Sakonett

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Troubled Waters

If you check the date on my last posting, you are probably wondering if I left town or died or whatever. To tell you the truth I decided to take a little time off from local political activity in the aftermath of last November's elections. In addition to that, since the completion of the Wilbur and McMahan school renovation project, relatively speaking, things have been pretty quiet. That is until the recent upheaval on the school committee.

All you local political junkies know that there was a hard swing to the liberal left in the last School Committee election. Polly Allen, Lori Craffey, and Patrick McHugh were swept into office and quickly assumed the majority position and snatched the leadership of the committee away from the hands of the more conservative former leadership.

It was clear right from beginning that things were going to be different. None of the newly elected troika had ever served in elected office before, and they stumbled into power. Apparently high on their agenda was the replacement of Superintendent of Schools Kathy Crowley. Tom Alder and Peg Bugara along with Lori Craffey apparently were unhappy with the new chair Polly Allen, and her approach to unseating Crowley. So a power shift developed that has resulted in dumping Polly Allen, and electing Tom Alder to the position of chairman.

Needless to say that the natives who banned together last November to take over the school committee were restless. They showed up in strength yesterday evening at an emergency meeting of the school committee. There was a lot of hostility in the audience. New chairman Alder imposed limits on public input, requiring those who wished to participate to sign up, and would be limited to one appearance not to exceed four minutes. Few of the speakers paid any attention to the time limitation, and beat up on Tom Alder like a rented mule. Especially former school committee member and chairperson Michael Harrington who spoke for what seemed like an eternity, lecturing Alder, talking down to him, reminding him that it was Harrington who appointed him as chairman of the former school building committee. Harrington instructed Alder that all he had to do was go to the records and find all the information he needed to write a job description to use when advertising for a new school superintendent. He said that he knew they were there because he did it twice. Harrington, a member of the bar, seem to be challenging Alder on how the agenda for yesterday's meeting was established. I smell a rat there, my sense tells me that Harrington has an open meetings violation on his agenda. Some of you may recall that the Harrington led school committee had been found in violation of the Rhode Island open meetings act during his tenure as chairman.

I know Tom Alder, we are not friends, but I know him from his hard work on the School Building Committee. Tom is a hard-working dedicated honest civil servant. He deserves our gratitude. My advice to Tom is to wear protective equipment at all times and watch your back, because Michael Harrington who was defeated for reelection to the school committee is out to get you. The handwriting is all over the place.



Friday, July 29, 2011

Good Old American Inginuity

After six plus years of countless meetings, professional architects, endless negotiations with the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) the Little Compton School Committee has taken action to overcome one of the major saftey problems that prompted the failed efforts to build a $35,000,000 new school.
At a special meeting of the School Committee last Wednesday, they announced plans to build a new emergency exit for the cafateria.
Superintendent Kathy Crowley was given the green light to essentially knock a hole in a wall and install the Fire Exit.
Tom Alder, long time Chairman of the School Building Commitee who is a professional builder, and Architect Mark Rapp who has also been on the Building Committe from day one will get it done. Mark is doing the design work pro bono. Kudo's to Tom & Mark.
Want to help? Contact Cathy Crowley at the Wilbur & McMahon School.

Friday, July 08, 2011


June 24th LCTA Newsletter


Retrospective of the June 4th 2011 LC Taxpayers Association Newsletter
Considering the limited space, cost of printing and postage, The LCTA Newsletter did a fine job in providing a historical overview of the never ending School Building Project.
Since I am not burdened with such space limitations and postage expense I want to expand upon some of the historical events that were not reported in the Associations Newsletter.
Following the earthshaking fire inspection in August of 2005 there was a great deal of hand wringing and head scratching. I recall hearing remarks highly critical of then Fire Chief, Harry Hallgring who was recently appointed. Chief Hallgring brought with him many years of experience in fire prevention procedures and knowledge of current fire safety codes, the likes of which apparently had never visited the inside of the Wilbur & McMahon School.
The Wilbur & McMahon facility is akin to “the house that Jack built.” It is a mish mash of buildings going back to 1929. The building makes no sense in terms of layout, traffic, dead end hallways and vast wasted space. All of that notwithstanding, it is a fine educational institution with an exceptionally good track record when it comes to producing a quality education for LC youngsters.
But there were/are physical plant problems with the facility. For openers it does not have a fire sprinkler system. There is a ton of outdated heating and air movement equipment, electrical services that were installed by Tom Edison, a leaky roof and a major egress problem.
The Newsletter states that JCJ Architects was hired by the Facilities Needs Committee. In fact JCJ was hired by the School Committee specifically to design a “new school” and to guide The Facilities Needs Committee through the RIDE approval process for State funds to reimburse the taxpayers to the tune of approximately 1/3 of the most of the costs associated with building a new school.
That is precisely where the process started to go astray. First of all, Stage I in the RIDE process requires the School District to submit a “Letter of Intent” and to appoint a “School Building Committee.” That process was not done for close to 18 Months and then only when then Superintendent Ron Devine became aware of the mandated process in a conversation with Mr. Joseph da Silva of RIDE. Clearly JCJ was ignorant of the process, and when confronted with the problem they tried to blame Joe da Silva for revising the process after they had been retained. This was not true; the process had been revised in the middle of 2007 six months before JCJ was hired.
Prior to Dr. Devine’s course correction, the Facilities Needs Committee had laid in plans for an extensive Dog & Pony Show to sell the more than 35 million dollar proposed building project, leading up to a Special Financial Town Meeting to approve funding. This process was in direct violation of RIDE published practices. Yet more wasted time, effort, and money.
So the School District was forced to go back to square one, hastily prepare a letter of intent, and appoint a School Building Committee and subsequently dump JCJ. Close to two years were down the drain, not to mention the $118,000 architectural fee. It has been all downhill ever since.
So then the new School Building Committee was off and running if you can call it that. The School Committee under the inept leadership of Michael Harrington appointed a 20 member committee. I don’t know if you have ever served on an elected or appointed committee, but let me assure you that a committee of that size is non-functional. Results to date confirm that judgment!
RIDE mandates eight (8) appointees including the Superintend of Schools, The Principal, a person familiar with maintaining the building, a teacher, a representative of the town governing body (council member), a financial person, a citizen with either engineering, construction or architectural experience, and at least one member of the School Committee. Mr. Harrington Appointed himself and three other members of the School Committee plus a group of interested citizens making up the 20 member committee.
From the get-go there were organizational problems. Nobody, it seemed wanted to step up and be nominated to lead the committee. Mr. Harrington assumed the chairmanship during several meetings until he handpicked Tom Alder as Chairman. Tom is a nice guy but even he admitted that he was had no prior experience managing a committee that was faced with such a huge responsibility and the potential of committing the town to spend possibly more than 30 million dollars. Tom went on OJT.
Among the many vital tasks the new committee had to perform was the hiring of yet another architect. The selection process was a nightmare and was in violation of the State of RI process for hiring architects and engineers. State Law requires a Qualification Based Selection (QBS) process. The process that the building committee followed was a circus that ended up hiring the least qualified most expensive of more than 20 applicants. The deal was awarded to Durkee-Brown at the infamous Memorial Day meeting of 2010 which resulted in a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
A major stumbling block became time. The committee and its inexperienced architect had to complete the Stage I submission and get RIDE approval by November of 2010. The RIDE requirement is that the project must be submitted and Stage I approved within one year of the date of the approval of the Districts Letter of Intent submission. A real wrench in the gears came when the Town Council agreed only to allow the Stage I Submission to go forward with a huge caveat. The Council slapped a 14 million dollar construction cost cap on the project.
I want to take you way back to a time very early on in this whole crazy process. It was at a regular meeting of the School Committee that I asked Chairman Michael Harrington what the committee would do if the plans for a new school failed to be approved by the voters of Little Compton. He said that they would have to deal with it. I asked if there was a “Plan B” or an alternative plan. His response was; “there is no Plan B.”
Well guess what, now there is a Plan B, and as pointed out in the LCTA Newsletter it is to FIX THE PROBLEMS following the RGB model.
A bit more on RGB… RGB was the child of the LCTA. Roger Lord made a comprehensive Power Point presentation at the annual meeting of the LCTA which dissected the original Mount Vernon Group (MVG) study and the subsequent JCJ review of the MVG findings. There were enough holes in the inflated (18.5 million dollar) JCJ review to sink a ship. Subsequently Roger gave his presentation to the Town Council. Mind you, this all took place when there was still a School Facility Needs Committee deliberating how they were going to sell the plan for a new school. Don Gomez, Chairman of the Facilities Needs Committee was present at Roger’s presentation to the Council. Even he agreed that there needed to be yet another engineering review.
Subsequently the Needs Committee published bid specifications and RGB was hired. If not for Roger, that never would have happened and there would be no “Plan B” as we know it today. Kudos to Roger and the LCTA Board of Directors.
So as you can see, there has been a sordid history in the evolution of the School Building program. As the late Paul Harvey used to say at the end of his broadcasts; “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Sarge

Thursday, March 03, 2011

AS I LIVE AND BREATHE – OR NOT?

WARNING! The story that you are about to read is absolutely, positively intended to scare the hell out of you. If you are not fully prepared to read a “Fictional Tale” of a tragedy that could happen to any Little Compton family, then stop right here and hit the delete button on your keyboard.

It is 1:20 AM in our quiet seaside community. The family of four was all sleeping soundly on the second floor of their beautiful Colonial home overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The children were tucked in around nine, tomorrow was a school day, and the parents turned in after watching Jay Leno on the TV in the first floor family room.

A fire was smoldering in Dad’s recliner, started from a cigarette ash. The demon fire was rapidly sucking the oxygen out of the air for a long time before it burst into flames. Fire, just like people needs oxygen to live. It does not take long before the level of oxygen in the air is lowered to the level where humans loose consciousness. So now the family was no longer simply sleeping, they were anesthetized and had no sense of what was happening around them. If they were not rescued soon they would all suffocate and die.

A neighbor returning from a late night party spotted smoke coming out of the house and a glowing red through windows on the first floor. He rushed across the road and rang the doorbell and pounded his fist on the door. He tried to open the door but it was locked and the door knob was hot. He quickly ran back to his home and called 911.

It was 1:30 AM when the dispatcher answered the call. He wrote down the information that he heard from the desperate caller and sounded the alarm. The public address system barked the address while the two firefighters on duty at the Public Safety Complex quickly donned their “turnout” gear. Engine One roared to life and left the station at 1:32 AM.

The Fire Truck pulled up in front of the burning home at 1:37 AM, only five minutes had elapsed. But time was quickly running out on the family trapped in the house. One of the firefighters deployed a hose line while the driver engaged the pump and charged the line with water. They started fighting the fire at 1:39 AM. Almost ten minutes had elapsed since the neighbor had alerted the fire department.

Meanwhile off duty firefighters and volunteers were alerted with some heading directly to the fire scene, while others went to the Fire Station to get the 3000 gallon tanker, the Rescue Ambulance and the back-up Fire Truck. The first back up personnel started arriving at the fire around 1:40 AM. They quickly deployed a second hose line off Engine One to assist in fighting the fire which was quickly spreading to the second floor.

Meantime the tanker truck and Engine Two were on the way and arrived at 1:45 AM, and began setting up the reserve water supply. They removed the portable folding 3000 gallon canvas reservoir from the truck and started transferring the water from the tanker to the reservoir. It was 1:50 AM, 20 minutes after the fire was reported. The water in the reservoir still needed to be pumped to Engine One.

At approximately 1:51 AM the 1000 gallon water supply carried on Engine One ran dry. The fire was now raging on unabated and was coming through the roof.

At 2:00 AM the back-up pumper started pumping water to Engine One, more hose lines were deployed and they started pouring more water onto the burning structure, now fully involved in flames. At 2:25 AM the fire was proclaimed to be “under control” no longer spreading. Thirty minutes later firefighters were able to safely enter the remaining structure and search for victims. It was a little more than an hour after the fire had been detected, reported, and fire apparatus was on the way. Four souls had passed on to their Creator.

The Headlines said: Little Compton Family of four perished in overnight fire. Firefighters fought the blaze for more than an hour. The Fire Chief reports that once again limited water supply hampered firefighting efforts. He said that at one point the first unit on the scene actually ran out of water. The Chief went on to say that “maybe now the town will do something to get us more men and more water. We pray for the family that perished, but we did the best that we could with what we have to work with.” End of Story….

Could there have been a different outcome? Absolutly yes!



Same time, same fictional story line, but a totally different response and result.

The two on duty firefighters respond with Engine Two the recently acquired Compressed Air Foam System (CAFS) Pumper. Within two minutes after arriving at the fire they have begun applying Compressed Air Foam through the windows of the family room, three minutes later the fire is knocked out. They are then able to safely enter the home with their self contained breathing apparatus and rescue the family from the smokey second floor. The family is quickly transported to the hospital where they are treated for smoke inhalation.

Now I know that there those who will say that this is a bunch of B.S… They might say that the family would have been awakened by their smoke detectors that were inspected when the house was built. Have you checked the batteries in your smoke detectors lately? They might say that the first responders would have immediately entered the building and rescued the victims. But then of course there is “the two men in, two men out rule” that prohibits entering a burning building until there are four personnel on the “fire ground.” There will be this and that said to shoot holes in this fictional story.

But you have to ask yourself one question. Could it happen? You bet your life it could. Does CAFS do a better job than water? You can bet your life on that too. Should the Fire Chief do the right thing and change his procedures and deploy our CAFS pumper first on all fire calls? He should bet his job on it!

Why you might ask have I gone to such an extreme in writing this frightening fictional story? The answer is quite simple. I and other concerned citizens of Little Compton have had it up to here with the failure on the part of Fire Department Management to deploy the Pierce CAFS equipped pumper. All we have had to show for our more than $200,000 investment in enhanced protection of life and property are excuses. This truck was delivered two years ago! Personnel have not been trained! There is no strategic plan to put this state-of-the-art pumper on the “front line.” Our new Fire Chief is of the opinion that CAFS is just another “tool.” OMG!

Sarge

Monday, February 28, 2011

AM I A HORSE OR A COW?

In what seems like a lifetime ago when I was serving in the Air Force as a firefighter stationed in Germany, I read a very interesting letter to the editor of the Stars and Stripes, a newspaper published overseas for the military audience. The letter was written by an Army Warrant Officer. For those of you unfamiliar with military ranks, a Warrant Officer is a person somewhere in between an enlisted person and an officer. Sort of between a rock and a hard place.

The Warrant Officer posed this question; Am I a horse or a cow? The article as I recall was a bit tongue in cheek, but it was definitely an individual struggling with his identity as a member of the U.S. Army. Warrant Officers were not readily accepted at the “O”Club, and they were not allowed to join the NCO Club. There were treated like Bastards at the family reunion.

That reminds me of the situation that we have with our fire department. Back in the early 90’s in the civilian world, somebody came up with the idea of training firefighters to become Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT’S). After all, they reasoned, they are an available manpower resource, and all they do is sit around the fire station most of the time waiting for the fire alarm to go off, we might as well make them more productive. That has evolved into the situation today where our firefighters are wearing two hats. But does it really make sense?

Make no mistake about it, we really need EMT services. Hardly a day goes by that our EMT’s do not respond to medical emergencies, and they do a great job. Their skill level is a reflection of high activity and ongoing medical training. Here in Little Compton the medical emergencies outweigh fire calls by 98%. It is remarkable if we have more than two or three major structure fires a year, while EMT calls are in the multiple of hundreds.

That gets us back to the question; Are they horses or cows? Are they firefighters or EMT”S? We do not have an Emergency Medical Department, we have a Fire Department. The only thing that firefighters and EMT”S have in common is they must respond quickly when called. Otherwise there is absolutly no similarity in the two jobs. You can’t milk your horse, and you don’t plow with your cow. Obviously they are two different breeds of animals.




The trend in major cities, Boston, New York etc., and even many rural communities is to have two separate jobs, either under the banner of the Fire Department, or a totally autonomous Emergency Medical Response Department.

Here in Little Compton we have one department with nine paid employees. There are always at least two people on duty to respond to both fire and medical calls. If the personnel are answering a medical call, that leaves the fire station empty. The opposite is true if there is a fire call. Typically our EMT calls result in an ambulance trip to Fall River which will take our personnel out of town for an hour or more. Unless off duty people are called in to cover the station (paid 4 hours overtime), or a call for back-up from a neighboring town is made, there is a large gap in medical and fire protection coverage. Rapid response is the heart and soul both fire and medical emergency calls.

In round numbers we are paying a million dollars a year for fire and medical emergency services when there are many times when neither is available. So what are the possible solutions to the problem?

Obviously we have a manpower problem, so the quick solution would be to double the workforce providing four (4) people on duty 24/7. Clearly that would result in a major increase in the cost of personnel, at least an additional $240,000 a year in salary and benefits plus uniforms, equipment and protective clothing. Probably close to half a million additional dollars.

Or, we could create a separate EMT operation reclassifying the existing work force, and create a totally “Call” Fire Department made up of paid part-time firefighters under the leadership of the paid Fire Chief. In fact it appears that we are already taking the right step in that direction, with the recent hiring of 6 part time firefighters who are now undergoing training. The Town Charter allows the Town Council to hire as many part time firefighters as needed.

78% of our cities and towns across this nation are protected by Volunteer Fire Departments. The vast majority of the towns in the State of Rhode Island are protected by volunteer fire departments. Nearby Bristol and Warren, both much more densely populated than LC, have very robust volunteer fire departments. In fact we have a VFD right here in town. Unfortunately it has fallen on bad times. That is a whole nuther subject.

The history of the Little Compton paid fire department has been plagued with management/labor relation problems resulting in copious grievance hearings, expensive binding arbitration hearings, and even a “vote of no confidence” in a previous Fire Chief. Union contract negotiations take countless hours of negotiation and bargaining. Overtime budgets are bursting, with some people earning nearly double their regular pay. The retirement and medical benefit packages are unsustainable. Our record in retaining Fire Chiefs is miserable.

To make matters worse, the fire suppression record of our Fire Department is not all that great. Most major structure fires have resulted in total losses to buildings and their contents. Could that be because our firefighters are really EMT’s at heart? Does it reflect on lack of activity and training?

As earlier indicated, there is only one similarity between the two disciplines. Aptitude for medical technicians and firefighters are worlds apart. Medical science and fire science are totally dissimilar. Yes, a firefighter needs to be trained in “First Aid” for fire victims. But for real medical emergencies, heart attack, stroke, major injuries which represent that vast majority of our needs, we need people highly skilled in emergency medical care. Don’t expect the horse to give us milk.

The firefighters Union Contract is up for renewal this June. Maybe it is time for change. Real change!

Sarge

Thursday, February 10, 2011

THE CAMELS NOSE

At the Wednesday February 9th 2011 meeting of the Little Compton School Committee I swear I saw the nose of the Camel slipping into the tent. You know the old Arabian fable, if you let the Camel get his nose under the tent, next thing you know the whole Camel will be in the tent with you. It’s the old slippery slope argument.
In their wisdom, or lack of it, depending upon your point of view, following the lead of Kathy Crowley, Superintendent of Schools, The School Committee decided to let the parents of high school students vote on where their children should attend high school for the next several or more years.
It has been all over the local news that the present contract with the Portsmouth School District is about to expire and the School Committee has solicited competitive bids from Portsmouth, Middletown and Tiverton to vie for the lucrative Little Compton Contract.
I could scarcely believe my ears… Little Compton parents are going to exercise school choice! What a novel idea. I’m not sure if that’s what they had in mind when they opened that door, but think of it, parental choice. What a slippery slope.
Right now the taxpayers are dishing out about 10 grand a year per student to outsource the high school students. That does not include transportation. What if instead we give the parents of Little Compton high school students an $8,000 annual voucher per student, and then they can send their charges to any private school of their choice.
Who knows, maybe the idea will catch on and we can apply it to the Middle School aged children and so on and so forth. Next thing you know we might not even need a 70,000 square foot school building with 35 teachers and supporting staff. No Superintend, no Principal, no maintenance staff, and no more Union Contract negotiations.
Several School Building Committee’s and five or more years down the drain and we still can’t get the problems with the school physical plant solved. Maybe we should let the Camel in the tent before the rest of the school falls down.

Sarge

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ELECTION RETROSPECTIVE

Like the fellow who just watched his Mother-in-law drive his new Pick-Up off a cliff, I have mixed feelings about the outcome of the November 2010 elections.

The good news is that we got rid of Mr. Michael Harrington Esq. from the Little Compton School Committee. More on that later. The bad news is that our friend and outstanding State Legislator John Loughlin lost in his bid to replace Patrick Kennedy as our representative to the United States House of Representatives. If it is any small consolation, John carried the Town of Little Compton with an 18.5% margin over David Cicilline the former Democrat Mayor of Providence.

Kudos to the Little Compton Taxpayers Association for its efforts in changing the political landscape of the School Committee. The November Election edition of the LCTA Newsletter has effectively changed what looked more like the Transfer Station to “The Commons.” The Harrington led School Committee was leading the town down a long and expensive path in its “Day-dream” of a Taj Mahal that would be break the back of the taxpayers for decades to come.

Conservative leadership has been restored to the School Committee. Long time player on the local political scene, and former President of the Town Council, Don Gomez topped the November ballot in his run for reelection to the School Committee and was elected its Chairman.
Don, along with Dave Beauchemin, political newcomer, and Joe Quinn,
Former School Committee Chairman had the endorsement of the Republican Town Committee in the efforts to dump Harrington.

In one of his first pronouncements Don Gomez has taken the position that the School Committee must explore a “Plan B” to fix the facility problems at the Wilbur & McMahon School. At last somebody is making sense in this now more than four year effort to bring the physical plant “up to code.” Don has displayed his ability to read the handwriting on the wall. There ain’t no way that the voters of Little Compton are going to buy spending more than 30 million dollars to fulfill the dreams of the Michael Harrington led School House Gang.

I know that the November 2010 elections were so called “mid-term,” and the local turn out was more than 50% of the registered voters, but folks we have to do better. There were five (5) totally uncontested candidates for seats on local boards and authorities. That is not a healthy sign. One might speculate that it is a sign that the folks are happy with the way things are going with the town, but to me it is a sign that there are too many potential voters and future community leaders sitting on the sidelines.

Nothing lasts forever. Yes it is true that we have a fine Corps of office holders on the Town Council, you all know them, and yes the School Committee is back on track but we need to look to the future. There is a vast number of unaffiliated voters in L.C. that need to come down off the fence and get involved in the political life of Little Compton.

I know that it is fun to be able to go to the polls during a Primary Election and choose either a Democrat or a Republican ballot with the hope of disrupting the plans of your political opposition. Been there, done that! But the reality of the situation is that this is a two party country. If you want to be a “player” you have to choose a team.

That is precisely why I decided to start an affiliate of the Rhode Island Tea Party here in Little Compton. It is called the “Sakonnet Tea Party” and you are all invited to get on board and join the party.

The main thrust of the Sakonnet Tea Party will be to bring unaffiliated voters to the dance. The plan is to get folks out of the shadows and get involved and interested in what is going on with your local and state government. To get people to attend important meetings of local boards and committees, and to rally with the other more than 15 local Tea Party organizations that make up the Rhode Island Tea Party, when it comes time to get the politicians on Smith Hill to listen to the voice of the people. Look at what the Tea Partiers have achieved across this entire nation. It is time to change Rhode Island.

So let us hear from you and you and you too. Go on the Net and sign up at www.riteaparty.com and email me at sakonnetteaparty@cox.net. I don’t care what party you may or may not belong to just do it! Your town, your state and your country needs you now.

If you are already a member of the RI Tea Party please go to the new Web Site (www.riteaparty.com) and re-register. RI Tea Party Founder Colleen Conley has asked all present members to sign up again. Apparently all of the membership the data from the old web site did not make it to the new site.

Merry Christmas to all.

Sarge