March 2009 Archives

Business Recycling Event April 3

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Today is the last day to register for the Town's Spring Business Recycling Event,  scheduled for Friday, April 3, 9:00-12:00, to be held in the parking lot of 300 Baker Ave.
 
MATERIALS COLLECTED:
* FREE - On-site confidential document destruction.
* Electronics - computer, TVs, etc.
* Fluorescent bulbs, batteries, mercury devices.
 
For details, prices, and registration form go here.
 
TO REGISTER: Fax completed form to CRS at 508-402-7750 or contact them directly at 866-277-9797 x 705.
 
If you have any questions please contact Nancey Carroll at
Concord Public Works via email or by phoning 978-318-3206.
 
 
 
 

Voting Tuesday -- Your Vote Counts More Than You Know!

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Think of this: a Board of Selectmen comprised entirely of individuals who ran in uncontested elections.  

We came close to this happening, you know -- by simply raising their hands, all five would have been ushered into office.  If it were not for someone at the 11th hour stepping up to make our current election contested, this would have been the case.

This is good news, but here is the bad: even our contested elections of late have seen surprisingly low turnout.  (See a very fine analysis of this in this week's Concord Journal opinion by Concordian Bill Gluck.) 

EVERYONE:
GET YOUR BUTTS OVER TO YOUR POLLING PLACES
TUESDAY and VOTE!!! 


Surely between 7 am and 8 pm you can find the time?

Here is a very helpful page about where each street and each precinct votes from the Town Clerk's office.

A Hanging at the Library

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Hanging the gallery show, that is...

We were present during the mounting of the display "A Day to Be Remembered," where Curator of Special Collections, Leslie Wilson (yellow sweater) and staff from the Massachusetts Historical Society arranged and secured the pieces of the exhibit for public viewing. For more about the exhibit, see our prior post.

Below are a few photos of some of the action, and the gorgeous stuff awaiting visitors to the 2nd floor gallery at our main library. Highlights: top right is Paul Revere's gorgeous little pocket flintlock pistol; bottom right in the pink shirt is Concordian Jayne Gordon, now on Mass Historical staff.  (Click on any of the below photos to see a larger version.)




Photo Credit: ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images

Two Amazing Lives to Celebrate, Passings to Mourn

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Two remarkable local women who led rich lives and gave much to others passed away recently: Heddy Kent and Pagey Elliott.

Helen "Heddy" Root Kent was born, lived and died in her home of 92 years on Sandy Pond Road in Concord. Her ties by blood, friendship and work to so many here are legion -- scratch someone who's lived here a while, and likely you will discover they had a connection to her. A sense of community continuity passes over with Heddy's death.  Her memorial service won't be held until April 18 -- for the particulars about that and for info about her life, see her obituary here.

Next time you are at the Concord Free Public Library, look up and listen to or read her oral history taken in 1982 (more on Concord's Oral History Program here).

The late Rachel Page Elliott was celebrated in Concord yesterday.  A native of Lexington and resident of Carlisle, this world authority on dogs had long ties in Concord, including through the First Parish in Concord. Like her mother and sister years before her, she too, passed away on the first day of Spring.

To say that Page was special, fascinating and beloved would be to nearly damn her with faint praise. We can only point you to her obituaries and the many tributes to her all around the internet (at bottom) for her life story and accomplishments.

Her memorial service at the First Parish was truly unique and heartfelt. Fifty golden retrievers wearing tartan colors stood at silent attention!  (photo below)

The Rachel Page Elliott Fund
A recent title by Pagey Elliott on Amazon.com
Retrieverman's Weblog Tribute to Rachel Page Elliott
American Kennel Club Lifetime Achievement Award for Rachel Page Elliott
Pagey's Obituary


Photo Credit: ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images






Freedom's Way National Heritage Area Now All But Law

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On March  25, 2009, the US House of Representatives approved the formation of the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, of which Concord is a part along with 36 other contiguous cities and Towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

This legislation had already passed the US Senate in January. Now President Obama has only to sign it into law, which is predicted to happen shortly.

The Freedom's Way Heritage Area is intended to highlight the history of New England, including Colonial life, the American Revolution, the development of American democracy, and early social justice, religious, abolitionist, and conservationist movements.

Sounds like just the kind of thing Concord would be somewhere right in the middle of, doesn't it? Well, we are pretty much are: geographically, culturally, historically and intellectually. Take a look at the Freedom's Way Heritage Association's website for a  map, and more information about the intent of highlighting our area in this manner.



Watch the League of Women Voters' Candidates' Forum

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This is an important election for Board of Selectman coming up on March 31st.  It is one of the very few contested elections in years, and your vote is important. Vote on the issues; become an informed voter!

Here's one piece of public education all voters should watch. The candidates' forum that was held by the League of Women Voters on March 22nd is being broadcast both online by demand (which means 24/7), or on Channel 8 at the following days and times:

Tuesday, 3/24, 10:00 PM; Wednesday, 3/25, 8:00 AM; Thursday, 3/26, 4:00 PM; Friday, 3/27, 11:00 AM and Sunday, 3/29, 10:00 PM.

To watch it online, go to http://origin.peg.tv:3000/pegtv_player?affiliate=T00341 and find it under the tab at top right called "Entertainment". Select the title "League of Women Voters C-C Concord Candidates Froum" (sic) from the list on the right, hit the play button, and you're all set!


When Will the Town Follow the State's Orders?

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By Rich Stevenson, Concord resident, and a guest blogger.
The below appeared in today's Concord Journal as an Op-Ed.


I wish to add some important information to last week's article "Resident's records request still open", which is about my Public Records Request.

The Town of Concord is promulgating information that has already been shown to be untrue by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Supervisor of Public Records, Alan Cote, empowered by the State to determine the public status of government records. Cote issued orders in this case in November 7, 2008 that are specific on these very points.

For example: Selectmen Greg Howes is quoted in the Journal's article: "I think [Stevenson's request is] an abuse of the public records law," and "...I think it's detrimental to the citizens of the town by taking away time that the staff could be spending on day-to-day business. The concern I have as chief administrator of the town is, 'How do you accomplish that without taking away from the healthy operation of the town?'"

Mr. Howes uses the phrase "day-to-day business." Interestingly, Supervisor Cote did, too, in his orders to the Town. "... [A] request that is broad is valid... The spirit of the Public Record Law is to shine light on the business of government and compliance with public record requests is part of the day-to-day business of government." The fulfillment of records requests is integral to the healthy operation of the Town.  It is disturbing to see an elected official having so little regard for the government's obligation of transparency.

The article noted the Town Manager saying that..."[t]o minimize the number of eyes on confidential information, department heads involved in the request will review and redact their own e-mails."  

However, Supervisor Cote's orders stated "...it is a rare instance that the Town Manager or a Department Head is the only individual who can segregate and review records... Clearly, the task of reviewing and redacting records could be performed by a lower paid employee." In fact, Cote affirms that the rate the Town may charge must be no greater than the lowest paid employee in each department.

The article states that "[t]he town has thus far refused to provide the information electronically because electronic copies can be changed." Yet the Supervisor ordered that the emails must "... be produced on a CD or DVD... If the Town is concerned that the integrity of the records will be compromised after they are provided... the Town should provide the records in a read-only format or with other widely available security measures to prevent misuse." State law requires that documents be available in the form in which they were created; email records must therefore be available as emails, not hardcopy. As long as the Town keeps the originals, the read-only "problem" should be a non-issue.

I do agree with Mr. Howes in part. There is an abuse of public records law taking place. By refusing to fulfill the State's orders, Town officials commit this abuse.

I only want the Town to uphold the laws of the Commonwealth, which Cote has ordered them to do in detail. Yet they persist being clear that they won't.  Is the Town ignorant of their responsibilities for public records access? Are they receiving poor counsel?  Are they intentionally delaying the process? I don't know.

The Supervisor isn't just someone we can ignore; his orders can be enforced by State authorities. His office exists to safeguard a fundamental democratic principal: that the government's work is presumed public and open to citizens' examination. It is up to us to see that we are not denied this. Because if we are, democracy cannot survive.

I am deeply disappointed. I love my town. I expect more of it.

(To read the State's orders to the Town, the Town's response to those orders, the MA Public Records Law and other documents pertaining to this case, go to this blog post here.)

Photo Credit: ©2009 Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images


Killer Tomato Addendum

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Well, we no longer have to worry at this time about too many mature, indeterminate tomato plants.  And I'm sorry now that I used the title "Killer Tomatoes" because that's close to what happened. I found we had forgotten to cover the tomato plants in the greenhouse overnight last night. It takes only forgetting once: deader than doornails.

We had more than enough to replace the 12 now-dearly-departed plants with equally mature plants.  But still.  This isn't the way I had anticipated we'd solve the problem of too many big plants so early in the season.

Sigh.
Here is a promised, periodic update on the solar greenhouse experiment we are conducting in our Concord household. To review: it's a 21' x 48' greenhouse. We are trying to use as few technological and electric-driven inputs as possible.

A "solar greenhouse" means that no additional heat sources are used beyond those that are naturally occurring.  These include the sun, geothermal heat from the ground, and any heat that can be generated from the exothermic processes of decomposition (such as composting). (We have not been using decomposition heat until the past couple of weeks... and have no idea how much it is contributing to the total heat in the greenhouse.)

January was cool-to-cold in the greenhouse -- even on sunny days. Nights were so cold that we used our only non-natural source of heat under the cover of the mushroom logs: a single 40 watt light bulb. We had inoculated the logs with shitake spawn in a too-cold part of the season for good colonization by the mycelium. It would be fine if the logs experienced freezing temperatures, but not all the time.  December and January just weren't warm enough to leave them outside unprotected. Starting sometime in April, the logs will spend the rest of their lives (which could be several years) outside under our spruce trees.

Things Start Heating Up in February, March
Early February saw a string of bright, sunny days, and the strength of the sun was such that it was simply heaven in the greenhouse: 70-80 degrees, humid, and smelling of living plants and fragrant earth.  Friends and neighbors who wandered into the greenhouse would sit in a daze muttering, "Ohmygoodness... it's so amazing in here. I can't believe it," staying for hours in a tranced out state of bliss. Using a typical 18" oscillating household fan on a stand, we were able to mix the warmer air at the top with the cooler air near the ground quite effectively. The below-the surface soil temperature remained in the upper 30's... not warm, but warmer than outside air temperatures.

We finally dared to plant out the winter-hardy vegetable plants we had started in the house in the Fall. They did fine under a layer floating row cover, and even started putting on growth. We also experimented successfully with pieces of reflective insulation ("Reflectix") made into rounded cloches. By late February, we were having to open the 4-foot exterior door in the mid-afternoons for a couple of hours to vent out the excess heat, lest it be 90 degrees at the top. We started enjoying light harvests of greens such as broccoli raab, arugala, turnip greens, red mustard, and a variety of Asian vegetables such as bok choy and tatsoy.

In early March, it started to become hot in the greenhouse -- 100 degrees or more at peek. We would vent the hot air earlier and earlier in the day as the calendar "Marched" on, needing to put that fan in the open doorway to facilitate cool outside air intake. We use a gallon jug of water to prop open this northwest-facing door. One noon in early March, I noticed as I put it in place to vent some 105 degree air, that the water inside the jug was partly frozen. This represented an approximately 70 degree difference between inside/upper air and outside, in-the-shade temperatures!

By mid-March, we were enjoying several-servings-weekly of fresh vegetables from the greenhouse. And we had to cut a window in the end without the door for cross-ventilation. We cut out the upper triangle at the peak, using a long piano hinge to form the window. We are now temporarily shutting it with tape at night while we wait for a temperature-sensitive automatic opener/closer arm to arrive in the snailmail. The piston on this arm starts  to open at around 70 degrees, and will become fully extended around 90 degrees; and visa versa as it cools. It is run by wax inside that expands/melts and contracts/congeals in response to changing temperatures.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?
And then the Tomato Plant Crisis began.  Tomato seeds we had planted in our own house on February 1 for three indeterminant varieties got so large by the time they were 5 and 6 weeks old, they started to set buds. Now, they were not strangled because their were in tiny pots -- they had been planted up to 2-3 quart containers because they were growing so fast.  Seeing that the below-the-surface ground temperature had risen to 50 degrees, and not knowing what else to do, on the last day of winter I planted six in the greenhouse to see how they'd do, protecting them at night. They did fine!  This past weekend I planted six more... and still we have at least 20 more giant plants of equal size and maturity waiting for a home in 2-3 quart containers. 

Clearly. Something. Must. Be. Done. 

But having a greenhouse filled ONLY with tomato plants was not what we had in mind. We are examining a variety of alternatives, including hanging bags where our (still small) determinate variety will grow, making more bedding room for their bigger, more mature cousins. This is a case where we''re being stymied by too much success.

Not that I am truly complaining. The strong scent of the tomato foliage is to me an integral part of the real smell of summer. Sometimes after working with them, I then brush the leaves of our still-small green, purple, and lemon basil seedlings, mixing their frangrances, anticipating the supreme pleasure of eating them together sometime in the close in the near future.  

"A Day to Be Remembered"

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The upcoming exhibit at our main Library will include objects never before displayed in Concord. It will certainly be worth a visit!

A Day to Be Remembered is a collaborative exhibit organized by the Concord Free Public Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society, in honor the fiftieth anniversary of Minute Man National Historical Park. It focuses on the historical significance, public commemorations, and enduring legacy of the events of April 19, 1775, and includes broadsides, maps, manuscript materials, paintings, photographs, and ephemera from the collection of each institution.

Located in the Art Gallery at the Concord Free Public Library, 129 Main Street, Concord, MA, the exhibit opens on April 1st and continues through June 30th, 2009. It is free and open to the public during library hours. (See the Library's website at www.concordlibrary.org.)

In conjunction, on Saturday, April 11, 2009, Dr. William M. Fowler, Jr., Professor of History, Northeastern University will deliver a lecture, A Day to Be Remembered. The event will be held in the lobby of the Concord Free Public Library beginning at 5:00 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Other lectures in the series:

Myth and Memory: The Legacy of Paul Revere by Nina Zannieri, Executive Director of the Paul Revere House. Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 6:00 p.m. at the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA  www.masshist.org

Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life by David Glassberg, Professor of History, University of Massachusetts. Wednesday, June 10, 2009, 7:00 p.m. at Minute Man Visitor Center, Route 2A (Lexington/Lincoln line)  www.nps.gov/mima

Memories from the USS Concord, 1969

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From Gordon Hillesland (dongtamnsa67@yahoo.com)

I just read the online edition of the May to June 2000 issue of Concord Magazine.  The article about the participation of the crew in the Patriot's Day festivities was very interesting.  I was a member of the original crew of the [current] USS Concord. 

I was at the commissioning ceremony and remember the town of Concord, Mass. sent a representative to the ceremony.  The ship is named after all towns in the United States with the name of Concord.  There were several other representatives of towns named Concord there, also.  However, not all were represented.  We also marched in the parade in 1969.  We had just come around to the east coast through the Panama Canal. 

I note with interest that the ship's Captain and Supply Officer marched in the parade in 2000.  In 1969, the officer in charge was an Ensign.  Three third class petty officers and an unknown number of pay grade E-3's also marched.  I don't remember the number, but I'd guess 30.  We also had a great  time and enjoyed liberty in the Boston area.  I especially enjoyed our tour of Walden Pond.  I remember it snowed when we left port.  The next stop was Cuba.

Gordon's information about the ship being named for all towns named Concord is something we'd not heard before. But as a witness to the commissioning, we'd consider him a good source of this information.

Gordon would look forward to hearing from people he served with (his email is at top).  He also says that next month going to Orlando to meet with three other Gunner's Mates from the original crew of the Concord. He hasn't seen any for 39 years. Have fun, Gordon, and thanks for writing! (Here's another article the Concord Magazine published about the USS/USNS Concord)

Two Concord-Related Plays Now Onstage

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Right now, there are two plays -- one in Boston, the other on Long Island -- with local connections.  The latter is "Little Women the Broadway Musical," based on the story by Louisa May Alcott. This review calls it a "lively, light-hearted romp." It runs through April 19 (no doubt just a coincidence -- what do New Yorkers know from Patriots' Day?).

The other play is Two Men of Florence, a drama about Galileo Galilei and Pope Urban VIII. It's by Richard N. Goodwin, who's been a Concordian for decades. It's at the Huntington Theater.

We saw this play on opening night and it was both wonderfully done and the story was just fascinating. The language the playright used is very complex, the dialogue bright.  The cast excellent, the sets mind-bogglingly wonderful, the sound and lighting just grand. The tale is certainly one for our time: the fight for dominence between science and faith, damning of those who think differently, celebrity and out-of-control ego vying for the hearts of the public.

We saw a number of Concordians, friends and acquaintances of Dick and his wife Doris, as we are (we used to have the same hairdresser and run into each other and chat at lunchtime).

This play was first mounted a couple of years ago in London where it was quite a triumph. It's wonderful to see a man with such a complex, successful writing life branch out so beautifully into new areas. Do go see this play if you have a chance -- it runs until April 5.

To learn more about Two Men of Florence, here is a variety of audio interviews with Richard Goodwin. A variety of videos including an interview and a mini-documentary about the play can be found here.

Join Facebook Groups for Concord & West Concord

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concordgrape.jpg"Concord, it's a lifestyle" has 1,230 members.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2227443602

And who says that the Concord/West Concord divide is dead? This next group says in part: "This is a rebuttal group to "Concord, MA: it's a lifestyle." - cause our side of town kicks ass."

"West Concord, MA: it's real life" has 272 members.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2227271820

Both groups are open for anyone to join.

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Emerson Umbrella

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By Matt Johnson, Concord, guest blogger.  This was previously published on the Concord Discussion List.

A middle-aged couple arrives home from a party at 2 AM. The wife, Martha, asks her husband George to pour her a drink. Soon George discovers that this is no nightcap; Martha has invited a young couple that they just met over for après-party drinks.

So begins "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", the classic Edward Albee drama now playing at the Emerson Umbrella. A controversial sensation when it opened on Broadway in 1963, the play has subsequently been etched into the American psyche via the Elizabeth Taylor / Richard Burton movie edition.

While Liz and Dick may seem like a hard act to follow, Jennifer Roberts and BoB Knapp (the director and professional actor standing in at the last minute for Tim Otte) put in outstanding performances at the Umbrella, ably supported by Houston Bernard and Carrie Schantz as Nick and Honey.

Those who distantly recall the alcohol-fueled angst of the film on late-night TV might be surprised at the wit and frequent hilarity of the dialog. While Albee's script is still capable of shocking middle-class sensibilities by laying bare every unmet ambition, unrealized hope and personal indignity, George and Martha's assault on manners owes more to the uproarious drawing room farces of Moliere and Wilde than the existential venom of Pinter. It's an entertainment, not a final exam.

It's a great treat to watch outstanding drama right here in Concord. This second play in Emerson Umbrella's inaugural season (following last fall's popular staging of The Producers) confirms what an asset this new community theater can be to our town. There are still two more performances left  -- 8PM tonight, and 3 PM Sunday. If you haven't seen it already, I strongly recommend going.

Reversing Access Problems to Public Documents

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Here is an excellent article from SunshineWeek.org about how the Federal government has just taken steps to reverse access problems to public documents that occured during the Ashcroft-as-Attorney-General period of our nation's history.

New Federal FOIA Guidelines Bring Back Presumption of Openness

Eric_holder

There could be fewer Sunshine Week presents more welcome in the FOI community than the new "Holder memo," a directive from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directing all executive branch departments and agencies to administer Freedom of Information Act requests with a presumption of openness.

The move overrides the Ashcroft memo, so-named for the former attorney general who gave agencies more leeway to deny FOIA requests.

"By restoring the presumption of disclosure that is at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act, we are making a critical change that will restore the public's ability to access information in a timely manner," said Attorney General Holder... (Read the rest here...)


May the Commonwealth of Massachusetts successfully fix our the weak points of our own Public Records Law. These allow both the state and municipalities leeway to abuse it, given how the legal entity who makes determinations about public access, the State Supervisor of Records, does not hold enforcement powers of his own orders.


Cool Sunshine Week Video

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How to Make a Public Information Request

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The below is what we have learned in the process of reading the State's Public Records Law and guidance about the law; also gleaned by watching others make such requests.  This is our best understanding and it may be flawed, so do read up on your own (here is the Guide to Public Record Law including the State Statute).

We publish the below here despite its possible flaws because we know enough instances now of citizens making Public Records Requests where we believe the response they received may have been insufficient. Requesters did not object simply because they did not know what to expect.

The below covers the weak areas we have seen in these responses... and more. We hope it is enough information to help you get started, make you aware of the process, and keep your request rolling along to a happy ending.

MAKING YOUR REQUEST.  You may make your request verbally (in person, not by phone) or in writing (letter, fax or email).  We recommend in writing because then there is a better chance of your request being clear to everyone, and it creates a paper trail.

DO YOU NEED TO SAY WHY YOU WANT THE RECORDS? No! And no Records Custodian may even ASK you why.  The possible exception to this is if the request falls under State exemption (n), which has to do with preventing terrorism.

THE REPLY FROM THE RECORD CUSTODIAN HOLDING THE RECORDS.  The reply must come within 10 calendar (not working, but calendar) days and must be in writing. If you are denied the records, the Record Custodian must cite for you the reason for the denial, referring to the statutory exemptions permitted by the State, which are lettered (a) through (q).

A GOOD FAITH ESTIMATE IS GIVEN. If you are to be granted access to the records, and the custodian wishes to charge you for them, he/she must give you a "good faith estimate" of what it would cost you to obtain them in their reply if the total cost exceeds $10. Included in this total may be:

1. LABOR: The time it takes to collect and review the requested records for redaction according to the permitted exclusions. The rate of pay of the lowest paid employee capable of doing the job is the scale used, and no benefits or other mark-ups to their pay scale are permitted.  The Supervisor of Records says that this is almost always primarily a low-level administrative task.

2. COPYING: A per-page cost may be charged at the maximum rate of $0.25/page for photocopies.  You may also simply inspect the records, without any copying fee.

WAIVING OF FEES. The Massachusetts Secretary of State says, "In the interest of open government, all records custodians are strongly urged to waive the fees associated with access to public records, but are not required to do so under the law." Sometimes fees are waived; sometimes not.

GETTING THE DOCUMENTS. Expect that the documents should be made available in a "reasonable" period of time. Documents MUST be given in their original format, and this includes electronic documents.

HAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG?  There are several reasons you may want to appeal the Record Custodian's response, including:

• The response doesn't come within 10 calendar days
• The response arrived, but is inadequate
• You feel you are being denied a document improperly
• The cost is too high

UNHAPPY WITH THE RESPONSE? You may appeal the response to the State. Write to the Supervisor of Records below, sending a copy of your original document request (see? this is where a written initial request comes in handy!), a copy of the Record Custodian's response (if there was one), your request for the Supervisor of Records to open an appeal, and the reason(s) for your request. Your appeal must be made within the 90 days following your original document request.

Mr. Alan Cote
Supervisor of Records
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Public Records Division
One Ashburton Place
Room 1719
Boston, MA 02108
Fax: (617) 742-4528

THE APPEAL PROCESS. If your request for an appeal is granted, your case will be assigned a lawyer in the Supervisor's office who will do the leg work and submit a draft finding to the Supervisor for his examination and approval.  If the finding is that the Records Custodian followed the law, then the appeal will be satisfied and the Records Custodian will be notified of this. If the finding is they did not follow the law, then orders will be sent to the Records Custodian about how to correct their error(s). In either case, you will be copied on the finding/orders. This will not take a short time... they are very busy and understaffed.  You will have to be patient.

ENFORCEMENT OF THE ORDERS, ETC.  If you are unhappy at any point during the appeal process, and/or the Record Custodian refuses to comply with the State's orders, you may seek enforcement of the Supervisor's orders. You have three options there: jurisdiction for enforcement is with the Attorney General, the District Attorney, or Superior Court. The Supervisor of Records' office recommends Superior Court for the best outcome for the person who requested the record. What does that Superior Court involve? We don't know -- we haven't witnessed that yet!

Interested in making a request of Federal officials? Here is information on FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), the Federal equivalent to Massachusetts' Public Records Law.

How to Make a FOIA Request from the National Security Archive at George Washington University: /www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/foia/howtofoia.html

Making a FOIA Request from the US Department of Justice: www.usdoj.gov/oip/04_1.html

The Future of West Concord?

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Lots going on in West Concord -- we really need to keep our eyes on all the many plans, because communication has not been great out to the public.  But here's one opportunity to learn more about certain aspects, some of which will be coming up in Town Meeting. 

The West Concord Task Force
invites you to
Public Information Forums

Harvey Wheeler Community Center
Wed., March 25th  7-9PM
Repeat Session   Tues. April 7th   7-9PM

* Article 38 (IPOD)
* Master Plan
* Design Guidelines
* WC Stewardship Committee

For more information see:
• Town Website (concordma.gov)
under "Boards & Committees
• WCTF materials at the Fowler Library
• Yahoo List: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WCTF_announcements

EDITORIAL: Voters Really Need to Know More

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Earlier, this blog published David Karr's campaign video where he lays out his election platform for the Board of Selectmen ticket. We did so because he so strongly believes in government transparency and accountability, the central themes of our Sunshine Week postings.

We applaud that Mr. Karr has articulated a clearly expressed platform as a candidate, and has placed it on his website and beyond.  This is for two reasons: first, that he has made his platform tangible for the voters.  Second, because he has stayed clear of exercising his personal views on substantive issues that are within the domain of Town Meeting to decide, not the Selectmen. Instead, he has kept his platform focused on process issues, which are within the realm of Selectmen.

We'd hope to see something equivalent on the other candidates' websites. Because in these important times, we need to make election choices very carefully. Therefore, statements that one has had experience on Town boards is nice, but simply not enough for voters.  The community needs to make the best informed decision possible. Voters really need to know more.

Surely we are at a juncture where change is needed throughout our country -- both given our many, complex problems, and in response to massive changes that already have taken place in our economy -- and which will continue into the unknown future. So, too, will change be needed in how we conduct Town business. Clearly stated platforms about this very subject from all candidates would help us make this decision. Voters really need know more.

We need to better understand what all the candidates believe need to change -- and what needs to be preserved -- in how the Town functions. Just the types of change that are within the Selectman's power to champion. Voters really need to know more.

Some argue that candidates with long experience as committee/board members will only perpetuate the problems we already need to address in our Town government. How does each candidate believe they will be part of the solution and not part of the problem? Voters really need to know more.

Over the next three years, what are the most important goals accomplish? What has already been accomplished by the candidates in the area of improved government while in public office? Voters really need to know more.

What's really vital here is that everyone offering such statements means that the election focuses on THE CHALLENGES AT HAND -- something we have in great abundance, and that voters just cannot ignore. At this time, we cannot afford to make any aspect of elections as less than truly important. 

Back to the issues of Sunshine Week: articulating such views actually furthers the interests of government transparency and accountability for the two candidates who will be elected. Citizens hold those elected accountable for their their accomplishments and conduct in office; clearly understanding their intentions as candidates helps in this process.

There's still time to remedy this. And voters really do need to know.

One Selectman Candidate on "Sunshine"

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Here one candidate for Board of Selectman, states his election platform -- and it fits right in with Sunshine Week's theme: government accountability and transparency. 

I was the Chair of the Concord Historical Commission for three years (2003-06). In 2006 -- with the aid of two prior chairs -- I spent scores of hours organizing the files of all years of the Commission's existence that I could locate; a task that staff typically performs for other committees and boards.

As the Chair, I felt embarrassed that we were charged with matters historical, yet our own history could not be gleaned from our records because they were such a mess. I was also very concerned that if the archives for the Historical Commission were not in shape given our native concern with historic documentation, whose would be? And I knew that the records must be kept correctly.

My complaints and revelations about the state of the files were only met with the reality that there was no staff that was going to do the work -- it was up to the volunteers to muddle through. I took this to indicate that the Town did not consider this task to be important enough to assign sufficient resources to see that it was regularly attended to. I sought and received counsel from the Town Clerk, the Curator of Special Collections, the Director of Planning and three prior chairs before I embarked on the job.

I found records stored higgeldy-piggeldy in a combination of files, boxes, notebooks, and floppy disks. Some were stacked in a storage closet, others in a file drawer I had no key to, others were in boxes under a staff member's desk.  Yet others -- those generated under only one prior Chair several years prior -- I learned late in the story were in the Town Archives stored in the vault in the Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library.  

I believe many years of files are absent because I never located them, which I reported in open meetings -- as I reported the condition of all the Commission's records. Have the missing records since been located? Organized? Filed? Integrated with the known records? Culled according to the State's retention schedule? What condition of retrievability are they kept in? Given the Commission was never given dedicated staff hours up through the time I left in 2008, I am not sanguine that the situation has improved (though I suspect that after I publish this, things may change -- which is quite a far distance to go to get a chronic administrative problem addressed!).

Consulting the Town of Concord Committee Handbook that I received in 2001 when I was first appointed to the Commission, Section VII, Appendix B states that "[a]ll ...commissions...shall appoint a clerk/secretary who shall be responsible for...serving as records custodian." Beyond taking and filing minutes, the handbook has just slightly over four lines devoted to the handling of other committee records. Is this enough information and training to do the job in this increasingly complex age of information and electronic communication? Do such practices lie inside the State's concept of adequate records management, never mind best practices?

This was but one tiny corner of the Town's records; can it be the sole exception to otherwise well-organized, retrievable records?

Electronic Records Upset the Boat of Public Access

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In a presentation back in 2007, Alan Cote, the Massachusetts Supervisor of Records, wrote that among the biggest risks exposing the government to incomplete records is that governmental "[e]xeutives, managers and staff are not properly trained in [the] implication of the records they create... and that "IT [Information Technology] staff are not trained in records management requirements."

Given the weight of the Supervisor's experience and what we've witnessed ourselves over the past near-decade, we cannot take for granted that the Town understands how to properly manage its records. It may, but we cannot assume this to be so. We say this not necessarily out of distrust of the government -- though we feel that citizens have a sacred and inalienable obligation to not trust any government -- but out of the reality of what has transpired over the past decade.

In particular, the advent of electronic media has completely turned the preservation, tracking, organization and retrieval of public records inside-out and upside-down.  And there hasn't been very good recovery from such a discombobulated position.

Just how bad has this electronic nightmare made public records retention, organization, and retrieval? In the busy, overworked, under-staffed world of municipal government, there can be email received by and sent from Blackberries, laptops, personal home computers, and office desktop computers.  Multiple email accounts may be used by staff, elected officials and volunteers: official email addresses, home email addresses, plus a variety of Yahoo/Gmail/Hotmail accounts may be additional. Documents can be created on a variety of computers both in the office and at home, with both public and private ownership of the devices used. Different formats, different versions of creation software, different platforms has decentralized control over data, resulting in a modern-age version of the Tower of Babel that resists organizing at every turn.

How can a Records Custodian assure that all records have been captured and handled according to the State Public Records Law? Cote maintains that this is no easy job. He points out that "Records Custodian is no longer a ministerial duty of filing paper in boxes and storing." Each department must have its own Custodian. In his presentation, he writes that the "Records Custodian should be General Counsel, CFO or higher ranking officer who can manage the increased responsibilities related to Records Management." 

These are complex tasks that must be accomplished, one that requires special training and knowledge, and a commitment to full compliance with the Public Records Law. It is a moving target with technology changing quickly, and employees and volunteers needing to be constantly updated.

Concord's fairly brief Administrative Policy and Procedure # 50 ("Use of Electronic Mail") specifically deals with email. Committee members, who always use home email and computers, are given all of a two-paragraph set of instructions. Use of personal/home email addresses and equipment as well as PDA's by staff do not seem to be covered. 

Is it no surprise then that retrieving email to fulfill public records requests is estimated to take so long and be so costly, given the underlying policies that govern their ongoing organization and retention? It may be time to take a good, hard look at these policies and procedures, and give them a rigorous updating.

Broken Links Fixed! Sorry...

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We had reports of broken links in the first two pieces of correspondence offered in the post entitled The Life of One Public Records Request in Concord.

We hope they are now fixed! (Thanks for the heads-up, readers!)

A word about the Electronic Records Management file from the Commonwealth: when downloaded on our Mac running Firefox 3.0.7, the resulting file when you try to open it says the document is damaged.   But downloaded via Safari? It works perfectly.  Go figure!

Don't you just love the Internet? <g>

Open Government According to the Founding Fathers?

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By Rich Stevenson, previously published in The Concord Journal in October, 2008.  We offer this here as a reminder of the still vital, unanswered questions this opinion raises, and also because the author's appeal to the State is still open at this time.

In April, 2008, I submitted a substantial public records request to the Town of Concord. This is the first time I am commenting publicly on it. I'm focusing here on setting out some questions I think citizens in a democracy might benefit from pondering.

The Secretary of the Commonwealth, William Galvin, says in his introduction to A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law (January, 2008): "The founding fathers of our nation strove to develop an open government formed on the principles of democracy and public participation. An informed citizen is better equipped to participate in that process."  How well is Concord fulfilling its obligation to provide its citizens with open access to their public records?

The Guide states:  "A records custodian must respond to your request within ten calendar days..." and "...must include a good faith estimate of the cost of providing the record...." It further states: "The Massachusetts Public Records Law provides that every person has a right of access to public information. This right of access includes the right to inspect, copy or have copies of records provided upon the payment of a reasonable fee." The Guide says, "[a] records custodian is encouraged, but not required, to waive fees where disclosure is in the public interest."

Though I gave the Town two additional weeks to reply, they were four days late in their response. And here is the essence of that response: if I want to just look at the requested records, I would need to pay the Town $122,492.00 to do so. This is without the cost of any copies I might want to have made, which would be extra.

Is such a fee in keeping with the intent of the Public Records Law, which (quoting the statute) "shall be construed to ensure the public prompt access to all public records in the custody of state governmental entities and in the custody of governmental entities of political subdivisions of the Commonwealth..."?  Is this truly what is meant by public access to documents? Or does such a fee create an open government only for the immensely wealthy?

The Town has itemized the many hundreds of hours it would need to gather these documents for examination. Yet state law is clear that public records must be maintained in a retrievable state. Should we be concerned that the Town's records may be in such a condition that it requires a Herculean effort to retrieve them? If so, should I be the one to underwrite the cost of addressing underlying administrative problems?

How committed is our Town to being "green"? It was stated unequivocally by the Town that electronic records would be supplied to me in hard copy because state statute doesn't specify they must give them electronically.  I made my request for records already in electronic form to be supplied electronically because of my belief that I should not consume natural resources unnecessarily. There is a meaningful difference between what the law "requires" of Concord, and "doing the right thing". Given that this is arguably the birthplace of the world's Environmental and Conservation movements, is this refusal what our community would expect? Is this an attempt to have me ask for fewer documents due to cost?

The Town's response states that if in fact I really do want to the records I requested, then, "[I]t would impose a substantial burden on the Town and be quite costly..." Is it Town official's place to argue against my request to obtain public records?

Lastly, it's been often publicly stated that my document request represents a substantial interruption to the real business of the Town. Yet availability of public records is codified in the Mass General Laws under "Part I: Administration of the Government." Within Part I, "Title X: Public Records" follows "Title IX: Taxation". Since taxation is inarguably part of the "real" business of the Town, then isn't also fulfilling public record requests?  

This story is ongoing: the Secretary of the Commonwealth has agreed with my request to open an appeal. It is up to the Town to comply with the Secretary's eventual orders. Let's hope that true governmental transparency can be facilitated along the lines of what our founding fathers and the State statute intended.

From Wiser Heads Than Ours: How to Preserve a Democracy

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What kind of relationship should citizens have to their government that most effectively safeguards democracy? The collected wisdom from numerous historical figures who studied and lived in democratic societies seems to be summed up in one word: distrust

The below quotes appear to agree that the most necessary and foresightful activities any society that loves its democratic character are these: watchful wariness of the government, a well-informed citizenry, and constant and active demands for full disclosure and transparency.

In other words: if we fall asleep at the wheel, it will guarantee that the vehicle of democracy will crash into a catastrophic brick wall.  Concord has a highly educated population, one that knows the value of looking back to learn how to best move forward.  Therefore, in celebration of Sunshine Week, we provide the following: 

Demosthenes, prominent Athenian orator and statesman, 4th century BC: "There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust."

Edward R. Murrow, broadcast journalist noted for his honesty and integrity: "A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the US:
"The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government."

John Gardner, Founder of Common Cause: "The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can."

Noam Chomsky, father of modern linguistics and a political dissident:  "States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions."

Robert A. Heinlein, famed novelist who often used social themes integrated into his science fiction: "Love your country, but never trust its government."

And last -- and certainly not least -- five gems from Thomas Jefferson (at right), 3rd President of the US and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence:

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent." 

"Experience hath shown, that even under the best forms (of government) those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive."

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories."

"When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

The Life of One Public Records Request in Concord

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Below is a list of documents we are making available to the public pertaining to the April 14, 2008 Request for Public Records made by Concord resident Richard Stevenson, which is still -- a year later -- under appeal with the State. We provide these so that the reader can gather the necessary facts to understand what has transpired.

We promise much of it will be fascinating -- and surprising -- reading.

The first group below is the correspondence that shows first what documents Stevenson asked for, and what the Town of Concord replied in response, including the $122,492.00 price tag they put on just seeing copies of the requested records.

Stevenson then appealed the Town's response to the State Supervisor of Records (part of the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Massachsuetts' office). Next you will see the findings the Supervisor made and the subsequent orders he gave to the Town of Concord, disagreeing with the Town's estimate across numerous specific points, approving of only a $95.00 charge in that estimate, sending the rest back to be recalcuated.

The last pieces of correspondence are the Town's reply to the State.  Here the Town itemizes the ways in which it does not plan to follow the Supervisor's orders. The very last piece  provides attachments which were not included in the Town's response to the Supervisor of Records, including the revised price of $41,918.00 to just look at the records.

The second group of documents below is background information to provide a context and factual basis for the contents of the correspondence. It's a lot of reading, but it is all actually quite straight-forward and understandable. The documents from the State (the first two) give guidance about the law and proper record-keeping practices. The third document is from the Town, and it gives an idea of salaries/wages of Town employees -- information pivotal to the determination of their estimates for producing the records. The Boston Globe opinions discuss what that paper considers to be a horrendous record of abuse of the law by State and Municipal officials, which gives further context for the Town of Concord's position and actions.

Do be aware that the way the State law is set up, the Supervisor of Records is given the authority to issue orders to State and Municipal officials, but possesses absolutely no enforcement powers to have those orders fulfilled. Enforcement is left to the Attorney General, the District Attorney, and Superior Court. The requester of the documents has to also request and pursue enforcement from one of these entities, which makes the Supervisor's orders child's play to defy.

For those who are unable to manage everything below, we have put a * next to the items that we feel will really educate the reader the most easily and directly.  

Correspondence
*Stevenson's Original Request to Town of Concord for Public Records 4/14/08
*Town's Response to Stevenson's Request for Records 5/13/08
State Opens an Appeal to Town's Response 5/19/08
*State Sends Orders to Town of Concord 11/7/08
*Town of Concord Response to State's Orders 11/21/08
*Missing Attachments from 11/21/08 Town Response sent 1/28/09

Background Materials
Guide to Public Record Law (including the State Statute)

Records Management Electronic Records E-Discovery by State Supervisor of Records, Alan Cote, 2007

Town Employee Compensation by Class (Warrant Article, Town Meeting 2008)
*"Public Records Should be Public" (Boston Globe Opinion 10/22/08)
*"Less-Than-Public Records" (main Boston Globe Editorial for Sunday, 2/8/09)

(* = recommended reading)
 
 

Editor's Note: When there is something personal the editor/publisher of this blog wants to post, she will do so under her own name as she has done here.

The Concord Magazine Blog is discussing a variety of things pertaining to "Sunshine Week," not the least of which will be my husband, Rich Stevenson's, Public Records Request to the Town of Concord in April, 2008. A year later, this is far from resolved: the Town's response was appealed by my husband to the State and that appeal is still open.

While this may seem to some like a subject this blog should stay away from because of a perceived "bias" that I may have, let me assure you: every publication written by human beings has biases... they just can't be truly and fully avoided.  

Nonetheless keeping that in mind, this blog can perform a public service by simply sticking to the facts as they exist, allowing readers to come to their own informed opinions. And that will be what I focus on as publisher and editor of this blog after this post: facts, documents, and other concrete information.  Facts to read with your own eyes, ponder with your own mind, and to consult within your own heart. This will allow you to take a position based on knowledge of the facts -- not rumor, innuendo, and hyped-up emotionality. (The Concord Magazine Blog will publish documentation right after this post showing what has transpired; you can form your own reactions thereby.)

There's certainly been plenty of unsubstantiated gossip -- in fact, I haven't yet heard one thing circulating about my own involvement that is even close to accurate.  Of course, there has been a dearth of concrete information because I haven't publicly spoken of my role in this before. But that's no excuse for passing around wild guesses as if they were true, which is what I've observed has occurred.

So I hereby elect to straighten out a few of these fractured tales through this post, though I feel no obligation to the public to do so.  I write here to point out how many unfounded conclusions have been jumped to -- so many that Concord could mount its own Olympic conclusion-jumping team! In the absence of more solid information, some have decided they know "the truth" -- being human, based upon their own biases, agendas and false assumptions, of course. Is this the level of intellectual honesty we hold as a standard here? I believe we can do much better and so often do.

Keep in mind that I am choosing to release my personal right to privacy for a moment to relate these things here -- individual privacy being an overwhelming right granted each citizen. This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming obligation that the government has to be fully transparent.  I will resume my right to privacy hereafter.

So, here's the straight scoop from the source herself:

  1. I hadn't a clue that my husband was making this public document request -- he kept me in the dark entirely. I found out about it after Town officials did.
  2. At the time, I was really upset with him when he made this documents request. I thought the timing was particularly poor for three reasons. First, it was just before Town Meeting, and who needs something like this to add to the already-thick-and-heady pre-TM mix?  It was a distraction for everyone at a very busy time. Second, because he hadn't talked it over with me ahead of time, and it surprised me greatly. And last, because he refused to tell me why he did it beforehand, much less afterward.
  3. I still don't really know why he made this request, though I've come to understand it better over the past year. Though I doubt I'm aware of all there is to know; he continues to keep me partly in the dark. Many of you partnered folks know that there are some things you just have to allow to unfold in their own time within a long-term relationship. And since his "why" is really his story, it is also his to tell in his own way and time. I take this as my lesson in acceptance and patience.
  4. Reading during the past year about the abuses of the Public Records Law by the state and municipalities in Massachusetts, it shows a sorry record... though this particular case seems to me perhaps beyond those previously cited in the press as shocking examples. Is this a meaningful display indicative of our local exercise of democracy, transparency, accountability and administrative organization? You judge that for yourself; the correspondence between the Town and the State in particular about Rich's appeal reads to me like the script of a poorly-crafted made-for-TV-movie.
So, was much of the above what you heard circulating around town? No? Did you fall for unfounded rumors? Can you personally qualify as a star member of the local conclusion-jumping team? What does this tell you about other aspects of this story that you've heard about and believed without proof? I'm not asking to know anyone's answers to these questions; they are for your own heart and head to ponder.

It's been quite something to watch the events around Rich's request unfold. The high drama it has evoked within a small clique of citizens and Town officials has been nothing less than astonishing to observe. Some folks seem to take this so personally, when it plainly is not. The personal invective I've been subject to around this from that small -- but noisy -- group of folks has been just plain bizarre.  

In the end (though this isn't anything close to the end of this saga), I have become very proud of my husband. He is a good citizen lawfully exercising his rights for the greater good of the community -- and taking both some crap and a lot more praise for doing so with a very measured, calm stride. I utterly support his -- and any citizen's -- right to make public document requests, and to have them answered in a lawful manner. 

If we as a country applaud the strengthening of democracy around the world, how come some condemn citizens for exercising it right here? May Concord forever nurture and celebrate those who are willing to defend our rights and liberties -- we did so in 1775, so why not in 2009?

Photo Credit: That local character, that one-of-a-kind Rich Stevenson © 2009 Local Color Images

"Sunshine Week" is March 15-21... More to Come!

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"Sunshine" -- transparency -- is the very stuff upon which our trust in government rests. Starting today, our blog will be posting all week about Sunshine Week as it pertains specifically to Concord .

Sunshine Week is a national initiative about the importance of open government and freedom of information. In Massachusetts, the equivalent to the Federal Freedom of Information Act is called the Public Records Law, and it applies to both the Commonwealth and to all municipal governments.

Keep in mind that the articles we'll be publishing are not intended to be personal or aimed at any individuals' performance.  The problems we'll be discussing exist within our overarching system.

The Role of the Government, Ordinary Citizens
We offer the following opening to the topic -- one that has gained fresh relevance and vitality starting on the very first day of President Obama's administration.  He declared that:

 ...[T]he way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served...Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
However, government transparency doesn't happen by itself; it requires ordinary citizens' involvement. One way is to use our "Sunshine Laws" -- they are our right to exercise. John Gardner, founder of Common Cause said:

The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can. 

"Shovel Ready Project" in Concord

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By now, we all know the phrase "shovel ready project" as it's connected with federal stimulus funding for states, cities and towns.

Today we introduce another type of "shovel ready project" -- and it's right here in Concord: we are building our first "lasagna garden."  Yes, we might grow tomatoes and herbs (but no pasta or ricotta cheese) in this garden, but lasagna gardening doesn't really refer to the ingredients for this well-known Italian dish as much as it captures the idea of layering that you find in a lasagna.

We are doing this in a large (21x48') greenhouse, but pay attention here because what we do in there now can be done outside in a very short while. In the meantime, we're waiting for our stimulus money to come in! (Just back the truck in; we'll put it in the compost pile and use the cash for mulch.)

We also want to share this method because this is the perfect time to be planning a garden. Since more and more Concordians are interested in sustainability -- and of course growing your own food is part and parcel -- we wanted others to know of this lower-effort method for enriching current or starting new beds. Others will want to know of this lower-effort method for enriching current or starting new beds that we have only just first heard of from Concord-born-and-raised Kathy McGrath (Kathy, you have agriculture in your blood -- thank you!)

Lasagna gardening is a no-till method often used to make a new garden bed that uses sheet composting as its basis.  There is no removal of turf, or digging up or turning over of lawn! First, a layer of newspaper or flattened cardboard boxes to suppress the grass if its lawn or pasture that's being planted. Next, layer on brown and green organic matter including shredded leaves, fairly well-cooked manure, straw, lawn clippings, garden refuse, mulch, and lastly a nice finish of a bit of compost. Oddly enough, this bed can be planted with seedlings immediately.

We started with newspaper and then added a layer of partly-composted oak leaves, which we have in boatloads. We then layered on some partly-composted, shredded paper and kitchen garbage, some lime to counteract the acidity of the oak leaves, then some chicken manure mixed with bedding from the coop (mostly sawdust) from a friend's hen house which we cleaned, and then we'll add a layer of almost-cooked compost.  We watered well. We will make some small pockets in this pile filled with finished compost and planted seedlings. It will be about 16" deep total.


Some online lasagna gardening resources:
Building a no-till vegetable garden
Lasagna Gardening Knowhow
Lasagna (Layered) Gardening
Lasagna Gardening from Mother Earth News

Photo Credits: © Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images

2009 Patriots' Day Events

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Patriots' Day, which is "actually" on the 19th of April, will be marked in Concord and through the Commonwealth on Monday the 20th. Lots of things connected with Patriots' Day happen for the two weeks before that date, so you can fully steep yourself in this historic event.

Here follow some links to events in the area.  Do pay close attention to the dates -- sometimes they refer to previous years' events, becoming fertile ground for confusion and showing up in the right place on the wrong day!  Making sure the days of the week stated correspond to 2009's dates is our recommendation for not running afoul of this problem.

Concord's "Official" Event Listings
Minute Man National Historical Park Events
Battle Road 2009

Photo credit: Clipart.com

Raising Commercial Rents in Concord: What Are They Thinking?

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News Flash!  The world is having more than a little economic trouble these days, from which Concord is not immune.

Imagine our great surprise to repeatedly hear that starting in November, some Concord landlords have been RAISING rents on commercial, manufacturing and retail spaces.  And not just a tiny amount: some are going much, much further, driving established, family-owned, independent businesses out of both their longtime locations, and/or out of business all together. Here are some of the stories we've gathered.

Light manufacturing space tenants on Beherrall Street in West Concord report that their new landlord gave many of them notice back at Christmas that they would have their rents raised 50%, 60%, and even as high high as 100%, when their leases were up in the coming months.  Some of these businesses have so much necessary equipment that in order to disinstall, move and reinstall their shops, they would go broke.  Yet, doubled rents in this economy is also something they cannot manage.  They are really between a rock and a hard place, with really nowhere to turn.

Another landlord is raising long-time Milldam retailers' rents -- retailers being businesses that of course have been quickly and negatively effected by the economic downturn.  If they fail, who will rent these spaces? We wonder how well these rent increases track with the realities of the market today.

Wise, Humane Landlords Also Exist in Concord
But all is not such sad news -- some Concord landlords understand that vacancies are bad for their bottom line, and that everyone has to pull together to get through these rough times -- some sacrifice by each of us is called for.  We're pleased to report we've also heard of some Concord landlords vowing no rent increases until the economy really improves, being committed to their tenants' well being... and knowing rightly that what's good for tenants is good for themselves. Yet other landlords are reducing rents even in prime locations on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid vacancies they cannot afford.

Our Wonderful Downtowns Could Be Destroyed
Here's what really worries us, besides landlords' search for short-sighted financial gain driving valued businesses to close: we need Concord's local economy to survive this downturn. If we gut the unique, varied and independent nature of our local business mix, we run the risk of crushing something that has been a huge boon for the town.

We have had three thriving downtowns, and much commercial and some manufacturing space with good-to-high occupancy rates.  When business areas develop multiple, long-term vacancies, they begin to lose their vibrance. Foot traffic, upkeep, and business fall off.   Vacancies become more difficult to fill.  Some landlords develop bad reputations by squeezing their tenants, and find additional problems renting their empty spaces. It becomes a downward spiral... one that many other communities have never pulled out of following economic downturns of the past.

One tenant facing a massive rent increase put it starkly this way:

It is very hard to explain to others just exactly what is at stake here. On the outset to someone who doesn't own a business they may say, "So what? They have plenty of money -- they have their own business".  But if only they knew the "Whole Story".  How the business came out of nothing, and how you used your head, heart and hands to build it. And that in this economy how it is extremely fragile. Each day brings new challenges to overcome.

Equate it to getting a call from the bank that holds your mortgage and they say, "The payments you have been making for years now aren't enough. We made a few bad decisions and paid too much for things, and you have to make up the difference for us or move."
The message we want to send to these rent-raising landlords is this: real estate speculation is risky business. If you find your cash flow not to your liking, that's the risk you took on. Raising rents and driving tenants out of business is not a solution -- it's just going to make everyone's problems worse, including your own. If you don't have a heart, then at least look beyond  short-term gain to see how you are in the long-term hurting yourselves.

Massive Expansion at Hanscom Launched

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Did you know that Massport has launched a massive expansion program for Hanscom? (Here is a Boston Globe article on the subject -- they have an active comment page... why not add your own thoughts there, too?)
 
There are initiatives on at least four fronts which put together would result in doubling the hangar space for corporate jets, expanding the capacity of the short runway for landing larger planes, and demolishing historic Hangar 24.
 
  1. "Infrastructure upgrades" and expansion of the currently unused East Ramp, resulting in 400,000 square feet of hangar space (equivalent to a building housing about 8 football fields).
  2. Demolishing historic Hangar 24 to make way for a huge new FBO (jet servicing facility) and above ground fuel tank.
  3. Clearing 410 trees on 6.1 acres of the Bedford Town Forest to facilitate increased aviation traffic and larger planes on the short runway.
  4. Using $10 million of "shovel-ready" federal stimulus funds, (distributed through the FAA) for taxiway upgrades and infrastructure improvements for corporate jets.
Our communities and elected officials have long called for no expansion of infrastructure at Hanscom, to keep this an airport in balance with its sensitive historic setting. Our residents and communities are engaged in actions to reduce carbon emissions causing climate change.
 
For Massport to embark on a huge expansion of this airport for corporate jets, -- the most polluting form of travel there is -- while trying their best to shut out public awareness and input, is though by many to be unacceptable.
 
If you agree, you can contact the Governor and your Congressman to protest the above actions that will expand air traffic at Hanscom.
 
Urge them to support an immediate moratorium on any further expansion at Hanscom until such time that Massport, the surrounding Towns, and our legislators can agree on a common vision for an environmentally sustainable Hanscom.
 
CONTACT INFORMATION:
 
Governor Deval Patrick
Office of the Governor
Mass. State House, Room 360
Boston MA 02133
Tel:  617-725-4005 or 888-870-7770
Fax: 617-727-9725
Email:  Click here, go to bottom of page, and submit your comment
 
Congressman John Tierney (Bedford)
17 Peabody Square, Peabody, MA 01960
Tel: 978-531-1669
Fax: 978-531-1996
Email: Click here, go to bottom of page, and submit your comment
 
Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (Concord)
PO Box 1454, Lowell MA 01853
Tel: 978-458-6454 or 978-459-0101
Email: ntsongas@nikitsongas.com
 
Congressman Edward Markey (Lexington & Lincoln)
5 High St., Medford, MA 02155
781-396-2900 (Medford office) or 508-875-2900 (Framingham office)
Email: Click here, go to bottom of page, and submit your comment --
 
If you'd like to thank our State Senators and Representative for speaking up on our behalf on these issues in their letters to the Governor and the FAA -- as well as publicly in today's Boston Globe article:
 
CONTACT INFORMATION:
 
State Senator Susan Fargo (Bedford, Concord, Lexington, Lincoln)
State House, Room 504, Boston, MA 02133
Tel: 617-722-1572
Email: Susan.Fargo@state.ma.us
 
State Representative Cory Atkins (Concord)
State House, Room 472
Boston, MA 02133
Tel: 617-722-2013
Email: Rep.CoryAtkins@hou.state.ma.us
 
State Representative Jay Kaufman (Lexington)
State House, Room 156, Boston, MA 02133
Tel: 617-722-2240
Email: Rep.JayKaufman@hou.state.ma.us
 
 
State Representative Thomas Conroy (Lincoln)
State House, Room 443
Boston, MA 02133
Tel: 617-722-2460
Fax: 617-722-2353
Email: Rep.ThomasConroy@hou.state.ma.us
 
Note: State Sen. Donnelly & Rep. Stanley also signed letters to the FAA & the Governor.
Rep. Charles Murphy did not sign onto these letters.
 
Photo Credits: Clipart.com

Margaret Fuller to be Better Known in Concord

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Because so many of the great luminaries of Transcendentalism were  Concordians, other important figures in the movement may not get as much notice hereabout.

Margaret Fuller is one such figure deserving a lot more attention. She was extremely prominent, well known, and highly respected in her day... imagine how superlative one would have to be as a 19th century woman well regarded for her intellectual accomplishments!

Here is a depthful  biography of Fuller, including how she fit in with the Concord Transcendentalists with whom she closely and often associated. Details of a local lecture on Fuller to follow.

Friends of the Concord Free Public Library present

THURSDAY AUTHOR SERIES

Dr. Charles Capper

Margaret Fuller:  An American Romantic Life
Volume II:  The Public Years

Thursday, March 19, 2009, 7:30 pm - The Periodical Room

Concord Free Public Library, 129 Main Street, Concord, MA  01742

For information:  978 318 3300 - www.concordlibrary.org



Just Where is "Bypass Road" in Concord, Anyway?

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A friend called us, lost and running late for an appointment, asking where "Bypass Road" is in Concord. He was following Google Maps' directions here and was having a terrible time finding his turnoff onto "Bypass Road." No one seemed to be able to help him find it either, ask as he might.

We were stumped about this one, too.  But we made a wild guess and found we were right on the money: "Bypass Road" is the part of Route 2A that was rerouted some 20 or so  years ago.  2A used to go all the way down Lexington Road to Main Street, then Main to Elm to the Route 2/2A/119 Rotary. 

Now 2A bypasses (ah! there's that word!) the above entire area by joining up with Route 2 just over the border from Lincoln. Thus "Bypass Road"... which we never think of by that name. We just call it "Route 2A," specifically "Route 2A from the blinking yellow light where Lexington Road starts".  You know that makes more sense, right? Well, go fight Google with something that makes sense!

Anyway, we wonder how many visitors have become lost trying to find "Bypass Road."  And how many other Google Maps we all depend upon are flawed in ways we've yet to discover.

See a larger Google map of "Bypass Road."  Or perhaps just "bypass" it all together...



Safety on the Ice

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Today's guest blogger, Rob Robillard, runs the blog "A Concord Carpenter Comments."  He is also a police lieutenant in Waltham, so he has an apparent interest in safety.

Given the stories about winter time accidents on Warner's Pond we published earlier in the week, we thought his blog post "Enjoying Your Time on the Ice - Safely!" to be an excellent and highly-instructive follow-up. And full of information we didn't know! Bet many readers learn something new, too.

Submitted by Guest Contributor Robert E. Robillard. Read more about Rob at www.robertrobillardcarpentry.com and aconcordcarpentercomments.blogspot.com

With all its historical significance, Concord has long had the most beautiful, vibrant and charming retail areas with an interesting array of merchants and businesses.  With today's economy, we need more than ever to make a concerted effort to spend our money locally and support our local merchants.

Tonight as I drove through town I saw the vacant space at 23 Main Street and felt a sadness in the pit in my stomach.  I try to do most of my shopping here in town but I couldn't help but wonder if there isn't more that I can do.

It's sometimes difficult to shop locally when you're tempted by the big box giants that dominate production and sales - not to mention the online websites enjoying no rent, much less overhead and the ability of offer cut-throat pricing and offers of "free" shipping.  

But who are the people behind these businesses?  Do they care about their customers? Who do you speak to when you have a problem or a complaint?  

Our local businesses provide us with more options and  better customer service than the big box stores and websites can offer.  With local business the likelihood of developing a friendly relationship with the owner or the employees is real and there are the added benefits of ease in transactions, returns and potential problem solving.   

If I have a hardware or lumber problem at Home Depot, can I call, ask for and actually speak to the owner - as I can with Scott at Vanderhoof Hardware or Al Foss at Concord Lumber?    

If I have a request for a special occasion cake can I call Costco and speak to the baker - as I can when I call Sally Ann's and speak with Bill?

For this reason and more, as long as I can recall, I have tried to do most of my shopping here in town.   The fact that the big box stores are not a ten minute walk from my house like the local shops is obviously a plus.  

And what commercial giant will respond to my request for gift wrap and extend me informal credit? Concord is one of the few places with businesses still willing to offer residents informal credit for purchases with a bill at the end of the month.

Gift wrapping is a real concern ~ especially for guys!  My wife jokes with me because I prefer to and  always end up shopping at the Concord stores that gift wrap.  Call me lazy but they just do a better job of wrapping than I'd ever do.

Local business owners have typically invested their life savings in their business and help provide a positive contribution to our town's long-term fiscal health and quality of life.  They create jobs, boost the local tax base and are invested in the fabric of our town.  If you look behind the scenes at any civic activity or charitable endeavor contributing to Concord's community spirit, you're likely to find local business owners volunteering their time, and very often their goods and money, to the cause.

A recent example of this is the March 8th Wolf exhibit at Alcott School.  This educational event, open to the public, is solely sponsored by environmentalist and local painting contractor, Mark O'Lalor.

Local businesses employ and hire an array of direct and supporting local services: architects, designers, tradesmen (carpenters, electricians, painters and plumbers, sign makers), accountants, lawyers, insurance brokers, computer consultants, and advertising agencies to help run and maintain their businesses.
 
The fact that a long-time local businesses like Patriot Travel could no longer afford a Main Street store front leaves a social and economic void that is real.  The emptiness I felt driving by this travel agent's former place was real. It's time for all of us to consider the cost to our community when we lose a locally owned business.

As a resident of this town I believe it's my responsibility to ensure that our community character endures through these tough economic times and to help prevent the disturbing disappearance of local stores and businesses whose owners have helped define our sense and pride of place.  Let's never forget that their survival depends on our patronage.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the author

CCTV Both Live and On-Demand Online

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birchriver.jpgDid you know that Concord Carlisle TV (better known as "CCTV"), our local public television stations, are available online both with a live feed and on-demand? These are stations 8 and 9 on the Comcast Cable service (the former being public access television; the latter is government programming).

You can watch the live feed by going here; watch it right on that browser page, or open a media player to watch.  We found it needs a fairly powerful computer to run this smoothly, which we were trying to do in the background while this post was written. Our older Mac (a G4 with 1.25 Ghz powered processer) was not up to this kind of multi-tasking. Or maybe it was Firefox 5.0 that was causing the bog-down. 

They have a good number of already-broadcast shows on demand from both Channels 8 and 9. So you can watch committee and board meetings that have already taken place, as well as a wonderful variety of locally-produced community-based programs. 

This link will take you off the CCTV website to their on-demand provider. Notice at top right there is a black pull-down menu against the blue frame.  It will probably show "Entertainment Programs" as a default -- these are from Channel 8. Pull down the menu and you will get other choices such as Concord Governmental Meetings, Carlisle Governmental Meetings, School Board meetings, three channels of CCHS offerings, and then a Living Green section -- quite the cornucopia of goodies to watch!

We found that scrolling through the program choices it was hard to keep it from moving so fast we couldn't examine the titles.  But once one was chosen, it was all smooth sailing and excellent viewing. 

A few choices that caught our viewing notice:

  • The "Town Talk" series about Concord issues, including a "Meet the Candidates" for Board of Selectman
  • A delightful multi-part series called Concord's Farming Series
  • The lecture on May Alcott that was held at the Concord Free Public Library
  • The Concord Band's 50th Anniversary concert
  • Coming to America: World Dance, again at the Library
  • Meetings of the Concord Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Bruce Freeman Rail Trail Committee, Board of Assessors and other committees and boards
  • The CCHS Patriots Magazine in many installments
  • Seminars and workshops for CCHS students and/or their parents
  • CCHS Chorus, Band, Basketball, and assemblies
The variety and number of offerings points to what a culturally rich community this truly is. Thanks to the good folks from CCTV for making these offerings available online!

Links to Board of Selectmen Candidates' Information

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Seeing that this is 2009, all three candidates for the two Board of Selectmen positions have websites!  Here is a handy list of links to all three (in reverse alphabetical order):

Elise Woodward -- www.elisewoodward.com
David Karr -- www.karr4bos.com
Greg Howes -- www.electgreghowes.com

Thank goodness we have a contested election here! Now, go study up on these folks -- these are strange times we live in, and decisions about this can make an important difference in the life and times of our town.

Photo credit: Clipart.com


World Day of Prayer Event, March 6

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World Day of Prayer, an event of informed prayer and social justice action, has taken place in nearly every nation since the nineteenth century. Concord area faith communities will hold their World Day of Prayer 2009 Service this year at The Trinitarian Congregational Church, 54 Walden Street, Concord on Friday, March 6th, at 11 a.m in the church's sanctuary followed by a festive luncheon at noon in the parish hall. All are invited. 

This year's service was written by the WDP Women of Papua New Guinea whose fascinating arts and highly diverse cultures and languages will be celebrated. Their crucial social and environmental needs will be highlighted as part of the event. Marion Thornton, Concord's 2008 Honored Citizen, who has visited Papua New Guinea will speak about life there.

Reservations are not required. The building is handicapped accessible. (For more info about World Day of Prayer, click here.)


Icy Accidents at Warner's Pond

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Many of us saw the news stories about the February 6, 2009 police chase of a suspect onto the ice at Warner's Pond, and the fall through the ice four police officers (three human, one canine) experienced.  (Here is video footage on CNN; no idea how long they keep it available so this link may go bad at some point.) The officers managed to crawl over to Boy Scout Island (in the photo at right in the middle-ground) and took care of one another until others reached them.

Two days later they caught their man, but in the meantime, the accident brought to consciousness the dangers of our icy bodies of water.

Here follows an entry into the annals of "there's nothing new under the sun"... from a member of the Concord Discussion List now living in the midwest US:

It was with great interest that I read all the e-mails about all the police officers and dog who fell into the pond.  I also saw that there was great deal of rescue activity.
 
I called my 86 year-old mother to tell her about all the events and the action as I knew she would be interested.  She replied in a very quiet voice "Well then there were only the 3 of us."
 
She was referring to another rescue in which she played a part on February 16, 1938 my mother who was 15 and skating on the pond at the time rescued a young boy who had fallen through the ice.  She was helped by his brother.  She formed a human chain with his brother at the end.  She pulled the young boy out and then the 3 of them went to a nearby house before going home.
Note this the current fall through the ice was just 10 days short of the 71st anniversary of the 1938 incident at the very same pond! Thankfully, both with happy endings.

Photo Credit: ©Rich Stevenson, Local Color Images

Early Spring... NOT!

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Up until the snow storm on Monday, the snow was looking pretty thin.  In fact, snowdrops were seen in bloom in sunny, protected areas. Now we have about 8" of fine-but-dense snow on the ground. Let's hope the warmer temperatures and strengthening March sun will melt the white stuff quickly! 

Yet, we have already enjoyed our first wild food. It took some local help to identify this plant (pictured above right), but we were sure from early on that it was some kind of cress (also often referred to as being in the mustard or rocket family), which would make it edible -- though with an at-first-unknown level of "bite". The lobed leaf, the early spring growth and blossoming, and the 4-petaled flowers all spoke saying "mustard."  Members of the Concord Discussion List identified it as Hairy Bittercress, and indeed it is!  A mild-tasting mustard, it is an invader that becomes a pest in garden centers and greenhouses.  This particular bed it was growing in was inside our new greenhouse (photo, below right), but the plant first appeared last fall before we had decided we would even HAVE a greenhouse.  Perhaps it knew something we didn't?

We are pulling up any individual that flowers, sauteing in garlic and olive oil.  A little salt and a touch of lemon and we have our first wild spring green, albeit earlier than a truly wild plant would grow. After having eaten this plant cooked two nights in a row, we found it to be surpringly diuretic; probably best to give it a night off between samplings unless you want to be up multiple times in the night to visit the necessary!  

Starting with this post, this blog will be talking about the unfolding of the seasons in Concord.  We will also be discussing foraging for wild food and medicine, gardening, and about sustainability experiments dealing with growing food, including in non-traditional ways, any and all of which take place in Concord. If you would like to contribute to this topic, please contact us!

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