Left In Lowell

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July 12, 2014

More About What Fire Victims Need

by at 9:15 am.

I stopped by Wish Project yesterday (as did some others) and we’re hearing that what is really needed is clothing for slight-framed men - sized 30 or 32 pants. Of course, women’s and children’s clothing (infant to teen) also welcome, as well as toys, non-perishable food and household goods.

One thing I brought yesterday were cheap rubbermaid bins. Think about it: these families will get a lot of goods from the Wish Project and other organizations, but where will they store them? If you have extra bins kicking around, or want to buy them (I got a couple for $9 each at a local dept store) bring them, especially if they are solid colored (not clear plastic), with lids. This will help protect the privacy of the families as they use the bins to move their goods around.

Another thing I thought of…hangers. Lots of them will be needed, again, because these families will be set up in hotels, then in apartments, and given clothing they will need to hang. Bring hangers!

Eventually, and pretty soon at that, these families will need pots, pans, kitchen utensils and other cooking and kitchen implements. The Wish Project also mentioned they were in need of small kitchen appliances - toasters and coffee makers etc. If you have extra, working counter appliances in your home that are sitting in your basement doing nothing, bring them in!

And of course, right now Wish Project is asking for food items these displaced residents can eat without a fridge or stove, as they will be in hotels for now. The list from the Wish Project (PDF) is a good place to start. I just wandered the food isles looking for stuff kids would want to eat, microwavable meals, snacks, and drinks they could keep without refrigeration and packed my cart full of store-brand items.

If you could find microwavable rice I’m certain that would be much appreciated, given many of the victims are Cambodian and rice is a staple food, as mentioned in this article.

There will be a fundraiser on Sunday in the Glory Buddhist Temple on Cambridge Street at 5:30 p.m. The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association also has a GoFundMe page for survivors, and you can also donate to the Branch Street Fire Victims Relief Fund, at any branch of the Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, or send money to the bank at P.O. Box 1238, Lowell, MA 01853.

I’m certain the Wish Project, CTI or other organizations could use some help from volunteers, especially the Wish Project as a lot of donations are coming in and need to be sorted. I bet they’d be tickled if you brought them pizza and drinks today to help feed the volunteers that are there today. You can call them to see what they are in need of or to check if something you have is something they take: 978-441-9474.

Please pipe up in comments with any more news or information. Thanks!

July 10, 2014

UPDATED: Horrific Lowell Fire - Info On How To Help

by at 11:28 am.

I’d posted a Facebook thread on Lowell Live Feed this morning, and people have been filling in information about where and how to donate money, clothing, and other goods to the survivors of the fire which claimed seven lives, three of them children, on the corner of Branch St and Queen St in the early hours this morning. I wanted to put all of that into one post for people to refer to. Most of this has been gathered from Twitter where people were covering the press conference this morning.

A fund has been set up for monetary donations:
Branch Street Fire Victims Relief Fund
Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union
P.O. Box 1238
Lowell, MA 01853

UPDATE: The Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association has also set up a GoFundMe page.

Today, the Red Cross is collecting clothing and food donations for the victims at the Senior Center where they are staging their operations. However, that might be overwhelmed pretty quickly, so you can also wait until tomorrow and donate such things to the Wish Project, along with any other goods on their list, such as furniture, bedding, and home goods. I suspect home goods and clothing will be top of the list for needs in the short term. The Wish Project says: “Not sure if we can take it? We reserve the right of refusal, so please call at 978-441-9474 or email us at info@thewishproject.org to make sure it will be accepted.” So be sure to take a careful look at the list so as not to bring things they cannot take. The Wish Project address is 1A Foundry St. in Lowell.

UPDATE: The Wish Project has a web page specifically listing the needs of the Branch Street fire victims. Worth a look.

[UPDATE] FOOD ITEMS: The Wish Project has a way for you to donate food boxes to the recently-homeless fire victims. There is going to be a huge need for immediate food items that can be consumed without the use of a kitchen or fridge. Via the MV End Homelessness blog.

I am not sure where personal items can be donated, such as toothbrushes and other personal hygiene products, but I’ll update when I find out. Over 40 people were displaced with this fire so the demand will be great. [UPDATE]: see link to Wish Project’s web page listing immediate needs.

Also, there was mention of a fundraiser at the Buddhist temple on Cambridge this Sunday, with details TBA. I’ll update when I know more.

Add what you know in comments, please, and I’ll update.

July 9, 2014

Marketing GENIUSES

by at 7:09 pm.

Lately the talk on City Council has been about marketing the city. Because, you know, we’ve never really done that before, ever. It’s not like an organization called COOL, or any other entity in the city, has ever done any sort of advertising, campaign rollout, or viral marketing.

Of course, a lot of this silliness comes from the mouth of one Corey Belanger, who, besides his customary 2,340 average uses of the phrase “quite frankly” on a given Tuesday night (followed closely by “I’d like to inform my colleagues” like they don’t know anything, which, granted, for many of them is true), has noticed that his poor dive bar downtown is quite empty. How do I know? I, and others I know personally, have walked by that place at prime time for bars and have witnessed it for ourselves.

You see, there must be something the city can do for Corey to help his business - why else would he be a Councilor? If it’s not the parking fee enforcement preventing patrons from his otherwise worthy establishment, it’s panhandlers, teenagers from the high school, the tagline being supposedly dropped (Lot to Like…) or any other number of bugaboos.

Right now (as of last night) he’s on an anti-affordable-housing kick, cuz, you know, there’s so few market rate apartments within stumbling distance from Wicked Major’s Pub or whatever the hell he’s calling it this month, except, of course, if you go around the corner to Fuse, Tremonte’s, Centro, El Potro, The Old Court, Cobblestones, Blue Taleh, etc etc and see how packed those places are. And they are, I know from experience…as a DINK couple again, Chris and I are enjoying spreading the wealth to many downtown establishments. We love downtown…parking fees, panhandlers, and affordable housing notwithstanding. But we don’t hit Major’s Wicked Empty Bar.

So how are we marketing the city and getting Lowell in the news? Is it for our upcoming Folk Fest, which I’ve been talking up to work colleagues and anyone else that will listen? Is it the art venues or the theatre? The great restaurants?

Oh no, no, and no again. It’s something MUCH grander! The City Council, in its utter idiocy, got Lowell in the news today for…wanting to go back to an enforced teenage curfew. Drawing attention in the meantime to some of the high profile shootings that have happened. A work colleague today, not prompted by anything, asked me, “What’s with that curfew thing in Lowell??”

Maybe this City Council is practicing the Reverse Psychology school of marketing…hoping that by getting all the negative stuff in the New England news market, people will think good things?

Let’s set aside for a moment that this curfew idea is a worthless, knee-jerk reaction to a problem that it will have nothing to do with solving. Let’s pretend that the shootings which have occurred are not mostly older 20- and 30-something ex-cons getting out of jail and causing trouble. Let’s imagine that Rita Mercier did NOT blanket accuse our kids of drug dealing on bikes (does that make our bike lanes “drug lanes”?).

Let us also ignore the fact, temporarily, that the SJC ruled that a good portion of the 1994 ordinance that is still on the books is unconstitutional. Despite Rita’s call to jail those hooligans, the only thing that can be enforced is a minor fine.

And the ugly anti-teenage rants from the old white people on the City Council are also besides the point…with real gems from the likes of Rita Mercier, Corey Belanger, and “mayor” Elliot, who can’t seem to relate to anyone under 55. And when I say it was ugly, I mean it. Flinch-worthy. It’s online and you should go watch. The curfew discussion starts just after 125 minutes, but if you want the full effect of stupid, please watch from 113 minutes to catch the affordable housing debacle, where any educated viewer will notice the plethora of misinformation.

No, what really makes this special is that, instead of talking about the imminent Folk Fest and other summer activities in Lowell, we once again have reinforced the notion that Lowell is a scary place not to visit, despite the general drop in crime rates. That it’s a place where irrelevant solutions to real problems are the only ones that the brain trust that is our Mayor and his cronies on City Council can come up with. That filling Corey Belanger’s bar is the main reason the Council exists.

Sure, the city has problems, and the shootings are not a good trend and we should be doing everything (that is USEful) to curb the violence…but seriously. Perception is reality, and the perception of Lowell just got a good rolled-up-newspaper whack on its wet nose. By our own “leaders,” no less, who are supposed to be in the position to do something about it, but who are tiptoeing like mice around the real issues. Scratch that, I like mice and hate to insult them like that.

This whole disgusting episode of “As the City Council Panders” doesn’t sound like good marketing to me. Though, I have only over 14 years experience in print and web marketing and design, so what do I know?

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’.

April 30, 2014

Gold Gold Comedy Gold…And, Rules? What Rules?

by at 12:13 am.

Part the First: Digging for Gold

So a Council meeting happened tonight. With so much chocolatey goodness I hardly know where to start! If you want an accurate, but straightforward and boring recap of the meeting, Dick’s already got his notes up. I’m not calling Dick boring, his write up is great, and so useful. But. BUT.

In cycling, you move your pedals forward for anything to happen. But, sometimes when you’re bored, and you don’t need to push yourself for a bit, you might flip your pedals the other way - while coasting down a hill, say. It makes this pleasant empty clicky-whizzing sound. But the Council’s backpedaling tonight was a sight to behold! I could almost see the furious weightless reverse motion of pedals moving through space and time but affecting so little. Breathtaking. Unchained. Glorious! Like going backwards on your bike pedals and realizing that actually, you’re producing sunshine and ice cream and puppies by the motion!

In an effort to showcase my on-the-spot razor wit, this post will be punctuated with my live tweets at various points, which will help illustrate the pure singing joy the evening brought me. Plus, I’m lazy. Many of the tweets will be out of sequence as I try to make some sort of salient narrative. Follow me after the clicky bit: (more…)

April 28, 2014

Such a Backup on Father Mo’! (Updated)

by at 4:45 pm.

OK, here it is…all the amazing traffic at rush hour at 5pm on Father Morresette Blvd! No sound, but gee, where is all the crazy traffic? Thanks to Steve for posting it.

Note: there is a point at which the bike lane goes from being on the right side to being in the middle due to the Aiken St right turn. We could, perhaps, have a rational discussion of whether or not that’s confusing, and how to address it. (In Boston, in high-traffic areas, they paint bike lanes green). Otherwise, the bike lanes are seriously the least confusing things I’ve ever seen. The double line (which allows for opening doors from parked cars and buffer between traffic and bikes) is standard, and honestly, why is this conniption fit even happening? I just don’t get it.

Update: On the topic of these bike lanes, a good question was asked on Facebook - since the $70,000 for making the bike lane infrastructure came entirely from federal grants…does that come with strings attached…like, you actually have to keep the damn things or give back the money used for the work??

Who Needs Downtown Customers?

by at 1:45 pm.

So in case a Council meeting in which the destruction of brand new bike lanes isn’t enough fun for you (and a wonderful waste of taxpayer dollars already expended), there is also an Economic Development subcommittee meeting prior to the meeting, starting at at 5:30pm, where the parking ordinance will be discussed. Remember, this subcommittee is run by Corey Belanger, downtown businessman extraordinaire. Who, of course, believes he knows all the answers to downtown businesses’ woes. His latest blame game as to why his dive bar is emptier than he’d like? Those pesky parking fees on downtown street meters. The going “proposal” - I use that term loosely - is to go ahead and advertise the badly-kept secret that meters are not monitored past 4pm on weekdays and not at all on weekends. Just go ahead and make that official.

(As an aside…the thrice-bedamned PoS website is NOT updated with this term’s subcommittee membership. #majorwebsitefail)

Back to the subcommittee meeting…this is of course a totally wrongheaded and ill-informed direction for the parking ordinance. Belanger’s dive bar, the restaurants, the clothing stores, and the coffee shops…all rely on one really big thing to sustain an influx of paying customers: turnover. Downtown resident and neighborhood group secretary Corey Sciuto explains this a lot better in a letter he sent to the Council some time ago. (Worth a good reread.)

The fact that residents of the downtown know that after 4pm and on weekends there is no enforcement, means that a necessary turnover in parking, and hence of customers, comes to a complete halt in those timeframes. You know why I don’t go out to eat downtown at night or on weekends? Because I can’t find easy street parking. Why is that? Because downtown residents park and stay there for free, all evening and overnight, and all weekend. There’s no place to quickly hop out of the car, pay a small fee at a kiosk, and stay for the 15 minutes to 2 hours I can usually get my business done downtown. Once 5pm hits, a customer which wants to come in to shop or eat is screwed for street parking. Given a choice between the hassle of going on floor #4 of a parking garage blocks away from where I want to be, or going to find another place to eat outside of downtown, I often opt for the second one.

In essence, real experts in the field of economic development and revitalization indicate that we should be doing the exact opposite of what Belanger’s proposing, and actually enforce the night and weekend hours on the meters, and even extend it (maybe til 7 or 8pm, when the dinner crowd wants to come in, and on Sundays).

This is a simple concept and yet, despite the fact this is a well-known city planning rule of thumb, and that it’s been explained a zillion times, the self-appointed economic development expert just refuses to see it.

Hey look, I get it, you wanna look like you have big ideas. A sweeping vision. Funny how that comes across as entirely self-serving…and less like a vision and more like throwing shit on a wall to see what sticks…but you wanna be seen as the big man in town with lots of new ideas. Problem is, your ideas are going to sink us, real fast. This one, and the rest of the ones you’re kicking around.

The real heart of the problem is that the average IQ of this Council is just not that high. Intellectual curiosity? Heavily weighing the opinions of real experts? Thinking things through to their logical conclusion? Nah. The majority of these people will go with their uneducated gut. Real experts be damned.

I swear, this City Council is hell bent on making the City of Lowell look totally ridiculous in the eyes of our sister cities across the Commonwealth. No one can take this Council seriously. It’s gonna be a long two years, folks.

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