Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
7:12: Celebrating Dylan, a local Eagle Scout who’s collecting backpacks for the NE Dream Center.
7:13: The council unanimously passes a resolution to voice support for Japan, and takes a moment of silence.
7:14: Members of the public are here to talk about local elections and the election commission. Mary Anne Dube, a board member, kicks it off.
She explains the action that they took and their resolutions. She says it started with a 12 page document from poll watchers citing violations at two precincts. It was followed up by the commission asking for clarifications on assisting voters. The commission received a response from Sec. of State Galvin’s office, which addressed Lukes’ questions. Their ruling was people can assist but not influence voting. The election commission also asked City Solicitor David Moore questions. Moore and Galvin recommended that training require poll workers to ask those with someone assisting them if they want that person there. “It simply meant adding one sentence to one section of the training booklet we provide to poll workers.”
No other public comment, but Lukes says “my intent was to get the documents that were under discussion.” Apparently, these weren’t attached to the minutes to meetings. She says that not attaching these minutes — for any board — is a violation of the open meeting law. “Clearly, all our boards and commissions need to file those documents.” She calls these the “most significant” complaints she’s heard in her ten year time on the council. She criticizes Mayor O’Brien for dismissing the complaints at an earlier Election Commission meeting, and says any voting rights/civil rights violations can lead to litigation, and that the 1 vote difference in the 6th district shows that every vote needs to be treated carefully.
“If there’s no action taken, these are just words.” She says there’s no guarantee that any changes will be made before the next election. “I think all of us have an interest in it as voters and potential candidates…there is nothing more important to our democracy than to have clear, fair, transparent elections.”
7:28: Petty wants a clarification: he thought the only posting requirement was to post agendas, not minutes. People can request minutes.
Solicitor David Moore says the open meeting law asks that agendas be posted, but those agendas include minutes from the last meeting, as well as any documents used in that last meeting.
Petty commends the Election Commission for “doing a good job” and said the last election went “pretty well.” He says right now state law says it’s ok for someone to go into the polls with a voter, as long as the voter says that’s ok “whether you like it or not.”
Rushford says “the headlines we have seen about voter fraud, those are essentially headlines.” He stresses that only one line has to be added to the training books. Petty reiterates that “there was no fraud in the city of Worcester at all.”
Eddy says he agrees with Lukes that tonight’s discussion isn’t about the content of the complaints, but that “elections do matter, transparency does matter.” He says we should be “celebrating this process” because “the commission takes its job very responsibly…this is an outcome every councilor should applaud…the process works.”
Mayor O’Brien reiterates Eddy’s comments, and calls the independent Election Commission fair.
7:40: A South High student is here from the Save our Poolz coalition. She says the plans they were told about are different than the plan to now demolish the old pools. She wants to know if this is the only choice.
Eddy calls it a “very fair question” and says there two separate issues: one is pool construction and one is pool demolition. “What the council has voted was to create five pools across the city and five spray parks over the next five to six years.” He says we’re seeing “remarkable progress.” He says it does leave a hole in district 1, especially for Great Brook Valley.
“I get that everyone didn’t love the plan, I get it. We passed it because we believed it was what we could economically do to meet the needs of the community.” He says four of the pools in three years will be open.
He says the plan to demolish old pools is for public safety, and has nothing to do with the pool construction plan. “I hope that is somewhat clarifying.”
7:45: J.O’Brien says this issue preceded him on the council, and says it’s “difficult to see spending money to taking these things out” but he does say they’re dangerous and a blight on neighborhoods. “They are a magnet for problems and send signals in those communities that we don’t care about them.”
Rushton reiterates that this is a safety issue. Smith says he “appreciates” other councilors bringing up the need for a pool for D1, but he’s not ok with waiting untold number of years for one.
7:54: Jo Hart wants more transparency about the WRTA’s planned hub at Union Station. She says they need to have a public meeting about this. She says the public that uses public transportation in Worcester is less than 1%. She’s concerned that the new building will block the view of Main St. She also doesn’t like that the WRTA will be separated from PTM, the group that actually runs the buses. “There’s nothing good about this plan.”
J.O’Brien says there will be “a series of well-publicized hearings on this move.” Petty agrees.
8:01: Eddy talks about the quarterly economic report for the city. He says there are 25 trailers now parked on the old Shaw’s on Mill St. He remembers Rushton talked about creating parkland next to Coes Pond, and that would be an important part of that development. He wants the council to work with the owner and get that land contributing to the city. “This one has potential. It’s an absolute picturesque setting.”
8:05: Rushton says the new sign ordinance won’t go up for a vote tonight. It’s not going to a vote tonight. Lukes says “there’s so much jargon in here” and wants a power point presentation for when this comes up next.
8:08: Toomey says a constituent had concerns about murals approved throughout the city and how the sign ordinance would affect that program. They want clarification.
8:10: Petty says “I didn’t realize we had 29 dams either.” (Did anyone?) Petty would like DPW Commish Bob Moylan to explain how the repairs will be paid for.
Even Moylan says “I don’t think many people recognized…that we have that responsibility,” regarding the huge number of dams. Moylan says water fees and rates will be budgeted over six years to pay for the dams. Moylan says 3 dams are candidates for removal.
Lukes talks about the ten reservoirs we own. All ten are in other towns. She wants to know what kind of “working relationship” we have with them. Moylan says they’re good relationships with them. Lukes wants to know if we pay PILOT payments to them. Moylan says we do. The city pays $90,000 for 9,000 acres.
8:18: Toomey asks people to pick up litter left over from trash day and the melting of the snow. “I think we all need to take a little bit of ownership.”
8:19: Smith wants to know about replanting trees. Moylan says the good news is the infestation is going down, but there are still pockets of resistance and some new areas. He addresses those who question the types of trees they’re planting. He says before the beetle came they already pointed out there were too many trees of one variety, they shouldn’t planting under power lines, and the trees that were planted did a number on sidewalks. Now they get to put what they’ve learned into place and diversify their tree species, he says.
8:26: Smith wonders if the trees still need 3 years of treatment in a row, and if the new round of chemical treatments will include trees that need another dose this year. Moylan says he’ll get back to him on that.
8:28: Palmieri says “I’m pleased to see the reforestation efforts” and that the council has finally gotten DCR/USDA to save trees via inoculation, but they’re trees that are outside of Worcester.
Moylan says money is not an issue with inoculation. It’s fed. funded. Palmieri wants USDA staffers — Clint McFarland in particular — to explain “this new attitude he has” in “abandoning our city with respect to inoculation.”
“What about those trees (in Dodge Park)? Should those trees not be inoculated? We have Green Hill Park, which is just a stones throw from Dodge Park, should we just let that go?”
“If money’s not the issue, why are we not having the benefit of having more trees inoculated?…We shouldn’t accept it. We didn’t want to accept it two years ago and we lost 30,000 tress because of it.” Palmieri wants to ask him those questions directly so he can’t “dance” around them.
J.O’Brien says Clint may not be the guy, but Palmieri says get anyone they can. “We’re a city of trees…and we’re not being respected the way we should. They’re taking care of other towns and not us…We need to raise it to Defcon 5 on this right now.”
8:40: Rushton talks about grant administration fees, which has been a point of contention between the city and school sides of government. The school side alleges that the city is taking too much off the top of grants in “administrative fees.” Rushton says bad budget times are coming up again, and the lines of communication need to stay open and both sides need to work together.
Lukes says “for many years we asked for 1%…the issue only became an emotional one when we increased to 3%.” She wants to know if the school dept. had notice that they raised the fees. Manger O’Brien says they did. She assumes the school dept. will get its own legal opinion to conflict with the city’s, which says it’s fine for the city to take 3%.
8:44: More information comes up regarding that idea about a small business tax exemption, which would be for businesses with less than 10 employees and less than $1 mil in assessed property. Smith wants more information about eligibility and impact. “This is certainly a good starting point, but I think we still need to dig deeper and get some information.”
Smith does wonder if businesses have to own the property to receive the break. Assessor Ford says the key is “common ownership.” For example, the name on the property may not be the issue. If it’s a building where three tenants are on each floor of a property, and the property owner is just a landlord, those businesses wouldn’t qualify.
Lukes asks what the next hoops are to determine what owners fit into this category. Ford says the only way to do this is to have an application process.
8:54: Rushton says they need to do this carefully. They don’t want this to be a mistake like the 1984 council’s vote to split the tax rate. Palmieri calls this an “intriguing idea” for small businesses. “This could potentially have legs.”
Eddy agrees. But he and O’Brien clarify that the small business exemption can be done without petitioning the state legislature, unlike the idea to tax 4+ unit residences as commercial properties.
8:58: Germain says the council has been trying to inch back to a single tax rate some day down the road, but all these tax breaks would ruin that. “It just seems to be muddying the waters…what are we trying to accomplish here?…This council needs to make more of a decision on where we want to go.”
J.O’Brien says only two tax break ideas are being looked at.
9:04: M.O’Brien celebrates the Sharks enacting the option at the DCU Center. Apparently Rushton was one of the “Power Players” — a group of business people who encouraged folks to show their support for the team.
9:05: Palmieri congratulates the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee for their parade, and wishes everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday.