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    Months after a series of explosions ravaged parts of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, federal lawmakers will travel to the Merrimack Valley for a hearing on pipeline safety, officials announced Wednesday.

    Months after a series of explosions ravaged parts of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, federal lawmakers will travel to the Merrimack Valley for a hearing on pipeline safety, officials announced Wednesday. 

    The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will convene a full panel hearing on the deadly incident at the South Lawrence East Middle School's gymnasium on Nov. 26.

    The 9 a.m. hearing, entitled "Pipeline Safety in the Merrimack Valley: Incident Prevention and Response," will focus on what caused the Sept. 13 natural gas pipeline explosions and fires that destroyed homes, injured dozens and killed at least one person.

    It will also look at the federal, state and local response to the disaster, according to U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and committee member who called for the full panel hearing.

    Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey seek congressional hearing on Merrimack Valley gas explosions

    In addition to committee members, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and U.S. Reps. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, and Seth Moulton, D-Salem, are expected to attend the hearing. 

    National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt, City of Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew A. Beaton and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Chief Counsel Paul Roberti, meanwhile, are slated to address the panel. 

    Other witnesses expected to testify include: Columbia Gas of Massachusetts President Steve Bryant, NiSource President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Hamrock and Accufacts Inc. President Richard Kuprewicz.

    Warren and Markey requested that representatives from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and natural gas distribution industry brief federal lawmakers on the Merrimack Valley gas explosions.

    The incident has been linked to natural gas distribution pipelines operated by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a NiSource subsidiary. 

    Prior to the explosions, Columbia Gas announced activities to upgrade sections of its distribution lines in the area. 

    This will be updated. 


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    Yevgeniy Rudenko, 31, of West Springfield, is charged with operating under the influence of alcohol in connection with crashes on Nov. 13, 2018.

    SPRINGFIELD -- A 31-year-old West Springfield man on Wednesday denied a charge of operating under the influence of alcohol after police say he drove the wrong way on Interstate 91, crashing into a state police cruiser and two other vehicles.

    Yevgeniy Rudenko was arraigned in Springfield District Court in connection with the wrong-way crashes Tuesday night on Interstate 91, which injured a state trooper and two other people.

    Judge Kevin Maltby set bail at $1,000 personal surety, the amount recommended by the prosecution and defense.

    Rudenko also denied charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, going the wrong way on a state highway and not keeping in marked lanes.

    Rudenko would not take a breathalzyer test when booked, so his license is suspended by the registry for 180 days. As a condition of pretrial release he must abide by the 180 day license suspension, Maltby said.

    According to a police report written by State Police Sgt. Arthur Hebb, Rudenko was extremely unsteady on his feet, falling backwards against the tailgate of his truck.

    Officer started but stopped the field sobriety test because of Rudenko's "total instability" on his feet, the report said.

    The crash happened at 10 p.m. on I-91 South near the Springfield-Longmeadow line, said state police spokesman David Procopio.

    State troopers spotted Rudenko heading north in the southbound lane in a pickup truck. He apparently entered the highway in the wrong lane somewhere in Connecticut, Procopio said.

    State police received several calls from motorists on I-91 reporting a wrong-way driver.

    A trooper who spotted him driving in the breakdown lane near mile marker 3 and positioned his cruiser in the path of the truck to get it to stop, Procopio said. But the truck plowed into the front end of the cruiser and continued heading the wrong way.

    The trooper, whose name was not released, suffered minor injuries. He was checked out at Baystate Medical Center and discharged Wednesday morning, Procopio said.

    After the first collision, the truck continued in the wrong direction for around a half-mile, and struck an SUV and a sedan before rolling over and bursting into flames.

    Rudenko suffered minor injuries to his hands.

    A passenger in the SUV and the driver of the sedan were each taken to Baystate Medical Center for treatment of injuries. Procopio said the injuries were serious but not life-threatening.


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    "This is clearly weather that concerns us," Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said.

    As Massachusetts prepares for the first real snow storm of the season, more than half of families in Lawrence remain without power, Mayor Dan Rivera said at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

    Rivera said that Wednesday night is expected to be the "chilliest night of the fall to date" with a low temperature of 19 degrees forecasted overnight. Meteorologists predict 25-to 30-mile per hour winds and the potential for snow at the end of the week.

    With about 2,970 Lawrence families, or 54 percent, still without power, Rivera said: "This is clearly weather that concerns us."

    "We are still in a disaster area.... there is no normalcy here," Rivera said. 

    Rivera implored residents who are still in their homes to take advantage alternative housing options and shelters by calling the hotline at 800-590-5571.

    "It is not too late to call," he said.

    While the mayor said the city does not expect to sustained cold temperatures, anyone interested in having their home winterized should contact Columbia Gas.

    On Sept. 13, Lawrence, Andover and North Andover were hit with gas explosions and fires, which blew apart homes and killed 18-year-old Leonel Rondon. Company and state officials initially had a Nov. 19 target date for restoration of service, but that's been pushed back to sometime in December.

    State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey also warned people to keep a safe distance from space heaters and to keep them away from any potentially flammable materials. 

    Rivera also called on gas workers to work through the Thanksgiving holiday. 

    "I understand people doing this work have families as well," Rivera said. "But let's use every moment to get everyone's lives back in order." 


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    A Bellingham teacher was placed on administrative leave amid allegations the teacher recorded a student in a faculty bathroom.

    A Bellingham teacher was placed on administrative leave amid allegations the teacher recorded a student in a faculty bathroom.

    In a statement, Bellingham Public Schools Superintendent Peter Marano reported the teacher has been removed from Bellingham Memorial Middle School and placed on administrative leave.

    The employee was placed on leave on Nov. 9 shortly after the school district received a complaint.

    Marano sent information to the Bellingham Police Department and school officials are cooperating with an investigation. The school department is conducting an investigation as well.

    "This individual was immediately removed from the classroom when the district learned of the alleged conduct and we immediately contacted the police," Marano said. "We continue to remain committed to our efforts to ensure a safe learning environment for all students. Student safety is our highest priority."

     

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    Scarves made in the pattern are on sale for $65. Ties are on sale for $55. Watch video

    WESTFIELD -- Westfield State University is creating ties with the city's three high schools.

    Ties as well as scarves and maybe someday vests or blankets or hats. All the better to celebrate Westfield's 350th anniversary in 2019.

    The university and its Westfield State Foundation on Wednesday unveiled the new tartan at a City Hall news conference. The plaid pattern incorporates colors from WSU, Westfield High School, Westfield Technical Academy and St. Mary's High School, said university President Ramon S. Torrecilha.

    The tartan is registered with the Scottish Register of Tartans in Edinburgh and may only be used with the university's permission by order of the Scottish government.

    Wool material woven in the pattern has already been made into neckties -- $55 -- and scarves -- $65 -- for sale on the university's website.

    Proceeds will benefit the Westfield Pride Scholarship for the student with the top GPA from each high school who attends Westfield State in fall 2019. Recipients of the $1,000 scholarships will also write an essay about what makes Westfield special.

    The scholarships will strengthen the path from city high schools to the university, said schools Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski.

    "It fits in very well with what we are doing with early college," he said. "We have high school students taking courses here now. We're doing a great job of getting our students interested in Westfield State University."

    It's appropriate to include Westfield Technical Academy in the scholarship program, he said. Since 2012 the percentage of tech school graduates going on to college has risen from 25 percent to 60 percent.

    "It might not always be full-time," Czaporowski said. "They might be doing it in connection with their employers. But they are continuing with their education."

    The fundraising goal is $60,000, said Erica Broman, vice president of institutional advancement at Westfield State. The school plans to raise the money not just through the ties and scarves but also through a direct appeal to donors. The $60,000 would allow the foundation to build an endowment.

    Tuition for in-state residents is $970 a year. Mandatory fees total $8,745. A full breakdown of the cost of attendance is here. Westfield State University has an enrollment of more than 6,000 students, both undergraduates and graduate students.

    As for the pattern, it incorporates blue, white and gold for Westfield State, black and red for Westfield High School, purple and gold for Westfield Technical Academy and green and gold for St. Mary's High School.

    "This is something we've wanted to do for a long time," said Mayor Brian Sullivan, already sporting his tie. "When you see at the (Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade) what other cities do with their tartans, it's very impressive."


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    Investors from Connecticut and Florida plan to cultivate and sell cannabis at the former Cook Builders Supply on Northampton Road.

    EASTHAMPTON -- Due to a lack of quorum, a public hearing on plans by out-of-state investors to open a cannabis cultivation and retail operation at the former Cook Builders Supply has been put off until Dec. 4.

    No representative from the Herbology Group was present at Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting, having apparently been informed that their special permit hearing would not be held.

    Board members Christoper Cockshaw, Harry Schumann were absent, and member Chester Seklecki, who knew there would be no quorum, arrived later in the evening. Member Jesse Belcher-Timme and associate member James Vaillancourt had recused themselves. Belcher-Timme's law firm has a conflicting interest, and Vaillancourt has a "familial conflict," said acting chairman James Zarvis.

    Zarvis apologized for the late notice. He said it would be important for Cockshaw, Schumann, Secklecki, and himself to be present at the Dec. 4 meeting, and administratively declared that the hearing would be continued.

    A special permit needs a two-thirds vote of the five-member board, apparently meaning four affirmative votes.

    Tuesday's meeting itself was a continuance of an Oct. 16 public hearing for Herbology Group, Inc, which seeks a special permit to operate a "co-located Medical Marijuana Treatment Center (dispensary)" and adult use cannabis retail establishment as defined in the city's zoning code.

    The property is located at 195 Northampton St. and is in the highway business and industrial zoning districts.

    The group has an option with Robert P. Leidy, Jr. of Sea Hunter Holdings in Florida to lease 22,000 square feet of cultivation space, and 6,000 square feet of retail space at the vacant building. Leidy has an option to buy the property, according to a license application filed with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.

    The Herbology Group is jointly owned by CEO Jane Hawman of Sandy Hook, Connecticut; CFO Michael Duku of Columbia, Connecticut; and Steven Gotwald of West Palm Beach, Florida.


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    There has been tension between the Superintendent and the Committee, which gave him a performance rating of "needing improvement" in May.

    LONGMEADOW -- The Longmeadow School Committee will discuss whether or not to renew Superintendent Dr. M. Martin O'Shea's contract at a 6:30 p.m. meeting tonight.

    There has been tension between O'Shea and the committee over the last year, with members rating the superintendent as "needing improvement" on his most recent evaluation. 

    O'Shea's contract is set to expire June 30, 2019.

    At the committee's Sept. 11 meeting, O'Shea presented his annual plan. It was met with criticism, with member Stephanie Jasmin calling the plan "heavy on community engagement and light on instructional leadership."

    The evaluation subcommittee had been supportive of the plan, though, and School Committee member Ryan Kelly called the criticism "concerning," according to the meeting minutes.

    Committee member Beth Baron said there had been a lack of communication between the superintendent and the committee, and asked that he focus on that moving forward.

    During O'Shea's evaluation process in May, committee members pointed to a blow-up over salary negotiations and a failure to keep the committee informed about the firing of a volunteer soccer coach last September.  The coach was accused of bullying and sending inappropriate texts and social media messages to students -- including messages seeking photos of the students.

    In her evaluation, School Committee member Melanie Rothstein said O'Shea did not inform the committee of parent complaints about the coach and did not widen the investigation.

    "You have shown a pattern of continuing to make the same mistakes," said former chair Michelle Grodsky during the May evaluation.

    Tonight's meeting will be held at in room A15 of the school department's central office at 535 Bliss Road.


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    In the game against Division III school Nichols College the player, Kewan Platt, can be seen hitting Nichols player Nate Tenaglia with his elbow in a moment caught on video.

     

    A Fitchburg State University basketball player has been indefinitely suspended and barred from the campus after allegedly elbowing an opposing player in a home game Tuesday night.

    In the game against Division III school Nichols College the player, Kewan Platt, can be seen hitting Nichols player Nate Tenaglia with his elbow in a moment caught on video. Tenaglia fell to the ground, grabbing his face in pain.

    The university didn't name Platt, but posted to Facebook Wednesday, saying, "His behavior is antithetical to our community values and good sportsmanship."

    In addition, they wrote, "The case is being reviewed at the student conduct level for consideration of further sanctions."

    Nichols College tweeted a statement that read, in part, "The @Nichols_College student-athlete involved was able to complete the game, and we continue to monitor his health. We are proud of the way our student-athletes handled the incident and that they did not allow it to escalate."

    Platt's name has since been removed from the school's basketball program website. According to the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference, he has also vacated a "Player of the Week" award he was given. 

    It is not clear if Platt will be facing any criminal charges for the hit.


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    "I respectfully request that Jared A. Lavalle," who resides in Belchertown, "be appointed as a full-time police officer for the town of Belchertown, effective November 16," Chief Christopher Pronovost wrote in a letter to the board.

    BELCHERTOWN -- Following the chief's recommendation, selectmen at Monday's meeting approved hiring a Northampton police officer to serve on the Belchertown Police Department.

    "I respectfully request that Jared A. Lavalle," who resides in Belchertown, "be appointed as a full-time police officer for the town of Belchertown, effective November 16," Chief Christopher Pronovost wrote in a letter to the board.

    The chief's Oct. 31 letter says Lavalle "has been a police officer in the City of Northampton for over four years."

    The letter says the new officer meets all the training requirements, and the appointment is to fill a vacancy created by another officer's retirement.


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    The city's AHL team hosted 5,000 students from Springfield and surrounding communities. Watch video

    SPRINGFIELD -- Building on the success of last year's T-Birds 101 School Day Game, the Springfield Thunderbirds on Wednesday hosted 5,000 students from Springfield and surrounding communities for a morning of hockey and learning.

    Using the game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as the main draw, Thunderbirds management made the day a learning experience by providing students with the T-Birds 101 workbook, which features subjects ranging from geography to math and English.

    "After the huge success of our first School Day game a season ago, we are thrilled to welcome even more students able to take in a Thunderbirds game this year," said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. "We are excited to provide them with a meaningful educational experience that they otherwise might not have had the opportunity to have."

    Before the game, about 1,200 older students attended a sports symposium featuring members of the Thunderbirds front office including Costa and Peter Bottini, manager of social and digital media. Also speaking was MassMutual Center General Manager Sean Dolan.

    The game also featured a special announcement by the Thunderbirds and the Spirit of Springfield.

    A new, 70-foot-long Springfield Thunderbirds light display will be sparkling at this year's Bright Nights extravaganza in Forest Park. The 24th season of Bright Nights will open Nov. 21 at 5 p.m.

    With Thunderbirds mascot Boomer on hand, members of the AHL team's ownership, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and members of the Spirit of Springfield unveiled the new display, simultaneously projecting the display on the MassMutual Center's giant scoreboard, garnering huge cheers from the crowd. 

    The Thunderbirds lost the game to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-1. 

    The team looks to bounce back when it takes on the Rochester Americans in the second game of a five-game home stand Friday at 7:05 p.m.

    Winner of NBC's "The Voice" and Longmeadow native Brynn Cartelli will perform the national anthem and will hold a meet-and-greet from 6-6:45 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis. You can find tickets here.


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    MedCare exists only in Springfield and has 125 employees including emergency medical technicians, paramedics and emergency medical dispatchers. MedCare said it has nearly 30,000 requests for service each year.

    SPRINGFIELD -- American Medical Response, or AMR, the largest ambulance service in Western Massachusetts, has bought rival MedCare of Springfield.

    Medavie Health Services, the Nova Scotia-based parent of MedCare in Springfield, confirmed the pending sale Wednesday. The price was not disclosed.

    "As part of this agreement, we are working together to ensure a smooth transition for all employees and clients," said Medavie spokesman Tim Winchester in an emailed response to questions. "This change in ownership involves transferring all assets including ambulances, trademarks, and technology systems, allowing AMR to take responsibility for the existing operations."

    MedCare has 125 employees including emergency medical technicians, paramedics and emergency medical dispatchers. MedCare said it has nearly 30,000 requests for service each year.

    Like AMR, MedCare is a provider of primary 911 services to some communities in Western Massachusetts. It's base oprations are in Springfield and in Greenfield.

    AMR provides ambulance services in cities across the country. In Greater Springfield it has more than 275 employees based from a headquarters at 595 Cottage St.

    MedCare bought Baystate Health's ambulance service in 2014.

    Baystate Health has a transportation contract with MedCare, said Shelly Hazlett, manager of public affairs at Baystate. MedCare gets patients where they need to go, like trips between Baystate hospitals. Baystate expects a seamless transition, Hazlett said.


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    With CRRC facing the potential for significant cost hikes under the Trump administration's new tariffs on Chinese imports, Beacon Hill lawmakers are eying ways they can help it and other Massachusetts companies remain competitive, state Sen. Eric Lesser said Wednesday.

    SPRINGFIELD -- With CRRC facing the potential for significant cost hikes under the Trump administration's new tariffs on Chinese imports, Beacon Hill lawmakers are eying ways they can help it and other Massachusetts companies remain competitive, state Sen. Eric Lesser said Wednesday.

    Lesser, who discussed the tariffs' impact during an afternoon event at Western New England University, told reporters that state lawmakers will look at various ways to offset costs imposed on CRRC if federal officials fail to act. 

    Trump imposes tariffs on $200B more of Chinese goods starting next week

    The Longmeadow Democrat said he hopes the Trump administration "does the right thing and grants" the tariff exemptions CRRC has filed with the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

    "There's a very compelling case for why this waiver is necessary," he argued, noting that the tariffs "would literally threaten the jobs" of the more than 120 employees who work at CRRC MA's sprawling, $95 million Springfield factory. 

    If officials do not grant CRRC a waiver, Lesser said "everything else will, of course, be on the table, to make sure that those jobs are protected."

    Lesser said while he doesn't foresee state lawmakers offering CRRC tax breaks to offset the tariffs, Beacon Hill could look at a potential renegotiation through the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority of the purchasing agreement or a renegotiation of the purchasing contract.

    "We don't know -- it's really far field and abstract. We don't know how long the tariffs will be in place. We don't even know what the final amounts will be. And, finally, we don't know whether the waiver has been granted," he said. "We're going all in on trying to get that waiver granted. Then we'll see what happens."

    The state senator further slammed the Trump administration for imposing such tariffs, arguing that they have led to uncertainty not just for CRRC, but other companies across Massachusetts and the country.

    "I field calls from local businesses all the time concerned about the tariffs -- I visited one in Wilbraham recently that was worried they might have to close because of the price shocks," he said. "We need to rebuild our manufacturing base the real way, which is investing in our workers, investing in our job training programs, building out our infrastructure. That's what's going to bring jobs back to the U.S. That's what's going to expand our manufacturing base -- not a whack-a-mole tariff strategy that hurts families that are already employed in Western Mass."

    Officials with CRRC MA, which has contracts to build subway cars for the MBTA and transit systems in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, spoke out against the Trump administration's tariffs in September.

    CRRC assails Trump tariff; fears it could harm Springfield

    Offering that the tariffs could add 25 percent to the cost of the rail car components CRRC imports from China and assembles in Springfield, CRRC spokeswoman Lydia Rivera then called the White House's policy "unfair."

    She added that it's hard to determine how much the tariffs could raise the cost of a single rail car, noting that the tariff is on various components -- more than 100 items -- not on the whole car.

    A single finished MBTA subway car will cost $2.4 million, a 25-percent tariff would add $600,000 to that cost.

    Under CRRC's contract with the MBTA, any added tariffs would become the agency's responsibility.

    Although CRRC would be reimbursed, officials fear that tariffs could curtail or endanger the company's ability to get other work.

    According to Rivera, CRRC has applied for 16 separate waivers. Those applications came with the written support of Lesser, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and others.

    They are all pending with the federal government.

    The Republican's Jim Kinney contributed to the reporting of this story.


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    The 1858 Edgartown courthouse is also undergoing asbestos abatement.

    Edgartown District Court personnel were sent home early Wednesday because of frigid temperatures inside the dilapidated building built 160 years ago. 

    An ancient oil-burning furnace at the Martha's Vineyard courthouse broke four weeks ago, but couldn't be fixed while an asbestos removal project in the boiler room was underway, reports the Vineyard Gazette.

    "We're freezing," a court official told the local newspaper. "We can't function under these circumstances."

    Inside the 1858 brick building, the Register of Deeds stayed open because mini splits with heat pumps have been installed in that office. Some workers bundled up and relied on space heaters. A clerk magistrate continued to hold some hearings.

    County commissioners are working out a plan to install a temporary boiler later this week.

    The courthouse serves Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, West Tisbury, Chilmark, Aquinnah, Gosnold and Elizabeth Islands.


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    The new proposal follows a nearly two-year legal standoff with Mayor Domenic Sarno.

    A group of Springfield City Councilors are renewing an effort to overhaul the structure of the Springfield Police Department, following a nearly two-year legal standoff with Mayor Domenic Sarno.

    In December of 2016, the city council overrode Sarno's veto and passed a measure to reinstate a civilian police commission. The move would have stripped hiring, firing and disciplinary power from Police Commissioner John Barbieri and returned those powers to a civilian board whose members would be confirmed by the city council.

    The commission would have mirrored the system used in the city until 2005, when a state-run financial control board abolished the Police Commission.

    But Sarno said the measure was "invalid," and the city's law office issued an opinion arguing that council confirmation of police commissioners would have violated the city charter, which grants appointment authorities to the mayor.

    The new measure, filed by Councilor Timothy Ryan, would allow the mayor to appoint commissioners without council confirmation -- a change that Ryan hopes will put the overhaul on firm legal footing.

    But City Solicitor Ed Pikula expressed skepticism about the new proposal as well, saying establishing a civilian commission would be "ignoring professionalism" and is still legally dubious.

    "While the proposal has removed the defect from the last proposal that required City Council approval of Board Members, it still conflicts with the City Charter as well as state statutes granting the Mayor authority, as well as the Police Commissioner's contract granting him authority to run the Police Department, establish rules and discipline," Pikula said in a statement.

    In an interview, Ryan described the city's police disciplinary system as flawed. Currently, a civilian Community Police Hearing Board hears disciplinary cases and issues recommendations, but final disciplinary authority rests with the police commissioner.

    Civilian commissioners would be less entwined with officers in the department, allowing for more impartial discipline, Ryan argued.

    "In order for it to work, I think it's important to have the board who's actually going to hear the case have the power to make a decision," he said. "They haven't served 10, 20, 30 years in question with the officer involved or his brother or his cousin."

    In a statement, Sarno took a dim view of returning to a civilian-led police department.

    "My position has been well defined - keep it professional, not political, and legally sound. The modern day model of a professional police commissioner administering and directing the department is the trend across the country, and has worked well here," Sarno said. "This is indicated by the 45% reduction of overall crime in the last five years. As we continue to work with PERF and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the last thing they would want us to do is go backwards to a now deemed antiquated system."

    Sarno also said he has reached out for guidance to the Police Executive Research Forum -- the consulting group currently conducting a separate review of the department's Internal Investigations Unit.

    The new measure is being cosponsored by City Councilors Justin Hurst, Michael Fenton, Jesse Lederman and Adam Gomez, Ryan said. If passed, the measure would convert Barbieri's role from Commissioner to Chief, leaving him as the top officer in the department but without authority over personnel decisions.

    Under the proposal, an unpaid five-member civilian commission would have power over hiring, firing, promotions and discipline. The commission would also be responsible for drafting budget proposals for the department.

    The proposed ordinance is on the agenda for the council's Nov. 19 meeting.

    The revived effort to reinstate a civilian commission comes as the Springfield Police Department is facing intense legal and public scrutiny, following a series of misconduct allegations.

    Det. Gregg Bigda and former Det. Steven Vigneault were indicted last month on federal civil rights charges. The charges were the latest fallout from an off-books interrogation of juvenile suspects accused of stealing an unmarked police cruiser in February of 2016.

    Bigda allegedly kicked two of the teens in the face while they were in custody, and then was caught on video hurling racist invective at the suspects while they were held in the Palmer Police Department lockup. Bigda told one teen he could "crush your [expletive] skull and [expletive] get away with it," according to video obtained by The Republican.

    The city has previously said that Barbieri has always met or exceeded the disciplinary recommendations of the current hearing board. But Bigda's disciplinary case, which was resolved with a 60-day suspension through an agreement between Bigda and Barbieri, never reached the hearing board for review.

    And a statewide grand jury in Worcester is currently weighing criminal charges against officers connected to the alleged 2015 beating of four Springfield men. The men told investigators they were jumped by a group of attackers in a parking lot near Nathan Bill's Bar and Restaurant, following a heated but nonviolent barroom argument with a group of off-duty officers.

    The Hampden District Attorney's Office declined to press charges in the case last year, concluding that while the men were victims of a crime they could not provide strong enough identifications of their attackers to support charges.

    But the criminal case was revived by the FBI and the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, leading to an ongoing grand jury which has subpoenaed police department records and called officers to testify. The City of Springfield agreed to pay an $885,000 settlement last month to resolve civil lawsuits brought by the alleged victims.

    And the U.S. Department of Justice is currently conducting a "pattern-or-practice" of whether there are systemic civil rights violations by the Springfield Police Department. Such inquiries are civil investigations that can lead to extensive court-ordered reforms of police departments if patterns of unconstitutional misconduct are found.


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    "It's their first gathering," Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said at Monday's Select Board meeting. He said the public is welcome to attend.

    AMHERST -- The 13 newly elected town councilors, who will be sworn into office next month, will meet for the first time in a formal way Thursday during a training session organized by the town.

    "It's their first gathering," Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said at Monday's Select Board meeting. He said the public is welcome to attend.

    The Town Council-Elect workshop will take place at the University of Massachusetts Student Union building in the Cape Cod Lounge from 5 to 8 p.m.

    A second training is scheduled on Nov. 29.

    The council will be sworn in during an afternoon ceremony on Dec. 2 at the high school auditorium at 1 p.m.

    Their first business meeting is scheduled to take place at Town Hall on Dec. 3 at 8 p.m.

     

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    The PVTA Advisory Board has granted a 4.5 percent pay raise to its administrator, bringing her salary to $137,940, occurring after the bus fare was increased July 1 by 20 percent.

    SPRINGFIELD -- Just months after raising its bus fares amid serious budget challenges, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority advisory board has granted a 4.5 percent pay raise to its top administrator.

    The board approved the pay raise Wednesday for Sandra E. Sheehan, increasing her salary from $132,000 to $137,940.

    The pay raise is retroactive to June 1, the one-year anniversary of her hire.

    The raise follows a 20 percent hike in the one-way fare for bus riders on July 1 from  $1.25 to $1.50. The PVTA board at the time cited rising costs for buses, fuel, maintenance and payroll. Prior to that rate increase, PVTA officials said the transit authority was facing a $3.1 million budget gap for the new fiscal year.

    The Legislature provided some relief in July by approving a $455,605 boost in the PVTA budget.

    Paul Burns-Johnson, vice chairman of the PVTA advisory board and chairman of its compensation committee, said the raise is justified, reflecting "a good reward for good performance."

    "I think regardless of difficult circumstances, you need appropriate and qualified leadership at the top and Sandra demonstrates her ability to lead the agency effectively," Burns-Johnson said.

    In addition to instituting the fare hike, the advisory board also considered cutting in routes and services. Details were not immediately available Wednesday on what cuts have occurred, but the state budget assistance eased the situation, Burns-Johnson said.

    The board, with representatives from cities and towns served by the PVTA, approved the vote without any signals of opposition, members said.

    The PVTA chairman, Northampton Mayor David J. Narkewicz, joined in praising Sheehan, calling her "an outstanding leader of the agency." He said she joined PVTA during a very difficult period of fiscal challenge "due to underfunding of state contract assistance funding."

    "She has quickly earned the respect and trust of her staff, the Board, elected officials, and PVTA customers and helped navigate us through a very difficult fiscal situation with determination and skill," Narkewicz said. "PVTA is fortunate to have this experienced transportation professional as its leader and should make every effort to retain her."

    Thomas Ashe, chief of staff for Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, who was filling in as Springfield's representative at the meeting and joined in supporting the raise.

    "In speaking with the mayor, he felt strongly that Sandra Sheehan had done a very admirable job in he role as administrator of the PVTA," Ashe said. "The PVTA grappled with some funding challenges from the state budget and was forced to make some tough decisions."

    Burns-Johnson said the review process for Sheehan "generated only positive reviews."

    "There was no area of deficiency on the the administrator's part," Burns-Johnson said.


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    Jesus Flores, 48, of Springfield, was injured in a Nov. 3 shooting and succumbed to his injuries Tuesday.

    SPRINGFIELD - A 48-year-old city man seriously injured in a shooting last week has died.

    Jesus Flores, 48, of Springfield, was hit by gunfire on Nov. 3 on Waltham Avenue. He was admitted to the hospital and succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday, said James Leydon, spokesman for Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni.

    The shooting occurred at about 10:40 p.m. Police responded to a ShotSpotter activation and found Flores on the sidewalk and suffering from at least one gunshot wound, he said.

    Flores, who worked at a restaurant at Tower Square in downtown Springfield, had a long-time partner and was raising a 13-year-old boy with autism with her, said a friend who did not want to be named.

    "He was such a good guy. He was always smiling and laughing and he was into sports," she said. He was also a dedicated father to the boy.

    He grew up in Brooklyn and later moved to Western Massachusetts, she said.

    The homicide is being investigated by Springfield police detectives and the Hampden district attorney's office. No arrests have been made yet, Leyden said.

    "The District Attorney expresses his sympathies to Mr. Flores family," he said.

    Anyone who saw anything the night of the shooting or has any information about the crime is asked to call Springfield police detectives at 413-787-6355, he said.


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    Ann Lowe, the 1959 Holyoke Grand Colleen, will receive the St. Patrick's Parade Committee's Thomas Rohan Award.

    HOLYOKE - The Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade Committee has named Ann Lowe the 62nd Rohan Award Recipient.

    She becomes the first former Grand Colleen to receive the award.

    The award recognizes a longstanding member who contributed to the overall success of the parade or committee. The award honors the legacy of Thomas F. Rohan, the parade's first grand marshal.

    Lowe, a native of County Mayo, Ireland, began with the committee in 1959. She serves as the committee's liaison with the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England and a greeter with the Memorial Mass and John F. Kennedy Award Banquet.

    She chairs the parade's archive committee, too.

    Lowe recalled riding along the route as the parade's fourth colleen. A high school student then, she grew curious about how organizers assembled the parade. Decades later, she and her family will retrace the route, an over 2-mile line of warmth and well-wishers.

    "I was surprised and excited. They're a great group to work with," Lowe said after the committee made the announcement. "I enjoy the parade going through the streets of Holyoke every year."

    Going from colleen to committee member seemed a natural transition, Lowe said. "I enjoyed helping wherever I could."

    She remembered driving in an open-air car in 1959, waving to people along the route. "It was a great experience for me," she said.

    Lowe moved to the United States in 1950, settling with her family in Holyoke. She graduated from the former Sacred Heart High School and was employed at Bacon and Wilson PC, retiring in 2006.

    In a statement, Committee President Devin Sheehan said, "I am very excited that Ann Lowe is the 2019 Rohan Award recipient. Ann works hard to preserve the history of our parade as chair of our Archives Committee.

    "She will make history this year as not only the first grand colleen to ever receive this award, but also the first woman born in Ireland to be a Rohan Award recipient. I look forward to marching with Ann and her family on parade day," Sheehan said.

    Hayley Dunn, the award's 2018 recipient and selection committee chairwoman, said, "Ann's selection as the 2019 Rohan Award was the quickest vote in history -- a unanimous decision."

    She described Lowe as a quiet woman, selfless with an attention to detail, especially about Irish history. "I'm grateful for her guidance, and I'm thrilled that Ann is receiving this much-deserved award," Dunn said.

    Lowe, the mother of Heather Lowe and Kelly O'Sullivan, has two grandchildren, Andrew and Catherine. She remains a member of the Irish Cultural Center of New England, where she served as past secretary and on the board of directors.

    She will receive the award along with her fellow award recipients at the Parade Committee's Awards Dinner Feb. 2 at the Wherehouse? in Holyoke.

    The 68th Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade takes place March 17.


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    Researchers at UMass are providing advice to northern Alaskan communities in the hopes of reducing youth suicide rates.

    AMHERST - Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have teamed up with Alaskan officials in an attempt to drive down youth suicide rates in rural indigenous communities across the state.

    Alaska has the highest suicide rate per capita in the country, a fact that two UMass academics, Lisa Wexler and Cris Smith, want to change. According to the researchers, the suicide rate for rural Alaska Native youths can be as much as 18 times higher than for other American youth.

    The two have teamed up with communities in Alaska to create the "Promoting Community Conversations About Research to End Suicide" (PC CARES) which seeks to implement research to combat the trend. 

    Wexler, who is the associate professor of community health education at UMass Amherst's School of Public Health and Health Sciences, said that the goal of the program is to provide information and resources that allow communities to implement prevention efforts themselves. 

    "We try to offer practical, applicable information and tools that can be put into practice in a variety of ways to promote wellness and reduce risk," Wexler said in a statement. "Multilevel prevention efforts, like emotional support, plus less access to lethal means, is the most effective suicide prevention."

    "Our focus is on taking earlier action, changing basics and not waiting for warning signs," she said.

    The program was pilot-tested in 10 different Native Alaska communities over the past year. The goal of the program is partially to allow towns and villages to facilitate the prevention efforts themselves, igniting a "grassroots" effort on the part of community members. 

    "People in the community are interested in coming together to learn and work toward prevention. It is important that the learning circles themselves are facilitated by local people, and that they are designed so that everyone can learn how to be a part of wellness," Wexler said.

    The program will soon be expanding, as the research team recently won a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health. 

    Wexler said that the program has proven to be an opportunity for researchers to learn while also providing communities with the tools they need for prevention efforts. 

    "Mental health counselors can learn more about local culture and practices of rural Alaska Native communities, and community members can learn what tools are effective according to prevention science," she added. "Bringing people and ideas together in this way can lead to small and huge efforts for innovative actions, and we are excited to begin."


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    Read obituaries from The Republican newspaper in Springfield, Massachusetts.

    Here are the obituaries published Wednesday in The Republican:

    Obituaries from The Republican, Nov. 14, 2018

     

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