Government was happening last night. The cold dark days of January have been replaced by the cold, slightly less dark days of February and the Council seems to be coming out of its winter slumber. The agenda was packed with things to chew on, so I’ll have to skip around to the tastiest morsels:
1. Open Government: Always a Work In Progress
I was pleased to see a series of motions aimed at opening up our government a bit. The first two came to us courtesy of Councilor Nuon:
C. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update Regarding Putting Construction Plans Online For Residents To Review.
C. Nuon – Req. City Mgr. Provide A List Of City Fields That Are Leased/Permit To Groups/Individuals.
The motions essentially speak for themselves. However, Councilor Nuon explained that he was looking for information on these topics that is more readily accessible to citizens. Councilor Robinson added that there is a “common theme” with respect to such motions and the public’s ability to find information on the city’s website. Although the site is better than it once was, it often falls short in getting information out there. Conveniently, this statement was followed by a third motion that perfectly illustrates Councilor Robinson’s point:
C. Chau/C. Descoteaux – Req. City Mgr. And City Clerk Develop A Searchable Database Of Motions To Assist Councilors In Tracking The History And Topics Of Filed Motions.
[As an aside: I love the motion, but I don’t care for the way they framed it. Who cares about assisting councilors? Contrast the wording with that of Councilor Nuon’s “Construction Plans” Motion, above.
Unstable bloggers The public should be the first beneficiary of a more open and accessible government. 8/10. Didn’t stick the landing.]
It’s somewhat ironic, that if people had a decent means of tracking motions, they’d easily know that this matter came up more than three years ago. Back in October of 2020, Councilor Drinkwater filed, in essence, the same motion:
10/13/2020 by C. Drinkwater – Req. City Mgr. Work With Appropriate Departments On Ways To Improve The Accessibility Of Public Documents And Reports On The City Of Lowell Website, And To Report On The Feasibility Of Creating Online “Dashboard” To Consolidate Information Including City Council Motions And Their Corresponding, Informational Reports And Other Information Deemed To Be Of Interest To Residents
The solution at that time– deemed an “initial” dashboard was to put a hard-to-find link to an Excel spreadsheet (vaguely titled “City Council Documents”) on the City’s “Agenda Center” webpage. It doesn’t even look like you can click on it:
Turns out “initial” means “permanent” as this dashboard is still what we’re working with in 2024. If you want to research a motion response or report, you have to download the spreadsheet, search year-by-year, and hope your search term flags the appropriate response. This can get tricky as the “descriptions” don’t give you a very large target to hit:
Something is, of course, better than nothing. But over the past three years, I was hoping we’d get an interface more akin to what Worcester has:
This is not a huge issue as I wonder if more than a couple of dozen people in the city are searching for old motions and responses with any frequency. However, the fact that this issue has resurfaced suggests that we’re not making much progress on the “common theme” of the way our website works.
2. Transportation Issues
As you are likely aware, one of the key design features of the former Lord Overpass was the installation of a travel lane reserved exclusively for bus traffic deemed “an innovative technology that was a highlight of the project design.” However, things are off to a shaky start as this prime lane of real estate has been underutilized. Enter last night’s motion response explaining why:
Currently, the LRTA is not utilizing the dedicated bus lanes due to delays with the signal timing. At the start of the project, we utilized the dedicated bus lanes for several days. The timing of the lights was not in sync with traffic flow resulting in significant bus route delays of eight or more minutes.
Elizabeth Oltman, our Transportation Engineer was on hand to explain the issue and the steps necessary to fix it. Councilor Gitschier noted that these issues should have been caught at much earlier phases in the project. Councilor Gitschier also cited issues with the plantings used on the project. Specifically, plant species were chosen that the city does not have to means to maintain. There are head-scratching issues and one is left to wonder how the hell things like this happen on a multi-million dollar project. However, it should be noted that the subject planning (or lack thereof) on the Lord Overpass Project pre-dates the arrival of Ms. Oltman as our Traffic Engineer.
In more uplifting news, the council received a response to a Motion by Councilor Jenness seeking information on vehicle vs. pedestrian/cyclist accidents in the last five years. During discussion, Councilor Leahy noted that crashes are at an all-time low under Ms. Oltman:
3. ICC Update
As it comes to the arrival of migrant families at the ICC, it appears as though the city has moved past the bitter letter-writing phase and into the acceptance phase. Councilor Nuon received a response to a motion seeking information on potential support to be given the city due to the newly arrived migrant families.
The response noted:
- On January 3, 2024, we started receiving families at the ICC in Lowell from hotels in Billerica, Fairhaven, Swansea and Waltham. We are expecting families from Sturbridge in the upcoming weeks. Most families speak either French, Spanish, or Portuguese as well as Haitian-Creole.
- CCA (Commonwealth Care Alliance) goes to the hotels the day prior to the move to Lowell to prepare the families and meets with them to explain the process. Once the families arrive at the ICC there is an orientation, and they are greeted by the staff and the intake process is scheduled.
- The Lowell Public Schools will do the registration on site for any school age children. There is a nurse on site to review the medical records and scan the vaccine records to the Health Department for review. The Health Department has appointments available with Lowell General for pediatric vaccines.
- MassHire is also on site at the ICC to help with job employment services. MassHire is also reaching out to community organizations who are looking to fill jobs and is encouraging them to do a community job assessment so that availability of open positions are known. The employment candidates will be signed up for the MassHire “Get a $2 Ryde.” program to use upon their hire.
During discussion it was revealed that there are currently 120 families and 361 individuals at the ICC. Councilor Chau inquired as to what a day in the life of our new neighbors at the ICC looks like and suggested that councilors tour the area to get a better sense of what life looks like for these families. I like where Councilor Chau is going with this. Though we can debate the policy decisions that gave rise to this situation (or debate who is more “worthy” of assistance) we shouldn’t lose sight that there are real people in those hotel rooms.
4. The Rest
More than usual getting tossed into the junk drawer this week as (1) I’m out of time; and (2) a lot of this was referred to subcommittee or public hearing:
- There was motion response on the parking enterprise fund and a proposed ordinance on new rates. We can take a deeper dive at a later date.
- Some public speakers on a motion response exploring the possible creation of an emergency winter shelter similar to what Worcester did with their former RMV. The speakers should revisit their methods of persuasion.
- Informational Reports on Martin Athletic Complex/Cawley Stadium, CPC Recommendations, and Free Cash Certification. Again, all will be coming up again for discussion the coming weeks and months.