Left In Lowell

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April 16, 2014

Game of Postpones

by at 10:39 am.

Who here is a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones? The world of the books/series revolves around the utter instability and chaos, war, and madness that is brought about by Westeros’ sudden and not-quite-accidental regime change. King Baratheon might not have been the smartest or the best king ever, but his demise heralds the end of the relative peace of the Seven Kingdoms, with his queen’s non-Baratheon bastard children vying with other contenders for the Iron Throne, and the whole countryside erupting in war. Other families take advantage of the chaos to carve out and reclaim their little kingdoms which had been absorbed long ago. Still others just like to party by judicious use of castration and torture, mostly for fun.

Well, folks, take away the castration and violence (but not the drinking) and you have Lowell city politics right now.

Every decision made in the last seven years by past City Councils and the former CM is up for grabs, apparently. No matter how stringent the public involvement in deciding on plans for various projects in the city, be that the very preliminary, not-our-goddamned-decision high school reno or rebuild, or the much-lauded plans for the historic South Common, or any Master Plan element of bike paths or city street realignment or other projects already in the works.

I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if this City Council wanted a redo on the Appleton Mill artist lofts or the Early garage. I mean, hey, we could tear down or repurpose those things and hand them over to your buddies, right?

Supposedly, we have high level experts on the Council now on economic development. What I want to know, is how running a dive bar makes one qualified to build a high school? Or decide that street parking should have less turnover by not enforcing the meters? To me, every word that comes out of Corey Belanger’s mouth showcases a total and absolute lack of understanding of economic development and municipal management. Far be it for experts to have an opinion; Corey is on the job now, so Lowell is gonna make a turnaround. A renaissance. All of the downtown vacancies will be filled by the time his first term is over!

Or, wait. Businesses - small ones, and large ones - like stability when they make their business decisions. They like to know that the plans that were carefully made by transparent and open means, by a crew of amazing (now mostly fled) Planning and Development officials, will be carried out in a timely fashion. It’s no big secret that a lot of plans in Lowell were on hold during the Cox era and were put back on the front burner by the Lynch administration. Now, we’re going to reverse years worth of planning, public participation, and decision making because Corey Belanger wasn’t fucking paying attention during all of that?

Plans can change. Don’t get me wrong. We should be flexible. And I do not have a horse in the very silly race about the high school staying in or moving from downtown. There are merits on both sides. However, my understanding of the process as outlined by a state agency called Massachusetts School Building Authority is that they are the entity that gets to weigh all the factors. What the local idiots on Council can do, by waffling, is take us off the shortlist, which we cannot afford. The high school is in need of either rebuilding or renovating, soon. And “soon” is relative, since getting on the MSBA’s short list means it’ll still take years to go through final decision making. And oh yeah, they, not us, make that final determination about renovation vs. building a new building elsewhere. Based - GASP! - NOT on whatever private developer wants to build something (god knows what, they have yet to say) on the existing high school site, BUT…based on what is best for the students and their education.

I know, shocking.

So who wins in this Game of Postpones? Well, not the students, if Corey Belanger gets his way as an apparently honorary member of the School Committee and of the MSBA. PS - apparently, Mistah Mayah also has an extremely short memory, since all of this planning and participation and discussion happened while he was a City Councilor. So, either he’s dumb and doesn’t remember, or he never really paid any attention to what was going on in the city for the last seven years. Neither explanation is encouraging.

April 4, 2014

Hire a Pol to Hire a Pro?

by at 10:49 am.

I know I’ve been relatively silent lately. Mostly, I just saw us marching into the inevitable City Manager hire and knew there was nothing to stop the crazy train, so it seemed like while there was a ton of things to say, there was really nothing to say. So now, we’re on the other side of the predicable ending of our tale, and have to deal with the aftermath. All righty, then. I still own a home here, and I still vote here, so I’m still an interested party to the future of Lowell.

So why does this not surprise me? “Retired Cambridge manager Healy will serve as Lowell consultant” reads the headline.

Incoming city manager Kevin Murphy plans to hire former longtime Cambridge City Manager Robert Healy as a short-term financial consultant soon after Murphy becomes manager.

Ostensibly, the excuse is, “because we don’t have a CFO yet.” But a real pro, someone like Bernie, could handle the first month without a CFO, instead of hiring a high-priced (albeit very competent) consultant. Had we hired one of the folks who are themselves experienced in managing a budget, this would probably not be necessary.

So that’s the zero skills side of the new CM hire. What about the hack side?

Well, people are worried. Will Murphy, who has a lot of enemies, start “cleaning out” city hall? We’ve already lost so much talent, both coincidentally and because of the loss of Bernie Lynch. Other cities and towns are actively recruiting Lowell city staff because they know they probably want to jump ship. I won’t say there will be vendetta firings at The Castle, but I won’t rule it out, either. Too many people in the know seem to be worried about it to dismiss the notion.


Here are some of my predictions after mulling over recent events and getting lots of input:
1. Kevin Murphy, or KMurph as some of us have been taken to call him, will be here precisely three years. The exact amount of time it takes to boost one’s pension (the pension is based on your top three years’ salary). Mark my words, in precisely three years we’ll be here again, hiring another City Manager. Anyone who thinks this is not at least a lot about the money is adorably naive.

2. This last “change election” won’t hold in 2015. Anecdotally, I have been hearing a lot of anger over Bernie Lynch leaving (directed at the new Council). But that seems to be nothing compared to the anger I’ve heard around KMurph’s hiring as his replacement. Apparently, KM has made a lot of enemies. Some, I’m sure, are a natural result of being a lawyer across the table from many other local people of various types and perhaps being good at his job. Others…I’m not so sure. He is not a beloved local notable. I don’t even think he’s a polarizing figure - the comments seem to be quite skewed towards disgust and not support. Maybe that’s the circle I run in, but my circle runs in lots of other circles and they’re hearing the same thing.

So, any of the people directly associated with obvious pre-picking of KMurph over all possible professionals will be in trouble in 2015. Any anger which remains and/or is stoked by KM as CM will be directed at them. Anecdotally, I hear of a lot of people who voted Belanger or Rourke because they knew them, only to be pissed off at the ousting of Bernie, and the hiring of a hack politician who has lots of enemies as CM. I don’t know how many voters that translates to, but they lost some. I suspect there will be an “enthusiasm gap” for GOBs (Good Ol’ Boys) next time around. The self-aware GOB will still show up, as they always do, but maybe not all their infrequent voter friends will. Ask the national Democrats what an enthusiasm gap looks like…

As a corollary, the traditional anti-GOB heroes have taken a tarnishing on their shiny hero shields. Big disappointments all around for such notables as Bill Martin and Jim Milinazzo, as well as - I hate to say it - Dick Howe Jr. Love ye, Dick, but I really do think you have a blind spot here. The fact our new CM has to hire an actual professional right off the bat, wasting our taxpayer dollars to fill in the total lack of skills he has for this job, already shows how bad of an idea this is. Do we really think KMurph is going to learn enough this budget season to be able to produce one to the level of a Bernie Lynch or a Robert Healy next year?

I mean, yes, sure, at least KMurph seems to know he’s totally unprepared for the job by hiring Healy; but the fact it’s even necessary shows a complete misreading of what Plan E is supposed to look like.

3. We get a grace year or two to coast on Lynch’s 7+ years of success. If KMurph really only stays three years, and he doesn’t totally eff it up, we might be sort of OK. Granted, there’s some serious pipers to pay in the next few years, as Lynch had pointed out - instead of little moderate rises in taxes over the years, Lynch had put (thanks to the pressures of the Council) all of his pretty amazing budgetary efficiencies into keeping the tax rate the same most of the time. KMurph will not find the same level of budget efficiencies - both because a lot of the low-hanging fruit is picked, and because KM is guaranteed not going to be anywhere near as skilled as lifelong muni manager Lynch was at the task.

So, a good predictor of which path we’re taking - We’re Totally Screwed vs. We’re Treading Water So At Least We Won’t Drown - is whether or not the tax rate goes up moderately to address all the costs going up over time with no efficiencies to offset it, and/or we start eating into free cash and reserves this year or next.

March 19, 2014

WaPo Finds Lowell

by at 3:46 pm.

Nice little write up in the Lifestyle - Food section of the Washington Post website. I found it via Facebook. It serves up a taste of Little Cambodia!

Several locations are mentioned, which is really awesome. Let’s bring in the food adventurers! :)

LTC Public Input Meeting on Website

by at 1:34 pm.

LTC is going to be doing its website over this year, and we’re (I say we because I’m on the board and helping them) hosting a public input meeting tonight at 7pm at LTC. Everyone is invited to come - whether you are a member, producer, or just a member of the public who wants to contribute to the bettering of the services offered by LTC’s website!

You can RSVP on Facebook here, or by going through LTC’s website, and if you can’t make it, please take a quick moment to note you can’t make it and fill out the survey.

Hope to see you there!!

Sacred Golden Cows

by at 7:19 am.

I’ve long held the opinion that the so-called Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is a somewhat useless, taxpayer-sucking organization. I’ve gotten to that place by talking a lot to very smart people who are in the position to know better than me.

This is no knock on marketing, of course. Hey, I’m in the web and graphic design business after all. I know marketing works. And we need to develop great events, and market them, bringing people in from outside the city to spend money. Changing a decades-long perception about Lowell is no small feat, and I think we ought to spend some minor amount of money on it; the economic benefits of that are clear. I just do not see that there has been even a dollar of economic activity for every dollar spent on the CVB (in other words, not even sure if we’re breaking even). I think it’s a big waste of money. Could the CVB be a resource? Sure, if it were well run, it might be. But it’s not. I don’t see a return for the city from all the taxpayer dollars spent on that organization. It is, however, run by a well-connected person who has friends on City Council.

Now, I don’t know if the restauranteurs that Jack quotes from old articles about the CVB and the local option meals tax revenue are merely short-sighted, or if they are alyoop-ing the CVB for other reasons, but regardless, I wanted to bring this up because we all know the City Council will not have the debate about whether or not the CVB is actually a good, dollar-for-dollar investment for the city. I mean, when the CVB posts a Facebook photo of the Tyngsboro bridge with the line, “Good morning Lowell!” you have to question the validity of the entire operation. Also, they’ve been part and parcel of the gravy train that was Winterfest; with that fundraising money flowing through the CVB as the “fiscal agent,” they get matching funds from the state.

Keep in mind, that out of the 16 Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus in the state, Lowell is the only city or town to subsidize a CVB directly with money from its own city budget. This has been brought up before under Bernie Lynch, but I know a lot of City Councilors have notoriously short memories.

We have no marketing data to actually measure in any way what the dollar value the CVB brings the city for its contribution as far as I know. Metrics? Pshaw!

Of course, Rita et pals didn’t like the reductions in Bernie’s budgets for what the city gave to the CVB, so expect Lynch’s previous CVB budgetary reduction to a yearly $25K to to be reversed. Of course, Lynch wanted it eliminated but the hue and outcry of the friends of CVB head Deb Belanger was hot and furious - which is one way to be sure this is a GOB move and not a smart one. Bernie was no dummy about where to invest our taxpayer dollars, but the City Council certainly is.

Good money thrown after bad…”that’s a bad way to fly.”

March 18, 2014

Another Hiatus

by at 4:41 pm.

So, until we know the lay of the land with a permanent City Manager, with such pathetic agendas with few motions (this week it’s 5), Blowup of the Week is on vacation. Here’s the agenda.

However, note this:

9.4 C. Belanger - Req. City Mgr. provide a report on income produced on .75 additional meals tax enacted July 1, 2010.

Is Belanger going to use his position as city councilor every week to attack/direct policies that affect his own business, or just most weeks, instead? *rolls eyes*

I Forgot the Best!

by at 8:13 am.

I did have a video of Bernie’s so-called “impromptu” jokes at the end of the breakfast…I can’t believe I forgot to put it at the end. I was going to say, leave the best for last (to go with the worst for first) but instead, leave the best for the next day!

I must be half sleepwalking!

So without much more ado….heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Bernie!

March 17, 2014

Yuks, and Yucks (Updated)

by at 1:29 pm.

Well, I did it. I waded into the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast for the first time ever. I got to sit at the “citizen media group” table, the sign for which, according to seat mate and fellow blogger Greg Page (who was scoring the joke brackets a couple seats away), drew a lot of questions as people walked by.

I took the liberty of shooting a few videos and posting on YouTube. My camera angle was bad and so was my use of the camera, which I was still figuring out how to film video with. Apologies in advance. Luckily, there is an official Channel 22 taping coming eventually and I highly recommend catching that if you want better footage.

It’s all on the flip: (more…)

March 13, 2014

Threads Episode With Bernie

by at 10:29 am.

Two days before Bernie Lynch rode off into the sunset, Threads (my LTC show) guest host Stacie Hargis moderated a roundtable interview with Bernie Lynch, along with Mimi Parseghian and Joe Smith, both active Lowell residents. The online version is in three parts; a retrospective look at Bernie’s tenure; a discussion about what Lowell might be facing in the near and middle-term future; and more general economic development issues. Here they are:

March 11, 2014

Learn to Code for Websites!

by at 10:26 am.

The 3-session class I teach at LTC, Intensive Web Design, is starting this Thursday, March 13, with sessions on subsequent Thursdays on the 20th and 27th. The class goes from 6:30-9:30 PM (the website says 6-9 but we always do 6:30 til 9:30 when LTC closes). We could use some more students for this session! Learn web coding from scratch, no previous web experience needed! Must have basic Mac skills.

We run through a lot of material - a class of this intensity would take up most of a semester at a university or community college. We can get through material faster because the class size is small. Fee for LTC members is $50 with $25 book fee, or $75 with $25 book fee for nonmembers. It is WELL worth the cost!

Here’s the class description:

INTENSIVE WEB DESIGN 1

This 3-session class is an intense, comprehensive HTML/CSS class for those who are really serious about web design. It is taught using DreamWeaver, but you will be able to create your website in other programs. (4 student minimum)

Date & Time: Thursday, March 13, 20, 27 - 6:00-9:00 PM [note - I typically start at 6:30 and end at 9:30pm]
Fee: $50 (non-member $75) plus $25 materials fee for textbook.
To sign up using PayPal, please visit http://ltc.org/content/current-class-schedule and pay the “Intermediate/Advanced workshop fee”
If you’d prefer to pay by cash or check, please email gpolites@ltc.org to reserve a spot.

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