Category Archives: Poltics

Weymouth DPW

The following editorial was printed in the Weymouth News, submitted by Linda MacDonald.

June 12, 2012

 

Public works?

 

“The quickest way to kill the human spirit is to ask someone to do mediocre work.” Ayn Rand

When you sit on information for a long time, it begins to lose its ability to shock. You begin to doubt yourself. You think—Is this really as bad as I think it is? Am I missing something? Eventually you come to the conclusion that this must be how politicians become complacent…and, then, complicit.

Last summer I notified the DPW that a box of unsightly trash was teetering on the edge of the bridge that crossed Whitman’s Pond on Rt. 53. Two weeks later I jogged by the spot again and the trash was still there. I notified the district councilor and spoke to the DPW director and got the same excuses. There are so many miles of roads in Weymouth, we’re short staffed, we’ll get to it, blah, blah, etc. I thought, how hard it would it be for one of the guys to stop and put the trash in the DPW truck. Why all the excuses?

Last August, in an effort to understand, I requested and received job descriptions, the number of employees, and copies of the negotiated contracts from the DPW and, while I was at it, (since they have shared responsibilities) the school maintenance and custodial departments. I put together spreadsheets and notes on what I thought were glaring issues and sent copies to school and DPW administrators, some school committee and town council members, and Mayor Kay.

In response I received two acknowledgements of the information and then nothing. Eventually  I gave the information to our town auditor who told me that the council president, “his boss”, told him he could not discuss the information with me. So my effort to determine the veracity of the excuses I was given for neglecting a relatively easy task has sat on a bookcase shelf for several months. Now I’m going to let you decide.

In pure numbers, as of August 2010, there were 66.5 Full-time equivalent (FTE) employees in the DPW (includes the Water and Sewer Departments), 21 FTE in School Maintenance and 38 school custodians. The town employs additional custodians for town buildings. The total projected (FY12) budget for the DPW is close to $32 million (taxes and water and sewer receipts) and $5.1 million for school maintenance and custodial services.

(On a side note, up until this year custodians were included in the budgets of individual schools. One of the things that “shocked” me was that we spent more on custodians at the high school  than we did on guidance although college admission is a big push for the town.)

Out of the 66.5 employees in the DPW, a third is administrative, professional or clerical staffs who do little or no manual labor and only half of the staff is covered by the union contract. A majority of the employees are in very narrowly defined jobs such as Water Meter Reader or Laboratory Technician. If the union culture keeps crafts from crossing, then the DPW has 2 maintenance men and 2 laborers whose job descriptions are broad enough to have expected them to collect the trash from the bridge.

However, the job descriptions themselves are one of those glaring issues. Most of them are outdated (a laborer, for example, only requires an elementary school education) and/or incomplete, supervision is unclear, and some employees are working in positions without job descriptions. These deficiencies are especially problematic in the school department. Despite the physical labor inherent in maintenance and custodial work, none of the job descriptions specify that the employee must be able to lift a minimum amount of weight or be able to climb ladders or stoop, crawl, reach etc. And it seems that everyone plows snow but no one has to have a good driving record or even a driver’s license.

While this might seem self-explanatory, not listing the minimum qualifications or physical requirements for a job leaves us in a potentially costly predicament if essential tasks (like closing dumpster covers) are being left undone because employees are not physically capable.

Some of the job titles such as “Laborer and Motor Equipment Operator” belie the true job which lists specific responsibilities as “ ‘in-town’ field trips” and “athletic runs”.  Others seem to belong in different departments altogether such as the “Food Service Stores Delivery”.  And at least one employee works primarily in the schools but is paid by the DPW.

Six jobs have no description. One of these is for the two employees who perform “School Patrol”. This job is also mentioned in other job descriptions such as “Stores Delivery” which list one of the duties as downloading the Detex clock system that ensures that the patrol was done. A well written job description gives supervisors a basis for employee evaluation and the lack of one makes one wonder what purpose the job actually serves.

Contracts for DPW, school maintenance and custodial staff differ in enough ways to make expectations for collaboration between these departments difficult and potentially expensive. For example, school maintenance employees have four personal days per year while DPW employees bargained for one and DPW employees get tuition reimbursement while school maintenance and custodians, interestingly, have none.  Overtime, shift differentials, and overtime meal allowances are different, detailed and convoluted in all three departments in a way that must make payroll heads spin.

My theory for why the trash teetered on the edge of Whitman’s Pond for so long is simply that we have allowed the DPW, School Maintenance and Custodial departments to fly under the radar for far too long.  While I do believe that the DPW is poorly staffed; outdated, incomplete and or missing job descriptions have left our employees with little accountability or direction. Jobs that are too defined (i.e. Heavy Equipment Operator) leave us without the flexibility to prioritize projects and with employees who perform rote and, often, unnecessary work. A lack of equitable contracts among employees doing similar work has lead to competition and turf protection rather than collaboration.

Ultimately though, the responsibility for prioritizing the role of public works and evaluating the procedures, policies and practices of the DPW and School Maintenance departments lies with our elected officials and their appointed department heads.  Since the problems predate our current charter, our elected officials need to know from you that they can safely address these issues without incurring blame. I hope that you agree with me, that it is high time that they did.

 

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Just Another BoMo

Not too long ago, I remember someone asking Sue Kay, the Mayor of Weymouth, why the town didn’t consider levying a tax on motels in town as a means of raising revenues. The motel tax was something new in the Commonwealth that many municipalities were using as way of raising money. Mayor Kay somewhat joked about the idea, and rightly so, after all there are only two motels located within Weymouth and the amount of money that could be gotten would be a mere pittance and certainly not worth the effort required in collecting and keeping track of it. Historically, the Town of Weymouth once was an important stop along the way to other destinations such as Nantasket and Cape Cod, but not anymore. As much as its citizens might like to see Weymouth become a popular tourist destination, and I’m not saying that can’t happen, it doesn’t appear to be trending in that direction. When it does, maybe then we can consider building more motels.

More motels you say? Yes, it appears that the owner of the Super 8 Motel on Route 53, the old Boston Motel or BoMo, as it is affectionately referred to locally, wants to build another high end venture on the site of the former Bernie and Phyll’s Furniture store. No doubt he wishes to capitalize on the Super 8’s reputation as a bastion of warm hospitality to the many high rollers that make Weymouth a regular stop on their way to getting tattooed in Hull or checking out the livestock at the Marshfield Fair. Perhaps the owner should use the Weymouth Police blotter as a referral on the application to build this 14 unit low rent apartment masquerading as a motel. I didn’t know there was that much room at that location. A quick run of the numbers- a 14 unit motel, with a function room and pool area with parking to boot? I say no way. Maybe the developer was planning on having patrons park down at the Village Cemetery.

Anyway, the proposal is going before the planning committee for review on Wednesday, December 21 at 3:00 p.m. The meeting will be conducted on the 3rd floor of the town hall. I hear at least a couple of Town Councilors are opposed, as well they should be. You can voice your opinion too, by either going to the meeting or e-mailing your Town Councilors and the Mayor. They can be contacted through the town’s web site http://www.weymouth.ma.us/council/index.asp.


A Sort Of Good Friend

The South Shore Hospital has been a good friend of Weymouth for many years. I’m sure they are now the largest employer in town and certainly one of the largest on the South Shore. They have grown over the years from a single brick building on the corner of Main and Columbian Street to a multi building facility that spans acres along Route 18 and over to Columbian Square. Lots of money goes through South Shore Hospital; not too long ago I spent an hour and a half there and it cost me over $4,500, but I’ll save that complaint for another day. While you’re reading this complaint, keep in mind that this hospital does not pay taxes. I haven’t done the math, so it’s difficult to say whether the benefit to the Town Of Weymouth monetarily, is positive or negative; and certainly the association this town has had with the hospital isn’t just about statistics, although it would be good to know.
For me, the relationship of this town and this hospital is symbolized by a stretch of Columbian Street which is about 200 yards long. I’ve been traveling down that section of road for many years and there have been many changes, all brought on, and I’m sure partially paid for, by South Shore Hospital. They have basically taken over ownership of this part of Columbian Street. There once was a church on the corner at Fogg Road, which was torn down long ago and paved over to be used as a parking lot for the hospital, even though it does not own the land. The church maintains a good relationship with the hospital and gets to use the lot on Sundays and even lets the hospital have their annual outing on the front lawn of the church with one of those big tents. The grass gets a little beat up and sometimes the tent crew drives a stake through the sprinkler system but it all seems to work out in the end. The positive outweighs the negative, I think.
The hospital has their own security team, who drive around in shiny new vehicles to make sure only patients park in the parking lot. Not even their own employees can park there. They park all throughout Columbian Square pretty much anywhere they can take up a spot that a tax paying consumer would normally use to shop in the local stores. They’ve made up for that inconvenience by beautifying this section of roadway. There’s new sidewalks, signage and plantings, and they cut through the pavement in a couple of spots and installed nice brick cross-walks. It looks so good I’m thinking of doing it in front of my house as soon I figure out how to cut through that asphalt street. Of course you can’t park on that street anymore, in fact, don’t even stop, you’ll get a ticket; but hey, I suppose the benefit outweighs the detriment.
When you travel toward the traffic light at Route 18, be prepared to stop for emergency vehicles, trucks at the loading dock, cars entering and exiting the parking lots; and all those folks using the crosswalks, predominantly marked, telling you to stop for pedestrians. There’s no way you could go over 10 miles per hour on that stretch of road. The funny thing is, somebody important must get after our police department because I see where they installed one of those speed monitoring signs, you know, the ones that clock your speed. It was right there beside the emergency entrance. I couldn’t build up enough speed to make it go over 15 mph. What’s crazy is that people speed through Columbian Square all the time, and nobody ever stops for pedestrians in the crosswalks; and the police are never in the square. You’d think with all those tax-paying merchants in the square that the town could do something about that.
When you finally get down to the traffic light at Route 18, you know, the one with the camera, you can turn right on red. The problem there is that the hospital put a nice big, brick sign there so there’s no way you can see oncoming traffic unless you straddle the crosswalk and keep the nose of your vehicle perilously close to getting clipped. There probably should be a “no turn on red” sign put there before somebody gets killed, either in the crosswalk, or by getting blind-sided. Maybe they will eventually, once the hospital decides that the negative outweighs the positive.
If the hospital can convince our police force to monitor the speed on Columbian Street, then maybe they could also pay to have a police presence in the square, full time. Now that would be a positive for everyone.


The Weymouth News

The Weymouth News newspaper is the only news I get in hard print anymore. All other forms of media I receive via web access, including Wicked Local Weymouth, which is the on-line version of the Weymouth News, or at least should be. As more and more newspapers become extinct, their web sites will be the only way to get the news, in its various forms, and eventually their respective outlets, in this case Gatehouse Media, will be forced to charge a fee for on-line access. The reason I continue to get the printed version of the Weymouth News is because they do not post all the articles found in print, on the web site. I have submitted some articles over the past couple of years that appeared in print but not on-line. The on-line version of news opinion allow for immediate comments, whereas the print versions require a “letter to the editor” that, if it appears at all, won’t be seen for at least a week after the initial opinion was read. I have also submitted this blog site, through an invitation to do so, that has yet to be linked to on the Wicked Local site. What I’m alluding to here is that I don’t understand the policy of the Weymouth News, when it comes to what gets posted on-line, what gets printed and what doesn’t.

Today I read a letter to the editor written by Kevin Borth. I have several issues with the letter, some that apply to Gatehouse Media, and some with Mr. Borth. First off, it has always been  Gatehouse’s policy to limit outside opinion to a certain number of words. I know that this policy is probably flexible, but Mr. Borth’s opinion appeared alongside another letter to the editor that was also beyond the word count limit. Not a big deal I suppose, so long as all letters and opinions are published, which they are not. Of course that would be costly in the print form, although not so much in the on-line form. Mr. Borth’s opinion also was available in print and on-line. He must be related to someone in the front office. In fairness, the other letter was available in both forms of media as well, so perhaps the policy has changed. It’s just a tad frustrating that a simple link to my blog, which is Weymouth related, is ignored while off subject opinions that go against policy find their way into everyone’s home.

As far as the content of Mr. Borth’s opinion goes, it is sensationalism, which is probably why it was published; to get comments and feedback. Unfortunately, most of the comments were by the same two people, and a third that clearly needs therapy, but that is nothing new. It’s easy to write sensationalized popular opinions, ones that call for all illegal immigrants to be deported for example, or as in this case, being critical of one’s freedom of speech under the guise of patriotism. The point is, Mr. Borth’s opinion had nothing to do with the “editor”, the “Weymouth” news, or the original opinion by Jean York.

I went back several weeks to try and find an article by Ms. York that was critical of the military. I didn’t find it, although it may have been written months ago. Perhaps a reference or link to it in Mr. Borth’s letter would have helped. Truth be told, I never read Ms. York’s column. Not because I disagree, but because it never has anything to do with “Weymouth” news. The same can be said of other weekly columns in the Weymouth News.

Lastly, my personal opinion of Mr. Borth’s letter is that, for someone who spent 27 years in the military, he should be ashamed to write an opinion that so blatantly separates the United States military duty from the rights and freedom of its citizens. He uses words such as “we” and “us” when referring to the military, and “you” when speaking of following orders. When last I checked “we” were the United States Of America, and “we” just might be of the opinion that Iraq and Afghanistan are not where “our” military should be.


Texas

We certainly have our problems here in Massachusetts, but I still think we’re the smartest state in the country. We dare to buck the trend, not listen to the rhetoric and learn the truth. Back when our current President, Barack Obama, was campaigning, the issue of his birth location came up and whether or not he actually could serve as President of the United States. Of course this was also an issue for his opponent, John McCain, who was born in Panama. It was quickly proven that both candidates were U.S. citizens, born of U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil. Facts like these sometimes take a while to sink into the thick sculled conservative brain, but eventually even the most stubborn of my mislead local friends came to accept that our first African-American President was born in the United States and deserved to be our leader.

As the rest of the country tries to keep pace with us smarter folks, one state in particular continues to show how dumb people can be. On a list of important issues currently plaguing the country, the President’s right to be President has by now fallen way, way down to the bottom. Yet, state representative Leo Berman, a Republican of dubious IQ from a state of ineptitude, Texas, has decided to file legislation requiring all our future Presidents to show proof that they are citizens….to the Texas secretary of state. Oh, okay, tell you what, why don’t you go keep an eye on that fence for us, will you?


Thomas Finneran

It’s true what they say, “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”. My mother used to say that allot. She’d add, “you have to get the good ones away from the bad one”.

I had always felt that Weymouth’s own Paul Haley was a good, honest politician, if there is such a thing. He started out in local politics and became quickly recognized as someone who was devoted to getting things done. As a former Captain in the Navy, jet pilot and lawyer he had the kind of resume that commanded respect and people loved him. Scott Brown, our U.S. Senator, reminded me of Paul Haley. Eventually he became our Representative, and being a quick study, got friendly with Thomas Finneran, who represented the Mattapan area in the House. Tom Finneran was Speaker of the House, the most powerful position in Massachusetts government with the possible exception of Governor. He commanded respect too, only differently. Mr. Haley became chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee largely due to Finneran’s help and there was talk that he would replace Finneran as Speaker when the time came. The time never came because Mr. Haley abruptly quit politics.

Naturally, the press release was all nice and neat and politically correct as to the reasons for Haley’s departure, but there is no doubt that Tom Finneran was behind the loss of a good man in state government. Since then we have learned, and continue to learn that Thomas Finneran, is not a good man. In fact, he has spawned a line of not-so-good men as Speakers of the House. I wonder how many good people have parted ways with their aspirations of becoming good honest pols because of him. I wonder how many dishonest people are still in government because of him. One bad apple.


Cindy McCain

I wonder who Cindy McCain will vote for in the next Presidential election. Her husband Senator John McCain is a leading opponent to repealing the childish “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy while Cindy continues to be an outspoken critic. If we saw more of people like Cindy, stumping for Republicans, instead of Sarah Palin, they might actually stand a chance of winning in 2012.
The link is about bullying but Mrs. McCain makes some interesting statements.