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Best wishes on a fast recovery for Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

18 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin

Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin

Over the years, we’ve been friends and foes, agreed on some issues, disagreed on many others. But one thing I will always say or write is that Anne Manning-Martin always votes in the best interests of those residents she serves as a councilor at-large.

So, with that, I just wanted to wish Anne a speedy recovery from major back surgery, and hope that she’s back doing the business of the people of Peabody soon as possible.

After all, let’s face it, there are only two current Peabody City Councilors who are always on the side of the people they represent: Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, and Anne.

By the way, the back surgery Manning-Martin underwent, was no minor matter.

“I really wasn’t supposed to walk again. It was kind of a Hail Mary operation,” Manning-Martin told the Salem News this week. “I just consider myself lucky and blessed.”

And Peabody residents will be lucky to have her back in there fighting for them again real soon.

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.

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.

 

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

Peabody tax and water bills on rise as city tries to pay for new voke school boondoggle

19 Jun

Mayor calls for $5.4M budget increase; $3M assessed to pay for new voke school

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you supported those wasteful, big-spending elected officials – especially State Rep Ted Speliotis — who pushed for Peabody to join in the taxpayer screw job called the new North Shore Technical school, then please, bend over right now and scream out “thank you, sir! May I have another?!”

Call this horror show The MEGA VOKE that ate the Peabody Taxpayers!

Artists rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Artist rendering of MEGA VOKE!

Because of this opulent and overly ostentatious new voke school in Danvers – which will only serve around 150 of Peabody’s roughly 6,000 students – not only are your property taxes going up in 2015, but get ready for an increase in water and sewer rates too.

 

Mayor Ted Bettencourt submitted his FY2015 city budget to the City Council, and it’s calling for a $5.4 million increase, of which roughly $3 million will go to offset our share of next year’s piece of the North Shore Voke pork pie.

The mayor, in a letter to the city council obtained by The Eye, says that roughly means an average tax increase of $189 per homeowner, and a likely, yet to be determined increase in Peabody’s traditionally reasonable water and sewer rates. For those keeping score, that’s 13 straight years of property tax increases in Peabody.

And … this is just Year 1 of this Disaster in Danvers. This state of the art, $133 million school in Speliotis’ hometown, is the “gift” that will keep on giving for Peabody taxpayers now and forever.

Speliotis, who faces an election year challenge from Peabody Republican Tom Lyons, not only got this Taj Mahal of a school for his hometown of Danvers, but I’m sure he made big labor happy with the building’s bloated construction costs, which are already over budget.

Then there’s the hacks-at-the-trough process they’re using in hiring administrators. The new school’s superintendent, a guy named Daniel O’Connell, will make $197,000/year. That’s about $50K more a year than what we thought was a big contract for Peabody Schools Super Joe Mastrocola. Looks now  like Joe was a huge bargain when you consider that he manages a system with roughly 5,550 more students than will attend O’Connell’s school.

And, it gets ever worse. Not only will Peabody need to pony up millions more to send a handful of students to this new school, but because we’re transferring students from our system to this regional voke system, Peabody is set to lose $504K additional when it comes to state aid.

Next time you complain about the conditions in Peabody’s public schools, think about this: It’s only going to get worse while we as a city figure out a way to pay for a school that will service less than 3% of Peabody’s total student population. And we haven’t even talked about the costs associated with our own much-needed new Higgins Middle School, where huge construction bills are in the mail.

At this point, I should add a disclaimer for those screaming that I’m anti-vocational education. This space supports vocational education as much as the next blog, but we’re just not seeing the practicality or fairness of bilking the taxpayers in this particular situation.

Here are the facts, ladies and gentlemen: An estimated 200 Peabody kids, who we could have given a valuable vocational education had we only – for a lot less cost – re-vamped our on Peabody Vocational High School – are now going to watch helplessly as 150 of their classmates hit the lottery and are allowed to attend this educational palace on the hill in Danvers.

So, please bend over today, and thank Ted Speliotis, and those Peabody City Councilors who voted for this disastrous “gift” that will keep on giving for us the taxpayers.

Saslaw’s calls to Light Commissioners about meter reader job came while City Council was pondering commissioners’ raises

12 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just an update to our last post on Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw applying to become a meter reader for the Peabody Municipal Light Plant:

The Eye has learned that Mr. Saslaw applied for the job on May 6, 2014, which was during the time frame that the elected Light Commissioners were requesting that the City Council vote on a pay raise that would have  made the commissioners pension eligible, and eligible to continue their  health insurance after they retire.

Saslaw told the Salem News this week that he called two of the light commissioners to talk about the meter reader job. Those calls occurred during the time frame when the raise proposal was before the council.

At the end of May, the Light Commissioners withdrew their raise proposal before the City Council could take a vote, and to date Saslaw hasn’t been given the job. What affect Saslaw’s calls to the commissioners might have had on the raise request,and on him potentially getting hired as a meter reader  (with full benefits and pension) remains unknown.

But this story continues to place a spotlight on the potential for political patronage hiring when it comes to city jobs.

I’ll leave it up to our readers to formulate their own opinions on these these latest details, so please let me know what you think in the comments section.

Saslaw admits he applied for meter reader position, called two Light Commissioners about the job

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Just a quick update on an issue we first broke here in The Eye. Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw confirmed in an article in today’s Salem News that he has officially applied for a second city job as a meter reader at the Peabody Municipal Light Plant, and has called two Light Commissioners about the position.

The well-plmpwritten, well-balanced article, written by John Castelluccio, brings up the questions of whether it is legal and ethical for a sitting city councilor to hold an additional city job. In the article, Saslaw admits that he called two of the Light Commissioners, but insists he was not “lobbying for the job” with those fellow elected officials. Who knows? Maybe he was just checking with these commissioners to see if the PMLP was a cool place to work. :)

Light Plant General Manager  Glenn Trueira confirmed in the article that there are additional candidates on the list for this unskilled position.

Since we first broke this story, the issue of political patronage in city hiring has come to the forefront in Peabody.  Saslaw applying for this meter reader job, which pays $50,000/year with full benefits and a pension plan, put the spotlight on this issue, and sources tell The Eye that city officials are now being careful when it comes to hiring other current and former elected officials.

Stay tuned. We’ll update you as more info becomes available.

A victory for company that flouted the rules: City admits that it cut deal to remove Lowell Street billboard

9 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Cutting deals. I know, that’s what lawyers do, and these days — as my co-host Dick Jarvis often likes to say on our “You Make The Call” television show — Peabody is indeed being run by lawyers.

billboardBut maybe our city councilors should tone it down a bit when it comes to celebrating what they’re calling a victory over the giant billboard on Lowell Street.

As was reported in this space way back at the end of March, and FINALLY reported today by  Salem News, Total Outdoor Corp is removing this monstrosity. Like we told you back before Easter, though, there’s a stipulation.

Back in the early spring, our city attorneys cut a deal with Total Outdoor Corp. The company, which obnoxiously put the billboard in the wrong place to begin with would agree to drop its court challenge here and remove the misplaced sign if the city would agree to, wait for it …

Give them another location to erect another ugly billboard.

That’s right, the city council agreed to the in a backroom session several months ago to give Total Outdoor another location if it dropped it’s court challenge and removed the sign on Lowell Street.

In other words, and even though Total Outdoor had blatantly violated the terms of its original permit, our city lawyers and our city councilors folded.  They essentially rewarded Total Outdoor for its bad behavior. Peabody was clearly in the right on this one, and while some lawsuits are just worth fighting, our path instead was to back down and allow this company to simply move the problem further down Route 1.

Hey, wait. I thought we had a so-called “moratorium” on erecting anymore billboards?

Don’t be fooled, folks. this is not victory for quality of life in Peabody, especially for those people who live in the neighborhoods along Route 1, where developers come first, and elected officials could care less about the property rights of residents.

Update: Here’s the reason why we don’t need an ordinance against street-side basketball hoops

24 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Although I appreciate David Gravel being a responsive At-Large Councilor, and bringing the issue of  “dangerous” basketball hoops, hockey nets, and other sports equipment to the Peabody City Council, it might be time for him and the other 10 members of our burg’s legislative body to focus on more important issues.

City Councilor David Gravel should have read the city code first

City Councilor David Gravel should have read the city code first

After all, we don’t need a new ordinance of any kind to address the issue, which put Peabody’s name up in lights this week following a report on Boston news station Fox25.  It’s already covered.

Courtesy of one of this space’s frequent visitors, I bring you what already exists in the City Code, Section 27-3:

Sec. 27-3. Removal of obstructions in streets and sidewalks.

Any fixture, structure or property as referred to in section 27-1 which has been erected, placed or left illegally in any street, highway or sidewalk may be moved by or under the direction of an officer and at the owner’s expense.

Street obstructions are also addressed in Massachusetts State Law as well. Before the TV cameras show up again, me thinks that city councilors should always check first to see what’s on the books before causing a knee-jerk tsunami.

From what I’m hearing, Dave these past few days has needlessly had his head slammed over this by pro-street-ball zealots, and fresh-air kid movements from Lake to Lynnfield Streets.  Maybe if he had read the city code, he could have had an officer take care of the situation in his neighborhood without Maria Stephanos making him look like the old guy who sits on his porch and screams “You kids betta get outta my yard!”

Overall, I still believe this is NOT a big issue on Peabody’s streets. We need to let the kids play, and then – using already existing city code – address these issues case-by-case using common sense.

If any object, whether it be grandpa’s favorite lawn chair, or the kids’ basketball hoops, should pose a risk to public safety, the cops should simply have it removed under Section 27-3. Most hoops and hockey nets are not causing any problems at all. It’s like saying, just because some city councilor might not be bright, then ALL city councilors  must be dumb too. We all know that would be untrue. And unfair! Dave is definitely an intelligent man, and a gentleman of course, too.

Simple. To the point. Easy peezey!

Instead of discouraging all of Peabody’s kids to go out and play, how about we use this common sense approach instead?

There you go, Dave, just saved you and the other councilors some time to focus on more important issues.

What’s going on with this site behind Latitude Sports Club on Route 1?

23 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

We’ll bring you more details as they develop, but for now I just wanted to give you a heads up on another quality of life, and potential public safety issue that’s brewing on Route 1.

landscape

Latitude Sports Club is to the upper right. The triangular paved area to the left is the property in question. Pine Street runs across the bottom of the image.

The developer who owns the land on which the Latitude Sports Club was developed, has leased a parcel behind the club to a landscaping company.

We hear that the landscaping company has a conditional permit from the city to operate, but that there are some serious questions about what affect this operation will have on the extensive wetlands adjacent to the site.  There are also additional public safety concerns around the fact that there is no fire hydrant on site, yet there is potential for flammable chemicals, such a fertilizer. Mulch, as we’ve seen, is also flammable. The site runs parallel to Pine Street, where there are several homes.

It also sounds like city officials, including the current ward councilor for this area, are trying to keep this quiet until a proper permit can be worked out. For example, no elected official has asked the building department to slap a cease and desist order on this company until the concerns can  be addressed. They continue to operate, which sounds like business as usual on Route 1 when it comes to developers.

We’ve also learned that people who work for departments whose job it is to protect residents and our environment, have voiced their concerns to city officials, and have been told to stand down for now.

More to come, but if anyone in our audience knows more, please send me a confidential message.

 

 

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