Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scare Your Way from the Police Station to Oak Square

The 13th annual Brighton Business Trick-Or-Treat will take place Friday afternoon, between the Allston-Brighton D-14 Police Station and the YMCA in Oak Square.

Participating businesses display a sign in their doorway/windows, "Welcome Trick or Treaters!"

Be warned: if you visit all the businesses, your children will get so much candy that you'll spend your next three paychecks on dentistry work.

Johnny D's, a produce seller at 381 Washington Street [right], is the perennial, odds-on favorite for best treat.

Brighton Business Trick-Or-Treat
Friday, October 31st
3:00 - 5:00 pm
Start: Boston Police D-14 Station, 301 Washington Street
End: Oak Square YMCA, 615 Washington Street
Businesses all along Washington Street participate
Sponsored by: Brighton Main Streets (617-779-9200) and Brighton Board of Trade

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Summit Avenue Hydrant Thieves: Learn Your Trade From MIT Hackers

The Boston Police Department caught a few guys on Summit Avenue in Brighton trying to steal a fire hydrant:
When officers arrived, officers observed the hydrant, as well as, three males who matched the description of the suspects. When officers questioned the suspects, the suspects admitted to taking the hydrant. According to the suspects, they found the hydrant lying in the middle of the sidewalk and they were simply moving it.
Yes, those guys were hosed.

Aside from the obvious difficulty of carrying something that heavy, the would-be thieves might try next time to follow the lead of some MIT students in Cambridge a couple of decades ago in an oft-repeated (and somewhat urban-legend-ish) story about their hack.

Those MIT students bought a barber shop pole (or, in some stories, paid a barber to borrow one for a day) and carried it all over town -- arising suspicion all day from the police. The cops chased them down again and again, but then the students would produce the receipt and the cops would let them go. When the cops got tired of these games, an APB on police radio was issued to ignore any kids carrying a barber shop pole around town. The students then proceeded to steal all the barber shop poles in town and dump them on the police chief's front lawn.

Lesson: buy one fire hydrant and carry it all over town first. Once the police tire from questioning you repeatedly, then you can steal all the hydrants you want. That is, if you're arms haven't fallen off first.

Image of red fire hydrant by quite peculiar provided through a Creative Commons license.

Who Will Get Taken Down Along With Senator Dianne Wilkerson?

Democratic State Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges after an extensive sting operation run by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The big question to ask is: If the facts alleged in the FBI complaint are proven true, then why did the FBI wait for a year to charge Senator Wilkerson with bribery and corruption? The complaint describes a series of payments made to her, and official actions taken by her in response, back in 2007, yet the FBI continued the investigation -- and upped the ante by assigning additional undercover agents.

My prediction: there has been a much larger investigation already underway for more than a year, and more heads may soon roll. Subpoenas are already flying, but I bet the FBI knows more already than they have admitted.

A second big question is: who else might this investigation and subsequent court proceedings take down in addition to Senator Wilkerson?

The Two-Sided Sting Operation: Why Did the FBI Wait To Press Charges?

The complaint against her first makes a series of allegations of how she repeatedly accepted cash payments between June 2007 and March 2008 totalling $8,500 from a representative of the club Dejavu. The payments were for her work in twisting the arms of city and state officials in order to obtain a liquor license for the new establishment. Dejavu had originally been denied a license in early 2007, but Wilkerson initiated a campaign starting in mid-2007 -- after the alleged cash bribes -- to push for reconsideration of the license.

The FBI agent's affidavit also alleges a second set of $15,000 in cash bribes starting in January 2008 paid as part of several undercover FBI agents' make-believe attempts to obtain development rights for a parcel of land in Roxbury at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

In the first set of cash payments, there appeared to be ample evidence by fall 2007 that the FBI could have charged Senator Wilkerson. Why did the FBI wait to make more payments on the ongoing liquor license issue -- as well as start up a new undercover operation about the Roxbury property?

My inkling is that the agents are sitting on quite a bit more information that what is contained in this one affidavit. The net may have been cast substantially more broadly, but they are only coming out with these charges against Senator Wilkerson for now. Given their ample evidence assembled by fall 2007, the FBI probably could have gotten wiretaps on her phones -- and hence snagged anyone else who might have been trying to buy political favors in the year since then.

Senator Wilkerson, Senate President Therese Murray, Council President Maureen Feeney, and BLB Chairman Daniel Pokaski met in mid-August 2007. The affidavit says that the outcome of the meeting was for Boston to submit a home rule petition to the legislature for 40 new liquor licenses and 30 new beer and wine licenses, that Dejavu would receive one of the liquor licenses, and that Senator Wilkerson would have control in allocating several of the licenses. The FBI agent's complaint reads:
25. Boston licensing Board Awards Dejavu a Beer and Wine License. On August 16, 2007, the BLB issued a letter notifying Dejavu that its petition for a malt and wine license had been granted. On the same day, WILKERSON met with the BLB Chairman, the Senate President, the Boston City Council President, and Senator [Michael Morrissey] to discuss the status of the Dejavu license and related issues. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement that the City of Boston would submit, and WILKERSON would sponsor, legislation which would authorize 40 new nontransferable liquor licenses and 30 new nontransferable beer and wine licenses for the City of Boston. (This type of legislation is also known as a "home rule petition.") It was understood the Dejavu would receive one of these new special liquor licenses, if another one did not become available first, and that WILKERSON would be able to control several other licenses.
While the FBI complaint does not allege that any of these other individuals -- Feeney, Morrissey, Pokaski, or Murray -- violated the law, this one meeting may be a major focus of the investigation as it goes forward. Assembled in one room, making an apparent back room deal, are major players of both city and state government. The meeting happened on the same day as a letter from the BLB awarding a temporary license -- probably at minimum a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, since it followed no public hearing or public vote of the board -- and two weeks after Senator Wilkerson had put a hold on the state legislation for a pay increase for the members of the BLB. Council President Feeney has already confirmed that she was questioned Tuesday by the FBI.

While the affidavit alleged no quid pro quo among the attendees of that meeting -- to approve the liquor license for Dejavu, pass the BLB pay increase legislation, introduce and pass a home rule petition for more liquor licenses, and give control of some of those licenses not to the BLB but to Senator Wilkerson -- any casual reader easily comes to that conclusion. Whether any of that violates the law is a lingering question. What exactly was said at that meeting could cause embarrassment... or more.

Mayor Thomas Menino may have dodged a bullet here: while he was mentioned elsewhere as meeting with Senator Wilkerson and apparently promising to help, neither he nor his assistant working on the license issue were listed in the affidavit as being in attendance at that August 2007 meeting.

Boston Globe Omits Mention of Boston Globe Columnist Walker

The Boston Globe published a series of articles, an editorial, an Op-Ed, and a metro column in Wednesday's edition that covered the Wilkerson story from many angles.

Missing from all of them: the role that their own columnist Adrian Walker may have played in the unfolding drama.

We know a bit of his role from the FBI agent's affidavit:
"WILKERSON told the CW [Cooperating Witness] in a recorded conversation on or about July 11, 2007, that she sent a package of material to a Boston Globe columnist about the lack of liquor licenses available to minorities in the City of Boston."
He subsequently wrote a column about it in July 2007.

As I wrote over at UniversalHub:
As a blogger myself, I've received my own fair share of (anonymous) envelope drops trying to get me to write a political hit piece. They've all ended up in the circular file.

Maybe we could all chip in to buy a wastebasket for Walker?...

[W]hen somebody sends you a "packet", if you want to use it you ought to be prepared to do some substantial investigation to figure out the agenda of the person who sent it to you. (The affidavit left unclear if Wilkerson's envelope was anonymous or signed.)

If the Boston Globe had filled the still-vacant position of Ombudsman, I would expect a column about Walker's role and whether or not Walker had fallen for Wilkerson's political campaign. Given that the Globe is avoiding mentioning his role in all these stories, I assume they are giving Walker first crack at defending his role; his next column appears Friday.

Bets On a Wider Scandal

My prediction of what will happen:

Senator Wilkerson will lose re-election for her seat in her write-in campaign; she will fight the case to trial, with lots of embarrassing depositions along the way.

BLB Chairman Pokaski will probably resign within weeks -- if not days -- because he stood to gain financially from the August 2007 meeting that allegedly resulted in him approving a temporary license for Dejavu while the state legislature approved a pay raise for him.

Mayor Menino, Senate President Murray, and City Council President Feeney will be red-faced about how they got snookered into helping out Senator Wilkerson's campaign for the liquor licenses -- particularly Murray, Feeney, and Morrissey in how they appear to have agreed during the mid-August 2007 meeting to cede control of some liquor licenses to Senator Wilkerson.

Globe columnist Walker will defend his reporting while admitting that he feels betrayed by Senator Wilkerson. The Globe will otherwise avoid mentioning his name, but the Boston Herald will do so. Often.

And that there will be more names forthcoming in the wider FBI investigation.

Update: David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has his own ideas about who's next.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall Colors at Arnold Arboretum

A couple of pictures of fall foliage at the Arnold Arboretum last weekend:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Brighton Neighbors United" Signs Cropping Up All Over

A recently-formed organization of Brighton residents called Brighton Neighbors United has taken their unhappiness with development projects in their neighborhood to the next level.

Yellow lawn signs with the words "PRESERVE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD", and the URL of the group's new website, have been appearing around southwestern Brighton in the past week-and-a-half.

The group's website notes that it delivered 500 signatures to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in opposition to several development proposals of Boston College, particularly to construct dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary Land bought by BC in 2004-7.

One member of the group, Maria Guadalupe Rodrigues, had a letter published in the Allston-Brighton TAB this week.

At this time of year, such lawn signs are usually in indication of support for a candidate for public office, but since the local representatives and senator are not facing opposition -- and the presidential race is not expected to be competitive in Massachusetts -- these yellow signs are pretty much the only thing on people's lawns. These kinds of issues-related signs makes you think you're in Newton...

Demolition Completed of Three Foster Street Houses by BC

Boston College's demolition of three houses on Foster Street was completed this past week.

The image at right show the third house at 188 undergoing demolition; the ruins of 192 can be seen over the fence at right.

The three houses were demolished to make way for construction of Jesuit seminarian and theological graduate student housing for BC's School of Theology and Ministry -- a school which recently absorbed the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. The national Jesuit organization has obtained a lease for the site from BC and is the proponent for the new housing project.

BC ignored calls from the community to find a way to preserve the three houses, which sat on one corner of the five-acre lot, as part of the new development. The Massachusetts Historical Commission noted historic and architecturally significant features of the houses, although the Boston Landmarks Commission, in a July 2008 hearing, found those features insufficient to warrant issuing a demolition delay on the houses.

BC insisted on applying for the demolition permit, proceeding with the demolition, and initiating the Article 80 review process for the housing development in advance of approval by the BRA of the Institutional Master Plan itself.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Community Forums on Boston School Reorganization Plan

The Boston School Committee and Carol Johnson, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, will be holding a series of community forums and School Committee meetings in order to present and discuss the reorganization plan which will close five elementary schools across the school district, as well as merge other schools and add several pilot schools.

The proposed reorganization plan will directly impact Allston-Brighton by closing two schools -- Hamilton Elementary and Garfield Elementary -- while merging some of their students into the Edison School, which will expand from offering grades 6-8 to being a K-8 school. Mary Lyon School, which is currently K-8, is proposed to expand to go through 12th grade by expanding into the Garfield school's buildings down the street. Mary Lyon would become a pilot school (at least the high school part of it).

Allston-Brighton is part of the North Zone in the Boston Public Schools. A North Zone Community Forum will be held on Tuesday:
North Zone Community Forum
Tuesday, October 7th, 6:00 pm
Orchard Gardens K-8 School
906 Albany Street, Roxbury
Two other community forums will be held elsewhere in the city on October 14th and 16th.

The Boston School Committee will be meeting on the issue on October 15th and 29th, with the expectation that they will be voting on the plan during the October 29th meeting:
Boston School Committee Meetings
Wednesdays October 15th and 29th, 6:00 pm
Edward Winter Chamber
26 Court Street, Boston [downtown]

The October 1st meeting of the school committee, in which Superintendent Johnson announced the reorganization plan, can be viewed online (requires RealPlayer).

Image of Boston School Committee and Superintendent Carol Johnson from BPS website.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brighton School Closures and Reorganizations Announced

Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, tonight announced a proposal for school closings and reorganizations affecting four schools in Brighton, according to .

As I anticipated earlier today, Garfield Elementary School (grades K-5) is slated for closure so that the building can be converted to a new, pilot high school (grades 9-12) affiliated with the Mary Lyon School (currently K-8) down the street.

The Hamilton Elementary School (grades K-5) will merge into the building currently housing the Edison Middle School (currently grades 6-8), in order to create a new Edison School that is K-8. The Hamilton school's buildings will presumably be left unused by BPS.

These moves seem to indicate that Allston-Brighton will be seeing a reduction in available seats for elementary school (I'm guessing at a loss of 200 K-5 seats) and middle school (another guess at a loss of 200 students in grades 6-8), but an increase in seats for high school due to the new Mary Lyon upper grades school. Hamilton Elementary currently has approximately 175 students, Garfield Elementary has nearly 200, and Edison Middle has over 500.

Current Superintendent Johnson and former acting Superintendent Michael Contompassis both have indicated that they wanted BPS to move towards more unified K-8 school experiences. In some cases, that can be accomplished by merging schools in a single building (as is now proposed for the Hamilton and Edison merger at the Edison site), or by creating "feeder school" arrangements (where students leaving the lower school are automatically assigned to the upper school, unless parents request a transfer).

All three schools facing closure or transfer (Hamilton, Edison, and Garfield) had new principals named earlier this summer.

Text of Superintendent Johnson's proposed reorganization plan

Image of Thomas Edison statue [right] by Richard Elzey, and image of Alexander Hamilton statue [left] by OZinOH, both provided through a Creative Commons license.

Note: an earlier version of this post, based on incorrect information from, incorrectly noted that Edison and Hamilton schools would merge on the Hamilton school site. The combined school will be housed at the Edison school site.

Will a Brighton School Be On Tonight's Closure List?

A plan to close four to six schools will be unveiled at tonight's meeting of Boston's School Committee by Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. The closures are being proposed to respond to declining enrollment and a budget shortfall.

Will an elementary school in Brighton be on the list of closures?

Superintendent Johnson has provided no advance warning of which schools will close, but has provided the latest indication that Brighton's Mary Lyon school -- which is currently a K-8 school -- will be approved to expand with a high school to become a K-12 school, according to the Boston Globe:
Her recommendations also include some new pilot schools to give administrators more autonomy to execute innovative programs. She said the Boston Teachers Union will start its own pilot school next year, while she'll support the desire of the Harbor Middle School to expand to grade 12 and for the Mary K. Lyons K-8 School to add a high school, which would be a pilot school.
The Mary Lyon high school would be the latest addition to Boston's twenty-or-so pilot schools, those with governance autonomy in setting their budget, work rules, curriculum, assessments, and school policies. It is not surprising that BPS would look favorably at the Mary Lyon proposal, since its elementary school is one of the best performing in the city.

The problem: Mary Lyon has little available real estate to accommodate the high school expansion. It's hard to imagine adding a high school building of any size to their existing property.

My prediction for the solution: Garfield Elementary School, which is literally down the block from Mary Lyon, will be on the list of schools to close. More specifically, Garfield would be "reprogrammed" in order to convert its elementary school buildings into the high school expansion proposal for Mary Lyon.

The Garfield facilities can accommodate substantially more students -- and it has done so in past years -- than current enrollment at the school. The unused facilities at the school are a visible symptom of the declining enrollment problem in BPS, which has experienced a 7 percent decline in enrollment district-wide since 2003.

Most other elementary schools in Allston-Brighton are unlikely targets for school closure in today's announcement, at least in my mind. The Jackson-Mann K-8 school has many programs which could not easily be relocated: pre-kindergarten; Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; special needs class; and a community center. The Gardner Pilot Academy converted to pilot school status a couple of years ago and is showing signs of strong leadership and expanding community support -- although BPS turned down its proposal to expand to K-8 from K-5. Baldwin Early Learning Center is the only pilot school among the BPS's early education centers (which serve pre-kindergarten through first grade), and last year received accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Winship School has shown strong gains in MCAS scores recently, particularly with the school's recent focus on science education, and was recently renovated. Only the Hamilton Elementary School might be considered a candidate alongside the Garfield for closure in Allston-Brighton.

The challenge faced by the superintendent and the school committee is to justify any school closing not just on the existing realities of enrollment and budget, but also on how the modified schools in the area -- whether reprogrammed from elementary to high school, or students transferred to other surrounding schools -- will be improved in such a way to benefit the children. Will a new high school, building on the proven track record of Mary Lyon School, create a new center for learning in western Brighton that acts as a magnet for keeping families in the area? Will transferred elementary students now have access to improved science facilities, better after-school options, or expanded arts and music education opportunities? The committee and superintendent will now have a job of salesmanship, regardless of which schools they recommend for closure.

Sure, this is all speculation... and we'll know more after tonight's meeting of the Boston School Committee at the Edward Winter Chamber at 26 Court Street, Boston, at 6:00 pm.

Image of Mary Lyon from the National Women's History Museum.

Disclosure: the author is the co-chair of the Governing Board at the Baldwin ELC in Brighton, a pilot school. Any opinions expressed here represent mine alone, and not those of any other group or organization.