1. Tough Shoes to Fill
Christine McCall, our Director of Planning and Development /Assistant City Manager received a citation as she will be leaving Lowell for a new position in the private sector. The Department of Planning and Development, in essence, shapes the vision for the direction of the city. Ms. McCall has served as Director since May of 2021. If you follow the motion responses, her department has its fingerprints on pretty much every aspect of city life. The quantity and quality of her work is staggering. Check out this Sponge Park Proposal and this Open Space Motion Response as examples. As Lowell begins work on it’s new Master Plan (what’s happening with that by the way?) it’s going to be a major challenge to find a replacement who has both the talent and progressive vision that Ms. McCall brought to the table.
2. DEI Training Update
To advance the goals of the council relative to workforce training in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, Manager Golden invited Middlesex Community College President Phil Sisson to address the council relative to a collaboration between the City and the college. Mr. Sisson advised that over the course of two semesters, all city department heads will participate in a series of eight interactive workshops. Each workshop will cover a different DEI topic in a two-hour session lead by credentialed facilitators from MCC.
Additionally, the two facilitators from MCC will lead a series of large-group seminar/presentations to be held on a variety of days at the different city departments, in order to engage a wider audience of the municipal workforce. This initiative is the result of the Council’s June vote to declare racism a public health crisis. The move was applauded by all council members speaking on the report.
3. Lowell High Project Update
Representatives from Perkins Eastman, Skansa and Suffolk provided a nice presentation on the current status of the Lowell High Project. The big news is that the gym is nearing completion and is scheduled for a ribbon-cutting on September 9. This is a big step forward as it represents the end of phase one of the four-stage project.
In addition, it will provide the city some tangible fruits of it’s considerable investment. Hopefully, the gym will meet or exceed expectations and will act as a means to build school pride – an area that has undoubtably taken a considerable hit the last few years.
Further, it was reported that the project is both on time and on budget as Phase 2 gets underway. If you have been by the area lately, you will no doubt have noticed the significant progress made on the demolition of the old gym (depicted above). Once gone, this area will become the new freshman academy building:
Councilor Scott asked for an update/clarification on the MBW/WBE workforce participation. The only area identified as lagging is the composition of the female workforce percentage – currently sitting at 3% rather than the target goal of 6%. Councilor Scott reminded the representatives that this was an area being monitored and that the City would like to see these goals met.
4. Worthwhile & Equitable Projects or Pipe-Dreams?
There was an interesting dichotomy laid bare during discussion relative to a Motion Response on repainting the Gage Field Basketball Courts in Centralville. The response pertained to a motion by Councilor Robinson who represents the Centralville neighborhood. As always, Christine McCall of DPD provided a detailed report with a compelling vision for the project – including ground murals:
To be fair, Councilor Robinson’s motion merely asked for a cost-analysis for repainting. Perhaps the response exceeded the scope of the request. However, when coupled with prior motions from Councilor Robinson, it is clear that he is seeking to redress neglect in this area of the city by seeking greater investment in facilities. There are genuine equality issues when some areas of the city have worse public facilities than others. One of the benefits of district representation is that councilors are able to advocate for their districts in this regard.
Elliott Gitschier offered a a dose of cold water in noting that these projects, though nice, are not based on economic realities (other examples include the Sponge Park proposal cited above, and the Lowell Athletic and Activities Foundation’s vision for Cawley Stadium – check the June 29, 2022 Parks & Rec Subcommittee Meeting). Councilor Gitschier suggested that that taxpayer funds should first go to address gaping public safety needs before the city “plays politics” and funds district-specific pet projects. I see both sides and am eager to see how these matters play out when it’s time to distribute the cash.
5. Tax Exempt Properties
The Council received a list of properties within the city that are classified as tax exempt as outlined in M.G.L. Ch. 59 sec. 5. All of the usual suspects are here: property owned by the state, federal government, and city are obviously included, as are many non-profits and churches. I always find the church exemption problematic. Tax exemptions and tax deductibility are a form of subsidy that is administered through the tax system. A tax exemption has much the same effect as a cash grant to the organization. As a non-believer, I don’t see why I should have to subsidize churches (also – have you heard of some of these churches?). The Supreme Court, of course, disagrees with me and the system is unlikely to change in my lifetime.
That said, there are other aspects of this list where the city can sharpen its pencil. Councilor Mercier asked about the possibility to selling some of the city-owned parcels so that the land can start generating revenue. Manager Golden reported that his administration was indeed working on this exact program and had hired a lawyer tasked with implementing the plan. Details will follow in the near future.
I checked-out around 10 p.m. By that time, the Council had yet to get to the list of twenty motions. In addition there was an executive session “to Consider And Discuss Ongoing Negotiations Relative To The Former Lowell District Court Building Pursuant To The Provisions Of Mass. Gen. Laws C. 30A Sect. 21(6)(For The “Possible Purchase, Exchange, Lease, Or Value Of Real Property;”) Public Discussions Of Which May Have Detrimental Effect On The Negotiating Position Of The City; And Further, To Discuss Matters Of Litigation (Doctors Park Trust; Eminent Domain), Public Discussion Of Which May Have A Detrimental Effect On The City’s Position.”
As such, I’m not sure how this one ended. As I like to get these recaps out of my life by Wednesday at 10 a.m. (quality be dammed!), I’ll have to leave the rest to your imagination or the LTC replay.