Lowell City Council meeting: February 6, 2018

COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER

Motion Responses (see Mimi Parseghian’s “City Council Preview” post for more details on these reports):

Pedestrian Safety at Intersection of Pawtucket Blvd. and Rourke Bridge. Councilor Conway thanks CM Murphy for the report. Says the report indicates pedestrian safety will be enhanced.

Utopian Park Hydro Sculpture. Councilor Mercier says the parks subcommittee will meet about this next Tuesday before the council meeting.

Merrimack Valley Food Bank. Councilor Leahy asks a DPD representative if there are any properties on Tanner Street that would be suitable. DPD person says it’s been a challenge to find a single story building of the size the Food Bank needs. The problem with Tanner Street is that there is contamination which is incompatible with food storage. DPD says Tanner Street might work in the long term after some environmental cleanup, but they need a short term solution. Councilor Elliott asks generally about how the city responds to businesses that ask for help in finding a suitable location. Yes, there are several databases.

Enhance Types of Businesses Attracted to the City. Resident speaks on this report, particularly a portion that recommends pop-up art galleries pending gaining a business occupant. Resident says Arlington, Mass imposes a $400 registration fee on vacant storefronts, but that can be waived if the landlord allows a popup installation. CC Leahy suggests scheduling a Saturday meet-and-greet session for local people to share their ideas on how we can attract businesses to locate in downtown. CC Mercier says the city used to have a downtown coordinator and asks if the city has one now. DPD responds that there is not a dedicated downtown coordinator but several employees fulfill all the duties of that position. CC Kennedy said a point raised by CC Leahy about the need for sprinklers and elevators sometimes is a major impediment to redevelopment of upper floors of downtown buildings. CC Kennedy asks for a report that identifies which buildings are lacking these things.

Traffic Control at Howe Bridge. CC Mercier says that when the city asked UMass Lowell to station their police officers at the bridge at rush hours and UMass Lowell said it didn’t not have the manpower. The Lowell Police are staffing the position instead. CC Mercier asks Police Chief Taylor about collaboration with UMass Lowell. Taylor says the Lowell Police and UML police work very closely together but says UML just does not have the personnel needed to do traffic control. Taylor says that intersection is a problem, mostly with vehicles blocking the intersection and with pedestrian safety. Taylor says the LPD will continue stationing an officer there. He says the University is conducting an educational campaign for the students to get them to better comply with pedestrian rules. UML also has a transportation committee that Taylor and others from the city sit on. They are looking for a long term solution, especially to congestion at these intersections. Councilor Leahy asks if UML can be forced to hire crossing guards to staff these intersections. He says we should insist on it and it would be “short money” for UML. Leahy suggests the UML students just ignore traffic control measures.

Informational

Ameresco Contract Scope and Savings. CC Milinazzo asks that this be referred to the Municipal Facilities subcommittee for further investigation. He says it is very impressive as to the amount of savings, but questions that if all of this work was done, why did the high school and so many other schools have issues with heat. CC Elliott asks if increases in electricity rates were factored into the report. DPD says that the report has a “rate escalation” factor built into it. Councilor Cirillo points out that the end of the report says the City Council may implement a “maintenance option” so she moves that the council adopted. CC Elliott asks if the council can get some information about the cost of doing this before it votes on it. DPD says the report may be unclear; that the line in question refers to future projects. There is no maintenance option on past projects that may be enacted right now. DPD and CM says they can get a cost estimate for current maintenance from Ameresco. CC Cirillo says that there will probably be a cost, but it will eventually save us money in the long run. CC Kennedy amends the motion to obtain a report from the City Manager on this.

Communication-Appoint Lisa Patenaude to Animal Advisory Committee as Resident Dog Owner

Communication-Reappoint Dr. William J. Galvin III to Board of Health

VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Vote-Auth CM and or Board of Trustees of Lowell Memorial Auditorium proceed under MGL c.30 for Management Services for a 5 year term with an option for an additional 3 year extension. CC Elliott asks for a copy of the RFP that’s been sent out for this. CC Mercier asks for a more detailed explanation. CM explains that this council has made it clear that it wants more activity at LMA, so he is putting out this RFP. The existing 5 year contract is expiring. The city could enact the 3 year extension but he is choosing to put out the RFP now. He says the CM can only enter into a 3 year contract; the council has to approve a 5 year contract. Conor Baldwin says the new RFP is looking for more shows, but also for someone who is going to maintain the historic character of the building. Also, would shift the risk of loss to the management company instead of the city. Existing contractor, Spectrum, may submit an RFP. CC Kennedy asks if this vote allows the CM to proceed without coming back to the council. CM says he would come back to the council after the proposals have been received. CC Milinazzo asks about status of lease with Merrimack Repertory Theatre. CM says he will prepare a report on that. CC Kennedy says the main complaint about LMA is the lack of events. He compares it to a similar sized auditorium in the city of Lynn which has many more events each years. Kennedy says from meeting last year, it was clear that some shows make money and some lose money, so you need a management company that has deep pockets to absorb losses.

Vote-Auth CM and or Treasurer proceed under MGL 30B for Banking Services-5 year term. CC Milinazzo asks if the city has employees that are certified purchasing specialists who review the responses to RFP. City purchasing agent Michael Vaughn and his deputy have those certifications, so they review many of these things and answer any questions.

Vote-Transfer 5,000 to fund building inspector overtime

REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

Misc. – National Grid request City Council grant easement on Franklin Street for electric distribution construction.

Misc. – Carol LaMarche request installation of (1) handicap parking sign at 16 Methuen Street.

Misc. – Diane Allen request installation of (1) handicap parking sign in front of 14 Mt. Washington Street.

CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS

C Mercier – Req. City Council support naming the Parks Department building on Stedman Street in honor of Thomas R. Bellegarde for his many years of service. CC Mercier recounts the many accomplishments of Tom Bellegarde in his 40+ years of working for the city.

C Conway – Req. City Council create subcommittee on Municipal Health Insurance. CC Conway explains that 4000 in the city have health insurance through the city at a considerable cost. He says this motion is not to take the place of the city manager in negotiating contracts but just to obtain information. CC Milinazzo says he understands the intent of the motion, but he believes it should be referred to the Finance Subcommittee if it is referred anywhere. Mayor Samaras (sitting on the floor) says he believes this motion is out of order and offers a substitute motion that refers this to the city manager and the city solicitor. He fears this motion would violate the city charter in that it would interfere with the city manager’s ability to negotiate contracts. CC Elliott says it makes sense to refer it to the city manager. Mentions the state’s GIC decision first to eliminate some health plans and then their reversal of that decision got many people understandably nervous. He believes the intent of the motion it to share information on things like that in a timely manner. CC Kennedy asks the city solicitor on the issue the mayor has raised. Solicitor says she’d like to speak directly with the maker of the motion about the intent, so if it is referred to the city manager, she could have that discussion and include it in the report.

Mayor Samaras resumes the chair.

C Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding cost analysis of recycling pick-up every week comparing it to current cost pick-up of every other week; in addition provide possible options for residents that bins overflow i.e. a second bin for people who request it. Resident speaks in support of motion. Says he exceeds the capacity of his bin and believes many others do too. CC Cirillo believes that as people become more aware of recycling, there will be more overflow of recycling bins. She believes that the city should assist residents who are dedicated to recycling with either a second bin or more frequent pickups. CC Elliott says there was a report on this two years ago that said it would be quite costly. CM says it will be addressed in the report. CC Leahy asks when the recycling pick up contract comes up for renewal. This coming December. CC Kennedy says everyone recognizes it is cheaper to pickup recycling than trash, so the more we recycle, the better.

C Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding Lowell Memorial Auditorium; said report to include updates on proposals for a management company due February 22nd, money allotted in budget for use and upgrades including larger loading dock doors and restrooms, and efforts being made to increase its use. CC Cirillo acknowledges that some of these issues were addressed earlier. She asks CM if anyone between Spectrum and the Peter Lally group has expressed interest. CM Murphy said no. CC Cirillo mentions very popular groups the regularly perform in Boston, so we should be able to attract them to Lowell to the Auditorium.

C Leahy – Req. City Mgr. provide update regarding latest meeting with the Massachusetts School Building Authority. CC Leahy is looking for clarification of what happened at the meeting; where we go from here; status of swimming pool/no swimming pool. CC Kennedy says that the local media has totally represented what happened in Boston at the MSBA. This council, which has only been in office for a month, already made a motion to inform the MSBA the city would explore other options. The council had not voted on proposals; this was a “working meeting” with several staff members of MSBA. Kennedy says the city was not “shown the door” because of the pool. The pool was in all of the options developed last year. The five options that included the pool were sent by the city manager, not by the council. He says last April, the MSBA communicated that it would not pay for a pool nor would it pay for a project that included a pool. So everyone knew that since April. When they met with MSBA in December, the Perkins Eastman representative informed the city that there might still be a shot to keep the pool since the site was being changed and the pool was part of the existing curriculum. The MSBA at that time said to discuss it further in January. At this recent meeting, the MSBA reiterated its April position that there would be no pool. He says the MSBA also said they do not fund a field house, just a gym. There was also a discussion about the administrative and non-educational space and whether there was too much of it. The MSBA also discussed eminent domain and the timetable. There was much that was important that was discussed, but none of that was covered by the local media. Kennedy says that way this has been represented by the media is not even close. He blames it on the editor of the newspaper. The editor of the newspaper occasionally runs articles on beverages you can make from grapes. But the coverage this week was sour grapes. The paper’s willingness to distort the truth because of the bias of the editor is not fair to the community. It is important for the true story to get out. The MSBA assured us that there is no concern about the funding of the high school. CC Kennedy says he is disappointed that the city manager did not correct the record with the media when he and Mayor Samaras got the blame for it. CC Milinazzo says he has lost faith in Murphy’s administration to take on this project. He says Jim Campanini would not recognized an unbiased editorial if it bit him in the behind. Campanini has done that for the entire year. CC Elliott and CC Mercier shout that Milinazzo is out of order. Milinazzo says he is finished as a supporter of Kevin Murphy; says there has been no leadership and that’s why we find ourselves in this situation He says the Sun’s editor is obnoxious. CC Elliott says there is a process that is set up. If some members of the council don’t want to follow the process, we have followed the process all along. Says we should not be playing the blame game. Elliott says the manager has been very good in keeping the council involved. He says the delay is part of the process. He says the good news is that we’re going to get a high school. CC Mercier resents blaming the delay because last June five city councilors voted for Cawley, then it was the school committee that delayed it. She doesn’t like throwing blame around. She says she fully supports the city manager. CC Kennedy says the motion has nothing to do with the delay. Only three councilors were at that meeting, so they only know what happened. The rest have to rely on the media. Kennedy asks why those five options were sent in. CM says the MSBA asked for the five options that existed so they would have something to discuss. Kennedy criticizes Skanska and Perkins Eastman for sending in stale options. Murphy says they had stopped all work and so nothing had been changed. Kennedy says it would not have been a big deal to touch up the options before sending them and didn’t update them at all. What do you think about that? Murphy says he was upset about it. Kennedy asks if they are looking for additional money. CM in all it’s about additional $600,000. CC Conway says during the campaign there was tremendous frustration expressed. It has been expressed here tonight. Says this can be traced back to the media. For the last year, the media has constantly clouded the issue and constantly tried to divide us. They were pretty successful in doing that. But going forward, this council has made it pretty clear of the direction we want to go in. We’ve been clear since January we want Downtown Option 3. I don’t know how we can be any clearer. Conway asks about the city’s School Building Committee; asks who gets invited to that. Says the members of the committee and the city council so it is also publicly noticed on the city’s website. (The meeting is next Wednesday). Mayor Samaras (from the floor) says the editorial Kennedy refers to was inaccurate. He is disappointed Perkins Eastman is not available. He says at the MSBA meeting, Skanska was nonchalant in saying “we’ll just go back out to the community.” Samaras says they did a terrible job the first time and that contributed to the divisiveness which he wants the city manager’s staff to participate in future meetings. Samaras says it’s been clear for years that MSBA doesn’t allow pools, yet Perkins Eastman insisted that was negotiable when it was not. He has lost faith in Skanska and Perkins Eastman. They have great reputations, but he wonders if we did not get their top performers. He said we need a wakeup meeting with those two companies. These kinds of delays and misinformation will lead to more silly editorials. We have one chance to get this high school right. Kennedy was right on in his description of what happened at the meeting. Samaras says he wants to speed this up. CC Leahy says the purpose of this motion is to decide what happens next. He says the consultants should have done a better job of guiding us on issues like the pool and the field house. They wasted a lot of our time and they have a lot of gall submitting more bills. They have to own up to this. They have to come back with an education plan that complies with the MSBA regs. We can’t keep wasting our time blaming people for what’s already happened. We need a starting point going forward. CC Cirillo says she agrees with Mayor Samaras. Wants to know if the Skanska Perkins Eastman personnel listed in the original proposal are the same working for us now. They are, but when the project was delayed, some of those people went to work on other projects. CC Elliott says all options had a pool so he doesn’t know what the confusion is. Moving forward, the blame game doesn’t work. CC Kennedy says he’s not blaming anyone here. Nor is he arguing with anyone here. He’s disappointed with the coverage it received. No one ever said the pool was going to cost $10mil. That was only in the newspaper, not at the MSBA. That’s the type of information that is unfair to everyone in Lowell. It’s bad information. He is concerned about Skanska and Perkins Eastman about not being able to come to a meeting this week. Kennedy asks that these meeting be held in the evening in the future because it would be easier for people to attend. Kennedy says he believes they should just take Option 3, remove the pool, go with Option 3 and that’s it. He doesn’t understand why that will cost an extra $600,000 and so much more time to complete. CC Milinazzo says at MSBA the cost of pool was $4.7mil. The issue with the field house is that the design is a bit bigger than allowed. He is disappointed by the process. He says Skanska had said “we’re starting over again.” We’re not starting over again. He says any complaints about Skanska, etc, rests with the city manager. If people don’t want to acknowledge that, maybe they don’t care. Mayor Samaras says we’re all frustrated by this. Says the council’s credibility has been destroyed in the community by all the misinformation. CC Nuon says he shares frustration. We knew last year there couldn’t be a pool, yet we’re still submitting plans with pools. Advises colleagues to ignore the media; to not let the media divide the council and the city. We have to hold Perkins Eastman and Skanska accountable.

C Conway – Req. City Mgr. work with DCR to install appropriate signage at the entrance to Trotting Park Road directing forest visitors to the parking area.

CC Kennedy moves to suspend the rules. Moves that city council subcommittee on educational partnerships explore the possibility of Lowell becoming a UNESCO “Learning City.”

ANNOUNCEMENTS. Friends of Council on Aging end of year report showed that the organization raises substantial money that relieves the city of expenses that it would otherwise be expected to provide.

ADJOURNMENT 8:43 pm

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