Editorials from around New England
Editorials from around New England:
We need to stop calling the pattern of sex abuse in the Catholic Church a travesty. It was a criminal conspiracy and the state hasn’t done enough to hold the guilty accountable.
The latest revelations about sexual abuse aren’t new but they are nonetheless shocking: Edward Egan, during his tenure as bishop of the Bridgeport diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, methodically covered up allegations that priests in the diocese had sexually abused children. The man who would become a cardinal in New York aided and abetted the depravity of priests who found sexual pleasure in fondling innocent children.
We use a lot of melodramatic words to describe the actions of men who by virtue of the collars they wore were able to get away with child abuse: scandal, travesty, nightmare.
But there’s one word we don’t use enough: crime.
The revelations about Egan and his role in covering up abuse were first reported in 2002 by The Courant, which obtained thousands of pages of secret court documents that implicated the bishop in hiding more than a dozen cases. The report by former state Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg issued last week now shows the stunning extent of the abuse in the diocese: 71 abusive priests and 281 victims identified from 1953 through 2007.
In the 15 years since papers like The Courant and The Boston Globe spoke aloud the stories that had long been whispered, lawsuits have been filed and settled and a number of priests have been prosecuted. .
But while the efforts of dioceses such as Bridgeport and Hartford to conduct an accounting of abuse are laudable, the Catholic Church has largely been left alone to police itself and fashion its own solutions to a deeply rooted and pervasive problem. Where was the moral leadership of Connecticut’s political establishment? Where was the joint federal-state task force conducting a full scale criminal investigation?
And the half-hearted response continued last week in both the executive and judicial spheres.
Gov. Ned Lamont — through a spokesman — said the governor was reviewing the report.
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said he was paying close attention to the findings.
“We will ... certainly investigate allegations made by victims,” Kane said, while pointing out that Connecticut does not allow grand juries to hand down indictments. “We don’t have a statute that would permit us to have an ongoing grand jury in the manner Pennsylvania did, and we wouldn’t be inclined to investigate crimes that haven’t been reported by victims or parents of victims.”
Imagine if organized crime figures were trolling Catholic churches and whisking away vulnerable children in a human trafficking conspiracy. We wouldn’t be hearing about judicial limits or statutes of limitations or the need to carefully review a report. There’d be blue-ribbon commissions, the full weight of the state and every other tool politician pull out when they want to deal with something.
But the abuse scandal in the church has long been political dynamite. Instead of organized crime figures, we had respected religious leaders — pillars of the community, men like Egan and Walter Curtis, founder of Sacred Heart University. It is time for the state to end its passive response.
First, every law enforcement tool available must be used to bring any of the guilty who might still be alive to account. The effort must focus on not only those who abused children but those who facilitated abuse or covered up crimes.
Next, the legislature should follow the example of New York and New Jersey and give victims more time to bring civil claims against their abusers. In August, New York state opened a one-year “look back window” that allows any adult victim of child sex abuse to bring a civil case even if the statute of limitations has expired. It also extended the age by which accusers can sue to 55.
It’s time for legislators to add the “look back” provision to Connecticut law.
Finally, the state must be sure it is providing care to any victim of the church in need of counseling or support, no matter how old they may be. Wounds like these leave deep scars.
Victims cannot find justice through a report. They suffered severe trauma, abused by men they should have been able to trust, and those wounds are unlikely to fully heal. The state should give them every opportunity to pursue their claims against their abusers and to — at long last — have their day in court.
As development plans fade, Moosehead area needs time to envision new future
Bangor Daily News
A decade ago, state officials approved a contentious development plan for lands in the Moosehead Lake region. Now, the new owners of those lands are asking to formally drop development plans, blaming the recession of a decade ago for eroding interest in second homes and resorts near Greenville.
Late last month, Weyerhauser filed a petition with state regulators to remove development zoning on about 17,000 acres of land, returning the land to a designation more suited to timber management.
The Land Use Regulation Commission will first consider the petition at its Oct. 9 meeting in Greenville.
As it did with the original lake concept plan, the commission should take its time, especially to give local residents and businesses more opportunity to consider and weigh in on the change. The commission should also work to limit any unanticipated consequences from the change.
Commission staff have supported such a process in a letter that accompanies Weyerhauser’s petition. The staff emphasized that the development plans for the Greenville area was the focal point of other planning efforts that build around the expectation that house lots and resorts would ultimately be built on that land. If that is no longer the case, the LUPC staff wisely asks for time to develop an alternate vision for the region.
In its filing with the LUPC, Weyerhauser was generally supportive of a regional planning effort for the lands.
“Unfortunately, the impact of the 2008-2009 recession forever changed the United States development landscape. As a result, and despite our best efforts, the development components under the Concept Plan have not been implemented and no development has occurred,” Luke Muzzy, a senior land asset manager for Weyerhauser, wrote to the commission.
“Therefore, we have concluded that the solutions incorporated in the Concept Plan are no longer practicable to implement. We believe returning the zoning back to its original classification, which allows sustainable timber management, would provide near-term predictability for LUPC, Weyerhaeuser and the Moosehead Lake Region,” he added.
This move is not entirely unexpected given that no development has occurred as a result of the 2009 plan, which was challenged but ultimately upheld by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In addition, Weyerhauser, a timber company that is one of the state’s largest landowners after merging with Plum Creek Timber Co. in 2016, has a focus on growing and harvesting trees. Plum Creek, the company that initiated and fought for the development plan, was incorporated as a real estate investment trust that was also in the forestry business.
Weyerhauser’s request would formally end plans to bring two resorts, 1,000 second home lots, a golf course and other tourist attractions to the Moosehead Lake region. It will not, however, affect the more than 360,000 acres that were permanently conserved and protected from development under the lake concept plan.
This has long been a significant, and lasting, portion of the plan. The Forest Society of Maine will continue to hold an easement on more than 360,000 acres of land owned by Weyerhauser. Development on the land is severely restricted and does not include homes and resorts and forest management must meet prescribed standards.
In addition to the conservation easement, another easement, held by the state, permanently protects 121 acres of hiking trails that have been recently built or upgraded. More than 80 miles of snowmobile trails are also permanently protected.
Nearly 30,000 acres of land that were sold to and protected by the Appalachian Mountain Club in the Roaches Pond area and a 25-acre land donation to Coastal Enterprises Inc. for affordable housing also would not be impacted by the zoning change.
Nor would the change impact the company’s current tax rate since the rezoned land has remained in tree growth, even though development is permitted there. However, if the value of the land changes with the rezoning, the company’s tax payments could also change, according to Maine Revenue Services.
The proposed change, while not unexpected, will impact the future of the Moosehead region. Working with local residents and businesses to adapt to market changes, and to reimagine that future without the previously planned development, is both fair and responsible.
An important act of prevention
The Newburyport Daily News
Get your flu shot.
It’s such a sound piece of advice -- offered by nearly every private doctor, public health official and worker in the next cubicle over -- that it’s a wonder anyone decides to take a pass on what should be an annual ritual.
And yet too many skip the shot, and the flu snakes its way through offices, schools and shopping malls throughout the region, infecting thousands of people who might otherwise have escaped the winter with a glancing cold or two.
The consequences could be more dire this year, as health officials are predicting a tough several months.
“There are some indications this could be a very bad flu season,” Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, said last week. Madoff urged vaccinations for anyone older than 6 months, adding that there is plenty of vaccine available.
The disease generally begins to spread at the beginning of the holidays and peaks around January or February. Folks just beginning to think of spring are felled by sore throat, cough, high fever and body aches. And when they go to work or school, they infect their colleagues and classmates. And it’s no joke.
“Flu is a very serious illness, and every year in Massachusetts there are thousands of cases and hundreds of hospitalizations and (also) deaths,” Madoff said.
More than 80,000 people died from complications from the flu during a particularly bad season two years ago, and already this year a 4-year-old in California has died. There are also the hundreds of thousands of man hours lost as folks are forced to stay home from work to recuperate.
The news isn’t all bad. Doctors say October is the best time to get a flu shot -- it’s far enough ahead of the season to have time to work, and not so early its effects will wear off.
And there are flu shot clinics everywhere. Municipalities across the region are hosting them throughout the month; a quick call to your city or town hall can get you the dates. And those sessions, and many others, are co-pay free, so all you have to do is show up in short sleeves carrying your insurance or Medicare card.
The vaccine isn’t a silver bullet -- the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will stave off between 40% and 60% of illnesses compared with those who are not vaccinated. But those aren’t bad odds.
As David Shay, a medical officer at the CDC, told WBUR last week, “50% isn’t great but it’s better than 0%.”
We agree. Get the shot.
N.H. boosts aid for towns and schools, but ‘one-time money’ won’t fix underlying problem
Cash-strapped New Hampshire municipalities and school districts will get some relief under the $13 billion two-year state budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu late last month. But they also would be wise to exercise caution, because much of the increase in state aid relies on surplus revenue generated by the state’s two primary business taxes, not on permanent funding sources.
As staff writers Tim Camerato and Nora Doyle-Burr have reported, schools are in line for $138 million in new state aid, which will be especially welcome in property-poor districts such as Claremont, which have been hard hit in recent years by reductions in state assistance. But that new aid does not address the underlying problem, which is that the funding formula for distributing education aid fails to produce sufficient revenue for districts to fund the “adequate education” that must be provided to every student under the state constitution.
“We still lack a funding system for sustaining education,” Claremont School Board Chairman Frank Sprague told the Valley News. “The state of New Hampshire has to come to grips (with the fact) that an equal and appropriate education needs a permanent, stable funding source.”
We are not holding our breath while waiting for New Hampshire government to live up to that responsibility, something it evaded for two decades since the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide the funds to pay for an adequate education for all students and do so through equitable taxes. This summer, a Superior Court judge ruled in a new lawsuit brought by several school districts that the current education funding formula is unconstitutional, a decision that is being appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The limitations of state aid that could expire along with the next fiscal year were articulated by Rep. Rick Ladd, the Haverhill Republican who is the ranking member of the House Education Committee. “I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to do that,” he said, “but the caution now is if we’re going to do this with one-time money, we’ve got to ensure that people don’t go on a spending spree and start hiring labor and all that.” The problem is, of course, that in order to improve, struggling school districts need to be able to hire talented educators and make a commitment to keep them employed, something difficult to do if added state funding might disappear when the economy slumps again, as it surely will at some point.
Health care providers also got a boost in the new budget, which was negotiated by the governor and legislative leaders after he vetoed the original budget passed by lawmakers in June. Medicaid reimbursement rates will rise by 3.1% on Jan.1, 2020, and again in 2021, an increase that is long overdue. That means an overall increase of $85 million in Medicaid payments when federal matching funds are included. But as Rick Adams, spokesman for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, noted, the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate is among the lowest in the nation and doesn’t come close to covering the actual costs of caring for patients insured by the program.
So, as with education aid, the budget represents a step in the right direction, but only a step for a state that has one of the highest median household incomes in the nation and which has the resources to do much more.
Twenty years of Providence Place
The 20th anniversary of the Providence Place mall coincided with the welcome addition of a new anchor store, Boscov’s. All told, the mall has done wonders for the capital city, even in an age when such online retailers as Amazon have put brick-and-mortar stores in peril.
The $460-million mall opened its doors in August 1999 after a great deal of contentious debate. It got property and sales tax breaks as part of the plan.
But few could question at this point that it has been enormously important to a city that seemed to be on the ropes when it was built.
“There was no retail,” former Mayor Joseph Paolino, now a property developer, recounted in a Sept. 28 news story (“What’s in store for Providence Place’s next 20 years?”). “It was a ghost town.”
Such downtown stores as Shepard’s, Peerless and the Outlet Company were closing down. As they went, smaller shops around them that depended on the foot traffic of shoppers teetered and closed.
The mall, though, has meshed with the lively city activities around it.
Think of what has gone on.
A project to uncover the river and adorn it with lovely bridges has made the downtown infinitely more attractive. Every appearance of the WaterFire art installation draws thousands of people downtown.
The Rhode Island Convention Center, opened in 1993 and connected to the mall, has generated tremendous economic activity.
The restored former Providence Civic Center, now called The Dunkin’ Donuts Center — often shortened to The Dunk — has also paid for itself by boosting the economy. The Providence Performing Arts Center and Trinity Rep further energized the downtown.
The former Masonic Temple — which had been empty since 1929, when an economic crash halted construction — was reborn as the beautiful Renaissance Providence Hotel.
Parts of Union Station were renovated and reused, now housing the Rhode Island Foundation, The Public’s Radio and bars and restaurants. Developer Buff Chace restored beautiful buildings downtown that, fortunately, were left standing years earlier because Rhode Island lacked the political clout to gain federal funds to tear them down.
The story continues. The crumbling, brutalist Fogarty Building has been replaced by the new Residence Inn Providence Hotel.
And a New York developer, Jason Fane, has proposed a $300-million luxury apartments tower on former Route 195 land that would attract hundreds more well-to-do people to live downtown, patronize its businesses and enjoy its amenities.
A big part of the mall’s appeal, the brainchild of its designer Friedrich St. Florian, is the stunning atrium with large glass windows at the mall’s center. Called the “winter garden,” it offers spectacular views of the downtown.
To be sure, these are very tough times for malls. Providence Place’s original anchor stores — Nordstrom, Filene’s and Lord & Taylor — are gone. But the mall still offers vibrant shopping, as well as other attractions, with its food court, gaming establishments and movie theaters. Given its important place in the midst of downtown activities, it should continue to have a role even as times change.
As City Council member John Igliozzi noted: “The Providence Place mall was one of the major catalysts to reestablish the city as a destination place ... It’s becoming an iconic facility that we all should be proud of.”
Time for reform
The Rutland Herald
Can we really change the number of individuals in our prisons?
A recent study not only suggests that we should; it insists that we must.
As inmates across the United States continue to carry out a multi-week strike to protest prison conditions and forced labor, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice unveiled the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.
According to The Associated Press, the report found Vermont prisons have some of the nation’s highest racial disparities, with black people making up 8% of correctional facility admissions and just 1% of the state’s adult population.
It found that two of every three prison admissions are for violations of probation, parole and furlough.
The report calls for drug decriminalization, expanded incarceration alternatives, investment in mental health and substance-abuse treatment and reforming bail, sentencing and parole systems.
The report cited Vermont as the only state out of 50 surveyed that didn’t provide enough data for researchers to predict the impact of reforms.
While more than 2 million people are behind bars in the United States, only about 10% are in federal prisons. Approximately 90% of the people incarcerated in the United States are held in local jails and in state prisons.
“Mass incarceration is a nationwide problem, but one that is rooted in the states and must be fixed by the states,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations. Some of the reforms contained in the blueprints are readily achievable, while others are going to require audacious change. But all are needed to prioritize people over prisons.”
The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints are the first-ever analysis of their kind and will serve as tools for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.
The 51 reports — covering all 50 states and the District of Columbia — will be released in multiple phases, beginning with an initial rollout of 24 state reports. The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue.
Each blueprint includes an overview of the state’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars and why people are imprisoned for so long. The blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs and overall prison population. They also show precisely how a 50% decarceration goal could be achieved.
Meanwhile, the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice is working on reforms to usher in a new era of justice in America. Smart Justice is fighting in the legislatures, the courts, in the voting booth and in the streets to end mass incarceration by addressing sentencing reform, bail reform, prosecutorial reform, parole and release, and re-entry.
This needs to happen. And this kind of analysis confirms just how necessary the reform happens to be. It is true, imprisonment is a brutal and costly response to violations or possible violations that traumatizes incarcerated people and hurts families and communities.
Progressive ideas, like drug court, diversion and other programs entertained here in Vermont, should be pursued. Prison should be the last option, not the first.
And yet the United States incarcerates more people, in both absolute numbers and per capita, than any other nation in the world.
It is not something we should be proud of. We need criminal justice reform, and we need the conversation now.