1. New Year, New Term
Welcome back friends. Last night kicked off a new council term. We saw the debut of Mayor Dan Rourke, the addition of Councilor John Descoteaux, and the return of Councilor Chau to the House of Commons. In addition, Councilor Robinson appeared in-person for the first time in what feels like a long time.
With a few notable exceptions (more on those to follow) we saw a relatively light agenda that was moved through quickly. I get the sense that the pace of these meetings is going to pick up considerably with the gavel in Mayor Rourke’s hands. This is a good thing.
My resolution is to try to do the same with this blog. I’m also going to go to the gym five days a week and will try to foster an open heart. I will fail on all fronts.
2. 2024: Year of the Gadfly?
Christ, I hope not – but consider the following:
- A Motion on Installing Generators at Fire Houses
- A Public Hearing on a Loan Order for MSBA School Repairs
- A Motion The Feasibility Of Consolidating City And School Departments
- A Vote to Exempt John Descoteaux from the provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268A, section 20; and
- An Executive Session to Discuss an Open Meeting Law Complaint
What do these items from last night’s agenda have in common? Not much, other than the fact that Laura Ortiz has concerns and thoughts on each and every one of them. Indeed, Ms. Ortiz filed the Open Meeting Law Complaint. There’s nothing wrong with exercising your right to speak. However, its unusual to see a citizen hit multiple items on the agenda buffet. Further, Rule 26 of the City Council Rules, reads (in relevant part) as follows:
[A]ny person desiring to be heard shall register his or her name and address and the matter, upon which he or she desires to be heard with the City Clerk in a book to be provided therefore no later than 6:30 o’clock on the evening of the meeting. Such person shall speak on the matter on which he or she has registered and shall keep all comments germane to that issue. Such person shall speak for not more than five minutes and shall be subject to Rule #9, with respect to the preservation of decorum and order. In addition, people may register by telephone prior to the closing of the City Clerk’s Office as well as by mail by giving their names and addresses and the matter on the Agenda they desire to speak on.
The gist of each of Ms. Ortiz’ comments and/or complaints on the list cited above was that the Council is failing to follow procedural rules. Ironically, Ms. Ortiz refused to follow Rule 26 as she refused to provide her address prior to speaking. Ms. Ortiz elected instead to say “Resident of Lowell” or “Resident of the United States.” Eventually, Councilor Mercier had enough and asked Ms. Ortiz to return to the podium and state her address. Ms. Ortiz again refused and stated that she was subject to an exception to Rule 26. I have not had the time to research this matter. I would be curious to see if a Council Rule compelling a speaker to provide a residential address would pass constitutional muster. If this is going to be a weekly feature of meetings in 2024, it’s an issue worth noting as litigation could follow.
Speaking of litigation, as to that Open Meeting Law Complaint, Councilor Gitschier took exception with the way it was published in the agenda:
Executive Session – Discuss Matters Of Potential Litigation (Open Meeting Law Complaint), Public Discussion Of Which Could Have A Detrimental Effect On The City’s Position.
Councilor Gitschier argued that the public should have been provided access to the Complaint itself, as it is a public record. I agree. I can’t find a link online so I cut and pasted it into a Google Doc for your review:
3. Same Day Constable Service
If you can think way back to the good old days of November 21, 2023, Councilor Mercier filed the following motion:
C. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. Have Treasurer Report As To How Many Constables We Have In The City; How Much Revenue Is Collected A Year For Services From Them As Civil Process Servers And If The City Is Rightfully Getting 25% Share And Who Is Overseeing That Duty To Make Sure It Is Happening.
There since that time, three meetings came and went without Councilor Mercier’s answer. As a student of the motion game (see below), five weeks between motion and response (over the holidays no less) isn’t exactly outrageous. Nevertheless, Councilor Mercier was pissed and let it be known to the administration. Last night she re-filed her motion as a “SECOND REQUEST.” The motion could be answered, in part, by checking out a document that comes out every spring setting forth revenue from various services…
As to the remainder of the motion, Councilor Mercier stated that she is under the impression that some communities see a million dollars from Constable fees. Sounds high to me, but if true, our fees are well below that standard. I look forward to the response – sooner rather than later or pet rabbits could be harmed.
4. 2023 In Motions
Last year I did a breakdown of every motion filed by every councilor. My therapist and I decided that we shouldn’t do that anymore. However, I did throw together a few “big picture” charts for your review. I always have to throw in a disclaimer that “quantity does not equal quality” – otherwise people send me emails suggesting that I’m focusing on meaningless metrics. These people have a point, but I’d also argue that “quantity has a quality all its own.” Use your own judgment.
5. The Rest
I glossed right over the two most substantive items on the agenda:
C. Gitschier – Req. City Mgr. Update The City Council On The Creation Of The Facilities Department For All Municipal Buildings And School Buildings.
C. Descoteaux – Req. City Mgr. Coordinate With The Superintendent Of Schools To Investigate And Evaluate The Feasibility Of Consolidating City And School Departments.
These would be huge changes and I’d rather wait until we have the Manager’s Responses to dive in.