City Council Liveblog 6/23/09

7:16: Underway, with a proclamation recognizing “amateur radio day.”

7:18: CORI reform…the long awaited bill finally passes to huge applause.

7:28: An order from Smith, Clancy, Haller, Palmieri looking for (big breath) “the Massachusetts Department of Conservation Resources and the United States Department of Agriculture to initiate a tree injection program in Worcester to treat non infested host trees after they are surveyed to prevent them from being infested with the ALB. Further, request that he explore working with a company like Arborjet who does slower and longer chemical treatments to get thorough injections into trees and could possibly treat 20,000 trees for about $500,000 with a 2 year guarantee even if it is a pilot program, which is already being tested in China.”

This figures very prominently in this Thursday’s cover story on the ongoing beetle battle.

Smith: “I wish…this was already happening.”

7:32: Clancy says inoculation makes much more sense.

“Initially, everyone thought the experts knew…how to approach this. Now that has come into question.”

He also questions why the government initially thought the beetle was located just in Worcester. That doesn’t ring true with us based on conversations with federal officials and independent scientists last year.

“I firmly think we need to rethink this process as set in motion by the [USDA].”

If councilors agree that this beetle has been here forever, do they also believe there are enough trees left to inoculate that aren’t already infected?

Palmieri–echoing Smith from last week–accuses the “media” of wanting to just “cut and cut and cut and cut.”

7:38: Haller cites the recent community meeting on the beetles. The feds were asked why chemical treatment hadn’t started yet. One USDA official said it wasn’t the right time to do it. The other claimed it was the right time, there just wasn’t enough money.

She says its a perfect example of the lack of truthfulness from the feds.

7:45: Rushton and now Rosen question the USDA as well.

Rosen goes through the past eight months of supposed-USDA blunders…cutting down trees without permission, cutting down trees after the initially-agreed upon deadline, etc.

7:50: “Let’s spare as many host trees as we can.”

7:51: Moving on. An item on the Midtown Mall. Councilors want to look at the the mall being sold by the current owner, the tenants relocated, and the property redeveloped.

“It is a critical piece…downtown,” says Palmieri. “I think there is a higher and better use.”

“We would want [the small businesses in the mall] be afforded the same opportunity for relocation any small business would have.”

Palmieri calls for a few options, including “opening it right up,” with brick sidewalks, benches, etc. between Front Street and Mechanics Street.

“I think it’s an idea that deserves some thought and discussion.”

7:55: Palmieri acknowledges that this is a project with a long, long timeline.

7:58: Toomey goes along with the item, adding in that she thinks property owners should “take a little pride” in their neighborhoods; she points to business owners in Chicago steam-cleaning their own sidewalks.

7:59: Rosen…HA…Rosen now calls the ice skating rink a “performance oval.” Well, it does have tables on it now..

8:16: Councilors Toomey and Rushton want to regulate maintenance on foreclosed properties. Title holders would be required to hire regularly scheduled building maintenance/cleaning services.

8:20: Toomey is getting a verbal lashing from Lukes for not telling her colleagues ahead of time that she was going to suggest ordaining that foreclosure suggestion. The item is passed on to the law department.

“It’s also appropriate to let the chair know.” says Lukes.

8:23: Grace Ross, who has done a lot of work on this item, says it’s wrong that the city ends up paying for basic care of abandoned, foreclosed properties. (e.g. when the fire department gets called to turn off water).

She points to the success of the Boston program as a model for here.

“This is money that in theory, we could have been collecting for a while.”

8:30: Palmieri says the assessing office is being “eviscerated” and expresses concern that the entire office will eventually be outsourced. “I don’t want to see someone from out of town doing that.” The staff is down to a potential 5 from a one-time high of 15.

8:38: It’s amazing how an item no one wanted to talk on the first time through has now garnered several speakers after Palmieri asked to revisit it…..

The software-heavy test plan for the potential future of the Assessing Department.

8:42: Eddy says he doesn’t like outsourcing assessing functions, but acknowledges that there’s a lot of things that that are going to get done that aren’t ideal in the fiscal climate.

“The assessing department is not where I want to make a stand.”

He recommends referring it to committee; Palmieri says this item is important and he’d prefer to hold it until next meeting rather than bury it.(he quickly changes his mind)

Palmieri: “The assessing office is important; I think we need to have a little more information.”

8:47: Chippy, chippy meeting tonight.

Clancy talking about the office and a potential delay…Lukes says he’s confusing the issue and her, as the manager is going ahead with the plan and no one has suggested holding off.

8:49: Supplemental items…we haven’t seen these.

First item, on the state budget, is referred to finance. We’ll try to grab a copy from a councilor or from the garbage later.

Second item, on the summer pool plan (now called “Wheels to Water”)…lot of community partners that already have a lock on kids are involved here, with registration starting next week. Some major charitable donations here. More in the paper this week.

8:54: Haller says she’s amazed how quickly everything came together.

8:56: Report of the Municipal Operations committee: they voted last night to abolish the numerical component and the separate narrative component to the City Manager’s review form. It will now be a 4 part narrative, with one overall grade. This was a Rushton, Germain led plan; we’ll see at next week’s meeting what the reviews say.

Lukes: “I didn’t realize there was a problem with the [form]…no one told me.”

Rushton says no one called him after the Telegram article this morning, and that the problem was grades were sometimes “skewed” by one section.

Councilor Clancy, the third member of the MO committee, says “there aren’t substantial changes here.”

“Sometimes those get confusing…the individual grades.”

He says it’s more about the summary and narrative now.

“It’s simpler and more direct, I think, [about] where he stands with each councilor.”

Germain brings up that the numbers are “so subjective.” And that a narrative with one numerical grade is “streamlined.” So a narrative makes it less subjective?

9:04: Haller: Says she doesn’t like that this just hit her desk.

“I don’t know why we’re waiting until a week before the evaluation to make the change.”

She finds grading the manager in each category “helpful.”

“I’m prepared to hold this, which I think would force us to use the old method.”

She wants to investigate changing the system, but taking the time to do it right.

“I don’t even have the new form [on my desk].”

If she’s not talked out of it in the next few minutes, she plans on holding the item.

9:06: Rushton suggests that since there’s no ordinance in place, they might as well scrap the system and councilors can use whatever system they want.

9:08: Haller might move to use last year’s form.

9:09: Toomey says her only problem is the words officially associated with the numbers on the rating scale, specifically a 4 being “good” rather than “above average.”

9:11: Rosen: “Thank God the City Manager isn’t reviewing the City Council…this is the most absurd conversation I have ever heard.” That’s high praise!

He says the new system is fine…and if people want to give more scores, “you won’t be impeached.”

9:13: Councilor Smith: “I can’t believe we’re still talking about this either…” (but hey, now that we’re here, I’ll certainly weigh in!)

“We want to be consistent as a council.”

“If people want to go into greater detail…feel free to do so.”

9:17: Haller says that, despite complaints of ongoing conversation, she thinks this is among the most important piece of their responsibilities. “I find it difficult to accept when we know we have to do this every year…that we were handed this the night of the report.”

“I would have preferred to keep the old process until we could at least see the new [process].”

9:18: Lukes tries speaking from the floor, but Clancy asks to move the question, which would deny her that opportunity.

Lukes accuses him of trying to “ram through” the item and silence her, and goes on a rant about the importance of evaluations. “This is someone’s professional career.”

“When we change it in midstream with basically no notice, that’s unprofessional…and that’s discourteous.”

“This might be a great system.”

“If people want to make fun of this discussion, they don’t understand how important an evaluation tool is.”

“I think we’re shortchanging ourselves, the city, and the manager.”

“I wasn’t aware there was any unhappiness with the process.”

She moves that the evaluation system process goes to Legislative Affairs so that this situation doesn’t come up again.

9:24: Clancy: “It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed one of those vitriolic tirades by the Mayor on the floor, and I can’t say I miss them.”

He says that the new system doesn’t change anything substantive or practically; that the discussion is “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“You can put in grades…if you like.”

“There is no subversive activity taking place with this [evaluation].”

“I think it’s more a reaction to personalities.”

“Any change is remotely minor….you want to throw the grades next to it, go ahead.”

9:28: Rushton kind of calls out his own hypocrisy here—says if the council can take major CitySquare items under suspension, they should be able to process this. In the next breath, says he will probably criticize the City Manager for bringing so many items under suspension.

9:29: Haller withdraws her intended motion to hold, saying she wants to ensure some sort of process is in place.

9:31: This goes through with only Mayor Lukes voting no.

9:32: Under suspension: nothing good

9:35: Adjourned.

Next week, join us for a very special after-school special City Manager Evaluation meeting.  Should be a blast.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “City Council Liveblog 6/23/09

  1. Red

    This isn’t funny anymore. We need serious people for serious times. O’Brien is holding on by a thread and his supporters on the council know it. I hope the ballots we fill out in the fall will not be based on narratives. Get the grades right folks. Your city services are in shambles and these people are fiddling.

  2. mike

    haha mayor lukes really went off tonite and clancy shot her down so nice. rosen mocking the discussion over ratings was also priceless!

  3. Are we going to let our employees slack off by watering down their oversight responsibilities?!?!?

    The original evaluation process is supposed to provide us – the employers – with an ability to determine how effective they are in working for our collective benefits.

    They’ve been diligent in securing their salary increase, but it appears that they are trying to shirk their fiduciary responsibility…this will not be tolerated!

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