Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ARPS: The Drama Continues

Props from a recent Shakespeare play adorn the front lawn at ARHS

Perhaps someday the Amherst Regional Public Schools can can synthesize the past year long racial "event" -- for lack of a better term -- into a teachable moment school play.  Or better yet, a Hollywood movie.

Maybe we can get Meryl Streep to play Superintendent Maria Geryk and Oprah Winfrey as math teacher Carolyn Gardner.

Clearly we are in a full blown Us vs Them situation divided along racial lines.  And now we can throw Ferguson into the volatile mix.  

The Amherst-Pelham Education Association and heavyweight Massachusetts Teachers Association just issued a statement supporting Carolyn Gardner while trumpeting their "commitment to confronting racism."

But do we really have any proof that these unsettling acts perpetrated against Ms. Gardner were genuinely racist, as opposed to kids being kids, or an adult trying to stir up racial turmoil?

Or what on the all powerful Internet is simply known as a Troll. 

Either way, the case is now before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, who will spend the next 18 months deciding if indeed there is merit to the charge.

Until then candle light vigils, long winded comments at public meetings (with a side order of hissing) and press releases designed to win the hearts and minds of citizens are a waste of time and energy.  

Not to mention a monumental distraction to the sacred mission of educating all our children.

 Jean Sherlock reads NAACP letter of complaint to Regional School Committee

The NAACP issued a press release, err, I mean statement at the tense Regional School Committee meeting last week charging the schools with "illegal application of disciplinary measures" against the non-white student population.

Maybe they have not been paying attention but last year Maria Geryk presented to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee statistics from the 2011-2012 school year showing 65% of the out-of-school suspensions were given to non-white students at the high school (who make up 35% of the student body) and in 2012-2013, 58%.

Back in July the Schools announced major changes to address these racial disparities, replacing two secondary school deans with "climate control coordinators".  Geryk also told the RSC last December that the plan was to pretty much eliminate suspensions as a form of discipline altogether (except in extreme cases of assault or weapons possession).  

So why now after the schools have been addressing this racial disparity for the past year is the NAACP suddenly bringing it up?  And where were they for the previous 20 years or so, if indeed the Schools have been out of compliance since 1993?

Mini Hobart Hoedown

Matthew Langford stands before Judge O'Grady

Hobart Lane is kind of like Phillips Street in that it will probably never live down its (well deserved) party reputation, even though there has not been a "Hobart Hoedown" in many years.

For you nubies the Hoedown preceded the Blarney Blowout, but of the same basic idea:  day drinking until you get completely out of control, and when police arrive throw dangerous objects at them.

Amherst police encountered two rowdy party goers very early Sunday morning trying to force their way into #29 Hobart Lane.  When they refused to comply with instructions to leave -- and physically resisted police -- officers had no choice but to arrest Kyle Bisceglia and Matthew Langford, both age 20. 

 Click to enlarge/read

Matthew Langford (6 feet 2 inches tall, weighing 200 pounds) was charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and Assault and Battery on a police officer.

 Kyle Bisceglia arraigned before Judge O'Grady

Kyle Bisceglia was charged with Resisting Arrest and Disorderly Conduct.

Both are hiring their own attorney and they will return to Eastern Hampshire District Court in mid-December.

Party House Of The Weekend

297 West Street, directly across from Crocker Farm Elementary School

These party house problems are getting fewer and farther between -- which is of course a good thing. 
Alexander Elkins stands before Judge O'Grady

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday Connor Bertram, 19, and Alexander Elkins, 20, both took the typical plea deal offered by the Commonwealth:  Criminal charges are "converted" to civil with one of the two $300 tickets thrown out plus four months probation. 

Conor Bertram standing before Judge O'Grady

Monday, November 24, 2014

Restorative Justice

Kyle Kielbasa and Attorny Kokonowski stand before Judge William O'Grady this morning

Kyle Kielbasa, 28, came to terms with the Commonwealth this morning in Eastern Hampshire District Court for two separate arrests made by Amherst Police. The first on the day of the infamous Blarney Blowout, where Mr. Kielbasa was waiving a handgun around near Rafter's and The Hanger Pub & Grill while under the influence of alcohol.  A l-o-t of alcohol!

And the equally serious incident seven months later, a roll over drunk driving accident on Bay Road that took out a utility pole and closed the busy road for the night. 

His lawyer told Judge O'Grady that he was prepared to vigorously fight the first charge and had already prepared a "motion to suppress" evidence: the gun and extra ammo clips recovered in the car on March 8th.  But Mr. Kielbasa told him "No, I need help" (with alcohol problem).

Assistant District Attorney Bob Opsitnik recommended the "Restorative Justice Program" and two years probation with a requirement for continuing with therapy for the gun charge; and a standard 24D disposition, with $600 in fines, loss of license for 45 days, one-year probation ($65/month cost) and alcohol screenings plus two weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the Driving Under the Influence charge.

The Judge agreed.  

Kyle Kielbasa's right to carry a weapon was also revoked after the first incident.

Going, Going ...

DPW gingerly lifts Amherst Chamber Welcome building 

The iconic, so-ugly-it's-cute building that has squatted on the town common for as long as anybody can remember was quickly and efficiently moved this afternoon by the DPW to a location on Sunset Avenue.  


The rumor that Walter Jones sneaked it onto a concrete pad poured overnight can be somewhat disproved as there was not a concrete pad under the building.

 Note dirt floor


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pot Priority

 Residents waiting for all clear from AFD to return to their apartments

So a fire in one of Amherst's tallest building not on the UMass campus, with a higher than average ratio of elderly and disabled residents, gets zero response from my Twitter friends, but then three hours later a throw away tweet about a 65-year-old woman in North Amherst needing an ambulance due to pot consumption lights up the Twittersphere (or at least my tiny portion of it).

Go figure.  (But I still love you Twitter).

Is 24 Too Many?

222-224 Belchertown Road

The Zoning Board of Appeals decided last month that up to 9 individuals living in a single family home (normally restricted to no more than four) was not too many, as long as building and safety codes are strictly enforced.  Fair enough.

Since Many Hands Farm Cooperative were all farm workers -- a much respected/protected group in Amherst -- and they are a  501 (c) (3) non-profit organization using the property for an "education use," they were exempt from local zoning ordinances like the one restricting no more than four unrelated tenants per single family unit.

So it will be interesting to see what the Planning Board decides with the two family house at 222-224 Belchertown Road (which should have no more than 8 unrelated tenants).

Hwei-Ling Greeney, founder of Amherst Community Connections, a 5-year-old safety net organization that shelters the homeless, is requesting permission to run a charitable living facility for up to 24 unrelated individuals.

 Jerry Gates and Hwei-Ling Greeney appear before Amherst Planning Board

Major long-time developer Jerry Gates, who is also President of the Board of Directors overseeing  Craig's Doors homeless shelter at the First Baptist Church, is also heavily involved.

At the November 19 Public Hearing, which has now been continued to January 7, neighbors unanimously spoke against the project citing safety concerns -- both for their property and the safety of the large number of tenants who will occupy the house located on a very busy street (Rt 9).

Back side of the building

The original 10/29 hearing had to be postponed because the legal ad mistakenly said the operation would house 12 residents, which even then neighbors thought too many.  But the planning department had misunderstood Ms. Greeney, as she meant 12 per unit or 24 total, so it had to be readvertised.

 Neighbor John Kinchla

The neighbors found that far too many.

Senior Planner Christine Brestrup told the board that town staff is also concerned about the high number of residents proposed to live there, with their particular concerned being overall management.

She suggested the petitioners come back to the Planning Board next time (January 7) with examples of other similar programs in the area, and Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone will also be asked to weigh in.