Art Campbell

Art started The Groton Line late in 2009 as a synthesis of two careers in newspaper journalism and technical communications -- writing about networks, computers, and software. He's lived in Groton 20+ years, so he qualifies as "one of the new guys."

Jul 282014
 

Upward of 500 cars and drivers are processed at a state police sobriety checkpointWellesley Police

Upward of 500 cars and drivers are processed at a state police sobriety checkpoint

If you’re a regular reader of The Groton Line, you know that we run short news releases from the Massachusetts State Police every few weeks, giving notice that a “sobriety checkpoint” will be operating somewhere in Middlesex County the coming weekend. The most recent ran last week.

After that post, and the last couple of times we’ve published the information, a few readers have asked questions about the checkpoints, and we went looking for the answers.

Lieutenant Daniel Richard, spokesman for the state police, explained that his department has to publicize a checkpoint at least three days ahead of time.

This last weekend, the Middlesex County checkpoint was set up on State Route 16 in Everett from Friday evening into Saturday morning. How many people, or cars, are looked at?

“It’s usually five to six hundred, depending on the road. A busy road, it could be more; a not so busy road, maybe less,” Richard said.

He said that the Everett checkpoint yielded:

  • 16 Operating Under the Influence arrests
  • 81 Motor Vehicle citations
  • 6 Criminal summons
  • 3 arrests for operating with a suspended license

Jul 252014
 

According to a news release from the Massachusetts State Police, a “Sobriety Checkpoint” will be implemented by the department on a public way somewhere in Middlesex County and will operate Saturday July 26 into Sunday July 27.

The press release states: “The purpose is to further educate the motoring public and strengthen the public’s awareness to the need of detecting and removing those motorists who operate under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs from our roadways. It will be operated during varied hours, the selection of vehicles will not be arbitrary, safety will be assured, and any inconveniences to motorists will be minimized with advance notice to reduce fear and anxiety.”


Jul 242014
 

Fuzzy has strayed from his home on Wharton Row

Fuzzy has strayed from his home on Wharton Row

Fuzzy, a long-haired brown tabby Maine coon cat, has strayed from his home on Wharton Row. Fuzzy weighs about 20 pounds, is shy, has green eyes with a little white around the mouth.

If you have seen Fuzzy, contact his owners at betsycahoon@gmail.com, 978 448-9905, or 978 852-8181.

“He has always been an indoor cat so we don’t know how he will act outdoors. Our hearts are broken. His sister and his three dog friends miss him too,” his owners write.


Jul 242014
 

Bob Wright plays with Back To The Garden

Bob Wright plays with Back To The Garden

A favorite Groton band, Back to the Garden, will gently rock shoppers and food vendors tomorrow at the Groton Farmers Market at the Williams Barn on Chicopee Row from 3-7 p.m. Expect stalls to be piled high with summer squash and cucumbers, market spokesman Leo Wyatt writes.

New to the market tomorrow is Bee Fields Farm (http://www.beefieldsfarm.com/), he wrote, a herbalist who hand crafts tea.
Twins Seafood will have lobster rolls, he added. The Farmers Market is on Facebook, Twitter and maintains a website at wwwgrotonfamersmarket.org.


Jul 232014
 

About 50 protesters marched along route 119 in Groton Wednesday afternoon as part of a rolling march across Massachusetts to protest the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipelineCaroline Poser

About 50 protesters marched along route 119 in Groton Wednesday afternoon as part of a rolling march across Massachusetts to protest the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline

Fifty pipeline protesters marched through humid 90-degree weather along State Route 119 in Groton from the Nashua River bridge to the town center, where they held a rally against Wednesday afternoon as part of a rolling march across Massachusetts to protest the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

In other towns, marchers traced the tentative route of the pipeline, but in Groton, the route was cross country and not easily accessible to walkers. According to one of the organizing group’s website, http://www.nofrackedgasinmass.org, the 4 p.m. march was followed by another in Dunstable, starting near the Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, back near the proposed path of the 36 inch natural gas transmission line.

The rolling march began July 6 in Richmond, Massachusetts, and has progressed along the 129-mile route, headed for Dracut. The protest concludes with a rally at the statehouse in Boston on July 30.


Jul 222014
 

The debut netcast and cablecast of Talk On Main Street tackles some selected aspects of the Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan that would span 45 towns along the northern edge of Massachusetts. Talk On Main Street: The Pipeline features Groton-based energy experts Dennis Eklof and James O’Reilly address issues and answering questions posed by program moderator Jason Kauppi, sho is also Groton Town Moderator. Eklof is an expert in global energy forecasting and consulting. O’Reilly is Director of Public Policy for Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, is an expert energy efficiency policy and programs.


Jul 222014
 

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services nudged Groton’s bond rating upwards a notch from AA+ to AAA, the company’s highest rating, on July 11. The change should save the town an estimated $182,000 over the life of a new series of bonds worth $3.8M that the Board of Selectmen voted to issue during its meeting on July 14, according to Treasurer Mike Hartnett.

Town Manager Mark Haddad told selectmen during their meeting that a report by Standard & Poor’s notified the town that S&P had raised its rating on the town of Groton’s general obligation debt to AAA. Standard & Poor’s last reviewed and boosted the town’s ratings in April 2013, from AA to AA+.

Hartnett explained in an email that, “One of the benefits to holding a AAA municipal credit rating is oftentimes reflected in more favorable borrowing terms, which is evidenced by the winning low bid of 2.4% for the $3,860,000 bond issue.”

The bond issue included:

  • $2,000,000 partial construction cost (total project was $4,000,000) for the new GELD facility on Station Ave.
  • $1,200,000 Gibbett Hill Land Acquisition — Refinance from 2003 Bond Issue
  • $585,000 Lost Lake Fire Station — Refinance from 2003 Bond Issue
  • $75,000 Fire Truck — Refinance from 2003 Bond Issue

According to Hartnett, “In terms of direct savings, the budgetary savings to the Town over the term of the refunded bonds is approximately $182,000. GELD’s savings is approximately $40,000 in lower interest costs versus the rate that would have applied if the Town did not get upgraded to AAA.”

According to Standard & Poor’s, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District’s Rating remains at AA-, two notches below the town’s. The Groton School’s rating is AA+.


What does a AAA rating mean?

S&P Ratings

Category
Definition
AAAAn obligation rated 'AAA' has the highest rating assigned by Standard & Poor's. The obligor's capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is extremely strong.
AAAn obligation rated 'AA' differs from the highest-rated obligations only to a small degree. The obligor's capacity to meet its financial commitment on the obligation is very strong.



Haddad told selectmen that the S&P report cited a number of reasons for the increase, including the strong local economy, the town’s budgetary flexibility with good reserves and operating surpluses, the town’s strong management conditions and financial policies, low overall debt, it’s 99 percent tax collection rate, and low reliance on state aid to fund programs.


Jul 212014
 

The Groton Board of Selectmen wrapped up four and a half hours of hearings on complaints against town employees by former four firefighters saying “We now consider this matter closed,” but the Friday hearings may have just been the first part of an epic disagreement.

The four firefighters who filed the complaints, James Horan, Clarence Jefferson, Ben Miele, and Stephen Tervo, and their attorney, Rob Bowen, issued a news release Monday morning to make clear that as far as they’re concerned, the matter is not closed. A lawsuit to force another type of hearings, before Groton’s fire chief, may be in the offing.

The Friday July 18 BoS hearings were the highest level of the town’s grievance procedure and were the result of the firefighters filing complaints against other town employees for harassment, retaliation, and coercion. The hearings gave the accused town employees an opportunity to respond to the firefighter’s written complaints, but the firefighters did not testify.

The hearing that the firefighters are seeking through Bowen is a hearing conducted under the state Strong Chief Law to determine if any of them took actions that justify their employment being terminated.

“The law seems to entitle them to a ’cause’ hearing, and at the moment, that is what we are seeking.” Bowen said. “It is a bona fide legal dispute and a difference of opinion between two attorneys, and for the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen to label it as ‘frivolous’ is not helpful to the conversation.”

The full news release issued by Bowen reads:

Until June 2014, Clarence Jefferson, Stephen Tervo, Benjamin Miele, and James Horan were members of the Groton Fire Department. Massachusetts General Law chapter 48 section 42 (the so-called Strong Chief Law) gives the fire chief the authority to remove firefighters “for cause after a hearing.” No such hearings have been held, nor does the town plan to hold such hearings. This is unfortunate, as it has left a cloud over these men, who have been in dedicated service to the town for years, and in one case more than three decades.

Their situations are all different, but they have at least two things in common. They engaged in protected union organizing activity, and participated in an independent investigation into allegations against the department by another firefighter. Although that investigation failed to substantiate those claims, further investigation into related issues was conducted, but not by the independent investigator. The town manager took it upon himself to conduct his own follow up. Upon information and belief, he actually delegated his investigation to the chief. Two of the dismissed firefighters could not participate in a meeting due to scheduling conflicts. Only after the fact were they informed the meeting was supposedly “mandatory.” Nevertheless, their absence seems to have been held against them. As a result of this internal investigation, the challenged personnel actions were taken.

The main complaint of the dismissed firefighters is simply that they are entitled to a hearing and a reason, a legitimate reason, for their summary departure. It is not their purpose to try their claims in the press, but they do collectively want to clear their names. To that end, they filed complaints with the Board of Selectmen, In response to those complaints, the Board of Selectmen convened an executive session to investigate those complaints, but this is not a substitute for a hearing in which the firefighters would be allowed to defend the allegations against them. This fundamental right to due process has been denied.

Instead, the town conducted its “investigation” into their allegations in executive session, as the law requires, which means three things. First and foremost, the dismissed firefighters have not been given a chance to defend themselves against the false accusations resulting in their separations. Second, without their direct participation in the hearings, it is simply impossible to know whether their complaints were thoroughly understood and addressed. Finally, because the town continues to deny them their own hearing, it means the public will not know what happened. In the end, it’s the taxpayer who is most aggrieved by this situation.

The towns’ position is that these firefighters were not reappointed, resigned, or retired and so were not entitled to a hearing. Whatever the merits of their argument might be in towns that annually appoint their firefighters, the fact of the matter is that in Groton, annual appointment have not taken place for over three decades. Now, in order to circumvent the requirement of a cause and a hearing for the removal of firefighters, an annual reappointment process has been invented. The firefighters intend to challenge this end run in Court.

This is not some “technicality” or oversight. The lack of an annual reappointment process has led to the justifiably settled expectation of continued employment for these firefighters, an entitlement recognized and protected by the Strong Chief Law due process hearing requirement. Instead, a veteran of 33 years was told to retire when informed that he would not be reappointed, and two other firefighters were summarily dismissed via email without hearing or explanation. Although the forth resigned in protest over his treatment regarding protected union activity, it is believed personnel action against him had also already been determined. It’s not fair to these employees, or to the Town. More importantly, it is an end run around the Strong Chief Law, and, we think, unlawful in violation of that statute and the constitutional right of these firefighters to due process.

Thus far, the town has decided not to give these men their “day in court.” The discharged firefighters are disappointed that, without their participation in the recent executive session meetings into their own complaints, without their ability to confront the witnesses against them, the town did not find their complaints to be substantiated. The town’s choice of words is equivocal. Their determination that the allegations were “unsubstantiated” only means that in their view nothing unlawful was done. It is not a factual denial of events that have taken place.

But whatever the outcome of these hearings had been, they are not a substitute for a hearing regarding their own separation from employment. Due process has been denied with respect to the personnel actions taken against them. Accordingly, they will seek their redress in court. Although certainly a possible outcome of any litigation is an award of damages, what the terminated firefighters are primarily seeking is the vindication of their reputations.

They plan no other comment at this time; they will present their case to the court of law, not the court of public opinion, and ask that any further communications be directed to their attorney, Robert H. Bowen.


Jul 202014
 

Groton BoS Chair Josh Degen: "After thorough and complete review of the complaints ... the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated."

Groton BoS Chair Josh Degen: “After a thorough and complete review of the complaints … the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated.”

After four and a half hours of closed-door hearings Friday, the Groton Board of Selectmen dismissed complaints by four former call firefighters against fire department command staff and other employees. Selectmen agreed that every distinct point in each firefighter’s complaint was “unsubstantiated.”

Reading a statement from the entire board just after noon on July 18, Chair Josh Degen said,” The Board of Selectmen have reviewed the four complaints and at this time, the board would like to thank those involved who appeared before the board and provided information relative to these complaints. After thorough and complete review of the complaints filed, the board has found the allegations advanced in the complaints unsubstantiated, and the individuals named in the complaints are exonerated from having engaged in harassment, retaliation, or coercion, or any members of the fire department.”

After the meeting, Degen went further, saying, “It’s a shame that the four individuals cast allegations at various town employees that proved to be frivolous at best.

The complaints were made by former Deputy Chief Clarence Jefferson and former firefighters James Horan, Ben Miele, and Steve Tervo.

The exact nature of the complaints and the town employees each firefighter named in his individual complaints is not yet public. The town will not release the complaints because they are both under investigation as part of a personnel matter and because they may be precursors to one or more lawsuits. The firefighters’ attorney, Rob Bowen, has advised them not to release the complaints either. Bowen also told them not to comment on the outcome of the hearing, the firefighters said.

These complaints are not directly related to the town’s internal investigation that led to Jefferson, Miele, and Tervo not being reappointed to their jobs in June. Horan, the fourth complainant, resigned his position.

The hearings were conducted with the help of Town Counsel Brian Maser, Degen said, who functioned as a “technical adviser.”

Horan, Jefferson, Miele, and Tervo were not present at the hearings; only the people they alleged to have committed an infraction were interviewed by selectmen Friday.

Degen explained that the hearings, “… are for the board to interview the individual who has been accused. It’s as simple as that. If we’re in executive session, the board, will, after interviewing each individual, conduct a polling of the board to see whether the allegation is substantiated or not substantiated. If it’s done in executive session, due to privacy (requirements in state laws) that will not be released.”

Degen stressed that any of the people accused of wrongdoing could have spoken publicly during the hearings by telling the selectmen that they wished to talk in open session.

“It was up to each individual. Everybody that … came in to testify for each hearing (knew) that they could be conducted in executive session or they could open it up and have it done in public session. It would be televised and there would be reporters in the room — everybody understood. I want to make that clear — that everybody was afforded that opportunity,” he said.

The firefighters had an option under the town’s bylaws to request an advisory opinion from the town’s Personnel Board before the selectmen conducted their hearing; none of them did.

The selectmen’s statement concluded, “The board further recognizes the difficulties that this series of events have caused to those accused and appreciates the full and complete cooperation in an attempt to resolve this matter. The board has the highest level of confidence in the ability of the department to protect the public.

“We now consider this matter closed,” Degen read.


Jul 192014
 

Ann Elizabeth Murphy, of 551 Longley Road, died after being hit by a vehicle near her home Friday evening around 6:30.

According to a news release issued by Groton Police Chief Donald Palma Saturday morning, “Groton Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services were dispatched to Longley Road in the vicinity of 534 for a motor vehicle and pedestrian accident.

The news release continues, “The victim, a 68-year-old Groton woman, was struck by a motor vehicle while walking on Longley Road. The victim was transported by Groton Fire Department ambulance to Nashoba Hospital, and later transported by helicopter to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston where she succumbed to her injuries.

“The operator of the vehicle, Kara Miller, a 28-year-old Pepperell resident, was not injured.”

Murphy’s name was released by Middlesex District Attorney spokesman Jeff Shapiro. Shapiro said that accident reconstruction teams from his office and Groton Police would work together on the investigation. Shapiro did not have any information about whether Murphy was walking along the side of the road or attempting to cross the road when she was struck.