Walking back into the meeting recap game after taking a week off:
Unfortunately, the meeting itself was a bit of a drag, and skipping two in a row is tempting. However, I’m seeing a disturbing uptick in Dracut-politics on Inside Lowell lately. God only knows what those rubes are always fighting about but someone needs to drown them out with some Lowell content.
1. Clifton-Larson HR Recommendation Update
Back in 2020 the city released a report from Clifton-Larson who “undertook a thorough and comprehensive process in examining the City’s hiring and HR practices as they relate to DE&I as well as the City’s workforce culture more broadly.” The report offered 19 recommendations (starting on page 33) that the city could or should undertake to improve HR practices.
It’s been well over two years since the city received these recommendations. Accordingly, Councilors Jenness, Gitschier and Nuon recently filed a motion seeking an update as to where we stand.
The Bobs are going to have to give the city an “incomplete” grade as the motion response indicated that only ten of the 19 recommendations have been implemented. In addition, as noted by Councilor Jenness, the report doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For example, the City had followed “Recommendation #1” to create and hire a DEI officer, but the Motion Response failed to acknowledge that the position is currently vacant. Manager Golden advised that this is a work in progress and the city is making strides to follow the recommendations.
2. Free Heat
Very cool and interesting informational report on a pilot program between the City, UMass and National Grid on a geothermal heating/cooling initiative. As per the report:
The Energy team from the City of Lowell worked in partnership with the Rist Institute for
Sustainability and Energy at UMass Lowell to submit an application for the geothermal pilot. On
December 15, 2022, National Grid notified the DPU that they had chosen Lowell to be the site of
their first demonstration project. The site is located within an environmental justice community for
income and minority population. This location was selected because it satisfies many important
factors including the opportunity to connect low income customers, the load diversity offered by the
surrounding mix of residential/commercial/industrial buildings, the multiple options for bore fields
and routing, favorable geologic conditions, National Grid as the utility provider, the diversity of
residential dwellings that include single and multi-family dwellings many of which are not owner-occupied, and support based on early outreach.
The Wilder Street Faculty/Staff surface parking lot on UMass Lowell’s South Campus has been
selected as the optimal location for the wellfield to support the district geothermal system. UMass
Lowell representatives have worked with the Division of Capital Asset Management and
Maintenance (DCAMM) to secure an environmental license to allow soil boring to proceed. Drilling
of test bore areas on UMass Lowell property is scheduled for April 19 & 20, 2023.Construction of the
networked geothermal loop is anticipated for Spring 2024, with full systems in place by the heating
season of 2024/2025.
Lowell is excited to be the first community in National Grid territory to test out networked
geothermal. Understanding and refining the delivery methods for this technology will be essential in
helping the Commonwealth to meet its decarbonization and emissions reduction targets.
A pollution-free utility pumped directly from the earth? The Transformers foretold this.
3. Deja Vu
Joe Boyle and a handful of others speaking on behalf of (or in support of) Solidarity Lowell presented a petition, “signed” by about 145 people from Lowell and not-Lowell with a list of “requests” relative to the City’s treatment of the homeless. There was an emphasis on how the city handles sweeps or clean-outs of encampments – especially during the winter months. The tone was generally respectful by both speakers and councilors. In the past frustration with this issue has boiled over on both sides of the podium. However, there was really nothing new offered by either the public or councilors on this matter.
Councilor Drinkwater pointed out that the citizens speaking on behalf of the petition as well as the councilors both want to treat the homeless with dignity and respect. However, there is something of a disconnect when it comes to viewing sweeps as either an act of compassion or an act of harassment.
Unsurprisingly, no consensus was reached last night and we will be sure to revisit this same discussion, over and over again.
4. New Fire Trucks
Big update from Fire Chief Phillip A. J. Charron on the City’s investment of $10M in ARPA money for the purchase of ten new trucks for the Department. The Chief was present with Fleet Manager Deputy Chief James Normandin to provide the council both thanks and and information on the new equipment. Chief Charron noted that this level of investment is “unprecidented.” Manager Golden thanked the council for pushing for the large investment and described the new fleet as a “game-changer for the department.”
Good stuff all-around. BUT – at some point in the future, all ten pieces of equipment will be reaching the end of their lifespan at the same time. Failing another pandemic, we should start planning for that eventuality sooner, rather than later.
5. Ground Rule Trouble
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a medal. The same was true of the meeting. Again, what was a bit of a dull slog turned a little spicy in the last few minutes when they reached the following motion:
C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Have The Proper Department Provide A Report On How Many Employees Are Trained To Maintain And Install Soccer, Lacrosse, Field Hockey, Baseball And Softball Fields; Including Replacement Of Home Plates, Pitchers’ Mounds, Foul Marker Pegs, As Well As Scratching Fields And Line Striping; Who Is Providing The Training; What Is The Weekly Assignment Of Maintaining Athletic Fields; And How Many Employees Are Tasked With The Routine Maintenance.
If you’ve been following-along with City chatter, you are well aware that Councilor Robinson has been making some noise relative to management at the Parks Department. Last year at about this time, shots were fired:
At a meeting on November 8, 2022 Councilor Robinson things got a bit heated between Councilor Robinson and Councilor Leahy when Councilor Robinson again criticized management at the parks department. and Councilor Leahy objected:
[skip to 2:21:30]
This past week, Councilor Robinson penned an editorial, again criticizing management at the department.
Last night, Councilor Robinson initially stated his motion “speaks for itself.” However, Councilor Leahy asked him to explain the motion. Councilor Leahy stated that the council should not be making personal attacks on department heads or departments.
I find this debate fascinating. I break it down into two prongs. Prong #1 is the underlying issue: the condition of the parks, specifically, baseball fields. Prong #2 is the tactics employed by Councilor Robinson / who gets the blame?
Prong 1: The Condition of the Parks:
I doubt that most people who use or visit city ball fields would argue that they are in good shape. Volunteers burn a lot of calories trying to provide the best experience possible for the kids, but it’s a losing battle. I only visit a couple fields on a somewhat regular basis so I asked the Lowell Citizen Half-Assed Internet Research Department to compile some images of local fields courtesy of Google Maps:
Frank Ryan Field – Gorham Street
Clemente Field – By Bartlett School
Finn Field – God’s Country
Bailey School – Highlands:
Shedd Lower – Belvidere (please note that “special Belvidere treatment” we hear so much about)
Now, let’s see if the grass is greener in the neighbor’s yard:
Sullivan Field – Tewksbury
Veteran’s Field – Dracut
Chelmsford Street Fields – Chelmsford
Of course, Tewksbury/Chelmsford/Dracut are more affluent, but even Lawrence is clowning us:
The contrast between Lowell and others is hard to defend – not just for the department in charge of the fields, but for the community that allowed it happen.
I would guess that the superior condition of the fields in surrounding communities isn’t just a matter of management but a function of superior funding. Proper funding for irrigation (and actually using the irrigation), drainage, seeding/sodding, fertilization, etc. would probably make more of a difference than anything else. That’s where community support comes in. As per the FY 23 Budget:
The Parks division is responsible for maintenance and management of over 550 acres of the City’s 92 parks and playgrounds, 59 road islands and squares as well as many miles of grass median strips and the litter control in the downtown area. Maintained and serviced all 92 Parks, 13 soccer fields, 36 baseball fields, 26 tennis courts, 43 playgrounds, 4 skate parks, 40 basketball courts, 1 auditorium, 1 stadium, 12 volleyball courts, 4 jogging tracks, 1 reservoir, 2 handball courts, 2 pools, 3 splash pads, 3 football fields, and 2 lacrosse fields. This division manages the City’s tree planting program.
I’d guess that’s more fields than in surrounding communities. In the FY23 Budget – approved by this council – the department was allocated $10K for “Field Maintenance/Other.” It was under $5K the year prior. I’m no expert, but $5K-$10K for all that property looks a little light.
Granted, we did just pony up about $140k for a contactor to come in and work on some fields, but it’s going to take more than that. In light of the above, I’m not exactly sold on the idea that the condition of the fields (or playgrounds, or whatever) can be exclusively placed on one person’s shoulders. It’s not like the fields suddenly fell apart. I don’t recall our fields ever looking all that great – no matter who was in charge. Finally, the City is just now starting to leverage the benefits of Community Preservation Act fundings. Some of the communities identified above have been throwing this cash at their fields for years. Hopefully, this discussion is a catalyst for us to do the same. Which leads me to Prong #2:
Councilor Robinson’s Tactics / Who Gets the Blame:
In his recent editorial, Councilor Robinson wrote:
This City Council, working with the Administration, have green-lighted spending funds to bring ALL fields to a condition Lowell could be proud of. Unfortunately, we have found, not only is there a lack of oversight and management, the determination of maintenance needs is also completely out of sync with reality, the lack of direction of the project, and the prepared estimates to improve these fields have been botched.
Were does the “management” buck stop? Under Plan E, the Council doesn’t have oversight over the Head of the Parks Department or it’s personnel. The City Manager has that job. The Council has oversight of the City Manager. If there is an issue in the parks department, shouldn’t Councilor Robinson be hammering Manager Golden at meetings, on Facebook and in editorials? The Plan E/City Manager system works great for this. The manager gets $235K plus benefits. When we get new firetrucks or geo-thermal systems, he gets roses thrown at him. When the baseball fields suck, he has to own them.
I’m not arguing that Councilor Robinson shouldn’t be fighting like hell for better parks – in fact, I love it – see Prong #1, above. I just don’t know that doing an end-run around the manager is the best way to get there.
6. The Rest
There is no “the rest” – this post turned into War & Peace.
See you in two weeks.