There was no Lowell City Council meeting last week. Normally the meeting would have been held on Tuesday night, but the preceding Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday and I believe City Hall was closed entirely on Friday which is the day on which the Tuesday night agenda must be finalized. As a result, the Council cancelled the meeting.
The assault and battery on a family member charges pending against Councilor Corey Robinson remained in the news this week. (If you missed the details of the arrest, see last week’s newsletter.) The Sun had two stories, both by Melanie Gilbert, that were mostly derived from the audio transcript of Robinson’s dangerousness hearing at the Lowell District Court on November 16, 2023.
The first article, “’Argument that got out of control” quotes Robinson’s then-attorney, former City Manager John Cox, as telling the judge that the charges were the result of “an argument that got out of control under crazy circumstances” and that Robinson and the alleged victim had been “in a relationship for multiple years – five years.” Cox also said that while Robinson denied ever touching the victim, he “knocked the beer out of her hand.” (Several days later Robinson replaced Cox with Attorney Ryan Sullivan who issued a statement that Robinson “did not, nor would he, put his hands on another person out of anger or violence.”)
The second Sun article, published on November 28, 2023, (“Allegations against Corey Robinson of prior domestic, sexual assaults”) shared more of the prosecution’s argument at the November 16, 2023, hearing at which the prosecution asked the judge to hold Robinson in custody until his trial in January. Here’s more from that Sun story:
Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Isabelle Bertolozzi described Robinson, who has been in an on-again/off-again relationship with his girlfriend for five years, as having a pattern of increasingly threatening behavior toward the alleged victim.
“The commonwealth submits in its argument for pretrial detention, that this is not an isolated incident but a demonstration of a pattern of escalating behavior toward (the alleged victim),” Bertolozzi said. “The commonwealth additionally submitted three incident reports, which detail police responses to the residence of (the alleged victim) from the past six months.”
Bertolozzi told the court that two of the three calls — in June and July — were made by Robinson to Dracut Police alleging that the victim was suicidal, but responding officers did not find her to be in distress nor under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“She indicated to officers at that time that she had been suffering from harassment by Mr. Robinson, and at that time she had indicated a wish to get an abuse prevention order at the Lowell District Court,” Bertolozzi said, according to the court audio recording.
A third call in September, made by the victim to the Dracut Police, alleged that Robinson had “nonconsensual sexual contact” with her, Bertolozzi said.
“… in speaking with the police, she indicated a concern of telling the police about what happened or talking to the police or even be evaluated by a hospital because Mr. Robinson would know or find out and expressed vast discomfort with police on scene for Mr. Robinson still being present,” Bertolozzi said.
At the end of the hearing, according to the Sun, the judge found that the prosecution had proven “by clear and convincing evidence” that Robinson was “a danger” but rejected the prosecution’s request that he be held in custody until his trial and instead ordered that Robinson be fitted with a GPS tracking monitor (commonly called “an ankle bracelet”) with strict limits on his activities.
As for his duties as a Lowell City Councilor, Robinson was absent from the November 21, 2023, which was the only meeting held since his arrest. However, the Council is scheduled to meet this coming Tuesday, December 5, 2023, and according to the online agenda for that meeting, Robinson has filed five new motions. They all request updates from the City Manager on:
- Implementation of the 311 system
- Potential business district improvements to Bridge and Third Street parking lot
- City’s status of winter operations preparedness
- Any potential parking locations in the denser neighborhoods for winter operations
- Update on leaf removal operations in all public green space.
These motions suggest Robinson will participate in the meeting, either in person or remotely via Zoom.
It will be interesting to see the reaction of Robinson’s Council colleagues, a majority of whom have publicly asked that he “step aside from his position on the City Council pending the final outcome of the legal proceedings” as I wrote last week.
Four of the Councilors who made that request, Wayne Jenness, Vesna Nuon, John Leahy, and John Drinkwater, have a motion on this week’s agenda requesting the City Manager “have the proper department provide a report on best practices for adding censure of a member to the City Council rules.”
Under state law as it currently exists, there is no mechanism for either the Council or the voters of Lowell to remove a Councilor from office once elected and sworn in. However, that does not mean that Councilors are powerless to act against a colleague in circumstances in which they feel it’s warranted.
For example, Councilors could refuse to second any of the motions filed by their wayward colleague and, if someone did second such a motion, the other Councilors could insist on a roll call vote for each motion and then vote against it. If a majority voted No, the motion would not pass. You can’t do much on the Lowell City Council with just one vote, so this would be the practical equivalent of forcing a Councilor to “step aside.”
For a Council that has for the most part valued collegiality and unity, these might seem like extreme measures, but if the Councilors who have called for Robinson to step aside want to back up their words with actions, they do have options.
Councilors Leahy and Jenness also have a joint motion requesting the Council discuss and approve a procedure to fill a vacant Council position open during the term. This came up two Council meetings ago and I wrote about it in my November 19, 2023, newsletter.
To briefly review, under the current City Charter (which is state law), the losing candidate with the most votes in the prior election would fill the vacancy. For example, if one of the three current at large Councilors resigned, the fourth-place finisher in the last election would fill the vacancy and serve until the end of the Council term. Similarly, if a District Councilor was unable to serve, the second-place finisher in that district in the last election would fill the vacant seat until the end of the term.
This “first losing candidate with the most votes” process of filling a vacancy made sense in a nine member all at large City Council, but I’m not sure it’s the best way to fill a vacancy in a district council system that only allows for two candidates in a district election. (If there are more than two, the others are eliminated in a preliminary election and do not appear on the ballot in the general election.)
While you can question the wisdom of this process, at least there’s a process in place. That’s not the case when there is no losing candidate. For example, in last month’s election, there was only one candidate in each of two Council districts (incumbents Dan Rourke and John Leahy were both unopposed in their districts). If a vacancy occurred in either of those districts, there is currently no legal mechanism to fill the vacancy. As I wrote on November 19, there is a bill pending in the legislature to have the remaining City Councilors plus the members of the School Committee choose the person to fill the vacancy, but that bill seems far from enactment for now.
Speaking of elections, the Boston Globe recently reported that the Massachusetts state legislature set the date of next year’s primary election for Tuesday, September 3, 2024, instead of Tuesday, September 17, which was the expected day of the primary. The Globe opined that the move was likely an incumbent protection measure since turnout will be lighter on the day after Labor Day than it would be in the middle of the month.
To be fair to legislators, there are strict deadlines for when absentee ballots must be mailed out for the November 5, 2024, Presidential election. If the Primary was not held until September 17 and if some office on that ballot had a recount that delayed certification and the preparation of the November election ballot, election officials might be unable to meet the absentee ballot deadline. While every vote should count, this situation is of particular concern because many of those absentee ballots will be bound for U.S. service members deployed overseas which is a group no one wants to disenfranchise.
The Globe suggests that the time crunch could be better addressed by moving the Primary Election to the spring which is when it is held in many other states, but it is unlikely that the legislature would do that because it would give new candidates more time to mount challenges against incumbents.
In the aftermath of last month’s municipal elections around the state which saw historically low turnout in Lowell but also in Boston, the Globe also recommended that municipal elections be moved from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years so that they would be held on the same day as quadrennial elections for President and Governor, both of which have much higher turnout than when municipal offices are on the ballot by themselves.
Undoubtedly election officials will have some practical objections to holding municipal and state elections at the same time, but none of the objections I’ve heard seems insurmountable if the will to make the change is there. However, since incumbents generally fare better in a low turnout election than they do when everyone votes, it’s unlikely anything will change.
If you haven’t already seen them on richardhowe.com, please check out the appreciation of outgoing Coalition for a Better Acre Executive Director Yun-Ju Choi written by Charlie Gargiulo who was one of the founders of the CBA.
Also check out “From Darkness into Light-Thankful Tonight” by Lowell native and first-time blog contributor Ed DeJesus. The story describes Ed’s experience in Lowell during the historic East Coast blackout on November 9, 1965.