Fellow blogger Gerry Nutter asked City Manager Bernie Lynch for his thoughts on the recent preliminary election and on the criticisms of his administration coming from some in the mainstream media. Gerry posted the City Manager’s response on his blog. When I asked, Gerry granted me permission to repost it here:
In general, I stay out of the whole election phase of things but I’ll respond to your question given the issue of the future of professional management within the City of Lowell government.
I’m not sure I would say I’m concerned as your question sets forth, at least not for me. It does seem inexplicable that people would be raising questions at this point in time about professional management or about this administration. I’m not sure the City has ever been more financially strong and stable. Reserves are at their highest level in a decade and average single-family taxes are just about the lowest in northeastern Massachusetts. We have increased the gap between what we tax under Proposition 2 ½ and what we are legally able to tax. There isn’t a better deal in the region. We’ve also made a huge down payment on our unfunded liabilities, which means our long-term perspective will pay dividends for future generations of Lowellians. As a result of all of this, the state Department of Revenue has commended us and more recently the bond rating agencies have upgraded the City. Clearly, this is a far cry from being placed on a state watch list or being downgraded by the rating agencies as happened in 2006. And, all of this has occurred in very bad economic times.
We’ve invested nearly $165 million in our infrastructure and facilities. These investments are beyond long overdue but simultaneously are affordable because of our financial condition and careful financial planning and management. We’ve moved away from short-term, politically based decisions and moved to what’s best for the entire City for the long term. So buildings are getting fixed, roads repaved and broken-down equipment is being replaced. We also, at long last, finally met our state-required net school spending level in 2009.
Operationally, we also have also seen the benefits of great management by departments in the current environment that this administration has fostered and advanced. We still have issues but indicators show progress in performance across the board. The rate of crime has dropped, though clearly much work remains. We close fewer fire companies on a day-to-day basis. Our recreation programs are at their highest level since the 1990’s. Our public works operations are ever more efficient and productive based on data, not on anecdote. Our level of inspections and code enforcement has increased dramatically and with greater accountability since the much-needed reorganization that occurred in 2010. Our financial management systems have been improved after numerous years of management letter findings from 2000 onward. There are numerous indicators of success, but perhaps the best is the fact that our City departments are models for other communities, and we continue to seek even more improvement.
In terms of economic development, we have more people working in the City than since the boom of the 1980’s. We have more businesses here than we did in the growth period of the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Values for property are climbing rapidly. Commercial vacancy rates are low. This isn’t our data, it is the state’s or independent sources that we use, and this isn’t a regional phenomena but instead is unique to Lowell. We also have numerous business investments occurring and more projects in the pipeline. Investors have come to see Lowell as a stable community with a seemingly bright future.
Perhaps it is my vantage point, but I see these advancements occurring with this administration and the amazing team of department heads and employees that are now in place. But, all of the progress made over the past seven years would not have happened without the support of a majority of the City Council during that time. It hasn’t happened over just the past couple of years but instead has been a steady move forward. Those City Councilors that supported conservative financial management, investments for savings (like energy), aggressive but cooperative labor negotiations for health savings and containment of costs like sick-time buyback, building reserves, capital spending, etc. These councilors deserve the credit for where we are today.
I recently stumbled across the address that I gave after being sworn in to the position of City Manager in 2006. Actually, it was a piece that Bob Ellis did for WUML. But in listening to the recording I was struck by how much I wanted to accomplish and how much has occurred over the past seven difficult years. Everything that I’ve listed above has occurred along with the improved relationships with the business community, UML, neighborhood groups, non-profits, cultural organizations, and the openness to citizens and inclusionary steps that we’ve taken so that “who one knows” isn’t the basis of “how one is treated.”
I’m very proud of where we are and what this administration is all about. That said, much work remains to be accomplished and the progress made needs to be solidified. Included in the solidification are the importance of good professional management and the advancement of greater citizen engagement. My concern is the future of Lowell if the values this administration has promoted and the progress the City has made are reversed, regardless of who holds the position of City Manager.
Thanks for the opportunity to give you my thoughts.