Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"It's deja vu all over again!" -Yogi Berra

I feel like I am in a time warp with today's T&G.  We have an article about a city school failing to meet expectations and needing a grand restructuring, an article about the problems whenever our Parks Department redesigns a city park, and an article about a bar/restaurant closing on the corner of Commercial and Front Street. I'm feeling lazy today, and think I've written about our 'failing' schools and the problems with that particular location before. I think I might have a few posts about our Parks Department...let me check.

Here's what's different now.
Regarding Claremont Academy, are we now forced to believe that the new Superintendent, the new principal (transferred from our best performing school), and the third 'new' academic outlook in twenty years will transform Claremont Academy and its students. Here's the money quote:
"I am beginning the process to restart Claremont Academy as a high performing 7-12heterogeneous/all honors school."
If it is heterogeneous and all honors, does that mean all the current students will remain, or will they have to reapply? Or will the school begin the process of weeding out the non-honors students to keep test scores high? The stark reality of education is that students aren't heterogeneous. They have different needs and different support structures at home. When you expect every student to be a college bound honors student, what happens a few years later when all the students aren't? Do you reassess the plan and call the school and its teachers a failure, or do you weed out the students who won't reach the goals?

Either way, what happens to the students who don't meet your standards? They will need to be educated somewhere in the City, and all you do is shuffle the students off to another school, which eventually will need to be reassessed because of the new lower test scores. I don't mean to sound like Rick Santorum at all. I'm just cynical that an 'all honors' school is the best idea.

We should be focused on what is best for all the students, not forgetting that they are individuals with different needs.
Overtime Tap closing wasn't a shock to me. The space was too large, and the rent was too damn high! Each incarnation that rents the space out has to rent two different floors to ensure bathroom access. It's hard to make a restaurant profitable when you are paying for more square footage than you need because the bathrooms are in the basement with a function room that doesn't get used.

There will be another bar/restaurant in that space. Please split that space up, and build bathrooms on the first floor. Also, elevate the food to something memorable, and people will come. I'm not afraid of dining downtown, I'd just prefer great food.
First of all, kudos to the T&G for the article title: "Field of foul balls on hold in Worcester." 

As for our Parks Department, no kudos for you! This is what happens when the public is shut out of the design process and their legitimate concerns are disregarded. Redesigning a park is a big process that should be done carefully. The recent trend is to completely reconfigure parks ignoring their historical usage, which hasn't caused any problems previously! Why? Who knows? The process is closed and mysterious to anyone who isn't the acting commissioner.

I don't know if the same firm redesigned Vernon Park and Beaver Brook. I do know that the original design of Beaver Brook didn't take into account the trajectory of foul balls or the possibility of home runs with the cloverleaf of proposed fields. It's almost like it is a redesign based upon cramming as much stuff into a small space without thinking of future consequences. Lastly, Parks and DPW have a history of not including (or notifying) the organizations that use the parks on a regular basis, so all practical experience isn't included in the design stages.

This is how we end up with broken windshields and windows, angry neighbors, and patchwork 'solutions' that are failures doomed to create more mistrust of our public agencies.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I hope the two headlines aren't related!

It's not our fault!
Next time I hope the person in charge of layout separates those two headlines.  It certainly doesn't help our image.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

They locked all the parks and put them in a park museum?

This week's theme: I love this city, but I hate the way it's run.

Today's gripe? Our parks.
"They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
'Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot"
-"Big Yellow Taxi," by Joni Mitchell

That seems to be the City's response to public use of our parks. Lock up the parking lots, restrict permit use to a select few, and tear down the pools. Dog parks? Never! Soccer? It might damage the turf! Festivals with beer vendors? No fun and games here!

Specifically, every lot at Beaver Brook Park has been locked up tight since January. Why? Unauthorized vehicles parking in the Mann Street Lot, illegal dumping on Mayfield Street, and the ongoing 2 day a week yard waste collection in the main Chandler Street lot creates a knee jerk reaction that the lots must be closed to prevent misuse.

Here's my solution to the 'misuse.' 

-Call up Pat's Towing and tow any vehicles from the Mann Street lot that are misusing the lot on Mann Street (which is a free, public lot- not sure where the misuse comes from.) I'm sure Pat's has some extra time on their hands now.

-Close off one end of the main Chandler Street lot for the permanent location of the yard waste. Leave the other end open for vehicles. People drop yard waste at the entrance of the lot seven days a week. Locking the gates just creates the Great Wall of Trash.

-Have Parks do a regular check of Mayfield Street for illegal dumping. Maybe the occasional presence of a cruiser or a camera to catch illegal dumping might cut down on the mess. The lot on Chandler Street used to be an ideal late night spot for the WPD, back when the lot was open and we had more officers.

-Lastly, trust the people who use the parks to help keep them clean. You already do. The City hasn't bought rock dust or mowed the little league fields in Beaver Brook for over a decade. Ted Williams Little League maintains those fields and is responsible for unlocking the lots when we have games. We would much rather work with the City about illegal dumping then have to rush over with a key every time someone has a practice. We've worked with the City on tagging in the park, and now have a wonderful commitment from one of our team sponsors, Herb Duggan Painting. Herb has repainted our shed, bathrooms and field house, and he and his employees keep a vigilant eye out for any tagging and have it cleaned up before we even have the chance to say anything. Thank you Herb!

On a final note before I get off my soap box, a dog park would be wonderful, please shake down find some corporate sponsors for a pool in every park,  and let the soccer players play.

If we want to be a world class city, we need parks and green spaces. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Closed Feedback Loops Do Not Equal Open Government.

Today's theme: I love this city, but hate the way it's run.

Here's an example:

Nick Kotsopoulos' article in the Sunday paper summarizes every frustration I have with how our city government does business. Basing the Council's inaction on whether or not some elected officials supposedly have issues with Chief Gemme is irrelevant and unprofessional. Some councilors were responding to multiple complaints from the people they were elected to represent. Bringing these concerns to the City Manager and to the Chief was the correct course of action. While the charter forbids Council members from advocating the hiring or firing of a City employee, it is incumbent upon them to ask pointed questions and return that information to their constituents.

Elected officials should have approached the City Manager with their concerns, which by all accounts, happened. I hope the City Manager conveyed these concerns to Chief Gemme, but we have no idea if that happened.

Nick Kotsopoulos made the point that back room conversations that left pro-Gemme Council members out of the loop wasn't the best way to do business. I agree. Where the civil process of government broke down was the alleged actions of the City Manager or other City Councilors feeling out the Council's positions behind closed doors. These actions should be public, and on the floor of the Council where we can see the results of our quesitons.

I was one of the citizens who questioned the actions of Chief Gemme. I don't know the man at all, personally or professionally. But as a citizen of Worcester, I wanted information. I could care less about the his Twitter feed, or his feuds with local journalists. From the tone of his posts, and his few interviews, he said he was unsatisfied with the reporting on the WPD, and felt that parts of the story were being misrepresented or details were left out. Fair enough. It's entirely possible- I don't trust any single source either.

The whole point of hiring a media specialist with taxpayer dollars was to present the WPD's side of the story. That hasn't happened at all, and when questioned on it, the Chief cites confidentiality agreements, personnel privacy issues, and the standard quote of "I can't comment on an ongoing investigations." Silence from our chief law enforcement officer on vital issues is not acceptable.

Here's a perfect example:

Here is my response:

I have yet to receive an answer in any sort of forum, public or private.

When I don't receive an answer, I turn to my elected City Council and the City Manager for answers. If we silence debate in the Council chambers, and do not allow the public to speak on issues before the Council, then how can we get any satisfactory progress, besides the illusion of a silent, happy Council and City? We end up with a closed cycle of legitimate questions with no answers. Silence on these issues create allegations of misinformation, unprofessionalism, and then a call for everyone to behave and be quiet.

I do not accept silence and secrets from our government. An open and accountable government is the only way we can have a civil society.