Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lowell Dems Head Top Committees

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lowell Dems Head Top Committees
By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
and Amelia Pak-Harvey

BOSTON — Grappling with significant turnover in the House ranks over the past two years, House Speaker Robert DeLeo tapped new leaders on Thursday to helm key committees this session with buzz building around labor issues, energy reform and Gov. Charlie Baker's promise to push for an overhaul of the state's Medicaid program.

Among Greater Lowell representatives, two Lowell Democrats landed chairmanships. Rep. Thomas Golden will co-chair the joint committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee as lawmakers contemplate an array of proposals to boost renewable energy sources and ensure system reliability.

With increased electric rates from National Grid and a proposed natural gas pipeline from Kinder Morgan, the committee could play an important role throughout the next administration.

In energy matters, Golden emphasized price and availability.

“It’s important that we make sure that we have plenty of supply into Massachusetts,” he said. “Probably the most important thing is to work towards affordability.”

Golden praised Lowell’s electric aggregation pact with Dominion Retail that the city initiated last year, which decreased electric costs by 8 to 10 percent.

The aggregation process allows municipalities to save money for residents by buying energy in bulk.

Golden later filed a bill on gas aggregation, replicating Lowell’s idea to possibly generate savings for residents throughout the state.

“Those are just different ways to look at how to save money,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dave Nangle will chair the committee on Steering, Policy and Scheduling, which works with the House speaker to determine the order that bills should hit the House floor.

As bills pour out of their respective committees, Nangle said he would work with the speaker and his staff to determine if and when any action will be taken.

“It’s a great spot,” Nangle said of his chairmanship. “I’m honored to have been chosen by Speaker DeLeo to serve in this leadership capacity, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of his team in moving our legislative priorities forward.”

DeLeo rolled out the leadership and committee assignments at a closed door caucus with Democratic members who voted to ratify the appointments that in many cases carry additional stipends for lawmakers. Lawmakers receive a base salary of $60,032. Most committee chairs receive an additional $7,500, although committee chairs on a few panels receive an additional $15,000. Exacerbated by a wave of snowstorms and state budget imbalances, the first two months of the session have slid by without much activity as senators named to committees in January waited to learn of their House counterparts.
2015 lowell sun 02/27/2015

CVB Forced To Market Valley On Shrinking Shoestring

Saturday, February 28, 2015

CVB Forced To Market Valley On Shrinking Shoestring
By Grant Welker

LOWELL — With only two full-time workers and another two part-time, the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t have many places in its budget where it can cut without having to eliminate someone’s job.

In having to cut more than $100,000 this year after a drop in state financial support, the office has cut back on marketing, switching from paid advertisements in print publications to doing free promotions.

“You don’t want to lose momentum,” the bureau’s executive director, Deb Belanger, said of carefully choosing where to cut spending. “You want to be out there promoting the Merrimack Valley.”

The CVB, as it is known, is a critical component of getting the word out about the region, from Lowell National Historical Park to the North Bridge in Concord and the Lexington Battle Green. It doesn’t want any budget cut to undo work it has done to draw more visitors to the area’s attractions.

Tourism in Massachusetts generates nearly $1 billion in state and local taxes and $16.9 billion in travel-related expenditures, supporting nearly 125,000 in-state jobs, according to the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

“Our organization is (fiscally) conservative. We’ve always been conservative,” Belanger said. “But we have to make tough decisions sometimes.”

It had to make those tough decisions after Gov. Deval Patrick enacted cuts in November. Of the Merrimack Valley bureau’s roughly $800,000 budget, almost half — $375,000 — came from the state this budget year. The state’s amount was reduced to $268,000.

“It’s tough,” Belanger said. “Especially five months into the (fiscal) year.”

The visitors bureau, which is one of 16 such offices in the state, has also seen funding drop in the long term from its member cities and towns. Lowell, for example, used to give $100,000 but now gives only $25,000. Chelmsford is the only other community that contributes on a regular basis, and gives $5,000.

The bureau is in regular talks with member communities about funding contributions, Belanger said.

The bureau’s 21 member communities are: Acton, Bedford, Billerica, Boxboro, Burlington, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Concord, Dracut, Dunstable, Lexington, Lincoln, Littleton, Lowell, Maynard, Stow, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro, Westford, Wilmington and Woburn.

Concord and Lexington, big tourist draws as central sites for the Revolutionary War, both have their own tourism offices in addition to their ties to the Merrimack Valley bureau.

Other funding comes from the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, which this year was about $260,000, and from revenue from membership and sponsors for various programs.

In response to the latest cuts, the bureau eliminated planned advertising in print publications, such as sports destination magazines. Instead, it worked with the travel group AAA on a getaway package promoted in Connecticut that was free for the bureau, Belanger said. It is also looking at revenue increases to help close the budget gap by offering advertising opportunities in some programs.

State Rep. Tom Golden, a Lowell Democrat, knows the difficult balance of maintaining funding for programs like tourism when education, public-safety and health-care advocates are also fighting for every dollar. But the benefit of tourism is clear, he said.

“It’s not a secret that tourism is the third-largest industry in Massachu-setts,” said Golden, who is the Merrimack Valley bureau’s board chairman.

Tourist or group bookings also don’t happen by accident, he said. Both Golden and Belanger mentioned a Jehovah’s Witness group that will hold meetings in Lowell for five weekends in May, June and July, bringing thousands to the city each weekend. That was the result of the Merrimack Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau marketing itself and the region, they said.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sun Pulls Up A Chair For Missing Vets

First American Paper To Honor POW/MIAs In Empty-Seat Effort
By Todd Feathers

LOWELL — Local veterans gathered in The Sun’s lobby Wednesday to dedicate an empty black chair as a reminder of the estimated 90,000 or more veterans who remain missing in action or prisoners of war. The POW/MIA chair, which will sit outside the newspaper’s offices in the American Textile History Museum at 491 Dutton St., is the first of its kind at an American newspaper, said John MacDonald of Lowell, vice president of Veterans Assisting Veterans. The symbolic chairs have spread in recent years through sports stadiums, businesses and the halls of government in honor of the missing veterans.

“I want to thank you for The Sun, not only for your years of service defending our country, but as role models,” Editor Jim Campanini told the crowd, which included more than two dozen veterans. “I’m very proud to see this exhibit here that will hopefully endure forever.” 


SUN/RYAN MCBRIDE Veterans and other dignitaries gather outside The Sun’s offices on Dutton Street in Lowell where the newspaper dedicated a POW/MIA chair for veterans with help from the Veterans Assisting Veterans group Wednesday afternoon. VAV President Dennis Moschella addresses the crowd. The chair will be on permanent display outside the newspaper’s doors. Watch video at lowellsun.com.

Among those at the ceremony was Barbara Grzyb, of Lowell, whose brother, Robert, was captured in 1967 and held in a Cambodian prison camp. His family still does not know what happened to him.

Grzyb carried with her a blue folder held shut by a clasp bearing a black-and white photograph of Robert in his Army uniform. The folder contains documentation of her ongoing search for his remains.

In it, she carries pictures of men believed to be guards at the prison camp where Robert was held and a painful report from the Joint POW/MIAAccounting Command that suggests his body may have been used as a medical cadaver at a Vietnamese hospital after his death.

“Nobody actually realizes what a family member goes through,” Grzyb said.

She compared the years of pain, the desire for some knowledge of her brother’s fate, to searching for a missing child.

“I made a promise to bring him home,” Grzyb said. “He was born here, he lived here, he deserves to come home.”

Others, like Joe Zangri of Dracut, who served in the Air Force from 1960 to 1964, find it hard to speak about their comrades who were lost oversees. The vacant POW/MIAchairs offer him reassurance that those men and women are not forgotten.

“They’re the real heroes,” Zangri said.

The chair is flanked by an American and black POW/MIA flags and surrounded by a red velvet rope.

“It is my hope that the visitors to this space on Dutton Street will take a moment to pause and reflect on those lives,” City Councilor Corey Belanger said.

All of the exhibit’s components were donated by Veterans Assisting Veterans, a peer support group that first suggested that The Sun house the exhibit, and the folding chair was also specifically chosen to be easily transportable for educational functions.

The Sun is honored to be a proud partner in this effort,” said Mark O’Neil, the paper’s president and publisher. “We owe all of our veterans and their families so much reverence and gratitude.”

John MacDonald, of VFW Post 662 and CEO of Big Decisions, speaks to veterans and other guests outsid e The Sun’s offices Wednesday afternoon, where the newspaper dedicated an empty chair to POW/MIAs. The chair is a symbol of the more than 90,000 veterans whose whereabouts are unkown and are listed as either prisoners of war or missing in action. At right is Dennis Moschella, president of Veterans Assisting Veterans.

                                               Lowell veteran Bob Page reflects during a ceremony dedicating
                                                   a POW/MIA chair outside The Sun’s offices on Wednesday. 
                                                       Watch exclusive video on this story at lowellsun.com