1. Return from Vacation
Against my better judgment, I left Lowell for some vacation and was unimpressed with what the rest of the world had to offer. As a consequence, I dropped the ball on keeping the site updated for the past two weeks. The meeting of April 12 didn’t have much substance and there was no meeting last week. Typically, I’ll post agenda items and update the Motion Tracker on Friday afternoon. After adding in this week’s 25(!) motions the new tally is as follows:
2. Sometimes the Motion Doesn’t “Speak for Itself”
What started as a banal meeting got a bit feisty when the following motion came up for discussion:
C. Robinson – Req. City Solicitor work with the Council to change DEI officer position to report to City Council directly.
Mass. General Laws Chapter 43 sets forth the duties and responsibilities of the council and city manager under a Plan E form of government. As Lowell follows Plan E, the city manager is responsible for the hiring, firing and oversight of city employees – including the DEI officer position.
Further, MGL ch. 43 Section 107 provides, in relevant part:
[N]either the city council nor any of its committees or members shall direct or request the appointment of any person to, or his removal from, office by the city manager or any of his subordinates, or in any manner take part in the appointment or removal of officers and employees
[N]either the city council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager either publicly or privately...Any member of the city council who violates, or participates in the violation of, any provision of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both, and upon final conviction thereof his office in the city council shall thereby be vacated and he shall never again be eligible for any office or position, elective or otherwise, in the service of the city.
The motion, as it’s written, appears to violate the letter and spirit of the law and is another challenge to Plan E by Councilor Robinson. In January he filed a motion that expressed at least some interest in shifting oversight of the City Solicitor to the Council.
Councilor Rourke moved to refer the DEI officer motion to sub-committee for discussion. This was followed by some confusion and seeming hostility between the maker of the motion and other members of the council. It seemed as though a lot of calories could have been spared if the wording of the motion was amended to avoid an outright challenge to Plan E.
Councilor Leahy wanted to make clear that the council would not be voting on an actual change in oversight of the position, but rather, a referral to subcommittee for discussion. Councilor Jenness stated that he did not see the intent of the motion as a path forward on this matter. Councilor Rourke offered that the motion was about having options as we tried DEI under the previous city manager and it “failed miserably.” Each councilor speaking on the motion expressed an interest in a discussion on improvements that could be made to the implementation of the DEI officer’s goals. However, none indicated support for the express goal of the motion as written due to the mandates of Plan E government. In the end, the issue will be revisited in sub committee.
3. City Manager Contract Negotiation
The mood remained lively when the subject of City Manager contract negotiation came up. There were two items on the agenda relating to the subject:
- Executive Session – To conduct contract negotiations regarding nonunion personnel (City Manager), public discussion of which may have a detrimental effect on the position of the body.
- C. Mercier – Req. City Council Negotiate The Manager’s Contract.
Councilor Mercier and Council Gitschier argued in favor of holding the negotiation in open chambers, rather than executive session. However, City Solicitor O’Connor recommended that the council follow past precedent and meet in executive session.
The Sun already reported that the deal negotiated was a five year deal worth $235,000 per year. As such, I agree with Councilors Mercier and Gitschier. I fail to see how a public discussion would have a “detrimental effect on the position of the body.” The public should have some insight as to how the five year term and $235,000 sum were arrived at. Councilor Gitschier noted that he had some concerns about some “major flaws” in the draft contract. What concerns? What flaws? Were these flaws ultimately adopted by the council? Should we too be concerned? By the time the public hears about these matters the ink will be dry on the contract. In addition Councilor Gitschier expressed frustration with fellow council members who allegedly leak executive session details to the media.
The vote to conduct the negotiations in open session failed 9-2, while the vote to enter executive session passed 10-1.
After returning from a two hour executive session, the Sun’s reporting was confirmed. The City Solicitor reported that the other terms apparently mirrored those of prior contracts. Again, this begs the question as to why executive session was necessary.
The remainder of the agenda was postponed until next week’s meeting, our first with City Manager Golden who takes office on Thursday the 28th.