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Editorials from around New England

Posted September 8

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Foster's Daily Democrat, Sep. 5

Heads up, Dover voters. There are big changes coming to this year's School Board election slated for Nov. 7.

School Board representatives will once again be elected from the six wards in the city, with the seventh member elected at large, with votes being tallied from every ward in the city.

The method of electing School Board members to represent each ward in the city was how things were done until 2009, when it was decided that it would be better to get rid of individual ward representation and have every board member elected at large. The reasoning at the time — that education is of universal concern in the city and not an issue for compartmentalization by ward — held sway with voters back then and the switch was made.

Fast-forward to 2015, and voters changed their minds again about ward representation on the School Board. They passed a charter amendment by a mere six votes that returned the School Board to ward representation. The switch begins with the coming election.

Ward elections will drastically change the look of the current School Board because not everyone currently serving will make it back onto the board. For instance, the top leadership spots on the board are now occupied by two people who both live in Ward 6. School Board Chair Amanda Russell and Vice Chair Betsey Andrews Parker, each with years of experience on the board, both live in Ward 6. It is possible that one could run in Ward 6 and the other could run at large and win re-election to the board, but the new arrangement certainly diminishes that chance.

Other cases on the existing board portend big changes in the November election. Keith Holt, Kathleen Morrison and Michelle Muffett-Lipinski all live in Ward 1. Surely, not all of these School Board members will be returning under the new arrangement. Morrison has said she plans to seek the at-large seat. We also know that Holt plans to file for the Ward 1 seat.

Carolyn Mebert lives in Ward 3 and Matthew Lahr lives in Ward 5. They have the clearest shot at being re-elected as incumbents, but may face competition when the filing period opens next Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Lahr told Foster's he is planning to seek re-election in Ward 5. The filing period closes on Sept. 22.

As it stands now, people living in Dover's Wards 2 and 4 have no one representing them on the School Board. Hopefully, that will change during this election.

That, however, had been a problem in the past and the reason advocates had pressed for the at-large method of electing School Board members. Historically, it had been a struggle every two years to fill the ballot in each ward with quality candidates. Under the ward-by-ward method of electing School Board members, real races with a pool of highly qualified candidates only happened in the at-large race and a couple wards, while the other wards were left with few candidates and little competition.

In certain wards, School Board members and other city officials used to have to go on a mission to flush out any potential candidates willing to put their names on the ballot. It was not a good way to do business.

Let's hope that doesn't happen again. The School Board is one of the most important elected positions in the city. Members are in charge of millions of dollars and govern the quality of education in the community. Dover needs School Board candidates with enthusiasm, knowledge, dedication and a willingness to service.

Are you ready to take the plunge? Your city needs you.

Online: http://bit.ly/2xRS0Xb

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VERMONT

Times Argus, Sep. 8

We do not want to believe that our neighbors might be going hungry. But it is a reality.

While improvements have been made in Vermont, the problem is a real one for our nation.

According to a study, "Household Food Security in the United States in 2016," released earlier this week, 41 million Americans lived in households struggling with food insecurity last year. This is a slight improvement compared with 42.2 million households reporting food insecurity in 2015. This same trend was seen in Vermont with a drop to 10.11 percent of Vermonters living in food insecure households in 2016 compared with 11.43 percent in 2015.

The signs of improvement are tied to Vermont jobs.

While more Vermonters are getting back to work, they often are accepting employment with fewer hours and lower pay than jobs they held before the Great Recession, according to data from Hunger Free Vermont.

Overall, that shift had led to an improved economy statewide, coupled with efforts to strengthen the nutrition safety net. Vermont's food insecurity numbers moved from 1 in 9 to 1 in 10 Vermont households experiencing food insecurity — defined as living without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

"We are happy to see Vermont working families getting what they need and to see this reflected in the food security numbers," said Marissa Parisi, Hunger Free Vermont's executive director. But local problems persist. "We are very concerned that our growing senior population is still the demographic with the lowest participation in 3SquaresVT. Seniors are often isolated in Vermont, living on fixed incomes and particularly adverse to the perceived stigma around utilizing 3SquaresVT benefits. We have been focusing on this population for years, and outreach to this population will continue to be critical in the coming years," Parisi said.

Guaranteeing food security for children is a crucial need as well, made easier by the availability of breakfast and lunch at public schools. Thus, the summertime, usually a time for carefree vacations, creates difficult food security problems for some impoverished, struggling families.

Hunger remains a national crisis.

An estimated 87.7 percent of American households were food secure throughout 2016, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. The remaining households, 12.3 percent, were food insecure at least some of the time during the year, including 4.9 percent with very low food security, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating pattern was disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food.

In 2016, the typical food-secure household spent 29 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition.

Hunger's effects are far-reaching.

Multiple national studies show that food insecurity harms health, the ability to learn, productivity in the workforce, and our state and nation's economic strength. But access to food is more than an economic indicator, and people are more than consumers or workers. Food security is fundamental to the dignity of every person, and guaranteeing security is essential to any humane social policy. Alleviating hunger is the right thing to do. It is why one of the Four Freedoms described by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II, when all freedoms were imperiled by fascism, was the freedom from want, famously portrayed in a painting by Norman Rockwell as a family Thanksgiving dinner.

Hunger Free Vermont and its partners around the state continue to work at the systems level and on the ground to ensure a strong safety net for those struggling with food insecurity, as well as advocating for economic policies that sustainably prevent hunger in our communities. Those goals deserve our praise, support and encouragement. It's the kind of problem that will not go away without all of us pulling in the same direction.

Online: http://bit.ly/2gOs341

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MAINE

The Kennebec Journal, Sep. 8

The number of fatal drug overdoses has officially leveled off in Maine, but the epidemic is still killing one person every day — and given the scope of the problem and the state's lackluster response, there's no sign the death toll will fall any time soon. Overdoses killed 185 people in Maine in the first six months of this year, the state Attorney General's Office announced Wednesday — a slight decrease from 189 fatalities over the same period in 2016. That's not much to cheer about, considering that last year saw a record 376 overdose deaths and that that total reflected an increase of nearly 40 percent from 2015.

What's more, Maine is facing a growing threat from a far more deadly opioid. Cheaper and easier to produce than heroin and 50 times as strong, the synthetic painkiller fentanyl is coming into the U.S. over the southern border and through the mail, primarily from illicit labs in China. The toll is obvious: Fentanyl has been linked to 61 percent of the drug deaths in Maine between January and June, according to the Attorney General's Office, up sharply from the first half of 2016, when it was a factor in 44 percent of fatal overdoses.

Lost: Heroin's killer grip on Maine's people

The influx of fentanyl would be chilling even if Maine were wholeheartedly addressing the drug crisis — but it's not. Our policymakers continue to debate whether the people who are struggling with addiction have a disease that needs medical treatment or a moral failing that demands that they be treated as lawbreakers.

This inability to reach consensus is reflected in our "one step forward, two steps back" approach to addressing the crisis. Abdicating its responsibility to help create health policy, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services testified against many of the addiction-related bills before the Legislature last session as "unnecessary" and has been skipping meetings of an ad hoc state task force — whose final report may well wind up on a shelf, next to the largely ignored recommendations that an earlier panel issued just last year.

Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage has talked up his administration's plan to extend medication-assisted treatment to an estimated 350 uninsured Mainers. It's a good start, but hardly enough, given that 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers say they're seeking addiction treatment but don't have access to it. Another proposal — the commitment of state and federal funds to an opioid health home model that could reach another 400 people — has yet to help anyone receive access to treatment, Malory Shaughnessy of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services told the Press Herald.

Law enforcement officials, the medical community and addiction treatment providers have been fighting to contain the addiction epidemic — but until policymakers start treating this crisis like the public health emergency that it is, their efforts will fall short, and Mainers will continue to die.

Online: http://bit.ly/2wPgwc8

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RHODE ISLAND

The Westerly Sun

Sept. 3

Well that's a wrap. Another unofficial summer in the books — with what many would agree is the best part of summer still left to celebrate.

We can run to McQuade's again for that one item we forgot rather than doing without because we don't want to face the traffic a second time. We can have a second cup of coffee on Saturdays before rushing out on errands to beat the beach traffic. And we can return to patronizing our favorite restaurants without a wait.

With school underway in most towns across the region, and sports well underway, the bulk of tourist season is over.

And those in the beach communities are breathing a huge sigh of relief. This was the summer of back-road traffic. Whether it was courtesy of smartphone apps giving outsiders insider info or the state enticing folks with cut-rate prices at Misquamicut or the slow cool start to summer — and all were blamed, based on interviews for our stories covering the issue — beach residents just wanted it to end.

When summer started we used this space to tell returning summer residents, and tourists here for Memorial Day, all that had been done in town while they were away. At the start of next summer maybe we can report about changes in the gate system at Misquamicut State Beach so season pass holders can cruise through and not add to the delay caused by day trippers paying cash. Maybe we can report that the state has invested in signs for I-95 and Route 1 telling beachgoers that the lots are full before they start pulling U-turns on narrow beach roads.

We're not sure what the town can do about the traffic, though we did hear that residents saw fewer police at key intersections directing traffic to keep it flowing. And others said better enforcement of speed limits and parking regulations would have been nice.

Those are issues the town manager and Town Council can address on cold winter nights. We'll wait to see who does what in the offseason. Meanwhile we've got these great few months upcoming to enjoy the area all to ourselves.

And remember, those poor folks who wait in line to spend a few weeks or days or hours here don't have the beach just down the road for a refreshing walk when cabin fever sets in. We do.

Online: http://bit.ly/2xRlCnN

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CONNECTICUT

The Hartford Courant

Sept. 7

Even one caretaker abusing a patient in the state's maximum security psychiatric hospital is cause for alarm.

But the revelation that dozens of workers took part in the unspeakable treatment of a 62-year-old man over the course of many weeks is enough to justify a thorough housecleaning of any lax leadership, and a top-to-bottom review of the entire culture, at the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and specifically within the walls of the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital.

The scope of the abuse the man endured is horrifying, and the descriptions of the videos that captured the abuse suggest something akin to torture: They kicked him over and over. They poured water on him. They hit him with rolled-up paper. They put a diaper over his head. And nobody said anything. Over and over, during multiple shifts.

Fortunately, a whistleblower eventually came forward, and the state police and Department of Public Health soon began investigating. Thirty-one mental health workers, including two managers, have been suspended. On Tuesday, nine workers were arrested and more arrests are said to be pending.

The fact that dozens of workers were able to behave this way — even while knowingly under video surveillance — raises the question of whether this kind of behavior is condoned at Whiting. How many other patients experienced this kind of abuse? How many other caretakers were involved but not caught on video? How many other videos remain unviewed?

Why did it take a whistleblower to put an end to it?

After learning of the abuse, DMHAS expanded video surveillance and watched the tapes more frequently, among other measures, according to an agency spokeswoman — all good steps. Officials also wisely called in the state police to investigate when they learned of the allegations. But it's not enough.

Clearly, those who are charged with directly abusing the man — including Mark Cusson of Southington, a forensic nurse who faces eight counts of cruelty to persons — must be held accountable. But if the abuse was so widespread, committed brazenly under the watch of video cameras within the patient's room, why didn't their supervisors know about it? And if they did, why did they condone it?

Anyone who chose to turn a blind eye in this case is complicit.

The staggering moral failure of those who committed the abuse points to another problem among DMHAS workers that could contribute to the agency's malaise: the practice of working excessively long hours to rack up overtime. In the case of head nurse Mark Cusson, who earned $181,349 last year, nearly $70,000 was overtime.

Caring for the mentally disabled and criminally insane is, no doubt, a demanding job. Many patients, including the 62-year-old man who suffered the abuse, have behavioral issues that can make them even more difficult to deal with. Those who care for them must be in control of their faculties, and working hours and hours of overtime every week can lead to exhaustion and serious lapses in judgment.

The issue isn't limited to DMHAS workers. In the Department of Developmental Services, some state employees who serve the intellectually disabled could earn up to $250,000 this year, the vast majority of which is in overtime pay. State police troopers have done the same. There have been clear warnings for some time that overwork poses risks to health and safety. At Whiting, it's clear why. It's time to put firm limits on overtime for state workers in such positions.

But, ultimately, the long hours can't be the only explanation. Somehow, dozens of trusted caretakers came to believe that such malicious treatment was acceptable and that they were above reproach. Officials must learn how that pernicious belief propagated and take whatever steps necessary to eliminate it.

Online: http://cour.at/2xTF7g2

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MASSACHUSETTS

Lynn Daily Item

Sept. 6

At first glance, providing reduced museum admission fees to people receiving food assistance and other taxpayer-funded help seems like the perfect target for criticism. No strain of the ear is required to hear cynics crow about "handouts" and "freebies" and asking, "Geez, aren't we giving them enough already?"

But closer examination always results in insights and that rule of thumb applies to the proposal, unveiled last month, to allow more than 758,000 people in Massachusetts receiving food aid to get reduced or free admissions to museums.

The admission reduction applies to more than 100 museums and other cultural venues across the state and follows in the wake of a free and reduced admission policy introduced in 2012 by the Children's Museum in Boston.

"As part of the Boston Children's Museum's commitment to the community, we are determined to keep access affordable to all," stated Museum President and CEO Carole Charnow in an August 2012 news release.

Lynn Museum Executive Director Drew Russo said opening its doors to everyone is an essential role of the Museum as a community institution.

Giving people who use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits an inexpensive visit to a museum isn't simply another handout.

Museums are power plants of the mind where imagination and inspiration are generated in overdrive around the clock. Circumstances, economic misfortune and even laziness and lack of inspiration often doom people to lives dependent on welfare and handouts. But a walk through a museum is a journey into the possibilities and potential of the human mind.

EBT card holders pay a two dollar non-member rate at the Lynn Museum compared to the regular five dollar non-member rate.

"We are very pleased to participate in EBT Card to Culture. We have always prided ourselves on being a resource to the entire community," Russo said.

The reason children across the state and the nation receive free or reduced breakfasts at school and reduced-cost lunches is because no country invested in its future can afford to have the next generation of leaders learning at half speed.

Young minds can't grow and grasp the concept of potential if young bodies are not properly fed. Supplemental breakfast and lunch ensure children are eating the correct foods they need to maintain proper nutrition and to grow and learn.

But the classroom is not the only place where growth and knowledge take place. Museums expose visitors to the possibilities of art and challenge people gawking at a painting, drawing, photograph or sculpture to explore their talents. Every great artist across the centuries was someone who took the first tentative steps involved in creating something. Many, if not most of them, were told, "You're no good — leave art to the artists."

Viewing art nurtures the mind and ignites the imagination. Walking around galleries full of paintings or past a statue isn't an exercise in knowing art history from A to Z; it is a chance to look inward and examine what moves, excites, inspires or scares us.

The world is full of people who were inspired to change their lives, to try harder, to take risks because of a passing but moving encounter with a creative individual or because they laid eyes on a work of beauty created by another human.

Young people who hear music, who watch a dance performance or play, who walk through an art gallery, are entering new worlds free from the preconceptions and prejudices that attach themselves to people as they age. The writers who crafted ballets, operas and plays, the artists who turned paint and marble into beauty, are people regardless of the century they lived in and created in who were inspired by the art of their time, by nature, or by other people who said, "You can do this too: This can be your world."

Reduced museum admissions to those receiving public assistance should not be regarded as freebies or handouts. They should be considered investments in people who because of limitations or tough circumstances need, in some cases desperately, the inspiration and power that art and all things creative are capable of instilling in people. Art is hope and that's something everyone needs.

Online: http://bit.ly/2j9APhc

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