Left In Lowell

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July 25, 2014

Petulance Is Not Leadership

by at 6:18 am.

I know I’m just getting to this and it’s Friday, and I haven’t blogged much lately, and everything I want to write will make me sound like a broken record…because we have that kind of City Council…but I wanted to highlight one of the many violations of logic that our Council seems hell bent on committing.

This past Tuesday, one agenda item - a vote from the CM’s portion of the agenda, ” Vote-Authorize School Dept proceed under MGL c.30B for the lease of property for School Administration Offices” - provoked a long commentary from Belanger that defied sanity. Never mind that he’s in direct conflict of interest on this matter, since he’s hoping that maybe the relocated school dept employees eat in his ethnically-confused dive bar. But his hypocrisy was breathtaking. He was complaining (during a long, repetitive rant) because the school dept is also going to take one of the empty storefronts for their year-round parent interfacing office.

Wasn’t it this same city councilor who drove the push (I would say, unwisely tying the hands of the SD) to insist that the RFP for this relocation heavily favor a downtown location? Again, with the appearance of self interest, which I find blatant and gross (Franky D never did this crap when she was a Councilor). Wasn’t it he who, with his overly long speeches on the matter, made it clear that downtown was the only place acceptable to him?

Well he got his wish. The downtown location was chosen. Then on top of this, he’s been ranting about downtown vacancies (like this is a new thing) and closing businesses left and right? I get that we don’t want to fill dowtown with 100% nonprofit and government offices in its street level retail spaces. But for heaven’s sake, it’s not like a retail business trying to start downtown would find a dearth of spaces for rent.

I also find it ironic that, when it’s convenient or in his self interest, he’s fine with trying to find a way for the council to interfere with private business (the landlord, in this case). Oy.



Let’s Talk About Rules

Rules. Let’s pitch ‘em please. The number of times Rita suspended the rules for one reason or another on Tuesday night, it appears we don’t need them. And, can someone please, please tell me how it is the City Council can take a vote to support Arthur T Demoulas after a citizen petition in front of the council without an agenda item? I thought that was against the rules too. What should have happened (and correct me if I’m wrong please) is they should have put it on the agenda for two weeks from Tuesday. Do they think no one might want to speak on the issue given fair warning under Open Meeting Laws?

Now given the situation and its fluidity (the Market Basket board meets today) I suppose you could argue it was one of those “emergency responses” which is the end-around the OML. But was it? Was it really?

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.

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 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! :)

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

A Happy Ending

by at 9:09 pm.

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of Tasks

by at 1:17 pm.

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

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

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

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

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