Sunday, January 30, 2011

Monday Meeting Final Countdown To Feb. 1 Water Dispute Deadline

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Residents embroiled in a dispute with the City of Brockton over their water bills will host an informational meeting Monday night, a day before Feb. 1—the deadline for residents to dispute their unpaid water bills and retain their right of appeal at the state Appellate Tax Board.
“It’s really an informational meeting, not an action meeting,” said Marianne Silvia, one of the meetings organizers and a member of Brockton United Voices, a grass-roots group that has organized to protect and inform residents of their rights over what some consider are outrageously high water bills.
Silvia said organizers will have copies of dispute resolution forms and official state forms that need to be filed before Feb. 1 for residents to assure future appeal rights.
“We will answer any questions residents have. We will help them fill out the proper forms, and even deliver them to the DPW and have them time-stamped,” Silvia said.
The meeting Monday, Jan. 31 officially begins at 7 p.m. However, organizers urge residents with problem bills to arrive at 6:30 so they can be helped with the forms necessary to dispute their water bills.
Silvia urged residents to bring a copy of their disputed bills because all of the information necessary to fill out the required forms is on the bill.
"Bring your bills," Silvia said.
The disputed bills issue began in the summer and has expanded to include numerous aspects of the city’s water billing metering systems, billing practices, management, and dispute resolution process, abatements and payment plans.
The city has hired an independent auditing firm to review water and sewer department practices and procedures, but recommendations are not expected until April.
In the meantime residents who want to fight water bills they believe are unusually too high and refuse to pay the disputed bill, must have an abatement hearing with the DPW by Tuesday, Feb. 1 to retain their right to an appeal with the state Appellate Tax Board.
Residents who have paid their water bills and still want to dispute their bill can contest the amount in small claims, district or superior court.
Many residents who refuse to pay their overdue water balances have said they won’t pay it because because they believe they are wrong. Highly publicized bills range from $4,500 to $12,000 to $17,000—the $17,000 bill was originally $100,000 until it was reduced by the DPW.
Monday night’s meeting is expected to include numerous speakers: some who will tell their personal stories, and others who will provide information about the process.
Mayor Linda Balzotti, who has been invited to the meeting, said during a telephone interview late last week that she was not sure her schedule would allow her to attend the meeting. Balzotti said the city’s Chief Financial Officer John Condon will attend and a staff member from the city’s legal office will attend.
DPW Director Michael Thoreson and Water Systems Manager Brian Creedon have been invited to the meeting, but Balzotti said she does not expect either to attend.
In a related matter, city CFO John Condon said each of the seven city councilors and Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy will each pick one resident to meet with representatives of The Abrahams Group--the company hired to conduct the water and sewer department audit.
Two weeks ago Condon—who is on a committee overseeing the water and sewer audit—said officials were working with Abrahams Group to allow the 8 resident interviews and time for city councilors to also meet with auditors.
“We haven’t finalized the contractual language, but it looks like we can make it work,” Condon said.
He said each city councilor and Brophy will be allowed to pick one resident to meet with auditors.
Condon said a lottery wasn’t used because some city councilors have not received complaints over the water bill issue and the most extreme cases are the ones likely to be reviewed.
“My guess is they will be the ones who have been most vocal and public,” Condon said.
He couldn’t be sure, Condon said, but guessed if city councilors do not have a resident’s name to put forward they will seek Ward 6 Councilor Michelle DuBois—whose ward has the most problems and who has supported residents in their efforts, including organizing Monday’s meeting with residents and Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart.
Condon said city councilors will meet with auditors separately five times, beginning Tuesday, Feb. 8.
He said four teams of two city councilors will meet with auditors followed by one team of three.
Condon said meetings with city councilors were separated to make sure quorum rules were not violated and to limit the number of hours the auditing firm would have to charge for the interviews.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Training, Conduct Stressed At Firefighter's Grad

Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Ten firefighters, eight from Brockton and two from Bridgewater, earned their pins and became full-fledged members of their department during a graduation ceremony Friday at the Shaw’s Center.
During the ceremony Brockton Fire Chief Richard Francis recalled his 32 years on the Brockton Fire Department, noting many things have changed since he joined the force including the 12-week training the graduates endured at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, better equipment for safety and protection and aid with the pain and suffering that comes from the loss of victims and fellow firefighters when a blaze becomes a tragedy.
“Today, you have stress counselors. Back then we had pizza and beer,” Francis said, getting a laugh from the estimated 175 graduates, family, and friends who attended the ceremony held at the Shaw’s Center, Friday, Jan. 28.
Many of the new graduates received their pins from their mothers, fathers--several who are also fighters—wives and children. The graduates who will work in Brockton are: William Curtin, Christopher Matchem, Brandon Hill, Andrew Wisocky, Charles Hayward, Sean McSheffrey, David Owen and Alexandre Souto. Bridgewater members: Christopher Hamilton and Casey Florence.
Attending the graduation was state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan, joked that former Brockton Fire Chief Kenneth Galligan—who retired last year and whose name Coan pretended he could not remember--in sometimes held graduation in one of Brockton’s fire stations where truck fumes and ringing bells often disrupted the proceedings.
“You’ve brought it up a notch,” Coan said to new Chief Francis.
On a serious side, Coan said modern technology and equipment has reduced fatalities and injuries, but since January the state has already had seven people die in blazes and encouraged members to continue Brockton’s tradition of exceptional training programs for its members and outreach safety presentations in the schools and community.
“Not many departments have shown the commitment to training than Brockton has,” Coan said. “You are one of the very, very, best,” he said.
Before ending the program with a 5-minute video created by Brockton Capt. Kevin Galligan and the Fireman’s Prayer, Francis warned the new members that being a firefighter is an excellent career where members are respected in the community, but also can be “ego-enhancing” and because members are civil servants everything they do is seen and watched.
“You are under a magnifying glass 24-7,” Francis said.
Click here to read BrocktonPost's article about the new hires in Brockton...
Click here for BrocktonPost's article about grant money to buy Brockton's new and veteran firefighters new turnout gear...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rally Inspires, Honors Mentoring Programs

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON--When it comes to the life of a troubled kid, sometimes it only takes a few minutes to change that life, said Ron Burton Jr., the son of former New England Patriot Ron Burton Sr. who considered himself a loser until a football scout gave him a tiny piece of encouragement.
"Mayor (Linda) Balzotti said earlier that one hour of your time can change a life--sometimes it only takes a few minutes," Burton said during Brockton Promise's third annual Mentor Recruitment Rally and ceremony to honor the youth alliance's mentor of the year held Thursday night Jan. 27 at the Shaw's Center.
More than 300 people involved in the city's numerous youth organizations gathered to hear keynote speaker Burton and to celebrate the hard work of hundreds of mentors throughout the city and region.
Along with Burton, speakers included Balzotti, Police Chief William Conlon, School Superintendent Matthew Malone, Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz, and humorous Master of Ceremonies Dennis Carman, head of United Way of Plymouth County.
The rally also named BrocktonPromise’s Mentor of the Year, Mike Williams, who has been a football coach with Brockton’s midget football league since 1992. He was one of seven nominees for this year’s Exceptional Mentoring Awards.
The other nominees were Patricia Godio, Sharon Conant, Sarah Stewart, Alisha Tagger, Mario Lamarre and Jennifer White.
Jay Miller, deputy assistant director of the Boys and Girls Club of Brockton, said this year’s nominees were solely chosen by the teenagers and youngsters they have mentored. He said it is the third year of the award and the two years prior mentorees and adults in various programs had nominated individuals for the honor. Mentor of the year winner Williams was nominated by Louis Jacoubs and Derek Williams who wrote, “The lessons he teaches are something hundreds of us will keep long after we leave the field."
Williams, 40, a Brockton native and lifelong football player and coach, said he was overwhelmed with the award and wouldn’t trade-in for anything working with young players on the field, in the gym and as a friend with life experience.
“They keep me going. They keep me young. They keep me moving. I’ve been blessed,” Williams said.
Williams was presented a plaque and a medal by Bridgewater State University President Dana Mohler-Faria. (Williams is pictured at left in top photo with Mohler-Faria)
Coach Mike is just one of hundreds who are a part of Brockton's Promise,which was initiated in 2003 and is modeled after the national America's Promise--a partnership of hundreds of social services, civic groups, hospitals, businesses, police, district attorneys, churches and schools working to promise young people certain things. Brockton's alliance developed five promises to area youth: safe places to live and play, caring adult mentors, access to resources for healthy lives, educational opportunities and ways to give back.
The highlight of many highlights during the evening was Burton’s presentation of how his father Ron Burton Sr. rose from poverty, social cruelty and an admitted lack of athletic ability and size to success in the NFL and in life with the Ron Burton Training Village for inner-city boys.
“He was poor, puny, slow and weak,” Burton said. “When there was a pickup game—he wasn’t the last one picked—he wasn’t picked,” he said.
Burton—whose brother is Steve Burton on WBZ News—said his father’s turnaround came in 8th grade when after riding the bench for two years without a moment of playing time was put in during the last game of the year in the final minutes when all of the other players ahead of him had suffered injuries serious enough that the coach had no choice but to put Burton in.
Burton had to run for 2 yards to ice the game. He ran for 10 and was surprised after the game when a college scout watching other marquee players told young Burton that he wasn’t fast, wasn’t especially athletically gifted, and small, but the scout said he had not seen such determination in a player in many, many years.
Burton said the scout advised his father to do two things: don’t ever take the summer off from conditioning and be conditioned to the point where a 7-mile run is easy.
The rest is history. Burton Sr.—who never drank or smoked or did drugs-- went on to be a high school All-American, broke numerous rushing records at Northwestern University and was the NFL’s overall number one draft pick and was picked number one overall by then Boston Patriots where he played from 1961 to 1965.
Mike Turner, a 17-year-old Brockton High School senior, is one of 133 inner-city boys who attend the Ron Burton Training Village in Hubbardston during the summer where physical challenges—such Ron Sr.’s life-changing 7-mile run—are coupled with Bible studies and SAT courses.
“It’s one of the best programs I can imagine,” Turner said.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brockton Symphony Highlights Youth In Upcoming Concert

BROCKTON--Organizers of Brockton Symphony Orchestra's Family Concert at West Middle School Saturday afternoon will be one of the best times for youngsters to gain an appreciation of classical music. "Kids always say 'I don't like classical music, I don't like classical music, but they do like and are familiar with it from cartoons," said Denzil Paul, a member of the orchestra's board.
Paul chuckles that when youngsters realize the music behind some of their favorite characters like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd--who most famously played hunter and hunted to a modified "Kill the Wabbit" version of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries--are actually famous classical pieces.
"They might like it--they just don't know it yet," he said. "If at the end of the concert they say, 'not bad,' then we've done our job," Paul said.
The concert takes place Saturday at 3 p.m. at West Middle School. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted toward scholarships for Brockton students to take music lessons.
One of the highlights of the 60-minute concert is the amazing work of Anna Larsen, (pictured above) an 11-year-old piano prodigy from Newton who has played at Carnegie Hall, on the Oprah Winfrey show and studies at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Larsen was also an honorable mention in the Brockton Orchestra's 2009 Feinberg Youth Competition.
"Everyone who has heard her says she's incredible," Paul said, looking forward to his first time hearing the 11-year-old phenom play.
Paul said the musical selections are geared toward a youthful audience.
"It's stuff you'll know," Paul said.
There will be powerful and upbeat Mozart, Sousa marches, and Rossini's finale of the William Tell Overture--made popular by the 1950's TV show, "The Lone Ranger" and the Mary E. Baker Elementary School Chorus and the Canton's Galvin Middle School Strings are expected to fill the hall with well-known, toe-tapping selections.
"We really want to keep their attention," Paul said.
Students will also be brought up on stage to help conduct the Brockton Symphony Orchestra and after the show there will be face painting and an instrument petting zoo.
"We want youngsters to get as much time with music and instruments as we can," Paul said.
Paul invited all residents to come see the orchestra and its special guests and get a taste of the high-caliber classical music the symphony brings to Brockton.
"A lot of people are not aware of how good we are," Paul said.

Storm Adds Another Foot To Snow Totals

BROCKTON--Bob's Big Breakfast on E. Ashland Street Thursday morning was a popular place for utility crews to grab an egg sandwich, coffee or quick meal after another winter storm covered the region with sleet and snow.
For the fourth time this month, the region shoveled and plowed out more than a foot of snow in most areas, a pattern of winter weather that forecasters have said put this winter in the top 10 of snowfall for most areas. The last storm, Friday, Jan. 22dropped 6 inches or more around the region.
During this latest storm, snow began to fall early afternoon Jan. 26, but in the early morning Thursday, Jan. 27 snowfall was up to one-to two-inches per hour with gusty wind of 10 to 15 mph.
At 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Brockton had at least 12 inches of snow as the sun broke through the clouds.
The National Weather Service reports Brockton with 13 inches, Bridgewater with 6, Rockland with 10, North Attleboro with 15 and Milford with 16.4.
Area schools, including Brockton were closed today, along with public libraries.
A section of Montello, Lawrence, Grove and Arch streets were closed as public works crews repaired a water main break.
At 10 a.m. this morning city officials opened a warming shelter at the Council on Aging, 10 Father Kenney Way, for any residents who might need the service. The center will be open until 4 p.m.
National Grid has reported only 178 power outages throughout Massachusetts. At noon today, Brockton had no customers without electricity.
A handful of residents in Abington, Halifax, Norwell and Scituate are without power and a statement on National Grid's website states crews are working to restore power as soon as possible. In National Grid's service area customers Everett has the most without electricity with 97, followed by Nantucket with 70.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snow, Sleet On The Way

BROCKTON--According to the National Weather Service Brockton and much of Southern New England snow and sleet are expected mostly overnight and into Thursday afternoon and could bring between 6 to 10 inches of snow cover.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning and is forecasting precipitation to begin around 8 p.m. tonight Jan. 26 and last until the morning or afternoon Thursday.
Conditions are expected to be difficult and snow will likely be mixed with sleet.
Winds are expected to blow between 10 and 15 mph with gusts up to 45 mph.
The City of Brockton has issued a snow state of emergency beginning today at 4 p.m.
The emergency requires all vehicles be removed from the street or risk being towed.
The John J. Adams parking garage will be free after 4 p.m. for residents who do not have a place to park their vehicles.
Vehicles must be removed from the garage by 9 a.m. Friday.
Trash service has been canceled for Thursday and will resume Friday for those who should have had their rubbish picked up on Thursday and Saturday for resident's whose usual pickup day is Friday.
(Images courtesy of National Weather Service. Click each to enlarge)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Search Brockton Court House

BROCKTON--Brockton District Court has been evacuated and operations canceled after a bomb threat was received at about 2:50 p.m. this afternoon.
Deputy Fire Chief George Phillips said authorities received a call from inside the court house on Main Street that there was some kind of a bomb threat.
Phillips said he was unsure how the threat was phrased, but it indicated there might be some type of bomb in the building.
He said as of about 5 p.m. the building has been searched and the State Police are continuing to comb the building with a bomb-sniffing dog to make sure no device is in the court house or the area.
"We don't have any indication there is a device. No device was seen, but considering the location we have to take the matter serious," Phillips said.
Phillips said Brockton Police have cordoned off the court house and have closed portions of Main and Pleasant streets and Belmont and Crescent streets.
"Traffic is snarled," Phillips said.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

16 Arraigned in Brockton Court On Drug Charges

Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON--Brockton Police and State Police arrested 16 people during a drug sweep that began early this morning following investigations of daily drug dealing on the city's streets.
Police Chief William Conlon said law enforcement officials obtained 25 search warrants for the arrest of alleged low-level drug dealers and searched numerous homes across the city in a raid that happens about twice a year.
"We found 23 of the 25," Conlon said.
He said 16 men and women were arrested and arraigned in Brockton District Court throughout the morning and afternoon.
He said charges range from conspiracy to violate drug laws, unlawful possession and distribution of drugs, and selling drugs within a school or park.
All of the charges are felonies, Conlon said, and the drugs involved are mostly crack and cocaine.
He said the initiative is a regular law enforcement effort and based on "hand-to-hand" purchases from the dealers to undercover Brockton or State Police.
He said the sweep, dubbed "Operation Street Sweeper" is one way to get low-level dealers off the streets and although most will spend a few months to a year in jail and eventually return to the streets, each offense increases the jail time of the next offense.
Police did not immediately arrest those who had made the purchases because it would have tipped off other dealers that a sweep was in the works.
Investigators, Conlon said, are still looking for two of the suspects who were not at the addresses police searched.
The remaining seven who were not arrested have been or will be issued a summons for their appearance in court because they either were in jail for some other offense, in rehab, or detox, Conlon said.

Brockton Weighs Electronic Communication Ban

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan isn’t against modern technology such as cell phones, IPhones and laptop computers—except when they distract from business during city council meetings and could possibly violate the Open Meeting and Public Records laws.
“We all need to be focused on the meeting—it’s rude when people are text messaging or emailing while business is going on and it’s rude when council members get up and talk to each other when other things are being discussed,” Monahan said. “We shouldn’t be doing either,” he said.
Monahan recently submitted an ordinance for review to possibly ban city councilors from sending or receiving text messages, emails or using cell phones during regular City Council meetings, including the finance committee and public hearings.
Monahan said he isn’t completely against the use of the electronics—the submitted ordinance would allow internet use, but because of Open Meeting and Public Records laws internet use should be limited to items being discussed by the council.
Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois—who said she believes the ban is targeted at her—believes the use of the internet has helped her during discussions, most recently during a December tax classification hearing when she looked up information about the debate to help her understand the issue.
“If I didn’t have my IPhone I wouldn’t have been able to get the answers to some of my questions,” DuBois said.
Monahan said DuBois was not the target of the new ban. He learned about the issue from his brother who is a town manager in Oregon, but believes officials need to look at the matter before it becomes a problem.
He also said the way some City Councilors get up and down to talk to one another during meetings also distracts from the business at hand and could be dealt with through the council’s code of conduct.
Monahan said the Ordinance Committee will discuss the proposal at its next meeting and anyone who wants to comment about the ordinance should attend the meeting.
“Everything’s open to being moved around and changed,” Monahan said.
The proposed ordinance (see document above) Monahan said is based on one in Gresham, Oregon where the use of text messages, computer games and emails has been banned during city council meetings because of Open Meeting, Public Records and decorum issues that have been raised in Brockton since Monahan submitted the proposed rule two weeks ago.
He said Ordinance Committee Chairman Christopher MacMillan has not called the meeting yet, but expects the issue to be on the committee’s next agenda.
Brockton and Oregon are not alone in its attempt to get a grip on the use of personal communication devices and the pitfalls of their use by government officials and elected boards.
Gresham, Oregon banned the use late last year, in part because among other questions, text messages sent back and forth between members could create a quorum of discussion by members and violate Open Meeting Laws.
The Texas Legislature is reviewing a bill that attempts to address some of the Open Meeting and Public Records issues that text-messaging has raised and Massachusetts’ City of Lawrence voted against banning hand-held electronic devices by a narrow 5-4 vote last August.
Billerica’s Board of Selectmen banned text-messaging nearly two years ago in February, 2009 by a vote of 4-1.
Billerica Selectman Robert Correnti said the ban specifically targeted one member—the dissenting vote--because that selectman, Marc Lombardo—now a state representative-- constantly received and sent text messages during meetings.
Correnti said it went on for a year and finally he proposed a ban because anything Lombardo was texting could not be downloaded and made into a hard copy if a member of the public, press or a fellow official wanted to view the messages Lombardo was receiving and sending.
“It just took on a life of its own,” Correnti said of the debate. Correnti said not only did he think it was rude it created a lot of questions surrounding Public Records and Open Meeting laws.
“If someone asks for a copy of that text message they can’t get it,” Correnti said.
Noting nearly all communications—emails and text messages --between governmental officials and constituents is a public record unless it falls under the exceptions outlined in the state’s Public Records laws, Correnti said officials at the Secretary of State’s Office advised him to “stay away” from texting during meetings.
“The law and the technology are not together yet, and until they are it’s better to stay away from it,” Correnti said.
Correnti said another reason members supported the ban was the idea of a behind-the-scenes “shadow council,” that texts messages and emails questions, comments and policy proposals to selectmen or other officials during meetings.
“These people weren’t elected, we don’t know who they are. Now you have a councilor and a hidden cadre of supporters. The public is deprived of hearing that discussion,” Correnti said.
Others like Brockton Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois said if modern devices are used in the right way can help councilors do a better job and she is not someone who isn’t paying attention during meetings. She said most everything she looks up pertains to the discussion at hand or she is looking up something for an agenda item later in the discussion.
DuBois said her internet searches are better than the old days when councilors were known to doodle with pen and paper during the meetings.
“This is the 21st Century,” DuBois said.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Good Samaritan Center Receives 3-year Accreditation

BROCKTON - Good Samaritan Medical Center’s Radiation Oncology Center recently has been awarded a three-year accreditation by the American College of Radiology.
This is the first time the center, which opened in December of 2008, was surveyed for the accreditation, according to a prepared statement released by Good Samaritan Thursday, Jan. 13.
The Good Samaritan Radiation Oncology Center is only one of 20 in the state to achieve the designation as an American College of Radiology-accredited facility, officials said in the statement.
“The accreditation of the Radiation Oncology Center is a testament to the dedication of the staff and Good Samaritan Medical Center to provide the highest quality care to our patients,” Dr. Stephen Brown, chief of the Department of Radiation Oncology,said in the statement.
Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, American College of Radiology awards accreditation to facilities for the achievement of high practice standards after a peer-review evaluation of the practice.
Evaluations are conducted by board-certified physicians and medical physicists who are experts in the field. They assess the qualifications of the personnel and the adequacy of facility equipment. The surveyors report their findings to the ACR’s Committee on Accreditation, which subsequently provides the practice with a comprehensive report.
The American College of Radiology is a national professional organization serving more than 34,000 diagnostic and interventional radiologists, radiation oncologists, nuclear medicine physicians, and medical physicists with programs focusing on the practice of medical imaging and radiation oncology and the delivery of comprehensive health care services.
The radiation oncology services at the Good Samaritan Cancer Center feature a state-of-the-art linear accelerator and the latest CT scan equipment. The Millie Moynihan Cancer Resource Center is located at the Radiation Oncology Center. It aims to provide a quiet place where patients, family and friends can research the disease, its diagnoses, the latest treatments, alternative therapies and support groups through books, pamphlets and high-speed internet access.
The Good Samaritan Radiation Oncology Center is located at 818 Oak St. For more information contact the center by calling 508-427-2900 or by visiting the website at

Water Bill Problems Prompt Audit, Other Changes

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON----City officials are taking steps to have an independent auditor speak individually to city councilors and some individual residents about problems associated with disputed water bills and are developing a type of official water dispute form that would allow residents to contest their water bill and ensure those residents meet a Feb. 1 deadline.
Tuesday night during a testy City Council Finance Committee meeting, councilors asked Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy and Chief Financial Officer John Condon what the process and discussion was surrounding the decision to place liens on homeowners who have and continue to dispute what are considered unusually high water bills.
At one point, Councilor-at-large Jass Stewart said he was disappointed by how the water bill situation has been handled and believed there should be more communication between city department heads and the City Council because none of the members had been part of the discussion whether or not to place liens on residents’ property taxes because of the disputed bills--especially when it was clear the city’s water billing systems are not “all systems normal.”
About two weeks ago residents received attachments or liens with their third quarter property tax bills that unless paid will add any overdue water, sewer or trash payments to the homeowners property tax balance—a move that some residents have said will balloon their mortgage payments and possibly force the loss of their homes.
Chief Financial Officer John Condon responded that officials believe there are only a handful—maybe 20, 30 or 50-residents who feel they are aggrieved.
“I don’t think we’re too far from all systems normal,” Condon said.
Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan said he received a list from the Department of Public Works consisting of about 60 residents who have had meetings for abatements.
Condon went on to say the city every year places liens on utility bills, including water, sewer and trash pickup on overdue balances and this year’s estimated 6,500 to 7,000 lien notices is about average. Condon noted that not all of the 6,500 liens are residents with water bill disputes.
“By next year almost all of those will have been taken care of,” Condon said, adding there has been “a lot of hullabaloo” in the media and a “public outcry” that makes this year’s lien commitments seem worse than others.
When he talked to Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson about holding back some of the liens for residents who have disputed their bills or have unusually high overdue balances, Condon said he was told by Thoreson that residents who have received abatements have got them, and that the bills that have been placed as liens are true and accurate.
He said much of the public outcry is based on supposition and speculation and has been inflammatory.
Regarding communication with the City Council, Condon said there is a separation of branches of government and he has no obligation to reach out to the City Council because his office is governed by the executive branch, or the mayor’s office.
“Make a phone call,” Condon told Stewart. “If you’ve got questions pick up the phone,” he said.
It was not the only testy moment during the more than two-hour meeting.
Councilor-at-large Todd Petti recited an anectdote or example of either himself or someone else inheriting a property and either neglecting to pay about $100 per quarter utility bill or knowingly not paying it, and after several changes to the owners on the deed without a sale of the property and after more than a year of not paying utility bills suddenly is hit with a massive bill and begins to complain the city has a problem with its metering and billing system.
Raising his voice and pointing, Petti advised his fellow councilors to research some of the individual high water bills and know the whole story before “putting their necks on the line” to support people who have not paid their share of city bills.
He also noted that people who don’t pay their water and sewer bills—even after 9 quarters or two years-- still get their trash picked up even though water and sewer pays for that trash pickup.
During another heated moment council President Paul Studenski called for a two-minute recess when Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois asked Studenski to stop Petti and Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy from getting up and having a conservation with one another while she was asking questions about the water bills.
DuBois also said there shouldn’t be “character assassination” toward residents over the water bills and noted many of those disputing their bills have continued paying them and are hardworking people in all kinds of financial and personal situations.
In between the flare-ups, Chief Financial Officer John Condon—also a member of the audit committee that is overseeing a $97,000 independent audit by The Abrahams Group--said at the request of city councilors officials are attempting to modify the scope of the audit to allow auditors the chance to speak with not only city council members, but also some of the residents who have come forward and have been vocal that they do not believe they used the water they are being billed for, including those who have a $17,000, $12,000 or $4,000 bill.
Condon said officials have looked toward dropping a review of the water and sewer department’s reporting procedures and practices to the Department of Environmental Protection and review of some financial appropriations to the state.
Condon said officials do not believe the changes will go out of the scope of the original Request for Proposals and not exceed the requirements of the state procurement laws—which if exceeded would need a new round of proposals or force city officials to stick with the proposal’s original structure.
Another measure being taken to help residents who dispute their water bill is the development of a new type of form to be filled out by residents to trigger the dispute process in case they cannot meet with Department of Public Works Commissioner Michael Thoreson by Feb. 1.
Water bills must be paid by Feb. 1 or a resident who disputes the water bill and refuses to pay it must have had an abatement hearing by Feb. 1 in order to have rights at the Appellate Tax Board.
Without the abatement hearing by Feb. 1, residents who do not pay the water bill lose their rights at the Appellate Tax Board.
Residents who have paid their water bills, but still dispute it can take their claims to district, superior or small claims court—but also must meet a specific timeline to maintain their rights.
Ward 6 Councilor DuBois said the City Solicitor’s office is developing an official water dispute form because some people—either because of work or other reasons—who want to dispute the bill and not pay it—must have an abatement hearing with the billing authority—the water department—before Feb. 1 and some have contacted her and the mayor’s office about meeting the Feb. 1 deadline.
DuBois said the water dispute form is not complete yet, but should be available soon, likely before a public meeting that will be held Jan. 31 at the Mary Baker School cafeteria at 7 p.m. about the water billing problems, the city’s response and residents’ rights.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mandela, MLK Remembered At Brockton NAACP Breakfast

Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—When South African native Rev. Lehlohonolo Henrietta Montjane was a student at Salem State on Feb. 11, 1990, she had just finished class and caught a glimpse of TV and a massive media storm over something.
Looking to see what it was, to her delight and surprise the world was watching as Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison after 27 years.
“I said, ‘Wow—God you mean you heard my prayers all these years,'” Montjane said recounting the day when Apartheid—segregation and legal disenfranchisement for black South Africans—was forever changed when Mandela walked out of prison holding his wife Winnie’s hand and raising a fist into the air after 27 years of imprisonment. (Montjane pictured above with Kym Raphino and below with Richard Kpolar)
Montjane chuckled that it may have taken nearly 30 years, but God finally answered her prayers and those of millions of her countrymen—black and white.
“God is a good God, but God doesn’t work on our timetables…God works in God’s time,” she said.
Montjane, pastor at United Methodist Church in Brockton and Whitman and whose name Lehlohonolo translates to "lucky" or "blessed" was the keynote speaker for the Brockton chapter NAACP’s 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast held Saturday morning, Jan. 15.
Born in Soweto, South Africa in 1965, Montjane weaved and interlinked the biographies of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela—a historical and personal talk that showed the similarities of the two men, their differences and how both their works changed her life forever.
Montjane earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Salem State University in 1988, a master’s in social work from Boston University’s School of Social Work. She returned to South Africa and earned a diploma in business development from the Witwatersrand Technikon, South Africa in 1995.
Montjane said in 1994 on her return visit to her homeland, she and her parents, Rev. Dr. Norman and Rev. Dr. Margaret Moshoeshoe-Montjane voted as free citizens for the first time in their lives.
Her parents, she said, were 56 and 58 years old. Montjane was 29.
“Oh, what a great day,” Montjane said with a huge smile. “We woke at the crack of dawn to vote,” she said.
She said Mandela’s work in South Africa has opened doors for many non-whites in her native country, and Martin Luther King’s work allowed her to come to the U.S. and be an accepted leader in her chosen vocation even if she had to spend 11 months in Maine on the Canadian border—a rural area marked by wildlife and cold weather.
“God is a humorous God,” Montjane said laughing, noting she was always cold while there.
Gary Bailey, Assistant Professor at Simmons College School of Social Work, who served as master of ceremonies during the breakfast, said Montjane’s work as a member of the United Methodist Church and as a social worker is amazing, especially her work as an advocate for women—or sheroes—and children living with HIV/AIDS.
“Rev. Lehlohonolo is a phenomenal human being,” Bailey said. Bailey noted social workers like Lehlohonolo and Gabe Zimmerman--an aide to U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a licensed practicing social worker who was one of six people killed during a shooting aimed at Giffords last Saturday, Jan. 9 by a gunman in Tucson, Arizona—are often unsung heroes.
Bailey, Chairperson of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign for the International Federation of Social Workers, said he had the painful obligation of having to send a condolence message to Zimmerman’s family.
“We had one of our own die in the line of duty that day,” Bailey said.
During Saturday's breakfast there were several musical selections and a prayer when all attendees formed a circle and held hands. (Photo above)
Doris Campbell, who has organized the breakfast for years, and Ossie Jordan, (Pictured below pointing) who hosts a cable TV show highlighting issues in the city and the work of the NAACP and its members, received plaques and thanks for their dedicated service.
Other speakers during the breakfast included, U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch, state Representative Michael Brady and Mayor Linda Balzotti, who noted the Tucson shootings where so many young, active and involved people were killed or hurt is somewhat similar to the assassination of Martin Luther King, April. 4, 1968.
“The assassination took him much too young and much too soon,” Balzotti said.
She said people in public service often disagree with one another and often angrily, but for the most part do not end disputes at the point of a gun and recalled the non-violent demonstrations and protests advocated by King that led to the landmark Civil Rights Act, which not only opened the doors for black Americans, but also women.
“I’m the city’s first female mayor,” Balzotti said. “If it wasn’t for the work of Martin Luther King I might not be standing here today,” she said.
Rev. Montjane, after the breakfast was hugged and thanked for her speech that not only brought together the lives of two strong political leaders, but reminded attendees that with love and non-violence social injustice and equality can be reached.
“If you went around the room and cut each one of us we would all bleed red,” Montjane said. “Racism is a social construct,” she said.
(Pictured at right, Brockton area NAACP President Edward Downie, and wife Alma. Their three grandchildren are pictured above)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Grant Money Supports Brockton Fire, Police Departments

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton’s police and fire departments are looking forward to the City Council’s Finance Committee meeting Tuesday night because both are set to receive grants totaling more than $375,000.
The fire department is waiting for approval from the City Council to spend a federal grant of $229,840—an 80 percent share of buying every firefighter new turnout coats and pants—a staple of fire safety.
The Police Department is waiting for approval on a $145,891 state public safety grant which will be used for numerous community policing needs.
“This is a big savings for the city,” Francis said.
Francis said the department applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security grant for the essential equipment more than two years ago.
He said the department was notified in early 2010 the department had been approved for the money, but because the grant requires the city put up a 20 percent share—or $57,460, they had to wait until the 2010-2011 budget was finalized in the spring for the city’s share.
He said it was the first time the department had applied for the grant and were pleasantly surprised when it was granted.
Francis said the money will be used to buy every firefighter new turnout coats and pants—the heavy coats and pants that protect members and have numerous features for safety and convenience, such as large pockets for tools and equipment.
Brockton Fire Department has about 160 firefighters.
The new coats—top of the line—Francis said, have one of the latest safety features—an internal harness that allows firefighters to hook themselves onto a hook for stabilization or rescue of victims or even firefighters themselves.
Francis said eight new firefighters who were hired in October have already received their new equipment. He said once the City Council Finance Committee approves spending the grant, the new gear will be purchased and firefighters should be wearing their new gear within weeks.
Francis said the city provides firefighters with new turnout gear—a substantial cost, but an essential one—because it wants to make sure every member is equipped at the same level.
He said turnout gear is expected to last about seven to 10 years.
Police Chief William Conlon said the police department will use the nearly $146,000 state Edward J. Byrne Memorial Justice grant for a list of activities, needs and events associated with community policing.
“These are things we couldn’t usually afford,” Conlon said.
Conlon said a portion of the grant will be used to pay for stipends for department members of consultants to manage the grants, including accumulating documentation, research, and accounting that is required when the grant is accepted.
“People don’t realize how much documentation is required,” Conlon said. “Everything has to be accounted for right down to the penny,” he said.
The money also goes to oversee numerous bilingual translators who hold regular hours—usually Wednesdays—once a week throughout the year so non-English residents have someone to help them understand what is happening with all kinds of situations.
Conlon said the bilingual service is not only valuable for translation purposes, but also for community relations because those translators have a better idea of what happens and why within the police department.
“It opens the doors to our department to these volunteers to get to know what the police department does and those people take that back to their communities,” Conlon said. “It helps to gain the confidence of a community,” he said.
The grant also will help pay for the following:
¬¬*Community events where parents and guardians can have children’s fingerprints and DNA be recorded for future needs,
*Drug awareness programs for students and parents in the schools,
*Detail officers at numerous ethnic festivals,
*Domestic violence programs for youngsters and a social worker to conduct follow up following domestic violence incidents,
*“National Night of Crime” at the Shaw’s Center in August and Brockton’s Promise “Mayor’s Youth Summit” at Massasoit Community College usually held in the spring.
*T-shirts, food and supplies for community events.
Conlon said the use of the money for events and programs is flexible and if things come up things can be switched around, but the money is a much-needed infusion for the department to try to reach out to the community in different ways.
(Above image courtesy of

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Ban Parking Tows Costly For Residents

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton Police Chief William Conlon urges the more than 60 vehicle owners who had their wheels towed during Wednesday’s snow storm to get their cars out of storage as soon as possible because they will incur more charges the longer they wait.
“It would behoove people to get their cars as soon as they can because storage cars will be added for everyday it’s there,” Conlon said.
During Wednesday’s storm, Conlon said more than 60 vehicles were towed from city streets because they were impeding snow removal while 20 to 40 others were towed because police found that they were unregistered, and in some cases stolen.
Conlon said city officials do not want to tow vehicles, but if the vehicles are in the way during an all-day storm like Wednesday they have to go.
“It should be an incentive for people to get their cars off the street before we have to,” he said.
Conlon said about the same amount of vehicles were towed during the last blizzard in December and in every storm the department takes steps to remove vehicles obstructing roads.
In many cases officers try to find vehicle owners, but like Wednesday when the snow kept falling and police had to respond to accidents, about 70 fallen wires and other police calls, even his extended force did not have the time to hunt down all vehicle owners.
Conlon said vehicle owners should contact police to find which of the 20 or more tow operators in the rotating line for city towing got the call for their vehicle.
Conlon said tow operators were provided with owner information and are likely to contact owners as well, but police have a list of registrations and can point owners to the right company.
Sean Bastis, an employee at Lynch’s Towing, said some people have come to get their vehicles and are upset, but the snow emergency parking ban is essential during snow storms to get public safety and medical vehicles to emergencies.
“People are upset, but if you don’t move your car—shame on you,” Bastis said.
Bastis said under state law tow operators are allowed to charge $90 for a police-ordered tow, and $4 fuel charge is added. Storage fees are $35 a day—a cost that was increased Nov. 8, 2010 after more than 20 years at $20.
Also adding to the cost is a $50 parking ticket each towed vehicle and about 200 others who received parking tickets for violating the snow ban.
Tow companies were not the only ones who had to listen to the wrath of parking ban violators who had their cars removed.
Police arrested Ethiopia Russell, a 25-year-old Newbury Street resident, and Christopher Brookens, 25, of Brockton after police ordered two vehicles towed from Russell's Newbury Street address and a disturbance allegedly ensued.
Russell and Brookens were charged with interfering with police officer in performance of duty, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Brockton Schools Expected To Reopen Friday

BROCKTON—Brockton schools will be closed another day Thursday as crews and residents continue to dig out after a blizzard knocked out power to more than 9,000 homes and businesses in Brockton, but for those with heat and electricity it was a chance to spend time with family.
“I’m happy. I have the day off from work,” said Jay Duffy as he shoveled the edge of his driveway and threw snow into the air that the family's two Pugs named Frankie and Millie—chased and chewed as it fell.
Duffy, whose home on Braemoor Road remained with power throughout the storm, said he and his children 6-year-old twins Jack and Marina and 7-year-old Ella watched movies during the morning and in the afternoon shoveled what was left of the snow at the end of the driveway after a hired plow cleared most of it.
“We have power, so it’s been fun,” Duffy said.
Others in Brockton and throughout the region were not as lucky. At about noon Wednesday more than 9,000 residents in Brockton and Bridgewater lost their electricity.
City officials opened the main branch public library as a warming shelter, however only one man used the library during the afternoon. West Middle School was available as a shelter during the evening, but it is unclear how many, if any, went to the school.
Mayor Linda Balzotti said National Grid had done much better than during a similar storm two weeks ago that caused widespread power outages that left some households without electricity or heat for more than 40 hours.
By midnight today 163 Brockton homes and 102 in Bridgewater were without power--a much smaller number than the more than 9,000 in each town during the height of the storm.
At one point more than 67,000 in the area and more than 42,000 in Plymouth County lost their electricity due to storm related problems.
Balzotti said about 60 vehicles were towed from city streets to make room for plows to clear roadways for medical and public safety personnel.
A citywide parking ban on all streets is still in effect and Balzotti said any vehicles inhibiting plows and clean-up needs will be towed.
“We have to do what we have to do,” Balzotti said. “We have to look toward preparing for school reopening,” she said.
Schools are expected to reopen Friday.
Free parking is available at the Adams Garage on Main Street while snow removal continues.

South Shore, Most Of U.S. Covered In Snow

BROCKTON—More than 9,000 National Grid customers in Brockton and more than 67,500 in the region are without electricity after a January blizzard that shutdown the Southern U.S. and now days later has stomped the South Shore area with anywhere from 7 to 18 inches of snow.
More than 42,000 of National Grid's outages are in Plymouth County, including more than 9,000 in Bridgewater and 5,200 in Pembroke.
At about 9 a.m. just over 3,000 Brockton National Grid customers were without power.
By 12:30 p.m. that number has shot to more than 9,500, according to National Grid's website.
Brockton officials have opened a warming shelter at the Main Branch of the Brockton Public Library which will remain open until later this afternoon when a shelter will be set up at West Middle School.
Snow began about midnight Wednesday, Jan. 12 and according to the National Weather Service is expected to continue into the afternoon with increased accumulations of 1 to 3 inches. Winds are expected to blow at about 15 mph.
According to the National Weather service every state, with the exception of Florida, currently has snow on the ground.
This includes Hawaii where about seven inches of snow is atop Mauna Kea volcano.
As of Jan. 11, 69.4 percent of the contiguous United States is covered by snow - this is more than double the snow cover from last month.
State and local officials have advised people to stay home unless they are essential workers such as public safety, medical personnel and of course snow plow drivers.
Driving is slow and slippery and in some cases motorists have had to pull over to scrape wet, heavy snow that has accumulated on windshields.
Officials are urging people to stay off the roads so plows can clear roadways.
Brockton schools, and all others on the South Shore have canceled classes, and city and town halls and libraries are closed.
Many businesses have also closed.
Brockton residents who may need assistance during the storm can contact Brockton Emergency Management Agency at 508-580-7871.
The city declared a snow emergency beginning at 6 p.m. Tueday night and until further notice that prohibits parking on all city streets.
Residents are urged to move their cars and trucks from city streets if they have not done so. Police are locating trouble spots and will tow vehicles that impede plows and safety vehicles.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Brockton Schools Closed, Snow Emergency Declared

Staff report
BROCKTON--Brockton school officials have canceled classes Wednesday Jan. 12 due to the blizzard expected to hit the region beginning around 2 a.m. in some areas and continuing throughout the day and Wednesday evening, according to the National Weather Service.
Forecasts call for 12 to 16 inches of snow in the Brockton area.
City officials have also declared a snow emergency that began at 6 p.m. tonight and will lsst until further notice.
There will be no parking allowed on either side of the street, on any street, throughout the city.
All vehicles must be parked vehicle at off-street locations to allow DPW crews to clear streets.
The James J. Adams Parking Garage at the corner of Main and Crescent streets will be open for residents to park their cars beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11.
There will be no charge for use of the garage.
Trash service for Wednesday, Jan. 11 has been postponed until Thursday, Jan. 12. Trash service for the remainder of the week – Thursday, Jan. 13 to Friday, Jan. 14 will be moved to the next day.
To track the storm's progress, visit the National Weather Service...

Water Bill Meetings On Tap For January

Staff report
BROCKTON--Issues surrounding Brockton residents' water bills and subsequent liens for overdue water bills will be discussed during two meetings this month.
The first will take place Tuesday, Jan. 18 when the City Council meets as the Finance Committee at 7 p.m.
Ward 2 Councilor Thomas Monahan said Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy and Chief Financial Officer John Condon have been invited to talk about why the liens were sent out to about 6,500 residents for water, sewer and other overdue bills and why the city did not hold off on sending the liens in the face of admitted problems with metering and billing systems and a $97,000 independent audit expected to make recommendations about the problem water systems in April.
Also, on Monday, Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. at Mary Baker Elementary School cafeteria residents are invited to attend a public meeting hosted by several city councilors and Brockton United Voices, a grass-roots group that has formed to rally residents about the water bill problems.
The meeting is expected to include a portion when residents can voice their personal situations with the water bills.
All city council members, heads of the water department and Mayor Linda Balzotti have been invited.
All residents who are interested are welcome to attend and are urged to attend.

City Council Passes Gavel

Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—When Ward 4 City Councilor Paul F. Studenski was five years old in 1953 he had the honor of watching his father receive the gavel as City Council President for the first of six unprecedented times.
Monday night, nearly 60 years later, Studenski has followed in his father’s footsteps and was immeasurably surprised to receive his father’s well-worn gavel from City Clerk Anthony Zeoli.
“They used to call him the fastest gavel in the East,” Studenski said following Monday’s meeting when he was unanimously voted as the council’s president for 2011.
Studenski said his father died in October 2003 at 76 and not only served as city council president, but also mayor and state representative.
Studenski, the city’s former police chief, said he plans to follow his father’s lead in that he will allow councilors to discuss issues, but will also keep debate moving if there is too much repetition.
“I want information to be shared but we also have to move the council’s business,” Studenski said.
Studenski said it was completely unexpected when Zeoli handed him a small, brown wooden gavel his father used during his six terms as council president—a record that still stands officials said.
Studenski said one of his brothers pulled the gavel out of an attic or box and gave it to Zeoli for Monday night’s vote.
“I can’t believe someone still had it,” he said.
Outgoing Council President Christopher MacMillan said he hopes 2011 will be a better year than 2010 for council members.
“I hope we will be a proactive government instead of a reactive government,” MacMillan said. “We need to take the lead and show people we can do a lot better job than last year,” he said.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Brockton Police Make Weekend Cocaine Trafficking, Shoplifting Arrests

Staff report
BROCKTON--In several seperate incidents over the weekend according to the Brockton Police log, seven people were charged with drug possession, including trafficking in cocaine and possession of large capacity firearms and ammunition.
The first of the weekend drug arrests took place at about 4:30 p.m Friday, Jan. 7when police arrested Andrew McGaughey, 21, of Mansfield for possession to distribute a Class B drug, drug violation near a school or park, conspiracy to violate drug laws,failure to wear a seat belt, and two local warrants.
Also being held was Joseph Michael McGaughey, 47, of Mansfield for possession to distribute Class B drug, drug violation near school or park, conspiracy to violate drug law, and no inspection sticker.
On Saturday Jan. 8 around 9:38 p.m. Brockton Police responded to a call at 364 Centre Street for a suspicious motorist and charged Arcelino Santos Silva, 21, of Brockton with possession to distribute Class D drug, drug violation near a school or park, possession of a Class B drug, conspiracy to violate drug laws, and litter from a motor vehicle.
Also charged was Jacqueline J. Delgado, 21, of Brockton with possession to distribute Class D drug, conspiracy to violate drug laws and drug violation near a school or park.
On Sunday Jan. 9 around 9:13 p.m. Brockton police stopped a motor vehicle on North Warren Avenue and 1 Walnut Ave and charged Dana D. Tate, 39, of Brockton with trafficking in cocaine, failure to stop for police, resisting arrest, A&B on a police officer, possession of a firearm without a Firearms Identification Card, possession of large capacity firearm, unlawful possession of a large capacity feeding device, unlawful possession of ammunition, drug violation near a school or park, failure to stop or yield, motor vehicle lights violation, and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
Also charged in the stop was Dwayne Q. Douglas, 44, of Dorchester with trafficking in cocaine, drug violation near a school or park possession of a large capacity firearm, possession of a firearm without a Firearms Identification Card, unlawful possession of a large capacity feeding device, unlawful possession of ammunition, and disorderly conduct.
On Friday, January 7, around 12:25 p.m. police were informed of a larceny in progress at K-Mart at 2001 Main St.
A female allegedly shoplifted and was uncooperative and refused to come back into the store.
Maria Cristina Cruz, 29, of Brockton was charged with two counts of possession of a Class B drug, shoplifting by asportation and two counts of receiving stolen property.
Also charged in the incident was Joann Marie Tomblin, 47, of Brockton with shoplifting by asportation and two counts of receiving stolen property.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Legal Steps Possibility In Wake Of Water Bill Liens

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton residents who have received liens for overdue water bills in this quarter’s property tax bill and refuse to pay the water bill be aware: Unless you specify you want your property tax payment to be applied to the property tax, the city collector’s office will pay the overdue water bill and interest first.
Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy said the “hierarchy” of payment requires the collector pay the interest and overdue water bill before applying any payment to the homeowner’s property tax.
Brophy said if residents send in their payments it will go to a so-called “lock-box” and the payment will be applied to the overdue water bill and interest first.
If residents do not want their payment to go to the overdue water bill they should include a note within in their payment if mailed, but the best way to ensure the property tax is paid and not the water bill is to visit city hall in person.
“They’re best bet is to come into the collector’s office themselves and tell the clerk at the counter they want the money applied to their property tax,” Brophy said.
Ayanna YanceyCato, a resident with a nearly $17,000 overdue water bill said the word is spreading about the latest hassle in connection with their water bills following the city’s move to attach the overdue bills to residents’ property taxes—a move residents say is a betrayal of promises not to attach the liens and to give them three years to pay the overdue bills if an audit shows they actually used the water.
“What I feel the city did was a back door move—they misled the entire community…I have nothing but pure disgust for this situation,” YanceyCato said.
YanceyCato is only one of about 6,500 residents who received property tax bills this week and learned that the city also included liens—which some city officials are calling special assessments or attachments—for payment of overdue water bills.
The city’s move puts some people in the position of having their mortgage payments balloon because the water bills—which range from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand to YanceyCato’s $17,000 and Robert Ford’s $12,000—unless paid will increase property taxes.
YanceyCato said in the case of this latest billing snafu she is lucky. She does not pay her real estate taxes through an escrow account, but residents who do, experts say, should contact their mortgage lender to try to make arrangements for payments—especially if they refuse to pay the overdue water bill.
“Homeowners should contact the lender directly and explain the situation,” said Richard Wulsin, a real estate tax attorney with Wulsin Murphy LLP in Norwood and Wellfleet and a member of the National Association of Real Estate Tax Attorneys.
Wulsin said the end result with each bank or mortgage holder will be different for each individual homeowner and there is no assurance residents will have a positive outcome.
“What is likely to happen is the lender will pay that balance and if the water bill adds a significant amount it could inflict some real pain on the home owner,” Wulsin said.
He said homeowners will be at the whim of the mortgage company and believes some will work with residents, while other behemoth institutions like Bank of America and CitiCorp will be difficult to deal with because they are so large it will be difficult to change the way their systems pay those escrow accounts.
Wulsin said it is highly unlikely lenders will extend any increases beyond one year because they do not want a lien on the property because a property with a lien cannot be refinanced or sold without a clean municipal lien certificate and effects the lender’s equity in the property.
While city officials are calling the liens special assessments or attachments, Wulsin said it is a “little deceptive” for the city to say this week’s notices are not liens because the property cannot be issued a clean municipal lien certificate to refinance or sell the property.
While these overdue bills—which are for the fiscal year 2009-2010—have not been filed at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds and likely will not until 2012, their impact on mortgage holders is similar.
“It’s a lien,” Wulsin said.
Wulsin, who has followed the issue through TV broadcasts, said the city seems to have its “head in the sand” in the way it has handled the situation and wondered why the water department head has not “taken the bull by the horns” to come to a quick and speedy resolution to people’s problems or to pull aside the disputed bills—a measure other cities and towns have done with success.
He suggested people like YanceyCato and Ford who have significantly large bills should hire a lawyer to protect their interests.
Wulsin also advises that if residents want to eventually take the matter to court they must follow the procedures set up by the city to dispute the bill.
He said the first step is to apply for an abatement with the billing authority, which in this case is the water department and Commissioner Michael Thoreson.
Residents have until Feb. 1—the date when the liens are due to be paid—to apply for the abatement and even residents like YanceyCato and Ford who have already received abatements should reapply because the liens are considered new bills.
He said residents cannot miss the Feb. 1 deadline and any other deadlines because without an abatement hearing—the first step—there is no jurisdiction for an appeal.
“Literally, if you are a day late you might as well be late forever,” Wulsin said.
Wulsin said if the abatement is denied then residents can appeal the bills to the state’s Appellate Tax Board—which has jurisdiction over disputed water bills in certain cases.
Mark DeFrancisco, chief counsel for the Appellate Tax Board, said residents must adhere to the very strict timeline and must follow the process to be able to take the matter to court.
He said if the overdue water bills are paid then an appeal would be in district, superior or small claims court.
If the bill is not paid then the matter is handled at the Appellate Tax Board.
He echoed Wulsin’s comments that the process is very strict on deadlines and can be complicated.
“It’s a morass for people to navigate through,” DeFrancisco said.
Meanwhile city officials are explaining why the liens have been issued and unlike what residents expected, disputed water bills were included.
Mayor Linda Balzotti, who has been taking heat for not directing Thoreson to set aside the disputed water bills, said she has no way of knowing which of the 6,500 liens are disputed bills and if she had pulled some aside she would set herself up for charges of favoritism.
“How do I pick and choose,” Balzotti said.
She said when the audit of the water department is completed residents who should have their bills lowered will be reimbursed for any water bill payments they have made.
Balzotti said there is no way the city could have held off on all 6,500 liens because it represents $8.9 million in revenues to the city.
Balzotti and Treasurer-Collector Brophy said the city gets more than half of the payments in the third or fourth quarter, or about $4.5 million and knowing that could not prudently hold back on the 6,500 liens.
“That money would have to come out of the general fund or we would have to increase water and sewer rates,” Balzotti said. “It would cripple the system,” she said.
She said there is a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on and in hindsight wished she had argued harder to immediately hire The Abrahams Group—which is expected to give recommendations by April-- to conduct an audit of the water and sewer department’s metering and billing systems instead of allowing a request for proposals process advocated by the City Council which added several months to the process.
“My regret is that the audit wasn’t done sooner. We would already have the recommendations,” she said.
Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois, who has supported residents in their fight over the bills, said she disagrees with Balzotti that the disputed water bills could not have been pulled and wanted to clarify statements in a story earlier this week about the payment plan option for residents.
DuBois said residents need to meet with Thoreson or his staff to have their bills abated and supports the payment plans because it offers residents an option to spread out their payments.
She said while not everyone is happy with the payment plans, at least it is a way for residents to get out from under some large bills and the plans can be changed at anytime.
Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan said he was unaware the lien notices would be in the third quarter bills and believes the liens could have been set aside for those disputing the bills.
“I think we’re causing more unnecessary problems for people than we have to,” Monahan said.
He said the way it has been handled has made the city “the laughingstock” of the region.
It is unclear what if any action the City Council can take to help residents.
Those like YanceyCato are no longer trusting in the city to help them and will take care of their own interests and have been looking into hiring legal counsel to aid them.
A lifelong resident, YanceyCato said this situation has caused her a lot of stress and has for the first time made her embarrassed to be a resident of Brockton.
She said while some city officials might hope residents will go away or eat payment plans for water they did not use, many are not willing to do that.
“When you start talking about people’s homes people are going to fight,” YanceyCato said.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Duct-tape Robbers Hit Third Store

Staff report
BROCKTON--The third robbery in four days where customers or clerks were duct-taped by a silver handgun wielding pair of suspects took place Wednesday night—this time the thieves robbed Tavares Variety on Warren Avenue.
According to one of the victims--who is also an owner who did not want to be identified--said two light-skinned males she described as short, about 5'5 and wearing hoodies or dark masks came in the front door and duct-taped the hands of her 21-year-old son who was in one of the aisles.
The men then went to the front of the store and pointed a silver gun at her and made their way behind the counter and stole cash and then ran out the side door toward the back of the building toward Packard Way.
"They were small, very small, little--I thought it was maybe kids playing around. I heard them come in and make noise and then saw my son being taped and then one pointed a gun at me and then came behind the counter and looked around and took money and then ran out,” she said.
She said robbers spoke broken English.
It is the third robbery this week where clerks or customers were duct-taped during a robbery. It is unclear if any of the heists have been committed by the same two men.
Police could not be reached for comment.
The first robberies took place Sunday about six hours apart. One was at Bud’s Variety at 916 Warren Avenue at about 9:40 a.m. when two light-skinned males who spoke Spanish brandished a silver handgun and duct-taped a customer and clerk. The thieves took $300 and the clerk’s wallet.
Later that same day around 6 p.m. Van's Asian Market at 300 North Montello Street was also robbed when two males speaking Spanish and waving a silver handgun walked in wearing masks duct-taped a clerk’s friend and took all the cash and other items in the store.
Tony Fonseca, who not only owns the building that houses Tavares Grocery, but also owns CJ Beer & Wine adjacent, said he was robbed last February.
"I was closing the store and had my back turned away from the front door and somebody came in and started to hit the back of my head and I turned around and they cut my upper lip with a gun,” he said. “I could put my finger threw the hole in my upper lip," he said as he pointed out the scar.
Fonseca said those robbers were four black males and the one with the gun had a hood on and the other three did not.
"They stole my cell phone and my wallet, keys and cash from the register," he said. "I am sick and tired of this, it has to stop, people are getting robbed during the day. I even have had the gutters of my building stolen, this is crazy, we need to take the streets back," Fonseca said.
Click here for BrocktonPost's story about the first robberies on Sunday...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Open Meeting Law Complaint Heads Back To AG's Office

BROCKTON—Four Brockton residents who have filed complaints with the state Attorney General’s Office that claim the Water Commission violated the Open Meeting Law in August believe the city’s response to the charge did not meet the requirements of the law and they are not satisfied with the city’s steps to resolve the issue.
The three-page letter, (pictured above, middle and below can be enlarged by clicking on each) which was sent to the Attorney General Tuesday, Jan. 4 states, “the city’s handling of our complaint does not seem to satisfy the intent of the Open Meeting Law complaint process. We do not know if the Water Commission’s response—via the City Solicitor—is even known to the members of the Water Commission.”
The letter, signed by residents Marianne Silva, Ayanna Yancey-Cato, Robert Ford and Darlene Abramson is a response to a letter sent in October to the Attorney General by City Solicitor Philip C. Nessralla Jr. outlining steps the city and Water Commission would take to resolve residents’ complaints, including Open Meeting Law training for commission members.
It is unclear if this training has taken place or will take place in the future.
Nessralla’s letter states the city has not decided if the commission actually violated the Open Meeting Law when it went into closed session Aug. 30 to discuss personnel issues and instead spent much of the time chastising member Patrick Quinn for speaking with the media.
The letter states the city would decide if board members violated the law after the training sessions.
Marianne Silva said the city’s response and city’s plan to resolve the issue does not meet the requirements of the law, in part because the City Solicitor’s letter was not sent to the four residents who made the complaint--a requirement under the law.
Because the city did not send its response letter to residents, the Attorney General has allowed an extension for the complaintants to respond to the city’s letter and has until Friday, Jan. 7 to ask the Attorney General to review the matter.
The original deadline would have been Dec. 10.
Residents in interviews and letters are adamant and certain commission members violated the Open Meeting Law and requests the Water Commission take a vote in open session acknowledging the law was violated and that members will take part in training to learn the rules and regulations of the law.
For's story about the initial Open Meeting Law complaint, click here...
Click here for BrocktonPost's story about the water issue and Nessralla's letter...

Lien Demands Reignite Water Bill Controversy

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Thousands of Brockton residents have received notices in their quarterly water and sewer tax bills that demand owners pay their overdue bills or face liens on their property taxes, even if those bills are being disputed amidst a controversy surrounding the water department’s flawed metering and billing systems.
Many residents are incensed the city would make the move which they called another betrayal of promises made by public officials when it became clear the water and sewer department’s metering and billing systems had gone haywire.
“I have it on video—they said no one was going to get a lien, no one was going to lose their house and then they do this,” said Marianne Silva, one of about 6,500 water and sewer users in the city who received the lien threats with their first quarter bills Monday.
“They didn’t stick to what they said, but why should I be surprised—they haven’t through the whole thing,” Silva said.
Silva and numerous others, including Ayanna Yancey-Cato and Robert Ford have led a fight against the water and sewer bills--bills city officials have admitted are flawed and residents and officials alike are waiting to see the recommendations and data that will be provided by an independent audit firm, The Abrahams Group hired at a cost of $97,000 to sort out the issue.
Those recommendations are not expected to be complete until March or April and in the meantime because of the controversy surrounding meter reading and billing systems, many believed and felt they were promised the city would pull out the disputed bills and hold them aside instead of including the threat of a lien for non-payment.
Silva is one of the lucky ones. She only owes a disputed $500 after receiving an adjustment on a past bill for $2,400 that was reduced to $1,200-an adjustment that was made before Silva knew there was such a widespread problem.
She has fought the bill since the summer and has not paid the remaining $500 and was shocked to see the lien demand for the $500 in this quarter’s bill.
“I’m floored. I didn’t see this coming,” Silva said.
Silva is lucky her disputed bill is only $500.
Yancey-Cato's bill demands $17,000 in the next 30 days or the amount will be added to her property tax. Yancey-Cato initially had a bill for $100,000 that was reduced to $17,000—an amount that Yancey-Cato also contests.
Silva said a $17,000 adjustment on Yancey-Cato mortgage payment--possibly more than $1,000 a month—could very possibly cause Yancey-Cato to lose her house.
“If (Yancey-Cato) used the water and owes it that’s one thing, but we don’t know that—it’s disputed and now there’s a chance she can lose her house. I can’t believe they did this to people,” Silva said.
Mayor Linda Balzotti said the city had no choice under state law to send out the liens and affirms those who have disputed bills will be taken into consideration and disagrees with charges from some residents she has walked away from campaign promises to be on the side of the people.
“I’m not walking away from anyone,” Balzotti said. “When the audit is complete and in due course those that should be corrected will be corrected,” she said.
Balzotti said officials had hoped the audit would be completed by now, but because it is not, the city by state law is required to send out the demand notices.
She said the notices are not liens, but are attachments on people’s property taxes that can receive abatements from the treasurer’s department and do not result in a traditional lien in court.
Balzotti said there is an abatement process and people can contact the water department and treasurer’s office to set up payment plans and when the audit is completed, if it is found people have overpaid, they will be reimbursed.
The amount of liens--estimated at about 6,500 households or $8.9 million--Balzotti said, is not an unusual number and when the audit is completed those bills that need it will be corrected.
Balzotti said some of those 6,500 lien demands are to people who intentionally do not pay the bill for tax write-offs and other reasons, while others are disputed bills.
However, Ward 6 City Councilor Michelle DuBois, who has worked closely with residents since the water bill problem began over the summer, called the payment demand “insidious” and in many cases will change people’s mortgage payments and in some cases could push homeowners into foreclosure situations.
DuBois said even though the City Council over the last few weeks has reimbursed many residents for overpaid bills, a lot of others—especially those that have been vocal and public about their situations—have no confidence in the system or the city.
“They don’t want to tell people what these bills really are. They tell them there might be reimbursements and they can set up payment plans in the hope people will just go away,” DuBois said.
“They want them to sign payment plans, but once they sign that paper to set up a payment plan the bill is no longer in dispute,” she said.
DuBois said while Balzotti and Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy have said the notices are not liens, homeowners don’t care what the notice is called because no matter how you look at it, the demand, if not paid, will increase their property taxes and therefore increases mortgage payments, often paid through escrow accounts with mortgage companies holding the loan.
“If you own the house it’s one thing, but if you are still paying a mortgage you’re mortgage company is going to adjust that monthly payment and not too many people can handle an increase of $1,000 a month. It’s going to balloon people’s payments and potentially send them into foreclosure,” DuBois said.
DuBois said she has asked several city officials and departments for a copy of the state law that requires the demand notices be sent and has not received one.
Why Balzotti did not require Water Commissioner Michael Thoreson or Treasurer-Collector Brophy to put a freeze on the lien demands—especially for residents with disputed bills--or why Thoreson or Brophy did not do it themselves as best management practices is something DuBois does not understand.
“Other cities and towns have had a moratorium or freeze on similar problems. Why didn’t we do that and then wait until the audit is completed and review these disputed bills and then issue the liens if we need to next year,” DuBois said.
She said many residents are fearful of approaching the water department and Commissioner Thoreson to dispute their bills and understands residents’ frustrations because she has gotten the run-around the same way residents have.
DuBois said she has contacted Thoreson and Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy to help residents since Monday and was told by Thoreson it was Brophy’s job to issue the liens and when she talked to Brophy, he told her it was Thoreson’s job to send to the collector overdue bills for lien demands and Thoreson’s discretion to pull out those that are disputed. DuBois said she went back to Thoreson who said once the bills went to the collector they can’t come back, but Brophy told her Thoreson could request disputed bills be pulled. (Clarification: After the story posted DuBois further explained that contact with Thoreson was actually through his staff and via email and not phone calls.)
Neither Thoreson or Brophy could immediately be reached for comment.
“It’s all just a way to create a diversion and deflect people away from the real issue at hand—the lack of management, or mismanagement or even possibly corruption surrounding these bills,” DuBois said.
DuBois expects to meet with the leaders of the disputed bills this week in preparation for a larger meeting with everyone and anyone who has a dispute or problem with their water and sewer bills at the end of this month.
Silva echoed DuBois’s sentiment that many residents have little faith in city officials to resolve their bills and are in the process of exploring their legal options and await an audit they don’t expect will help them at all.
“There’s no logic when it comes to the water department,” Silva said.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

State Reups Fire Safety Money For Brockton, Others

BROCKTON--Brockton, Easton and West Bridgewater fire departments have been awarded grant money totaling $21,745 from the Student Awareness of Fire Education, or S.A.F.E program through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
State Representative Christine E. Canavan announced yesterday in a prepared statement the three communities would receive funding through the annual program.
This year, the Brockton Fire Department will receive $11,515; the Easton Fire Department will receive $5,415; and the West Bridgewater Fire Department will receive $4,815 to continue their fire education programming.
Established by the legislature in 1996, the S.A.F.E Program is a state initiative that was created to provide resources to local fire departments to conduct fire and life safety education programs to children in grades K-12 and members of the community. Its mission is to enable students, and all residents, to recognize the dangers of fire, as well as the fire hazards of tobacco products.
“The S.A.F.E Program is a great example of a true—and time-proven—partnership between the Commonwealth and local fire departments that has had an extraordinary impact on protecting our children, families and communities,” Canavan said in the prepared statement.