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Shawn Dooley wins House seat

January 8, 2014 11:21 AM

House Republicans will soon add to their ranks after Shawn Dooley, the town clerk and School Committee chairman in Norfolk, cruised to victory Tuesday night over two challengers to capture the 9th Norfolk House seat vacated last year by former Rep. Daniel Winslow.

Dooley was able to hold the seat for the Republicans, defeating an independent and a Democrat, and will become the 29th member of the GOP House caucus when he is sworn in.

Dooley, 47, campaigned on small business creation, ending unfunded education mandates on cities and town, and making it easier for communities to regionalize services like public safety. He easily defeated independent Chris Timson of Walpole and Democrat Ed McCormick of Norfolk in Tuesday's special election.

The seat has been held by Republicans for two decades, including by former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and state Sen. Richard Ross. The district includes Medfield, Millis, Norfolk, Plainville, Walpole and Wrentham.

– M. Murphy/SHNS

Raw milk dairies in Foxborough and elsewhere at center of regulation debate

December 5, 2013 11:35 AM

An agricultural group is sticking up for state regulation of raw milk dairies, as the town of Foxborough weighs local oversight.

"Massachusetts sets tough standards for its dairy farmers and every day our farmers rise to meet those challenges and produce the best raw milk available anywhere,” said Winton Pitcoff, coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Mass Raw Milk Network, in a statement.

Unpasteurized milk has a following around the country as gastrophiles seek out the unadulterated flavors of the beverage, according to news stories over recent years. There is also a patchwork of regulation in different states, with 33 states allowing raw milk sales, and opposition to its sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Milk and milk products provide a wealth of nutrition benefits. But raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to you and your family,” the FDA said on a webpage. The FDA said between 1993 and 2006, 1,500 people in the country were sickened from raw milk or cheese and raw milk is 150 times more likely to cause illness than pasteurized dairy products.

State regulations allow dairies to sell raw milk as long as it is cooled soon after it is milked, it has low levels of bacteria, the milk bottle is dated and permitted for sale for five days after bottling, and it contains a warning label. According to NOFA, the Department of Agricultural Resources has a “stellar” record of ensuring product safety, with no illnesses attributable to raw milk in two decades under the current regulatory structure.

“The state regulations attempt to ensure that the production of milk is done using healthy animals, that the activity is conducted in such a way as to prevent the introduction of contaminants, that the product is handled appropriately to inhibit spoilage in an effort to mitigate the risk of any consumer being exposed to harmful pathogens,” state Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Krista Selmi told the News Service, saying 28 farms sell raw milk retail. According to the Boston Globe, Lawton’s Family Farm’s owner has said the proposed raw milk rules in Foxborough could put the farm out of business.

- A. Metzger/SHNS

Slot parlor operators look to make deals with surrounding towns

November 21, 2013 06:35 PM

Prospective slots parlor developers in Raynham and Leominster will be required to negotiate surrounding community agreements with the towns of Bridgewater and Bolton, respectively, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided Thursday.

Other municipalities around the proposed Parx Raynham and Cordish Companies slot parlors failed to meet the surrounding community designation, but if a slot parlor’s operations are determined to have a detrimental effect on a nearby town, they would be able to draw out of an estimated $15 million to $20 million mitigation funding, commission chairman Stephen Crosby said.

“They will have an opportunity to come to us and tap into that money,” Crosby said.

The Raynham developers already designated Middleborough, Easton, Foxborough and West Bridgewater as surrounding communities, which requires the slots parlor to work out an arrangement with the towns. Raynham worked out agreements with Taunton and nearby agreements with Rehoboth, Berkley and Lakeville. Nearby agreements are with places that do not meet the definition of surrounding community, according to a gaming official.

Cordish Companies has reached agreements with Lancaster, Lunenburg, Westminster and Princeton. Penn National Gaming, which is hoping to build a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse, has deals with Mansfield, North Attleboro and Wrentham and has designated Foxborough a surrounding community but has yet to work out an agreement.

Other municipalities sought surrounding community designations, but were not deemed to meet the definition, including Fitchburg, despite what Crosby described as an “impassioned” letter from Mayor Lisa Wong.

Gaming developers have 30 days to negotiate agreements with municipalities that receive surrounding community status, and if no deal is worked out both sides enter binding arbitration with the Gaming Commission.

Penn National agreed to give preference to Wrentham residents and businesses in hiring and contracting, study the impacts of the slots parlor on the nearby town and then fund mitigation for those impacts.

Cordish agreed to pay Lunenburg $5,000 per year, with the amount increasing by 1 percent annually, and a sliding scale of revenue sharing up to 1 percent if the slots parlor makes $275 million per year. Cordish also agreed to use union labor for construction, give hiring preferences and reimburse nearby fire and police departments for responses to the site.

Licensing of the state’s first slot parlor is on track for early January, Crosby said. The commission is scheduled to issue the lone slots license first, followed by casino licenses for the east and west of the state, and finally a license for the southeast.

Negotiations with surrounding communities could be hairier during the licensing of casinos as there are already tensions between host communities and abutting cities.

The remaining potential contenders in the east, Wynn Resorts in Everett and the portion of Suffolk Downs located in Revere, have vastly different relationships with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who will hand over the reins of government to Mayor-elect Marty Walsh in January.

Everett and Revere also border one another, connected by Route 16, making them potential surrounding communities of one another.

A backer of Suffolk Downs, Menino tried and failed to use a wedge of land technically located in Boston as a means to block the Everett proposal. Menino, who resisted calls to put the Suffolk Downs vote to the entire city, saw the East Boston neighborhood bat down the proposal on election night.

Officials in Medford next door to Everett have criticized the proposed development, and across the river in Somerville, Mayor Joe Curtatone is one of the leaders in an effort to repeal the 2011 gaming law that provided for casinos.

Springfield, the host city for a proposed MGM casino, is across the river from West Springfield, which voted down a Hard Rock proposal to build a casino there.

Dighton sought surrounding community status for the Raynham slots, and Sterling sought the status for its proximity to the proposed Leominster slots. Proximity as the crow flies is not the primary consideration for the commission, as commission staff noted that although the Sterling town line is within a quarter mile from the proposed establishment, the slots parlor would be on a dead-end, and the closest residential neighborhood in Sterling would be a 5-mile commute via an interstate.

Fitchburg had also argued strenuously for mitigation from Cordish.

“The city does not possess the internal planning, economic development and legal resources necessary to identify all known impacts and to negotiate a Surrounding Community Agreement due to significant budget constraints. This is exacerbated by Cordish’s unwillingness to negotiate with the City and the potential for arbitration as a result,” Fitchburg officials wrote.

The letter signed by Wong said, “Preliminary reviews of information indicate that cities and towns located within a 10-mile radius of gambling facilities, with a higher than average poverty level, are more adversely affected by the introduction of those venues.”

In response to an email from a Fitchburg attorney Bruce Tobey, the head of the gaming company advised city officials to visit Cordish properties in Maryland and Florida, and questioned their concern.

“We do not need to revisit Fitchburg to agree that it is depressed economically. We have been there countless times,” David Cordish wrote. “Mass Live did not create these problems. Is the City somehow contending that we are the cause of Fitchburg’s problems today.”

Crosby said the commission would fund studies to measure the impact of gaming establishments and could award dollars from the mitigation fund, which would be fed the state’s share of gaming revenue.

Here's what Scott Brown is up to

October 29, 2013 11:09 AM

Former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has registered his People’s Seat PAC in New Hampshire, further riling Granite State Democrats who have been watching Brown’s every move believing he may be gearing up for a run in that state.

Brown registered the political action committee, which had $187,000 in cash on hand at the end of September, with the New Hampshire secretary of state’s office on Oct. 11.

The former state and U.S. senator recently put his Wrentham home on the market, and was back in New Hampshire Monday night speaking to the Nashua Rotarians.

Asked about his political future, he told the Nashua Telegram, “I don’t think I’m done. I think things will take care of themselves one way or the other, but we’ll see."

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen didn’t let the development of Brown registering his PAC in her home state go by without sending out another fundraising appeal to supporters Tuesday morning.

“Scott Brown is serious. We just learned that he has now registered his Political Action Committee in New Hampshire. His next step? Yet another campaign tour of our state – starting with an event in Nashua just yesterday. Brown is sending us a $187,000 signal that he’s ready to run against us. Will you be there to help me fight back?” she wrote in the email.

Former two-term Republican Massachusetts Treasurer Joe Malone recently quit the party, saying he'd lost faith in its ability to resurrect itself, predicting the GOP would end up the third party in Massachusetts behind independents, and telling talk show host Michael Graham that the Republican brand was acting like an "anchor" on GOP candidates.

- M. Murphy, M. Norton/SHNS

Public forum roundly endorses slots at Plainridge Racecourse

October 22, 2013 08:22 PM

One after another, state and local officials, residents, businesspeople and a senior citizen went to the microphone at a public meeting Tuesday to tell members of the state Gaming Commission they want a slots parlor in Plainville.

They said the plans by Penn National Gaming Inc. will not only be a boon to the small town by boosting revenue, but will reenergize small businesses and shops, and save harness racing at the last track in the state where it is still operating.

More than 75 people packed the meeting hosted by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in Wrentham to hear input from area residents about plans by Penn National’s plans to build a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse off Interstate 495 and Route 1 about five miles south of Gillette Stadium.

“This will be a death sentence for our town if we don’t get this, we’ll lose the track, we’ll lose the horses and we’ll lose the farm,” said Dale Bergevine, a lifelong resident of Plainville.

State Representative Elizabeth A. Poirier, Republican of North Attleborough, said Plainridge is the perfect site because of its location at the intersection of several major highways and proximity to the Comcast Center, Gillette Stadium, Emerald Square mall and the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets.

“It seems to make a great deal of sense that this would become a destination area,” she said. “I can’t imagine in all my wildest dreams that you would pick any other area but this one.”

The commissioners are expecting to make a decision on which of three applicants will receive the lone slots license on Jan. 9, according to Commissioner Enrique Zuniga.

Penn National’s $225 million plan is competing with the Cordish Cos., which has proposed a $204 million complex in Leominster, and Raynham Park and casino partner Greenwood Racing’s $227 million proposal.

Zuniga said the commission will consider numerous factors when making its decision, including finances, revenue, mitigation, economic development, building and site design, and a general overview of the entire project.

Just one area resident stood in opposition to the plans, Erin Earnst of Foxborough, who said the scope of the project has been changed and expanded from what was first proposed, and worried that social issues including problem gambling and drunken driving would be a problem.

“This will change the character of the whole area,” she said.

Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen P. Crosby said the Legislature took that into consideration when writing the law, stipulating that $15 million to $20 million be set aside from gaming revenue to be used on programs to address social impacts of the casinos.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

Survey seeks opinions on Norfolk County judges

October 21, 2013 10:00 AM

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The state’s highest court is sending questionnaires to attorneys and court employees in Norfolk County, seeking input on 35 judges as part of an ongoing program to evaluate judicial performance.

The Supreme Judicial Court’s survey covers several categories including a judge’s knowledge of the law, fairness and impartiality, temperament on the bench and treatment of litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys.

Lawyers who have appeared in court in the county over the last two years will receive questionnaires.

All questionnaires are confidential and do not ask for the names of the respondents. The resulting reports also will be confidential and are given only to the judge being evaluated and to the chief justices of their courts.

Questionnaires will be accepted by the SJC through mid-December.

Slots developers rush to make agreements with neighboring communities

October 17, 2013 02:30 PM

Having secured host community agreements and votes of approval, the three slots parlor applicants are reaching beyond the borders of the municipalities where they hope to locate and seeking to wrap up agreements with neighbors before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission awards the lone license.

Slots applicants in Raynham, Plainville and Leominster are each seeking to designate surrounding communities ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline, when municipalities can petition the commission for the status.

“The surrounding community schedule has always been the wild card,” Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby told reporters. He said, “Having the surrounding communities have a fair shot is more important than meeting our deadlines.”

After Oct. 31, the commission can take an indeterminate amount of time to decide whether a nearby city or town qualifies as a surrounding community, Crosby said. A designation would trigger a 30-day negotiating period, and if that period expires without an agreement, the commission would begin a 30-day period of binding arbitration.

Cordish Companies, seeking to build a slot parlor in Leominster, has entered negotiations with seven municipalities that want surrounding community agreements, and has heard from an eighth. Cordish President Joe Weinberg said he did not believe there would be any impact in the neighboring communities.

“While we don’t believe we’re going to have impacts on our neighboring communities we would rather work cooperatively with our neighbors,” Weinberg told the commission Thursday. He declined to disclose the identities of the communities to the News Service and said none have yet received the official designation.

Penn National Gaming, hoping to build on the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, has designated Wrentham, Foxborough, Mansfield and North Attleboro as surrounding communities. Plainville also borders Rhode Island.

Wynn Resorts had originally sought to build a casino in Foxborough before local elections of anti-casino selectmen convinced the company to look elsewhere. Penn officials said Foxborough leaders are primarily concerned with problem gaming, while Wrentham worries about public safety needs and North Attleboro is focused on traffic.

Penn National Vice President of Public Affairs Eric Shippers told the commission that it would calculate the “net negative” effects of a slots parlor, determining “how everyone has benefitted on the up-side” as it seeks to “weigh the good and potential bad.”

Parx Raynham, a venture between Greenwood Racing and the former Raynham Park dog track, has designated Easton and Taunton as surrounding communities and has had some contact with a total of 10 nearby communities.

“We may designate one or two,” said Greenwood official Tom Bonner, who said the company is “well advanced in negotiations with one of those two.”

Weinberg told the commission that development plans for the Leominster slots parlor include a police substation, and he said he doubts there would be a public safety draw from neighboring municipalities, though he said Cordish could pay communities if there are needs. The Cordish president told the News Service nearby police departments could send the company a bill.

All the applicants said they are making progress towards reaching agreements.

“It is very important that the surrounding communities have time to get their acts together, to get reasonable data that they can use to consider the issues, consider the impacts, and we will be sure that they get the time,” Crosby told reporters.

Plainridge, other applicants, make their arguments for slots parlor

October 7, 2013 05:45 PM

With the pot containing the state’s lone slots parlor license, three competitors on Monday pitched their geographic desirability, ability to fund and quickly construct a facility and past performance.

Penn National Gaming, seeking to develop the Plainridge Racecourse, said its proposal would preserve harness racing and the agriculture network that goes into that sport, while its Plainville location would “cut off” Bay Staters heading to Twin River in Rhode Island.

Parx Raynham highlighted the proposed South Coast Rail station next to its property, a former dog track that developers said could open the first phase of a slots parlor by next July.

Cordish Companies in Leominster said its location in north-central Massachusetts would give it some market exclusivity, while the company would be able to build a slots parlor without financing and contribute additional funds toward a medical devices business accelerator.

“We are going to have a very tough choice,” said Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby, after each of the three final applicants made their presentation Monday. He said the commission would make its decision by the end of December or the “first week or so of January.”

Salesmanship styles varied, with Penn and Cordish presenting videos of what the company could offer, while Parx introduced an array of vice presidents and consultants to make the case.

Cordish Chairman David Cordish said his proposal for Leominster would tap into a relatively uncrowded gaming market, help boost the economy in a “gateway city” and could be constructed without borrowing by a company that has “built more ground-up casinos with higher revenues” than about any other company in the country.

“I don’t want to quibble whether we’re one or two,” Cordish said.

George Carney, the long-time owner of Raynham Park who partnered with Greenwood Racing, said the first phase of the Parx Raynham slots parlor could be built by next July, and if Plainridge lost the license and closed he would plan to resume harness racing in Brockton.

“We can be open within six months of the commission’s decision,” said Greenwood CEO Anthony Ricci, who said the project includes a second phase with a new building, which would receive $125 million in financing from Credit Suisse.

Jay Snowden, the senior vice president of operations for Penn and a former Harvard starting quarterback, said the racino would tap into Penn’s loyalty program, partner with local businesses and host Doug Flutie’s Sports Pub, a venture by the former Boston College quarterback.

“We’ve been working with him on this concept for several months now,” said Snowden, who said the one-time Patriot’s backup QB would display his Heisman Trophy at the track for some of the year.

Each developer made overtures to green initiatives, with Parx saying it would commit to LEED Silver, Cordish discussing plans for wind and solar energy, and Penn sustaining the farms and trails that are part of the horse racing industry.

Cordish, which said it owns rights to the term “Live!” would additionally fund a UMass Lowell and UMass Worcester medical device company accelerator based off the M2D2 program.

On Thursday, the Gaming Commission voted to extend to Oct. 31 the deadline for slots applicants to submit agreements they have ironed out with surrounding communities.

Cordish President Joseph Weingberg said the Leominster proposal has the support of the closest community to the project.

Penn, which took over the racino proposal after cash-room withdrawals bounced Plainridge from applying on its own, has met with officials in Mansfield, Wrentham, Foxborough, North Attleboro.

Parx has designated Taunton and Easton as surrounding communities and is “close” with one, and made “good progress” with the other, a Parx attorney told the commission. Taunton has already worked out a host community agreement with the Mashpee Wampanoag, which hopes to build a Indian casino in the city.

Under the terms of a gaming compact, which is set to come up in the House on Wednesday, the Mashpee would owe less if a slots parlor opened in the southeast region. Taunton and Raynham border one another.

Race to replace state Rep. Dan Winslow in Legislature begins

October 4, 2013 03:05 PM

The race to replace former State Representative Dan Winslow is on, with Winslow’s former campaign manager already an announced candidate for the Republican nomination and at least two Democrats considering a run for the seat.

Shawn Dooley – former campaign manager for Winslow and Norfolk’s town clerk – announced last month that he would run for the 9th Norfolk representative’s seat.

Stanley Nacewicz, Winslow’s Democratic opponent in 2010, said he is weighing a run. Edward J. McCormick III, a lawyer from Norfolk who ran for Congress as a Republican in 1992 against Barney Frank but is now a Democrat, also said he is considering running for the seat.

Potential candidates have until Oct. 29cq to submit nomination papers for the special election. Party primaries will be held on Dec. 10, with the general election on Jan. 7. The seat will be open again next fall. The district includes all of Norfolk, Plainville, and Wrentham, and parts of Walpole, Millis, and Medfield.

Winslow, who last spring ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for the US Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry, resigned last month to take a job in the private sector

Penn National deemed suitable by state to pursue Plainville slots parlor proposal

October 3, 2013 04:23 PM

From the In the Cards Blog:

The hastily arranged corporate alliance between the Plainridge Racecourse and Penn National Gaming Inc. today cleared a key regulatory hurdle when the Massachusetts Gaming Commission concluded that Penn National is suitable to operate a slots parlor in the state.

The unanimous “positive” suitability determination was issued by the five-member commission this morning.

“The Applicant has met the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it meets the standards for suitability,’’ the commission concluded in its seven-page written ruling.

The commission decision clears the way for Penn National and Plainridge – and its host community, Plainville – to compete for the sole slots parlor license to be issued in Massachusetts.

Also in the running is a development plan at Raynham Park, the simulcast betting facility and former dog track in Raynham, and a gambling, dining, and entertainment hall proposed by Cordish Cos. for Leominster.

Plainridge and Raynham Park have won the backing of their host communities, and Leominster voters backed the Cordish plan Sept. 23.

Plainridge and Penn National both appeared to have lost the race for the slots parlor in unrelated events this August.

First, the commission ruled that Plainridge owners were not suitable largely because former track president Gary Piontkowski had taken more than $1 million from the struggling track’s money room over several years. And then, Tewksbury residents voted against a Penn National slots parlor plan in their town.

But Penn National and Plainridge owners quickly reached an agreement under which Penn National will buy the track if it wins the slot license, a change in ownership approved by a majority of Plainville residents and the gaming commission.

Today’s ruling by the commission keeps the resurrected hopes of Plainridge and Penn National alive into the next round of competition.

The commission hopes to award the slot license by the end of the year. It will be the first license issued under the 2011 Massachusetts casino law, which authorized three resort casinos, no more than one in each of three regions of the state, and one slot parlor, which can be built in any region.

The slot parlor is limited to 1,250 machines and will have no live table games. It will pay 49 percent of its gambling revenue in state taxes, and requires a minimum investment of $125 million.

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