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Ethical questions arise over construction of new sports complex at regional voke school

16 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following the publication of a comprehensive investigative report this morning by Paul Leighton of the Salem News, it might finally be time for the State Ethics Commission to investigate potential political shenanigans on the grandiose grounds of Essex Technical Regional High School.

The latest saga involving the $135 million “Mega-Voke” — which serves 40 communities, including Danvers, Peabody and Middleton — concerns a dubious deal for a new sports complex. Leighton reports that, in November 2013, Essex Tech Superintendent Dan O’Connell suggested – as required when it comes to public projects — that the school board issue a request for proposal (RFP), and put out for bid a plan to build a sports complex on school grounds in Middleton.

But now, two years later, as construction is about to begin on the $11 million facility — with its two ice-skating rinks, an indoor turf field, and an athlete training center — it has come to light that that no bidding process occurred. A developer called Edge Sports Group was simply handed the contract following some questionable maneuvers within the State Legislature.

Ted Speliotis

Ted Speliotis

Contrary to a “strong recommendation” from the State Inspector General that the deal be put out to bid in an effort to ensure “an open and fair deal” for taxpayers, State Rep. Ted Speliotis and Gloucester state Sen. Bruce Tarr sneaked a few lines into a large spending bill on Beacon Hill that gave the lease to Essex Sports.

Not necessarily illegal or unusual on Beacon Hill, but according to Leighton’s report, here are some things that make you go “hmmm” as a taxpayer:

  • According to Leighton, one of the key people behind the passage of the special legislation was Jack McGlynn, a Salem-based attorney and lobbyist who also works as outside counsel to Essex Tech. McGlynn played a significant role in guiding the legislation that created Essex Tech, Leighton writes, adding that, according to state records, the North Shore Regional Vocational School District paid McGlynn $217,000 as a lobbyist from 2005 to 2010 while the merger was being developed.
  • McGlynn, Leighton writes, has been paid approximately $24,000 over the last two years by Essex Tech for his advice on the sports complex and other issues, according to the school district.
  • In 2014, he landed another employer regarding the project – Edge Sports Developer Brian DeVellis. According to state records, Leighton writes, the company hired McGlynn on Feb. 14, 2014, to lobby for passage of the legislation that would specify Essex Sports (Edge) as the developer. Leighton adds that 10 days later, O’Connell and McGlynn hosted a meeting for local legislators at Essex Tech to introduce the DeVellis and Edge Sports Group.
  • McGlynn, Speliotis tells the Salem News, has also contributed to every fundraiser the Rep has held since he was elected in 1997.

Speliotis, meanwhile, told the Salem News that he was not concerned about going through a public bidding process because there were no other developers willing to build the sports facility. “The RFP process is to make sure you’re not giving a special deal to someone in a marketplace where someone else doesn’t have an opportunity,” he said. “There wasn’t any market for this. I’m confident today that if we could put it out to bid, we’re not going to get any bidders.”

Not a market for this? Does Edge Sports really have a “monopoly” on building sports complexes?

The other sweetheart part of this deal for the developer comes through the actual lease. Essex Sports has agreed to allow all of the voke’s teams to use the facility for its games and practices without paying a fee. But there’s also a catch: Essex Sports will deduct a per athlete user-fee from the rent it will pay to the school district. In other words, the developer will probably end up paying no rent at all.

Great job of reporting by Paul Leighton, and I’m sure he’ll have further details and follow up. Here’s hoping that members of the State Ethics Commission read the Salem News.

No need for primary after Wojcik drops out of race for Peabody School Committee

28 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Travis Wojcik

Travis Wojcik

The only Republican in the Peabody School Committee race — who made fiscal responsibility one of his themes during the recent televised “You Make The Call” candidate forum — has saved the city money by dropping out of the scheduled Sept. 29th primary.

Travis Wojcik, 19, announced yesterday that he was ending his campaign for school committee.

That eliminates the need for a primary, which would have trimmed the field of candidates from seven to six. The primary would have cost the city roughly $25,000, according Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos. Per city charter, it’s required that the final school committee ballot only have six candidates.

Candidates Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, Michel Bonbon, Brandi Carpenter and John Olimpio each automatically advance to the final election ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

These 5 only candidates worthy of your school committee votes

20 Aug
School Committee candidates (from left) Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, John Olimpio, Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik

For School Committee: Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, John Olimpio, Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Officially, there are seven candidates running this fall for one of three seats on Peabody’s School Committee.  But in my opinion, only the five shown here are worthy of one of your three votes.

Why?

Well, each of them came on the “You Make The Call” cable show last night, and made themselves accessible to the voters of Peabody. It’s an important point, considering that the current school committee members haven’t exactly earned high grades lately for their communication skills.

As for the two who didn’t show, and didn’t make themselves accessible to the voters, it was their loss. And it could be a very big one. One of the no shows was this race’s only incumbent, which made us all wonder whether she needs to develop a thicker skin. Thankfully, most of Peabody’s elected officials understand that part of the job includes maturely being able to deal with the slings and arrows of public comment.

The five who came on last night are an impressive group, maybe the most-impressive I’ve seen when it comes to being at ease with answering questions and handling themselves under the lights.

Each of the five was totally at ease, and I’d personally feel comfortable voting for any of them.

If you missed it and would like to see these guys in action, we’ll re-run the program next Wednesday (Aug. 26), 8-9 p.m. on PAT Channel 99.

There’ll be a primary election on Sept. 29th to trim the field from seven to five. Just my opinion after last night, but the only candidates you should consider that day for your three voters are Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, John Olimpio and Travis Wojcik.

Candidates for school committee vie for your vote tonight in TV forum

19 Aug

‘You Make The Call’ show will air at 8 p.m. on PAT Ch. 99

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Brian Addesa

Brian Addesa

After a decade, we’re finally on the verge of an era of new ideas and independent thinking.  The upcoming city election will ensure that change is inevitable for Peabody’s School Committee.

Joe Amico

Joe Amico

By January, we’re guaranteed to have two new members of that board, and maybe three should current member Jarod Hochman win his race for Ward 4 Councilor.

Travis Wojcik

Travis Wojcik

But don’t dismiss the possibility that we could change four of the six seats this year, as several very viable and competitive challengers seek to not only fill the two currently vacant seats, but also go after incumbent Brandi Carpenter this November.

Tonight, on our “You Make The Call” television show (8-9 p.m., PAT Ch. 99), co-host Dick Jarvis and I will introduce and quiz the challengers for school committee. Five of the seven candidates for the three seats this fall will appear, as you the voter get to hear from Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, John Olimpio and Travis Wojcik.

Andrew Arnotis

Andrew Arnotis

John Olimpio

John Olimpio

If you ask me, the above five gentlemen should be the only ones you consider worthy of your three votes. After all, each has enthusiastically accepted this opportunity to speak to you, the voter.

Meanwhile, Carpenter has declined to appear on the show, and challenger Michel Bonbon has neither accepted nor declined the invitation. Make of that what you will.

But we hope you can tune in to what will be an excellent opportunity to hear from candidates who will change – hopefully for the better – the way Peabody’s School Committee operates.

School Committee candidate forum on ‘You Make The Call’

17 Aug

election-2015

The seven candidates for Peabody School Committee have been invited to appear Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., in a forum on the “You Make The Call” show on Peabody Access Telecommunications Channel 99.

The format will include each candidate briefly introducing themselves, followed by a Q&A from co-hosts Dick Jarvis and Bob Croce, and ending with each candidate presenting a closing statement.

The seven candidates, Brian Addesa, Joe Amico, Andrew Arnotis, Michel Bonbon, Brandi Carpenter, John Olimpio, and Travis Wojcik, will square off in a primary election on Tuesday, Sept. 29th.

The top six vote getters in the primary will meet in November’s final election, where they will vie for three seats on the board.

Update: So far, the only candidate to not reach out to say if he could make it on Wednesday is Mr. Bonbon. Meanwhile, Ms. Carpenter — the only incumbent in the race — has officially declined the invitation to come on the show to talk to the Peabody voters.

Competitive field already shaping up in race for Peabody School Committee seats

20 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Since giving voters multiple candidates to choose from is always a good thing, it was both distressing and disappointing two years ago when all three Peabody School Committee incumbents ran for re-election unopposed.

Incumbent Brandi Carpenter

Incumbent Brandi Carpenter

But now, with two of the three seats open on the November ballot, suddenly a large field of contenders is emerging. Long-time school committee member David McGeney is retiring, and Ed Charest’s decision to run for Ward 4 Councilor opens the two seats. Brandi Carpenter, meanwhile, is the only incumbent running for re-election.

Eight candidates have so far picked up their nomination papers to get the required 50 signatures to run. If all bring back their signed papers by August, there will be a primary in September to narrow the field to six.

The challenger field so far includes all men, many of whom have kids in the Peabody Public Schools, and have never run for office before. This could give Carpenter an edge when it comes to retaining her seat, not only because she is the lone incumbent, but because lone women candidates on a ballot traditionally do very well in Peabody elections where voters can make multiple choices.

The rest of the field, though, is fascinating for political junkies like myself to handicap. I’ve participated — either as a candidate, campaign worker or wiseass pundit – in dozens of Peabody campaigns the past 20 years, and this is the first time I don’t see any clear favorites beyond the one incumbent.

Right now, I see several challengers with legit shots to get one of the two remaining seats, and I can’t ever recall that being the case at this stage in any Peabody School Committee election. Although there are a number of candidates in this race with the “right stuff” to do the job well, none of them right now have much in the way of all-important name recognition.

All of that will change in the coming months, and whomever manages to run the best campaign is going to prevail. For now, you can’t tell the candidates without a scorecard, so maybe my take here will help:

Joe Amico has been out there working longer than anyone else in the field, having been one of the first to pull papers. He’s even already held a successful fundraiser, and has lawn signs out. He’s personable, a good family man, and has experience in the Revere Public Schools as an educator.

School committee Brian Addesa and family

School committee Brian Addesa and family

Brian Addesa is the newest candidate in the race. For the sake of full disclosure, I’m already helping Brian with his campaign, since I feel he has some great, commonsense ideas for improving Peabody’s schools, while also being mindful of the tax concerns of young families, empty-nesters and seniors. Brian decided to run after being a leader of the parents group that fought and won to preserve the For Kids Only (FKO) afterschool program. He’s not only a noteworthy family man and father, he’s also an educator.

john

John Olimpio

John Olimpio, is an attorney, CPA and family man from West Peabody, who has run before for school committee. I don’t know John well, but I hear positive things about his character, and will attempt to learn more about his ideas as the campaign unfolds.

Andrew Arnotis and Travis Wojcik are both college kids running for the first time. Neither has the professional or life experience of the previous three candidates, but I’m always encouraged and happy to see young people get involved.

The other two candidates who have pulled papers are Michael Bonbon and Neil Papamechail. Michael has been active in the Peabody Democratic City Committee. Other than the fact that he pulled papers last time to run and then didn’t bring them back, I don’t know much about Neil’s background.

More to come, but this should definitely be an interesting year when it comes to the school committee ballot.

Congrats FKO families: You stood up for your kids, and you won

18 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

kidsLet’s put the bruised egos of the “poor” elected officials aside here, and celebrate this morning a victory for our democratic process.  After all, we the people – especially those hundreds of parents who fought what they viewed as an injustice – prevailed last night.

Without going into all that transpired at last night’s special meeting of Peabody’s School Committee – including the comments by some members embarking on a campaign of damage control in this election year – we happily report today that the highly successful For Kids Only afterschool program will return.

At the start of the meeting — before FKO families at the Kiley School — Mayor Ted Bettencourt essentially gave parents the verdict when he announced that the Torigian Family YMCA was withdrawing its bid to replace the current afterschool program.

It was a good moment for the Mayor, who after watching school committee members make the wrong call a few weeks ago to replace FKO with the YMCA, stepped up and showed the type of leadership Peabody needs from its chief executive. The reason for the first ill-advised vote in the first place? School Committee members told us it was a “contract dispute.”

Memo to school committee members: Next time, please realize that this isn’t just like negotiating a bus contract. It’s just not cool to mess with the emotions of parents and their children, and then use a contract dispute as an excuse.

The meeting last night included the school committee passing motions that will allow FKO to stay in Peabody’s elementary schools for the 2015-16 school year, after which time the need for an afterschool program will be put out to bid.

Although there was more last night — including the “beep, beep, beep” of very defensive elected officials backing up on their previous vote — the important lesson here is that the parents prevailed.

It’s a great example, a perfect formula and case study for future residents out to remind Peabody’s politicians that – once elected – they are there to always and only be our public servants. The FKO families mobilized and made sure their voice was heard.

Great job, FKO families! Thank you for standing up for your kids, and for Peabody.

FKO parents try to TKO school committee vote: Meeting set to re-consider

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Following a week of intense public pressure, it looks like the Peabody School Committee members and Mayor Ted Bettencourt have blinked.

kidsWe’re getting confirmation at this hour that a special meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 17, 6:30 p.m. at the Kiley School to discuss the For Kids Only (FKO) afterschool program issue.

At that meeting, school committee members will have the opportunity to discuss why they voted to sack FKO, and replace it with an afterschool program run by the Torigian Family YMCA.

Member Jarrod Hochman wrote on the FKO Facebook page that a motion will be made that night to re-consider the vote. Hochman was the only school committee member two weeks ago to vote against removing FKO from Peabody’s six elementary schools.

We’re hearing some contradictory information as to who exactly got the meeting scheduled, and what the rules will be that evening. But the meeting definitely doesn’t necessarily mean that the decision to remove FKO will be reversed.

Another source, though, is telling me that Mayor Ted Bettencourt wants the committee to go along with a compromise that would allow FKO to remain in the Peabody schools for one more year, and after that put the afterschool program out for bid.

It’s become clear that this issue, coming on the heels of the controversial dismissal of Superintendent Joe Mastrocola, has caused a great deal of dissension on the board charged with overseeing policy for our public schools.

We’ve seen the ugly side of politics too.

On the positive side, we’ve seen a very organized group of concerned parents, who all along have been kept in the dark and given no answers as to why this successful program for their kids was being replaced with an unknown YMCA program. Showing that they were unwilling to go away, they deserve all of the credit for getting this meeting scheduled.

On the other side, we’ve seen sudden tension and a little dysfunction on the part of elected officials.

All of it has raised some interesting questions.

Is Hochman with the parents group because he truly believes that the FKO program needs to remain a vital service for Peabody’s families? Or, as fellow member Dave McGeney asserted, is he just “pandering” because he’s running for Ward 4 Councilor? Then again, we should point out that School committee member Ed Charest, who is running against Hochman in Ward 4, is a close friend and ally of Mr. McGeney.

Has the Mayor, who serves as Chair of the school committee, suddenly fallen out of favor with many of the members? “He took care of himself at the expense of everyone else, and aligned himself with Hochman,” one member said in a Facebook message to me earlier today, adding that “Teddy is done (with the school committee). Finished. He showed his true colors.”

A lot more to come on this, for sure.  For now, though, congrats to the parents, who took charge and let this school committee know that they are there to serve us. It’s not the other way around.

FKO firestorm will continue until school committee explains why it eliminated this popular program

11 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

kidsAs the fallout continues on the Peabody School Committee’s decision to drop the For Kids Only afterschool program from our six elementary schools, members of the board continue with the same behavior that brought the wrath of hundreds of impassioned parents.

School committee members, and their Chair, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, either still don’t get it, are deliberately hiding the reasons for killing this popular program, or … they are deaf.

We keep hearing members, including the retiring Dave McGeney, say how this issue has only turned into a firestorm because of poor communication. And McGeney, et all are absolutely correct.

But then, they continue to do nothing about that. Maybe the mayor and the committee are mum on releasing the facts because the director of the Salem-based FKO program is about to slap a lawsuit on the city for breach of contract. Both sides have definitely “lawyered up” at this stage.

Personally, I think they continue to not explain their decision because their position is simply indefensible.

I keep hearing in hushed conversations that the reason the FKO program was scrapped and replaced with an afterschool program that will be run by the Torigian Family YMCA, was because of a contract dispute.

But then, when I ask reliable sources what this contract is all about — and how much money is involved — I usually get this answer:

We’re talking “chump change.” And parents, for the most part, pay for their kids to participate. If that assessment is wrong, then the school committee needs to tell us that now.

We may even be talking nickels and dimes when it comes to the reason why the school committee evicted a program that has for nine years provided an incredibly valuable service to the city’s kids, many of them at-risk kids.

Yes, dear Alice, it is indeed getting “curiouser and curiouser.”

But alas, none of us really do know the reasons for this eviction, since – while Rome burns – seven elected officials continue to take a vow of silence.

Last night, on our “You Make The Call” show on Peabody Access Telecommunications, several FKO parents called to passionately tell those watching how valuable this program has been to the well-being of their kids.

We also got a call from one of the leaders of the FKO parents group, a very well-spoken gentleman named Brian Addesa. The bad judgment here by the school committee even motivated Mr. Addesa – who never considered being a politician before now – to pull nomination papers yesterday and run for school committee in the fall. Mr. Addesa helped organize the protest at Tuesday’s school committee meeting — and until they get more answers from the school committee  — he is asking FKO families to boycott upcoming information sessions being held on what the YMCA program will provide.

The parents eloquently stated their case on our show, and continued to ask two very fair questions: “Why didn’t the school committee involve parents in this decision? And, “Why does the school committee continue to not give parents any details on why they ousted the FKO program?”

The Peabody School Committee only has itself to blame here for this firestorm, and the longer those members don’t explain the reasons for the move, the more the firestorm rages out of control.

Confrontation between Peabody School Committee members caught on camera

10 Jun

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

While we await more information and facts to come out as to why the Peabody School Committee replaced the For Kinds Only after-school program with a program run by the Torigian Family YMCA, here’s an interesting scene.

Last night, during a school committee meeting in front of more than 100 parents upset over the board’s decision to scrap the FKO program, a heated argument broke out between school committee members David McGeney and Jarrod Hochman during one of the breaks. At one point, McGeney called Hochman a “frigging pandering bastard.” Yikes. Looks like the school committee isn’t “Team Harmony” after all.

In the scene, but not saying anything, is Ed Charest, Mr. Hochman’s opponent this fall for Ward 4 City Councilor.

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