Tuesday, September 25, 2007


My guiding principle on development is that the public interest needs to be valued both short and long term. Public interest requires a vital, sustainable local economy both downtown and in our industrial areas that strengthens our tax base and provides jobs to local residents.

On the Waterfront and Downtown…
I am in favor of more park at the two dirt lots owned and managed by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority retaining a limited amount of parking for senior and handicapped access. The riverfront is too valuable and precious to pave over and it would be a travesty of the highest degree to miss this opportunity.

Parking needs ought to be addressed by a comprehensive and inclusive process ---one process--- that includes all relevant stakeholders, not limited to abutters, but including the entire Newburyport community. In the past we have had countless studies, self-selected adhoc groups and processes. What we need is one process to move this along towards a comprehensive solution we can agree on. The citizens of Newburyport have spoken repeatedly on park/parking and our leadership needs to resolve this issue so that we can turn our attention to the ensuing development of Waterfront West by Steven Karp’s team.

In terms of Waterfront West, we need to work with the developer very assertively. We should not be waiting for a plan from the developer. We should be telling the developer what will be there in accordance with the Overlay District which was passed several years ago.

The Waterfront includes further up the river into Ward 4. We need a City Councillor who will monitor the upcoming Towle Riverwalk Condominiums project and who will push for more public access along the river.

Take a look at a passing and often empty Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority #51 bus and you will know that we need better planning.We need better connections between the commuter rail station, the Park and Ride on Route 95, and new/old ways of getting around like bicycles. For an example of a community which has embraced a more comprehensive approach to transportation and parking, we could learn from Portsmouth's approach, in particular how they operate a 'seasonal downtown loop.'

In the Neighborhoods…
I am in favor of the ‘infill’ ordinance passed by the City Council 10-1 in December of 2006 which balanced neighbors’ concerns with individual property rights. That ordinance did not prevent all future 'infill' nor am I in favor of banning 'infill' altogether. As many citizens have stated, "There is good infill and bad infill." That ordinance was rigorously discussed at the time, the community bought into it, and struck a good balance.

Senior Center
It’s long overdue, every other local community has one, and we need to move ahead. Mayor Moak has proposed a site which needs to be considered carefully by the Council. Any more delay is not acceptable.

Each of these topics is obviously lots more complicated! I'd welcome your comments.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Transparency and Communication

Now that the preliminary election for Mayor is over, we've reached the end of the beginning of this election cycle. As we ponder the meaning of low turnout --is it contentment? is it apathy?-- I wonder why we can't do a better job of notifying the voters that the election is coming up.

Yes, I know the signs and the enthusiastic signholders were a dead giveaway. I know there was a debate. I know the Daily News and the Current have been writing about it. I know Newburyport blogger Mary Baker at www.marybakerart.com/newburyport has been performing yeowoman's work encouraging participation.

But I also know that many voters I've talked to as I walk around Ward 4 weren't quite sure when the preliminary was being held.

Maybe they saw the names on the signs but figured it was a ways away. Maybe they were part of the crowd that was turned away from the debate at the Firehouse after the capacity of 195 was reached; maybe they were Comcast customers who found the taped version of the debate incredibly hard to hear with garbled audio. Maybe they don't get the Daily News or choose to leave the free Current on their doorsteps for weeks. Maybe they don't have access to the internet to look these things up.

Many local governments in Massachusetts publicize the date of upcoming elections with signs in crosswalks and banners proudly displayed. Why can't we do that? Maybe we'd get a few more voters.

With those post-preliminary thoughts behind me, I offer a few modest suggestions.

Transparency and Communication

Many citizens are disconnected from their local government, not for lack of interest on their part but because our municipal systems are not set up to keep citizens informed nor are these systems designed to solicit citizens input.

For example, if you want to look up the Fiscal Year 2007 budget, I invite you to look at the City’s website at www.cityofnewburyport.com where you won’t find it (although several months ago I did find the FY 04 budget) or you may go to the Newburyport Public Library where you will find one copy in the 2nd floor reference section. Or you can go to City Hall if you can remember which night it's open late (that would be Thursday.)

In this day and age, a useful and functioning website is a necessary component of good customer service. Good customer service and an informed public are vital for good governance.

Building a more functional website is important and not necessarily more expensive than what we’re paying already. In fact it might save us money while providing a better customer/citizen experience through on-line transactions. In fact, earlier in 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts laid out how to do it in a manual called A Recipe for Success Building a Citizen-Centric Website with a specific outline for how to make the transition.

While some progress is being made with the City's website at the City Clerk's page and the Office of Planning and Development's page, we need to do more. Check out these websites in large and small communities and you will get a sense of what we ought to have in Newburyport.

- Boston: http://cityofboston.gov/

- Cambridge: http://www.cambridgema.gov/index.cfm

- Marlborough: http://www.marlborough-ma.gov/Home/

- Newton: http://www.ci.newton.ma.us/

- Shrewsbury: http://www.shrewsbury-ma.gov/

- Somerville: http://www/ci.somerville.ma.us

- Weymouth: http://www.weymouth.ma.us/

- Tolland: http://tolland-ma.gov

In order to have faith in our local government and our local leadership, citizens need access to information. The improved website will move us toward that goal.

We also need better communication, back and forth between the public and elected officials. If am elected to represent the people of Ward 4 on the City Council, I pledge to hold at least one community meeting each month in places that are accessible to everyone in the Ward especially seniors. I also pledge to communicate with all residents in Ward 4 on a monthly basis either through email, my website, or through regular mail if a voter doesn’t have internet access. If elected, you’ll have my cell phone number and my email address and you will be encouraged to communicate with me on all matters great and small.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Education and Daniel Webster

And now, dear reader, today’s history lesson is from one of Massachusetts’ greatest citizens. In 1837, at a time of national discussion of new approaches to education, Senator Daniel Webster said:

"I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe - Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I fear that they may place too implicit a confidence in their public servants, and fail properly to scrutinize their conduct; that in this way they may be made the dupes of designing men, and become the instruments of their own undoing. Make them intelligent, and they will be vigilant; give them the means of detecting the wrong, and they will apply the remedy."

The children of Newburyport may represent 18% of the population but they represent 100% of our future.

As the product of Massachusetts public schools, as the son of a retired teacher who taught for 30 years in a junior high school, and as someone who has worked with homeless people for 20 years, I can attest to the value of education.

I grew up in Bridgewater, Massachusetts--a historic community not unlike Newburyport. When I grew up there in the 1960s and 1970s, it was mostly a middle class community. As a high school student in the late 70’s during a period of fiscal crisis which led to Prop 2 ½, I could see the difference in learning between small classes and large classes, between qualified and unqualified teachers, between care and indifference.

In public school and later at college, I had always been interested in data about countries, states, and cities. I had always read in encyclopedias that the United States had a literacy rate of 99%, right up there with Switzerland, Japan, and the Soviet Union. When I became an adult working at the Pine Street Inn shelter in Boston, I was shocked to find the reality. Filling out forms and applications with people who couldn’t read them was more telling than a statistic in an encyclopedia. And later in other jobs with other clients, I found the same illiteracy and the same correlation: a poor education means no future.

Now I’m not taking the leap that Newburyport students are going to live in homeless shelters if classes sizes continue to rise, if teaching positions continue to be cut, if foreign language instruction continues to be foreign to elementary and middle school classrooms, and if sports, arts, music, and transportation are only available to those whose parents can afford them.

What I am saying is that right now – in this era of globalization, of rapid technological change, of economic and climactic uncertainty – in our little corner of the world we need to come together to find ways to support education. And we need to do that in ways that are not injurious to those taxpayers living on fixed income or little income.

During the campaign, I’ll be talking about my ideas for how we get there as a community and I would very much like to learn your ideas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


A new report by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) reconfirms the obvious -- incomes have not kept up with increases in housing expense, utilities expense and property taxes. Although there was an increase in the Massachusetts median wage in 2006, we still lag behind the wage level from 2003. Besides less money in our pockets, the consequences of the flat incomes of this decade have been less State revenue, hence less local aid and, yep you guessed it, higher property taxes.

As I've been knocking on doors of Ward 4 this summer, I've talked to more than a few families who, in their own words, are 'hanging by a thread' to stay in Newburyport. In some cases, folks are talking about the increases over the last several years in property taxes. In other cases, folks are talking about the quality of the public schools.

Over Labor Day weekend, I met two households on Howard Street whose situations illustrate the pressures. For a retired couple with a fixed income, property taxes are the main issue in this campaign. For a younger couple at the other end of the street, schools are the most important issue and at the same time they too are feeling the pinch (or perhaps vise-grip is a better analogy) of local property taxes.

To me, lowering reliance on the property tax and providing for an excellent public education experience are not mutually exclusive. Every municipality in Massachusetts is dealing with these problems. Each community needs to find its own path and that path needs to include finding efficiencies and reducing expenses in all areas of municipal governance, making the property tax less burdensome to households on fixed incomes by increasing utilization of certain exemptions, and a common plea from all 351 cities and towns for more State assistance, particularly for education where locally controlled school districts struggle under well-intended yet under-funded State and Federal mandates.

Oh, if you're thinking of moving/escaping to New Hampshire, remember they have local AND State property taxes---the 3rd highest property taxes in the Nation. Massachusetts 'only' ranks 9th. Their meals tax is 8% instead of our 5%. The grass isn't always greener...

The wage report and other informative publications are available on MBPC's web site, www.massbudget.org.