Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Ever wonder what a city council live blog would be like set to the soundtrack of a 2010 World Cup game? Click here.
7:10: Breezing through the agenda–the only real thing to talk about tonight is the evaluations of the City Manager.
7:11: Toomey says that the memorial markers around the city for veterans are “sad to see” in some places around the city because they’re not cared for. She proposes an “adopt a veterans monument” program, so citizens can upkeep them.
7:13: J.O’Brien reads a proclamation. Apparently, the Asian population is the fastest growing population in Worcester. (This is regarding the Southeast Asian Festival coming up on June 27.)
7:18: The new tobacco ordinance goes up for advertisement without any discussion.
7:19: And we’re done with the regular agenda. We’re just waiting for the rest of the evaluations to roll in.
7:20: Germain talks about his trip to Orlando, and a promotion down there that was “one free day riding the bus” which tried to get people to get into the mindset that “public transportation is not a bad thing.” He’d like to try it in Worcester. He says “it garnered so much attention down there it was crazy.”
7:22: Palmieri says the Taste of Shrewsbury Street is happening tonight until 9:00. He says it’s a mob scene.
7:24: Here come the evaluations. We’re starting with Germain.
Germain says two or three years ago he gave him a “3”, and he got “killed,” even though he thought a three was “real good.” He says “you can’t argue with success.” He admits there’s some (“often”) disagree about how to “get there”, but the manager has done it. He highlights the city’s strong bond ratings, which isn’t the case in many other places. He gives kudos for econ. development–especially CitySquare, CSX and the resulting spin off from both projects. Of course, he brings up the airport as well.
He’s concerned about the movement away from CDCs, however. He wants more encouragement for CDC development.
He says despite yesterday’s crime article in the T&G, “Worcester is still one of the safest cities of its size.”
“The manager needs to become more engaged with the city council, and more transparent,” and more engaged in union bargaining, and Section 19. He mentions “recommitting to the CDCs” again.
“We may fight, and more often than not I lose…but there’s no one else I’d rather have as our City Manager [or close to that–that may be paraphrased]” but he gives him a 4.75 overall (out of five).
Gives the manager a 4.6. Clancy applauds O’Brien’s ability “to guide the city finances.” He also notes the “trifecta” of economic development (CSX, CitySquare, airport). He mentions he’s had “significant help” from the state leaders, but it does show that he can work with all kinds of people and the private sector. Clancy calls him the best City Manager he’s served with in his 23 years on the council.
Gives him a 4.75. He says that seemed to fall in range with the rest of the reviews. He believes O’Brien has “struck a balance.” He brings up the balance between MCPHS’ buying of the Crowne Plaza–some said it was great, some focused on the taxes lost. “In the end, it’s results.” He says after this year “we expect more. We’ll probably expect a lot more.” Palmieri wants to keep focusing on parks and quality of life, echoing Germain and Clancy.
Palmieri says he’s one of O’Brien’s “strongest supporters.” “I hope that the municipal operations subcommittee take a very hard look at the extension of your contract.” Germain says they’ll take that up as soon as possible.
She gives a 5 because 5 is “superior, consistently performing above and beyond what is expected of his position.” She says this doesn’t mean they always agree, but she says it’s because he looks for how to provide both in the long and short term for Worcester.
She says his skill is in bringing people to the table and showing how everyone’s futures are linked together–she uses his extraction of PILOT funds from WPI and MCPHS. She does say there is still a lot of suffering still happening in the city, however.
He quotes Frank Sinatra: “It was a very good year.” He says the city employees really stood up, even though there’s animosity toward public employees from the private sector. He says the “big three” projects were huge, but he thinks some of the lesser publicized achievements were just as significant, like regionalizing services with Shrewsbury, the Neighborhood Stabilization program and the lead abatement program. The biggest though, he says, is making the case for street and sidewalk improvements–even if it meant a $2 mil tax increase.
He says there are things to improve, like City/School friction. He also calls out the “opaqueness” in certain sectors of government.
Last year she gave him a 5. She lowered her grade from a 5 to a 4.5 this year because of his raising of taxes. She says we’re assuming we’re going to tax our way out of the recession to an already over taxed public–and it’s a slap in the face as well because of the huge city-side salaries and pensions. She says “we were definitely the beneficiaries of some unexpected events.”–She says Hanover coming in to rescue CitySquare is an example, as is CSX. She takes this time to target the CSX deal and rail against it. She says she’ll be watching the Manager next year about his plans for the CSX construction, saying we need a plan of some sort.
She says there’s no mention in his own report about dealing with youth in the city. She says she “expected more, and I’m disappointed,” regarding that.
She says Worcester has grown while the recession has taken its toll on the worldwide community. She says he continues to “progress and persevere” even after drastic cuts to the budget and departments. She says he looked for creative funding opportunities for safety funding. She says he has brought visible improvements to the community for years to come, and brings up the big 3 developments, which bring money into communities, and “truly shut out the naysayers.” She lists other accomplishments–new dorms for schools, life science companies, store front/facade program, Buy Worcester Now, Gateway Park, the city’s tech services/cable division, brownfield remediation, street/sidewalk repair, new North High School, etc. She gives him a 4.9, just like last year. She wants more minority representation among city employees.
He says “we’re lucky to have you. You’re accomplishing everything we hired you to do.” He also says a year ago people would have laughed if you said you wanted the amount of money we got for the airport. He talks about tough decisions with the budget. “The quality of life in Worcester I think is pretty good, and that’s because of you and your staff.” He says the fact that the library and senior center are still open are big too, because in some parts of the state those are closing. He does say “sometimes I think you get overwhelmed with all the issues” but he doesn’t blame with the downsizing of city employees. Goals: Continue neighborhood improvements, park improvements, capitalize on the transportation with CSX and airport.
O’Brien’s budget “spoke about parks, quality of life, leadership, a manager committed to working with the majority of this council that will make the quality of life better each day.” He credits him for short term gains with long-term oversight. He says there’s commitment to neighborhoods with this administration. This administration “understands his job and does it well.” He gives him a 4.6, calling it an “excellent evaluation.
“I don’t know there’s a whole lot new I can say at this point, being at the end.” He says O’Brien’s done a “good overall job.” He does “more with less” and working like he’s on commission rather than on a salary. We’ve remained one of the safest cities in New England, and listened to the councilors’ ideas. He wants to see more economic development, and should look at hiring more staff for that department. He credits the money saved with the energy audit, and goes to look at taxes and stop “pitting homeowners vs. businesses.” He’s disappointed about tapping into the tax levy when airport money could have been used to plug the gap. He says $100 million has been saved through health care reform in the city. He says next year will probably be even more difficult than this year, but O’Brien is a great asset to the city. He thanks O’Brien’s staff as well for their work. Smith gives the same grade as last year: 4.7.
“We’re certainly living in interesting and challenging times.” He says what strikes him is how well positioned this city is in, and officials from other cities remind him of such. He thanks him for aiding his transition to mayor, and the manager’s office staff. “Clearly the manager has done a remarkable job” of working within the council. “I know bond ratings aren’t very sexy or exciting, but they’re critical.” He talks about the focus on the neighborhoods, even in difficult economic times (more about $20 million investment in streets/sidewalks) and $20 million in school infrastructure. He’s glad that Manager has “carved out” money for parks from the CSX and airport deal.
J.O’Brien wants to look at utilizing technology better for government–like Facebook and Twitter. He’s also concerned that people who work in City Hall aren’t “reflective” of the communities in the city, as when budget cuts happen it’s usually “the first ones in are the first ones to go.”
He’d like to see progress on the school-side: moving contracts to having them pay 25% of benefits. “I think he passionately cares about his city and its future.”
He gives a 4.65, and talks about how his Catholic school nuns would remind him that nobody’s perfect (except Jesus).
He says it’s humbling to hear the comments. “We continue to adapt in a changing world. We progress and we do things others only wish, against tremendous odds.”
He thanks his team/cabinet and the council for their guildance, and the state delegation and Congressman McGovern.
He says he tends to set his own “personal bar high,” and he thanks his family for putting up with how much he invests in his job. He says “brighter days are ahead for the city.” He says “carpe diem” epitomizes the outlook of his administration. The room gives him a standing ovation.