Archive for the ‘Government activism’ Category

A rotten start to my week, courtesy of, yet again, the Boston Public Schools

Monday, October 28th, 2013

To: Maria Vieira, Assignment Specialist, Boston Public Schools
To: Evelyn Adario, Assistant Director of Envrollment Planning and Support, Boston Public Schools
To: Denise Snyder, Senior Director of Welcome Services, Boston Public Schools
Cc: Boston City Councilor John R. Connolly
Cc: Boston City Councilor Mark Ciommo
Cc: John McDonough, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools
Cc: Boston School Committee

Last night, in preparation for visiting a BPS family resource center this morning to prove my daughter’s residency for the exam school entrance examination, I sat down at my computer to figure out which of the three centers would be the least time-consuming for me to visit.

I dutifully typed their addresses, from the ISEE letter I received late last week, into Google Maps and calculated public transportation routes and estimated travel times from my home to each FRC and from each FRC to work. All three are, of course, inconvenient to reach from Brighton, but the one in Dorchester seemed to be the least inconvenient, so that’s the one I planned to use.

This morning, I typed the address for the Dorchester FRC into my phone and set off on my way. However, when I arrived at the location identified by my phone from the address in the letter, there was no FRC to be seen.

In fact, the FRC was miles to the north of where I was standing, because the address in the letter was wrong:


The ZIP code of the Dorchester FRC is 02125, not 02124. (more…)

Why does dealing with the Boston Public Schools always have to be so unpleasant?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

To: Acting BPS Superintendent John McDonough
Cc: Boston School Committee
Cc: City Councillor Mark Ciommo
Cc: City Councillor and mayoral candidate John Connolly
Cc: Mayoral candidate Charlotte Golar Richie
Cc: Mayoral candidate Bill Walczak

Dear Superintendent McDonough,

Why does it have to be consistently so painful  to deal with the BPS administration? Some of the many examples I’ve recently experienced…


On the rationality and wrong of racism

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

After George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, a narrative quickly emerged that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin, that he considered Martin suspicious merely because of the color of his skin and the fact that he was wearing a hoodie.

Leaving aside the question of whether that narrative is accurate in the particular case of the Zimmerman / Martin incident, it is indisputably true that profiling and judging people based on their race occurs every minute of every day in this country, leading to vastly disparate treatment of individuals.

Those who decry racism are right to do so. It is the root cause of a great deal of unfairness and suffering in the world, it causes strife where there need not be any, and it deprives individuals of liberties, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled.

However, there are three crucial facts about racism that are often ignored or at least unacknowledged by those who fight against it, even though they are also indisputably true:

  1. In many (but certainly not all) contexts, racism is rational.
  2. When people are prevented by force of law from behaving in a racist way, their liberty is infringed.
  3. Although we have chosen as a society to oppose racism (a choice I fully agree with), that fact does not negate either of the other two.


My current take on Boston’s mayoral candidates

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

I’ve spent some time taking a look at all of the declared candidates for Boston’s mayoral election. Here are my initial reactions, for those who might be curious.

People worth considering

All of these are people I’d be happy to see elected.

John Connolly

(Web site.) Current City Councillor. I very much liked what he said and did about the Boston Arts Academy / MSBA renovation fiasco (email me if you’re curious). His web site has by far the most detailed platform of any candidate, and I agree with pretty much everything he wants to do. His connections would make him a less adversarial mayor than the outsiders who are running, but they might also prompt him to ignore some of the “business as usual” which really needs to be cleaned up. Overall, after looking at all the candidates, Connolly is currently my first choice.

Bill Walczak

(Web site.) If you’re looking for an “outsider” who has the potential to shake things up and yet also has the strength of character and experience to avoid being eaten alive by the establishment, Bill’s your man. Definitely worth a serious look. Education and community health-care are his two big issues, and he has a huge amount of experience with both of them.

Charlotte Golar Richie

(Web site.) She seems highly qualified. She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List. She would be Boston’s first woman mayor. Unfortunately, her web site is entirely lacking any sort of substantial content about her vision, plan, or platform.

Robert Consalvo

(Web site.) City Councillor. Worth a look, but if you’re going to vote for a current City Councillor, I think Connolly is a better choice.


Fumes in MBTA buses: significant progress

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

I met several months ago with MBTA management to present my concerns about toxic fumes in certain MBTA buses. Thank you, again, to State Senator Will Brownsberger and his  Legislative Counsel and Policy Advisor, Michael Buckley, for making that meeting happen.

I am pleased to report that the MBTA took my concerns seriously, investigated them, and took corrective action which they hope will fix the problem.

I met today for a second time with Jeffrey Gonneville, the MBTA’s Chief Mechanical Officer, and Troy Ellerbee, Director of Bus Maintenance, and they filled me in on their progress. Read on for the details.


MA Supervisor of Records denies my appeal based on specious legal reasoning

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

To: Shawn Williams, Massachusetts Supervisor of Records
Cc: Lori Sullivan,  the staff attorney in Williams’s office who research my appeal
Cc: Susan Krupanski, the MBTA employee who denied my legitimate public records request
Cc: Will Brownsberger, my state senator and an all-around good guy
Cc: On the Media
Cc: The Boston Globe
Cc: The Boston Herald

Dear Mr. Williams,

I have received your letter dated May 28, 2013, in which you denied my appeal of the failure by the MBTA to provide me with records I requested under the Massachusetts Public Records Law. A copy of your letter is attached for reference.

The legal justification you provide for denying my appeal is specious. Furthermore, your denial of my appeal flies in the face of available facts. Finally, on a purely common-sense level, your response is simply absurd.


MBTA obstructs public records request, Secretary of State drags feet

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

A side effect of my attempts to get information from the MBTA about toxic fumes in the passenger compartments of their buses (I will write more about that later, after a followup meeting I’ve been invited to by the MBTA) was my discovery that the MBTA is not terribly good at responding to public records requests within the time frame required by law. Since I view that as a serious problem in its own right, I attempted to shine some sunlight on it in my February 13 letter to the MBTA:

I would like to add an additional item to my request, or if you wish you may treat this as a new, separate request under the public records law. Please tell me how many public records law requests the MBTA has received in 2013, the date on which each was received, and the date on which an initial response was sent. There should be no significant cost for satisfying this request, since there could not have been that many requests so far this year (mine, after all, was only the ninth) and all such requests are presumably handled through your office.

In a letter dated February 22, the MBTA lawyer who handles public records requests informed me that, “… after a thorough and diligent search of files, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has no existing, responsive documents.”


MA RMV no longer emailing reminders about license renewals

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

A public service announcement for my readers in Massachusetts…

Several years ago, the Massachusetts RMV stopped mailing out paper letters reminding people to renew their driver’s licenses. Not mailing these letters supposedly saves the RMV about $600,000 per year; if that’s true, then stopping them seems like a reasonable thing for them to do.

Because this is the digital age, and people really do need to be reminded to renew their licenses, the RMV offered an email reminder service to replace the paper letters… You could go to the RMV web site and enter your email address and license expiration date, and the RMV would email you reminders as that date approached. Great idea, right?

Well, it was a great idea, until they silently discontinued the service this past winter without notifying the people who had signed up for it. If you were one of them, you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a renewal reminder from the RMV.

If you are a AAA member, you can use the service offered by the AAA to replace the discontinued RMV service. Alternatively, Attorney Brian Simoneau is offering the service for free to anyone.

Unfiltered diesel exhaust from MBTA buses

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

In my meeting today with the MBTA about the air quality inside T buses, I suggested that the fact that we sometimes see exhaust smoke coming from underneath the buses, despite the fact that the buses’ exhaust pipes are on top of the buses, might indicate a broken exhaust system which might explain how exhaust fumes are getting into bus passenger compartments. As evidence of this, I pointed to an article by Doug Tillberg on

In response, the T employees at the meeting explained to me that it’s actually normal for exhaust smoke to come from underneath the buses, because there are actually two engines in the back of the bus that burn diesel fuel, one of which exhausts out the pipe at the top of the bus, and the other out from underneath.


Meeting with MBTA about bad air in buses

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Today, I met with the MBTA to discuss my concerns about poor indoor air quality (IAQ) inside some T buses. I am extremely grateful to Michael Buckley, Sen. William Brownsberger’s Legislative Counsel and Policy Advisor, for arranging the meeting and attending with me.

The following T employees were present: Jeffrey Gonneville, Chief Mechanical Officer; Dave Carney, Director of Bus Operations; Troy Ellerbee, Director of Bus Maintenance; Erik Scheier, Project Director; and one other person whose name I’m sorry to say I didn’t write down and can’t recall. (If he reads this, I hope he will forgive me. If I am going to keep doing this kind of thing, I really need to get better at remembering people’s names, which I’m really awful at.)

I learned several things at the meeting, and I obtained commitments from Jeffrey Gonneville to take concrete steps to look into my concerns. I wish I’d learned more, and I wish the T had committed to do more, but progress has been made.