Left In Lowell

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April 28, 2014

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.

April 26, 2014

Lowell, the City of…Cars?

by at 2:21 pm.

Hey, hey, it’s the 1950’s. The Age of the Highway and Automobile. Right?

So you say it’s over sixty years from that decade…well, you live in Lowell. We like to stick to what worked decades ago. Suck it, bikers/public transit commuters.

Mayor Rodney Elliott and City Councilor Rita Mercier have filed a motion for Tuesday’s meeting requesting that the council vote to revert Father Morissette back to four lanes of traffic and have the bike lanes removed.

The faulty argument is that traffic is worse due to the Boulevard going from four to two lanes. This shows a fundamental disinterest in the facts of the matter, which is that any traffic you might see on FM is due to lights and bridges, which would back up regardless of having two or four lanes. I’ve been on FMB at many different times of day…the traffic studies which the DPD conducted previously seem to bear up, in my experience, so where is the sudden need to open up a Boulevard which barely gets a quarter of its use capacity, even with only two lanes?

Really, this isn’t about traffic, or public safety. That’s just window dressing on the real pissing contest that’s going on here. This is all about going backwards on the Lynch era, with a bonus for undoing any good or progress supported or proposed by former Mayor Patrick Murphy. This is the same impulse which is behind this amazing new urgency about moving the high school (though that also has “friendly developers” written all over it).

Let’s please not pretend this is about having a big grand vision. It’s more like the black hole opposite of having vision.


BadgermillCity logoSo, in a related matter and in case you missed it…and you want to keep yourself entertained while watching City Council meetings…you should check out the new drinking games at the BadgermillCity wiki. There are two games listed there so far - the Plain Jane drinking game, and the new “Elimination Libation” game, which is more of a get-buzzed-quick game whenever one of these “bassackwards” subjects come up. I think you’ll find yourself entertained just reading them!

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.

March 19, 2014

WaPo Finds Lowell

by at 3:46 pm.

Nice little write up in the Lifestyle - Food section of the Washington Post website. I found it via Facebook. It serves up a taste of Little Cambodia!

Several locations are mentioned, which is really awesome. Let’s bring in the food adventurers! :)

LTC Public Input Meeting on Website

by at 1:34 pm.

LTC is going to be doing its website over this year, and we’re (I say we because I’m on the board and helping them) hosting a public input meeting tonight at 7pm at LTC. Everyone is invited to come - whether you are a member, producer, or just a member of the public who wants to contribute to the bettering of the services offered by LTC’s website!

You can RSVP on Facebook here, or by going through LTC’s website, and if you can’t make it, please take a quick moment to note you can’t make it and fill out the survey.

Hope to see you there!!

March 18, 2014

I Forgot the Best!

by at 8:13 am.

I did have a video of Bernie’s so-called “impromptu” jokes at the end of the breakfast…I can’t believe I forgot to put it at the end. I was going to say, leave the best for last (to go with the worst for first) but instead, leave the best for the next day!

I must be half sleepwalking!

So without much more ado….heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Bernie!

March 17, 2014

Yuks, and Yucks (Updated)

by at 1:29 pm.

Well, I did it. I waded into the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast for the first time ever. I got to sit at the “citizen media group” table, the sign for which, according to seat mate and fellow blogger Greg Page (who was scoring the joke brackets a couple seats away), drew a lot of questions as people walked by.

I took the liberty of shooting a few videos and posting on YouTube. My camera angle was bad and so was my use of the camera, which I was still figuring out how to film video with. Apologies in advance. Luckily, there is an official Channel 22 taping coming eventually and I highly recommend catching that if you want better footage.

It’s all on the flip: (more…)

February 20, 2014

A Lesson For Rodney On Reserves

by at 12:22 am.

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…)

February 19, 2014

Net School Bullshit

by at 8:14 pm.

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.

February 13, 2014

No, No, No, NO!

by at 5:29 pm.

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.

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