I visited Nashville, Tennessee this week (I’ll have a post about that later today) so I had to step away from the rhythms of Lowell and its politics. Last night I did watch a replay of Tuesday night’s council meeting and have posted my notes below:
Lowell City Council Meeting: April 21, 2015
Abandon Eaton Street
Vote to abandon a portion of Eaton Street (which is part of the Tanner Street relocation). Councilor Kennedy says some of the business owners in the vicinity continue to question this. Manager Murphy has Craig Thomas of DPD speak on this. He says he has met with the businesses and that they are supportive of the final plan but they have some questions about how it will work in the interim before the final relocation of Tanner Street. One of the business owners speaks: He says the Tanner Street project might take up to 10 years so there needs to be an interim solution. He says by working with the city, he thinks they’ve found such a solution. Councilor Martin says he hopes Tanner St doesn’t take 10 years to get done; asks for an estimate. Thomas says design is already underway and says the road construction will probably take 18 months. That doesn’t include the time it takes to put together the financing. He says that worse case that could take up to 10 years. Councilor Mercier asks about the car wash. Thomas says that the road will go behind the car wash and won’t adversely affect it. He says the VFW has decided to tear down their existing building and construct a new one on another portion of their lot so that will all be compatible with this. Council refers this to the Clerk for a week when it will be returned for a final vote.
Establishment of a Veteran’s Council
Speaking in favor are John MacDonald and Bob Page. No one speaks in opposition. Mayor Elliott speaks on the ordinance: Reads a letter to him from Francisco Urena, state Secretary of Veterans Affairs, commending the city for creating such a commission. Passes unanimously.
Vote for a $8.9mil Loan Order
Armand Hebert of Wilder Street speaks in favor but expresses concerns about a lack of a residency requirement on city jobs. Says if Councilors don’t think there are qualified people to do the work, then they should resign. Says money spent by the city should go to city residents. Says there is no prohibition on such a requirement. Tom Bellegarde, City Parks Commissioner, also speaks in favor the loan order. Passes unanimously.
Susan Winship of Greater Lowell Community Foundation shows a non-verbal fire prevention video that was produced for multilingual audiences in response to the Branch Street fire.
Councilor Kennedy moves that a motion response on Life Sciences focus for JAM area be referred to the Economic Development Subcommittee.
Councilor Kennedy brings up the status of a development of a new restaurant at Mammoth Road and East Meadow Road in Pawtucketville. Several councilors and city manager all indicate they don’t like the lack of parking for the project. Some members of the Pawtucketville Citizens Council speak strongly in opposition to this. City Solicitor cautions everyone that since this matter is pending before the Board of Appeals it might be unwise to continue arguing substantively about this matter before the council. The council moves on to the next issue.
Councilor Rourke moves that the council vote on the City Manager’s recommendation that four more police officers be hired. Manager Murphy explains the intent was to hire them in FY16, however, the police academy class begins on May 18 so this will allow the city to hire these officers now so they can enroll in this academy class and be on the streets prior to Thanksgiving. Motion passes.
Vote authorizing the filing of legislation to make non-civil service Fire Chief
Councilor Kennedy immediately moves to refer this to the Personnel Subcommittee. Says he has spoken with someone at the Civil Service Commission explained that they existing civil service process can be modified to give the city manager more say in who becomes the fire chief. Kennedy says he thinks they should consider these other options before taking this vote. Councilor Belanger says he agrees the process if flawed but he wants the city manager to have a much bigger say in who gets appointed. Says it should be similar to the process for appointing the police chief. Says he’s ready to vote on this tonight and will not support the delay. Councilor Milinazzo says he will support the delay. He agrees the process was tainted but he believes “the brotherhood” of the fire department is different than the police department and that promoting from within is important. So he will support sending it to the personnel subcommittee. Councilor Samaras says he’s willing to listen to alternative approaches as long as the city manager has the final say in who is hired. Says he sees no harm in getting more information. Councilor Rourke commends the city manager for bringing this up. Says he will support getting more information about this. Councilor Leahy says he will also support sending it to the subcommittee. Mayor Elliott says he’s prepared to vote on this tonight; that it’s time to make a change and we have to move this down the road. Kennedy, Leahy, Martin, Milinazzo, Rourke and Samaras vote to send it to the subcommittee. Mercier, Belanger and Elliott vote not to send it to the subcommittee.
Petition to Address the Council
Corey Robinson, president of Local 1705 (various city employees). Criticizes the city for changing practices that have been in place for more than ten years. Says this changed interpretation of the contract which originated with the city auditor and since the auditor works for the council, the council should be involved in this. Councilor Mercier says she is curious about what is taking place here. (Seems that the employees have been being paid overtime even if they take vacation time but that has changed so that vacation time is no longer counted towards calculating eligibility for collecting overtime). Councilor Mercier wants answers to what has changed. Councilor Martin says he’s heard varying accounts of what has happened but he thinks there should be, at some point, an official explanation given to the city council on what has occurred. Councilor Kennedy asks the manager if the grievance has been resolved? City Manager Murphy says no, it’s still pending. Says city made a “very generous” offer of settlement earlier today but that it was summarily rejected so they continue to negotiate but he will get the council a detailed memo explaining what has happened.
City Council Motions
By Councilor Samaras to have DPD review the South Common Improvement Plan and give a timeline for when it will be implemented. Says he and Councilor Belanger recently walked the South Common and it needs a lot of work. He also says that the South Common should be addressed in conjunction with the Lord Overpass work because the South Common is a gateway into the city. Councilor Kennedy thinks this is an excellent motion. Says the South Common is very important to the future of the JAM area. Councilor Belanger says there’s been a plan in place since at least 2011 to improve the South Common. He says it is a mess now but it’s unfair to get upset about that due to all the snow we received. Nevertheless, he says the South Common is a gem and we should pay a lot more attention to it. It has a great deal of potential to be a four season venue and it’s on one of the main gateways into the city. Councilor Martin also supports the motion and says it would be great to do an outdoor skating area there. Motion passes.