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Springfield Casino Plan; Boston snubbed in DHS lottery; Developmentally Disabled Win Landmark Federal Court Case;

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Springfield Casino Plan

Now Goes Before the Voters

It was touch and go for awhile, but the Springfield City Council has signed off on an agreement with MGM to develop a casino in the city’s South End. The proposal will now go before residents, who will vote on the plan on July 16.

The City Council had initially been set to vote on the plan at its May 6 meeting, less than a week after Mayor Domenic Sarno had announced that he’d reached a host-community agreement with MGM.

But at that night’s meeting, Council President Jimmy Ferrera halted things by invoking Rule 20, which postpones a vote until after the city comptroller produces a report on the potential costs of the matter at hand.

After the meeting, Ferrera said he stopped the debate because he had concerns about the agreement which, for instance, included 1,200 fewer parking spots than originally proposed. Most important, he said, was the fact that the agreement did not include a specific total cost for the project, which earlier documents had described as $852 million but newer documents placed at closer to $800 million.

“This is an important opportunity for Springfield, perhaps even a crucial opportunity that can ensure our future,” Ferrera said in a press release. “We need to get this right. By law, this document cannot be amended after we ratify it. There is no do-over.”

Over the next few days, Ferrera and the Sarno administration engaged in some pointed back and forth, with the mayor’s office insisting that the agreement included “extensive safeguards guaranteeing MGM will build a world class casino resort and entertainment destination exactly as MGM promised to the residents of Springfield.”

Ferrera, in turn, suggested he might not vote for the deal without a minimum-investment figure added to the document.

In the end, Ferrera joined his colleagues in unanimously approving the agreement at a May 10 meeting—despite not winning his fight to have that investment figure included in the deal. Later, he told the Advocate that while he still would have liked to see that figure added, as a long-time supporter of bringing a casino to Springfield, he felt it was important to approve the project, given the number of jobs and the tax revenue it would bring to the city.

Ferrera also described his battle with the mayor’s office as worthwhile. “I think the whole purpose of the exercise was so the voters and the business community can better understand the documents,” he said.

Given that the mayor’s office took months to choose a preferred casino developer, Ferrera said, it was “ridiculous” for the council to rush a vote. “I would have liked us to take more time to field some questions. But it just seemed the will of the body was to move this along. I didn’t want to seem like an obstructionist.”

With the matter now in the hands of Springfield residents, Ferrera said, “I strongly urge the voters to make sure that we hold this company and these investors accountable.”• MT

 

Balky Elevator, Costs, Delays Block Access to Riverfront Park

Plans to improve handicapped access to Springfield’s riverfront are moving ahead, although it could be two years before a final fix is in place.

At issue is the large elevator structure on West Columbus Avenue that was built to allow users to access a pedestrian bridge that crosses over railroad tracks and into Riverfront Park.

The $1.5 million structure has been hampered by mechanical problems almost from the time it opened, in 2002, and has not worked for much of that time. In 2011, city resident Sheila McElwaine filed a complaint with the Mass. Architectural Access Board (AAB), which oversees accessibility in public facilities.

Earlier this month, the city Law Department submitted a plan to address the problem to the AAB. That plan calls for the elevator to be removed and replaced with a ramp, on the advice of an architectural engineering firm hired by the city last year.

Maintaining the elevator is costly and is made harder by the fact that both the original designer and the company that made the original parts have since gone out of business, city attorney Tom Moore told the Advocate.

In 2012, he said, the city spent more than $50,000 repairing and maintaining the elevator. And while the structure survived this past winter relatively unscathed—as of last week, it was working—there’s no guarantee that it will remain functional, he said.

Moore said the city has designated the ramp construction a priority project and is drafting requests for proposals for the ramp’s design and construction as well as for the elevator’s demolition. He expects the project to be completed by mid to late 2015, although he cautioned that funding for the project—estimated at $500,000—has yet to be identified.

The AAB has also asked the city to provide alternate access to the riverfront while work is taking place on the elevator and ramp.

In its report, the city proposed using two existing entries, an underpass at the northern end of the park and an at-grade crossing near the park’s entrance, but noted that both will need work to make them safe for people in wheelchairs. Moore said the city is waiting to hear AAB’s response to its plan.

“In general, I would say things are moving along at a snail’s pace,” McElwaine told the Advocate. She called on the city to improve conditions at the existing ramp into Riverfront Park, such as patching broken concrete and replacing worn-away surfacing material, and warned that, if necessary, she would file another complaint with the AAB.•  MT

 

Boston snubbed in DHS lottery

By Stephanie Kraft

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s time to ask what help Boston has gotten from the federal Department of Homeland Security to defend itself from terrorism.

For a city that’s now been the staging area for two significant terrorism incidents, Boston hasn’t been high on the DHS’ goodie list.

In terms of funding under the DHS’s state security program, Massachusetts got $ 4 million in 2012, down 76 percent from five years before that. Per capita, Massachusetts was 34th in the country, with $1.20 per resident, though the September 11 hijackers started their flights at Boston’s Logan Airport.

Boston did get $173,318, 428 between 2003 and 2012 from DHS’s largest program, the Urban Area Security Initiative.

Oddly, however, when the program was established in 2003, Boston, the launching city for the 9/11 attack, wasn’t one of the top 10 supposedly most terror-prone cities and missed out on $1 million in seed money for terrorism prevention startup programs.

State legislators and then-governor Mitt Romney lobbied DHS and got Boston on the list. Last year it was number 10, after New York, L.A./Long Beach, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Newark/Jersey City, Houston.•

 

Developmentally Disabled Win Landmark Federal Court Case

The Northampton Center for Public Representation has won a 15-year federal court fight for people with developmental disabilities, a landmark case that is being cited in class action lawsuits around the country.

The suit was brought to move people with developmental disabilities out of restrictive nursing home settings back into community settings whenever possible, according to a May 10 article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette by editor Laurie Loisel, who has written about the case since its inception.

The case is known as Rolland v. Patrick. According to Steven J. Schwartz, litigation director for the Center for Public Representation, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman ordered that developmentally disabled people living in private nursing homes must be placed in the least restrictive community setting possible — and those who remain in private nursing homes must receive a standard of care that is on par with what is provided at public facilities.

The Gazette quoted Schwartz: “The same standard of care applies to the public and private. This is a real dramatic ruling and if applied fully in every state would dramatically transform the way nursing homes are run.”

According to the story, the class action lawsuit was filed in 1998 on behalf of 1,800 people with developmental disabilities. At issue was a practice of housing disabled people with medical issues in nursing homes, essentially segregating them from society. Advocates claimed they were being improperly cared for in 290 nursing homes around the state, rather than less restrictive community settings, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Schwartz said since the suit was filed, about 1,800 people have moved out of nursing homes under the case.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Loretta Rolland, now 71, was moved out of a nursing home in 2002 into St. Michael’s House on State Street in Northampton, where she lived in an apartment for about five years.

Rolland later moved to Holden, where she lives in her own apartment within a group home and volunteers in the community. She was in federal court earlier this month when the judge declared the case settled and the issue no longer in need of court oversight.•

Advocate staff

 

Video Leads to Dismissal In Case Where Police Conduct Questioned

Cell phone video of an arrest outside a Northampton bar has led to criminal charges being dropped against an Amherst man.

On May 9 the Northwestern District Attorney’s office said it would not prosecute Jonas Correia on charges of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct after the March 31 incident outside Tully O’Reilly’s Pub.

The arrest was captured on a five-minute video posted on YouTube under the title “Northampton Massachusetts Police Brutality.” 

In the video, two officers can be seen bringing Correia to the ground, spraying him with pepper spray and placing him in restraints. Police say  Correia threatened a member of the bar’s staff.

On the video, people outside the bar can be heard yelling that Correia had done nothing wrong; others shouted accusations of racism at the police officers. The video was watched more than 75,000 times and generated letters and comments to the police, the mayor and local mews media. The American Civil Liberties Union pressed for dismissal of the case and the Amherst chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that the video raised deep concern about the way Correia was treated.•

Advocate staff

 

Cosbys Ask State For Law For Perpetual Protection of Privacy

Comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, are again asking state legislators to pass a law that would protect celebrities’ images after they die if they live in Massachusetts.

According to a State House News Service report, Melinda Phelps, an attorney for the Cosbys, told lawmakers during a hearing that the couple want to make sure celebrities who live in the Massachusetts have post-mortem protections for their images to prevent them from being commercially exploited.

The Cosbys live in Shelburne Falls.

 Nineteen other states have passed laws to protect celebrities’ images after they die, according to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, an Amherst Democrat who filed the legislation (S 1630) to give celebrities identity protection for up to 70 years after their death. The legislation would protect all aspects of their image, including their voices, according to the news service report.

According to the State House News Service, under current state law, anyone who wants to use the portrait or picture of a person for use in advertising or “purposes of trade” must have written consent from the person whose likeness is being used. But the law is “silent” about what happens after the celebrity dies, attorneys said. 

Rosenberg’s bill defines the people covered under the legislation as “personalities” whose “identity has commercial value.” The protections would be extended to all types of celebrities, including athletes, Rosenberg said. Similar legislation passed in the Senate last session, but did not pass in the House.•  

Advocate staff

 

Your Money May Soon Carry a Political Message

By Maureen Turner

The next time you’re out shopping in the Valley, take a closer look at your change—it could be trying to tell you something.

More than 30 businesses in the Valley have signed on to join the StampStampede, a campaign that supports amending the U.S. Constitution to limit the influence of big money in politics by overturning the Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That decision lifted certain restrictions on campaign spending by corporations and labor unions and has led to unprecedented levels of spending on political campaigns.

Several such amendments have been filed in Congress, including one by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat whose district includes large parts of the Pioneer Valley.

Organizers call the StampStampede a “petition on steroids.” Participants—who can be individuals or businesses—agree to stamp the bills that pass through their hands or their cash registers with one of three messages: “Not to Be Used for Bribing Politicians,” “Stamp Money Out of Politics,” or “Corporations Are Not People.” 

As each of those bills circulates, the message spreads, reaching about 875 people over the course of the bill’s life, organizers estimate.

The StampStampede is a national effort, with more than 8,000 of its rubber stamps already in action around the country, according to campaign manager Edward Erikson, who teaches political science at UMass Amherst. 

The response in the Valley has been especially strong, with many businesses setting up “stamping stations” in the prime real estate next to their registers, he said. That’s not surprising, Erikson added, noting the strong support here for an amendment overturning Citizens United. According to Common Cause Mass., more than 170 cities and towns in the state have called for such an amendment, either through a non-binding ballot question or local resolution.

Valley participants range from the Harp Pub in Amherst to Hadley’s Primo Pizzeria to Bob’s II Comics in Northampton.

Essentials, in downtown Northampton, was happy to sign up, said manager Madison Charbonneau. “Customers have been really receptive, too,” Charbonneau said.  “We live in an area where people are really concerned about where their money goes, politically, but the economy is tough and it’s as hard for them to donate to a cause as it is for us. But with StampStampede, we’re actually talking with our money.”

Ben Cohen, the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream co-founder and StampStampede’s “head stamper,” was planning a visit in Northampton to promote the effort. Crosby, Stills and Nash have also lent their celebrity to the cause, talking it up from the stage on their current U.S. tour.

For more information, including a list of participating businesses and information on buying StampStampede stamps, go to www.stampstampede.org.•

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