Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, February 26, 2009

And, Now A Word From The Poll Taker

The recent survey results regarding what the town felt would be the best way to proceed with the Town Hall project were posted on the previous post. As with other surveys taken here, the results followed the vote.

Pretty accurate poll taking.

It was unquestionable that the majority of those that responded to the poll wanted to proceed with the original plan to renovate the Town Hall and the Center School. In the text sections of the survey there were a variety of reasons for doing so ranging from the historic benefit the buildings bring to the area, to the plan being the most cost worthy of all those plans out there. Few thought that the economic times would affect the continuation of the project.

This pulse taking of the town is important. It allows the residents to voice their feelings in a specific, anonymous way that gives a certain credibility to the poll results. The poll is set up to prevent multiple entries from the same computer in order to skew the results, and the same question is asked in a different ways in order to get the very best results.

The town has spoken, and it is time to move on and get the project started, and completed. Let's hope the town's plan is a good one, and the the buildings will shine once again and be a focal point in the village center we all can be proud of.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Town Hall Survey Results

The following are the results from the recent Town Hall Survey held here on Thinking Out Loud.

1. In your opinion, how important is restoring the Town Hall?

36.4% Crucial
36.4% Very Important
18.2 % Needs to be done eventually.
9.1% Not critical at this time.

2. What do you feel would be in the best interest of the Town?

Moving on with the original plan of renovating the Town Hall and the Center School. 63.6%

Building a new facility in town. 36.4%

3. What do you feel would be the shortcomings of moving
on with the original renovation?

No town owned parking at the Town Hall. 12.5%

Congested access to Town Hall. 12.5%

Limited lifespan of renovated Town Hall (30-50 years). 12.5%

Separate buildings. 37.5%


Comment Text Response Date

1.none unless you want a perfect world Tue, 2/24/09 4:03 PM

2.The town hall will last longer then 30 to 50 years..... it has lasted 100. Mon, 2/23/09 2:05 PM

3.Still will not not be enought room for all Govt funtions wil not solve current porblems and leave room for expansion Mon, 2/23/09 9:42 AM

4.cost Sun, 2/22/09 3:14 PM

4. Why do you feel the renovation would be either
not in the best interest of the Town, or the best choice?


Comment Text Response Date

1.Historical Wed, 2/25/09 8:49 AM Wed, 2/25/09 7:49 AM

3.the renovation is the best and least burden on the tax payers Tue, 2/24/09 4:03 PM

4.Because in the long run, it is cost effective and keeps those buildings in use. Tue, 2/24/09 1:14 PM

5.It is a cornerstone of the historic district Tue, 2/24/09 9:23 AM

6.having to cross 131/loss of productivity Tue, 2/24/09 7:36 AM

7.Killing this warrant would kill old Sturbridge... Mon, 2/23/09 2:05 PM

8.see note above Mon, 2/23/09 9:42 AM

9.n/a Sun, 2/22/09 3:14 PM

10.These buildings play an important role to our town common area. They must be maintained now. Sun, 2/22/09 2:10 PM

5. In the space below please describe what you feel to be
plan that would serve the best interest of the Town of Sturbridge.

Comment Text Response Date

1.Save the Town Hall and Center School project. Wed, 2/25/09 8:49 AM building Wed, 2/25/09 7:49 AM

3.go ahead with the renovation of teh Town Hal and Center school 2 historic buildings in the historic district Tue, 2/24/09 4:03 PM

4.Renovation and use of the town hall and center school, with space for town employees leased on a short term basis. There has never been any town-owned parking at town hall; why is that suddenly a reason for not doing it? Tue, 2/24/09 1:14 PM

5.Renovate the Town Hall; raze the Center School Tue, 2/24/09 9:23 AM the house next door add wing. this way one elevator not 12 bathrooms,turn center chcool into archive storage w/limited access Tue, 2/24/09 7:36 AM

7.Preserving the historical building and not buying another town hall. Mon, 2/23/09 2:05 PM

8.Renovate Town Hall, dispose of center office, rent old ames for 10 year lease and find new place to build a town hall. Mon, 2/23/09 9:42 AM

9.n/a Sun, 2/22/09 3:14 PM

10.We the town manager has the duty to mantain town owned property. These properties are important for our town character especially with the town common next door. We all know the trouble these buildings have caused and that is when there is a good use for them, to say we will use them later for a museum or something else is ridiculous. No one is ever going to approve a much greater $$ in millions in the future for a use such as senior housing or a rec. center. We all know those who suggest that will be the first ones to say - tear them down the town can't afford them. "Pave paradise and put up a parking lot" Sun, 2/22/09 2:10 PM

6. Considering the financial climate at this time, is
the Town Hall Project something that should be postponed
until times are better?

Yes 36.4%
No 63.6%

Summer Dreamin'

There are a few things that have always made me feel warmer. The song below is one of them.

I was only a kid when it was a hit, but later on it had become one of those annual summer songs that would always play on the radio while I was enjoying the warmth of the sun.

It brings back a lot of memories, and warmth, even today.

I don't have a pellet stove, but this will do for now. Click play, then close your eyes for a few minutes, and let your mind drift off to that special summer memory. Take a deep breath. Smell the suntan lotion mixed in with the sand, and saltwater. Listen for the laughter and noise from the kids playing on the beach, the distinctive 'pphhhffffttt" of a soda can opening, a radio playing off in the distance, and the surf touching the shore.

For just about three minutes it will be July, and sometimes, just that little bit of time away from the world is all that it takes to make it through til the day actually arrives in person.

No charge, consider it Beach Therapy.

A Summer Place - Percy Faith

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tables On The Common

When I first came to Sturbridge there were a few picnic tables on the Town Common. They were set out each Spring, and taken in in the Fall. Something so simple gave so much pleasure.

I remember mothers parking their minivans alongside the Common, and releasing a half dozen little people onto the grass. I'd watch them play for a while, and eventually they would settle at a table. Mothers would walk around the tables setting juice boxes down in front of each face, and whatever snack they had brought along. After awhile of free form play and running about, the tables have a way of collecting children, and placing them back into some form of controllable order.

Functional furniture at its best.

There were times I'd see dog walkers sit at a table with their long leashes splayed out over the grass. The dogs doing their thing, and their master enjoying their coffee, and the morning, while seated at one of the tables.

Often, I would sit at a table close to the Charlton Street side, and read the paper, scribble in my journal, or just people watch. I lived very close to the Common, and it was like an extension of my front yard. It was a destination that was shady, comfortable, and one that allowed a passive enjoyment of the that great green space we are so fortunate to have in the center of our Town.

Then the tables were gone.

One year, they didn't show up. I called around, and found out that the Recreation Department were charge of the tables. I spoke to a woman that told me that the Department no longer had the money to place the tables out on the Common.


She went on to explain that a few of the tables needed repair, some needed to be replaced, and the DPW were the ones that were in charge of placing them on the Common, and getting them to work that task into their schedule was difficult. I asked her how many were in good enough condition to put on the common for the upcoming season, and even offered to help pay for repairs, or a new table. I was told there were about three tables. I then asked her to arrange with the DPW to place those three tables out there. She never took me up on my offer to help repair the tables.

During our conversation, she didn't sound happy, but a few weeks later the tables were dropped off. That summer was the last year I ever saw them on the Common.

It's time to put them back.

Now, I don't expect the Town to suck up the cost of the tables. There is a guy in town that builds picnic tables, and sells them at a reasonable price. The Town should establish a Picnic Table Fund, and folks can donate directly to the fund at the Town Hall, or at other places around town. Maybe businesses can donate a table and have their business name carved in the table as an incentive.

Eight tables would be just right. Three along each side, and two along the back edge of the Common on Chamberlain Street. Figure on $120.00 per table that comes to $960.00. Not an overwhelming amount to collect through donations.

Once the money is collected, and the tables are purchased they could be brought to the DPW garage and painted by volunteers, and then set out on the grass for another year of picnics, people watching, concert viewing, and sipping coffee in the afternoon.

Something so worthwhile, so relatively inexpensive, that provides so much enjoyment is hard to come by. Face it, we all need to enjoy life nowadays, and these little things can make a world of difference.

Now that I've brought it up on this space, I'll leave the rest to the Town. Forward this post onto the powers that be, and ask them to start a fund for the "Common Tables". Once the go ahead is given, I'll be the first to donate.

You know what would go great with picnic tables on the Town Common?

Wi-fi. Free wi-fi.

Bridging the gap between the 17th century and the present.

Let's discuss it more over coffee this summer at a table on the Common.

Express your support for "Tables on the Common" by forwarding this article to:

Town Administrator
Recreation Coordinator
You can forward this article by clicking the envelope at the bottom, and pasting the email addresses listed above in the "send to" space.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Fine Winter Whine

I am snow blind.

I can't see anything but white outside my window. Oh, there are some gray sticks, and some other stuff stuck in the white, but it's mostly white. And, cold.

It's February 23rd, and I have reached my "Winter Limit" weeks before it is due. Last week, just after some warm weather, there was actual grass exposed in my yard. A lot of grass. My driveway had begun to shed the pile of ice that I park over everyday, and I took the truck to C&R Tire for a scrubbing. I was pumped, but noooo, did the white stuff keep melting away?? Nope. More of it came to taunt me instead.


Well, that was a good Monday Morning Whine. I feel better, no warmer, but a little better. Whining is something I mastered early on. I was a pro. I think I backed off the whining as I became an adult, but now, at middle aged, I think it is a feel good skill that shouldn't go to waste.

It serves two purposes:

  1. If done right, it can be like a mantra, and actually soothe oneself.
  2. And, if done very well, it can annoy the heck out of those around you.
That's my favorite part, annoying others. You see, I have Cabin Fever. I got it bad, man. I've been locked inside since Halloween with only occasional trips to Wal*Mart, work, and the supermarket to break the sentence that has hung over me. When one has Cabin Fever they will do whatever they can to break the monotony. Board games, pranks, and whining are just a few of the things I've used to cope.

I am surprised Mary has not duct taped me and stuffed me in a closet till Spring.

I think I make life for those around me in February a living hell. I know, I should be out snowshoeing, or taking a walk in the snowy cold.

But, I don't wanna.

I could have planned a mid winter escape to someplace sunny. That would have helped, but other things were a priority this past year, like getting married.

I'll plan a lot better for next winter. Believe me.

In the meantime, I'll sit tight, whine, and maybe take my whining online and annoy the bejeepers out of others.

Hey! I'm doing that right now! Awesome!

I'm feeling a better already.

Let it snow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Munchkin Madness

It's Sunday morning. Time to wake up late if the kids don't need to be somewhere at 6:00 AM, maybe hit a late church service. Sunday is the best day of the week to wake up and veg for an hour or so. Pour some coffee, grab the paper and watch mindless TV until the brain starts sparkin' again.

I really like Sunday mornings.

When the weather is warmer, we often take a walk somewhere in town. Last year I wasn't as good as I should have been with the walk thing. This year I'll be better.

Sunday morning is also one of two mornings that people form a caravan and head to Dunkin' Donuts. It's a ritual for most. For me, I hit it on the way to work.

Having a Dunkin' Donuts in town is awesome. Having two is a bit much for a small town, but we have a lot of square miles here in Sturbridge, so if we can save seven minutes on a coffee run, why not?

Having three Dunkin' Donuts in this town of 8000 people is ludicrous. What's even more crazy is that they are all owned by the same person.

I don't know, did this person wake up one day and feel the insatiable craving to corner the coffee market in Sturbridge? Did they have an other couple of million just hanging around to buy another franchise and set up shop in the former Honey Dew Donut location?

What a person does with their money is their business. How many businesses they open and run is their business as well, but when a fool hardy move affects the lives of others in a negative way, then they need to re-think their position.

The Dunkin' Donuts on Main Street in Fiskdale has cut their hours of operation dramatically. I asked one of the folks behind the counter about this the other day and was told that they aren't bringing in the business anymore.

Go figure.

We can blame the economy, but that is too easy. Most people will still shell out $2.50 for a cup of Joe despite the gloomy picture on Wall Street. In fact, it may even help them cope. So, I wonder why the business could be off?

Well, I'm not Warren Buffet, but maybe, just maybe it was the fact that there has always been a market here in town for Dunkin' Donuts, plus what ever transient traffic there was, and that number was split fine between the two stores, but now, it is split between three stores. Doesn't take too much thinking here.

Anyway, what a business owner does is their business, but when employees hours are cut, and people are let go from the job they need because of an ill conceived business move , then it attracts my attention.

Sometimes I wonder, "What the heck are people thinking?". Does all it take to own a franchise is some cash? Isn't there an IQ test, or some business background, or training part of the deal as well?

I have no idea, I've been too busy looking into opening a Subway Restaurant here in town.

There's a need to be filled, and I'm just the guy to fill it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

It's The Price, Dummy

My sister, and her husband, just sold their home in Greenville, South Carolina. It was on the market just 60 days.

60 days. Amazing. That is as good as if the market was normal, and they got their asking price as well.

Maybe the market is normal, but the sellers expectations are abnormal. Seems there are people out there looking for homes. First time home buyers, folks moving up, and empty Nester are all looking. Interest rates are very good, too. So if the interest is there, and the bank rates are more than favorable, then why are there so many houses on the market forever?

It's the price.

I know, like, duh, no kidding. People that bought a home when the over inflated house prices were the thing, and the banks that said, "OK, we'll give you a mortgage for that outrageous amount." are all stuck in limbo now. We know what happened to the banks, and we hear everyday what is happening to everyday people as they fall behind on their excessive mortgages. No, I'm not talking about the folks that have been affected by job losses, that was an unanticipated problem. They probably made their mortgage payments, like most of us, on time until the well ran dry. I'm talking about people that bought high, and expect to recoup their investment in order to move on into something bigger, or to another location.

It just ain't gonna happen. Not this decade anyway.

Not many choices at this point. One could sell at a loss, a short sale if the bank approved, or the seller would have to eat the loss. The only other viable option is to wait it out, and pay down your principal faster to get more in line as to what buyers are willing to pay.

Easier said than done.

Then there are those people that have long since paid off their obligation to the bank, and want to sell and move on to something smaller, maybe someplace else where golfing is a daily activity. These people are in a much better place to alter their asking price. They can match what the market is bearing at the time, but their home was their investment all these years and they counted on a certain return from its sale in order to move on comfortably.

These people are going to take a hit as well.

I guess the bottom line is that no house has to stay on the market year after year, it will sell for the right price to the right person. Go to MLS Property Finder, and choose Sturbridge and Fiskdale to search for homes for sale. Look at the prices being asked on most of them. Many of the new construction are priced as if it was 2002. They'll sit for a long time. Then look at the lower priced homes. some of those are bank owned, and in need of a lot of TLC. They'll sell eventually to those willing to put in the sweat equity. Now, check out the moderately priced home. Homes that don't require a whole lot to be done to them. These houses will sell with some tweakin' of the asking price.

Once you're on MLS Property Finder select the same locations, but check only the "SOLD" box. The site will return all the homes sold in town over the last year, or so, and the price they sold at. You'll find a lot of familiar faces there. Ever wonder what that house on Main street eventually went for? This will tell you, and it will also tell you just what the market is willing to bear here in Sturbridge.

A little research will help everyone that wants to sell make the best decision for themselves.

We love our home, but we haven't ruled out moving to a place with a little more land, and that may happen if the market begins to turn around in the next couple of years, but for now, we are content. Back in 2006, when we bought the house, the seller had listed it about 10 months before we bought it for about $100,000.00 more than we paid. We were the first offer after all the those months listed, and we sure as heck didn't offer what he had originally asked, in fact, we didn't even offer what he was asking at the time we saw it, but he sold it to us for what we expected to pay. That was what the house was worth. Nothing more. I didn't shed a tear for the seller since he had acquired the house a few years before from an estate for $103,000.00. Yes, there was some work done to the house, but it was like pulling teeth to find out exactly what he had put int it, and not the previous owner.

We bought our home for a price I was fine with for the market at the time. Price does make a sale, and we have had no regrets since.

Someday, there may be another home. Maybe the one I've mentioned before high on a hill with a great view, or something on the water, but until that day when all the selling and purchase price stars align, we are happy here.

So, what to do if you really need to sell now, and can't wait 10 months for a buyer? If you can, lower your asking price a lot, not just $5000.00. If times are very urgent, then talk to your lender about a short sale of your home. See if your bank will accept less than what is due on the note. In these times, short sales are something the bank will lean towards in order to avoid foreclosure.

Just somethings to think about offered by someone that knows squat about real estate, but just enough to make some sense.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's How I Do My Best Thinking

This whole what-to-do-with-the-Town-Hall has become quite the thing. I have to admit, I only know what I read, and what is told to me by those in the know.

So, let me see if I am following this correctly.

The Town Hall is in drastic need for renovation, that's a given. The Town approved $4.32 million dollars for this. During the past year, as the project was further discussed after the money was appropriated, the cost rose by over a million dollars.

Now what?

Well, go back to the residents and ask for more money, but considering the track record of lack of action the first time, that is dangerous ground to tread. Who knows? We could be in the same spot this time next year.

Another thing that that is affecting just how we proceed is the economy.

So, another solution was offered up, a good one in my opinion, and that was to put the project on hold, and lease an existing building with the square footage and move the town offices there. This plan offers a few things that the original plan does not offer:

1) The building could be "built-to-suit". If the owner wants a tenant, they will do this, it is common practice.
2) If the All Star Building is chosen it offers great location, ample parking, and space.
3) The lease of a building will be considerably less than the renovation of the old Town Hall.
4) We could purchase the building, and do with it as we see fit. This real estate market gives us an edge, and if the seller doesn't see that, we don't buy. That simple. Overtime, an outright purchase will make better financial sense.

Then there was the talk that the Town does want to go forward with the original renovation plan, and is seeking only temporary space for the town offices while the work is done. Well, that is part of the original plan anyway, since no one could be expected to work in the building as it was being gutted.

For the amount of money we have set aside for this project we could build brand new. 7000 square feet, single story, well designed building fitting in with the architectural style of the area will not cost $4 million dollars. Fully furnished it won't cost $4 million dollars, and if it comes close or does go a bit over, we still get a better deal than renovating a 150 year old building that offers little other than history. We get "new". New building, new everything. We get parking, and access, and above all, space.

We have to face it, the existing Town Hall is a mongrel. Once a one story Worcester County Agricultural building, a second floor was added for more space, and the columns out front added as well to dress up its exterior. It's a little bit of this, and some of that. Great building for 1860, and maybe 1960 as well, but needs have changed, and we should not be a slave to sentiment. Imagine me, of all people saying that? I love history. I love this towns history, and I will do what I can to preserve it, but I am also a realist, too.

So, what if we do build new, or buy/lease a new building? What becomes of the old Town Hall and Center School? They are valuable, historic assets, and if we just think a little bit harder it will come to us. Cripes, I'm sitting here in my cowboy PJ's and pink fluffy slippers and I've come up with an idea without much effort.

What if we renovate the Town Hall into housing? Senior housing would be good, and would also be a source of income to the town as well. The Center School would make a great condos, either residential, or business condos. Another source of income to the town, and the peace of mind that the buildings were saved for future generations. Recycling to the max.

There you have it, another plan to throw into the mix. Buy or lease an existing building, design well, and frugally, or build new on existing town land, and convert the older buildings into housing.

It's win/win. A new Town Hall, and the older buildings are saved.

No charge for this input, it's a freebie. I feel its the least I can do since I offered up the visual of the cowboy PJ's and pink fluffies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wait For It, Wait For That Other Shoe...


The Town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, acting through its Chief Procurement Officer and the Board of Selectmen, invites Sealed Proposals for the lease of approximately 6,500 square feet of office space, for town hall purposes. ..."

I received the above notice in an email today.

Seems that wiser heads are prevailing. First the realization that refurbishing the old Town House is just not fiscally responsible at this time, and second, the actual start of the search for an other space that would be affordable, and offer everything the town needs.

So far, so good. I like what I am seeing here. Fiscal responsibility, realization of what would be the best for the town, planning--so far I am impressed.

But, wait, this is Sturbridge Town Government; there's always something that goes ka-floing, even with the best of intentions. I am going to wait for the other shoe to drop.

In a couple of months I imagine there will be another email:

Town of Sturbridge Announcement

The town is pleased to announce the leasing of a 6500 sf of office space. The space will be renovated to meet our needs, and is 1/3 of the projected cost.

The additional savings will allow the Town to purchase a 15 seat commuter van to ease the Town Hall employees commute to the new office location in North Adams.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Layoffs at OSV

I was surprised by the recent layoffs at Old Sturbridge Village. I shouldn't have been, with the economy in the shambles it is in, but everything I have read and seen about OSV over the past year ran contradictory to layoffs.

Were the layoffs and salary cut backs more prudence, than an actual necessity? I don't know, and I won't question those in power at OSV, they have done a great job over the past couple of years, but like all layoffs, it is sad.

Face it, Sturbridge Village is responsible for this town evolving into what it now is. As of just a few years ago Sturbridge had more hotel rooms than Worcester, and all those rooms aren't just there for the Brimfield Flea Market three times a year. If OSV went under, then what? Not only would we loose a fantastic place of learning, its absence would affect countless businesses in Town and in neighboring towns as well. No longer would Sturbridge be on the list of things to do every school vacation, or long weekends for families in New England and beyond. With exception of the Pan Mass Challenge, we would have very little bringing people to our town.

Of course, the Host Hotel would continue to sponsor trade shows, and large conferences, but the number of people coming in and using our towns businesses, would be a trickle compared to now.

I use OSV in many ways. Sometimes just to take a walk on one of their trails, or for just wandering about in the spring. Their Gift Shop is great, and the Sunday brunch at the Oliver Wight Tavern cannot be beat. Sometimes, after a Sunday morning walk elsewhere, we stop buy for a coffee and a scone, and sit outside on the patio and enjoy the morning. As Sturbridge residents we are eligible for free admission, but I was told a couple of months ago that a Sturbridge resident can also become a member of the Village, and share in all the other member only events and discounts as well. The Sturbridge Resident Membership costs less than the regular membership, but all the membership perks are the same.

I meant to join this program a few months ago, but as with everyone else, other things take priority. I think this program is something worth joining considering the time we spend at the Village, and it is on the list of things to do for this Spring. The extra memberships from here in town would do much to spike the bottom line at OSV, problem is hardly anyone knows about the program.

I wish the Village well, and I will continue to support them. We are so fortunate to have this facility within our town. Not only is it a fun place to wander about with the family, but an important educational center for the country. Yes, I truly wish them well, and hope they make it through this economic nightmare, and that all of us will come out in one piece on the other side.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Election Prep 101

I've always had in the back of my head to run for local office. I don't know why exactly, maybe it's a sense of duty, a giving back in a way. What stops me is the fact that I am not qualified to do anything in town government. Oh, I can sit back here and voice my opinion on a myriad of things that I believe need changing, or implementation, you know, coffee shop talk, but to actually be good, and accountable in an office, that may be just beyond my abilities.

I have to admire those that do throw their hats into the ring. The other day, a neighbor stopped by and asked us to sign papers in order to put herself on the ballot for school committee. We signed, and if elected, I know she will do a fine job. I don't know her too well, but what I do know about her in the almost three years I have been here on Route 148, is that she is a good person. That's a sure qualifier, being a good person.

Being a good person is something that one is, or they ain't. One can pretend to be good, as many in politics do, but they are found out pretty early on. Unfortunately, that "early on" is often after the election. Being a good person encompasses a lot of variables. The Golden Rule is something a good person abides by everyday, that's just for starters. A good person will most always put another first before themselves. I think of my self as being good, but I don't think I would hesitate to eat a fellow a survivor, if I was ever stranded in the Andes, even before they were ready.

I have some things to work on.

A good person will have a thick skin and not let the slings and arrows of office affect them in a way that may be detrimental to those doing the slinging. I have a thick skin, but I know I would secretly Saran Wrap the toilet seat in the restroom of the Town Hall as a sort of "tit for tat" against the slingers.

When a person decides to run for a particular office one of the first thoughts that run through their head is, "Hey, I could do that, in fact, I could do it better!". That is the first step to doing more, and a better good. The next step is to share those "better" thoughts with others. They will either applaud the thoughts, or rip the person a new one. Very seldom is there an in between, but those that are not only good, but smart enough to allow compromise into their efforts, will be the ones that succeed.

So, to run for office one not only has to be a good person, but smart, and have an ability to compromise as well. All good traits for any one, not just a politician.

I have a lot of good traits, but I also have a number of ones that would not be displayed best in the Land of Public Office. Minor things, quirky things. Things I know could be improved, but most of these quirks I enjoy too much to change at this stage of the game.

Well, that rules me out as a candidate, but what about others? If one has a history of being a decent person, with a reputation of putting others first, community service, a knowledge of what is needed in the particular office, a track record of prudent ideas, and improvements in other areas that could be carried into office, then that person is worth a look. Now, not every good person will appeal to all the voters. Personality has a way of weighing more than actual knowledge at times.

The gregarious clown, or the timid bank clerk may meet all the other qualifications, but it is how they present themselves, not necessarily their ideas, that first spark the synapses of the voters brain in a positive way. After the brain says, "OK, so far so good, let's listen to more." then the actual weighing of the information the candidate has to offer can begin.

We're coming into election season here in Sturbridge, and many good, decent people are going to run for office. It is time for us, the voters, to shake out of our heads all the preconceived notions about the candidates. Start fresh. Look at not only what they have to offer to the town, but who they are as a person as well. They may have the best ideas, but are no more than a well spoken ignoramus.

Once the weighing of each candidate is complete, then vote for the one that you feel has the most good qualities, and ideas, to bring to the service of the town.

It's just that simple, but so often we tend to be swayed by personality, looks, reputation, mannerisms, education, or the organizations they belong to.

This time, not only weigh their words, but weigh their hearts.

That way one can't make a bad choice.

Friday, February 13, 2009

1909--2009: Only The Names And Expenditures Have Changed

A.B. Chamberlain was the Town clerk here in Sturbridge in 1909. D.B wight, C.P. Silence, and Wm. Whittemore were our selectmen. There were nine members of the Library Committee, four constables, one Tax Collector, and three Fence Viewers.

We had a lot of fences to view in 1909.

Residents were taxed as today. Expenditures were spent. John O. Nichols was paid $4.35 for his services at a forest fire here in town. He was just of several paid for their services at the fire.

New England Telephone was paid $1.00 for tolls, and George Seaton received $3.50 for the use of his well. The Tree Warden had a budget of $10.00 that year, and he spent it. A new sidewalk at the North Cemetery was built for $275.02, $24.98 less than what was appropriated. Other sidewalks in town fared the same way, and were built, or repaired for less than appropriated.


The amount appropriated for street lighting was $900.00, and only $554.80 was spent, and $250.00 was appropriated for the "Suppression of the Illegal Sale of Liquor". Eight men were paid from this budget for their services in this regard, and they had $99.65 left over. Probably because they remembered to return the kegs after their meetings.

The Burial of Soldiers, one James M. Scarborough cost only 37.00, and the amount was returned by the State.

The appropriation for the schools was $3500.00, and with other unspent balances from previous years, came to a total of $5859.02. From that total a number of men and women were paid to care for each of the eight schools. Eugene Boudry was paid $13.75 for the care of school No. 8, Snell Manufacturing was paid $210.92 for coal, A.D. Barnes was paid $6.55 for sawing wood for the schools..

The highest teachers salary was paid to Nellie M. Chase at School No. 1. She was paid $418.00 for the year. Elizabeth Ogilvie was paid only $48.00. There was $227.99 unspent dollars left over at the years end. Obviously, there was no teachers unions back in 1912.

The schools seemed to warrant the most attention. $134.50 was spent on repairs to all of the schools for things such as repairs to a pump, new glass, and labor. Books and supplies came in at $539.82 with $43.78 left over.

The property of the town was small, and listed on its own page in the annual report. The town Hall was valued at $5000.00. The hearse house, hearse, and harness was valued at $500.00. Four pair of handcuffs were valued at $15.00. The schools were worth $25000.00.

All the receipts taken in by the town were listed in the Town Report as well. $3.00 for goods sold from "pest house", $10.00 for a pool license, $6.00 for a pedlers license, $624.00 received from the State for transportation of paupers.

I wonder where they were being transported to? Brimfield?

The Report of the Overseers of the Poor was long and exact. Everyone from the local doctor, merchant, barber, and other in town were paid for their time, and goods supplied to the Almshouse. The names of people supported at the Almshouse were listed along with the number of weeks they were there. So much for privacy. The number of "tramps" lodged there was 11, and were required to cut wood for two and a half hours to pay for their keep.

The Highway Surveyors report took two and half pages. They were overdrawn by $108.05, but received a total of $37.25 in donations from three people for improvements for the highways, and street cleaning. A number of ongoing repairs were made around town that year. Union Road was repaired, and a number of bridges were fixed as well. Only $22.15 was spent from the Snow Budget with $227.85 left over. Must have been mild winter, or just too cold to go out and scrape the roads.

In 1909 there were 14 marriages in town, 41 deaths, and 55 births. the number of licensed male dogs was 189 at $2.00 each, and the number of females was only 7 at $5.00 each. Seems that some folks found it cheaper to have a male dog, even if they were female. I don't think we had Dog Viewer in 1909 to confirm the dogs sex.

The last part of the Town Report is a detailed report on the schools, cemetery, and library. The report of the school tells of the course of study, exhibits, health reports, and statistics. the number of books at the library and the expenditures was listed, as was the obvious statistics of the Cemetery Committee.

The Town Warrant for 1909 is very interesting. Although 100 years have passed, many of the same kind of articles that were listed in 1909 have a familiar ring to them. There were articles to repair the sidewalks in Fiskdale from the hotel to the Post Office and in front of the house of George Holley on the road leading to Brookfield, by the schoolhouse. There was another article to see if the town would provide some way to carry off the surface water on the highway in front of the house of E.D. Brown. An article to widen the arch bridge in Sturbridge Center, and another to replace the wooden manhole grates with ones made of iron.

Article 26 was placed to see if the town would authorize the selectmen to paint the town hall, inside and out, provide a new ceiling in he lower hall, and to fit the hall to comply with the demands of the inspector of public buildings. The requested sum was for $750.00.

There was even an article to see if the town would elect to light the street lamps for the coming year, and to contract with the Webster & Southbridge Electric Light Company.

So much has changed since 1909, but so little has changed as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Now We Know

The video at the top of the page is a "table turner". No longer are the current arguments against the expansion of the Southbridge Landfill at the top of the list as to why the expansion should not take place. This one argument alone is enough.

The expert in "bird strikes" on airplanes around airports is experienced, respected, and totally credible. He is a strong speaker that leaves no wiggle room for avoiding imminent tragedy if the expansion goes forward. His expertise is sought worldwide, and spoke on the subject after the "Miracle on the Hudson" on CNN.

One cannot deny his knowledge.

No longer is the argument about what will seep into our water and hurt us down the road, or the increased traffic to the site, or any of the other excellent arguments to prevent the expansion. This one is about death, not down the road, but immediately.

Those that are for the expansion of the landfill cannot ignore this man, and his testimony. If they do their names will be attached to any tragedies that come from the expansion. It is not like it would be if they went ahead, and there was no airport around. They would be accused of ignoring a world class expert of the imminent danger of expanding the landfill next door to an airport, and the very real possibility the increased birds population at the landfill will take down a plane.

And where would that plane come down? What part of town? Whose house? What schoolyard?

After a tragedy occurs the investigations begin. Who signed off on this project? Were they warned about the what could happen? Why did they choose to ignore it? And, then they will look to see exactly why such a strong warning was ignored. Forensic accountants will examine bank accounts, and phone records in order to determine if their was something that made the choice to go forward easier for those in power.

And, this will happen immediately, not 20 years down the road.

The video is entitled, "Now You Know". Very appropriate. It puts the ball into the court of the expansionists. They have been warned by the leading expert, and he has stated that nowhere in North America is an airport sharing the same parcel of land as a landfill.

Since none of those involved in expanding the landfill want a tragedy, or the consequences that would befall each of them after such an event, the issue of expanding the landfill is now dead.

I predict the expansion will be abandoned, and if not, then start lining up the forensic accountants because it is then obvious to all that something else was placed in higher regard than human life.

Now we know.

Link to video:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Oh, And One More Thing...

Every once in awhile I will write something that will prompt someone to email me a response. They won't leave it in the comment section, and that is fine, most of the time the emails are more involved than what the comment section is meant for.

I appreciate it when people write to me to offer an opposing view, a clarification, or just to knock some sense into my head. Almost always the emails enlighten me in some way.

But, I feel that's my purpose: to illicit a response.

There is a problem, though. Almost every time I receive an email, the first sentence in the message is, "This is not for print, but for your information only."

If one feels that strongly about what I have written, and as equally as strong about giving ones side, then allowing me to print it as a rebuttal should not be a problem. After all, I am not the only one needed to be convinced, it is the readers that need to know.

The other day I got such an email. The email had a lot of information in it, and I appreciate the fact that the writer took the time to share it with me. It did allow me to understand more just what was behind the issue from an other perspective, although I still feel the same as I did when I wrote my original piece.

I wish the writer had submitted a rebuttal for publication in order to share their views with other readers.

I am not the only person one needs to share your information with, or to clarify something I may have not gotten quite right, there are hundreds of others out there that read this page each day.

One thing I don't do is "Ghost Write", so I won't take an email sent to me and reword it into something I may have written in order to share another point of view. That form of writing is a sham, and lacks credibility, so if one wants to set the record straight, please send something along with permission to publish it, and I will publish "the other side", otherwise let my words stand.

This is a great place to share information, and if I don't get something quite right, or there is need for further clarification, then it is important to set things straight. I still might not agree, but at least both sides are out there.

A Comment Worth Sharing

This morning I received this comment on a post from June 2008. I wanted to share it here as well as posting it in the comment section.

"Mrs. Farrell has left a new comment on your post "An Open Letter: It Ain't Over Till It's Over"(June 2008):

Please view the video from Bethlehem NH "somewhere over the landfill" at the following link :

Bethlehem has been struggling against Casella for a number of years. In Templeton MA we have recently "unsite" assigned our old landfill that Casella was trying to expand. Good luck with your efforts.

A good contact for Bethlehem NH is Julie Seely.

Julie Farrell"

ed note--Unable to determine meaning of term "unsite".

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday Musing

Music can set any mood. Some music is meant for romancing, some to clear ones head, or fill it to the brim. Other music is fun, sad, and every other emotion in between. We get lost in the notes, and if we let it, music can take us places we been before, or never been to at all.

When I'm driving I usually have music playing. When I'm driving around town, sometimes it is as if He is in the mood to play with my head, and a song will come on the CD player that will be the perfect soundtrack for what I am seeing on the street. Runners are running in time to the melody, the driver in the car ahead of me is bobbing their head in time to the song playing in my car, or I'll pull up along side a car at a light and the old couple in the front seat look as if they are lip syncing to some Beach Boys song on my radio.

Can't help smiling.

The song below is on the Best of Fleetwood Mac CD set Mary gave me for Christmas. I like this song. Besides being a great love song, it has a very distinct beat that travels through the entire song. It's a feel good song.

Now, imagine you are in your car waiting at a traffic light here in town, and suddenly a women wearing purple leg warmers, one of those brightly colored wool hats with ears and long ties dangling down, and pink down vest that is a bit small on her comes into view. She is walking her dog, all 3 pounds of fur dressed in a sweater to match her hat. Her gait is purposeful, and precise. A perfect syncopated rhythm. As the ties from her hat sway, and her unleashed arm swings back and forth, she literally bounces.

All in time to this song coming out of your speakers. Fun is where you find it. For a few moments, He has given you a soundtrack for your life.

And, you can't help smiling.

Everywhere - Fleetwood Mac

If song will not play, click here to go directly to site.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The King

Small towns are neat. All the problems in world still affect us, and we have our own issues, too, but in a smaller format.

In most cities there are occasionally power struggles among mayor, counsel members, and various departments. Most of those issues revolve around jurisdiction of particular boards, departments, and facilities. The mayors office may feel that it is in charge of the schools, the school committee feels otherwise. These are big issues, and will often go on for a long time depending on the personality of the mayor, and those the mayor is confronting.

Here in Sturbridge we have power struggles as well, but since we are such a small town, our struggles are not nearly as dramatic. I mean, really, what is there in town to struggle over? Well, if there isn't anything to struggle over, make something up.

Currently, there is a power struggle involving the dump. The Town Administrator feels he is the King of the Dump, and not the Board of Health. He feels that he has the time for oversight of duties that our part-time Board of Health does not have the time for, including making appointments to the board for inspector positions, and being the ruling authority of the dump. Town attorneys agree with the Town Administrator, but the lawyer for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards disagrees.

"State law gives boards of health the authority to employ the necessary officers, agents and assistants to execute the health laws and its regulations. The charter does not explicitly or implicitly strip the Board of Health of this authority.", according to the attorney for the Association.

The Town administrator disagrees with this position.

But, why? Why would the Town Administrator be so inclined to want to have ruling authority of something like the dump, and not let it be under the jurisdiction of the Board of Health like it is in other Massachusetts communities?

There's more to this power struggle than meets the eye.

If we are going to go by the Town Charter, and review it for duties not explained fully for each department and board, and have those duties assumed by the Town Administrator by default, then we is in for a world of trouble.

I don't have the charter in front of me, but if we use the argument that the administrator is using then we should look closer at it and move ALL the other duties not specifically spelled out in the charter to his office.

Imagine the mess.

Or, we can behave normally, and assign those duties that involve the health and well being of Sturbridge residents to, I don't know, let's say the Board of Health. Whoa. Now, there's an idea.

Once that precedent is established it will insure we don't use teachers to plow the roads, or the rec department to run the waste water treatment facility.

Once a city, or towns leadership decides to assume more responsibilities that would otherwise fall under the domain of other departments because leadership feels that the boards, or departments are only part time, or too small to provide proper oversight, then, now here it comes: common sense, it is then time to: (altogether now) make the department bigger, and go full time.


If the town has out grown it's 1950's style of boards and departments, then leadership must insure that our town government grows as does the town.

Mayors and Town Administrators don't have time for running other departments. It's all about delegation of authority to those that have knowledge in the area.

Just makes common sense.

Sometimes I think every town should have an Office of Common Sense, and all proposals, and daydreams of officials must be submitted to the Overseer of Common Sense before they can be officially proposed to the town.

Heck, I'd volunteer. Not as important sounding as King of the Dump, but Overseer does have a ring to it.

Now, I need to review the Charter. Who knows, maybe the Fence Viewer is not officially sanctioned in it, and that's all we need is one more job for the Veterans Agent.

Addendum: The following is from the Town of Sturbridge Charter Revised April 2007:

Section 4-8 Board of Health: Composition; Term of Office; Compensation; Powers and Duties.

(A) Composition, Term of Office - there shall be a board of health consisting of three (3) members elected by the voters for terms of three years so arranged that the term of office of one member shall expire each year.

(B) Compensation - The members of the board of health shall receive for their services such compensation as may annually be provided for that purpose by appropriation.

(C) Powers and Duties - the board of health may make reasonable health regulations and shall enforce the laws relating to public health, the provisions of the state sanitary code and all local health regulations.

'nuff said.

Ed note: The proper name for the dump is the Town of Sturbridge Recycling Center, however it is not as funny as "dump", or "King of the Dump".

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We Ain't Seen Nuthin' Yet

"The Great Recession".

That is what these times will be known as. We have never had bad economic times, such as these, since the "Great Depression". Things are going to get much worse, way before they begin to get better.

Well, that's a cheery way to start the day.

I know, and I am sorry for sharing what is shoved down our throats every day on the news here on this space, but I can't ignore it any longer.

Layoffs are being made in all sectors, homes are falling into foreclosure not just from the screwy mortgage situation, but from everyday folks that no longer have the income to pay their mortgages. Things are beginning to shift.

Folks are filling up apartments, and the number of those that are available are getting tight.

Of course, Main Street is being hit hard, but so is My Street, and Your Road. The state is cutting back. Towns will get less state money, and services and personnel will be cut. Some officials have elected to forgo their annual raises. This is a good thing, but one or two people giving up a 5% raise will do little to stem the tide. If we are to maintain the same level of services during these dark times, then everyone on the town payroll has got to take a hit.


Giving up 8% of ones income sure beats the heck out of being laid off, and having no income, and certainly is much better than having the Fire Department go part time, the police cutting back on patrols, the Highway Department only able to go out in a storm to clear the roads once or twice, or our classroom size increasing.

During the Great Depression we know of the sacrifices that people made. Some of us may have heard the stories our grandparents, or their parents told. Recovery eventually came, but during those years prior to our coming out of that Depression, everyone made sacrifices. We need to do that today as well.

We hear that Americans are cutting back on spending, saving more, and buying less. Macy's announced layoffs yesterday. The President wants to give Americans money to spend in the market place to stimulate the economy.

Well, I am not an economist, far from it, but I do have some common sense. If you give $1000.00 to a person that is behind on their bills, rent, mortgage, car payment, where do you think that money will go? Sure as heck won't go to the perfume counter at Macy's, or to Best Buy for a 52 inch LCD TV. That money will have been spent weeks before it even arrives. The money will do nothing to stimulate the economy.

So, how do we weather the storm? Well, as individuals there is little we can do to offset what is happening on Wall Street, but we must be aware that none of us is immune, and take steps to change our behaviors so that if are directly affected by a layoff, or salary reduction, we can survive.

Cutting back on the extras, saving more of our income, refinancing our mortgages to a new lower rate, retraining in another field are just some of the ways to prepare, and volunteering more. In order to maintain the same level of services schools, hospitals, senior centers, and other town departments will make cuts. Maybe if enough of us fill those paid spaces with volunteer hours, the cuts won't be felt as much.

I am not immune. I work in health care, and health care is one of those "safe" industries the experts keep saying. Not entirely true. Cambridge Hospital is closing their Pediatric Unit, Tufts Medical Center has laid off, and other hospitals around the state doing the same. We need a back up plan. Like you, I pray that my services will continue to be needed, and I would be willing to accept a cut in my salary in order to maintain our mission. We've already had some layoffs.

Everyones situation is so different. Priorities vary from household to household. Only those that live inside of the houses on our streets know just what they need to do. If they don't know the specifics of how they can survive, then they must be aware that this economic crisis is going to affect everyone, and they need to make a plan now.

I guess the only thing I can actually do at this end is to wish us all good luck, and pray that the light at the end of tunnel is not the Acela.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Morning Rants

I am far from bring a member of Green Peace, or a true tree hugger. I do have a great respect for nature, and preserving it. At the same time I am also very much in favor for making nature enjoyable to all, not just to pack it up and store it on the shelf away from the influence of humans. What would be the point? Why then conserve nature if we were to restrict its use by man?

It would be like not having it all.

So, about these dams on the Hammant Brook. I would like to keep them. We bought the property with the ponds in it, and it made for a beautiful tract of land for the town to purchase. Now we must change that to something else?

OK, so the state biologists say it will be healthy for the fish and the Quinebaug River to allow the brook to flow free. Hasn't seemed to hurt either one yet, though. And if we are going to use the same argument for restoring the health of the brook, and the river by removing the dams, then all dams that hold back brook and stream waters flowing into the Quinebaug should be removed.

After all, it is for the health of the river, and the stream itself.

Let's start with the earthen dam at Pistol Pond. That old dam holds back a great deal of water that eventually flows into the Quinebaug River. The source of the water is in the wetlands north of Walker Pond. A stream from the wetlands flows into Walker Pond, and out the southern end of the pond, under the ramps of the Mass Pike, under Route 20 and into Pistol Pond. Once in Pistol Pond the water fills the pond, and the excess flows over the dam into Hobbs Brook and on into the river.

This is a whole lot of geography that would be affected if we took down this dam. Many wildlife species that have come to make the are home because of ponds would be displaced. The water level of Pistol Pond would be dramatically lowered, as would the water level of Walker Pond as well. The wetlands would suffer as well. It would be like pulling the stopper in a bathtub.

But, it is a good thing, right? We will have restored the streams to the the way they once were, way back before man came along and messed with the ecosystem.

But, here is the issue: man is here. We chose the area to settle, and to live in. When we came here, we made changes to the landscape to support our settlement. If we change things to the way they once were, how will that affect us, and our way of life?

Something to think on.

As far as I can see, there is no large fish kills from the dams on Hammant Brook, the wildlife is not being adversely affected. Maybe some fish aren't allowed access to the river, and the water temperature, according to the biologists, is not what it could be, but that water temperature is affected by a number of other factors as well. Storm runoff into the river, and the flow from the East Brimfield Dam can alter the water temperature as well.

Seems that it comes down to money. Restore the dams for one amount, or remove them for another. Each has its supporters.

I don't think that the Town would opt for removing the Pistol Pond dam for the same reasons as it is considering for the Hammant Brook dams. There's no money there to fund its removal, and the people that live upstream would light torches and storm the Town Hall with pitchforks if it was ever considered. Hammant Brook has no real abutters, except the wildlife that has come to live on and around the ponds.

Hmm. Take the "free" money now to remove the dams, and be done with them, or spend other money to restore them and maintain them?

How about we just leave them alone? Why bother restore them at all? Why not just leave them as they are?

Maybe, just maybe, the this money from the co-generation plant further down river could be better off spent on taking care of the river downstream from it. The plant sends heated water into the river, and that is a concern, maybe the money should be spent where it is needed more, and not for some "feel good" act way the heck upstream.

OK. I'm done. Enough ranting for a Monday morning.