1. A Failed City Manager Negotiation
Agenda item 9.2 – Executive Session – To Conduct Strategy Session Regarding Nonunion (City Manager) Contract, Public Discussion Of Which May Have A Detrimental On The Position Of The Public Body.
Prior to a vote on the motion for executive session, CM Donoghue read into the record her preference that she would not seek negotiation of a new contract. Rather, she expressed a desire to exercise a provision of her existing contract whereby she could remain on a year to year basis – under the same contract terms. Her statement was followed by comment from Council Nuon, who voiced strong support for the manager and suggested that discussion on the matter should be held in public. Following a roll call vote, the motion for an executive session passed 9-2, with Councilors Nuon and Yem voting in opposition.
Following the hour and a half session, councilors and the manager returned to chambers and announced that there would be no deal. The CM was sticking with her preference for a one year term while the council was insisting on three (or more).
Why it matters: As the minutes of the executive session ticked away, it seemed more and more likely that no deal would be struck. CM Donoghue took office in March of 2018 and has provided solid leadership in the most challenging of circumstances. Her performance reviews have been stellar.
If, hypothetically, councilors were looking for a change in leadership, they could not credibly attack this administration’s performance. As such, they could move to an alternate strategy of feigning a desire for CM Donoghue to remain, but offering terms that are known to be unacceptable.
As the executive session wore on, I was reminded of 2014 and the end of City Manager Bernie Lynch’s term. He wanted a contract, while the council at that time manufactured an anti-contract ideology. Lynch gave his notice (as per his contract), a farcical replacement process followed, and Kevin Murphy was ushered in.
As noted by CM Donoghue and councilor Nuon, the City is in the middle of multiple projects of considerable importance: the Lowell High Project, the continued development of the Hamilton Canal District, LeLacheur Field, and the Lord Overpass (not to mention use of ARPA funds and the Rourke Bridge). The City could have benefited from continuation of steady leadership during this period. As it stands, I’m bracing for some intense deja vu.
Related to this topic: I strongly recommend checking out Dick Howe’s February 6 piece on the fundamental flaws of the Plan E/City Manager form of government:
The Citizen editorial board goes back and forth on pros and cons of our current system versus that of a strong mayor. However, as we again find ourselves embroiled in palace intrigue on the selection of a new manager, the topic weighs heavily on the mind.
2. Lowell High Project
There were three motion responses touching on various topics related to the project:
- A) MOTION RESPONSE – LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT UPDATE.PDF
- B) MOTION RESPONSE – LOWELL HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT VE AND PROCUREMENT.PDF
- C) MOTION RESPONSE – SCHOOL BUILDING COMMITTEE.PDF
Why it matters: I was struck by (and agreed with) Councilor Gitschier’s sentiment that the City Council may not be the ideal forum for direct oversight of the project. As per the motion responses, there is considerable oversight of the project in place- there have been over 95 Owner-Architect-Contractor (“OAC”) meetings. Without the proper context, it’s difficult for laypersons to decipher meaning in the information provided in these motion responses.
As such, I have faith that management knows how to manage and has the proper context to decipher this information and make decisions accordingly. There is no evidence of mismanagement of this project, nor is there any evidence of lack of oversight. One could argue, however, that there is a lack of public-facing oversight. The body that should be filling this role is our School Building Committee (SBC). As per state regulation, the City is required to form a School Building Committee:
“for the purpose of generally monitoring the Application process and to advise the Eligible Applicant during the construction of an Approved Project”
However, our SBC only met twice in 2021. If you follow the attendance records, it can hover around 50%. Our State Representative assigned to the committee, Rady Mom, has not attended a single meeting in nearly four years. I doubt this is what the MSBA had in mind for SBC monitoring and advisement. The dearth of SBC activity will likely lead to more council attempts to micro-manage the project.
The second, and more important issue related to the high school are the well-documented price increases caused by Covid. There is little dispute that we are facing cost-overruns on the project that will require creative funding sources – either use of ARPA funds and/or more funding by the MSBA. It would be profoundly unfair that the city should bear the additional costs caused by a global health pandemic. As such, we must hold the council, our state representatives (and the next manager) to the goal of delivering the project that was promised – by any means necessary.