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Archives for September 24, 2015

Somerville to host Winter Hill brainstorming walk

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Residents and businesses in Somerville’s Winter Hill neighborhood have an opportunity to help brainstorm short-term ways to improve the area, at a community “walk and talk” on Monday, Sept. 28 from 6-8 p.m. at 328 Broadway, future home of Winter Hill Brewing Co. The event, part of a larger Winter Hill planning process, is being conducted with the help of Team Better Block, a group that works with cities, developers, and others “to create quick, inexpensive, high-impact changes that improve and revitalize underused properties,” according to its website, Community members are invited to offer ideas for “pop up” projects such as adding new landscaping, parks, or outdoor seating, and staging arts and entertainment events. After the walk, small group discussions will be held to gather community ideas and discuss ways to implement them. For more information, contact Max MacCarthy, the city’s urban revitalization specialist, at or 617-625-6600, ext. 2515.

John Laidler can be reached at

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NJ declares drought watch in Morris County region

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection officials are urging residents to voluntarily conserve water after issuing a water-supply drought watch for much of New Jersey, including Morris County.

The drought watch is prompted by continued dry weather, above-average temperatures and overall rainfall deficits that have decreased reservoir, ground water and streamflow levels. Portions of 12 counties are part of the watch, including Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset and Union.

“We have been carefully tracking precipitation, stream flows, groundwater and reservoir levels since the spring and over the course of the very dry summer,” Commissioner Bob Martin stated in an announcement on Wednesday. “While it is not uncommon to see reduced stream flows and groundwater levels by the end of the summer season, we are beginning to observe signs of stress in our water supply indicators, and this warrants closer scrutiny and public cooperation.”

“In times like these, all Morris County residents, businesses, schools, institutions and municipalities should reduce water consumption to ensure we have an adequate supply of potable water in coming weeks and months, until we start to get more precipitation,” said Morris County Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo.

David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University, told the Daily Record earlier this month that portions of Northern New Jersey, including Lake Hopatcong, had been placed in the “moderate drought” category on the National Drought Monitor.

Martin said the purpose of the watch is to raise public awareness, formally alert all water suppliers in the region of the situation, and to seek voluntary cooperation to preserve existing supplies in the affected regions, with water demand still high.

“We are asking residents to be aware of the situation and use water more carefully and deliberatively, especially when it comes to lawn watering and other non-essential uses,” Martin stated. “The goal is to moderate water demand through voluntary conservation.”

The DEP offered several suggestions for conserving water, including:

Do not over-water lawns and landscaping. Two times per week for 30 minutes in morning or late evening typically is sufficient. Use a hose with a hand-held nozzle to water flowers and shrubs.

• Avoid watering lawns and plants during the heat of the day to avoid evaporation and water waste.

• Use a broom to sweep the sidewalk rather than hosing it clean.

• Fix leaky faucets and pipes.

• Turn off the faucet while brushing teeth and shaving.

• Run washing machines and dishwashers only when full.

While measurable rainfall during the second week of September provided some temporary relief, it did not appreciably improve the water supply situation in the three drought regions, DEP officials said. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center also is projecting above-average temperatures and dry weather to continue through October.

The DEP already has observed significant reservoir level declines in some water systems, particularly United Water New Jersey’s Oradell reservoir system in Bergen County.

Other drinking water supply indicators are also showing signs of stress from the dry weather and high water demands, including stream flows and ground water levels, as well as declining reservoir storage in the New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s Spruce Run and Manasquan Reservoirs in Hunterdon and Monmouth counties, respectively.

If conditions remain warm and dry and water demands do not decrease, DEP officials said they will consider upgrading to a drought warning. permitting the department to order water purveyors to develop alternative sources of water or transfer of water between areas of New Jersey with relatively more water to those with less.

“We are asking residents across the state, and particularly in the three drought watch regions, to use water sparingly, and to voluntarily reduce nonessential water use, especially outdoors,’’ said Dan Kennedy, DEP assistant commissioner for Water Resources Management. “We advocate for conservation of water at all times. But responsible water use at this time is especially important. We ask that residents take voluntary steps such as limiting lawn and landscaping watering, and cutting back on water-related chores at home, such as car washing. This could save millions of gallons of water daily.”

For more state water supply status information, visit:

For more information on water conservation, visit:

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Cut Florida’s ‘corruption tax’

Florida prosecutors call it the “corruption tax.” You won’t find it listed on your county tax bill. But you pay it.

It’s the hundreds of millions of dollars Floridians pay every year just to absorb the cost of bid-rigging, bribery, fraud and waste. Corruption costs you more through sales taxes, school taxes, court fees, even highway tolls.

Now, after years of covering corruption, Gannett news sites across Florida want to give you a tax break. I’m leading our campaign to pass an anti-corruption bill that would deter and punish the greedy with two simple changes urged by a statewide grand jury on public corruption.

Without change, the news — and costs — will continue.

•In Brevard County, former clerk of courts Mitch Needelman faces conspiracy charges after steering an $8 million dollar contract for document scanning to a company that paid kickbacks to his campaign. He even saddled taxpayers with a loan to pay his co-conspirators up front, state investigators say.

• In Tallahassee, whistleblowers have alerted authorities to possible bid-tampering and waste in Leon County school construction dating to 2007. Federal investigators seized the school district’s email archive after a judge found probable cause that it would contain evidence of a crime.

•In Fort Myers, the FBI showed up in 2013 to grill all six city council members about land deals for a downtown hotel and road-widening project. Former Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall just finished a reduced prison sentence after agreeing to deliver useful information as an undercover informant.

•And in Escambia County — where four commissioners were arrested in 2003 for bribery and racketeering — the mayor of Pensacola has been under investigation for handing no-bid landscaping contracts to a friend.

But many investigations go nowhere in Florida. That’s because of two flaws in state law.

First, the public-corruption statutes do not apply to government contractors who so often conspire to pay the bribes, rig the bids and defraud taxpayers. Our bill would add government contractors to the legal definition of “public servant.”

Second, the law forces prosecutors to prove defendants’ had corrupt thoughts or intent — a much higher burden than for all other types of crimes. Our bill would stop that and require prosecutors to prove only that defendants acted knowingly.

To help all of Florida, I reached out on behalf of Gannett news sites to two lawyers I could trust.

Phil Archer, the State Attorney for Brevard and Seminole counties, told us what prosecutors need to get tough. Archer persuaded the 20-member association of state attorneys to vote unanimously to include the two changes in their own legislative priorities.

Michael Kahn is a litigator and member of FLORIDA TODAY’s editorial advisory board who has experience writing legislation and lobbying. Kahn drafted the model bill, pro bono.

“It absolutely does not make anything new illegal,” Kahn said. “It makes it easier to prosecute the guilty.”

Case for change

It has been five years since Florida’s statewide grand jury on public corruption investigated the issue and called for the simple fixes in our bill.

For five years, the news has continued to make the case for change.

At booming Port Canaveral, a former elected port commissioner conspired with a developer and campaign contributor to deliver exclusive rights to build a waterfront hotel. Ralph Kennedy got caught selling his vote and support for financial kickbacks. But he was allowed to resign and walk away on probation because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement couldn’t find proof of Kennedy’s thoughts, the special agent in charge told me.

“You almost need actual confessions or admissions by an official to a third party,” Archer said.

In Polk County, the manager of the state-funded crime hotline was busted in 2012 steering $400,000 dollars in contracts to a brother-in-law and lavishing state funds on himself. But Attorney General Pam Bondi said he couldn’t be charged because he was a contractor, not a public servant, and immune from prosecution.

In Escambia County, auditors caught a former school food-services director rigging a bid for kitchen equipment, then hitting up vendors for cash to pay off illegal purchases on a district credit card. The kitchen contractor who helped her write the bid specifications hauled in $900,000 in sales in one month. The director was prosecuted — for lying on her application for the job. The contractor was removed from Escambia schools’ “preferred vendor” list but not charged.

That’s a typical outcome.

Every time a corrupt leader or co-conspirator gets off easy, Florida sets a new lower standard for government.

At the Orlando expressway authority, three officials were indicted for conspiring to steer millions of dollars in engineering contracts to a politically connected company in exchange for hiring their friends. One elected board member went to prison. One admitted to violating open-meeting rules. That’s about it.

Archer said privatization, which is meant to save money, has also enabled new forms of corruption by people who can’t be prosecuted.

“When a company gets a contract to perform government services, they then contract out to subs, and they may require bribes or kickbacks,” Archer said. “All of that is built into the price government ultimately pays, and citizens are responsible for it with their taxes.”

What’s the harm?

How much does the corruption tax cost? Here’s a sampling from the five years in which the statewide grand jury’s recommendations have sat on a shelf in Tallahassee:

In Broward County, the grand jury exposed double-dealing, corruption and malfeasance that drove up school-construction costs — one of the biggest expenses on property tax bills — by 20 percent. It blamed school board members who steered billions of dollars in inflated contracts to friends and campaign supporters. They built a school no one could explain and wasted $3.5 million a year on crooked project managers they were too lazy or afraid to fire, the grand jury found.

“Much of the activity we have learned of and reported on can be described as corrupt, at least as understood by regular citizens, and yet escapes criminal punishment because of the deficiencies and weaknesses in state law,” it wrote.

Remember that $8 million contract the Brevard County clerk of courts handed to a company called BlueWare to scan old documents? Prosecutors say about $6 million of that was pure waste because three-quarters of the records were eligible to be destroyed.

In the Southwest Florida Fish and Wildlife district that includes Lee and Collier counties, employees made more than $400,000 in official purchases over five years, nearly half of them fraudulent. Two officials were caught using $350,000 in state funds to buy tools and goods they sold on eBay. They used their eBay proceeds to buy and furnish a home in Las Vegas.

Your sales taxes at work.

Calling all sponsors

Florida has a corruption problem.

But we can change that.

Gannett news sites, with the help of Archer, Kahn and prosecutors, have produced a simple anti-corruption bill that embraces two powerful recommendations by the statewide grand jury on public corruption.

Florida’s 20 state attorneys have endorsed the ideas.

All we need now is a serious, ethical sponsor for the 2016 legislative session.

And we need your support.

Contact Reed at Follow the campaign at

Sign the petition

Seeking sponsors

Legislators and staff should call:

Matt Reed: 321-242-3631 Michael Kahn: 321-242-2564

Model Anti-corruption Bill

Learn more

Matt Reed will appear locally on these media outlets, talking about the anti-corruption bill

Thursday: “Bill Mick Live” on WMMB 1240/1350 AM from 7 to 8 a.m.

Friday: “Intersection” on WMFE 90.7 FM from 9 to 10 a.m.

Sunday: FLORIDA TODAY editorial calls for change.

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Volunteers plant Waterford Library gardens to stimulate the senses

Volunteers Priscilla Needle, left, of West Bloomfield and Gordon Finelay, right, of Sterling Heights add plants to the new Children’s Sensory Gardens at the Waterford Twp. Public Library. The new gardens will include areas to stimulate the senses of sight, touch, smell and sound. Sept. 22, 2015 Carol Hopkins-The Oakland Press

Joan Rogers felt the hostas in front of the Waterford Township Public Library had had it.

“They were overgrown, and the garden beds they were in were a mess,” said Rogers, library director.

Since that statement was made to library volunteers, more than a dozen have been rejuvenating the seven gardens at the library entrance on the township campus on Civic Center Drive.

Joyce Wefel with the Waterford Garden Club suggested a Children’s Sensory Garden area be developed, and Rogers gave the idea a (green) thumbs up.

The new gardens include an area of vibrant color for the eyes, aromatic plants for the nose, plants with textured leaves for touch and grasses and special intriguing devices for sound.

Volunteers have been led by master gardener Janet Macunovich, who owns Waterford-based Perennial Favorites.

She and a dozen other workers were busy upgrading the beds Tuesday.

“We’ve had two work-bees so far,” said Rogers. “These are people with a passion for gardening. There have been lots of hands to help.”

Around the township, exteriors have been changing. Landscaping in front of the police department has been upgraded, thanks to volunteers, officials said.

Rogers said bequests to the library have been used to pay for plants. “We budgeted $5,000 but we won’t be spending that much,” she said.

The volunteers will gather for a final pre-winter garden tune-up in late October.

Next spring, they will plant annuals, said Rogers.

“I’m so excited about this,” she said. “I knew something had to happen. This fits in with our whole theme this year of ‘Refresh, Renew, Reboot.’”

The library is located at 5168 Civic Center Drive, Waterford. Call 248-674-4831.

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See how volunteers make Mentor church garden’s bloom (photos)

MENTOR — Four concentric rings of exuberant pink and white begonias surround the sign advertising upcoming activities at St. John Vianney Catholic Church. It’s an eye-popping design worthy of the professional landscaping at high-end shopping centers or business headquarters.

 But Betty Korosec doesn’t have a landscaping degree. She’s just a 76-year-old with a ruler.

 Korosec, who is among the volunteer gardeners who tend the extensive flower beds and container gardens at St. Vianney, used a ruler to exactly place the rows of begonias. She spent three hours a day at the church this summer, feeding her charges Miracle-Gro and hauling a heavy hose out to the roadside flower bed for waterings.

She remembers a day when she was tending the begonias, and a group of boys from nearby Lake Catholic High School passed by. “Hey lady, your flowers are really pretty!” the boys called to her. That compliment, and its unusual source, made Korosec feel appreciated.

“For young boys to even notice, that’s something,” Korosec recalled.

All around St. Vianney’s in Mentor, large raised planters overflow with zinnas, roses, begonias, coleus, petunias and marigolds. Potted annuals bloom around saints’ statues, and there are pocket gardens for meditation. Hanging pots and windowsill planters beautify the Father Kline Social Center; coleus, ferns and flowering shrubs grow along walkways between the church, meeting room building and priest’s residence.

All this beauty is the result of flowers tended by 30 volunteers whose manage 20 flower beds and 12 pots around the church grounds.

Churchgoers catch a whiff of sweet alyssum growing in a large, tiered flower planter as they walk into the church’s main entrance. Few know that volunteer gardener Elaine Guy is responsible for this sensory delight.

“I love gardening at home and I love it here,” said Guy, 54, of Mentor. “It’s a way of giving back in a small way.”

St. Vianney’s pastor, Father Tom Johns, enjoys the gardens that lie between his office and residence.

“Everybody says we’ve got the nicest-looking property,” Johns said, adding that the church has won beautification awards from the city of Mentor. The church would be hit with a large bill if it had to pay a landscaping firm to do the garden volunteers’ tasks, he said.

“I’m very grateful for what they do,” Johns said.

An assistant priest first suggested an adopt-a-flower-bed program in 2002. The parish had just begun building a new church, and it would be surrounded by plain old mulch around if no one stepped forward to plant and care for flowers and shrubs.

In the early days, a dozen volunteers muscled wheelbarrows of mulch from a huge pile in the parking lot to their flower beds. Korosec, who lives in Willoughby, recalled ripping out plantings of English ivy to make way for flowering shrubs. “Took me a whole summer to do that,” Korosec said.

Now, the operation has become more sophisticated. The church’s landscape company, which handles grass mowing, also prepares beds, shovels mulch and rolls up a dozen water hoses at the end of the season.

In the spring, volunteers meet to assign flowerbeds and pick the flowers they want to plant.

Guy gives the church’s flower order to a local nursery. Middle Ridge Gardens in Madison supplied the annuals this year, although different local businesses have been used in the past. St. Vianney spent about $2,000 for this year’s flowers.

Things get rolling in mid-May when flowers are delivered. If gardeners find they have too many plants, Guy digs holes here and there to squeeze in the extras.

Sometimes it’s hard to find gardening volunteers among the 4,000-family parish, Guy said. Some church members say they have brown thumbs. Others are young families busy with work and kids’ activities. Older folks no longer can handle heavy hoses or bend over to pull weeds.

It’s not a commitment to take lightly. Beds must be watered every other day during summer’s heat. Guy and Hren spend seven to eight hours a week on the church gardens. Korosec is known as the person who will take beds no one signed up for, and care for neglected beds so they don’t become eyesores.

One perk of volunteering is spending time in a flower-filled space, listening to mass as it’s broadcast on outdoor speakers.

Fran Hren, 59, of Mentor joined the parish in 2005 and became a volunteer gardener a few years later. She can walk from her home to the church to water and weed. “It’s so beautiful here,” Hren said. “It’s nice to know other people are enjoying the flowers when they come to church.”

Korosec became a volunteer gardener when she moved from a home and flower-filled yard in Euclid to an apartment 11 years ago. Gardening around the church keeps her hands in the dirt, and she’s in charge of multiple beds and pots.

By mid-October, it will be time to pull out the spent annuals and clean up the beds for winter. Korosec will count the number of plants she used so that she can order the correct amount for next year.

Then, she’ll settle down to wait until next spring, when the St. Vianney volunteers bring the flower beds to life once again.

“We’re lucky we have a lot of nice people who want to do it,” Korosec said.

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6 Simple Fall Gardening Tips to Make Your Garden Grow (PHOTOS)

The days are getting shorter and the nights chillier, but don’t put your gardening tools away yet! There’s plenty of garden tending you can and should do in the fall months.

There still plenty of time to enjoy your garden, and fall is also the perfect time to prepare your beds, plants, and trees for the winter months — and ultimately for a healthy spring growing season!

Click through for some helpful fall gardening tips from our experts.


Eunice Park is a writer, editor, almost novelist, mom, and wanna-be professional jam maker. She’s written for Newsday, Los Angeles Times, and When she’s not writing, she’s at the park with her son and daughter. 


Image via nikkytok/shutterstock

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