1. “Essential” But Not Essential “Essential”
When Congress authorized ARPA, they permitted premium pay for frontline essential workers as one of four expressly permitted ways that state and local governments can use the funds. Premium pay is intended to compensate essential employees for heightened risk due to COVID-19. It must be entirely additive to an employee’s regular rate of wages and other compensation and may not be used to reduce or substitute for an employee’s normal earnings.
In Lowell, some “essential” workers received this perk. I believe the numbers used were 42.6% of the 978 city employees. However, it seems as though other workers who also performed essential functions somehow missed the cut. Keith Rudy, a longtime city employee and former Business Agent for AFSCME Local 1705 addressed the council to speak in favor of the motion and to highlight the inequitable distribution of funds to date. As one example, a Fire Department mechanic, who worked throughout the pandemic did not receive premium pay. However, the people he was surrounded by did. Councilor Drinkwater added an amendment to the motion seeking information on what workers qualified for the premium and why. The mood of the council on this issue suggests that some more workers will be seeing a little “thank you for your service” in a future paycheck.
2. Coming Soon: Councilor Yem’s “Residences at God’s Country”
The DPD killed it with a Motion Response relative to fencing and potential upgrades to the
Centralville, Christian Hill, McDermott Reservoir While Preserving It As A Passive Park. As a kid, I was something of a “rez” rat, so I have a soft-spot for this area and welcome any efforts to make it better. The DPD set forth several proposals as to how we can better leverage this asset.
The price tag is hefty: if we wanted to replace the brown water and carp with fill, it will run us about $5 million. However, the response in and of itself get the wheels turning as to how to make use of one of the few open green area in the city. In addition, this is how you frame a goddamn proposal:
Apparently, the response got the wheels turning in Councilor Yem’s mind as he suggested that the city explore the development of a multi-story apartment complex on the site. It would have an underground garage, a view of the city skyline, access to ameniti-….I’m sorry, I blacked out for a minute there. I think I’m having a stroke. Anyway, please direct comments on this proposal to Councilor Paul Ratha Yem.
3. Well, That’s a Shame
Tact is the art of getting your point across without stabbing someone with it. Last night, there was somehow bloodshed, but not much of a point. Justin Ford, a 2021 candidate for City Council took the mic to advocate for the homelessness as well as repairs to the Rourke Bridge. My sense (apparently shared by some others) was that this looked an awful lot like a campaign launch. The Rourke Bridge comments were relatively benign. However, when commenting on the homelessness crisis, Mr. Ford stated that he was “sick and tired of members of this council…disrespecting our unhoused and homeless population.” In addition, he asked for evidence of what’s been done to address the crisis and suggested that recent efforts to clean up encampments were not done in a humane fashion.
Predicably, the council took offense to any insinuation or outright accusation that they were disrespectful or inhumane or that they have been derelict in their duties. Moreover, they cited evidence of their efforts. The council and the administration highlighted some of the work that’s been done to address homelessness as well as some of the ideas that they are working on. In response to a request by Councilor Robinson, the City Manager indicated that he would be presenting an overview of the work in the near future.
I often see Mr. Ford in attendance at these meetings. I find it hard to believe that he is unaware of the council’s efforts to address homelessness. Indeed, the council averages about one motion per week on the topic. As such, I thought it was kind of an odd choice to deliver condescending remarks to the people that you wanted (or want) to work alongside. As a means of helping the homeless, it didn’t move the needle. If it was a campaign launch? Yikes.
4. The Rest
- Zoning Subcommittee report by Councilor Drinkwater – largely focused on the MBTA Community Zoning Requirements.
- 10-1 (Councilor Mercier abstaining) Vote on a modest 5% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for City of Lowell Retirees. Probably not enough to keep up with the true cost of living, but it’s something.
- Motion Response on Garage Parking Pass Holder Agreements. There was new data, mixed with 2016 data, and apparently some of the subject contracts are missing? Kind of a mess, in my opinion.
- New position created for a digital evidence specialist at the Police Department. This individual will be responsible for organizing body-worn camera footage, responding to public records requests, and assisting with all implementation activities. The funding will largely come from grants (until it won’t).