Every Lowell City Councilor is a unique individual with unique passions and priorities. That said, in the action-packed first three months of this term, several coalitions seem to have developed. First, you have Mayor Rodney Elliott and Councilors Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger and Dan Rourke who seem to be aligned on many issues. Then there is a second block composed of Bill Martin, Jim Milinazzo and Bill Samaras. Ed Kennedy and John Leahy are less predictable and jump between groups or sometimes fly solo.
Notwithstanding this seeming division, Kevin Murphy earned the votes of eight of those nine councilors and became our new city manager. The councilors apparently saw the same thing I did through this process and especially during the interviews: Kevin Murphy was the right person for the job.
This past Sunday in my post about the manager selection process, I wrote “elections matter.” Well interviews matter, too. Interviews disguised as debates help us choose Senators and Presidents, not based on any quantitative measure of performance but on the visceral reaction each of us has to the candidate. Is this the right person to lead us at this point in time is the question we ask ourselves. Shortly after 6 this evening, nine city councilors asked themselves who is the right person to lead city government right now under these circumstances. The overwhelming majority reached the same conclusion.
To me the critical factor in this decision was leadership. Without strong leadership skills, a manager will never move the bureaucracy. Without strong leadership skills, a manager will never assemble the kind of coalitions needed to accomplish big things for Lowell. Bernie Lynch is a rare individual who possesses leadership skills and deep municipal management experience. But Bernie is no longer city manager and so the city has to move on.
The challenges facing Lowell are considerable: A tough budget must be finalized in a short period of time with key support staff positions still vacant. The bad guys aren’t waiting for warm weather to unleash random gunfire around the city. The real estate market is stagnant and everyday observations fail to corroborate media reports of an improving economy.
Lowell is at another of the critical crossroads the city has so often encountered in its 188 year history. We have much going for us – UMass Lowell and Middlesex Community College; the Hamilton Canal District; strong yet diverse neighborhoods; public schools that are far better than too many residents are willing to acknowledge; and a multitude of passionately involved citizens.
These advantages will be wasted if the city stays as divided as it has been. I believe that Kevin Murphy is the person best able to bridge the gap between reasonable people on both sides of the Lowell divide. We should give him our support. That doesn’t mean accepting without comment his every decision. It means continuing to vigorously advocate our own positions on the issues. It means scrutinizing our new manager’s decisions on their merits, criticizing them when criticism is warranted and supporting them when support is deserved.
Congratulations to Kevin Murphy and congratulations to the City Council for navigating a challenging path from that council meeting back in January when Bernie Lynch first announced his departure.