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City Council Preview: March 25, 2019

Mimi Parseghian previews this week’s Lowell City Council meeting:

This week’s City Council meeting agenda is dominated by Administration information, including Motion Responses, Informational Reports and Votes.

However, the first agenda item of major interest is a report from the City Auditor, Bryan Perry, in response to a motion on January 15, 2019 by Mayor Bill Samaras.  The motion “Requested the 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 Auditor’s report is 7 pages long, covering 7 different topics.  The response also included in the response are copies of e-mail threads between the City Auditor’s office and staff of the School System Administration and two reports from the CPA firm Powers and Sullivan; “Agreed Upon Procedures – Morey School Student” and “Agreed Upon Procedures – Lowell High School Student Activity Fun.”

MOTION RESPONSES

Maxfield Bench in Shedd Park: Motion (9/25/2018) by Councilor R. Mercier “Request City Manager have proper department install commemorative inscribed bench at Shedd Park in memory of Craig Maxfield.”  DPW Commissioner, Ralph Snow, replied that delivery of the bench is expected in mid to late May. “Installation and a dedication ceremony will be scheduled and coordinated with the Maxfield family.” Mr. Maxfield was an avid athlete who passed away last year at the age of 23.

Downtown Economic Development: Motion (12/11/2018) by Councilor J. Leahy “Request City Manager instruct the Department of Planning and Development to study downtown this winter and come up with recommendations to attract business and consumers.”

The three-page response submitted by Diana Tradd, Assistant City Manager/DPD Director is informative.  In addition to the new 6 establishments that have opened up, there are 7 other businesses currently receiving assistance from the Economic Development Office that plan to occupy ground floor space. Most are new and a couple are expanding their space.

Four Way Stop Monadnock and Raynor: Motion (3/5/201) by Councilor J. Leahy “Request City Manager have Transportation Engineer review the intersection at Monadnock Avenue and Raynor Street for possible 4-way stop sign.

This three-page response, also submitted by Diana Tradd, stated that a 4-way stop sign is not warranted.  It provided the guideline utilized to reach that conclusion and also provided alternative suggestions. That corner is located in the Highlands; Monadnock runs between Westford St. and Princeton Blvd.

Westford and Foster Traffic Study: Motion (1/15/2019) by Councilor D. Conway “Request City Manager have proper department prepare a traffic study regarding the intersection of Foster and Westford Streets.”

The response prepared by the Traffic Engineer Natasha Vance suggests that based on the number of accidents at the corner, the City installs a 4-way stop sign and “install three (3) additional, ‘No Parking Here to Corner’ signs to help with visibility.”

Municipal Broadband Network: Motion (1/29/2019) by Councilor K. Cirillo “Request City Manager have proper department provide the City Council a plan to design and build Lowell’s own municipal broadband network to provide our residents fast and affordable internet service.”

The three-page response submitted by CFO Conor Baldwin states in part that “On numerous occasions, it has been suggested that the city establish its own municipal broadband network to provide residents fast and affordable internet. This doesn’t mean other options to expand ISP services within the city are not available. The city has issued a formal request for proposal (“RFP”) seeking proposals from qualified vendors to build and operate a community-wide high speed and well-designed fiber-to-the-premises (“FTTP”) network over an open access fiber network for residents, business, government, and community anchor institutions located within the—all at no cost to the taxpayers.”

INFORMATIONAL REPORTS

Settlement of the First Relocation Claim for 75 Arcand Drive: The City has settled with a tenant of 75 Arcand Drive who had “elected to discontinue his business and, as part of a settlement, was compensated $129,820 for loss of personal property.”

Update on Annual Municipal Lien Auction Sale: According to the information memorandum, letters were mailed to delinquent properties on March 1st informing delinquent property owners of the upcoming lien auction sales.  As a result of that letter, approximately $368,139 in taxes has been collected. “Once this year’s auction is complete, the Law Department will submit a report summarizing those collections since 2012” when the program began.

FY2020 Budget and NSS Compliance: City Manager Eileen Donoghue wrote “As we near the end of the third quarter of the fiscal year, I write to update the City Council of the ongoing preparations for the FY2020 budget…The city budget process is well underway. I have directed department heads to reduce growth in spending by managing positions and identifying other cost reductions so that fixed cost increases can be absorbed without an adverse effect on the total budget. All non-personnel operating expenses increasing due to contractual terms must be absorbed within the budget without being knowingly under-budgeted.”

New WM Contract: James Troup, DPW Deputy Director Administration and Finance, provided the 2-page memo on the new Waste Management Contract. “January 1, 2019 marked the beginning of a new contract with Waste Management. The outcome of the negotiation resulted in the agreement of a new 6 year contract that will terminate on December 31, 2024…The total cost of the new contract over six years shall not exceed $28.5M…As previously mentioned, recycling contamination is an industry-wide problem. All cities and towns are experiencing increased costs associated with the processing of contaminated recycling materials. These costs have been factored into our contract at a baseline of 10%. Despite our efforts, the City’s contamination rate neared 40% and cost the City $75,000 in the last six months of 2018.

COUNCIL MOTIONS

Councilor D. Conway: “Request City Manager meet with appropriate Departments to develop a monetary employee incentive program; which objective is to achieve efficiencies in city operations by giving employees an opportunity for incentives and to contribute their ideas that could result in measurable costs savings, increased efficiencies and increased revenues for the City.”

Councilor K. Cirillo “Request City Manager direct the proper Department install two additional signs indicating ‘Area Under Video Surveillance’ on poles at the Reservoir on Richards St. at Monroe St. and across from 74 Richards St.”

Councilor K. Cirillo “Request City Manager provide City Council with City-Wide Spring Cleaning Schedule.

Councilor K. Cirillo “Request City Manager provide City Council with City-Wide Spring Tree Planting Schedule.”

Councilor K. Cirillo “Request City Manager Re-Establish the Collective of City Officials Meeting with the Neighborhood Presidents to walk the neighborhoods to identify areas that need restoration to revive the neighborhoods integrity and vitality.”

Councilor R. Mercier “Request City Manager place Madonna Circle on the list of streets needed to be addressed due to truck turnaround traffic caused by the company repairing the Broadway Street Bridge.”

Councilor J. Leahy “Request City Manager update City Council regarding reorganization of the DPW and the Parks Department.

Lowell Week in Review: March 24, 2019

Cambodian New Year celebration at Clemente Park

Pailin Park

Watching the city council’s discussion Tuesday night of the proposal to change the name of Clemente Park on Middlesex Street to Pailin Park left me confused. That’s probably because many of the councilors themselves seemed confused about what was going on.

The matter came before the council as a report from the Parks & Recreation Subcommittee which had met earlier that same evening. That subcommittee has Councilor Rita Mercier as its chair and Councilors John Leahy and Dave Conway as its members.

Although the hour-long subcommittee meeting was televised, I only caught the last few minutes which did nothing to dispel the sense of confusion and indecision that continued on into the regular council meeting that immediately followed. Fortunately, City Clerk Michael Geary took comprehensive minutes of the subcommittee meeting (which are available online), so we are able to get a good sense of what occurred.

At most council subcommittee meetings, the members make a motion to recommend certain action to the entire council. Most often, these subcommittee motions pass on a 3 to 0 vote; occasionally, there is a 2 to 1 split. But at this subcommittee meeting, it took the three members three tries until they came up with a motion that could even receive a second.

First, Councilor Conway moved “to recommend to the Board of Parks to rename Roberto Clemente Park to Pailin Park.” Neither Councilor Mercier nor Councilor Leahy would second this motion, so it could not be acted upon. Next, Councilor Mercier made a motion “to request City Manager and Law Department provide a policy and process that can be done to name or rename City Parks in order to guide proper entities to honor those requests.” This motion also died when neither Councilor Leahy nor Councilor Conway would second it.

Finally, as the clock reached 6:30pm and the subcommittee meeting had to end to let the city council meeting begin, Councilor Leahy moved “to refer the matter to the Board of Parks for their decision regarding change of name from Roberto Clemente Park to Pailin Park.” This was seconded by Councilor Mercier and all three subcommittee members voted for it.

When this came up an hour later at the full city council meeting, the confusion among other councilors was caused by whether or not the subcommittee had endorsed the name change or merely kicked it down the road to let the Board of Parks make the decision without a recommendation of the city council.

As detailed in Clerk Geary’s minutes of the full council meeting and in my own account of the meeting, those councilors who had not attended the subcommittee meeting were unclear on what exactly had been recommended. While some councilors, Conway in particular, stated accurately that the subcommittee had not made a recommendation, others obfuscated the subcommittee’s failure to act by diverting the discussion to their desire to have a set policy for such matters.

Councilors Rodney Elliott and Vesna Nuon – the two main proponents on the council for renaming the park – both knew full well that the subcommittee had balked at recommending the renaming, but they both tempered their remarks out of a sense of diplomacy and strategic thinking, reasoning that to expressly criticize the subcommittee for failing to act would so alienate Councilors Mercier and Leahy that it would transform those two councilors into firm opponents of the proposal rather than their current posture of not wanting to take a stand on the issue.

Some background: The park on Middlesex Street had been the site of a saw mill (powered by the adjacent Pawtucket Canal) during the 1800s. In 1907, the owner of the Lowell Tigers baseball team, Al Winn, constructed a state of the art privately-owned baseball stadium on the site which he then named Washington Field. The park was “state of the art” because it was one of the first in America with indoor plumbing and locker rooms for the players.

The Tigers only played there for two seasons because Winn, though wealthy enough to build the stadium, was such an annoying person that the other league owners forced him to sell the team and then banned him from the league. (Winn still owned Washington Field but charged the new owners exorbitant rent so they moved the team across town to Spalding Field which we know today as Alumni Field on Rogers Street).

Thereafter, the stadium was abandoned and fell into disrepair. The city of Lowell eventually tore down the stadium and took ownership of the land, dedicating it as a public park which they named Washington Park.

The place continued mostly as a field for youth baseball and adult softball leagues until 1973 when it was renamed Clemente Park in honor of Roberto Clemente, a fantastic outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente died when a plane he had chartered to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake crashed, killing all aboard. Although Clemente had no direct ties to Lowell (that I know of), he was a hero to most people of Latino descent in this hemisphere, particularly to those from Puerto Rico.

The motion to rename the park was made by City Councilor Phil Shea. I recently asked Shea about the circumstances of the motion. He recalled filing the motion at the request of a priest from St. Patrick’s parish. The same council later appropriated funds for the installation of “arc lights” at the field which would enable adult softball leagues to play games at the park late into the evening.

As the 1970s became the 1980s, adult softball waned in popularity and the neighborhood around Clemente field deteriorated and the park fell into disuse. Then, in one of those historical pivot points in Lowell’s history, thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia arrived in the city and settled mostly in the vicinity of Clemente Park. As Lowell’s Cambodian community grew and thrived, its members naturally congregated at this large greenspace in their midst and transformed the park and the neighborhood around it into one of the most vibrant places in the city.

Seeking to create links between their new neighborhood and the homeland they were forced to flee, business owners named the vibrant shopping center across Middlesex Street from the park Pailin Plaza, for Pailin Province, a region of western Cambodia which was the home of many of Lowell’s residents. Because of the intensity of the Cambodian community’s use of the park, it was natural for the members of that community to desire to rebrand the park with a name associated with their Cambodian heritage.

Perhaps five years ago, Councilor Rodney Elliott began exploring ways to rename the field Pailin Park. Councilor Vesna Nuon, both in concert with his colleague and independently, has sought the same objective. Both Elliott and Nuon, indeed all who have been involved in this effort, have proceeded with commendable tact and diplomacy to ensure that removing the Clemente name from the park would not be seen as a slight to the city’s Latino community.

Dedication of Roberto Clemente Field, May 27, 2017

The effort made a great leap forward in 2016 when an opportunity to find a permanent home for Lowell’s Roberto Clemente Little League team arose. Previously, the Lowell team was transient, scrambling to obtain fields on a game-by-game basis to play home games against out-of-town teams. In December of 2016, Keith Rudy, the leader of the Acre Youth Organization, made it known that the AYO’s youth baseball program had become largely defunct as the youth of the neighborhood became interested in sports other than baseball. He said that the league had surplus baseball equipment that might be donated to the Roberto Clemente team, but also that the baseball field at Koumantzelis Park (adjacent to the Bartlett School in the Acre) would no longer be used by the AYO for little league baseball.

Seizing the opportunity to find a permanent home for the Clemente Little League team and at the same time seeing an opportunity to move the Roberto Clemente name from the park on Middlesex Street to the field at Koumantzelis Park, Councilor Elliott led the effort to formalize this outcome. The matter came before the council at its December 6, 2016 meeting. Here is what I wrote about the council’s discussion that night:

Motion: Councilor Elliott: Request city manager meet with Roberto Clemente Little League regarding use of fields. Says the league doesn’t have its own field but has to move around from place to place. People from the league are trying to get a baseball field of their own, and then bring the Roberto Clemente name to that park. Keith Rudy from the Acre Youth Organization says he believes they have a field for them to play on and can also help them with equipment and other things. Councilor Mercier asks that this be referred to the parks subcommittee. She says the Cambodian people want Clemente Field to be renamed Pailin Park, so they might be able to negotiate a compromise that satisfies everyone.

Under the leadership of Councilors Elliott and Nuon, the city proceeded step-by-step, always being inclusive, always being sensitive to the opinions of everyone with an interest in preserving the name of Roberto Clemente and continuing to honor his legacy. If there was anything else that could have been done, I don’t know what it would be.

If forced to vote on the issue, I believe a majority of the councilors on Tuesday night would have endorsed the change of name. Instead, the majority deferred to Councilors Mercier and Leahy who, based on their comments at the subcommittee meeting, were not prepared to support the name change.

It has always been up to the Board of Parks to make the decision. Presumably that decision would have been easier for the board to make with some guidance from the city council. Nevertheless, the Board of Parks is expected to vote on this matter this coming Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at 6pm in the Mayor’s Reception Room in City Hall.

Here’s how this item appears on the Agenda for this Board of Parks meeting:

ITEM 1: CITY COUNCIL

At the regular meeting of the City Council held Tuesday March 19, 2019 the following Motion was read and referred to the Board of Parks: Motion by C. Kennedy, seconded by C. Mercier to add following request to have Manager and Law Department develop a policy to name and rename parks in the City to the motion at the Parks & Recreation SC to refer to Board of Parks the request to change name of Roberto Clemente Park to Pailin Park. Adopted per Roll Call vote, 9 yeas. So voted.

 

Upcoming Events

Monday – March 25, 2019 – Community Presentation on the Lowell High Project – 6pm to 8pm at Lowell Senior Center, 276 Broadway. Hosted by City Manager Eileen Donoghue with presentations by architects/consultants Skanska and Perkins Eastman.

Tuesday – March 26, 2019 – Dan Kennedy on Return of the Moguls at 7pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street. Media critic Dan Kennedy will speak about his book, Return of the Moguls, which suggests that the salvation of the daily newspaper may lie in the purchase of individual papers by wealthy individuals like Jeff Bezos (Washington Post) or John Henry (Boston Globe) which is a return to the original model of newspaper ownership the newspaper mogul. Part of the Moses Greeley Parker Lecture series.

Wednesday – March 27, 2019 – CHOP Dinner from 5:30pm to 7pm at Lowell Senior Center. Lowell Working Cities will sponsor its (free) monthly CHOP dinner. Greater Lowell Health Alliance and the Lowell Community Health Center are sponsoring this event and will also be on hand to conduct a community health assessment.

April 11, 2019 – Thursday – 14th Annual Take Back the Night rally. Begins at Lowell City Hall at 5:45 pm followed by a march to Middlesex Community College where a speaking program and gathering will be held in the college library at 50 Kearney Square.

April 15, 2019 – Monday – Lowell Democratic City Committee quarterly meeting at 7pm at East End Club. State Senator Ed Kennedy will attend and report on the first few months of the current session. Also attending will be a representative of Compassion & Choices Massachusetts. Q&A will follow a presentation on the Death with Dignity legislation currently pending on Beacon Hill.

May 18, 2019 – Saturday – 1pm to 3pm at Lowell Senior Center. Lowell Democratic City Committee Caucus to select delegates to attend the 2019 Massachusetts Democratic State Convention this fall.

“Context Rules” by Paul Hudon

Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC

Historian Paul Hudon, the author of The Valley & Its Peoples: An Illustrated History of the Lower Merrimack and All in Good Time, his poetry collection, shared the following essay:

Context Rules

paul hudon

Somewhere in the past George Burns and Gracie Allen are talking politics. George is asking Gracie to name her favorite party, and in one of her timeless non-sequiturs Gracie answers, ‘The surprise party.’ There’s only one way to parse that, as a joke. So we laughed.

That was then.

As if to prove that context rules, the same joke was recently played-out as farce. Farce is not a joke. Farce is performed, it needs a cast. Farce works on forged identities and deliberate misdirection, on doors opening and closing. There’s a fair amount of shouting.

Farce takes time. Where George and Gracie got it done in well under twelve seconds, not long ago we watched Sanders (stage left) and Trump (stage right) take a full twelve months to play it out. Stamina became a civic virtue, and not many of us laughed all the way through.

Context

When Burns and Allen began their career (1922), Harding was in the  White House, and when Gracie retired (1958), Eisenhower was midway through his second term. In that time they graduated from vaudeville to radio to movies to television; but though the venue changed, the schtick stayed pretty much in place. A patient husband and his ‘dumb Dora’ wife come to an understanding with complacent amiability. No slamming doors. And never, never, never was contempt or humiliation any part of George’s input. That could explain their longevity. Ralph and Alice Kramden may be more honest in their sketch of married life, but who in his right mind would spend thirty-six years with the Kramdens?

Context

There’s no telling, even as a guess, where or when Gracie first hit that punchline. It could have been on Bridge Street, here in Lowell, where vaudevillians on the Keith circuit came to road-test their material. But I’d be willing to bet the line got a laugh every time, and I’d be willing to argue that’s because no audience ever took Gracie’s Surprise Party for a threat. There was never any chance in the four decades of their career that a Democrat or Republican would be ousted by a third party candidate, not in a national election. Not even in the volatile 30s.

Context

The volatile 90s, the 1790s, that’s another story. In the opening decade of the New Republic, Madison and Jefferson surprised new-made national voters with a party. It was called ‘republican’ (mainly in the South) or ‘democratic’ (mainly in the North). It may have started as a break-out event in the intramural wrangle of Virginia politics, or as an incident on James Madison’s learning curve. Either way, the party found a national context.

In fact it built one. When Jefferson was elected president he called it The Revolution of 1800. He referred to his achievement and his administration together as The Republic. Like it was a Done Thing. (Memo to Francis Fukiyama.) He carried on as though he’d resolved the built-in challenge all revolutions can’t avoid: Knowing when it’s over. My election, Jefferson was saying, is the end-game. My republic is The Republic. We’re done.

On the other front of the Atlantic Revolution, in France, a string of actors said the same thing. They said it for a quarter century. In France, they got to the end-game more than once. And it got weird. The first sentence in the Constitution of the Year XII (1804) reads, ‘The government of the Republic is confided to an Emperor. ‘

Context

Actors, those who act. Those who get it done. We seldom use the word that way nowadays. For us, actors most often means those who pretend to be someone else. They make-believe. Stage or screen, comedy or tragedy, actors put drama in the action, usually about some real and present danger. And successful acting always involves an audience. Somerset Maugham, box-office boss in his day, said that unless the audience is among the players, there is no play.

Context

For decades, Jefferson’s name dominated national politics. As long as a candidate claimed allegiance to Jefferson, voters took him at his word. A handful of outliers — John Taylor and John Randolph among them — made a fuss about the primacy of states over the federal government, and a strict interpretation of the Constitution of 1787, hallmarks of Jefferson’s original creed. But the majority of Jeffersonians drifted toward a more relaxed attitude, especially after 1815. By the election of 1824, five contenders with varied, even contradictory, policies all claimed the Jeffersonian succession. Two of them — John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay — even claimed to be National Republicans. In 1800, pairing ‘National’ with ‘Republican’ in the same party was like putting ‘republic’ and ‘emperor’ in the same sentence; but by 1824, the surprise had been washed out of it.

Context

John Adams, with his usual exasperation, once complained that Washington could ‘out-Garrick Garrick.’ This was a reference to David Garrick, a leading stage-actor, an international star of the era. Many who knew our first president in the flesh, noted how dignified he was. His speech, how he ‘carried himself,’ set him apart from the general run of mankind. Once in a great while, in private, during the war with his staff for instance, he ‘lost it.’ Exploded in a fit of violent temper. But in public he was always ‘on.’

Context

Some of us remember when Ronald Reagan was put down as the ‘Acting President.’ Reagan was pegged a star on the B list of Hollywood actors of the 40s and early 50s. The B listing, the downmarket status, was italicized. And if you really disliked Reagan, or just wanted to take a shot at the Grand Old Party, you made loud reference to ‘Bedtime for Bonzo.’ Bonzo was a chimp Reagan shared the screen with in a film released in April 1951. Thirty years later, Reagan was president. His voters applauded. The GOP offered prayers of thanksgiving.

Context

Gracie’s non-sequiturs are in fact alternate sequiturs. She takes in the question and drives it around her universe, then lets it out where there’s a different question waiting, and she answers that one. And could that be the whole magic of Donald Trump’s make-believe? That and the loopy way he plays to his base.

“Armand LeMay: Spring Training at 90” by Ken Wallace

Armand LeMay (2nd from left) at 2018 Lowell Historic Preservation awards

Armand LeMay: Spring Training at 90

By Kendall Wallace

LOWELL—-Working at The Sun for nearly 60 years I had the great opportunity to meet nearly every major mover and shaker in Greater Lowell for nearly six decades. I liked most of them, admired some. They were leaders in government, business, banking, education, religion and health care. Looking back, I tend to remember most of them as they were in their prime.

When I have a chance meeting with some of the folks I haven’t seen for a long time I am always a little taken aback. What happened? Actually I have a mirror, so I understand what happened.

All that changed a few weeks ago when I spent a day in Fort Myers, Florida, with former Mayor Armand W. LeMay. He has found the Fountain of Youth. He doesn’t look much different than when I first met him more than 40 years ago.

When I first met Armand he reminded me of a big French Canadian mountain man. He had an athletic build and carried it well. The day I met him in Ft. Myers I thought the guy looks like he did so many years ago. So I was a little stunned when he told me he will be 90 years old in July.

Although the hair is gray, he probably weighs the same. His mind is still sharp and he remains up to date on national and local issues. He still loves his city.

He also appears to be the most popular guy in his Florida complex. No one gets by him without a huge welcome.

The purpose of my visit was to attend a Red Sox spring training game. Armand has season tickets to every Sox game in Ft. Myers. He is just as popular in the park as he is in his complex. He knows everyone and everyone knows Armand, including the vendors and parking lot attendants. He doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the game, but no one has more fun than Armand.

He is a remarkable, happy man. He should be. He was a good public official, a wonderful husband and father. He gave his wife the most loving care during the last four years of her life.

It was just a wonderful day with a man who remains full of life as he enters his 90th year. He is looking forward to returning to Lowell in the spring to his family home, built 100 years ago by his father.

We got a bonus that day when I continued my streak of always running into someone from Lowell wherever I go. Just as the ball game started Frank and Patty Talty, who just retired from UMass Lowell and the Lowell Housing Authority walked by. I also learned that two of our favorite people, Michael and Linda Gallagher, were at the game the day before sitting in the same seat my wife and I had.

And by the way, the Red Sox won

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