Left In Lowell

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April 16, 2014

Game of Postpones

by at 10:39 am.

Who here is a fan of the HBO series, Game of Thrones? The world of the books/series revolves around the utter instability and chaos, war, and madness that is brought about by Westeros’ sudden and not-quite-accidental regime change. King Baratheon might not have been the smartest or the best king ever, but his demise heralds the end of the relative peace of the Seven Kingdoms, with his queen’s non-Baratheon bastard children vying with other contenders for the Iron Throne, and the whole countryside erupting in war. Other families take advantage of the chaos to carve out and reclaim their little kingdoms which had been absorbed long ago. Still others just like to party by judicious use of castration and torture, mostly for fun.

Well, folks, take away the castration and violence (but not the drinking) and you have Lowell city politics right now.

Every decision made in the last seven years by past City Councils and the former CM is up for grabs, apparently. No matter how stringent the public involvement in deciding on plans for various projects in the city, be that the very preliminary, not-our-goddamned-decision high school reno or rebuild, or the much-lauded plans for the historic South Common, or any Master Plan element of bike paths or city street realignment or other projects already in the works.

I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if this City Council wanted a redo on the Appleton Mill artist lofts or the Early garage. I mean, hey, we could tear down or repurpose those things and hand them over to your buddies, right?

Supposedly, we have high level experts on the Council now on economic development. What I want to know, is how running a dive bar makes one qualified to build a high school? Or decide that street parking should have less turnover by not enforcing the meters? To me, every word that comes out of Corey Belanger’s mouth showcases a total and absolute lack of understanding of economic development and municipal management. Far be it for experts to have an opinion; Corey is on the job now, so Lowell is gonna make a turnaround. A renaissance. All of the downtown vacancies will be filled by the time his first term is over!

Or, wait. Businesses - small ones, and large ones - like stability when they make their business decisions. They like to know that the plans that were carefully made by transparent and open means, by a crew of amazing (now mostly fled) Planning and Development officials, will be carried out in a timely fashion. It’s no big secret that a lot of plans in Lowell were on hold during the Cox era and were put back on the front burner by the Lynch administration. Now, we’re going to reverse years worth of planning, public participation, and decision making because Corey Belanger wasn’t fucking paying attention during all of that?

Plans can change. Don’t get me wrong. We should be flexible. And I do not have a horse in the very silly race about the high school staying in or moving from downtown. There are merits on both sides. However, my understanding of the process as outlined by a state agency called Massachusetts School Building Authority is that they are the entity that gets to weigh all the factors. What the local idiots on Council can do, by waffling, is take us off the shortlist, which we cannot afford. The high school is in need of either rebuilding or renovating, soon. And “soon” is relative, since getting on the MSBA’s short list means it’ll still take years to go through final decision making. And oh yeah, they, not us, make that final determination about renovation vs. building a new building elsewhere. Based - GASP! - NOT on whatever private developer wants to build something (god knows what, they have yet to say) on the existing high school site, BUT…based on what is best for the students and their education.

I know, shocking.

So who wins in this Game of Postpones? Well, not the students, if Corey Belanger gets his way as an apparently honorary member of the School Committee and of the MSBA. PS - apparently, Mistah Mayah also has an extremely short memory, since all of this planning and participation and discussion happened while he was a City Councilor. So, either he’s dumb and doesn’t remember, or he never really paid any attention to what was going on in the city for the last seven years. Neither explanation is encouraging.

February 10, 2014

A Happy Ending

by at 9:09 pm.

Normally I would say that I watched the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting tonight so you wouldn’t have to, but…if you didn’t see it, you missed out on a hell of a lot of entertainment value. I’m speaking, of course, of the massage special permit hearing for Mill No 5.

It started out with Jim Lichoulas speaking as the developer of the building. You could feel his frustration with the opposition, when he talked about how Randy Mathieu [note: name corrected] had thrown around words like “happy endings” and “human trafficking” in regards to Mill No 5 and massage tenants. Later, Randy, speaking in opposition, claimed Lichoulas was exaggerating. It was not long after that that Lichoulas’ partner spoke, and read an email from Randy with those exact accusations in it. Pure, classic political entertainment.

Couple that with Councilor Rita Mercier who spoke, confused about whether or not she was in opposition or whether or not she could produce a motion…well, I hope to get video to you soon.

As for Mercier’s time at the podium, I will say this: her confusion about whether to be in opposition stemmed from talking to people at the meeting and getting that other side of the story. You know, the side which wasn’t throwing around baseless accusations. Something she apparently did not do before putting a motion on the agenda for the Council meeting tomorrow night. *facepalm*

The ZBA impressed me with its thoughtful, respectful yet firm discussion on this matter. Seeing that all this was really much ado about made-up crap, it was a pretty long discussion. The request for special permit passed, with some minor conditions, like a three month review. If I can get you some cut-down video I will!

Speaking of Tasks

by at 1:17 pm.

Christopher of Learning Lowell has an extremely excellent post taking a look at task forces, in light of the following motion for tomorrow night’s Council meeting:

C. Belanger – Req. City Council request Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force.

There was a lot of discussion on Facebook around this item, so Christopher starts out with quotes from that discussion. His post highlights organizations that have in interest in economic revitalization downtown, and also the history of the last 12 years of master plans and studies.

I very much suggest Christopher’s post be required reading for the entire City Council before tomorrow night’s meeting…it’s that good. There is a ton of context and some good, solid suggestions. It raises very important questions, and I think the Councilor who can speak credibly to those issues will be light years ahead of everyone else. If a Councilor want to sound really intelligent, they should bring a copy of his post to the City Council meeting tomorrow night!

February 9, 2014

BotW: Buyback or Payback?

by at 9:22 pm.

It’s that time of the week again! This Tuesday’s agenda looks quite entertaining. Besides the motions I’ve already gone through, there are a couple more I’d like to poke holes in–er, I mean, take a look at, if I have time to post about them before the meeting. But meanwhile, place your guesses in comments, same rules as always: one guess per person, one agenda item per guess, and the more obscure or unpredictable the item, the bigger the prize.

joe from lowell I posted in the comments of the last BotW results post, answering your question about your prize. :) I deem you ineligible for this week’s BotW - let someone else win! Meanwhile, confirm your choice for your prize and I’ll get on that!

PS - let us hope they don’t take this Executive Session out of order again. Please, let them have learned their lesson…

This week’s agenda:

1 MAYOR’S BUSINESS
1.1 Citations – (1)Stephen Paris and (1)Matthew Sheehan; City of Lowell, 911 Dispatchers who assisted residents on Cabot St. December 12, 2013, out of a burning building, while off duty. 
Citations – (1)Domenique Riviera and (1)Noelia Aquino; Lifeguards for lives they saved last summer. 

2 CITY CLERK
2.1 Minutes of City Council Meeting February 4th and Special Meeting February 3rd, for acceptance.

3 UNFINISHED BUSINESS
3.1 Order-Discontinue a portion of Worcester Rd

4 GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
4.1 Misc. - University of Massachusetts Lowell, Request storage of 3,200 gallons of Diesel Fuel II Liquids aboveground @ 220 Pawtucket Street.
4.2 Ordinance-Create new position and salary (part-time, temporary Literacy Director) Library
4.3 Ordinance-Amend position and salary Director of Elections to (Director of Elections/Municipal Hearing Officer)

5 COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
5.1 Informational 

(A) Informational - New Economic Development Projects 
(B) Informational - Downtown Single Stream Recycling Center 
(C) Informational - Abandonment of Worcester Road north of Surrey Lane
5.2 Out of State Travel - Parking

6 VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
6.1 Vote-Temporary License Agreement (299 Tanner St)

7 ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
7.1 Order-60 day trial

8 REPORTS (SUB / COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

9 PETITIONS
9.1 Claims (2) claims for property damage.
9.2 Misc. - Mary Lallas, Lowell, MA request to address City Council Re:157 West Forest St.
9.3 Misc. – Atty. James Flood for Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Consalvo request zoning amendment 1291 Middlesex St.

10 CITY COUNCIL - MOTIONS
10.1 C. Kennedy – Req. Finance SC recommend appropriate salary for Acting City Manager and Acting City Clerk.
10.2 C. Belanger – Req. City Council request Mayor appoint a downtown economic development task force.
10.3 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department provide a report as to current status and future proposed plans for Mill #5 building on Jackson St. located in the Hamilton Canal District.
10.4 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department explore the possibility of establishing a portion of McDermott Reservoir on Beacon St. as a site for a portion of a Community Garden for the Friends of the Reservoir.
10.5 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department inspect glass in windows in all downtown buildings for safety.
10.6 M. Elliott – Req. City Council discuss ordinance pertaining to accumulated annual vacation and sick leave policy and refer matter to Personnel SC.
10.7 M. Elliott – Req. City Auditor provide report on costs of accumulated annual vacation and sick leave for employees who have resigned or have retired since January 1, 2014.

11 CITY COUNCIL - EXECUTIVE SESSION
11.1 Executive Session to discuss and release minutes of Executive Session meeting on January 21, 2014 and any other minutes that should be designated to be made public from executive sessions.
11.2 Executive Session regarding litigation report, public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position.

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 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 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 14, 2014

Tonight, Tonight, Tonight - Ooooh.

by at 9:46 am.

Genesis. Is there anything that band didn’t write?

Anywho, today is Tuesday. Which means, another knockdown meeting at Council, I’m sure. It’s like a weekly Old Faithful. You always know there’s gonna be something entertaining yet frustrating to watch. And remember, we have some veddy veddy interesting motions on the agenda by councilors to be discussed.

BUT - and this is important! - starting at 5:30pm there will be a Special Meeting to “establish a procedure for the selection/hiring of the next city manager and auditor.” This is the beginning of one of THE most important processes in Lowell, the hiring of a City Manager.

Eyeballs are essential. This is the place to engage. If we care about the future of this city, we need to pay careful and special attention to every step of the way. It wouldn’t be remiss if you had the time, to actually plant your physical self in a chair in the Chambers.

Let the games begin, I guess.

January 10, 2014

Rita Demonstrates the Need for the Establishment Clause

by at 11:17 pm.

As we all know by now, besides the other big shoe that dropped Tuesday night at City Council, there was also a travesty of Constitutional proportions, where one religion got to spend nearly an hour proselytizing on the Council floor during our city government meeting.

For those who watched, it was a special treat, as citizen speakers preached about Christianity (including some very, er, interesting takes on history, Star Wars, and immaculate conception) during our governmental meeting. I won’t go into those speakers any further, but if you really want to clench your teeth through the rambling, utterly incomprehensible arguments, I included a full video cut of the “manger debate,” from suspension of the rules to roll call, at the end of this post.

The winner of the night, however, had to be Councilor Rita Mercier. I’ve taken the liberty to slice together some of the more interesting parts from her apparently-prepared speech. There can be no clearer example of why our Founders went out of their way to keep religion out of the Constitution.

If the purpose of constitutional separation of church and state is to not elevate any one religion or sect over any other (or over nonreligion)…in other words, to essentially remain neutral, last Tuesday’s meeting failed that test entirely, and not just because of the now-non-denominational Christian prayer that is recited by the Mayor at the beginning of every meeting. A person who knew nothing about our country or our city, after watching that meeting, would be left with the impression of a specific religion is elevated here, above all others.

Speaking of our “nondenominational” prayer, this video below is of the recitation of such at the beginning of the same Council meeting last Tuesday. And of course, this prayer, heavy with the mention of a deity, replaced the Catholic Lord’s Prayer the Council used to recite at every meeting for decades. I wrote about this back in 2006 when an interfaith group requested the Council change the Lord’s Prayer to something more equitable (provided you still thought some sort of prayer was a good idea). What we ended up with in 2007 was what you see in the video below - a monotheistic, rather Christian-ish prayer to God. (So, not good for Hindus, most Buddhists, atheists…) I have no doubt that this might be the next lawsuit, given how much attention this manger debate might draw to our city over the Establishment clause.

And finally, I’ve put the full manger debate (all 40 minutes of it) up on YouTube for your convenience (or torment, perhaps eternal), including the aforementioned citizens who were…really enthused about Jesus.

Edit: If you have not yet had the pleasure, I recommend reading through Dick Howe’s excellent synopsis, and also his post on the reactions of a class of UML students who were there that night.

January 8, 2014

Ask Yourself: Who Wins?

by at 10:15 am.

All right, we now know the shape of this new landscape, or at least its beginnings. But how did we get here? To a lot of people, the results of the last local election are inexplicable. So I’m here to explain things.

To do this - indulge me - we have to go back a little ways. For those who weren’t living here then (you nascent blow-ins!), this will be useful, for the rest of us, a trip down memory lane…

Our previous City Manager before Lynch, one John F. Cox, a man I have thankfully not had to mention much in the last several years, was a man selected for the position in 2000 based on his connections. He certainly wasn’t qualified - he was a disgraced former state Representative for a decade or so up until the early 90s, when he was slapped with infractions by the Ethics Commission for accepting lobbyist gifts, and he quietly decided not to run again after that. In 2000, the City Council in its wisdom decided that this was pedigree for managing the city, despite the fact…he’s a lawyer and lobbyist (yes, that too), not a muni manager. Not to mention, ethically challenged.

Cox’s tenure was rife with incompetence and graft. We found out about a lot after the fact, and he left a mess. I sincerely think he was just not up to the job. His budgets were a travesty (and left us in a hole we didn’t even know about until after he left). There was that missing money from the Stoklosa School build (we still don’t know who cashed that check for classrooms that were never built, do we?). He also was the sort of guy who hired friends who weren’t qualified for city jobs, gave choice raises (I saw a list of 7-10% raises he gave to people he had personal connections to as he walked out the door in 2006) and generally, buttered up the union rank and file (often with favorable contracts at the expense of our taxpayer dollar). They loved him.

After the election of George Ramirez in 2005, a man who ran on ousting Cox, a new majority was formed (including a new Mayor Bill Martin, Kevin Broderick, and then-Councilor Eileen Donoghue). They quietly told Cox to leave or they’d vote him out. I don’t know what they were hoping, but I got a hold of the news, and I wasn’t interested in having Mr. Cox go quietly into that good night. Oh no, I wanted an accounting of his tenure, and people had a right to know. The Sun leadership (*ahemCampyahem*) got really mad at me - they knew the information and were sitting on it. Cox was informed this on a Friday afternoon right before a planned two week vacation, maybe to give him time to contemplate, I don’t know. It was early in the new Council’s term, and that could have been coincidence.

While Cox was out of town, a PAC formed. They called themselves the People for Lowell PAC. It really was the People for John Cox PAC, though, and there were a lot of city union folks involved. They started the unfortunately named “I’m for Cox” campaign (read the phrase aloud if you don’t get the unfortunate part) with bumper stickers, flyers, and big signs in some business windows. It was, essentially, a political-style campaign to “save” what is supposed to be a technocratic position.

Hence you can see the union connection here.

Cox decides to resign, effective (if I recall) June 2006, and the hunt is on for a replacement. When Bernie Lynch was interviewed and hired in the summer of 2006, he brought to light things Cox had literally been hiding. Like two audit request letters from the state Department of Revenue. The DoR was uneasy about the state of Lowell’s finances, lack of free cash (turns out, it was in the negative). Lynch also began to slowly turn over and clean out the worst of the graft hires in city government. This of course angered a certain segment of the union folks, because they little liked being held accountable for their jobs, which had been pretty cushy up til then. (You should hear the stories I’ve heard. Seriously. It’s bad.)

There are a lot of great city employees - and a lot of them like working for Lynch - but also a lot of grumbling, which turned to hatred over the last 7 years. Lynch shunted Cox’s assistant City Manager TJ McCarthy sideways, to head the DPW in what appeared on paper not to be a demotion, but really was. (McCarthy eventually moved on.) McCarthy’s city worker buddies were riled about that one. I’m sure they feel he was mistreated. Lynch then elevated Baacke, a city planner dept head, to Assistant CM, and more recently, put the inspectional services (another bad actor in the city) into Baacke’s care. Of course, it was to “streamline” the services - but really, we all know, it was to clean up its act. Anger and hate do not begin to describe what some people who work for the city feel about Bernie.

Let me explain this another way. I once had a teenage acquaintance whose mother wanted badly to be friends with her daughter. Partly to make up for the harshness of the other parent, which is understandable. At 16, this girl got the old family car, with its gas, registration, and repairs all paid for by her mother. Her mother found out later, that this girl was getting into drinking. She never took the car keys away - not as punishment, not even for the girl’s own safety. It’s not that this mom wanted bad consequences for her kid. It’s just that she was incapable of saying no to her, because she wanted her daughter as her friend. Never mind that she was going down an irresponsible path that did lead her into far worse places later on.

Cox is the non-disciplining mother. Lynch is the guy who finally took the keys away from the irresponsible. And like petulant teenagers in a rage, they hated him for it.

There have been attempts ever since to oust Lynch. In 2007, the next election, Cox allies Kazanjian and Lenzi ran and won - with union muster, and money…lots of it. If I remember, Kazanjian spent over $70,000, the most anyone has ever spent by far for a Council election here. Lenzi wasn’t far behind at around $40-50,000. The usual for a first time candidate is less than $10,000 generally!

Alas, they couldn’t get rid of Lynch. Partly because he was under contract and the terms took him past the next election. Partly because Lynch was actually quite popular outside of the disgruntled circles of city government. Lenzi, who literally accomplished nothing of note at all while a Councilor (go check his lack of motions! except the one which put the Council on an every other week schedule…governatin’ is hard work!), did not run again. Kazanjian lost, hoisted on the petard of his own scandals during his tenure as Councilor. (He failed to realize he’d get a lot more scrutiny as an elected official than he ever got on the Lowell Zoning Board.) In case you’re curious, Dick has a great post on 2009’s election.

In 2009 we got Franky Descoteaux, Joe Mendonca, and Patrick Murphy. A clear majority for professional city government and fact-based policy. Disgruntles called them a “rubber stamp” - as if Murphy was ever anyone’s rubber stamp. A lot got done with this crew. In 2011, we got the last crop of Councilors (well, Broderick won, but resigned mid term, so that brought in John Leahy). That brings us up to date.

So who are Corey Belanger and Dan Rourke? Belanger ran in 2011 and came in #14 of 17 candidates, not a stellar placing. But just over 200 votes behind #9, because - well, the vote totals are so darn tiny in local elections. Rourke was of course a first time candidate in 2013.

In 2013, Rourke placed #4, and Belanger a pretty safe #7. So what happened? Well, who do you think was motivated to get out the vote? Who do you think beat down the doors as hard, or harder, than the very hard work Stacie Hargis’ or Derek Mitchell’s campaigns did? The disgruntled city unions, of course.

This isn’t hearsay, I’ve talked to people who have first hand knowledge. When you have as tiny a percentage of the registered voters show up in local elections as Lowell does, a little anger goes a long way. A lot of anger changes everything. And while the rest of Lowell was very excited about Derek and Stacie, fresh faces who obviously have a great deal to offer, and the smarts to get it done, there is a segment of Lowell who hates Bernie so much they were motivated even more. I don’t like saying this, but positive emotions like hope and change don’t motivate like negative ones do. Heck, this blog was started in 2005 because of the abuses I’d seen in local government with John Cox at the helm, and I made no secret of this.

So who wins now that Bernie leaves? The disgruntled city union folks who feel like they would have gotten a way better deal with Cox had he stayed (of course, by now, we’d have been under state receivership like Springfield was), giving them and their relatives cush jobs and raises, than they got with the hard-nosed Lynch who treated his job - shock of shocks - as being the guy negotiating on behalf of citizens and taxpayers of Lowell. It wasn’t like Lynch gave nothing to the unions. He negotiated in good faith. But he didn’t give them enough. He changed their - gasp - plush health benefits to another plush benefit plan! And woe of woes, in a terrible downturn with Local Aid money frozen, he didn’t give them 3% annual raises!

Now, I’m a pro-union sort of gal. I believe in the right to organize, for workers to get their fair share. I think the decline in the American median wage has a lot to do with the loss of worker negotiation power, due to the decline of unions. But we can’t pretend unions aren’t bad actors from time to time. And when you have years of hiring abuses like we’ve seen at both the local and the state level (ask me about Panagiotakos and the pay-to-play scandal, sometime, I think we ought to be airing that out soon), the union becomes a protection racket like no other. I’ve often said that the Lowell GOB (Good Ol Boy for newbies) network in Lowell acts an awful lot like a mini mafia.

After all, there is a fine line between a union fighting for better wages and working conditions, and Jimmy Hoffa. And here endeth the tale.

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