City Council live blog 2/23/10 version 1.0

7:14: We’re off. J.O’Brien is celebrating the Dominican Republic. It’s celebrating its anniversary.

7:19: The Caffrey Award: Each year it’s given to citizens who “work for the greater good of the entire community” says O’Brien. James and Norma Connolly are the recipients this year [Nicole: founders of Elm Park/PREP Plus neighborhood group]. Haller is delighted that they won the award. She says that Jim and Norma fought the same fight for collecting unpaid landlord fines (similar to what Germain brought to the council last week). She says they show that we can reclaim our neighborhoods and make them safe.

7:22: Petty says the city is “well served” by the Connollys. The son of the Caffery award namesakes also express his gratitude and congratulations.

7:23: Norma says “we’re really honored…we just did what we had to do.” It sounds like a lot of the crowd is here for them.

7:24: James has a speech prepared. He calls his wife “his best partner.” This is actually really touching.

7:28: They worked on the neighborhood with M. O’Brien back when he was the city’s parks commissioner.

7:30: James is still speaking. He closes with “let’s move the city forward” and chokes up. It’s clear he put a ton of time and effort into their cause, and they’re honored to be recognized for it

7:32: M.O’Brien is talking commuter rail and the CSX agreement. Maurice O’Connor [O’Connell?] from CSX is here to “walk through the proposal”. He says CSX has been a neighbor and landowner in Worcester, and they see it as investing $100 mil in the city. “It will provide short term and long range benefits to the economy.”

7:34: Petty says that “this is an important and good project for the city of Worcester.” He praises Murray’s involvement, and it’ll bring contractor and union jobs. There will be a meeting March 3 at 7:00 here to discuss this further. Mark your calendars. He wants to know if any bridges in Worcester will be raised because of this. He wants a report.

7:37: [Nicole: Palmieri “doesn’t say this lightly” …”The most important project in the history of our city”] “There’s a whole host of issues we have to deal with” says Palmieri, including shutting down streets and zoning impacts, especially on the East side.

7:40: “We don’t want to rubber stamp anything here…these discussions will be pointed and they’ll be frank,” says Palmieri. He’s always been a strong proponent for commuter rail he says, and calls this a “two-fer,” for because of both the freight and commuter rail.

7:43: Rushton says the council as a whole has tried to make commuter rail a priority issue. What he’s been impressed with is that “this is really about partnership” and enhancing that partnership. He’s confident the issues will be worked out through meetings. He says we live in a wireless world (appropriate for what we’re doing) but it’s still a world that relies on moving freight. “This is an economic development gem.”

7:44: Lukes says this has the potential of being the gem Rushton describes. She says she’s skeptical. “We have to look at the consequences of placing it in an urban center.” [Nicole: “while we have a freight yard … in the middle of an urban center, flanked by Shrewsbury Street…and Canal District.”] She thinks that the Canal District’s success could be mitigated by this, or she’s at least worried that it could.

7:47: She parallels this to DPW’s impact behind Shrewsbury street and the airport where it is. She says “let’s not repeat those negative consequences.” “Bottom line this is a freight yard in the middle of the city, a city that’s going through major economic changes.”

7:49: Haller wants to expedite these hearings, and calls this “a great day for Worcester”

7:50: Toomey says “we’re starting with a great step forward.” She praises CSX for listening to concerns, and that people need to remember this plan will bring changes to the city, but there’s going to be a lot more positive change. She cites job growth in the container/transportation industury, and that distribution centers may open here in the city. She wants to keep “the whole picture” in mind. She finishes by calling this “a great plus for Worcester.”

7: 51: Smith says he agrees that this “has the potential to be a great project,” but does add there are concerns. He says there may be other cities to connect to now, like Providence and New York, and that should be included in the bigger picture. He says this will bring hundreds of construction jobs–“a great boon for the economy and local workers.”

7:53: He says maybe that CSX can only use single level trains, rather than double stacked trains. Maybe this can break that–he blames the state for this, not CSX

7:55: Ronal Madnick from the ACLU is here to talk about better public access in meetings. He says many towns around have a public access forum at the beginning of meetings, and even though these towns are much smaller, there’s a larger group of people involved and at the meeting. It’s sent to the rules committee. JO’Brien plugs his office hours.

7:58: Virginia Ryan is going to speak about “that the City of Worcester initiate MGL Chapter 59, Section 5, namely, the Senior Deferral to defer payment of local property tax until the house is sold or the senior citizen dies.” she says seniors on fixed incomes feel the pinch of rising property taxes. This law would defer any increases on property taxes.

8:01: She says Worcester’s small businesses are leaving in droves, and the burden switches to residential properties. Another speaker, Jordan Berg, also wants to speak on it. He talks about his neighbor on a fixed income. He says this is something the city can do easily, and that it’s wrong for the city to strip someone of their assets. He urges them as “a young tax contributor” to pass this section of MA general law.

8:03: Rushton wants a report on this. [Tracy: It’s clause 17, for those poking in MGL looking for it. However, it says “provided, that the whole estate, real and personal, of such spouse, person or minor does not exceed in value the sum of twenty thousand dollars.” It increases by the Consumer Price Index each year, so it’s higher now.]

8:04: Duaiye Gibli is appointed to the Historical Commission. Christopher Rodwill is appointed to the Memorial Auditorium Board of Trustees. Tara Leahy to the Mayor Thomas Early Scholarship Committee. Nicole Apostola is appointed to the Hope Cemetery Board of Commissioners. Congratulations. Roll call for this one. It’s unanimously pro-Nicole.

8:06: Worcester accepts $25,000 grant for the Cultural Coalition. And the Philly Plan is sent to Economic Development. No discussion on it tonight.

8:07: J.O’Brien asks Lukes to take the chair, as he has something to say that he met with the youth officer of the city, Jesse [Edwards], to thank him for his work promoting job opportunities. He says that Jesse’s plan is to make a youth council that will come to city hall monthly to “weigh in on the issues of the day.”

8:11: Worcester gets money ($6.7 million) from the FAA for airport improvement. Toomey recuses herself because “of the appearance of a conflict.”

8:14: M.O’Brien says the negotiations are going well with MassPort. He says this is an opportunity to capitalize on what we’ve got now, and that no restrictions will come with this money once the airport is transferred to MassPort. Eddy does think the airport is valuable–even just the land. He wants M.O’Brien’s word that this won’t lock us into being unable to sell this airport. Or that this money won’t take money out of the sale price of the airport.

8:18: Haller says if the transfer doesn’t occur then she will not further support any work or money going into the airport. She says she’ll support it today though. Palmieri says he won’t support it at all, and really never has. He said he’d “be shocked if in the end the amount of monies…doesn’t come off the bottom line in negotiations.”

8:21: Rushton says if you voted for these improvements last time “you might as well finish the job.” He says if MassPort is going to take over this property, then they should assume the $40 mil of grants and debt.

8:24: he’s supporting this because he’s optimistic a deal will get done with MassPort that will work in Worcester’s favor.

8:25: Petty says this issue needs to be done, and not voting on this $6.3 mil wouldn’t be right

8:25: The roll call to accept this grant money: It passes, only Palmieri votes no. [Tracy: from what I remember from last year, the fed takes back all the money that we’ve received in federal grants for airport improvements if the land is ever converted to anything else. Thus the $40 million]

8:27: The city gets a new fire truck! $640,000.00! J.O’Brien thanks Congressman McGovern

8:27: Haller says hold up: There’s a required match of $260,000. Where’s that coming from? M.O’Brien says we’ve been planning for this the past two years. And we received the amount we applied for.

8:28: $7,447.00 from the Friends of Worcester’s Senior Center, Inc. to the City. $3,000.00 from the Estate of Mrs. Janet B. Svenson to the Worcester Talking Book Library.

8:31: Lukes is wondering why it took so long for the school dept. to become FOG compliant (that means they have to account for keeping food waste out of the normal waste stream, as the grease and food bits clogs everything up). She says “we went after all our private businesses several years ago…and the school dept. wasn’t doing a thing?” there’s a double standard between the school dept and small businesses about collecting money.

8:32: M.O’Brien says that the programs started at the same time, but the city had to go through many engineering studies for the schools. It will also cost millions of dollars, so it sounds like they’re staggering the spending. Lukes wants to know when the program will end. M.O’Brien offers a report for next week.

8:34: Rushford’s department gets money for working overtime on elections:
Recommend that Three Thousand Four Hundred Thirteen Dollars And Thirty Eight Cents ($3,413.38) be transferred from Account #100-91000, City Clerk Personal Services, and One Hundred Eighty Dollars And Twenty Eight Cents ($180.28) be appropriated to Account #150-97000, Elections Overtime, and Three Thousand Two Hundred Thirty Three Dollars And Ten Cents ($3,233.10) be appropriated to Account #100-97000, City Clerk Overtime, to cover overtime expenses associated with the Special State Primary of December 2009 and the Special State Election of January 2010.

8:36: Google is up. Petty says that the Google broadband project is like an “RFP to the country” to put dark fiber into the cities to compete with phone service. Petty says if you bring in competition prices go down, and Google gives us this opportunity.

8:37: Google is up. Petty says that the Google broadband project is like an “RFP to the country” to put dark fiber into the cities to compete with phone service. Petty says if you bring in competition prices go down, and Google gives us this opportunity.

8:38: M.O’Brien says they’re working on it in Economic Development and IT services. He uses the term “information super-highway,” which is great because I haven’t heard since 7th grade. Applications are due March 23rd. They’re encouraging group applications because they presume it’ll be a stronger application. Google wants to be wooed for this.

8:41: Haller says the competition is “going to be fierce on this.” She thinks we should work very hard on this project. [Nicole: “anything less than extraordinary effort is not worth pursuing” — Barbara Haller. That should go on a Starbucks cup.]

8:43: M.O’Brien says that a verbal request now will save his department a lot of time applying for this because he then doesn’t have to file a report first.

8:44: There’s some confusion. Haller wants everyone to sign on to this. Palmieri wants to reach beyond just sending in an application, but also to have higher ups in Worcester contact people at Google for some face-to-face time to show we’re serious. That one gets sent to committee.

8:49: Lukes take the tall chair. J.O’Brien talks about receiving three pots of funding for asian longhorned beetle eradication. O’Brien says the City Manager will be going to meet with the USDA to make sure the max amount of that money should go towards saving trees, rather than doing survey work.

8:51: Smith agrees with J.O’Brien, and says we got money (city money) for tree planting. Lukes cuts him off asking if he’s making an amendment or clarification. Smith says it was a clarification.

8:52: Lukes was going to talk about taking CitySquare by eminent domain, but M.O’Brien asked her to hold it for a week, and she said she will. Maybe an announcement is in the works? She says “she’s going to assume the manager knows what of he speaks”

8:56: Eddy is talking about the Pit Bull ordinance. He tells the story of a small business owner walking his service dog in the park when it was attacked by a loose pit bull. Eddy is talking about the Pit Bull ordinance. He tells the story of a small business owner walking his service dog in the park when it was attacked by a loose pit bull. He says there’s a reason owners are selecting this breed of dog, rather than a collie or beagle.

8:58: He says there’s not another breed in the city with these stats. The city of Boston “has successfully taken this on”, referring to the Responsible Pit Bull Ownership ordinance. he says it’s not a ban, but for example would require that pits were muzzled. Chief Gemme backs it too, he says.

8:59: “This is not a reaction to a newspaper story…this is a public safety ordinance, make no bones about it.” (No pun intended?)

9:00: he says this ordinance is an opportunity to address the problem. He’s saying there will be people who say their pit is a lovely dog, and all this does is say your dog has to be harnessed and/or muzzled.

9:01: Palmieri has his own dog ordinance: Request City Manager report to City Council as to the possibility of authorizing the Police Chief by either state law or city ordinance to require training of animal (dog) owners after their animal has been involved in an attack on another person or animal. Said report should include the location for said training and costs associated with such a program.

9:03: He says that people who have dogs with violence issues and get reported can simply go out and get a new dog the next day.

9:05: Lukes wants more transparency by putting the city’s checkbook online. She says she got emails and calls from taxpayers who want to know where our money is going. She says it’s easy to implement, and that a pilot program should be started. Cook County in Illinois does it. She says you can see it on their website as an example.

9:06: She doesn’t want a report, she’d rather they just vote it and start a 90 day trial period with it. M.O’Brien says he’ll talk to the CFO, and they’ll bring it up in a report next week.

9:08: Lukes says we have to remember that the city side is not completely separate from the school side. This segues into city pensions. Lukes is jumping all over the agenda now. She’s on this: Order of Councilor Konstantina B. Lukes – Request City Manager report on the financial consequences to Worcester regarding the Governor’s pending proposed pension reform legislation and to make recommendations for a more equitable formula for changes that will not cause Worcester to assume additional liability.

9:11: She says that if an employee leaves the city then we end up getting penalized because we still pay money into a system that’s not there. We get no interest. She says it’s an issue not solely affecting Worcester. I’m not convinced I explained that well at all.

9:15: Toomey wants more info regarding the cost of transportation for the new Spirit of Knowledge charter school. She says the cost of transportation over five years could be close to $1 million, on top of the money that goes into paying for the school. She wants a report on this.

9:17: Petty says that Lukes made a good point about the pension system. He says it’s the same with health insurance. He wants to know what the cost would be to add on health insurance. He says it’s a good deal for the state, but not the city.

9:18: Toomey wants to know if the city can structure bids to so that out of country vendors can’t compete with local/state companies. She says that our recycling bins are made in Canada, while MA has a company that makes plastic bins

9:23: Palmieri is talking Harrington Way park and the Jack Barry Little League field. The city has a “master plan” for it that Palmieri wants updated.

9:25: Toomey says people ask all of the time “what are the schools [colleges] doing for our community?” She wants the city to put a list online on the school dept. website.

9:26: Toomey would like an even more comprehensive list. Um, none of the councilors are listening. They’re all talking with each other, except Petty. She brings up Senator Panagiotakos warning that there’s going to be significant cuts to local aid.

9:30: Eddy has two things under suspension. For the West Siders: He wants the City Manager to contact Verizon because reception out there is bad (specifically for hands-free, I think he’s talking about). He wants something done in 2010.

9:31: Petty and Toomey want to jump on that one too. Petty wants a report because the airport was supposed to have a cell tower there. He wants to know what happened with these cell towers and why they didn’t happen. Toomey says the same for the East Siders.

9:33: Eddy is back up. He says that in just a couple weeks another member of the M.O’Brien’s team will be leaving. He says it’s an office that is “already understaffed”

9:34: He says this has never been his favorite form of government, but that we have “an excellent City Manager”. His review comes up in June, and Eddy wants him to have all the tools he needs to have the office “functioning at peak efficiency.”

9:36: Eddy wants a report on what M.O’Brien needs, including a dollar figure, presumably for a new hire.

9:37: Smith wants a report on the Tatnuck Sq. traffic study from a few years ago.

9:38: We’ve adjourned.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “City Council live blog 2/23/10 version 1.0

  1. Pingback: What I Learned from Blogs This Week « Nicole, Worcester

  2. Re: 9:18:

    Whether those plastic bins are made in this country or not probably is neither here nor there. Before I give the reason why, I want to say that the undocumented immigrants I’ve worked with over the years are good workers and fine people in general. I’ve temped in a few of our plastics factories over the past several years, and it was rare to find an American citizen working in them (including among line supervisors). Granted, they do spend SOME money in our local economies, but there’s also a good portion alotted for remittance payments.

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