Cele's 2001 Columns

Learning about lobsters and Columbia bicycles. Some peeks at what comes in the mail and what constituents complain about. On the light side … getting a duck for Easter, manners in the 1930s and deep fat frying a turkey.

Columbia Pedaling Into the New Year

Columbia Pedaling Into the New Year

Columbia Bicycle…ooops, Columbia Manufacturing…pedals its way into the New Year and its 125th year in business next week.

To celebrate, the company will be coming out with a spectacular new bike, a collector’s item of course. Just like the re-release of the 1941 Columbia Superb.

The assembly line is in place and employees will soon start the machinery to create the bike for the same company that Colonel Albert Pope founded in 1877.

But the Colonel wouldn’t recognize the plant today. It’s spread over several acres and equipped with the latest technology and machinery to ensure high quality.

In fact, the machinery is so high tech and environmentally friendly that Columbia recently won an award from the state.

That technology helps make Columbia the second largest manufacturer of school furniture. Yes, school furniture. Desks and chairs and computer tables in an astounding number of styles, colors and finishes. Folding chairs as well.

If you think about it, bikes and school desks both start with metal, tubular steel that is bent and molded and welded and plated.

Plated. That’s the tough part, because it involves dipping that steel in nickel and then chrome. And nickel and chrome aren’t particularly environmentally friendly. Further, the dipping process also involves a huge amount of water.

Columbia, last spring, installed a new system to recycle the chrome and nickel that normally would have been compacted and shipped away to a safe disposal place in another state. At, I might add, great cost to the company.

In addition, the water is recycled. It is recycled to a condition so clean that you can drink it–after being used to clean and rinse the newly-chromed metal furniture.

There’s another huge savings. Because, in the first six months in use, the new system saved 25-million gallons of water, water that the city of Westfield can keep in its reservoir supply and keep out of the water treatment plant. The meter reading declined so steeply that the water department didn’t believe it was correct.

Columbia’s President Ken Howard gave me a tour of the plant. I was impressed with the environmentally sound equipment, of course, but I was equally impressed with the employees and the products.

The employees obviously take the company’s reputation for durability and quality seriously. Columbia’s standards are second to none and today’s employees are as proud of their products as Colonel Pope’s were 125 years ago.

Those products--from the earliest bikes and trikes to today’s collectors items and the bikes used for trick riding, from the first bike for ladies to chainless bikes, from the chairs and tables and desks used by students across the country to the covers of every catalog Columbia produced–are on display in Columbia’s own museum.

If you ever had a Columbia bicycle, or one of the bikes they made for other companies under other brand names, you’ll probably find it in the museum. Motorbikes. Bicycles built for four. Even the paratrooper bikes used in World War II. (But contrary to popular opinion, the soldiers didn’t pack the bikes on their backs when they leapt from the plane. The bikes were airdropped separately.)

The Westfield plant was completed in 1897, when Columbia still had facilities in Boston and Hartford. That was the same year Columbia created the gasoline powered tricycle. A year before they invented the chainless bike. The history is fascinating, and you’ll find more about Columbia on their website columbiabikes.com.

Columbia–part of Westfield’s history. And, thanks to Ken Howard and a group of hard-working employees at 1 Cycle Street, a part of Westfield’s future.

Happy New Year, Columbia. And, Happy New Year to You, as well.

We’re All Decking the Halls

We’re All Decking the Halls

While you’re shopping and decorating, and getting ready for the holidays, the legislature is doing the same.

It’s our winter recess and, although House sessions continue, they are informal sessions from now until year’s end.

That means that nothing controversial or dealing with money can be considered. There are no votes. And any one person can stop action on any pending piece of legislation.

We’re still worrying about things like the health care crisis and how to reimburse our hospitals adequately, Medicaid costs, MCAs results, the economy, all of the usual things.

But we also have time to think about other things.

Like "Bidis." Pronounced "beedies." What are they? I had to ask. And found out they are small, flavored, filterless cigarets from India, popular among teens. Easier and cheaper to buy than cigarets, adolescents like their taste.

I think they sound disgusting. Shredded tobacco rolled in dried tendu leaves and tied with string, they’re flavored–chocolate, vanilla, cherry, licorice, menthol and mango.

But with more nicotine, more carbon monoxide and more tar than regular cigarets.

The question before the House: Should we ban them? Legislation has been introduced, but we haven’t decided.

Statistics. We have time to look at some of them, too.

For example, in my district (Westfield and Montgomery) there are 5,639 residents enrolled in MassHealth–like welfare health insurance, state-funded for the poor.

For example, my new district (Westfield only) for 2003 forward, has 40,072 people in it.

For example, there were 1,355 reports of abuse of the disabled in the third quarter of last year. The category of abuse includes people with Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, head injuries, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, to name a few, and the most cases of alleged abuse were against the mentally retarded.

Of all those reports, some 154 were handed over to the State Police for criminal investigation–15 of them from Hampden County. The charges included assault and battery, rape, larceny and even one death.

If you think someone vulnerable is being abused, call the hotline at 800/426-9009.

Roll calls. In the first six months of the session there were 111 votes in the House. I had a 95.4 percent voting record. I missed 5 roll calls, all on the same day. The day I was in Westfield to accept a million dollar state grant for rehabilitation of the Westfield Hotel on Meadow Street.

So-called "affordable" housing might be more expensive than you thought. The state has notified Westfield that we are Housing Certified. That means that we will receive a priority for discretionary grant funds because the city is taking steps to increase the supply of housing. For 2000, Westfield increased ownership units by 40–with 39 of them in the "affordable" range of $90,000 to $259,999.

The median home value for Hampden County, with 441,799 people, and including the urban areas of Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke and Westfield, is $119,854, according to census figures.

Statewide, the estimated median home value is $192,483. The national average is $120,496.

Moose. They’re present on virtually all of the state’s highways. So watch for them. If you hit one, you’re more likely to die than if you hit a deer. Their legs are longer, so they are more likely to crash into your windshield. The impact of an animal that size makes a real impact.

One more statistic. More than half of all Massachusetts traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

And there’s time to learn some things.

Like Doric Hall in the State House is named for the 10 tall columns there. Doric being the design. It’s the room where Governor John Andrew passed out guns and ammunition to men who volunteered to fight in the Civil War. It’s the same room where the main doors are opened on only three special occasions: when a head of state visits-including the President of the United States, when a Governor leaves office and the new Governor enters, and when a Massachusetts regiment returns from war with its colors.

Or, did you know, that State Representatives must live in the district for at least a year before election? Or that Senators only have to live in the district the day they’re elected, but that they have to have lived in the state for five years? Election day 2002 is November 5th.

Black squirrels. So common in Westfield! Rare enough in Boston to warrant a photo in the Beacon Hill Times.

Being a State Representative is a great chance to learn a little about a lot of things. Or, a lot about little things. Thanks for letting me be your State Representative. I appreciate it.

Looking Ahead to Ballot Issues

Looking Ahead to Ballot Issues

A handful of ballot initiatives have passed constitutional muster and, if backers gather enough signatures, you’ll vote on them next fall.

The first round of signatures are being counted and verified now.

Each petition needs 57,500 certified signatures. Then, if legislators don’t pass similar legislation by next May, proponents will have to gather another 9,517 names to get on the ballot.

Originally there were 24 proposed initiatives for the 2002 ballot. But the Attorney General whittled it down to just 16 proposed laws and two constitutional amendments. The latter would have to be approved by 25 percent of the legislature in two consecutive sessions, so they couldn’t become law until 2004, when they’d finally appear on the ballot.

Some of the issues disqualified included universal health care, election of Massport board members, and recall elections for sheriffs.

Initiative petitions, by the way, can’t authorize expenditures, interfere with the judiciary branch or religion, or violate constitutional rights like freedom of speech

You could, however, be asked to decide about everything from speed limits to eliminating the state income tax. And, you will be.

As well as a few more difficult things. Like the so-called Protection of Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as a union between a man and woman, thus preventing the courts or legislature from considering same-sex unions a marriage.

There’s a petition–the first to turn in over 100,000 signatures–that would limit bilingual education to one year, thus mainstreaming students into regular English-speaking classrooms. But another would mandate alternatives to this plan.

Horsemeat? The Brown’s Beauty Bill would ban the slaughter of Massachusetts horses for human consumption. With horsemeat a delicacy in foreign markets, it’s become a profitable business here. The meat, by the way, goes for about $20 a pound abroad.

Other bills would provide paid family leaves for birth and adoption, with benefits of half their weekly wage for up to 12 weeks, increase the minimum wage from $6.75 to $7 and tie the minimum wage to changes in the Consumer Price Index.

There are four petitions called the Small Government Act to Reduce Taxation, which would establish a state tax revenue limit, forcing the state to find ways to cut taxes and limit revenue growth. They just use various and different calculations.

Another would require that coal ash be regulated like other forms of solid waste and repeal the law that allows them to be used in products like concrete blocks and the base for road construction.

Still another would allow local zoning boards of appeal to impose regulations regarding size, setbacks and parking for developments. They could also prevent developments physically or environmentally unsuitable for the parcel in question.

There is also an act that would protect children during divorce proceedings, by keeping siblings together in custodial situations, preventing custodial parents from moving more than 50 miles apart from the other, and taking parental rights away from any parent that falsely accuses the other of being unfit.

It’s your chance to make a law. Through the initiative petition. Don’t ask me my opinion–this is your chance to make law.

If you need more information on any of the suggestions, call me after the first of the year. By then, we’ll know which petitions are still alive, and which failed in the signature phase.

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