EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 2, 2013

Editorial: Some cheers, some jeers for recent newsmakers

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — CHEERS to Lawrence for a weekend of popular festivals.

Few weekends showcase the cultural history of Lawrence better than Labor Day weekend, when the city celebrates several important aspects of its heritage.

The Feast of the Three Saints puts Lawrence’s Italian-American culture on proud display. Hosted by the St. Alfio Society, the festival was expected to draw 75,000 visitors over three days. The festival honors three saints — Alfio, Filadelfo and Cirino — brothers who were martyred in third century Sicily.

Mahrajan celebrates the city’s Lebanese heritage. The festival, centered at St. Antony’s Church on Amesbury Street features Middle Eastern food and music, as well as performances of dabka, an Arabic folk dance.

Finally, today the city hosts the Bread and Roses Festival, which remembers the historic textile strike of 1912. The festival takes place on Campagnone Common from noon to 6 p.m. and has become a celebration of Lawrence’s cultural diversity featuring international food and music.

Labor Day weekend shows Lawrence at its best. It is a time for which the city can be proud.

JEERS to organized thieves who have hit regional shopping centers, including the Mall at Rockingham Park in Salem. Several stores in the mall have been hit, including Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch and Sephora. The thieves get away with a few thousand dollars worth of merchandise in each hit, according to police. The thefts are believed to be part of the operations of an organized ring that has stolen $100,000 worth of merchandise from stores in two states over the past several months.

Here’s hoping police catch these criminals soon. Their thievery raises prices for the rest of us law-abiding citizens.

Anyone with information on any of these suspects is asked to call police at 603-893-1911 or the Southern N.H. Crimeline at 603-893-6600.

CHEERS to some good news from a local public employees pension board. A recent audit of the Essex Regional Retirement System, which manages pensions for several North of Boston communities including North Andover, shows improving management. Auditors found just three deficiencies, all described as minor.

What makes this remarkable is the contrast with the last audit in 2010, which cited 23 deficiencies of such magnitude that an attorney for the supervising state agency called it “uncharted territory.”

The retirement system, then led by former state Rep. Timothy Bassett of Marblehead, was cited for secret meetings, misuse of retirement funds, shoddy bookkeeping, improper reimbursement of expenses and payment of more than $100,000 in legal fees without proper authorization, public bids or contracts.

Bassett, who was making a healthy six-figure salary overseeing the train wreck, was fired shortly thereafter, and the board that enabled him has been replaced.

Charles Kostro, the new executive director, has halted the abuses, cut expenses and restored the public trust. In the process he’s earned praise from the auditing agency for doing “an excellent job” of addressing the system’s many problems. Kostro had previously been Newbury’s town administrator, a job where his professionalism and competence was remarked upon by many who dealt with him.

We commend Kostro for a job well done. The pension system that thousands of local public employees depend upon for their retirement is now in far better shape.