Editorial Roundup: New England

Rutland Herald. July 7, 2022.

Editorial: Vt.’s ocean cleanup

Who knew Vermont could be so good at cleaning up the Atlantic Ocean?

It’s true. You only have to look as far as a recent edition of the Ellsworth American, a weekly newspaper serving Downeast Maine, for the details.

The article details how a Burlington-based company, Rozalia Project, has been instrumental in the cleanup of debris along the Maine coast. It included collecting lost lobster traps, hundreds of pounds of fishing rope, buoys and marine debris “coughed up by the sea,” according to the report.

Last month, 20 volunteers spent two days off Outer Bar Island’s northern shoreline.

Rozalia Project’s mission is to partner with citizens, communities, landowners and other groups to clean up the ocean. For this particular beach cleanup, Rozalia was joined by the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy and the Maine Island Trail Association of Portland, according to the article.

Its website notes: “Rozalia Project has been working on the problem of marine debris since our inception in 2010. We work surface to seafloor, with a focus on urban and coastal waterways and utilize multiple strategies: prevention through education, remediation (cleanup), innovation and solutions-based research.”

According to Ashley Sullivan, the Rozalia Project’s executive director, the organization collected some “229 heavily damaged traps, 300 pounds of line, 129 bungee cords, 74 buoys and floats and other trash hauled off of Outer Bar and neighboring Western Island.” The debris filled a 40-yard dumpster.

According to the news report, “Like an archaeological dig, the Rozalia Project’s June 23-24 operation only peeled off the first layer of marine trash on Outer Great Bar’s northern shore that never had been cleared. The fishing gear has (been) piling up there for decades. An estimated 600 to 700 traps and rope remain on or semi-submerged in the cobble beach and entangled in the rosa rugosa shrubs.”

Sullivan told the newspaper they plan to return, hopefully with more volunteers.

She told reporter Letitia Baldwin: “We all depend on this resource. The fishing industry needs a thriving ocean. So do the creatures and humans.”

According to Baldwin’s reporting: Co-founded by Vermont scientist and sailor Rachael Z. Miller in 2010, the Rozalia Project is named for Miller’s great-grandmother, Rozalia Belsky, who ventured by steamship to American from the Ukraine port of Odessa to America in 1922. The sea was her route to escape religious persecution and join her husband for a better life in the United States. Miller is credited with co-inventing the Cora Ball, the world’s first microfiber-catching laundry ball. She also is an accomplished sailor and diver.

The report explains “the Rozalia Project marshals people and has employed a variety of technologies to detect and remove 1 million pieces of trash from the North Atlantic and U.S. waterways during the past decade. Because it’s based in the Northeast, the organization has focused the majority of its work in the Gulf of Maine. The group’s research vessel is none other than the late famed Maine sailor Dodge Morgan’s Little Harbor, cutter-rigged sloop. (According to the American, Morgan once set a record of 150 days, 1 hour and 6 minutes sailing solo without stopping around the world in 1986.)

According to the article, among the devices in its toolbox, the Rozalia Project uses a VideoRay Pro to take video and still photos and pluck items from plastic bags to beverage cans off the ocean floor.

The effort required partnerships with stakeholders, including a local fisherman who allowed the dumpster on his land, as well as the MITA, “which has a fleet of 18-foot aluminum skiffs it keeps in and also trailers to different Maine harbors. MITA provided craft for transporting the traps, line and other waste.”

The American writes, “The Rozalia Project’s trap cleanup was part of the Ocean Conservancy’s broader Global Ghost Gear initiative. The Outer Bar and Western island sessions were part of a 10-day operation to remove 12,000 pounds of ghost gear from the Gulf of Maine.”

It is a fascinating effort. It also goes to show the environmental impacts trash in the ocean is having on the fishing industry.

We commend the Rozalia Project for its work across the Northeast. It is these kinds of efforts — even based in land-locked Vermont — that takes the bold steps needed to ensure natural resources, including those as big as oceans, are getting the TLC they need to thrive.

Now, if we could just all do our part to avoid putting so much plastic and trash into the ocean in the first place. But we will save that salvo for another day.

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Boston Globe. July 2, 2022.

Editorial: Lifeguard shortages — residents shouldn’t have to swim at their own risk

The closure of pools is more than an inconvenience: It’s a public safety hazard.

On a sizzling summer weekend, families in Massachusetts should be able to enjoy the pools and beaches that their tax dollars pay for. But once again this summer, pools across the state are closed because of staff shortages. In Boston, five city pools won’t open because the city doesn’t have enough lifeguards; four others are closed for construction. Worcester expects to limit hours amid trouble hiring lifeguards. Elsewhere in the state, beaches go unguarded because of the difficulty hiring enough workers.

Of all the problems facing municipalities and other employers, lifeguard shortages might seem like small potatoes. But the closures of pools are more than an inconvenience: They’re a public safety hazard. A shocking number of Massachusetts residents, many of them children, continue to drown every year. As of 2020, drowning was the leading cause of “unintentional injury death” among children in Massachusetts. If people don’t have a place to swim safely on a hot day, too many swim someplace unsafe instead — like an unguarded beach or pond.

What’s especially frustrating is that lifeguard shortages have been a well-documented national problem for years. Operators of pools and beaches have had ample opportunity to address the shortage; they just haven’t. Nationally, the shortage is so dire that a third of pools are expected to be affected this year, according to the American Lifeguard Association.

One strategy would be to follow the state’s lead by raising pay. Last year, after a spate of drownings, Governor Charlie Baker’s administration raised lifeguard pay to $20 an hour in an effort to attract more applicants at state facilities, and boosted it to $21 an hour this year with bonuses of up to $1,000. Lifeguard pay in Worcester is $17.50 an hour, and in Boston pay ranges from $16 to $21 an hour.

But even with higher wages, the structural challenge to hiring more workers will remain: Lifeguarding is a seasonal job that’s perfect for teens, but it requires weeks of training that few complete. And compared with other jobs available to young workers, it can be a high-stress assignment; one 17-year-old lifeguard in Worcester was stabbed last year for attempting to enforce pool rules.

Officials in Pawtucket, R.I., tried a response that might be worth emulating in Massachusetts: They brought in 15 local firefighters and seven police officers to work as lifeguards in order to keep a city pool open. As long as they receive their normal pay — and not the hourly wage geared to teenagers — it’s at least worth offering public safety workers in Boston and other municipalities the option to work at pools.

What cities and states shouldn’t do is simply try the same thing next year — put out job listings for lifeguards, bemoan how few applicants they receive, and lament that young workers just don’t want to lifeguard. It’s clear that the shortage isn’t going away without a sustained effort to raise wages and expand the lifeguarding workforce. Until municipalities and other employers take the problem more seriously, residents will continue to be shortchanged — and summer will remain more dangerous than it should be for kids across the Commonwealth.

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Bangor Daily News. July 5, 2022.

Editorial: Maine Legislature should strengthen Freedom of Access law

The Maine Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) has been in place for years. Having such a law is not enough, however. It needs to mean something.

Exceptions and loopholes, particularly related to public records, have provided too many off ramps for public officials and organizations to shield information from the people who fund them.

Even the Bangor Daily News’ recent court victory (along with the Portland Press Herald) to access complete police disciplinary records demonstrated the Maine FOAA’s limits. The papers had to go to court, in a process that took two years, to access unredacted public records — some of which eventually proved to be written so vaguely that they obscured the actual misconduct.

It should go without saying that final disciplinary documents should include information about the actual reason for the discipline.

Encouragingly, some current members of the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee have indicated a willingness to take this issue up in the future. While the makeup of the Legislature will change after the upcoming election in November, these remarks offer good insight into how lawmakers could approach freedom of access issues moving forward.

“I do think it’s important for a final written decision imposing disciplinary action to contain information about the reason for discipline,” Democratic Sen. Anne Carney, a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, told the BDN recently. “I think requiring information about conduct that is the basis of discipline is an important issue for the Right to Know Advisory Committee and Legislature to address.”

Rep. Thom Harnett, a Democrat from Gardiner, is the other judiciary co-chair. Both he and Carney are members of Maine’s Right to Know Advisory Committee. Harnett chairs the advisory committee and expects it to discuss discipline records when it meets before the new Legislature convenes in January.

“I think the law we have right now is good, but it’s been abused,” Harnett told the BDN. “The final disciplinary document, which is not a confidential document, has to explain the conduct and the discipline. If they’re not, I think they’re being written in a way that deliberately contravenes the purpose of the Freedom of Access Act.”

We’d again argue that the law should be strengthened to limit what Harnett has correctly pointed out as abuse. The fact that current law opens avenues for such abuse points to a need to update the law.

The accountability of public institutions and officials is not a Democratic or Republican issue. At least it shouldn’t be. This is an issue of good governance, and it is one the next Legislature should take up no matter which party is in charge.

“My opinion is I trust the judgment of the superior officer if he does not want to disclose what the misconduct is and keeps it within the department,” Republican Rep. James Thorne of Carmel told the BDN. “If they’re not violating the law, then they shouldn’t have to. I’m leaving it up to their judgment to say, ‘The fact that I disciplined them for misconduct is good enough.’”

We have to respectfully disagree with Thorne here. It is not good enough if the public doesn’t know why these public employees are being disciplined. And not unlike with police body cameras, this is an instance where increased transparency can actually help police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

When individual officers are disciplined but information is withheld from the public, it reflects poorly on the entire organization rather than the individual. Leadership clearly documenting officer misconduct and how it is dealt with, conversely, demonstrates what actions are not tolerated. Sunlight, as former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, is the best disinfectant.

Lawmakers can and should take steps, like making sure final disciplinary documents actually contain information about why a public employee is being disciplined, to strengthen the Maine public’s existing right to know. That right needs to mean something.

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Hearst Connecticut Media. July 7, 2022.

Editorial: Merrill will be difficult to replace

Connecticut was going to have someone new as secretary of the state soon under any circumstances. Longtime office holder Denise Merrill had previously announced she was not seeking reelection to another four-year term, with oversight of state elections ready to be passed on to the next generation of leadership.

It was a surprise, however, late last month when Merrill announced she would step down early to care for her ailing husband. The announcement came with six months left in her term, and Gov. Ned Lamont has named a temporary replacement before a new, full-time secretary of the state is elected this fall.

It’s a vital position. Election integrity is an important topic at any time, but especially when so many wild claims of stolen votes and rampant cheating fly so easily from so many places. To her great credit, Merrill spent her time in office not only beating back such false claims, but working tirelessly to expand access to the ballot in Connecticut, bringing more people onto the voting rolls and expanding the promise of democracy.

Her legacy is something to be proud of, and she leaves a difficult task for her successor to reach the same heights. It’s an important job overseeing elections, and the work is never over.

Merrill’s departure is part of an uncommon turnover in the state’s top elected positions. Though Gov. Ned Lamont, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General William Tong are all running for reelection, there will be new faces in other top jobs. In addition to Merrill, former Comptroller Kevin Lembo also opted against seeking reelection, and also resigned before the end of his term, in his case for health reasons. Shawn Wooden, in his first term as state treasurer, also surprised the state by deciding against running for reelection.

All are Democrats, and the three departures set off a stiff competition for new contenders to fill those jobs. In what experts predict will be a closely fought election, it could be an opportunity for Republicans to win a statewide office for the first time in more than a decade.

But it should be clear that electoral access is not a partisan issue. While there are broad patterns of Democrats pushing to expand voting and Republicans seeking to restrict access to the ballot nationwide, it is not at all clear that such moves have broadly partisan effects. More people voted in the 2020 election than ever before, and while Democrats won the presidential race decisively, there were more Republican wins down ballot than experts had predicted.

Getting people to the polls, then, can have unexpected results. It isn’t a guarantee to benefit anyone. It’s still the right thing to do. Denise Merrill has understood that throughout her career.

Connecticut has long had strict voting requirements, far tougher than many other states, by virtue of our state Constitution. Early voting, for example, is common elsewhere, along with ready access to absentee ballots. Connecticut is only now moving toward such reforms.

That we’ve come as far as we have is because of dedicated public officials like Denise Merrill. She will be difficult to replace, and the state owes her its thanks.

END