Update: All-Pro given yet another chance to clean up its messy situation

24 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The saga continues in the case of All-Pro Landscaping, which — courtesy of Peabody’s good ole boy political network — got  treated with kid gloves again last night.

The Conservation Commission says it will give All-Pro Landscaping, which is polluting wetlands with asphalt and other debris another 45 days to clean up its mess. For those keeping track, this has gone on for several months. The city has done nothing to shut down the operation behind Latitude Sports Club, which remains out of compliance with environmental laws.

For those keeping score, the Con Com issued the same exact edict on All-Pro at its June 11th meeting. But move along … there’s nothing to see here.

There was also a further smoke screen laid down last night by some Con Com members, who tried to deflect responsibility from All-Pro by asking  if they should instead fine the actual property owner. All-Pro is just a tenant on the property.

So why is the city dragging it’s feet, and  sitting on it hands here with what seems like a fairly straight forward set of violations?

A lot of people are wondering if it has anything to with the fact that the ALL-Pro owner and his family are as politically connected as it gets in Ward 5, where this situation exists. For months, the ward councilor has been working behind the scenes to ensure that certain city departments take it easy on All-Pro, and last night the same councilor was at the Con Com meeting trying to smooth things over again.

I guess that’s the type of personal constituent service you get for putting up hundreds of his campaign signs, and working behind the scenes to ensure that developers get on board and help elect a guy who will keep the good times rolling up on Route 1.  With this councilor, it seems like the rights of developers come first, and your quality of life isn’t really all that important. But we Ward 5 residents are used to it. After all, that kind of approach has been going on here for more than 25 years.

If you are a developer or a  buddy of the ward councilor, you get what you want. If not, it’s like a scene from Oliver Twist. “Please sir … I want some more.”

Last night, they even brought in another one of the ward councilor’s buds, a Pine Street neighbor, who told  the Con Com that the owner of All-Pro was a wonderful neighbor. Yeah, we hear he rescues cute little stray dogs in between spraying lawns with chemicals.

By now, feel free to say that my rant here is also politically motivated. You may be partly right, and that’s OK to say.

But then there are those pesky little things called the facts:

DelNegro  isn’t involved with Peabody politics, and is just trying to do her job, which is to protect our environmental health and welfare. She says that All-Pro is NOT in compliance with the law, and hasn’t been for several months. She seems frustrated over the situation, and who could blame her at this point? The woman is just trying to do what we pay her to do.

So now, All-Pro gets one more chance.

Who knows? Maybe in 45 days the Con Com will give them another chance, and another 45 days. And when they do, maybe they’ll tell the All-Pro guys this time we REALLY mean it!

I guess there really are two sets of rules in Peabody. One special set for those who are politically connected, and another set for the rest of us.

Sighting a local hero and some curious political creatures at re-scheduled Ward 6 party

21 Jul

 

Sgt. Steve O'Hara, wife Jessica, and their children accept the Ward 6 "Heroes Among Us" award, flanked by Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz (left) and Mayor Ted Bettencourt

Sgt. Steve O’Hara, wife Jessica, and their children accept the Ward 6 “Heroes Among Us” award, flanked by Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz (left) and Mayor Ted Bettencourt. (Photo submitted courtesy of Doug Finnegan).

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The re-scheduled Ward 6 Fourth of July party at Symphony Park this past Saturday featured a huge crowd, the traditional patriotic bike parade, the honoring of a local hero, and much more.

But it was also a day of some interesting sightings of local elected officials, and other political wanaabes.

Please read on, and we’ll get to the political stuff, but first it was wonderful to see a local hero honored for the work he’s done as a police officer.

West Peabody resident, and MBTA Transit Police Sgt. Steve O’Hara was acknowledged for his work in the areas of hostage negotiation/crisis intervention.

O’Hara, who received praise and a certificate from Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz and Mayor Ted Bettencourt, was recognized for talking a suicidal man out of jumping  from the top floor of an MBTA parking garage, and his work helping the family of a fellow officer, who was seriously wounded during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

When Officer Richard Donohue was shot, it was O’Hara who was charged with informing the fallen officer’s wife, Kim. Kim later, in an emotional Facebook post, talked about how O’Hara’s wonderful approach to informing her, brought great comfort to the family.

Honoring O’Hara was part of an annual tradition of honoring a local hero at this ward party. It’s an awesome moment at what is always a terrific, well-organized event hosted by the Ward 6 Councilor.

But as I wrote off the top, it wasn’t only about bike parades and ceremonies for heroes.

***

As local politicos know, Ward 6 these days has one of the largest voter turnouts in the entire city, and showing up at Symphony on July 4th (or in this case, July 19th), is a must.

Here were some of my observations and sightings …

  • The biggest battle for the hearts and minds of Ward 6 voters will come in the race for State Rep in the 13th Essex District, and it wasn’t surprising to see both Democratic incumbent Ted Speliotis and his challenger, Republican Tom Lyons, in attendance. Both men thoroughly worked the crowd. Speliotis, who didn’t make an appearance at this ward party last year, seems to suddenly be shifting into campaign mode. Lyons may have held a slight home park advantage on Saturday, since he lives in the ward.
  • Good to see Congressman John Tierney in attendance. I say “see,” since he wasn’t doing a lot of mingling, and it was definitely noticeable when he didn’t say hello to party host Sinewitz. Wonder if that has something to do with the Ward 6 Councilor endorsing Tierney’s opponent in September’s Democratic primary, war hero and Marblehead businessman Seth Moulton? Moulton, who had planned to be at the party on July 4th, couldn’t attend the makeup date because of a family wedding.
  • Even though it’s not an election year for city councilors, it was nice to see Councilor At-Large Tom Walsh come to the party.
  • State Rep candidate Beverley Dunne shows off her basketball skills

    State Rep candidate Beverley Dunne shows off her basketball skills

    It was also nice to see candidate for State Rep Beverley Dunne show up, especially when you consider she’s running in the 12th Essex District, which doesn’t include Ward 6. The long-time school committee member clearly thinks community first, but it’s a good thing that she’s running for state rep and not hoping for a career in the WNBA. Her performance in the women’s free throw shooting contest was, well … let’s just say that at least she didn’t do any worse than fellow school committee member Brandi Carpenter. They both tried their hardest, even if they didn’t win the prize.

  • Showing off some nice basketball skills in the free throw contest was a Bettencourt. No, not the Mayor himself, who once starred for the Holy Cross basketball team. Peabody’s First Lady, Andrea Bettencourt, used a smooth follow through to take second place in the women’s free throw shootout.
  •  Finally, for those who care, I did have a “reunion” with an old political foe. Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw chased me down across the basketball court to say hello, and give me an indication that he’s a big fan of this blog. “Bobby, Bobby, just wanted to say hello, even though you keep taking pot shots at me (in The Eye),” said Mr. Saslaw.

…  Oh, did I also mention that Curious Creatures brought some snakes to show the kids?

 

Peabody needs ‘signs’ of economic development in the form of a master plan

15 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

This might surprise followers of this space, but I actually think that the digital billboard approved by the Peabody City Council last week on city-owned land off Route 128 near Fishery Products International is good for the taxpayers.

Square

We continue to wonder when we’ll have an overall strategic plan for re-developing Peabody’s downtown

The company erecting the 60-foot sign will pay Peabody an initial $500,000, an initial permitting fee of $25,000, and $250,000 a year. It’s significant revenue for the city, and from what I can see, it’s not a huge threat to quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.

But with me, that’s where the love ends for Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s strategy of looking for much-needed revenue by playing a continuous game of billboard roulette.

We get it, Ted. We all realize that the city needs the money, and that we can’t continue to raise taxes on resident payers, something that has happened for the past 13 straight years.

But dude, where’s the plan for sustainable revenue?

This strategy of blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ our mind, is not a plan at all.  In most cases, it’s a blight on our landscape, and simply quick-hit, unsustainable revenue. Not only that, but I think I might have heard somewhere that there is so-called “moratorium” against more billboards?

The stark reality of our economic situation in Peabody is that, these days, there seems to be no plan, no strategy for creating real, long-lasting, sustainable revenue. Oh sure, we have some “piecemeal” little victories here and there, a promise of a hotel in downtown, a few new restaurants, and an urban redevelopment consultancy is helping us analyze why Peabody Square is a ghost town on a Saturday night.

But there’s no strategic master plan, so  it’s either blight the roadsides with billboards, or keep shifting more of the burden on us … young families struggling to pay their mortgages, and seniors fearful that higher property taxes are going to eventually force them to sell their life-long homes.

Worse than not having a plan for increasing city revenues, is that there’s no one currently in the employ of the city with the skills and knowledge to even help us come up with that strategy.

I think the Mayor is an intelligent guy, but right now he needs to do what all smart, successful chief executives do, and surround himself with advisers who understand, inside and out, the keys to successful economic and community development. Clearly, based on the poor results, and based on us not having an overall strategic plan, those competencies don’t exist within the current Community Development Department.

Instead of adding new unnecessary positions, and assistants to the assistant here and there while paying off some old political debts, the Mayor needs to put together a plan to hire a person or persons who have helped other communities remarkably expand their commercial tax bases while improving quality of life.

He needs to look around, maybe even steal some of the best and the brightest talent from communities such as Salem and Newburyport, Melrose, and even Beverly.

How did these communities turn their blighted downtowns into full-speed-ahead economic engines, while making themselves destination communities for those who enjoy dining out and shopping? That’s something we need to find, and we need to model. Now, not later.

In these places, more responsible, quality business has resulted in more commercial tax revenue into these cities’ coffers. And, unlike billboard revenue, it’s sustainable, and of benefit to quality of life.

So, while we’re counting the big bucks from this latest billboard, let’s stop this game of billboard roulette, and realize, once and for all, that our community’s vibrancy and survival requires that we enlist the best and the brightest, and FINALLY, come up with a strategic plan that will make Peabody a destination rather than a pass through.

The by-product of that will be less of a tax burden on residents, and an overall boost to everyone’s quality of life.

Pulling voting from Peabody’s schools continues to be a silly, waste-of-time issue

14 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

As far back as anyone can remember, residents of Peabody have been voting in schools. And as far back as anyone can recall, student safety on Election Day has never been an issue.

VoteBut that can’t stop Brandi Carpenter from wasting more valuable Peabody School Committee time on an issue that just isn’t an issue at all. The School Committee member, after all, is on a quest, a crusade, a hunt for justice and enlightenment.

Since 2008, it has been her primary and defining issue as an elected official:  She wants to move some of the city’s polling places, currently and conveniently located in school gyms, to alternative locations. 

How about supermarkets?

Or the North Shore Mall?

Hey, I have an idea, maybe we can have people walk barefoot, five miles uphill in the snow just to vote. I mean, we have such wonderful voter turnout these days, so inconveniencing people on Election Day couldn’t possibly be a problem. Right?

This “Carpenter Crusade” surfaced again today in a Salem News article by John Castelluccio, who set out to write about the city’s need to temporarily move the Higgins Middle School’s Ward 4 polling place while the new middle school was constructed. But John ended up poking Ms. Carpenter again on one of the silliest issues in recent school committee memory.

“It’s a long uphill battle,” Carpenter told The News of her quest to take voting out of schools, again making us all wonder … when, exactly is another member of the school committee going to ask Ms. Carpenter to move on so they can focus on REAL issues concerning our schools?

Well, the fact is, according to Ms. Carpenter, she and her esteemed school committee colleagues are giving the city’s election commission a little time to work out the current Higgins polling issue, but then … watch out! We’re coming right back at you Peabody election officials on this bigger, more cataclysmic issue.  That’s right, Carpenter says the school committee – with member Beverley Dunne being the only responsible dissenter of the six —  will waste more time next year on trying to force the city to move polling locations to places such as Hannaford Supermarket.

I can just see the wording on the ballot now: Vote for three for school committee, and while you’re at it, make sure you pick up some apples. They’re on sale four for a dollar.

Of course, I am being a little silly about the apples, but then again, a silly issue deserves some silly commentary. And how ironic and silly is it that Ms. Carpenter has suggested that voting be moved from some public schools and into at least two churches and temples that have children onsite for their own preschool programs?

Look, in all seriousness, no one is against safe schools.  If there is a real safety issue in Peabody’s schools, then we should be addressing fixing that problem first and foremost. But if we’re going to say that voting in schools causes a danger, why don’t we just totally give up right now, and lock the little darlings in a bubble in their bedrooms? That’ll keep ‘em safe.

There has never been a safety issue with people voting in Peabody schools, and the odds against there being one in the future are slim and none. And slim just left the building. You could actually argue that Election Day is the safest day of the year in Peabody’s public schools. After all, it’s the only day of the school year where there is at least one police officer onsite, on duty from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

If you have any common sense at all, you come to the quick, frightening  conclusion that those sick vermin who seek to hurt children are not going to wait until Election Day to do so. Early in this debate over taking voting out of Peabody’s schools, the tragedy of Sandy Hook was inappropriately evoked during one debate. Was it a scare tactic? Perhaps. More likely, though, it was an over-reaction by school committee members who need to focus on real issues.

Aren’t maniacs  less likely to strike on a day when there are police officers and lots of law-abiding adults around to potentially stop them?

Is there a true safety issue in our schools that we don’t know about? And if so, why don’t we address that instead of finding bad people amongst Peabody best citizens, who are only trying to conveniently exercise their ultimate right as Americans?

In these days when voter turnout continues to drop at an alarming rate, moving voting from our schools will only further confuse and inconvenience voters. The city’s election commission, including Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos, is against uprooting voters, and so too are most of the city’s election officials.

It’s time for Ms. Carpenter to drop this silly crusade and move onto more important issues. Maybe the voters will even thank her come her own re-Election Day when they’re not inconvenienced by traffic trying to get to the mall to vote . 

Until company addresses environmental concerns, Mayor needs to request cease and desist order

11 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

At this point, if I were conservation agent Lucia DelNegro, whose job it is to protect Peabody’s environment from intrusive and excessive development, I’d be marching up to Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s office to ask him to explain again what my role with the city is supposed to be.

Time for Mayor Bettencourt to step in here

Time for Mayor Bettencourt to step in here

After all, obviously most city officials don’t seem to care about what she continues to, over and over again, say about a property known as 190 Rear Newbury Street. The small work yard, behind the Latitude Sports Club, is where a company called All Pro Landscaping stores equipment and other materials associated with its business.

But there’s an environmental issue, and Ms. DelNegro has been pointing this out for several months, her words falling mostly on deaf ears at City Hall. All she’s just trying to do is the job that we the taxpayers are paying her for.

First off, there are questions over All Pro not having all the proper permits to operate on the site it leases from an oftentimes slipshod, but politically connected developer.

But as Ms. DelNegro continues to point out, there are also concerns over the company potentially infringing upon the wetlands adjacent to the property, something that could pose a danger to Peabody’s drinking water supply, and something over which she has  issued an Enforcement Order (EO)

A few weeks ago, after her EO continued to be pretty much ignored, Ms. DelNegro presented her evidence before the Conservation Commission. Here’s some of what this city official — whose job it is to look out for Peabody’s environmental well-being — said on the record:

  • “I was just out there a couple weeks ago with Bill Manuell the wetland scientist. None of the punch list items on my Enforcement Order (EO), except for the fact that they filed an RDA, pretty much nothing has been done.”
  • “The asphalt is still in the wetlands. The guardrails are still broken and they are still in the wetlands. This is on both lots back and front. The front is the guardrails. There is still asphalt and all sorts of debris everywhere. It looks like the piles just keep getting bigger and closer to the wetlands.”
  • “I do not believe this is meeting stormwater standards. I also think there is debris buried under the parking lot. Looking at the edge where the pavement meets the earth you can see objects (car parts) protruding out. “
  • “I have a really big issue with what is possibly under the asphalt. I really hope I am wrong. I do not think it is meeting stormwater standards. They really have not been cleaning up nor doing anything with regards to the EO. There is one part that really bothers me on the front lot; the asphalt piles that were pushed into the wetlands. It looks like the asphalt that was used for this back parking lot.
  • “I am assuming what happened was in the winter the plows came and pushed it into the wetlands. Now that they never got the asphalt bits out it is going to be a Pandora’s Box. We have growth coming out of it. If you try to scoop all that up you are going to have an unstable bank. It is a pretty big mess.”

If nothing is done under the Enforcement Order, the Conservation Commission discussed fining All Pro at the next meeting on July 23 “

And we REALLY mean it this time,” should have been the next line in the public record.

The site leased by the landscaping company in question

Google Earth image of the site leased by the landscaping company in question

If we really meant it, Mayor Bettencourt right this second (or maybe months ago) would be asking the building department for a cease and desist order, just like he once did with a notorious developer further along Route 1 near Winona Street.

All I know is that the owner of All Pro is the son of a guy who worked night and day on the campaign of the current freshman Ward 5 Councilor. Remember the hundreds of blue campaign signs on the properties along Route 1 during the last election? How do you think they all got there?

The family of the owner of All Pro was also a huge supporter of the former Ward 5 Councilor. The owner of the property All Pro pays its rent to is also a very active supporter of the last two ward councilors.

You think nothing being done here might be related to Peabody’s good ole boy political network, where there’s a “wink, wink,” and developers are allowed to run amok? Per usual, many of our elected officials could care less about your quality of life.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions in the comments section.

 

Giving unauthorized signs no latitude on bike path

8 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

POLEIt’s always rewarding doing this blog when we’re able to be a watchdog, and elicit change. It’s happened numerous times since we started here more than two years ago.

And today, we bring you the latest example. We helped stop some possible shenanigans on the bike path, where certain powers that be allowed a free ad on public property for the Latitude Sports Club. This sign, which got Latitude’s name in front of thousands exercise fans, who are all potential customers for the club, was attached to a PMLP light pole.

SIGNAfter seeing it exposed here, the power company has done the right thing, and removed the unapproved sign. Looks like who ever put  up that sign will have to blow kisses at the developer in question in some other way. Wouldn’t it be nice it they could actually get the club to pay the city for sponsoring a section of the bike path, with the money going to help up keep of the path? After all, the last thing we want is to risk anonymous envelopes landing in someone’s mailbox.

Call this one a victory for the people of Peabody.

Caption the photos on the right “gone today, here yesterday.”

 

Update: PMLP taking down sign with curious ad for a local sports club

7 Jul

SIGNBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Less than a week after we pointed it out here on The Eye, we’ve learned that the “curious” sign on a bike path poll, advertising a local sports club, is being taken down by the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP).

Turns out that the sign (seen here on the right), was put on the light pole owned by PMLP without permission.  The Light Commission got wind of the sign, and  has asked that it be removed, and no one is sure how the blatant free ad — located just a few hundred yards from the bike path entrance to Lt. Ross Park — got there.

But all of this leads  us to believe that some good ole boy shenanigans continue in Ward 5. The “perks” continue for developers, who have  run amok in this part of the city for more than the last 25 years. This particular sign got the name of this sports club in front of thousands of walkers, bikers, and runners each day for free, and likely resulted in more memberships for the Route 1 club.

If you’re wondering how the sign got there, feel free to fill up Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw’sinbox with your question at jdsaslaw@gmail.com

Does anyone know what’s up with this sign?

3 Jul

SIGNBy Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just curious today as I ask people in our growing audience if they know what’s up with this sign on the bike path near Lt. Ross Park?

First off, you can’t get to Latitude Sports Club from the bike path. But I’m even more curious to know how this private business’ name got on a city-owned directional sign in plain view of thousands of bikers, joggers, and walkers.  The exercisers who see this sign on a regular basis are definitely what you would call “qualified leads” for Latitude memberships.

Did Latitude pay for this? And if so, shouldn’t it clearly say they are just a sponsor of the bike path, rather than giving them what looks like an endorsement by the city? I actually think we should be encouraging businesses to sponsor things like the bike path, but this one looks a little fishy.

Also not sure if I’d be very happy with this if I were the owner of a competing Peabody-based workout facility.

 

Update: 4th of July party in Ward 6 postponed due to bad weather forecast

3 Jul

The Eye Update Desk

flagWe’ve been informed that, due to what looks like bad weather tomorrow on July 4th, the Ward 6 Party at Symphony Park has been postponed until July 19th from 9 a.m. to noon.

We haven’t yet heard about what will happen in other wards, but if you have some info, please post in the comments section, since I’ve been getting numerous inquiries about all of the other parties.

As for Ward 5, the balloon rides have definitely been canceled.

Happy Fourth of July! Stay dry.

Lovely and Cole don’t make us pay for their commute … Meanwhile, Speliotis is ‘King of the Per Diem’

1 Jul

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

We spend significant time in this space exposing elected officials when they don’t act in the best interests of “we the people.” So, it’s only fair that we also make mention when they do the right thing.

Leah Cole ... working toward the fringe?

Leah Cole: “We’re supposed to work for the taxpayers, and most people don’t get paid to drive to work.”

Those mentions come today as we tip our caps to State Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem), and State Rep. Leah Cole (R-Peabody).  After all, it came to light last week that neither Mrs. Lovely nor Ms. Cole are bilking the taxpayers for one of the most-outrageous benefits received by most of the solons on Beacon Hill.

Neither Lovely, nor Cole take per diem (up to $18/day) for just commuting into the State House. According to state treasurer records, taxpayers gave lawmakers more than $300,000 in per diems last year. Think about that as you’re paying out of your own pocket to fill up your tank three times a week just to get to work.

So, thank you Senator Lovely and Rep. Cole …

But now, let’s consider the case of the “King of Per Diems.” The people of West Peabody are represented by a man who shamelessly took your money at a rate of $18 per day just to commute to work. Ted Speliotis, who never saw a tax increase he didn’t like, collected $3,510 of your money last year to make 195 trips into Boston. By the way, the solons get this reimbursement without needing to provide receipts. It’s all on the honor system. Of all of the North Shore lawmakers, Speliotis took the second largest overall per diem, but he was less than $80 out of first place!

With per diem, we essentially pay Mr. Speliotis, who faces a stiff challenge this fall from West Peabody resident Tom Lyons, more than $70K per year for what’s essentially a part-time job.

And just as an important aside here … this guy voted for the gas tax. Why wouldn’t he? We’re the ones filling his tank for free.

“We’re supposed to be working for the taxpayers, and most people don’t get paid to drive to work,” Ms. Cole told the Salem News last week. “But I only live about 20 minutes away, so it’s not a big deal.”

By the way, if you see Ted Speliotis in traffic on the way into work someday, make sure you don’t have any cash in your hands if you decide to wave. He might grab it.

 

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