Left In Lowell

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February 7, 2011

Dangerous Ideas…

by at 12:46 pm.

In light of the uprising in Egypt, one could say that ideas are very dangerous. After all, it’s the idea of a better life, of more control over their political future, the idea of maybe seeing a glimmer of democracy for themselves that is fueling the disruption of that entire nation.

Or you could ask King George, if he were still alive, just how quickly an idea can take hold and burn like fire.

In a fair marketplace for ideas, some rise to the top, and some don’t. In an unfair market for ideas, some are suppressed when others are giving unfair advantage. In our modern age, money gives a lot of unfair advantages to ideas, but the internet is a great leveler and might, just might, save us from ourselves. We can hope.

So off of the abstract and onto specifics: the Lowell Sun wrote a piece on the simple, rather boring and wonky paper that we (Move Lowell Forward) submitted to the City Council - our second, for the record - this one on local jobs. (You can read it here [PDF]). There has been some fuss from some corners regarding this paper, which I found pretty hilarious because that fuss created a need for coverage by local media outlets where none would have existed, which I do not think was the intent of the complainers.

In the article, Rita calls me out by name, which is predictable, since she has disliked me ever since I started this blog and publicly disagreed with her. The last straw for her, I think, was that I thought at the time (2005) that no city councilor other than Milinazzo should have been reelected (at the time no one was doing anything about Cox, but Milinazzo persistently showed up for many local groups’ meetings, even during a non-election season, which I felt was a good thing). I know this because she said it to me. Yes, the internet has archives and you can go back and examine them. Welcome to the modern world.

However, Rita has little to complain about regarding not getting endorsed by Move Lowell Forward - the first qualification for getting endorsed by any organization is to return the organization’s questionnaire. She never has (not mine for the blog, and certainly not Move Lowell Forward’s). Had she returned her questionnaire, it would have been evaluated along with her voting history on many key issues and would have acquired an objective numerical score by our endorsement committee. It was quite possible that she would have ended up endorsed by MLF in that case, as we were strict about those rules.

Anyway, the Sun piece has interesting quotes and differences of opinion from various councilors on the ideas that our paper presents, which is great! We hoped that our boring little policy piece might spark some ideas or debate, and it obviously has. Of course, we just thought it would be a little discussion on an obscure subcommittee about tax rates, local businesses and how to entice them, how we deal with TIFs, etc, but we’re happy to see that it has some mental wheels turning, even if it’s a quick examination and dismissal of the ideas in the paper. What we did was to look at what the candidates (both successful and not) said in our questionnaires in 2009, so really, a lot of the paper is about ideas others had.

What I find interesting about this whole exercise, is that it illustrates the very differences between governing philosophies that MLF as a group, and I as a blogger, have always been after in the first place.

The councilors near the top of the article being quoted are looking at the ideas in the paper, and remarking upon them (both for and against). Councilor Mercier, on the the other hand, calls me out personally by name and attacks my commenters. (Never mind that she’s wrong, that “three bloggers” do not “assume 40 different names” just to attack her. When I catch someone doing this - which I can do because we record IP addresses on the back end - any time someone “astroturfs,” it’s to attack me or someone I am supporting.)

This is the politics of the personal versus the policy. MLF, and this blog, have long been about trying to get us on track for real and serious policy debates. And when I see someone like C. Mercier saying or doing something that is counter-productive, or even, outright misleading, I call them on it. And they hate that, and attack me. Honestly, I don’t care one way or the other about Rita Mercier the person. I care about Rita Mercier, the elected politician who is making policy and public statements that have serious consequences. It’s never been personal (all right, I do enjoy waxing sarcastic once in a while to relieve my feelings, but that’s not why I blog). But to people like Mercier, it’s always personal. There is no separation between getting the job done and their intimate feelings about the person delivering the message. I know which way I prefer the people I elect to govern.


I did also want to briefly refute another point the “fussers” are making regarding one’s access to presenting ideas to the Council or on the Council floor, in light of MLF’s paper presentation being compared to the decision not to hear Sean Burke in front of full Council.

What was not evident in some of the coverage of Burke (or should I say, biased Sun editorials) is that Burke did get his time to speak, in front of the relevant subcommittee, and thoroughly aired what he wanted to say there (not to mention he himself wanted to provide the service for a fee). His ideas were presented to Lynch prior to that as well, and thoroughly digested for their merits or lack thereof.

The reason Burke was refused a second airing in front of the full Council later on is that he was already heard, and his ideas presented in the appropriate forum. And my understanding is that his ideas were rejected for reality-based reasons.

This is the same access, in fact, MLF is asking for, and for far less of the Council’s or Subcommittee’s time - “here’s some ideas [for the economic subcommittee if that’s the right place], read or don’t read, and use or don’t use them, as you will.” We really didn’t think there was anything controversial about it, but of course, this is Lowell, and there is always someone willing to inject controversy where none exists.

We weren’t expecting a full debate at a CC meeting, but the procedure for correspondence to the the Council is it must be “accepted” as such by the full Council, then “sent” to a subcommittee for review. We were exactly following procedure as outlined in the rules and laws. It might well be that the Council decides it needs to go to a different subcommittee, or do something else entirely with it (circular file, maybe). It’s totally up to the Council. We just threw it out there; it is a completely volunteer effort, and there is no agenda other than our stated goals in our mission statement.

The fact that not one of us has any personal stake in the acceptance of those ideas should be pretty obvious to anyone who reads it - except, of course, that we are all Lowell residents (with a healthy mix of “grow-ins” and Lowell-born by the way) and that all of us stand to gain if the city does better.

I find it very amusing how sinister some people have made this all out to be. It’s pretty clear who is being overwrought about this, so hey, I’ll just take heart from all our unexpected free publicity that will help our ideas will go out there and compete in the world of ideas, sinking or swimming on their merits or lack thereof.

No quid pro quo about it.

18 Responses to “Dangerous Ideas…”

  1. Paul@01852 Says:

    Well said! (Disclosure: I am a member of MoveLowellForward)

  2. Prince Charming Says:

    Sorry, folks I’m with Rita on this one. Not because I’m such a firm believer in free speech but because I don’t see any benefit to shifting the tax burden at this time. It’s not like there are any businesses banging our door down to relocate here. There is no manufacturing, solar is gone and that leaves retail. Doesn’t work. People can say all they want that we have the cheapest residential rate in the area, but that doesn’t make it good. If we have learned anything in this era of bailouts it’s that trickle down doesn’t work. Let’s stimulate the bottom for a change and work upwards. If we work to improve the housing stock and the neighborhoods in this city, get the crime rate manageable, make it an attractive place for people to “blow into”, the businesses will come.

  3. Lynne Says:

    But see, PC, you just again spoke on the POLICY. Not the personal attack. So you actually just proved what I was saying!

    Anyway, that part of the paper is a tiny part, there’s a ton of other stuff in there.

  4. Lynne Says:

    And we are a bit out of balance on our tax rates and we DO need to think about addressing that.

  5. Lynne Says:

    To people who want to comment, pick a nickname, we delete comments without a nickname. Basic blogging etiquette.

  6. Mimi Says:

    Lynne:

    You should have provided the definition of “wonky.” Apparently, we have some individuals who have not heard of the term “policy wonk.”

  7. Prince Charming Says:

    …and Lynne, thanks for spelling it correctly so he could Google it.

  8. Gary Francis Says:

    I have never understood why businesses should pay more property tax than homeowners when businesses use less city services. Businesses seldom use the police, the schools, the library. Businesses do not get their trash collected by the city - they have to pay for private removal. What I really don’t understand is why churches, private schools, non-profits, colleges, etc. are tax exempt. I think that 100% of all property in a city or town should be taxable - Particularly when they start to compete with legitimate businesses (UMass Lowell’s restaurant, UTEC’s Catering Business, etc.)

  9. joe from Lowell Says:

    PC,

    How is that “with Rita?” Rita wasn’t quoted saying anything about the split tax rate.

    Gary,

    Because they can afford to.

  10. Lynne Says:

    Hey Rita, if you want to be part of the biased opinion, MAYBE YOU SHOULD SUBMIT A QUESTIONNAIRE NEXT TIME. LMFAO.

  11. Prince Charming Says:

    Joe: she didn’t have to say it.

  12. Gary Francis Says:

    Joe, Then using that thought process…the people in Belvidere should pay higher taxes than the people in the Acre “because they can afford to”.

  13. Paul@01852 Says:

    @Gary: People in Belvidere *DO* pay more taxes than Acre residents! They live in more expensive houses which per se require paying more taxes.

  14. Felicia Sullivan Says:

    Gary, unrelated business income generated by nonprofits is taxed. However, income generating projects connected to mission (like UTEC’s catering program) often don’t generate a profit and the income is subsidized by grants and other revenues. Many of these “businesses” have other components that a “for-profit” wouldn’t engage in such as job skill training, education, etc. Also, part of the rationale for tax-exemption in the nonprofit sector is that these entities are providing public goods, services and benefits which make the community better and no profits are being funneled to owners or shareholders. Also, often large nonprofits, such as hospitals and universities, often do pay some sort of payment-in lieu of taxes (PILOTs). Not sure to what extent this is happening in Lowell. If the idea, is that small businesses need better supports and incentives, I don’t thinking attacking the nonprofit sector is really the way to go. I tend to agree with PC about making Lowell more livable and in my mind nonprofits are critical to making this happen.

  15. Felicia Sullivan Says:

    Also, I just finished reading the recommendations MLF has put forward. I would add that the city really needs to find ways to engage and retain young people (18-35 year olds) as well as provide greater opportunities for the city’s diverse newcomers to take on leadership roles. Both of these populations in the past have been shown to be keys to innovation and growth. {NOTE: I work at ONE Lowell which advocates on behalf of Lowell’s immigrant and refugee communities].

  16. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Excellent point about young people Felicia. The other thing that occurs to me is that younger people and immigrants are probably more likely to spend their money locally.

  17. Sean Burke Says:

    I appreciate your group’s opinions and how they are focused on improving our community. We actually need more contributions from the entire community to improve our futures and limit further tax increases. For the record, I did not present a proposal to any sub-committee, nor has the City officially dismissed my findings. Politically there have only been personal attacks against me, not against the numbers on what is owed to the City. There is no debate on multi-millions of dollars owed to the City; but if, and how to enforce existing ordinances is the actual debate. The City Manager as well as any City Councilors who has taken the time to meet with me regarding the issue knows Beneficial Urban Development Solutions (a not-for-profit corporation) is only a vehicle to assist them in the enforcement of the foreclosed/ vacant ordinance. If they chose to follow my ideas supported by documented data is their choice. I personally do not care if they follow my ideas, but as a Lowell taxpayer I expect them to figure out how to collect money that is owed to the City before increasing any future taxes.

    I would be happy to meet with Move Lowell Forward to provide documentation on how my ideas will not only improve neighborhoods, but will provide job creation.

  18. joe from Lowell Says:

    “Gary Francis Says:
    February 9th, 2011 at 1:44 am
    Joe, Then using that thought process…the people in Belvidere should pay higher taxes than the people in the Acre “because they can afford to”.”

    …and, indeed, they DO pay higher taxes than people in the Acre. The only thing that is remarkable here is that you seem to have a problem with that.

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