Left In Lowell

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May 24, 2005

Tuesday City Council Blogging - 5/24/05

by at 10:14 pm.

Well, this week’s meeting was a little less contentious, but none-the-less interesting. I waited for the 6:30pm Lowell City Council meeting to start on LTC’s channel 10, eating my ice cream (having eaten my dinner early to avoid starvation) and trying to mentally check off all the things that I still need to do before moving this weekend. But despite my insane schedule this week, it is my privilege to bring you city council bloggity goodness. I watch the city council meetings, so you don’t have to!

More on the flip!

I’ve mentioned this before…and I’ll likely mention it every week: I do not like how a city council meeting is opened, with the Lord’s Prayer. I think it violates separation of church and state, and invoking the specific prayer of one specific religion is against the principles on which this country was founded.

All right, I got that off my chest for this week…so onward.

All city councilors were present at the meeting (or for most of it - Rithy Uong left early).

In the background, the Lowell police dept were in evidence (noted because they wore T-shirts with “LPD” on them). So tonight brought us motions to vote on (or move to committee - more on that in a sec) the city police contracts.

Cox withdrew the firefighter’s contract at the beginning, he didn’t state why.

Eileen Donoghue: reiterates her same view from last week: proposes a motion that all these matters should be referred to finance subcommittee. The two police contracts - to a joint subcomm meeting of Safety and Finance. Howe seconds (now there’s a shocker).

Cox restates his position that he thinks that waiting for a week or two will not produce more information.

Donoghue persists that there’s a number of significant changes in this contract; though the pay increase of 3% is very reasonable (no one but Howe disagrees with this in the whole meeting), there’s something in the contract about changing the uniforms, and also about a “Four and Four” schedule change - four days on, four days off for patrolmen. That they can’t begin to know what this will cost, and that they are very serious issues that should be deliberated on. If we could separate out the 3% raise, she says, she’d have no issue with voting on that part of it.

Howe: I concur with Eileen. We have ordinances in this city, the superintendent is in charge of police officers, including uniform. He mentions how he thinks this 3% raise is really 6% (because it’s retroactive). “Abhors” adopting Four and Four, he sees this as the number of days off for officers doubling, interferes with protection of the city, and cost (does it? He presents no evidence unless that’s in the numbers in the contract, which I don’t have). All we do is sit here and tacitly approve things that end up having impact on city, he says.

[Lynne’s note: It would help me, and others in the city, if agendas for city council meetings and other stuff got posted online…not that any City Councilors are reading this.]

Elliot: still wants to know budget impact for this year. Mentions skyrocketing costs, healthcare, pensions, wonders how we are going to pay for all those. I’m not trying to be anti-union, he says, tell us what it’s going to cost, how we are going to pay for it. If it’s a tax increase, let’s let people know, tell them up front. Most other communities are looking at proposition override. Some of my colleagues are tired of my position? That’s what I ran on, that’s what people are calling me about at my office. We had no layoffs, that’s the tradeoff we made. There’s a bill [at the statehouse], hopefully it will pass, it will give us more jurisdiction over these things.

Caulfield: [Regarding the schedule change]: He was skeptical about previous plan changing firefighter schedule to 24 hrs on, but it is working fine.

Cox: There is not an agreement on the Four and Four plan up for vote tonight, it’s there more for your [the city councilors’] info. If the police chief is not supportive of it, I won’t even bring it forward for vote. It is agreement in principle.

Donoghue: It’s immaterial to me if the chief supports it. Does the chief support the uniform switch?

Cox: Can explain the uniform switch simply: They can’t wear wool caps in the winter; this is a quality of life issue, is a no brainer, police should be able to wear heavy hats in winter.

Donoghue: But this goes further than hats. This is the first time it’s in a contract, that’s why I want to see whole contract.

Cox: Chief told the officers to bring it up in the contract negotiations, they should be able to wear t-shirts in summer and winter clothing in winter.

Donoghue: Where do they wear badges on t-shirts?

Donoghue then gets a little hot, criticizes Mayor Mercier for cutting her off, Cox for interrupting her. Uniforms never have been part of a contract, that’s why I want more info on this.

Cox: I didn’t cut you off, was answering Caulfield. I think another 1-2 weeks not going to help.

Caulfield: Why can’t we vote on the 3% pay raise, everyone in agreement on that.

Donoghue: if law dept says we can split the 3% off from the rest, I’d be happy to do that.

Cox: the side letter (Four by Four schedule) is more for information only, it will not happen until the council votes on it, the rest of the contract, uniform changes, they are minor quality of life issues.

R. Mercier: Raise is fine [Lynne’s note: everyone says this about a dozen times, I just didn’t bother to write it down]. She then goes into an anecdote about her husband going through a similar situation RE: clothing/uniforms, etc. Is not supporting it to go to subcomm, “fine tooth comb” that some want to apply is result of past problems with contracts, understandable but not necessary.

Uong: Not worried about Agreement in Principle as it will be brought for vote again. Four and Four might save on comp time and overtime. Wonder if would cost the city more to change the uniform? Mention that he saw officers in winter conducting traffic in inadequate gear, though. We can look into it about badges on t-shirts. Prepared to vote tonight.

Milinazzo: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to send this to subcomm Public Safety/Finance, is concerned uniforms are in contract, what impact that has. Some people may not think it’s consistent for him to vote to send this to committee but this is a change from previous contracts, he really needs to know the fiscal impact of this.

Martin: Will vote again to send to committee. Support pay raise, voted for tax increase to pay for that. But there’s step increases, license increases, in this contract, for how many people? What’s the budget impact of that? Don’t even have objection to discussing it in council, but there’s more opportunity to explore this in subcommittee. I don’t think another week or two will be devastating to employees.

Mayor Mercier asks law person (sorry, I can’t find his name): Could a motion be entertained to separate the 3% raise from the rest?
Answer: Cannot vote on one part and not the others, vote as a package.

Elliot: reiterates his position asking about where the money is coming from?

Cox: We are putting the budget together, balancing income to costs, can’t tell you at this point.

Caulfield: Looks like there’s 5 votes to send to joint subcomm., convene a meeting, make sure police chief is there.

Roll Call: Martin - yes, Mayor Mercier - no, R. Mercier - no, Milinazzo - yes, Uong - no, Caulfield - no, Donoghue - yes, Elliot - yes, Howe - yes. 5-4 motion to send to joint subcommittee carried.

***

Next up is a little tussle with Mass Electric, regarding a motion to have a public hearing on a new (?) pole location on Bedford Ave. A motion to refer to wire inspector comes up, but before anything can be voted on, several councilors chime in on existing issues with Mass Electric’s inaction on several requests.

Caulfield: There is a tilted pole on Westford St that has been addressed previously and has not been fixed. (Mass Elec rep says he could not find it, Caulfield clarifies that it’s near the landfill end of Westford).
R. Mercier: Back Central Street (light) issue
Mayor Mercier: we used to know the people at Mass Electric; now we have communication issues. Unless there’s better communications with MA Elec, these new requests will not be approved.

Elliot: Second motion, thinks a central point of contact is needed, no new poles will be approved until we get better response. Westview Drive has a light out, residents have called, has not been addressed.

Motion is approved and sent to wire inspector.

***

Next is a Keyspan request for installing a new gas line (I missed the street name). This passes.

***

Motion for $20K transfer for DPW, improvements sts/highways from DPW, S&W streets - approved.

***

Motion - increasing clause 17E exemption (2.80%)

R. Mercier asks for clarification for listening audience on 17E exemption. Someone (again, I didn’t catch the name, an employee from the city) explains: this is a tax exemption for the elderly over 70 and widows. There’s a means testing, which changes annually, the taxpayer must have no more than 35K in assets (if I heard correctly). Exemption needs to be renewed each year by taxpayer.

Elliot: I’ll vote for this, but I’ve put in motions previously to increase this exemption, this is frustrating to elderly, would like to increase to something where it’s meaningful, this exemption really amounts to very little, should be increased dramatically.

R. Mercier: I think means testing should be raised (mentions people put $ in savings for their own future burial costs, this should not cause them to lose exemption).

Mayor Mercier: I don’t like that they have to refile every year. Is this state legislated?
(Answer from city employee: yes)

Motion passes unanimously.

***

Elliot: Asks for a suspension of rules so he can bring up an issue brought by a constituent. (Request granted.) He recently was contacted by employee about a “Rose Ceremony” at one of the local schools (didn’t catch which one), in which principal had a ceremony and called employees one by one to give roses to staff she planned to keep, and 6 did not get them. The 6 were publicly humiliated
Elliot says he doesn’t know what the legal issues are, but wanted to bring to the council.

Mayor Mercier: totally uncalled for, unprofessional, superintendent notified, will get a report ASAP.

Caulfield: I know this employee, what was described to me, was total embarrassment to both those who got roses and those who didn’t.

Mayor Mercier: with legal issues, let’s send to law dept, will get you a report.

***

Milinazzo: Since we have suspension of rules…an item was dropped off to him yesterday, [somebody, didn’t hear who] would like to create neighborhood districts - [some that I caught were: Andover St, Tyler Park, Wannalancit, Belvedere Hill, Wilder St area - something about a historic board to preserve quality of life in these areas]. Motion to send to law dept, approved.

***

Subcommittee reports:
Elliot: Subcomm report, RE comp/court/overtime payments, it’s on the decrease, expenses partly due to deficits carried over. Learned from this report: dates back to 1993: large #s of comp time needed to be paid out; at one time, a self defense program was run on comp time but is no longer. Quarterly reports a good idea, to keep oversight on the issue. Will keep watch on issue with reports, etc.

***

Pole Location Westview Road: referred to public hearing June 14th, conduit report [don’t ask me, they go so fast I can’t catch everything…]

***

Caulfield: motion to request City Manager to submit if there are sufficient funds for pools this summer.
Caulfield: no private fundraiser this year, but we did put the funds in the budget for this[?I think this is what I heard]
Cox: We will have the same level operation of pools as last year, which is most of them.
R. Mercier: RE: Shed Park pool - met with residents, there was discussion that instead of replacing pool, could have a water park option, can we get a report on costs, how/when it can be done, That park has been without any type of water rec for a long time - pool is old and it’s no one’s fault, but if we could find out where we stand on a capital plan.
Martin: There’s been success with water parks.
Cox: There was talk on water park, but I’m not sure if it was done or not. Will get report.
Donoghue: Dracut has one, I don’t think Lowell has one.
Caulfield: Seems to be factions [around the water park idea] - some want it, some don’t, cost would be about $120K, enjoyable for toddlers, maybe Shed Park would be good for this.

***

Caulfield: Motion to request traffic study in area on E. Merrimack and Stackpole Sts. He thinks the traffic problem is much more than that area, though, he knows a businessman from that area looking at moving because of traffic standstills. Wants to look at synching of lights, look at overall traffic pattern. In the core of the city, traffic almost at a stop from 2-5:30pm. Report would look at cost of synching lights, invite business people to meeting as well.

Milinazzo: If the city can design planning money, they will be able to apply for federal dollars to get work done

Motion to send this item to Traffic Comm: approved.

***

Elliot: Motion to adopt resolution supporting Travaglini’s bill on Chap. 32B, relating to health insurance. Gives city councils opportunity to negotiate rates, premium increases, etc. Would like to go on record supporting this bill, allowing city and towns to negotiate.
The law guy says: refer to law dept for language in resolution.
Approved to send to law dept for review.

***

Elliot: Motion requested for a Manager’s update on Julian Steele Housing Development.
Elliot: My interest is the $1M the city put up for this project, just concerned - what’s going on? Need clarification as to what they are doing, etc.
Cox: I’ll ask.
Approved.

[Lynne’s note: the Julian Steele House Development is more interesting than just a line at a City Council meeting, and after I get educated on the subject I will be writing more on it.]

***

City Manager makes announcement:
This Friday will be the third part of the Gang Summit, held at Middlesex Community College, beginning at 8. It will focus on youth programs and services, faith-based programs.

***

Chair recognized Councilor Rita Mercier:
R. Mercier: There is a section the people watching rarely see: in the corner of the room, at the media table, sits a person who covers meetings - Louis Wannemacher from WCAP will be retiring. She wishes him well, and reads him an official citation.

[Lynne’s note: Media table huh? Wonder if they would let bloggers in…I’d need a decent laptop though, instead of ye olde clunker.]

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