Bernie: Ideas Matter

(top photo by Jen Myers)

I appreciated the farewell remarks of City Manager Bernie Lynch at his final City Council meeting as Manager last night. Especially this part, according to my colleague Dick Howe’s notes:

Through all of that, I was hoping to build a sense of community. Lowell is a great city. Every place can become a better community. Hopefully that came through. That we act like a business, but retain our humanity. I’ve had great support from the city council. I’ve been very fortunate that as I walk the streets of the city, the response I get is almost always very positive. Hearing from people in the city who have expressed appreciation has really been heartwarming. I’ve said that I fell in love with the city in the 1970s when it was at its low point and am fortunate to close out my relationship when the city is at a high point.

Bernie, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, and I all learned from some of the same professors in the political science department at UMass Lowell before it was so named. We were interested in politics, government, democracy—and we absorbed the ideas we were introduced to, wrestled with difficult policy questions, and gained an intellectual foundation that would help guide our future application of civic concepts. Academic life deals with theory and practice. Technology is the practical application of knowledge. It’s interesting to note that our discipline is called political science and lives in the social sciences side of academia. Behind the politics and the public administration in government are beliefs and values, as well as statistics, analysis, and evidence. Representative democracy, our system, can’t work without a sense of community among the citizens. If people don’t have a stake in public life, they are less likely to participate, minus a crisis. Political science as a social science has no soul without a commitment to humanity. That humanity is expressed in the countless decisions made every day by people who make the government work in any city. I was glad that Bernie Lynch framed his efforts in high-minded terms. It is noble work to be in government, even if it doesn’t look like it sometimes. With the chaos and coarseness that are part of our messy but indispensable democracy, the big fundamental ideas sometimes get crowded out or twisted for short-term gain. We had a textbook by Mason Drukman that shaped some of our thinking in the Coburn Hall classrooms of the 1970s. I go back to it once in a while to read some of the passages about “community and purpose” and remind myself of what is at stake.

Community and Purpose

One Response to Bernie: Ideas Matter

  1. Joe S. says:

    I liked how, when a councilor made a productive suggestion, he ran with it and made things happen. For example:

    When the suggestion was for Lowell to become a “Green Community”, he took the five steps to get that designation. And that led to grants, but he didn’t stop there. The energy performance contract resulted in a substantive capital replacement program – paid for the energy cost savings that resulted from the changes. Now the defunct landfill has over 6,000 solar panels, and we will soon have additional savings from the electricity aggregation program. And even the councilors have more comfortable digs!

    When the suggestion was to save money on healthcare, he negotiated with the unions and retiree representatives to arrive at a win-win solution – the city saved money and the employees/retirees saved money all with a more effective health care plan. He took it a step further and made incremental reductions in the long term unfunded liability of the city, and achieved a couple of upgrades in the city’s bond rating for his efforts.

    When the suggestion was to develop a performance based budget, he used data analysis to help identify waste and generate more efficient procedures in all of the departments, and then documented that in an increasingly more thorough budget each year.