The City Council interviews of the five finalists for the position of Lowell City Manager dominated politics in the city this week. I watched all five interviews and thought the interview process went pretty well. The council was fortunate to schedule only two interviews per day because sitting through nearly four hours of this stuff on Wednesday and Thursday nights was pretty fatiguing for the viewer which I assume was also true for councilors. The ten minute time blocks for openings, closings and per councilor questioning also seemed good. The ten minute per councilor rule benefited applicants who were concise and direct in their answers since that enabled each councilor to get through his or her own series of questions and not seem rushed near the end.
Some questions were pointed; others were not. I don’t remember any instances of high drama or tension. Everyone stayed pretty relaxed through the process. Nor was there any apparent confusion. Candidates, councilors and support staff were there when they were supposed to be. Acting City Manager Geary was the official time keeper and no one seemed to abuse the time rules.
I assume there’s been plenty of lobbying and pleading going on this weekend – why should this decision be any different than all the other times that city managers have been selected in Lowell? – but I’ll skip the prognostications and trust the councilors to do the best they can. In many respects the big decision was made last November with the outcome of the city election. Had other candidates been elected, most likely Bernie Lynch would still be there and the only debate would be over the length of his contract extension. Elections have consequences, however, and because of that we’ll have a new city manager tomorrow night. I’ll be watching tomorrow night and will record who says what and post it here right afterwards.
For now, I’d just ask everyone to read through my notes of the five interviews once again. Here are the links:
Peter Graczykoski (Tuesday at 6 pm) Graczykoski interview
George Ramirez (Wednesday at 6 pm) Ramirez interview
Daniel Keyes (Wednesday at 7:30 pm) Keyes interview
Greg Balukonis (Thursday at 6 pm) Balukonis interview
Kevin Murphy (Thursday at 7:30 pm) Murphy interview
Although I won’t rehash each interview, there were some things I found worthy of comment. Here they are in no particular order:
Regionalization and consolidating positions, especially overlapping functions on the city and school side, was a common theme. Peter Graczykoski told of hiring a private real estate marketing firm to represent his last city in finding tenants for downtown storefronts with some success. Some councilors seemed intrigued by this idea. The importance of education as a supplier for a skilled work force as a role in economic development came up several times, particularly in Kevin Murphy’s interview. George Ramirez placed a lot of emphasis on public safety and the importance of changing the perception that Lowell is not a safe place, saying several times that he would be “a walking, talking, public relations machine). One of the funnier lines was uttered by Daniel Keyes. When asked what he would do to get construction of the Lowell Judicial Center moving, Keyes replied that he would try to keep Kevin Murphy at the state house fighting for funding. Although Keyes is currently the town manager in Blackstone, Massachusetts, he seems to have gotten his start in politics as the elected treasurer of Hamden County back in the 1990s. That position got some extra attention from Councilor Ed Kennedy who served as an elected county commissioner in Middlesex County at the same time. Neither of those jobs – Hampden County Treasurer of Middlesex County Commissioner – exist anymore since both of those counties and many others were abolished by the state legislature back in 1997 when those counties became insolvent. North Reading Town Manager Greg Balukonis had a couple of interesting examples when Mayor Elliott asked him about his track record of transparency. Balukonis says the town puts all of its union contracts online so that the public can see all of the provisions. North Reading also formulates its budget with a series of public sessions at which concerned citizens can suggest budget priorities. It would not be a surprise if Mayor Elliott or some other councilor moves to adopt those two practices in Lowell.
So check back Monday night for a full report on that night’s special meeting of the city council at which time the new city manager will be selected.
At the economic subcommittee meeting almost two weeks ago, the issue of downtown parking was discussed at length. I mentioned it in my report on that meeting and a comment to that post was so thoughtful and comprehensive that I turned it into a blog post of its own. If you missed it, check out that post and the new comments to it.