Why Christopher Kolmar is not on my Happy List (and he Shouldn’t be on Your’s Either)

Chris Kolmar first crossed my radar when the website he owns wrote a not so complimentary “info-entertainment” snippet about the city I love so much, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

WANTED--Chris Kolmar

1) This is not Mr. Kolmar’s first rodeo.

This is not Christopher Kolmar’s first rodeo, his words, not mine. Chris Kolmar appears to be a boy genius when it comes to viral, content marketing.  He has written several terrific articles and got the blog, that the company the he worked (still works??) for, to become a household name. I actually took some of his suggestions and used them in the previous post. This guy is a smart cookie, no doubt about it.  I was wicked impressed by his previous work.  His latest websites — not so much.

2) Chris Kolmar is young.

He graduated from college in 2009. So maybe at this writing he is 27 or 28.

3) In my opinion, his new website(s) demonstrate an uninformed, graceless immaturity.

Mr Kolmar seems to be using his terrific talent, in my mind for money, notoriety and lots of traffic to his various websites (i.e. money, fame and money).

The little info-entertainment snippet on my beloved hometown contained a tweet (as part of the website’s “data”) from a “kid,” probably a very nice kid, who listed their hometown as Amherst, MA (which btw is not Newburyport – an expert? one wonders…data??).

"Thorn in my side", on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B) Creative Commons License
“Thorn in my side”, on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B),  Creative Commons License

“Thorn in my side”, on Flickr, Broo_am (Andy B),  Creative Commons License

4) Mr. Kolmar’s website gets its data wrong.

The list is very long of people pointing out all the mistakes in the data on Chris Kolmar’s websites (I refuse to give the name or link to the websites, because that is exactly what Mr. Kolmar would like — it’s clicks, clicks, clicks — links, links, links).  So Mr. Kolmar’s often, in my mind, cruel observations, seem to be based on data that is at times inaccurate.

5) Chris Kolmar has hurt a lot of communities and the people that live them.

Wow, the list of people and communities (especially communities that are struggling) that, in my opinion, he has hurt with his cruel and graceless immaturity is lengthy.  If he ever enters a 12 step program, which in my mind could not be soon enough, the list of amends he would need to make would be in the 100,000s (really).

6) Christopher Kolmar is hurting small businesses.

Yup, the small business in Newburyport that he portrayed in his info-image from Google Maps, a small business that has been loved by our community for decades, was depicted in the most unflattering way (and it’s a great looking place).  And apparently I am not alone in this opinion — that Mr. Kolmar finds the worst images and angles for the places that he writes about — again, cruel, cynical and thoughtless stuff.

NO Chris Kolmar

7) Mr. Kolmar will probably succeed in this new endeavor like crazy.

And Christopher Kolmar will probably succeed in this recent (started in May 2015) endeavor,  because, I believe he is playing on people’s basest emotions in a slick, sloppy, cynical way.  As almost every “news” organization knows, kind, thoughtful stuff doesn’t get readership or viewership like a really good catastrophe, or when someone says something really cruel and mean.

(I would say that Chris Kolmar is the polar opposite of the three young men that give me hope for the future of Newburyport, Massachusetts.)

8) Contact Christopher Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson

You can send them an email, people probably won’t, but this is the email addresses that I used, plus an old one for Chris Kolmar that I found:

Chris@HomeSnacks.net, Nick@HomeSnacks.net, info@HomeSnacks.net, christopher.kolmar@gmail.com (email from 2012)

And there is always snail mail.

This is the information that I have on the company:

Our goal is to show you the real side of places that not everyone wants to hear. We use data to create bite-sized snacks of shareable information about places and cities across the country. We call it the ‘other’ side of regional infotainment.

Chasing Chains, L.L.C.
210 Strolling Way
Durham, North Carolina   27707

9) People who have stood up to Christopher Kolmar and his partner Nikolaos (Nick) Johnson (yes, “standing up to” implies standing up to bullies).  And these are just some of the many people who have done this — it is a long, long list.

A)  Dr. Andrew J. Pegoda, Texas,   “An Open Letter to Chris Kolmar and Nick Johnson of RoadSnacks: Please Remember People Have Feelings”

“Additionally, your list, likely not intentionally but the effect is the same nonetheless, embodies and perpetuates racism. It could cause business to avoid areas where such business could really be needed in terms of jobs and services provided. “

B)  Molly McWilliams Wilkins, Georgia,  “In Defense of Small Towns”

“But you need to consider the soul, and heart, of the places you write about. And realize that there are some who not only choose to live in them, but cherish their hometowns.”

C)  Mike Parker, North Carolina,  ” ‘RoadSnacks’ blast gives me indigestion”

“My dad once told me: ‘Son, figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.’ “

D)  Aaron Brown,  Minnesota,  “Warm greetings from Minnesota’s northern hellscape”

“Before you fall over yourselves rushing to see the site, know that it’s click bait. Believe it or not, RoadSnacks.net is not a repository of our century’s finest thinking, but a website that profits when people look at their ads. It lacks the dignity of a site like this one, which has the class and intellectual merit to attract far fewer readers while making almost no profits whatsoever.”

E)  Barry Saunders, North Carolina,  “Rockingham deserves better from RoadSnacks”

“…it’s easier to pick on struggling municipalities in which you’ve probably never et a Vienna sausage than to look into what’s causing the problems you so erroneously and cavalierly catalogue – for infotainment.”

F)  Brian Blueskye, California, “In Defense of DHS: An ‘Analysis’ Recently Declared That Desert Hot Springs Is the Worst Place to Live in California. Here’s Why We Disagree.”

” ‘The two people who run that website, they do one of those lists on every state,” Betts said. “They’re click-whores. They’re just doing that to build traffic. How can they possibly analyze all 50 states?’ “

G) North Carolina, “OUR VIEW: Defy, don’t just deny, county’s ‘worst’ labels”

“That’s what’s really important, after all. Proving provocateurs like RoadSnacks dead wrong is just the icing on the cake.

Forget denial, Richmond County. This is a challenge that calls for defiance.”

H) Mark Saal, Utah, “Ogden second worst? That couldn’t be worse”

“— henceforth and forever I wasn’t going to report the source of these vacuous helpings of intellectual cotton candy. Mostly because the companies that compile these lists are what we in the business affectionately refer to as “publicity whores.”

“…an attempt to attract as much media attention as possible.”

“And finally, as authoritative as I’d love to consider RoadSnacks (D’oh! Mentioned it again), it’s important to note that the “company” — possibly just some 20-something with a computer, living in his parents’ basement — is headquartered out of Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina, people.”

I)  Mark Muckenfuss, California, Who asks the question, “Does Nick Johnson want to become the most hated man in America?”

“What’s wrong with Nick Johnson? Does he really want to become the most hated man in America?”

“Johnson has made it his job to tell people they live in terrible places…”

” ‘I’ve had some really sappy letters sent to me that made me feel sad about doing this and we almost stopped. They said ‘You hurt everyone’s feelings,’ and we said, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ ”  “…But then he (Nick Johnson) looks at the traffic on the website.”

J)  Steve Urbon, Massachusetts, “Worst? Buddy, you don’t know the meaning of worst — Mayor Jon Mitchell took the printout I had handed him, made a face and held it up like a soiled diaper”

“Some crackpot website in Durham, North Carolina, had messed around with some statistics…”

“You would think that if you’re going to publish something online that serves as cheap “linkbait,” you could at least get the numbers right.”

K)  Tasnim Shamma, Georgia,  Faulty Data Is Behind Georgia City’s Most Dangerous Ranking

This article quotes the FBI which urges people not to use their data.  However, Christopher Kolmar and Nick Johnson do use this FBI  data in compiling some of their lists. The FBI warns against using the data, and this is what the FBI has to say:

“UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) data are sometimes used to compile rankings of individual jurisdictions and institutions of higher learning.  These incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographic entities and their residents. Despite repeated warnings against these practices, some data users continue to challenge and misunderstand this position.”

“When providing/using agency oriented statistics, the FBI cautions and, in fact, strongly discourages data users against using rankings to evaluate locales or the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies.”

The article quotes Robert Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange at Georgia State.

“…the rankings are irresponsible clickbait. It makes people panic and can affect a city’s local economy if it prevents people from moving there.”

This is an article from Jacob Harris, who predicted this way back in 2014.  Jacob Harris is a senior software architect at The New York Times and this article is from the Nieman Journalism Lab, part of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.

“Nobody can say exactly when the trend first started, but in 2014 we saw the first major outbreaks of bogus data distributed by private companies just so it would go viral online.”

“To be blunt, all of these stories were unredeemably awful, riddled with errors and faulty assumptions. But accuracy wasn’t the point. All of these examples of “data journalism” were generated by companies looking for coverage from online news organizations. The goal is a viral feedback loop, where the story is reaggregated by others, the site surges in its organic search rankings, and the study is tweeted for days even by haters like myself. For these purposes, they were perfectly designed to exploit the nature of modern news distribution online.”

This is what Distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process (and it’s not what you think)

This is what distresses me about the Smart Growth 40R Process.

By sinabeet on Flickr, "Hand say Hand Listen, Creative Commons License
By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

By sinabeet on Flickr, “Hand say Hand Listen,” Creative Commons License

The problem is with the citizens of Newburyport who are not paying attention, not with the elected officials and folks on volunteer boards who made the Smart Growth 40R District happen.

1) This is not new.

The 40R was first proposed way, way back in 2004.  This idea is not new to Newburyport. People are presenting this new zoning law as if it just came out of the blue. They are wrong.

2) No one was paying attention.

  • If people had been paying attention to the 40R as early as January 2014, things might have turned out much differently.
  • I was blogging about it since January 2015, and no one was listening, and I couldn’t get anyone to listen.  I actually went around and talked to people explaining that this was probably one of the biggest long term projects that Newburyport was looking at, and it would affect everyone.  I actually had people turn their backs on me and walk away while I was talking in mid-sentence.  No one cared.
  • I talked to at least one city councilor who had reservations about the project, and they couldn’t get anyone to listen either.  We both agreed that trying to get people to pay attention was like talking to a wall.

3) Do not complain after the fact.

If you do not show up and pay attention EARLY in the process when things are being decided and problem solving is taking place, do not complain after the fact.

4) Pay attention NOW.

This is a multi decade project that will go through multiple administrations and planning directors. The 2 things that are on the docket now is the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.

5) Stop making excuses.

If you really care about this project, and just don’t want to complain about it, follow those 2 initial projects, the Graf Road Pump Station and the Minco Building.  If you cannot make it to meetings, talk to city councilors and other people who do attend those meetings.  You can find out who is interested by asking around (I do), or reading the minutes (I do), which are online on the city’s website, see who shows up and contact them. Reading the minutes of the meetings helps too.

6) Stop throwing people under the bus because you think that they are not listening to you.

The time to get elected officials and volunteer boards to listen to you is in the BEGINNING of a project when decisions are being made — not after all the work has been done. Stop throwing elected officials and volunteer board members under the bus, because you were not paying attention when this 40R Smart Growth District was being worked on.

Street Art, Newburyport

It all started with this beautiful drawing left on my driveway on Easter.

Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day
Drawing left on my driveway on Easter day

It made my day. And it was done by my very lovely young neighbor, Lily.

Lily, came back and did a whole lot more gorgeous street art. I originally thought of her as my very own graffiti artist, but thinking about it, “street artist” seems so much more appropriate.

Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful
Lily, making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

And Lily started a trend. Five more young street artist showed up with their baskets and boxes of chalk, and started decorating our street. Grace, Ella, Brooke, Collin and Roan joined Lily.

Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art
Ella, working hard making the neighborhood beautiful with street art

It almost made me think that our neighborhood could be in the process of getting it’s very own “pop-up” park. How lucky are we!! (A very fun non-professional video on pop-up parks can be seen here.)

Drawing by Roan
Drawing by Roan
Drawing by Lily
Drawing by Lily

Health Professionals Alarmed about Removing Fluoride from Newburyport’s Water System


I had someone in the medical field call me up last night and they were besides themselves about the possibility of taking fluoride out of Newburyport’s water system, because of what it would do to the health and welfare of our children and residents.

What I told them that it is really, really important for all the pediatricians, family doctors, internists, general practitioners, and yes, even all specialists in Newburyport and the surrounding areas, to speak up ASAP and contact everyone of our Newburyport city councilors. Apparently, dentists no longer count as doctors who have a valid opinion (which is that fluoride is essential to dental health) because they have been marginalized by the anti-fluoride folks for looking out for their own self interest, and being (I’m not kidding here) in the pockets of the chemical companies.

Our doctors have incredibly busy lives (and this is a vast understatement, and who knows if they can take the time to be proactive).  And this is only my opinion, but I am mystified that Daniel Enyink of Dr. Dan’s Natural Healing Center has the time, not only to aid in the mobilization of anti-fluoride folks in Newburyport (see earlier post), but to give testimony at other communities as well. I know how busy my doctors are.

I have read Enyink’s testimony in the minutes of other communities, and it is very convincing, but again this is my opinion, as one local health professional said to me it is “irresponsible,” and in my opinion, just plain old crazy.

An article by Dr. John Colquhoun (now deceased), written in 1997, is one of the pieces of literature that the anti-fluoride folks point to.

There was a response written in 1999 in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, by Dr. Ernest Newbrun and Dr. Herschel Horowitz, a short excerpt is below, and the whole article can be read here.

…”Colquhoun presented no new data. His paper rehashed earlier criticisms of water fluoridation, using selective and highly biased citations of the scientific and nonscientific literature [2-10]”…

…”Opponents of fluoridation like nothing more than to have public debates on the radio, television, or in the press because it makes fluoridation seem a “controversial ” issue and gives them free publicity. In such debates with an equal number of speakers pro and contra, it appears as if the health science community is evenly divided on this issue. In fact, the overwhelming majority, probably well over 90%, of scientists, physicians, dentists, nurses, veterinarians and public health professionals fully support community water fluoridation.”

Again, the entire article which address the issue of how dangerous and crazy it would be to take fluoride out of Newburyport’s drinking water can be read here.

And as a PS, I never knew I would end up thinking about, much less researching and knowing as much as I now know about fluoride. Who knew? Who would have ever imagined?

Newburyport Schools are Doing Awesome-Congratulations

From today’s Newburyport Daily News

Newburyport Leads Local Schools in MCAS Results

“The state released the results of the Spring 2013 MCAS, and once again local schools outperformed the state average in nearly every category, with Newburyport leading the way.

Overall, Newburyport had the highest scores across all grade levels and subjects in the region…”

Congratulations to all our wonderful teachers. The complete story can be read here.

The Newburyport School Vote and Senior Center Passes

The Newburyport school vote and the Senior Center Passes!!

Good go’n Newburyport!!

Below are the election results thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page!!

School vote and Senior Center passes (photo thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page)
School vote and Senior Center passes (photo thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page)

Here is a breakdown of the voting totals, thanks to Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron.

Question 1, Building a new Bresnahan Model School building (Press to enlarge)

Question 1, press to enlarge
Question 1, (Press to enlarge)

Question 2, Renovating and upgrading the Nock/Molin Upper Elementary school (Press to enlarge)

Question 2 (Press to enlarge)
Question 2 (Press to enlarge)

Question 3, Building a new Senior & Community Center (Press to enlarge)

Question 3 (Press to enlarge)
Question 3 (Press to enlarge)

All three questions together (Press to enlarge)

Newburyport Election, June 5, 2012
Newburyport Election, June 5, 2012 (Press to enlarge)

They did it

Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, Season 2011, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).
Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).

They did it. Green Theatre Collective (GTC) raised $10,000 in 4 weeks.  Oh me of little faith.  And that means that this eco-theater company with its roots (pun intended) in Newburyport, can gather the just plain old lovely young men and women who made up the company last year, and go for it again this year, this time with Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, The Tempest.

And GTC had its maiden voyage right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts, sponsored by Theater in the Open, in a gorgeous setting for Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Maudslay State Park last summer.  With a big thank you for a plug by Tom Salemi  at Newburyport Posts and JC Lockwood at Newbuyrport Arts, along with the Newburyport Daily News and the Newburyport Current.

Ok, its personal. The GTC founder and Executive Producer is my son, Hal Fickett, who got his education right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts (yes, we do have great schools that are most worthy of our support).  And the first performance was dedicated to most beloved Newburyport High School theater teacher, Suzanne Bryan and all Newburyport educators (those graduates do appreciate you folks!).

Am I proud and excited for this young eco-theater company.  You betcha!

Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, Season 2011 (press image to enlarge).
Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, As You Like It (press image to enlarge).

School Snow Days

I wake up at 4AM. No snow, yet.

At 6:30 sharp, I hear 4 siren blasts signaling no school for the young men and women, children of all sorts, in the Newburyport Public School system. And I imagine all over our small New England seacoast city, mothers and fathers either saying, go back to sleep (and hoping everyone sleeps till about noon), or bundling up all and sundry and getting them to day-care, so that they themselves can begin, what weather forecasters forecast as being the commute from hell.

Parents all over the city wondering to themselves, in a cabin-fever winter, how to get through yet another Newburyport snow day. Children all over Newburyport, MA marveling in delight at yet another opportunity not to go to school, again, not realizing that in the joy of springtime, all those days will, of course, be added on to the Newburyport school calendar. But that reality is way, way in the future, a whole new far off season.

I look out the window and only tiny snow-flakes are falling, accumulation is therefore light. Not until later in the day when the temperature rises will Newburyport, New England be blessed with big fat snow flakes falling and accumulating rapidly. And then I gather we will be blessed by all that snow being soaked with ice and rain, and then dropping temperatures and a frozen white mess.

But for now, a day that promises some good hours of work, before the snow removal thing begins, and the wild dash to remove the fluffy stuff, before the ice and rain starts to fall.

On my walk the other day, I noticed that the light is changing, the way it starts to change in late September, signaling that the days will shortly get shorter. Only this time, it is the reverse.

It gets dark at 5:15 now instead of 4:30, and the sky has that promising pinkish huge at the end of the day.

And I imagine that parents and people all over Newburyport, New England, tell themselves that February is almost here, and that we must surely be on the backside of a long Newburyport, New England winter.

Stephanie Weaver, Newburyport School Committee Election

Well, I learned something.

For me, anyone with a name associated with the “Yes for Newburyport” folks would be “polarizing.”

But, I think that the election for Newburyport School Committee is really, really important, and I got to tell you I know almost zip about the candidates. (Now I know a little bit more than completely zip.)

So since Stephanie Weaver (who is running for Newburyport School Committee) lives near by, I decided to stop by on one of my walks and introduce myself.

Well, I gotta tell you folks, I had an incredibly pleasant surprise.

Stephanie Weaver, in my book, turned out to be not a “this is how we are going to do it” sort of person, but instead someone who is a “listener” and appears to have a talent that is very much needed– a communicator and a “bridge-builder.”

It takes a whole lot to impress me, and I was way impressed.

I’m sure many of you have noticed signs around town. Most of the time they are clumped together in ideological groups.

But take a look at this twosome:

Stephanie Weaver, School Committee
Gary Roberts, Councilor at Large

In most people’s books, this would be a political and ideological “odd couple.”

But there they are. Two folks very much trying to be Newburyport “bridge-builders.” And I got to say that this works for me.

And the feedback that I’ve gotten from other folks, and I gotta say unlikely candidates, is that Stephanie Weaver is one of the folks at the top of their list.

Ms Weaver has been working real hard at going door to door. So if she happens to knock on your door, take a moment, have a chat and take the time to introduce yourself to this young lady. Be a bridge-builder too.

Mary Eaton

Art and Real Estate

It dawned on me… Yes, I know what caused yesterday’s post to percolate up into my brain. It was my brief visit to Providence, RI.

3 decades ago, in the 70’s, before it got “gussied up,” (sort of) I lived there. Living there was one of the reasons I fell in love with Newburyport, MA when I saw it for the first time 25+ years ago. In part, it reminded me of Providence, RI.

As of 1992 Providence has 7 local historic district overlay zones. Wow.

And it shows, big time.

Downtown Providence (Downtown Historic District) reminds me a little of my hometown, NYC, when Soho was getting it’s “comeuppance” or rather “up and coming.” One street would be swanky, the next street over would resemble the “Bowery,” in the old days, when it was “sketchy” (not like it is now).

I went on a hunt in downtown Providence, determined to do my own version of eating on $40 a day or less.

And I came across a place that was packed with folks. It was on the verge of the “sketchy” part of town. It turned out to have a restaurant and a bar, and the best fish tacos I ever ate for $3.35 or something. I ate a whole lot of fish tacos and also managed to sort of get the recipe.

When I started to pay attention to the place, after about my 3rd visit and a lot of fish tacos, I realized that I was hanging around, with a bunch of young artists in their 20’s and 30’s. (I guess that’s why I felt so “at home.”)

The place not only had a fun/funky restaurant and bar, but it also had an art gallery on one side, a small “black box” real live theater on the other side, and a place for great live bands on the inside.

And it turns out that there were a lot of “young’ns” from Newburyport, folks I knew and recognized.

Pretty cool.

And an awesome idea. But won’t happen in a place that’s too gentrified (that’s us now, Newburyport, MA)… It’s gotta be a place that’s kind a “sketchy,” with low cost real estate, to pull something like that off.

Made me miss Taffy’s and Cathy Ann’s. Glad we still have Angie’s. Glad to still have the “black box” theater at the Tannery.

Made me think that folks involved in the “arts” could be good for something.

And you know, since that place is so hopping, it won’t last long. Real estate brokers will move in, and all those good art folks will move on like nomads finding the next hot real estate market.

So the Republicans could be grateful for those liberal, art kids.

I sure am. And I’m dying for more of those fish tacos.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Son, Shakespeare and Theatre Stuff

One of the “perks” of being the editor of the Newburyport Blog is that I get to brag brazenly about my son.

The justification of course is “education,” that a young man who went through the Newburyport Public School system could this day be doing Ok.

MY son, in NYC 10 months and in his fourth play. Yes, very proud Mom.

And the theatre company, Hipgnosis, has picked, for such a young, “hip” theater company, in today’s world, a very politically incorrect play, “The Taming of the Shrew” (by William Shakespeare).

Could Mr. Shakespeare consider moi, a female blogger with an occasional strong, uncooperative opinion, a “shrew?” Goodness, who knows? Maybe.

Hipgnosis Theatre
William Shakespeare
Taming of the Shrew

How did the Hipgnosis Theatre Company go about reconciling what could easily have been done in 1950, no problem, in the year of political correctness, 2007– the solution, a combination of Shakespeare and vaudeville. What can I say, I loved it.

A wonderful romp and what I considered a tongue in cheek approach to the “taming” part (which would be considered “spousal abuse” today) by the hubby and the “compliance” part by Kate, the “tamed shrew.” Plus, by the end of the play, there was no doubt about it, it was real obvious, that they were real, real “hot” for each other. Sizzle.

For goodness sakes, Shakespeare, if he were around today, would be right. It’s not until real, real recently, that women have gotten the privilege of speaking up about stuff (for which this female blogger and painter is most grateful, good grief) without being labeled a “shrew” or whatever nifty label equivalent. (Not that that doesn’t still happen on occasion today.)

We’ve had millenniums, not just centuries of women not being able to have a “say.” And it is this blogger’s humble opinion, that it’s not just in previous millenniums, centuries, decades that men like to have their women good looking, and to shut up and be quiet, and for goodness sakes do and say what you are told to say and do.

But in today’s world, my goodness, there are equivalents. Take the “trophy wife” with a lousy pre-nup:

Darling the sky is purple.

Yes, dearest, the sky is purple. And now can I have my Mercedes-Benz?

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, A Young Municipal Candidate

A concern I have about Gardiner Bacon as a possible mayor, is yes, Mr. Bacon has no experience being part of the city government of Newburyport, MA. I think, as I mentioned in the previous post, having well thought out opinions on issues is very different than dealing with the day to day decision making that goes on as an elected official.

And my second concern would be the lack of life experience. The optimism and energy of youth is infectious. However, dealing with life’s inevitable setbacks and responsibilities could, one always hopes, provide a maturing process, combined with a perspective that could help with life’s altering choices and decisions, that would aide leadership on the municipal level.

That being said, I am very excited about following Mr. Bacon’s journey as a candidate. Self assured and articulate, my great hope is that with Gardiner Bacon’s leadership, possibly for the first time, we could see the “youth” of Newburyport, MA mobilized and energized in the municipal political process.

One of their own is running for mayor of Newburyport, MA.

And running as a serious candidate.

Although, I still maintain that most of the populace of Newburyport, MA is oblivious to mayoral debates, I think Mr. Bacon would enliven those debates, no matter who would be running for mayor of Newburyport, MA (including the possible candidacy of Jim Roy, the ever articulate and feisty Newburyport activist.)

Charming, articulate and quick on his feet, I would imagine on some level many would be routing for Gardiner Bacon.

And I also think that we as a community would be very proud that such an intelligent and thoughtful young man from the Newburyport public school system, would be willing to step up to the plate, so to speak, and take civic involvement so seriously. What an incredible example not only for the “youth” of Newburyport, MA, but for the “youth” everywhere in our country. Not to mention being an example for the general populace of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Parenthood and Education

Being a parent. No small thing.

I have one child, a son, who turns 23 this Thursday.

He lives in my home town of NYC and opens in his 3rd off (sometimes off-off) Broadway production since being in NYC for 9 months.

My son is the product of the Newburyport public school educational system.

When I first moved here, low so many years (decades) ago, I would most definitely have considered the Newburyport public schools to be “mediocre.”

Somewhere along the line they could have gone from “mediocre,” as Jim Roy has said in his article in the Newburyport Current, to “average.” The great fear is that they could be “mediocre.”

When my son entered the public school system I had no illusions that he would at any time get anything close to a private school education. He did not.

And when he went to a private college following Newburyport High School, the college was well aware of the discrepancy between a public and private education and adjusted their curriculum accordingly.

No, my son did not learn Latin, but I think he learned many more valuable lessons. One can always learn Latin if one is so inclined.

He learned what it was to be part of the community of Newburyport, MA, the good, the bad, ugly and the downright wonderful and moving.

He did not think he was “special,” but he knew that he was appreciated and that he was loved.

And somehow, along the way he acquired a great curiosity for learning. Maybe one of the greatest gifts that an educational system can bestow. In his freshman year, although it was not on the curriculum at Newburyport High School, he discovered the “Beat” writers and read everything there was to read from Jack Kerouac and company.

He continued to read at a college and post college level, which again had nothing to do with curriculum, all the way through Newburyport High School. Reading Nietzsche as a high school sophomore is pretty impressive. I have never read Nietzsche, so believe me, this is something he did not get from me.

To this day he reads on, as well as discovering and reading authors that I have never heard of.

He also writes poetry and plays.

And I thought for today’s post, I would include one of my favorite poems that my son has written.

in my belly is the sea
of my mother
i am the wind
a white dress
slips through a hand
like water
this is love

© Hal Fickett

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, State Educational Funding and Reform

In my quest for trying to find some sort of resolution to local funding problems that is less divisive to our community (and other communities) than a local override, I came across an organization called “Stand for Children,” www.stand.org/ma.

This is from the Massachusetts Stand for Children website:

“The financial crisis in education is no secret. On March 14, 2007, our own Education Commissioner Driscoll testified to the Ways and Means Committee that this year’s school funding crisis was the worst he had seen yet…”

“Today’s outdated foundation budget shortchanges state and federal mandates, curriculum frameworks, classroom technology, the cost of educator development, early education needs, and best practices established in the 13 years since Ed Reform. In addition, it grossly understates the costs of special education and other services to at-risk populations…”

“On Wednesday, April 25, nearly 2,000 education supporters, representing more than 85 communities across the Commonwealth, joined the Stand for Children School Funding Rally on Boston Common. And early in the day, Stand for Children brought more than 400 citizens in to the State House to meet personally with 48 lawmakers and legislative staff to deliver a simple message: our schools need funding relief and reform.

Parents, teachers, and students from across the state demanded that Massachusetts lawmakers provide immediate financial relief to school districts facing teacher layoffs and school closures. They also urged legislators to find a long-term solution to our state’s school funding crisis by committing to reforming state education funding.”

Governor Deval Patrick addressed the crowd. And in an article in the Boston Globe, May 2, 2007, “Patrick Targets School Funding,” by Lisa Wangsness:

“Patrick issued some of his most pointed comments to date, saying the state can no longer afford to rely on the local property tax to fund public education…

The pressure on the local property tax in recent years has chafed cities and towns, as the cost of healthcare has ballooned and state aid — despite recent increases — has not kept up with inflation…

Currently, the state covers less than 40 percent of the cost of local education, with cities and towns picking up the rest through the property tax. While it is a stable source of revenue, it places a sometimes difficult burden on the elderly or people with fixed incomes, and some argue it increases the disparity between communities based on personal income and property value.”

Governor Deval Patrick hopes to release a comprehensive education reform plan in June.

Well, whew, someone on the state level is listening to the anguish of cities and towns across the state of Massachusetts.

There is a “Chapter” of Stand for Children in Lowell. And there is a “Team” for Stand for Children in Gloucester.

It would be nice if there were a “Chapter” or “Team” for Stand for Children in Newburyport, MA. And that at any further rallies for state funding for our schools, Newburyport, MA might be in the forefront of those meeting with lawmakers and legislative staff fighting for educational funding and reform.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Override Politics

My experience is that in politics as an election gets closer, people forget nuance, people forget logical thought process. It almost always comes down to an emotional, two or three sentence, gut level response.

And in politics folks are basically trying to “sell” you their point of view.

Think about something as benign as juice drinks. Do you think about the nuance of why one juice drink might be better than the other? No. You think about which juice drink stinks, and which juice drink will “change your life.” (Slight exaggeration.)

Would political issues be any different? Personally I don’t think so.

Remember that famous political phrase, “It’s the economy stupid.” Another words, vote for the other guy and your future will go down the drain. And it worked.

There are many thoughtful folks on either side of the override issue (the Spring override for the $1.58 Million for the Newburyport Schools) and well thought out reasoning on both sides as to why the override should or should not be voted for.

But I think basically it’s going to come down this:

1) If you vote against the override, you don’t care about the children. It’s for the kids. Our children are our future. You will force young families to leave Newburyport, MA in droves and Newburyport will no longer be a vibrant city.


2) If you vote for the override you will force the elderly and the lower and middle class folks who are just getting by out of their homes and destroy their lives. Newburyport will become a place that only the wealthy can afford.

And both sides would scream that I am absolutely wrong, that I could not possibly be right. But you know in your heart of hearts that I most probably am. (If you haven’t already, keep an eye on those Letters to the Editor. They have and would most likely aim for right for the gut.)

And also, I think it often comes down to which side folks feel has the most integrity. Who do you like? Who do you trust?

Small slips, much less big slips can turn a campaign in a completely different/wrong direction. Once that happens, it’s very hard to recover.

It’s like going to a restaurant. One bad meal, and unless there is incredible loyalty, most folks don’t go back.

Mary Eaton

Reasons to Move to Newburyport, MA

When I moved here in 1981 (I was 29… Oh, to be 29 again…) it didn’t take much of a gander at Newburyport, MA to know that if “excellent” schools were at the top of my list of “must haves,” that Newburyport, MA was not the place to move to.

If a really good school system was at the top of my list, I would have considered moving to places like Hamilton, Wenham or Wellesley, wealthy suburban communities.

But I didn’t want to live in a “wealthy suburban” community. I wanted to live in this wonderful small seacoast city, that was actually a city, not a suburb. That was a short drive from miles of gorgeous beach along the Atlantic Ocean. And that had an historic quality that was just downright captivating. And I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

And I still think that today.

And this was before Maudslay or the Tannery ever existed.

Many of my friends and acquaintances home schooled (home schooling was very big back then) and many took advantage of the many first rate private schools in the area on all grade levels. I never expected the Newburyport public schools to be “excellent.”

When the bambino arrived I thought long and hard about my options. And I made a very conscious choice to choose Newburyport’s public schools.

An “excellent” education was not at the top of my list. “Life lessons” were. And I decided that life lessons for my child would be best learned in the Newburyport Public Schools, which I rated anywhere from a C+ to a B+. Certainly not an A+ or even an A-.

And I also felt that Newburyport as a community had so much to offer (which is one of the reasons why I chose it) from the Pioneer League, to the Newburyport Art Association, to Theater in the Open etc. etc. etc., that whatever deficiencies the Newburyport school system might have, the City of Newburyport offered a wealth of tangible and intangible gifts that would last in my son’s soul far longer than what he might find in a traditional educational system.

In my mind, the many assets that Newburyport has to offer contributed to my son’s acquisition of knowledge.

And I found my to my surprise that this was confirmed in an article linked to by the “yesfornewburyport.org” website, “Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.” (April 11, 2007).

“School, what is it good for? When it comes to home prices, school matters. Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.”
By Sarah Max, senior writer

“Not true everywhere

Of course, not everyone has school on the brain.

According to an NAR (National Association of Realtors) survey of buyers in 2003, 25 percent of buyers in the suburbs cited schools as an important factor in their buying decision. But in urban areas, only 12 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list of priorities. Shopping, recreation and entertainment proved more important. In resort areas, meanwhile, only 8 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list.

“There are only two places we have found school values going out the window,” said Bainbridge. One is beach property and the other is what he calls “historically preserved areas,” urban areas that are being redeveloped.”
CNN/Money, August 30, 2004

So it is quite possible that historic preservation and gorgeous beaches might be part of the reason that Newburyport, MA has become so desirable. And that the Newburyport school system could be part of a larger equation.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Losing Our Town

My Dad is 89, lives on his own in New York City, goes to work everyday and is one smart cookie. He also loves politics. On the political thing, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

I wanted his opinion on the hostility over the whole issue of the override for our Newburyport Schools.

The parent side was easy. The parents care about their children and want them to have a good education. Good schools are a good community investment. (My own feeling too, is the decibel sound may be so loud, at least to my ears, because parents may feel that up to this point, no one has been listening. “Bingo”??)

But how to articulate what the folks against the override feel? And my Dad, smart cookie that he is, had this to say… they feel like the override folks are going to “take over.” They feel like “they are going to lose their town.” A definite “Bingo” in my book.

And yes, I’ve been wandering around town on my walks and talking to folks, and what people say to me boils down to my father’s 2 succinct phrases.

What I hear is that, the folks (for the most part) who are pushing for an override do not have roots here. Their kids may not stay in the system. And they may not stay here at all.

The folks pushing for the override don’t see the big financial picture. All of Newburyport is in a fiscal crisis, just not the schools.

And yes, there are definitely already people on the financial edge, not only “seniors” but folks who moved here in the 70’s and early 80’s and, who in many instances, are not in high paying jobs.

That taxes would become so high, that people not only would want to move, but they might not be able to move, because no one would want to move into a town that would be so unaffordable, especially in an economic downturn.

That a place like Salisbury is becoming the “it” town, because compared to Newburyport, a middle income family could afford to live there.

And that by driving out the people who “made” this town, the soul of the city would be lost.

That for years, the children of the people who live in Newburyport, have not been able to afford to live here, and that trend would only escalate. (One of the things that Gardiner Bacon told me was that he was running for mayor now, because once he goes off to college, he would never be able to afford to live in Newburyport, MA again.)

All of that is of course a much more “tactful” version than what I was actually hearing.

My father, good Liberal Democrat that he is, was all for education, and pointed out that there’s “no free lunch.” His solution, which was very much like the solution by a gentleman in a Letter to the Editor in today’s Newburyport Daily News, was to raise state taxes, and then the state would have enough money to pass onto local cities and towns.

He was not optimistic that we would see any money for our fiscal woes any time soon from the Feds.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Magical Thinking

I worry that we’ve gotten to a state of magical thinking about how we could solve our Newburyport school’s dilemmas.

Instead of the frenzy dying down after last Monday’s Newburyport City Council meeting, the volume, at least to my ears, has gone way up.

I think it came as a big, and very disappointing (is this a vast understatement? yes) surprise, my last post… that yes, in black and white and with an email from Mass DOR’s legal department, no less, that an $1.6 million dollar override would only be allocated, legally, to the schools for one year. And then that money goes into the general funds.

I can almost sense, the panic and the fear and the anger of the parents and concerned folks who read that paragraph.

But to be determined that it is not so, unhappily, is magical thinking.

And the other reality is that expenses go up and $1.6 million dollars plus its 2 ½ increase would diminish.

I pay for my own health insurance. It went up 10% this year. The city of Newburyport’s health insurance expenses, just like everyone else’s health expenses go up a whole lot more than 2 ½ % each year. Heating bills, electric bill. Mine have sure gone up. I bet so have yours.

We had department heads this year that got 5.5% raises (not that they didn’t deserve them). That’s more than 2 ½ %. Negotiations are coming up with most of the city’s unions for new contracts. We have all just lost 2 fire trucks. $450,000 to replace one. And one was purchased 1968. A very old fire truck.

There are no silver bullet answers. And it is my opinion that the $1.6 million dollar override that permanently raises taxes, is not a silver bullet answer.

I have a very old friend, who is a doctor, who told me a wonderful story. He was a resident and it was back in the days when doctor’s still made house calls (so, yes, this is a very old friend). He received a message that there was an emergency and he rushed over to where it was. Before he knocked on the door, he stood for a moment and straightened his tie, calmed himself down and then went in and coped with the calamity.

His supervisor asked him what was the most important thing that he did, in that crisis. My friend looked at his supervisor, and with some hesitation said, “straightening my tie?” And the supervisor, said yes, that was the most important thing that this, then young intern did.

We have a wonderful example of a gentleman in our community, in the situation that we face with our schools, who has done and is doing (at least to my knowledge) just that, “straightening his tie.” And that is Newburyport School Superintendent Kevin Lyons. A remarkable example of leadership.

It doesn’t appear to be courage, it appears to be leadership, it appears to be “tie straightening.”

I think it might be a good idea for all of us who are caught up in this drama to pause and to do a little “tie straightening.” It’s important to deal with the facts of a crisis in a calm way, because magical thinking may be comforting, but, unfortunately it will not solve this very complicated Newburyport school dilemma.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, School Funding

After reading Mr. Cole’s post(s) about the Newburyport School override, I was still confused about whether or not the entire amount of the $1.6 million override would be allocated to the Newburyport schools after one year, or if the money would go into Newburyport’s general fund. That is if the Newburyport school override would be voted in.

So I went on a hunt. And I talked to a whole lot of people. And spent a whole lot of time at the Mass DOR website.

“Proposition 21⁄2 establishes a limit on the annual property tax levy and approval of an override or exclusion question only increases the amount a community may raise in taxes. It does not authorize or require spending for the purpose of the question.”

“The additional funds raised by the override are “earmarked” for the stated spending purpose only in the first fiscal year.” (Mass DOR’s underlines, not mine)

For PDF version, please press here.

So as I understand it, an override for the Newburyport schools would only be earmarked for one year. After that, the money would be allocated with all other funds as part of the annual budget process.

Whether or not the override would continue to be allocated to the Newburyport schools, as I understand it, is a very grey area. There are no guarantees.

The only guarantee that an override would be allocated for the schools permanently, is if it were for purposes of funding a Stabilization Fund or a “Rainy Day Fund,” a change made to Massachusetts General Law in 2003.

The one thing that is definite, is that if an override would pass, it would be a permanent tax increase.

Mary Eaton

Editor’s Note: I received this email from Mass DOR which I will pass onto the readers of the Newburyport Blog:


In order for an override for schools to be effective to increase the town’s levy limit, any appropriation for the specific purpose of the override must be at least the amount of the override, in the first year. That does not necessarily mean that additional appropriations have to be made to the schools, dependent on the specific language of the override purpose. After the first year, there is no requirement that the override amount be appropriated to the schools in order for the override to provide additional levy capacity. See our publication entitled Proposition 2½, part IV.A.1 on page 9 (PDF version), which also provides more information on Proposition 2½.

Gary A. Blau, Tax Counsel
Bureau of Municipal Finance Law
PO Box 9569
Boston, MA 02114-9569