Lowell Political Week in Review: December 8, 2013

City Council Meeting of December 3, 2013

The first thing noticeable about the Council meeting was that City Manager Lynch was not present (more on that below). The first part of the meeting was dominated by a discussion of telephone poles and the reasons why it takes so long to get them fixed. A couple of zoning matters (Moore Street and Rogers Street) came next, followed by almost universal criticism of the Lowell Retirement Board’s apparent intention to seek repayment of benefits erroneously paid to the widow of Ed Finnegan who had served on the Planning Board. This was raised in a motion by Rita Mercier. Next, Councilor Elliott had a motion that dealt with how to best notify the public of vacancies on city boards and commissions.

Check out my report on the council meeting which is a rough transcript of what is said by whom, captured as they say it and posted as soon as the meeting ends.

City Manager’s Residence

As noted above, City Manager Lynch was absent Tuesday night. His assistant, Henri Marchand, was a bit ambiguous in his explanation to councilors about why the manager was not there, but it turns out it was his moving day. Earlier this week in his Column blog, Chris Scott wrote that Lynch sold his long-time home in Chelmsford and leased an apartment in Lowell’s Boott Mill complex and went on to speculate about the manager’s prospects for a new contract with the incoming city council. I won’t comment on the contract issue, but the change of residence is interesting: Some might think that this will pacify some of the manager’s critics who have knocked him for not living in Lowell, but I suspect they’ll just shift to a “if he really cared about the city, he’d own and not rent” line of attack.

LHA Board rumors

Today’s Lowell Sun Column mentions a rumor that local blogger Jack Mitchell might be a possible candidate for the Lowell Housing Authority Board. (“Several sources have told The Column the LHA leadership has discussed proposing to Lynch that he appoint local blogger Jack Mitchell . . .”). While I’m not privy to anything going on at the Lowell Housing Authority, I am on Facebook and saw some mention of this rumor there on Friday. For those of you not on Facebook, I’ll repost some of the exchange between Jack Mitchell and the Lowell Sun’s Lyle Moran here. The parts attributable to Lyle appear to have been copied and pasted from an email exchange between the two with Jack doing the cutting and pasting. Here it is:

LYLE: Hi Jack, I hope all is well. Have you applied for appointment to the Lowell Housing Authority board? Have any LHA employees reached out to you to encourage you to apply for a position on the LHA board? Thanks for your time.

JACK: Lyle, I’ll answer, if you tell me if you are applying to be the next Mayor’s Aide.

LYLE: Ha, that’s an easy question. No, I am not. I look forward to your answers.

JACK: No & No. I’ve discussed the topic of the LHA and the positions on the Commission with several Lowellians over the course of many months, intermittently. But, not directly about a pending position opening or recently. Give my best to Rodney, next time you guys have lunch. Thank you in advance.

After posting a link to today’s Column on Facebook, Jack offered this comment as part of that discussion thread:

JACK: IF anyone in “LHA leadership” bandied about my name, I’d have to guess they were tipping back a few and being sarcastic. As in, “Ya! It would be PISSA, if Lynch put Mitchell’s name in there. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha!” My other guess is some a**** is stuffing me into a Gerry Nutter mold, trying to poison the manager and ruffle more shady Lowell feathers.

Judicial Center Moves Forward

Chris Scott also did a blog post informing us that Governor Patrick has allocated $1mil for design work on the new Lowell Judicial Center which will be constructed at the end of Jackson Street, just aside the Lord Overpass. Chris quotes Trial Court administrator Harry Spence as saying about the current Lowell Superior Court “This is totally unacceptable, I mean just grotesque, in terms of, among other things, constitutional standards. That courthouse has worn out its years as a courthouse.” As someone who has worked in the Superior Courthouse for nearly 20 years and tried cases in at for eight years before that, I would not go so far as to say it’s “grotesque.” The Trial Court has actually updated the facility through the years, adding an elevator, a new roof, new windows and a new heating system. That said, there’s much about a nineteenth century building that makes it tough to use as a twenty-first century courthouse so everyone will welcome the new facility once it gets built.

Once that happens, a big question will be What will become of the existing Superior Courthouse? If no other governmental entity wants it, then it will be auctioned to the highest bidder. Its location near the end of the Lowell Connector and walking distance from both the Gallagher Train Terminal and downtown Lowell might make it an attractive site for residential condominiums, but that would be a challenging and expensive conversion that probably would not be economically feasible unless the housing market rebounds from its current stagnant state.

The second big question is Where will the Registry of Deeds be located? (I assume everyone realizes that I’m the Register of Deeds for this part of Middlesex County). To give us space flexibility, we have succeeded in digitizing our entire inventory of records going all the way back to the year 1629. Without the need for bulky paper record books, our space needs have shrunk. When the new courthouse opens, it is my hope that the Registry of Deeds move there also but that is far from settled at this time.

One final Superior Court note, lifetime Lowell resident Matt Sepe, formerly of Middlesex Community College, was recently hired by the Trial Court as a regional facilities manager for a district that includes all of the courthouses in Lowell. With Matt on board, I suspect we’ll soon see some positive changes in the exterior appearance of the Superior Courthouse.

Police Supt Taylor announcement at neighborhood meeting

The East Pawtucketville Neighborhood Group shared a report from its December 2, 2013 meeting that included the announcement by Lowell Police Superintendent Bill Taylor of the joint patrol initiative between the Lowell Police and UMass Lowell Police. Any neighborhood group that wishes to share meeting announcements, agendas, minutes or anything else, please email your content to me at DickHoweJr@gmail.com and I’ll post it here.

First Annual Lowell Social Media Conference

Yesterday was the First Annual Lowell Social Media Conference. About half the time was spent on the tools of social media, mostly Twitter and YouTube. The other half was spent on the impact of social media on the recent city election and ways in which social media might be used to get more people engaged in the community by voting in local elections, volunteering to serve on boards both governmental and non-profit, and in many other ways. Here’s my blog post on the Conference. The post elicited an perceptive comment which I’ve included below along with my reply.

By JOE: The day after our recent election it became clear to anyone paying attention that social media is a great tool for name recognition and for fundraising but it had a minimal impact on actual votes. Of the nine winning candidates can anyone name three that used social media to win? Hell can we even name one ? Social media should be a powerful tool in our city elections but it doesn’t appear that anyone has been able to weaponize it yet.

MY REPLY: Dan Rourke did use social media extensively and well but as he himself acknowledged, he came to the election with a lot of other assets such as name recognition, an active life in Lowell, a big family. Plus from my observations, I don’t think anyone started knocking on doors earlier or knocked on more than Dan.

But beyond Dan, I’m not sure who of the winning council candidates used social media very effectively. That’s partly a function of the demographics of the 11,500 citizens who voted in this election, something that will be the subject of some blog posts in the coming weeks. I think most would agree that the universe of voters in the city election and the universe of readers of the local newspaper had a big overlap. But I suspect that the well-informed 25 year old of today who has never even touched a paper newspaper won’t suddenly start doing that at age 55 so as people who have grown up with social media eventually come to dominate the electorate, social media will be more important in campaigns. The only question is how fast will that happen.

Mayor’s Holiday Reception

When: Wednesday Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Mayor’s Reception Room, 2nd floor, City Hall.

One Response to Lowell Political Week in Review: December 8, 2013

  1. stephen f. mcnamara iv says:

    As I recall, there was earlier announcement in 2012 about the Lowell Judicial Center. The plans were put on hold when the funding for the architect & design were not allocated in 2013 Governor’s DCAM budget (issuance of bonds–that function is controlled by the executive branch). So the one year design phase (2013) and two year(2014-2015, with an opening in 2016) construction phase was pushed back by a year. I guess better late is better than never. I know our legislative delegation was providing constant reminders to Governor’s office about the funding. Being a newcomer to Middlesex County, I found it interesting that the largest county in the state had some of the most antiquated courthouses. Not including, Woburn Superior or Medford District (leased spaces due to the closing of Sullivan Courthouse in East Cambridge) that Middlesex County had been on the slow track for new courthouse construction approval until recently. SFM