City Council Meeting: January 28, 2014

It’s 24 hours late, but I just finished watching the video of last night’s city council meeting. Here are my notes:

Keith Parker owner of a condominium in Grand Manor Condominiums on Willard Street in Lowell. October 2008, DEP discovered “gross contamination” around the entire property. There are several methods of remediation suggested by DEP to control the contamination. Unit owners (legitimately) concerned by uncertainty of remediation measure on value of the units. States that city has had meetings about environmental issues but has avoided addressing property damage issue. They have a suit pending against the city on this issue and since that commenced the city has avoided discussing this issue. Residents want to explore what funds might be available to help with diminished property values. This property was formerly a quarry and was then used as a dump until it was filled in. It stayed as a vacant lot but then in the early 1980s, the city sold the parcel to a developer who built the condominiums. Speaker acknowledges that city has complied with all the requirements of DEP but says “it’s time to discuss the issue of damages.” Next the property manager explains some of the structural defects that have occurred.

City Manager Lynch says city understands the concerns and is anxious to wrap this up but there have been problems getting the access agreements needed to complete the assessment. Until that’s done, many of the questions raised can’t be answered. This case is one that is to be discussed in executive session.

Councilor Martin says the council is limited in commenting now because of the pending litigation but the residents should understand councilors are sympathetic to the plight of the owners. We’d like to help but it has to be done in a way that’s affordable and fair to all the rest of the residents of the city.

Councilor Mercier says I put myself in their position and ask how I would feel if this was me . . . City Solicitor O’Connor interrupts and warns that the attorneys for the condominium owners are sitting right behind the councilors and cautions them about saying anything further and says further that it would be to the detriment of the city for the council to continue discussing this in open session. [This ends the discussion on this topic).

Next topic: Former School Committee member Alison Laraba petitions the city council to address them about “teaching civic engagement.” She uses her time to chastise the councilors for their collective behavior over the past few weeks and urges them to get on with the real business of the city. I posted her full remarks earlier today.


Councilor Mercier moves that city council rules subcommittee establish guidelines as to what the official mayor’s portrait should consist of. After making several references to the remarks of Ms. Laraba, Councilor Mercier explained the purpose of this motion. I wanted to capture here full intent so I carefully transcribed exactly what she said. Here it is in italics:

I never thought that I’d see the day that someone would have to make this motion on asking the rules subcommittee to outline a guide on what the mayoral portrait should look like, outlining who should be on the mayoral portrait, I guess since there’s no rule that says that we should come a little bit sophisticatedly dressed up that I almost thought that maybe I should have worn my pajamas and my slippers cause there’s nothing that says that, you know, how we should dress this evening. But I did look at the budget, fiscal year 2014 proposed budget, and it says ‘the budget statement as prepared by the former city mayor’ the mayor’s office budget increased $7,172 over the previous year’s budget. This is due to ‘contractual obligations, step increases, as well as the allocation for the mayor’s portrait.’ It says “the mayor’s portrait.” It doesn’t say “the mayor’s family portrait.” As far as that picture, it’s a beautiful picture. It just doesn’t fit in this setting here. It belongs on his mantel somewhere in his home. It is a mayoral portrait, not a family portrait. It’s not a reality show of Keeping up with the Khadashians, it’s not about making your last statement to the public, it’s not a portrait about turning your back to the public. It’s supposed to be about the person who was chosen to be the leader of the city council leaving in a dignified way. Although we know that, at present there is no official rules in place, it was a given that one should be charged with making the right decisions but then again, people possess certain attributes but in some cases common sense is not one of them. So it leaves us to realize that down the road someone else may make a decision just because there’s no rules in place and may decide to stand in the council as the mayor and be scantily clad or give the public a derogatory salute in the portrait. This picture has taught me a lesson and let us not be caught with our whatever so I’m making this in the form of a motion that this be referred to the rules subcommittee so we can outline what the mayoral portrait should be because if someone has this opinion in this day and age and this is modern art then I’m not going to allow this to happen unless we have rules in place to completely guide the process. Thank you.

Aleksandra Tugbyiele registered to speak on the motion. She begins by explaining that she has spoken at city council meetings before and that the aftermath of sharing her views publicly has not always been positive. She has been criticized by acquaintances for voicing views that run counter to those of “true Lowellians.” She says this is not fair or proper but it’s not a reason for her to withdraw from the political process because it’s important to voice one’s opinion. She applauds the council for engaging in the political process. She then shifts to the mayoral portrait saying she is concerned that her opinion about the portrait “is not currently being reflected within this city council.” She understands the concern about someone being scantily clad but that’s not the case with this portrait. When she first saw the portrait she was struck by how different it was from any other portrait she’s seen. As I thought about it, I understood that it showed how he wanted to be remembered and that’s what every portrait is about. She cites councilor Mercier’s criticism of the inclusion of the mayor’s family in the portrait because it was the council, not his family, who made him mayor, but the speaker says that disregards the importance of family in public service. She’s chose to speak tonight because she’s concerned that the strong and passionate opinions of some Lowellians will serve to suppress the opinions of other Lowellians. The negative comments about the portrait and the mayor are a “slap in the face” at those who support the mayor and his views. She urges the council to proceed cautiously on rejecting this portrait.

Councilor Milinazzo says he will support the motion to send this to the rules subcommittee based on his understanding that it’s to create future guidelines for portraits and will have no bearing on the Murphy portrait. He says when he first saw the Murphy portrait, he was surprised but was not offended. He explains his interpretation of the picture. He says he doesn’t consider it a portrait in the traditional sense but he’ll only support this motion if the rules will apply only to future portraits.

Mayor Elliott leaves the chair to relate some conversations he has had with prior mayors about the protocol. There are no guidelines. The only protocol was about where to hang the newest portrait but otherwise it’s a function of where they will fit. He’s also looking for guidance on what to do with the Murphy portrait. Also says it has been an issue for previous mayors so it’s good that it’s being addressed now.

Councilor Leahy thanks Aleksandra for speaking. Says he will support the motion. Reads a definition of “portrait.”

Motion by Councilor Kennedy that rules subcommittee review all council rules. Kennedy cites last week’s “confusion” over the interpretation of Rule 22 and says it’s probably a good idea to do this at the beginning of every council term.

Motion by Councilor Leahy for update on Kearney Square bridge work.

Motion by Councilor Belanger for update on redevelopment of the Rialto Building. I decided to transcribe exactly what Councilor Belanger said. Here it is:

As chair of economic development it is concerning that Middlesex Community College acquired this property in 2007 for the use of theater, arts and classrooms, which is great. I recall that when I was in business on Jackson Street, my fellow businessmen were very excited about the project, about how it would bring people to the area and we were looking quite forward to it because that building was vacant for a long, long time. So we were all very excited, anticipation, but here we are in 2014 and a nail hasn’t been banged yet. I would like to reach out to the folks, Mr. Manager if you could, at Middlesex Community College, and kindly offer our city services. Again, what can we do to help, but from my standpoint as city economic, that’s a longtime. I’m sorry, it’s concerning to me. It looks like it’s going forward. Funding has been secured and that’s great. But I think we need to keep in better touch with project managers throughout the city, Hamilton Canal, buildings like this, so that we may touch base periodically, “how’s things going? Are we on track? Dah-dat-da-dat-da-dat.” Rather than just lose, someone just take possession of this building which I might add I believe was from the National Parks for a dollar where they acquired the building, and so it’s just, you know, it’s exciting it’s finally going to happen, but it’s a long time from the city standpoint. I would just like an update, Mr. Manager, so I can, it’s probably not going to deviate from what was in the newspapers I’m hoping so that I can put it in my records and in six to nine months from now have a city official reach out to them “how we doing? How’s it going? Are we set to begin construction?” I just think periodic conversations with project managers are necessary. Economic development starts with existing businesses and existing projects, so it’s important that we keep them going forward and communications are a vital part of that. I’m not saying you haven’t been doing your job. I’m not throwing stones. I’m just saying from here forward that’s what I’d like to see from the powers that be. So if you could kindly reach out Mr Manager and get us an update I’d greatly appreciate it.

Manager Lynch explains that the biggest issue for Middlesex was that it took some time for Middlesex to secure the state funding for it. Senator Donoghue has done quite a bit to get that moving but the state and national economies played into that as well. “It’s not a case that when Middlesex bought the property that they had the money in hand. They just got control of the building so they could start the process of getting the money. We did have regular communications with them throughout that entire process. But we will get an updated schedule.

Councilor Kennedy suggests referring it to the economic development subcommittee which the council does.

Mayor Elliott relinquishes the chair to speak on his motion that requests public safety subcommittee meet with the police chief to begin implementation of community policing. Mayor Elliott says it’s a positive message about reviving community policing. The chief has indicated he will soon roll out a reorganization that emphasizes community policing.

Councilor Belanger says that in the past years we have strayed from community policing and that’s part of the reason we have the violence in the city. Says he and Councilor Rourke met with the Chief and were briefed on this new plan. He says “without public safety, we can forget economic development, we can forget tourism, it all starts with being safe.”

Councilor Samaras wants the Chief to do a presentation to the full council so it can be televised and seen by everyone.

Motion by Mayor Elliott requesting City Manager hold all further appointments until a new city manager is hired. Says it’s been done in the past and feels it’s a good policy. Councilor Milinazzo says he’s concerned that this motion violates the charter and regrets supporting such a vote back in 2006. He says that for purposes of running the city the manager should have the ability to bring these forward although he suspects that given what’s happened with appointments over the past few weeks, the manager would have gotten the message that the council would prefer that he hold off on making additional ones. Manager Lynch says he does think it’s a violation of the charter but that he does not intend to bring any more appointments forward unless it was an emergency situation. Councilor Kennedy says because the motion “requests” it’s not a violation of the charter. Councilor Belanger says that the Manager is the Manager until March 10 and he needs the power to do that but he’s pleased that the manager doesn’t intend to bring in any more appointments. Mayor Elliott says he purposely worded the motion as a request and that he’s being consistent with the position he took in 2006. Motion passes 8 to 1 with Milinazzo opposed. Council then adjourns.