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.

March 19, 2014

Sacred Golden Cows

by at 7:19 am.

I’ve long held the opinion that the so-called Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is a somewhat useless, taxpayer-sucking organization. I’ve gotten to that place by talking a lot to very smart people who are in the position to know better than me.

This is no knock on marketing, of course. Hey, I’m in the web and graphic design business after all. I know marketing works. And we need to develop great events, and market them, bringing people in from outside the city to spend money. Changing a decades-long perception about Lowell is no small feat, and I think we ought to spend some minor amount of money on it; the economic benefits of that are clear. I just do not see that there has been even a dollar of economic activity for every dollar spent on the CVB (in other words, not even sure if we’re breaking even). I think it’s a big waste of money. Could the CVB be a resource? Sure, if it were well run, it might be. But it’s not. I don’t see a return for the city from all the taxpayer dollars spent on that organization. It is, however, run by a well-connected person who has friends on City Council.

Now, I don’t know if the restauranteurs that Jack quotes from old articles about the CVB and the local option meals tax revenue are merely short-sighted, or if they are alyoop-ing the CVB for other reasons, but regardless, I wanted to bring this up because we all know the City Council will not have the debate about whether or not the CVB is actually a good, dollar-for-dollar investment for the city. I mean, when the CVB posts a Facebook photo of the Tyngsboro bridge with the line, “Good morning Lowell!” you have to question the validity of the entire operation. Also, they’ve been part and parcel of the gravy train that was Winterfest; with that fundraising money flowing through the CVB as the “fiscal agent,” they get matching funds from the state.

Keep in mind, that out of the 16 Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus in the state, Lowell is the only city or town to subsidize a CVB directly with money from its own city budget. This has been brought up before under Bernie Lynch, but I know a lot of City Councilors have notoriously short memories.

We have no marketing data to actually measure in any way what the dollar value the CVB brings the city for its contribution as far as I know. Metrics? Pshaw!

Of course, Rita et pals didn’t like the reductions in Bernie’s budgets for what the city gave to the CVB, so expect Lynch’s previous CVB budgetary reduction to a yearly $25K to to be reversed. Of course, Lynch wanted it eliminated but the hue and outcry of the friends of CVB head Deb Belanger was hot and furious - which is one way to be sure this is a GOB move and not a smart one. Bernie was no dummy about where to invest our taxpayer dollars, but the City Council certainly is.

Good money thrown after bad…”that’s a bad way to fly.”

February 10, 2014

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 8, 2014

Shot Across Whose Bow?

by at 9:42 am.

I’ll get to the whole Council agenda later on, for BotW purposes, but meanwhile, I wanted to examine some of the new motions a bit in detail. There’s some doozies…

Let’s start with a couple of related ones from Elliott, shall we?

M. Elliott – Req. City Council discuss ordinance pertaining to accumulated annual vacation and sick leave policy and refer matter to Personnel SC.
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.

First of all, these motions are unlikely to be about any union position, since those have to be negotiated under terms contract when a contract with a union is up. That is negotiated by the City Manager as the taxpayer’s representative. This means this little discussion of Elliott’s would have to be about the few city positions governed by ordinance, not union contracts.

Positions like…say…City Manager, mayor’s aids, HR Director, or other department heads. Put this together with the second motion - and we can narrow down who Elliott is going after here. There’s several people who’ve resigned positions since Jan 1 of this year…the Manager himself, the former Mayor’s Aide, the head of DPD and assistant CM, the Auditor… I have my specific suspicions but suffice to say, I believe this is aimed at one or two individuals.

Now, a little history: the ordinance governing non-union positions in city government was already revised…and then subsequently, died in subcommittee. Meeting minutes from April 30, 2013:

Ordinance - Amend Ch. 56 (Personnel). In Council, Given 2nd Reading and hearing held. No Remonstrants. Hearing closed. Motion by C. Mendonca, seconded by C. Lorrey “To waive the full reading”. So voted. Manager Lynch gave a synopsis of the proposed ordinance which outlined sick pay, sick buy back, grid, vacation, ethics, code of conduct, pay, parking and travel expenses. Manager noted he corrected the position of the parking commissioner [editors note: supposed to be Parks not parking] to reflect a department head. C. Mercier noted sick pay option and vacation time for new employees. C. Mercier noted she could not vote in favor of the ordinance until she saw the proposed pay grid. Manager noted that the grid would have to be approved by Council every year. C. Mendonca commented on vacation time and personal days after Thanksgiving. Manager noted that as a cost savings measure City Hall would be closed the day after Thanksgiving. C. Mendonca requested some clarity on medical leave language. C. Martin outlined his understanding of medical leave language. C. Lorrey commented on parking language and also noted that organ donor pay should be included in the ordinance. Motion by C. Elliott, seconded by C. Kennedy “to refer matter to Personnel Subcommittee”. So voted. C. Elliott noted the correction for the Commissioner of Parks and commented there are some improvements in the ordinance but that it should be given more attention.

The proposed changes streamlined the ordinance, as well as cut back on sick leave, and eliminated sick-leave buyback for all new non-union employees. (The Sun wrote about the discussion here along with another item on the agenda.) It also put the Parks and Rec Director back as a dept head (something Mercier heartily approved).

Rita Mercier wanted the pay grid in front of her before approval. But..the ordinance as it currently stands (unrevised) does not have the pay grid in it, either, for the record. It is something the Council has to approve every year. So Mercier’s objection was full of it. (You know what “it” is.) She also complained that some employees got more vacation time under the revised ordinance - however, there are ordinance employees who get a very minimal amount of vacation and this was to correct that. (The union positions get plenty.)

So, to recap, this already was hashed out by the administration and presented to the Council last year, addressing this exact issue of sick leave policy and eliminating sick leave buyback, which was promptly sent by Elliott to the Personnel subcommittee, from where it never rose again. Elliott’s complaint was that the revision still gave too much to non-union employees (vis a vis step pay) and he felt “there are some improvements in the ordinance but that it should be given more attention”…but lo and behold, it was never given more attention.

Now, if Elliott seeks to revive these changes, with or without tweaks, I’m all for that. It is, apparently, a ball that was dropped by the previous Council. But he’s the one that sent it to die and never asked for it to come up again, last year.

However, the second motion he put on the agenda makes me very wary, because I think he is going after specific people with it, and I am not good with personal vendettas by weak mayors and a petty City Council, all of whom have demonstrated a flagrant disregard for open meeting laws, advice from their own council on lawsuits, and who have produced a mostly chaotic, inconsistent set of votes thus far. I think this is being used to embarrass someone Elliott doesn’t like, and I think he should be called out for it.

November 19, 2013

Piece of the Pie [Updated]

by at 4:51 pm.

Update: This has passed the Senate and heads for the state House! Cue the gloom and doom conservatives, or, if you are a realist, cue the celebrations for a stronger economy for all. This bill includes increases in the tipped worker minimum wage.

There’s a reason Massachusetts has a strong economy compared to much of the country. We care more about workers, we care about education, and we want to make sure everyone gets a piece of the growth pie, not just the wealthy.


Today, the state Senate debates raising the minimum wage (as well as considering an amendment to include tipped workers in the increase) and indexing it to inflation.

Here’s why this is a no-brainer:

The top income earners are doing really, really well. While nationwide, the unemployment rate stagnates, and wages adjusted for inflation have gone down over the decades, rich people are doing fabulously great. Many companies are seeing record profits, and the CEO-to-worker pay gap has never been wider. We’re at crazy pre-1929-crash levels. This article on BMG highlights the problem with our minimum wage.

Raising the minimum does not destroy an economy. In fact, in this country, in our years of greatest economic domination in the world, workers at the bottom could live, pay for food and shelter, and raise families. This is not true any more, even in MA, which has a higher minimum wage than the federal level.

Putting money into the hands of the people who have the most need to spend only helps the economy, by creating demand for more widgets, which in turn increases profit. It’s why Henry Ford paid his workers well - if they could afford his cars, he would sell more cars. We seem to have totally forgotten this simple economic principle post-Reagan.

The minimum wage will likely have zero effect on my personal household income. We’re not in the bottom 20th percentile. But a better economy and more demand, and in turn, more tax revenue and more money for our schools, services, and infrastructure, certainly does make us all stronger, from the 1% on downward.

Since the state Senate is debating this today, I strongly suggest you register your views with our state Senator Eileen Donoghue. PS - we’d be INSANE not to include the wages of tipped workers, who have been stuck at a disgusting $2.63 since 1999.

We’re better than that in this state. We’ve shown the world how to prosper - our economy is already better than most states, our unemployment lower, and our wages higher. Isn’t it time to make sure that a minimum wage and the closely-related low wages (which will also adjust themselves accordingly) are wages that don’t force families to starve or go on public assistance? Isn’t it time for the government to stop subsidizing WalMart and other big companies like them with our tax dollars and social safety net?

You can call Senator Donoghue at 617-722-1630. Now is your chance! Time once again for Massachusetts to lead the way!

September 22, 2013

Candidate Answers to LiL Questionnaire

by at 8:01 am.

screenshot of tableSo here it is folks. The pièce de résistance. Official Left in Lowell candidate questionnaire answers! They are on their own web page, which you can find here.

On a side note, I really REALLY like this format. Comparing lots of apples to lots of other apples, and a few places for candidates to show off their knowledge. This could be the format going forward. Also, lots and lots of props to my wonderful husband who whipped the submitted answers into a format that I could literally copy and paste into the page for the data table. Love you hon!!!

Thanks also to our amazing readers for a very large chunk of the questions. Crowd sourcing works!

I am considering reopening up for submissions after the preliminary, since my timeframe was crushed a bit leading up to next Tuesday’s election. The unfair part is that anyone submitting answers after publication is getting an advantage of seeing what everyone else said; but if I were to notate who passed answers in after the prelim, would you want to see more answers from more candidates? Honest question. I’m good either way.

September 5, 2013

Photo Journey

by at 9:14 pm.

Dick Howe posted to Facebook this forum that he found which has an awesome trip through Lowell’s mill redevelopment, and it’s worth every minute you spend on it. It’s a great celebration of some of the accomplishments of the city. There are a lot of before and after pics.

August 26, 2013

Race and Integration in Lowell (Updated)

by at 4:11 pm.

A lot of different groups and people are making use of the map of race in America, based on the US 2010 census. Many are noticing that while we’re far less segregated than we were 50 years ago, too often, cities have clear and stark enclaves of single-race groups.

So how does Lowell fare? I decided to take a map of streets and voting precincts and try to match it up as best I could to a screenshot of the race map. (The result is pretty well lined up, but may not be exact.) Click the image to get a very large resolution - 3000 pixels - though the dots will be pixelized since I used a screenshot of the dot data (it still works to give you an idea of the makeup of the neighborhoods).

Map of racial census data in Lowell, Massachusetts

(more…)

May 31, 2013

Let’s Ask Teddy Panos (Updated)

by at 11:34 am.

Hey, Teddy.

Your ass is in a knot over welfare fraud. (Yes. I do listen.) And, you are a proponent of the big government intrusion of mandating citizens present photo identification when they go to exercise control over government, via ballots. As social engineering is an incrementalist’s game, whether progressive or classic liberal, you should be happy as a clam to hear this:

From the Boston Dead Tree Rag:

It’s time to slap photos on EBT cards and crank up oversight of the state’s “broken” welfare system before more dead people can collect benefits, an incensed House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Herald yesterday.

“Why do we have to let the wound fester? We have to stop this fraud, and we have to stop it now,” DeLeo said, adding he was “appalled” by a state audit released Tuesday that showed $2.4 million paid to more than 1,100 dead people and $27 million to live recipients collecting EBT benefits out of state, including in Alaska and Hawaii.

DeLeo said House proposals to put photos on EBT cards, create a Bureau of Program Integrity and allow the Inspector General to monitor the embattled agency “are needed now more than ever,” and promises by the Patrick administration that they are addressing the problems aren’t enough.

No?

For sure, if EBT cards are printed with a photo id of the benefit holder, an idea I fully support; then this will be a valid id. Thus, should the photo id intrusion into our ballot system of checks and balances move forward, those of us guarding against voter suppression will be partially relieved.

I love ‘checks and balances.’ It’s the wisest creation of The Founders.

Update: David Bernstein, of Boston Magazine, did a nice job sorting through the spin factor around the Auditor’s report. Such revelations will not help Teddy regain his composure. Maybe, it will help you, as it did me. Please proceed below the fold for an outtake.
(more…)

April 18, 2013

WTF FERC?!

by at 3:47 pm.

FERC had a brainfart.

The cub reporter quickly blurted out the bits his Editor want to float:

“We find that the proposed pneumatic crest gate system can be installed without unacceptably altering the dam or adversely affecting the park and historic districts,” FERC wrote in its ruling. “The crest gate system will also provide important benefits to recreation, fish passage, dam and worker safety, and project generation, and will help alleviate upstream backwater and flooding effects to the maximum extent possible.”

Of course, there are little gems stashed in the “Order Amending License.” (h/t Corey Sciuto)

Project Economics
47. The licensees’ proposal to install an inflatable crest gate system has an estimated capital cost of $5,980,000. This capital cost results in an average, annualized cost of $956,000. We estimate that the annual cost to operate the system would be minimal.

48. Operation of an inflatable crest gate system instead of flashboards could enable the project to generate more power, because the gates could be reinflated relatively soon after high flows. In contrast, the flashboards would be washed out for an estimated three months. The licensees estimate that project operation with the inflatable crest gates would result in an increase in annual generation of approximately 8,000 megwatt hours (MWh). Using a regional estimated alternative energy value of $38.74/MWh, as determined from the Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook for 2012, this additional generation would be valued at $310,000 annually. Therefore, the net cost of the licensee’s proposed action, including total capital costs and generation benefits, would be approximately $646,000 annually.

49. Although our analysis shows that the cost of installing the crest gates would exceed the value of the increased generation, it is the applicant who must decide whether to accept this license amendment and any financial risk that entails.
(bold mine)

There is a lot to digest. Please give it a go, then chime in here.

PS. We are about to find out, if the Dept. of Interior folks are willing to take it to the next level. The Dept. of the Interior(Parks) has a brand new Secretary and Energy(FERC) is due to get a new Secretary. So, leadership may come from the locals until Obama’s Cabinet members can find their way around. This matter may be determined by which Department has better insulated its ‘Legal Eagles’ from sequestration. :v\

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