Lowell City Council meeting: January 7, 2014

Knowing now that City Manager Lynch resigns effective March 10, 2014 towards the end of this meeting, the rest of this seems a bit anticlimactic but here it is for posterity. Given the debate that immediately proceeded Lynch’s announcement, it’s my sense that none of the councilors were aware of his intentions:

This transcript begins an hour into the meeting. The earlier portion was taken up with a discussion on the placement of the city’s manger scene. I posted that transcript separately.

Former councilor Marty Lorrey returns to speak in favor of two motions he had from December that weren’t acted upon. One to rename the walkway near the University Ave Bridge (which will soon be torn down) in honor of the veterans for whom the bridge had been named. The second motion is related to sending letters of support to Senator Warren and other federal officials to delay implementation of new flood insurance premiums which will adversely affect many in Lowell. Lorrey is present and speaks on both motions. Both motions pass.

Also taken up early is a motion by Councilor Leahy to support a proposal by former School Committee member Robert Gignac to establish a task force on substance abuse. Gignac is present and speaks. Motion passes.

Council declares as surplus a parcel of land at the end of Westford Street to facilitate the development of the parcel at the corner of Westford and Wood Street. [Editor Note: This involves the much discussed Bowers House, the oldest structure in the city. According to a very comprehensive and well-document post on Learning Lowell, the current plan for the site would preserve the House).

Council delays sending Panhandling ordinance to public hearing on advice of City Solicitor who recommends it first be discussed in tonight’s coming Executive Session on “pending litigation.”

Council votes to establish a revolving fund for the city’s Disability Commission to be used to improve accessibility and then transfers $20,000 from the Parking Enterprise Fund into it.

No subcommittee reports. Mayor Elliott says he’s working on creating the subcommittee assignments and hopes to have them out by the end of the week or shortly thereafter.

Councilor Bill Martin motion to have city manager DPD develop business incubator districts in the city to promote economic development. Passed unanimously.

Councilor Leahy moves to suspend the rules about snow removal. Refers to “all the emails we got from constituents” and wants us to “be a little smarter about how we attack these snowstorms”. Mentions expediting opening up downtown parking spaces. Says bobcats should not be at schools during the storms but afterwards. If we address that we should be able to keep everyone a little bit happier. Councilor Belanger asks manager how much has been spent from snow removal budget. Lynch: I don’t know although snow has come sooner this year so we’ve already spent more money than at this time last year. We have put more money into that account each year so we’re not caught short. We can have a report on that next week. Councilor Rourke asks if there’s a threshold that causes us to remove snow. Manager: The problem was that this weekend it got quite warm. It doesn’t make much sense to remove a lot of snow when it’s going to melt within a few days. One problem with this storm was that it was very long in duration and the crews had already worked many hours and weren’t available to immediately do snow removal after all the plowing. There’s a lot of thought that goes into that process.

Two executive session motions.

First one, “too discuss contract negotiations with the city manager”. Kennedy asks Manager if he has a preference to discuss this in open or executive session. Manager says he’d prefer doing it in Executive Session.

Mercier: Don’t know what’s the rush. It’s insensitive to three new councilors to bring this up so soon (Milinazzo has been here before so he’s not included). This is a suitable issue to be discussed here before the public.

Rourke: Asks if it’s about current or new contract. Lynch: About my current contract.

Kennedy: If the purpose is to talk about the new contract, it’s premature because of the three new councilors. I called you earlier today about this and you didn’t really have a compelling reason to do it in executive session. I’m surprised you said it’s about your current contract. I’d prefer to have the discussion in open session.

Belanger: Many of us are anxiously awaiting to see the manager’s intent regarding his presence here in the city of Lowell. I campaigned on transparency so whether it’s about the current or new contract I want to do it in executive session.
Milinazzo: Whether it’s the existing or new, I want to do it in open session.

Mayor Elliott relinquishes the chair to vice chair Leahy:

Elliott: There has to be legal reasons to go into executive session. It appears that this would fit into only one exception to the open meeting law and that would be to discuss strategy of negotiations. I don’t believe we’re at the point of negotiations so I don’t think that exception applies. I want to have this discussion in public. I don’t think we’re on legal footing to go into Executive Session.
Martin asks Solicitor’s opinion.

Solicitor: Discussing negotiations is appropriate for an executive session.

Mercier: Whether it’s one or ten reasons to go into executive session, it’s majority rules.
Kennedy: My understanding would be that we’d do this in open session to discuss the present contract. Does the law department have a problem with doing this in open session right now to discuss the current contract.

Solicitor: I was of the impression it was regarding upcoming negotiations on a new contract. Regarding the current contract, it’s difficult to say whether it was proper for executive session without knowing the purpose of the discussion. You can have it in open session if the other party agrees to that.

Kennedy: The city manager is the one who initiated this. If he has not problem whether it’s discussed publicly then let’s proceed now. We should hear from the city manager.

Elliott: There is a contract in place that’s very clear about notice requirements whether it’s a notice to renew or to voluntarily terminate, etc. We’re governed by the contract. No matter what the manager’s intention is, he has to give us (substantive) notice before we can decide to go into executive session.

Elliott: Makes a substitute motion that we have this discussion tonight in open session. Motion passes 8 to 1 with Bill Martin voting no.

Manager Lynch: Congratulations to the newly elected councilors and to Mayor Elliott. Reads a letter:
Please accept this letter as my resignation effective March 10, 2014 . . . [goes on to praise staff and city employees].
Elliott: Move to accept communication and place it on file.

Martin: I’m very disappointed. I want to thank you for all you’ve done. Many of us have been happy to serve with you. Milinazzo and Samaras echo these sentiments.

Mercier: Thank you for your hard work. I won’t deny we’ve had our differences but you showed great skill with the city’s finances.
Kennedy: You’ve done a very good job as a fiscal shepherd bring the city through the recession.

Belanger: Thank you for leaving the city fiscally sound and for appointing my twice to the zoning board of appeals. I promise to make this departure as amicable as possible.

Elliott: I’ve only been here one day; it’s a little quick. On a serious note. We didn’t agree on a lot of things. I do appreciate the budget, it’s contents, it’s changes, it’s improvements. I also think that healthy debate is a good thing. Some good things have been done in the city. I wish you well.

Leahy: Thanks the manager for his service.


To go into executive session to discuss litigation regarding methadone clinic. Will also discuss panhandling ordinance. Passes unanimously. Meeting will not return to public session.