Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Putting Lipstick On A Pig

Ken O’Brien

When I saw this morning’s headline in the Worcester Telegram regarding last night’s meeting of the Southbridge School Committee I had to wonder if Brian Lee and I had watched the same meeting. The banner on the T&G article read, “State official cites progress by Southbridge schools”.

My reading of the presentation by Dr. Nadine Bonda, the monitor from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, was that the district has been marking time since last August at least.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Don’t Vote For “A Pig In A Poke”

Ken O’Brien

The expression “Don't buy a pig in a poke” is very old, but actually it can be taken quite literally and remains good advice.

The advice being given is 'don't buy a pig until you have seen it'. This is enshrined in British commercial law as 'caveat emptor' - Latin for 'let the buyer beware'. This remains the guiding principle of commerce in many countries and, in essence, supports the view that if you buy something you take responsibility to make sure it is what you intended to buy. 

Southbridge Town Council Meeting Agenda - April 28, 2014

Southbridge Town Council Meeting

April 28, 2014

7:00 PM

Town Council Chambers


1. Pledge of Allegiance

2. Roll Call 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

An Invitation To Southbridge Candidates For Town Office

Ken O’Brien

May 6th marks the deadline for candidates for office in the Southbridge annual town elections to submit nomination papers in order to have signatures verified for inclusion of their name on the ballot.

In its ongoing effort to expand awareness of town politics, The O’Zone extends an open invitation to all candidates whose papers are validated, and not withdrawn prior to the May 23rd deadline, to submit position statements for publication.

Such submissions should include a statement of the office being sought, relevant biographical information, a delineation of the issues you regard as important and proposed actions you plan to take regarding those issues if you are elected. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Southbridge March Unemployment Rate 9.5%

Ken O’Brien

Southbridge’s unemployment problem remains among the worst in Massachusetts. While unemployment in Central Massachusetts dropped sharply in March and is down from March of last year this community remains 2.5 percentage points above the regional average and almost 3 points above the statewide average.

Greater Worcester's seasonally unadjusted jobless rate fell from 7.3 to 7 percent over the month, according to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. That's well below the 7.7 percent unemployment rate recorded in March 2013.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Will History Rhyme In Southbridge?

Ken O’Brien

Mark Twain observed, “History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

I propose to put that observation to the test.

Last month an incident is alleged to have occurred at one of the Southbridge schools.

I will not discuss, nor allow speculation about, the nature of the incident in this forum.

The subject matter is too sensitive, the facts too obscure and the threat to personal reputations too severe for casual gossip.

Suffice it to say that the incident in question is undergoing proper review and will be adjudicated appropriately.

What I believe is a worthy topic for discussion is how the alleged incident was handled by the school administration, particularly in light of an analogous event in the recent past.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Now That The Holy Days Are Ending…

Coming tomorrow…Another investigative report on Southbridge’s School Administration

Will History Rhyme In Southbridge?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Is Southbridge Arson-Prone?

Ken O’Brien

The recent spate of arson fires in Southbridge has unsettled many residents, especially those living in the closely circumscribed area affected.

While many recall the cluster of fires in 2011, it begs the question as to whether Southbridge is particularly prone to this kind of crime. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Southbridge School Budget Meeting Should Be Broadcast

Southbridge's Town Councilors are constantly telling us that the real work on the budget is done in subcommittee. After The O'Zone's review of how the General Government subcommittee zipped through its budget responsibility that appears a disingenuous claim at best. 

Only in my wildest dreams would anyone who watched that subcommittee report and felt that “real work was done” offer me or anyone else a job. That would be the ultimate definition of a sinecure.

There can be little doubt that the school budget proposed by the Superintendent is controversial. It is substantially more than the acting Town Manager has proposed. In addition, Mr. Reed has expressed something verging on outrage regarding expected unemployment insurance costs.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Southbridge Struck By Two Fires Overnight

UPDATE: A total of five fires are now being reported. The fires were all set intentionally in close proximity to one another. Police, fire and the State Fire Marshal are investigating. Video of the Cohasse Street fire below.

Two fires at opposite ends of Oak Ridge Cemetery took place in Southbridge during the early morning hours. Pictured is a fire that took place at the intersection of Laurel Hill Road and Cohasse Street. The unoccupied building had recently had the water shut off by the town. The four alarm fire is under investigation.

A second fire took place at approximately the same time on Oak Ridge Ave near the cemetery entrance.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oh, By The Way…

Ken O’Brien

Another local site run from a FaceBook page is conducting a SURVEY about people’s attitudes toward the Southbridge school system and the school committee and administration.

While I have eschewed running surveys after several trials, I feel it is important that those with an opinion be aware of such efforts. You never know when others may choose to cite them in support of their views, regardless of how illegitimate the results may be.

Resume The Town Manager Search - NOW!

At the April 7th meeting of the Southbridge Town Council, Councilor Darlene Marcucci announced the suspension of the search for a town manager to replace Christopher Clark. Based upon the advice of the search committee’s consultant, the committee decided that to continue at this point would result in a dearth of candidates because of the pending petition to return the community to a selectmen/town meeting form of government.

In an earlier article I suggested a course of action that would result in delaying the effective date of any adoption of the proposal for at least a year and the date of it actually taking effect for at least two years.

In a comment on the same article I stated that I would put forth a suggestion for dealing with the town manager issue in the interim.

Well, here’s the fulfillment of that promise.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Southbridge Schools: A Cyber Forum

Ken O’Brien

The state of the Southbridge school district has been a topic of controversy for well over a decade.

However, as far as this site and the present administration are concerned, the current controversy reached a peak when we reported on the departure of Amy Allen as principal of Southbridge Middle/High School.

Since then The O’Zone’s traffic and level of reader’s comments has been unprecedented. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Southbridge School Committee Meeting - April 8,2014

Pinch Every Penny

Ken O’Brien

At Monday night’s town council meeting local resident Kevin Buxton expressed the frustration of many citizens regarding the never-ending upward spiral in Southbridge taxes.

The response from Councilor Moriarty during councilors’ forum was to urge attendance at subcommittee meetings where the real work is done on the budget. Once the budget is determined, the setting of the tax rate is a mere mathematical exercise.

In this context, I thought that the report of the April 1 meeting of the General Government subcommittee was especially enlightening.

The chart below is taken from the agenda for that meeting. It has added to it the amount approved and forwarded to the full council with a favorable recommendation. As can be seen, the items approved (with a couple of blanks) amounted to almost $12 million, or over 20% of the proposed FY 2015 budget.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Pop Quiz - Which School Committee Member Is Peter Imitating?

Cool It

Ken O’Brien

The old saying goes, “Sin in haste, repent at leisure.”

In the context of government, the value of this aphorism was recognized by the founders of the Republic.

A key goal of the framers was to create a Senate differently constituted from the House so it would be less subject to popular passions and impulses. "The use of the Senate," wrote James Madison in Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 "is to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system and with more wisdom, than the popular branch." 

Monday, April 7, 2014

ATM’s At Risk

95% of the ATM’s in the U.S. run on Windows XP.

Tomorrow, April 8, Microsoft will no longer provide support for that operating system.

That means Microsoft will no longer issue security updates to patch holes in Windows XP, leaving those ATMs exposed to new kinds of cyberattacks.

If banks fail to upgrade their ATMs to a newer version of Windows, customers might be at risk. If hackers discover new flaws in Windows XP, those bugs will go unaddressed, leaving attackers free to exploit them.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Dry Run?

This week’s public meetings of Southbridge’s governing bodies should provide an interesting set of counterpoints.

On Monday the Town Council will receive a presentation from the Town Clerk on the fate of a citizens’ petition. Sponsored by a group calling itself “We The People” headed by former Town Councilor James Marino, the petition calls for Southbridge to return to a selectmen/town meeting form of government.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Ray Of Sunshine

Worcester Business Journal reports that AO Eyewear, Inc. will renovate its Southbridge manufacturing headquarters and buy new equipment using a $1.5-million tax-exempt bond issued by MassDevelopment.

The project is expected to create 15 jobs in Southbridge.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Southbridge Teacher's Union President Speaks Out

David Williams, President of the Southbridge Education Association (SEA), has broken his public silence over recent issues regarding the conduct of the School Committee and the District's Administration.

His comments appeared as a Letter to the Editor in today's Southbridge Evening News.

However, the letter had been distributed previously to SEA members as well as the Superintendent.

Southbridge Town Council Meeting Agenda - April 7, 2014




April 7, 2014 –7:00 PM


1. Pledge of Allegiance

2. Roll Call

3. Consider and accept Town Council Meeting Minutes of Monday, March 24, 2014. 

Fact Checking The Southbridge School Committee Chairman

Ken O’Brien

In an earlier post we commented on the Worcester Telegram article “Blunt-talking superintendent shakes up Southbridge's underperforming schools” (T&G April 1).

There were a number of items in that article that warranted fact-checking. However, given that the article focused upon the Superintendent, it was felt that his remarks justified primary attention.

In the interim, though, I have been bothered by a remark made by the august Chairman of the School Committee. In the report she is cited as follows: “Chairwoman Lauren C. McLoughlin noted that making an investment in the schools can improve a community's real estate market, as has occurred in Lawrence and in Mr. Nembirkow's former city of Brockton.” 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Southbridge School Committee Meeting Agenda – April 8, 2014

LOCATION: Robert G. MacKinnon Council Chambers, 41 Elm Street

DATE: Tuesday, April 8, 2014

TIME: 7:00 PM


Group Seeks To Upgrade Town Government From 2.0 To 1.2

Ken O’Brien

The Worcester telegram reports that the Southbridge group calling itself “We The People” has obtained the required number of certified signatures to have its plan to return to a selectmen/town meeting form of government placed on the June ballot.

Town Clerk Madaline Daoust said that of the 705 signatures turned in, 587 had been certified. That was 18 more than the 569 required as mandated by the Town Charter. The charter sets the threshold as 5% of the registered voters at the time of last regular town election.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Three Envelopes

Ken O’Brien

Last night an article appeared on the Worcester Telegram web-site titled “Blunt-talking superintendent shakes up Southbridge's underperforming schools.”

The article was basically a recap of Mr. Nembirkow’s budget presentation at last week’s school committee meeting.

Among the statements in the article were:

During his budget message to the School Committee last week, Mr. Nembirkow suggested previous administrations were incompetent, had hired incompetent people, condoned nepotism, and broke the law by not incorporating a state-mandated high school program of studies….

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Best April Fool's Day Joke

April Fools Again?

Ken O’Brien

For going on four years now I’ve been preaching that the wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes every December when the tax rate is set is pointless.

Once the town budget is approved by the town council the tax rate is effectively set.

It has been shown repeatedly that Southbridge has the highest tax rate of all local communities.

What we hear in response is that the tax rate has to be viewed in relation to the assessed valuation of the properties in the community. We can’t judge simply on the basis of the tax rate because it doesn’t tell the whole story.

In reality that’s what the less politically correct of us call bullshit.