Archive for tag: northampton

Mayor Higgins’ Handouts from Noho budget forum

As promised, here are the two handouts that Mayor Higgins provided at the Northampton city budget forum last Thursday.  Both are PDFs.

City of Northampton State Aid and benefit Costs

City of Northampton FY12 Budget Issues

Tonight’s forum on the Northampton budget

I attended a forum tonight on the Northampton municipal budget, and its relation to state budgetary processes.  The mayor of Northampton, Mary Clare Higgins, our State Representative Peter Kocot, State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, and City Councillor Pamela Schwartz (also the director of YES! Northampton, a group that advocates for the preservation and enhancement of local revenue to fund basic services such as education) all presented.

It was a really terrific overview of the challenges our community faces in balancing the budget without cutting local services such as education (which is the single largest expenditure in our town).  It was also immensely refreshing to listen to dedicated politicians who weren’t afraid to talk about the facts and back it up with data.  It’s a stark contrast to the anti-intellectualism so often proudly displayed at the federal level.  In other words, I like knowing that the folks I elect to my government have an actual interest in, well, governing.

Here are the notes I took, which are as exhaustive as I could make them.  I’m getting in touch with the offices of the Mayor and Rep. Kocot, who were both more than happy to provide me with a copy of the materials they brought with them, which are really instructive.  As soon as I get those (hopefully tomorrow) I’ll post them here as well.

POSTING OVERLOAD

I’m on FIRE today!  Check out my Jewschool post on the Forward/BJPA survey on Jewish attitudes towards Israel and Park51 (two great tastes that taste great together!), as well as my more substantive New Voices post criticizing the traditional form of Jewish campus opposition to BDS.

More on this blog coming soon – I’m on a roll with the local zoning stuff…

On remaining relevant

Although I can’t blame my now-ending posting lapse on it, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how bloggers, or indeed any information synthesizers / analyzers remain relevant.  Especially now that there are so many smart people writing about pretty much everything, it becomes difficult to actually say anything original.  I don’t think this is a reason that one shouldn’t write (or speak, or whatever) – if you aren’t willing to try to contribute, you can’t develop your opinion, and even if you are repetitive at times, it’s worth it in the long run.  But it is a consideration.

It doesn’t seem that there’s a single ingredient that makes for always-relevant material.  Focusing solely on national or global issues certainly puts you in a pretty big pond, but getting too local makes you irrelevant to anyone outside where you live, or worse, anyone who lives differently than you do, even in the same location.  So while I intend to start focusing on local issues more frequently, I’m not planning to give up analysis of larger affairs, particularly because I think there’s a dearth of attention being paid to some of them (climate change comes to mind).

Some upcoming blog-projects: a series on drug policy, maybe a review of the upcoming Northampton Coke plant expansion (“Lane wrote that without a local property tax break, freedom from having to pay for infrastructure upgrades, state tax credits and job training funds, Coke’s investment here was no sure thing.”), and some stuff on the Northwestern DA election and the pros/cons of statutory rape prosecutions.  Also working on a new title for the site (yes, “working on.”  It’s a big decision!)

Arson and the futility of the penal system: a reflection after 60 hours

It’s been a day and a half since we learned about the arson attacks here that killed two people here.  All but one of the attacks were in Ward 3, my neighborhood.

This case has prompted me to take a long look at some of the ways we as society, and as individuals, handle events that push us to the extreme.  Arguably, crime is inevitable in any society, and given this, the issue becomes how we minimize it and respond to it.  In a case like this one, with an individual who clearly is in need of psychological attention (the fires don’t appear to be targeted in any way, it really seems like it’s the work of a serious psychopath), there’s probably not much we can do except find the person and get them in an institution where they can’t cause any more harm, and can be rehabilitated, ideally.  Could better social services and publicly available health care, for example, have prevented this?  Maybe.  But we should remember that someone will always slip through the cracks.  It sounds defeatist, but it’s true: we can’t identify every single criminal before they commit their special crime (h/t Arlo Guthrie).

So in a way, it’s useless to obsess over the systems that may or may not have failed, the people that should or should not have known, and things that should or shouldn’t have happened as a result of those.  The Northampton Fire and Police Departments responded well, with the help of many others from the surrounding area.  Yes, we had the first fire deaths in over a decade.  Yes, there is huge property damage.  Yes, the arsonist was in fact still setting fires while emergency personnel were being dispatched, just one step ahead, but we have also, as a community, made some amazing progress.  There’s been an outpouring of donations of all kinds for victims, the Facebook group continues to be extremely active, and the Ward 3 Association is holding a meeting tomorrow night to discuss what we can do as a community.

I firmly believe that the person or persons responsible for this terrible crime will be caught.  My hope is that, as our mayor Mary Clare Higgins said at yesterday’s press conference, we come together as a community, and help those in need.  I also hope that that spirit continues, that we don’t just give our donations and feel good about ourselves, or do our volunteering and stroke our own egos, that we continue to work together in the future, even past the resolution of this crime.

It can be hard to separate our own personal aggrandizement from work on legitimate causes and actually giving selflessly.  I find myself treading that line all the time, and over the past day-and-a-half, I’ve had to stop many times and reevaluate, think to myself about if what I’m doing is really helpful.  The feelings of insecurity and fear that all of us are experiencing are no excuse for not putting the victims first.

I’m proud to be a part of the effort to respond to this crisis.  I know others are too.  But it’s important not to let that pride detract from the cause.

I’ve written before about how futile I see components of our “justice” system to be.  If what Northampton gets from these attacks is just another crazy person in jail, we will have missed the point.  If we act the way the property owner I talked to early yesterday morning, standing in front of the smoking house on Fair St. where a father and son had burned to death hours before, saying “I hope they light the prick who did this on fire”, we will have regressed, not progressed.  You know what truly could have stopped this?  If for every angry, reserved, and crazy citizen, there were five other concerned ones, getting them psychological help, donating food or money, and so on.  American hyper-self-sufficiency is largely to blame for the fact that someone capable of causing this much damage could go unnoticed for so long.

If it turns out I’m wrong, and this is someone who had been treated before, or was under scrutiny and somehow wasn’t detected, then I willingly stand corrected.  If it turns out I’m drawing conclusions far too broad given the scope of our existing knowledge, then I welcome further information.  But an event like this one really does cause me to profoundly question the way we perceive each other as individuals within a societal framework largely created by the government, at least in terms of social infrastructure.  And when your government is consistently lacking in funds and political capital to sufficiently finance such social infrastructure, things fall by the wayside.  Sorry to so blatantly politicize such a tragic event, but I can’t help but think “this wouldn’t have happened if we’d been spending the money we’ve spent on Iraq and Afghanistan on health care and subsidized housing”.  There it is.

What do we do now?  We rebuild, we restore, and we comfort.  We work together, and we make sure that this never, ever, happens again.

Paul Yeskie, Sr., and Paul Yeskie, Jr., rest in peace.