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What a difference an election makes. What a difference a week makes. We’re headed in to our first Council meeting where everyone knows the City Manager is handing in his resignation; so now comes the fallout. And that might not be what the was intended by Plan E’s opponents, as we’ll see in a moment.
Jack has an overview of three motions on this week’s agenda of interest to the ongoing saga of what we face now - winding down the Lynch era, the hiring of his replacement, and replacing other outgoing top staff. One is a request for him to consider staying a little longer, at least through budget season, by CC Milinazzo. This is, on its face, a practical acknowledgement of the tight space Lowell is in, with no CFO (and with Lynch leaving, his disinclination to hire one right before heading out, a view shared by his detractors, for their own reasons) and an Auditor retiring, a little stability at the top for the complex and delicate job of managing the budget process might go a long way. It also gives the Council more time to collect resumes and consider a replacement. Of course, Elliott has shown himself to be chomping at the bit to hurry the hiring process along. I leave it to you, dear reader, to wonder why that might be. I’ll start you off: a rush job could equal a bag job?
Another motion on the docket, however, seeks to tie the outgoing Manager’s hands, by newcomer Dan Rourke. “Request the City Mgr. not enter into any contracts or extend any contracts and not to make any appointments or re-appointments to any Boards or Commissions.”
One wonders if Rourke has a problem with the city unions who have not yet had their contracts finished and signed? Is he implying they should wait potentially months for the process of hiring a new CM to play out? Anyways…
I think it’s reasonable to expect an outgoing CM not to make any huge changes on his way out the door. You know, like the last-minute 10% raises Cox gave his high-level buddies after he was told to leave but before he was officially gone? However, as some have said on social media, if you’re going to literally tie the hands of the City Manager by demanding, or at least requesting (I’m not sure it’s legal under Plan E to strip the CM of powers he has by statute) he not perform the bulk of his job, he should leave this very minute. The CM enters into contracts on a regular basis. Some are big, like the union contracts, which also require Council approval, and some are just every day minutia to keep the city running. If he’s not allowed to manage those, he should just be permitted to stop showing up to work tomorrow, and we can pay him to stay home for two months.
Moreover, I don’t think Lynch is the kind of guy who’s going to upend the whole operation (well, more than it already is with all the top staff moving on) and make sweeping changes or policy decisions on his way out the door. He’s going to wrap his tenure up with the intent of passing on a trim, neat operation for as smooth a transition as possible. A little trust, please? He’s got us this far.
As to appointments to boards commissions, or reappointments…please. Do you really believe that Lynch is going to stack the appointments (most of which, again, require Council approval anyway) with crony picks on his way out? That’s the way the Cox types operate. This has never been Lynch’s manner. This utter nonsense, this psychological projection by some in the city, of their own basest personality traits, onto Lynch, who has never displayed these traits, is starting to wear thin. All right, it was thin to begin with, now it’s rubbing on bone. I really wish those elements of Lowell would engage in a little self-reflection and see them the way the rest of us see them when they do these things.
I doubt Rourke came up with this motion on his own, by the way. It plays awfully well into the hands of the likes of the JMac, Dave Daly, or Vieira types. Raise your hand if you don’t think cousin Tippah had a hand in it? Daly, by the way, is president of an ambulance company with a longtime eye on the contract Trinity EMS currently has with the city of Lowell. The ambulance contract, like a few others, are completely the decision of the City Manager, with no interference allowed by the City Council. There is real money at stake here, this isn’t all about petty revenge.
Then there is the confirmed report that Elliot crashed the weekly department head meeting, making everyone uncomfortable. In at least the last decade, no mayor or councilor has done this. Mayor’s aids sometimes attend, presumably on specific issues or needs. I don’t know, but I can guess Elliott showed up with no polite notice to the CM or any dept heads. It’s a little like if you sold your house, and the new owners show up unannounced the day you’re hauling your stuff out, and start measuring for curtains and painting samples swatches on the living room wall. Sure, notice isn’t some sort of legal requirement. But it certainly announces, “I believe THIS is MY turf now!” It violates, at a minimum, the spirit of a Plan E form of government. And it’s just rude.
But I also believe, calculated. It’s no hidden secret that Elliott is a Plan A strong mayor supporter - preferably, I presume, with himself playing the role of strong mayor. He thinks oversight is equal to verbally beating the crap out of the people you oversee, even if you already have the answer you asked for, if past City Council meetings are any indication. So why would he operate in a weak mayor structure any differently? He’s trying to prove that a strong mayor does things. Like act like a City Manager. Even if legally, he can’t. Pound on chest. Repeat.
This, and the attempt to weaken the CM position temporarily by Rourke’s motion, and a host of other little actions and speeches from these folks, are all geared towards pushing Plan A. They beat the drum of “direct democracy! Voters should choose the person who runs the city!” when trying to outmaneuver the counter argument that Plan E works because your professional hire has muni management education and experience. They can’t come out and say, “we’re against professional city government!” or worse, “we want to hire our friends!” so they say, “From Lowell For Lowell” as if someone who lives elsewhere will never be able to be qualified enough to take the reigns. Notwithstanding their brilliance, high levels of education, or years of muni management experience.
I think though this will backfire. No, scratch that, I think it already is. There’s already a lot of pushback - not just on blogs, though the blogs are pretty much universally panning the current state of affairs, from blogfather Richard Howe to longtime born and bred Cap’n Paul Belley. But also on Facebook, Youtube (OK I’ll admit some culpability for that), Twitter, and, I’m guessing, by phone and by snail mail as well. People liked the direction the city has taken. They liked Lynch’s tenure, and they want more of the same.
I have long said that, despite the opposition projecting their own personality faults onto me, I have never been about supporting Bernie Lynch. I have been about supporting the hiring and retaining of professional, experienced, fair and honest City Managers. Full stop. I am easy to please, really I am. Hire another professional. Here’s a quick hint: you are unlikely to find such a candidate residing currently in Lowell. The number of people with experience like Bernie had when he was hired is very small. The pool is limited. You might even want to consider someone who lives far away (outside of practical driving distance) - then they’ll have to move here to take the job, right? Lowell has a lot to offer a transplant, even a City Manager. They’ll WANT to move here. That was the whole point of professional city government in the first place! To make Lowell a better place to live and work.
So overextend away on the whole Plan A thing. The more the better. Because the more they politicize the situation we’re in, the more they prove the downfalls of a Plan A strong mayor government, no?
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