Lowell Week in Review: December 1, 2013

Sorry, but I wasn’t able to watch the November 26, 2013 city council meeting either live or later online due to a busy Thanksgiving week. By combing through last week’s and this week’s city council packets, I was able to find a couple of responses to motions that looked interesting. Here they are with some explanation added:

Plans to fill position of Elections Officer Manager

In April 2013 the council approved the position of Director of Elections which consolidated many of the functions formerly performed by the Office Manager. Municipal Hearing officer Eda Matchak has been serving as interim Director of Elections at the same time she serves as hearing officer. The plan is to combine the two positions which will alleviate the need to fill the Office Manager position. This should occur in January 2014.

Medical Marijuana License Applicants

Even though 58% of Lowell voters supported the referendum that legalized medical marijuana, the city council initially voted to delay the issuance of any licenses for a year. That vote was reversed when the city realized that such a stance would permit hundreds of individuals in the city to receive “hardship” licenses to grow their own marijuana due to the absence of a local facility. The city recently communicated its relative support for several applicants. There were the following nonprofits with the city’s rating of each indicated in parenthesis:
Massachusetts Medical Management Associates Inc (rated “most advantageous” by city)

CAS Foundation (city is “supportive” of this proposal)

Commonwealth Therapeutics (city is “supportive” of this proposal)

ReLeaf, Inc (city “does not oppose”)

Patriot Care, Inc (city “does not oppose”)

Fusion Health Group, Inc (city “does not oppose”)

Before a final award is made, the police department must approve security plans and the board of appeals must issue any special permits that are needed.

Coincidentally, a Globe story on Wednesday by Frank Phillips and Joshua Miller focused on the involvement of a number of “politically savvy” in the bidding process for the marijuana dispensaries including former Congressman Bill Delahunt, former House speaker Tom Finneran, former state senators Brian P. Lees, Andrea F. Nuciforo, Henri S. Rauschenbach, and Guy Glodis (also the former Worcester County sheriff) and David A. Passafaro, former chief of staff to Mayor Thomas M. Menino. These individuals are not just lobbyists, they’re also investors and, in some cases, principals in these enterprises. A quick search of the six nonprofits (and these are all nonprofits) on the Secretary of State’s corporations website does not reveal any former politicians in the Lowell mix although that doesn’t mean they aren’t investors or lobbying. Googling some of the names involved in the Lowell applicants yield a mixture of health care professionals, social workers, lawyers, hedge fund managers and others. The only locally listed entity is Fusion Health Group which got the city’s lowest rating. The president is Scott Ober of Chelmsford and directors of the corporation include Dr. John Broderick of 249 Central St and Atty. John Mello of 175 Central St, both in Lowell.

UMass Lowell and City Tax Revenue

Yesterday’s Globe had another Lowell-related story, this one on the increasing friction between UMass Lowell and the city of Lowell over whether UML should make payments to the city in lieu of the property taxes it is exempt from paying as some other universities around the state do. I found the article to be balanced in its presentation of both sides of the issue. The good news is that it’s the enormous growth of the University that is making this an issue. If UML was stagnant or disengaged from the city, the impetus for the city to obtain some compensation from the University would be much less. From the University’s perspective, the mission is to educate students at affordable tuition rates and making substantial payments to the city’s operating budget detracts from that mission.

While there are other things going on in the city (the Hamilton Canal District and the continued success of the creative economy), I firmly believe that Lowell’s future is as a college town. A thriving University will benefit our civil life, our education system, our employment opportunities and our overall economy. While it might make sense to negotiate about easily quantifiable costs such as public safety, overreaching by the city risks driving a wedge between Lowell and the University which would have adverse effects for decades. Besides, it’s not like the University isn’t already contributing to the city. Chancellor Meehan made that case back in October at the Lowell Plan Breakfast when he distributed to every attendee a pamphlet that detailed all of the revenue, direct and indirect, that already flows from the University to the city.

Perhaps the solution is for the state legislature to provide each city that is home to a state college or university with an additional local aid stipend to cover the costs in city services incurred by the otherwise tax exempt state educational institution. That way the city would get its additional revenue and the university could devote its budgetary appropriation to educational expenditures for the direct benefit of students.

Other News of the Week

Jen Myer covered the Monday swearing in of Bill Taylor as Lowell’s new police superintendent as did Chris Scott on The Column blog at the Sun. For the record, I didn’t get an official invitation to the event, but I knew all about it and knew I was welcome to attend but a work commitment kept me from doing so.

On Learning Lowell, Chris has a post on the Bowers House, the Pawtucket Dam and the city’s Master Plan. I wrote about the Bowers House earlier in the week and the Lowell Historical Society posted a letter on the topic. I also did a post about the city’s new recycling program and how our 96-gallon recycling containers will be delivered starting this coming week.