Lowell Week in Review: April 1, 2018

New City Manager

Congratulations to Eileen Donoghue on her selection as Lowell’s seventeenth city manager. After voting for her unanimously on Tuesday night, the council assigned the task for negotiating an employment agreement to Mayor Samaras. This coming Tuesday night, one of the early items on the agenda is a communication titled “update regarding Manager Donoghue Contract” [but wait, we don’t give city managers “contracts,” just employment agreements, so even though an agreement is a contract, we can’t call it a “contract” because that might upset some people]. Presumably, Donoghue’s EMPLOYMENT AGREEMENT has been wrapped up and she’ll take office soon.

In her interview, Donoghue stressed the importance of state government in Lowell’s continued well-being, pointing out that as someone who has served as both a councilor and a state senator, she is uniquely suited to make that state-city partnership as productive as possible. She did point out that the city-state relationship benefits both parties, since Lowell does such a good job of making the most out of state funding it receives.

A big part of Donoghue’s economic development strategy will be to attract companies from across the United States that are interested in locating in Cambridge or Boston but can’t find or afford space there. She feels that between the Hamilton Canal District, UMass Lowell, and the presence of a well-educated, technically-savvy workforce, Lowell will be attractive to these businesses.

In some ways this reflects the city’s promotion of the cultural economy during the years that Donoghue served as mayor. Back then, artists found themselves priced out of South Boston, Charlestown, and Somerville. Lowell made some zoning changes to make it easier for artists to live and work here and then promoted itself to them and they responded by coming here. That’s one of the reasons we have such a vibrant arts community today. Hopefully that approach will work again.

Donoghue said that economic development is key to moving Lowell forward because increased economic development will grow the tax base and increase revenue coming into the city. That way, the constant struggle for resources between the various arms of municipal government can be eased somewhat. She compared economic development to a tabletop that sat upon four legs: (1) public safety; (2) sound fiscal policies by city government; (3) strong partnerships; and (4) healthy neighborhoods.

Equal Opportunity Employment

Does the workforce of the city of Lowell reflect the makeup of the community? That’s a question that’s being asked by Councilor Vesna Nuon and others. Councilor Nuon brought it up in Eileen Donoghue’s interview, asking “The city workforce is not very diverse; what would you do about that?”

Donoghue replied, “It’s important in a city such as Lowell to include representatives of each community. We want to hire the best person for the job but we want to ensure that job opportunities are accessible to everyone.”

At last week’s meeting, councilors passed a Nuon motion requesting a report from the city manager “regarding equal opportunity employment in the city.” At the same meeting, councilors also received a report from the Human Relations Director in response to a previous motion by Councilor Nuon seeking information about “outreach in hiring process including breakdown of results in following categories: race, gender, veteran status and residency.”

The full report is available online but a couple of paragraphs warrant inclusion here:

The standard hiring outreach process consists of posting vacant positions on the City‘s website and providing each department with a copy of the posting. Individuals who are subscribed to the City’s employment opportunities listserv are automatically emailed once the position becomes available online. Upon the request of the Department Head, vacant positions may also be advertised with outside agencies/organizations as they see fit. In addition, word of mouth serves as another effective means of outreach. [Emphasis supplied].

When it comes to the categories (race, gender, veteran status and residency) requested by the motion, the short answer is, the city doesn’t have that information for workers outside the police and fire departments (where Civil Service requires it). Here’s the explanation contained in the report:

[T]he voluntary self-reporting information [regarding race, etc.], which is optional, requests information including gender and ethnic origin. In general, approximately half of all applicants will submit an employment application for consideration. Of those who do submit an employment applications, approximately 90% decline to submit responses to the voluntary self-reporting information.

So the primary means of finding out about job openings is by visiting the city website or through word of mouth, and 90% of people who submit employment applications opt not to specify their gender or ethnic background.

Is there some reason why the city can’t obtain that information after someone is hired? Would asking (and requiring a response) violate some statute? Or a union contract? If not, it would seem that in a city as diverse as Lowell, having that kind of demographic information about the city’s workforce would be a good idea.

One person (besides Councilor Nuon) who is concerned with this issue is Bobby Tugbiyele who registered to speak on Councilor Nuon’s motion last Tuesday. Tugbiyele read a statement to the councilors which he later emailed me. The meeting had been going on for a while by the time this motion came up and I didn’t try to capture Tugbiyele’s remarks in my Council Meeting Notes, but I think his comments are worth revisiting so I’ll repeat them here in their entirety:

My name is Bobby Tugbiyele and I the Founder and CEO of The Leap Network, LLC which specializes in the recruitment of diverse and underrepresented healthcare providers. Prior to launching my business only 5 months ago, I spent the last 10+ years in recruitment and Human Resources in both Corporate and Not-For-Profit in Boston as well as here in the Merrimack Valley.

My journey to Lowell started in 2001 after transferring from Tufts University to UMass Lowell (Go Riverhawks!).

I ultimately graduated and happened to meet an amazing woman at UMass Lowell who is now my wife and mother of our two young sons. We chose to purchase a home in Lowell and have been homeowners, entrepreneurs and active participants in our community for almost a decade. I could not have known it in 2001 but all of the circumstances and decisions that led to us to this point are part of a larger narrative around the significance of community relationships, activism, culture and diversity- All things we know and believe to be social and economic strengths of Lowell.

I want to applaud Councilor Vesna Nuon for making it a point to file a motion to take a deeper dive into our city’s hiring process. As an HR and Recruiting professional, I examined the report from the city’s HR Director from a myriad of perspectives all of which point to a critical opportunity for our city to better recruit, retain and leverage its diverse human capital.

In a city where our academic institutions often highlight its diverse domestic and international student body.

In a city where our healthcare mavens celebrate serving 1 in 3 Lowell residents in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.

In a city that celebrates “Little Cambodia…”

In a city that erects monuments in remembrance of past genocides…

In a city whose culture and bizarre foods attract the likes of Andrew Zimmern…

In a city that attracts Hollywood and produces Blockbuster movies…

In a city that says there is a lot to like about Lowell…

I must say, there is not a lot to like about this report!

I must say there is not a lot to like about high school students of color saying they have never had an administrator or teacher who look like them or who can speak their language!

I must say there is not a lot to like about students who have never had a curriculum about African-American History outside of slavery and the civil rights movement!

I must say there is not a lot to like about only 10 Asian police officers two of whom are women!

I must say there is not a lot to like about celebrating our diversity when it is convenient or when it is a driver of grant funding but turn our heads when that same diversity is dismally and disproportionately underrepresented in our workforce!

Speaking for citizens of all cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds and life-experiences I can say that this motion is a real conversation starter. The conversations we will have today, I believe, will enhance our lives and our city tomorrow. Human Resources and Talent Acquisition professionals understand that the wealth and engine of any organization is not it’s products but more so it’s people. It’s Human Capital.

If the report produced by our city’s Human Relations Director is Lowell’s Human Capital report, we as a city must do better.

In a related matter, a public meeting on the Voting Rights lawsuit pending against the city of Lowell will be held on Monday, April 9, 2018, from 5:30 to 8 pm at the PCEA Neema Church (formerly Polish American Veterans Club) at 201 Coburn Street. This event will update the public on the status of the lawsuit pending against the city of Lowell which alleges that the city’s vote for nine at large method of electing city councilors violates the Federal Voting Rights Act in that it dilutes the votes of the minority community. This meeting is hosted by Lowell Votes, Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, Coalition for a Better Acre and Lowell Alliance. Food and translation services will be provided.

Planning Board Projects

Here are a couple of interesting projects now pending before the Lowell Planning Board:

26 Market St – Intended use: International Union of Painters & Allied Trades building office. This space is on the ground floor of the large building at the corner of Market and Central streets. Most recently, it was MicroDot US (a scalp pigmentation store). The space is next door to the Wings Over Lowell restaurant. The application states that the Painters’ Union in cooperation with the Merrimack Valley Building Trades Council wants this ground floor space for its business office so that it can attract new members into its union, particularly through apprenticeship programs.

230-234 Appleton St (twin gray buildings with Auto Upholstery business in stone garage)

230-234 Appleton St – Intended use is 15 residential units. This space is currently home to American Auto Seat Upholstery on the ground floor with nine residential units on the upper floors of adjoining wood frame buildings. Heading down Appleton Street from the Lord Overpass, this building is just after the Owl Diner. The proposed project would demolish the existing structure and replace it with a new structure that would consist of four interior parking spaces on the first floor with 15 residential units on the upper floors. By current zoning requirements, the number and size of units would require 31 off-street parking spaces. In light of the site’s proximity to the Edward Early Parking Garage, the Gallagher Terminal, and the LRTA bus route, the developers argue that most of the people who will live there will use public transportation and so are asking the Planning Board for a waiver of the parking requirements to allow the project to proceed with just the four first floor interior parking spaces.

25 Merrimack (former Babylon Restaurant; future Walgreens)

25 Merrimack St – Intended us is a Walgreens “Retail Community Pharmacy.” This space was most recently occupied by the Babylon Restaurant and is right next door to the CVS Pharmacy. The proposal to the planning board states that this Walgreens will be staffed with specialized pharmacists and related professionals who are trained to help people with serious illnesses such as cancer, Hepatitis, HIV or MS “navigate the complexities of their treatment.”

Related to planning and economic development, the Downtown Lowell 2018 & Beyond open house which was postponed due to a past snowstorm has been rescheduled to this Wednesday, April 4, 2018, from 6 to 7:30 pm at Boott Mills Museum, 115 John Street. This session will provide updates on the extension of the Riverwalk from Boott Mills to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium; the upcoming 40th anniversary celebration of Lowell National Historical Park; improvements to Jack Kerouac Park and overall pedestrian access to downtown Lowell; and the lighting of the Cox Bridge. The updates will be followed by a general question and answer session of city and National Park officials.

Upcoming Events

Audience at 2014 Lowell Social Media Conference

On Sunday, April 15, 2018, at 2pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, Paul Marion and I will lead a community discussion on the role of social media- past, present and future in Lowell. We’ll be joined by Marie Sweeney and Tony Accardi, who with Paul and I, are the four initial contributors to this blog which launched in back in March 2007, before there was Facebook or Twitter.

The event is built around our book, History as It Happens: Citizen Bloggers in Lowell, Mass., but given the role of social media nationally and locally in our last two elections, we’ve decided to treat the event as a revival of the Lowell Social Media Conference which was last held on December 6, 2014.

Here is some of what I wrote about the Social Media Conference back then:

Thanks to all who attended yesterday’s 2nd annual Lowell Social Media Conference at LTC.  We had some great presentations and plenty of audience participation.  The 3rd annual Social Media Conference will be held on the first Saturday in December next year (which happens to be December 5, 2015) so save the date.

Besides the four main presenters who all did PowerPoints from the podium, there were at least eleven others who I called upon to pop-up and talk about how they and their organizations are using social media to help accomplish their goals.  Looking around the crowd of 61 people, I could have called on several dozen more.  It really brought home to me how much is happening in Lowell.

But one of the messages from the conference was that with the profusion of media outlets available today, everyone is on a different channel so it’s tough to reach everyone and for the individual, it’s tough to discover all that is going on in the city.  It’s a challenge but it’s one we should collectively take on because finding a way to effectively aggregate this information would help residents of the city and indeed people from across the state and the region to see Lowell in a different and better light.

So please join us in two weeks (Sunday, April 15 at 2pm) at the Visitor Center for a lively discussion about social media in Lowell.

A Midsummer Dream

There are many great events going in Lowell over the next couple of months. I’ll try to promote each one as it approaches. But today I want to mention a new event just popped up for June that is worthy of your attention: The first-ever Lowell Midsummer Dream Downtown Festival will take place on Saturday, June 16 from noon to 10 p.m. in downtown Lowell. The event’s Facebook page provides this description:

A day and night festival celebrating magic, theatre, art, music, and costume for kids and adults! Merrimack Street will be transformed into a Pixie Marketplace, with vendors, crafting, costume/cosplay contest, fairy house promenade, and a special “traveling” production of Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” that will lead the audience through downtown, traveling from scene to scene.

This free event will be in honor of Lee Pho, owner of Little Delights and a force for magic and joy in Downtown Lowell, who we lost to cancer last year. Brought to you by DIY Lowell, Humanity Boutique, Studio 506, Lowell National Historical Park, the Pollard Library, and Lowell Downtown Neighborhood Association.

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: April 1, 2018

  1. Taxpayer says:

    Walgreens coming to the downtown is actually Very unfortunate for the city of Lowell. This business attracts drug addicts to the downtown area with minimal disposavle income who will only congregate in unflattering manners . This is the market in which the downtown is today. Imagine a pharmacy next to another pharmacy next to a pawn shop across from another pawn shop all within an area of abundance of counseling offices. We are better than this and I Know we all envision a better downtown.

  2. Brian says:

    26 Market St – When the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades spokesperson went in front of the planning board last month one of the planning board members asked what it would look like from the street. The applicant said they will put blinds up in the windows. He also said it will only be open m-f 8:30-3pm. The rest of the time it will be dark.

    This is exactly the type of low-impact business that DOES NOT belong in one of Lowell’s most visible commercial corridors. Their Boston location is appropriately located on a dead-end street in Roslindale, not on Boylston St.

    It could be a great location but for Lowell valuing traffic throughput over place. No on-street parking at the Market-Central-Prescott St intersection means chronic vacancies. Prescott St once had 30 businesses on it.

    Making it easier for people from Dracut to get to Burlington has been the default for too long. Carving out space for on-street parking here and in Kearney Square would reduce vacancies, create jobs, and increase tax revenue to pay for police, fire, and teachers. We shouldn’t wait until we’re broke to remove these barriers to success.