Friday, February 27, 2015

Blarney: There They Go Again

Frozen tundra?  Nah, Townhouse apartments:  Ground Zero for bad Blarney

Once again my friends at the Gazette do a front page above the fold story on why Blarney Blowout is going to fizzle and neglect to mention the #1 reason, weather.

For the past two years the downtown bars have not played any role whatsoever in Blarney going bad.

If I were the Select Board, however, I would still pull their liquor permits for Saturday, March 7 just as retroactive punishment for creating the monster they unleashed, and now have no control over.

Start shoveling kids!

"Dismissed" Doesn't Mean Innocent!

Thomas C. Donovan arraigned in Eastern Hampshire District Court (3/10/14).  Your humble reporter standing in background.  MassLive photo by Dave Roback

So the hotshot Boston attorney for Mr. Thomas C. Donovan was being a tad coy when he told my friends at MassLive that the reason he took so long to file a lawsuit against Amherst police is because he wanted to wait until the Blarney Blowout criminal case was concluded against his choir boy client.

Thus giving the impression that the criminal case was "dismissed" and his client was totally innocent.

As any of you who have followed my Eastern Hampshire District Court reports over the past year or so know, the usual method of dealing with UMass students arrested for rowdy behavior is a "diversion" from criminal to civil and the dropping of at least one of the charges.

In the case of Mr. Donovan, who was charged with "failure to disperse" and "disorderly conduct", the Judge, as part of his plea deal, dismissed outright the "disorderly conduct" charge but DID NOT DISMISS the "failure to disperse" charge.

Instead he was put on probation for four months, ordered to pay $200 in restitution and write a letter of apology to APD ... only THEN was the charge of "failure to disperse" dismissed.

Click to enlarge/read

And yes, I have confirmed Donovan wrote the letter of apology to APD, but since this now involves a lawsuit the letter is not a public document.  I also assume he paid the $200 and did the 20 hours of community service.

If he's so innocent, why write a "letter of apology"?

The fact he was recording on his phone at the time he failed to heed a lawfully given order to disperse is irrelevant.  If he were playing a violin, the cops would have told him to stop playing the violin and leave.  

"Not talking to reporters now".  Gee, I wonder why?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

To Serve & Protect

APD Captain Chris Pronovost (left) Chief Scott Livingstone (right) 
Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingston and Captain Chris Pronovost appeared before the Joint Capital Planning Committee this morning to present their FY16 equipment needs, which were pretty modest considering their $4.5 million operational budget.

Joint Capital Planning Committee preparing to discuss PD equipment this morning

The usual replacement of three front line patrol vehicles, with an excess of 100,000 miles usage, takes up the bulk of the total request at $105,000.  Next year it will be a tad more expensive as the request will be for one additional vehicle.  The department orders four vehicles on a rotating basis every 4th year.

Front line cruisers are used 24/7, 365 days a year

One of the things you don't want to have happen when you call 911 for a life or death emergency is to have help delayed because of a vehicle breakdown.

 Click to enlarge/read.  FY16 starts July 1st

Amherst police department was one of the first public safety agencies in the state to adopt  "in car video systems" aka dash cams.  Such a system protects both the officer making an arrest or just interacting with citizens and the person being arrested or just interacting with the officer. 

$12,000 will purchase two complete systems, to replace older systems in two cruisers.

Naturally as the Chief was leaving the meeting I asked him about body cams.  He responded that within two years it will probably be standard equipment for his department.

The current crop of cameras somewhat rushed to market are still a tad expensive (decent reliable units around $1,000 each) and like any new technology the cameras will get better and cheaper just within the next two years.

He did point out that officers are in favor of wearing the cameras, so it's not a labor union issue  holding things up.  Obviously body cameras would have come in handy last year at the Blarney Blowout.

Also coming in handy when things reach riotous proportions are "Crowd management tools, Protective Gear" aka riot gear.

The Chief told the JCPC that he was dropping the $9,500 request -- not because they are unneeded -- but because he found leftover money in another account to fund them.

The current generation of riot gear (both bulky and hot in the summer) was purchased back in the mid-1980s before anybody ever heard of Blarney Blowout and the excuse to day-drink and get riotous was called "Hobart Hoedown".

Officers only recently were fitted for the equipment so it will not be available this coming March 7.

Do I think they will need riot gear that day?  Well the weather is forecast to be sunny/clear but COLD so that's a BIG help.

Plus the quad area of Townhouse Apartments -- ground zero for the gestation of riotous behavior -- is currently buried in snow, so that's a BIG help.

And even the recent regrettable publicity about an alleged "First Amendment" violation last year resulting in a federal lawsuit against APD will at least serve to remind everyone of what a lousy day Blarney was ... for EVERYBODY.

Although I do find it fascinating that Cowardly Anon Nitwits post drivel on the mobile app FADE publicly threatening my First Amendment rights:

At least I'm filed under "hot"

Photo is from an "event" I covered at Townhouse back on September 20

United Once More

UN Flag flies above Black Liberation flag this morning

The pretty blue United Nations flag has returned to its perch directly in front of Town Hall after the previous one was stolen during a storm and briefly replaced with a pirate flag.

I'm told the last remaining member of the original committee who brought the request to Amherst Town Meeting in 1972 donated the new flag. 

The Amherst town flag has been missing from the turret on Town Hall for about as long as the UN flag was missing.

The staff broke so it needs to be replaced before it goes back up alongside the state flag and one of the original 29 commemorative American flags (originally installed during that glorious summer of 2001) that have caused such controversy whenever the anniversary of 9/11 comes calling.

Interestingly Town Meeting this spring will no doubt unanimously support a  "citizens petition" to declare June 14 "Race Amity Day".    Of course June 14 is also "Flag Day".  Which I find exceedingly appropriate.

The American flag represents the diversity -- aka "melting pot"  -- of all the immigrants, all the races, creeds, colors, religions or sexual persuasions that built this great country.

And she represents the freedom so many of us take for granted. 

Precisely why the 29 commemorative flags should fly in the downtown this coming 9/11.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Blarney Blowback

March 8, 2014 North Pleasant/Fearing Street

So no, I'm not surprised a lawsuit was filed over alleged brutality by enormously outnumbered Amherst police at the Blarney Blowout.  But I am surprised it took this long.

After all, if it is such a strong case why wait almost one full year to file your complaint?

Rule #1:  Hold your phone horizontally Rule #2: Leave when police ask

And I always thought lawyers were not supposed to try their case in the media?  Here these legal beagles posted their "evidence" to the web for the entire world to see, and issued press releases no less.

Specifically timed of course to coincide with the upsurge in media interest as we approach the one year anniversary of that outrageous event.

Interesting how you can clearly see objects detonate near officers busy arresting someone on the ground. And I recognize that dull thud a full can of beer makes when it hits a nearby snowbank, as I had one miss my head by 6" the year before at Townhouse Apartments during the Blarney Blowout.

It's easy to look at a snippet of video and come up with ways you would have calmly handled the situation better.  Hindsight is always a piece of cake.

Or maybe I should say, "keg of beer."

Can You Hear Me Now?

Amilcar Shabazz remotely peering over Maria Geryk's shoulder

The Amherst Regional School Committee is starting to get it when it comes to all things digital. 

Last month they voted unanimously to allow legal notice of meetings with agendas to be posted to the district website rather than the clunky physically post by hand in all four towns. 

And last night the RSC also voted unanimously to allow "remote participation" so lame duck member Amilcar Shabazz could participate and vote in the surprisingly newsworthy meeting. 

Like the posting to the website, it is a blanket vote that will allow any member to use remote participation from now on as long as they give the Chair some advance notice.

Surprisingly for a town dominated by committees, boards, and working groups, remote participation has not been used.  These days Skype, Facetime , or Google+ Hangout is just as good as being there.  Well, almost.

The Jones Library Trustees did use it once, sort of, for Carol Gray four years ago when she was in Egypt.  But it was prior to the Attorney General ruling it okay, so she was not allowed to participate in the meeting or vote, just observe.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Regionalization Train Wreck

Amherst Regional School Committee all 9 members (including one by remote participation)

Even before the Amherst Regional School Committee could get to the official agenda item scheduled for 6:20 to discuss the 3.5 years in the making Regional Agreement Working Group report, RAWG member Michael DeChiara dropped a bombshell during "public comment", telling the committee he would not support the proposal and would be telling his Shutesbury constituents to vote it down.

Michael DeChiara, Maria Geryk (Amilcar Shabazz above her), Michael Morris

All four towns in the Region -- Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury -- must vote yes in order to change the 50+ year old Regional Agreement, to allow for the region to extend from the current 7-12 all the way down to include elementary level pre-K through 6th grades.

When the Regional Committee then started discussing the RAWG proposal Shutesbury representative Stephen Sullivan echoed DeChiara's concerns and clearly said he would vote no.

Parent and Town Meeting member Janet McGowan told the committee the public outreach on Regionalization has been nonexistent

Amherst representatives were also less than impressed:  Lawrence O'Brien said he "had concerns", Rick Hood said it was "not ready", Kathleen Traphagen did not see any "compelling educational case" and the disembodied voice of Amilcar Shabazz (using remote participation) could not have been any more clear:  "Put a stop on the school attorney from doing any more work on this matter.  Moving in this direction now should be Dead On Arrival."

Kathleen Traphagen

Katherine Appy was the lone member of the entire 9 member Regional School Committee to speak in favor of the idea.  The RSC is scheduled to vote on this Regionalization proposal at their next  meeting, March 10.

Since it involves amending the Regional Agreement it will require a supermajority two-thirds vote.  Had the vote been taken at this meeting it certainly looked like it would be 8-1 against. 

Rick Hood said they should continue to move forward with the public forums (March 3 for Amherst ) but the timeline for all four towns to vote an the agreement should be pushed back until spring, 2016.

It has already been 3.5 years for this particular regionalization agreement and some members mentioned previous attempts date back 40 years or more, so what's another year.  

Not overly crowded audience in attendance