Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Astounding Allston Assertions-from Councilor Murphy's Office

In court yesterday attorney Sweeney from the City Law Department admitted to the judge that the City is not even close to having 2500 officers as required by the City Ordinance. However, the City reiterated its claim that the Ordinance is not valid because adding police officers would be a reorganization of the department and only the Mayor can do that. They also again alledge that 12 citizens of Boston do not have standing to ask their government to enforce the law. The next hearing got moved up to December 19, 2006.

So today I decided to call up Councilor Steve Murphy's office. He is the chair of the Public Safety Committee and is usually known to be knowledgeable about police and safety issues. I wanted to ask him to introduce a bill to clear this confusion up. If a citizen goes on the City website they will see an ordinance to have 2500 police officers on the street. But if the City's position is that this ordinance is not valid, they should wipe it from the books. I thought Councilor Murphy would be the appropriate person to do so.

When I called his office I had surreal conversation around 10 a.m. with his receptionist as follows:

Recep: Councilor Murhpy's office.
KM: Kevin McCrea for Councilor Murphy.

Recep: He is not in right now, I can take a message. Are you the guy who ran last year?
KM: Yes, I am. I just don't assume that everyone knows who I am.

Recep: (Takes my phone number and asks:) Can I leave him a message?
KM: Yes I was calling about the ordinance to require more police officers.

Recep: Oh, wouldn't that be great.
KM: Yes, it would.

Recep: I live in Allston and you can't get a 911 call answered. We don't even bother
calling 911 anymore if there is an emergency.
KM: Really, I didn't realize it was so bad in Allston. One of my friends had her 13 year old
daughter beaten up in Dorchester by 3 kids on Halloween night and it took 911 five
hours to respond.

Recep: Someone needs to do something
KM: I agree. Thanks for your time and please have Councilor Murphy call me.

I couldn't believe it. The receptionist in the Public Safety Committee chairs office is telling me that we can't rely on 911 service in this City. Astounding.

Hope Steve calls me back. I agree with his office employee, someone needs to do something.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Police Lawsuit-Day one in court

We are in court today with the city of Boston at 2 pm at Suffolk Superior Court. The City is arguing that citizens of Boston don't have standing in asking the City Government to enforce their own ordinances and that the number of police and the city budget are such top secret subjects that the City needs a protective order to shield that information from the public.

We'll see.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Boston Budget Analysis---Where the money is going, and How great are the City Benefits?

From the numbers man:

Ladies and gentleman - for your perusing pleasure, I have attached a spreadsheet of critical budget item comparisons between 1997 and 2007 city budgets - highlights:
- The city of Boston, despite flat population and dramatically lower school populations has seen to increase headcount by 3% over the past 10 years
- The budget has increased by 55% - almost twice the rate of inflation.
- In 2007 we will have as many police as in 1997 - the police have drawn the "short" straw with average expenditure per employee (this is all expenses - not just salaries - if we get into detail - no pun intended - we will probably see fairly flat capital expenditures and most of the increases going to payroll costs increasing 35% - (note healthcare is not included in this)
- We will have 4% fewer people in the Boston FD - with a 46% increase in expenditure per employee - again probably mostly in wages - health/life benefits not included here)
- Public works expenditure is indeed up 65% - hooray - off of a small base - employees way down - probably due to outsourcing - thus N/A in several ratio calculations.
The schools - aaaah - the schools - if I am reading this correctly - we can observe the following (note health and other benefits are included in school calculations):
Operating budget - up 59%
External funds budget - up 100%
Capital budget - up 171%
Total budget - up 67%
Cost per pupil up 85% and expected to rise another 22% over the next 3 years!!!
What do we get for all this
Public works - we have a new little street sweeper that comes down the alley every couple of weeks
Police - probably about status quo
Fire - about status quo
Schools - overall scores are up - but we still rank in the bottom 5 school districts based on 10th grade MCAS and SAT scores - a rising tide has raised all the ships - but our ship isn't sailing any faster!
One finail interesting item of note - the city of Boston is absorbing health care for about 15,700 employees (these must be amazing benefits - assuming a few people in the government are married to each other, essentially 100% of employees choose city health care - almost none use their spouse's!)
In addition, we have almost as many retirees (12,899) as employees drawing city health benefits - actuarially almost impossible until you learn that everyone eligible to draw a pension (at 10 years I believe) is eligible for health coverage the minute they walk out the door (not at 62 or 65 like most other plans where they expect you to work until retirement). I need to do some research to confirm this is the case, but I know for a fact that at $8000 per employee - that's the equivalent of an immediate annuity worth about $125,000!
Nice perk!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

MBTA workers Union jumping on Open Meeting Bandwagon

In what I'm sure will be an example of why you should hire a lawyer, the MBTA workers union today filed an Open Meeting Lawsuit against the Turnpike Board. They went into executive session to discuss taking down the tolls, without really giving a valid reason as to which of the exemptions to the Open Meeting Law they were going into executive session over.

Shirley Kressel was at the meeting and told members present that a violation was occurring. One of the "old" turnpike board members even chided one of the new Romney appointees about "so, this is the new and transparent board, huh?"

The amazing thing is that they got their hearing scheduled in 10 days!!! While we have had to wait months and years for our suit to get resolved. Clearly, knowledgeable lawyers are better than pro se citizens like us.

Can't wait to find how they did it, maybe a short order of notice.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Section Eight is Great !!! (Why pay your rent when you can watch the NFL?)

I was recently at one of my buildings that has Section 8. One of the tenants has had an outstanding balance of between $100 and $170 for over a year. Her monthly portion of the bill for quite some time was $4. It is now about $140 since she has a job. Single woman, no kids, no dependents. She is very nice and keeps me up to date on any problems that arise, we are quite friendly.

I was at the building to install the new Carbon Monoxide detectors required by law. These are just one more safety measure that increases the cost of housing in MA, because one or a few people died because someone didn't follow the building code. Does it make the house safer?-yes Would putting padded floors in everywhere make houses safer? Watch out, it might be coming...

Anyway, every month she gives me a written explanation of why she can't pay the rent or the back rent. I hadn't been in her apartment in awhile, but boy was it nice!! About a 5 foot wide projection TV with full cable, and verizon DSL for her computer! It made me feel ashamed that I would actually even ask her for the $100 in rent that she owed me, because clearly life was very difficult for her. Who can be bothered paying their rent when there are important cable and telephone DSL bills to pay!

To think that I got rid of my cable because I thought it was an extravagent expense!!! Maybe I should be on section 8? Of course the city just raised the taxes on the building by 25% this year. I wonder if I can raise her rent by 25%?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Judge questions City Council's ability to comprehend

We received "entry" in the first open meeting lawsuit yesterday. Yes, the council is guilty of repeated violations in a serial fashion of the Open Meeting Law. One line in particular from Judge Holtz's decision stood out:

"It is unclear as to just how many decisions the Supreme Judicial Court and/or injunctions are necessary for the defendants to comprehend that the Open Meeting Law means just that-
open meetings."

I couldn't say it any better.

Perhaps the future MCAS multiple choice questionaire would be as follows:

If you are a legislative branch politician, Open Meetings means what:

1) Have your aids talk to their aids to work everything out so you won't be bothered
2) Have a quorum minus one meet in a room while the others stand outside and
don't let anyone know about it
3) Have Open Meetings
4) Just do what the Executive Branch tells you to

Remember, 3 is the magic number!

Globe questions funny money at City Hall

Nice editorial from the Globe this morning, even if they dont have all of their facts straight. Notice that they dont blame the Mayor (or even the City Council) for the disparity in pay at the BRA. The Mayor is in control of the BRA, but plays both sides of the coin for his own benefit. When they do something that looks good he takes credit for it, when he wants them to take the hit for the dirty work he can say they are independent. I will never forget Michael Flahertys words to me when I asked why they voted away any oversight over the BRA "who needs control of the BRA?"

The Globe will obliquely criticize a government agency but never say "how come the Mayor of 13 years allows this to go on"? They know what goes on, but wont assign responsibility. Are they afraid of the Mayor as well, or just part of the monied elite running the city.

Secondly the article says the BRA is independent of the City, however, there is approximately 7 million dollars in capital improvements given to the BRA from the City in this years fiscal budget, 7 million dollars with no oversight. Remember that when you pay your tax bill!

The article:

SALARIES OF top managers in the Boston Redevelopment Authority outstrip those of other City Hall executives whose responsibilities are considerably greater and whose jobs are more transparent.

Boston's five-member compensation advisory board analyzes salaries and cost of living indexes in other cities before recommending executive salary ranges to Mayor Thomas Menino. Menino, known as tightfisted, often lowballs even his most talented managers. The BRA, however, operates under no such constraints because, as a quasi-public agency, it receives no funds directly from the city's operating budget. The BRA's culture is closer to a private corporation than a city department. And its salaries and perquisites are more generous than other departments at City Hall, sometimes unfairly.

Quasi-public is still public. The BRA has revenues from ground leases and sales of public lands. Its statutory authority to grant tax concessions and acquire property through eminent domain derives from the Legislature. Accountability and transparency are just as relevant on the ninth floor of City Hall, where the BRA staffers work, as any other floor.

Salary discrepancies between BRA executives and other city managers look even more imbalanced in light of the scope of their duties. William Sinnott , City Hall's top lawyer, earns $125,500 for overseeing the legal work of a city with a $2.1 billion budget and more than 16,000 employees. Kevin Morrison , his counterpart at the BRA, earns $137,676 for his legal oversight of an agency with 290 employees and an annual budget of $16 million. This week, Dot Joyce signed on as Menino's press secretary for $95,000 annually. Susan Elsbree , her BRA counterpart, earns $127,551 for buffing up the image of her agency. Tony Marinello , the BRA's administration and finance chief, makes $131,368 while Karen Connor , who supervises budgets for the entire city, earns $107,689. Mayor Menino was so impressed with the organizational skills of his 29-year-old former campaign manager Beth Leonard that he recommended her for a $115,235 post as chief of staff at the BRA. But there is something amiss in the salary structure when she out earns experienced City Hall managers like Antonia Pollak , Thomas Tinlin , and William Good , commissioners of parks, transportation, and inspectional services, respectively, who earn between $102,304 and $113,074.

BRA executives perform complicated work and face some of the wiliest real estate moguls in the city. But top executives in City Hall bear even greater responsibilities for the safety and well-being of Bostonians. Executives understand there are sacrifices in choosing public service. But city department heads are bearing more than their fair share of pain while BRA executives go to town

Friday, November 17, 2006

Myth vs. Reality of what your taxes are buying

A group of us have been talking about taxes and funding (too bad our elected officials at city hall don't look closely at this). Of the properties I own or am part owner of in the City, the assessments went up a minimum of 17 percent up to 30 percent. Not all are in the South End, some are in tough areas of Roxbury. Unfortuneately, I and most other residents of the city can't just vote ourselves 17 percent raises in back room deals.

Here are some of the myth v. reality's one accountant friend sent in:

That's the point - it's not what you pay - it's what you get. One idea for the presentation - a "myth/reality" page. The mayor's PR team has done an amazing job of convincing people of things that aren't true. Had drinks with someone yesterday - and he says the schools are underfunded and understaffed, taxes are low (actually for him they are - he has two kids in the Kilmer school and lives in W Roxbury - all the benefits of the suburbs and $5000 in taxes) and life is generally good in Beantown. Here are some examples:

Myth - schools are underfunded Reality - we spend $17,000 per student or $400,000 plus per class

Myth - schools are understaffed Reality - staffing levels per pupil are at all time highs

Myth - schools are improving Reality - scores are up, but we still rank 3rd from the bottom in MCAS and SAT scores

Myth - City struggles to find enough revenues Reality - we spend $3500 per person on city government (we could use some comparisonsto other cities/towns on this)

Myth - Without Mayor Menino - none of the advances of the city would have happened Reality - virtually every city in the country has seen a rennaissance - but we are one of the only ones losing population

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Hope is not a method"- Hillary Clinton

Wonder if she is going to tell that to Deval Patrick.

The City finally raised the real estate tax on Mayor Menino's house, from 300K to 400K. Of course, the city the raised the value on the house I live in by 400k on its own. So, since I ran for public office criticizing the "corruption, collusion, and cronyism" at City Hall they have doubled the value of my home.

Coincidence? I think not. Just like it's not coincidence that Menino's campaign secretary becomes the chief of staff at the BRA and gets a 20 percent raise after 6 months on the job, then takes 3 months off. Wish I could get a job like that!!! Great article in today's Globe by Donovan Slack about this.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Microscope needed for New Orleans Clinic-Please Help

I have made friends with a group of what I call "anarchastic doctors" who set up the only free health care clinic in New Orleans after Katrina. They are all great people who realized the only way to cut through all the red tape was to do this themselves. They are serving people from throughout the area.

They have a specific request for a microscope if anyone could help, that would be great. If it is in Boston, I could take it down for them in my travels if we can't ship it.

Here is the request:

Anne Mulle <annemulle@hotmail.com>
Reply-To: Anne Mulle <annemulle@hotmail.com>
Subject: Microscope

Greetings to CGHC Docs & friends!

Common Ground is looking for a microscope to do wet mounts, KOH preps for
skin. Does anyone know of any labs or hospitals that may have a microscope
waiting to have a new home?



Random election day thoughts from the Crescent City

First of all please vote, even if you go to the polls leave a bunch of blanks and write in the name of the Raving Green Loonies party candidate from Lincolnshire in the UK, it sends a message. Make no mistake, today's politicians take most folks ambivalence for granted.

I think the biggest issue for change on a ballot is here in N.O. where they are voting to get rid of the inherently corrupt 7 assessor system. I haven't seen any advertisements for keeping the current system.

I am for the Arizona measure to have a 1 million dollar lottery for voting participants. We need to get more people involved. So many people feel as though the politicians don't care about their needs or concerns, just the people who can pay the "admission fee."

This years political season isn't over yet and already papers are writing about next years. The West Roxbury Transcript called me to see if I'm running for city council again. Highly unlikely, as I've made commitments to my wife, to rebuilding in New Orleans, and I've just put another historical building under agreement to renovate last week.

I'd like the papers to do a column on campaign promises six months into each politicians terms. I heard so many promises from city council campaigners, and have seen not much but emptiness and pettiness so far. Work on housing, schools, PILOT payments, more streamlined permitting (what a joke, every politician from Sam Yoon, to Tom Menino, to Deval Patrick talks about this but I'm yet to see it at any building department I go into), and yet I don't see anything. I will say in watching a City Council meeting on line that Michael Flaherty runs an objective tight ship. Also, I hope Sam Yoon continues with his pursuit of a 311 plan (watch out for the Mayor stealing your idea!! Ask John Tobin). The 311 calls work well in New Orleans and it is an efficient way to seperate emergency calls from neighborhood issue calls.

Morning 40 Federation is a great band out of New Orleans who should be on Saturday Night Live. They are from the Bywater, and headlined last weekends neighborhood festival which was a great time. The premise of the band is that every morning they wake up and have a 40 ounce malt liquor before doing anything. They are tight, they have charisma in buckets, and sign great songs about being drunk and partying, sometimes through a megaphone. "Wake up, turn over and carry me home" is one of the clever lines, surely only a love drunk person (or drunk love) could understand.

Congressman Jefferson is in the fight of his life here, he will probably win the first round, but may lose a run off.

New Orleans is in tough shape. The violence here continues unabated. Virtually every other day there is a murder, and this in a city 1/3 the size of Boston. People are getting crazy, drugs abound and I don't hear as many hammers or nailguns which usually form a daily cacophony in the neighborhoods. People are excited about the Saints, but not a lot of people are marching back into the City. There is no discernable increase in population, and of course money for rebuilding is stuck in the pipelines.

Rumors....about the City Council Race, it all depends on whether Murphy gets hitched to the Patrick regime. If he goes, then John Connolly is on the Council. Someone at my Ward Committee meeting said there maybe an agreement between Connolly and Tobin to let Connolly have the West Roxbury Seat and Tobin runs at Large. Doesn't make much sense to me as John has almost won city wide already, why would he take a step back to district councilor? But, Tobin wants to advance and although he is quite popular in his district, it is limiting him. I wonder if he will again vote for Flaherty for City Council President? If I had to handicap it right now, if Murphy stays and runs again, the money would be on all 13 councilors being re-elected. Remember 98 percent of incumbents get sent back to their office in MA. Especially if no one starts running by Jan. 1. Remember both Sam and John were running at this point last year, it is no coincidence that they were the top vote getters amongst the new candidates.

A police union person I spoke to was hesitant to talk about the new police commissioner. Very cagey, which doesn't bode well. A friend is a public defender in Lowell and she says that the police there are notorious for pulling over minorities, especially asian and hispanic kids. So, there are an inordinant amount of drug related arrests for those kids, but not as many for the whites, even though she says they believe that just as many of the white kids have low level amounts of drugs as well. Sort of like Bill Belichick's kid in Weston!

The New York Times had an interesting piece on the City Council in New York. (Name one! I dare you!) They just voted themselves 25% raises, although they, like Boston do not have much power and many of the members hold outside jobs making hundreds of thousands a year. However, they do have two, four year term limits so at least there is turnover. They now make $110 or $120K a year, the second highest in the country and they are the only body in NY that can vote itself raises.

I am getting frustrated working in New Orleans. The low level of education and high level of incompetence makes getting things done increasingly difficult. In the last day I've had countertops made incorrectly, tile that was ordered two months ago turning out to not having been ordered, doorknobs that I've been after for months coming in and being the wrong ones.
It completely underscores the importance of good education.

Speaking of which there are some very fishy numbers in the Boston School Department budget, more on that later. But, essentially we are spending more and more on the budget while we have fewer and fewer students.

Go out and vote, and do a good deed,


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Show Me the Money!!!

I gave a powerpoint presentation last night at the Association of Boston Neighborhood's meeting in the Fenway. It was called "Show Me the Money!" and it tries to simply explain how much money the city of boston has, where we get that money, who pays, who doesn't, how the government gives away millions of our tax dollars, and how we can afford more cops.

I'd like to thank Sam Yoon for sending one of his office staff over to learn about this stuff. The biggest boondoggle coming down the Pike is that the Mayor is about to give away 100 million to 200 Million dollars worth of our money when he gives away the Winthrop Square garage to the BRA for FREE!!!!

I implored (I believe it was Frank) Councilor Yoon's representative to try and get Sam to at least have the Mayor give the property away with a 99 year lease which is common in large government transactions so that 100 years from now our grandchildren will be given this large gift from our generation to help pay their taxes!!

The Globe was there as well and hopefully they might write something about it. Last night was the beta test, and we have some tweaking to do, but hopefully we will be able to post this on the ABN website: ABNBOSTON.org and bring it around the city to help educate the citizens about how the city works.

Off to New Orleans, can't wait to see Kermit Ruffins tonight in the Bywater! Unbelievable, but one of my tenants down there is complaining about getting the heat turned on. It's only 70 degrees!!!

Make sure and vote next tuesday, I won't be in town but I voted at City Hall which is Open weekdays till 4:30 to vote and saturdays from 10 to 2. Let your voice be heard. One vote for Deval from my camp!