Lowell Week in Review: May 11, 2014


We’ll start on a light note with the prospective Lowell resident who petitioned the city council Tuesday night to amend city ordinances to allow the keeping of miniature pigs as household pets. The petitioner currently lives in Arlington and owns a female miniature pig named Bacon. The woman has found her dream house in Lowell but doesn’t want to commit to it at the expense of Bacon. I was impressed with her presentation to the councilors. It was thorough and sincere and the council, without much comment, sent it off for further study. Whatever the merits of keeping pigs as pets, I couldn’t help but think about the Backyard Chicken controversy which beset the city last fall. Future students of Lowell political history will be baffled to read that the outcome of the 2013 city council election turned, in some small part at least, on the debate over a proposal to allow people to raise chickens in their yards as a source of fresh eggs. The proposal lost and so did some of the councilors who were seen as supportive of it. While I felt a sense of deja vu Tuesday listening to the pig plea, I doubt that will be as divisive an issue as chickens were but that’s only because I don’t see anyone other than Bacon’s owner as advocating this changes and expect it to quietly fade away.


Another issue on Tuesday’s agenda that harkened back to last fall was Gerry Nutter’s resignation from the Election Commission. The utter silence that greeted that communication at the council meeting was in sharp contrast to the furor that erupted over his appointment by City Manager Bernie Lynch just before last November’s city council election. Like those perceived to be supportive of chickens, those councilors who did support Gerry’s appointment back then paid a price at the polls. Because of that and because Gerry was doing an excellent job on the Commission (as is the Commission in its entirety), it’s unfortunate that his tenure there had to be so short-lived, but any such considerations must yield to personal health concerns. Get well soon, Gerry. The Lowell blogosphere needs more voices.


While Gerry’s nomination and the backyard chicken debate played some role in last fall’s council election, concern about crime was the dominant issue and that also came up on Tuesday night with a motion by Councilor Dan Rourke requesting a report on the recent news that the Lowell Police Department had cut off funding to UTEC in response to some UTEC employees placing themselves in advocacy roles on behalf of a couple of defendants alleged to have committed violent crimes. Councilors Samaras and Milinazzo both spoke in favor of the motion but also highlighted all the good that UTEC has done for the city and expressed hope that the relationship between the agency and the city could be salvaged and strengthened. City Manager Murphy interjected that he is meeting with UTEC tomorrow (Monday) to begin doing that. Lowell’s problems with crime won’t be solved just by locking people up. A comprehensive approach is vital to achieving success. UTEC has an important part to play so hopefully all issues will be promptly resolved.


I wrote a post during the week urging the council (or anyone in city government) to begin exploring internet service offered to residents by the city as an alternative to Comcast or other big cable companies. Rather than try to summarize all the thoughtful comments that were received (including communications from Council Dan Rourke who has already tackled the issue) I’ll do a separate post later this week reviewing the discussion and hopefully keeping it alive.


Chris on Learning Lowell had an important post that recounted an “economic development roundtable” held on WCAP earlier this year. As Chris put it, even though this program occurred months ago, it has been repeatedly cited in support of positions taken recently on topics ranging from general economic development to relocating Lowell High School. Chris thought it would be helpful to review who was on the show and what each person said. It is helpful so thanks to Chris for making the effort. Here’s a link to his full post but I’ve also copied liberally from his excellent analysis and posted it below:

Although economic development is often seen as new buildings, what economic development is really about is improving the standard of living for a community’s residents. This means Universities can be a force for economic development in a number of ways: providing well-paying jobs for residents, buying services from residents, creating spin-off businesses that provide jobs and taxes, and creating programs to educate residents. The discussion of incubation centers interested me considerably, because this is economic development at its finest: it’s not just stealing jobs from another city, but it’s actively creating new services that may raise standards of living throughout the country.

However, the panel did not discuss how equitably these benefits would be distributed. Of course, high-skill businesses still will create low-skill jobs, and colleges like MCC can do much to give folks skills to enhance their own standard of living. I got the impression Mr. Behrakis was especially keen on the power of education. Nevertheless, I worry that not enough time was spent discussing how Lowell’s lower-skilled workforce can be integrated into the high-skill economy.

Looking at it a completely different perspective, a University funnels outside funds such as faculty salaries, construction funding, and out-of-town tuition into the city’s businesses. However, this isn’t always fairly distributed among municipalities. For example, if professors live in Westford, those professors will pay property taxes to Westford and shop in Chelmsford, but use Lowell’s roads protected by Lowell police to get to and from work. As UML transitions to a resident rather than a commuter school, I believe the City could do more to integrate land-use planning to ensure there are attractive and affordable housing options for faculty and staff to reduce the need for vehicles.

Finally, I worry an overreliance on “Eds and Meds” will be problematic for cities—especially for cities that don’t have an MIT or Mayo Clinic. This crisis may take the form of a student-debt bubble burst, international education competition, or if online learning reduces the number of independent campuses that can exist. This has been noted by others. Just as with any other industry, diversification is integral but difficult.


On Thursday Governor Patrick came to Lowell to officially proclaim the month of May to be Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage month. A large gathering attended the event at the Sunny Da Restaurant on Chelmsford Street. The Khmer Post USA newspaper had hosted a related celebration last Friday night, also recognizing Asian American Heritage month, at the Hong Kong Restaurant in Cupples Square. With April being the time of Cambodian New Year celebrations and May recognizing Asian American heritage month, this is a busy time for Lowell’s Southeast Asian community. The activities will continue next Saturday night when the Southeast Asian Water Festival Committee will hold a fundraiser at the VFW Hall at 190 Plain Street in Lowell. Tickets for the event which is Saturday, May 17 at 7 pm) are $25 and may be purchased online from the Committee’s Facebook page. The Water Festival itself will be on Saturday, August 16 – be sure to save the date.

While I don’t have any particular insight into the dynamic of the Southeast Asian community in Lowell, it is apparent that while members of the community seem to sincerely appreciate the efforts of local elected officials to attend events associated with the Asian community and to respond promptly to any constituent-type issues that arise, there is still a sense of communal regret that no member of the Asian community currently holds elective office in Lowell. When Kevin Murphy was elected City Manager and resigned his seat in the House of Representatives, a district in which the majority of residents are members of minority groups, there was hope within the Asian community that one of their members might succeed Kevin and become the first Southeast Asian member of the Massachusetts legislature. That hopefulness now seems tempered by the emergence of two strong and credible candidates from within the Southeast Asian community, Rady Mom and Ratha Paul Yem. The justifiable concern is that the two will split the vote from the district’s Southeast Asian residents who are the dominant ethnic demographic among registered voters within that district.


In news from the 18th Middlesex Rep race, Jim Leary has joined Brian Donovan and Mike Sheehan in establishing an official state campaign account. Jim’s was opened on May 7. John Descoteaux is his chair and Kenneth Genest is his treasurer. This past Tuesday was the deadline for Democratic and Republican candidates to turn in nomination signatures to the city election office which has until May 20 to certify the signatures and then the candidates have until May 27 to transmit those certified signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office. That deadline is only for party candidates who will appear on the September primary ballot. Unenrolled candidates have until July 29 to collect signatures; election offices have until August 19 to certify them; and candidates have until August 26 to transmit the certified signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. There is no primary for unenrolleds; everyone who files 150 certified signatures makes it onto the November ballot.


Thanks to everyone who joined me for this weekend’s Lowell Cemetery tour. Despite threats of rain, we had 50 people on Friday’s tour and 60 on Saturday’s. The tours will be given again next Friday at 1 pm and Saturday at 10 am. Happy Mother’s Day.

One Response to Lowell Week in Review: May 11, 2014

  1. Gail says:

    Comment on ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ROUNDTABLE. Thank you for your summary.
    When I lived in West Philadelphia [30 years ago], UPenn provided incentives to faculty and staff if they purchased homes within a certain radius of the university. What an Ivy League can do and a state university are two different things, but I believe improving Lowell’s public schools would go a long way towards attracting residents. I know a lot of people who moved to Chelmsford or Westford around the time their eldest child turned 5. I know that MCC has a relationship with the high school and UML’s music department has a relationship with some or all of the public schools. I think if UML, MCC and the Lowell School department can add additional opportunities for students in Lowell Schools that are not available to those in surrounding communities, those programs will help to attract more residents to Lowell. It might also help to smooth a town/gown divide.