Monday, August 29, 2011

More items in the old noggin

Is everyone following the strange case of bloated attorney Raymond Buso? (Any Stern fans out there?)

Something appears to be very wrong with this man right now. Did the owner of Rita's refuse him service or something? Attorney Buso was arrested after stealing two Rita's signs from inside the Museum Place Mall. His ridiculous explanation for this, after he was caught, was that he considers signs left on public property to be abandoned. Here's the rub ... the mall is private property. It's not owned by the city, so it isn't public property. Of course he knows this, and obviously his rationale, if he had one, was something else. He has since been accused of harassing this woman with intimidation.

Bloated attorney Raymond Buso
Bloated Attorney Dominic Barbara

Are we seeing our own Charlie Sheen style meltdown right here in Salem? Can we expect Christian Day to come to the rescue?

Speaking of #Winning, Sheen binding ceremony participant Laurie Stathopoulos was in the news recently for getting into a fistfight during the Heritage Days Street Fair.  I've neglected this story so far because it's just too easy. Her claim is that another shop owner was taking her picture and wouldn't stop, so they brawled. Is this a continuation of witch wars II?

Am I wrong to think it's far-fetched to believe that the former pornstar Toppsy Curvey, who invited every media member on earth to watch her bind Sheen just a few months back has suddenly become shy? I mean, clearly she wants attention. Click (EXTREMELY NSFW, like the definition of it) here to see Toppsy (Laurie) displaying just how unshy she used to be. Why do I think she's had some reduction since then?

Speaking of witch wars II, stay tuned for a little inside account of the Christian Day licensing hearing. It's a doozy.


The city has acquired use of that empty weeds lot on Derby Street next to the Hess station to use as a parking lot through the end of January. The intention is to alleviate downtown parking issues during the busy season, as well as additional snow emergency parking. When Patch first broke the story, there was much discussion about what would happen to the amusement rides that occupy that lot for the last two weeks of October. The Salem News is now reporting that parking will not be allowed for those two weeks, and the craptacular will remain. Those are among the two busiest weeks of the year in downtown Salem. The city should have found other accomodations for the rides. Josh Turiel suggested the Willows, which could boost the existing food and arcade businesses up there. It was exactly the outside the box thinking that makes him a formidable council candidate.

I have another suggestion. Why not put the rides on Michael Coleman's Common? It's used liberally in October, but really never more than about half of it at one time. Why not put these rides on the other  half for those two weeks? Obviously they'd have to have a fairly early shut down time at that spot, say 7PM Sunday through Thursday, and 9PM Friday and Saturday. Some will say that the Common Neighborhood Association won't allow it. I'll remind them that it is public land, and isn't owned by the SCNA. If they'd like to buy it, I'm listening.

I only have one other question regarding this new parking lot. How long before the "This space reserved for Shirley Walker" and "This space reserved for Marlene Faust" signs go up? Squeakiest wheels, eh? Some complain that this administration doesn't listen. If you're one of those people, how do you explain this feedback driven decision to go get more parking?


Roost posted this article on their Facebook page. The basic gist is that you can look at several key indicators and know if a city is going places, or going nowhere. It included the chart I've included below. I added the caption underneath it myself.

                         Salem                                                                            Peabody

Meet the candidate: Darek Barcikowski

I made the offer in an earlier post to do a Q & A with any of the candidates in the upcoming city council and school committee primary elections. Below is the first , with councilor-at-large candidate Darek Barcikowski. Questions and answers have not been changed. The offer still stands for all you candidates out there. Darek started us off strong. Who wants to go next? Find Darek's campaign on Facebook here, Twitter here, and the web here.

How long have you lived in Salem? What neighborhood?

When we came from Poland in 1987 my family settled in Lynn. Eventually my parents moved to Salem and I moved to Washington DC and Boston for school. I followed in my parents' footsteps just shy of 2 years ago when we picked Salem as Cafe Polonia’s second location. I live on Curtis Street in the historic Derby neighborhood.

What should the city be doing in regard to the pending closure of the power plant? How would you like to see it redeveloped?

I think the city is right on track as far as what it should be doing in regards to the closure of the power plant. We have pursued a grant, completed a study, held public meetings, and met with state agencies. Most importantly, we have secured the tax revenue generated by the power plant for five years after its closure. I would like to know what Dominion plans to do after it closes the plant. I have yet to hear what their objectives are. Furthermore, I would like to know who are some of the potential suitors knocking on their door. Yet at the same time I realize we cannot expect and/or demand this kind of transparency from a private commercial entity.

I believe that given the cleanup cost, the lack of financial viability in strictly commercial or residential development and the port-related restrictions imposed by state agencies, a substantial portion of the site will continue to be utilized for energy related and/or industrial commerce. We, as residents, along with elected officials need to make sure that if that is the scenario, only green and sustainable operations are permitted. The pollution needs to stop.

That said, I would also like to see a portion of the site developed in a way that would utilize the port, include some commerce/retail and recreation and create a space which can be used by all residents. A cruise ship dock with a restaurant or two, maybe lodging, some retail, welcome center, trolley stop, bike/boat rental, water sports or a park would all fit into that vision. We need to take advantage of this opportunity to create something that will enhance our city and open a portion of the site to public use. Again, the difficulty with this issue is that what we would like to see happen and what we think will happen are two different things. None the less, we are moving in the right direction of making sure future development is in line with the city’s vision for the site, even if just partially.

What should happen with the transfer station?

The landfill needs to be capped and the river cleaned up. I believe that selling the land to Northside for the symbolic sum of $1 is a win-win situation for the city and its residents. Something needs to happen and happen fast to avoid the hefty fines (upwards of $2,000 a day). We cannot afford to clean up the site as a city nor will we find a buyer for a site when the cleanup cost surpasses the value of the land. There are many benefits to Northside taking over that site not as tenant but as owner; revenue to the city, complete clean up, discount on services provided to city, complete redesign and reconfiguration of site to make it clean, safe, and visually aesthetic (as much as a transfer station can be; much more so than current state).

There are also many concerns, especially amongst those residing in close proximity to the site and pertaining to traffic impact. I agree that the concerns of abutters are valid and should be given utmost consideration.

I would propose that a committee be established comprising of elected officials, environmental experts and abutters. The committee would monitor progress at the site and ensure Northside follows all provisions of the agreement precisely and in a timely fashion. Furthermore, the committee would analyze traffic and other impacts and make recommendations on increases in volume that can be handled at the site. It is important to point out that a provision is already in place to increase volume in increments every 6 months. My proposal is to have a dedicated committee make recommendations on these increases in addition to monitoring all progress including clean up. Again, this is a win-win proposal for the site.

As a resident, and a business owner, how will you balance the sometimes competing needs and wants of the business community and residents? For example, when deciding what portion of the levy will go to business, and what portion will go to residents, how will you handle that?

Traditionally the proportion of tax burden allocated to businesses has been and is greater than that levied on home owners. In addition to being disproportional, the current burden is very high on both. It is difficult to balance the need to ease the tax burden on residents and business owners while not undermining services. I believe this can only be achieved through smart spending which eliminates waste and ensures the tax dollars paid to the city (oftentimes painfully) are used wisely. It is a duty and responsibility to the taxpayers, especially in this challenging economic climate.

As for balancing other business and resident interests, I do not believe they are competing at all. Salem has a fantastic small business community. Besides providing revenue to the city and creating jobs, we have a business culture which gives back to the community in a major way. All the events taking place in Salem, all the non-profits, clubs, organizations and initiatives receive a tremendous amount of support from our business community. On the other end, we have a growing consumer culture which supports local enterprise, local retailers, local manufacturers, growers and service providers, sometimes going out of their way to do so.

Salem is on the cutting edge of a trend we are seeing nationwide which is driven by precisely this kind of relationship of sustainability between local enterprise and consumers. Communities will look at Salem (and some already do) and use us as a model for what they want to become. Understanding this relationship leads me to believe that the needs of residents and small businesses are compatible rather than competing. I am confident that I can represent both.

How will you handle the time commitment involved with being a business owner, especially one with the heavy evening hours of a restaurant, and being a city councilor, with committee meetings several times a week?

There is truth to the saying that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person. People often tell me that I am running the most organized campaign and am the hardest working candidate. My reply is that I plan to live up to that reputation not only as a candidate but hopefully as an elected official. My work on the campaign over the last 3 months should be an indication that I will be able to fulfill my obligations as a councilor and as a business owner.

Often I get asked what a councilor does and what the time commitment is. I reply that at minimum, a councilor is required to attend meetings and vote on issued being presented before the council. A good councilor, however, needs to attend public meetings, follow and research local issues, respond to constituents’ concerns and work in close proximity to the communities to understand their needs and opinions on issues. I wholeheartedly intend to be the latter, if elected.

You’re also listed as the Publisher of the White Eagle. Do you think this newspaper role presents a conflict of interest? Where will you find the time necessary to be a city councilor?

My publishing operation does not present a conflict of interest. I publish Polish-American newspapers throughout the country which primarily deal with issues pertaining to the Polish community where the newspaper is circulated. Our New England edition is circulated in Salem but the numbers are insignificant. Salem’s Polish community has declined though we do a fantastic job at preserving the history and heritage. The newspapers do not cover or influence local politics.

I think that by default ethnic newspapers become community activists and voices of the community they serve. I have been such an activist and voice for the Polish community nationwide (10 million members strong) for almost a decade. Pursuing a seat on Salem’s city council I intend to take that experience beyond my ethnic community and become a public servant representing all of Salem’s residents.

My publishing business is run with a business partner and the restaurant is a family business. The day to day responsibilities are shared amongst many individuals. We have also been blessed with wonderful employees, many of them from Salem. Good organization is important, while good time management skills are absolutely crucial. I would like to think I do a decent job with both.

Finally, boxers or briefs? The women of Salem want to know!

There are many more important questions and issues that Salem residents needs to ask. After all, the decisions made by the Council over the next few years will have a profound impact on Salem residents and the business community for a long time to come. I will leave this question for another occasion.

Anything else you think the voters should know?

(left blank)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Several items rattling around in my head

I received another submission of funny car pics yesterday. This sticker was on the back of a Nissan Altima in the Derby Street neighborhood Sunday morning.

I know, you thought it couldn't get any klassier, but check out the seat covers.

Ed Hardy baby! What does this say about you? My guess is that you're a cross between Jon Gosselin and the Situation? Only two guys I can think of who wear Ed Hardy. I can picture both driving a car like this, too. Twinning!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Election update

The deadline to withdraw from the ballot has come and gone, and I hear that nobody withdrew. The primary for councilor-at-large and school committee is a month from tomorrow. I've still seen and heard very little from any of the primary candidates other than Darek Barcikowski to date. Media coverage has been nil as well (though Salem Patch has promised a "questions for the candidates" feature down the road). I did see one car the other day with bumper stickers for Joan Lovely and Teasie Riley-Goggin, but that may have been from two years ago. A month before the primary I know literally nothing about several of the candidates.

So, to any candidate that wants it, I make the following offer. I'd be very glad to conduct an interview over email with any primary candidate that would like to participate. How would it work? Shoot me an email that you'd like to participate, and I'll reply with a list of questions. You answer the questions and return them, I'll post the questions and your answers in their entirety. I promise not to be too frisky. Go ahead. You know you want to. Let the voters get to know you. My email address is right over there. --------->

I'll do the same down the road for any non-primary candidates who want to.

Know a councilor-at-large or school committee candidate? Send them a link to this post. I guess Tom Furey is out since he refuses to use email. Sorry.


On a general election note, I mentioned that Josh Turiel was the only candidate I could find with a website. A commenter pointed out that ward 3 challenger Todd Siegel also has a website. I tried to find it through Google and couldn't, but there it is.

Forrester Street

Isn't Forrester Street supposed to be one of the nice, staid, Salem Common streets?

Michael Coleman can't be thrilled with this, as submitted by a reader, as snapped on Forrester Street..

Classy, or klassy?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More "fun" in the Point.

Police chief Paul Tucker would have you believe that things are getting better in the Point. The fact that he says this in response to two Point residents, and almost a third, being beaten by a mob in broad daylight tells you what your really need to know about how things are, and have been. The police could live in the point, but things aren't going to get better until the majority of Point residents adopt a "start snitchin" mentality, rather than the "stop snitchin" one currently on display. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Until there is an internal pressure that is at least equal to any external pressure, you're not going to fix the problems in that neighborhood. I feel really bad for those who just want it to be a nice place to live.

Insane behavior continues in the Point, as Point resident Robert Connell was arrested for yanking his own chain in front of his open window last week. Apparently he has a history of behavior of this nature? Yikes.

Unfortunately, more insane behavior is taking place in the courts, as judge Allen Swan refused to institute a stay away order requiring Connell to stay at least 1,000 feet from the neighbors who had to witness his "display." Swan was more concerned about where poor Mr. Connell would stay if he couldn't continue, at age 28, living with mommy and daddy, than he was about the woman and her two young children who saw, and reported, Mr. Connell's indecency. Maybe he's been taking lessons from judge Mori.

On the positive front, a group of young Point residents have spent the summer working to better the neighborhood as part of the STAND program. These teens spend their days picking up trashing, planting flowers, painting, and generally trying to better their neighborhood. It seems like a good start.

Then again, I come across pictures like this and start to worry.

That looks an awful lot like the gesture that got Paul Pierce fined a few years ago for throwing an alleged bloods gang sign during a game. Yes, he is wearing a STAND program tee-shirt. The picture, posted on Facebook by a STAND member, drew several comments from people telling the poster to take it down. I wonder why.

The gesture may also be a reference to the Illuminati, which many current musicians have referenced, and may or may not exist, and may or may not have gang ties. Searching youtube for illuminati brings up some crazy stuff, just for the record. Likely this is just a kid playing around, but it makes you go hmmm ... At least it does for this tragically unhip, rapidly middle-aging person.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Election season heats up ... sort of

With a primary just six weeks away, you'd think that campaigns would be ramping up. You'd be mostly wrong. So far, I haven't seen anything at all about the school committee primary. Has anyone else?

For city council, Darek Barcikowski continues to be very active. I haven't seen much, other than a handful of "campaign kickoff parties" from any of the other candidates, and even those have been limited to a couple of incumbents, only one of whom is even in the primary.

Josh Turiel, who won't be in the primary, has a campaign kickoff fundraiser tonight at Witches Brew Cafe from 6-9. He's running against John Ronan in ward five, and is just about the only candidate with a Web site. Justin Mattera had one, but he's out already.

I'd suggest that if you're in the race for at-large councilor, especially if you aren't an incumbent, that you start telling people why they should be voting for you. Am I missing something? Anyone seen any of the at-large candidates really getting after it? Websites I don't know about?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Salem has a special ed problem

A ranking of Massachusetts school districts in regard to the number and percentage of student classified as needing special education was just released. A review of the data makes it clear that the city of Salem has a special ed problem.

According to the data, Salem ranks 23rd of all of the 393 public school districts in the state. That number is actually even a little worse than it sounds. Most of the schools ahead of Salem on the list are either vocational technical schools, or public charter schools specifically for children with issues. Looking strictly at regular public school districts, Salem comes in sixth of 298, with a special ed classification on 23.9 percent of our students. On the plus side, back in 2008 we had 25.3 percent of students on the sped list. That number would have been good enough for fourth today. The average sped rate for regular municipal school districts is 16.2%. Salem even outranks the average of the vocational schools, which average 23.8%.

Why does Salem have such a high percentage of special ed students? Outgoing superintendent Dr. Cameron tried to blame it on Salem being an urban area back in 2008. Looking at the numbers, I'm not so sure that's the real answer. Check out the map below, where I've plotted the locations of the five public school districts that have higher percentages than Salem. Don't miss Martha's Vineyard. Holyoke, which is number 1, is fairly urban. The rest just aren't. In fact, I'd argue that inbreeding might be the problem in Athol. (If you haven't been there, trust me. If you have, you know I'm right.)

So I'd say Cameron is wrong, or making excuses, and digging deeper would seem to prove this. Looking at the largest cities in the state, we see Salem outpacing all of them. Lynn, the closest geographically, and also with a large (probably larger than Salem) English language learner population, has a special ed rate of 16.1 percent. On average, the ten largest cities in the state have a special ed rate of 18.5, again outpaced by Salem.

After blaming Salem's rate on being an urban district, Cameron followed with a second, and I'd guess more correct reason. From the Salem News:

"The second reason we may have such high numbers, through no fault of anyone," he said, is that the schools don't have consistent standards to qualify children for special education. There is a team in each of the nine school buildings to review cases. Now, he said, they're working to make sure each of the teams uses the same standards.

I think this is probably more accurate. You know, other than that part about "through no fault of anyone." My guess, and admittedly, it's just a guess, is that the Salem schools have a real problem saying no to little Timmy's parents when they decide maybe he needs an IEP. Rather than saying, "No, Timmy needs to buckle down a little bit, behave, and learn some discipline at home," the Salem schools kowtow. In addition to not having any standards between our own schools, it seems like there are no common standards from district to district.

Why do I care? Money. It's really, really expensive. Special ed eats up about 37% of the school budget, while serving less than 25% of the population. You'll never get rid of the most expensive cases, because they are the ones who need it the most, but you could lower the costs some by making sure students really need the services. This would, in turn, make more resources available to the rest of the population, and hopefully stop little Timmy's parents from feeling like they need to get him special attention to get any at all.* Additionally, we wouldn't have to hire a new Special ed coordinator every few years at spiraling six-figure salaries. Seriously, this job has no incentive to decrease special ed spending at all.

*There is no little Timmy. Any resemblance to anyone anywhere is merely coincidence. The name Timmy is fictional. He may be a she. Sally, for example. Also, Sally is fictional. He may not have parents. The example was for illustrative purposes only. I've been threatened with enough lawsuits recently. Hi Brian! (Really, one of the threats was from a man named Brian who has very little understanding of the first amendment, or what the standards for defamation are when you're a public official.) Brian is real.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

School superintendent finalists have had controversy

The Salem School Committee will be interviewing two finalists to replace the departing Dr. Cameron in about an hour. I hope they really consider the backgrounds and working relationships that these two candidates leave behind.

We have a current superintendent who jumped ship in the middle of his contract for family reasons. We have a current candidate before us who also has a history of jumping ship in the middle of a contract, as she did in 2003, with 2 years remaining on her contract. She also left the school she jumped to after just a year, with controversy, to the point where one school board member said that she was either crazy, or was trying to force the board to fire her so she could retire, and a $350,000 pay day in her pocket. The committee should dive into this and ask numerous questions about this candidate's ability to work well with others. This relationship appears to have gone bad right away, and that's rarely one-sided. There was also a two year gap in her work after that situation, and she ended up going from a district with 40,000 students to a district with only K-8th grade, and only 300 or so students. Pretty good work for $174,000 a year.

They should also question her on her dedication to this role. She announced a few short months ago her intention to retire and enjoy life, while traveling.  "She said she has a lengthy list of places to go and things to do that she’s added to as she has heard stories from other retired people. “I think it’s time now for me to bring out that list. It will be a new adventure." So why, a month after she left that job, is she looking for a superintendent job? I hope we are focused on finding a leader who won't be jumping ship in a year or three.

There's not as much interesting info out there on the other candidate, Dr. Stephen Russell, the just departed superintendent of the Dartmouth MA school system. Of interest is the fact that he's available because he was unable to come to terms to remain the superintendent in Dartmouth after an eight year stay. I'd definitely want to know what gives there. His prior salary was $145,041. It sounds like this might be all about straight cash homie. His assistant was hired to replace him, I'd guess at a lower salary. Was he looking for a big raise? Did they want him to take a pay cut? How much does he expect here?

Shortly after it was announced that an agreement couldn't be reached, the Standard-Times named him Dartmouth Man of the Year for his ability to be a bridge builder. So, maybe this was Dartmouth's loss.

Do I know who should be picked? Absolutely not. I hope the interviews are rigorous.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

School Committee doesn't understand insurance

I'm a little late with this one, as it occurred on July 18th, but the following video from the Salem School Committee meeting of that night makes me giggle. I would link to the agenda for the meeting, but for some reason it was never posted. In fact, the section of the city website for school committee info is woeful. Most recent meeting minutes posted are from April. Let the sun shine!

Anyway, watch this video, and we'll discuss what we learn.

You can watch the entire meeting here.

First, apparently a final location has been selected for Salem Community Charter School. Must have missed that. Interesting that the school will start the year in a store front before moving into office space. Not really an ideal thing to do in the middle of a school year.

Second, and funnier, or maybe sadder, apparently nobody on the school committee understands the difference between property insurance and casualty insurance. Considering the amount of money we give them to spend, this lack of understanding of basic risk management doesn't make me very comfortable.

Fleming asks why we would insure property we don't own. We aren't. The mayor says you would insure contents, not the physical structure. We aren't. Liability coverage doesn't cover either one. We are insuring ourselves against any liability claim that would arise from our negligence at that location. I've heard it said several times that we don't take good care of our public buildings. Let's say, for example, that whoever is responsible for cleaning the school goes to mop the floor, floods it with water, and walks away to do something. They don't put up any warning signs, and in the five minutes that they're doing something else, someone walks into the school, slips on the wet floor, and breaks their neck.

In this situation, the city is negligent, not the landlord, and would be on the hook for damages, probably into the millions in a case of paralysis. If it happened outside the school area, the landlord would be negligent, and should be covered as well.

A clause in a commercial lease requiring the tenant to maintain liability coverage on the premises is extremely common. I doubt there is a single property in Salem that the city rents that doesn't include such a clause. Ask some downtown store owners if they're required to carry liability coverage. You'll have a hard time finding many who aren't. You can read an example of such a clause here, under 8C.

The city can likely add this property as a covered location on it's existing liability policy, at little or no cost at all. That said, the city should also look into purchasing tenants insurance, which would cover theft or damage of any equipment at the location, as well as any improvements that the city makes to the location, in the event of a fire.

I'm not thrilled that they don't seem to be aware of any of this. I've wondered about our risk management strategy since the dock at the Blaney Street Pier was damaged a year and a half or so back, and the mayor didn't think that insurance covered damage from mother nature. The reason you practically can't get property insurance in Florida, and carriers are fleeing the state is the amount of money they've spent on paying hurricane claims. Mother nature's fury is the number one reason to buy insurance.


One other note, from the twitter stream of city council at-large candidate Darek Barcikowski:

"This just in - all 10 candidates for at large who pulled papers have filed them and we will have a primary on 9/20 to narrow down to 8."

If you really want to get rid of an incumbent or two, your best hope is that they take it easy for the primary. Turnout will be absolutely anemic for it. If the anti-incumbent folks really mobilize, this is your chance to knock them off of the final ballot.

I'll be interested to see if enough of the school committee people turned in their papers to force a primary there as well. Based on the above video, I'm ready for some new blood there. Especially some that lives in Salem year round and can attend more than 66% of the meetings.