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December 13, 2005

Quick Notes on the City Council Meeting

by at 10:10 pm.

I went to the city council meeting in person tonight - standing room only! Well, I did get a seat in the upper level in the very corner, with a good view of the chambers. I took notes (and it’s a lot harder to take notes while there let me tell you) and will clean them up and post them tomorrow, but I have a few things I wanted to say tonight.

First, I will rant (like that’s unusual). The city failed for the first time since they stared putting the agendas online to get tonight’s agenda into the website before the meeting. This is annoying. Luckily a friendly face gave me a paper copy, but I had to spend spare time at the beginning typing. So I just want to say, please, please, please keep up with that useful service.

I also wanted to say that Dick Howe had a great point in his address to the chambers that there were not enough candidates running for city council this year, and that we need to convince young people to get involved. He said that our civic duty does not end when we go to the ballot box. Thank you Mr. Howe, for that. You will be sorely missed!

And speaking of public engagement, the bridge issue was peripherally brought up because the ad-hoc subcommittee met on the subject. Bud Caulfield commented that he feels strongly that the University Ave bridge realignment would increase the quality of life for those in the Acre and Pawtucketville, and it would streamline traffic to the Connector. Huh? All I could think while taking my notes was, “What city does he drive in?” Has anyone except myself tried to come from out of downtown, or off of the two-way part of Merrimack, onto Dutton, and been bottlenecked for like, five light cycles all the way down Dutton? Increasing the traffic down two-way Merrimack from University Ave is not going to streamline traffic; if anything, it’s going to make the whole situation worse. Right now, coming off University, your best bet to downtown is Father Morressey Blvd to Arcand or beyond. Hitch Merrimack to University, and people will start funneling down Merrimack, only to have the same issues that already exist except worse. And of course the more parking garages we get down there, the more traffic, until Merrimack/Dutton has been Drum Hillized. Have I mentioned how much I hate Drum Hill?

As I was driving home, I took Merrimack, and was sad looking at the Mission Church and thinking that it might be coming down.

Finally, I just got a kick out of this incident at the end of the meeting. After Howe left, the crowd thinned to…oh…say, me, one other person whom I know, and a couple guys standing around. So it was kinda obvious that I was there taking notes, with my laptop typing away, sitting behind Councilor Elliot. So I received my first snide comment about my opinionated writing from Rita Mercier after the meeting adjorned: “Oh, so you’re the one who said on the website that no councilors should be reelected except Jim Milinazzo. Thanks a lot.” (This last sentence ending on a rather sarcastic tone.) (By the way I also was amused by Bud Caulfield who was intensely interested to know who I was until I told him I wasn’t from like, the Globe or anything, but was a blogger. I’m not even sure he knew what that meant.)

Well, I never pretended that I wanted, needed, or courted access to the halls of power in Lowell! The city needs people to observe and say the things that are unpopular - something Councilor Dick Howe knows very well. And it is not without reason. After all, if when the Sun writes about a major new bridge proposal which appears to be a done deal, and most of the city councilors know less than the Sun apparently does, that should raise red flags with them. That they were incurious to find out more back when the CBA called and asked them about it is even more disturbing. If the councilors want to clear the air on any issues, they are free to leave a comment like any other person here on this blog, or hey! start one of their own. Wouldn’t that be cool? More conversation with your elected officials. What a concept. If you wanna get more young people into politics, time to open up the access points of power and let some light - and people - in.

14 Responses to “Quick Notes on the City Council Meeting”

  1. Mike Says:

    I hope more young people get involved, like Rich Douglas.

    I just don’t hope they model themselves after Dick Howe’s last few years, which was basically complain about any and every motion, action, and activity engaged by the council and manager to the point that he became the boy who cried wolf and nobody even listened anymore. He brought the word crumudgeon to a whole new level.

  2. waittilnextyr Says:

    “He brought the word crumudgeon to a whole new level.”

    And also a new spelling?

  3. Margaret Says:

    Maybe the city council and the city manager weren’t listening to Dick Howe, but the people were. We needed his critical
    voice and we still do. The fact that the city council left him hanging out to dry most of the time in recent months
    reflects poorly on them, not on Mr. Howe.

    By the way, Lynne, I love how you use Drum Hill as a verb. Maybe that will become a new catch-phrase for incompetence
    or annoying situations. I can hear the teens saying, “You are so Drum Hill!”

  4. K-R-S Says:

    Oh Margaret, you are so “fresh”…. : )

  5. Lynne Says:

    I used to think the same thing as Mike - Dick Howe just said things to disagree. Then I started really observing a pattern.

    Cox and Howe didn’t work well together, everyone knows that. They argued (and Caulfield and Armand Mercier jump in to defend their ally, Cox).

    But what I’ve come to realize is that there’s some serious legitimate concerns about the way Cox does his job. Like trying to sneak in a 50K spending proposal on a huge realignment project with no official sanction from the Council (which would have, in turn, caused the next expenditure to be easier because you’ve already spent the 50K - better to go forward with the project as planned than go back and waste that 50K, right?). Cox was trying for forgiveness rather than permission. If the councilors had let that through, that would really reflect badly on them (and the whole way this project has been shunted around in backroom deals is already reflecting badly enough - witness that Caulfield and A. Mercier seemed like they really knew about the project, and most of the others didn’t).

    If that’s not enough, Cox has a history of underhanded tactics to get something he or his allies want accomplished, despite genuine opposition and moral objections. He was hired, after all, to lobby for that Home Rule bill to allow the city to (at our expense) take down the Steele public housing, a way to circuitously ignore the state laws on the matter and the objections which I understand the Mass Housing Authority had.

    But not only that. Cox is rude, defensive, and frankly, unless you are one of his boys, not a team player. As I said before, I doubt I could stand to deal with him every week either. His lying, his dissembling, his excuses…they all add up to a person you must be at least cautious with when dealing with them.

  6. waittilnextyr Says:

    I can’t categorize it as “sneaking in” (I really don’t know), but there was a request for a $1.5M increase in the FY ‘06 budget on the agenda last night, with a little questioning (by councilor Elliott) of the rationale for it. The tax rate set ($9.99/$1000) included that $1.5M, although the budget increase was not approved, bu rather sent to committee.

    When it does come up later, you can bet you’ll hear “not to worry, it’s aready included in the tax rate”.

  7. Mike Says:


    “He brought the word crumudgeon to a whole new level.”

    And also a new spelling?

    Apologies, uh wait-til, I’ll try and reduce my typos.

  8. Mike Says:

    Lynne, I don’t get any of those impressions from watching Cox interact with councilors (other than Howe). He’s the city manager trying to get things done, and I think unless the councilors are snipping at him, he isn’t snipping at them. He gives what he recieves. Defensive? Would you be appear defensive with 9 people asking you questions, especially in the spirit and tone that Dick Howe has? It’s a two way street, and if Howe is literally bitching at him in a smug tone of voice, I have no problem with the city manager giving it back to him. The manager is the guy in the trenches here running the city, the councilors just show up every 7th day for television.

  9. waittilnextyr Says:

    Usually one would not snipe at one’s boss, but with nine “bosses” I suppose you can get away with it.

  10. Renee Says:

    That is great that the counselors know who you are. No doubt that being a city manager is a hard job, and I doubt that anyone of us could do it. But being a city manager is unlike being a CEO of a company. There are expectations of public community to serve everyone, no one is going to be 100% happy, but local government is here to serve the people even if that means the numbers compared to surrounding communities might be less attractive.

    I feel communities in general (not just Lowell) are trying to “keep up with the joneses”, who has the newer bigger project who has the better school and so forth. It doesn’t matter how they get there, but as long as they look good it doesn’t matter. It is like we pork barrel ourselves.

  11. Narey Says:

    Mike, I think you are misunderstanding the Plan E form of government if you think the Councilors just show up every 7 day in front of the television. They are out every night meeting with groups and individuals to understand the city’s needs and develop policy based on those needs. Some of the Councilors do a better job than others. The Manager and his staff implement those policies. He is not an elected Mayor who has the mandate of the electorate as you seem to think.

    Also, didn’t you find Cox defensive last week when he attempted to answer both Millinazo’s and Elliott’s questions on the bridge issue? Would you characterize their tone as “bitching and snipping.”

    If you are correct about Cox, then we should see a new man come January since Howe is no longer around to provoke him. You and I can revisit this issue in a few weeks.

  12. Mike Says:

    I understand the form of government fine. I know what the Councilors do.

    I just don’t think he needs to roll over and don’t expect him (nor want him) to cheery and passive. He’s asked questions, he answers them on the spot to what I can only assume is the best of his ability. I don’t expect him to have every answer all the time, and be 100% correct all the time, and be coridial and lovely all the time. He’s human.

  13. Mike Says:

    Damn me and my typos. Plenty of them there wait-til!

  14. Renee Says:

    Lynne, I don’t know if I’m that only one that watches channel 50, formally WNDS now MyTV. (I don’t have cable.) At 9pm they have broadcast personality, Arnie. Her themes regarding local politics closely match yours. Have community groups and yourself considered that a source, either getting a guest (they’re always looking) or emailing her
    during her show?

    http://www.wnds.com/stories.asp?id=36

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