Wednesday, September 26, 2012

$1.7 Million Surplus ... return to Taxpayers

by Francis X. Reilly

     Is it a case of Crocodile Tears or Real Concerns?  Framingham’s voters are about to learn what both the Framingham: Executive Branch (the Board of Selectmen (BoS) and/or the Legislative Branch (Town Meeting) were giving the voters just 9 months ago.   We all heard the BoS Meetings and the promises at the following Town Meeting and in the press and on Frambors.

     Were these;   1) Real concerns or Crocodile tears?   2) Politician promises never to be kept or Statesman’s guarantees which will be done now?

Over, and over we heard the Board of Selectmen say, "If only they could do something but the Assessor and Town Counsel said nothing could be done."   Remember there were those who said we could help the Residential Taxpayers out in 2013FY billing, but they said no, now the CFO say’s yes we can but she doesn’t want to do all they can or should do.

     Once again they play with words; this is a $1.7 Million Dollar surplus.  It’s the amount they figure was overbilled in 2012FY which they expect the State to certify.   This money belongs to the Taxpayers who were ripe-off in the massive mistake of 2012, not those who received the benefits and profited the profits in 2012 FY.  Fair is Fair.

    So many suffered so much last year, that it is inconceivable that they would be abused again.  an example of what you might receive if all the money is returned to both; the Single Family and Condo owner is on a assessed value of $300,000 one would get back in 2013 $300 to $600.   In other words the saving would be between $1 and $2 per thousand of assessment.

     Let’s unite call and/or, write your Selectman and your Town Meeting Members.

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Property Tax Rates: More Questions than Answers

By Larry Schmeidler

Framingham's Selectmen wisely started the ball rolling early this year in discussing potentially giving homeowners a real break in property tax valuations for Fiscal 2013.

During its meeting, Wednesday, September 19th, Selectmen heard presentations, with proposals, from Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Mary Ellen Kelley, and Chief Assessor Dan Dargon.

This action is in sharp contrast to the last minute "bombshell" that exploded during their last meeting held in December of 2011, when decisions were made that set off a protracted tax rebellion by homeowners. And the matter gained even more notoriety when it became the basis for a state-wide probe of the entire assessing process by Ch 5-TV investigative reporter, Kelley Tuthill.

At that time, the Selectmen claimed they were backed into a corner, leaving them no option to avoid setting rates that resulted in reducing the burden on the commercial sector while sharply raising rates an average of 11 percent on homeowners.

At the heart of the deliberations was the question of how to spend "extra" money or revenue that could leave the residential rate unchanged in FY13, but increase the commercial side an approximate $40 per $1,000.

The "MetroWest Daily News" reported that the CFO described the dollars that could be used as "$1.2 million in additional state aid". In fact, that amount is said to actually be $1.7 million since Town Meeting will be deciding whether to spend $500,000 from that amount when it meets starting on October 16th.

Moreover, the information provided by the CFO drew immediate comment from residents who queried whether that $1.2 million she cited was actually the surplus resulting from unspent dollars by the end of FY12. A call to the CFO seeking clarification by deadline on September 20th was not returned.

Since homeowners took a nasty beating during FY12, many are asking whether that surplus, or whatever you call it, couldn't be returned to them. It is estimated that move could result in an average of $2.00 per $1,000 per home.

But, here's the rub: there are other demands surfacing for this money, as pointed out by Board Chair, Charlie Sisisky. The School Department is one example.

Selectman Dennis Giombetti recommended the Stabilization Fund, an option espoused often during Town Meeting budget sessions.

Selectman Laurie Lee then proposed that a new fund be set up that could offset future tax hikes. Moving money out of that account would not require a two-thirds vote by Town Meeting as would be the case with the Stabilization Fund.

In any event, this Fall Town Meeting will tackle the problem of spending the surplus as virtually its first order of business.

At the same time the CFO coupled her recommendation, which would be to use the surplus by also lowering the commercial rate. Selectmen last year authorized the standard 1.75 shift of the tax burden to the commercial side.

Remaining to be decided this year by the Selectmen is what went wrong previously with the assessing process in FY12, and how it will be changed so that homeowners can believe they are being treated in a consistently fair manner. The administration has engaged a consultant to work with a special committee to come up with recommendations, which should be revealed later this Fall. Xtra Xtra is planning to provide a special report on this critical matter.

To view the presentation, go to:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Toxic Pollution Getting You Down? Here's One Way To Fight Back

Framingham has more urgent toxic action problems than current staff can add to its already full plate, according to Mike Hugo, Public Health Director.

He repeatedly made that case at the recent Special Town Meeting, when the latter voted down an article and motion that were regarded as far too vague in its call for action by Framingham officials.

The language for both, and the background information, were spelled out in the September 10th Warrant and on Xtra Xtra.

Given Framingham's acute financial dilemma, The Toxics Action Center contacted Xtra Xtra with a recommendation as to how local community groups could work on these problems in conjunction with the Board of Health.

Sylvia Broude, Executive Director of the Center sent the following Xtra the following advisory regarding in-depth training programs it provides to local community groups fighting major environmental problems.

She leads off saying, "In reality, we know politics is much messier, and it takes more than the right facts and data to get our voices heard and stand up to big polluters.

Over our 25-year history, we've learned that most environmental problems are political problems. To ensure clean air, clean water, and healthy communities for our children, it takes organized citizen pressure and civic engagement. That's why I wanted to share with you our new community organizing guides. We've updated them for our 25th anniversary this year.

From developing a strategic plant to holding a press conference to fundraising, these guidebooks walk through the steps to planning a winning campaign. We've designed these guides to be useful if you're fighting a polluter in town, working to make your community more sustainable, holding a fundraiser for your local school, and more.

Our team of community organizers is always available to travel out to meet with you and your neighbors and facilitate these trainings in person. If you have questions, want advice on your local effort, or need help with a pollution problem in your town, I urge you to get in touch..."

Broude added that one can see the results of trainings here:

The email address for the Center is

Towns Losing Fiscal Buoyancy Through Unfunded Mandates

By Larry Schmeidler, Editor

     Framingham's procrastination in dealing with unfunded mandates, dumped on it by the Feds and Beacon Hill, mirrors what is plaguing local governments across the nation.

     The mandates partly came into being to ensure that children in poorer communities get the same educational opportunities as those in more affluent towns and cities. The price tag is said to be already costing local governments an average of 30 percent of their annual budgets.

     And this issue is hitting at a time when financial analysts are worried that the U.S. economy could finally go over the cliff because of economic policies causing steadily mounting debt.

     When forced to look this issue squarely in the eye, Framingham may have done a fancy two- step to avoid a solution during its Town Meeting held on September 10th.

     TM members had the chance to pass -- again -- an article (or bill) requiring their Federal and State Representatives and Senators to file legislation that would eliminate the mandates and reinforce "Home Rule".

     The reason: Those designated elected officials virtually ignored a similar official request specified in an article that was overwhelmingly passed three months earlier at the annual TM meeting held last May.

     What actually happened was TM blamed the messenger -- the presenter of the article -- saying that the article was poorly worded and vague, and wasted TM time in being asked to consider a motion that was already on the books.

     Members then voted to "refer the article back to sponsor," which did two things: By not defeating the article outright, it avoided a perception it favored the mandates; and by the no action tactic, it kicked the can down the road while further debt piles up.

     What was not mentioned during the floor discussion were the cost estimates of the mandates printed in supporting background information provided by the presenter. According to this document, the Federal mandates cost Framingham over $30 million. This data was provided by Kathy Ahearn, Policy Advisor in the Boston office of U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass).

     The backgrounder also cited a report by the town's School Department indicating that state mandates on education cost Framingham over $21 million.

     A factor that could have played a role in adding to TM members' frustration and anger was the failure of the state officials to issue reports -- before the September 10th meeting -- on whether or not they honored the request of TM expressed last May. It is a time-honored tradition for those officials to write bills on behalf of citizens who request them, and especially when notified by towns and cities.

     Two officials, State Senator Karen Spilka and Rep. Tom Sannicandro promised written support for the presenter -- Steve Hakar -- but took no action and did not attend the meeting. Rep. Chris Walsh did attend and explained briefly why no action was taken on a "complex" issue.

     However, the issue was well publicized around town when the Framingham Taxpayers Association presented analyses during two popular public meetings held in March and April of this year. The last one was called "Staggering Along or Bankruptcy".

     Further action in this matter will take place at Town Meetings in nearby Sudbury and Wayland on September 24th and October 3rd, respectively.

     The upshot: The issue is very much alive, and it could get considerably worse.

Are We Being Served? And By Whom?

An Op Ed Piece
By Larry Schmeidler, Editor

"Are You Being Served?", is a long-running and beloved BBC-TV comedy. And it's a title and semi-humorous concept that could be well be applied to the local political scene.

Here's an example that is spelled out in the "Background Material" provided in the Warrant for a Special Town Meeting in Framingham slated for Monday, September 10th, 2012.

The information contained supports two articles sponsored by Steve Hakar, a member of the Finance Committee, that seeks, in essence, to tighten controls over the use of chemicals by utilities that could compromise our drinking water sources, and also demands an end to unfunded state mandates.

Hakar reports that the stage was set for the current TM on May 5th, 2011, when members attending Framingham's Annual Town Meeting(TM) voted overwhelmingly to request its State Senator and House Representatives to file bills that would eliminate those mandates.

Framingham's Town Manager then sent a notice of Framingham's action to all towns in the state as well as to our representatives. And Hakar also claims that he received written promises of support from Senator Karen Spilka and Representative Tom Sannicandro.

The result to date? Nothing - Nada - Zilch! This is despite the long tradition in Massachusetts for its state House and Senate members to file legislation honoring such requests -- and especially when officially issued by towns, as was the case with Framingham.

All this is why Hakar said he reintroduced these requests for legislative action on the state level through action from TM, and for similar acts in Sudbury and Wayland, as previously reported by Xtra Xtra.

Telephone calls were made asking the candidates to comment. Challenger Jon Fetherston said that he was appalled, with the lack of action "typical of the representation Framingham receives". Incumbent Tom Sannicandro could not be reached directly, but his comment will be printed when received.

And then there's another puzzler. Why did Framingham's Standing Committee on Ways and Means go ahead and overwhelmingly vote against both articles on September 5th when the sponsor (Hakar) couldn't attend to explain his rationale? And in spite of Town Meeting's previous affirmative votes about four months earlier? In fact, Hakar said he was not even told of the W & M votes until interviewed by Xtra Xtra.

The paper trail of emails between Hakar and W & M chair, Audrey Hall, on why the two didn't or couldn't connect comes off as a "he said, she said" routine that does not seem to advance transparency in governance.

The traditional form of Town Meeting is now under attack by a very strong group who want to convert the town to a city form of government, claiming it would be more efficient and accountable.

Ellingwood Construction Is Still Grinding, Grinding . . .

     An application by Ellingwood Construction Co. for a special permit for "land disturbance" from the Planning Board has been delayed, according to Selectman Ginger Esty. The company, which has been involved in the controversial grinding of asphalt, brick and cement in the heart of Precinct 3 (Northeast Quadrant) was given an order by the Superior Court to comply by the end of August.
Truck with conveyor belt piling crushed asphalt material
     This issue involves the construction of a berm -- a wall of earth -- required by the state's Department of Environmental Protection to shield residents in the immediate area from the heavy amount of dust resulting from the extensive grinding.

     Jay Grande, Director of the Planning Board, said William Ellingwood, owner, contacted him earlier regarding the submission of an application, but he has yet to receive any paperwork as specified by Section 4H2 of the Zoning By-Law. Thus, Grande stated that he cannot comment on any delay. Ellingwood is reported to have cited personal reasons for the lack of compliance.

     Meanwhile, an order to "cease and desist" grinding operations that was previously issued by the Building Department has yet to be enforced. Residents in the area have been appealing to the Board to take firm action to finally resolve this matter.

      For the first time are photos (below) of the grinding of materials in the in the Northeast quadrant -- Precinct 3 -- that may lead to further contamination of the Birch Road Wells. While the wells have been capped for many decades, they are slated to provide at least 60 percent of Framingham's drinking water. What is really happening and when they will be brought online has been the source of continuing controversy, rumors and argument for several years. And because of the projected rise in water and sewer fees, residents want clear-cut answers as to when the wells will be utilized as they try to cope with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Neighbors back yard view abutting Ellingwood Construction in the northeast part of town (Pct 3). It’s supposed to be either a berm obscuring the grinding of asphalt, brick and concrete, raw materials to be ground up, or prevent dust from the grinding from affecting residents –PHOTO CREDIT: DENNIS PAULSEN

Ellingwood vehicles on PUD property
Here are the Birch Wells that are currently capped and projected (over two years ago) to provide at least 60 percent of Framingham’s drinking water. There are many contradictory stories about the contamination of this water source; who is responsible; and when the problem will be rectified. Another reported obstacle to using the wells is the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, a state entity which sells water to Framingham and other MetroWest towns and cities. Framingham has already spent over $6 million for design of a watertreatment plant and has nothing to show for its money. –PHOTO CREDIT: DENNIS PAULSEN

More trash on property

Twenty foot high pile of asphalt near Birch Wells

Another view showing asphalt and cement

Careless trash among trees abutting Danforth Green

Twenty foot high ground asphalt pile about a ¼ mile uphill from Birch Wells, and reported to be in the “forbidden zone”. Federal research points out that asphalt is a petroleum derivative which can seep into the ground. The Board of Health told the Board of Selectmen about a year ago that toxic oil could enter a plume going towards the aquifer supplying the Birch Road Wells and could contaminate Framingham’s future drinking water. This is occurring in Precinct 3 of Framingham, the area that was victimized by NStar, the utility that caused an uproar by cutting down all those trees. –PHOTO CREDIT: DENNIS PAULSEN

A Look Into How President Obama May Think

By Nicolas Sanchez, PhD

     AMC Framingham 16 has been showing the movie, 2016: Obama’s America. For some, this documentary is a misleading movie; for others, it is proof of the evil intent that drives the President’s policies. I do not find myself in either camp. If anything, it has forced me to read parts of the President’s book, Dreams from My Father, which I found in line with one of the two main arguments made by the movie. I found a gem of a quote in the President’s book, which I will cover first.

     Imagine, just imagine, if any right wing nut had claimed what the President relates on page 345 of his book, quoting his half sister, Auma: “I was just thinking about how life is so strange. You know, as soon as the Old Man [Obama’s and Auma’s father] died, the lawyers contacted all those who might have a claim to the inheritance. Unlike my mum, Ruth, [Obama Senior’s third wife] has all the documents needed to prove who Mark’s father was. So of all of the Old Man’s kids, Mark’s claim is the only one that’s uncontested.”

     Wow! Does this allude to Obama’s mother being three months pregnant when she married a man who left her soon after the baby was born? The Old Man was in trouble with the U.S. Immigration Service, and marrying an American girl was quite convenient. When Obama’s father went to Harvard (from Hawaii) the father became involved with another woman, Ruth Beatrice Baker, from Newton, MA. She was Jewish, pursued him to Kenya, became his third wife and bore him Mark; they later divorced. The paternity of the President has been claimed by a black man named Francisco Cundo—a simple DNA test could resolve this foolishness.

     The reason I mention the above quote is that understanding President Obama requires more than learning about his politics. His autobiographical book, when it covers Kenya, is full of the anti-colonial sentiments that “2016” claims motivate Obama’s policies. But it should be clear to those who read the autobiography that his African family is in desperate need of psychological healing, and that Obama’s policies might reflect the need to help those who are personally devastated by the lives they have led, whether in Africa or in America.

     Obama’s youngest half brother, a highly educated man, almost makes that claim in the movie: He does not need the financial support of his half-brother, but he is delighted that the President has followed policies that make better the whole world. He even disagrees with President Obama about colonialism, and feels that South Africa is better off because it did not expel the white minorities.

     To many moviegoers, 2016 is a challenge because it exposes the communist and socialist influences that the President faced before becoming head of state. Five persons stand out. Frank Marshal Davis, a communist party member (Card #47544) who Obama repeatedly mentions in his autobiography—but only by the name of Frank; Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn (both terrorists and leaders of the Weathermen Underground who failed to be fully prosecuted due to prosecutorial misconduct, and early supporters of Obama in Chicago); Roberto Unger, Obama’s radical Harvard Law Professor who now claims that Obama must be defeated because he is not radical enough; and Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s mentor, pastor and follower of liberation theology, a radical socialist theology.

     A defender of the President and critic of the movie (Bryan Henry in “Obama’s America: 2016 Review”) makes the following statement: “Honestly, I do not doubt that President Obama’s political views are somewhat informed by anti-colonialism or that he was influenced by Marxist professors in college. Interestingly, the film, and most of the audience, assumes that anti-colonialism and Marxism are inherently anti-American…Leninism (revolutionary Marxism) and Stalinism (totalitarianism) are certainly at odds with democracy but Marxism, itself, is not."

     For those of us who have lived under Marxist regimes, we beg to differ: Marxism is inherently anti-American. Yet, President Obama may be motivated by other concerns. After all, his economic policies have not been too different from those of the Bush II Administration, at least with regard to government interventions and bailouts, as the movie makes quite clear towards the very end.

     The second main thesis of the movie is that the people who voted for President Obama did so because they felt guilty about their racial prejudice and were satisfied that he was not an angry black man. This may or may not be true, but it is psychobabble, to say the least. Personally, I find that people in some parts of the country (such as Texas) admit to their prejudices and realize that they must change their behavior. People in California are the least prejudiced; while people in New England are extremely prejudiced but claim not to be prejudiced at all! Yet, my personal experiences do not prove any facts, and I believe that Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian writer and director of the movie, and also President of King’s College in New York City, failed to prove the movie’s second thesis.

     Before I conclude, it is important to address colonialism. First, there is no doubt that colonial policies have been a scourge on mankind. Africa, possibly the most diverse continent in the whole world, has been devastated by colonial policies. President Obama misses a great opportunity to make this point in his autobiography when he visits a national park in Kenya. Most of the wild animal reserves in that part of the world were created by the English after the animals had been eliminated by the pastoral people of the region long ago, in the nineteenth century. These reserves were truly a reversion to backwardness, promoted to satisfy the tourist interests of Europeans. Regrettably, this is a story that is not well known in America, where the liberal class (including President Obama) adores these animal reserves.

     But on the other hand, one has to recognize that black Africa could hardly defend itself against the colonial powers, because the population lacked sufficient numbers (yes, black Africa has been historically way under-populated, despite popular perceptions) and the technologies (including writing scripts) needed in modern societies. It is really a pity that populations as different as one finds in Kenya today have to live under a single and colonially invented nation.

     Hence, there is nothing wrong with advocating anti-colonialism. What is remarkable, if we are to believe the movie and the autobiography, is the possibility that an anti-colonialists like our President, may be basing his economic policies on something that is irrelevant to the modern society we live in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Framingham Town or City government ... a look at Greenfield MA

By Enzo Rotatori

Greenfield is the most recent community in Massachusetts to change its Charter to become a city. On July 1, 2003, its form of government was revised to provide for the election of a mayor along with City Council members.

     As with a number of other towns in Massachusetts, it was determined that Greenfield's form of government was unable to adequately govern its community.

     It was planned that the mayor would serve as the chief executive officer and be answerable to the residents. A “strong” Mayor would be expected to make numerous beneficial changes to the existing structure of the City. The term for this office is three years and elected on a non-partisan basis.

     I contacted the current mayor of Greenfield, William Martin, who offered to provide insight to changes that occurred after becoming a city. He also recommended that I call Attorney David Singer, Greenfield Town Council President, for details.
Mr. Singer provided information via email and in a 30-minute telephone interview.

     The following is a quote from Attorney Singer:

     “From my point of view, Greenfield needed to have a leader who was full time, powerful, elected and accountable in order for our community to compete for new resources. The select board and Town Administrator were slow, and needed consensus to do anything. Since we changed, our community has moved forward with economic development in a way not seen before. There are downsides, of course, and that would be the powerful nature of the executive. Therefore, you need to elect someone you trust. We also do not have party politics. Instead, anyone can run by getting signatures.”

     Mr. Singer said that there were eleven candidates for the mayoral position. Eventually, two finalists were on the ballot. The first mayor turned out to be ineffective, he said, and acted more like an administrator with no desire to make changes. The current elected mayor, William Martin, is a dynamic, take- charge person who understood that Greenfield needed to make changes in order to survive.

     I was told that his first year in office was traumatic because of implemented changes. He fulfilled expectations as the leader of Greenfield, but many employees were impacted accordingly,.
Since he was reelected to another term, the fruits of his efforts must have been evident and acceptable to Greenfield residents. Currently, the Town Council consists of four at-large members and nine other members elected by precinct.

     The other Town boards are appointed with the exception of the seven members of the School Committee, which currently consists of the Mayor plus six elected at large.
Attorney Singer also mentioned that the magnitude of power given to the Mayor needs to be guided by the City’s charter language regarding ethics and honesty.

     Recently published articles regarding Braintree and Weymouth, where both cities have a strong Mayoral-style government, resulted in improved bond ratings, municipal services and less government waste.
Mr. Rotatori, former Town Meeting Member and Chair of the Framingham Taxpayers Association, opens the debate on Town versus City on Xtra Xtra. If you wish to join in, your opinions are welcome. Email your comments to the editor, Larry Schmeidler, at You must, however, provide your full, verifiable name.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Framingham residents vexed by NStar's clear cutting

NStar crews are clear-cutting power lines in Framingham in an effort to prevent widespread power outages, but some residents claim the tree chopping is in excess.

According to NStar, trees in a Framingham neighborhood had to be cut to protect power lines. “This is beautiful, just brush. Nice, you know, a nice area that you can look out of my kitchen window and see nice green brush, and now it’s completely destroyed,” said Melissa Ramsay.

NStar’s transmission corridor runs behind Ramsay’s home and NStar has already taken down hundreds of trees within the corridor. The trees have been taken down from parks and people’s backyards.

NStar says under federal regulations they are required to protect power lines.

“One outage caused by that tree on the right of way could affect tens of thousands of customers in several communities. That’s why it’s so crucial that we cut back,” said Caroline Pretyman, an NStar spokesperson.

NStar sent a flier to residents saying they were going to “trim up pine,” but residents say they have done more than just trimming.

“Let’s work on a way that better manages the property. Almost like a forest management list instead of just coming and cutting the whole area,” said Josh Mulready, a resident.

Residents and selectman along attended a town meeting Wednesday night to express their anger about the situation. NStar representatives defended the company's move to take down trees in its corridor.
"I'm not sure that I will win all of your hearts because change is a difficult thing to move forward. This is a maintenance program that goes beyond your neighborhood in Framingham," said Joanne O'Leary, NStar representative.

"This was a scorched earth campaign," one resident said at the meeting.

NStar says the project will extend into neighboring areas.