Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
I wanted to take a moment to teach our new Mayor some things he already ought to know about the city’s money reserves, about saving taxpayer dollars, and proper budgeting. Since he thinks he knows better than a professional city manager who has taken us from negative $4.5M in reserves to a cozy but not complete positive, and all of that negative drawdown of free cash and then some happened on Rodney’s watch during the Cox years, I figured maybe he just doesn’t really understand budgets. I mean, he claims to all the time, dubbing himself a fiscal watchdog, but every time he opens his mouth, he belies this supposed expertise.
I hope he finds this primer informative! I certainly look forward to his better understanding showing itself in future discussions. Click to read more: (more…)
I’m watching the School Committee meeting, where Conway had a motion about the net school spending deficit, and of course Rodney had to have his say, stepping off the podium to foam at the mouth (I’m only slightly exaggerating). In fact, he claims that all this money being socked away into the rainy day fund was overly excessive and we should have been putting money towards the schools!
He wants to claim this net school spending problem lies at the feet of the last Mayor and Bernie Lynch. Oh, how quickly we forget (bold mine):
UPDATED: 10/17/2011 10:31:02 AM EDT
The councilor said his proposal still leaves $500,000 for Lynch to spend on other pressing needs.
Councilor Patrick Murphy has filed a motion requesting Lynch consider the city’s adopted strategic and fiscal management goals for property-tax relief, as well as net school spending, minimum reserves and snow-and-ice removal budgeting when deciding how to use the additional local aid.
Murphy said it is difficult to determine the exact amount of funding that should go toward limiting the increase in property taxes before the city determines its other financial needs, but he believes tax relief should be a “significant part” of any plan Lynch devises for using the local-aid money.
Putting money toward snow-and-ice budgeting will reduce the size of the snow-and-ice deficit for the next budget cycle, and placing some of the funding in the city’s reserves would boost the city’s long-term fiscal health, he said.
“One thing listed as a way to boost our bond rating was putting aside some reserves,” Murphy said.
Councilor Rodney Elliott, chairman of the council’s finance subcommittee, last week said he would like Lynch to put all $1.5 million toward reducing the planned tax increase because taxpayers are struggling to pay their bills. Elliott was the lone councilor to vote against the budget because of the tax increases it included.
Lynch told The Sun last week he would like to use “several hundred thousand dollars” to reduce the planned tax hike, but he is reluctant to use all of the new state funding for tax relief because of the one-time nature of the funds and other needs in the city.
The council voted last week to approve Elliott’s motion asking Lynch to develop a plan to put potential savings from any health-care agreement he works out with the city’s unions toward reducing property taxes.
Lynch said he is negotiating with city unions and hopes to reach a health-care agreement with them by mid-December to reduce the city’s health-care spending next fiscal year.
That negotiation with city unions on health care produced the savings that was looked for. I have yet to find the article where Rodney complains about putting that money into tax breaks, and not towards net school spending.
So the big political news this week is that Eileen Donoghue is declining to put in her resume for the City Manager position, which, insiders say, means sitting state Rep Kevin Murphy is now a shoo-in.
I cannot count all the ways that this pisses me right the hell off. This is Lowell at its absolute and utter worst. Let’s elaborate why.
First of all, supposedly, a dozen applications or so have been received so far (why has that gone public, anyway?), with another two weeks til deadline. What if we get another Lynch in the pile? Someone who is just an outstanding candidate, who nails the interview, who comes in knowing all sorts of things a city manager ought to know, like about Dept of Revenue audit letters that are being ignored, and someone who could continue this upward spiral of higher Moody’s ratings (saving taxpayer dollars), green energy and conservation (saving taxpayer dollars), continuing and building on efficiency programs (saving taxpayer dollars), and transparent, readable budgets (showing taxpayers where their money is going)? Screw “from Lowell for Lowell.” I want “protect the Lowell taxpayer and residents” not a goddamned street address and birth certificate that has Lowell at the end of it.
Second: all this bullshit talk about Donoghue or Murphy are basically the only choices the Council will consider. It’s a great way to limit the candidate pool of people willing to bother, precluding a stellar candidate from even putting an application in. Maybe that’s what Elliott, Kennedy, Belanger, Rourke, Leahy and Mercier really want, but then please stop pretending this farce of a sham of an advertised position constitutes a “nationwide search.” Seriously, do these people think that the taxpayer wants a limited candidate pool? Come on.
Third: KEVIN MURPHY IS NOT QUALIFIED. Are you all freaking nuts? I don’t care if his teeth gleam white and shiny and you like him a lot. That is not how to pick the top administrator of the city. He. Is. NOT. Qualified. And the fact that he thinks he is?? Even worse.
He said on the radio something to the effect of, “I could do the job, I ran a small business.” (A law firm consisting of him and his own family member isn’t even really that!) It took a lot of willpower not to bite my own arm off. Being a small business (or indeed, any sort of business owner), or a lawmaker (who is pretty much useless, riding on the coattails of first Panagiotakos and now, Donoghue) is NOT a qualification for running a city. OMFG.
It is NOT a political job.
It should not treated like a political job.
It is a serious, VERY tough, VERY involved management position not unlike being a CEO of a large company, but with really specific and specialized matters to attend, like union negotiations. Speaking of that, here’s how Kevin Murphy is the WORST candidate for this position…
You see, the City Manager acts on behalf of the city taxpayer in union negotiations. So, when there’s a table, and unions are sitting on one side, and the city itself is on the other, the CM is in charge of our half of the process.
Key word here is: Ne-go-ti-a-tion. Not “give the unions what they want” but “give the unions what taxpayers can afford.” Now, I’m all for taking a look at the union contracts, and making sure that our city workers are fairly compensated. But state money has been a little tough to come by these days, and the City Council refuses to let the City Manager raise the tax rates even an eensy-bit to allow for more capital investments, more police positions, or city worker raises.
You copy, unions? You wanna blame someone, blame the Council for that. I don’t see this Council getting any better on that front, not with Rodney “Across-The-Board-Cuts” Elliott as mayor. They have literally hog-tied the Manager’s hands for years on taxes and revenues, such that, despite the fact our budgets have been doing better and better, there’s not a lot of room to accommodate new spending, either in raises or in “stuff.” We’re lucky to have had the capital investments we’ve had (thanks in part to those ratings agencies giving Lowell the increased thumbs-up).
But, Mr. Kevin Murphy…well. A good lot of his clients are unions or city workers.
His representation of union clients and, perhaps more controversially, of his wife in contract negotiations with the city of Lowell, has raised questions about whether it is appropriate for a lawmaker to vote on funding for public agencies at the same time he is serving clients fighting for a piece of that funding.
Murphy’s roster of clients in his Chelmsford law practice includes a number of public-sector entities, from the Lowell Housing Authority to the Dracut School Committee.
The most controversial, however, was his decision last fall to represent Lowell’s four assistant school superintendents, including his wife, Ann Murphy.
Murphy successfully renegotiated the superintendents’ contracts and in the process secured his wife a $10,000 raise — the largest of the four — two years before her contract was set to expire.
The taint of the Lowell School Department episode followed Murphy when, earlier this year, contract negotiations between management and the bus drivers for the Lowell Regional Transit Authority grew contentious and appeared headed toward a strike vote.
Murphy represents the bus drivers’ union, which is still at an impasse in contract talks.
Now, that was in 2009, and Murphy brushed off these gray areas in state ethics laws as inconsequential, since he was a state Rep and these were local or regional matters.
Those cozy relationships, even if he leaves his law office (which his own nephew Brian Akashian will take over…License Commissioner and we’ve written about him), do not make me think he’ll be the best we can do for representing the taxpayer on local union negotiations. And then, there’s the utter insanity that nearly the entire Kevin Murphy family tree is working in the Lowell Schools. It’s so bad, he made a joke out of it at the 2010 St. Patrick’s Day breakfast.
State Rep. Kevin Murphy wanted to make sure Superintendent of School Chris Scott was clear that it was Rep. Charley Murphy of Burlington, not him who has proposed cutting state aid for education.
“So, don’t take it out on my wife, my sister, my sister-in-law, my other sister-in-law, my cousin, my cousin-in-law or my niece,” he said. “The Lowell Public Schools — or as we call them the Murphy family business.”
And this guy would, if he became City Manager, be putting together the city’s side of the budget for the Lowell School Dept? Really?? Can you count all the ways that would be ethically questionable?
I could go on quite at length the ways the conflicts of interest make him the worst candidate for this job. I’m actually beginning to wonder if he’d drag the city down quicker than John Cox did. You know, the last guy we hired who was a former state Rep with ethics problems. How long before Murphy would unravel all the good Bernie Lynch did for the city? Whether it’s through inexperience, or graft and abuse, the result is the same. How long before we eat through our own free cash…before city departments go back to the bad old days of workers doing side work for the connected or sleeping on the job on the taxpayer’s dime…which took Bernie so long to clean out? (Not that that cleaning job is completely finished.)
Aren’t we tired of this? Aren’t we ready to keep doing business for ALL of Lowell, all its residents, the connected and the unconnected alike? I know I can’t expect any better from Elliott, Belanger, Kennedy, or Rourke, but I think Rita Mercier and John Leahy could be heroes in this. If only they’d think this through, and look for the best qualified person, instead of going with the guy (they think) they know.
As for the end of this Column piece:
Assuming he goes so far as to get an interview, ha, ha, Murphy said: “I will convince any opponents that I am not the boogeyman that some people think I am.” He also insisted he does not have an “anger problem” as he’s heard some detractors say. Murphy said his work and political experience at City Hall, at the State House and as a small businessman, have provided him with the skills to be an effective city manager.
Notwithstanding that I do think he has major ethics problems…when are city leaders going to understand, it’s not about being against anyone! It’s about wanting the best candidate for the job, period, and Muphy can’t possibly be that person with the resume and experience he has. To believe he has the relevant experience is totally arrogant. Apparently Kevin Murphy is that arrogant.
Murphy vehemently denied padding his pension is one of the sole reasons he wants the job. “I’m a Lowell guy who has lived in the same neighborhood my entire life,” Murphy said. “I truly believe that serving as city manager is the best way to help the city and its people.”
No, no, no, NO! The best way to help the city and its people is to find the best municipally experienced manager for the position. Hell, Rep. Murphy isn’t really that great as a state Rep in “serving the people.” If you don’t believe me, take a look at the list of legislation coming out of his office this session, on his official state page (8 bills), compared to, say, Lunenburg’s Jen Benson (26 bills) or Marblehead’s Lori Ehrlich (21 bills).
But regardless of how good of a state Rep he might or might not be, and his obvious conflicts of interest, he simply will NOT in all likelihood be the best and most qualified person who applies for the position of Lowell’s City Manager. Anyone who claims otherwise is utterly deluded.
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!
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!
On further examination of the agenda for Tuesday, one that appears to be fairly innocuous is this:
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.
Though usually anything like this brought up by Rita Mercier has some sort of “someone called me and complained” attached to it, it seems like a good discussion we should have, as Mill No 5 comes online and artists, craftspeople, and businesses move in and open up shop.
However, the most likely explanation for this motion from Rita is that someone did call her and complain, given what is happening behind the scenes. I happen to know the story, so I thought I would elucidate. You see, this entire motion is most likely all about…”TEH SEX.”
The back history is this: Mill No 5 is soon to go in front of the ZBA for a special permit to allow massage parlors in their building. My understanding is that there’s at least one tenant lined up who wants to offer those services there. Now, next to where Mill No 5 is being created, there are condos which were developed by the same owners (Lichoulas). There is, apparently, a couple of people who live in the condos who have convinced themselves, apropos of nothing and without any evidence, that said massage parlors are not just for relaxing massages…but you know, wink wink, one of those types of establishments. (Dick Howe also believes this motion is likely made on behalf of this complaint in his weekly review.)
It’s patently ridiculous, but these people are going around in a panic, claiming that there will be happy ending massages, a porno theatre (Mill No 5 is building out a 200-seat theatre, which is not a porno theatre, but an arts/indy theatre) and that the neighborhood will become some sort of Red Light district. They have gone to all the neighbors, surrounding businesses, to the ZBA and to City Councilors with their claim.
Personally, I think bringing this motion forward (I’m 99.9% sure these people talked to Rita and this is why this is on the agenda) makes Rita Mercier look like a fool - because with a little research, or perhaps talking to the developer, other residents of that building, or to Bernie Lynch’s office or DPD, or heck, the ZBA, Rita could have realized that this zOMG SEX PARLOR madness is the brainchild of fringe type people who are (at best) making assumptions with zero evidence. Look, I’m all for citizen engagement, but if every crank or crazy in the city with some loony opposition to something that will never exist got the ear of the Council, all we’d be doing is fielding these types of motions all night, every week.
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…)
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!):
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.)
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…)
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