Lowell City Council meeting, October 29, 2013
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT SUBCOMMITTEE
The Economic Development Subcommittee of the city council met before the regular meeting. CM Lynch and Adam Baacke made the same presentation on economic development that they gave at the Lowell Plan Breakfast last month. My report on that event covers most of what Baacke said tonight.
The CM also showed a couple of new promotional videos which I hope are online someplace (please send link if you find it). Subcommittee Chair Bill Martin closes his summary of the subcommittee meeting with these words: “If places like Lowell aren’t always moving ahead, they’re falling behind and the city has done well through the down economy.”
RENOVATIONS OF COUNCIL CHAMBERS
Sean Harmon provides update on work to be done on city council chambers. Has received $20,000+ in pledges. Everything is on track. He’s working with DPW on planning process. Pictures in chamber have already come down. He shows color charts. Color choices “radiate from City Seal”, pale, muted teal for water and sky and yellow of surrounding band that contains the motto. No questions from the council.
City Manager portion:
REPORT ON POLICE OVERTIME
Councilor Martin asks that report on police overtime be referred to public safety subcommittee, two weeks from tonight. Eric Gitschier registered to speak. Says he is concerned with safety in city because after reading this report says there is no long term solution to the safety problem. He cites positive experience with community policing strategy and a force of 260 police officers. Says today there are 232 including 11 in police academy. No reductions in upper ranks. Mentions four email alerts sent by UML to students warning of violent activity. Advocates return to “neighborhood police officers” and criticizes using overtime as opposed to increased size of police force. Ties economic growth to safer city brought by larger police force.
CM Lynch corrects Gitschier. Saying the budget book back then showed 260 officers but there were actually only 238. C. Mercier says she’s not an expert so has to rely on what professionals say. She welcomes the new officers from the academy but the report from the experts recommends the continued use of overtime. Report says better able to cover “trouble hours” with OT than with additional officers. C. Leahy recommends having press conferences to announce that city is using overtime to fight crime. He also asks that the councilors be sent text message or emails on overnights when acts of violence occur so he doesn’t learn about it on “channel 25 news in the morning.” CM Lynch says he usually does text the council. Says we can have more press conferences but isn’t sure what they would do. The point of the memo isn’t to say OT is a solution. It’s just a strategy. The popular approach in the 1990s was to get police back in touch with community after an era of vehicular patrols. It’s good because it’s proactive not completely reactive. That’s still good strategy but there’s a whole new movement towards “smart policing” that allocates police resources to be flexible and responsible. Says Deputy Ryan is a national leader on this. Neither I nor the Police Dept have taken the position that OT is the solution. It’s just a strategy. He cites the COPS program in the 1990s during the Clinton administration when the Federal government provided cities with funding for additional police officers but he says that now Federal dollars for all sources, including public safety, have dried up. That’s a big difference between the 1990s and today. He does say that a newly received state grant will allow some civilians to be hired who will replace police officers in administrative jobs and allow them to get out onto the streets.
C. Leahy says that when people ask him “what is the city doing, I don’t know how to answer.” Asks for a weekly report that he can use to help answer constituent questions. C. Nuon understands that everyone wants more police but the question is how to pay for them. Will we close down some other city department? Will we burden the taxpayers more? Emphasizes the loss of Federal grants in making it more difficult to restore the number of officers on the force in the 1990s. The best thing we can do is fund the police going forward when they ask for the money, not react to bad events.
C. Elliott asks about mention of memo of “new funding” and asks if that’s a tax increase or transfers. Lynch says this year no planned levy increase but no promises for next year. C. Elliott jokes “that’s ok, the election will be over.” Elliott says always a need to cap overtime. Says crime has been a concern for a long period of time. Doesn’t believe OT is a long term solution. Says sometimes you have to go back to the basics of more police on the streets. Not hiring officers through the years is catching up now. Mentions other recent hires in non public safety. Says should make that our priority not the other things. There’s much crime at all hours, not just at these “peak” hours. Repeats that he believes solution is greater number of officers. “I understand reserves are a good thing but it’s not doing us any good in the bank if people aren’t safe in their homes or on the streets; maybe we should spend some of it (the reserves).”
C. Lorrey says when it comes to use of the police, “I listen to what the police (running the force) have to say.”
C. Kennedy says after reading the math he realizes this is not just simple math when the “problem hours” are considered. He suggests that “we might have more problem hours than we acknowledge.” Urges a hybrid of community policing and smart policing. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Urges subcommittee to stay on top of this for the long term.
CM responds that Community Policing is an excellent strategy and he did not to mean we were dispensing with it for some other approach. He agrees we should pursue a hybrid approach. Use data to deploy the patrol force but making those local relationships via foot patrols is crucial.
C. Lorrey pivots to Auditorium Concession contract. CM asks Adam Baacke to respond. (See my earlier blog post on this for basics – new stuff included here). Julian does some subcontracting for Aramark at UML. Lenzi already has a liquor license. They should be working Auditorium events in November. C. Mercier asks if users of Auditorium will have choice of using their own caterer. Baacke says it’s an “open shop” when it comes to catering. This award is just for concessions. This entity will hold the liquor license and will run the concession stands. But the agreement specifically authorizes people using the facility to use whichever caterer they want, this one included, but that would be separate from this agreement. So every caterer has “a fair shot” to provide the service.
OLD BUTLER SCHOOL PROJECT
C. Kennedy asks about Butler School project. Response says “everything on track” but my own look at the place reveals nothing being done. Baacke says the developer is in process of getting permits, etc and can’t begin any work until they get that done. They are pursuing some variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Baacke says they’ve been moving fairly quickly through the permitting process once they identified specific tenants. Tenants required changes from additional designs that cause more time to be spent on permits, etc. Says the “legal matter involving one of the principals” has had no impact on the pace of this project. When pressed by C. Kennedy, Baacke says construction could conceivably start by end of 2013 if everything went perfectly. They have two anchor tenants in place already.
PROPOSED PANHANDLING ORDINANCE
Referred to public hearing on November 12, 2013 at 7 pm
C. Elliott – Request City Manager provide a report regarding the use of police informants. C. Elliott concerned with lawsuits filed against the city based on misuse of informants. Quotes negative comments by state police. Wants a report on the written policy being used by police department and what can we do to make sure we have reliable informants. No discussion. Passes.
All of the following motions were made by Mayor Murphy. All passed on voice votes and only a few had much discussion (which is indicated where applicable).
Request City Manager (RCM) report on plans for City Hall renovation as site for archival research and current public policy research and development
RCM review historic district guidelines and work with Historic Board to initiate wider public discussion of appropriate flexibility for an evolving and innovating city.
Request Clerk report on progress on goals and objectives, and potential for making office more enterprising, in partnering with Historic administrators and genealogical packages, improving online presence, etc.
RCM provide overview of process for oversight of compliance with special permit conditions and develop plan for greater compliance in the future.
RCM consider conducting staff survey in conjunction with the staffing study to obtain feedback now only about how the city might run more effectively but also how it might continually recruit, develop and retain a talented group of workers.
Request Auditor report on 2010 outside audit recommendation for internal audit function in the context of the next staffing study by the administration.
RCM provide analysis of school and municipal human resource departments and potential adoption of MGL c.71, s.37M, allowing for the consolidation of administrative functions within a city.
RCM prepare application to Sustainable Cities Design Academy for planning staff professional development and continued work on ecodistrict project.
RCM develop application for community innovations challenge grant to work with state to initiate ecodistrict program here and provide model for other communities in the state of increased citizen involvement, interdepartmental collaboration and innovation, and government performance.
RCM conduct and map analysis of land uses on city’s waterfront (rivers, canals, brooks) and identify specifically which parcels are city-owned and open for public use.
RCM report on prior plan to improve the E.N. Rogers School campus with investment in stormwater management
RCM develop and implement plan to partially restore tree canopy to Newhall Street with staggered bump-outs on both sides of the street where feasible. A resident of Newhall St spoke in favor of the motion and said that none of the trees that were cut down when the street was repaved have not been replaced. Councilors agree that trees should be replaced and are desirable although some question feasibility of “bump outs”. Also, should consult with neighbors. This turned into a very lengthy discussion but passed unanimously on a voice vote.
RCM report on the status of the Coal Pocket building at 246 Market Street and potential for feasibility study of a municipal renovation and reuse.
RCM draft zoning change to reduce minimum parking requirements or create maximum parking requirements in applicable areas served by public transit and strong pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
RCM examine use of parking enterprise capital funds for investment in maintaining and strengthening pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in the downtown and neighbored business districts.
RCM report on potential for bike station downtown in vacant storefront both to gauge demand for public amenity and to possibly increase traffic for private investment.
RCM name bus shelter to be constructed in front of the Lowell Senior Center in honor of George B. Murphy Jr. Requested by his brother, Dan. It’s the mayor’s grandfather who was a city councilor and a state representative. He made many motions about bus shelter and increasing public transportation.
RCM have the Law Department draft Wage Theft ordinance to protect lower-wage workers in our community.
MOTION TO ADJOURN at 9:19 pm
2 Responses to Lowell City Council meeting, October 29, 2013
Thanks Dick, I appreciate your coverage of the meeting
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