As we face the New Year, it’s time to look back on the old.
Here are the ten stories that generated the most interest and discussion on the blog in 2014.
(These are the stories that were most sought out* and/or commented on.)
After you read the list, post your thoughts on what you considered the year’s biggest stories in town.
What stories were you surprised to see not listed? Is there an unlisted story you think readers should care about more?
Counting down the biggest blog stories of 2014:
10. Algonquin adds physical education requirements
- The lead post in this category, Algonquin Principal: School failing to provide adequate PhysEd; additional Gym teacher needed, stirred up a controversy that surprised me.
- Parents protested the difficulty in fitting in other important courses (AP, music, etc) and pointed out that many of the students are engaged in physical activity through after school sports.
- The administration responded that they were following imposed guidelines by the state and sought to work out a transitional compromise for upper classmen.
- The controversy generated over 50 comments across multiple posts.
9. Discussion of potential Transfer Station changes
- Whenever I post a story about the Transfer Station, I have to brace myself for an onslaught of comments. (Transfer Station issues made the top story lists for the previous 3 years.)
- This year, the post Transfer Station: Minor changes this year, major changes down the pike? was the 6th most clicked.
- The Board of Selectmen asked the Department of Public Works to work with the Public Works Planning Board on reevaluating how the station is run and residents are charged. (That includes investigating Pay as You Throw options.)
- Readers shared their opinions in 55 comments.
- This popular story but short-lived story was just one of the other headaches for the DPW this year.
- In February, local media broke that DPW workers intentionally plowed in and damaged a state vehicle parked in the police parking lot. With video as a visual, the story drew the attention of local tv.
- DPW plowing incident: The incriminating video, public statement from town, and reports of DPW head’s involvement was the 4th most clicked this year.
- The controversy generated 70 comments across two posts, but quickly played out.
7. School Calendar
- In January, I shared the story School Committee to weigh changes to calendar, including elimination of 3 holidays.
- A committee of parents and administrators sought to improve the school calendar. But their suggestion to eliminate two Jewish Holidays and Good Friday met with opposition.
- More than 75 comments debated the change over a few posts. In the end, the School Committee voted to keep the holidays.
6. Park Central development
- The Town’s handling of and hearings on the 40B development at Park Central have continued to be a big issue this year. And this fall, an additional proposed development at the site just added fuel to the fire.
- No individual story on this issue came in among the top ten. But stories on the topic generated 95 comments this year.
- Of course, this story is far from done. The next Zoning Board of Appeals hearing is scheduled for January 7th.
5. Barn Hollow open space
- Approaching Town Meeting in April, residents debated how to handle open space infringements in the Barn Hollow neighborhood.
- Voters decided to “accept” the open space parcel, including plots that homeowners were fighting to keep.
- The issue was raised again (with accusations of improper behavior by selectmen) when residents learned that Barn Hollow neighbors received a letter stating they may be granted licenses to use the space.
- Selectmen explained away the apparent misperception of “behind closed doors” communications.
- Following advice of counsel, the board voted to define current rights to the neighbors, allowing them to mow the land.
- Across several posts, readers posted over 120 comments on the open space issues.
4. DPW layoff
- The layoff of one Town employee stirred up a hornets nest. When the Town’s Cemetery Supervisor was laid off, she was purportedly told it was part of the budget approved by Town voters.
- Some residents accused the Department of Public Works of hiding information and deceiving voters over what the budget entailed.
- The issue was discussed at Board of Selectmen Meetings. In the end the worker’s job was announced as being reinstated with minor changes.
- Readers submitted 140 comments across multiple posts.
3. Town election controversies
- This spring, Southborough held its first election for the newly expanded Board of Selectmen. It was surprisingly fraught with controversy.
- At the center of controversy was former selectmen David Parry.
- It started with Parry’s charge that someone attempted to sabotage his filing for the seat by stealing voter signatures.
- Later, there were accusations by selectmen that Parry had misrepresented himself to state officials.
- More back and forth ensued with accusations that Dan Kolenda’s campaign signs violated bylaws, and return accusations that Parry was misrepresenting himself in anonymous comments on the blog.
- The controversies generated more than 150 comments.
- It was fortunately all laid to rest when Parry conceded his election loss in a letter to the editor wishing the elected selectmen well.
And the top stories this year. . .
I’m going to call the top two a tie. One had the most comments and the other the most clicks.
Main Street Reconstruction
- Before entering the political race, David Parry was already making headlines. He led an initiative to reevaluate the Town’s plans for Main Street reconstruction.
- Drawing residents’ attention to changes and issues related to the plan, Parry asked Town Meeting voters to appoint a committee to investigate alternatives.
- Voters narrowly supported the BOS opposition to Parry’s measure. Instead the board appointed its own committee, charged with making recommendations in time for the scheduled State Hearing.
- It was the most vigorously debated issue of the year with 407 comments.
- Comments eventually petered out as the committee appeared to do the impossible and reach consensus for a revised plan.
Saving the Burnett House
- This summer, residents learned that a developer had plans to raze what appears to be the Town’s most beloved landmark – the Burnett (aka Garfield) House.
- When the story broke, it was with the sad news that the Town’s hands appeared to be tied. Demolition seemed inevitable.
- One teen rallied her friends and the community in protest. The protest drew the attention of local media and of the property owners.
- The owners decided to hold off on selling the property to try to work with the Town on a way to “save” the stone house.
- A proposal was reached, and now the fate of the house lays with voters at the next Annual Town Meeting.
- The story generated over 270 comments. The post Garfield House: Planning Board awaits advice from counsel; 14 year old rallying a protest was the most clicked this year. And all together, stories on the issue received almost 25,000 clicks.*
*I can’t track how many times a story has been read, since that would include readers who read the portion on the blog’s home page or through email. I can only track how many readers visited the story page.
A bit late, I suppose, I have a topic I think did not attract the interest that it deserves, namely the construction of Madison Place on the opposite side of Rte. 9 from Park Central. It’s also a development allowed under Ch. 49B but the significance to me is that there are several hundred units (I’ve lost count because they’ve added buildings) to contribute to the Rte. 9 traffic problems, especially by cars using the light at Crystal Pond Rd. (leading to their development) to cross over and go west on Rte. 9, thus adding to cars already entering on 9 from Flagg Fd. (presumably NOT from Park Central, per the plan…but one might wonder,)
. It’s a safe bet to suggest that Madison Place attracted far less attention than Park Central because there are no existing residences nearby. Also these are apartments so we would assume more turnover; I’ve heard nothing of the impact on schools of students there moving in and out, nor have I seen anything about school impact from Park Central, though maybe I missed it.
BUT my major concern: the presence of several hundred people who have little connection with our community, given the absence of information about our town and its services and governance in the advertisements for the projects. Yet if many decide to become registered voters, they could outvote the rest of us at town elections or town meeting. Likely? I suppose not.. But something to think about. I offered one of the developers the opportunity to distribute a “Welcome to Southborough” packet but there was no interest. Will these new citizens contribute to our community and support its services and schools or?
I’ve seen very little in print about the items I mention above.