Thursday, December 31, 2009

Audi photos on display at Red River

Photographer Tom Wright has a display of photos at Red River Theatres. His Web site also has some photos: Digital Vistas Imaging. Pretty impressive shots, if you ask me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Concord residents should be able to control the school district charter

Guest perspective by State Rep. Rick Watrous

The Concord School District – the only autonomous district in the state – has managed to delay any legislative attempt to allow voters to have more influence over their school system.

A year ago, six Concord state representatives – at the request of their constituents – sponsored bills to give voters better representation and more say over the school district. District officials and past and present board members testified against the bills.

House Bill 33, sponsored by Rep. Steve Shurtleff, would have replaced the current at-large school board with district representation. It is expensive to run a citywide race, and, historically, Concord’s wealthier wards have been over-represented on the school board. This bill would have resulted in more representative school boards.

House Bill 319, sponsored by Rep. Jessie Osborne, Mary Stuart Giles, Bill Stetson, Candice Bouchard and myself, would have allowed school district voters to vote on the authorization of the school district borrowing money in excess of $5 million.

Both bills would have required voter approval at a city election. Along with many others, I testified in favor of both bills. The school district lobbied hard against both bills, not wanting to give Concord citizens the opportunity to vote on these issues.

Members of the House Municipal and County Government Committee, responsible for holding hearings on the bills, were initially confused by them, wondering why they had to deal with affairs specific to Concord.

The answer goes back to 1961. Up until that year, the Concord School District held an annual meeting at which residents voted on the school budget. According to the 1961 annual report, 1,130 residents appeared at the annual meeting and approved that year’s $2 million budget. After that meeting, school board members convinced Concord’s state representatives to remove the power of citizens to vote on the budget or to amend the district charter.

Since then, the charter has been under the control of the Legislature and the school board has had total control of the budget. Concord residents have the dubious distinction of being the only citizens who have their school charter effectively locked away in the State House.
Once the House committee realized this bizarre situation, HB 319 was amended to return the school charter to the citizens of Concord in 2009. Citizens would have the right to revise or amend their own charter without prior legislative approval.

The amended bill unanimously passed the House, but then something odd happened.

When the bill reached the Senate, five senators – none from Concord – rewrote the bill at the behest of the counsel for the school district. Attorney John Teague urged the Senate committee to not return the charter but to instead create a commission to study the charter. The Senate amended the bill according to Teague’s recommendations and the Commission to Study the Concord School District Charter was created.

The commission, of which I was a member, spent months studying the issue. Teague testified numerous times and presented another proposal: the creation of an election charter commission. Essentially, he was now testifying that his previous recommendation was not representative enough! By a slim margin, the commission recommended the creation of an elected charter commission. The school district’s attorney had moved the goalposts yet again.

Whatever this elected charter commission eventually recommends in 2011 or beyond must be approved by the voters in another election and then passed by the Legislature. Concord residents could go through this multi-year process only to have the recommendations disapproved and our charter still under control of the Legislature.

It has become apparent by their actions that the school administration and board are afraid of ceding any power to the public they are supposed to serve. I now realize why many people consider them out of touch. The school board’s pet reply to people who don’t agree with their governance is that we can always vote them out of office. But board members make decisions that impact our city and children for generations.

Right now the nine-member board is moving to end Concord’s system of neighborhood schools and saddle the community with over $100 million in debt. It’s small consolation to vote someone out of office after historic buildings have been torn down, massive debt incurred and our school system changed forever.

Voters need more say over what occurs in their school district. The Legislature should restore basic constitutional rights to the Concord school district voter – the right to petition, amend and revise our own school charter.

I have submitted legislation to return the charter and these rights to district voters in 2010. I urge citizens to speak up. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is about controlling our own school district charter to attain greater input in district governance. After 48 years, it's long overdue.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Rhythm of the Night rocks Audi Jan. 17

Sunday, January 17, 2010 ~ 2pm

The Capital City is going “Green”, saving its energy every place and every day but one: the Concord City Auditorium on Jan. 17. That Sunday afternoon, the city’s theatre will be glowing with the red-hot energy of 150 prima dancers from seven area dance schools as The Friends of the Audi present the 19th annual dance extravaganza called
For the one big change to the traditional dance show we credit New Hampshire’s white energy – the snow. To accommodate “iffy” weather and youngsters in the dancers’ families, the show has been moved from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon at 2pm. “The time change to the afternoon is better for everyone, and the Rhythm won’t miss a beat,” say Co-Directors Lisa Drouin Goff of the Turning Pointe Center of Dance in Pembroke and Joan Kelly of Dancesteps Etc. in Epsom. The show is a benefit for the Auditorium’s Flyspace Project – which, in turn, will benefit the future performances of all Audi presenters.
THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT is the largest community dance show in the state, Lisa and Joan say, and the 2010 program promises to be the biggest and brightest yet, with 21 acts including tap, hip hop, ballet, jazz, modern, and production numbers.
Turning Pointe Center of Dance and Dancesteps Etc. will be joined on stage by dancers from Capital City Dance Center directed by Pam “PJ” White, Concord Dance Academy directed by Cindy Flanagan, Creative Dance Workshop of Bow directed by Bridget LeCompte-Edinger, Gen’s Dance Studio directed by Gen Woodward, and New Hampshire School of Ballet directed by Jennifer Reinert,
Not all Rhythm of the Night “numbers” are danced. Some are witness to Concord’s reputation as a “Dancing Town”. Since 1944 the Audi has hosted community dance shows, and this season 11 local schools will present over 2,000 students on its stage. In 19 years, the The Rhythm of the Night shows have showcased nearly 3,000 dancers, giving many the opportunity to polish routines to be performed in upcoming competitions leading to awards and scholarships. The directors of the seven schools in this year’s show have 192 years’ experience teaching dance.
THE RHYTHM OF THE NIGHT -- a fun-filled way for families to start the new year -- is a special gift to Concord audiences, for tickets are just $6 at the participating schools and, after January 2, also at Ballard’s Novelty Shop at McKee Square. The show will last one and one-half hours with an intermission and is suitable for all ages.
Add two more numbers: over 19 years, the schools participating in the show have helped to raise thousands of dollars toward the Auditorium’s upgrades and improvements. And, enthusiastic audience return annually to boost a sell-out house…so don’t delay getting tickets. Information and ticket reservations are available now from Producer David Murdo at 225-7474 or email to

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lawsuit filed over Kimball, Conant footprint waivers

On Dec. 23, two Concord residents filed a declaratory judgment petition in Merrimack Superior Court seeking a determination that state Dept. of Education waivers allowing the Conant and Kimball elementary schools to be built on smaller parcels than the state allows were improper.
According to state regulations, new elementary schools must be built on parcels 10-acres or more, according to sources. The land Conant sits on is 8.7 acres, according to school district documents; Kimball is 2.8 acres. The state DOE granted Ed. 321.30 Waivers for Kimball and Conant, allowing them to be reconstructed on the smaller parcels. However, the lawsuit challenges these waivers, stating they are invalid and beyond the rule-making authority delegated to the DOE. In other words, a source stated, legislative delegation of power to make rules does not mean that the agency also has the power to waive those same rules.
According to sources, there are contrasting examples where the Legislature has delegated the power to waive administrative rules in certain situations to other agencies, but not in this case with DOE.
The lawsuit also challenges "the factual inadequacy of the two waiver application filed and granted previously."
As reported yesterday on, the Concord School District must reapply to the state Dept. of Education for new waiver applications to build new schools on the Kimball and Conant parcels since the waivers previously received were renovation plans.
I'll update this story as more information becomes available.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

School waiver problems arise plus, what's this about a lawsuit?

The Concord School District must reapply to the state Dept. of Education for new waiver applications to build new schools on the Kimball and Conant parcels, according to sources.
Not 24 hours after voting to demolish both Kimball and Conant elementary schools, the district found out that waivers it had requested and received were null and void, since they were based on plans to renovate the two schools, not demolish them. Since the schematic design for the new schools are completely different than the designs for the renovated schools, new waivers must be put in place (One person has already commented: "How can we trust this gang to get three buildings done on time and on budget, when they can't even get even shoot straight i.e. put in the proper paperwork?").
Matt Cashman, the director of facilities for the school district, reportedly sought new waiver applications today. The DOE will then have to approve the new waivers for both of the sites. According to the DOE, new elementary schools should be built on at least 10 acres of land. The School district sought waivers to this regulation since Conant is on 8.7 acres and Kimball is on 2.8 acres.
Dr. Virgina Barry is the head of DOE and has been since June of this year. She granted the original waiver but is accepting comments about the new building waiver, if residents feel that demolition is not appropriate due to size or historic preservation.
Readers can email comments to her at

And what's this about a lawsuit?
According to sources, there are rumors floating around that at least two members of the community have filed a lawsuit against the state Dept. of Education concerning the waivers, in an effort to halt the demolition of the Kimball Elementary School. The lawsuit was filed Monday morning. I'll have more information about this as it becomes available.

A very sad day for the city

Last night, the Concord School Board voted 7 to 2 to demolish the historic Kimball and Conant elementary schools in favor of building new schools on the current footprints. The two "no" votes were Eric Williams and Laura Bonk. Williams wanted to renovate the school while Bonk opposed the decision because she didn't think the site was big enough to accommodate the larger school.
It certainly is a very sad day for the city when so many elected officials can ignore our history (and fiscal status) and vote in such a way. As I have stated before, it's shocking that anyone in their right mind would vote to demolish two structurally sound buildings. Since when did the yuppies in our community decide they could throw out 80 to 100 years worth of history on a whim? Most of them don't realize that by the time the buildings are built, their elementary school children will be at Rundlett Middle School, which will soon need more work or need to be split because it is too big (but guess what? There isn't going to be any money left after this monstrosity). Our children will be corralled into massive "state-of-the-art" schools with no real educational improvements inside of the buildings. It's a damn shame.
All the information gathered by their own processes point to other conclusions. Even when they rigged the outcome, the studies don't lie. But, again, like I have said for a number of years, it was a predetermined outcome. Once the board voted for the initial concept of eight to four, instead of properly planning for the future from Day 1, there really was no turning back. There really was no true investigation of alternatives or planning to come up with the best possible outcome for everyone.
Here is what is most hilarious - or sad, if you think about it - even as they plan for the new buildings, they are already cutting corners in order to bring the costs down below renovation, in order to act as if they are saving us money! One of the architects admitted such the other night. Instead of allowing the creative people to plan what is best for our children, they worried only about costs. When you're blowing through $150 million, what's another million or two? So, all of you who wanted this monstrosity, guess what? You're not really going to get "state-of the art" or what is best, you're getting the cheapest version of the most expensive option. Slight of hand tricks and political bullshit. What a bunch of suckers.
Unfortunately, people who have to pay for this are the real victims here. They will be the ones creamed by this decision, especially when the state says, "Sorry, we're ending the school building aid program ..." You know they're going to too, don'tcha? That will be the laugh then, huh? Will anyone be able to afford Concord Monitor subscriptions after that taxes go up to make up the difference?
Bonk, who has been an engineer for more than 20 years, truly seems to get it. The Kimball footprint is too small and the school district does not have the capability to manage three building projects at once. While we may not agree with her on everything, she has been one of the lone voices of sanity in this entire thing. It's amazing that someone with so much knowledge about building structures could be so easily ignored.
There are so many reasons to be furious about this decision. The cost, the destruction of history, the buildings aren't truly as green as they can be, etc., ad nauseam. But, instead, let's just have a moment of silence for the sad state of our community. Lord, please, give us the strength and wisdom to get through the future in one piece. We're really going to need it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The eve of Concord's elementary school consolidation votes

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Concord School Board will hold public hearings about the impending elementary school consolidation plan. On Monday night at 6 p.m., the board will vote to approve design schemes; on Tuesday night at 6 p.m., it will vote to authorize the bonds. Both public hearings will take place in the administration office building at 16 Rumford St.

Before the vote, here are some things for readers to ponder:

First, there is the project's true cost. This morning, the Concord Monitor did report that the project would cost between "$99.7 million and $124 million including interest over 30 years." I think this is the first or second time they have done that, which is good. But, again, they missed figuring in the state aid and stabilization money, which lowballs the true cost.
These estimates of between $99.7M to $124M assume that the state will make $29.8 million in small bi-annual payments for the life of the note. In addition, as Business Manager Michelle Croteau confirmed on Thursday night, the district plans on kicking in $2.7 million in stabilization money right off the bat.
This raises the true total cost of the project to between $133 million and $157 million based on current construction estimates. That is a much larger - and more accurate - figure than $100M to $124M.

If the state aid ends any day along the way in this project, the residents in the Concord School District will all be on the hook for the total price of the project. This will necessitate much higher tax increases, probably around 3 percent each year, for the life of the loan. These tax increases do not include any new operating cost increases that the school district may need. State representatives and officials have told the school board time and time again that the state cannot be trusted to fulfill its obligations on school building construction aid. They are already bonding payments into the future! They don't have the money! In other words, everyone in the Concord School District should be prepared: We will probably all be on the hook for the entire price.

No matter what anyone says, it is not eight to five - it's eight to four (or truly, nine to four, since Dewey was only closed about six years ago which prompted this entire process). The Dame-Eastman consolidation is not a new school - in its current design scheme, it is an addition to Broken Ground. It will have the same heating system, all the grades will share gym and performance space, and, probably, the schools will have the same (or very similar) maintenance, cooking, and administration staffing. It is not a new school. When this project is done, there will be four elementary schools; not five. Officials and the Monitor keep talking as if it is a new school - it isn't. Look at the schematics for yourselves. It's an addition to Broken Ground.

The Kimball footprint is too small for 500 kids. The state recommends that new elementary schools be built on at least 10 acres. The school district somehow managed to get a waiver to this in order to build on less than 3 acres. It is a mistake. Look at the designs posted here for yourself. There has been no traffic study for the new routes; the architects say the grade between Rumford and Spring street could be a problem; etc.
Then, there is the fight over whether or not to renovate the old building - which will mean knocking down Morrill and seven houses but basically keeping the front part of the building - or constructing a new school, again, on a very small footprint. As noted elsewhere here, there are other options for constructing a new school somewhere else in West Concord while selling off the other buildings to lower the debt. There are many parcels which are available to the school district. They say they have looked at them but they haven't really. They talked to the city planning department a few times. That's just not good enough when it comes to saving an important part of our community heritage AND building the best possible school for our children.

Personally, as I stated in the Monitor piece last week, I think the district should consolidate to six schools and make small renovations and additions to those schools to bring them up to code in order to just get by. That is the frugal and responsible thing to do for everyone, not just the school district but the city, its taxpayers, its retirees, and its renters. With all due respect to our community's educators and parents who want "state-of-the-art" schools, the community cannot afford them and the district is taking on a larger project than it will ever be able to handle. Mark my words: This is going to be a disaster. However, they are forging ahead anyway. This means that the only real battle that could be won is whether or not Kimball gets demolished (Conant is already going to be demolished even though it is structurally sound and much of it less than 80 years old). It is clear from looking at everything that Kimball should not be demolished (neither should the seven houses or Morrill either, but that's off the table too!). It is a historic building and a part of our city's character. It must be saved at all costs.

I urge all of you to communicate with board members via email or attend the hearing and speak. Due to previous work commitments, I will be unable to attend these meetings and this is a good thing, since I have had my name in the paper enough these days. But please, do get involved in the process and tell the school board to do the best thing for everyone.

Here are the school board member emails including current positions on the Kimball-Walker consolidation part of the plan, per previous reporting in the Monitor. (reportedly undecided) (does not support expanded school on Kimball footprint) (supports new school at Kimball) (reportedly undecided) (supports new school at Kimball) (reportedly undecided) (supports new school at Kimball) (originally supported renovation, now supports new school) (supports renovation of Kimball)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Taxpayers Association analyzes consolidation plan; offers alternatives

On Thursday night, members of the Concord Taxpayers Association and the general public met with school officials for about three hours to discuss the elementary school consolidation plan at the Draft in Concord.
Attending on behalf of the school system were Board member Jack Dunn (pictured at the left), Facilities Director Matt Cashman, Business Manager Michelle Croteau, and architect Pip Lewis of the firm hired to create estimates and schematic designs for the project.
The meeting was organized by both the CTA and school officials as another opportunity to get information out to the public.
The first part of the meeting was an extensive overview of the current state of the plan, including the state of the historic schools, enrollment numbers, financials, and schematic design. The second part of the meeting included a question and answer period, and the opportunity for members to offer alternative ideas to the proposal.
Dunn and Cashman presented the initial overview showing some of the problems with the historic schools. Croteau walked through the financing, noting that, depending on the scheme, there would in fact be spikes in the tax rate for between 13 and 20 years. The initial project costs are to be about $66.8 million although new estimates coming in earlier in the week put the project now at about $62 million. These figures are up from previous figures of about $57 million a few weeks ago. Croteau confirmed that about $2.6 million of stabilization funds as well as almost $30 million in state aid were being used to offset a debt load of about $99 million to $120 million. She also confirmed that the total cost of the project would be in the $130-plus-million to $150-plus-million range.
Many attendees questioned the figures and whether or not it was the best plan for the district to consider. One attendee asked why there was not more money put on the principle to lower the interest payments; another member likened the numbers to a car salesman trying to add on items to sweeten the deal. Another attendee questioned how the figures could go up so much in such a short period of time. Lewis stated that the architects had been trying to make the project as affordable as possible in order to not burden the taxpayers. Another attendee peppered questions about green design and why Concord's schools that were built in the 1970s were not holding up well compared to the historic schools which were structurally sound, even after 80 to 100 years. She also asked whether or not items from China, which often have lead and other hazardous materials, would be included in the new schools.

Towards the end of the meeting, I presented two rough schematic drawings using city maps and primitive scribbles via Adobe Acrobat which showed two potential alternative sites for a new Kimball School:

The first scheme is an area of about 18 acres across the street from the Bishop Brady High School playing fields, just off the corner of Columbus Avenue and Penacook Street. The area has a very small slope and more than enough room to build a proper elementary school, and potentially a new middle school, if needed. Of course, the plan doesn't take into account that part of this section of town is deem to be a stretch of the northern part of the Northwest Bypass. Although, city officials readily admit that the possibility of actually getting this road constructed is slim to none.
This scheme does require a bit of infrastructure by the city, including new sidewalks and more children would be bused to this location than probably bused to the current Kimball footprint.

The second proposed alternative location, at the corner of Rumford and Penacook street, is more of a walk-to, neighborhood school. Placed right in the heart of Concord's North End, this location is a mere four blocks from the current Walker School. It offers more entry locations to the grounds of the school, as shown by squiggly red lines, signifying potential driveways that could either be shared with Lincoln Financial or separate from that company's employee entrances. The level of the land allows for multiple entry points to a potential two-story school, even allowing the school to be set along a street corner, as shown by the red lines.

Both schematics are not laid out in the pictures to spec. The actual footprint will be slightly different than the primitive designs I put together. But the larger points, which I stated at the meeting, are two-fold:

First, the key point to finding an alternative location for a new Kimball-Walker School is the ability for the district to sell off Kimball and the seven houses the district owns on the Kimball footprint to offset some of the debt of a new school.
Currently, Kimball is assessed at more than $3.5 million. The seven houses were purchased at more than $2 million, granted, at the height of the market. Combined with the value of Walker, at another $3 million and change, about $9 million of potential asset revenue would be available. Some of this money, possibly as much as $2 million, would be needed for alternative site land acquisition and site development. But that would leave an additional $7 million (or more, depending on the sale of the assets) to be used to lower the debt.
In the end, despite press reports describing this scheme as more expensive, finding a new location for a combined Kimball-Walker School is less expensive than renovating or building a new school on the Kimball footprint.
And second, that instead of planning to a predetermined outcome, from Day 1, school officials could have taken some time to think outside of the box to do what is best and right for everyone, and not just what was easiest. Because this hasn't been done, the school board is about to approve a plan that has major flaws, is not the best location for the schools, and will knock down a beloved historic building in the community.

At the end of the meeting, I presented some other alternative locations, including numerous lots owned by St. Paul's School on Fisk Road, the Miskoe Farm on Little Pond Road, and the Liberty Street area near Grappone Park, about two blocks from Jennings Drive, that could at least get a cursory look as potential sites.
Cashman said that some of the sites had been looked at by district officials but not all of them.

Sidebar: A representative from the Miskoe family communicated with me this week and stated they were not interested in selling their property to the school district. It was also noted that the upper end of Little Pond does not have water and sewer. I regret any misconceptions that my writing was suggesting that the Miskoe's property be taken from them for a new school. I was just trying to suggest that other locations could be looked at.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Meeting reminder: Learn about elementary school consolidation plan Thursday

Just a quick reminder to let you know that the Concord Taxpayers Assoc. will be holding a forum about the elementary school consolidation project this Thursday, Dec. 17, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The event is free and all are welcome to attend.
The forum will be held in the upstairs meeting room space of The Draft, located at 67 S. Main St.
School officials will be presenting their plan and financial data and will answer any and all questions about the project.
Since the Draft is donating the room to the CTA, I’m asking attendees to consider either having dinner beforehand or joining some of us for a round after the forum.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Today's Monitor columns ...

This morning's Concord Monitor has published a column I wrote about the elementary school consolidation project: ["My plan costs less and preserves neighborhood schools"].
There is also another good column in the paper from Phil Donovan of the Heritage Commission: ["School board must save historic buildings"].
A few quick points.
First, I didn't choose the headline and I'm sorry I didn't. This one, unfortunately, comes across as a tad arrogant. It isn't really about "my plan," although it was my plan. It could be anyone's plan. It is a "better plan" and had this school district not come into this with a predetermined outcome, it could be one of many we would all get to look at.
Sometimes I offer my own headlines for submitted contributions; sometimes I don't. At my full-time job, I often pick headlines to letters or columns that contributors aren't too hot about. Most of the time, I just use what is suggested. Now I kinda know what it feels like to be on the other end of something that the writer didn't like!
Second, the editor of the newspaper did send me some edits before publication but I really didn't look that closely at them. I just changed a couple of things, like expanding the financials, and sent it back. I wish I had read the edits more thoroughly because the revised introduction reads as if I don't know what I'm talking about.

The original intro read: "The Concord School District is about to approve a massive plan to consolidate our city’s elementary schools."

The original was more accurate. The district is consolidating from eight to four (or technically, nine to four, since Dewey was closed not that long ago). It has never been eight to five unless something has changed in the last few days.
In the scheme of things, these problems are minor. The stories look great together on the page and I'm glad I was able to get it in before the votes. I certainly hope this allows people to give all of this a bit more thought and, hopefully, convince the school board to come to their senses about all of this.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

School board bond hearing Monday at 6 p..m.

The Concord School Board will hold a hearing about its $67 million ($100M to $124M, with interest) bond plans to pay for the elementary school consolidation project. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the board's meeting room at 16 Rumford St.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Donate food Tuesday night

The Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours on Tuesday will be waiving its normal $7 fee with a food donation (at least four cans) for the Capital Region Food Program.
The event will be held at the Grappone Conference Center from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The Duprey Companies will be hosting the event.
To RSVP, please call 224-2508.

Learn about the elementary school consolidation plan Dec. 17

As many of you have probably already read in the Concord Monitor or, the Concord School District will soon be making a decision on its elementary school consolidation plan.
The plan involves consolidating eight elementary schools to four, at a price tag of about $67 million (plus interest, for a total of somewhere between $100 million and $124 million). There is no consensus in the community about this plan but actually, a great divide between different interests.
Because there are many unanswered questions, the Concord Taxpayers Association has put together a forum to try and educate the public about the plan. The forum will be held on Thursday, Dec. 17, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Draft’s newly renovated upstairs meeting room at 67 S. Main St. School officials will be on hand to make a presentation about the plan and will be available to answer any and all questions you may have.
Unlike some of the school sponsored meetings, we have structured this to be a little bit more give and take. After officials show their presentation, you will allowed the time to comment on it, ask the tough questions that haven’t been asked, or even offer alternative plans, which they will then comment on. So bring your ideas and concerns to this meeting and let’s get some serious questions answered.
In addition, because we are getting the room for free, please consider having dinner or drinks at the Draft before or after the meeting. Many of us will be socializing afterwards too. I often say that a place that is truly a community is one where you can argue or disagree about the issues of the day, but still get together for a beer after the fight is over. So I really do hope that you’ll attend.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Upcoming bond hearings

FYI: These dates have been corrected
The Concord School District will be holding a number of meetings about the bonding of its $67 million consolidation scheme. Here are some dates where members of the public can attend and express their concerns or feelings about the project and its costs:

Monday, Dec. 7, 6 p.m.: Public hearing on the bond to finance elementary consolidation plan. 16 Rumford St.

Monday, Dec. 21, 6 p.m.: Special board meeting: Vote on elementary designs. 16 Rumford St.

Tuesday, Dec. 22, 6 p.m.: Special board meeting: Vote on bond. 16 Rumford St.
Concord School District elementary school consolidation plan.

Please come out and let your voice be heard about this very important issue.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

School project clarifications

I have received a whole slew of documentation from the school district about its elementary school consolidation project. There are some surprising and shocking things in all of the figures, which have gone from $57 million to $67 millions in just a few weeks. With interest, the project will come in at between $100 million to $124 million, according to figures and press reports.
I will have more data posted online soon, after I get a chance to check out the figures a bit more thoroughly.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Great piece in the Monitor this morning ...

Before I get back to work, I wanted to point out to readers that Chuck Douglas has a great column in the Monitor today about what came out of the Legislative commission studying the charter commission: ["One step closer to bringing our school charter home"].

Tree lighting postponed until Saturday

According to a post on his facebook site, City Councilor Dick Patten is telling people that he downtown tree lighting event has been postponed until Saturday at 4 p.m. due to all the rain. Hope to see you all there!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

School architects release schematic designs

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, the architects that have been hired to work on the Concord School District's elementary school consolidation plan unveiled their latest schematics to the public.
The meeting lasted about 2.5 hours, with an initial discussion about the schematics and some of the highlights, a collection of breakout groups analyzing the three proposals, and then a Q&A/comment period at the end.
The school board will reportedly meet on Dec. 7 to finalize bonding plans - $65 million over 30 years, at 5 to 6 percent interest, for a total cost to taxpayers of $89 million to $97 million [these costs also assume that the state of New Hampshire will pony up a 40 percent reimbursement on the principal of the building costs]. The board will supposedly meet on Dec. 22 to hold a final vote on bonding. School board president Kass Ardinger stated at the meeting that if the state funding was not secure, the District could not move forward with plans.

Below I have a few pictures of the schematics presented with short explanations and some quick comments. I was unable to get pictures of everything since I took them at the beginning of the event when people were looking at them. So, some of my angles are a bit odd and the people moving back and forth limited my ability to take pictures.
I'm told the school system will post PDFs of the plans online soon. I'll link the PDFs when I get a chance. Readers should be able to click on the pictures to enlarge them for better viewing.

A new Conant School [merged with Rumford students]

This picture shows a proposed new Conant Elementary School on the current Conant footprint. The proposed building is closer to South Street and utilizes the Rundlett Middle School entrance to circle the drop-off and staff traffic around the school.
This proposal would knock down the current school, a historic building, first constructed in 1929 and renovated a number of times over the years.
Conant should probably have protected historical status on the national registry at this point but doesn't, as far as I can tell.

A new Dame-Eastman School [attached to Broken Ground]

This picture shows a schematic of the proposed new Dame-Eastman School attached to Broken Ground Elementary School.
The building will be two floors (the second floor will be about half the size of the first floor), with each grade separated in its own section.
The plan includes a separate preschool drop-off in the far end of the building and also tweaks traffic flow around the schools.
I overheard a few abutters to the parcel saying they liked the new traffic flow since the current flow is a hornet's nest.

This picture shows the current footprint of Broken Ground School.
Note the note in the upper left hand corner: Open Space can be preserved for future use. I thought open space was, well, open space. Maybe they should have labeled it "The District's acreage goes to X line ..."

A new Kimball School [merged with Walker students]

Here is a side view of a potential new Kimball School.
The architects noted that the school was wider and lower, with the basement floor at ground level, to blend in with the height of other buildings in the neighborhood.

Here is how the new school would look in the rest of the neighborhood.
Note the missing seven houses the District purchased for $2-plus million a few years back, at the height of the housing market.
Also, note the odd reconfigured traffic pattern, with staff parking on the lower left hand corner, and entrances at the middle right and upper left sides of the building. Basically, the plan for both renovated and new Kimball schematics have the school's main traffic entering and exiting onto Pleasant Street, just off the intersection with Spring streets. This does not seem like the smartest idea to me.

A renovated Kimball School [merged with Walker students]

The next three pictures show a renovated Kimball School.
It was interesting - and puzzling - to see such a high concentration of focus on the amphitheatre/playground concepts with both plans. I would expect that with a high school or even a middle school, but with an elementary school? I don't know.

This shows a side view of the renovated school which is not much different than the current school.

This one shows another aerial view of the renovated school plan which is just about how the building looks today.

At the hearing, a number of residents brought up some extremely relevant points which poked some large holes in the plans (there were about 40 or so non-school connected attendees ... all those school officials really pack a room ...).
A woman and a teenage boy in a wheelchair made the case that the school district should be using ramp schemes and not elevators to move children around. She noted that the Concord School District was a model for inclusiveness and these schemes all had elevators, essentially separating the handicapped from the rest of the school population. The woman also noted that emergency escape was much easier with ramps than stairs and elevators.
A historic preservationist made some good points about the fact that the she was happy that the plan was finally coming together and other issues, but seemed to hint that the plans weren't quite ready yet. She also stated that there were still preservation issues to address and the issue of whether new, green buildings can catch up on carbon footprints of the renovated buildings.
A number of residents questioned where the room was for expansion on some of the footprints since most people assume that the population of Concord will grow in the future, including more children (especially at Kimball and Conant). The board members didn't have much to say about this. Their basic answer is that they will be holding onto the old school buildings they are decommissioning and could potentially recommission them if needed (at a cost of millions of dollars. BTW, none of this $97 million includes the cost of renovating one of the other buildings, probably Dewey or Rumford, for a school administration building ... that will probably mean multi-millions more there too).
According to documents that I obtained at a recent Saturday retreat of the school board members, the issue of future growth and enrollments is a relevant one. The school board is only looking at enrollments for the next 15 years or so. But the state has estimates for as far ahead as 2030, which shows Concord in the 60,000-plus range. If these projections are true, these buildings will be over capacity in just 19 years ... at a cost of nearly $100 million. I also mentioned this issue in my comments. However, most of the school board members are not listening, they are just forging ahead with the flawed plans.
Surprisingly, there was limited outcry about knocking down Conant or the Dame/Eastman consolidation. I was over in the Conant area, listening in the background, and most of those parents seemed excited about a new school.
When I discussed with some people about the need to spread the schools out, specifically to address new population growth, there were comments that it wouldn’t be an issue. When I mentioned that building a Dame-Eastman right next to Broken Ground would essentially disenfranchise many Dame students, forcing them to be bussed and driven to that school, I was told that in surveys and discussions, most parents said they drove their kids anyway because of the traffic issues on Loudon Road. There was little opposition to the general idea of consolidating those schools, allegedly, which was something that I found surprising.
There was also some discussion about the new library media lab concept. Essentially, they are replacing traditional libraries, set to one side of the building, with a library/media center set in the middle of each school. Instead of having narrow hallways, the hallways will be widened and include media pods flowing down the middle of the hallways.
While I personally think the media lab pod concept is interesting, my gut reaction to this is that I would rather have my kids in the library reading books and not in a media lab. They get enough of that at home, watching their parents staring into electronic boxes all day and night, figuring out how to pay the bills for all these schemes. None of us get enough time to read books, magazines, or the newspaper. If we did ...
In addition, my eldest son is already pretty savvy on the computer, Internet, and digital camera. I've shown him a lot already. I'm sure my second son will be just as aware of technology too. What I really want is for teachers and library aides to expand my children's horizons in ways that I can't.
So, let's not mess up the process of letting the kids go to a library, where they can read actual books, from actual authors and writers, and get help from a librarian or library aide, instead of staring at the damn boxes all day.
Also, when I asked one of the architects after the event where we could see this concept in action, to make sure it was right for our kids, he said there wasn't a location available and it was a new concept. That immediately sent up red flags and reminded me of the open classroom concepts of the 1970s that school districts couldn't wait to abandon because they were disastrous.
So, while teachers may think this is a neat idea and inables collaborative teaching opportunities, it is probably a mistake.
Another person questioned the safety of the children from a violent attack or a fire, noting that the escape routes will have pods in the middle of the hallway. This also seems like a relevant point. Better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes.
I spoke last at the meeting and instead of going off on a tangent, I made a few points.
I admitted that I didn't support the school consolidation concept because it costs too much money.
I also made the point that my family has lived in Concord for more than 100 years and my parents and grandparents attended these historic schools (I'm also a product of the Concord public school system but didn't attend elementary school here). Many of us are fond of them and they shouldn't be knocked down.
After that, I made more conceptual points about how the plan doesn't work. Specifically, the enrollment doesn't work: The 2030 state projections blow a hole in their plans. Potentially, in 20 years, we could be spending millions more renovating the other schools or building additions. I told them that they needed to spend more time not planning on building schools that are too small but ones that will last another 50 to 100 years. I said that while most school board members will be long gone in 20 years, the next generation of taxpayers is going to be furious that they will still be paying for these new schools while having to come up with millions more because the plan was flawed (BTW, the issue of a new Rundlett Middle School or maybe two middle schools is on the horizon, in the next 15 to 20 years).
I did limit my comments and didn't take a lot of time. I thanked the other people who made points and said it all proved that we need to slow down the plan and do this right.
Of course, my comments seemed to fall on deaf ears but at least I gave it a try.
There are a ton of other reasons to reject this plan. I hope to explore some of these ideas in the future when I have more time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

PTO emails used to influence legislation charter commission process

Members of the Kimball Walker PTO and supporters of the elementary school consolidation plan used PTO email contacts just before the final meeting of the Legislative committee studying the school board charter in an attempt to influence the outcome of the vote.
On the morning of Nov. 18, about 36 hours before the final meeting, Chuck Willing, a Democratic activist and lawyer with the firm Rath Young Pignatelli, sent out a desperate email to Susan Noyes, the principal of Kimball Elementary, Chris Demers, the assistant principal of Walker Elementary, at least one teacher, and a number of PTO officers and activists. In the email, Willing accused volunteers of the committee of trying to hijack the elementary school consolidation process.
“Many of the members of the committee are people who want to stop the school consolidation project at all costs,” he wrote, denigrating committee members and not providing any proof or evidence of such accusations.
Willing explained what was going on in the committee process and the two options which could be recommended to the Legislature. He wrote that the establishment of a 49B process in the school charter “is something like the California ballot initiative process, and that has not turned out well for governance in California.” Then, he attempted to rally the troops.
“I think the elected commission route is the way to go,” he wrote. “I urge you to write an e-mail by Thursday afternoon … Please forward to anyone else who might be interested.”
Leah Brochu, the president of the PTO, later emailed volunteer coordinators Deidre Smith and Kristina Levine, stating, “I've been asked to forward this to our PTO volunteer list. Can either one of you take care of this?”
A couple of hours later, Smith obliged.

How influential were the emails?
It’s hard to tell how influential the emails were because most observers believe the process was rigged from the start, due to the overwhelming amount of people connected to the school system who were allowed to be named to the commission in the first place.
But some members have confirmed that a flurry of emails were forwarded to commission members at the last minute, advocating the creation of elected charter commission. Before that, according to sources, the emails and phone calls received by members advocating an initiative petition process far outnumbered the elected charter commission proposal. A quick scan of the emails sent to the commission shows that some were Kimball Walker PTO members.
In the end, the commission decided to recommend an elected charter commission to study the matter, meaning that changes, if any, won’t come to the school board charter until 2013.
While no one seems to want to comment on what Willing did, the email has sparked anger and frustration with some people who have been watching the process. Some have called it completely inappropriate while others called it “dirty pool. Some are also wondering about the legality of the use of PTO emails to influence a political process, questioning whether all the public school PTOs emails were used to steal civil and political rights from parents and taxpayers. How often have PTO emails been used to in similar ways to influence political processes in Concord?, another asked.
It’s hard to know or tell.

Is this legal?
While no one knows whether or not the use of PTO emails was legal, it certainly was inappropriate.
The Mission Statement of the Kimball Walker PTO states that it exists “to support the education of all Kimball Walker School students by fostering discussion, cooperation and aid among parents, teachers, students, administrators and community members.” Clearly, urging parents involved in the PTO to take a political position should not have been allowed.
The PTO’s bylaws are not posted online but a copy has been requested to see if there are rules limiting the use of volunteer and parent emails.
The Kimball Walker PTO is also a non-profit and it is against the law for non-profits to be involved in political campaigns or advocacy. Since Willing is a lawyer, he should know this … or at least know better.

Politicizing our schools
The hilarious and sad part of this is the issue is the clear hypocrisy of some of the commission members and elementary school consolidation supporters like Skip Tenczar.
In the final meeting of the commission, according to the minutes, Tenczar specifically worried that a 49B process put into the school board charter would put the education process in more danger of disruption, politicizing the process. He essentially accused proponents of direct democracy of politicizing the education of our children. Of course, this is spouting off complete ignorance of what is going on in the real world. The education of our children is a political issue, on the federal, state, and local level. It always has been and always will be.
And yet, it was advocates for the consolidation plan and those who opposed empowering parents and taxpayers who actually politicized the process. It was these advocates who used school PTO emails, parents, and volunteers to politicize the schools. This is the height of hypocrisy and crassness. And yet, it is alive and well in our city, by some of its most connected and influential political players.
What is also surprising about the comments from Tenczar and Willing is that no one but those connected to the school system even talked about the elementary school consolidation plans during the commission hearings (at least none that I heard). In fact, it was only school board member Kass Ardinger who, during a tense back and forth with another commission member, blurted out something like, We are only here because you’re fighting the elementary school consolidation plan, neglecting to mention that it was her and others who stopped the effort to put questions on the ballot to go before the voters. She, state Sen. Sylvia Larsen, and others, were the ones who forced the creation of the commission, not parents or taxpayers who were trying to empower themselves to get better control of their children's education, not unlike virtually every parent in the state of New Hampshire. It's funny how these folks manage to twist the truth around, isn’t it?

The incestuousness of Concord
Probably the most egregious point of all of these issues is the incestuousness of all of this, which has been a problem in Concord politics, in general, for many, many years.
Willing is a lawyer and shareholder with Rath Young Pignatelli, the law firm founded by Republican activist and powerbroker Tom Rath, the husband of the Concord School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Rath.
It is unknown whether Dr. Rath requested Willing to send the email out to parent volunteers, in an attempt to protect her fiefdom from tweaking, regulation, or revocation. But one could easily surmise such an action. Or, maybe, after receiving an onslaught of emails from people in the community requesting empowerment, one of the school board members reached out to Willing in an effort to influence the process. No one knows and we probably never will either.
But the larger point is this: The people involved in setting up this commission and picking its members could have put a telephone book on the table and blindly picked potential members at random and it would have been a much fairer process. Instead, the outcome of the commission was rigged from the start.
A Google search of some of the people involved in the process revealed connections to St. Paul’s School, various law firms, charities, businesses, and non-profits in the community. An interconnectivity of lives that don’t dare tread on each other – and don’t dare allow anyone else to be involved either.
Moving forward, it would seem smart to allow some new folks to be involved, with a more careful vetting process … or be doomed to the same rigged outcomes that steal democracy from the people of our community.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wilbur to retire from Merrimack County Savings Bank

Ronald A. Wilbur, CEO and chairman of the Board of Merrimack County Savings Bank, has announced plans to retire, according to the bank's Web site. He will step in September 2010. According to a press release, the bank's board of directors is currently taking steps to start looking for a replacement.
Wilbur has been with the bank for more than 20 years. He was elected CEO in 1990. Wilbur has also been active in a number of organizations in town. Anyone who has done anything charitable in town knows all the things that he has done over the years.
MCSB is clearly one of our community's success stories. Its rates are competitive with other banks. The employees are focused on helping their customers, no matter what their financial status. I certainly hope that MCSB will stay locally operated.
Best of luck to you Ron and your wife. You certainly deserve it!

Storyteller Rule at Gibson's Sunday

I have interviewed both Edie and Rebecca in the past. Both are great storytellers. Rebecca is totally hilarious. Don't miss this reading if you can make it.

From the inbox:

Edie Clark and Rebecca Rule
Sunday, November 22, at 2 PM
Two quintessential New England storytellers join us to share the gift of memoir and humor. Edie Clark is the author of Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers, The Place He Made, and The View from Mary's Farm. Rebecca Rule, the self-styled "Moose of Humor," is the author of Live Free and Eat Pie! a Storyteller's Guide to New Hampshire, Could Have Been Worse, and The Best Revenge.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh, it's even worse than I thought ...

I took a quick skim over the Concord Monitor article about the meeting last night: ["Charter panel: Elect residents"].
I have to look at the complete proposal but I would question the decision to allow the entire populations of Ward 1 and 2 - some of whom don't send their children to the Concord public school system - to have any role serving on or deciding who is on the charter commission. They can't vote for school board members - why would they be allowed to serve or elect charter commission members? Someone wasn't thinking clearly when they proposed that.
And this is doozy here:
A motion failed to ban the election of school board members and city councilors.
Wow, what a shock. While I personally don't want to ban anyone from running, there is a clear conflict of interest for school board members to be on this future charter commission. We can all agree on that one. I mean, we've seen what happens when school board members - and those closely connected to the school system - are involved in anything these days. Just look at last night's decision for an education, no pun intended.
The real problem here though is that school board members will by analyzing the charter that they have to serve under and they will thwart any effort for reform over themselves. You can be guaranteed of that. They have done it in the Legislature, allowing their lobbyist to outright lie in testimony; and they have done it on this study commission too, creating this stalling tactic to drag out any real reforms until 2013. They will do it on the charter commission, believe me. Rigged from the start, before they are even elected.
Chuck Douglas, as mentioned in the article, thought it shouldn't look like a politburo meeting. Indeed. But these days, no one even knows what that means since they haven't been taught about that stuff in school for years. And, as we have seen, most people in Concord have become quite comfortable with their city and school system being run like banana republics. Otherwise, no one in their right mind would stand for this.
And you gotta love this section of the article:
Ardinger argued at-large elections would ensure the election of the best candidates willing to take on a "thankless job," and member-elect Bill Glahn said at-large representation was appropriate for governing the schools.
What is the obsession with "the best candidates"? I hate it when these folks talk in the not so veiled code words. Somehow, ordinary people can't figure out what is best for themselves and their families, don'tcha know (Add mimic voice here: We have to "ensure" that the "best" candidates are elected, har, har, you know what I mean, right, wink, wink, nod, nod ... la-de-da). Yup, we need more lawyers, more educaters who supposedly support democracy, more trophy wives, and more clueless people with absolutely no commonsense screwing everything up for the rest of us [tongue firmly planted in cheek].
One possible very small saving grace: Six of the commission members will be voted via Wards, not unlike our state Reps., and three will be elected at-large. So, the bulk of the members will be running small campaigns in a Congressional election cycle. In other words, the popularity contest for the people elected to ultimately thwart democracy will be on the micro level.
What an absolute friggin' disaster.

Community Outreach Meeting Nov. 24

The Community Outreach Meeting for the Elementary Schools Consolidation Project is coming up on Tuesday, November 24. It will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the gymnasium at Conant School at 152 South St.
HMFH Architects will describe the consolidation process to date and show and compare alternatives for each location. The public's input regarding these plans is a necessary component in the design process. School board members and administrators will be on hand to discuss the design alternative and to answer questions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Well folks, the fix was in ...

According to sources, the Legislative commission studying what to do with the school board charter recommended removing control of the school board charter from the Legislature's hands and the creation of a charter commission to study what to do with the charter by an 8 to 5 vote tonight.
The proposal would remove the Legislature's role in controlling the school charter by allowing the election of a charter commission to be held in November 2010. The nine people elected to the charter commission would develop a charter amendment procedure that would be approved by the voters. After the election, the members would analyze the issue and recommend a proposal as a ballot question for November 2011. Any other changes proposed by the commission would be on separate ballots for voter approval.
If the November 2011 election fails to approve the changes, the amendment process would remain with the Legislature and a new charter commission special election would be held in March 2012. This commission would deliver its proposals to the voters in November 2012.
In the meantime, the charter will remain as it is.
This decision is the worst of all possible worlds.
First, it is a stall tactic, delaying the process for empowering residents when there is already a process in place in many communities across the state. This decision essentially requests the reinvention of the wheel.
Second, it delays any real change for years. Even if this process comes back with a direct democracy initiative petition approach, parents and taxpayers wouldn't be able to send any change options to the voters until November 2012, at the earliest. This means nothing will change until 2013, at best. Sigh.
In many ways, I'm quite saddened by this outcome but I predicted it would happen: ["Controversial charter commission starting to come together ... but is the fix in?"]. Damn, I hate being right. I really, really do.
Frankly, the eight people who voted for this proposal know better. It also didn't help that state Rep. Jessie Osborne, D-Concord, surprisingly advocated for the charter commission. But a big part of the blame of this disaster of a decision rests squarely on the shoulders of City Manager Tom Aspell who didn't do his homework before nominating three pro-school supporters who were guaranteed to fall in line with the other school supporters. So, despite numerous emails and a lot of testimony from ordinary folks requesting an initiative petition process, the commission completely ignored the people. But, like I said, it was rigged from the start no matter what anyone requested.
In an interesting footnote, it was Skip Tenczar, an educator and a self-proclaimed advocate of democracy who penned the proposal that was approved tonight, essentially keeping parents, taxpayers, and residents from having direct democracy when it comes to their school system. Yeah, he's the same guy who stood in the way of many of us trying to get to the bottom of all the crap going on at CCTV [now Concord TV]. Democracy for me, but not for thee, I guess.
I don't know what the next step is. Most of us don't have the money to sue. And I surely won't be wasting any of my time running for what will essentially be a rigged charter commission next year. Why would anyone waste one iota of time trying to get elected to that only to waste a year of their lives not getting anything done because you will be hopelessly outnumbered?
I'm truly open to hearing your ideas, if any, on what we can do about this. Because frankly, I'm out of ideas at this point. Please feel free to interact with me via email or feel free to comment on this post.
In closing I will say this: I don't mean to be negative, but the people will never be empowered in this city so long as the majority stay silent and let the insiders take advantage of the power vacuum and run the city and school system into the ground. In many ways, we all have only ourselves to blame for this.

Community bridges hosts its first annual craft fair

Community Bridges is hosting its first annual craft fair on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 70 Pembroke Road in Concord, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Items such as jewelry, customized embroidered bags while you wait, crotchet gifts, hand blown glass, and other fine crafts are available just in time for your holiday shopping. If you are interested in setting up a table to sell your crafts, the fee is $15 for your space and tables will be provided at no additional cost. Space is limited. For more information, please call Amy Martel at 603-225-4153.
There will also be delicious baked goods available for purchase.
The craft fair is free and open to the public.

Rock out with George Belli

George Belli and the Retroactitivists will be playing at the Green Martini on Saturday. Go check 'em out and rock on!
George also has a new video channel on YouTube: GeorgeBelli.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sound off about the school board charter

As many of you may already know, the Legislature’s commission that has been studying what to do about the school board charter will hear recommendations, hold a vote, and render its decision to the Legislature on Thursday, Nov. 19, at the school administration office at 16 Rumford St.

The commission will be deciding one of three options:

1) Not to change things and allow the Legislature to continue to run the school board charter (This option is not likely since most people realize that the Legislature shouldn’t be controlling the school charter and legislative leaders want out of Concord’s business too).

2) Recommend to the Legislature that a charter commission be created to study what to do with the charter (This seems to be favored by those members connected to the school system since it will extend the process into 2011 or 2013 without any changes to the charter).

3) Recommend to the Legislature that a 49B amendment be added to the charter which will give residents the ability to change the charter via initiative petition (This is the proposal put forth by Attorney Chuck Douglas and is supported by some members).

Obviously, option 3 is the best one. But after last Thursday’s meeting, there is clearly some push back from members of the commission about whether or not Concord citizens should be able to control their school board charter via initiative petition. After testifying about this being a civil rights issue, I was grilled for a good 20 minutes by the school board chairwoman, a recently elected school board member, and a cheerleader for the elementary school consolidation project.

I don't have a ton of readers here at Maybe a hundred or so regulars. But, our community really needs you to reach out to commission members and tell them that Yes, we should have an initiative petition process.

Please send notes of concern to State Rep. Rick Watrous at, and he can then pass it on to the commission members. Please do this before Wednesday, Nov. 18.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Charter commission testimony

On Thursday night, I testified before the Legislature's commission analyzing what to do about Concord's school board charter. In the past, there has only been a few people at the meetings but about 20 people were there Thursday. I never speak straight from the script, I usually wing it. But here are some of my notes:

It is clear that the Legislature should be removed from controlling the Concord School Board charter. I too would agree with others who have stated as such. The key now is which road this commission recommends to take.

One, is direct democracy at its purest form, allowing the people of the community to recommend changes to the school board charter and vote on them. The other, while on the surface may seem adequate, is an unneeded distraction that will drag out this process for years to come. With all due respect to Attorney Teague and his proposal, it leaves too many variables, too many distractions which may lead to no results, and drags out the process of change and reform for many years.

Why is this bad? There are several reasons. Here are a few:

Last year, before this commission was formed, a number of residents forwarded changes to the school board charter to the Legislature for consideration. For the record, I did not forward any of those ideas and I didn’t support all of them either. In fact, I was openly critical of two of the ideas, and attacked them on my Web site. But I also stood up and supported the ability of these people to forward changes for consideration because it is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the creation of this commission – and at least two potential recommendations – could continue to thwart the effort of individuals to forward reforms, not unlike what is done or can be done to the city charter. So, while a potential charter commission spends years and years studying things, the people who played by the rules and filed ideas with the Legislature are continuing to have to wait to have their ideas put before the voters.

Second, as has been stated before, nearly everyone in the state of New Hampshire has the right to do change their town and school charters, either through initiative petition or Town Meeting. But because we live in Concord, we are essentially second-class citizens when it comes to changing the school board charter, compared to other communities. It is infuriating, if you think about it. If the house I live in was built just 1.4 miles to the west, I would have these rights (in Hopkinton). Because it wasn't, my wife and I don't. Parents are parents; and yet, some parents are more equal than others, it would seem. You all can be an equalizing force by allowing us to control the charter via 49B.

In addition, by allowing us to make the changes on our own, you in fact could be contributing to the increase in voter participation in municipal elections. In the election two weeks ago, the turnout was 10.9 percent. In the presidential election the year before, it was nearly 90 percent. While we can argue the semantics, clearly one election is more important to the immediate needs of the citizens of Concord (the municipal one). And yet, the voters stayed home. Some would say and have, that people are completely fine with how things are. But I would beg to disagree. Clearly, from comments online, anecdotal comments I have heard around coffee shops, meetings I have been to, and other things, all I ever hear and read is people complaining about the city council and school board. But you have solutions here and the solutions are more involvement. We need more civic engagement and involvement in our municipal elections. Allowing residents to petition for changes to the school board charter, the same way they can do with the city council charter (when courts aren't throwing out petitions) and allowing the residents to vote on said changes, could, or I believe, will engage the community.

Lastly, I ask you to stop treating the members of this community like children, who somehow or for some reason, can’t be trusted with the rights and responsibilities to be able change the charter. There is a smack of elitism in the comments made by some that have worried, Oh, we can’t have people filing petitions to change things ... Sometimes, we know more than our elected leaders; sometimes we don't. But what we do know is that the education of our children is our business and our responsibility and if we think things are not being run well, we should be able to bring suggestions to the voters to change things and take the power away from our elected leaders if need be. Clearly, in Concord, we need this.

Please give us the rights that everyone else has while empowering and engaging the community. Recommend the addition of the 49B amendment to the school board charter and be done with it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NHPR looking to learn from listeners

Earlier this week, I received an email from NHPR looking for listeners to sit in on an advisory board two nights next week [Nov. 17 and 18].
Station staff will be giving tours of the new facility and will ask listeners what they like and dislike about programming, for about two hours. Over the past few years, NHPR has been holding these meetings both locally and around the state. This time though, it's a bit different - they have hired radio consultants Jacobs Media to assist with the latest outreach.
One has to wonder what is going on over there that they need to hire a big radio consulting firm to figure out how to lead the operation or figure out what listeners want. What is it about radio consultants being hired after revenue drops? NHPR isn't insular to what is going on in the media world, is it? Media companies are being clobbered, whether commercial or non-commercial. It's just the way the times are right now. Maybe the hiring of a big consulting firm has something to do with drops in revenue and recent layoffs ["NHPR lays off 4 workers"]. But usually, you can get the same kind of feedback from just, you know, asking folks, and, you know, saving the consultant fees.
Here are some free comments: Diane Rehm is simply unlistenable. If ... I ... have ... to ... hear ... her ... shaky ... voice ... one ... more ... time ... I ... think I'll ... put ... a ... drill ... into ... my skull ... "The Exhange" is good. Uniquely New Hampshire, Knoy is very easy to listen to, but I wonder if it could get a bit more dangerous in the topic department. "Word of Mouth" is good too. A great concept show. However, when compared to other stations and staffing, NHPR's news staff, it would seem, could produce a lot more content than it does. Just one person's opinion.
(Sidebar: Interestingly, NHPR attended the NHAB Job Fair on Thursday although, from what I have heard, there weren't many jobs available for attendees and most stations were doing it to satisfy their EEO requirements, get free intern help, or to sell airtime to people. I almost went this year but decided to stay bundled up to fight my head cold instead).
So, it will be interesting to see [or hear] what comes of this latest round of listening sessions. The question will be, will management at NHPR listen to listeners? It remains to be seen.

Update: A second email came across the desk on Friday. Now, they're offering $25 for folks who sit in on the meeting. That's $12.50 an hour. Not bad.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Local station wins awards

At the NHAB Awards on Thursday night, WKXL won four news awards including one first place award and three merit awards in the Documentary, Feature Story, and Local Special Program/Event categories.
The station won both Documentary prizes for a story about the child killer who moved to Chichester and its 2008 election coverage. Their feature merit award was for a funeral procession story. The merit award for Local Special Program was the Gardner Hill memorial specials the station aired.
Congratulations to all the winners.

Blankenbeker wins recount

Ben Venator, a former state rep. candidate in District 11 and all around good guy, just posted a note saying that the Blankenbeker-MacKay recount did not change the outcome of the race. So Concord now has a Republican rep. at the State House again.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Recount ...

The recount for the District 11 seat will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. Republican Lynne Blankenbeker beat former state Rep., former Republican-turned-Democrat and former Concord Mayor Jim MacKay by 20 votes. There are 42 ballots that weren't counted on Election night and are presumed to be blanks or write-ins. It will be interesting to see how it all comes down.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Charter Commission meeting Thursday

The Legislative Charter Commission, analyzing what to do with the school board charter, will hold its last public hearing on Thursday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m., at the city council chamber on Green Street.
Over a period of months, the group has been studying the issues around the school board charter and now has two proposals before it.
The first would be to take the school board charter out of the Legislature's hands and amend it by adding a 49B amendment process to it. This would allow citizens to collect signatures in an effort to propose changes to the charter. Those changes would then be put before the voters for approval.
The second would be for the commission to recommend the creation of a charter commission to study the charter. The commission would be elected by residents in 2011 municipal election cycle. Once elected, the commission would spend several months studying the charter before offering a revised charter to the public for approval. This would probably be put on the 2013 municipal election and implemented sometime after that.
Once this process is underway, the Legislature is removed from the process, which is what everyone wants. But the public will have no way to propose altering the charter until the commission makes its recommendations and those recommendations are approved by the public, assuming the voters do. This essentially puts the charter in limbo, eliminating any process for amendment or petition for nearly four years.
Clearly, the first proposal, giving residents the option to alter the charter as soon as possible is the best one. The second proposal is a trap; a four year distraction that could end up not changing anything at all. If it approves the second option, the charter commission is basically saying that parents, taxpayers, and voters in Concord should remain second class citizens while virtually everyone else in New Hampshire, and many communities in the United States, are able to change their school board charter. That's just unacceptable.
This is the commission's last meeting and is set up to hear public input. It is crucial that residents of the community attend the meeting or email their thoughts to the commission secretary Pia Shea at
After this meeting, the commission will meet again on Nov. 19, to consider what to do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A launching at the Audi

If the business news gets you down, think of the story coming from the Concord City Auditorium. The Audi’s Friends have broken through the prevailing gloom to send off a cloud of butterflies, launching the theatre’s last major renovation effort – the Flyspace Project. They have contracted with the Sapsis Rigging Company to replace the “historic” hemp and pinrail with a modern mechanized system, making all the shows run more efficiently, effectively, and safely. The butterfly? It’s a symbol of the better “fly” planned for the Audi.
The Flyspace Project is budgeted at $200,000, and without any paid staff or tax dollars the Friends propose to raise the money in their time-honored way, "one brick at a time."
“Nobody can do a lot,” say Flyspace Co-chairs Dr. Merwyn Bagan and Dr. Charles “Joe” Ward, “but everybody can do a little. When a lot of us do a little, we’ll do a lot…we’ll fly! Just think of all the Friends have done in their 19 years, raising and investing over $1,000,000 in the city-owned theatre.”
The cloud of paper butterflies was sent off by a crowd of volunteers who gathered to mail news of the project to 5,000 local patrons.
“If everyone receiving this letter contributes $10, we’ll be close to our goal,” wrote Merwyn and Joe. “And, if some contribute more, we will reach the goal quickly.”
As an added incentive, they noted:
1) Every donor will be noted on a butterfly tag, and the tags will decorate the lobby walls this season. Thanks to the generous support of Southwest Airlines, at a special Springtime show one butterfly will be drawn to receive a special prize: two unrestricted roundtrip tickets. The “Share the Spirit” airline is sharing its community spirit with The Audi. Plus ...
2) An anonymous Challenger will match every gift made in 2009.
“It’s our Audi’s last really big project – upgrading the flyspace – and it’s a really big project,” says Abby Lange, President of The Friends of the Concord City Auditorium. “Over the years the people of Concord and the surrounding towns have shown their support and enthusiasm for community-based arts and entertainment by helping to restore and modernize the city’s historic theatre, always contributing “brick-by-brick." One last time, the Concord City Auditorium turns to its community for help, and every donation, small and large, is an important part of this project.”
Jeffrey Hoadley, the city’s Superintendent of Public Properties, adds that “once again, the unique partnership of the City of Concord and The Friends of the Audi will add value to one of Concord’s most important historical and cultural buildings – the City Auditorium. Upgrading the stage will provide a safe, more efficient rigging system capable of supporting more complex productions. These improvements should attract more presenters, which ultimately makes the shows affordable and accessible for all.”
Contributions may be sent to Friends of the Audi – Flyspace, PO Box 652, Concord, NH 03302. Information and donation forms are available online at For further information, please call 603-225-2164.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Recount likely

The Concord Monitor is reporting that Jim MacKay may seek a recount. According to the city's Web site, which has the unofficial election results, there are 42 blank or uncounted votes in Wards 4, 8, 9, and 10. So, depending on what is on those paper ballots, the results could swing either way.

Unofficial results: It's DelloIacono and Nyhan

The unofficial results are up online: Mike DelloIacono squeaked out a win against Jim Baer, 1,153 to 1,042. Rick Cibotti received 792 votes.
In Ward 7, Keith Nyhan easily bested Steve Sawyer, 383 to 95.
The turnout was dismal, as I was predicting: 10.9 percent or 3,356 votes cast. Wow.
St. Hilaire won across the city, in some cases handily. Baer came in second in Wards 1, 6, 8, 9, and 10, and may have been buoyed by the turnout for the race for state representative. DelloIacono came in second in the city's traditionally liberal Wards of 3, 4, and 5. He also came in second in Ward 2 and 7.
Interestingly, in the school board race, out of potentially 10,068 votes, only 3,250 were cast. Doug Magee, who dropped out after signing up, only lost by about 336 votes against Chris Casko. Had he stayed in the race - or someone else run a legit campaign - Casko probably would have lost.
I'll have a bit more analysis later on this week when I get a few minutes of downtime.

St. Hilaire, Glahn winners ...

According to rumors going around the city, incumbent at-large city councilor Dan St. Hilaire has easily won reelection, with more than 2,400 votes.
One-year school board candidate Bill Glahn, a former board member, was also elected over Tom Croteau, by a few hundred votes.
Republican Lynne Blackenbeker won a slim victory over former state Rep. and Republican turned Democrat Jim MacKay, by about 20 votes, in Wards 4, 8, 9, and 10, in the race to replace Tara Reardon.
The results for second at-large councilor is leaning Michael DelloIacono's way over Jim Baer by less than 100 votes, according to sources.
There are no results being reported for the Ward 7 race.
Unofficial results have not been posted yet on the city of Concord Web site. They are probably running recounts to make sure the vote is as accurate as possible before posting.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vote Baer, Cibotti, and Glahn on Tuesday

On Saturday, the Concord Monitor published my endorsement letter of Jim Baer and Rick Cibotti for at-large city council and my shout out to school board candidate Bill Glahn. This post expands on some of the reasons why I came to a certain perspective about the candidates.
In some ways, I will admit, that my decision to not vote for certain candidates isn’t completely fair. I plead guilty to that right out of the box. As someone who pays very close attention to what is going on in our city, I tend to reach conclusions that others might not because they aren’t as closely connected to the issues. It is the responsibility of the voter to learn as much as they can about the candidates as he or she can. These days, there are fewer and fewer information options to find out about those who bother to run. My perceptions come from watching the candidates, speaking to them, deeper analysis and information, and personal experiences.

At-large race
This year, four thoughtful, qualified at-large city council candidates are running to lead Concord into the future. However, Baer and Cibotti will be getting my two votes.
Next year’s fiscal situation is bound to be the worst ever which means we need councilors who will hold the line on taxes. Baer, a retiree, has made the strongest commitment to this cause. As a board member of the Concord Taxpayers Association, I’ve seen Jim in action. He is contemplative, offers alternatives to the norm, while saying, Look, we need to hold the line on taxes. He studied the budget and attended all but one of the council’s budget hearings. At the same time, if elected, he has also made a commitment to work with Mayor Jim Bouley and the council to make sure residents are protected from rising property taxes for at least another year. He won’t be a bomb-thrower (despite some of us thinking that the council could use a bomb-thrower every once in a while …). It is important to remember that we are in the middle of our generation’s Great Depression, and it is a Depression, despite the fact that many of us can still afford to pay for broadband. Many people are losing everything through no fault of their own. The city needs Jim’s competency and creative thinking to ensure that seniors, families with young children, and renters, who may be struggling in this difficult economy, are not driven from their homes.
For these reasons, I will be voting for Baer and urge you to do the same.

Cibotti is a craftsman and long-time resident who forwarded colorful ideas to raise revenue and build a better city. Instead of just rambling on about every city service he knows about, he focused his campaign on things that are a bit more visionary – making Concord a destination city, building a river walk, working to expand health awareness with residents, all lofty but worthy goals. His commonsense nature would be a good addition to the council. He deserves a vote too.

As far as the other two candidates go, I was impressed but can’t, in good conscience, cast votes for them.
Michael DelloIacono did his homework, came prepared, and has potential. But it isn’t hard to wonder whether he will have the time to do the job over the next four years. It’s sad to say but with two young children, a thriving Web business, and service to many nonprofit boards, will he be able to return phone calls to constituents never mind attend to a councilor’s business?
I know from firsthand experience that, in the past, he hasn’t had the time. In 2007, his company had a job opening for an account executive. At the time, I had a number of people sending me potential job leads, including family members and Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce members, since they knew I was losing my gig running a local radio station. When I saw the job opening, I put together a package about all of the marketing things I had done and emailed them to DelloIacono. While I didn’t think I would get the job, I thought I would at least get a response to the job advertisement and possibly an interview. I’ve led small companies, sold copiers, newspaper advertising, radio ads, and even worked in fundraising at a nonprofit radio station. Surely anyone with all this experience deserved a response. But DelloIacono never responded.
When running the radio station, and at other jobs, I have almost always replied to job applicants in some way, shape or form, even if we weren’t advertising for help. I even interacted with people about why they didn’t get jobs or what they could do to improve their future skills, especially in the finite business of radio and media. These days, with many people unemployed and applying for jobs, whether they exist or not, you can understand why a business owner doesn’t reply to every person who inquires. But two years ago, there was no excuse for not emailing a reply acknowledging receipt of an employment package.
The second problem I encountered with DelloIacono’s candidacy was the lack of disclosure about his involvement in Concord TV, the city’s cable access center.
DelloIacono sits on the board. Before he was a board member, he was a volunteer. In the first forum, the candidates were asked whether or not they thought it was right that the cable media access center receives more of the city’s money than any other social service agency or nonprofit combined. Most of the candidates stumbled on the question, praising the center’s coverage and talking about how much they enjoyed watching the city meetings, etc. DelloIacono said the money wasn’t the city’s money it was franchise fees. He also didn’t reveal to attendees that he was a member of the Concord TV board.
This response was wrong on two levels. First, he had an obligation to reveal to voters that he was on the board. One might wonder why he didn’t, since in both the forums he talked about the role he played on other nonprofit boards. Second, technically, Concord TV is city money. Here’s how the process goes: Comcast collects the franchise fees. It gives the money to the city, which is put into the general fund, along with other monies. The city then gives money to Concord TV, with a check cut from the general fund. So, it is the taxpayers’ money, paid for by subscribers, who are also taxpayers. DelloIacono’s lack of disclosure and answer to the question were disappointing.

In the case of Dan St. Hilaire, it’s a bit harder to say No. But, I still have to.
As I have extensively written on, St. Hilaire played a role in squashing an investigation into problems with our city’s cable access center. At the same time, he has also played a role in thwarting an investigation into abuse of power, misuse of city dollars and potentially unethical behavior by current and former elected officials. This is shocking if you think about it and if the residents of Concord who have pooh-poohed this looked beyond the people involved, they would not be accepting of what happened. If it was a major political player or connected lawyer, the earth would have been moved to prevent this situation from happening (long-time residents know the point I’m making here).
And yet, what is so surprising about this is that as a former prosecutor, St. Hilaire has always had a responsibility to seek justice for individuals, no matter the level of provability or expanse. Instead, in this case, he stood in the way of this investigation, hampered an individual’s ability to seek justice (or reforms), and, probably, unknowingly, left the situation as such that anyone in Concord can be targeted by investigation by the police at the whims of a city councilor, with no recourse to protect themselves. These problems remain. St. Hilaire has yet to answer the questions surrounding his role in this, suffocating the council’s oversight role. It’s shocking.
Despite his likability and wealth of knowledge, I just can’t support someone who would look the other way in this important situation. It’s unfathomable, and that’s truly too bad for someone who is not a bad guy, as the saying goes.

School board 3-year seats
In the main school board race, I will leave my ballot blank, essentially casting a “none of the above” vote.
The incumbents, unfortunately, have failed in their duties. Four schools in the system are designated “schools in need of improvement.” Instead of spending money to improve our schools and fix the problems, the board allows the administration to sit on millions in surpluses.
Instead of improving our cherished neighborhood school system (eight intimate elementary schools), they want to dismantle it and spend nearly $100 million ($60 million-plus, plus interest) tearing down historic buildings, warehousing our young children into four big elementary schools. There is some logic to why they are trying to do this, especially in saved administration and energy costs. But many people are against the plan. Many parents don't want to give up their intimate elementary schools.
With the exception of one or two members, this school board refuses to listen to the parents and taxpayers who are opposed to this scheme.
In addition, two of the incumbents – Kass Ardinger and Clint Cogswell – are actively trying to keep parents from having control over the board’s charter, a right virtually everyone in New Hampshire has. Cogswell recently stated during a Legislative School Board Charter Commission hearing that he would never support a change that would allow the residents to change the charter by initiative petition. This goes against everything our society has stood for. It also continues to perpetuate Concord residents' status as second-class citizens when compared to what other residents in the Granite State are allowed to do with their school charter and even budgets. Get in the back of the bus and stay there, is essentially what Cogswell is saying to citizens.
One candidate who was challenging the three dropped out after filing. I know of at least three people who were eyeing a run but decided at the last minute to not run after this person forwarded themselves as a candidate. In the future, I truly hope that people will think long and hard about this and will commit to running … and stick with it.

School board 1-year seat
In too many ways, Tom Croteau and Bill Glahn agree with the incumbents. They are both, disappointingly, wedded to the consolidation plan. They do, however, have extensive knowledge. At least one person I know has decided to vote for Croteau due to his extensive education background.
But at Wednesday’s debate, Glahn offered the stronger answer on parents having the right to change the charter. Croteau, frankly, dodged the question. The Monitor says he supports citizens being able to change the charter. But during the forum, he didn’t answer the question at all.
Admittedly, I haven’t voted for Glahn in the past. But I will Tuesday in the hope that he will follow through and do his best to convince his colleagues to abandon their efforts to thwart the rights of the people of Concord.

I’ll have the election results posted as soon as they become available and later this week, I’ll write some more about how we, as citizens, can become more engaged in the local political process. Whatever your views, please do go out and vote on Tuesday.