Archive | Mayor Bettencourt RSS feed for this section

Dancing Peabody’s cares away

8 May
band

Was this the band they hired for last night’s Peabody Centennial Ball?

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

They continue to call it the dead zone. Friday or Saturday night. Peabody Square.

While people venturing to dine, or hang out in Salem or Beverly or Danvers fight over parking spaces in those downtowns, the downtown Dirty ‘Biddy looks like an old west ghost town. All that’s missing are some tumble weeds.

Yesterday, on a bright May Sunday afternoon, as Peabody’s political swells patted each other on the backs while celebrating a fake Peabody Centennial (at taxpayer expense) while dancing at a grand ball at the dying North Shore Mall, the downtown was again dead with activity. Meanwhile, the streets of Salem were filled with people and dog walkers. Outdoor cafes were alive with diners, and the cha-ching of tax dollars could be heard up and down Washington Street.

And wasn’t it fitting that, while Mayor Kim Driscoll of Salem took pride in knowing she had provided the type of leadership that is creating an economic boom in Salem, that Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt was toasting the political swells and hacks in the halls of Peabody’s largest, dying commercial taxpayer. “Pssst .. did you notice that the Emperor has no clothes?”

That’s right, folks, the North Shore Mall is teetering on collapse right now. That’s not Bettencourt’s fault, but rather an indication of how retail is struggling across the nation as online shopping kings such as Amazon take a toll on brick and mortar outfits. In the case of the mall, the celebrated Apple Store has left, and so has PF Chang’s Restaurant. Now, rumors abound that Macy’s and Sears will pull out next.

All of this shouldn’t really be Peabody’s concern. Right?

Well, if you are a residential taxpayer it should be of MAJOR concern. If we lost the North Shore Mall as a commercial taxpayer, it would be an epic disaster for our modest berg. Already, with the mall’s big tax payments, this mayor and his minion can’t figure out how to stabilize the residential tax rate.

Failing mall, not Bettencourt’s fault . . . but what’s he gonna do about the potential enormous loss of tax dollars?

Recently, the Mayor appointed a very nice man named Curt Bellavance to the all-important role of Community Development Director. It’s a job that’s pivotal when it comes to helping to boost our commercial tax base, and perhaps, save us residential taxpayers by bringing businesses to the downtown that will attract people the way Salem does.

Now, I’m sure that Mr. Bellavance is a hard worker, who will do his best, but what’s his previous experience as a civic planner? Well, he served as town administrator in the “booming” rural town of Tyngsboro, and before that in a community planning role with the small town of North Andover.  Not exactly the background of someone we now need to charge with the very complex challenge of urban planning in Peabody, with its rotting downtown, and where flooding might not be as big of a concern as the hundreds of years of tannery toxins buried below.

Curt Bellavance is also the husband of the Mayor’s very capable administrative assistant, Mary. Draw your own conclusions there. But, as the saying goes, “After another nationwide search . . .”

Meanwhile, the downtown remains a ghost town. Vacancies at Centennial Park continue to rise. And now … the failing mall.

If we can’t grow the commercial tax base, or if the commercial tax base continues to shrink, where do we get the money to pay for police and fire, and road repairs and schools?

How about right from your pocket?

It’s been 14 straight years of annual residential tax increases in Peabody. In some cases, people are paying as much as 60% more for their homes than they were in the Year 2000. Seniors on fixed incomes are beginning to feel the pain, and it’s a virtual guarantee that another increase is coming in December. So . . . early Merry Christmas.

Yet, Peabody’s ruling elite dances the night away, at our expense, celebrating 100 years of a community that was actually founded 161 years ago, in a building that could be the eventual symbol of our demise.

Well, at least I hope the food was good. Any truth to the rumor that they hired the same band that performed on the Titanic?

Give ’em bread and circuses; happy 161st birthday, Peabody!

1 May

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

If you must truly distract from what’s going on, give them bread and circuses. It’s the old Roman way, and there’s no doubt that Peabody’s ruling politicians have learned this lesson from our ancient cousins.

The numbers are still adding up, and as you ponder what will likely be another annual property tax increase come December, courtesy of the Bettencourt Administration and signed off on by his merry men (aka the Peabody City Council), know this:

romans

The Mayor and Peabody’s City Council discuss our next tax increase

We’ve spent several hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars the past year on what is essentially a sham centennial celebration. That’s right, as I learned way back in Mrs. Ogren’s first grade class, Peabody was founded in 1855. That fact makes our past year of expensive parades and other events 61 years late, and . . . quite lame.

So, what exactly have they been using your hard-earned tax money on to celebrate?

Well, in 1916 Peabody went from having a town form of government to having a city form of government. In other words, before 1916 we used to run things like Danvers, but starting in that year we decided to run things like Beverly. It’s a truly “remarkable” reason to spend hoards of taxpayer money, right?

In 1872, it was called Peabody just like it is today, although I’m not sure back then that the “Dirty Biddy” nickname was as much en vogue.

In other words, our berg is NOT 100 years old. It’s a ripe, old 161!  But  . . . who doesn’t love a parade?!

And, when you’re trying to distract people from annual tax increases, mediocre schools and zero progress in making the downtown area a destination rather than a pass through, you give them bread and circuses.

After all, who in their right mind, would want to celebrate Peabody’s 161st birthday?

BTW, the fleecing of the taxpayers here finally ends with the Grand Centennial Ball, a pricey black-tie affair at the North Shore Mall on May 7th  (since they are all acting like Romans, wonder why they didn’t make it a toga party?)

As it says on the centennial ball website, “All good things must come to an end, and so to [sic] our Centennial celebration.”

So, eat drink and be merry Peabody in crowd. Rome is burning, and no one seems to care.

Anonymous commenator sums up the situation in Peabody

1 May

Publisher’s note: After reading the article in today’s Salem News in which the Mayor talks about all of his “successes,” I was almost compelled to post this morning. But then the following “anonymous” comment came in. It pretty much sums up how a lot of us are feeling right now. There are indeed dark clouds on the horizon for our fair berg, and people need to know this. So … I am re-posting the anonymous comment I reference above:

From anonymous, 5/1/17:

I read the fluff piece on Salem News regarding the updates to the races in Peabody and I’m very disturbed that no one feels they can beat the Mayor. All he has done is spend our money and when he wants more he just raises taxes.

bettencourt

Everything is definitely NOT beautiful in Peabody these days.

Where is the effort for bringing in new streams of income for the city? The farm!?! Our biggest stream of taxes, aka the mall, is limping and when Macy’s and Sears finally decide to call it quits in Peabody, we are all going to be wrecked. Businesses are leaving faster and faster to towns that border us. Lynnfield and now TJ Maxx to Middleton. This city is going down fast and he is spinning how great he is with spending all our money with ZERO rate of return.

The fact that he tries to own the middle school as a huge achievement that all started with the previous mayor, is laughable. The other laughable items that need to be mentioned are that he has not been able to get a true superintendent for the schools, and he as the Mayor and Chair (of the school committee) have not led the high school out of its Level 3 status that turns the entire city into a level 3. Also, the AP courses to the max do not fix that!

When the Salem News released all the salaries for the city, as always our city employees are doing almost 4 times the household average in Peabody (btw the average went down). How is the Chief of Police not being scrutinized for all the OT/details that are being paid above their base salary?

I respect the police and fire for what they do, but you can’t tell me that someone that made over 75K in OT is effective in their normal shift. Maybe we need more officers to have a better control on spend. At least we know what they will need to budget for instead of asking for another million. The Mayor made some comment it had partially to do with Crystal Lake, and honestly the project just got started and is moving at a snails pace.

The other night the Mayor wanted to reduce the requirements for parking to make them (the spaces) more valuable. He should want to do the opposite to control these larger developments building more of those Avalon style apartments. If they have low parking requirements they will build as high and wide as they can. He is turning Peabody more and more into a Lawrence and Lynn. The school system is going to be overwhelmed in the next few years if you see more and more of these units coming into play. The taxes generated on these buildings does not support the amount of money necessary to educate families with multiple children in these units.

For someone that allegedly has all this power, why has he not been able to persuade business to come to Peabody? Why isn’t he partnering with Simon to help correct the outflow of the retail spaces in the mall. They are just throwing out liquor licenses to get restaurants to come, but there is no real future thinking of what the city needs to survive.

The city is in for a lot of hurt in the near future, if the city doesn’t find someone that is going to be proactive and seek out businesses that want to invest in its future then our current Mayor will just continue to spend to make himself look good and take more of our taxes via property. Has anyone seen the actual bill for all these Centennial celebrations?

Definition of insanity? See Peabody School Committee

13 Apr

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

In a demented version of the TV show “Survivor,” the Gang that Can’t See Straight,” our “illustrious” Peabody School Committee, last night eliminated the only remaining candidate to be Superintendent of the dysfunctional 6,000-student school system.

That’s right, after hiring the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) to conduct a “nationwide search” for our next super, and after not liking any of the six and then three finalists the MASC brought before them, our elected school solons have finally come to a remarkable realization:

The one remaining candidate – a kindly looking principal of some Lynn elementary school – was not qualified to be CEO of a large, complex, and somewhat failing Peabody school system, and its $72m budget. Well … duh!

einsteinThe school committee members have seen their shadows, and it’ll be another 52 weeks of mediocrity under Interim Superintendent for Life Herbie Levine, who by now must be getting a cramp in his hand from writing out so many campaign contribution checks.

“Welcome back, it’s like you never left,” SC member Tom Rossignoll told Levine during last night’s meeting. Wonder if Tommy added later: “Oh, and by the way, my councilor at-large fundraiser is coming up. Hope you can make it.”

BTW, since becoming ISFL (Interim Super for Life), Herbie and wife have made 13 campaign contributions to the School Committee Chairman. For those keeping count, that’s almost $2K in less than 6 years. But the ISFL gives to other members of the board, too, and is often seen hobnobbing at their campaign events, and assorted reindeer games.

This is what our school committee hath wrought. Showing zero leadership, even by the Chairman, his honor the Mayor, we’ve allowed the MASC – a quasi-public, hackdom – to keep our school system stuck in neutral.

The Mensa candidates at the MASC screwed up the search. They brought us totally unqualified candidates, and now in another stroke of genius, our school committee will task this group with conducting another search – all at taxpayer expense, of course – to probably find us another group of unqualified candidates.

What was it that Einstein defined as insanity?

This school committee is indeed conducting the same madness, and expecting a different result.

For the sake of our kids, for the sake of the taxpayers, isn’t it time that someone stepped up here and led? Isn’t it time that we tell the MASC no thanks, we’ll conduct our own search?

Or … maybe it’s time we FINALLY found some qualified and responsible people to run for mayor and school committee. For those reading this, take note that it is an election year.

And, if you run, maybe you’ll even be graced with a check signed by Herbie, who right now we suspect will be the interim now well past his 90th birthday.

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.

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.

Billboard being removed, but only after city cuts a deal

30 Mar

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

After several months of hand-wringing, end runs, and double reverses, the Peabody City Council, Mayor Ted Bettencourt, and the city’s legal eagles have found a way to have that now infamous 92-foot tall monstrosity of a billboard removed from the corner of Lowell Street and Route 1.

Pole dance: The city has cut a deal to have this monstrosity removed

City has cut a deal to have this monstrosity removed

The Eye has learned that the giant sign, which was wrongly placed near Lowell Street next to the Subway sub shop (instead of well behind the shop as dictated by special permit), will soon come down. But before you chalk this up as a victory for our city’s leaders, understand that the enormous pole is only coming down because the city is playing let’s make a deal with Total Outdoor Corp.

That’s right, we’re hearing through the grapevine that – instead of holding its ground and fighting it out in court – the city council has promised to approve another Total Outdoor Corp billboard at another location in exchange for the Lowell Street monstrosity being removed.

We’re not sure where that new location is, but so much for standing our ground. I mean, it’s pretty clear that Total Outdoor Corp disregarded the terms of its special permit by planting that thing in the wrong place. Right?

So, now the question is … why are we appeasing Total Outdoor Corp just to get them to remove their mistake?

Instead of having our city run these days by the people we elected, are we instead being run by lawyers?

Developers continue to pretty much get their way on everything. The beat goes on out on Route 1, and makes us wonder what other hush, hush deals are being struck while the quality of life of residents is infringed upon.

This wild west mentality continues, and developers simply have no worries that our city council will do anything to stop them.

And why should they? After all, if these developers screw up, they can always simply bargain with the city’s legal team.

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.

Peabody’s general obligation municipal purpose loan nets very low 2.042% interest rate

10 Apr

The following press release was sent to The Eye by Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s office.

From the Mayor’s Office

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt, Jr., is pleased to announce that the City of Peabody received competitive bids from bond underwriters on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, for $10,533,000 General Obligation Bonds.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch was the winning bidder on the Bonds with an average interest rate of 2.042%.  Bond proceeds will be used to finance Library Building Improvements, Water Treatment Plant Upgrades, Flood Mitigation, as well as to refinance bonds of the City dated February 1, 2005.  The refinancing will generate total savings of $327,327.

Prior to the sale, Moody’s Investors Service, a municipal credit rating agency, affirmed the City’s “Aa1” long-term debt rating. The agency cited the City’s sizable and diverse tax base, unused levy capacity, and stable financial position as positive credit factors.

“We’re obviously very pleased with the results of this bond sale,” said Mayor Bettencourt.  “Peabody’s strong ‘Aa1’ credit rating and the continuing low interest rate market enable us to make critical infrastructure upgrades while saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in interest charges.”

The bids for the bonds were accepted at the office of the City’s financial advisor, First Southwest Company, at 54 Canal Street in Boston, Massachusetts.

Council expected to side with Mayor on removing Civil Service as criteria for picking police, fire chiefs

27 Mar

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt

Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt

The Peabody City Council’s Legal Affairs Committee did the right thing last night in voting to advance to a vote of the full City Council Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s request to remove the police and fire chief’s jobs from the jurisdiction of Civil Service.

Councilor At-Large Jim Liacos said it best last night when he argued that the Mayor should have the ability to “pick his own team” without being hamstrung by Civil Service scores. Removing the barrier allows Peabody to find the best candidate for filling those executive positions, starting with the selection of a new police chief when Chief Robert Champagne retires on June 1.

There is also the issue of a Mayor being able to fire a department head based on performance.  Right now, unless there is some malfeasance, that’s not allowed under the Civil Service system.

Although Civil Service test scores need to remain an effective way of avoiding political patronage when it comes to hiring rank-and-file firefighters and police officers, a Mayor should have the right to pick his/her own department heads and executive team, regardless of test scores. I wrote about this earlier in the Eye, if you’d like to read more.

“We all want the best candidate, the most qualified person, for this critically important position and I believe removing the chief position, for both police and fire, from Civil Service gives us the best chance of finding the right person,” Bettencourt said.

Just three members of the Legal Affairs Committee were present last night, with Councilors Liacos and Bob Driscoll supporting the Mayor’s request. Councilor At-Large Anne Manning-Martin wasn’t supportive of the Mayor’s request.

The matter will now go before the full council on Thursday, where it’s expected to pass. The vote would serve as a home rule petition that the state legislature would then have to approve and have signed by the Governor.

You can read the full story here in the Peabody Patch.

Please let me know where you stand by leaving a comment.