Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Manufacturing Jobs Returning to America?

Ken O’Brien

There may be hope for a return of manufacturing jobs that have moved overseas.
The following report appeared on Rock Center with Brian Williams on Monday, January 30th.

Religion and Health Insurance

Ken O'Brien

Last Sunday in Catholic churches around the country priests told their congregations that they opposed new government rules that would require church sponsored institutions to offer contraceptive services in their health insurance programs. Other Christian denominations also vented their opposition to this requirement.

America's newest demagogue-in-chief, Newt Gingrich, seized on the subject to rail against "Obama's war on religion".

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thank You Times Two

Ken O'Brien

I started this blog on February 7, 2011.

During that time you, the readers, have been very kind to me.

I cannot underestimate the contribution of Dennis Martinek who, when he took a hiatus from his own blog, as well as his recent decision to retire from the scene, chose to direct his loyal readers to The O'Zone.

Nevertheless, I am flattered by the choice of those readers to continue to return here.

Paul Zotos - from 1979

Thanks to Mike Marketti for this blast from the past.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bleeding A Stone

Ken O’Brien
Over the last three days I’ve reviewed several factors underlying the economic situation of the town of Southbridge.
The starting point was the casual remark by our town manager regarding the reality of the dramatic increase in the sewer enterprise fund over the last year.
At the heart of this remark was a callous disregard for the burden imposed upon Southbridge residents as Mike Marketti has amply demonstrated.

Southbridge Home Values Suffer In Comparison to Other Local Communities

Ken O’Brien
Yesterday I published data comparing the relative property tax rates for Southbridge and surrounding communities.
Today we will take a graphic look at the pattern of home sales in the same communities. Over a five-year period, with charts derived from City-Data, it is reasonable to take the trend in home sales and prices as representative of the general health of the housing market in each town.
A cursory review will show that two communities have shown a general downward trend in home values over the five years studied. Those two are Southbridge and Spencer. In Southbridge, however, the rate of decline is much steeper.
Webster shows a downward trend over the period 2006-2007, but this is followed by a stabilization of prices in subsequent years.
Sturbridge demonstrates slightly erratic behavior over the same period, but stabilizing prices thereafter.
Charlton saw a sharp decline in the fourth quarter of 2008, coinciding with the peak of the worldwide financial crisis. This was more pronounced than in any other community studied. Following this aberration, however, Charlton is showing a tendency toward price stabilization.
Dudley’s pattern is somewhat similar to that in Webster, but to a far less dramatic degree.
The remaining smaller communities show high degrees of variability to be expected from smaller sample sizes. Nevertheless these tend to cluster around a fairly stable central trend line.
The clear conclusion is that Southbridge’s property values have suffered a steady decline that is not found to a similar extent or degree in any surrounding community.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Property Tax Rate Comparisons for 2012: Southbridge Still Highest Locally

Ken O'Brien

Last year I prepared a comparison of Southbridge‘s property tax rate relative to other local communities.
Below is the updated list for Fiscal Year 2012, as well as the prior data from FY 2011.
Those who wish to denigrate these comparisons will throw up the same old tired argument that it’s not the rate that matters.
Stop to consider that a rate of $17.83 per thousand is a percentage. In other words, you’re being charged 1.78% of the value of your home. That’s no different than saying that you’re paying the same percentage as somebody who can afford a $500,000 home. Isn’t the person who owns a $500,000 home more capable of paying 1.78% than the person who can only afford a $120,000 home?
In other words, should the person who makes only $40,000 per year pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as the person who makes $200,000 per year? It ultimately boils down to the same thing.
Furthermore, if you look at other communities with higher home values, is your 1.78 percent equivalent to the 1.76% of a home’s value that they are paying in Sturbridge?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Southbridge Residents Being Suffocated By Sewerage

Ken O’Brien
One of the most overlooked aspects of January 23rd’s town council meeting was related to agenda item number 9. That agenda item read:
“Vote to appropriate the sum of $69,403.03 from Sewer Retained Earnings to Wastewater Treatment facility Upgrades project Fund 380.”
While the motion itself was not controversial, the exchange between councilor Conrad Vandal and the town manager relative to this item warranted more attention.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Unemployed? Find Your Dream Job In Southbridge

Ken O'Brien

Do you need a job?

Don't despair - Southbridge has plenty of money. All it takes is some creativity on your part and an aggressive desire to define your dream vocation.

As I reported yesterday, the Town Manager is busy creating new positions that are not even provided for in the town bylaws.

Why should you miss out?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Breaking News: Southbridge Town Manager Wants a New Employee

Ken O’Brien
I now have it confirmed by reliable sources within town hall that the town manager has come up with plans for a new position (paid for, presumably, with your tax dollars) that will also reward someone who (in my opinion) showed substantial kindness to the administration in the past.
The proposal will be to create a part-time director (or whatever title) for the town recreation committee.
Now, in the first place, the town recreation committee is in somewhat of a legal limbo. The current town bylaws, last revised on October 3rd, 2011 says about this committee:
Section 3-215 Recreation Committee
What does that mean?

Southbridge’s Rogue Regime – Part 2

Ken O’Brien
As regular readers of the O’Zone know, we first reported on the issue surrounding a second candidate for a full-time position at the Southbridge police department on January 20.
On January 21 we reported additional information detailing how the town administration planned to extend the period for this candidate to meet the eligibility requirements for that position.
At January 23rd’s town council meeting, during councilors’ forum, councilor Darlene Marcucci raised this issue.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Southbridge’s Rogue Regime

Ken O’Brien
John Adams famously observed that a republic is “a government of laws, and not of men.”
This view was subsequently enshrined in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Article XXX of the Bill of Rights states:
“Art. XXX. In the government of this commonwealth, the legislative department shall never exercise the executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them; the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers, or either of them; to the end it may be a government of laws, and not of men. “
At January 23rd’s meeting of the Southbridge Town Council, the ruling majority threw this concept out the window

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hand In Glovernment

Ken O’Brien
Item 11 on tonight’s town council agenda is, “Vote to approve the utilization of $3,000 from the “Grow Southbridge Fund” for the Southbridge-Downtown Partnership Event on May 31, 2012.”
I initially commented on this proposal on January 16 when it was first announced in the local paper.
Now we have a copy of the proposal for this funding from the Director of  Economic Development and Planning to the Town Manager, as well as a copy of the letter to the town council chair from the President of the Southbridge Downtown Partnership.

Agenda - Southbridge Town Council - January 23, 2012

Ken O'Brien

Since it is still not available on the town website, here is the agenda for tonight's town council meeting.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gabby Giffords To Resign From Congress

With Thanks to Dennis Martinek

Terra 25: A Call to High School Students and Teachers

Submitted by
Monika Agnello

Recycled Helmet - Woodstock
The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities (QVCAH) is sponsoring Terra 25, the 2nd Annual High School Student Recycled Art Exhibit.
In April of 2011 QVCAH sponsored Terra Verde, Terra Munde; Celebrate Our Earth in Spring, a recycled art exhibition that opened with great success thanks to the many entries of students from a number of school districts. In 2012 the expanded venue includes the front lawn of the Art Center. The addition of this exterior space opens up the call for submissions to include larger outdoor sculptural projects & site specific installations that may not fit inside the galleries.
Proven to be of great interest to a wide audience, this exhibition celebrates Earth Month and the start of Spring.
The exhibition will be held from April 22nd through May 13th, 2012, with an opening reception held on Sunday, April 22, from Noon to 3 pm at the Art Center, 111 Main Street, Southbridge, MA.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Update on Southbridge Police Candidates

Ken O’Brien

Reliable sources are now telling me that candidate for full-time Southbridge police officer, Ms. Ortiz-Diaz, will be made a dispatcher until she can qualify for the police academy in June.

I have no bias against this person; I am only addressing the process and the apparent hypocrisy that is going on.

Immediately before the section that I previously quoted from the town manager's response to Roger Caouette, Mr. Clark said, "…we were attempting to recruit people and have those done in order to try to get to an academy so we could get officers into an academy.”

Friday, January 20, 2012

Two Strikes for Southbridge Police Candidates

Ken O’Brien
On December 19, 2011, the Southbridge Town Council voted to approve the appointment of three full-time police officers recommended by Police Chief Daniel Charette and the subcommittee on the Protection of Persons and Property.
The three candidates approved were Daniel P. Rogers of Southbridge, Miosotis Diaz-Ortiz of Southbridge and Brian A Ruggieri of Brookfield.
Rogers was subsequently compelled to withdraw his candidacy when it was found that he had made videos posted on you-tube that were described in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette of January 7, 2012. “During a scene in one video, a man wearing women’s clothing rings the doorbell to a home, and after an exchange, the respondent points a gun at the cross-dresser’s head, threatening to shoot him.
The sketch appears to make fun of both people in same-sex relationships and, because of the manner in which one character spoke, people who are developmentally challenged.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let’s Waste More Time and Money

Ken O’Brien
“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.” ― John Lennon
In January 19th’s Southbridge Evening News the headline read, “Seeking vision, town needs people for master plan process”.
The article went on to say, “To Economic Development Director Sandy Acly, ‘The master plan is definitely a visionary process.’ As such, it will need as many people to be involved as possible.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dennis Departs

Ken O’Brien
After almost five years as the leading blogger in Southbridge, Dennis Martinek has decided to retire from the arena.
His site, Speak Out Southbridge, became a mainstay of local life in the virtual world.
Often controversial, frequently vilified, it was nevertheless always entertaining.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Ken O’Brien
(suggested by Stephanie De Martino)
Direct TV and Sunbeam Television are engaged in an economic conflict over the fees that Direct TV should pay to Sunbeam for the rights to carry WHDH TV Channel 7 and WLVI Channel 56.
Whatever the outcome, the losers are local viewers who receive Direct TV.
On February 5 NBC will broadcast the Superbowl. WHDH is the local NBC broadcast outlet.
If this dispute is not settled by then, Direct TV subscribers will not receive a broadcast of the Superbowl.


Ken O’Brien
For forty years I have waited for the term “creative destruction” to enter the American political lexicon.
More than any other concept, this idea, first popularized in its contemporary form by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, clarifies the proper contemporary framework for government fiscal policies and intervention in the economy.
It is ironic that it has been raised as an issue by the Republican frontrunner for the Presidential nomination Mitt Romney.
The irony lies in the fact that someone posturing as a small government, free market conservative should advance a concept that, in the final analysis, provides the best justification for Progressive policies of government involvement in the economy and the existence of social safety nets.
“Creative destruction” addresses the historical tendency for new industries to supplant and gain dominance over an earlier pattern of production.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The American Worker Has Become Obsolete

Ken O'Brien


When you get right down to it, this is the most important issue on the minds of people as we approach another Presidential election.

The reality is that there is very little any presidential candidate can do about it.

Climate Change Deniers Resort To Threats and Intimidation

Ken O’Brien
Back at the end of December when I wrote “Making Facts Malleable” I really didn’t anticipate the extent to which people would go to distort reality for political reasons. Well, my cynicism has taken another major leap forward. Consider the case of MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Breaking News: Supreme Court Withdraws Decision in Southbridge Landfill Case

Ken O'Brien

I have just received the following email from Kirstie Pecci:

"I found out after the court was closed for the day that on 1/12/12 the SJC withdrew the decision they issued on 1/10/12.  I assume that this was to correct an administrative error -- remember these are the same folks who lost half of the volumes we submitted -- but I don't know why they withdrew it.  I will let you know as soon as I do."

The official notice of the withdrawal can be found at:

At this time no further information is available.

UPDATE: (9:10 pm, 1/13/2012) Knowledgeable sources, whose names I am not at liberty to disclose, have speculated that another reason that the SJC may have withdrawn the decision is because the court may have erred in dismissing the merits of the case. The dismissal would still stand on the other grounds cited, but the court may conceivably reverse itself as regards the merits of the case.

Bane Capital and Southbridge

Ken O’Brien

I have watched with dark amusement as the debate has evolved over Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.

In the midst of this, the residents of Southbridge should take into account their own history. It illuminates quite clearly how this issue is being clouded by those who want you to believe that they are merely defending the free market system.

Late Night Revival

Ken O'Brien

For a long time now I have been telling my friends that Jimmy Fallon is the best thing to happen to late night television since Johnny Carson.

Last night, however, he hit what I regard as a high point in demonstrating this. Not only was it a uniquely clever concept, but the execution was flawless. In this piece Fallon demonstrated not merely that he is funny, but that he is genuinely talented as well.

I hope that you enjoy this as much as I did.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Republicans: Darwin Was Right - When It Comes To Society

Ken O'Brien

According to the National Journal, “On evolution, just 23 percent of Republicans said in a 2009 Pew poll that human life had evolved solely through a natural process, while another 26 percent said evolution had occurred under divine guidance and 39 percent said life has always existed in its present form. When Gallup phrased the choices slightly differently last December [2010], just 8 percent of Republicans said they believed human life had evolved without assistance from God, 36 percent said evolution had proceeded under divine guidance, and a 52 percent majority said God had created “human beings pretty much in their present form.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Well, That Didn't Work!

Ken O'Brien

About a week ago the signs disappeared.

The "Make Southbridge Home" campaign skulked quietly into oblivion like so many other schemes of the current town administration.

Announced with all the fanfare of a new street sweeper on the front page of the Southbridge Evening News of  March 15, 2011, this was the bone thrown to Southbridge homeowners who wanted to follow the advice of our current council chair. You remember that immortal dictum where she told us that if we didn't like the way things were being done we could sell our homes and move.

Unfortunately, residents found that homes in Southbridge were selling as quickly as loofahs in a leper colony.

Like Mighty Mouse our Economic Development and Planning Office stepped in to save the day.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Massachusetts Supreme Court Dismisses Landfill Appeal

by Ken O'Brien

The Massachusetts Supreme Court today issued its ruling in the case of BOARD OF HEALTH OF STURBRIDGE & others vs. BOARD OF HEALTH OF SOUTHBRIDGE & another. In its decision the court decided that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit.

Writing for the majority, Justice Bostsford stated, " In July of 2008, the plaintiffs filed an appeal in the Superior Court from a decision of the defendant board of health of Southbridge (board) approving a "minor modification" to the site assignment for an existing landfill and related processing facility in that town under G. L. c. 111, § 150A (§ 150A). The plaintiffs brought their appeal pursuant to G. L. c. 30A, § 14. In response to a motion to dismiss, two judges in the Superior Court ruled that as parties before the board, the plaintiffs had standing to bring their complaint for judicial review to the Superior Court. However, the second judge (motion judge) concluded that the plaintiffs' challenges to the board's decision failed on the merits. Final judgment entered on December 16, 2009, affirming the board's decision.

Local Groups Prepare for Town Elections

Ken O'Brien

Well, the New Year has come and gone, and in Southbridge that can mean only one thing - the start of election season.

While town elections don't happen until June, various local groups are already preparing for the event.

There is of course the town council as a whole (or at least seven of nine) who are hoping to place their planned charter distortions on the ballot. Their nefarious ambitions were bolstered today by an email from state representative Peter Durant (R - Spencer).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Our "Chief" Celebrity

Ken O’Brien

Andy Warhol observed, “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.”

With relentless inevitability this prediction has now come true for our top civil servant.

Southbridge Chief of Police Daniel Charette is now starring in a series of public service announcements on behalf of the Central Mass Chiefs of Police Association. The spots have been produced and aired by Charter Cable TV, Channel 3.

Among the topics addressed by the Chief are the dangers of texting while driving and the risks posed by driving in snow.

The Conscience of a Conservative?

Ken O'Brien

Copyright by Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
Back between Christmas and New Year's I engaged in a little bit of reflection.

Having just rebooted The O'Zone at the start of December, I thought about how I might make it more useful to my readers.

I decided that one thing that I could do was to provide links to other blogs in the area that might provide viewpoints and information that would be both useful and enlightening.

While my primary focus is political, I decided that I would not limit myself to that genre alone. I also decided that I would welcome opposing points of view.

In looking for local blogs I came across one for the Sturbridge Tea Party.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What? We Worry?

Ken O'Brien

Clearly there are no problems in Southbridge.

The current leadership, returning from their Christmas and New Year's hiatus. has clearly determined that we are living in a virtual Utopia.

How else can you explain a town council agenda at the start of 2012 that contains absolutely no business?

I mean no business!

Lest you think that I exaggerate, here is the agenda for Monday, January 9th, 2012.

Flashback : Remembering How Fox News Covered the Arrival of The Beatles

Always on the forefront of the culture wars, Fox News was the first to decry the threat posed by these foreign musical marauders.

In retrospect it is clear how right they were and how our society has been damaged by our failure to heed their warning.

As  this election year unfolds, let us not lose sight of how O'Reilly, Hannity. Palin, Dick Morris, Bernie Goldberg, Frank Luntz and the whole Fox News team are on the side of what's right (indeed far right), holy and regressive in America.

What Happened to New Hampshire?

Ken O’Brien

Years ago I spent a couple of years living in New Hampshire. This was while I was attending graduate school.

Now, I’ll quickly concede that Hanover is not typical of most of New Hampshire. However, while I went to school in Hanover, I lived in West Lebanon which was a little closer to the grass roots of life in rural New Hampshire.

While there has always been a fundamentally conservative and libertarian streak in the state, the last few years have seen the emergence, some would say predominance, of extremist fringe elements in New Hampshire politics.

With the New Hampshire Presidential Primary scheduled for this Tuesday, January 10, I thought the following synopsis of what has been going on in the state over the last two years would help to put that event in perspective.

Friday, January 6, 2012

So Why Was I Trashed Over Trash?

  Ken O’Brien                                                                 

Well finally.

It's about damned time.

On October 3, 2011 I appeared before the Southbridge town council and made a statement that began:

“It is my opinion that virtually all penalties and fees assessed against Southbridge residents and/or property owners regarding garbage and trash collection or recycling have been done so unlawfully since at least 2007.

As a result, such penalties and fees should be refunded to Southbridge residents and property owners along with appropriate interest from when the charges were paid.”

The full text of the presentation is available on the web-site of United Southbridge.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Can't Sell Your Property In Southbridge?

Neither Can the Town, But Either Way
It's Your Problem!

Ken O'Brien

Tomorrow will mark two years since our town manager announced his plan to sell surplus town buildings to infuse cash into the town coffers.

I want to thank Jim Sottile for reminding me of this fact.

With all the fanfare that can be afforded by the front page of the Southbridge Evening News it was announced on January 6, 2010, "Appraising properties: Subcommittee OKs Estimates Ahead of Town Buildings' Sale".

According to the article, "At issue are properties the manager hopes to sell to raise money for the new school project — Wells Junior High School, 70 Foster St., 115 Marcy St., and 114 and 62 Pleasant St. Except for Wells, they have assessed values between $318,000 and $971,000, but such values are not generally seen as useful on the commercial market because they don’t actually pay any taxes now. That also applies to Wells,which is assessed at about $6.3 million."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I'll See Your Citizens United Case and Raise You Montana

Ken O'Brien

A surprisingly little noticed tremor rocked the legal world on the Friday before New Year's.

It came from of all places the big sky country of Montana. Montana, one of only a few states with more U. S. Senators than representatives in the U.S. House.

On a five to two vote, the Montana State Supreme Court challenged the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case.

For those who need refreshing on that landmark case, I provide the following summary taken from Wikipedia:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Video PostScript

Ken O’Brien

The day after Christmas I published an article titled GRIDBLOCK.

In it I put forward the argument that the lack of progress in Washington in addressing America’s economic and jobs crisis was founded in Republican intransigence in the Congress based on entirely political motives.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Let's Pay for Performance in Southbridge Town Government

And Let’s Start at the Top

Ken O'Brien

Let’s start today’s essay with a term with which many may not be familiar.

That term is goal congruence.

Put simply, what goal congruence means is that performance should be rewarded to the degree that it produces desired results.

It is the concept of goal congruence that underlies programs in business and government labeled as pay for performance.

Under pay for performance programs financial compensation is based in large part on meeting or exceeding measurable criteria. These criteria are related to the accepted mission of the organization’s sub-unit to which the employee belongs. Further, such criteria are related to the individual employee’s ability to affect those results.

Let’s look at a specific case of pay for performance in local government with which many readers are likely to be familiar.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Ken O'Brien

Thirty years of the dominance of the  Reagan reactionary movement has reduced Americans to sniveling serfs hoping that crumbs will drop to their feet from the bountiful tables of their "betters". That is the legacy of trickle down economics, endless foreign military adventurism that matches anything envisioned by George Orwell, and the ascendancy of the rights of corporations over those of individuals.

Americans no longer dream big dreams.

The American dream is no longer a home with a picket fence and a dog in the yard.

The American dream is no longer a better future for our children and our grandchildren.