Lowell City Council Meeting: April 10, 2018

MAYOR’S BUSINESS

Vote – To execute the employment agreement between the City of Lowell and incoming City Manager Eileen M. Donoghue. Council first moves to release minutes of last week’s Executive Session. City Solicitor review terms of the employment agreement. Atty O’Connor says this is modeled after the agreement used with a prior city manager (Lynch). It’s for 4 years with starting pay of $196,000. Employment would be exclusive with Lowell. Also includes use of auto. There is no longer a severance package or sick leave buyback or guaranteed merit or cost of living increases as has been the case with other similar contracts. The changes made in the Executive Session included the deletion of long and short term disability insurance.

Councilor Elliott says while he voted for Eileen Donoghue, he did not vote for this contract because most people in America do not have four year contracts, they work from day to day. Mayor Samaras says he has always supported employment agreements for certain positions because it gives some stability to the community. Businesses coming to Lowell want to know if the leadership will be in place for a reasonable period of time. He has personally worked with a contract and without one and believe you perform much better with a contract. He commends Senator Donoghue for making the various concessions mentioned. Councilor Nuon agrees with those reasons for having a contract. Points out the differences with the contract given to Manager Lynch back in 2006. He says Senator Donoghue gave up a lot. An issue came up about making the car she is provided an electric vehicle, but that will be taken up as a separate motion.

Council votes for the contract by an 8 to 1 vote with Councilor Elliott voting no. Senator Donoghue will begin work tomorrow morning.

Discussion – Update regarding Gas Leak Lowell High School. Fire Chief Winward said received a call this morning for a slight level of gas. There was no readings for gas on the floor but did find a slight leak at the ceiling. A joint meeting decided to evacuate the students to the Tsongas Arena which went very well. Right now, there is a contractor working on the heating units now. Once they insure there is no additional leakage, they will test all units to ensure they are running correctly. He said the level of gas was never dangerous but they still evacuated. They will make a decision tonight by 8 pm based on a report from the contractor tonight.

Councilor Kennedy asks about how Friday’s gas leak was handled? Rick Underwood of the School Department now speaks. He says Friday’s leak was more serious than today. A contractor replaced those two valves and retested them and then got the OK to continue using the school. Underwood says his opinion is that he believes one of the units is not burning all of the gas that it consumes, so the residual gas is what is being smelled and detected. There were also two minor leaks in valves there were nearly undetectable.

Councilor Mercier says parents are very concerned about this. She says the students should not have been brought back to the school. She said if the Tsongas Arena wasn’t available, there should be a backup plan. Underwood says they followed the protocol by evacuating the building. He also says the students were not brought back inside until after the gas was shut off and fully tested.

Councilor Cirillo says this was why her first two motions were to do proactive maintenance. This reactionary approach isn’t working. We’ve had water leaks in the library, gas leaks in the schools. We should be testing all that and addressing it in the summertime. She says the problems we’ve experienced this year would not have happened if the equipment had been maintained throughout its useful life.

Councilor Conway agrees with Councilor Cirillo. He asks about the age of the gas pipes. Underwood says they have been looked at for repairs but not for proper operation. He says the school committee and the council have been saying for years that we lack a preventative maintenance program but it seems to go in one ear and out the other. He says everyone says we need a new building, but the roof has been leaking for ten years but it’s never been addressed properly. He says there is a very specific evacuation plan for the high school. Underwood says one reason there’s no preventative maintenance is that the workers who should be looking at the air conditioning now are spending all their time on heat. He said the problem lies with the council for not adequately funding DPW maintenance. Without more resources, they’re only able to react to emergencies and don’t have time to do preventative maintenance.

Councilor Leahy says went he went to the high school today, they are working on the problem, they probably should have worked on it all weekend. He says there is a backup site which is the UMass Lowell recreation center.

Mayor Samaras says the children were safe at all times. He says the issue isn’t where a school is to be built, it’s what we do right now. City Manager says there will not be school at Lowell High tomorrow because the number of inspections that have to be made are too much to complete just tonight.

Councilor Kennedy continues, saying we’re about to spend $350mil on a high school, but the existing school must continue to function with heat and no gas leaks. There needs to be a plan so parents feel comfortable sending kids to the school. To do that, we’re going to have to spend additional money and address this right away.

Councilor Milinazzo has utmost safety in the fire chief and knows they would not have sent children into an unsafe environment. Milinazzo asks about the number of technicians compared to years ago. Underwood says all the technicians work for DPW not the school department. Much of the workforce is getting older and the new equipment is more sophisticated and we don’t do any reeducation. We may have the same numbers but because they are older and training is inadequate we don’t get the same level of service. Underwood says Head of Schools wanted to come tonight but he recommended she not come because he could handle the questions.

Councilor Nuon says the building is old. We need a plan but we need to fund that plan otherwise these things will continue to happen. Asks if proper steps were taken to ensure student safety both times. Both Underwood and the Fire Chief answer yes. Says there was never any danger to the students.

Underwood says on Friday they focused on the four units where they could detect gas but they didn’t check units on the roof or in other locations.

Councilor Elliott says it is the responsibility of the Superintendent and the Head of Schools to have been here tonight. Parents have little confidence in what’s going on over there. We have spent a lot of money over there already. We should ask for more money from the state for emergency repairs.

Mayor Samaras says he told the Superintendent he did not have to be there. He also said the Head of Schools acted properly. He felt that because the fire chief and Mr. Underwood would be here, it was not necessary for either of them to be there.

CITY CLERK

Minutes of Zoning SC April 3rd; City Council Meeting April 3rd, for acceptance.

COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER

Motion Responses

  1. A) Motion Response – Front Porches. Development services recommends against this, some councilors want to send it to a subcommittee; other councilors think it should end. Eric Slagle believes what is already in place is sufficient. Kennedy asks for a roll call. Voting against are
  2. B) Motion Response – UTEC Mattress Recycling Facility.
  3. C) Motion Response – Facility Assessment Study. Bids have been received. The study will be completed by the end of the summer. Questions about whether there will be enough time to respond to deficiencies identified prior to start of school year and start of winter. CM Geary says the city has not had a comprehensive study like this and believes it will be very helpful to making spending decisions. Councilor Kennedy says this is fine but we can’t wait until August to address issues at the high school. We have to do that much quicker.
  4. D) Motion Response – Boards and Commissions. Website has been updated.
  5. E) Motion Response – Spring Cleaning Update and Summer Jobs. Councilor Leahy asks if there is sufficient funding to provide part time attendants at major parks in the city. The city hopes to hire 192 young people as summer employees. Applications on the city’s website.
  6. F) Motion Response – Add Phoenix Ave to Paving List. Questions about whether it is state or city road.
  7. G) Motion Response – National Grid gas Pipeline Replacement. Councilor Cirillo moves to refer this to environmental affairs subcommittee.

Communication-Accept Resignation of Killian Minch from Sustainability Council

ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Order-60 day trial (various)

ORDINANCES FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Ordinance-Amend Zoning Ch. 290 by amending various sections regarding Marijuana. Referred to Planning Board for report and recommendation and then to a public hearing on May 15, 2018.

REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

Environment & Flood Issues SC April 10, 2018. Meeting earlier this evening. Chair Councilor Cirillo says it went very well with many speakers. Says there will be two motions forthcoming as a result of the meeting. Councilor Elliott says one of the motions is to enact a resolution supporting statewide legislation that addresses plastic bag. Councilor Cirillo explains one of the motions is to ban plastic bags in the city and the majority of the subcommittee thought it best to wait until the next meeting. Councilor Kennedy says another motion would be to request the solicitor to draft a plastic bag ban ordinance in Lowell. They thought it would be best to give other councilors time to think about it since it will be controversial. The extent of the ban would be discussed and decided by the full council.

PETITIONS

Claims – (1) Property Damage

CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS

Next three motions address same issue. Taken up together.

  1. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. find ways and means to create a children’s neighborhood playground next to 517 Moody St. on City property in the Acre section of the City.
  2. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. direct the Parks Department to install swings and slides on City Park located next to St. Joseph’s Apartments @ 511 Moody St.
  3. Kennedy – Request City Manager to initiate a plan to upgrade and improve the public park on Moody St.
  4. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. install civilian camera’s in the Treasurer’s/Collectors Office. Councilor Nuon says much money is taken in there. He thinks we should have cameras there to detect any problems with customers. Councilor Leahy says we shouldn’t single out that department but should do them all. Councilor Milinazzo says banks have these type of cameras. He things it’s a good idea although there may need to be public notification and negotiating with employees.
  5. Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide the City Council with a report on the potential installation of “Short Story Dispensers” at strategic locations. Councilor Cirillo explains there is one at the Prudential Center. The stories dispensed are written by the people in the city or town where the dispenser is located. Councilor Cirillo says this is intended to promote people to read more. Councilor Mercier opposes this saying there are more pressing priorities for the city. Councilor Conway says when we’re facing so many cuts and so many other needs we can’t afford this. Both Councilors Milinazzo and Nuon say this is just asking for a report. Councilor says this is a new idea and we shouldn’t shut down new ideas before they are even discussed or investigated. This could turn into a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with looking into new ideas. Councilor Leahy says our motions should be directed at things that are important to the people of the city like the schools and cleaning. Councilor Mercier demands a roll call because she just gave a report. She says it’s a frivolous waste of time. Mayor Samaras says he’ll always support a motion asking for information. He tells Councilor Leahy we have to consider ideas like this that might make this a better city. Passes 6 to 3 with Councilors Mercier, Elliott and Leahy voting no.
  6. Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. instruct the proper department provide a report of any broken streetlights that are in need of replacement and in the report have protective options for the lights, for example a grate placed underneath.
  7. Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. instruct the Division of Planning and Development to compile an updated inventory of vacant upper story downtown office/business spaces, including how long they have been vacant. Councilor Cirillo says the most recent report she’s seen is from August 2017. We should have an updated one, especially with the new manager coming on. She thinks it very important to begin a discussion on what to do about the upper floors of downtown buildings that are vacant.
  8. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. add Glenellyn Road to the repaving list and take immediate steps to repair the potholes on Glenellyn Road.
  9. Kennedy – Request the LTC consider installing the apparatus necessary to televise the sub/committee meetings and other appropriate events in the Mayor’s Reception Room. Kennedy says there are many meetings and events in that room and it would be helpful to have the ability to record them.

ANNOUNCEMENTS. No council meeting next week due to school vacation. Lowell High community meeting, April 12 at 6pm at the school cafeteria. Also Skanska notified city that May 9 is the deadline for submitting to MSBA for June meeting. MSBA just informed them that because of a heavy schedule, they are offering May 9 as a subcommittee review at MSBA which will help advance the project. The big issue will be whether the floor plans match the education plan that has been submitted. Cost estimates expected by April 26.

ADJOURNMENT at 9:29 pm.

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