Lowell City Council Meeting: April 3, 2018
Citation – LFD in recognition of Dennis Moran, Jr. Also, citation to Lowell High Air Force JROTC for multiple first place finishes in drill competition in Dayton, Ohio.
Communication – Update regarding Manager Donoghue contract. Will be discussed in Executive Session later tonight.
Minutes Of Zoning SC March 27th; City Council Special Meeting March 27th; City Council Meeting March 27th, For Acceptance.
GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
Ordinance-Create new position and salary Lowell Community Opioid Outreach Program (Co-op) Supervisor in the HHS Dept. Person speaking in favor reviews history of the Co-op program which has been in action for three years. The team consists of a police officer, a fire fighter and a drug counselor. Over time, the Co-op team has grown and has added other specialists. It’s grown to the point where there is a need for someone to supervise on a day-to-day basis and to be the liaison with other agencies. Fire Chief Winward speaks in favor. Says the team is saving many lives in the city. Says Police Supt Taylor is also in favor of this. Manager Geary says there is funding in the budget for this, that it comes out of the regular city budget because it is an epidemic and should be part of basic city services. Council votes unanimously for it.
Ordinance-Amend c.266 re Parking rates and fines. Steven Green of downtown neighborhood association speaks in favor of this. Says it creates a slow, steady increase. Says maintenance is a constant need. City Parking Director Nick Navin speaks in favor. Says rates haven’t been raised since 2003. It also allows small increases annually. Speaking in opposition: Martha Howe who owns a business, shares office space with 8 lawyers. Says there are many disincentives to small businesses to stay downtown. Most lawyers have moved out. We are subsidizing all of the public institutions that use the garages. Says this is short sighted, you’re making the small business owners pay for the new parking garage. Asks councilors to vote against this. Atty Mike Najjar speaks in opposition to it. Has a letter from the building’s property manager (Hildreth Ventures, owner of 45 Merrimack Street). Says the city needs to incentivize businesses coming downtown. Says he has lost numerous prospective tenants because of the cost of parking. Says to raise the rates would be short sited. Atty Najjar says there are 12 in his office who use the garages. Recounts all the problems downtown business owners encounter. Todd Beauregard owns law office and building on Central St. Employs ten people. Says many people he talks with who work downtown believe the city is on the cusp of some great improvements but it needs more small businesses. Says large organizations like Wannalancit Mills gets a huge discount but a small business owner pays the full amount. Adds that the city’s tax base has been diminishing due to expansion of non taxed entities such as UMass Lowell (which does bring many benefits) so if small businesses that pay taxes leave it will have a negative longterm impact on downtown. Atty Greg Curtis has had an office downtown for 35 years. Says increasing the parking for small businesses is not the way to go. He reads from a city memo that links the funding for a new parking garage with increasing all the other parking spaces. Councilor Elliott says he is not willing to support this ordinance as presented. He says the speakers raise valid points, especially at a time when we have many vacant storefronts. He asks about varied rates for different ordinances. Mr. Navin says this ordinance does preserve the pre-existing discounts. There is a resident discount. He said only 4% of garage users pay the full amount. Elliott says it should be referred back to the finance subcommittee. Seconded by Councilor Mercier. Councilor Conway is opposed to a 40% increase. He said there are a lot of vacancies downtown and we shouldn’t be pushing people out. Says he won’t support this. Councilor Mercier says we don’t want to chase people away. A smaller increase would be more appropriate but that increase should be across the board. Councilor Kennedy says he will vote to send it back to the subcommittee but he doesn’t understand why it is back before the council without a recommendation from the subcommittee. Councilor Milinazzo supports sending it back to the subcommittee. Suggests the revenue should be raised through increased fines. Doesn’t want to put the burden of paying for a new garage on the backs of small businesses that have been in downtown for decades. Councilor Nuon agrees that the increase is unfair to small businesses. He observes that those who spoke in opposition were all attorneys who are comfortable speaking in settings like this, but he suggests many other business owners are opposed to this too but they may be hesitant to speak out. Kennedy says that the city needs two or three new garages. He says at least one of them will be walking distance to the Gallagher Terminal. He says in the past that federal transportation funds have been available in the past for parking garages close to train stations. He said federal funding for one of the garages would be very helpful. Councilor Leahy says the rates do have to go up because the cost of maintaining the garages goes up. He is OK with sending it to the finance subcommittee. Manager Geary says he hears the council loud and clear and will rework this ordinance. He says he had his own law office so he sympathizes with the lawyers and their challenges. He says the city administration will take another crack at this. Council votes unanimously to refer this back to the finance subcommittee.
Broadway Street Holdings, Inc. request license for storage of flammables (3,000 gals. Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel #2; AST) at 706 Broadway Street. Approved.
Motion Response – Additional Engineering Staff. There were some illnesses and absences in the engineer’s office this year so there was a backlog of street acceptances. This situation has been resolved now.
Informational – LMA Contract Award. Conor Baldwin explains that the selection committee that reviewed the RFPs unanimously recommended the award of the contract to Lowell Management Group. Its submission was scored highly advantageous in all categories. Consequently, the city solicitor has been requested to negotiate a contract with this group. They don’t expect any problems with that. The new group should take over on July 1, 2018. Councilor Kennedy says he served on the selection committee and is very excited about the plans of the new group. He then moves that this be referred to the Law Department to draw up the contract. He suggests that the night the council votes on the contract the new management group make a presentation on their plans. Councilor Elliott points out that this was a fair, open process. He is confident that this new group will do great things at the auditorium. The RFP sought a five year contract with a three year option to the city. Councilor Milinazzo asks if the FY19 budget proposes level-funding the city’s contribution to the auditorium.
[taken earlier in the evening]. Communication – Presentation by Atty. Richard Sandman regarding class action opioid lawsuit. His office is in Malden but he’s part of a consortium of nine law firms that are taking on the pharmacy companies that make and distribute opioids. The suit is not against doctors or pharmacists but against pharmaceutical producers and distributors. These distribution companies make massive amounts of money by shipping massive amounts of opioids. He goes into the history of the growth of opioid distribution. Then about the cost paid in lives and related costs to cities like Lowell. This is not a class action, however, these cases have been consolidated in a Multidistrict Litigation setting in Ohio. There, discovery will be conducted and settlement discussions will take place. If the case cannot be settled, it will be referred back to the US courts in Massachusetts. The causes of action are for public nuisance, RICO, consumer protection violation and negligence. Council Kennedy asks why the rate of addiction in Massachusetts is so much higher than the rest of the country. Lawyer says demand is what drives it; says there’s a debate about whether it is going north from Mass or south from New Hampshire. Lawyer says a very concentrated population contributes to that. Lawyer says they are seeking the confidential DEA database on where these drugs are being (legally) distributed. Councilor Elliott says it was a very good presentation. Attorney explains they are doing this on a contingent fee basis so it won’t cost the city anything unless there is a recovery and then the attorneys will take a percentage of it the amount recovered.
Communication – City Manager request Out of State Travel (1) LPD. Approved.
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
[taken up earlier in the meeting]. Vote-Transfer $156,435 for purchase and installation of equipment needed to meet intended purchase of mobile production van. Leo Creegan speaks in support of this. Three years ago Brian Martin approached Mr. Creegan with a plan to rejuvenate the TV studio at Lowell High. Martin asked students for proposals about the studio. As a result the TV studio was rebranded the Colleen Creegan Media Center. The second part of the proposal was to use Comcast funds to the city to purchase a new TV van that would allow for mobile production. The school has obtained a proposal for such a vehicle. This requested transfer would pay for that. This money would come from money that Comcast pays to the city for the right to provide cable service to Lowell residents. Mr Creegan thanks Brian Martin, Mayor Samaras, and Kevin Murphy for working together to craft this proposal. Manager Geary says this proposal is consistent with the intent of this funding. Passes unanimously.
Vote-Transfer $6,000 in funds for the purchase of new computer equipment for use within the Health Department. Approved.
REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
Zoning SC April 3, 2018. Councilor Milinazzo gives report. Discussion was about marijuana distribution facilities. Subcommittee recommends ordinance goes back to law department to be drafted in proper form. Recommended changes are to require Planning Board approval of permits and also to grandfather in Patriot Care which has been operating several sites in the city for several years. Once this comes back from Law Dept it will be referred to Planning Board for their vote then it will come back to the city council. Referred to law department.
Wire Insp. – National Grid – Request installation of heavy duty handhole and electric conduit in front of 43 Market Street. Approved.
Claims – (3) Property Damage. Referred to law department.
Misc. – Silvette Figueroa request installation of (1) handicap parking sign at 16 Ames Street. Referred to traffic engineer for a report.
CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS
C. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding condition of fire stations in the City. Councilor Nuon says several fire houses are in great disrepair. Approved.
C. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. provide list of names and terms of service for City boards and commissions. Councilor Nuon says the other night at a Coalition for a Better Acre event people said one of the best things about Lowell was its diversity. Says this is an attempt to better diversify some of those who are serving on boards and commissions. Says he wants well-qualified individuals but there are ample well-qualified people from diverse groups in the city.
C. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. provide update regarding downtown spring cleaning. Councilor Milinazzo says he was on Middlesex Street in downtown on Saturday and said there was a lot of trash that needed to be picked up. Councilor Elliott asks about how to dispose of downed limbs. Manager Geary says it would be difficult to have the DPW pick up downed limbs. He says the yard waste program might be extended to allow people to put branches out then. Councilor Kennedy said Manager Murphy had said the branch drop off was going to be extended until the end of April. Asst. CM McGovern says they are working with DPW to be able to make that extension. Kennedy also says the city should consider doing a curbside pick up of branches so the council should get an estimate for what that would cost so they can decided whether to implement that.
CITY COUNCIL – EXECUTIVE SESSION – 9 p.m.
Executive Session – To discuss pending contract negotiations with incoming City Manager Eileen M. Donoghue, public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position. Council votes to go into Executive Session. Council then debates whether to possibly take a vote when the executive session is over. Councilor Elliott makes a motion to adjourn from the executive session. That motion passes 6 to 3 with Mayor Samaras and Councilors Leahy and Cirillo voting against. [There seems to be an expectation that the council in executive session would accept the employment agreement that’s been negotiated by the mayor with the new city manager, however, the council would have to take a vote in open session to enter into that agreement. Those voting “No” want to have that option so a public vote could be taken tonight which would allow Eileen Donoghue to begin as City Manager on Monday. Councilors wishing to adjourn from executive session argue that few from the public will hang around until after the executive session to see what happens afterwards. They believe it would be more transparent to have the public vote at some other time, like at the next city council meeting, even if that would delay Donoghue taking office for a few days].
One Response to Lowell City Council Meeting: April 3, 2018
I would like to thank Councilor Nuon for his motion on the firehouses. As a member of the department I can tell you the stations are in poor condition. A study in 1970 recommended most be replaced, yet we still use eight buildings constructed before 1923 today. The average age of Lowell firehouses is 105 years old. The newest being forty-one years old. For perspective the city is preparing to tear down and replace a portion of the high school newer than any fire station. None of the neighborhood fire stations even has a back up generator. If the power goes out we have to disconnect the garage door motor and use brooms to raise the doors. There isn’t a back up dispatching system, we have to rely on battery powered portable radios when we lose power. We lose use of computers and VOIP phones.
The consultant in charge of the last fire department study, The Carlson Group, in 2016 said if the city invested in the current buildings we could get another hundred years or more out of them and they are already well located for our call distribution. He estimated complete overhauls of approximately one million dollars per building, of which there are eight active stations and two administrative buildings, whereas construction of one new station could cost twenty million by itself. Not to mention we would preserve many attractive structures with historical value.
I think the report will be a real eye opener. Currently I am waiting for clean up from the remnants of a 3000 gallon sewage backup/flood which caused old asbestos to be released from an old boiler in the basement of my station. The asbestos has to be remediated before any other clean up can be undertaken. The city is currently looking for bids and means to pay for the clean up.
I know no one moves here because of the conditions of firehouses and police stations, and in general these are not places the public enters often, but these buildings make the schools look like palaces. I think parents and schools would seriously reconsider taking the kids on a trip to visit the fire stations if they knew what was inside. I think the expectation is that because public safety workers already have dangerous jobs and injury protection, we are expected to simply put up with it as a condition of employment.
Governor Baker signed public workplace OSHA requirements into law for Massachusetts last month. Though this may become another unfunded mandate, It would be wise for Lowell to take look at the safety of all its public workplaces before an injury compels the federal government to issue fines and mandatory compliance measures. We have already seen how expensive that can be in the past with the combined sewer overflow compliance issue. The City of Medford is dealing with similar conditions in their fire stations.