Friday, December 30, 2011


From Ken O'Brien

New Year's Resolutions for Southbridge Town Leaders

Ken O'Brien

New Year's Eve is traditionally a night given to thoughts of new beginnings.

We put behind us the mistakes and misgivings of the old year. One last night of revelry casts out the demons of the past to make way for the angels of rebirth.

To sanctify this commitment to a better future we engage in the crafting of New Year's resolutions. The exercise makes a concrete statement of how we plan to realize our phoenix-like ambitions.

In that spirit of starting over, let me suggest some resolutions for our current community leadership in Southbridge.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Making Facts Malleable

Ken O'Brien

I've often resorted to the observation that, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."

However that is becoming increasingly more difficult to argue.

The reason is the growth of a conservative media offensive that willfully distorts verifiable facts to perpetuate an alternative view that supports their ideology. In a sense they have injected a religious component into their political ideology that dictates that adherents accept their version of the "truth" on faith.

Such is not merely a reversion to the since renounced medieval church's response to Galileo. It is also an oxymoronic adoption of the philosophy of Islamic fundamentalists that they so roundly abhor.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Ken O'Brien

Gridlock is a term that appears to have originated in New York City in the 1970’s.

To quote from Wikipedia:

The term gridlock is defined as "A state of severe road congestion arising when continuous queues of vehicles block an entire network of intersecting streets, bringing traffic in all directions to a complete standstill; a traffic jam of this kind.” The term originates from a situation possible in a grid plan where intersections are blocked, preventing vehicles from either moving forwards through the intersection or backing up to an upstream intersection….
The traditional form of gridlock is caused by traffic heading in one direction across an intersection. This traffic is then stopped, by sometimes too much capacity for the roadway or an accident, blocking the intersection. The drivers in the other direction then go into the blocked intersection trying to get through. In many jurisdictions, drivers are prohibited from entering an intersection at a green light if there is no room for them to clear the intersection. If drivers follow this rule of the road, gridlock will be prevented and traffic will only be slow in the direction that is actually congested. One method of reducing gridlock is to aggressively enforce penalties for vehicles that block intersections.

Saturday, December 24, 2011



Ken O'Brien

During her remarks at the start of December 19th's town council meeting, the council chair said:

"...we [the town council] represent the entire community, you are not, the people sitting here in the audience, are not the entire community. You are part of the community, and as we are trying to be respectful of you, we require, expect and demand that you be respectful of us as well."

You've got to love the dichotomy of the parallelism in this statement.

The chair is saying. "... we are trying to be respectful of you".

To quote the words of that interstellar sage, Yoda, "Do or do not... there is no try.”

Friday, December 23, 2011


Ken O'Brien

Southbridge Town Council Rule 19a. says:

"Councilors Forum will be an agenda item on each regularly scheduled Town Council meeting. The purpose of Councilors' Forum is to conduct Council business."

At December 19th's council meeting the council chair began by lecturing the assembled citizenry of her intention to see that proper decorum would be maintained during meetings. Any interruptions by catcalls or applause would result in removal of the offenders from the hall.

As a less than subtle punctuation to this admonition, one only had to notice the presence of four police officers in the council chambers.

Apparently, however, adherence to proper decorum is more a function of how favorably your conduct is viewed by the chair rather than by its actual propriety.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Republican Big Lie….

And How It Can Trip Them Up Now

Ken O’Brien

The current Washington soap opera relates to the extension of payroll tax cuts that would benefit the vast majority of Americans in the middle class.

The core issue is the manner in which we would pay for this tax holiday.

Democrats have proposed a surtax on those earning in excess of $1 million per year

Republicans initially proposed further spending cuts. Now, in the absurd compromise for a two month extension, the proposal is to have a surcharge on mortgage fees for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae mortgages.

However, it is acknowledged that such a “pay for” would be insufficient for a full year extension.
So, come January, the battle will be joined again on the issue of how to pay for these payroll tax cuts.

Season's Greetings?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh Paul, We Miss You!

As we all know the town manager has forced through his "reorganization" of the public access channels.

At the core of this was the dismissal of Paul Zotos as the Director of that operation and the decision to hire three part-timers to replace him. Never mind the fact that, after years of service, and numerous awards, Paul was dismissed months before he would have been eligible for retirement and a pension.

One of the primary reasons cited in Paul's dismissal was a video that he recorded following the June tornado. In it, then town council chairman Steve Lazo was shown helping clear trees that had been devastated in the event.

Wall Street Crapshoot

So you think that we learned something from the 2008 financial meltdown?

Think again.

A major factor in the financial crisis was the use of synthetic derivatives that essentially turned into a casino game. These abstruse financial instruments brought about, among other things, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the bailout of AIG and numerous banks and the bankruptcy of the country of Iceland.

So it would seem that, if anything, some sanity would be restored to the use of these mechanisms.

Not so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Snark Trumps Smart Again

Ken O'Brien

At last night's meeting the town council chairman once again demonstrated her ignorance of procedure.

In a none-too-veiled reference to the previous chairman Steve Lazo she remarked that unlike the case of the charter review committee she was not naming the chairman of the bylaw review committee. Rather, she would allow the committee to elect its own chairman.

Apparently she has forgotten that the town council rules provide that, unless otherwise stated, the council's conduct shall be governed by Robert's Rules of Order.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Delay, Intimidate

Ken O'Brien

I recently wrote a piece remarking on the apparent absence of the firm specializing in municipal law from town activities.

Well, so much for that seeming hiatus.

As many of you are probably aware, a case is pending in Worcester Superior Court challenging the validity of the bylaw expanding the Board of Health from 3 to 5 members. (This should not be confused with a separate action now before the State Supreme Court relating to the landfill site assignment hearings).

Attorney Pecci was notified by Atty. Adam Costa of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead on December 15th that, in anticipation of a Motion for Summary Judgment in the case, he had scheduled a series of depositions of six of the plaintiffs between Tuesday and Thursday of this week at Southbridge Town Hall.

Attorney Pecci responded to the proposed deposition with the following letter and motion:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sweeping Change Coming to Town Council

Dennis Martinek and Ken O'Brien

At December 19th's meeting, the town council will take up the following item:

17. Vote to authorize the Town Manager to proceed with the procurement process to purchase a Street Sweeper and to fund this purchase, that $172,000 is appropriated for the purpose for financing the purchase of a Street Sweeper and to meet this appropriation the Treasurer with the approval of the Town Manager is authorized to borrow $146,155.00 and issue bonds or notes therefore under Section 7 and/or 8 of Chapter 44 of the General Laws, or any other enabling authority; that such bonds or notes shall be general obligations of the Town and to fund the balance of the project by appropriating $10,000 from Sewer Enterprise Retained Earnings, $10,000 from Water Enterprise Retained Earnings and by transferring $2,046.00 from #6325 Replace Boilers, $2,474.00 from #6323 FY 2010 Capital Budget and $1,325.00 #6317 Pleasant Street Paving.
                                                                        (2/3 Roll Call Vote Required)

At a time when the taxpayers would like to see a concerted effort at austerity, this item is especially troubling.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mommie State Dearest

Ken O'Brien

Unlike the "nanny state" that many conservative critics claim that American liberals are making of our country, Southbridge has become a mommy state.

However, in contrast to the altruistic motives that underlie any conception of the "nanny state", Southbridge's mommy state is more aptly characterized as a "mommie dearest state" as exemplified by the iconic book and movie Mommie Dearest.

While both employ an element of the proverbial stick, there are clearly distinguishable matters of motive, degree and the absence of any carrot.

Southbridge's "mommie state" has devolved from any uses of incentives to one based entirely upon intimidation and penalties.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Southbridge Charter Review Committee Strikes Back

Ken O'Brien

Back in July I wrote a post entitled The Charter Chupacabra.

In that article I made a series of predictions on how the current council would amend the recommendations of the Charter Review Committee.

With one exception all of those predictions came true. The sole exception was that the council would recommend changing the position of Town Clerk from elected to appointed. Perhaps this was a bridge too far. Perhaps it reflected the fact that the current Town Clerk had changed her party affiliation from Democrat to unenrolled.

Having been duly appointed in accordance with the terms of the Town Charter, the members of the Charter Review Committee felt obligated to respond to the actions of the town council.

Faux News Redux

Ken O'Brien

Back in February I published a piece titled "Where's Joe Friday When We Need Him?"  

In it I detailed a study by the University of Maryland that found that viewers of Fox News were the most misinformed of all consumers of broadcast news.

Now a recent study by  Fairleigh Dickinson University confirms that result:

"According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, some news sources make us less likely to know what’s going on in the world. In the most recent study, the poll asked New Jerseyans about current events at home and abroad, and from what sources – if any – they get their information. The conclusion:

Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Southbridge Town Council - A Year in Review

Ken O’Brien

The last year has been a tumultuous one in Southbridge politics ("So what else is new?").

The year was marked by a major power shift on the town council as a result of a special election in February to fill the unexpired term of Councilor Laurent E. McDonald who passed away in November of 2010.

The election resulted in the councilorship of Larry Spinelli, widely perceived as the candidate of the Future of Southbridge coalition.

The power shift was consolidated in the June election which returned councilor Nikolla for her third term (and re-ascension to the chair) and the election of Darlene Marcucci and David Langevin, both of whom had served on the council in previous years. All of these were similarly viewed as the candidates of the same coalition.

Now, as 2011 comes to a close, and before the inevitable emergence of a new campaign season, it seems appropriate to review and analyze what the result of this shift in power has been on Southbridge's town council.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mythbuster - NPR debunks "Job Creator" Catch Phrase

Ken O'Brien

Who can forget the rabid efforts by GOP forces in the Congress to defund National Public Radio earlier this year?

Further evidence of their motives for such an effort was provided today.

It has become axiomatic that any effort to raise taxes on the top 1% is met with the argument by Republicans that, "We can't raise taxes on the job creators."

In fact, Republicans have argued vehemently that tax reductions for  the rich don't have to be paid for because they pay for themselves in increased economic benefits (i.e. the gains to the rich trickle down to the 99%).

Will We Be Fooled Again?

Ken O'Brien

On Saturday, November 26th another article appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette promoting the interests of Casella. It was titled  "Waste Not".

Interestingly, as the town council is reconsidering a bylaw that would create an Industrial Finance Development Authority that, as I've shown elsewhere, would primarily benefit Casella (particularly in the area of cogeneration projects) this carefully crafted promotional puff piece suddenly appears!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Goes Mainstream

Ken O'Brien

On Tuesday night the Los Angeles City Council went on record as the first major city passing a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not persons and that money is not speech.

The reported, "Thanks to ground work by the U.S. Green Party, the wave of Occupy Wall Street empowerment and Human Rights Alert, today, Los Angeles became the first major U.S. city to vote against corporate personhood and call for a Constitutional Amendment asserting corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not free speech. The vote was unanimous."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Through The Looking Glass

Ken O'Brien

With all that is going on in Anne Beinema's situation, I had to ask myself several questions.

First and foremost is, "Why is this case being carried by our local attorney Rob Caprera?"

Don't get me wrong. I know Rob, I like him, and I respect him.

But, with all legitimately due respect, he is not a specialist in municipal law.

Up until a couple of years ago Southbridge was represented by Kopelmann & Paige.

The council subsequently decided to drop that firm (except regarding a few ongoing matters) and hire two attorneys. One would be local and, as a backup when needed, a law firm specializing in municipal law in Massachusetts.

As the local attorney, intended to handle matters of a more everyday and non-specialized nature, Mr. Caprera was chosen.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Taxpayers Aren't Santa

Ken O'Brien

December 5th's Southbridge town council meeting illustrated the upside down nature of town government.

Councilors and citizens were informed that they had no choice regarding the property tax rate. Their only choice was whether there would be a single rate for all property owners or different rates for industrial, commercial and residential properties.

Now, whether you're a household or a business, the first thing you do when you prepare a budget is determine your income. Then you formulate a budget that fits within that income.

Not so for town government. First you establish your budget and later you set the income you will extort from the taxpayers.

I believe that it is time to institute a change that will correct this topsy-turvy situation.

Hello Again - Maybe

by Ken O'Brien

Given the progress of politics recently in Southbridge, I am considering reactivating the O'Zone. I welcome your thoughts as to whether you feel this would contribute to the discussion or simply be an addition to the noise factor in local affairs.