Here’s a new feature that I’m launching today. “Lowell Week in Review” will be published each Sunday (typically earlier in the day than this one) and will review political events in Lowell during the past, especially those that got attention on the local blogosphere. Here goes . . .
At the City Council candidate forum at LTC on Wednesday night, candidates who were asked identified “public safety” as the most important issue facing the city. The reason that is so is a number of shootings that have occurred recently in the city. Statistically, violent crime is less this year than in previous years and in almost everyone of the recent incidents the victims may have also been involved in illegal activity is of little consolation.
A meeting of the Council’s Public Safety Subcommittee was held on Tuesday night. Some residents voiced their concerns and Police Chief Deborah Friedl gave a briefing on the causes of the violence and the LPD’s response. In his blog post about the subcommittee meeting, Gerry Nutter suggested that the reason public safety is such a big issue now more than it was last year which was statistically more violent is because this year there is a city council election going on.
The political aspect of the public safety issue burst clearly into view towards the end of the subcommittee meeting. Here’s what I wrote about that:
Councilor Elliott criticizes the city manager for not pushing to put more police officers on the force. City Manager Lynch criticizes Councilor Elliott for repeatedly voting against his proposals for police overtime. Councilor Elliott then says overtime is not more police officers and then says the city manager doesn’t really care because he doesn’t live in Lowell.
A day or two later City Manager Lynch tried to shed some light on the public safety issue in a comment he left on a Left in Lowell blog post. When the City Manager makes a lengthy comment to your blog, you turn it into a post of its own which is what Jack Mitchell did. Here’s the full post but here’s the substance of what the City Manager had to say, including his revelation that eleven new officers will soon be joining the ranks of the LPD.
we have invested in public safety, both fire and police. We’ve added resources to both. We never laid off uniformed personnel and in fact after the crunch of the recession started adding positions back into departments. We’re currently reviewing all of the information on this and hope to have a full report out within the next week which explains this. Some civilian grant funded positions have gone away but even there we are working to reinstate with other grants or city funds. These positions allow our police department to be more effective and keep patrol officers on the street. Finally, on the much debated use of OT, the philosophy we have used is to use added overtime resources to target officers into certain areas at specified times for maximum effectiveness. This notion of “smart policing” is being adopted in numerous communities that have recognized that a single officer only provides limited coverage during high activity times while that same level of funds buys coverage many times over meaning more officers on the street. That said, there is a place for added staff in a a carefully planned and managed manner to insure we get the best people not just more people. For instance, we have 11 new patrolmen coming on within the next month.
In the end, we need to recognize the perceptions of the community regarding safety but we shouldn’t fan it. We do need to look at the numbers to see how we’re doing and how we should be using our resources and developing our strategies. On the numbers we have made great progress in knocking back crime over the past several years. But, lower isn’t as good as none, which is what we need to strive for. Plus, we see trends that need our attention now rather than waiting for the problems to become less manageable…and, the police are working at that with their use of resources and strategies, and with their requests to me for added resources and supportive policies.
Another issue that arose at the council meeting involved the mechanism residents use to contact city councilors via the city of Lowell website. Councilor Elliott raised the issue and has a related motion on this week’s agenda. Since before Bernie Lynch began as City Manager, the system is programmed to forward a copy of any constituent to councilor communication on the city’s website to the city manager’s office. The implication by Councilor Elliott was that the manager was spying. I offered a more innocuous explanation in this blog post.
The Election Commission was in the news this week. I wrote about the Commission’s meeting on Monday which reviewed the conduct of the preliminary election and plans for the general election which is just three weeks from this Tuesday. The Commission also discussed its efforts to increase voter participation.
The Election Commission remained in the news when City Manager Lynch nominated fellow-blogger Gerry Nutter to fill a vacancy. Despite fearing the loss of Gerry’s contributions to the Lowell blogosphere (Gerry has been clear that he will cease blogging if his nomination is confirmed by the council), I think Gerry is eminently qualified for the position and a fine choice. Not everyone agrees.
The Lowell Sun’s “Sunday Column” devoted an amazing amount of effort and column space to compiling an inventory of Gerry’s past criticisms of nearly every city councilor. Never missing an opportunity to take a cheap shot, the Column had to mention what it called Gerry’s “trademark spotty grammar” and also provided quotes from two of Gerry’s council critics:
Nutter has criticized Lynch from time to time, but in recent weeks has written glowing tributes about the manager’s time in Lowell.
Councilors leading the opposition said Nutter is wrong person for the job because he is biased, and said Lynch is rewarding a political supporter.
Councilor Ed Kennedy called Nutter “a mouthpiece for the manager” and said Lynch’s appointment is a “pure gratitude selection.”
“It is clear political cronyism,” Elliott added.
In his own Sunday Notes blog post, Gerry does a thorough job of defending himself. My own take is that opposition to Gerry has more to do with the power struggle over who will be city manager in the coming years than with Gerry’s fitness to be an Election Commissioner, an opinion I shared in a blog comment which Jack Mitchell then turned into a full post on Left in Lowell.
So Tuesday night’s City Council meeting should have at least two controversial items: the vote to confirm the City Manager’s nomination of Gerry Nutter to the election commission and Councilor Elliott’s motion on the city website and communications to councilors.
In other news, UTEC has a City Council candidate forum on Wednesday night at 6 pm at its Hurd Street headquarters. For last week’s LTC council candidate forum I recorded a six minute video on voting patterns and the importance of voting in local elections. The video is available on YouTube. A group called Double the Vote has launched an effort to double the number of people who voted in the preliminary election – just 6750 of 55,000 registered voters – for the general election on November 5.
Farther afield, keep your eyes on the Congressional special primary election that’s being held in the Fifth Congressional District this Tuesday. Candidates seeking the seat which became vacant when Ed Markey was elected to the U.S. Senate include Democrats Peter Koutoujian, the Middlesex County Sheriff who is from Watertown, Carl Sciortino, a state representative from Medford, Karen Spilka, a state senator from Ashland, Will Brownsberger, a state senator from Belmont, Katherine Clark, a state senator from Melrose, Martin Long, an author from Arlinton, and Paul Maisano, a resident of Stoneham. There are three Republicans running: Harvard nanophysics researcher Mike Stopa of Holliston; actuary Tom Tierney of Framingham; and businessman and attorney Frank J. Addivinola Jr. of Boston. Should Peter Koutoujian win the primary on Tuesday and go on to win the special election in December (which the Democratic nominee is likely to do), that will create a vacancy in the Middlesex Sheriff’s office. Governor Patrick would name a new Sheriff who would serve until the 2014 state election when the office would appear on the ballot.