Lowell City Council meeting: March 11, 2014
The first meeting of the Michael Geary administration.
Citation to Sean Harmon for organizing the restoration of the City Council Chambers.
Lowell High Headmaster Brian Martin addresses the city council on efforts to restore the Kirk Street clock. Six LHS students working on the project are present. The clock was originally owned by the Middlesex Savings Bank but that closed during the Great Depression. The bank donated the clock to the city and the city emplaced it outside Lowell High, using gifts from the Classes of 1937, 1938, and 1939 to pay for the movement and erection of it. The clock hasn’t worked for sometime so this will restore it to operational condition. (I previously wrote a blog post about the effort to restore the clock; see it for more information and how to donate).
Presentation by School Supt Jean Franco re School Building Study
The School Committee hired an architectural firm to do a comprehensive review and study of all of the facilities in the Lowell public schools. It’s nearing the point at which the city council and the school committee must make decisions about applying to the state school building authority. Franco has Asst Supt Jay Lang to continue the presentation. He refers to a binder that’s been distributed that contains the comprehensive facilities assessment (also available on the school department website – but it’s 3000 pages long so you might not want to print it).
Last winter we were caught off guard by an increased number of kindergarten students. They had a long range student projection study done. It showed that additional spaces are needed in the schools. That’s why they hired the architect (OMR is the name of the company). This presentation is the result of the study. It now needs council and public input over the next few months. The final result will be a 10 year capital plan for the schools which will flow into the city’s capital plan. The elementary schools need more seats. Also, some need repairs to roofs, heating units, etc. Middle schools need more seats too. The high school facility has ample capacity but needs improvement to the facility. Next Wednesday the School Committee will vote to formally express interest to the state school building agency after which the city council will have to take a vote before the April 11 deadline for submitting applications.
Councilor Kennedy presses Jay Lang on the future location of Lowell High School and what considerations the state would weigh (i.e., is it always the cheapest alternative the state chooses?). Lang says it’s up to the city but it would have to make its case to SBA (School Building Authority) but SBA’s formulas only go up to 2000 students and Lowell High is much bigger. That said, the study group’s preference, after discussing two high schools, a renovated high school, or a relocated high school, is to renovate the existing high school in its existing space. That said, once SBA comes in they make you start from scratch looking at all the alternatives. So even though this report expresses a preference for a downtown high school, it would have to be re-examined once SBA gets involved. That would be at the earliest the fall of 2014. Kennedy asks what would cause the SBA to depart from the cheapest alternative. Lang says he can’t say what factors the SBA would consider.
Councilor Samaras jumps in and says with UMass Lowell and MCC both expanding towards downtown, leaving the high school in downtown would allow students to take advantage of these partnerships.
Councilor Leahy asks about the location of the school department central offices. Lang says that because of the increased need for classrooms for elementary school students, the plan is to house elementary students there next year so the school department has put out an RFP for leased space to move into by next fall.
School Committee member Gendron stresses that the application has to be submitted by April 11 otherwise they lose a full year. He says the application, design and location are still open for discussion.
Councilor Belanger asks what parties were involved in making this assessment besides the architectural firm. Lang says the architect brought in subcontractors to assess things in their areas of expertise. The SBA has guides that all of this was measured against.
Discussion ends with council accepting the report.
Council votes to establish a salary stabilization account (unanimous without discussion)
Vote to transfer from salary reserve stabilization account to fire department salary account the sum of $400,000. Another vote to transfer $500,000 from various accounts to the fire dept account. Vote ratifies City Manager’s execution of contract with fire fighters covering July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015. Manager Geary explains this was negotiated by former City Manager Lynch and the fire fighters union. Ratification of the contract passes 8 to 1 with Mayor Elliott voting no.
Rules subcommittee report by Councilor Kennedy. The points addressed are how a meeting postponement should occur; that the maker of a motion be given the opportunity to speak first; clarifies procedure for taking a motion off the table; and a new rule regarding when the Mayor’s portrait should be done and what it should look like. This now goes to law department and will return to the council for a public hearing.
By Councilor Milinazzo, consider installation of a three way stop sign at corner of Boylston and Lawrence Streets.
By Councilor Milinazzo that council consider restarting city manager search process due to improper release of applicant names. He says he was disappointed and frustrated at the release of the names. He says he doesn’t really want to start it over again, but he’s frustrated at the breach of confidentiality that has occurred here. He just wants to have a discussion about it and allow other councilors to weigh in on the issue. Councilor Mercier says she was taken aback by the release and that it reflected badly on the city. Says it makes her upset that first the 29 names were released and then the 6 finalist names were released prematurely too. Regarding the six finalists, Manager Geary says he did what he had been instructed to do and that was to tally the top votes and inform the councilors of it. That’s what he did. Councilor Rourke shares his disappointment especially since the council specifically voted not to release the names until after Wednesday night’s public hearing. Councilor Martin says Open Meeting Law requires that finalists names be made public. He says those who don’t make that final cut are not supposed to have their names released. Says he’s also disappointed. Also says he doesn’t believe that the leak was from the Human Resources Office.
Councilor Belanger says this council has been very transparent in the process selecting a new city manager. Says he asks whether this council agreed that the finalist names would be withheld until Wednesday or whether it was only discussed. He says he’s not sure that the council actually voted to not release the finalist names until Wednesday. He then says to call the Attorney General since he has nothing to hide. He then says the council short-changed the finalists by not informing them right away from the city not from the media. He says releasing the names publicly on Monday is “not the end of the world.”
Councilor Kennedy says he didn’t release the 29 names. He does admit that he is the one who provided the media with the names of the finalists for both the city manager and the city auditor. He recalls a discussion about holding the names until Wednesday but doesn’t recall any final decision being made on that. He also says that he did not release the tally of who got what votes.
Councilor Leahy says he was disappointed with the leaking of the names. He mentions the past election, that the council is supposed to bring the city together, says “the whole reason we’re here is to help improve the city.” Says it’s very disappointing. Commends Kennedy for owning up to releasing the six names.
Councilor Samaras concurs with Leahy. He says “mistakes have been made” but we need to clarify the rules. Says he understood that Monday was the day the public was to get the names. Manager Geary says the minutes say that there was no vote to hold the names until Wednesday. Belanger says that was his “intuition” and he commends Kennedy for “owning up to it.”
Councilor Milinazzo thanks his colleagues for all speaking. Says he recalled that council was to get the finalist names on Monday but that there was discussion that the finalist names would not be released until after Wednesday’s public hearing. He agrees there was no formal vote.
Mayor Elliott says he spoke to every member of the council last week and asked them if they had released the 29 names. He acknowledges that seven years ago he did release them, he owned up to it then, he didn’t release them this time. He also checked with Human Resources and they didn’t release them. He says he does recall Councilor Martin last week emphasizing the benefits of not releasing the finalist names until after Wednesday night’s public hearing. It’s unfortunate that this happened but it’s important to continue the process.
City Solicitor says there has already been a public records request for the tally sheets. Says she’s been in touch with the state’s Public Records Division to discuss this. Possible resolution will be to release the tally sheet with the non-finalist names redacted.
Council Leahy mentions filing the disclosure that his brother-in-law, George Ramirez, is an applicant for City Manager.
Councilor Milinazzo thanks his colleagues again for the discussion and withdraws the motion.
To discuss release of minutes from past executive session. Second executive session is on litigation. The council will adjourn directly from the executive session.
The public portion of the meeting adjourns at 8:38 pm.