1. More Unfinished Business
Let’s start at the end. Once again, the Council failed in its task in completing the agenda. At the end of the night, there were some 20-odd Motions remaining (and maybe some other stuff – it’s hard to tell when 75% of the items are taken “out of order.”). Councilors Mercier and Nuon did not support a motion to suspend the rules to continue working past the 10 p.m. deadline. As such, the meeting ended and the remaining items will be placed on the next meeting’s agenda as “Unfinished Business.”
This is getting old. We’re nearly two years into life with an 11-memeber council and we’ve inexplicably failed to adapt. The council is still meeting every other week during the summer – when all evidence suggests this doesn’t work. Moreover, we are still wasting 30 minutes at the beginning of every meeting with readings of obituaries, citations, and group photos. Registered speakers are permitted to prattle on and on well past their alleged time limit of five minutes. Until changes to the process are adopted, we’ll just have to continue with this stupidity.
2. Gateway City
After the fluff, Councilor Robinson sought a point of personal privilege to speak on a matter not on the agenda. Rumors have been swirling that the state is making moves to “take over” UMass’ downtown Inn and Conference Center (“ICC”) for the purpose of housing hundreds of migrants/asylum seekers/immigrants/refugees. There seems to be some truth to the rumors as Chancellor Chen recently confirmed that the University moved students from the ICC to other locations to make way for the “possibility of an acquisition” by the state.
Councilor Robinson took exception with the state and university’s moves (or planned moves) as the City has, apparently, not been included in the plans nor have we received information as to numbers, demographics, and scope of financial assistance, if any, we can expect to receive.
Councilor Robinson was joined by most every other Councilor in expressing concern. It was repeatedly noted that Lowell is a “Gateway City” with a long history of welcoming and assimilating immigrants. However, Lowell is also a city of limited means and is already coping with multiple crises in the areas of housing, homelessness, and school staffing – among others. The addition of hundreds of new Lowellians is sure to exacerbate and compound these challenges.
Ultimately the Council voted 10-0 (Councilor Scott absent) on a Motion directing the City Manager to draft and serve a letter on our State Delegation to convey the city’s concerns and seek information on what assistance we can expect from higher levels of government. In addition, Councilor Gitschier sought an addendum to the letter whereby we would request information from the state on what other communities are being asked to absorb to meet the challenges of this crisis.
3. City Real Estate Portfolio
There was a brief discussion on a Motion Response relative to the city’s real estate portfolio. The portfolio is comprise of all City-owned assets such as tax title foreclosed properties, land, and buildings. As per the response:
“At this time the City has approximately three hundred sixty-three (363) properties held in our current portfolio. The management of property includes the care and maintenance of properties and a determination of the final end-use and a disposition strategy that will reclaim the properties to the tax rolls and maximize revenue and re-use potential. Since 1999, The City of Lowell has sold approximately $19,911,454.00 and collected up to approximately $926,255.47 in rents and fees for leased and licensed property.”
If you read through the list of properties, there are a stunning number of parcels throughout the city – many in places you may not necessarily expect. As the amount of the world’s real estate isn’t getting any larger, it’s a good idea to continually revisit this list of properties to inspire creativity in our efforts to increase housing stock, green space and revenue. When we fail to treat these assets with value, we end up turning the Butler School into a Dollar Store.
4. The Airing of the Grievances
Religion, Free Speech, Free Press, and Assembly usually get all the glory, but it’s the oft-overlooked 5th First Amendment Right of “Petition” that captured my attention last night. For some reason, we have the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievance.” Seems like we’re just asking for trouble right there.
To wit, some take this to mean any grievance – whether the government being petitioned has the power to address the issue. All of this is just a roundabout way of saying that (once again) Norma VonFricken petitioned the council seeking redress of a laundry-list of grievances.
You’re just going to have to watch it for yourself because I am unable to do it justice.
[skip to 1:40:30 – if you’re curious]
[Quick Note: If you read the three-page Petition filed with the Clerk’s Office, the pages are numbered 267, 268 and 269. This suggests the existence of a much larger Von Manifesto. If so, I trust we will hear more about what’s in the other 266+ pages at future meetings.]
5. Two Informational Reports Worth Your Time
Too much to unpack here as it’s getting close to 9 a.m. and I’ve already wasted time finding that Parks and Recreation clip. However, our DPD is working in conjunction with the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments (NMCOG) on a Housing Production Plan as part of the Lowell Forward comprehensive planning process. Christopher Hayes of NMCOG was on hand to provide a presentation on the efforts, purpose of the efforts and survey you can complete to have your say.
Next, was a report by the The Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility’s “smoke testing program.” Per the report:
“The smoke testing is performed to determine connections, potential points of inflow and infiltration in the public portion of the sanitary sewer system. Smoke testing can help to locate the following: buildings that have downspouts, cellars, yard or basement drains, and sump pumps; points of groundwater or surface water infiltration into the sewer; and defective sewer connections that could allow sewer gas es into a building. These sources can lead to excessively high system flows during storms, which could cause basement backups and street flooding.”
Not exactly sexy stuff, but I’m impressed with the quality of the report and found it informative.
6. The Rest
I dunno. Just tighten up the damn meetings.