Lowell City Council Meeting: March 28, 2017

Motion response: Naming rights of city owned parcels. Law department rules that council does have “naming rights” for parks and fields for a fee provided there is compliance with a bid process. The money will be re-invested in the facility where the advertising appears.

Motion response: Business improvement district for downtown on hold. Why do businesses want to wait until 2018 to revisit this? Person from DPD says a BID requires 60% support to a petition process. Both the city and the interested businesses concluded they would not get 60% support, so they decided to put it on hold for now. Businesses opposed are unwilling to pay the fee that accompanies the BID.

Report on financial impact of building a new high school was referred to the finance subcommittee.

Article 97 Issues – Manager Murphy says State Environmental Affairs reps coming to Lowell next Monday to meet on replication issues. Murphy says that the state has already reduced the number of fields that must be replicated from five to three.

Article 97 Vote – Several people registered to speak. Mayor Kennedy relinquishes the chair and then takes the floor. He reviews how the city got to this point. Mentions the last high school accreditation report as saying at least a rehabilitation is essential. Then he says the price has gone up substantially while the reimbursement rate goes down. He discusses all the other costs emerging, like the recurring cost of busing students to Cawley. He adds to that the infrastructure costs to Belvidere for sidewalks and replication of fields. He says we seem to be “bending over backwards” to push forward the Cawley site even though it will likely to cost $40mil more than the other options. He says both sides accuse the other of untruths and then as an aside says to Manager Murphy that this situation might reflect his management on this process. He says through this process we’ve been confronted with erroneous information (need an entirely new option or not; need modular or not) then says how the Article 97 problem snuck up on them when they were already aware of Article 97 from the South Common site. He says the city auditor’s has a cancelled check from the state that shows we took the money. Says today he learned that the city sent the Article 97 option to the state last week even though the council hasn’t voted to do that yet. Criticizes manager for proposing the council to vote on the Article 97 issue last week without informing the council which fields were to be used for replication. I don’t know how I can vote for the most expensive option on the table and then go to the taxpayers and say I’m looking out for their best interests. (Interrupted by Councilors Elliott and Mercier who say Kennedy is out of order talking about the options). Kennedy closes by saying he will not support the Article 97 waiver.

Councilor Leary gets the floor and says we are pursuing the Article 97 waiver now to keep all options on the table. He says the need for a new high school was evident long ago. He says “a lot of what was said tonight is not completely true” and that he’ll be glad to debate the merits of the various options at the appropriate time. Says he is going to support the Article 97 waiver.

Councilor Elliott says this is a “no brainer.” Says the council has been talking about keeping all options open and “if someone wants to flip flop now” that’s their choice. He says he was at the meeting with the state and that maybe the Mayor should have been there too. The state wanted us to move quickly with submitting plans to replicate the space and that’s what we’re doing. He says some seem to be raising one obstacle after another. Why all these roadblocks? If you don’t support something, just vote against it.

Councilor Mercier says she is “flabbergasted” by what took place here. She says we started with four options because that’s what we were supposed to do. Tells the manager that he’s doing everything the council asks him to do. Says she is just bewildered by the fact that there are new roadblocks at every turn. She said “some of us are trying to get on the same page.” She says that the people who support Cawley should be treated more fairly than they have been. She says delaying to allow the Cambodians and Spanish people have presentations was just a pretense to delay.

Councilor Milinazzo says he had been prepared to support the Article 97 process from moving forward but after hearing some of what has been said, he’s going to vote against it. He says the replication process thus far “has not been one of your finest hours, Mr. Manager.” He criticizes the wording of the proposed vote that puts full control in the hands of the city manager and ignores the board of parks.

Councilor Samaras says he will support the Article 97 process. He says everyone is advocating their position and usually that leads to the correct result. He says there have been problems with the process, especially early on. Says he’s been through so many fights in the school department that he knows everyone is trying to do the right thing, they just have different opinions of what that right thing might be. He says it is important for the councilors to get additional information. Also says he thinks the tone should calm down a little.

Councilor Belanger commends Councilor Samaras for being “the voice of reason” here tonight. Says one thing he has not heard from taxpayers is “no, we don’t want this.” Tells City Manager, “you’ve done nothing wrong.” Says he thinks it is a mistake to talk about finances now based on speculation and estimations. We should wait to talk about the finances until there is better information. He says there are really only two options: Cawley and Downtown. He says if it were up to him, South Common would still be an option.

Roll Call: Seven to two in favor, with Mayor Kennedy and Councilor Milinazzo voting against it.

Councilor Motions

COUNCILOR Milinazzo – Request City Manager provide a report to the City Council regarding trash fines collected over the last 12 months per the City ordinance. Milinazzo explains that he receives many calls about trash being put out too early or too late and leaving a mess, especially a problem in densely packed neighborhoods.

COUNCILOR Elliott – Request City Manager provide a list of vacancies on Boards and Commissions. Asks for a quarterly update because people ask about it regularly. Manager Murphy explains that next week they plan to start posting vacancies on the city website. Councilor Mercier would like it to also show when terms expire.

COUNCILOR Elliott – Request City Manager provide a report regarding “change for change” initiative relative to panhandling.

COUNCILOR Elliott/COUNCILOR Leahy – Req. City Council vote to lift parking restrictions in downtown on weekends. Councilor Leahy says he wanted this motion to say “revisit” rather than “lift” this policy. Would like to relook the entire parking picture throughout the city on weekends. Councilor Belanger makes a strong defense of the current policy that enforces the ordinance on Saturdays. Says it is working well for businesses. Perhaps there needs to be more incentives for parking in garages, maybe reducing weekend rates in garages.

COUNCILOR Samaras/COUNCILOR Leahy/COUNCILOR Leary – Request City Manager have proper department repair potholes on June Street, in addition provide time line for repaving of June Street going towards Robinson School.

COUNCILOR Leary – Request City Manager provide City Council with the 2017/2018 budget presentation timeline.

COUNCILOR Leary – Request City Manager review the use of cameras at City park locations.

COUNCILOR Belanger – Request City Manager update City Council regarding City’s financial outlook after approval of bonding for the Lowell High School project. Emphasizes that there are many other things that have to be done in the city so we should not the impact of the new high school on all the other projects we want to undertake. Referred to the finance subcommittee.

MAYOR Kennedy – Request City Manager have the proper department install a street light in the vicinity of 5 W Tenth Street.

MAYOR Kennedy Request City Manager consider providing municipal funding for the Jack Kerouac Festival in October. Kennedy explains he recently met with Jack Kerouac Festival each fall. Says it has not been as high profile as it once was. Says the city contributes to several other festivals and thinks the Kerouac Festival could draw a lot of people from outside the city. Anything we could do to enhance that festival would be worthwhile. Councilor Samaras endorses the motion. Says whenever he goes outside of Lowell and says where he is from, people know it’s the home of Jack Kerouac.

MAYOR Kennedy – Request City Manager consider establishing a translation bureau in the lobby of City Hall on Tuesdays, in order to provide interpreters in Spanish, Khmer, Portuguese and any other relevant languages. Recently met with a Latino group who enlightened him that if you don’t speak English, there’s not much point of coming into City Hall. He says in other city halls, there is often a table or welcome area that helps people find their way. Suggests trying it on a pilot basis, maybe using high schools students who are bilingual.

MAYOR Kennedy – Request City Manager consider and report to the Council on the feasibility of having the City of Lowell participate in the Clean River Project.

Meeting adjourns at 8:45 pm.