City council live blog: 1/4/11 — the New Year edition

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

City council reconvenes this week with an action packed meeting. This one’s got talk of a new housing study, EPA lawsuits, confidentiality clauses and much more.

Agenda. Cover It Live. See you at 7:00.

7:08: Lorraine Laurie is here. She’s here to talk about the loss of the Millbury St. Bank of America. “We are very upset because this was sudden.” She says there were big plans to do big things in the proposed canal area. She says the bank they’re diverting customers to are hard to reach by bus. “This is not the sign of an economically healthy neighborhood.” She wants to see a new bank found to move into the building. “The building is set up as a bank,” she says. “We know that the Canal District has been working hard to revitalize itself…but (Green Island) needs a little bit of economic help.” She wants the area between Kelley Square and Brosnihan Square declared an “economic revitalization area.”

7:15: Virginia Ryan speaks about Section 18 and Section 18A. “Section 18A allows a municipality to grandfather in all retirees, and therefore no penalties.” She says the increases in Medicare fees are akin to “penalties.” “Had the Worcester City Council had waited one year to adopt Section 18 it could have adopted Section 18A and avoided large penalties, and indeed prevented these new penalties to the Worcester retirees so affected.” She wants the council to “assume these penalties for retirees who clearly cannot avoid them.”

7:22: Clancy talks about the EPA involving itself in a water lawsuit in Boston, which DPW Commissioner Moylan railed against in a report to the council. “The regulators are clearly out of control because there’s no cost associated with the regulation…I’m happy that the Commissioner raised this issue with us.” He points out that Boston has been hailed by the EPA recently, and now they’re suing them.

Rushton, Smith and Lukes speak to this as well, but I was out of the room.

7:37: Dottie Hargrove addresses the council about Meadow Lane, asking to stop being “harrassed” and “bullied” over the property that needs shoveling on Pleasant St. “Now it’s becoming an issue of money for us.” She says she has a $225 lien on her house.

Rushton wants a title search to finally determine who owns the property. Lukes says she wants a legal opinion on snow removal responsibilities for city-owned and state-owned properties. Haller clarifies Hargrove/the neighbor’s position. “It’s quite compelling, and we need to resolve it,” she says.

Toomey says “no matter who owns the property it still needs to be shoveled.” She wonders if maybe the sheriff’s office can send trial court people out there, or other “creative ways” to shovel it.

Smith says this was an issue the last two winters. “We all want our sidewalks clear, but let’s make sure the appropriate people are doing it,” adding it that the wrong group shouldn’t be saddled with shoveling if they’re not supposed to.

Lukes wants the City to hold of on giving liens to people abutting the sidewalk.

7:48: Rushton commends the judge and Solicitor Moore for winning $3,700 back in a private lawyer’s breach of the city’s confidentiality clause, after making comments about a lawsuit after it was settled between the plaintiff and the City.

7:50: The council unanimously votes to “Recommend Approval of a Request by the Worcester School Committee to Submit a FY11 Statement of Interest for Nelson Place School to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.” Smith says Nelson Place School has been in disrepair for decades, and repairs so far have just been “band aids.” He wants to add Doherty High School to the list. Smith wants to know the timeline if Nelson Place gets picked. Tracy Novick, on our Cover It Live blog, says “the answer is several years, if it gets accepted by the state.”

7:54: Travel money talk. Haller starts out by thanking the administration for their report on this and the importance of professional development. Haller calls this “much ado about nothing.” She says people have the responsibility to see how money is spent, but she’s concerned that people are raising the idea that funding is being “misspent.” “I just want to go on the record and say I see nothing untoward here…I see nothing of concern here, and I do it based on review of the data.” She says professional improvements made in the city over the past five years prove that these professional development trips are important. She hopes the City Manager’s report shows the money is being spent wisely.

Toomey says her order is “not about the past, but about moving forward.” It’s not about an individual or a department. She says the school department provides travel reports, and she’d like to see one on the City side. “No one that I know is saying professional development should not occur…when fiscally prudent to do so.” She says that while there were layoffs under Caradonio she recommended that there shouldn’t be out of state travel. She suggests the City use the Fed’s guide for government travel, which stipulates $141/day on hotel, including taxes. If the travel wants to stay somewhere more expensive, then they can pay the difference. She’d also like to see digital scans of all invoices coming into the City to be redeemed.

Lukes says “One of our powers is to spend money.” She says it’s better to say “let’s cut out all city travel” but instead we’re hearing solutions that are more about “micromanaging.” She also says that this conversation is directed to one person (hinting to travel by the WPD), since everyone is taking time to say it’s not. “That sounds very close to micromanaging, and I find that very disturbing.” She says there wasn’t any improper action in spending travel money otherwise the independent city auditor would’ve caught it.

Rushton says we’re catching up with technology. He brings up the idea of having PDFs of check expenditures on the online check registry as well. “Identify potential areas for cost savings…in the upcoming budget process…I think it’s a fair question: are we getting the best bang for our buck? The goal isn’t to get a good deal, it’s to get the best deal.” He says the issue isn’t about “impropriety.”

He wants to make sure it’s a “rolling” register, so when a check gets updated to the list the oldest one doesn’t “roll off.”

Germain says he’s amazed by this topic. “No one’s ever said ‘inappropriate'”, just that some brand names caught peoples’ eyes. “Everybody knows the chief of police and I have a history, but that’s ok…he does a great job for the city.” He says he’s heard conspiracies about how councilors want to take down the chief or the city manager. He says that’s absolutely not true (and points out that he chaired the subcommittee that extended the manager’s contract). He says an issue, though is that “if you question a policy then all of a sudden you’re out to get them. I don’t look at the job this way. We’re elected officials that manage the City of Worcester.”

“Some of it is right, we might have gotten a better deal at the Ritz,” but the “perception” “sets a bad precedent.”

“I’ve expressed some opinions…we’ll fight on a policy, but no one is out to get anybody.”

Clancy says no one’s going to lose their jobs about this. Clancy says the Commissioner should be allowed to stay over night in Boston for two nights. “What are we talking about here? You got an issue with the spending? Fine…We’ve had years that we’ve banned out of state travel.” He says “if it’s not in the budget, you don’t do it…we shouldn’t just pick people and say ‘look at these people’ and see where they traveled…Is it fair to single out people and comment on it and make it a news story?”

Clancy disagrees with J.O’Brien’s idea that each item of the budget is looked at because that doesn’t happen in the council, that’s the school committees job. The council can only pass the budget as it’s written, not how it’s spent on the school side. “I just want to clarify those particular examples.” “When you have some print media saying it’s unethical when it’s not, that raises it to another tier.”

Toomey says that her idea was just to update an 11 year old policy. She wasn’t looking to single people out.

Tina Hood addresses the council: “I have to say my mind is just…I don’t even know where to begin. The article that showed up in the newspaper about the travel, there’s an appearance of impropriety…as taxpayers my friends and I do not like it.” She says her private company has cut out travel in favor of internet meetings. She calls out Haller for talking about how little of the budget was spent on travel. “Just because you have a budget of $2 mil doesn’t mean you have to spend it.” “It’s not your money to spend freely, it’s the taxpayers money. I think you’ve lost sight of that…I’m sorry, staying at the Ritz, it’s outrageous.” She says she commutes to Boston, so people going there have no reason to stay over night. “Councilor Toomey is right, it’s an old policy.” She says that there should be a set amount of money to spend.”

Palmieri says “I know that this has been an issue over the past week or two, but for all the talk and all the discussions that I’ve read and listened to the one sensible approach here is Clancy has expressed this is an expenditure issue during the budget cycle…why wasn’t it raised then?” He questions the timing of this — “that’s what seems to be caught in the crosshairs, that’s it’s not really about budget, expenditure, policy.” He wants this to be discussed at budget time, rather than serving “red meat to the media.”

M.O’Brien reiterates that a number of watchdog groups call the city “transparent” and an open city government. “We’ll continue that path.” He says they’ll look into expanding the check register – and points out that Worcester is the first to have something like that for a city of its size. He says even cutting the $40,000 travel budget for next year, there’s still millions that will need to be cut because of budget issues.

Lukes wants the City Manager to consider eliminating the $40,000 travel budget. It’s referred to the finance committee. Rushton thanks the Manager for his pledge to continue making the City more transparent. “This is a good day for the City of Worcester. Not a bad day. This will help us make more informed decisions.”

8:34: Toomey wants to see perennial beds in Elm Park. “The hem is coming down on the dame’s skirt, so to speak.” She wants a program with colleges and businesses to help spruce up the park. She also wants evening activities on the Common to start at/after 5:30 so that people have time to get off work and attend, or have time to go home and pick up their kids to come back.

8:39: The towing contracts come up. Haller says she supports the order that calls for the “a formal plan be put in place to improve both customer service and to provide a formal complaint process for citizens and that this be made available to the public.”

8:41: Toomey quickly mentions her idea of “enclosing advertisements/coupons in tax and water/sewer bills similar to the Registry of Motor Vehicles registration renewal forms.”

The Toomey hour of the meeting continues. She would like to see “a listing of all municipal and school department positions that became vacant since October 1, 2010 categorizing each by title and as to whether or not it is currently filled, is planned to be filled, or planned to be left vacant; the salary of the individual who vacated the position and the salary of the individual who has filled any vacancy. Further, request that the reason for filling the vacated position be provided.”

Haller says she wants the school side removed from this (in particular a reference to the Superintendent). J.O’Brien says there’s a lot of tiptoeing around jurisdiction going on here, and there’s going to have to be some discussion over how the city side and school side will work together.

8:46: Clancy considers “increasing the elderly tax exemption for FY12 by $100.00 which would effectively increase the allowable tax exemption amount to $200.00.” He says the double increase hasn’t been enacted for years. “I’d like to initially start with the City administration give us a report” to see the cost of this. Clancy says assessments are dropping in some areas, but taxes are not dropping. Those on fixed incomes are “most seriously hurt.”

Palmieri says this is an “issue worthy of discussion.” J.O’Brien wants a summary of exemptions and cost in the classification packet.

8:52: Eddy joins us to say “as it reads” to this: “an amendment to the ordinances of the city that prohibits the siting of dumpsters or large stationary trash receptacles in front and side yards of residential properties in Rl-7, RS-7 and RS-10 zones.”

Eddy would like to see a sidewalk on Flagg St. from Pleasant to Richmond, Aylesbury and Brookshire. He also wants to see street and sightline improvements.

8:55: Toomey wants to “to more aggressively market the city in conjunction with the newly reduced tax rate by various creative means, including but not limited to working with the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce and business community and the Colleges of Worcester Consortium to create a “Loaned Executive” program as well as a college intern program to benefit the Economic Development Office.” She says the City has no marketing budget, and in this economy it’s time to “creatively market this community.” She says CSX is a good starting point to attract new businesses. “We can’t sit back and wait for them to come to us.”

9:02: Lukes wants results from the recent auction of the old courthouse.

9:04: Adjourned!

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “City council live blog: 1/4/11 — the New Year edition

  1. Colin Novick

    The vilification of the EPA as some horrific agency drunk on power run amok is a bit much.
    What we have is a situation where we do not bear the consequences of our actions or inaction.
    If we treat the water to a high standard and pay a higher rate it comes out of the pipe in Millbury and runs south. If we treat it poorly and pay less it still comes out of the pipe in Millbury and we never have to bear the consequences or see the effects.
    Were Worcester the recipient of waters flowing from a massive waste water treatment plant operating in Holden that ran through Worcester and EPA demanded that Holden meet a higher standard the Council would be standing on their chairs and applauding the fact that the EPA was finally getting serious about dealing with the consequences of waste water.
    If the Blackstone will ever be fishable or swimable or a place for tourists to enjoy Worcester County then Worcester will need to work on what comes out of the pipe in Millbury. Until Worcester cares about the consequences of our waste water this unfortunate and sadly selfish posturing will continue.

  2. -Q

    7:37pm: Dottie Hargrove addresses city council on Meadow Lane residents being screwed by the city manager and dpw comm. who demands these elderly residents to shovel a state sidewalk that they do not even abut and D5 Councilor Eddy is again MIA.
    Again D5 councilor Eddy refuses to step up and represent the very people that voted him into office but D4 city councilor defends the residents in D5……..time to start looking for a viable candidate that will ACTUALLY represent our district because its quite evident Eddy cannot do the job.
    to Colin Novack: Worcester can no longer afford the absurd unfunded mandates foisted on the city’s taxpayers due to the very questionable science advocated for by the epa that has been factually refuted time and time again.
    I guess its easy to pick on a city like Worcester – what about all of the other communities up and down the Blackstone River?
    Do they not assume some sort of responsibility also?
    The answer is of course they do but they also cannot afford more unfunded questionable science based federal mandates so it’s a “go after the big guy” (ie:Worcester) mentallity.
    No longer is Worcester going to be the fall guy for the pie in the sky silly science advocated by the epa…………those days are over!

  3. Colin Novick

    @Q Out of curiosity, which specific EPA water quality standard(s) do you object to in the proposed Worcester permit?

  4. -Q

    Just to appease your curiosity:
    Specifically the storm water run-off that is based on whatever the epa determines the requirements are on any given day and at any given time for what they believe is compliance that has the potential to cost taxpayers in Worcester $1.2BILLION.
    You may believe in the epa voo-doo science but taxpayers in our city can no longer afford the epa continually moving the goal posts to reach their voo-doo compliance mantra…………
    It is not called “selfish posturing” – it is called “self preservation”

  5. Colin Novick

    @Q Worcester’s storm water runoff generally speaking is fairly clean. Think of all the stencils of fish near the storm sewer grates along the street. Where we run into trouble with our stormwater is from roughly Belmont Street through Crompton Park. There we have a seriously antiquated system referred to as a CSO, which is a combined sewer overflow. What that means is that instead of having one pipe for storm water and one for sewage, all of our water in that area goes into the same pipe and heads down to the treatment plant. Most of the time this is not cost effective as we are paying to treat fairly clean storm water runoff. Where we get in trouble is in big rainstorms where the system gets overwhelmed and can’t handle the sewage and the stormwater at the same time. For a little while we can store the excess at the building down on Quinsigamond Ave. When our storage capacity is exceeded we end up “minimally treating” and “releasing” the overflow of stormwater and sewerage directly into the Blackstone River. You don’t notice and probably never will. The folks downstream do notice. One of the public health measures to minimal treatment is to insert chlorine into the “release”, but chlorine doesn’t limit itself to killing bacteria and viruses in the “release” and kills anything it comes in contact with as it moves down the river. Also, while the “release” is strained to remove trash, in these circumstances it is impossible to avoid some stuff getting out into the river. The whole system is in essence a brilliantly jury-rigged ancient plumbing (using even the Blackstone Canal as an overflow pipe!), and while we have been very clever to make this work and minimize the number of releases and the impacts, you have to admit that when you stand back and look at this it doesn’t really make sense for a major metropolitan population center.
    Be advised to look around for different estimates of the costs associated with the permit. There is substantial disagreement over the price tag and the one quoted by the City is the highest one if memory serves.

  6. -Q

    Colin – we can agree to disagree and I thank you for the civil give and take.
    On another note Kate Toomy is asking the questions that need to be asked. If not for “The Kate Toomey hour” – the Lying Mayor O’Brien would prefer to keep this important finacial discussion from taking place.
    The Lying Mayor O’Brien can refer to it as “tiptoeing” all he wants but it clearly shows his continued disenagement of the issues affecting taxpayers in our city today.
    So rather than “tiptoeing” what is truly needed in this city is some foot stomping to protect the taxpayers from the Lying Mayor O’Brien

  7. Colin Novick

    @Q Feel free to disagree civilly but the EPA isn’t working voo-doo science on your main point of contention. Either there is or there isn’t stuff going into the river, and we are talking about effects which are observable even by us common yokles sitting on the bank downstream. Talk to the average Joe’s and Jane’s who do regular river monitoring for the Blackstone Headwaters Coalition.

  8. -Q

    of course its voo-doo science to only blame Worcester solely for all the problems of the Blackstone which is irresponsible and not factually correct………….I am sure the average joes and janes from the BHC don’t have their own ulterior motives to ramp up the paronoia
    at a cost to the Worcesters taxpayers……….do they?
    btw how far downstream from Worcester do you live?
    If the Blackstone River is so polluted ( which it is not) then your answer is to seek redress with the Federal Government not the taxpayers from Worcester – let the epa pay for it…………Worcester has done all it can with the limited resources we have left to address the continually moving environmental goal lines the epa likes to perpetuate………….
    Again you are spouting voo-doo epa science………..not buying it
    but thanks anyways

  9. Forget those two. Try this…

    Toomey: “to more aggressively market the city in conjunction with newly reduced tax rate by various creative means…”

    Reduced? Ha! Okay, forget that for now. Does anyone have any idea how much new (taxable) investment in the City is needed bring the tax rates into parity without politically shifting them? I did several scenario analyses in Excel – I have some numbers. They’re really, really big. So freaking big in fact, that it would be impossible to attain them even using a generation as the time fame. Or even 2 generations.

    It’d be interesting for someone in city government, a business group (the infamous Chamber of Commerce perhaps), or our local Thunk Tank, aka WRRB, to come up with a concept with numbers. Hey maybe those 107 magnates from The Citizens for Business have a plan? They do. It’s called whining as loud as possible. Is there a plan? Was there ever a plan? No and no. The fact is you’ll never see one.

    I said it once, I’ll say it again. The goal of equalizing the tax rates in Wusta is nothing more than a transfer of wealth – a scam in fact. The 3000 odd business have no intention of investing any tax reductions in their businesses. So claiming it’ll attract investment is a falsehood. Read Who Creates Jobs Small vs. Large vs. Young by Haltiwanger, Jarmin, Miranda.

    Toomey: “working with the Worcester Area Chamber of Commerce and business community and the Colleges of Worcester Consortium to create a “Loaned Executive” program as well as a college intern program to benefit the Economic Development Office.”

    Nice try Councilor Kate! That idea has been bandied about since time immemorial. Those groups will never ever work together. Why should they? They might for appearances sake set up a committee to probe the idea but that’ll drift into oblivion. Hey maybe Councilor Kate lead the charge on that? So whatyasay Councilor Kate? It’s your idea.

    Toomey: She says the City has no marketing budget, and in this economy it’s time to “creatively market this community.” Ever wonder why? Even our municipal leaders don’t believe there’s a future for Worcester. Why waste the money they’re thinking. Hey maybe use high school interns? And then file the project under DOA. At least it won’t cost anything.

    So Councilor Kate. You opened your mouth on this. Instead of lip servicing the voters, show us your stuff. Let’s see you walk the walk. You can walk right?

  10. Colin Novick

    @Q Of course it isn’t only the City of Worcester! The Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District is: Auburn, Cherry Valley Sewer District (Leicester), Holden, Millbury, Rutland, West Boylston, and Worcester. All of those communities are involved in any plant upgrades needed by the EPA. As for our internal City stormwater system, that admittedly is our problem.

    Recall, however, that Worcester was not singled out for persecution, that this is a blanket standard, and that the present hoopla in the press is over Boston being sued for non-compliance and not Worcester. All communities that meet certain thresholds are being required to meet these standards.

    The Joe’s and Jane’s of the Blackstone Headwaters Coalition have a very clear and well stated goal. They want the river to be fishable and swimable. Is it unreasonable to want the river to be able to support either of these activities? Besides they report the test results from the river and sharing direct observations seems like a fair and reasonable response and a far cry short of “paranoia.”

  11. -Q

    Colin again thank you for the debate and we are at an impasse and we’ll have to agree to disagree…………best wishes

  12. Apparently the T&G and City Hall are putting a major spin on the issue. Moylan setting himself up a white knight who’s gonna save us from the lunatic left and the big bad federal government.

    In typical T&G fashion Nick K. is trumping up the story to portray Moylan as a would-be local hero.

    The fact is the T&G only knows what they’re told by City Hall. The folks at the State House snicker when someone calls and then hangs up on em. And Washington won’t take their calls. The fact is Nick K. wouldn’t know a real story if it jumped up and bit him in the ass. He’s City Hall’s lapdog.

    Oh and forget those two yapping fools… voodoo science and fishing in the Blackstone. Yeah right. Neither one has a background in engineering, chemistry, or political science. Or for that matter ever read Popular Mechanics. Its just a couple yokels talking gobbledygook and thinking it’s a debate.

    Think. Do you believe that Wusta, if forced, is going to pick up the tab? Heck no. It’s a state and federal issue. The wheeling & dealing is taking place in the backrooms of Boston and Washington. Moylan isn’t even a player, in any way, shape or form. He’s so far away from the center of power it’s laughable.

    As you read this, state and federal officials are lining up TARP funds, or whatever program Washington has in effect today. Once the court case is nearing its end, a deal will be pulled out of McGovern’s hat, or maybe Brown’s – touting jobs and clean water for everyone! I could even imagine Mayor Joe taking credit on this. He’s been taking credit for everything else around town.

    The point? Again the local yokels are being worked up over a non-issue. This is an age old game being played by a self-serving local bureaucratic machine and a willing T&G propaganda machine.

    Um… what about Institute Park – our local cesspool?

  13. Colin Novick

    Will,
    You might be surprised and happy to hear that the City has a number of folks working on technical options for improving Salisbury Pond. While Salisbury Pond has its issues, and most urban bodies of water do have some, there is a surprising amount of local and migratory wildlife that regularly frequents there.
    I will concede that while it is possible that there might be a lifeline thrown to some communities for water improvement projects to meet the EPA regs. it isn’t at all possible to fund all of the projects nationally that way. The state set up a financing authority to address this, and I am willing to bet that is as far as the state wants to go on helping out. If our local delegation can bring some assistance back I don’t think anyone would complain. I admire your faith in our elected representatives to see to it that this gets funded though.
    Will, while I may have studied PolSci, I personally do not think that you need to have a formal degree to have a meaningful discussion on the relative merits of this permit or the policies that led to it.

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