City Council liveblog 3/24/09

7:14: Here we go. Kate Toomey wants the city to consider a series of three public meetings on the FY2010 budget to allow for more community input and transparency.

Paul Clancy says the process – with six weeks of meetings in chambers – is already transparent enough.  He can’t resist a dig at the school committee, saying the process is in depth “unlike” that department. (Is the School Department officially the new PILOT for councilor digs?)

O’Brien says the budget is in the final stages of assembly; his office is just waiting for some input from the Federal Government on the appropriate way to use some stimulus funds.  He was planning on giving the budget to the city councilors this Friday, but says it won’t be ready until next Tuesday night’s council meeting, at which time they will get a printed copy.

7:21: Councilor Haller says she likes transparency, but that it’s a bad idea, because this “is an intense time” for the councilors.  And, she says, using the chambers for public input makes the most sense.

7:22: “This is an intense time for citizens of the city as well.  I’m not asking to change the process of the budget,” says an irratated Toomey.  “[We need] the opportunity to get out there and talk to people…not everyone watches at 4 in the afternoon…If you don’t want to have three, have one.  I think it’s important that we get out…that they know what’s happening.”

7:24: Rushton calls the current process “stale and unengaging,” and points out that it’s rare to have much public input during the hearings.

He calls for, at a minimum, adopting a piece of Toomey’s request to allow remote comments on the budget, live on the city website during hearings.  Telegram message board trolls, unite!

“While this incredibly intense time…the question is if we…take a step forward.”

7:27: Lukes, after Rushton’s remarks in support of Lukes, reminds councilors of the rules—people can only speak to make an order, amend an order, oppose, or to clarify.  We give the council 45 minutes of following the rules, tops.

7:29: Eddy proposes a change to Toomey’s item, saying each subcommittee could take meetings around the city to get budget-related testimony on departments under the purview.

7:31: Clancy calls for switching the budget hearings and city council meetings—council at 4; budget at 6:30 or so.

7:33: Toomey says she’ll support her colleagues’ motions, but that her proposal is to have Hearings On The Budget, not A Budget Hearing…and most certainly outside of City Hall.

After all of that…all the motions pass.

Things that some councilors like: Saturday morning meetings out of town to talk about process and the budget.

Things some don’t: Having public budget hearings outside of the council chambers.

7:37: Phil Palmieri, Gary Rosen, Konnie Lukes propose the “City Manager meet with the various museums, arts and cultural non-profit institutions including the Cultural Coalition in Worcester regarding their future programs, educational offerings and special events.”

Palmieri speaks on the item, talking about figuring out how the city can help the non-profit cultural institutions.

We wonder if that includes Cultural Coalition-belonging colleges and universities being targeted by some, including Palmieri,  for PILOT funds.

7:42: Lukes wants to ban the use of plastic shopping bags in the city.  She shows off a recyclable Target bag the city gave out as a souvenier holder when it hosted a group of mayors.  We assume nothing from a city business was available.

7:44: On a environmental kick, Lukes also asks for a report on converting City vehicles to natural gas or alternative fuels.

7:45: Lukes, Palmieri and Rosen call for a Restaurant Week like most “real” cities have.

Lukes acknowledges  “It’s probably late for us to get into this Restaurant Week concept, but says “we ought to give those restaurants a boost.”

Rosen points out that TasteWorcester.com (and maybe the Chamber of Commerce) are working on a similar “Worcesterlicious” event for this summer.

As a few councilors have hinted, most Restaurant Weeks are focused on fixed price meals in 5-star, expensive restaurants to get people in who might not get an opportunity to try them otherwise.

Rushton calls for “theme” nights over the summer–maybe one a month–to promote restaurants.

7:58: TWITTER! TWITTER! TWITTER!

Toomey is having a bad night.

“I know people laugh when they hear ‘Twitter,'” she says.  “Yes!” comments Lukes.

“Governor Patrick Twitters,” she continues.

“He has a 28% approval,” quips Clancy, across the room.

Toomey points out the dozens of local and national politicians and municipalities that use the service(one she misses that we like: the Boston PD).

8:06: It goes on for Toomey…especially from Paul Clancy.  She calls for a study, perhaps by a university, on the effect of moving to a single-rate tax rate over 5/7/10 years.  Clancy says he wants anybody but a non-profit doing the study.

Toomey clarifies she wants it done by a class and professor–perhaps a Master’s in Public Administration course–“an intellectual study” she says.  Clancy and Palmieri shake their collective heads no.

Petty says he doesn’t want the (pending not yet announced) task force and another group duplicating efforts.

Lukes says one of the sticking points in establishing that committee has been determining who will do the study.

Palmieri says he doesn’t want anyone who doesn’t pay taxes doing a study on parties that do pay taxes.

Rushton asks when the task force—which was promised 5 months ago—will be established.  “We’re trying to resolve issues on…access to information,” says Lukes.

Asking colleges to do the study, says Clancy “is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Colleges: No longer considered cultural institutions or places for independent research by at least a few councilors.

(Clancy, Eddy, Haller, Palmieri, Petty, Rosen, Lukes vote against Toomey’s amended motion to limit the research to professors or classes, not the universities themselves).

8:21: Palmieri wants homeowners and renter-residents told every time a tree is coming down on public property in front of their land.

8:25: Lukes wants a rule on who is allowed to affix signs to walls within Council chambers or in the Levi Lincoln chambers.  Earlier tonight, a handmade sign was strung up from the banisters on the second floor.

Rushton wants a legal opinion—he doesn’t want someone having a press conference being allowed to hang a sign, but someone coming in to voice an opinion during a meeting being forbidden.

Lukes says she’s referring the item to Rules; no legal opinion is needed yet.

8:28: March 31st, 6pm, joint session of School Committee and City Council to discuss collective bargaining.  Don’t be there!

8:29: Meeting, over.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “City Council liveblog 3/24/09

  1. There used to be a city policy that any tree that wasn’t an imminent danger was the subject of a public tree hearing before it was taken down.

  2. I applaud Toomey for joining the 21st Century. Just because most of Worcester still thinks it’s 1980 doesn’t mean everyone has to believe that.

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