Newburyport, An Appraisal of a Blogging Year

Well, I’ve been blogging the Newburyport Political Blog for a whole year. Who knew? Not moi.

I had no idea what would happen when I started the Newburyport Political Blog January 1, 2006. I figured I might last a couple of weeks, possibly six. 12 whole months. My.

And what have I learned in the last 12 months of blogging the Newburyport Political Blog?

1) As a blogger I am considered a publisher (along with people who write Letters to the Editor, fliers, email lists, petitions) and as a publisher I can be sued. Really lousy surprise.

2) Most people threaten to sue bloggers to shut them up. This is called a “SLAPP” suit. Frowned upon big time by the courts in Massachusetts.

3) I’ve actually been threatened a number of times. Another really big lousy surprise. I thought I was fairly mild mannered and reasonably reasonable, although, of course, sometimes opinionated.

4) During the last 12 months I’ve gotten my share of “unpleasant” phone calls and emails.

5) It has been my observation that the wealthier the human being, the more “unpleasant” the correspondence tends to be.

6) It appears that mostly the upset correspondie is sent a post out of context of the Newburyport Political Blog. It seems that most upset correspondies don’t actually read the Newburyport Political Blog. So why have they been upset? Who knows.

All of the above pisses me off.

But now for the stuff that doesn’t piss me off.

1) People, lots of people, thousands of people actually read the Newburyport Political Blog. Big surprise. Really, really big surprise. Thank you readership of the Newburyport Political Blog.

2) I’ve met and gotten to know a whole lot of wonderful people that I never would have gotten to know before.

3) I’ve gotten to know people in the “media,” including Ulrika Gerth, the editor of the Newburyport Current, who when I thought about quitting blogging because of an “unfortunate” situation, was immensely supportive, to the point of actually writing a story about the whole thing.

4) An amazing amount of people were also supportive during that time and have been enormously supportive and fun over the last 12 months. And for this I thank you and am most deeply grateful.

5) George Cushing, of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall was given to me by Madame Swartz, and subsequently became a political consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog. First frog ever, that I know of, to ascend to such a blogging apex.

George Cushing, Political Consultant
to the Newburyport Political Blog

6) Subsequently the “Twins,” C. G. Cushing and G. C. Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall also want to get into the act and are aspiring consultants to the Newburyport Political Blog. Who knew that so many frogs would want to blog?

The Twins, Aspiring Consultants
to the Newburyport Political Blog

7) And as a blogger I’ve learned more than I ever dreamed of about civics in Newburyport, MA. And my hat is off to all our elected officials, Newburyport board members and Newburyport committee members, whether I agree with them or not. Running Newburyport, MA is one tough nut. And the more that I learn, the more I understand how difficult their job to be. So thank you all for “stepping up to the plate.”

And with that, Happy New Year! We will see what 2007 brings for the Newburyport Political Blog. These last 12 months have been quite a ride.

Mary Eaton
Editor of the Newburyport Political Blog

Newburyport, Wheelwright Land, Wills Lane Proposed Subdivision

Wow, did I ever come away mighty depressed after going to the Public Hearing at the Newburyport Planning Board for the subdivision proposal by Mr. Todd-Fremont Smith, Wills Lane LLC, regarding the back of the Wheelwright property.

I had this vague chirpy notion that after the last hostile greeting that Mr. Fremont-Smith received at the last Newburyport Planning Board Public Hearing, that Mr. Fremont-Smith would have made some revisions to his plans for the property adjacent to the historic and sacred Oak Hill Cemetery.

But no.

And as I listen to the presentation, and Mr. Fremont-Smith’s refusal to at least remove one of the dwellings to make the whole thing a tiny bit more palatable, my mood grew fowler and fowler.

Map of the proposed subdivision

This image is courtesy of the Newburyport Preservation Trust. If you click on the image on the Newburyport Preservation Trust page you will get a map of the complete plot plan.

In an earlier time, given the mood of the crowd, this young man would have been tarred and feathered for his audacity to build on the legacy of Newburyport, MA.

That was then, this is now.

But Mr. Fremont-Smith apparently just doesn’t get it. And short of legal action to find some sort loophole that will stop his plans (the Conservation Law Foundation gives out advice about this sort of thing for free) or wilting under a high profile public relations assault, that was promised by one of the more talented members of our community, there appears to be no hope.

Alas and alack.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, The Basic Needs of our Schools

As a taxpayer I am not willing to spend money on a Taj Mahal approach to Newburyport’s Elementary School building needs, but I sure am willing and want, as a taxpayer, to make sure that our children at least have the basics with which to learn.

I found Superintendent’s Kevin Lyons report (Newburyport Daily News, December 19, 2006) to be professional, thoughtful and full of plain old Yankee common sense.

To quote from the article in the Newburyport Daily News by Nick Pinto:

“Programs at each school level are operating with outdated textbooks and curriculum materials or none at all, according to Lyons. In the elementary schools, the literacy program is 12 years old and makes it difficult for teachers to make use of modern advances in literacy education.

At the middle school, students and teachers are using an older and inferior edition of math textbooks and curriculum.

At the high school, German and Spanish classes have no textbooks or program materials at all.

Lyons also sounded an alarm on the district’s use of technology, once a pride of the system. Cuts in technology integration staff have made it harder for teachers to use new technology, slow connections discourage them from using the Internet and the high school’s computers will outlive their warranty this summer, just as many of them are beginning to fail.”


This is very bad news. And it is something that I as a taxpayer would very much like to remedy.

And I also appreciated this quote:

“Improve communication with parents and the community….”

Better communication with the community is vital for there to be support for our children’s education (not fancy buildings, education.)

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Holiday Greetings

George Cushing, of the Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall, the political consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog, is feeling in a holiday mood.
George Cushing
feeling in a holiday mood

This surprised me somewhat, because George Cushing of the Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall has never struck me as a festive amphibian. Wouldn’t you agree? Those beady little eyes of his, never seemed to indicate to me that he would in anyway be any kind of “party animal.”

Go figure.

The twins, on the other hand, G. C. Cushing and C. G. Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall, the aspiring consultants to the Newburyport Political Blog, well, I can definitely see how they would be full of holiday glee.

The Twins
Aspiring political consultants
to the Newburyport Political Blog

They look so chirpy, they probably still believe Santa Claus exists, for goodness sakes. But if they think just because they are aspiring consultants to the Newburyport Political Blog, good old Santa is going to lavish them with frog presents, they had just better forget all about that one. Good grief.

On a more serious note, George Cushing, and moi, were delighted by the missive from Newburyport School Superintendent, Kevin Lyons, reported in today’s Newburyport Daily News, December 19, 2006.

Wanting funding for better education for our children. How refreshing. So much better than wanting funding for a Tah Majal building scheme for Newburyport’s elementary school needs. (But more on that later.)

Anyway, George and the twins and of course me, wish all Happy Holidays.

So, Cheers!

Mary Eaton
The Editor of the Newburyport Political Blog

(Editor’s note: The Editor of the Newburyport Political Blog, namely me, would like to thank Madame Schwartz for bringing George Cushing and the Twins of Frog Pond at the Bartlet Mall into my life, and of course yours.)

Newburyport, the Wheelwright Property Subdivision

The proposed Wheelwright property subdivision is back on the docket of the Newburyport Planning Board, this Wednesday, December 20, 2006.

This photo (a much larger version) was sent around by Nathan Felde. Thank you Mr Felde.


Aerial view of property that
Todd-Freemont Smith hopes to
develop into a subdivision.

I find the whole thing depressing.

It seems pretty obvious that local developer Todd Fremont-Smith has no intention of backing down on moving on with this project, despite what I gather was a fairly hostile reception at the last Newburyport Planning Board Public Hearing.

The land in question in the photograph is marked in orange, with a big question mark pointing to it. That’s one big piece of property.

If you want some idea of how it’s going to look, take a look at “Robert’s Lane” off High Street at the top of Marlboro Street.

That used to a be beautiful wooded piece of property.

The “lane” in question is a huge gash through the upper part of High Street, and now everyone has a lovely view of the Water Tower. Sigh.

And the houses Mr. Fremont-Smith would like to build (4 of them) would not be dainty, 3,500 to 4,000 square feet (Newburyport Daily News, December 7, 2006.) Yes, those would qualify as McMansions in my book.


What a happy holiday gift for the city of Newburyport, MA.

So again, the meeting:

Newburyport Planning Board
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
City Hall, Council Chamber

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, the Taj Mahal of Elementary Schools?

Didn’t I tell you that pretty soon we were going to be seeing adorable pictures of our adorable elementary school children and the “deplorable” conditions in which they have to exist. (Newburyport Daily News, December 13, 2006, front page with picture.)

I’m not buying it.

“One solution being discussed is moving all full-day kindergarten classes to the Brown School, which will have space to spare next year. By removing one kindergarten class each from the Kelley and the Bresnahan schools, room could be made for the additional class space each school is expected to require next year.” (Newburyport Daily News, December 12, 2006.)

Newburyport City Councilor Audrey McCarthy is very astute (Newburyport Daily News December 13, 2006) if just not downright sensible:

“Councilor Audrey McCarthy isn’t sure that a more aggressive tack by the committee will necessarily produce better results with the City Council.

“In the past I would have said, ‘Sure, they just need to tell the council what they need,'” said McCarthy, who meets regularly with school officials as part of the Joint Education Committee. “But now it’s more like trying to get water from a rock. Coming up with a plan and presenting it to the council would just be wasted time if there isn’t a way to pay for it.”

And my favorite quote from Councilor McCarthy:

“Everybody wants the schools to be as nice as possible, but we can’t sell the public on the Taj Mahal”

Ms McCarthy goes on to say:

“I’m at a point where I think the plan may need to be changed. All the councilors agree we can’t do more than we can afford, and honestly I don’t know if that includes the West End school.” (The West End School to the tune of more than $20 million — I don’t think so.)

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Zoning Amendment Relief

I am so relieved that the Zoning Amendment to Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance” passed at the Newburyport City Council Monday night, and by such a huge margin — 10 to 1.

And I am so proud of the Newburyport Planning Board, that they did not give up after the “Infill Ordinance” failed to pass last year, but instead calmly and very professionally went back to the “drawing board” and took another look. I admire their perseverance.

They set a great example for other boards and committees in the city — when something doesn’t work, don’t give up, but go back and take another gander.

And a very big “thank you” to Jim McCarthy, a member of the Newburyport Planning Board, for his diligence, thoughtfulness and all his incredible hard work. And this is a volunteer board folks. No one’s getting paid for all this time and hard work.

The passing of the “Infill Ordinance” feels like a huge collective weight off many collective shoulders.

One of the things that I learned is that our Zoning Ordinance is a “living document.”

The Newburyport Planning Board will see how this new “Infill Ordinance” works out. And if it needs “tweaking,” they will tweak away.

It is my understanding that the Newburyport Planning Board would like to take a look at the 3 different residential areas in the city, R1, R2 and R3 which all have very different standards, and see if they need “tweaking” too.

So, many thanks again — a great first step.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Zoning Amendment Passes

Well whew!

Tonight, December 11, 2006, The Newburyport City Council passed the Zoning Amendment to Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance.”

I believe the vote was 10 for and 1 against.

A very big thank you to the Newburyport Planning Board, the Newburyport City Council and all the various committees and boards as well as the multitude of Newburyport residents that helped passed this much needed zoning amendment.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Design Review

The zoning amendment for Section 9 or the “Infill Ordinance” comes up for its second reading, I believe, at the Newburyport City Council tonight. I hope against hope, of course, that it passes.

At the Public Hearing for the zoning amendment to Section 9, an architect, who I’ve know ever since I moved here and like very, very much, spoke up.

His concern was that the amendment would not effect the “design” of whatever was proposed. I believe I also heard him say that this amendment was much less “daunting” than he first expected.

The issues the zoning amendment addresses are trying to make sure that whatever is being built fits in with the neighborhood in relationship to size, scale, massing and volume. It says nothing about “design.” And everything that I know that this architect has been responsible for would fit in with the revisions to section 9 just fine.

This architect also said something to the effect that although he understood that really good modern architecture was very difficult, it could often be a challenge for more contemporary architecture to be accepted in Newburyport, MA.

It’s true.

And I not only love the old buildings that give our small seacoast city the “patina” that I love so much, but having an art education in the 60’s and 70’s, I really, really love good modern architecture.

And I probably have a much more “live and let live” approach to what is built or amended than what most people would expect. I am by no means a purest, although I enjoy what purest preservationist offer a lot.

And probably one of my favorite modern buildings in Newburyport, MA, are the very modern condominiums at the top of Johnson Street. I love them.

And as far as I’m concerned, they may be contemporary, but they fit in with the neighborhood in respect to scale, mass and volume just fine.

(Oh, gasp, preservationists.)

So I hope the Amendment to Section IX passes tonight. As far as our zoning issues go, I think it is a very good first step.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Landfill Problems, Still Here

I went outside my house a couple of weeks ago and there was this smell of rotting garbage and the smell had also seeped inside the house. I had smelled it often before and I went out to see if I had left the lid off the garbage pails. Nope.

And then I realized, no, not the smell of rotting garbage but the smell of rotting eggs. The Landfill. And I live over the Ridge and far away in Newburyport’s South End.

I guess because of the Newburyport Political Blog, I am on the Landfill email list, and hear the daily reports of calling in “odor” complaints to New Ventures, the folks that “run” and own the Landfill, as well as the physical affects that the odors have on the people in the immediate neighborhood.

The emails are heartbreaking folks. I cannot imagine getting up year after year and having the smell be so fierce that I throw up or would be nauseous until the smell abates.

The “hope” (although I believe many a neighbor thought it was a useless “hope”) was at the very least New Ventures, the Landfill operator would have taken care of the “odor” problem. Obviously, that one hasn’t happened yet.

And the anger and frustrations are obviously very high. How could this not be so?

Newburyport’s Health Director, John Morris, wrote the email list (and because the email list is considered a “publication” I hope Mr. Morris and Mayor Moak will not be offended that I pass on their messages here):

“Believe me the Mayor is briefed daily on NV. His options are very limited just as ours. He inspects the operation every day and we discuss our options on a daily basis and discuss NV every day with DEP. Let’s keep focused and united to bring this to an end. Thanks”

And the email list also received a long email from Mayor John Moak, which I thought was very empathetic, stating that:

“…I am very much concerned with what you have to live with… I visit the landfill site usually 6 days a week… I take a tour of the neighborhoods each time I am at the landfill. I talk with Jack Morris everyday about monitoring and methods we can implement to keep the project going, while stressing the need to abate odors. I am in continuous contact with our lawyer to talk about communications we need to send to the DEP and AG and NV…

….I want to stress that I do read your emails and use these to plan my course of action each day as I, along with Jack Morris, attempt to represent the City on this matter in a way that maximizes the input we have on this project. My goal is to get this landfill closed as quickly as possible while emphasizing the need to bring back a healthy environment to the neighborhood.”

What can we do? I don’t know, except not to forget the people in the immediate neighborhood that the Landfill affects everyday. And to know that the Landfill affects everyone of us in Newburyport, MA as well.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Previous Possible Planning Appointee

Ok, I’ll bite.

I have an anonymous tipster, who in the past has given me anonymous tips all of which have panned out.

Yes, and I got another anonymous tip. Fortunately, this anonymous tipster sends public documentation, which means the stuff is true, and it also mean (I hope) that the suing stuff doesn’t apply here.

The anonymous tipster answered the question I hadn’t actually asked myself, “Whatever happened to Christopher Ryan?”

Now, Christopher Ryan was Mayor John Moak’s initial pick for Newburyport Planning Director (mucho controversy) who decided to withdraw his name during the interview process.

And we ended up with Nancy Colbert, an “all’s well that ends well” scenario (I hope.) Ms Colbert was Newburyport’s Planning Director before Nick Cracknell and has also had a whole lot of zoning experience to boot working with Taintor and Associates.

My anonymous tipster sent me an article from the Lowell Sun, December 6, 2006. Apparently, “The Board of Selectmen and Planning Board (for the town of Ayer) voted unanimously to hire Concord planning educator Christopher Ryan for the newly created director of planning and development post.”

So it looks like “alls well that ends well” (we hope) for Christopher Ryan and the town of Ayer, MA (which is off Route 2, slightly beyond Route 495 down along Fitchburg.)

Mary Eaton

Newburyport’s Water Supply

E-coli? In OUR water supply? Excuse me.

Goats? How many goats around a crucial drinking water source? Say what.. 450 goats and “1,000 animals in virtually a few months.” (Newburyport Current, Friday, November 24, 2006.)


Definitely a no-brainer. 1,000 animals would probably cause trouble to the water supply for the City of Newburyport, that happens to be on this particular piece of property. Yikes.

The “twins” the aspiring consultants to the Newburyport Political Blog want in the worst way to comment on this one. (Shall we let them?)

The twins, C. G. Cushing and G. C. Cushing of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall, believe that anyone having had the pleasure of kicking a kickball from the Kelly School playground into the Bartlett Mall could tell anyone that it is a “gross” experience retrieving such a ball. Yuck.

The twins, who really know zip about ecology (you gotta remember that these are 2 twerpy little frogs) feel that it is obvious, that if you have a lot of frogs in or a lot of animals around a water source, it’s going to be “gross.”

The Twins: C. G. Cushing and G. C. Cushing
Aspiring Consultants to the Newburyport Political Blog

George Cushing, of Frog Pond at the Bartlett Mall, the true consultant for the Newburyport Political Blog, is rolling his beady little eyes and is somewhat perturbed with moi for even thinking, much less giving the “twins” any sort of input, even if it is inane comments about “gross” water supplies.

George Cushing being perturbed with moi

Luckily Paul Colby, Newburyport’s Water Operations Superintendent, Mayor John Moak and John Morris, Newburyport’s Public Health Director were on the case ASAP. And according to the Newburyport Current, December 1, 2006, things are much improved (I think) (and the e-coli never made it to the public water taps.)


This is the drinking water for all the 1,300 new folks from Plum Island that are going to be joining us in drinking what those of us originating from New York City (namely me) call the “mayor’s water” (as opposed to bottled water.)

And when I watched the last Newburyport City Council meeting from the comfort of my comfy chair, the hard working Brendan O’Regan, the Director of Public Services, seemed to indicate that the water treatment supply thing, being very old and with a possible add onto, will cost the tax payers mucho money. Prepare ye for another very necessary possible override.

Better figure the whole water supply, water treatment thing into the City’s ongoing, endless fiscal woes. A big “Yikes” on that one.

The more I blog, the more complicated this whole “how in the world are we ever going to pay for everything” gets. Hence my moving from the “left” and sniggling towards the political “center.”

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Character not Shabby

Although the Mayor and members of the Newburyport City Council appear to be having misgivings about a special election for the Newburyport elementary school $30 million dollar, diamond necklace spending extravaganza (whew), apparently, according to the Newburyport Daily News, December 4, 2006, members of the Newburyport School Committee do not.

I really like and admire the members of the Newburyport School Committee. I cannot think of a more difficult committee to be on in Newburyport, MA. The problems they try to solve are swamp-like and seemingly endless. To me the fact that anyone would volunteer to be on the Newburyport School Committee is amazing.

However, if the Newburyport School Committee persists in pushing this version of the Newburyport Elementary Building School Needs plan, this is what I expect. Cynic that I am.

I fully expect to start reading in all the local (maybe national, who knows) publications how dismal and awful the elementary schools are, with pictures if possible, of how depressing it must be to be a child in these horrible surroundings.

And then a statement about how all the other towns or cities have beautiful new sparkly elementary schools, and it is the poor unfortunate Newburyport elementary school children who are utterly deprived and probably psychologically harmed because of this ghastly state of affairs.

And then an adorable, or most probably a series of adorable, pictures of our absolutely adorable elementary school children. And they are adorable.

How horrible of the taxpayers not to want to cough up $30 million for this particular plan of a new diamond necklace elementary school extravaganza for these adorable children.

This was basically the tactic used to persuade the tax payer that repairs to the Newburyport High School were not nearly as wonderful as the “gut and redo.”

The problem I have with shiny and new, is the building (or buildings) in question has/have no character.

It takes a while to develop character. The thing I like about our elementary schools (and I don’t care if folks start to wail about how all worn out they are) is that they have character. One gets a sense that there were many folks, of all sorts of folks, that were in these buildings, long before the present students started their journey.

And instead of feeling that because of that, these buildings are now all worn down and useless (that’s our superficial culture, aren’t we supposed to be teaching our kids better stuff than that?) I think they have character, a sense of history, personality if you will. Not shallow Paris Hilton superficial culture building kind of stuff.

And I think this is a GOOD thing, maybe even a great thing.

So I’m not buying what I think may be coming next in the “reaching out to the community” thing, in persuading the taxpayers that our school children are in utter misery because of their ghastly, outdated, shabby surroundings.

No, should this come our way, I’m not buying this at all. In fact I’ll be really pissed if folks try to pull that one off.

I keep saying to myself, “it’s time to shut up now Mary, about all this elementary school building stuff.” But it appears that I’ve really gotten my “knickers in a knot.”

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Maybe Some Sanity Settling In

People have said that they are surprised that I am against the elementary school, $30 million dollar, diamond necklace, spending extravaganza.

I guess people figure me for a “tax and spend” liberal democrat.

Not “tax and spend” to the tune of $30 million dollars. Come on. Not when there are LOTS of other alternatives. Think of me as a “practical” liberal democrat.

I was relieved to read in the Newburyport Daily News, December 4, 2006, that at least Mayor John Moak and members of the Newburyport City Council have concerns about the wisdom of a special election for this Spring.


However, I would love for Mayor Moak and members of the Newburyport City Council to urge the School Committee to abandon this “ridiculous” plan altogether and come up with something that makes some “practical,” fiscal, common sense. From the article in the Newburyport Daily News, that didn’t sound like that was going to happen (yet.)

$30 million dollars makes $5 million for a Senior Center (Newburyport Daily News, December 4, 2006) look like a proverbial “walk in the park,” a “real deal,” a “downright bargain” if you will. Good grief.

Ok, I know I’m beginning to beat a horse, I don’t know if it’s a “dead horse” yet. But I really, really seem to be worked up about this one.

Mary Eaton

Newburyport, Elementary School Building Needs Assignment

I remember when the “Elementary School Building Needs” Committee was first assembled and got to rock and rolling. A large, very committed group (many of whom I greatly admire.)

Yes, they were given an assignment: Come up with the most desirable scenario for the building needs of our elementary school children. The needs apparently included a “gym” which immediately eliminated the Kelly School from the equation, which I always thought was part of the unspoken assignment. Made it very difficult for pro-Kelly School folks on that committee, let me tell you.

And if you read the final recommendations of 2002, which are on the Newburyport School website (and it’s not exactly snappy stuff, good reading if you want to fall asleep quickly at night,) the conclusions almost sound as if they are there to make sure that the Kelly School stays out of the picture.

And I always thought the recommendations were so convoluted that no one in their right mind would actually take this much agonized over document seriously, hence its being stuffed in a “convenient” drawer for all these years.

Ah, but apparently, I was wrong.

The assignment for these hard working folks was not: Come up with a long term elementary school plan that benefits our children and would also fit in with the goals of the larger community.

If that had been the assignment, the convoluted, agonized over document would not be what it is now. We would have had something much more reasonable and thoughtful, because the people who worked on it were reasonable and thoughtful folks.

The root of the problem, as far as I’m concerned — lousy (politically motivated) assignment for hard working committee members.

Time for a new assignment right away, one that requires a realistic view of the Newburyport Schools real estate assets, the needs of our elementary school children (with all those state mandates,) and the overall fiscal picture (which is bleak) of Newburyport, MA.

With that assignment, I think a completely different picture of what could be built (or fixed) for our elementary school children would emerge. And hopefully, it would not take a year or more to accomplish. And hopefully, that picture would be a much easier “sell” to the taxpayer and we would have one of those delightful “win-win” situations.

As it stands now, this is a “lose-lose” proposition. School Committee, go back to the drawing board real quick. Don’t waste our time trying to sell us this incredibly silly, convoluted $30 million diamond necklace elementary school building needs stuff. Please.

Mary Eaton