Lowell Week in Review: May 25, 2014

Excuse my delay in posting but this morning I was at the Greater Lowell Veterans Council Memorial Day service – look for a blog post about it later today. Here are my observations of this week in Lowell politics:

Customer Service
Tuesday’s council meeting was pretty sedate until the final motion of the evening. I forget the exact motion but the discussion quickly evolved into an opportunity for several councilors to register complaints on the quality of customer service in the city treasurer’s office and about some seemingly irrational – or perhaps “customer-unfriendly” – practices with excise tax bills and water readings. Bill Martin was particularly passionate in describing poor treatment he himself received while conducting business in the treasurer’s office. Rodney Elliott shared a similar story. When sitting city councilors are treated like that by city employees, you can just imagine the treatment extended to ordinary citizens. City Manager Kevin Murphy was firm but concise in this response that the situation will be addressed very quickly.

For more than twenty years, I’ve been a regular consumer of Lowell tap water as a beverage as well as all the other uses to which municipal water is put. Every so often I wonder if Lowell tap water is as safe to drink as we’re told. My one solace is that the stuff that comes in plastic bottles from purportedly clean mountain streams is probably no safer. However, a couple of recent water-related items haven’t done a lot to strengthen my confidence in this municipal service. The first was a motion by Rita Mercier two weeks ago for a report on an astronomical water bill that followed an entirely normal one. That led to a flood of anecdotes shared with me by lawyers of water bill horror stories. Then there was a thread on the Facebook group Lowell Live Feed (which if you’re on Facebook and are interested in city politics, ask to join the group) about “unaccounted for municipal water” which would be water that leaves the treatment plant but isn’t measured by any meter. There are explanations – leakage in old city pipes or water spent fighting fires or filling municipal pools – but the quantities not accounted for seemed pretty high. Layer over these things all the personnel issues that have plagued the water department over the past few years and you have to hope that City Manager Murphy gives that part of city government some extra attention.

License Commission
Before he can scrutinize the Water Department, however, the Manager will have to nominate a new member of the License Commission. It seems that a recently enacted state law requires at least three members to be present for a license commission to act (there may be up to five on the commission) and now Lowell only as two after the resignation of Brian Akashian several weeks ago (who by the way was just named the new Lowell High Hockey coach – congratulations). At a meeting last week, the two remaining board members took decisive action against a downtown bar which is seen as a chronic trouble spot but their rulings were quickly set aside by a Superior Court judge who cited the lack of the statutory quorum on the Commission. While the Manager should exercise care in selecting additional individuals to sit on the License Commission, the need to bolster its ranks to meet even the minimum requirements should move up near the top of priority appointments.

I wrote a blog post earlier this week giving my take on the ongoing Probation Department trial in the US District Court. The short version was that I think the case will be thrown out by the judge before it even gets to the jury (with some big caveats, like unless you’re actually in the courtroom from jury selection to verdict you really don’t know what’s going on). I also shared a view that patronage might not be such a bad thing if it motivates people to get more involved in the political process. I’ll take that a step further by suggesting that patronage be brought out into the open. If a state legislator or any other elected official recommends a person for a government job and that person is hired, why not have a website that identifies that connection. I’m thinking something like the way the National Football League introduces its players at the start of TV broadcasts: “Tom Brady – Michigan”; “Vince Wilfork – Miami”.

Why not a patronage website showing government employees and their elected patrons?

Why not a patronage website showing government employees and their elected patrons?

Instead we could have “Registry of Motor Vehicles Clerk John Doe – sponsored by State Representative Mary Jones” and so on. That way, if you get incredible service from that clerk, you will think better of his patron for placing such an able employee in a government job. But if the clerk was surly or unhelpful, you would think less of the patron who put him there. That would motivate those who got the jobs to provide better service and it would also cause elected officials to be more cautious about who they recommend.

18th Middlesex Rep Race
Fred Bahou filed with the Secretary of State’s Office sufficient nomination papers to run as an unenrolled candidate in the November election for the 18th Middlesex Rep seat (unenrolleds have no primary; all who file papers will appear on the November ballot). Fred also created a committee with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance although the PDF version of the paperwork wasn’t accessible online the last time I checked. Rady Mom who previously submitted his nomination papers established his political committee on May 20. His campaign chair is Sam Meas (who has a home in Haverhill but spends a lot of time in Lowell), his vice chair is Virak Uy of Hyde Park, and his treasurer is Steven Shorrock of Lowell. Another candidate for this seat, Jim Leary, has a fund raiser this coming Wednesday, May 28 from 6pm to 8pm at Mt Pleasant. Suggested donation is $20. Jim also has a campaign Facebook page as does Brian Donovan, another candidate for the office. (To candidates in that race, if you have events coming up and would like me to include a mention in a blog post, just email me the info at DickHoweJr@gmail.com).

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Please take a moment to remember deceased relatives and friends and especially those who have died in service of our country.

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