Left In Lowell

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May 23, 2014

CM Murphy Outmaneuvered On His Own Bill

by at 6:52 pm.

It’s like watching ping pong, only at one end of the table is the not very classy personality of Kevin Hayhurst (his facebook comments alone are enough to make you cringe, never mind the alleged assaults) and the other end is the city of Lowell.

So a temporary stay was issued today on the Hayhurst License Commission ruling by a superior court judge on a technicality. The problem? A bill got signed into law literally yesterday during the day, and the LC hearing was held after that, at night. That bill requires License Commissions to have five members, rendering our current-2-member LC not a quorum, and therefore its vote last night invalid.

Personally, I think the timing on this is fishy. Hayhurst’s lawyer had asked for a postponement on this hearing until yesterday…and right before the rescheduled hearing, on the same day, a bill gets signed into law which renders our 2-member License Commission a non-compliant board? Coincidences like that make me nervous.

But the real issue here is…I thought we were supposed to get a Beacon Hill insider when we hired Kevin Murphy? Someone who could sail in the seas of state laws and practices? Someone who would have seen this coming, especially since he is listed as the sponsor of this bill in the state House??

Even worse, this board went down to two members because Kevin Murphy’s own nephew had to step down since his uncle became the CM.

So let’s put this clearly: a board with KMurph’s own nephew predictably became a two person board when he took the City Manager job. He has failed thus far to appoint anyone to replace his nephew, which is bad enough by itself because two members could easily become one member, or someone might not be able to make a meeting due to an illness or something, and make the board a non-compliant board just as is. BUT! On top of that, a bill Kevin Murphy sponsored renders the two member board noncompliant. Clearly Murphy knew it had been passed, he might have had the fecking wherewithal to follow up on when it’d be signed.

I don’t think it’d be too much to ask for him to have addressed this in the five weeks he’s been at the helm of the city? Given that it was a predictable problem on BOTH fronts? It should have been one of the first things on his plate. He didn’t see that this might be a major issue facing the city? It’s not like he’s working solo - he’s foisting a ton of budgeting stuff onto temporary guru Healey, so…what the hell?? What is he waiting for? And if he, for some wackadoodle reason, had no way to make the appointment in the last few weeks, why didn’t he see the problem with the bill he sponsored in the House coming into effect and at least warn his Law Dept and License Commission, at the very least, so they could have postponed the entire meeting last night until such a time as they are compliant with the new law?

Bottom line: Kevin Murphy left his License Commissioners and Law Dept high and dry due to his neglecting the appointments he needs to be making. Now another hearing will have to be held once the Commission is more fully seated, wasting the prep time that both the LC and law dept very obviously engaged in ahead of last night.

And make no mistake, I think Kayhurst only got a temporary reprieve. The guy’s got two criminal cases pending against him as far as I know, and it’s obvious his people do NOT run a tight ship out there, given the ridiculous things they said in front of the Commission last night. But god, this makes the city look bad. Hayhurst is crowing all over facebook (and some of his supporters or employees or whatever are saying that people talking about the suspension can “go fucking die”). Murphy better fix this, fast. You just had your glitch for this mission. Now it’s time to do your job.

May 22, 2014

Hayhurst Hit With Big Penalties

by at 8:34 pm.

So, if you did not watch the License Commission tonight, you missed an entertaining meeting. The ever-shrinking License Commission was holding a hearing on the license of Finn’s Pub downtown, because Kevin Hayhurst allegedly assaulted a patron (who wound up in the ER with a fractured nose). Allegedly this is the second time this has happened in the last year or so…

Former Commission member Ray Weicker (whom I would never hire as attorney, he was terrible) was there on behalf of Hayhurst. The testimony included character assassination by proxy (Weicker repeatedly attacked the victim’s stepfather, calling him a felon and stating that the stepson was following in his footsteps), and accusations of blackmail (which never, it appears, made it to a police report, strangely…) where Hayhurst claims the young man and his stepfather tried to extort $20,000 from him to not press charges. Hayhurst had a whole couch-and-water story about how he wasn’t even there. Apparently, written testimony and police interviews with the witnesses who are not employees of Hayhurst state otherwise. They didn’t make it to the meeting though (due to work commitments etc). Weicker tried to pretend that this meant their testimony was not useable because he couldn’t cross examine said persons. I think he missed the part where this wasn’t a court of law?

Anywho, super fun. And you won’t really see this in the Sun since I hear that the media table was empty tonight. Luckily, LTC will have it archived soon and you can see it yourself, because it really is worth the viewing. Just think - all your shows are wrapping up their seasons…you need something good to watch!

So the kicker is the penalties imposed. My understanding is that it’s rare that a long suspension is enacted. I suppose that makes sense, since even losing a week’s worth of revenue is pretty devastating.

Finn’s Pub got a full 30 days. What’s more, Brian’s Ivy Hall is also closed…because the License Commission also removed Kevin Hayhurst as Manager of Record of both bars, and you can’t run a liquor establishment without one. In order to reopen, Brian’s Ivy Hall needs to bring another Manager of Record for approval to the License Commission. That means a minimum of a three weeks since the LC doesn’t meet again until June 12th. That’s if they can find someone willing to put their name to the responsibility…

Thirdly, the LC put in its motion to suspend Hayhurst from managing both places, that he be removed as a corporate officer in the companies. This was after they wanted to force him to divest from both companies but the assistant city attorney’s opinion was rendered that that was not within the LC’s purview.

There is still criminal charges pending against Hayhurst, so his penalties might not be over with…but I think we can safely say that there’s a good chance one or both of these places might be gone in the next year or so. Good riddance, as they are the some of big offenders of attracting unwanted types to our downtown late into the night.

May 17, 2014

Only the Retired, or EPA Employees Need Run?

by at 8:29 am.

Let’s face it. The Lowell Sun isn’t everywhere covering everything like it used to. We’re lucky when it can muster up the interest in a License Commission meeting. It barely covers the City Council meetings (really, we only hear whatever Cub Reporter Lyle wants us to hear about, usually something that makes his BFF Elliott look good). Which is why richardhowe.com’s week in review and city council notes are so very crucial to our civic life here in the city.

So, that’s why Kendall’s Saturday Chat kind of chapped my hide. (No link as yet.)

I know people who serve in public office have busy lives, but I was also surprised that only one member of the School Committee attended the Honors Night at the high school and only one attended a teachers appreciation dinner that same night. Committeeman Dave Conway was the only one who made an appearance at both events.

Excuse me? I happen to know personally that my friends on the School Committee, besides working at real jobs and raising some great kids who are still in the public school system, talk all the time about school-related events they attend. I kind of marvel at their energy to do all of that in a single week, frankly. In between girl scouts and dance lessons and a million other things. I’d burn out real fast. Instead of insulting them for not attending the effing FEW events the Sun bothers to show up at, maybe you could ask them what they have attended? I think Mr. Wallace would be amazed at how active and involved they are.

And the other members of the SC that I know less well are also pillars of the community, who are involved in many other things besides their full time jobs and personal lives and their SC duties. Since when do you have to be retired and without other demands on your time, like Dave Conway is, to be an effective school committee elected (or City Council for that matter)?

Maybe some members of the SC aren’t retired, or EPA employees with a seemingly endless supply of vacation (seriously…has anyone FOIA’ed to find out exactly how many hours “full time” EPA employee Rodney Elliott is actually working? Since it’s our taxpayer dollar, I’d like to know), or able to get a PT $55K job via connections at the county sheriff’s office. But some of them have more than one full time job as parent, employee, and as SC member. How many jobs do you think they should have before they catch a break, Kendall? Just askin.

I mean, you know, most of the SC members couldn’t get that sweet weekend 16-hour-a-week $15/hr photojournalist job the Sun was advertising that most recent grad with zero experience would probably sneer at…they don’t have much experience with filling columns with drivel and sideways insults and they don’t steal photos for profit.

And people wonder why no one wants to run for local office any more. Gee, it’s such a mystery.

May 4, 2014

On Free Speech and Serving the City

by at 7:42 am.

As of last week, former blogger Gerry Nutter had resigned his Election Commission post. In his letter, which he sent out to bloggers as well, he cites work and health concerns as the reason. The Lowell Sun Column (you can go find the link if you really want to read it) decided it warranted a mention (it probably did) and then went on to infer that the real reason might be that some Councilors were working behind the scenes to oust him, going to the new City Manager with complaints.

While Gerry and I don’t always agree on everything, I do believe him. One thing you can’t accuse Gerry of is deliberate dishonesty. I had an email conversation with him when he sent out the news, and he really does think he cannot give the Commission justice due to his other obligations to his health and job.

As to whether, prior to the resignation, certain city councilors did go to the City Manager in a coincidental, but not related bid to get him to resign or fire him, maybe they did. Maybe they just say they did. I don’t know. However, the two are explicitly unrelated, and as Gerry notes on Facebook, no one came to him with any issues, and he did have actual free speech rights to say what he thought about sitting City Councilors even as an Election Commissioner.

Now, for the record, I actually think that the Election Commission is one place where even if you can say something about elected officials or candidates, you probably shouldn’t. The appearance of neutrality and impartiality is important for those who oversee our democratic elections. You all know that I certainly sympathize with Gerry’s frustrations about this Council! But maybe discretion would have been the better part of valor…not because the City Councilors deserve to remain uncriticized, but because of a higher goal of preserving and protecting our elections.

However, some of these same councilors have made hay over members of boards other than Elections Commission saying things on Facebook or elsewhere. It’s like they want to shut up as many critics as possible, and it’s the ones which they have official say over that are the targets they can reach. Can’t shut up the bloggers? Well at least shut up people who are serving, volunteering their own time and effort, on Lowell boards and commissions!

I have an idea for how you can avoid such criticisms in the future…stop pursuing positions and issues which are blatantly ridiculous!

By the way, I suspect that the councilors in question will be much more unhappy with a Gerry Nutter totally unleashed to say what he really thinks about them. Just sayin’.

May 2, 2014

UML: Wrong Priorities?

by at 10:55 am.

I was in my car a lot yesterday, so of course I was listening to WBUR. And they had an excellent piece about colleges which are taking a different path from most of the nation’s private and public universities…cutting back on sports, frills, and unnecessary services and getting back to spending their budget on professors and keeping their costs as low as possible for students so they don’t graduate with crushing debt.

It really hit home, because the trend of development at UMass Lowell for last 5-10 years have been right up there with the “conventional wisdom.” Renovate sports arenas, move your teams to Division 1, and chase sports prestige; build, or buy and renovate, grand new buildings (some academic, some not)…all to attract students with shiny amenities that may not really actually help them learn, or serve the goal of education. And of course, none of that is free, so the “fees” at UMass have gone up exponentially. Currently, in-state tuition, fees, room and board and meal plan all together costs $23,340. If you manage to graduate in four years (something else that is an issue), that’s almost $100,000 for a state university.

You can listen to the show or read the whole transcript - it was a worthy discussion on Morning Edition with the presidents of two different colleges which are heading in a very different direction. But here are some highlights worth mentioning:

Theobald: We eliminated five varsity sports. We are trying to reallocate our funds toward our student body, what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the lab, so we scaled back by five sports. But it was incredibly difficult.

O’Shea: We don’t have any varsity sports. We are a very lean organization. We invest in faculty. It’s about a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. … Only 40 percent graduate with debt, and of those who have debt, the average debt is a little under $18,000. We invest in faculty instead of sports and even some student services.

Theobald: You’ve got to set priorities. There is an arms race for spending. And so a university needs to know who they are, who their students are and what their mission is. We need to focus on getting them in, getting them a course of study, making sure courses are available when they need them and getting them out in four years. That’s the priority for our students.

O’Shea: I think what is going to stop being a major driver is student expectation. I think the worry about cost is outstripping the desire for … huge facilities and things like that.

I recommend listening to the whole thing though, as they have a lot to say about what is happening to our higher education both public and private.

This is not to single out UMass Lowell or question all of its many buildouts and changes. A lot of new businesses and inventions and ideas are going to be incubated from what the University is doing here, and I think in many cases UML is keeping an eye on costs and developing in such a way as to offset some of them. (For instance, there are many acts coming to the Tsongas which are probably big money makers.)

However, as a Commonwealth, and as a nation, we need to stop and take a look at the direction our higher ed is going, because like the housing bubble, the student debt bubble could help take down an entire economy. A student who graduates with $30-100K in debt from a public university, or a student who drops out or does bother to attend college, is going to have a delayed start to their adult life; and miss out on reaching their full potential which, in turn, suppresses their whole lifelong economic contribution to society.

Some states are also ahead of us on this issue; discussing free higher education at state colleges and universities. Imagine what that will do for the economy of those states? But here in Massachusetts, the public university prices just keep going up and up. For all the wrong reasons.

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