Lowell City Council Meeting: March 20, 2018
Asst CM Conor Baldwin introduces James Doneson, new leader of Department of Public Works.
Mayor Samaras next introduces the three finalists for the position of city manager: Eileen Donoghue of Lowell; Linda Milsap of North Carolina; and James White of Marshfield, Mass. Councilors set 5pm next Tuesday night interviewing the candidates. Each interview will last 45 minutes and will hopefully make the final vote that evening which is March 27, 2018.
Councilor Mercier asks how everyone can sit there with a straight face “and go through this charade.” This is a waste of time. Why should we keep deceiving the public? The only requirement we have is to advertise which we have done. She says we’re wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayer’s money. Says she will not be involved in this charade. She says she’s being perfectly honest and wishes others would be honest.
Councilor Leahy says he would be fine with not doing interviews.
Councilor Nuon says the process needs to be open and it is essential that these interviews take place as soon as possible. Tuesday is fine. He says it’s not a done deal.
Councilor Kennedy corrects the record that Senator Tully was not elected unanimously (as Mercier said in her remarks). Kennedy recalls it was 6 to 3 or 7 to 2. Kennedy says not interviewing people short-changes them. People expect that. The only reason everyone thinks Senator Donoghue is assured of the job is because of the Lowell Sun and the radio station. He doesn’t believe everyone on the council has made up his mind. He says people expect us to go through the process. This time there were only 10 applicants, but we did advertise for only an abbreviated time. But the process is important. We owe it to the voters to interview the candidates and let them make their case.
Councilor Cirillo says she likens things to construction which is her field. She says when a general contractor is looking for subcontractors, you try to get as many quotes as possible. This is like that. You want to hear many view. Sometimes you don’t take the person everyone expects. There is so much more to this than just a resume. She feels the process is important. She wishes we had more applicants, but this is the process. The next step in the process is to interview them.
Councilor Conway says just selecting someone who is seen to be popular sets a bad precedent. What would doing that say about the city of Lowell? Any other job that comes open, people who might apply see that we cancelled the interview in this case, those future applicants won’t take us seriously. Cancelling the interviews is very disrespectful to the voters.
Councilor Leahy says there were only 10 applicants this time. None of them mentioned any of the issues facing the city today. Some didn’t put much effort into their applications. I think it’s OK to make adjustments. We have a strong qualified candidate from the city. Talks about the importance of getting the high school construction underway. Says he could go either way but he’s not disrespecting the process.
Mayor Samaras says he always has been a process person. We established a process and it’s important to stick with it. Quite often when someone interviews for a job, they don’t get hired for that job but might be a good fit for another job that opens at a later time.
Councilor Mercier says the public is looking for honesty. She says she’s speaking for a lot of people who feel that way.
Roll call regarding interviews next Tuesday at 5 pm: Eight yes, one no (Councilor Mercier).
Councilor Elliott makes a that next Tuesday at the regular council meeting there be an agenda item under Mayor’s Business to elect a City Manager. Passes 9 to 0.
Councilor Kennedy moves that the council name the City Clerk to be the acting City Manager between Kevin Murphy’s retirement and the taking office of the new city manager. Passes 9 to 0.
Communication – “FY17 Audit”. Referred to Finance Subcommittee for further discussion. The Auditor does explain that the outside audit firm provided three different reports that are delivered to the council tonight. Their reports show the city making progress in its financial practices. This is of great use to bond and rating agencies. Councilor Mercier asks about the school department reverting $500,000 then $800,000 in federal grant money in the past two years. Mayor Samaras says the council will receive more information about that.
Informational – “FY17 Schedule A”. Placed on file.
GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
Colonial Gas d/b/a National Grid request license for storage of flammables (19,600 gals. 50/50 water/glycol Cl. IIIB; AST) at 333 School Street. Approved.
Misc. – CH LH CrossPoint Owners, LLC request license for additional storage of flammables (7,500 gals. AST Fuel Oil #2/Diesel II) at 900 Chelmsford Street. Approved.
Ordinance-Create one new grant position Resource Room Navigator and establish salary in the Career Center of Lowell. Approved.
Ordinance-Create one Systems and Project Specialist position and establish salary in the Police Dept. Chief Taylor explains this was formerly done by a police officer who recently retired. By making this a civilian position, the city will be able to put a new police officer on the street while hiring someone with specific technical training for these types of tasks. Approved
UTILITY PUBLIC HEARING
National Grid – Request installation of heavy duty handhole and electric conduit in front of 43 Market Street. Approved.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER
- A) Abandoned Properties. There are 238 problem properties of which 80 are abandoned. Most are owned by lenders. Councilor Elliott asks how you make these properties productive? Eric Slagle says one was is through receivership. Another way is to demolish the property and sell the land. City Solicitor explains how the city formerly handled these cases. There are several different ways that lead to demolition. Council has long discussion about whether the city can do the receivership program using city resources only (whereas Attorney General’s office is doing 20 properties in Centralville only). Councilor Kennedy asks for a report on what it would take for the city to pursue receivership in other neighborhoods using city resources only. Councilors are focusing on a house on Clark Road that had serious fire damage more than a year ago. The city has withheld active measures because there is a dispute between the homeowner and his insurer. Councilors think the city should be more aggressive on this property.
- B) Policy for Take Home Vehicles. Some police officers have to respond directly to events such as K-9 officers, those assigned to a regional SWAT team, also detectives and supervisors.
- C) Parking Rate Signage
- D) Branch and Middlesex Business Corridor
- E) Downtown Coordinator
- F) Street Acceptance
- G) Municipal Bond/ Note Sale
- H) 2017 Management Letter
Communication – City Manager request Out of State Travel (2) LPD; (1) HHS.
Presentation – Lowell National Historic Park (Laurel Racine, Chief Cultural Resources) – Branding Lowell Exhibit. Exhibit opening at Mogan Center on Saturday, March 24 at 3pm. Public is invited. Exhibit explores use of seals, logos and brands in Lowell through its history. Mark Van Der Hyde who researched and designed most of the panels shows slides of some of the logos.
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Vote-Authorize City Manager Ex. Easement with National Grid 16 Franklin Street.
Vote-Appprove the exemption of Brady Finn from MGL c. 268A, s.20
Vote-Auth CM Ex. License Agreement with United Dental Inc for overhanging sign at 131 Merrimack Street
Vote-Transfer 163,510.00 to cover FY18 Fire Dept.
ORDINANCES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Ordinance-Create new position and salary Lowell Community Opioid Outreach Program (Co-op) Supervisor in the HHS Dept.
Ordinance-Amend c.266 re Parking rates and fines
REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
Arts and Culture SC March 20, 2018. Chair Karen Cirillo reports on the meeting. Henri Marchand appeared before the subcommittee and listed the things he has worked on. Also heard from Rich Bolton of COOL who talked about the phone app they’re working on for walking tours of the city. He’s going to work with Lowell Walks to build up to 50 different walking tours around Lowell.
Claim – (2) Property Damage.
Misc. – Broadway Street Holdings, Inc. request license for storage of flammables (2,000 gals. Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel #2; AST) at 706 Broadway Street.
Misc. – Vijoy Abraham on behalf of Shannon Stallworth request installation of (1) handicap parking sign at 33 Read Street.
CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS
- Cirillo – Req. Arts and Culture SC work in conjunction with the cultural commission to promote public art in and around the City.
- Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding rejuvenation of the Tour de Lowell; report to include information from prior races in the City. Councilor Cirillo talked about how the Tour de Lowell used to work. It was very popular. Councilor Kennedy says this is the kind of thing that would fit into the festivals that he and other councilors have advocated for the city.
- Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding spring tree and flower plantings in the City; report to include schedule of plantings, number of plantings and area of plantings.
- Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. provide an update report regarding National Grid’s gas pipeline project for a new 12 inch line to replace current 6 inch line which will run through Chelmsford, Lowell and Tewksbury. Registered speakers – Marissa Shea says she supports this motion. She opposes the pipeline but whatever your position on it, there is much more information needed. National Grid says this is needed for future growth of gas usage but speaker says the city and the state are on a path to renewable energy, so why is this needed now? Next speaker is Monica Lundberg
- Conway – Req. City Mgr. have proper City officials make a presentation to the Substance Abuse SC relative to steps being taken to combat the opiate epidemic. Councilor Kennedy says former Councilor Belanger and Councilor Mercier co-chair the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force and he suggests they make this presentation.
- Conway – Req. City Mgr. have Law Dept. provide a report regarding when the names of applicants for positions in the City can be properly disclosed to public.
- Elliott – Req. City Mgr. explore feasibility of providing 15 minute parking space at 56 Branch Street.
- Elliott – Req. City Mgr. explore feasibility of providing a loading zone parking space located at 32 Branch Street.
- Kennedy – Req. Zoning SC consider amending the current parking regulations for boarding homes and make recommendation to City Council. Councilor Kennedy explains this and the other motion are related. They ask to look at current regulations in zoning codes about boarding and lodging houses. He believes there are many properties that are operating as boarding houses when they are not licensed to do so. Regarding parking requirements, he believes circumstances have changed since that time when these were enacted.
- Kennedy – Req. Zoning SC review and consider amendments to the zoning code; specifically for definitions for “boarding houses” and “family” in Art. II and the Table of Uses in Art. I.
- Samaras – Req. City Council set up a joint meeting of the Public Safety SC with the Student Services SC of the School Committee to discuss safety in our schools. Mayor explains the school committee is responsible for school safety but the city is responsible for the police and fire departments and the buildings. Reports from the shooting in Florida suggest the plan there was inadequate. He would like the city council subcommittee and school committee to meet. He adds that he understands the school department has done a professional safety session but does not want to disclose weaknesses in a public session. City Solicitor says it would be appropriate to review this in executive session and she will contact the school department about scheduling a meeting. Councilor Kennedy says this motion is helpful because it will cause the council and school committee to work together. It should also provide some comfort to parents. Councilor Conway says he will support this but says several weeks ago he tried to reactivate the old safety task force, so that was passed but he is confused why this is needed if that’s already going to be done. Mayor Samaras responds that the safety task force was mostly focused on children who had and caused problems. But those meetings didn’t address things like advance planning for such events, especially the portion that would be held in executive session. Councilor Elliott asks for an update on whether school resource officers have changed their protocols in light of recent events around the country. Motion passes.
ADJOURNMENT: 9:25 pm.