carr. They were both close enough to me to touch. I guess they just weren't listening. Or it's just another one of the deceits that seem to be infecting that campaign as it winds down. Of the Gateway Center, JenkCarr says that you know the project is bad because it requires 6 Zoning Board of Appeals variances. More on that later.

In one of his unattributed flyers (campaign finance law violation?) Jenkins (really Carr) discusses two developments in the Bridge Street Neck area. First he praises a project at Bridge and Planters (and yes, Jotim, it's Planters, not Planter) for adding 6 housing units on a .336 acre lot. Next, he rails on the proposed Ward 2 Social Club project (rightly). Only, the gang that can't shoot straight has more lies here. First, in multiple places they say the lots "appear to be the same size." Um, not close. The Planters St. lot is a third of an acre (rounded by 0.003 acres). The Ward 2 Social Club lot is just under (.957) a full acre. So basically three times the size. In fact, the currently proposed density is nearly identical. He also leaves out the fact that the Planters project was approved under the watch of Councilor Famico, who was involved in the hearings that led to a reduction in units. He also fails to mention her role in getting the Social Club project whittled from the original 28, to 24, to 18, her still current opposition, and it sounds like there's another reduction coming that will end with less density than the Planters project he raves about. A project, by the way, that required 5 Zoning Board of Appeals variances. So 6 is "must be awful." 5 is beautiful. Can't shoot straight.

I know, this is dry stuff, but for a city councillor, the devil is often in the details. It's important to understand them, and just as important to be truthful about them, rather than manipulating them to fit whichever smear piece you're filling with untruths.

Who wins? I don't have the foggiest idea. I'm scared for us. I hear Tim is a decent bloke. Some of the people he's surrounded himself with really aren't. The tactics they're resorting to at the last minute are really turning people off, and he's letting them run the show.

Famico has done the job, and done it well. Ward 2 residents would be nuts to try someone new (who resembles the last guy more every day). Ward Councillors are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

Ward 3 City Councillor:

I'd vote Lise Hansen-Damato in a heartbeat. She'd bring boundless energy, as well as the perspective of a family with young children, which is sorely missing on the council. She's smart, and tough. I can speak from personal experience that she has no problem speaking hard truths. We could really use her voice. Demographically she's way more similar to me than her opponent.

Steve Lovely knows the job, so I can't begin to guess why he wants to go back 30 years to do it again. Admittedly that makes me skeptical. It would seem like a personal step back to me. He's married to our State Senator, so there is power in the house already. I just don't get it.

Who wins? Lovely has every advantage. Basically a lifer. Former councilor, using our current senator as a campaign prop (and he really is). Ask the houses they've knocked on together how that one goes. I wonder if all of those repurposed Joan signs and stickers appear on his campaign finance report as in kind contributions as they should. I asked if anyone wanted to go pull everyone's for me, but I had no takers. They aren't online yet. But yeah, Lovely wins handily. He knows what the job entailed 30 years ago. I imagine it hasn't changed all that much. He'll probably get literally the same chair he had back then, too.

Ward 6 City Councillor:

Ward 6 is weird. I was fine with Paul Prevey in 2013, but I went with Beth Gerard because I knew her well enough to see what she could bring to the table. And if you actually look at what she did (as opposed to what the Mack Park Neighborhood Association says), she did all that and more. Sure, we had snow last winter. Broke records. All the councilors tried to help, but how many of them actually went out to shovel intersections? Yep, Gerard (actually, Legault did as well - and yes, I endorse him also). Lombardini says North Street should have been plowed curb to curb. I wish she had been councilor, so you'd see how meaningless that statement is. Gerard works really hard at the job, has gotten a lot done over in North Salem, and treated everybody well, regardless of their neighborhood. Her predecessors didn't always do that. Has she learned to brag the way all the other ones have? I guess not well enough, because there's actually people planning to vote for Pam.

And one more thing, though I hesitate to mention it, but I know (and trust) one of the sources well: I've heard that some people trying to recruit votes for Pam are actually telling people they shouldn't vote for Gerard because she's Jewish. I've heard this from more than one source. And that's despicable. This is 2015, not 1915. We've grown up since the last century, haven't we? I'm sure Lombardini wouldn't support this behavior, but company you keep, and all. If I dismiss this as utterly false, and if you do I get it, I'd still vote Gerard.

So who wins? I think this is close, but Lombardini. Really, this one feels to me like a referendum on how much power the ward wants Rosie's Mack Park Neighborhood Association to wield.

Ward 7 City Councillor:

In Ward 7, we weren't supposed to have a race this year. Instead, it was supposed to be my biennial write up about how Joe O'Keefe should start thinking about hanging it up. Well, I miss him, dammit.

So instead we have a weird write-in race between Steve Dibble and Bill Luster. From what I can tell, both of them are OK guys and they both annoy me equally, I think. Bill argues on these pages sometimes and even though I think he's full of it I enjoy that he'll come here and play. Dibble is a man who is very important, and he'll tell you so. He also counts all his signs as well as all Luster's.

Luster took the either brave or foolish step of calling out SOS for their confrontational strategies in dealing with SSU. I don't think that wins him friends on Lafayette Street or Raymond Road. But he may be right. I'm not endorsing either one of them, but I look forward to two years of making fun of the winner. They should keep me busy.

Who wins? I'd guess Dibble based on signs, but signs don't vote. Even Luster's nearest neighbors don't seem enthused by his candidacy, so I guess I'll stick with the signs.

At-Large City Councillor:

I'm voting for William Legault (last on your ballot). After that, it's a shitshow of undecided for me.

Legault is the voice we need. He gets to sensible and cuts through the bullcrap on just about everything, even if it's a verbose voyage.

Elaine Milo is just kind of there. I don't know much more about her opinions on issues now than I did before she took office. The next unpopular opinion she publicly takes will be the first. I'm not a fan of that, but there's a lot of talking in that chamber, so I except it. She'll top the ticket, and I'll probably fill in her oval.

I've covered the fraud record of Domingo Dominguez on Facebook. Please go read it there. No vote from me.

I think Furey's heart is in the right place, but his view of his job (support any mayor) and my view of his job (question any mayor) are pretty different.

Jerry Ryan would be in my top 4, but I may not cast a vote for him, as he's the most likely to unseat Legault. They were separated by maybe 20 votes in the last election. It was close, but I'm not looking it up. Sorry.

Sargent is not my cup of tea, but he has plenty of support and will be back. He doesn't need my vote.

Tyler Carlton I'd think about in a few years. He has a future in politics. That both is, and isn't, a compliment.

Who wins? I'd guess the four incumbents. If signs voted, Dominguez, especially if by size of signs. I'd say Ryan is most likely to take a seat, and Legault most likely to lose one. I'm basing that entirely on two years ago. Vote Legault. I may still bullet that. Or Legault and Milo, and Ryan.

And Sawicki, just no.

School Committee:

I'm not really dazzled by our School Committee choices this year. I know a lot of people including many of my friends are for Kris Wilson. She may be great, but she does nothing to convince me I should be using one of my votes on her, and her debate performance was lackluster. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if she tops the ticket. She seems to know everybody, and all the usual suspects are on her side (and I think convinced her to run), it seems.

I do have an enthusiastic vote, and it's for Andrea French. I've met her a few times, and she's smart, passionate, and really committed. She has run the special ed interest group SEPAC, and she is just as well-liked with every faction we have in the schools - teachers, special ed parents, pro-charter parents, anti-charter parents, and the crazy faction. She was on the superintendent search committee, and after talking to her I'm convinced that she won't be an automatic knee-jerk vote on anything. She'll be thoughtful and try to do things right. I think she’s a really good one. More than anything, she's just a regular old parent. We need more of those on the school committee.

Mary Manning was the principal at Collins as it descended into chaos. She's not solely responsible for that, of course. But she also denied it was happening. I can't get over that. Her teachers were extremely loyal to her, which says good things. She was also endorsed by the Salem Teachers Union, I believe. I have mixed feelings about that.

I've never done it before, but I'm voting for Jim Fleming this time. We're turning over two seats, and have two more still in their first term. We can use his experience. He also tends to question the thinking of the majority, and that's useful. I disagree with him plenty, but at this point his voice is needed. When it's not in Florida. That still bugs me. I am voting for him, though. Right? Yes.

My third vote goes to Joanne Kennedy. She's another parent of a young child. One who decided she couldn't get what she needed from our schools. She's putting her time where her mouth is and saying she's willing to try to fix it. She's a huge proponent of a rounded curriculum and plenty of recess time. I buy that wholeheartedly. I'd be fascinated to watch her have to transition from critic to solver. I think she'd do it. She should have run on her maiden name.

Who wins? Wilson, Manning, Fleming, in some order.

And Sawicki, just no.

Part of me wants to see every non-incumbent making stupid promises win so that we can see the fallout from that. In the end, I like this place too much for that.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

For a change, some interesting city council agenda items

The city council meets tonight at 7. There are some interesting agenda items, in addition to the regular housekeeping stuff.

First, passage of the city budget for the next year is on the docket. I believe it passed through the subcommittee with no changes to the original proposal. That seems like an immense testament to the diligent work of the finance department and the mayor, unless it's a dereliction of council's duty to vet the truly worthwhile spending of taxpayer money. I don't know which. I will say that the city budget is extremely detailed and consumable. The school budget, not so much.

Vesuvius, down on Paradise Road, is seeking a Home Rule beer and wine license. That won't sit well with Councilor Sargent. He tends to hate Home Rule licenses outside of the downtown, but especially towards his South Salem home.

Yet another one way trial behind Saltonstall is on the agenda. The solution to parents driving like assholes is to treat them as such. It's not to inconvenience an entire neighborhood for the parents of the special Saltonstall snowflakes. The last trial appeared to be an utter failure, if for no other reason than that there was no success metric defined for the trial. I'm guessing that's the case with this one, too. No parking signs were added last year. How many tickets have been written? Signs don't do anything if they aren't enforced.

Councilor Siegel brings an order that the A&F committee meet to review, compare, and discuss why the Salem budget is $30 million dollars more than Beverly's. I have some thoughts on this to share.

First, check your math and methodology, councilor. Salem's "budget" includes our enterprise funds (water, sewer, trash). The Beverly budget figure Siegel is using excludes them on that side of the bridge. That's about half the figure Siegel cites. Attend a budget hearing (0 for 4 years) and you might know that simple lack of an apples to apples comparison. Our school costs are about 5 million dollars higher, driven in part by higher ELL and Special Education costs. With similarly sized student populations asking why we spend so much more on special education is a valid question that ought to be asked. We spend over 5 million more on police and fire, as well. Would the good councilor suggest we cut in those areas to match Beverly? If I can learn all of this, why can't Todd? I'd expect a councilor to be able to answer this question, rather than pose it.

So, ordering A&F to meet to discuss? That's grandstanding at its worst, considering they just did exactly that for the last few weeks. You were the only councilor who missed ALL of it. The wording of the order, which contains an untrue comparison, is either disingenuous or woefully uninformed. I'm not sure which is worse. Expect Siegel, who again, skipped the entire budget process (the only one to do so), to be the one councilor to vote against passage of the budget. Shame on Ward 3 if nobody runs against him. OK, really I don't think there should ever be an opposition free race, so shame on all wards except 6 so far.

The new trash contract with Waste Management will be up for approval tonight. Councilors seem to be trying to leap over each other to bow before our new trash collection saviors. I get it. Northside utterly shit the bed on us. Their service level started really slipping before our epic winter began, and never recovered. Something must be done.

But man, we're really moving fast on this. We're about to enter into a TEN YEAR CONTRACT, and we never even put it out to bid. You've probably seen some of the details, but allow me to review. For a $300,000 or so annual increase in cost to the city, Waste Management will pick up a smaller amount of trash from each household every week (65 gallons vs. 90), and a limited (for the first time in years) amount of recycling from each household, instead of currently unlimited, but instead of weekly, only every other week. That doesn't sound like a great deal to me. We get single stream recycling, which I love, and they'll probably actually pick the stuff up, which is great, too. But going from weekly to bi-weekly recycling is a step backward. Limiting the amount of recycling is, as well. Ten years, signed under the gun, is a long time. Limited, bi-weekly recycling will probably make us look like a dinosaur by then.

The other thing that concerns me is that having attended some of the hearing with WM, I heard an awful lot of "I don't know," "we'll see," "we'll do whatever needs to be done," "we could maybe make an exception" and stuff like that. That's all well and good, but it's not in writing. Contracts aren't there for when things go well, they're your only protection when they don't. This one seemed to have a lot of unknowns. I think the new mandatory toters that people will be required to use will cause problems in our tight little dense burg, as well. They're large, and take up plenty of space. If full, they may be hard to navigate. What those who don't have room to store them, or the physical ability to maneuver them, are to do remains unknown.

I'm not saying WM isn't the right vendor. They may be. But a ten year multi-million dollar contract may call for slowing your roll just a little bit. Get those unanswered questions answered before you make that commitment.

Also on the agenda is the concept of allowing 25 reserved parking spaces in each of the two city garages, at an annual rate of $1,500. This is an interesting concept. I'm undecided, and it would probably depend on the setup and how assignment of these spaces would work whether or not I'd support them. I also wonder if $1500 is the right price. If you get ten requests it's too much. If you get 150 it's too cheap. Details are very light, and depend on which city official you ask, so I'd guess this stays in committee. I'd point out this is a much smaller commit than the WM one discussed above, as well.

Anyway, that's the stuff that stuck out in the agenda to me. Feel free to follow along tonight.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Salem Superintendent Finalists: Ceilings and Floors

Here's a very short shelf life blog post. The Salem School Committee meets this afternoon (don't want a lot of eyes? Meet at 3PM on a weekday) to discuss moving forward with one of our superintendent finalists. I attended all of their school committee interviews, which were sparsely attended, and the community forum with Ayinde Rudolph. So here are one person's impressions of each, and the order I'd rank them if I were a school committee member.

Let me get this out of the way, first. They all struck me as highly intelligent people. They can probably all do the job. If I were on the school committee I'd be looking for the highest ceiling, versus the lowest risk. What do I want in a superintendent? I want someone who I believe can be a truly dynamic and inspiring leader. We need someone who can build trust with, and inspire students, teachers, staff, school committee and parents. So I'm coming at this from that prism. Here are the candidates, in the order that they interviewed with the school committee.

Ayinde Rudolph

Ayinde Rudolph: I got to see Rudolph twice, and chat with him a little bit. Probably gives him an unfair advantage with me. That said, on paper, I liked him the most before they came to town. He's had classroom experience, as well as 8 years of administrative experience in the Charlotte Mecklenburg schools (a large, urban district with high poverty), with 2 years as an assistant principal, and 6 years as a principal. I'm just going to state this as a fact. Rudolph had a presence about him that the other two lacked. He was engaging and personable. I buy him completely as someone who can motivate and build bridges that have been torched over the years. He also has a doctorate from Vanderbilt. Two school committee members previously expressed an inability to support any candidate (didn't think they should be even considered) without a terminal degree. Rudolph has the only terminal degree in the bunch. He would also have two students at SHS next year, and a future Kindergartner. He talked frequently about asking himself if the services being provided to students in Salem would be good enough for them. I like that.

When asked if he had questions for the school committee, his question to them was whether or not they had the guts to make tough, unpopular decisions. It was better than any question posed by the other candidates. I'm all in on Rudolph as having the highest ceiling for what he can bring to the district. If teachers, staff, students are following any of these three through a wall it's him. I'd put him between the other two candidates for lowest floor, based on level of experience similar to this job.

Ventura Rodriguez

Ventura Rodriguez: Rodriguez was clearly quite intelligent, as well. I could see the potential for him to be a strong, engaging, inspiring leader, but I have a lot more questions with him. First, he simply has less and weirder experience. He has eight years in a classroom as a teacher, with four in San Francisco, and four in Kenya. He also spent four and a half years as principal of a charter school in New York City. In that role, he supervised 35 people. Running the Salem Public Schools seems like a big jump from that. He also has been a full time student for the last three years, and is basically doing a residency with DESE for the last 9 months. I shouldn't have to remind you that at least one School Committee member views DESE like the devil.

During his school committee interview, he said he's not all charter all the time, and specifically chose to move away from that world. There are reports that earlier in the day all of his stories were charter, charter, charter. The other thing I feel the need to point out from his interview is that each candidate was asked to facilitate the beginning of a SC workshop on the student assignment policy. Rodriguez modified the assignment for himself to jump into the middle, and then spent literally the entire ten minutes talking himself. That's not good facilitation. On that exercise, he was clearly the worst of the three.

On the ceiling front, I'd rank Rodriguez second. At the same time, I'd say he has the lowest floor, rated purely on his having less administrative and leadership experience. He also lacks any public school experience, which may be both a positive (fresh perspective) and negative (could totally combust.)

Margarita Ruiz

Margarita Ruiz: Competent is the word that comes to mind with Ruiz. Stable, capable, steady, as well. What I didn't get from her was "inspiring." Not really at all. In fact, I zoned out completely several times while she spoke. For the committee, she's probably the safest choice. I'd tell you that as an inspiring, engaging leader, I'd say her ceiling is lowest. At the same time, her floor is probably the highest, as she's run a section of the Boston Public Schools that is similar in size to our district. She has not, in that time, had to deal with a school committee, and things like that, but her job experience is most closely aligned to our position. She also did the best job on the facilitation exercise, followed by Rudolph. She involved the committee most, and you know they love to talk.

I'm aware of two situations where she's alleged to have directly lied, or changed her story between earlier in the day, and when she was before the school committee. I didn't witness them, myself, but the sources are respected.

It really appeared to me that she walked into the room as the favorite. I can't begin to guess why. What I can say, is that the School Committee frequently broke the protocol they had set for the interviews by asking several follow ups during the standard questions, starting with the mayor right from the first question. They also allowed her interview to go a full 15 minutes longer than the time limit they had enforced on the other two candidates. Additionally, why wasn't the candidate who lives in Salem, and likely has SATV at home, the first to interview? Does anyone believe she wasn't watching Rudolph's interview on TV? The School Committee also had a different level of attention and interest during Ruiz's interview, and I don't think it was caused by the candidate. Was it the aura of the giant Boston Public School district? I can't guess, but at times it almost seemed like they were drooling over her. At one point Mr. Fleming, who had screeched about how they MUST demand a terminal degree, told her how unimportant it was for her to have one, and he was nearly applauding her answers.

As I said, Ruiz is probably the safe choice. Dr. Russell was the safe choice last time. Cameron before that. She reminds me more of Cameron than Rusell, but I'm sure she's more capable than Cameron. Like him, though, I can picture her telling different groups what they want to hear, even if the messages conflict. We've tried the safest. The safest hasn't worked. We should try the inspiring.

If I were ranking them I'd absolutely rank Rudolph first. I believe we need high ceiling and potential, so I'd put Rodriguez second, though I struggle with that when comparing floors. I'd put Ruiz third, but I fully expect the school committee to take the safe, if less potentially inspiring, choice. Let me also add, I only have access to the info I have. I think, and hope they have more. I'm only going on resumes and interviews.

Let me finish with this. I think the school committee is really rushing to judgment trying to make a decision today. Two of the finalists spent the entire day in the district yesterday, meeting with many, many people. The School Committee hasn't had enough time to truly gather feedback and review it in detail. If you say you want an open and collaborative process you need to allow enough time for that to happen. They aren't really allowing that time.