Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Extra B.S. By the Numbers

Time to take stock.
Six months of blogging.
More than 200 posts.
50 comments, if my tired eyes are counting correctly. At least 24 of them are my own comments, mostly responding to what readers wrote.
Is it all just Extra B.S.?
Blogger King Steve got eight comments on the Bristol Blog just tonight, after his City Hall meeting, that lucky devil. He approved all of them, in case you're curious. Extra B.S. readers are ... shy. Bristol Blog readers? Not so much.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Latest Word on the West End

Bristol is lucky to have a city planner like Alan Weiner. He's smart and hardworking and advocates for the city. He's been at it a long time and rarely gets a pat on the back, but I believe he deserves one.
One of the things I like best about Alan is that he takes the long view (that's the planner in him) and has a fair amount of patience. He also says what he thinks is right, even if it's not the popular point of view. That's what I respect about him.
He's been tirelessly pushing for a renewal of the West End, which is not hte city's most popular neighborhood. It's struggling, but I agree with Alan that there's a lot of potential in the West End.

I went to the last meeting on the West End study last week. The Bristol Community Organization hosted it and about 20 people showed up to add their two cents before the final draft of the study is finished.
Whether the study sits on a shelf and gathers dust or becomes the blueprint for an active neighborhood makeover remains to be seen.

As Alan correctly pointed out to the people at that meeting, though city officials play an important role in determining whether the West End gets government funding, a lot can be accomplished by residents, property owners and business owners who have a stake in the neighborhood's future.
There's been a lot of talk about forming a neighborhood association, and that certainly needs no government action to occur. Look no further than my pals at the Forestville Village Association for inspiration on that front.

It makes a whole lot more sense to get to work on the West End rather than sit back and anonymously trash it, which seems to be a popular online sport in Bristol.

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Strong Girl

Here's Jenna Chiaradio, who will turn 16 next month. She's a rising junior at Bristol Eastern High School, a top student, a second-degree black belt in karate and a boxer.
She's quite a lovely girl. I talked with Jenna today about how she got into boxing and about a fight she'll be in tomorrow night at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Her fight will be one of several that night, part of an event called "Fight the Good Fight" to benefit the families of the men who died at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown earlier this year.
I wrote a story about Jenna for Saturday's edition of The Bristol Press (www.bristolpress.com) so you can read more about her there if you like.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You Think You Know a Guy...

Morrie Laviero's garden, above

John Leone's garden, above

Yesterday I covered the beautification awards breakfast and annual state of the city address by the mayor and officials from surrounding towns. (I know, I know, you're thinking... how in the world does she get such plum assignments?)

Anyway, the beautification award had a new category this year... at least I didn't remember it from before. It's an award for best vegetable garden, preferably grown from seed.

I was intrigued.

Reading on, I was surprised. The first place award went to John Leone, a former mayor and former chamber president. Honorable mention went to contractor Morrie Laviero.

I understand that mayors and contractors can make their own schedule, but it seems that chamber directors are so busy wheeling and dealing and pushing and prodding that it's not likely they've got time for a demanding hobby like gardening, let alone be able to create a prizewinning garden.

But there it was, in black and white. Leone won.

Contest judge Bill Englert said they thought they were in Little Italy when they went to visit Leone and Laviero's gardens on Maureen Drive, with all the peppers, tomatoes, grape arbors and the like.

But starting from seeds? Who does that?

Apparently these guys do. Leone told me he starts the seeds in February and that in the end, his whole neighborhood helps out. Laviero is one of his neighbors, but I'm not sure if he lends a hand since his own garden is so impressive.

Thanks to Bill Englert and his granddaughter, who snapped the photos, and the chamber, for passing them on.
You can see the story I wrote about the Leone-Laviero food fight in The Bristol Press, along with the list of winners: www.bristolpress.com.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Here's to all dedicated fathers, the ones who are kind and compassionate but firm, the ones who lead by example.

The value of a father in a child's life is immeasurable. I've seen firsthand the pain of daughters and sons who are missing this valuable piece from their lives.

So I offer thanks to all the fathers who are there for their children, but especially for three who are especially dear to me.

Growing up, I had a great father. He worked hard, provided for our family and I always knew he loved me. Among many other qualities, he was artistic, working with clay, wood and plant to create and grow wonderful things. I lost him too soon in 2001. The picture is from "High Noon," one of his favorites.

My father-in-law, who is like a father to me, is also wonderful. He also knows his way around the house and garden and is one of the best shoppers I know. He gives great advice and we're lucky to have him playing an involved and active roles in our lives.

Finally, the best father I know is my husband, Steve. Our family is richly blessed to have him.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Watching the World Cup?

I watched some of the World Cup last week at ESPN, but I never did blog about it. There was a story in The Bristol Press about ESPN venturing into 3D.
Currently, not many people have 3D -- about 100,000, ESPN folks said -- but they've never been ones to wait to see which way the wind is blowing.
Nope, ESPN creates its own wind and takes the culture along with it. They've got a lot of smart people over there and if they think 3D is the next big thing, well, then, I'm inclined to believe them.
As someone who watches very little television, I'm probably not the best person to evaluate 3D. But there I was, and I agree, it can be eye-popping. I didn't like wearing an extra set of glasses, though, and between the vision thing and the buzzing of the vuvuzelas, I got a headache. If you haven't heard them yet, listening to a World Cup match is like being inside a hornet's nest. AAAAGGGH! Get me out of there!
Chuck Pagano, ESPN's top technology guy, told me he watches with the mute function on. Smart guy, that Chuck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Lesson in Compassion

Today I went out to see the action the city was taking on blighted property on Marine Court. These are pictures from today, and a story should be in Friday's edition of The Bristol Press, http://www.bristolpress.com/.
If you want a little more perspective, read on.
These photos are of property on Marine Court owned by Francis Kerr. On Thursday morning, the city called in an emergency contractor -- D'Amato -- to clear a nearly vacant (except for the debris) plot of land owned by Kerr. The city is in court with Kerr over his house, which is shown in the top photo. The bottom photo is of the sort-of vacant land. It has a garage that is falling down (with a car of some sort inside) and what amounts to a bunch of junk all around -- rusty barrels, the frame of a big old wagon and a stack of tires.
I am not a fastidious person but I can say that Kerr's place is a mess.
The trouble is, he apparently likes it that way.
Some neighbors have complained bitterly to the city. They worry about declining home values, pests that might be attracted to the debris and also about some of the mess falling into their yards.
Mostly, the neighbors don't want to be quoted. They're leery of Kerr, who keeps to himself and has signs posted around the perimeter of his property warning people to stay away.
But those who know him say he's a very smart man, someone who isn't violent or dangerous. The Kozikowski family, Kerr's next door neighbors -- who might have the most reason to gripe -- say they like him and have learned to live with the way he keeps the property.
Kerr apparently doesn't have a phone and I've never spoken to him. My heart does go out to him, though. He's a Vietnam vet whose parents have died. He has no siblings, spouse or children. And the city he's lived in all his life is after him. He could face jail on violations of health laws if he doesn't clean up his house. Mayor Art Ward said Kerr has been found incompetent.
Certainly it's not fair to the neighborhood for the city to do nothing. This has been a blight problem in Bristol for almost 20 years. And when buildings are falling down, as the garage on Kerr's lot is, it is dangerous. The city has to act on that.
Those who know Kerr say he doesn't want any help and refuses medication. I don't know what the answer is, but it doesn't seem right to me to throw him in jail for what amounts to being a serious packrat. I truly hope it doesn't come to that.

Zoning Buddies

I met a couple of real nice gents at the Bristol Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday. These two guys, Richard Chapman and Pete Roseen, showed up out of concern for the project on the corner of Middle Street and Mountain Road.
They were quite dedicated, as they waited nearly four hours to have a chance to speak about the proposal.
Quite a few newcomers were on the zoning board that night, and things weren't exactly speedy. Former Chairman Frank Johnson and former Vice Chairman John Lodovico, who had both been on the board since Moby Dick was a sardine, recently stepped down as their terms ended. They're still active in a lot of community stuff, most visibly the Bristol Downtown Development Corp.
But let's get back to my new zoning pals. These are guys after my own heart. They patiently sat through long presentations on a couple of other projects, including testimony by the ever-riveting traffic engineers.
Mr. Roseen, who said the meeting was going on WAY past his bedtime, told me it was "like watching grass grow."
Mr. Chapman, whose daughter, Patty Chapman, recently retired from the city treasurer's office, is a former state police officer who has seen his share of ugly.
"Autopsies are more fun," he said, than zoning meetings.
I couldn't resist asking them if this experience didn't make them appreciate newspaper reporters just a little bit more.
It did, they said.
After that, I shared my candy with them, making it a better evening all around.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Job Cuts at Bristol Hospital

I just confirmed what I learned earlier today... that 19 positions were eliminated at Bristol Hospital on Tuesday. A few of the people who filled those jobs were offered alternative work at the hospital, but it isn't clear now how many will make the move.
In the end, at least 14 people, maybe more, who had jobs at the hospital will no longer be working there.
Hospital President Kurt Barwis told me that it was extremely difficult to let members of the staff go, but that the restructuring and consolidation was important for the ultimate survival and growth of the hospital.
Still, it's a sad tale to tell. I'm working on the story now, and it should appear in Thursday's edition of The Bristol Press and online at www.bristolpress.com.

Happy Graduation Day!

It's Graduation Day in Bristol, as hundreds of seniors from Bristol Eastern High School, Bristol Central High School and Bristol Tech receive their diplomas after years of hard work.
I'd like to extend my own congratulations and good wishes to all the graduates. High school can be a challenge in many ways, and finishing it is an accomplishment that should bring gradutes and their families a strong sense of pride and satisfaction.
I hope the weather holds out, but even if it doesn't, nothing should dampen your spirits if today is the day you'll get that diploma.
Carpe diem!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

YJI's World Cup Coverage

Check out the latest World Cup coverage by my student reporters at Youth Journalism International. We've got three students in South Africa -- one who lives in Singapore who is visiting, and two who live there. They've been doing their best to write about the impact of the World Cup on their nation. Meanwhile, other kids in the U.S. and Europe are weighing in with their own perspectives. You can see it all online now at www.ReadTheTattoo.com, an independent online teen newspaper that supports YJI.
The coverage isn't limited to the World Cup, either, so if soccer isn't your bag, you'll find plenty more of interest.

Free Meals for Kids

Summer lunch and breakfast programs are starting soon. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program offers free breakfast and lunch to children in poor neighborhoods.
This summer it starts July 6 and runs through August 20.
There are three open sites in Bristol -- at Rockwell Park, at Cambridge Park and at the Bristol Community Organization. Any kid who is 18 or under can go, regardless of income becuase the sites are certified. They can't take the food off the premises.
I think the program would be quite a hit if they could offer the kids sandwiches that look like these...

Request for Help Still High

Today I wrote about the requests for help -- energy assistance, groceries and meals -- continuing to remain high at local food pantries, soup kitchens and at the Bristol Community Organization, which administers help with heating bills.

Check out the stories in Wednesday's edition of The Bristol Press at http://www.bristolpress.com/.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time Flies

What were you doing 17 years ago today?
Me, I was starting a new job as a reporter at The Bristol Press.
Former Press Editor Frank Keegan hired me all those years ago and I had the pleasure of working for him for a year before he moved on. I still miss Frank, and our former Publisher Joe Zerbey. They both know and love newspapers and they also knew and loved Bristol. They were also a hoot, but that's another story.
My first day on the job, I wrote a story about some guy catching a big fish in the Pequabuck River, behind Tinty's.
I didn't know how to pronounce Pequabuck, or what Tinty's was and I had no idea why just catching a fish was such a big deal.
Now I know that in 1993, a big fish did indeed show that the river was alive -- something a lot of people doubted back then after so many years of it being a polluted mess. I learned how to pronounce and spell Pequabuck, a river I'm still writing about.
Since then, I've written about people, places and events in the community or of interest to it. I've told stories both joyously happy and deeply sad, some outrageous, others ridiculous. I've met and gotten to know a lot of wonderful, kind, committed and generous people in the Mum City over the years. To all of them, I'd like to say thank you.

Fly It With Pride

Happy Flag Day!
Flag Day always reminds me of my dad, so it makes me feel good.
If you have a way to fly Old Glory today, do it.
But if your flag is tattered, torn, faded or worn, please dispose of it properly. There are rules for how to do it correctly. If you don't know how, give your flag to the American Legion, and they'll do it respectfully.
Just don't keep flying it or letting it hang off of your house. It's just wrong to display our flag if it is in poor shape (except for special circumstances that do not include laziness.) That's just shameful and sad.
Please, if you're going to display our flag, do it with pride.

Did You Get a Boot?

Today I'm working on a story about how the city booted vehicles that are in arrears on taxes in hopes of making the owners pay up.
If you got a boot and are willing to talk about it, give me a call 860-523-9632 or send me an email at jmajerus@bristolpress.com. In fact, if you didn't get one but have something to say about this, I'd still like to talk with you.