Left In Lowell

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May 17, 2014

Only the Retired, or EPA Employees Need Run?

by at 8:29 am.

Let’s face it. The Lowell Sun isn’t everywhere covering everything like it used to. We’re lucky when it can muster up the interest in a License Commission meeting. It barely covers the City Council meetings (really, we only hear whatever Cub Reporter Lyle wants us to hear about, usually something that makes his BFF Elliott look good). Which is why richardhowe.com’s week in review and city council notes are so very crucial to our civic life here in the city.

So, that’s why Kendall’s Saturday Chat kind of chapped my hide. (No link as yet.)

I know people who serve in public office have busy lives, but I was also surprised that only one member of the School Committee attended the Honors Night at the high school and only one attended a teachers appreciation dinner that same night. Committeeman Dave Conway was the only one who made an appearance at both events.

Excuse me? I happen to know personally that my friends on the School Committee, besides working at real jobs and raising some great kids who are still in the public school system, talk all the time about school-related events they attend. I kind of marvel at their energy to do all of that in a single week, frankly. In between girl scouts and dance lessons and a million other things. I’d burn out real fast. Instead of insulting them for not attending the effing FEW events the Sun bothers to show up at, maybe you could ask them what they have attended? I think Mr. Wallace would be amazed at how active and involved they are.

And the other members of the SC that I know less well are also pillars of the community, who are involved in many other things besides their full time jobs and personal lives and their SC duties. Since when do you have to be retired and without other demands on your time, like Dave Conway is, to be an effective school committee elected (or City Council for that matter)?

Maybe some members of the SC aren’t retired, or EPA employees with a seemingly endless supply of vacation (seriously…has anyone FOIA’ed to find out exactly how many hours “full time” EPA employee Rodney Elliott is actually working? Since it’s our taxpayer dollar, I’d like to know), or able to get a PT $55K job via connections at the county sheriff’s office. But some of them have more than one full time job as parent, employee, and as SC member. How many jobs do you think they should have before they catch a break, Kendall? Just askin.

I mean, you know, most of the SC members couldn’t get that sweet weekend 16-hour-a-week $15/hr photojournalist job the Sun was advertising that most recent grad with zero experience would probably sneer at…they don’t have much experience with filling columns with drivel and sideways insults and they don’t steal photos for profit.

And people wonder why no one wants to run for local office any more. Gee, it’s such a mystery.

May 4, 2014

On Free Speech and Serving the City

by at 7:42 am.

As of last week, former blogger Gerry Nutter had resigned his Election Commission post. In his letter, which he sent out to bloggers as well, he cites work and health concerns as the reason. The Lowell Sun Column (you can go find the link if you really want to read it) decided it warranted a mention (it probably did) and then went on to infer that the real reason might be that some Councilors were working behind the scenes to oust him, going to the new City Manager with complaints.

While Gerry and I don’t always agree on everything, I do believe him. One thing you can’t accuse Gerry of is deliberate dishonesty. I had an email conversation with him when he sent out the news, and he really does think he cannot give the Commission justice due to his other obligations to his health and job.

As to whether, prior to the resignation, certain city councilors did go to the City Manager in a coincidental, but not related bid to get him to resign or fire him, maybe they did. Maybe they just say they did. I don’t know. However, the two are explicitly unrelated, and as Gerry notes on Facebook, no one came to him with any issues, and he did have actual free speech rights to say what he thought about sitting City Councilors even as an Election Commissioner.

Now, for the record, I actually think that the Election Commission is one place where even if you can say something about elected officials or candidates, you probably shouldn’t. The appearance of neutrality and impartiality is important for those who oversee our democratic elections. You all know that I certainly sympathize with Gerry’s frustrations about this Council! But maybe discretion would have been the better part of valor…not because the City Councilors deserve to remain uncriticized, but because of a higher goal of preserving and protecting our elections.

However, some of these same councilors have made hay over members of boards other than Elections Commission saying things on Facebook or elsewhere. It’s like they want to shut up as many critics as possible, and it’s the ones which they have official say over that are the targets they can reach. Can’t shut up the bloggers? Well at least shut up people who are serving, volunteering their own time and effort, on Lowell boards and commissions!

I have an idea for how you can avoid such criticisms in the future…stop pursuing positions and issues which are blatantly ridiculous!

By the way, I suspect that the councilors in question will be much more unhappy with a Gerry Nutter totally unleashed to say what he really thinks about them. Just sayin’.

May 2, 2014

UML: Wrong Priorities?

by at 10:55 am.

I was in my car a lot yesterday, so of course I was listening to WBUR. And they had an excellent piece about colleges which are taking a different path from most of the nation’s private and public universities…cutting back on sports, frills, and unnecessary services and getting back to spending their budget on professors and keeping their costs as low as possible for students so they don’t graduate with crushing debt.

It really hit home, because the trend of development at UMass Lowell for last 5-10 years have been right up there with the “conventional wisdom.” Renovate sports arenas, move your teams to Division 1, and chase sports prestige; build, or buy and renovate, grand new buildings (some academic, some not)…all to attract students with shiny amenities that may not really actually help them learn, or serve the goal of education. And of course, none of that is free, so the “fees” at UMass have gone up exponentially. Currently, in-state tuition, fees, room and board and meal plan all together costs $23,340. If you manage to graduate in four years (something else that is an issue), that’s almost $100,000 for a state university.

You can listen to the show or read the whole transcript - it was a worthy discussion on Morning Edition with the presidents of two different colleges which are heading in a very different direction. But here are some highlights worth mentioning:

Theobald: We eliminated five varsity sports. We are trying to reallocate our funds toward our student body, what goes on in the classroom, what goes on in the lab, so we scaled back by five sports. But it was incredibly difficult.

O’Shea: We don’t have any varsity sports. We are a very lean organization. We invest in faculty. It’s about a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. … Only 40 percent graduate with debt, and of those who have debt, the average debt is a little under $18,000. We invest in faculty instead of sports and even some student services.

Theobald: You’ve got to set priorities. There is an arms race for spending. And so a university needs to know who they are, who their students are and what their mission is. We need to focus on getting them in, getting them a course of study, making sure courses are available when they need them and getting them out in four years. That’s the priority for our students.

O’Shea: I think what is going to stop being a major driver is student expectation. I think the worry about cost is outstripping the desire for … huge facilities and things like that.

I recommend listening to the whole thing though, as they have a lot to say about what is happening to our higher education both public and private.

This is not to single out UMass Lowell or question all of its many buildouts and changes. A lot of new businesses and inventions and ideas are going to be incubated from what the University is doing here, and I think in many cases UML is keeping an eye on costs and developing in such a way as to offset some of them. (For instance, there are many acts coming to the Tsongas which are probably big money makers.)

However, as a Commonwealth, and as a nation, we need to stop and take a look at the direction our higher ed is going, because like the housing bubble, the student debt bubble could help take down an entire economy. A student who graduates with $30-100K in debt from a public university, or a student who drops out or does bother to attend college, is going to have a delayed start to their adult life; and miss out on reaching their full potential which, in turn, suppresses their whole lifelong economic contribution to society.

Some states are also ahead of us on this issue; discussing free higher education at state colleges and universities. Imagine what that will do for the economy of those states? But here in Massachusetts, the public university prices just keep going up and up. For all the wrong reasons.

April 30, 2014

Gold Gold Comedy Gold…And, Rules? What Rules?

by at 12:13 am.

Part the First: Digging for Gold

So a Council meeting happened tonight. With so much chocolatey goodness I hardly know where to start! If you want an accurate, but straightforward and boring recap of the meeting, Dick’s already got his notes up. I’m not calling Dick boring, his write up is great, and so useful. But. BUT.

In cycling, you move your pedals forward for anything to happen. But, sometimes when you’re bored, and you don’t need to push yourself for a bit, you might flip your pedals the other way - while coasting down a hill, say. It makes this pleasant empty clicky-whizzing sound. But the Council’s backpedaling tonight was a sight to behold! I could almost see the furious weightless reverse motion of pedals moving through space and time but affecting so little. Breathtaking. Unchained. Glorious! Like going backwards on your bike pedals and realizing that actually, you’re producing sunshine and ice cream and puppies by the motion!

In an effort to showcase my on-the-spot razor wit, this post will be punctuated with my live tweets at various points, which will help illustrate the pure singing joy the evening brought me. Plus, I’m lazy. Many of the tweets will be out of sequence as I try to make some sort of salient narrative. Follow me after the clicky bit: (more…)

April 29, 2014

All I Wanna Do Is…

by at 10:06 am.

Lowell City Council Bingo

by at 12:21 am.

New to BadgermillCity Games, I am proud to present our first non-drinking game, Lowell City Council Bingo!

Now you can join in while watching a city council meeting. Beat your friends by filling in a row on one of our randomly generated sets of special Bingo cards! You can download the cards at the link, as well as read the full rules.

Please enjoy BadgermillCity games responsibly. BadgermillCity Games is not responsible for damaged livers, broken friendships or carpet stains. Use as recommended. Side effects include: watching city council meetings obsessively, drooling, restless leg syndrome, wine and/or beer consumption, red facial skin, torn hair, and broken televisions. Seek treatment if the council meeting lasts for more than four hours. Ask your doctor if BadgermillCity Games is right for you!

April 28, 2014

Such a Backup on Father Mo’! (Updated)

by at 4:45 pm.

OK, here it is…all the amazing traffic at rush hour at 5pm on Father Morresette Blvd! No sound, but gee, where is all the crazy traffic? Thanks to Steve for posting it.

Note: there is a point at which the bike lane goes from being on the right side to being in the middle due to the Aiken St right turn. We could, perhaps, have a rational discussion of whether or not that’s confusing, and how to address it. (In Boston, in high-traffic areas, they paint bike lanes green). Otherwise, the bike lanes are seriously the least confusing things I’ve ever seen. The double line (which allows for opening doors from parked cars and buffer between traffic and bikes) is standard, and honestly, why is this conniption fit even happening? I just don’t get it.

Update: On the topic of these bike lanes, a good question was asked on Facebook - since the $70,000 for making the bike lane infrastructure came entirely from federal grants…does that come with strings attached…like, you actually have to keep the damn things or give back the money used for the work??

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

Sun Stealin’

by at 2:46 pm.

In an unbelievably stupid and clumsy move, the Lowell Sun has been caught, yet again, stealing photos from people and calling them Sun file photos. This time, it’s from blogger Marianne, from Art is the Handmaid of Human Good. It was first posted on her write up about the new Father Morissette Boulevard bike lanes, dated from August 28, 2013.

The Cub Reporter responded to Marianne on Twitter, but you shouldn’t hold your breath on them fixing it (and it’s already in the print edition, anyone want to wager if they’ll post an apology?). It’s still there as of this posting, anyway.

Here is the photo in use on the website, and Marianne also posted a pic of it in use in print edition as well:

photo Marianne stolen pic.png

You can see in the writing underneath the photo, that they claim it as a Sun file photo, and even that they’re selling it if you want to buy it:

 photo Marianne stolen pic close up of caption.png

Excuse my French but…what a bunch of fucking amateurs.

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!

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