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Walsh’s “State-of-the-City”: a clarion call by Marjorie Arons-Barron

If you want to hear everything our national government now is not, listen to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s state-of-the-city address.  In a rousing half-hour speech at Symphony Hall, he credibly held out Boston as a model to be emulated nationally. It was a spirited reminder of how pathetically the federal government is failing to meet most of the challenges the nation is facing.  It was a welcome chronicling of ills that face our nation that Boston is doing something about.

Walsh cited Boston’s accomplishments in creating economic opportunity and jobs (a 2.4 percent unemployment rate in the city), developing affordable housing, reducing crime, addressing climate change, stemming opioid addiction, investing in education and expanding diversity.  And, if you think that recounting is merely aspirational, that there is much more to do, so, too, does the mayor, who doubled down on his commitments to social progress and middle class opportunity.

The point is: these values are precisely those that have gone dark in the Trump administration. Boston alone can’t  end global warming, but it is developing a  resilience plan to deal with rising sea levels. Racism abides here as elsewhere, but there’s now an Office of Diversity, new representation of minorities in the political hierarchy, a first-ever African-American police commissioner, and a commitment to tackle the lack of diversity in the city’s fire department. The NAACP is reportedly considering Boston for its 2020 convention.

While our crime rate has gone down, the murder rate has not, but perhaps some of Walsh’s social justice and economic initiatives will ultimately be reflected in an improvement there.  While major investments have been made in school structures, there’s still a performance gap for minority students.  Walsh is making his case at the State House for better education funding and better ways to expand housing. When in the last two years were any of these policies even discussed in Washington, much less achieved?

As they say on Jersey Street, “Mahty” hit it out of the park!  Unlike his stiff presentations upon taking office, he was really into this speech, his delivery polished, his cadence natural, his emphasis authentic. At the end, he told his pumped-up audience that he and Republican Governor Charlie Baker would be going together to Washington to ask for help in housing, transit, and the environment.  As he put it, “Instead of building a wall, let’s show them how to build bridges.”

The ending was a triumph: “If you want to learn how to bring people together, not push them apart, look to Boston. If you want to grow good jobs and rebuild the middle class, look to Boston. If you want to see how social justice strengthens all of us, look to Boston. If you want to cut crime, protect the environment, lift Americans up and leave no one behind, build a more perfect union? Then look to the city of hope and heart. Look to the city of courage and champions. At a time when cities must lead, look to Boston, the leader of cities.”  The electricity in Symphony Hall was palpable, even for those watching from home.  We know good things aren’t happening in Washington. But surely it’s not naive to be reassured that, in a different way, they are happening in Boston and other leading cities nationwide.

When Massachusetts residents traveling cross-country or abroad are asked where they are from, they typically answer Boston, not Wayland or Swansea or Fall River. And that makes sense. Many of Boston’s challenges are still works in progress, but this is a progression in which we can take legitimate pride, and that’s just as it should be.

Lowell Politics: January 17, 2019

Mimi Parseghian shares some observations on Lowell politics for this week:

I have just read that Councilor David Conway will be submitting a motion requesting a non-binding referendum on the election system.  According to the Sun article “The ballot question would ask voters whether they want to maintain Lowell’s at-large representation, or whether they want the city to develop a new election model.”  For discussion purposes only, let’s say that the “maintain the at-large representation” has more votes than a district representation.  What does this have to do with whether our voting system is fair and not discriminatory?  What does this have to do with violation of Federal Law? Are we going to ask those who benefit from the current system to determine how they want to proceed? I will be both disappointed and surprised if the majority of the Council votes in favor of this motion.

……..

Wednesday’s Boston Globe listed the states 100 top paid employees.  Ninety-eight of the top 100 are employed by the UMass Systems.  These 98 people’s compensation totals $37,000,000.  The salary/compensation ranges from $1,069,751 to $293,280. I do not know if they are overpaid, underpaid or if this is the average compensation for employees of the state college and university systems.  But I do know from my personal experience these past couple of years, how difficult it is for so many students to pay for their tuition and fees.  And then once they graduate, they are burden with long term loans to repay.  There is a disconnect here.

……..

Already a few individuals have announced their candidacy in this year’s City Council race.  There is a buzz that many others will enter not only the City Council race but also the School Committee election.  It is always beneficial for the City when a wide variety of candidates run for municipal office.  This is how new ideas and differing views are brought into the public discourse. This year’s election may be the last one with a citywide selection process. If that is the case, this year would be a good barometer to measure candidates’ strength in their own district. For some it could be a dry run for the 2021 election.  For those who are thinking of running, I will share a knowledgeable friend’s premise that you must enter the race by St. Patrick’s Day.  You have 3 months until Summer.  Then there is a break in the campaigning with a slight bump at Folk Festival time.  Then activities do not pick up until Labor Day; and then a couple of weeks until Preliminary Election.

……..

In Dick’s recap of Tuesday night’s Council meeting, he gave a detailed report on the marijuana moratorium motion. The majority of the Council agreed to allow the Administration to continue their efforts. Back in June, the City Council approved the ordinance establishing marijuana licensing. Subsequently in answering Council motion, Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services, gave the Council an update.  He reminded everyone that “the proposed businesses, both retail and cultivation/manufacturing, will all still need to go to the Planning Board for the appropriate approvals …” I can understand why some may have questions about the location of these facilities but this City has been extremely cautious while working to maximize the benefits from the business aspects of this industry.

Sarah Sousa: A Fruitful Creative Path

Sarah Sousa: A Fruitful Creative Path

I met Sarah Sousa a few years ago at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, Mass. She was there with friends from Perugia Press, an independent publishing company in Florence, Mass. Perugia publishes one title a year, a first or second book by a woman whose manuscript has won the press’s annual prize contest. I had heard she had grown up in Dracut, as I had some years before, and wanted to meet her. She has an extraordinary story, one that should encourage any young person who is inclined to creative activities. Sarah talks about a writer listening “deep inside yourself for guidance” and following a creative path that fits with your interests, ambition, and vision. She already has a remarkable body of work and is moving forward with great momentum. She will return to Dracut in the fall in a Dracut Arts program.

Sarah is the author of the poetry collections See the Wolf (2018): Split the Crow (2015) and Church of Needles (2014) She also edited and transcribed The Diary of Esther Small, 1886 (2014), which won the New England Book Festival Award for Regional Literature. Her poems have appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Fourteen Hills, the Southern Poetry Review, Verse Daily and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. Her honors include a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship, the Anne Halley Prize, and a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship (the top state award for writers). She has an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College.

For this blog’s series of updates on writers with links to the Lowell area and region, Sarah talked about her background:

“I was born in Lowell and grew up in Dracut in the 1980s, graduating from Dracut High School in 1990. That was back when each part of town had its own elementary school. I went to Greenmont Avenue School in Dracut Center, where my mom and dad had also gone. Back then, everyone converged at Englesby Junior High for 7th and 8th grades. At Dracut High, I took theater for a couple years and acted in a few plays, but I was generally a shy, average student. In fact, I was encouraged by the principal at the time to essentially ‘shoot low’ (not his words but the gist of the conversation) when applying to college as my grades weren’t that great.

“There really isn’t a place for a budding poet in the public-school curriculum. If you like to write poetry and stories, teachers expect you to be an A-student in grammar and literature classes, however, dissecting a paragraph and studying a story for themes and symbolism aren’t the same as playing with words or quietly sitting with a poem to see how it speaks to you. I wish schools would make space for the literary arts in the same way they do the visual and performing arts. I wasn’t drawn to the art room in high school, though I’ve since found that creative part of my personality, and I wasn’t a natural performer. A shy, average student who likes to express herself through language and read for pleasure can fall between the cracks at school. It would be great if schools had literary arts rooms with magnetic poetry, texts to cut up and repurpose or black-out for erasure poetry, quiet corners with shelves of books to read, lots of notebooks, collaborative areas and some basic desktop publishing.”

She stayed local to start college, going to Middlesex Community College when it was still in the Boott Cotton Mills in Lowell.

“Every day I walked past the glassed-in room with clacking looms where tours were given and thought about my French Canadian and Portuguese relatives who worked there in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. I took my first creative writing class at Middlesex and decided I wanted to be a writer. I transferred to Bradford College in Haverhill and majored in Creative Writing, taking both fiction and poetry classes, a lot of focused literature classes like Women’s lit and a class exclusively studying Kafka and Borges

“Bradford College, which closed about 15 years ago, was an amazing little arts college. There was dance, photography, sculpture, theater, painting, writing, every branch of the creative arts, and the professors were practitioners. Bradford was my first real exposure to a creative community, to a community of creative thinkers who were unabashedly unique, bordering on eccentric. I loved it. It was at Bradford that I realized I wasn’t going to college just to step into a job title/role at the end. I had found myself at a college that would allow me to discover who I was and who I wanted to become, to at least scratch the surface.

“I entered college more inhibited, immature, and less worldly by far than my peers. I was the first in my working-class family to go to college. Vacation meant camping at the White Mountains, I had never been out of New England, never mind the country, I had never flown on a plane. My parents were both encouraging, my mother put herself in debt to see me through college, but neither had been to college so they couldn’t advise me on what to expect or how to succeed. Also, neither were artists. The first time I had to go home and revise a poem for a class I wept because I didn’t even know where to begin. I had no idea what I was doing. The thing with artists and creatives is that we’re all artsy and creative in our own ways. To be an artist means being different, following your own solitary creative path, listening deep inside yourself for guidance. A writer spends some of her most fulfilling, as well as most challenging, time in life completely alone. None of these skills are taught in our culture or even respected. And unlike performers, a lot of writers are quiet and introverted, people who don’t really want to stand out as ‘different’ or stand up to be looked at and listened to. I feel really lucky that I wound up in environments of higher education that nurtured the latent poet in me and allowed me to take my time.”

Sarah’s third collection See the Wolf from CavanKerry Press came out last April, so she was busy with promotional readings and events in 2018. She lives in a small, rural town in the foothills of the Berkshires not too far from the hubs of Amherst and Northampton, where reading opportunities for poets abound. Sarah will be back in Dracut in September to give a lecture and poetry reading entitled “’All beat out and tired’: Abuse, Self-Disclosure, and Taboo in 19th Century Women’s Diaries.” Her focus will be the 1886 diary of Esther Small, an abused Maine farmwife, which she found at an antique store in 2008 and subsequently published in its entirety along with genealogical research into Esther’s family and her own critical writing around 19th century women’s diaries.

What’s coming up in 2019? “I probably won’t have as many readings and lectures scheduled in the coming year, but I’ll be beginning and finishing some projects as well as seeing at least one new publication into the world. My chapbook titled ‘Yell’ just won the C&R Press Summer Tidepool Chapbook Competition and will be published in summer 2019. ‘Yell’, at about 30 pages, is an erasure of the long short-story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, written in the late 1800s by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

“In typical erasure, a poet blacks-out any word on a page that she doesn’t want. The remaining words, usually in the order they appear in the text, are her poem. For my project, any word on a page was fair game. I didn’t black-out words in the order they appeared, I just used the language on any given page as my poem’s vocabulary; never all the words, but sometimes more than others. Each page yielded one poem, sometimes two if the language was really provocative on that page. The Yellow Wallpaper is about an oppressed housewife, a would-be writer, who is prescribed rest and idleness for a nervous mind. The complete lack of stimulation and inactivity slowly drive her mad. The poems are ultimately informed by the story, but a kind of alternate reality of the story where the woman discovers her complex and true nature through her delve into madness. In the original, the main character goes completely mad and ends up crawling on all fours. In my version, a kind of classic ‘hero’s journey,’ she goes to the darkest place and resurfaces scarred but liberated.”

Sarah is also finishing a fourth book-length poetry manuscript, which will go to CavanKerry for consideration this winter, and has literary and personal essays in progress. I’m fascinated by her recent project, a food history blog in which she writes about testing historical recipes. It’s called “Emancipation Pie.”

She explained: “I collect ephemera: diaries, photos, scrapbooks, and own several recipe scrapbooks from the late 1800s to the 1920s. It was common for women, and sometimes girls, to snip recipes from cookbooks and newspaper columns, as well as handwrite recipes from neighbors and relatives and paste them into scrapbooks. These scrapbooks were usually repurposed state, town or agricultural reports, so there’s often an interesting hide and seek between the original text and the pasted-in recipes. Alongside recipes, these women included household tips and herbal remedies for common ailments; I have one for diphtheria. I focus on baked goods: cookies, pies, cakes, breads (quick and yeast) and post photos as well as process. Many of the old recipes aren’t detailed like contemporary ones. I’m also cooking from vintage and antique cookbooks. The name of the blog is an actual lemon pie recipe I found in one of my scrapbooks. It has three pie crusts, one in the center of the pie, and includes raisins. I’ve yet to make this pie. It’s one of those recipes with scant information so I’ll have to devise my own methods. I’m also posting photos from my antique photo collection and sometimes blog about one scrapbook or cookbook in particular without an accompanying recipe.”

To learn more about Sarah and her writing, visit her website at www.sarahasousa.com and her fascinating food blog, a recent venture, at www.emancipationpie.com

Lowell City Council meeting: January 15, 2019

ROLL CALL – all present

MAYOR’S BUSINESS

Presentation – Solarize Lowell. Update by Jay Mason, Chair of Sustainability Council. We’re living in a climate crisis. We have to move to clean energy. Renewable energies like solar and wind are the way to do this. Our carbon emissions are “cooking our planet.” This is pure scientific fact; it’s not opinion. Lowell gets it. Introduces Michaela Hondros McCarthy, co-solar coach for Solarize Lowell program which is a partnership between the city of Lowell, the Massachusetts clean energy session, volunteers, and Revision Energy (the designated installer). She says the use of heat pumps and solar panels is a good investment whether you believe in climate change or not.

Mayor asks City Manager to give update on burst pipe at Greenhalge School. City made a full response. The school re-opened today after a tremendous amount of work done yesterday. Most of the damage was to the ceiling panels. Repairing damage should not be too expensive. There are remote alarms that notify people of a lack of heat. Now they’re looking at similar alarms for water leaks.

CITY CLERK

Minutes of Transportation SC January 7th; City Council Special Meeting January 8th; City Council Meeting January 8th, for acceptance.

COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER

Motion Responses

A) Motion Response – Response to Violence in the City

B) Motion Response – Boylston St. Bicycle Safety. Traffic engineer speaks on this motion. Suggests traffic calming measures but also a shared-use path for bikes and pedestrians which would create a physical barrier between them and the vehicular traffic. She says there should be a bicycling master plan for the city.

Informational Reports

C) Informational Report – MSBA Accelerated Repair Program Application Update. The application period closes on February 15. To proceed into this program requires votes from the city council and from the school committee (see 9 votes listed below). Most of these involve repairs to roofs and boilers. There is no limit to how many applications you can submit. If the state approves these applications, the city can get 80% reimbursement. Conor Baldwin explains that this will run along with the city’s capital plan. There will be separate loan orders for these projects.

Communication-Reappoint Richard Lockhart to Historic Board (Planning Board Rep). passes unanimously

Communication – City Manager request Out of State Travel (4) LPD. Passes unanimously.

VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER (All nine school repair votes taken together and pass unanimously).

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-Abraham Lincoln Elementary School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-Dr. Gertrude M. Bailey Elementary School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-Fredrick T. Greenhalge Elementary School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-James F. Sullivan Middle School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-James S. Daley Middle School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest to MSBA-Lowell High School Freshman Academy

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest-Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest-S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School

Vote-Authorize Superintendent File Statement of Interest-STEM Academy at Rogers School

Vote-Authorize Manager Accept Gift of 5,000 from Friends of Lowell Council on Aging of 5,000 for use towards purchasing new bus for Senior Center

Vote-Authorize Manager Ex. License Agreement Lowell Telecommunications Corp.-246 Market St. overhanging sign

Vote-Authorize Manager Ex. License Agreement Purple Carrot Bread Co LLC-107 Merrimack St. overhanging sign

REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

Zoning SC January 15, 2019. Subcommittee Chair Milinazzo gives a report on tonight’s meeting. Says 60 people were in attendance. Listened to debate on proposal. Concludes there needs to be a better enforcement mechanism of existing and new rules to improve conditions in neighborhoods. He believes they are making some progress and asks for patience from council colleagues as they continue to work on this. Councilor Elliott says this has been going on for months and months. We’ve received many complaints about boarding houses in the neighborhoods around the college. The neighborhood groups emphasize the need for a better mechanism for enforcing existing rules.

PETITIONS

Misc. – Minas Lunch Corporation (Nilo Cunha) request installation of (3) 15 Minute Parking signs 191 Appleton Street.

National Grid/Verizon NE – Request installation of new utility pole and underground conduit at 97 Tanner Street.

CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS

Councilor Kennedy/Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager have the proper department provide the City Council with a list of all City owned and State owned pedestrian crossing signs. Councilor Cirillo explains this motion came from concern that pedestrian crossing lights are not working. We should know who is responsible for which signs.

Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager have proper department inspect all City owned pedestrian crossing signs to see if they are functioning correctly and produce a timeline as to repairing the signs that are not.

Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager contact the State to inspect all State owned pedestrian crossing signs to see if they are functioning correctly and produce a timeline as to repairing the signs that are not.

Councilor Cirillo – Request City Manager direct the proper department to replant, in the Spring, the cherry blossom trees outside of the Leo Roy Garage.

Councilor Elliott – Request City Council vote to place a moratorium on any additional Host Community Agreements on any marijuana cultivation or medical distribution facilities in the City of Lowell. Judith Durant speaks on the motion. Says we have just one medical distribution center in Lowell that was opened in 2016. There haven’t been any problems with it. Wonders if the motion is more focused on recreational marijuana facilities. The city voted in the statewide referendum in favor of having these. Says the city has agreed to take five of these facilities. Says the process is moving very slowly anyway so why do we want a moratorium on the rest of them. If we only have the one already agreed to (on Industrial Ave) open up, we will have a traffic problem. Says this motion usurps the authority of the City Manager who has been empowered with deciding who gets the licenses. Councilor Elliott agrees that the authority lies with the City Manager but the council represents the residents of the city. Says there is a lot of confusion over the host community agreements. Councilor Leahy asks the City Manager about medical marijuana. City Manager says there are three types of facilities: retail, medical and cultivation. There are two medical facilities licensed but only one, Patriot, has opened. Patriot also has the only cultivation facility. Patriot has gotten a host community agreement for retail but that’s under review by the state commission. There is no tax the city gets from medical marijuana although Patriot has a $3mil payroll in the city so they employ a lot of people. The city would get taxes from cultivation facilities. When the council addressed this with zoning, the council allowed cultivation in industrial zoned areas and did not place a limit on the number of cultivator entities that could open. Eric Slagle explains that cultivation sights are “a good bang for our buck” because the public does not have access to them and they create a lot of jobs. This would also revive some of our unused industrial space. Manager Donoghue says several proposed applicants have held public meetings even though they don’t have host community agreements yet. (She adds that the proposal for the corner of Stedman and Westford streets has been abandoned by the developer). State law requires Lowell to have a minimum of 5 retail marijuana facilities (this is based on the number of liquor stores in the city). Council voted to limit to 5 and not more. Councilor Nuon says a report on the existing medical and cultivation facilities from a few weeks ago reported no problems with either of them. Councilor Nuon says he trusts the City Manager to do the right thing so he opposes the moratorium. Mayor Samaras says he opposes marijuana sales in any form but that’s what the people voted for so we should be bound by that. He believes this motion interferes with the City Manager’s authority to manage this. The councilors have plenty of opportunity to give input but the correct process is in the hands of the city manager. He asks for a roll call on this. Councilor Kennedy says that a number of communities have enacted moratoriums, but that’s because they have not completed their zoning. The moratoriums also run out at the end of the year. He’s concerned about the revenue that can come into the city from these facilities. He says the council has already considered the zoning in a very thoughtful way. He doesn’t think that this motion does anything to help the city. Roll call. Motion fails with Elliott, Mercier and Conway voting for and other six councilors voting against.

Councilor Conway – Request City Manager have proper department prepare a traffic safety study regarding the intersection of Foster and Westford Streets.

Mayor Samaras – Request City Auditor provide a written explanation and report for noncompliance issues found during the recent school department audit as pertaining to the City’s rules, regulations and ordinances. The Mayor explains that the council’s job is to provide oversight, but it’s not expected that councilors should look at every transaction during the fiscal year to determine whether state law and ordinances are being followed. The audit of the school department revealed that they were not being followed. He directs comments to city auditor saying that in the past, the city auditor had said the school department was following the law and would finish with a surplus. He wants a written explanation of why that happened. Councilor Kennedy supports the motion but says he was very disappointed in the outside audit of the school department. Councilor Milinazzo says he supports the motion but is very critical of the outside audit. Says the city paid $50,000 and “got nothing.” Councilor Elliott points out that the city’s own annual audits from prior years pointed out problems with school department finances and the school department didn’t correct them. Roll call. Motion passes 8 to 1 (Leahy voting no).

Mayor Samaras – Req. City Council draft a resolution in support of Massachusetts Senate Docket 101, an act providing rightful opportunities and meaningful investment for successful and equitable education, also known as the Education Promise Act. Citizen speaker, Ty Chum, speaks in favor of the motion. Mayor Samaras says the state support provided to the city for education is now inadequate. Asks that the city solicitor draft a resolution for the council to vote on. Councilor Kennedy says as the state senator, he is a co-sponsor of this legislation. He thanks the mayor for filing this motion and asks the mayor to make the same motion before the Lowell school committee. Kennedy hopes every school committee and board of selectmen in the Commonwealth will vote to support this which would increase the chances of it passing.

Mayor Samaras/Councilor Nuon – Req. City Manager explore the possibility of assisting areas within Lowell National Historic Park with upkeep such as cleaning and plowing during the government shutdown. Mayor addresses City Manager, says with snow in our weekend forecast, the lack of a federal government presence in Lowell due to the government shutdown is having a detrimental impact on the quality of life in the city. Manager Donoghue says it is complicated, especially around plowing. The city can pick up trash barrels. In any case, the city is working on this.

CITY COUNCIL – EXECUTIVE SESSION

Executive Session – Regarding matter of litigation, namely Huot et al v. City of Lowell, public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

ADJOURNMENT – Council votes to go into executive session at 9:20 pm and to adjourn the meeting from the executive session.

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