Lowell City Council meeting: October 15, 2013

This report on tonight’s council meeting is in four parts:

First is about the appointment of Gerry Nutter to the Election Commission which passed 7 to 2. A full report on who said what is the subject of this earlier blog post.

Second are the motions on the agenda (below).

Third are motions made by Mayor Murphy last week that were deferred to this week’s meeting (below).

Fourth are comments made on some “City Manager responses to prior council motions (below).

CC motions

C. Leahy – RCM have proper department move the bus sign located at 438 Varnum Ave. Passed unanimously with no discussion.

C. Leahy/C. Kennedy – RCM provide a quarterly report to Council on motion responses. Passed unanimously with no discussion.

C. Lorrey – Request Mayor send a letter to Governor’s office as well as to congressional members (House and Senate) requesting an increase in mental health spending. Lorrey says he has learned that the state has increased its funding so he asks that the letter be sent to Congressional delegation. Mayor asks if there’s a specific bill. Lorrey says no just ask them to support increasing mental health spending in general. Passes with no further discussion.

C. Lorrey – Request Mayor send a letter to our state representatives and Governor requesting a law be drafted to provide counseling for patients that are being removed from pain medications and other medications that may lead to long term addictions. Lorrey says much of our problems in the city have to do with drug addiction. Police say 70+% of crime is traceable directly to drugs. Doctors prescribe drugs but there’s really no counseling given to patients coming off drugs that might be addictive. It might help people come off the medication successfully. Elliott: I understand the premise that these individuals need counseling but is there a specific law we’re looking to have the delegation draft? Lorrey: That counseling be required for anyone coming off long term use of addictive pain killers. Mayor says this and previous motions are poorly defined. Lorrey says there is no bill in Congress and no bill at the state house. My hope is that the letter might kick off discussion down there. Passes unanimously on voice vote.

C. Elliott – RCM present update on plans to fill position of Election Office Manager. Elliott: This job has been open for some time. I’m curious what the delay is. Lynch: Usually we wait until the council passes a motion before I respond. Let me say that we have an election in three weeks. Everything is going pretty well. We want to get through the upcoming election and then we’ll fill the position. We found a lot of problems with how the office had been conducted. We want to fully understand these problems before proceeding with a permanent person. Kennedy: There was a temporary person who was here for several months. He’s now been replaced by someone from the Law Department who is now labeled “temporary.” Is this person going to do both, hearings in the Law Department and the Election Commission job? Lynch: We had downgraded the Election position to part-time, now we’re looking at combining them. Hearing officer was part time but that job increased by involvement in collective bargaining. Lynch: Election office very busy during elections and during census. There’s work needed throughout the year but we’re thinking about it being a part-time position with other responsibilities as a hearing officer.

C. Elliott – RCM modify Council email system. Elliott: This issue continues to trouble me. I’m getting more phone calls from people who say they don’t trust the city email. You made the change and then blamed it on a prior city manager. I’m not going to stand by and let you invade people’s privacy. This is not transparency in government. You stripped the former mayor’s aid from receiving these emails. I don’t know why you did that. I want to amend my motion to say we “put an end to the practice of automatically forwarding emails to the city manager’s office.”

Lorrey: I understand C. Elliott’s concerns but it is public. I did get an email this week but before I could even get to it, the manager’s office had already taken care of it so I think that’s pretty good. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep getting my emails. It is important for the public to realize that in some cases these are going to others.

Lynch: I did speak abruptly last week by saying “I don’t care what you do.” This process I was advised was in place before I was city manager. I think it’s a good thing. It’s what most communities do. I don’t even get them. It goes to the city manager email address. They are just handled by staff to address issues. What we’re looking for is effective government. We should maybe give an option to exclude or include the manager’s office. This has seemed to work well to get people’s problems addressed. I’ll do whatever the council wants.

Martin: I think the point is that this does work well. Most emails I get are copied to all the councilors. Many I do get already have a response. People want a quick response. People should know it’s going to the manager’s office; they should be able to opt in or opt out. Almost everyone I get I would forward to the manager’s office for attention.

Kennedy: I think the system works well the way it is now but if you send an email you should know where it is going. You don’t want to destroy the system because it seems to work well. I don’t get individual emails.

Nuon: I totally agree that the system works well but I agree that the public should have an option to opt out of having the manager’s office see it.

Leahy: As a new councilor I didn’t know it was going to your office. Also, we should be doing our jobs by forwarding them to your office. I did talk to MIS about the new system. I’m fine with the current system as long as people know where it’s going.

Elliott: I hear from colleagues that the system is working. I want to say on more than one occasion, people thank me for responding because I’m one of the only few on the council who respond. You either care, or you don’t care, Mr. Manager. I think you’re being “less than dishonest.” You should have come to the council and said this is how it works. I think you’re “less than honest” in doing this. The only reason I know is that your assistant Lynda Clark said “why are you forwarding this; I get cc’d on all of them.” Whatever the system is, opt in or opt out, I just think people should know who is receiving the email.

Mercier: Many years ago I had a very special person and when the phone would ring he would answer them for me. Then he died and I don’t have that service anymore. I’ve realized that the emails went to the mayor’s office and the secretary would forward them to the appropriate office. My understanding is that these went to Lynda Clark who did a tremendous job of forwarding these to the correct department. So I lost the man who did that job for me but now it’s done by Lynda Clark and Henri Marchand and between the two of them, you’ve made me look good so we’ve been a great team. I’m so desperate to get things done that I don’t care where it goes as long as it gets done.

Mendonca: The only issue is transparency, so the manager’s office should be a check-off. Almost everything I get is a request that I would forward to the manager anyway. Under this type of system, people must understand that if they don’t also check the manager on the form, there might be a delay in responding until one of the councilors forward the message to the manager. Also, everyone should understand that there is no expectation of privacy when using the city’s website.

Kennedy: I think it should be the other way. That all messages go to the city manager automatically but they have the clear option to opt out.
Resolution is to make it clear to website users that a copy of their message is being automatically sent to the city manager’s office and to give the sender the option to disable that feature if the sender so chooses.

C. Elliott – RCM provide an update on trash contract. Lynch: I signed the contract sometime in July. There will be a presentation at an upcoming meeting.

Unfinished business (Mayor Murphy was not present at the last city council meeting and so the following motions he had filed were deferred until tonight).

Request City Manager (RCM) explore development of Lowell Citizens Academy, similar to Lexington model, in order to increase civic engagement and understanding of municipal government. Mayor explains: since it’s increasingly hard to find people to fill board positions, this might be a way to introduce people to municipal government and increase participation. Passes unanimously.

RCM develop welcome kit for new or returning residents to include information on public safety, recycling, voter registration, parking, and other important information to better connect with residents. Mayor Murphy: this is not a new idea; it’s been bounced around before. It’s a way to get away from more punitive enforcement of codes to an educational approach. Councilor Leahy asks why this shouldn’t be done via the city website. The Mayor says this is a more proactive approach that is more likely to catch people’s attention when they first move in. Passes unanimously.

RCM and economic development division work with City Clerk to develop similar welcome to businesses or prospective businesses on programs and services available either when business certificates are issued or requested. Passed unanimously.

RCM present Council with analysis of how adoption of the Community Preservation Act would further open space and recreation, affordable housing and historic preservation goals; and outline options to place on the ballot, including a grid of various revenue scenarios, matching state revenue, and sector impacts depending on the percentage and exemptions proposed. Mayor Murphy: The funds that the state uses to match these amounts come from city residents through fees at the registry of deeds. Since its beginning, Lowell residents have paid more than $4mil into this fund which thus far has only been used by suburban communities. Passed unanimously.

RCM report on the potential of an initiative similar to the Best Retail Practices Program to support small businesses improve their online presence, possible to be later aggregated and linked to the Lowell.org site. Passed unanimously.

RCM work with state delegation and sign department on state and local wayfinding signage toward Cambodia Town. Passed unanimously.

RCM report on use of overtime for fire department, recommendations for achieving further reductions to station closings per shift. Passed unanimously.

City Manager Response to Prior Motions

Councilor Lorrey had made a motion to install stop signs on Shaw Street. The administration’s response was a recent study recommended against more stop signs. Councilor Lorrey asks if instead the speed limit on Shaw Street be reduced. Adam Baacke says the speed is set by the state and it’s difficult for the city to change it. He adds that the design characteristics of the road have a lot more to do with speed than does signage.

Councilor Lorrey brings up a previous motion he “put in” on panhandlers. He says you can hardly come out of a store downtown without encountering a panhandler. He says many people are frightened by them. City Solicitor O’Connor refers to her written response for more details but says if a new ordinance is narrowly tailored it might survive a legal challenge. She also says the manager might work with the police to utilize existing ordinances to address the problem. Councilor Lorrey eventually makes a motion that the city solicitor draft an ordinance to address panhandlers. Solicitor suggests that something limited to the downtown historical district would be the most defensible. Motion passes unanimously.
Councilor Leahy asks about his motion on signage at a particular point on Varnum Ave. He asks that it be “revisited” to address the signs to children as well as to motorists.

Presentation by DPD in response to Councilor Mercier motion about possibility of Laotian Memorial at City Hall. The DPD plan would rearrange some existing monuments and memorials into a type of sculpture garden or sculpture walk that would connect Moody Street to Arcand Drive which is in keeping with existing planning objectives. This would also add green space and would be costly and would take a number of years. In the meantime, new monuments can be placed along the side of City Hall which is already partially landscaped and would be consistent with the objectives of this plan.

Councilor Leahy mentions report regarding preliminary performance of new management team at Lowell Memorial Auditorium. City Manager says number of events is ahead of past years and that actual financial performance is under budget. He adds that they are in negotiations with a local company to provide food and beverage concessions at the Auditorium. He will hopefully have more to say about this in the near future.

3 Responses to Lowell City Council meeting: October 15, 2013

  1. Sengly Kong says:

    Thank you Dick for the nice report. I have not heard much from Councilor Nuon. Are you sure you recorded everything?

  2. Sengly Kong says:

    I heard Councilor Mercier motioned to have a Laotian monument. That is great idea! I applaud the idea. However, Has the city ever had a monument for Cambodian immigrants? It might has it that I might not know. Please let me know. Thanks,

  3. DickH says:

    Councilor Nuon is not hesitant to speak out on the issues. Tonight he made his points without using a lot of words. Others might benefit from a similar approach.

    I can’t say I record everything that is said, but I try to get the important parts. I’m a fast typist.

    As for the Laotian monument, I think people from the Laotian community have proposed a monument and Councilor Mercier made a motion some time ago that they be allowed to place it on the grounds of City Hall. Tonight the city’s planning department made a presentation about where that monument and others might be placed. If the Cambodian people of Lowell proposed a monument on the grounds of City Hall, I’m sure the council would treat the request similarly. I did understand that a Cambodian monument that would stand in Cambodia Town was already being discussed. There’s no limit on the number of monuments a group may erect; the challenge is finding the means to pay for one before additional ones are considered.