Lowell City Council Meeting: June 9, 2015

Sorry for the delay but here are my notes from this past Tuesday’s Lowell City Council meeting:

Public Hearing to create a new department of Health and Human Services.  No members of the public speak.  City Manager says this reorganization does not require any additional money.  Councilor Milinazzo says that part of the rational for this was to have a single leader (other than the city manager) for all of these departments to report to.  Milinazzo asks if the manager had considered having the assistant city manager fill that role.  Manager Murphy says there is great opportunity for collaboration among these various departments but the assistant city manager wouldn’t be the one to be doing that.  It should be someone with a background in public health.  Councilor Belanger does emphasize that the person needs a public health.  The manager agrees.  Passes unanimously.

Ordinance to create a position in Department of Public Works for an assistant director for administration and finance.  No members of the public speak.  Manager Murphy explains the rational for this new position, which is that there is a lack of financial oversight at DPW citing some examples.  Also says some capital projects are coming up and someone is needed to oversee them.  He believes the city will save money in the long run by creating this position.  Passes unanimously.

Ordinance on “news racks” on sidewalks.  Says the fee will be minimal but this is mostly to ensure they have liability insurance.  Passes unanimously.

Vote to allow City Manager to file legislation to create a non-Civil Service Fire Chief for Lowell.  Robert Page speaks:  Retired Lieutenant of Fire Department.  Says this would “crush” the initiative of the LFD officers.  Urges councilors to enact reforms within the system rather than changing things entirely.  Councilor Leahy urges colleagues to reform within the Civil Service system.  Councilor Milinazzo says he won’t support this because there are other options.  Defends recently retired Chief Pitta.  Councilor Mercier says they’ve already done this with the police department and it has worked out pretty well.  The best leader is not necessarily the best test taker.  Says it’s a very tough vote.  Councilor Belanger says he will support the city manager, says they have received plenty of information to support this.  Councilor Rourke says there are other alternatives and that depriving the chief of civil service protection will reduce the number of applicants because of the lack of job security.  Councilor Samaras says when he ran, he said he saw the council as a board of directors whose job was to give the manager the tools needed to do the job.  For that reason the manager should be able to select the chief.  Councilor Kennedy says there are two components to this issue: first is only one person took the test which meant that the fire department was selecting the next chief.  He says there are other options that might prevent that.  But the second piece is the accountability issue.  Every department head should be accountable to the city manager.  That’s not the case now.  Mayor Elliot says he opposes contracts; believes department heads should all be accountable to the city manager.   Passes 6 to 3 with Milinazzo, Leahy and Rourke voting against it.

Vote on PILOT agreement between the city and Enel.  Manager Murphy says this is part of a global settlement with Enel regarding the eight bridges.  City will get 6.5% of the gross revenues of the Hydro plant or $500K, whichever is greater.  Says this will be beneficial because the new dam will increase the power plant’s revenue. Says the city should gain more than $500K in revenue.  Says a big part of this is that Enel will drop its appeal before the state’s Appellate Tax Board which could cost the city $8 million.  He commends the city council because there are a lot of unknowns in this proposal but he thinks it’s the best thing for the city in the long run.  Passes unanimously.

Motion by Councilor Mercier – No parking signs posted on Roper Street bridge.

Motion by Councilor Leahy – To establish a historic trail through the downtown.  Envisions something like the Freedom Trail in Boston.  Councilor Belanger says this is a good motion, emphasizing the lack of signage for the existing downtown cultural district.

By Councilor Leahy for an update on painting crosswalks throughout the city.

By Councilor Samaras to study traffic pattern at intersection of Andover and Nesmith Streets.

By Councilor Kennedy that the City Manager consolidate all collective bargaining agreements into a single document.

By Councilor Belanger for an update on the land swap with the National Park and the possible use of the LRTA bus facility.  He points to these as two obstacles to moving forward on the Hamilton Canal development.  He says he sees the LRTA as a partner to the city but he says there’s been issues with availability of buses for UMass Lowell students, the reliability of schedules.  Says he met with Phil She last week.  He said he hoped to make some progress at the May meeting of the board but that was canceled.  Without this tour bus parking issue resolved, the entire project is being held up.  Says he’s frustrated with the LRTA and at what point do we abandon the land swap with the National Park.  Manager Murphy says Belanger is 100% right.  It’s been very frustrating.  Says he’s insisting that the LRTA make a decision immediately one way or the other.  If it doesn’t work out then they will have to reconfigure the proposed parking garage so we don’t need the land swap and so it will accommodate the buses.