The biggest development this week will come as a surprise to most: it’s the launching of a new blog in the city. Learning Lowell is written by two young people, Chris and Aurora, who recently moved to Lowell. They are making a determined and enthusiastic effort to learn Lowell’s history, culture and politics. Fortunately for us all, they are sharing what they learn via their blog which they describe as follows:
We moved to Lowell in June, 2013. We wanted to create a space to record our experiences and thoughts about our new hometown: Lowell, MA. Chris is a land use and community development planner, originally from Upstate New York, while Aurora is a museum collections professional from Central Illinois. Together, we visit festivals, dine locally, and engage with the City, and will share what we learn. Please feel free to comment, and thanks for reading!
Already posted are excellent stories about the Lowell Sun candidate debate, the UTEC candidate forum, and a discussion of the issue of racial profiling that arose but wasn’t directly addressed at the UTEC event.
Congratulations to Chris and Aurora and welcome to the Lowell blogosphere. Keep up the excellent reporting. To our readers, be sure to bookmark Learning Lowell.
The “Sun Column Blog” also has a good post with some observations about the Sun’s candidate forum.
A letter from City Manager Lynch (but signed in his absence by Adam Baacke) contained in this week’s city council packet brought news that the concession contract is being awarded to the Julian Lenzi Hospitality Group Inc. which is a combination of Lenzi’s Catering and RTJ Concessions, Inc. A selection committee of city officials and auditorium trustees has made the selection and the parties have agreed to a 3 year contract which provides, among other things, that 30% of the gross revenue derived from food and beverage sales will be paid into the Auditorium’s Enterprise Fund.
Since the award of such contracts in Lowell is usually accompanied by more conspiracy theories than the JFK assassination, I’ve been surprised by the relative calm with which this news is received. Everyone knows Mike Lenzi and whatever you may thing of his positions on local politics, his business provides consistently good food and service. The other half of the equation, RTJ Concessions, Inc. of Dunstable, is not as familiar although the company’s “resident agent” is Dan Tenczar, a Lowell attorney who served two terms on the city council beginning in 2000. But lest you draw any negative inferences from the involvement of a former Lowell elected official, you should know that Dan is the cousin of RTJ’s principal, Robert Julian. Even though Mr. Julian might now live in Dunstable, if I’m remembering correctly, he grew up in the Highlands and graduated from St. Margaret’s elementary school and Bishop Guertin High School, three things he has in common with Mike Lenzi.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting was relatively sedate. The biggest issue to me was the report of the Finance Subcommittee on future funding of the Lowell Senior Center. Lacking the funds or borrowing capacity to build a senior center on its own, the city entered into a lease agreement with two well-known local developers, Nick Sarris and George Behrakis, by which the developers would build the center and the city would lease it back with all the costs of construction/renovation plus furnishings and equipment amortized over the life of the lease. Rather than take money from the city’s general fund to make the lease payments, the city chose to pay the full annual rent from Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) funds received from the Federal government. Now, with CDBG funding constantly being cut by a shrinking Federal budget, the city must now begin transitioning the annual cost of the senior center to the regular city budget. This is a tricky issue for city councilors. With the elderly users of the Senior Center the people most likely to vote in local elections, councilors would never suggest scaling back. On the other hand, those same seniors, living on fixed incomes, would be the first to criticize councilors for raising taxes notwithstanding that the increase would be to support the service they receive.
The next issue at the council meeting worthy of comment was on the number and origin of the 100+ vehicles owned and operated by the Lowell Police Department. When you watch city council meetings regularly, you notice that the intensity and number of the comments made by councilors is often out of proportion to the relative importance of the issue. I don’t think this one is a particularly big deal for a number of reasons, but most of the councilors had something (critical) to say on this topic and it will return again with “more information.” My skepticism over the sincerity of those most responsible for driving this issue comes from the assumption that were the excess vehicles suddenly be gone one day, these same critics would demand the convening of a grand jury to investigate the “scandal” of the missing police vehicles.
The final comment from the council meeting was Ed Kennedy’s motion that the council formally adopt MGL c.51, s.16A which would mandate the city manager to select for future election commission vacancies one of three candidates put forth by either the Democratic City Committee or the Republican City Committee. Although this motion was just to direct the City Solicitor to draft a vote for the council to take, Council Rodney Elliott used this motion to emphatically state again his objections to the recent appointment of Gerry Nutter to the election commission. Councilor Kennedy did say that his intent with this motion was to “look forward, not backwards” but setting aside the whole Gerry Nutter controversy, this approach to appointments is squarely in the rear-view mirror.
First of all, limiting the universe of those who may serve on the election commission to registered Democrats or Republicans immediately excludes more than half the registered voters in the city since the majority of voters are unenrolled. (As of the 2012 state election, Lowell had 54,683 registered voters. Of that number, 27,551 were unenrolled, 21,926 were Democrats, and 4,816 were Republicans). Secondly, just who are the members of the Republican City Committee and the Democratic City Committee? At least the Republican City Committee has a website although the only name I find on it is that of my friend and fellow blogger, Cliff Krieger. However, there is a separate page about Congresswoman Niki Tsongas that begins with this:
This page will address the inconsistencies of Niki Tsongas, and we will happily point out why you should not support her in the next election for Representative – Congressional 5th District. We invite you to submit articles or information about her inconsistent statements and voting record. Thank you!
At least the Republicans have a website. Google “Lowell Democratic City Committee” and all you get is links to this website that protest how little the Lowell Democratic City Committee does or to Lowell Sun stories critical of Gerry Nutter. So supporting Councilor Kennedy’s motion would not only exclude more than half the registered voters from consideration, it would also put the selection process in the hands of two groups no one can easily identify. Maybe it’s time to talk to our legislators about amending the state law so it reflects current circumstances.
City Council meeting.
Today’s COLUMN in the Lowell Sun leads with the difficulty encountered by the town of Dracut in signing up Steven Bucuzzo to be the new town manager. Whatever obstacles arose came in an executive session by the board of selectmen, but the Column speculates that the sticking point may have been the town charter’s prohibition on giving the town manager a contract for a set period of time (meaning the town manager may only be an at-will employee).
Coincidentally, this same issue lurks in the city council race. There’s no prohibition on a contract for the city manager, however, a number of council candidates have publicly stated that they oppose such contracts. Writing on Left in Lowell, Jack Mitchell says that candidates who oppose contracts are, as a practical matter, also opposed to having Bernie Lynch continue as city manager. Last I checked, this particular blog post had 41 comments and is well worth reading.
The Column also mentions that Victoria Fahlberg “posted a comment Monday on a local blog (now which local blog could that be that the Sun won’t ever mention by name?) claiming that Gerry Nutter referred to her as a derogatory term that rhymes with witch . . .” Gerry refuted that, providing the full text of what he wrote (he quoted his wife as saying that Victoria “was a witch” after seeing her on City Life, the local cable TV show). In a related matter, Stacie Hargis shared the full comment she provided to the Lowell Sun on this issue because of what she felt was the newspaper’s misleading use of just a small portion of what she gave them.
The Sun also has a front-page story on the future of Lowell High School that states the position of each of the city council candidates on the issue of where the high school should be located (i.e., renovated in its current location or moved to a new site). The most interesting quote of the story came from Cory Belanger who said “we must put tradition and history aside” in this process. That position might come as a shock to many of his prime supporters for whom Lowell tradition and history are always paramount.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino visited Lowell on Monday as the guest speaker at a UMass Lowell/Parker Lecture Series luncheon gathering. Menino had an hour-long conversation with former Globe reporter Brian Mooney in which the longest serving mayor of Boston unapologetically advocated a type of New Deal liberalism that was refreshing to see in a politician in 2013.
In other blog posts of note during the past week, I provided an analysis of recent trends in the Lowell real estate market and reader Nancy Pitkin described here experience of disconnecting her house from cable TV.
Nine days until the election. There weren’t as many political print ads as I would have expected in today’s Lowell Sun. Political flyers came in the mail this past week from Joe Mendonca, Dave Conway and Dan Rourke. I’m putting some extra screws in my mailbox today so it will support the weight of all the political pieces that will arrive this coming week.
Absentee ballots are now available at the Election and Census Office at City Hall. Be advised that Massachusetts State law limits the availability of absentee ballots to voters who meet the following qualifications: 1. You will be absent from Lowell on election day during polling hours; 2. You have a physical disability that prevents you from voting at at the polls; or 3. You cannot vote at the polls due to religious belief. Requests for absentee ballots under any other circumstance (e.g., mere inconvenience, ordinary commuting-related difficulties, etc.) are not allowed. For more information, including how to obtain an absentee ballot, contact the Elections Office at 978-674-1200.
Enjoy the coming week and Happy Halloween.