CEO Thomas P. O’Neill III on Gun Control

 

Since Sandy Hook, classroom doors are always supposed to be locked in my school. Since Sandy Hook, students are not supposed to let visitors into the school in case of hidden threats. I was 13 then; I’m 18 now. This was my childhood. But did it have to be? #GunControlNow

9:18 PM – 15 Feb 2018

There were heartbreaking messages from inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, on Valentine’s Day of all days. The tweet above isn’t one of them. It’s from a Boston area high school student lucky enough to have never experienced the need to hide in a closet or under a desk, or to text her friends and family her good byes.

During my school years in the ’50s and early ’60s we practiced drills. Tensions from the Cold War spurred the federal government to launch a nationwide campaign to inform the citizenry of the dangers of nuclear war. Schoolchildren across the United States were taught to “duck and cover” by a cartoon animal named Bert the Turtle who was very alert and hid in his shell as firecrackers exploded above him. To be honest, we became numb to the training. The threat was real, but amorphous, beyond our control. So we ducked, we covered, we paid attention to where the familiar yellow and black Fallout Shelter signs were. The nuclear threat was real, thankfully the missiles never came.
The threat that today’s schoolchildren prepare for is real, and they know it. I can’t imagine what goes through kids’ minds as they train to use desks as bunkers, to hold text books in front of their faces, to stay silent while armed killers roam their familiar hallways.Younger students are told lies so that the reality of the training isn’t so scary. They’re given imaginary explanations for the exercises, so they don’t get scared. I wonder if the student tweeting above was aware at 13 of the stakes of this training-life or death. And I wonder what she thinks at 18, cellphone in hand, the world’s news at her fingertips, the videos from inside Stoneman Douglas live on her Twitter feed.

The threat in the ’50s was from beyond our borders. The geopolitics that followed World War II seemed intractable and beyond our reach. The threat today is from within. We’re training American school kids to protect themselves from their peers. This is the school experience of an entire generation of Americans.

Instead of a national campaign against this threat, too many in Congress have done what we’re training our kids to do – hide under their desks and stay silent. Too many put the demands of the NRA before the safety of our children.

What the federal government has been unable to do, some states are doing. Massachusetts banned assault weapons nearly two decades ago. Following the Las Vegas shooting, the Commonwealth banned bump-stocks. It’s simply common sense. Last week, Massachusetts joined the states of New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as part of a multi-state effort to share information and reduce gun violence. This takes strong leadership. The Massachusetts Legislature, under the indefatigable efforts of House Speaker Robert DeLeo, has boldly moved to strengthen the Commonwealth’s gun laws. In addition, Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey give thoughtful and consistent leadership on the national stage. Still, as important as these efforts are, they cannot be substitutes for a comprehensive federal effort.


In his inaugural address John F. Kennedy spoke of a generation then coming to power that was “disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.” This generation of students has been raised and disciplined amidst the bitter reality of mass shootings and government’s inaction in response. This generation of students is coming of age and registering to vote. They are accessing the power of assembly and will hold the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, D.C., with sister marches in Boston, New York and dozens of other cities. These students know the answer to the question that began this letter, “Did it have to be?” To paraphrase President Kennedy, let’s do everything in our power to support them to “go forth to lead the land we love.” Godspeed.
Sincerely,
Tom

Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance Looks to Create Great Neighborhoods through Zoning Reform

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The housing crisis in Massachusetts is real. Over the past several years, only a handful of communities across the Commonwealth have produced substantial numbers of new apartments – with 10 municipalities creating nearly two-thirds of all the new multifamily housing in the state. Boston alone has been responsible for a whopping 37 percent of the state’s apartment construction.  Currently, the Commonwealth is producing less than half of the housing built at peak levels in the 1970s.

Our housing shortage threatens the Commonwealth’s remarkable economic growth and makes it more difficult for employers to retain the young people who want to stay here.  The lack of housing production also exacerbates the region’s income inequality and threatens our opportunities to preserve and protect the region’s open space.

The good news is that there is growing momentum at the municipal and state level to address this challenge.  O’Neill and Associates’ client, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance (MSGA), leads a statewide coalition of local officials, housing and environmental advocates, planners, grassroots leaders, business groups and even public health organizations as part of its “Great Neighborhoods” campaign to reform our state’s development rules, which have not been updated since 1975.

The Great Neighborhoods campaign can point to impressive recent wins. The State Senate passed a comprehensive zoning and housing bill in June of 2016, and House leadership is currently working on its version. Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, together with 14 other mayors and town managers, launched a regional housing partnership in December. A week later, Governor Charlie Baker and his administration unveiled a series of “Housing Choice” incentives along with a pledge to build 135,000 new units of housing by 2025.

The next few months are critical. As the Boston Globe recently editorialized, it is time for leaders to “aim higher” to address the housing crisis. A comprehensive and balanced legislative package should accomplish the following, following the lead of Great Neighborhoods bills H2420 and S81:

  • Offer more housing choices to families and seniors by making it easier to build multifamily housing and accessory dwellings (aka “in-law” apartments), as well as prohibit discrimination through local zoning policy or permitting decisions;
  • Promote healthy communities and protect open space by establishing zoning tools that cluster development, curb roadside sprawl, and encourage walkable places;
  • Provide cities and towns the tools they need by training local planning and zoning boards, standardizing permitting techniques like site plan review, and streamlining the master plan process; and
  • Establish more predictable, cost-effective development rules by lowering the vote threshold for zoning and special permit approval to a simple majority, encouraging alternative dispute resolution, and reducing frivolous appeals.

If you are interested in learning more about MSGA’s efforts, please watch their executive director, Andre Leroux, discussing the Great Neighborhoods campaign on Urban Update and The Take, sign up for their email list, or visit their Great Neighborhoods website. You can also weigh in with your legislators here.

What is a Bot? An Inside Look Behind Their Twitter Takeover

Twitter Website Grab

By: Account Coordinator Brook O’Meara-Sayen 

Since the 2016 presidential election, a news cycle barely goes by without at least a cursory mention of ‘bots.’ As Robert Mueller’s Special Council investigation continues to move  forward, it has become increasingly apparent that Russian state agents utilized ‘bots’ to successfully sow dissent during our this past election. These bots are Twitter Bots, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered Twitter accounts impersonating humans.

Twitter now estimates more than 50,000 such bots crafted in Russia were utilized by the shadowy Internet Research Agency to sow discord in our electoral process. They worked, in large part, because real Twitter users often could not discern these accounts had no human at the keyboard. Orchestrated use of bots led to online ‘movements’ and promoted divisive hashtags.

O’Neill Now is starting a new series on bots on our blog, discussing how and why they can be used, but first we need to understand what a bot is.

At the core, Twitter bots are an extremely simple concept. A bot is a piece of code or a computer program that controls a Twitter account and posts without human supervision. They can be used for a myriad of things, such as auto-creating Venn Diagrams, or sorting the pixels of images to create art. Most of the time Twitter bots are completely harmless and were created to serve a specific function. These accounts are easily identifiable and many even acknowledge their lack of a soul in the bio. They are, in essence, tools with a public facing function–and Twitter gives them the platform they require to serve the people who need their service.

As AI has risen to prominence, it was only a matter of time before someone married the two concepts, either for a legitimate goal–like automating customer service complaints–or an illegitimate one–like, say, promoting a negative hashtag about a competitor. The marriage of AI and Twitter Bots resulted in a child called SocialBots.

SocialBots bots are supposed to act like humans, posting at random times, “sleeping,” talking about mundane behaviors, etc. A SocialBot might even have a database of “human things” which will allow it to tweet about how annoying it is to do laundry, even though it’s just a few lines of code. But their ability to masquerade as a human and influence public sentiment is what makes them controversial.

So, why can a bot move public sentiment on a topic when a real person can’t? A bot can be copied again and again without limits. Together these bots can tweet the same news story and hashtag simultaneously. They can trick a target audience into believing these tweets are 50,000 people and not 50,000 lines of code.

This adds a layer of uncertainty to the social media giant: is that trending topic trending because people care about it, or does one guy with an army of bots care about it? Does my favorite politician/actor/writer/entrepreneur really have that many followers or are half of them bots created to boost their numbers?

In later installments we’ll discuss how to spot a bot, how to make one, and specific instances when bots made a difference online.

Update on the Massachusetts Cannabis Regulatory Scene

 

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By Vice President Christopher Niles

After a week of debate and compromise, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) is poised to vote to adopt final regulations this week that will govern the recreational cannabis market in the Commonwealth. While the CCC approved parameters for a robust industry, they did vote to delay controversial provisions included by the CCC in earlier versions of the regulations that would have allowed delivery services and “social consumption” businesses that would also sell cannabis (e.g. cafes, movie theatres and yoga studios). As part of the compromise CCC committed to revisiting these issues in October and to provide those licenses to populations disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs.”

Access to the substantial capital needed to operate a cannabis business and the ability to complete many financial transactions remain a significant problem. The rescission of the Cole memorandum that provided some safe harbor for state initiatives by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, coupled by comments by US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, have limited the ability of cannabis businesses to bank and in some cases complete debit card transactions. The banking pinch is concerning enough that CCC Chairman Steven Hoffman recently floated the idea of a state supported bank for cannabis businesses. While likely not an immediate option for consideration, it speaks to the limitations that these companies will have to work around in the near term.

More on the recent CCC actions can be found here.

The CCC has navigated a complex set of issues and the licensing process appears on track to meet the July 1stdeadline, establishing a competitive market that some estimates believe to reach $1 billion by 2020. However, significant operational challenges remain for businesses to be up and running by July 1st, and the potential conversion of the 22 existing medical marijuana dispensaries to also offer recreational sales on July 1st will put a strain on supply. To that end, the CCC mandated that medical cannabis dispensaries must retain 30% of their supply for medical patients.

With clear guidelines from the CCC nearly in place, attention will begin to shift to the local level as businesses work to locate in municipalities across the Commonwealth, moratoriums, zoning and host community agreements will have to be addressed and overcome as the cannabis industry attempts to integrate into our social and economic landscape.

O’Neill and Associates has successfully assisted cannabis businesses since the medical cannabis law was approved by voters. For more on our capabilities or questions around this issue please contact us.

Former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon and Sports Broadcast Legend Bob Lobel to Headline 2018 New England Cannabis Convention

 

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As Massachusetts prepares for the July 1, 2018 start of retail marijuana sales for recreational use, some businesses are already looking towards a green future. And, in a few short weeks, the most established and successful players will be under the same roof at the New England Cannabis Convention (NECANN) Boston 2018.

NECANN, the only B2B cannabis convention designed specifically to cater to New England companies and advocates, has grown dramatically since its first show in 2015. This year, the show will feature 225 vendors, over 100 speakers spread across 4 stages, and an expected attendance of over 6,000 visitors.

NECANN focuses on the established medical marijuana industry in Massachusetts, and the businesses that will soon drive the recreational marijuana industry here and in other parts of New England. This year’s featured speakers include former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon and revered sports broadcaster Bob Lobel in a panel discussion on using cannabis to treat sports injuries.

Check out the full release below and be sure to sign up for the premiere cannabis industry convention in New England.

Former Chicago Bears QB Jim McMahon and Sports broadcast legend Bob Lobel to headline 2018 New England Cannabis Convention in Boston

Treating sports injuries with marijuana and cannabis entrepreneurialism highlight NECANN trade show March 24-25th at Hynes Convention Center

Boston, Mass (March 1, 2018) – Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and local Boston sports broadcast legend Bob Lobel are among the featured speakers that will highlight the 2018 New England Cannabis Convention in Boston, which returns to the Hynes Convention Center on Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25.

“The cannabis industry in Massachusetts is expanding exponentially and the New England Cannabis Convention has grown three-fold from our first show in 2015,” said Marc Shepard, co-founder and President of NECANN.  “NECANN Boston 2018 will be the biggest cannabis industry event ever in New England, and the speakers, programming and vendor lineup represent the very best this industry has to offer.”

Over 200 vendors and more than 6,000 attendees are expected to attend the two-day NECANN Boston convention, one of the largest and most influential events of its kind in America. Other highlights include a panel discussion on alternative healing for U.S. military veterans; cannabis as the new cash crop for Massachusetts farmers; and the latest research and development advancements in the Bay State marijuana industry. The NECANN Boston show’s return to the Hynes Convention Center comes as retail sales of marijuana for recreational use are set to debut in Massachusetts on July 1, 2018.

McMahon, the irreverent former Chicago Bears quarterback and Super Bowl champion, will join Boston sports broadcasting legend Bob Lobel for the premiere of “The Doc and the Jocks” – a live panel discussion on the role of cannabis in treating sports-related injuries. Moderating the panel will be Dr. Uma Dhanabalan – a Natick-based family medicine practitioner and cannabis therapeutics expert.

“We like to say if it isn’t NECANN then it’s not New England, because we are relentlessly focused on promoting and serving cannabis entrepreneurs in this region,” said Jeff Lawrence, CEO of the New England Cannabis Convention and a NECANN co-founder. “But our mission is also educating the public and the business community about the economic potential of what we believe is the most important regulated industry to emerge in over a century.”

The New England Cannabis Convention is an essential hub for local businesses, investors and entrepreneurs to meet, network and grow. With the Massachusetts cannabis industry projected to reach $2 billion by 2020, programming for NECANN Boston 2018 will feature four separate tracks:

1) Marijuana as medicine

2) Local Cannabis legal, businesses, and investment news

3) Live demos on growing, cloning, making salves and tinctures, and more.

4) Cannabis career and entrepreneurial opportunities

Attendees can network with the over 200 local and national cannabis industry businesses, talk with doctors and health care providers, explore investment & career opportunities, connect with advocacy groups, see the latest developments in lighting, soil, and growing equipment, and purchase a wide variety of accessories. Every facet of the cannabis industry is represented at NECANN Boston 2018. A full list of exhibitors is available at NECANN.com.

“Massachusetts has made a commitment to establishing a vibrant cannabis industry, and part of our job at NECANN is to help entrepreneurs work together as a community and keep a majority of the capital circulating locally,” said Shepard. “If we are working together, serving each other, hiring locally and building a business infrastructure for cannabis, then it really can be a $2 billion industry right here in New England.”

About NECANN

Since 2015, NECANN has hosted the largest, most comprehensive Cannabis Industry event series in the northeast.  Our 2018 schedule includes six conventions (Boston, Providence RI, Portland, ME, Northampton, MA, Burlington, VT, and Reno, NV), making it the largest series in the country as the legalization of recreational cannabis use in both Maine and Massachusetts bring ever greater national attention to New England.  Registration for NECANN events is available online at www.necann.com.  A limited amount of tickets will also be sold on-site on the days of the shows.  The full programming schedule is available at www.necann.com/programming.

Media Contact

Brook O’Meara-Sayen

bsayen@oneillandassoc.com

617-646-1029 (m) 617-987-7458

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team to Discuss Racism at A Faith That Does Justice Community Meeting

AFTDJ BG Speakers

Left to Right: Patricia Wen, Akilah Johnson, and Liz Kowalczyk of the Boston Globe

Boston’s legacy of racial injustice is something that the community as a whole struggles to address adequately.  In addition to incidents of individual racism, the region continues to see inequities in education, home ownership, wealth, and civic and business leadership between black and white residents.  A Faith That Does Justice (AFTDJ) is seeking to be a part of the conversation on these issues by convening three members of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team to discuss their findings on racism in Boston and the surrounding area at the organization’s next Community Meeting.  The meeting is entitled Racism: An Ongoing Dilemma and will highlight what these members of the Spotlight team  learned by being a part of the Globe’s December 2017 seven-part series about racism in the region.

Those interested in attending AFTDJ’s meeting on March 13th can do so by registering at the organization’s website.  The event will be held at The Cathedral Church of Saint Paul at 138 Tremont Street, across from Park Street T Station in Boston, from 6:15 to 8:15 pm.

AFTDJ is working to move people to action in confronting injustices in the United States. The goal is to create solidarity among people who very often have little contact in contemporary society – those with wealth, education, and privilege and those who are living in poverty and in threatened vulnerable communities. This Community Meeting will help educate participants in the challenges facing those afflicted by racial injustice and ways they can work to improve it.

AFTDJ was initially formed as a program in San Diego, where Fr. Peter W. Gyves, SJ MD, brought together English-speaking and Spanish-speaking communities to share experiences and concerns about the direction the country was going in.  The program moved to Boston last year and its mission has expanded. In addition to holding similar workshops, which brings together vulnerable populations and long-time Boston residents together, the organization is hosting a series of Community Meetings around topics that impact vulnerable populations, such as housing and homelessness.

In a recent op-ed for the National Catholic Reporter, AFTDJ’s Fr. Gyves, wrote, “It is more important now more than ever to resist Trump and his intolerance of people who do not look like or think as he does.”

The Globe’s Spotlight series was developed in response to Boston’s stereotype as one of the most racist cities in the country. To gather insight into the issues facing the African American community in Boston, the Spotlight team launched surveys and conducted interviews to gain insight on the topic.  The team thoroughly researched niches such as the Seaport, hospitals, colleges, and sports in the series.

Patricia Wen, the editor of the Spotlight series, and reporters Akilah Johnson and Liz Kowalczyk will discuss at the event why the Globe undertook the series and what they learned about racism, Boston, and ways the city can improve racial relations.  The event will be moderated by Rev. Dr. Gregory Groover, Sr, of the Historic Charles St. A.M.E. Church in Roxbury.  The evening’s discussion will also include remarks from AFTDJ founder and director, Fr. Gyves.

If you are interested in learning more about A Faith That Does Justice, please visit their website here.  Space is limited for the Community Meeting, so please register soon.

Now Hiring: Public Relations Director for the Boston Office

PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR

O’Neill and Associates is a communications, public affairs and government relations firm providing services throughout the Northeast. O’Neill and Associates is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate in any aspect of employment on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, disability, or any other characteristic protected by state, federal, or local employment discrimination laws.

O’Neill and Associates seeks to fill the role of director within its public relations division of its Boston office. The director responsibilities and qualifications are as follows:

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Assist the vice chairman and other public relations senior management in servicing various clients
  • Seek out new client and business development opportunities
  • Collaborate with the public relations team to grow the practice
  • Develop and execute national media relations, PR and publicity campaigns
  • Contribute to overall strategic planning and campaign development for clients
  • Write premium content of all kinds with a high degree of skill and professionalism
  • Design and execute first-rate social media campaigns
  • Assist in event management for clients
  • Attend certain client and other events

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Bachelor’s degree in related field
  • 3-5 years of public relations or related experience
  • Strong and proven communication, writing and research skills
  • Proven experience effectively pitching national media across a variety of programming types
  • Strong organizational skills and attention to detail
  • Advanced digital and social media practical skills
  • Ability to multi-task, shift priorities and meet deadlines
  • Excellent team player with ability to interact with all levels of management and staff

For immediate consideration, please submit your resume and cover letter by email to careers@oneillandassoc.com.

For a PDF version of this document click PR Director Job Description

Mass. PRIM Reports Strong Performance in Calendar Year 2017

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The Massachusetts state pension fund continues to be a category leader and one of the industry standards for performance, risk management and cost control. The Pension Reserves Investment Management Board (PRIM) produced a strong 17.7 percent return in calendar year 2017 for the Pension Reserves Investment Trust Fund – besting others in PRIM’s peer group of funds the same size or larger.

The $72 billion PRIT Fund saw six of its seven major asset classes outperform their respective benchmarks in 2017 – producing an investment gain of $11.1 billion.

“It is important to put the recent market volatility into context.  The current bull market began in March of 2009 and has been one of the longest and steadiest on record,” said PRIM Executive Director and Chief Investment Officer Michael G. Trotsky, CFA, in remarks to the PRIM Board today. “Since the November 2016 election, we have enjoyed unusually consistent monthly gains: Through January of this year the S&P 500 rose for 15 consecutive months.  So, we believe that the recent February volatility really should come as no great surprise.  Markets do not go up in a straight line forever and … we have been preparing for some turbulence. Strong performance in both up markets and down markets is a strong indication that our strategies and risk control is working well.”

Five Questions on the 2018 Winter Olympics with Attorney David Evans of Murphy & King PC and Arbitrator in the Court of Arbitration for Sport

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The Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea will be broadcast tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC, and Attorney David Evans, shareholder of Murphy & King PC, has some insight into the controversy surrounding the suspension of Russian athletes for violating the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) anti-doping rules. Evans serves on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that oversees disputes in a wide-range of sporting events including the Olympics.  The CAS, based in Lausenne, Switzerland, is often referred to as the “Sports Supreme Court,” is an international institution independent of any sports organization which provides for services to facilitate the settlement of sport-related disputes, through arbitration or mediation, by means of procedural rules adapted to the specific needs of the sport world. David answered 5 questions about the 2018 Olympics and the CAS.

  1. What is the controversy about regarding the suspension of the Russian athletes for doping?

It’s an extremely complicated an unprecedented situation. Last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Russian Olympic Committee from participating in the 2018 Olympics due to widespread, state-sponsored doping and falsification of test results at the Sochi games in 2014. The IOC left open the prospect of Russian athletes competing under a neutral Olympics flag if they could satisfy certain criteria. Since then, 169 athletes were screened and proven to be drug-free. A number of athletes banned from the games appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

On Feb. 1, CAS found in favor of 28 athletes, concluding that the IOC had presented insufficient evidence. The IOC openly criticized the decisions (although the reasoned opinions have not issued), and stated that it would not “invite” the athletes to the games. Meanwhile, 45 athletes and 2 coaches barred from competing have lost appeals to CAS, including 13 athletes and 2 coaches effectively cleared by CAS for lack of evidence. CAS ruled that IOC had the right to set its own standards for who is eligible. CAS has established an ad hoc division at the Games for the sole purpose of handling anti-doping disputes. The rift between the IOC and CAS has created much tension, and a basis for Russia to argue that the IOC is politically-motivated.

  1. What role does the CAS have during the Olympic Games?

Besides anti-doping issues, CAS has an on-site ad hoc division that adjudicates all disputes that arise during the games – from complaints about scoring to equipment challenges.

  1. Why does it seem that scoring/judging is somewhat arbitrary in sports such as figure skating and gymnastics?

Anything that is not based on a clock is subject to dispute (and even some that are – remember the Russian-USA basketball fiasco decades ago). It is mitigated in some events by having many judges, and throwing out the high and low scores.

  1. Do you expect that there will be challenges to scoring during the winter Olympics?

Probably not many challenges per se, but lots of complaints. It’s a reflection of the broader geopolitical picture.

  1. The IOC President is reportedly at odds with CAS, is that expected or has animosity worsened recently?

It’s orders of magnitude worse than I’ve ever seen. In my view, it is disgraceful for Thomas Bach (IOC President) to criticize an adjudicatory process (without even seeing the reasoned opinions) and calling for structural changes at CAS “to better manage the quality and the consistency of its jurisdiction.”