Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Let’s run-down all the excitement on the agenda tonight:
-Public forum on the proposed pit bull ordinance
-The city put out a bid for someone to construct a new animal shelter (item 10.39B)
-A final vote on CSX? (item 10.39C)
-The Konnie Lukes/David Rushford wedding feuds contine (items 12F through 12H)
-A dual tax rate discussion (item 12K)
Follow all the action here or get a discussion going with our Cover It Live thing. See you at 6:00.
6:08: Alright, the crowd is here, the no BSL signs are up and the pre-meeting conferences between officials have begun. We’re about to get started.
6:17: Here we go: starting with a proclamation about Art in the Park (the “opening” is Thursday evening).
6:21: The Family Health Center gets a proclamation for Bicycle Safety Day.
6:25: Mary Anne Dube and John Goggins appointed to the Elections Commission.
6:26: The public hearing starts: J.O’Brien announces right away that one councilor intends to hold the item to the next meeting, but the public will still have time to speak. Clancy asks to extend the hearing to an hour, the audience applauds.
6:28: State Rep. Vincent Pedone is here to speak in favor of the ordinance, calling it “prudent.” He says over his career he’s heard 40 to 50 hours on both sides of this issue. “It’s a step forward to where I would like the city to be” — he gets cut off by boos from the audience. “We have a responsibility to protect those children playing in parks, we have a repsonsiblity to protect smaller dogs.”
6:32: “This ordinance is something this council should vote…we should protect the kids, we should protect the dog owners…the fact is this is a big strong animal, and when he bites he does damage.”
6:34: Richard is here to speak. He says this ordinance is an “incomplete ordinance”, and has a list of nine organizations against breed specific legislation. He says there are many “holes” in the ordinance. He has an issue that would call for spaying/neutering because he has a $1,200 show dog that he studs out. He asks who’s going to pay for the money lost from that. He adds that there are already laws on the books, and anything else can be enforced with a leash.
6:37: Christine says there definitely need to be stricter rules for people with pit bulls, but not just pit bulls. She’s met many “beautiful” pit bulls. She blames the landlords for “letting the problem get out of control.” She wants them held more responsible for the animals in rental properties. She says she’s against parts of this ordinance, but one needs to be written to protect children and others from pit bulls with bad owners.
6:42: Allie Simone, acting director of the Animal Rescue League thanks the council for letting people speak. She points out that the Boston Animal Rescue League is here, Tufts students too, but doesn’t see any Worcester Animal Control officers. She wants the city to create a task force for responsible pet ownership, and thinks a dangerous dog ordinance is needed: The ordinance should target all dogs — “all dogs can bite.” She cites research that says any type of dog is more likely to bite. She also says a muzzle is not an effective tool to use in bite prevention, and prevent dogs from panting and drinking water. She says the registration fees would be hard for some owners to pay, and thinks that homemade muzzles made of cans, ropes and chains would be used by those who want their dogs to look tough or who can’t afford a real one. She also cites neuter statistics, conveying that it’s not the breed but whether the dog is neutered/unneutered that causes aggression.
She says the city’s two animal control officers do a “heroic job” but additional ordinances would be difficult for them to enforce. She says passing this ordinance would give the city a false sense of accomplishment.
6:50: Donald, who brought his Alaskan Malamute (and has a picture of it on his shirt) to the meeting but was asked to take it away, talks about licensing. He thinks more help should be transferred to the animal control division to drive around and see what dogs are licensed. He says he has ten small dogs in his neighborhood, all of them go after his large dog, even though his dog has a good temperament. He says little dog bites don’t get reported because “they’re just little dogs” but if his dog were to retaliate then his would be considered a “dangerous dog.”
6:53: Jessica opposes this “because this hasn’t been proven to be successful in countless cities across the country.” She says these dogs need to be responsible owners’ homes. She shares some horror stories about rehabbing fighting dogs to be loving family members. She calls pit bulls “the most misunderstood animal in the country.”
6:56: William Breault (the chair of the Main South Alliance for Public Safety) is here to speak in favor of the ordinance. He says pit bulls were used to guard drugs in Main South, and 20 years ago they were “roaming” the area. “I’ve seen too much over the years. I think it’s a good ordinance, and I think it’s a good move.”
6:59: Pamela is a vet of two wars and military police. She’s against the ordinance. She focuses on the fact that “pit bull” is a loose definition of dog, and that the Boston ordinance this is based on isn’t working. She wants an ordinance that will limit bites from all dogs. (She also cites a Womag Worcesteria item.)
7:04: Jason singles out Eddy saying the law will make the city safer for police, but no police are here tonight to support it. The mayor clarifies that they were going to come, but they’ll be here next week when they know there will be a vote and be able to answer questions. He says comments like that shouldn’t be made in the newspaper “because they’re false.”
7:06: Another speaker (I missed his name–he’s a fire figher in Main South) says “it’s irresponsible to hold a breed responsible for the negligence of its owners.” He’s “afraid that if this ordinance passes, the people who are going to lose are the responsible owners.”
7:07: Tim says the council has a responsibility to the constitution, and bans on pit bulls have been ruled unconstitutional by the supreme court. He understands that it’s not a ban, and says while it might not be unconstitutional, it’s certainly “on the line.” He says people select pit bulls when they want to scare people, but that’s because of the public’s misconception that the dogs are scary.
7:12: Another speaker (missed his name) gives an anecdote about taking care of a friend’s pit bull. Guess what, he loves the dog.
7:13: David wants councilors to “do some research on the dog” (his family has had pit bulls since 1980. He says their nickname is the “nanny dog” and reminds people that Petey, from the Little Rascals, was also a pit bull. “You need to take a step back, take a deep breath and educate yourself about these animals.” He says the issue is with owners “who clearly don’t deserve to have this dog in their possession.”
7:17: Jacquiline would like to state that she is “not a gang member.” She says she’s one of the only people in her building that leashes her dog. She says injured dogs is the responsibility of the owners. She says she would be punished with the passing of this ordinance. “The people that this ordinance that this ordinance is supposed to pinpoint aren’t going to follow it.” She suggests working with the Animal Rescue League.
7:19: Another speaker (I missed his name) says that everyone’s said what he wanted to say, but adds that dogs are like family, and compares it to race specific measures for people. He says there’s not enforcement of current laws, not making new ones.
7:22: Andrea is a veterinary nurse, she has pictures of dogs of different dogs, some small, some large, pointing out that the smaller ones need the chain mail gloves to get them under control. He says her dog is a mix of breeds, and wants to know which part of dog she should muzzle.
7:24: Melanie says that everyone says they’re “big lap dogs only full of love out to please their master” and says there’s a stigma out owning these dogs. She says Worcester is “trying very hard to polish up its image” with the ordinance. She says the issue is the “out of control” breeding. (Her pit bull’s name is Pudding.) She says if you want to create laws that protect people then you should create laws that protect the dogs too.
7:27: J.O’Brien closes testimony, saying Sept. 7 is when the council will come back to debate the ordinance. We’re taking a quick recess so people can leave.
7:38: We’re back. Germain is the councilor who asks to hold. J.O’Brien cuts him off, repeating that the rules are “say you want to hold,” no editorializing. He wants information about bites attributed to pit bulls, the ability of the city clerk to enforce dog licensing laws at current staffing levels, a report from the police about their ability to enforce the ordinance, a report from the police about if the ordinance would be helpful in identifying gang members and communication with other towns with similar ordinances and its effectiveness.
7:41: Toomey wants reports about home rule legislation that would allow the city to raise non-compliance fines, expanding the ordinance to include “all dangerous dogs,” monitor compliance of dog licensing, dogs should have a temprament test done while getting rabies shots, require dog owners to provide proof of homeowners/apartment renters insurance in case their dog bites a person/dog, that funds collected from the approval of this ordinance go towards increasing the number of animal control officers. There are a lot more, 15 total amendments/changes.
7:48: There’s some conversation about “uncharted territory” regarding council rules and what happens after someone motions to hold. Lukes says they’re breaking their own rules they’re working to set.
7:50: We’ve gone on a tangent to work out the kinks. Clancy says that some people get up on an item, “wax poetic” on their position, and then say they’re going to hold the item “for press purposes or council theatrics.” He says “forget that” — “talk about it. Let everybody talk about it…at least varied opinions have been heard.” He says that’s not how it’s going right now, and wants it sent to the rules committee to be looked at.
7:55: Eddy agrees with Clancy. “I find this rule very peculiar.” He says the solicitor even agrees it has no basis. It’s not in Robert’s Rules or in the Statehouse. He wants a home rule petition to abolish the “right to hold under privilege” sent to the legislature. He doesn’t expect this to pass a council vote.
7:57: Germain wants to send this back to rules.
7:59: Haller says sometimes she holds an item not knowing going into the meeting she would hold it. She says she opposed to striking it from the charter.
8:01: Smith says “it is very over used” and people come to city hall to speak on an issue, but then they’re cut off when there’s a motion to hold. He doesn’t want to abolish it, but rather says that if someone wants to hold an item, that hold can be abolished by a 2/3 vote of the council. It’s referred to rules.
8:06: Lukes wants it all sent to rules, and doesn’t want it abolished.
8:06: Clancy says the charter isn’t the problem. According to him, the charter doesn’t say conversation should be cut off. “We’re misinterpreting the charter, and somewhere along the line it got confused with council rules.”
8:09: Roll call on Eddy’s motion:
The motion fails with Eddy, Petty, Smith and Toomey voting yes.
8:12: We’re electing a city clerk (or maybe it’s best to say re-electing the city clerk). Lukes motions to hold under privilege. Awwwwkwaaaarrrrrdddd. (The clerk is sitting right in front of her.) Rushton wants to know if we don’t elect a clerk does that mean we don’t have one for a couple weeks? Solicitor says nope, because the incumbent remains in office until a successor begins. “We will expect to see Mr. Rushford at the next meeting,” says J.O’Brien.
8:14: William Breault wants to ban K2, essentially synthetic pot. He says states aren’t waiting for the federal government to act, and have already started banning it. As the roll call is about to happen, Rushton says he wants to hold it because he doesn’t have enough info — “the public just voted to decriminalize marijuana in the last election.” It sounds like he doesn’t want to vote for something that would fly in the face of that. Haller says only “small amounts” of marijuana was decriminalized and wants verification that Rushton’s statement was correct as it was the “basis” of his argument.
8:20: Clancy and most of council put the brakes again on the development of the new DA’s office at 180 Main St. It’s held until the next meeting.
8:27: Clancy talks about using $4 million for the Brightwood Avenue Area Flood Mitigation Plan. He says there’s a better $2 million plan that should be looked at.
8:30: Petty asks how the ten additional fire fighters asked for will be funded. M.O’Brien says through fire fighters’ expected attrition it should be made up for.
8:34: Clancy praises M.O’Brien’s proactiveness on this, Rushton calls it a “no-brainer.” Palmieri jumps on board too. *Later on, Don Cummings, president of the IBPO police union reminds the council that the WPD is about 65 people understaffed. M.O’Brien says he knows, but the fire dept. situation is different than the police dept.’s.
8:37: You can now get booze at 10:00 am on Sundays at restaurants. Bloody Mary, anyone?
8:47: The city’s animal shelter bid comes up. J.O’Brien says that this comes from concerns about Worcester Animal Rescue League not taking city dogs if the pit bull ordinance passes. He says currently the city pays for the first ten days that a dog is held there (that’s brought there by the city). He notes that the WARL has a no-kill policy. He wants to know whether this bid will also stipulate a no-kill policy. The item is filed.
8:50: Clancy’s talking CSX. He brings up eminent domain, and says that it was stated that “it was not preferred but it could become an option.” He references a Boston Globe article yesterday about commuter rail expansion. Clancy wants to know if there’s been communication with Cambridge or MIT officials. M.O’Brien says he’s been briefed by Lt. Gov. Murray. Lukes calls the eminent domain threats “land taking,” noting that there are family businesses at stake. Lukes says expanding a freight yard will “suck the life out of that area.”
8:59: Palmieri wants more info on the 14 parcels CSX still needs to purchase for their freight yard expansion. CSX officials (Robert Longren, CSX’s attorney) says CSX hasn’t acquired or bought any properties yet. There is an agreement in principle with Frank’s Flowers. Six properties are asking for much higher price than their valued at. Sounds like any eminent domain won’t happen for about six months.
9:11: Palmieri notes that the properties’ values are being determined by their assessed value. He want’s to know if that’s the rule of thumb. He wants to know why that’s the “general means of how this is moving forward.” Longren says that assessed value is not the only thing looked at by CSX. They’re looking at the condition and use of each property, and market data (recent sales of similar properties). He says CSX offered equal to or higher than the market data for each property. Palmieri says he understands, but there are factors that do make some of these business “unique.”
9:25: The 12 hour livery rule comes up. Petty wants it finalized for the Sept. 7 meeting. (Sorry, I missed most of this discussion.)
9:28: Lukes brings up the city clerk’s wedding ceremonies that he performs. She doesn’t know how much time is given to performing the weddings — she says this isn’t an evaluation on the clerk’s performance and adds he’s doing an excellent job. She’s asking for the number of weddings and income collected. “If it’s minimal, then that issue stops right there.” She says she’s heard upwards of $40,000-$50,000.
9:31: Eddy says the city clerk is an employee of the city council. He says this should be in executive session if we’re talking about a city employees’ workplace duties and functions. Solicitor Moore explains that executive session is for negotiations with non-union personnel.
9:33: Petty notes that the clerk has been here since 7:30, and wants to make sure his work hours are added to the report. Lukes accepts that as a friendly amendment.
9:35: The mayor’s task force recommendations come up. J.O’Brien says “what we asked [the task force] to do was come up with recommendations” to the city council. He says people in Worcester said the city needed to better support small businesses. He’d like to see small business liaisons who would be picked to talk to companies interested in moving to Worcester. He brings up the owner occupied tax abatements as a way of limiting the impact of lowering the business side of the tax rate on homeowners who occupy their property. He wants a report to make sure the plan doesn’t negatively impact those it’s supposed to help. (Item 12K on the agenda.) He clarifies that the group did not advocate going to a single rate, but rather moving in that direction. He wanted to put “new ideas on the table.”
9:44: “We’re not trying to start a revolution, we’re trying to start an evolution” says Rushton, who co-sponsored the item. “This is a jumping off point, and I think it’s time we start having that discussion.”
9:45: Clancy says he’s not going to comment yet, but wants more info. He says what first caught his attention wasn’t the abatement, but rather the phrase “if you qualify” for it. He understands there is a threshold, and those above it wouldn’t get the abatement, and be forced into a higher tax rate. He’d like to see a fully study done about the houses that would be affected. He commends the committee for coming back with recommendations “in a timely matter.” He stresses that he may or may not disagree with their findings.
9:51: Toomey brings up the small business ombudsman idea. She says years ago she wanted to use the city clerk’s office to do the work and still thinks that’s best. M.O’Brien says he responded to that before, and Toomey wants it looked at again.
9:54: Eddy likes the ombudsman idea, and really likes the business ambassadors idea. He does have some concern. “I absolutely get this is a tough issue,” and adds that if they were creating a tax system right now there’s no way they craft what we have now. “I do applaud the effort and look forward to the dialogue.”
9:57: Smith says it’s a priority to be a more business friendly city. He does have “grave concerns” about how the tax shift would affect middle-class homes. He says any property over $240,000 in assessed value wouldn’t be eligible for the abatement. Smith points out that these aren’t multi-millionaires, and that would be the upper middle class.
10:00: Palmieri says “I don’t think the ends justify the means here.” He says “we need to get people to buy homes,” and taxing middle class homeowners in a “middle class city” isn’t the way to do it. He wonders about a place like Lincoln Village — would that be one tax payer? If so, it’s worth more than $240,000. Would all the rents go up? He wants a motion to see what would happen to mega-unit complexes. “I want to be open minded about a creative way in encouraging business in this city,” but he doesn’t want to overburden the homeowner in the process.
10:04: J.O’Brien says there’s no way to do this without winners and losers. He wants new ideas now to start the conversation rather than waiting until October/November/December. He agrees that we have to look at all the data to make sure there are no “unintended consequences.”
10:06: Haller wants another task force to look at providing decent, safe and affordable housing for homeowners. “I have always supported the lowest residential tax rate,” she says, adding that she doesn’t expect to change that barring something revelatory.