Worcester City Council liveblog

7:10: A little confusion here. There’s a group here to speak on forming a committee to look at moving to a single tax rate. Mayor Lukes committed to forming such an ad hoc group last week; as such, Councilor Haller recommended forwarding the citizen request to the City Manager and Mayor.

Members of the group immediately stood up, claiming they were being “brushed over”

“Keep business in Worcester,” one said sarcastically as she left chambers. “It won’t matter…it’s so corrupt.”

The council immediately allowed a member of the group to speak.

Elizabeth Proko is now decrying the council’s “lowest residential” vote from Nov 25, saying more focus is needed on businesses.

“I implore this council to take a stand for the long-term…and support the committee.”

7:16: Ed Augustus, after showing up a few minutes late for his own party, is getting recognized for his years of public service. He is stepping down from the Senate after the New Year.

Augustus, who is receiving a key to the city, is getting high praise from Mayor Lukes for his long years of service without the “political tinge we’re..often accused of.”

Councilor Rushton: “Your central philosophy was…the welfare of people.” Thank you.

Councilor Petty: “Simply, Senator, you’re the best Central Mass produced.”

Councilor Smith says Augustus’ advice was key when Smith was thinking about running for office.

Councilor Rosen, calling him “Eddie,” focuses on Augustus’ concentration on students and children.

Councilor Toomey: “I am so grateful to have been in the Senator’s district.”

Councilor Eddy: “What makes Ed special is his belief in the Huber Humphrey phrase…his commitment…to those in need.”

Councilor Palmieri: “I look at him as one of the most unique people in government. He has the innate ability to disarm you…He is as steady as any person I’ve ever met….He is one of the most independent legislators I’ve ever met.”

Councilor Germain: “He has been a man above reproach.”

Councilor Clancy: “Ed has had such an incredible list of accomplishments…in four years, a Senator of 20 years would be jealous.”

“There are a lot of hacks who run for office and make it, a lot of them for personal game. None of that crosses Ed’s plate. He votes, because he wants to help people in need.”

City Manager Michael O’Brien: “[He has] such a positive legacy…He has my deep respect. He’s all about community…and is motivated purely by the city he loves. I’m honored to call him friend.”

Senator Augustus: “I would have left years ago if I knew I was getting this kind of send off.”

“At the end of the day, all you can ask for…is to make a difference….My life is a long way from over, but I already feel like I’ve packed in three lives….I do love the city of Worcester, and Worcester has been good to me.”

“There’s no higher honor that can be bestowed in a democracy than…to represent the people.”

7:45: A motion to amend sewer capacity and fee ordinances.

Essentially, according to DPW Commissioner Bob Moylan, this allows the city to change how they charge businesses with water intensive operations. For example, a laundromat with a connection fee in the hundreds of thousands. (Everyone remember that scandal?) Any fee over $25,000 will now be able to be apportioned over a 5 year period by the City Treasurer.

The other main aspect of the new ordinance effects properties undergoing a change in use.

7:57: A change in beetle removal policy for the USDA: only 4500 trees will be removed initially in the Greendale/Burncoat area, instead of the 20,000 tree clear cut. Maybe the USDA figures 16,000 were knocked down in the ice storm….

8:01: Speaking of the ice storm: A supplemental item on the table.

Councilor Rushton: “I want to thank the public employees and manager for doing a bang up job. Brings me back…to the Blizzard of ’78.”

He wants to know if school will be cancelled next Monday and Tuesday, in addition to the existing cancellation for the rest of this week. City Manager Michael O’Brien says the existing cancellation was made for students’ safety; he says a decision on Monday and Tuesday will be based on the weather the rest of the week, and further clean up.

Rushton: “When will wood pick up happen?”

O’Brien: “We are cleaning debris from street and sidewalks where necessary….It’s all hands on deck….with the goals of getting curb to curb cleared first. We’re going to compound that problem with snow.”

He asks property owners to put limbs and trees at the front of their lawns.

Rushton: “How are we going to pay for this?”

O’Brien: “Our first focus is public safety. We are tracking everything we are spending….we see a 75/25 split between the federal government and state/local.”

“They’re assuring us that 25% share will be picked up by the state.”

8:08: Councilor Haller: When we downsize too much, she says, there aren’t enough employees to deal with crises. Still, she commends the city leadership and efforts.

Have there been any deaths in Worcester? O’Brien says no known fatalities, though there have been at least two instances of public safety workers saving elderly citizens who would have become statistics.

8:12: 9100 customers are still without power; O’Brien says that number could be cut in half tomorrow.

Petty points out that a number of employees, including the City Manager and Assistant City Manager, went without power for days. (And Lt. Gov. Tim Murray),

8:17: Councilor Rosen complains that city service line 929-1300 was shut down on Friday; the City Manager says it simply wasn’t so, that some call center employees put in 48 hours straight, and the center was open a minimum of 12 hours a day through the weekend.

As for claims that some people had their power shut down by National Grid, O’Brien says that it was needed in places to make needed repairs.

Councilor Rosen called Charter over the weekend to ask when service would get restored; he got a Virginia call center and an employee who attempted to sell him phone service.

8:25: While National Grid is restoring service to big swaths, some individual homes are without service: in some cases, homeowners will have to pay for contractors to come install galvanized connectors to the home, and National Grid will only bring the wire from the pole to the house, but not connect it.

There are about 250 individual homes who will be left without power, says O’Brien.

Charter has had at least 300 crews on the roads restoring power.

8:30: What does State of Emergency mean? Locally, it means the City Manager can override accounts, overtime, and public safety matters to deal with problems. That said, “All city departments are [and have been and will be] up and running and fully staffed,” says O’Brien.

8:34: Councilor Palmieri doubts cleaning up the Burncoat area will only take 10 days, and asks if schools will be cancelled, and when that decision will be made.

O’Brien hits his talking points about how hard everyone is working–Palmieri doesn’t dispute that—but says
any decision on canceling school for next week will be made ASAP.

8:43: Smith talks about how people came together, stuck together, and bounced back up. “I’m pleased that we’ve had such a quick response from the city.”

O’Brien says residents who want to take branches on their own should bring them to the Milbury Street recycling center.

8:56: This upcoming snow storm (x3!) is going to wreak havoc with debris. Clancy raises the possibility of debris being pushed back onto properties when snow is plowed, especially in the Burncoat area, where the street is essentially one lane.

9:06: Adjourned.


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