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Another fumble: SC drops ball on superintendent finalists

24 Mar

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

The Peabody School Committee has selected three finalists as contenders to be our next superintendent, which begs this question:

stooges

Why didn’t the Peabody School Committee pick these guys instead?

What? Where Larry, Moe and Curly not available?

OK, so no intended disrespect to the three fine school administrators who our “brilliant” school committee members chose here following a “Nation Wide Search.” The finalists have excellent public education credentials, and congrats to them on devoting their careers to teaching kids in Somerville, Lynn and Gloucester.

And let’s face it, I wouldn’t complain if someone made me a finalist for a job which — with all benefits included — paid me more than $200K a year of taxpayer money.

But let’s be real here. The majority of this School Committee continues to be the gang that can’t think straight. I mean, considering the importance of this position, considering what it pays, and considering our dire need to finally retire a free-loading, mediocre “Interim Superintendent for Life,” we couldn’t come up with a more noteworthy Final 3?

None of the three has ever been a superintendent before, and with the challenges we face in our schools, the last thing we can afford to do is take a chance on someone who might become rookie-of-the-year.

“They all had good qualities and good potential, but my reservation is that … I want an experienced superintendent, and none of the people before us have ever been a superintendent of schools, not even in a small district,” said SC member Beverley Dunne, who did the right thing by objecting to advancing the three candidates. “I believe that’s a necessity to deal with all the moving parts of a district of this size. I just don’t feel confident that the people we’re moving forward have the necessary experience.”

And she’s 100% correct when you consider the size of our district, and it’s $70M budget. Also correct is member Jarrod Hochman, who joined Dunne in dissenting. As for most of the others on this elected board?

Well, I’ll start with the dumbest statements made the night the vote was taken to advance these finalists. Members Tom Rossignoll (who’s now seeking to bring his scary great public service talents to the city council as an at-large candidate), and Brandi Carpenter tried to tell us how it’s actually a good thing that the three finalists selected lack experience when it comes to running a large, very complex school district.

“The benefit is you get someone new and hungry for the job. They can grow into the position and hopefully stay for a long period of time,” said Rossignoll, talking as if we we’re hiring a college intern instead of a high-level school department chief executive.

A $190K base salary for having no experience? Excellent gig if you can get it!

The fact here is that this school committee fumbled again. There were just six interview candidates overall, and none of them have ever been a superintendent. Not ever. Not anywhere. This is the group of candidates we got, too, after investing $10,000 of taxpayer money in a search consultant. Maybe we should have gone with Indeed.com instead?

A tale of seeking out big fish rather than basic roast beef

24 Mar

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

There are a million stories in the naked city, and … this is just one of them.

In our tale, the Feds find half a million in cash from two safety deposit boxes, (let’s face it, that’s a lot of chicken kabob salads and roast beef sandwiches), causing them to arrest the owners of a local joint. But that might not be the most-interesting part of this tale.

144209.ME.1223.cadillac1.FO.jpgAfter all, this family’s deep legal troubles around obstruction of justice, and perhaps, a question over whether they paid their fair share to a little outfit called the IRS, is only of passing prurient interest.

In our tale, people start to wonder, as part of a potential sentencing deal cut with the Feds, if the accused will turn rat quicker than the time it takes to make a large Italian with hots and extra salami.

We take you back a few years, to a time when a family opens a second little sit down restaurant on the a posh side of the berg, and then comes before city solons to request that rules be amended so they can obtain a liquor license for their new establishment.

But when nearby neighbors strenuously oppose this liquor license pursuit, their elected representative does what all good elected officials do: He stands by the neighborhood, and fights to keep the restaurant from becoming a boozy cash bonanza.

Interestingly, several other solons, including one we’ll call “Vito,” are decidedly in favor of the restaurant getting a liquor license. Traditionally, it’s SOP for solons to defer to the wishes of an area’s representative on such hyper local neighborhood issues. But not in this case. With few exceptions, the diligent area solon — after saying he will 100% support the wishes of the neighbors — finds himself feeling like Custer at Little Big Horn. There are cries from his colleagues of “have a drink and relax. This family ain’t hurtin’ those whiny neighbors.”

A few months later – surprise, surprise – the local solon unexpectedly finds himself with an opponent (let’s call him Butch) for reelection in that fall’s election. Nothing to see here, of course, except for the fact that the incumbent’s opponent is openly supported by the family seeking the liquor license. One day, while having brewskies following a game at the local Little League diamond,Vito also encourages Butch to run. “There might be some nice little envelopes in it for ya,” Vito suggests.

Who knows. Maybe the moral of our little story is that spreading around thousands of undeclared Franklins, Hamiltons, Lincolns and Washingtons can be a good way to get powerful interests to see things your way. Wink. Wink.

Let’s also say that it usually never fails that those facing very serious Federal charges, and the potential for long jail sentences, often have their attorney seek leniency by telling law enforcement things to help them hook even bigger fish.

Sleep well on that last point, local politicos. And, of course, maybe former local politicos.

Until then, though …

I’ll finish this tale after I have a chicken kabob dinner, with feta and onions, and well-done steak fries.

Raises that should get a rise out of we the Peabody taxpayers

4 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Quick! Raise your hand if you have ever in your career received a 25% pay raise that wasn’t tied to a promotion? And … after just one year on the job!

government-spending1Well, the good times are rolling for a couple of Peabody city employees, department heads who only recently ascended to their positions.

Calling it an issue of parity, Mayor Bettencourt actually got the City Council to approve hefty raises for the new building inspector and the director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry. Each will see their annual pay go from about $84K to $100K.

No slight intended to those folks personally  (after all, who among us would turn down an extra $16K in his/her paycheck?)  But in these days when we the people are about to absorb a 17th straight year of seeing our property taxes increase, these raises are gross, grosser, grossest.

In just a few weeks, the Mayor will come before the City Council and ask for yet another property tax increase. He’ll say how it’s just going up a little on average. The cost of five pizzas a month? And don’t forget, we still have one of the lowest tax rates on the North Shore!

Woo hoo! I guess it doesn’t matter that — over the past 10 years — these so-called little increases have collectively raised the average Peabody property tax bill by more than 50%. And, there’s no end in sight to these increases as we continue to stumble and bumble when it comes to finding ways to increase our commercial tax base by bringing more attractive businesses to our ghost downtown, or our outdated Centennial Industrial Park.

Senior citizens are seeing their incomes go down while their taxes continue to increase, causing them to fear that they won’t be able to afford the homes they worked so hard for all of their lives. Young families, who scraped and saved to buy that starter home in Peabody, continue to feel squeezed by these annual increases too.

Look, I get it when taxes are raised because the city is struggling to pay for a much-needed new middle school, and that we can’t get out of a horrible decision to join and pay for the new mega voke in Middleton. I get it when the rising cost of healthcare, tied to collective bargaining agreements, makes it necessary to ask the taxpayers for more dough.

But raises like these are salt in our taxpaying open wounds!

It’s just another example, in a long list of them these days, of how our city’s government continues to not live within its means while passing the extra tax burden on to us.

I mean, it isn’t just these two recent inappropriate raises. Salary increases have been proposed at a fast and furious rate lately at City Hall. Do we really need multiple part-time city solicitors at individual salaries of more than $100K each? Many seemingly unnecessary positions have also been added to the payroll the past seven years at a time where we should be freezing government spending, and participating in some austerity.

Until we figure out how to raise more commercial tax revenues while not putting additional burdens on the resident taxpayers, there should be a hiring and raise increase freeze when it comes to any position in the city that doesn’t involve public safety (e.g., police and fire). Sorry, but when you are a public employee, living off taxpayer money, this is the bargain you just need to accept.

The one lone vote against the increase was Ward 5 Councilor Joel Saslaw. Councilors Barry Sinewitz and Anne Manning-Martin couldn’t attend the meeting, but my hunch — based on their past actions in standing by the taxpayers — is that they would have objected too.

By the way? Because the council last year approved AUTOMATIC pay raises annually for all city employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement, these two department heads will get another 2% increase come next July.

Think about that as you struggle each day in your private sector job where — when the business isn’t doing well — you get no raise at all.

Vote no on Question 2: Save Our Public Schools

4 Aug

 

By Bob Croce, Candidate for State Rep, 13th Essex District

 
For me, there is no gray area. Plain and simple, lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts is bad for our traditional public schools.

It’s bad for all of our local public school systems, and bad for an overwhelming majority of the children of the Commonwealth.

In November, voters across the state will get an opportunity to weigh in on Ballot Question 2, which would allow major expansion of charter schools in the state, schoolswhile draining billions of dollars from our traditional public schools.

I urge you to vote no.

Not because I am against the basic concept of specialized education, but because the system for charter school funding right now is broken. Any expansion would only further take away funding from traditional public schools across the Commonwealth, and place further financial hardship on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton. Our school systems will be hurt while major charter school companies—backed by Wall Street investors—reap the benefits.

Save Our Public Schools, a grassroots coalition of parents, educators and community groups opposes the ballot question, and I hope you will too.

The following points, made by Save Our Public Schools, are the heart of why I feel raising the cap would have a negative impact on public schools in Danvers, Peabody and Middleton:

Lost funding
This year alone, charters will divert more than $400 million from public schools. That’s money districts desperately need so they can offer more science, technology, arts and music classes, as well as preschool services and smaller class sizes. The money should be kept in the public schools for the benefit of all students.

No local accountability
Charter schools are not accountable to their local communities. The state often approves them over the united opposition of the communities where they will be located. That’s wrong. Local communities should have the final say on what kinds of schools they want.

For more information, please visit Save Our Public Schools at http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org.

 

If elected, Bob Croce will pay for his own gas to work

5 Jul

(Bob Croce is the publisher of Eye On Peabody, and a candidate for State Representative in the 13th Essex District. Please vote for him in the Democratic primary election on Thursday, Sept. 8th)

By Bob Croce

Political candidates make a lot of promises while trying to get elected. But here’s one that you can write down, clip and save, share with all of your friends in West Peabody, Danvers and Middleton:

If elected State Representative, I WILL NOT have the taxpayers pay for my gas so I can drive into work each day at the State House.

As for my opponent? If he’s re-elected, he will continue to put in for a controversial gas reimbursement, and quite frankly, thinks it’s not that big of a deal.

Not only will he continue to make you and I pay for his gas each day so he can go to work, but in an article in today’s Salem News, Representative Ted Speliotis called the perk “minuscule.”

He said this, mind you, as Peabody was learning that it had lost $300,000 in state aid due to a Beacon Hill budget cut, money that was earmarked for full-day kindergarten, which means more will be coming out of property taxes to pay for that shortfall.

Meanwhile, it cost us $327,338 total last year for all of the legislators who put in for what Rep Speliotis calls a “minuscule” reimbursement benefit.

“Travel has been paid for lawmakers since the first days of the State Legislature. It’s been around for hundreds of years,” the Rep told the Salem News while trying to justify why he collected $3,384 from taxpayers last year while commuting the 20 miles from Danvers each day.

By the way, State Legislators put in for this reimbursement on the “honor system.” They don’t need to show receipts, or even prove that they actually came into the State House on the days they claim.

Speliotis’ reimbursement was the highest among all North Shore State Legislators. Some in the North Shore delegation, including Senator Joan Lovely, refuse to accept the perk.

If I win, count me in with that group, which refuses to force taxpayers to pay so elected officials can drive to work. Plain and simple, it’s abuse of power.

If you have to pay for your gas to work, so should I!

 

Make a final pitch for your Peabody State Rep Special Election candidate

30 Jan

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

voteAfter just over three months of wintertime campaigning the five party-affiliated candidates in the special election for State Representative in the 12th Essex District, will leave it up to the voters in Tuesday’s two primary run offs.

Call it the Battle of Groundhog Day!

Today, as a public service I’ve put this post here for you to comment on the race. Who will you vote for and why? And, if you want, please feel free to make a final pitch for your chosen candidate. All I ask is that you keep the conversation focused on candidate qualifications and key issues, and not lob any personal attacks.

Please go out and vote!

But first, here are the vitals:

  • 12th Essex District primaries, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016
  • Polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • You are eligible to vote in this election if you live in Peabody, Wards 1-4 and Ward 5-Precincts 1 and 3
  • If you are enrolled as a Democrat or Republican, you must choose your party’s ballot
  • If you are unenrolled in a party, you may choose either ballot
  • The winners on Tuesday will go onto the March 1st final election ballot, along with unenrolled candidate Chris Gallagher

Tuesday’s contestants!

DEMOCRATS

Moutsoulos

James Moutsoulas

walsh

Tom Walsh

welton

Craig Welton

REPUBLICANS

corriveau

Jaclyn Corriveau

Peach

Stephanie Peach

NED pipeline would imperil Ipswich, put North Shore drinking water supplies at risk

26 Jan

(Bob Croce is Chair of Peabody Citizens United, and a candidate for State Representative in the MA 13th Essex District.)

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

I’ve used this space over the past year to talk about the critically important homeowner rights and safety issues surrounding Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline. But today, I’d like to bring up a concern that should be front and center, not just in Peabody, Danvers and Middleton, but throughout the North Shore.

Protecting our public drinking water supply.

riverWe should remind ourselves of the tragedy of Flint, Mich., and come to a consensus that locating this pipeline within the Ipswich Watershed District is just too much of a risk for the half million North Shore residents who draw water from this endangered river. Now is the time for our North Shore elected leaders to unite and lobby the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to not approve this new gas pipeline infrastructure for an area so vital to the health and well being of our communities.

Here are the facts on the pipeline and the river from the stewards of the river, the Ipswich Watershed Association:

The proposed Lynnfield and Peabody lateral sections of the NED pipeline will be constructed within the Ipswich River Watershed, and it will:

  • Traverse the watershed for more than 11 miles, cross the river and dozens of named and unnamed tributaries
  • Traverse more than two miles of wetlands, alter dozens of vernal pools
  • Be built directly on the riverbank for more than two miles
  • Be built in the immediate proximity of seven public permanently-protected water supply intakes and traverse hundreds of acres of permanently protected conservation areas, including several parcels protected by Article 97 of the Massachusetts State Constitution.
  • Temporarily clear 131.5 acres of land during construction and permanently alter 65.8 acres in the required pipeline easement. The pipeline will significantly disrupt the underground hydrology of the watershed, which is critical to its function as well as the hundreds of public and private water supply intakes in the immediate vicinity of its route.

Once constructed, Kinder Morgan will continuously use herbicides to keep the pipeline right-of-way clear of vegetation, and there are no studies showing what negative effects that could have on the source of our drinking water. Then there’s the danger of leaking pipes allowing toxic methane to seep into our water.

If anyone thinks the dangers here only affect “a couple of streets” in Peabody, think again. The proposed NED pipeline should be a regional concern.

 

 

Speliotis owes taxpayers an explanation on why he helped developer get special treatment

20 Nov

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Let’s call it what it is and all agree that it was a questionable deal that allowed a developer to get a no-bid contract to construct a state-of-the-art sports complex on the grounds of the Essex Technical Regional High School in Middleton.

Ted

Ted Speliotis

The developer, a company named Edge Sports, was not only granted the rights to build the $11 million facility on public property, it won the contract with no competition. Instead of following state law, which requires that taxpayer rights be protected through an open bidding process on such projects, Edge was granted the contract through a line item added to a larger spending bill on Beacon Hill, according to the Salem News.

Was that legal? Well, the Office of the Inspector General and the State Ethics Commission will need to decide, and a source tells us that state oversight officials are looking into whether there was a violation here.

For now, though, Ted Speliotis – our State Rep, who co-sponsored the legislation that gave Edge the edge outside of the open bid process – has some explaining to do to the taxpayers he represents in West Peabody, Middleton and Danvers.

Not only didn’t he help his constituents receive the protection of the open bid process, he helped pass essentially an “earmark” that will give Edge Sports the opportunity to lease the property at our vocational school for free.

There is a lot that smells with this deal, and so far, we the taxpayers should not be satisfied with the response from Rep. Speliotis.

According to the Salem News, Speliotis said in a phone interview this week that he did not pay close enough attention when the deal was being negotiated.

“I did go along with it, but it was really my colleagues who amended this thing” to require that the lease be awarded to Edge Sports without a competitive bid process or review by the state Inspector General, Speliotis told the Salem News.

Instead of “passing the buck” on this one, Ted, how about giving the taxpayers you represent a real explanation on how you just didn’t look out for our best interests?

Poll: Who will you vote for tomorrow in primary for Congress in 6th District

8 Sep

If you are planning to vote in tomorrow’s (Sept. 9th) Democratic Primary, please take our poll to let us know your preference. Note: This poll is not scientific, and only a reflection of the opinion of readers of the Eye on Peabody.

Congress

Dunne accepts offer to appear on ‘You Make The Call,’ Moutsoulas declines

18 Aug

By Bob Croce, EOP Publisher

Will talk to voters on "You Make The Ca;;" on Aug. 27th

Beverley Dunne: Will talk to voters on “You Make The Call” on Aug. 27th

The intention was to conduct a forum between the two Democratic candidates for Peabody’s State Rep in the 12th Essex District. But it looks like just one will accept the invitation to speak to Peabody residents on the “You Make The Call” cable access show on Wednesday, Aug. 27th.

School Committee member Beverley Griffin Dunne has accepted the invitation to talk to Peabody residents, while Ward 3 Councilor Jim Moutsoulas declined because of what he called conflicting engagements.

Although we’ll still welcome Moutsoulas on the show, should he change his mind, right now it looks like the entire hour (8-9 p.m., on PAT Ch. 99) will be spent talking exclusively with Dunne, who is making her second run at the 12th District seat,currently held by Republican Leah Cole.

We also plan to post a video of the Aug. 27th show here on The Eye, and on Facebook.

Dunne and Moutsoulas will square off in the Sept. 9th Democratic primary, with the prize being a match up with Cole in November. We also plan to invite the finalists for the seat on a future show following the primary.

Please continue passing the word about this opportunity to see and hear from at least one candidate for Peabody State Rep. We’ll be taking your calls that night. We’ve also been asking for questions here in the comments section.