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.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The 2014 state election: Say no to Coakley

It's election time again. Here's one Klassy ballot, at least the interesting parts.


I generally loathe the concept of voting against a candidate, but my approach in this case is absolutely #ABC (Anybody But Coakley). Charlie Baker gets my vote, but not particularly because of anything about him. He seems OK enough. A non-ideologue Republican check on a far too unbalanced to one end of the political spectrum legislature. I'd be a little more concerned about him in a federal election, but we aren't in danger of too much Republican influence in Massachusetts. I also really like Evan Falchuk. If he were the more likely to beat Coakley I'd gladly vote for him. In this case, a vote for Falchuk is, unfortunately, as good as a vote for Coakley.

So, on to Coakley. Please read this. I'll wait. It was written by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the 1980s daycare ritual abuse hysteria. She's a foremost expert on the topic.

So now that you've read that, I have a few questions. How do you vote for Martha Coakley if you're a woman? She seems to have a disrespect for your ability to make your own decisions.

How do you vote for Martha Coakley if you're a man? She seems to have a disdain for the male gender. We're pedophiles who drag our innocent womenfolk down a path of evil with us. Never mind, of course, the fact that none of the accusations in the Amirault case ever happened.

How do you vote for Coakley if you're me? I was a Fells Acres student. I remember Miss Vi. I remember Miss Cheryl. Heck, I was at Cheryl Amirault LeFave's wedding. Gerald used to pick me up at my house in a giant station wagon to take me to school. We loved the Amiraults. My brother and I loved our time at that school. My family has lived through the hell of those trials, being called by the police for questioning, the fear, all of it. My parents were able to figure out it was crap in the 80s. And they aren't qualified to be governor, either.

The daycare abuse hysteria reminds one of the witch hysteria that we know about all too well. Here's the thing. Coakley's role was after the daycare hysteria was over and thoroughly debunked. Every thinking person knew they were innocent. Coakley lied through her teeth while protecting the modern day witch hunters well after the bitter end. The Salem witch trials ended in 1693. Coakley's actions are those of someone who in 1710, years after the legislature passed a law making the witch trial results unlawful, stood up and screamed "Burn them, their witches!" How are we not all laughing at her candidacy? The level of naked political viperism Coakley has displayed in this case is chilling to my soul. Salem, let's show we're better than that today.

The worst thing about this is that she'd still tell you she's right today. Anyone who would act in such a way is utterly unfit to be our governor.

This case ought to leave no one feeling confident except for one thing: justice was not done.

— Judge Isaac Borenstein, 12 June 1998


This has been an ugly campaign by both major candidates. I don't really want to vote for either. For Tisei, I would very much enjoy our district sending the first openly gay when elected Republican rep to Congress. He'd also have to be a moderate if he had any hope of keeping the seat, and if you don't want the Republicans to be a nutjob party, you have to elect non-nutjob Republicans. Additionally, we're going to have a freshman Congressman. It's probably slightly better to have a freshman in the majority. If it were Tierney in the general, Tisei would get my vote in a second, just as he did two years ago.

But I think I'm voting for Moulton. He's run ugly ass primary and general election campaigns reminiscent of Tierney's run two years ago. I dislike it a lot. At the same time, I'm very concerned that there's a decent chance (Nate Silver put it at about 75% this weekend) that the Republicans will take over the senate. Because of that, I don't think I want to add another Republican to the house, even a moderate one. I'm basically making this vote based on the national level. The other thing that I really like about Moulton is that he really annoys super dems. The kind who during the primary talked insane amounts of trash about the guy daring to challenge Tierney. The kind who within a day after the primary were such partisan Kool-Aid drinkers that they were asking "What kind of Kool-Aid? I love that kind!" before they had an answer to what kind it was. Moulton bugs them. I like that. Moulton claims he'll be a bipartisan problem solver. We'll see. I think Tisei would have to try to be.

If this wasn't a tight race I'd vote for Stockwell. I like what he's selling. Basically, if you think the problem is partisan politics stop electing the partisans.

I may get in the booth and totally change this one tomorrow.

State Rep:

Paul Tucker is basically running unopposed (his opponent hasn't campaigned or filed required campaign finance paperwork). Good for him, after the recent PD issues and the way he was thrown under the bus by city hall in the aftermath, in what I'd guess was a power play making sure he knew who was in charge around here. I'll vote for him, and I think he'll do a fine job.

State Senate:

Joan Lovely unopposed. She's been fine so far. Her votes I've disagreed with the most have seemed to be going along to get along.

Question one:

Yes. Repeal the gas tax indexing. Why? The legislature has the ability to vote on the gas tax annually if they want. Their unwillingness to do so shouldn't be rewarded. In fact, they just did, and I have no problem with that. It's currently 24 cents a gallon (not the dime Martha thought it was) which is fairly middle of the pack. If it needs to go up again, I get it. Roads and bridges are important. We have to pay for them, and a lot of ours are old.

The automatic indexing basically amounts to chickenshit government, and I don't like it. I've heard the argument that plenty of our other taxes are already indexed, but they aren't really. The income tax has been mentioned. The only thing that's indexed to is my income. If I make more, I pay more. If I don't, I don't. Same with the sales tax. If I spend more, I pay more. If I don't, I don't. And by the way, that "already indexed" tax was increased recently anyway ... Most importantly, we are in a prolonged period of wage stagnation for low and middle income workers. It's fantasy to say that the indexing is designed to not make it feel any different down the road when so many people aren't seeing income growth.

One final point, remember that many of the legislators who instituted this indexing barely pay the gas tax at all, as they collect per diems for reporting to the state house. If this bill had ended that practice for legislators inside 495 I'd be a little less opposed.

Question two:

I'll support this, barely. And really only because so many Salemites or visitors are slobs. My next door neighbor's house goes through from one street to the other, and his back yard is next to me. It has a fence, so they can't see the sidewalk behind it. I picked up 14 pieces of plastic, none of which required a deposit, from that sidewalk the other day. There were no deposit containers. That's about it for me.

The truth is, this is a crappy way to do recycling, that is way more expensive to people and businesses than increasing curbside, etc. The vast amount of uncollected deposit money, which will provide more windfall (cash grab) to the state, is all the proof you need of that. If I lived somewhere cleaner I'd vote no.

Question three and four:

Question three undoes the casino law, and puts the prohibition back in, basically.

I'm conflicted, but think I'll vote yes on it. I'm not a casino fan. I think they tend to prey on those who can least afford it. It also appears to be at least a faltering industry, and I don't think the law would pass the legislature today, even with the state managing to finagle 25% of the take. I don't think this is a sound economic development policy. There are better ways to get jobs.

Question four mandates that many employees be able to earn paid sick leave, and others would be allowed to use unpaid sick leave. It's a noble idea. I wonder some about the practice, and how it will impact some service industries, (like restaurants) especially. I will probably vote yes on question 4, unless Diane Wolf tells me it would close the Lobster Shanty.

There's plenty of other stuff on the ballot, but this was the interesting stuff.