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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.
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.
I can’t believe it, but I have to deem “joe from lowell” the winner again this week! Joe, if you want to combine this win with the previous one to get a cooler prize, let me know, of you could just start an army of amigurumi if you want!
I’ve gotta go shovel out the backyard for the dogs, but use this as an open thread if you like. Is it me, or are we seeing actual civility (though not consistency) returning to Council meetings?
A very happy two-week un-birthday…to an appointment motion. BotW continues to rehash the same stuff week after week…how appropriate that we celebrated Groundhog Day on Sunday, right?
This Council can’t seem to even get out of its own way. Well, place your bets. You know the stakes. You know the restrictions (one person per item, one guess per person, the more obscure the agenda item the bigger the prize). So here’s the agenda! You have until 6:30pm tomorrow to make your guess!
1 CITY CLERK
2 Minutes of City Council Meeting January 28th, for acceptance.
3 UNFINISHED BUSINESS
4 C. Rourke - Req. City Council take from table the following matter: “Communication - Appoint Salmira Mitchell (Pollard Memorial Board of Trustees)”.
5 GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS
6 Order-Discontinue a portion of Worcester Rd
7 Ordinance-Amend c.222.15 Panhandling in the Downtown Lowell Historic District
8 UTILITY PUBLIC HEARINGS
9 National Grid – Electrical Main installation on Industrial Avenue and Stevens Street.
10 COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE CITY MANAGER
11 Communications from the City Manager
(A) Follow up on UML letter to improve lighting at Sheehy lot
(B) Verbal motion Howe Bridge traffic congestion
(C) Draft Ayer’s City Industrial Park Urban Renewal Plan (Tanner Street Area)
(D) NPS Law Enforcement Parking
12 Out of State Travel - Health
13 VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
14 Vote-Temporary License Agreement (91 Pevey St)
15 REPORTS (SUB / COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
16 Special Meeting 02-03-14.
18 Claims (1) claim for property damage.
19 Misc. - BMH University, LLC (Atty. James Flood) request license for overhanging sign at 124 University Ave.
20 Misc. - 1400 Motors, LLC (Atty. James Flood) request that the SMU zone located adjacent to said parcels, including the property at 1400 and 1422 Gorham Street be extended to include the parcels located at 1422.1 and 1434.1 Gorham St.
21 Misc. - Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gordon request to address City Council regarding easement at 135 Beacon St.
22 National Grid/Verizon NE – Request pole location at 59 South Whipple St.
23 CITY COUNCIL - MOTIONS
24 C. Rourke – Req. Public Safety SC meet with the police superintendent to explore the implementation of a ShotSpotter program in the City.
25 C. Rourke – Req. City Council discuss trash/recycle pick up schedule.
26 C. Milinazzo – Req. City Mgr. report on any outstanding claims against contractors, subcontractors or suppliers associated with the new schools built under the MSBA Program.
27 C. Belanger – Req. City Council refer current parking ordinance to the Economic Development SC for review.
28 C. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. provide update regarding meeting with National Grid and Verizon regarding “double” poles, or set date for meeting if applicable.
29 C. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. provide report regarding all utility work being done by National Grid, including maintenance and emergency repairs on gas lines.
30 C. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. have proper department provide update on fire damaged buildings throughout the City, said update to include the status of said buildings.
31 C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department properly mark parking spaces on Dublin St. (Council of Aging side) as “Parking for COA Employees Only”.
I had the pleasure of seeing Mill No 5 first hand recently and I’m a new fan. All I can say is…it’s a fun concept, and I hope they do awesome over there. They’re working on a farm-to-table cafe and small movie theatre/stage venue as well.
This weekend (Saturday) from noon to 7pm, they’re doing one of their Little Bazaar events called Love Buzz. They’ve been sharing info about vendors for a couple of weeks, but this video really showcases the sort of stuff that’ll be available. Guys n gals with valentines to buy for, this is your chance!
If you haven’t checked out one of Lowell’s hot new art venues - where you can buy vinyl records, have a photo shoot, or buy any number of things - this weekend would be a great time to go! I promise you, it’s like nothing else in Lowell!
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…)
All right, due to good life stuff taking up space, I didn’t get a chance to post this yesterday or this morning. This time, for the Blowup of the Week game, I’m going to not guess. That way, there’s more of a chance of someone winning the prize. Here’s this week’s agenda document!
I’m going further stipulate, the more obvious your guess, the smaller the prize. So, if you pick something off the agenda that doesn’t seem as likely or obvious, if a Blowup happens, you’ll win bigger! What will you win, you ask? I shared this on Facebook last week, but posting images on FB is so much easier I got lazy on the post. But…the prize is this: an amigurumi of your choice. If you picked something obvious, it must be a simple amigurumi that I can do really fast. (See below). If you pick something which appears so uncontroversial that no one would EVER suspect it would become a Blowup of the Week, but it explodes into BotW-worthy, then you get something much more complex. I’m the final arbiter of the various levels, since I have to do the work.
So, meet Monty. He’s my little amigurumi cephalopod, and my personal mascot. He is, obviously, not up for a prize, but another mini octopus of your choice is possible (from a range of colors), or another animal whose construction is about that simple, if the BotW is one that was obvious. (Other than the eyes and embroidered mouth, I could do up one of these in about 1/2 an hour or less.)
Here’s the most complex amigurumi I’ve made, this one was for a friend of mine (you might recognize the character). This took took me a number of hours.
That at least gives you a range. I’m probably not offering Brian-Griffin-level crafting for this contest, but you can see what can be accomplished with a crochet needle and some yarn. I’ve done a number of other animals too.
That said, go check the agenda and make your guess! Has to be in by 6:30pm tomorrow (Tuesday)! One guess per person, and only one person can grab any one item. And you can email me a guess if you wish to remain even more anonymous (I’ll announce in comments if someone guesses a specific item and it’s no longer available.) I’ve cut and pasted the agenda in the second half of this post. (more…)
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