City Council meeting: November 12, 2013

The first post election city council meeting. Vice Chair Joe Mendonca is chairing the meeting. Mayor Murphy is at an energy conservation summit in Boston tonight.

A modification of the traffic flow on Fletcher Street near the intersections of Whiting and Dane Street that involves elimination of curbside parking to provide a left turn lane. No one has registered to speak on it one way or the other but councilors and apparently neighbors have some concerns. They suspend the rules to allow David Ouellette the president of the neighborhood group to speak. He says there’s been no communication with UMass Lowell which is why many of the concerns persist. He says that since it is only a 60 day trial, at least the neighbors will have a future chance to speak about it.

Panhandling Ordinance public hearing

Speaking in favor: Corey Belanger (owner of Major’s Pub and city councilor-elect). He thanks Councilor Lorrey for bringing this forward. He says the problem of panhandling is out of control. They approach vehicles and tie up traffic. Residents and visitors are horrified by this. This is just one more thing against all of us. I see able bodied individuals confronting people and asking for money. I understand that the city has social services but they’re approaching everyone in a very aggressive manner. This gives us the authority to move these individuals along and let them know they’re not welcome here.

No more speaking in favor.

Speaking in opposition. An individual living on Beacon Street (didn’t catch his name). He was born and raised in Lowell. Now pursuing Master’s Degree in Social Work. This is socioeconomic discrimination and continues our culture’s acceptance of institutionalized racism. Tourism is good but penalizing poor people because tourists don’t want to see them is not a good idea. We should have the police and other agencies trying to get them the help they need, not fining them an amount they’ll never be able to pay.

A woman from Burnham Road who is a registered nurse. She says hiding the problem of poverty will not make it disappear. I have never had anyone ask me for money. I’m sure it does occur but I wouldn’t classify it as a huge problem. Cities allow panhandling because it is the morally correct thing to do. At least put it off until the economy improves.

A homeless resident who says he panhandles but is always very polite. The only hostility is from the people you ask for money. Getting a $50 fine for panhandling is wrong. I’m disabled and can’t work and this is the only way I can survive.

A second homeless resident of Lowell. Says he hasn’t experienced any violence.

A third guy who used to have money but now doesn’t. I don’t ask for money but my heart has changed about those who do because now I share their experiences. I used to be the guy who came out of the pub and when asked for money I’d say “get a job.” I regret doing that. I’m sorry people are inconvenienced by those asking for money. Get to know what these people are really after.

Aurora for Learning Lowell has some questions. What happens when the person can’t pay the fine? Will they be put in jail? Wouldn’t it be better to get them the services they need instead? What about the relations between the police and the population they must deal with? How will this help this relationship? There should be a more comprehensive and just strategy rather than just trying to sweep this under the rug.

Troix Bettencourt: “Aggressive” panhandling is not a panhandling issue. Other laws already address that type of behavior. This criminalizes poverty. I’ve reached out to the city on behalf of the Hunger Homeless Coalition but the city hasn’t cooperated. He displays a photo of an older woman pushing a shopping cart full of empty bottles. Will she now be arrested? How are you going to do this? I’m not afraid of the homeless; I’m more afraid of the high school kids who congregate downtown after 2pm. These types of ordinances have been tried and challenged in court throughout the country. Is this really the best way to use the city’s resources?

Closes Public Hearing.

Councilor Martin moves to approve the ordinance; seconded by Councilor Lorrey. C. Mercier, feels sorry for those who need money but also has sympathy for the business owners. C. Nuon says there are a lot of questions. What if they can’t pay the fine? Will they go to jail? The underlying issue is poverty. There are those in our community who need help if we have compassion. If a panhandler threatens you, there is already a law that addresses that. I’m not sure that this ordinance will address the problem; it just kicks the can down the road. I give them money because 30 years ago I was the one who was excited to receive a dollar. That could be me. People in the lower Highlands give them money because they know it could have been them. This might move them out of downtown, but they will move elsewhere in the city. What about the businesses there? Aren’t they taxpayers, too. I have some compassion left so I won’t support this. C. Leahy: This ordinance tries to make sure the downtown is safe; that people aren’t harassed. We’re not saying we’re not compassionate. There are places where people in need can get help. There is a large number of panhandlers who are being aggressive, who intimidate people and so others don’t want to come downtown. This is to help downtown businesses and tourists. C. Lorrey: The idea isn’t to hurt anyone. It’s to help those in need. The police can still refer them to social service agencies. This was a response to aggressive panhandling. I’ll support the motion. C. Kennedy: The council unanimously asked the law department to draw up an ordinance, most likely because we all heard about the problems that were occurring. We’d all like to see the downtown doing better. That’s also where the National Park is. It won’t solve all the social problems that exist in the city. It won’t end panhandling. But given the amount of complaints in the downtown, the city council has to do something. You can still panhandle in the city; you just can’t do it downtown. I intend to support this. C. Elliott: This has become a problem for businesses throughout the city. We all feel bad for these folks but there are more who are intimidating business owners and customers. We have to take action because we’ve heard from so many people. People are afraid. This is not about us being non-compassionate. The people of Lowell are the most generous in the Commonwealth. Cites the Sun Charities, the Owl Diner Charities, the Salvation Army and others as sources of compassion for those in need.

Anti-panhandling ordinance passes by 6 to 2 vote with Yes votes from Elliott, Kennedy, Leahy, Lorrey, Martin and Mercier; No votes from Nuon and Mendonca. Mayor Murphy absent.

Rezoning of Rogers Street

Proposal will create a buffer between the retail area and the residential area. Many residents of the area, especially of Parkview Ave, speak in favor of the ordinance. C. Kennedy moves to refer this to the council’s zoning subcommittee. This zoning change came before the council once before, it was sent back, and now it returns with an amendment.

New Solid Waste Recycling Briefing

Gunther Wellenstein explains the growth in recycling in Lowell. From July through November 2013, city recycling office has engaged in biweekly planning calls with Waste Management, the new contractor. This Friday we celebrate America Recycles day. There will be much media outreach. On November 27 there will be a workshop at the Senior Center. First week in December begins rollout of single stream carts. The carts are 5.5 times as big as green bins (which will be kept by residents). The theme is “All together now” for single stream recycling. In January, Waste Management will begin every other week recycling pick-up (colored lids on containers will indicate which week yours gets picked up). Most people will get a 96 gallon cart; seniors will get a slightly smaller one. The increased size is due to the every two week pickup.

Neighborhood Subcommittee Report

By C. Leahy: Mill City Grows presentation about renting property on Fowler Road. Potentially full four acres. Everyone seems to be in favor of it. Motion to refer this to city manager to have law department prepare proper vote to allow Mills City Grows to rent the land. Second part of meeting was a discussion of traffic solutions, especially in Centralville.


C. Mercier – Request City Manager (RCM) have Law Dept print a list of all lawsuits pending against the city. Cites a couple of older cases that had verdicts against the city, were appealed and then were upheld leaving the city with a large amount of interest due on the original judgment. Asks Manager who decides to appeal? The city manager. Why does it take so long to resolve the appeal? That’s how long it takes. Why doesn’t the council have any say in pursuing an appeal? That would be worthwhile but the charter says the decision is the city manager’s. Hindsight is always 20/20. There are other cases where we appeal and we prevail. I think it’s a good idea to go into Executive Session and consult with the council. Are we only told about some of the city’s lawsuits? Why are you putting me on the spot? I wasn’t the city manager in 2006 when it was decided to appeal. That’s how long it takes for an appeal to be resolved. I’d like to know whether there was an offer to settle sometime in between but we didn’t settle because we didn’t have the money? That wasn’t the case councilor even though you might like it to have been. How many lawsuits are pending? I don’t know right now but I think it would be a good idea for the manager and the council to meet twice per year to review litigation. I’m bringing this motion up because it seemed on the radio or in the paper that it was the council’s fault that this had taken place. I agree councilor but I always assumed that you were told about this in 2006 when the appeal was filed. C. Kennedy: I think this motion is a good one. I recall a past meeting with the solicitor that was useful. Meeting twice per year would be a good idea. C. Elliott: I contacted you Mr. Manager when I heard about this on the radio. We didn’t know anything about it. Why weren’t we notified in 2011 when the city lost the appeal? No real response to that. Motion passes on a voice vote.

C. Elliott – RCM produce short-term plan to address increased violence in City. C. Elliott: I wanted to follow up on pledges I made to people in the city during the campaign. I think it’s important for us to have a plan from the CM and the interim superintendent. The public wants answers on this. Hopefully the public safety subcommittee can also address this at their upcoming meeting. CM: I’m happy to do this. Motion passes on voice vote.

C. Elliott – RCM develop long-term plan to hire additional police officers. C. Elliott: We have 16 fewer officers than in 2009. There are a number of reasons why we should add officers. It leads to improved community policing. The public made it clear they want more police on the streets. We need a surge of boots on the ground. I’m hoping you will come forward with a plan for more officers without a tax increase. Tonight’s news about free cash is a perfect opportunity to invest more into public safety. CM: I welcome the opportunity to have some time to develop this plan. We’ve seen a dramatic cut in Federal funding for staffing. We had to absorb those officers ourselves. It makes sense to put more officers on the street. It’s my intention to put that in next year’s budget. The free cash amount does give us some flexibility. I’ve authorized the police department to accept four lateral transfers of officers from other departments. Free cash will pay for them this year but we will need more revenue to pay for them next year. C. Leahy: With the upcoming budget, if there are any savings in consolidating departments, give us the opportunity to put that money towards public safety. Any sales of cars, vehicles, consolidating departments with the school departments so that we won’t need a tax increase to pay for new officers. CM: emphasizes the complexity of adding more police officers. Says the public doesn’t always get that clear message from either the council meeting are the media.

Adjourned at 10:14 pm

One Response to City Council meeting: November 12, 2013

  1. Troix Bettencourt says:

    Just to correct, it’s the City of Lowell’s Hunger/Homeless Commission enacted by the Commonwealth, Chapter 382 of the Acts of 1991. Not a “coalition”.