Lowell Week in Review: May 18, 2014

For the second consecutive week the Lowell City Council meeting was lacking in drama which is a good thing. A big part of that I believe is attributable to Kevin Murphy. Between his legal background and his experience as a state representative, he seems able to take issues packed with volatility and resolve them in a calm, rational, behind-the-scenes manner. There’s no doubt the new city manager is in the honeymoon phase of his tenure. Hopefully it lasts for a long time. I do suspect things will get a bit rocky come budget time. Some councilors through recent remarks have expressed a willingness to spend considerable amounts of money on various projects and purchases. Those same councilors will be hesitant to increase tax revenue at all. Together those impulses will lead to a confrontation unless there’s some hidden pot of money that magically appears to pay for the new initiatives.

18th Middlesex District

Dave Ouellette officially opened his campaign committee with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance this week. Dave’s campaign chair is Vladimir Saldana, an energetic campaign operative of several statewide elections who graduated from UMass Lowell last year and lives and works in the city. Dave’s campaign treasurer is Suzanne Frechette.

I bumped into Jim Leary last night at the fund raiser for the Southeast Asian Water Festival at the VFW on Plain Street. Jim had spent the day going door-to-door in the Acre.

Lowell Live Feed

When it comes to online civic engagement, the Facebook group called “Lowell Live Feed” is maturing into an interesting and informative platform for discussing municipal government issues. With 706 members as of this morning, the group displays considerable diversity of viewpoints and opinions. Since everyone in the group is on Facebook, the identities of those who post is known to all which tempers the harshness of too many online debates. If you’re on Facebook and interested in Lowell politics and municipal affairs, ask to join Lowell Live Feed.

An example of the rich discussions that have been bubbling up on Lowell Live Feed was one this week on municipal water in Lowell. This topic arose at Tuesday’s City Council meeting with a Rita Mercier request for investigation of an astronomical water bill presented to a homeowner after years of minimal “estimated” bills. The Facebook discussion involved water that is “unaccounted for”, meaning it leaves the treatment plant but doesn’t show up on anyone’s water meters. The suspicion, of course, is that people either through inadvertence, neglect, or malfeasance, are getting water without paying for it. Another assertion was that if all of this water was being properly billed, the city would reap a windfall of new revenue.
The contrasting views presented tempered the drama a bit, attributing the water measurement discrepancy to several factors. For instance, water used by the city for things such as municipal swimming pools, school buildings, and the waste water treatment plant which uses a substantial amount of water. Water used in firefighting is also not metered nor is that lost through leakage in the system which, given the age of Lowell’s underground pipes, could be substantial (what do you think causes all those sinkholes in roads like Gorham Street that suddenly appear?)
None of this is to say that the situation should not be improved. The city should install water meters in municipally-owned buildings so that usage can be tracked and as an incentive to conservation. And leakage can be addressed through a systematic maintenance program that upgrades the water infrastructure. That might not be the type of expenditure that wins a lot of votes in the next election, but it’s one that would be of great benefit to the city in the long term.

Getting back to Lowell Live Feed, I’m being a bit cryptic in describing the discussions since it is not a completely open group. I don’t think anyone who writes anything on the internet should assume any degree of confidentiality, but I think it’s sufficient to share a sanitized version of the interesting discussions that take place there, both to alert non-Facebook members of the existence of the issues being discussed and as a way of inviting more people to join.

That’s it for today. Thanks to everyone who joined in this season’s Lowell Cemetery tours. Despite iffy weather throughout, we had a total of 270 participate spread over the four tours this past week. If you’re free today at noon, head over to the Lowell Cemetery for the annual Veteran’s Memorial Ceremony.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: May 18, 2014

  1. Gerry Nutter says:

    Dick, I think the Manager may be in a honeymoon period but I expect that will continue through the budget. Many campaigned on Public Safety and want more police. Some have stated support for meeting net school spending and summer programs and jobs for kids.

    The former Manager floated a possible 3.5 % tax increase! I believe Manager Murphy and acting CFO Healy may be able to bring in the budget with a 2-2.5% increase which these Councilors could support if it includes the above listed items.

  2. Jack Mitchell says:

    Maybe things are calm because the Councilors know our current City Manager has more political acumen then they do and if they give him any grief, he has strength in the streets?

    If the kumbaya trend holds up, pom poms and all, then we will have a swell 3 years. If a Councilor opts to be insipid and petulant, then head(s) will roll.

    Welcome to the back seat, Councilors.

    PS. Blogging with your true identity is a mixed bag. But, you can look at yourself in the mirror, knowing that you didn’t have to genuflect for a door prize.