Saturday, February 26, 2011

Charity Begins In - Venezuela?

Kenneth M. O'Brien

Now here is a definition of irony.

Everybody is raising holy hell about cutting the budget.

We spend about a trillion dollars per year fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with military and humanitarian assistance to a wide variety of foreign countries.

A good portion of the taxpayer money that is spent is to prop up regimes with about as much in common with American ideals as Charley Sheen has in common with Laura Bush.

Recent events in the near east, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Jordan, etc have driven this home with clarity that has not been seen since we paved the way for the Iranian revolution, and the taking of American Embassy hostages, with our support for Shah Reza Pahlavi and his own version of the Gestapo, SAVAK.

But, in cutting the budget we are not concerned with our supposed ideological commitment to human rights.

Rather, we are focused upon squeezing our own citizens who need the benefit of our own government.

Nothing brings this home clearer than the proposal to cut federal funds to the LIHEAP Program.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that provides fuel assistance to elderly and low-income citizens currently enjoys $5.1 billion in funding, but under the new budget it would be cut to $2.5 billion.

As many citizens have struggled with surviving one of the most devastating winters in recent memory, the focus is on cutting assistance to the neediest while spending tax dollars on oligarchs who will inevitably cause us more problems in the future.

One of the few sources of help that remains is Citizens Energy, a non-profit program run by Joe Kennedy that provides 100 gallons of heating oil to the needy at no cost. In 2009 Time Magazine reported that the service had expanded to more than 200,000 families in 23 states.

All of the fuel assistance that is provided by Citizens Energy is provided by one source – CITGO. And guess what, CITGO is wholly owned by Petraoleos de Venezuela. And that means that, ultimately, it is run by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

As anyone who has seen the recent TV ads by Citizens Energy knows, CITGO was the only oil company that responded to the call to contribute to this program. Keep in mind that this is so despite the numerous and enormous tax breaks accorded to other oil companies by our friends in Washington.

Now, I can hear the cries from certain of my conservative friends. Those cries boil down to the simple-minded, bumper-sticker populism of the pageant walkin’ ex-half governor of Alaska, “Drill, baby, drill.”

Well, go ahead and drill.

And, then, the piddling amount of oil that is produced relative to world oil production in, what, three years maybe, will reduce prices by virtually nothing.


Because all that oil you drilled, Baby, will belong to major oil companies. And it will dribble into a pool that they control on a worldwide basis. It won’t stay here!

Unless of course you want to legislate that it does stay here. But – that would be contrary to free enterprise. It would violate all the rules of laissex-faire capitalism. It would, in fact, do what Hugo Chavez has done in Venezuela. That’s socialism, Baby. And guess what – more than 200,000 American families will have to turn to that guy in Venezuela because their own government sold them down a black, crude river of corporate indifference.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Profiles In Discouraged – Part III

                        Sideshows Over Substance

Kenneth M. O’Brien

I suspect that the majority of registered voters in Southbridge would be very happy if they never heard the following terms again – Robert’s Rules, Home Rule Charter, Town Council Rules, Open Meeting Law, etc.

I am not saying that these guidelines do not have their place.

Rather, the preoccupations with these guides to the conduct of business have taken the place of doing business.

Take for instance the meeting of December 6, 2010.

Not merely the council meeting, but the subsequent reporting in the local press was consumed with the issue of the election of a vice chairman. The next meeting was similarly a victim of a discussion of not only this issue, but also a statement by the council chair addressing issues of decorum.

Virtually overlooked in all of this quibbling over process was the serious matter of the vote at the December 6 meeting establishing a property tax rate of $17.14 per thousand. I suspect that, when push comes to shove, this will matter far more to the citizens of this town than someone’s six-month tenure as vice chairman.

In conversations with several councilors subject to the vote, none of them realized that they were voting for a tax increase. Others, as well as the administration, maintained that while the tax rate was increased by $1.98 per thousand over the prior fiscal year, it really wasn’t a tax increase. This conclusion was reached by observing that, since property values had declined, most property owners would see little if any increase in their property taxes.

If ever there was a disingenuous strain of argument, this is it. If your income were to decline by 20% but the amount you paid in income taxes stayed the same, would you have experienced a tax increase? Of course you would have.

But neither “side” has chosen to address this issue. Rather, we’ve seen a pattern of walkouts, endless debates about Robert’s Rules by those who lack little more than a “Cliff Notes” version thereof, filing of Open Meeting Law complaints, claims of being the victim of unfair treatment and ultimately a relentless stream of whining, whimpering, lecturing and vituperation. And in the midst of it all the public is left to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”.

As I said earlier, such procedural matters do have their place. The most evident case was councilor Logan’s “Point of Order” that restored the Board of Health to three members. Anyone who cannot see that the increase to five members was a cynical move to stack the Board of Health to favor a corporate interest is seriously deluded. Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s office has yet to respond to the council’s request to rule on this matter. One can only imagine the attention an average citizen would get from the person occupying that office if they were now our U.S. Senator.

I, for one, would like to see either “side” make explicit an agenda for what they want to accomplish. At the very least, I would like to hear candidates stop mouthing platitudes about what is important when they are running for office. Rather, I would like to see them set forth specifics and then, most importantly, follow up on these after they are elected. I also think that it is time for our Town Manager, as long as we are burdened with this form of government, to set forth a plan for dealing with the needs of the town and its citizens rather than merely responding to the political calculus involved in keeping his job.

Of course I realize that such expectations would require our elected officials and town administrative officials to do the real work of governing rather than playing the political games that they apparently find so gratifying.

I would welcome comments suggesting what readers of this blog think should constitute such an agenda – the more specific the better.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Profiles In Discouraged - Part II


Kenneth M. O'Brien

As Georges Santayanna famously remarked, “Those who cannot learn history are destined to repeat it”.

Thus, as my starting point, I will recount the events that have taken place in Southbridge politics leading up to and following the town election of June 2010. For the most part I will focus on the town council, but there are ancillary matters that do have a bearing on our current state of affairs. 
DATE                             EVENT                               REFERENCE  
June 7                          Cook and Tremblay resign                           SEN* June 7
                                     from Board of Health

June 20                        Lazo requests investigation into                   SEN June 25
                                      leak of Executive Session
June 21                        No quorum for council meeting                       SEN June 23

June 23                        debate among council candidates                    SEN June 25

June 25                        No quorum for council meeting                       SENJune 28

June 28                        council recommends 5 member BOH              SEN June 30
                                    Council OK’s RMV contract                           

June 29                        election returns Regis and Vandal                     SEN July 1
                                      McDonald replaces Vecchia

July 8                           Lazo re-elected council chair                            SEN July 12

------                           BOH approves smart cart                                SEN July 19

July 19                         point of order raised by counccilor                    SEN July 21
                                     Logan returns 3 member BOH

------                           Kalinowski to leave                                          SEN July 20

-------                          RMV contract                                                 SEN July 30

-------                          Access Road Bond modification                      SEN August 3
                                     will not require vote – Clark

-------                          Access Road Bond modification                      SEN August 9

-------                          Access Road Bond will require                        SEN August 12
                                      council vote

---------                       Sturbridge BOH appeals landfill                       SEN August 18

August 17                     charter review finished                                     SEN August 19

                                    RMV move set                                                SEN August 24

August 23                     Hamer Clarke made interim DPW                    SEN August 25

--------                        Clark seeks new ways to sell                            SEN August 31
                                                town property

---------                       Council needs to plug leaks                              SEN September 1

September 13               council delays vote on Duhani                 SEN September 13,
                                                                                                         September 15

September 13               Failure of gas collection system               SEN September 16
                                         at landfill         

------                           New recycling coordinator                               SEN September 14

September 21               council votes to recommend Duhani          SEN September 23

------                           BOH hires Tighe & Bond to                             SEN September 23
                                    report on landfill incident

September 27               Duhani hiring put on hold                           SEN September 27

-------                          Duhani hiring termed unlikely                      SEN September 29

-------                          Clark withdraws Duhani                                     SEN October 4

-------                          Duhani requests video                                        SEN October 7

-------                          Clark candidate for TM in Palmer                      SEN October 25

-------                          DPW chief search renewed                                SEN October 27

-------                          Action on charter review                                     SEN October 29
                                    postponed to Nov. 1

-------                          Clark withdraws Palmer app                               SEN November 3

November 10               Interviews begin for DPW chief                    SEN November 10

November 14               Laurent E. McDonald                                    SEN November 17
                                        passes away

November 29               council deadlocks on vice chair                     SEN December 1

December 6                 council elects McDonald vice chair                 SEN December 8
                                      council approves tax rate

-------                          SJC takes landfill case                                   SEN December 9

December 13               council sets special election for                    SEN December 15
                                                February 15
Lazo issues statement on decorum
                                    Council adopts link policy for town website

------                           Fontaine and Spinelli announce candidacy        SEN December 16

December 16               AG’s office holds session on                         SEN December 20
                                                new open meeting law

------                           BOH calls for new site assignment                    SEN December 27
                                                for processing facility
                                    Fontaine, Spinelli on ballot                           SEN December 30
        DeMartino signatures fall short

------                           Town sued over sewer plant                             SEN December 30


January 10                    Daley appointed DPW head                              SEN January 12
                                    council votes down “smart cart”

-------                          Chloramine proposed for water treatment               SEN January 24

January 24                    council deadlocks on Clark contract                  SEN January 26

January 30                    candidates debate                                           SEN February 1

February 7                   Report of state police investigation
                                                made available online

February 7                   Court dismisses Sturbridge                            SEN February 10
                                          landfill appeal

February 15                 Spinelli elected to council                               SEN February 17

* Southbridge Evening News


Monday, February 21, 2011

Profiles In Discouraged

Part I
Kenneth M. O’Brien

Following the June 2010 town election there was a new optimism.

I and many other local residents shared that optimism. It arose from the fact that a new majority had emerged on the town council. It arose from the fact that, shortly afterward, the town’s first Charter Review Committee was to release its report. It arose from the belief that many of the excesses and missteps of recent years would be reversed and redressed.

Seven months later we have seen that optimism evaporate. We have seen opportunities squandered. We have witnessed a descent into turmoil and dissension. Rather than correcting the errors of the past, with one notable exception, we have seen the most dysfunctional council in ten years.

Over the course of the next several installments I will attempt to analyze this course of events. I will assess where we currently find ourselves. I will also attempt to prescribe what I feel must be done to restore control to those who share my own outlook and values regarding the future of our town.

In so doing, I plan to be blunt. In many cases it will involve criticism of those whom I consider, not merely political allies but, friends.

I can only hope that they will take what I say in the spirit in which it is intended. The following clip best exemplifies that spirit. The woman addressing the President at one of his town hall meetings embodied the feelings of many of his supporters. I hope the President took her words to heart. Similarly, I hope that my friends will take what I have to say constructively rather than with knee-jerk animosity.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Where’s Joe Friday When We Need Him?

Kenneth M. O’Brien

Back in the late 1950’s there was a TV series called Dragnet. It was one of the first serialized police dramas. It starred Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday. His classic catch phrase when questioning a witness was, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

We might well wish that those who dominate the public airwaves (or those on cable and satellite) conformed to the same standards.

A study issued by, a program managed the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland on December 10, 2010, titled Misinformation and the 2010 Election, demonstrates clearly the extent to which media distortion of factual information affects voter opinion.

The study addressed a number of specific issues and set a baseline of expert opinion on the “truth” related to each of the issues. As the study explained it, “In the course of this study, to identify “misinformation” among voters, we used as reference points the conclusions of key government agencies that are run by professional experts and have a strong reputation for being immune to partisan influences. These include the Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Commerce, and the National Academy of Sciences. We also noted efforts to survey elite opinion, such as the regular survey of economists conducted by the Wall Street Journal; however, we only used this as supporting evidence for what constitutes expert opinion.”

The key issues raised were described as follows:

”The poll found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the issues prominent in the election campaign, including the stimulus legislation, the healthcare reform law, TARP, the state of the economy, climate change, campaign contributions by the US Chamber of Commerce and President Obama’s birthplace. In particular, voters had perceptions about the expert opinion of economists and other scientists that were quite different from actual expert opinion.
Many of the issues on which voters had significant misinformation were ones that voters said were significant in shaping their voting behavior. Respondents were asked to rate eleven different issues that were prominent in the election campaign on a 0-10 scale, with 0 meaning the issue was “not important at all” “in deciding how to vote,” and 10 meaning the issue was “extremely important.” All of the topics explored below had a mean score above 5. “

The state of the economy
The unemployment rate
The healthcare reform act passed by Congress
The size of the budget deficit
The package of Congressional legislation designed to stimulate the economy, also known as the stimulus bill
The amount of federal income taxes you pay
The government bailout of banks and financial institutions, also known as TARP
The war in Afghanistan
The proposed cap and trade bill designed to address climate change
The bailout program for Chrysler and General Motors
The possibility that large amounts of foreign money were being used by the US Chamber of Commerce to influence the election

The factual standards employed to evaluate voter opinion were as follows:

1. “Effect of Stimulus Legislation
The Congressional Budget Office prepares regular estimates on the effects of the stimulus on employment. In November 2010, the CBO issued the latest in a series of reports estimating the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as the act itself requires. CBO concluded that for the third quarter of 2010, ARRA had “increased the number of full time-equivalent jobs by 2.0 to 5.2 million compared to what those amounts would have been otherwise.”
Since 2003, the Wall Street Journal has maintained a panel of 55-60 economists which it questions regularly, in an effort to move beyond anecdotal reporting of expert opinion. The panel was frequently asked questions about the financial crisis as it unfolded. In March 2010 the panel was asked more broadly about the effect of the ARRA on growth. Seventy-five percent said it was a net positive.”

2. “The Healthcare Reform Law’s Effect on the Deficit
In March 2010 CBO released an estimate of how the then-pending health care legislation would affect the deficit if passed. CBO calculated that the net effect through 2019 would be to reduce the deficit by $124 billion (this figure excludes the education provisions that were also part of the legislation). Beyond 2019, the CBO estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit by roughly 0.5% of GDP.
Regarding Medicare’s contribution to the overall budget deficit, the 2010 annual report of the Boards of Trustees of the Medicare trust funds stated that ‘The financial status of the HI (Hospital Insurance) trust fund is substantially improved by the lower expenditures and additional tax revenues instituted by the Affordable Care Act. These changes are estimated to postpone the exhaustion of HI trust fund assets from 2017 under the prior law to 2029 under current law and to 2028 under the alternative scenario’ (a model that made harsher assumptions). The trustees assessed that overall, ‘The Affordable Care Act improves the financial outlook for Medicare substantially,’ “

3. “Status of the Economy
The US Bureau of Economic Analysis concluded in September 2010 that the recession had ended in June 2009. “In determining that a trough occurred in June 2009, the [Business Cycle Dating] Committee did not conclude that economic conditions since that month have been favorable or that the economy has returned to operating at normal capacity,” the bureau said. “Rather, the committee determined only that the recession ended and a recovery began in that month.”
At the time the poll was conducted, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis had recently made its first estimate of growth in 2010’s third quarter and put it at 2.0%. On November 23 (shortly after the poll), the Bureau revised its estimate to 2.5%. The Bureau also reported that overall personal income increased 0.5% in October. Private wage and salary disbursements increased $33 billion in October, compared with an increase of $8 billion in September.”

4. “Status of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
In 2005 the United States’ National Academies of Science joined the national science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom in making a joint statement about all aspects of the climate change issue. As to the reality of climate change, the academies stated: ‘Carbon dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today – higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise; the Earth’s surface warmed by approximately 0.6 centigrade degrees over the twentieth century.’
The US Congress in 2008 requested The National Academy of Sciences to research climate change. The NAS’s information base, in turn, rests in great part on climate change research that was mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990 and has been conducted by various government departments and agencies.
In April 2010 the Proceedings of the NAS published a study of expert opinion, “Expert credibility in climate change,” which found—after surveying the publications of 1,372 climate researchers—that ‘97% of self-identified actively publishing climate scientists agree with the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change].’
In May 2010 the NAS released its most recent report, which stated: ‘Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems. This conclusion is based on a substantial array of scientific evidence, including recent work, and is consistent with the conclusions of recent assessments by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, and other assessments of the state of knowledge on climate change.’ “

5.. “TARP’s Origins
The Troubled Assets Relief Program was initially proposed by President Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. on September 19, 2008. The Program was proposed to bail out banks and financial institutions involved in the subprime mortgage crisis, which was bringing on a crisis of confidence manifested in severe stock exchange drops in the United States and worldwide. A slightly altered version won the support first of the Senate, on Oct. 1, and of the House, on Oct. 3. President Bush quickly signed the bill, called the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act.
The Senate passed the bill 74-25 (with one abstention) on October 1st, 2008. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans voted in favor: Democrats (39 yeas, 9 nays, 1 abstention), Republicans (34 yeas, 16 nays).
The House passed the bill with Senate amendments with a vote of 263 in favor and 171 opposed on October 3, 2008. A large majority of Democrats voted in favor (172 yeas, 63 nays), while Republicans leaned negative despite a large number in favor (91 yeas, 108 nays).
Shortly afterward, Secretary Paulson decided to use the $250 billion in the first round of funds allocated by Congress not to buy toxic assets, but to inject cash directly into banks by purchasing shares.”
6.  Origins and Structure of the GM-Chrysler Bailout
The report of the Congressional Oversight Panel of TARP gives the following account of the origins of the GM-Chrysler bailout under President Bush:
‘The financial crisis weakened American automakers even further, constricting credit and reducing demand, turning their long-term slump into an acute crisis. By early December, Chrysler and General Motors (GM) could no longer secure the credit they needed to conduct their day-to-day operations. Unless they could raise billions of dollars in new financing, they faced collapse… The Bush Administration then announced that it would consider making TARP funds available to the automotive industry – a reversal of its previous stance that automakers were ineligible to receive TARP assistance – and on December 19 announced that Chrysler and GM would both receive TARP funds.’
The initial allocation under the Bush administration was $17.4 billion. Later under the Obama administration an additional $63 billion was made available. The government required both companies to go through orderly bankruptcies as a condition of continued assistance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Treasury ‘agreed to exchange the debt positions it held in the original companies for a blend of debt, equity, and preferred shares” in the post-bankruptcy companies. As of November 2010, the companies had repurchased roughly $11 billion in debt. After the election, General Motors made an initial public offering in which the Treasury sold some of its shares, generating $12 billion.’ “

7. “Claims Regarding the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Funds Raised Abroad
The site which major news organizations frequently depend for investigation of questionable campaign assertions—stated on October 11, 2010 that ‘no evidence has been produced’ that would support the claim that foreign money was used for political ads. Also on October 11, the site PolitiFact (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009) stated that ‘no one has offered any evidence that the Chamber of Commerce is not complying with that law’ (which bars the use of foreign funds in US campaigns), and cited an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center: ‘The law of the land right now is that if an organization like the Chamber of Commerce is using generally accepted accounting principles to show that you are not using foreign money to finance regulated activities, then you're in the clear.’ “

8. “Income Tax Changes During the Obama Administration
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, enacted in February 2009, was designed so that $288 billion of the full $787 billion would take the form of tax cuts: $237 billion toward individuals and $51 billion for businesses. Among the largest items for individuals was a payroll tax credit ($116 billion) for those earning less than $75,000. Businesses were allowed to use current losses to offset profits made during the last five years (instead of two), making many eligible for tax refunds ($15 billion).
Thus approximately one-third of the economic stimulus initiated in 2009 came in the form of tax reductions. 16 The Tax Policy Center estimates that the Obama tax cuts saved 97% of U.S. households an average of $1,179 in 2009 (the program continued in 2010).
Tax cuts were delivered by lowering tax withheld from paychecks over time. The Obama administration’s Making Work Pay credit and its expansion of the earned income credit were both built into the tax tables. Making Work Pay was administered by reducing withholding, and the earned income credit at the time tax returns were filed on April 15. The administration also extended the patch on the alternative minimum tax.”

9. “Troop Levels in Afghanistan
The Obama administration has increased US troop levels in Afghanistan in two stages. In 2008 there were about 33, 000 US troops in Afghanistan; as of November there were 90,000.”

10. “Obama’s Birth
The claim that Obama was not born within the United States was proven to be false in 2008. Researchers for the site examined the physical birth certificate authenticated by the state of Hawaii and provided an exhaustive account of it, together with five photographs from various angles. Factcheck’s article also reproduces the birth announcement that Barack Obama’s parents posted in the Sunday edition of the Honolulu Advertiser on August 13, 1961.”

The findings of the study, as they related to voter misinformation on each topic, were as follows:

” For each topic, the news source with the lowest level of misinformation among its daily consumers was as follows:
·    most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved  or created only a few jobs or caused job losses: MSNBC, 65% misinformed
·    among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law, more  think it will increase the deficit: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 38%
·    the bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama: MSNBC, 38%
·    the US economy is getting worse: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 34%
·    the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts: MSNBC, 34%
·    the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under President Obama only: MSNBC, 32%
·    since January 2009 the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up: MSNBC, 27%
·    it is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the  US: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 24%
·    when TARP came up for a vote, Democrats were opposed or divided: Fox News, 21%
·    when TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it: CNN, 28%
·    it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans: Fox News, 23%
·    most scientists think climate change is not occurring or views are divided evenly: MSNBC and public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), both 20%

This suggests that misinformation cannot simply be attributed to news sources, but are part of the larger information environment that includes statements by candidates, political ads and so on.”

Finally, the study found that, of all the news outlets that it studied, the one whose viewers had the highest level of misinformation were those who were regular viewers of Fox News.

” Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:

·    most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)

·    most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)

·    the economy is getting worse (26 points)

·    most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)

·    the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)

·    their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)

·    the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)

·    when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)

·    and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.”

Those who wish to read the full report and evaluate it without editorial intermediation can find it at

Perhaps nothing is more disheartening than the observation made by Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” on December 16 that more coverage was given to the plight of 9/11 first responders and the so-called “Zadruga Bill” on Al Jazeera than on any domestic network.
To see the Al Jazeera video, go to

Perhaps we can revise the Simon and Garfunkel classic, “Mrs. Robinson” to say “Where have you gone Joe Friday, our nation turns their misled minds to you.”

We certainly need someone who wants, “Just the facts.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Hope I Was Wrong

Kenneth M. O’Brien

Congratulations to Larry Spinelli on his victory yesterday in Southbridge’s Town Council election to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Laurent McDonald.

I’ve made it no secret that my sympathies and support favored his opponent, Gary Fontaine.

But, in politics as in sports, once the score is in it is time to move on.

I am encouraged by Mr. Spinelli’s remarks in the local paper. Most specifically I am encouraged by his comment that he is humbled by his victory. If there is one thing that has been in short supply on the council, it is humility.

Throughout the race a number of people, myself included, painted Mr. Spinelli as a partisan of one of the council’s factions. I look forward to Mr. Spinelli proving me wrong. I hope that he will demonstrate the independence and integrity that was exemplified by the man whose seat he will be occupying. Mr. Spinelli’s predecessor casts a long shadow. Let us hope that the new councilor can emerge from that shadow.

I pray that he can make a clear choice for the people over partisanship.

Only time will tell.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Who's The Big Dripper?


Kenneth M. O’Brien

Well, it’s been over a week since this site made available the report of the State Police investigation into who leaked minutes of Executive Session materials to the press.

This site conducted a poll on whether that report was “inconclusive”.

Over 70% of those who voted said that “NO” the report was not inconclusive.

The following is purely a matter of opinion in trying to understand why such a vast majority of those who expressed an opinion came to that conclusion.

The first element relating to the investigation was the original evaluation by the Southbridge police. According to the report:

”2. On Monday June 21, 2010 Sgt. Roettger met with each Southbridge town councilor. The purpose of these meetings was to inspect their packets which were delivered to each councilor over the weekend. These packets contained the executive session minutes from April 12 detailing the Registry of Motor Vehicles coming back to Southbridge and a copy of the DCAM contract for same. Sgt. Roettger was inspecting each of these packets for any type of tampering such as staples removed or heavy folding which would indicate someone making a photo copy of the enclosed material. A check of all the town councilor’s packets by Sgt. Roettger revealed no signs of tampering, altered staples or heavy folding.”

As I noted in an earlier post:
If I am making copies of such material to provide to the press, what is to prevent me from making an additional copy and substituting it in my packet for the original?
Would a simple examination of such a copy betray any tampering?
No, of course not. What should have been done, in my opinion, was to compare all councilors’ copies to one another. Such a comparison would, among other things, compare the staples used, the quality of the paper in the copies, the alignment of the print on the pages, etc.”

Lacking this comparison, I am of the opinion that such a cursory examination would not allow anyone to claim that they passed evaluation with flying colors.

The most compelling information in the report, in my opinion, that would have resulted in respondents feeling that the report was not inconclusive, is the following:

“10.  On August 24, 2010 this officer reported to the Southbridge Town Hall and spoke with Town Manager Christopher Clark. We talked about the town council members in regards to why someone would do this or who could benefit from the release of the minutes and RMV contract to the newspaper. We also talked about any other employees who may have had access to the executive session minutes or the DCAM contract for the RMV. Clark advised that he has conversation [sic] with the newspaper on a weekly basis, both the Southbridge Evening News and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette but would never release information from an executive session and never has. Clark mentioned that on Sunday 6/20/10 he received a voicemail on his cell phone from Ryan Grannan-Doll of the Southbridge Evening News. This voicemail consisted of Grannan-Doll stating that he had a full copy of the RMV lease which was provided to him by a member of the town council and that he has some questions in regards to this that he would like to ask. Mr. Clark was furious that someone had leaked this information and never returned Grannan-Doll’s call.

"11. Clark stated that there were numerous councilors who talk to the media and that there have been leaks of information in the past. He mentioned that earlier this year a story about a lawsuit against the town was leaked to the newspaper. He felt bad about the situation and the immaturity of the town council. Clark was aware that the Worcester Telegram and Gazette had the same information that the Southbridge Evening News had regarding the RMV coming back to Southbridge. Lee was insinuating to Clark that he had gotten this information from a “little birdie”. Clark asked Lee “How big was the birdie”? Lee replied “It was Al Vecchia”! Clark was somewhat stunned by this revelation but felt that Lee was telling the truth and had actually erred by making this statement. Clark advised this officer that Vecchia lost his seat in the town election on June 29, 2010. Clark also mentioned that Walter Bird Jr. was no longer employed by the Southbridge Evening News.”

There are a number of issues that arise from this portion of the report.

First, why would the Town Manager make this statement if it were not true? And why didn't the Town Manager inform the Council of what he was told? What did he have to gain from keeping silent?

Second, if it is true, it is my opinion that, despite the fact that it is hearsay, it could still constitute admissible evidence in a legal proceeding. I base this upon what is called the “declaration against interest” provision of the Federal Rules of Evidence that provide as follows:
“Published by the Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School, Dec. 2010. For decisions interpreting the rules plus state evidence materials, visit the LII Evidence page.
(b) Hearsay exceptions.
(3) Statement against interest. A statement that:
(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if the person believed it to be true because, when made, it was so contrary to the declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest or had so great a tendency to invalidate the declarant’s claim against someone else or to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability; and
(B) is supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness, if it is offered in a criminal case as one that tends to expose the declarant to criminal liability.”

I am of the opinion that such a statement by Brian Lee is “…contrary to the declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest…”. While I applaud his forthrightness, it would appear to me that the revelation of what one would construe to have been a confidential source is contrary to his career interests. Thus, I feel that such a statement would constitute legally admissible evidence.

Third, one has to ask if the Town Manager made the Town Council Chairman aware of this information before the Chairman requested the investigation. If not, the costs of this investigation, borne by the taxpayers, might very well have resulted from the Town Manager’s withholding of pertinent information and a violation of his fiduciary obligations.

Fourth, and finally, it seems to me that the bulk of real evidence points to the opinion that the leak of Executive Session minutes to the press was done by former Town Councilor Albert D. Vecchia, Jr. I stress that this is only my opinion as well as an effort to reasonably explain the results of the poll that this site has conducted.

If there is any validity to this opinion, then it makes especially ironic the following statement by Mr. Vecchia to the Southbridge Evening News in its edition of June 25, 2010:

"'Leaking is never justified' he [Vecchia] added, noting executive sessions deal with 'too many delicate things' whose exposure 'might hurt the bargaining process'."