Update: Officer Wojick cleared of all molestation charges

13 Jan

Frederick Wojick

By Eye on Peabody

Just wanted to update everyone on a story that broke back in November of 2012, and was reported here in this space.

Peabody police officer Fred Wojick has been cleared of charges of sexual molestation. Here are all of the details in the Peabody Patch.

Lyons making credible challenge for state rep seat held by Ted Speliotis

26 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

spel

Can Ted Speliotis overcome at tough, new challenger?

With a very active 2013 for local politics just about over, 2014 is already shaping up as an even more interesting year.

Come fall, we’ll have another highly contested race for State Rep in the 12th Essex District as rookie state legislator Leah Cole goes for re-election. Meanwhile, Congressman John Tierney faces a tough primary battle against centrist Democrat Seth Moulton, and then maybe another down-and-dirty battle with Republican Richard Tisei.

But also emerging is another interesting race for State Rep in the 13th Essex. Tom Lyons, a very credible candidate on the Republican side, says he will challenge long-time Rep Ted Speliotis, whose district covers all of Danvers and West Peabody.

We don’t currently know a lot about Mr. Lyons, but the thing that instantly makes his candidacy interesting is the place where he grew up, and the place where he now lives.

He’s a Danvers native, who graduated from Danvers High in 1981, and he now makes his home with his family on Glen Drive, West Peabody. One street over from him is the town of Middleton, which is also in the 13th Essex. But the real impact of his candidacy will be felt in conservative West Peabody (Ward 6 and Ward 5, Prec. 2) and Danvers.

In recent years, Ward 6 has been one of the best voting areas in the city, and is also known for its vast number of independent, more-conservative voters. Speliotis is considered one of the more liberal members of the Great and General Court, and seemingly has never seen a tax increase that he didn’t vote “yea” on. Speliotis’ “progressive” style has cost his problems in his own town of Danvers too, where a few years ago he almost lost to Republican Dan Bennett.

More to come on all of this, but it looks like West Peabody voters will definitely have a choice for state rep come November.

Democratic City Committee Chair Mike Schulze resigning

20 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Some Peabody political insider news a few days before Christmas, but it looks like the Peabody Democratic City Committee will be seeing new leadership in 2014.

cole

Republican Leah Cole’s win in last spring’s special election for State Rep may have been aided by a divided Democratic City Committee

Mike Schulze, who some feel helped Republican Leah Cole get elected State Rep during last spring’s special election because of his lack of support for the Democratic candidate, has resigned as chair of the city committee.

Although Schulze technically declared that the PDCC was endorsing Democrat Beverley Dunne  in her effort to fill the seat previously occupied by the late Joyce Spilliotis, his own actions spoke volumes to the contrary.

It wasn’t that Schulze himself had a direct impact on the outcome, but as leader of the PDCC he did nothing to help to avoid the schism that developed after Councilor At-large David Gravel left the party and ran for state rep as an unenrolled candidate.

Let’s be honest here, the endorsement of Dunne was half-hearted at best, since Schulze clearly supported Gravel.

Many feel that Gravel’s decision to run as an unenrolled candidate split the vote between he and Dunne,  which allowed a previously unknown, 24-year-old Republican to pull off the upset by 73 votes.

But then again, Schulze certainly doesn’t deserve all (or even most) of the blame here for Dunne’s defeat. There were other so-called Democratic movers and shakers,  whose endorsement of Gravel, or total lack of action, also led to Cole pulling off the upset.

And a Republican winning this seat held by a legendary Democratic public servant such as Joyce Spilliotis, was a local equivalent  to Scott Brown winning the US Senate previously held by Ted Kennedy.

In an email to city committee members today, vice chair Deb Ryan told PDCC members that she will serve in the interim as acting chair. Ryan will convene a meeting on Jan. 11 for the full committee to make some go-forward decisions.

Your taxes are going up again: Merry Christmas, Peabody homeowners

13 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

taxesThe line is becoming cliché. Each year for the past 12 years, Peabody homeowners have seen it there in print the morning after each annual tax classification hearing before the Peabody City Council:

“Our residents still pay among the lowest annual tax bills in Essex County.”

Quick … someone cue Mary Poppins, since my message today to Mayor Ted Bettencourt and the city councilors is this: The sugar’s starting to become a little bitter when it comes to helping the tax medicine go down.

Last night, the city council agreed to yet another increase on homeowners. This one was pretty similar to the last one, and they tell us the average residential tax bill will increase by “just” $94. But let’s be honest: Most of us will end up paying more.

What that means is, since 2001 annual tax bills have risen by more than 30%.

What’s most-disturbing about the latest residential tax increase is that it’s hard to justify why we need any increase at all right now. We hear how we need to pay for a lot of expensive things, including a much-needed new middle school, and the disastrous decision to help fund a Taj Mahal-like new regional vocational school in Danvers. But don’t be fooled by that: As a city, we have $13 million in free cash right now, some of which will be earmarked to help offset the cost of those projects. This latest increase will not be used to fund major projects.

This latest tax increase is coming your way because, to borrow the words of Ronald Reagan, “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem.”

And it’s only going to get worse once we start chipping in at least $3 million annually so fewer than 160 of the more than 6,000 Peabody students can attend the new, ostentatious regional vocational school.

Starting next year, we’ll be not only funding a city budget and a Peabody school budget, but also a regional vocational budget, which will continue to increase each year. Clearly, it would have been a lot less expensive (and more Peabody kids would have benefited) had we revamped and funded our own voke program. We also would have retained control, rather than participating in what is quickly becoming an out-of-control hack-of-rama. That large sucking sound you hear is coming from Danvers, and it’s called MEGAVOKE! Can’t blame Bettencourt for this one, though, since he did vote against joining the voke district when he was a city councilor.

But I digress …

City spending increased $5.4M in 2013, but none of that increase was spent on major projects, such as the middle school or flood mitigation. A lot of it went to salaries, and new city jobs. In these times of financial insecurity, shouldn’t we be thinking austerity instead?

Clearly, there are things we need to pay for, and clearly this mayor inherited a lot of things within the city’s infrastructure that need to be fixed. But at this point, we also don’t see a plan for finding more revenue without putting an onerous burden on the backs of Peabody’s middle class taxpayers.

Where’s the plan to expand our commercial tax base?

Anyhow, here are all of the gory details in today’s Peabody Patch. The bottom-line is this: Your taxes are increasing again. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Billboards gone wild: Time to push pause, decide how many we’ll allow in Peabody

12 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

billboardThe end-of-the-year grab for riches is on, and tonight the Peabody City Council will be charged with either approving or denying another one of those unsightly electronic billboards for Route 1.

I say “grab for riches,” since someone who knows tells me that – once everyone takes their little cut — the total annual windfall for each one of these roadside eyesores could be more than $500,000.

These mammoth signs – which are “blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ our mind” – mean big bucks for Route 1 property owners and developers, the sign companies themselves, the city when it comes to permitting fees, and who knows who else will have their palms “greased.”

Instead of worrying about the threat of court challenges, the city council should tonight be voting based only on the impact these gigantic billboards will have on the quality of life of residents, driver safety, and the aesthetics of our community.

The vultures are so aggressive on this one that tonight the city council will hear testimony on two separate special permits for what would essentially be bumping billboards right next door to each other. One hearing is for a billboard at 47 Newbury at a small piece of property being developed in front of the Springhill Suites hotel. The other one is less than a bag of cash throw away at 55 Newbury in front of the Sonic Restaurant. Since state regulations dictate that the two billboards would be too close to each other, the city council can’t legally approve both.

The only responsible thing for the city council to do tonight would be to vote to approve neither until we can finally come up with some rules, and a civic vision on how many giant signs we’ll allow in our berg. Otherwise, Route 1 will end up looking like the Las Vegas strip.

By the way, this isn’t about trying to ban billboards, but it is about having some sort of control on how many we’ll allow and where. Another digital billboard is currently being installed at 71 Newbury St. behind Santarpio’s and the council did approve a digital billboard last week for 200 Jubilee Dr. (behind the Extended Stay Hotel. It’s already getting out of control.

The proposal for the billboard at 47 Newbury is being presented by World Realty Trust, which has partnered with another recently familiar developer. Total Outdoor Corp, currently in court with Peabody over the notorious Lowell Street billboard would construct the sign at 47 Newbury.

The city gets $25K for the permit on each of these signs, but should everything be for sale here without first understanding what the impact will have on our landscape?

It’s time to push pause here for a moment and decide how many of these we’ll allow, and where. Otherwise, we’ll continue on this path of haphazard community development, which over the long run is going to have a major and negative impact on resident quality of life.

Time to finally get serious about the vision for downtown revitalization

10 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

SquareSo far, we’ve seen baby steps and a piece meal approach to the revitalization of downtown Peabody. But we remain without a master plan for development, and without true visionaries to lead when it comes to getting us to a place where Peabody Square is no longer a ghost town at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night.

The problem we face in moving this forward was again on full display this past week when a developer came before the city council with a plan to jam 10 apartments into an old office building at 98 Main Street. During the debate, there was talk about a lack of parking, which is a major concern overall as we try to bring people back to the square. But there was also talk about what the vision should be for all future downtown development.

Many councilors argued against creating more apartments (these ones with future Section 8 housing potential), and for the need to think in terms of mixed-use development (e.g., residential on the top floors, commercial space on the bottom). Thankfully, the bid for a special permit at 98 Main went down to defeat with a 5-5 vote.

The issue at 98 Main is simply one symptom of a much larger problem.

We have no overall strategic plan/vision for development, but even if we did … we have no one to lead it. Community Development’s push and praise for the developer’s plan at 98 Main certainly shows that no one there has the skills, experience, or juice to lead the mammoth undertaking of bringing economic life back to the downtown.

Although I believe and support Mayor Ted Bettencourt when he tells us that revitalization of downtown continues to be a focal point of his legacy, I also think the Mayor needs to do what many of us have been urging since he was first sworn in almost two years ago:

He needs to enlist more skilled movers and shakers to help us with this. We need an experienced redevelopment “czar” with unprecedented power to get things done, including overseeing a comprehensive, step-by-step vision. But first, we need that plan, which right now is beyond the current competencies of those who lead our Community Development efforts.

It’s time to look at what other communities have done here, and see which models we can adopt.

But we’re not getting there by allowing developers to jam 10 tiny apartments into a space that might be better for retail space, and the types of businesses that make Peabody Square a destination rather than a pass through.

Those who think that bringing more people to live downtown is a key to our future success here are wrong and misguided. We already have thousands of people living within a half-mile radius of Peabody Square, and what has that gotten us? More barber shops, nail salons, and liquor stores.

Meanwhile, Salem is becoming the restaurant capital of the North Shore, and a destination for people looking for a night out or a day of boutique shopping. By now, we should all be a little tired of the claim that Salem can do this and we can’t because Salem has the built in advantages such as the waterfront. Most of the new shops and restaurants in Salem are down along Washington Street, which isn’t on the water.

Salem has been able to revitalize its downtown because, thanks to its civic leaders, it came up with a comprehensive vision designed to encourage the right kind of businesses downtown, and Mayor Kim Driscoll is using her power to ensure that it gets done right.

Mayor Bettencourt has the opportunity to now do the same.

Mr. Mayor, I support you, but it’s time to bring in some more talent when it comes to your Community Development department.  Let’s find out who those redevelopment visionaries are, and let’s hire them to help us with something that would become your major legacy piece as mayor.

Putting tiny apartments on Main bad for downtown revitalization plans

4 Dec

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Well, here we go again.

Just when we all thought that we were taking steps in the right direction when it came to revitalizing Peabody’s downtown, our Community Development Department becomes an accomplice again in a familiar game where greedy developers to do whatever they want, wherever they want.

Developers will be before the city council tomorrow night seeking a special permit to shoe-horn 10 one-bedroom, 500-square foot apartments into an old office building at 98 Main Street. That’s great, just what we need downtown, more potential and transient Section 8 housing.

When will this all stop? When will the leaders in Community Development understand it’s not just about development?

It’s about responsible development.

I say this already knowing that Community Development has given its blessing to this ill-advised project. I say ill-advised not because there’s no parking, and not because I’m against residential development in the downtown.

It’s ill-advised because this is prime commercial space, where we should be encouraging mixed-use and the type of development that will make our downtown as vibrant as Salem’s. If we’re going to go the mixed-use route, with shops, restaurants, and other businesses on the first floor, and residential living spaces above, I’m all for that. But these residential living spaces need to be higher end, and be able to attract people who actually have disposable income to spend downtown.

I say all of this while recognizing the need for affordable housing. But our downtown will never become what we want it to be by putting these types of units right in the heart of what needs to become Peabody’s downtown Renaissance.

Call them apartments, if you want, but what’s being proposed here isn’t much grander than your average rooming house.

The city council doesn’t just need to ask serious questions tomorrow night. It needs to reject this plan for the good of the city’s revitalization efforts.

Tom Grelish: ‘Croce has a right to be miffed’

22 Nov

(Editor’s note: The following “Just Thinking” column, written by Peabody Citizen Publisher Tom Grelish, appeared in this week’s edition of that newspaper, and is re-published here with permission.)

By Tom Grelish, Publisher, Peabody Citizen

VoteJust thinking as usual this week and offering the thought that Bob Croce, who recently lost the Ward 5 city council race to Joel Saslaw, is well within bounds to be more than slightly disgruntled concerning the shenanigans that transpired in the polling place during the election.

Malfeasance in the polling place is never acceptable, and make no mistake about it – what transpired was flat-out malfeasance carried out by a couple of birdbrained poll workers. The height of stupidity, no two ways about it.

For those of you who may have missed it, here’s what took place: the poll workers, while on duty as representatives of the residents of Peabody, saw fit to post massages on Facebook urging residents to scamper to the polls and vote for Saslaw.

You gotta be kidding me. Some folks have said that the incident was tantamount to no big deal, but I vehemently disagree with that assessment. It was a very big deal and borders on voter fraud. We cannot tolerate that type of stuff. End of story.

Candidates for office must remain at least, I believe, 150 feet from a polling place so that voters are not unduly influenced by them. That’s a good rule. Then we have a couple of pinheads violating that rule from inside the polling place?

Only in Peabody could this type of baloney go on. And Croce should be streaming about it – all he asked for was a clean election, and he didn’t get it.

Let’s not be naïve about this. Those Facebook postings did not alter the outcome of the election – Saslaw took home the prize by almost 90 votes, a safe enough margin of error even if a couple of voters did heed the efforts of the harebrained poll workers.

But that doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the situation.

City Clerk Tim Spanos is handling this mess the right way – he’s turned the entire ball of wax over to the office of Secretary of State Bill Galvin, as well as the Ethics Commission, to figure this thing out and what should be done about this quagmire.

The worst thing about the polling place game-playing is that it casts Spanos, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, and Saslaw, in a very bad light. And none of them deserve to have that black light focused on them, because none of them did anything wrong but will get swept into this kerfuffle nevertheless.

I have particular empathy for Spanos, who is a top-shelf city clerk and always does his utmost to run clean elections. Then to have a couple of poll workers stab him in the back like that just isn’t right.

Spanos has no culpability in this fiasco. All he can do is hire the parties he thinks are the right people to man the polls – then, he has to trust them to do the job properly. He can’t be everywhere, all the time, on the day of the election, and was completely blindsided by those poll workers.

Saslaw, too, receives a black eye for this and he hasn’t even taken office yet. The renegade poll workers were, after all, obviously supporters of his. But there is no way that Saslaw should take guff for this – he didn’t tell those pinheads to do what they did. No way, no how.

As for Bettencourt, he doesn’t need this malarkey. He had nothing to do with it but will nonetheless be held somewhat responsible because it was city workers involved in the transgressions. He has bigger fish to fry in his efforts to run the city, and can easily live without this nonsense.

As for Croce, he has apparently retained an attorney to assist him with this election disgrace. I don’t blame him – Bob Croce has to look out for the best interests of Bob Croce. No one is going to do it for him.

That being said, I’m not sure how an attorney will be able to bolster his case, short of demanding a new election, a scenario that is highly unlikely to unfold.

The lawyer will easily prove that malfeasance took place, but that’s not going to change the outcome of the election. It’ll be very interesting to see where the lawyer takes this matter.

If he is successful in getting a new election – which, as stated, if highly unlikely – all bets are off. Croce could win it the second time around.

Wouldn’t that he something?

No matter what the lawyer does, this is for sure – the city of Peabody should reimburse Croce for his legal fees.

It would be the only decent thing to do. After all, Bob Croce did not initiate this brouhaha. A couple of city workers did.

And the rest of us are responsible for making good on the missteps of city workers. It’s lousy, but it is also reality.

So I hope the city council walks the proper path on this and gives Croce his money back. All he ever asked for was an unfettered election, and he did not receive that.

Again, some people are of the mind that all this is no big deal. Let me reiterate – it is a very big deal. No two ways about it.

Thanks to you, 1 year later, EOP blog is still standing

16 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

eyeResarch shows that the average lifespan of your average citizen blog is less than three months, and many burnout in the first couple of weeks. That’s why I’m proud to come to you today bragging about the “longevity” of Eye on Peabody.

Today marks our First Anniversary. Exactly one year ago today, I launched with this post.   Twelve months later, and following two city elections and special elections for State Senate, State Rep, and US Senate, we’re still standing while keeping you informed on the issues that matter most for our hometown of Peabody, MA.

We had a little bit of a sabbatical while I ran recently for Ward 5 Councilor, but our visitor statistics have bounced back up the past two weeks as we’ve gotten back into keeping you informed. Since our debut on Nov. 16th, 2012, we’ve had more than 62,000 page views, and more than 15,000 unique visitors. What that means is that more than 15K different people have viewed at least one page of EOP the past 12 months.

Thank you for visiting and reading. Considering that life happens, it’s not always easy to keep content coming your way, but I’ve enjoyed bringing you each and every post, and I’m committed to keeping it going.

So just for fun, here are some other details I’ll share.

What was our busiest day for visits? 

That would be Nov. 29, 2012 when we announced the tragic  passing of State Rep. Joyce Spilliotis. In tribute to our friend Joyce, more than 900 people read our coverage that day, including 600 who read this post, and many who left comments in tribute.

What was my favorite post of the year?

It was one that also made me feel great, and I published it on the night these kids came to my door.

Of course, there are several other posts I’m proud of, but to choose between them would be like asking me which are my favorite children. So, I invite you to visit our archives and let me know which were your favorites.

Here’s to the start of another great year!

Stonewood owner asked to play by rules; Councilors Manning-Martin, Sinewitz shine

14 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The Peabody City Council – at least two courageous members – told the owner of the Stonewood Tavern last night that he just had to follow the rules. Sal Palumbo had originally planned to go before the council to “amend” his entertainment license to allow him to play host to bands at a nightclub he built as an addition to his successful restaurant on Lynnfield Street.

Councilor Barry Sinewitz

Councilor Barry Sinewitz

Problem was, he was looking to expand an entertainment license for a nightclub that he erected without city council approval. The city council back in July of 2011 approved a special permit for a 95-seat restaurant, which since opening had been a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.

But suddenly, several months ago, Mr. Palumbo added on a nightclub and began rocking the foundations of South Peabody with 8-piece bands. Last night, after understanding that his attempt to amend his entertainment license was going to fail, Palumbo requested that his petition be withdrawn without prejudice. The council agreed 9-0 to allow him to withdraw his petition, but not before Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz, and Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin gave him a little rock performance of their own.

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin

Councilor Anne Manning-Martin

“You went wild over there. Wild,” Manning-Martin said while addressing Palumbo, and … she was just only warming up. “You’re a businessman doing business in Peabody, who in the near future needs to be kept on a short leash.”

Manning-Martin went on to say that she would like to ask the licensing board whether Stonewood had also violated it’s liquor license by opening the nightclub. “You should be fined,” she added.

Sinewitz was a little kinder, yet still made sure to let Palumbo know that his end-run around the process and the city council won’t be tolerated.  “What I wonder is whether he’s going to have bands there this Friday and Saturday night,” asked Sinewitz, who later made a motion for an emergency preamble for Mayor Ted Bettencourt to sign,  which requests that the police department visit the Stonewood this weekend to ensure that no live bands will be performing.

While Manning-Martin and Sinewitz handed out what seemed like the perfect response in this situation. other councilors leaned more toward sending Mr. Palumbo for a timeout in chair in his dining room. Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne, who really owns some of the responsibility here for not letting Palumbo know that he needed to bring his nightclub plans before the city council, sounded at times like he wanted to give the Stonewood owner a hug while telling him to please be good from now on.

Most of the other council members were totally silent.

Great work by Manning-Martin and Sinewitz.

As Sinewitz put it perfectly: “This isn’t a witch hunt. It’s about following the rules.”

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