1. Public Works Week Recognized
The meeting got off to a leisurely 6:41 start with recognition of Public Works Week (May 15 – 22). interim DPW head, Mark Byrne, Sr., was on-hand with members of the DPW to accept the Council’s heartfelt thanks for a often thankless job.
Soon after the crash of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in a new wave of expanded government services and utility investments that changed the course of public works in the U.S. The F.D.R. administration also modified the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works and renamed it Public Works Administration in 1935. The deployment of a robust economic package that employed the public and strengthened private businesses helped the U.S. make its way out of the Great Depression. Subsequently, a cohort of public works leaders formed the American Public Works Association (A.P.W.A.) in 1937.
In 1960, the A.P.W.A. received an official endorsement from the United States Senate and organized the first Public Works Week. Six decades after its establishment, the A.P.W.A. continues to be the biggest voice for public works employees. Every year, a theme is allotted for National Public Works Week, the most recent being ‘Stronger Together’ and ‘The Rhythm of Public Works.’
2. Auditor’s Report(s) and Response
Three financial documents were provided the the Council relative to the city’s financial health and practices:
These reports and management letter represent an audit of the City’s FY2021 budget as well as recommendations and management response to these recommendations. The item generating the most discussion was found in the Management Response Letter:
Payroll is one of the most significant expenditures of the City and requires strong system of internal controls to mitigate the risks associated with the process. The City’s weekly payroll run, and payroll system, is a manual payroll process which does not utilize the MUNIS general ledger software to the fullest. Currently, the City is communicating all payroll changes via carbon forms which require a departmental employee to hand write a form, and the data entry to facilitate the change occurs at the City Auditors office. Due to the large number of employees working within the City, this is a very time-consuming process. Further, turnover within key payroll positions can lead to significant issues as historical knowledge is not being documented within the general ledger.Page 9: Review and Restructure the Payroll Process
The current process in place has led to the following issues:
- Direct deposit registers being sent to the bank late.
- Terminated employees continuing to be paid.
- Teacher summer payroll options, i.e., balloon payment at the end of the school year for all summer payroll, or payments weekly over the summer, are not being properly monitored, resulting in overpayments
These issues largely fall on the shoulders of the school department. Apparently there has been “resistance” on the part of the school department to transition to a modern, streamlined system. Once again, it’s frustrating to see the “city side” and “school side” on different pages when it comes to taxpayer money.
3. Un-Christian Hill
A registered speaker from the Gage Field area of Christian Hill in Centralville addressed the council relative to the following motion:
C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Have The Police Department Work With The Superintendent Of Schools And The Principal Of The Robinson School To Address Dismissal And Group Of Kids That Have Been Disturbing, Bullying Residents And Homes In The Immediate Area.
The speaker noted that a group or groups of 10-20 kids have been wreaking havoc on the field and residents for the past few months. When school at the Robinson lets out in the afternoon some kids have engaged in vandalism, violence and harassment of residents.
Most of the solutions offered by the Council focused on police intervention in the form of increased patrols, and video surveillance. Councilor Yem went so far as to suggest the presence of the Middlesex Sheriff Department “Community Command Center.”
As a surface response, some of these proposals seem logical. However, I’m not sure the authoritarian approach will yield long-term positive results. I think Councilor Mercier came closest to the heart of the issue. She noted that this issue goes beyond the Robinson School and that kids are “frustrated.” Has Covid caused an uptick in mental health problems and behavioral issues? Is civil society collapsing before our eyes? Or are kids just doing what kids do?
I have no answers. I’m not sure society has answers. However, my prediction is that a “skull-cracking” approach will exacerbate the problem and push marginalized kids further to the margins.
4. Central Street Bridge Update
Some positive news in the form of a Motion Response on the long-delayed bridge project.
From the response:
The construction of the Central Street Bridge over the Lower Pawtucket Canal was put on hold in
2021 after the demolition of the bridge deck revealed that the condition of the existing steel beams
and the abutment backwalls (which hold back the soils) were in worse condition than the inspections
Given the additional deterioration that was discovered, full beam replacement has
been recommended. Full beam replacement will provide an extended bridge life of approximately 40
to 50 years.
As of May 9 2022, the City and MassDOT is in receipt of a revised cost proposal of approximately(emphasis added. Take note re LHS)
$4.3 million from MAS Building & Bridges, Inc. for the superstructure replacement. This cost
proposal has been reviewed by the City of Lowell, MassDOT, and a third party. The total cost of the
contract for the Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation of 5 (ENEL) Canal Bridges of the Merrimack
River will need to be increased to support the superstructure replacement. The City and MassDOT
committed to splitting the remaining cost of the project 50/50
As it stands, work will resume in June and two-way traffic is expected to return in late 2022.
5. Last Meeting for Asst. City Manager Kara Keefe-Mullin
Councilors and the City Manager offered thanks to Ms. Keefe-Mullin who steps down from the Assistant City Manager position this Friday. The Sun had a nice write-up earlier this week: