Lowell Week in Review: June 8, 2014

I’m still recuperating from knee surgery so my own participation in the week’s political activities was limited but here are some observations from the sidelines.

Nancy Pelosi visits Lowell

Early Monday morning, Nancy Pelosi and ten Congressional colleagues rolled into the parking lot of Middlesex Community College as part of their “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds” bus tour. Hosted by Niki Tsongas, several who were there told me the event was a great success. Marie Sweeney wrote a post about it complete with pictures.

City Council Meeting

Tuesday night I turned on the TV at 6:30 pm and got the community bulletin board instead of the city council. Their meeting had started at 5 pm and finished quickly. The council formally received the FY15 City Budget (there will be a public hearing on the budget this coming Tuesday) and approved the appointment of Terry McCarthy and Kristen Hogan to the License Commission. This ups the number of members of that board to four which is one more than is needed for a quorum. It will be interesting to see how quickly the newly constituted board revisits the Finn’s Pub disciplinary proceedings which were overturned due to a lack of a quorum on the board when punishment was dispensed. In the bigger picture, this Board has a critical role to play in negotiating the elusive balance the city seeks in having downtown as a residential neighborhood and a vibrant entertainment district.

Lowell High Graduation

Even though my own son graduated from LHS six years ago, I still try to watch each year’s Lowell High graduation on TV (and thanks to Lowell Educational TV channel 22 for doing such a great job covering it). Having a quality school system that has the confidence of all residents – but especially parents – is critical to the well-being of a city. While athletics and other ancillary matters often get the most attention, academic achievement is most important and there’s no better display of that than at a community’s high school graduation ceremony. And the commencement speaker, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan (who was a Lowell High graduate 40 years ago), was excellent.

Water Department

By the end of the week, Dan Lahiff, the director of the Lowell Water Department for many years, submitted his resignation which was reportedly demanded by City Manager Kevin Murphy. I don’t know Lahiff, don’t remember ever meeting him, and so have no personal knowledge of him or his management style. There’s no denying that the water department has been home to much controversy, particularly regarding personnel matters. That by itself isn’t enough to condemn a manager but lately other things like astronomical water bills and poor customer service strongly indicated that major changes were needed. Even with that, I’m guessing there was more, perhaps a demonstrated resistance to needed changes that prompted the City Manager to act so quickly and decisively.

On Thursday, Chris Scott wrote on his Column blog that Erik Gitschier would be a possible candidate to lead the Lowell Water Department. Gitschier is best known these days as a member of the Greater Lowell Regional School Committee and as an unsuccessful candidate for City Council in last fall’s election. Of greater relevance is his profession: he’s currently the head of the Lexington (Mass) Water Department and prior to that worked for the Lowell Water Department.

My own interest in 19th century American history has taught me the critical importance of safe, reliable municipal services for water, sewer and other things most of us take for granted. Back then, life was very precarious, often due to poor drinking water or sanitary practices. I once mentioned this observation to Erik during a casual conversation and he lit up with an infectious enthusiasm for his profession. In the process, he displayed a thorough understanding of every aspect of the water business from the technical to the strategic to the personnel management sides. Whoever is selected to fill the job, I hope they have the same professional enthusiasm for the job that Erik has.

Democratic Convention

This coming Friday and Saturday is the Democratic State Convention at the DCU Center in Worcester. I’m a delegate and will be attending so look for a full account next weekend. On Friday night, nominations for uncontested (by other Democrats) offices will occur. These are Ed Markey for United States Senate, Bill Galvin for Secretary of State, and Suzanne Bump for State Auditor. On Saturday, candidates for contested offices will speak and then delegates will vote on which candidate will be endorsed by the convention for which office. This vote has an extremely important practical consequence since any candidate who fails to receive the votes of at least 15% of the delegates will be unable to continue his or her candidacy past that point. The contested offices and candidates for each are Governor (Steve Grossman, Martha Coakley, Juliette Kayem, Donald Berwick and Joe Avellone); Lieutenant Governor (Steve Kerrigan, Mike Lake, James Arena-DeRosa and Leland Cheung); Treasurer (Barry Finegold, Deb Goldberg and Tom Conroy); and Attorney General (Maura Healey and Warren Tolman).