Left In Lowell

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January 30, 2014

Valentine’s Gifts - Love Buzz at Mill No 5

by at 6:36 pm.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mill No 5 first hand recently and I’m a new fan. All I can say is…it’s a fun concept, and I hope they do awesome over there. They’re working on a farm-to-table cafe and small movie theatre/stage venue as well.

This weekend (Saturday) from noon to 7pm, they’re doing one of their Little Bazaar events called Love Buzz. They’ve been sharing info about vendors for a couple of weeks, but this video really showcases the sort of stuff that’ll be available. Guys n gals with valentines to buy for, this is your chance!

If you haven’t checked out one of Lowell’s hot new art venues - where you can buy vinyl records, have a photo shoot, or buy any number of things - this weekend would be a great time to go! I promise you, it’s like nothing else in Lowell!

Love Buzz Facebook Event Page
Mill No 5 Facebook page

Endangering City Taxpayer Money

by at 9:56 am.

So another interesting exchange at Tuesday’s Council meeting took place because of this item: “Misc. – Request by Grand Manor Condominium Assoc. to address Council regarding Grand Manor Condominiums.”

The story behind this is pretty awful. No one is quite sure if the developer or the land owner who sold the land knew that it was the site of an old city dump - but the condo owners who bought into the property are now stuck with a terrible situation for which they had no disclosure. Their property values plummeted, and some of the buyers bailed out and foreclosed rather than stick around for what turned out to be a bad investment. The condo association is in litigation with the city of Lowell over mitigation and it has yet to be resolved. Since any citizen can petition the Council on any issue, there were a couple of speakers who wanted to bring their grievance up, and really, no matter if anyone stalling or if there’s just honest disagreement or unavoidable delay, who can blame them?

However, as it is active litigation, the Council is limited as to what it can say in open session. Any words from City officials in any capacity can be used against the city in court, weakening the case being argued on behalf of taxpayers. It’s not so much a lack of sympathy with these residents’ plight as just, good lawyering. And since this is not Rita Mercier’s first rodeo, you’d think she’d know this…but she had to be shut down, hard, twice, by the City Solicitor. (What a thankless job that is…) We start with a bit from the first speaker from the condo association and then the Council. Commentary included in the video. Watch:

(Side note: Let’s just say we chuck that five minute rule everyone keeps talking about…The first speaker got 12 minutes…)

January 29, 2014

We Have a Winner!

by at 5:09 pm.

So we have a winner this week in the Blowup of the Week contest. Congratulations, joe from lowell! I have deemed the portrait guidelines motion the most explosive. Of course, it’s never as you expect it…the blowup was preempted by Alison Laraba’s speech, which was stunning (clip later). By the time Rita Mercier got to speak on her own motion it was like a predictable dénouement. Then she was bookended by a citizen speaker, Aleks Tugbiyele, who’d registered to speak on the motion, and her speech was diplomatic but emphatic. But, it was the most explosive discussion of the evening.

Since it was probably one of the more obvious potential blowups of the week, I’m calling this a Level One prize, on a scale of 1-3. (Maybe somewhere between 1 and 2 because it amuses me - so, not too much more complex than Monty the Cephalopod.) So, “joe from lowell,” if you want to send me a preference for animal, or need some help deciding (I can send you links to some relevant patterns), you can email me direct (lynne at leftinlowell.com) or leave a comment. :)

Here’s the clip of Rita and the subsequent discussion, though it’s out of order, since the speech by Alison came before and Aleks Tugbiyele came right after her…I’ll add those clips, they’re both very worth watching. But here’s the actual blowup, now complete with cheesy special effects intro! (Don’t ever give me free software downloads to play with. It’s a bad idea.)

One thing you can always predict: Rita Mercier hates Patrick Murphy, and grudges are her speciality. (Witness poor Salmira last week, and Rita’s statements on the radio on Monday.)

On establishing guidelines for mayoral portraits going forward, how dictatorial are we gonna go? “You must sit with your hands in your lap, with your face three-quarters turned from the lens of the camera, with a flag lapel pin on your jacket…for women, if we ever have another female mayor ever again, you must wear a knee-length or longer skirt and matching suit jacket…you may wear a frilly blouse underneath said jacket, but whoa to you if it includes any lace…”

Seriously. And also, raise your hand if you think Mercier or Elliott gives a real care about this actual issue - aside from the burning of the former Mayor?

But other than this little distraction, and Rita’s goofup on the lawsuit pending in front of the city (also going to make a clip of that) did it seem to you guys that there was a certain level of better behavior during this meeting? Let’s hope that lasts. Not holding my breath…

OK, for color…and because it was EPIC…here’s Alison Laraba on her request to speak before Council. Alison, for those who are new, was a School Committee member a few years back.

Here’s Aleks Tugbiyele’s speech, which came after Rita spoke on her motion (sorry Aleks, you’re getting that YouTube fame!):

January 28, 2014

Kabuki Open Thread

by at 5:38 pm.

Herein you can discuss, in less than an hour, the goings-on of tonight’s City Council meeting.

Also, make your cases for BotW! I’ll be watching and pick “the worst” blowup, and hopefully we’ll have a winner this week! Lots of great guesses on the other thread. If you haven’t yet made a guess, check out what has already been taken for guesses and then make your own! (Remember, one person per item or subject!) You could win a cute animal friend with whom to watch future City Council meetings!

(PS - by the way, the term Kabuki is an old name Jack used to call CC meetings…as in, Japanese Kabuki theatre.)

January 27, 2014

Rita Mercier’s True Motives

by at 8:40 pm.

You might recall that I posted a long, video-enriched post recently about last week’s meeting and the scuttling of one appointment, that of Salmira Mitchell, and the passage of the other two. At the time, Rita tried (via an illegal motion) to say she was for shutting down all appointments by the outgoing City Manager:

But then went on, after being told she couldn’t make a brand new motion, to propose tabling Mitchell’s appointment to the library board. That passed 5-4. Right afterwards, they passed the next two appointments, 9-0 and 8-1.

Now, given that Mercier stated on the floor that her reason for tabling/opposing appointments was general (the outgoing CM should not appoint) and then subsequently voting to allow the other two appointments requiring Council approval, the only conclusion that can be reached is what Dick Howe wrote - that this was the work of vindictive bullies. Because the very sweet and civic-minded Salmira is married to the sometimes-acerbic civic-minded blogger Jack Mitchell. (more…)

BotW: Deja Vu All Over Again

by at 4:22 pm.

All right, due to good life stuff taking up space, I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday or this morning. This time, for the Blowup of the Week game, I’m going to not guess. That way, there’s more of a chance of someone winning the prize. Here’s this week’s agenda document!

I’m going further stipulate, the more obvious your guess, the smaller the prize. So, if you pick something off the agenda that doesn’t seem as likely or obvious, if a Blowup happens, you’ll win bigger! What will you win, you ask? I shared this on Facebook last week, but posting images on FB is so much easier I got lazy on the post. But…the prize is this: an amigurumi of your choice. If you picked something obvious, it must be a simple amigurumi that I can do really fast. (See below). If you pick something which appears so uncontroversial that no one would EVER suspect it would become a Blowup of the Week, but it explodes into BotW-worthy, then you get something much more complex. I’m the final arbiter of the various levels, since I have to do the work. :)

So, meet Monty. He’s my little amigurumi cephalopod, and my personal mascot. He is, obviously, not up for a prize, but another mini octopus of your choice is possible (from a range of colors), or another animal whose construction is about that simple, if the BotW is one that was obvious. (Other than the eyes and embroidered mouth, I could do up one of these in about 1/2 an hour or less.)

little octopus amigurumi

Here’s the most complex amigurumi I’ve made, this one was for a friend of mine (you might recognize the character). This took took me a number of hours.

Brian Griffin amigurumi

That at least gives you a range. :) I’m probably not offering Brian-Griffin-level crafting for this contest, but you can see what can be accomplished with a crochet needle and some yarn. I’ve done a number of other animals too.

That said, go check the agenda and make your guess! Has to be in by 6:30pm tomorrow (Tuesday)! One guess per person, and only one person can grab any one item. And you can email me a guess if you wish to remain even more anonymous (I’ll announce in comments if someone guesses a specific item and it’s no longer available.) I’ve cut and pasted the agenda in the second half of this post. (more…)

January 23, 2014

Backpedal Fast Enough?

by at 6:26 pm.

Well, I have to say, I won the Blowup of the Week bet with my only too obvious pick of City Manager appointments. I thought because it was so obvious, it was likely the blowup would not be about appointments, but some heretofore overlooked item on the agenda. Alas, this City Council can’t even surprise us in its stupidest moments.

First, I’d like to make a WTF? comment on taking the executive session for discussing Lynch’s potential extension out of order. I know Rourke/Golden is new to things, but his colleagues ought to know better. Here’s all the way that it was a poor move: the viewers at home were trying to watch a meeting, and BOOM! an hour and a half or thereabouts went silent. (Actually, not precisely silent. There was music for a time, and then the mic went live for a bit which was really fun. I think the LTC folk thought something was about to happen, then it didn’t, so eventually they went back to the music.) So you hosed the viewer at home, who wanted to see the public portion of the meeting. Most people, who are not masochistic like some of us are, probably gave up and turned on Jeopardy or whatever it is the average demo of Council meetings watch when Council isn’t on. A big win for democracy!

Then, you also screwed LTC. Now the replay of the meeting has to include an hour and a half of dead space. Since they provide “gavel to gavel coverage” they can’t just edit this part out. Thanks for that.

But the worst is that all the people still hanging around for motions or considerations that would have normally been quite early in the meeting had to sit around the chamber, waiting. I’m thinking particularly of the aforementioned appointments. They couldn’t go out for burgers because no one knew how long the executive session would go, so they were stuck. These Councilors constantly “suspend the rules” to allow some person about whom a future motion affects, is speaking on, etc. But hey, let’s not think about those people, we’re leaving them sitting there so we can beat them up later on. *rolls eyes*

Moving on to the BotW, it was a complex dance of rules-bending, misapplication of rules, outright attempts to violate long-known rules, and of course, beating people up. So in trying to tell this story, I’m going to resort to video clips - which include some commentary. This is a long post, but it was a weird night, even for this Council. (more…)

January 20, 2014

Connections

by at 11:43 am.

People might be wondering why I can’t seem to type the name Rourke in City Council posts, without adding Golden as a suffix. Well, one reason is because of things like this: someone sent me this link as regards to Pay-to-Play…

If you don’t recall what Pay to Play was, it was the Probation Department scandal, as the link explains:

More than 250 employees of the Probation Department have personal connections to politicians and court officials, or gave at least $500 to state legislators since 2002, a Spotlight analysis has shown. On Thursday, Independent Counsel Paul F. Ware Jr. found that suspended Probation Commissioner John J. O’Brien systematically hired and promoted politically-backed job candidates, against whom job candidates without connections had little hope.

O’Brien was fired, and he and others from Probation now face charges including racketeering. With the trial still to come, it might be said that more explosive testimony might be forthcoming. Remember also, as an aside, that former Senator Panagiotakos announced in March 2010 he would not run for reelection to the state Senate, just ahead of being named in the report about Probation. I’m not saying there is definitely a link, but it does seem odd…especially an announcement so late in an election year, giving prospective candidates only 6 months to scramble a campaign together for the primaries in a large state Senate-wide district.

So anyway, back to the original link. If you do a search on that page for either Rourke or Golden, they each come up once on that page. On the same line.

SUPPORTER JOB SALARY DONATIONS TOP RECIPIENT
Daniel P. Rourke Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Concord District Court $67,355 $600 Rep. Thomas Golden ($600), D-Lowell

Now, I will let you infer what you want from this listing. However, one could posit that what we have here might be less pay to play…and more like nepotism. Take your pick as to which is worse. I mean, Rourke’s closeness to his cousin Golden is well known. I certainly believe that Rourke would give Golden $600 in legal campaign donations since 2002 because he wants his cousin to win elections (notwithstanding the lack of any competition, which I decry as I do not believe incumbents should automatically get reelected). And we could imagine that Golden might want to get his cousin Danny Rourke, his good friend and family member, a job at Probation because he likes his cousin and wants to give him a leg up in the world.

However, such a circumstance would also be as prohibited as pay-to-play. Alas, such conflicts of interest abound in Lowell, at the city level and all the way up…an atmosphere of permissiveness in putting personal loyalty above ethics that I have long written about - indeed, that I began this blog to combat.

One last item of note: Jack reported, and I have confirmed as well, that at a Rourke fundraiser, Golden stood up and introduced John Cox as “OUR City Manager!” I don’t make this stuff up!

January 19, 2014

BotW: Council Agenda Preview for 01/21/14

by at 9:48 am.

I’m going to try to do this weekly, since I’ve sort of been doing this anyway. This is a post about the possible pitfalls and rants you might see pop up during city council. Every week, there’s at least one thing that becomes a controversial mud slinging festival, and you don’t always know what that will be. But we can take bets and give over-unders and then see how accurate we are! To that end, comments are welcome. If you accurately predict an unexpected Blowup of the Week (BotW), there might be something in it for you. (Yes, LiL is offering a real prize!)

The motions on this week’s council agenda are really light. By light, I mean, just one. One lonely little motion from City Councilors…what, were they all napping? On vacation? Or are they tired of stuff going kaboom? Who knows.

The one motion is from Belanger: “C. Belanger - Request the City Mgr. organize a meeting between Trinity Financial and the City Council to provide updates regarding the Hamilton Canal Project.”

It’s not a bad instinct, as I would like to know this too, but I have a sneaking suspicion this has already been discussed recently? Am I remembering wrong? Anyway, that project is such a long term development that periodic checkins are not a bad idea. Hopefully, this will not explode in our faces on Tuesday night, but be a nice polite request, which will at some future point be fulfilled, and then we’ll all dance on rainbows and eat ambrosia.

There is an executive session at the end regarding the CM staying on a little longer - regardless of Rita’s terrific hissy fit against it last week - but since it’ll be closed doors, if there are fireworks, we won’t see them. Also, there won’t be fireworks because we won’t be able to see them. (Camera rolling = opportunity for advancement don’tcha know?)

There are a number of “Votes from the City Manager” - and those can blow up at any time. I see nothing there particularly obvious, except for something that looks like it benefits Dave Daly anyway (so why would it become this week’s hot item, it’s not like we’re taking something FROM Dave), but here’s where you can win this game, if you point out something that does wind up being exploded past all reasonableness. One guess per person, please! Give others a chance! There’s a JAM plan change too, no idea what that constitutes, but that might be a likely candidate!

But no, my one guess for the week’s standout for Blowup of the Week would be under the CM’s portion…DUM DUM DUM…appointments! You know, those things that Rourke/Golden wanted to keep the City Manager from doing at all, but which was withdrawn in confusion after the previous blowup discussion about keeping the CM on through budget season (Kennedy jumped on board that train, smart man, and I think that deflated Rourke’s little game). Look for hay to be made about some or all of these board appointments, for the City Manager having the gall to DO HIS JOB and fill vacant seats before these boards have to stumble along for another couple of months, minimum, with vacancies.

Keep an especial eye on CC. Kennedy, because as someone reminded me, he made a stink about all these vacancies being open. If he lets these fairly innocuous appointments by without a peep, or with “hey thanks for filling these” he’ll be consistent. If he wants to discuss each one to death because, ‘Merica, that’ll be pretty hypocritical. I mean, seriously, it’s no wonder that Lynch has so much trouble filling board vacancies…from appointment approval through their tenure, they get twisted, tweaked, and then risk being in the Paper Blog of Record while seated. I can tell you, I’d be loathe to serve via a CM appointment personally, and there are boards I’d love to serve on someday. (Like, the Lowell Cultural Council. That’d be right up my ally! But no thanks.) Full disclosure: I’m on the LTC board, in case you didn’t know, for a two year term, as a member. I’m very pleased to be serving and excited to give back to LTC who has given a lot of support to me over the years for productions I’ve done, both for Left in Lowell and for Threads, the TV show. And oh yeah, I forgot to post the latest clip from the show, so I will later today! It’s with Adam Baacke, so totally relevant (accidentally so, I assure you, we booked him in December!)

Ahem, so back to my prediction for Tuesday - and I’ll be really pleased if I lose this game, sincerely I will:

Communication-Appoint Dr. Julia Hans (Green Building Commission) 2014 / 49
Communication-Appoint Salmira Mitchell (Pollard Memorial Board of Trustees) 2014 / 54
Communication-Appt Robert Malavich (Planning Board) 2014 / 57
Communication-Appt Michael J. Paglia (ZBA) 2014 / 59

Those four are being appointed. It’s my understanding that Malvich is an alternate being turned into a full member of the Planning Board, so that should be a shoe-in. (Should be, doesn’t mean will be…). I don’t know Dr. Hans, but it’s the Green Building Commission, this council could care less, and I’m sure she’s qualified. Paglia for the ZBA - Paglia is a known quantity in Lowell and so, if certain people have made up their minds not to like him already it could be dicey, but I don’t know where people are lined up on that one. And Salmira Mitchell is a lovely lady from Centralville, if you met her you’d fall in love with her…she the gardener behind public gardening at an entrance to Centralville, and CNAG leader/member. The sort of sweet person that Rita Mercier would probably like very much, and she’s very noncontroversial. She is married to Jack Mitchell, as the Column today insisted on pointing out, but please do not put this nice person who has done nothing but pleasant things for this city through the wringer. She is the exact sort of person we want serving on a board for the Pollard.

Now that I’ve said that, I’ve probably doomed her. Sorry, Salmira…

OK, you’ve got the link to the Council agenda for Tuesday, what are your guesses? Remember, these are for real stakes - one guess per person!! First person to guess on an item will be the winner if that item is Blowup of the Week!

January 18, 2014

Budget, Smudgit

by at 12:31 pm.

So Jack put forth the notion that elements of the City Council could act like a strong mayor, and they could eyeball the provision that allows the mayor, and if not the mayor, the city council, to submit a budget to the state if the city manager cannot or will not. (Given that hiring a city manager is the damn job of the City Council in the first place, if they use this provision they should take 100% blame for getting into that situation.)

Reportedly, Warren Shaw took up the notion on his radio show today, stating that the council could do this budget because they have people like Rodney Elliot there, or something to that effect.

Let’s examine the clusterf**k that would be, shall we?

First, I’d love to hear from Groton on Elliott’s tenure there. I hear it was short. A couple of years is the timeframe I’ve heard. The job is in his official bio:

Prior to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he served as the Administrative Assistant for the Town of Groton, Massachusetts, serving a three-member Board of Selectman. He was responsible for the operation and management of the Town’s $12 million budget.

Wonder if Elliott would be all right with us going to the folks in Groton and finding out just how he did there? The lowdown I hear generally is, not great. But, notwithstanding the somewhat speculative view on Groton, we have some track record here in Lowell to examine. Does anyone remember “across the board” Rodney? (Bold is mine.)

“If you voted for the budget, then you are responsible for the tax increase,” Elliott said, adding that he thinks further budget cuts should have been made.

He said, however, he did not have any suggestions for cuts.

Councilor Kevin Broderick said that simply saying that you didn’t vote for the budget and are therefore “off the hook,” is “not an option.”

During budget deliberations, Elliott suggested an across-the-board cut of 2.5 percent to every line item, which Broderick said is not feasible.

“We cannot just not pay 2.5 percent of our utility bills,” he said. “It doesn’t work. What are we going to do, not plow the streets?”

I can’t stress how much it disturbs me to think someone who has such a lack of fundamental knowledge of budgeting might come within 5 miles of the process. Before you even get to whether or not to cut, let’s review how local muni budgets actually work: a large portion of a city budget’s line items are not within the control of the city. How much we spend on schools has a minimum, for instance. Or our debt service for capital investments. So once you leave out all the non-discretionary items in the budget, a 2.5 reduction in total city funding turns into a much larger percent of the parts of the budget you can legally cut. Maybe police? Or fire? Plowing? I don’t know, because Elliott had no suggestions on where to cut.

And remember…Elliott made a lot of political hay over public safety issue last campaign season. So, which officer slots would he cut, I wonder? Does he think that’ll help public safety?

I don’t think it takes a genius to see the disaster Elliott and his ilk would make of our city budget. Think of how few City Councilors this term actually have the ability needed to make those huge line-by-line budget decisions! Nor should they have to. Which is not only an argument against Warren’s Shaw’s ridiculous assertion today on the radio, but also, against a strong mayor/Plan A charter in general.

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