Inside Stories

Council Meeting Recap: December 5, 2023

1. Present, but Not There, and Not Welcome

We are now a couple of weeks removed from news that Councilor Robinson was charged with two counts of assault and battery on a household or family member in connection with allegedly assaulting a female victim. Since that time, there has been some speculation as to how Councilor Robinson and the Council as a whole would move forward.  Six of his ten colleagues have publicly stated that Councilor Robinson should “step aside” until the criminal matter is resolved.

For his part, Councilor Robinson has maintained that he had no intention to resigning or stepping aside.

Fair enough, I suppose, but that’s not to say that the show will go on. Over the past week, there were some rumblings that an effort was afoot by the public to demonstrate disapproval for of his choice. Thus, the stage was set for last night’s meeting. Again, Councilor Robinson elected not to step foot in council chambers, choosing instead to “appear” via Zoom. The chatter about some form of public demonstration came to fruition as a group of citizens, clad in black, stood to be heard on the following motion:

C. Jenness/C. Nuon/C. Leahy/C. Drinkwater – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Provide Report On Best Practices For Adding Censure Of A Member To The City Council Rules.

Former City Council candidate Deb Belanger was chosen to speak on behalf of the group. My streaming feed kept cutting out during this portion of the meeting, as such what I heard was choppy at best. What I did hear was an argument that councilors should be held to a standard of conduct and that this standard should be higher than that of an average citizen. I’m not sure how I feel about censure as it kinda-sorta has no teeth. Also, this motion clearly came about because of the “Robinson Situation,” but how could the council determine whether a violation of a standard of conduct occurred in this instance? In the alternate, I’m open to the possibility that this motion brought forth because of statements made on behalf of Councilor Robinson that attempted to drag the Mayor and/or his wife:

It is unfortunate to see some are politicizing such a serious matter. It is also disheartening to see our mayor’s wife works for this office and we hope local political motives in a quest for higher office aren’t playing in the background.

In the end, the motion passed 10-0 (Councilor Yem absent and Councilor Robinson voting in favor).

After the public had its say, councilors gave a peek as to how they intend to deal with this matter. Councilor Robinson had five motions on the agenda. However, when the first Motion was called “Requesting the City Manager to Provide an Update on Implementation of the 311 System,” Councilor Drinkwater moved to “table the motion.” Tabling the motion postpones it until some later time. Once a motion is made to “table,” no discussion can occur and the item will be removed from the agenda if the vote is successful. Seven of the ten councilors present voted in favor of Councilor Drinkwater’s motion to table (Councilors Gitschier, Mercier and Robinson voting against). This procedure played out in the essentially the same manner for the remainder of Councilor Robinson’s motions with different councilors taking a “turn” in moving to table.

The message from the majority was clear: we can’t make you step aside – but we can ignore you. Councilor Gitschier alleged that this portion of the meeting was “staged” and violated the Open Meeting Law as it sure looked pretty obvious that there was an element of coordination by these councilors prior to the start of the meeting. Councilor Mercier stated that such an action was bad for democracy. Indeed, just prior to the start of the meeting, I was visited by two Centralville residents who may or may not have birthed and raised me. These residents wondered who would represent the interests of Centralville if Councilor Robinson were taken out of the equation. In my opinion, the five motions at issue last night were not all that substantive – but what if they were? What if there were time-sensitive matters of importance to Centralville? Would those citizens not be disenfranchised to some extent? Good questions with no answers.

It also remains to be seen where we go from here. More of the same? Will Councilor Robinson continue to file motions that go nowhere? Will he show up in-person again? The Zoom was a mixed bag as he missed two votes later in the meeting. So far, the argument that Councilor Robinson can continue to do the job while charges are pending seems a bit weak.

Stay tuned.

2. The Rest

There was actually quite a bit happening last night, but I’m running out of time…

There was a nice motion response itemizing $4,550,000 in ARPA grant money awarded to small businesses and restaurants, local non-profits, the arts, and cultural organizations. It’s nice to see public money used on small bets that help the “little man” rather than gifts to large corporations. But why $30K to AG Hardware? Is that the same AG Hardware that’s no longer there?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved AG – but what am I missing here?

Also worth your time is an informational report on the minimum residential factor (“MRF”). This is the percentage of the tax levy to be paid by the residential properties in the city. Once calculated by the Board of Assessors, the vote is presented to the City Council for approval after a public hearing. Approval of the MRF ensures the maximum tax relief to Lowell’s residents allowable under the law. The tax rate goes up, and very likely so has the value of your property – thus, you get smoked on both ends. Enter the MRF to ease the sting (but not really).

Just two more meetings till Christmas and three until this term is over!

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