And the award goes to…
Ol' Ed for the win yet again
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Well well well, look at me. Back in Worcester. Back in reality. Catching up on all the goings on around town. Finding that here in our fair city just as in the rest of the country, each day has beaten out the one before as the dumbest in American history.
Can’t lie, it was hard to come back given all the… *looks around* …all the this. A light airport panic attack may have been had.
Maybe it’s jet lag or just general back-in-the-USA blues, but I don’t have it in me to reflect on the state of things besides to say a certain handful of people need to be made to feel afraid in some novel way if there’s any way out of this ever-escalating nightmare. A reckoning, you might call it. A petard with which to hoist.
In the meantime I’m compiling an existential dread playlist called “I don’t even want to be around anymore.” This is the first song. Send some picks over. I’ll add em if they’re dreadful. Once it’s done I’ll share on here and we can all just sorta vibe on the dreadfulness together.
Plan was, this week’s post would be a composite of riveting observations from my time as High Command’s roadie in Europe over the past two weeks. But no, unfortunately. It’s going to take some time to pull that together. I have a rolling iPhone note that comes out to 23 pages in a word processor and there’s enough good stuff I think it’s in my best interest to give it space, really craft something worthwhile, and pitch to an outlet with a bigger reach than my own.
So today, we dive back into Worcester with a grab bag of several topics which range from interesting to silly to depressing. Let’s go, girls!
A MAJOR AWARD
Every year, journalism professor and media critic Dan Kennedy releases The Muzzles, an award for leaders and government bodies around the state which were remarkably bad on the issue of free speech.
And lookie here at who made the list! Why, our very own former City Manager Ed Augustus Jr.! Bless his heart. Kennedy writes:
Violations of the state public records law are as common in Massachusetts as bad drivers, Dunks iced coffee and guys who wear shorts in the winter. This is especially true when those records pertain to police misconduct. Among this year’s Muzzle finalists were the Boston Police Department, which is being sued by Attorney General Maura Healey for failing to turn over documents about fired police commissioner Dennis White, and the State Police, which has refused to produce records that might show whether Col. Christopher Mason ordered special treatment for his son, Reid Mason, in a potential criminal investigation.
Outrageous as these examples are, though, they pale in comparison to the city of Worcester’s years-long refusal to comply with a request from the city’s daily newspaper, the Telegram & Gazette, to produce records associated with 12 internal affairs investigations and complaint histories regarding 17 police officers. Our Muzzle goes to Edward Augustus, the former city manager, who presided over this travesty.
According to a detailed report by Andrew Quemere that was published by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and DigBoston, Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker was so appalled by officials’ behavior that she ordered the city to pay the T&G $101,000 to cover part of its legal fees and another $5,000 in punitive damages.
Those unusually harsh terms were driven by the judge’s belief that the city had acted in bad faith. According to an account by the T&G’s Brad Petrishen, Kenton-Walker ruled that the city had “cherry picked” language and used it in a manner that was “out of context.” She sternly added: “Counsel may not misrepresent to the court what cases and other materials stand for.”
Augustus, who stepped down recently, refused requests for comment from both the T&G and Quemere. But City Solicitor Michael Traynor issued a statement saying that the city would accept Kenton-Walker’s judgment rather than file an appeal.
The honor is well deserved, if you ask me. A nice little feather in Augustus’ cap on his way out the door. It’s especially deserved considering that Augustus never even bothered to comment on the issue, despite overseeing an administration which put up such ridiculous roadblocks that Judge Kenton-Walker said in writing that the city’s legal team deliberately misled the court and “did not act in good faith.” This is the legal team that we’re supposed to trust in its opinion that city councilors cannot dictate policy for city departments, as they claimed in a memo related to the drone issue.
A judge excoriated Worcester for its unlawful three-year campaign to keep police misconduct records secret from a local newspaper, writing in a recent ruling that a city lawyer attempted to mislead the court and “did not act in good faith.”
Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker ordered the city to pay $101,000 to cover the legal fees of its paper of record, the Telegram & Gazette. To hold the city accountable for its intransigence, she also ordered it to pay $5,000 in punitive damages.
It is the third time in two decades the T&G has taken the city to court over the issue of police-misconduct records—and the third time the newspaper has succeeded.
In a podcast interview I did with him back then, we talked about how Worcester’s handling of the situation was so bad that it became the first government agency to have to pay into a fund for records compliance built into the state’s new public record law.
It’s just laughable how the city could stand so firmly on such shaky ground for so long. Then after the ground beneath them shatters, to demonstrate so little compunction and face such little consequence from the City Council. This is public money that they just lit on fire in front of our faces. All they had to do was send a few pieces of paper to the Telegram. They chose instead to create a new legal precedent and shell out a bunch of cash. And for what? To protect the reputation of cops caught abusing their power.
The way the city handled this situation does not inspire any confidence at all that they’ll be as transparent as they say about drone usage. And on that issue, they’ve already been caught in lie after lie.
But in Worcester’s political culture as it currently stands, there’s no risk of reprisal for bad behavior. The Council is more than willing to cover its ears and go lalalalala whenever something critical of the city administration or police department surfaces. Rest assured, you will not hear word one about this Muzzle Award from anyone in City Hall. And anyone who dares speak up will be made to feel as if they’re the problem for doing so.
But hey, let’s give Augustus a hand everyone. We’re number one!
And, while we’re on the subject of Augustus and transparency, let’s take a look at his handling of the electrical contractor bidding process for the new Doherty High School. As I was catching up on the past two weeks of Worcester news yesterday, this story stood out as remarkably sketchy.
On June 22, Patrick Sargent over at Spectrum News published a story titled “Communication breakdown causes confusion at Worcester's City Hall over electrical bid at Doherty High project.”
Here’s the lede:
A communication breakdown at City Hall caused some confusion this spring surrounding the awarding of the electrical contract bid on the Doherty Memorial High School replacement project in Worcester, officials said.
That is ummmm, underselling this, methinks.
The upshot is that the city awarded the bid to Wayne J. Griffin Electric Inc. on April 28, but that Augustus said multiple times in the following weeks that a bid had not yet been awarded. City officials blamed this on a communication breakdown. Whoops, we just forgot to tell the city manager we awarded the bid! Shit happens!
But this wasn’t some little thing flying under the city manager’s radar. After the bid was opened in March, two contractors, Griffin and Ostrow Electric Company, all but went to war with each other. Ostrow was originally the low bidder, according to Spectrum, but Griffin got them disqualified. Then Ostrow sued Griffin in court. Then the suit got thrown out. Then apparently the general contractor awarded the bid to Griffin on April 28 and City Hall didn’t know about it until May 4. And then on May 6, a city spokesman told Spectrum the bid had not been awarded yet.
Smells bad, man.
CITY ON THE RISE
News to no one, but remarkable all the same, is that a new census of the unhoused population in Worcester found that the population rose by almost 50 percent in the past year, per a city report.
The number of homeless people living in Worcester rose to nearly 500 in April, an increase of about 43 percent in one year and the highest figure in recent memory, according to city human services workers.
Of the 496 total homeless residents counted in Worcester in April, about 120 were sleeping outdoors, Worcester Homeless Outreach Strategist Eniya Lufumpa told city councilors on Tuesday evening. There were 347 homeless residents counted in Worcester in April 2021, she said.
Rents have been on a runaway train for years. City Hall has gleefully celebrated this as a sign of progress—a renaissance—without meaningfully interrogating the consequences. Just this year, the council roundly rejected a proposal for an eviction moratorium. Lip service has been paid to affordable housing, but there aren’t exactly shovels in the ground. The city touts a “housing first” strategy, but there’s no housing. From the Patch:
At the same time, there isn't enough housing available in Worcester for people trying to leave homelessness. Worcester Commissioner of Health and Human Services Dr. Matilde Castiel told city councilors that shelter and treatment services won't reduce homelessness without affordable housing available for them to move into.
This is to my mind the marquee issue facing the city, and our response has been lacking and cruel.
As we saw last October, the city is content to sick the cops on homeless encampments under the ruse that they had first “offered services,” tacitly placing the blame on those in the encampments for not taking advantage. But there are simply no good services to be offered.
I thumbed through the reports this afternoon, and the one on unhoused activity in the Lincoln Plaza area is particularly illuminating. Reports like this typically come with a one-page summary from the city manager at the top, intended to be a rough overview of the contents. In Augustus’ summary, he touts that after 264 visits to the area, the city successfully housed 5 people and brought 16 people to facilities upon agreeing to seek treatment (but not what happened once at those facilities, or the nature of the facilities).
What Augustus does not mention in his summary, however, is that the Worcester Police Department made 27 arrests in the same area and timeframe.
I mean that’s the whole story right there. They housed 5 people and put 27 in front of a judge. Numbers like that tell the real story. They don’t lie. Augustus however…
“Our departments have made great strides in assisting the unsheltered/homeless population with finding shelter and resources,” he wrote, concluding his summary. “They will continue this important work not only in the Upper Lincoln Street area but throughout the city.”
Said it before I’ll say it again, I don’t think people understand the extent of the cruelty that Worcester unleashes on the unhoused.
MARCH OF THE ENTS
The city put up a survey on the importance of trees as part of its move toward an urban forestry master plan. I suggest everyone take it and answer every positively framed question in the affirmative and every negatively framed question in the negative!
Some of the questions are rather bizarrely worded. It would be a real shame if the survey results a less-than-positive opinion of trees.
Worcester’s urban forests and street tree canopy are among its greatest assets. If we’re ever to become an environmentally sustainable city, trees need to be seen as necessary and integral. It’s also an equity issue. The city’s poorest neighborhoods, like Main South, also happen to be the most bereft of tree cover.
If we can pony up money for drones, we can plant new trees.
THE GREAT LAWN SIGN MASSACRE
Poor Joe Petty. How will he ever recover from this.
While I was gone I guess his campaign for State Senate got a whole ass MassLive article (of course it was MassLive) written about reports of “stolen signs at a number of locations, including a number of large-scale, four-foot-by-eight-foot signs.”
It begs the question: Who would steal 30 bagged lunches?
From my distant vantage point this was the major story of the past few weeks, which is… very Worcester.
Making the story even more Worcester, it would appear that no small number of these signs were not stolen, they were simply removed by the property owner after having been placed without their consent.
Sign drama aside, Joe needs to lose this race for two reasons. One, his opponent, Robyn Kennedy, is objectively a better fit for the position and she has better politics. Two, Joe winning means Donna Colorio is our mayor for a year (at least). That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my least favorite city. Not even Boston.
I’ll have a more substantive look at this race in the coming weeks. But for now suffice it to say that a candidate willing to make a huff about a few missing lawn signs might be a little too petty for the job.
I think that catches us pretty well up to the present. Thank you for reading, and as ever, please consider throwing some coinage my way. I’ll extend the offer I gave several weeks ago. Many of you are getting rebilled for annual subscriptions around now and I’m well aware that money’s tight for a lot of people.
A couple things I want to put on your radar…
On Friday, July 15 508BikeLife is premiering a new film about their mutual aid work titled “Radix: Youth Build Solidarity & Worker Ownership In A Post-Industrial City.” I’ve seen the video and it’s spectacular. The screening takes place at the JMAC Pop-up at 20 Franklin St. 6 p.m.
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on the Public Hearing podcast hosted by Worcester gem Josh Croke. We talked about ARPA funding and the rather diffuse meaning of “equity” in the context of how the city is deciding to spend it. Check it out!
And hey, I got a bunch of stuff up at the Worcester Sucks merch store! Check it out. And if you already ordered, expect it in the mail soon.
And, in closing, this video posted to the Worcester subreddit is truly a gift to us all. Sit back and enjoy.
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