Voting In Your Local Elections

I would argue if you aren’t going to bother with voting in major elections, because you don’t think your vote counts, you should at least focus your attention on your local elections. These are the elections that are going to have a significant impact on your everyday life. The people you elect in these elections impact your schools and safety. They will be the ones that decide things like stupidly small trash barrels and overpriced but cheaply made yellow bags for your overflow trash. While the national elections have an effect in ways, these local elections are crucial to your way of life.

Today in my city, we are having a preliminary election. The big piece of this is narrowing down the list of mayoral candidates, though some wards also have candidates fighting for their place on the city council ballots. In my ward, our councilman is running uncontested which isn’t a surprise. He seems like a reasonable person that genuinely cares about his job and his constituents. Even though the outcomes on my street are probably going to go back to exactly how they were, he tried to make the street safer. I don’t fault him for anything other than trying to make everyone happy.

The big race comes down to the mayoral candidates: a past mayor who wants to run the city again, a guy who thinks of himself as the heir apparent to the position, a public servant of the city for a long time, and another candidate. This list needs to be narrowed down to 2 candidates.

I struggled a long time with who to choose here. Well, I already had the list down to two people. One already had their chance to run the city. The other, well, my personal opinions based on what I’ve seen made that a non-starter. That narrows it down to the perceived heir apparent of the city and someone who hasn’t really involved himself in politics. After a back and forth on that decision and meeting one of the candidates, one thing hit me. One of them had a place to make positive change in the city, to say no to those ridiculous trash barrels, to come up with some solution long before the “Oh crap, what do we do now?, and chose not to. The other seems to have a genuine heart to improve the city and serving in those schools my children are/will attend so he understands what can make these schools even better.

It may only be a preliminary, but it’s still an election. The city needs a positive change and today is the first step in making that change. So getting out and voting is a necessary thing to do today.

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When Safety and Convenience Collides

I’ve had this long saga going on, dealing with the fellow residents on my street. You may have read the stories and followed along on the blog with this first major part, then the second part where the neighbors took this as a slight to them. As if this was all about some vendetta the city and I had against them. As if I was the only person who complained about the parking around the street, which it turns out has been a long running joke in Chicopee for forever despite their insistence that everything was fine until the troublemakers (us) moved in.

Recently, there was a decision where the street would be a one way street and that they would add some apartment parking on the street. What does this mean for the parking signs? Do we still get no parking around the bend so that emergency vehicles can safely maneuver around the street? I guess we’ll find out when I have to subject myself to another meeting of dirty looks and name calling.

What I do know is that I’ve never felt more safe on the street than I did when the signs went up. Even though I got dirty looks, people yelling passive-aggressively as I was outside because I was the cause for all their problems in the world. They didn’t care that the neighborhood was safer now. They cared that they wanted to do whatever they wanted, park wherever they wanted, because they are entitled to that. They have a right to be pissed; their parking situation is equally nightmarish as our street is with only 110 parking spots for 150 apartments.

I am scared. Not that I’m going to get mugged by my neighbors. My husband, who always worries, got enough of a security system where even if something does happen, it’ll be on camera or I can hit the panic button quickly to scare people off and get help right away. I’m not scared about that. I’m scared that things will go back to the way it was. Where cars wouldn’t be able to see the kids walking to and from the sidewalk to get to their school or bus stop or just going to the playground. I’m scared that I won’t be able to let my son play on the front yard again because what if another tractor trailer ends up on my lawn. Or even get scared about him riding his bike on the street because the cars blocked the speeding cars on the street from seeing him and he gets hurt or killed. I worry about those things. The neighbors? Don’t seem to care. I’m “just mad some pots got destroyed”. They don’t care that I put those pots there for the purpose of causing some resistance so that vehicles would stop driving on my lawn. They don’t care that it wasn’t 1 tractor trailer, it was 4 in 4 years. What if my son was there? What if the one had enough force to actually hit that tree into my house? But yea, totally about those pots….

I hope things turn out better than I’ve imagined in my head. My sons start school soon and I have enough things to worry about when it comes to their safety at school. I don’t need to worry about them getting hurt coming to and from. I don’t need to worry about an emergency happening and the ambulances and fire trucks not getting to us or our neighbors in time to save them. But, I might have to go back to worrying because parking wherever they want is more important than that. And I’m just a horrible human being for thinking that safety matters.

My (Mis?)Adventures at a Neighborhood Meeting

I’ve written a few blogs about my issues with my neighborhood. I did end up getting the attention of the city councilman, who actually cares about doing the right thing. He listened. He was responsive and not sure how he missed my email. He immediately took a look at the street and determined there was an issue with parking. While I simply wanted the curve to be a “No Parking” zone because fire trucks couldn’t make it through the bend the way it was, it turns out there was a bigger issue.

Out of the people who attended the meeting, 90% of them were residents of the apartments, 7% were city officials, and then only 2 homeowners on the street: myself and my husband. The ones that they blamed for the horrible situation they are in now: they can’t park all along both sides of a curved street. I was prepared. Public safety was a major concern, which should trump any convenience that they felt they were entitled to. It does suck that good people have to suffer because some people want to be inconsiderate. I felt like offering up a suggestion of permit parking in the apartment parking lot would be a great idea.

Was I pissed that my property was not just damaged once but 4 times in the 4 years I had lived there up until that point? Absolutely. But there was a bigger issue. There were ambulances that had to park in my driveway because they couldn’t park close enough to the apartments. That’s time that could matter in life and death situations. What if a house catches fire and the fire truck can’t make it around the bend to save people? That should be a concern. Not “but it’s too far to walk”, despite the fact that the people who complained at the meeting either a) didn’t have a car or b) already parked where the “No Parking” spaces end. They should be happy the fire trucks and ambulances can better reach them. That their public transportation can get to them easier.

But no. I’m an evil, horrible human being that is targeting the apartment people because I hate poor people. Because I have an in with the government because obviously I’m rich since I’m a homeowner. First of all, I was a single, teen mom who worked long hours to make ends meet and still failed and needed public assistance. I know what it’s like to be poor and I never forget sacrificing my own meals so my son never starved. Second of all, if I were rich I would be living on the other side of the school where the houses are bigger and have better lawns. I didn’t know that my complaint would get “No Parking” signs along half the street on both sides. The thing is… it wasn’t just me.

Sure, my complaint may have started the snowball effect but it was them who turned it into a snowman. The fire department said that they had issues and wanted the “No Parking” signs. But still, it was my fault. Somehow a nobody like me can apparently influence an entire city government. I can’t. If I could, my blog would be a lot bigger and I’d be much more famous. And rich. And living on the other side of the school.

The meeting itself was a mess. They were yelling over each other. They pointed in my direction, saying “just because some flower pots got destroyed” as if that mattered. It didn’t. It was the catalyst; not the cause. The government officials there explained the case and I understood. I didn’t like that I can’t have guests parked outside of my house but it was a logical choice from the city engineer standpoint. As the councilor said, “It may not have been the popular choice, but it was the right choice.” I agree with the signs even more today than I did before. Plus, they should be happy now that they have have more room to sprawl out their lawn chairs and grills in the street. It really is a win/win.

We explained that we wanted a safer neighborhood for everyone to enjoy. Some understood. Others stormed out of the meeting feeling like they were ignored. Again, those were the people that were unaffected by this. They felt as though they were entitled to park in the street and didn’t like it when our councilor told them that they aren’t. That the street isn’t a parking lot, it’s a public street that the city dictates what can and cannot happen. He made sense. He listened. He tried to explain the point repeatedly of how the signs were really fixing a mistake of the past. He was kind to them, only to have them disrespect him and the very kind head of the DPW.

I admit that I’m a misanthrope, but my intentions were good. I didn’t ask for parking to be banned outside of my house. I suggested that there should be no parking around the curb and that people blocking the sidewalk to the school should be dealt with. I didn’t know that the other city departments complained about the issue. When I complained, he did what he had to do and he found out there were a lot of complaints and concerns. He was just the only person who cared enough to fix it.

They are planning to re-address this at a meeting in August. What do I think will happen then? I think they will make things worse for themselves. I predict that they think the street will become a one-way street and it will fix the problem, not acknowledging the fact that the fire department said they wanted that side to be “No Parking”. They will get permits for their cars, but then they have to worry about the legal repercussions of that. That’s assuming anything will change, which it probably won’t. As much as this inconveniences me, it’s the right call. I’m okay with the sacrifice for the greater good of the neighborhood. There are a lot of elderly people on this street and having access to emergency vehicles should be the top priority, not what’s convenient.

I don’t want to go in August, so I can have the evil stares and people actually attack me as if I’m the cause of their problems. But it’s all about making a change when you feel one is needed to make things better. And I can go to sleep very comfortably knowing that I did just that. My conscience is clear. I saw an issue, I took the steps to resolve the issue, and the issue was resolved. That really should have been the end of it. And that is the end of my experience with participating in the local government.

The Local Government and You

Growing up in school, we were told the biggest fairy tale of our lives: that the government works for the people. We are taught that the government cares about its citizens, making bills to protect us and listen to us. If they don’t, you go out and vote and make a difference. As an adult, you get hit with the crushing reality that the government doesn’t work for us: they work for whatever will get them the most money and re-elected. Yes, on a much grander scale this accurately describes the federal government but there is still the misconception at the local level that us citizens actually have a voice. Spoiler: we don’t. And the thing about voting? The citizens need to educate themselves and have actual choices to make the changes that are necessary. We don’t. The only politician that I follow in Chicopee that seems to genuinely be concerned with its citizens doesn’t even get a second glance from voters.

When you become a homeowner, you realize how terrible your local government can be. For instance, my mortgage went up as it seems my property taxes went up. What did I get in return for these taxes? Are my teachers getting anything that they are asking for so that they can better serve my children? Nope. In fact, they are still trying to negotiate terms of a contract that ended a year ago (Last I saw anyways, I could be wrong in which case feel free to correct me). Also in fact? They are shuffling around teachers/administration in a manner that may negatively impact the education of my children. They were even discussing getting rid of the Pre-AP program at my son’s high school, a move that actually upset my child. That tax money didn’t go to our schools.

Well, at least we kept our free trash pickup right? Except we really didn’t. We were given a trash barrel that fits 2 trash bags in it and then we have to pay $5-$10 for extra bags if we need to. I live in a house with 2 children and my recycling is so full that by the bi-weekly pickup, I have so much recycling accumulated that I can’t do anything with and it keeps building up. I’m certainly not the only family in the city with this issue. Does that matter? Nope. So where did our money go? Well, a conspiracy theorist may point out that the Mayor’s street is getting redone again…

My husband and I are reasonable people. We follow the rules. We donate more than our fair share of supplies to our elementary school because we can afford to and other parents may not be so lucky. We do it because it helps the teachers and by helping our teachers, we are giving our children the best chance to succeed. We don’t even complain about much to the city. Our only complaint has ever been: Can you fix the parking situation on our street?

A backstory. We live on a horseshoe type street. Our house is on one side of the curve, the Inkedparkingsituation_LIside where there is a sidewalk that leads up to the school and playground behind our house. A sidewalk that all the neighborhood kids need to access to get to school or their bus stops. A sidewalk that frequently gets blocked by cars. This curve has cars parked alongside it pretty much all the time, only allowing 1 car to make it around the curve, if they’re lucky (as you can see). Larger vehicles? Those aren’t so lucky. For instance, 3 times trucks have ended up on my property. They drive down the street, which they have no business being down anyways, and end up needing to back up. The problem is backing up with an 18 wheeler. This one incident is a truck that managed to come up several feet onto my property, nearly hitting my tree. In an incident that occurred yesterday, 3 pots and 2 lights were destroyed. Annoying, yes but they were close to the curb so I realize there’s nothing we can do. My neighbor? The tire tracks are further up his lawn than mine. 3 incidences where trucks ended up my property probably exceeds the reasonable limit. If I didn’t have a hill on my property, those trucks could have destroyed my home. There was also this really cool year when my son took a special needs bus to school. 3 times (at least) the bus couldn’t get him because they couldn’t get up the street. Reported it to the city, and got the response of: “Parking on this street is a known issue.” What is a known issue? Does it mean that it’s known and you don’t care to fix it? For the record, other times I just met the bus at a different stop to ensure he made it to school. One time the bus driver kept honking her horn at everyone until people started moving their cars so she could get by. I miss her.

See what also happens because of the parking situation on my street is that fire trucks and ambulances have some trouble getting around the street, sometimes even requiring one of them to get out to help the driver back up and move forward for 10 minutes while trying to get around this street. What happens in an emergency because of those 10 minutes? People could die. Does that matter? No, apparently not. What if my kid is having a medical emergency and the vehicles couldn’t get to him in time and he died? This is a valid concern that I have. There are other kids and elderly people on this street. This is a valid concern that they should have. (Side note: absolute props to the police and fire department. I don’t want to sound like I’ve insulted them because I have never had a negative experience with them. They were always kind, helpful, and they do a lot for our city.)

Now I know…. “instead of ranting on your blog that no one sees about this maybe you should contact the city”. After the first incident 2 years ago with the “Known issue response”, a second report about the sidewalk being blocked where we got a “Call dispatch next time.” (For the record, the car stayed there for another day without any recourse if memory serves me correctly.) I decided to email every official I could think to. Paper trails are a more effective approach I find. They can deny a phone call, but not electronic communications. It’s a safety concern and I worry for the day when something happens because of it. What if my kid was on the lawn when a truck did this? As of the writing of this a day later, I haven’t received any email back. Even a courtesy “we’ll look into this matter” would be less infuriating than no response.

The moral of this story: the government doesn’t care. And the only people that do seem to genuinely care never get the chance to help us. Chicopee needs a change in leadership, a shakeup. I hope it happens soon. Our schools deserve better. Our government employees deserve better. Our citizens deserve better. Most importantly, our children deserve better.