Inside Stories

Council Meeting Recap: January 31, 2023

I swear to you that in years past these meetings used to feature yelling matches with the city manager and accusations of assault between councilors. It seems like those days are long gone. It’s mostly dry government business now. However, it’s not all peace and love. Last night, there was a big development in the passive-aggressive UMass water bottle wars. Call me crazy, but I feel like Councilor Gitschier’s UMass Lowell water bottle was standing juuust a little bit taller and prouder than Councilor Jenness’ UMass Amherst water bottle following the River Hawks’ 1-0 Hockey East victory over the Minutemen on Friday night. As a UMass Amherst alum, it was a tough pill to swallow.

1. Return of the Hunger & Homelessness Commission

The council received an update on the revival of the Hunger and Homelessness Commission. Former members of the Commission met on December 14, 2022 and again on January 12, 2023 to explore restarting the group. Candidates have applied for the commission and been approved by the City Manager. The first meeting of the renewed commission will take place on February 1st and will be held thereafter on the first Wednesday of every month. As per the motion response, the HHC will “direct a comprehensive local response to the needs of the homeless and hungry. This Commission will act as a city-wide clearing house of information to assist local agencies, groups and individuals in securing appropriate services.” This Commission will also: • Promote services and other activities that are preventative rather than reactive; • Promote improved accessibility to services; • Encourage innovative responses to the needs of the hungry and homeless; • Generate activities that improve opportunities for all individuals impacted by homelessness and hunger.

[it looks like there should be more on this list but the full .pdf was not uploaded to the packet]

A listing of the members was also provided to the council. Maura Fitzpatrick, the City’s Director of Homelessness, noted that they intentionally left membership spots open in the hopes that members of the city’s unhoused population could take part and provide their perspective.

2. Recycling Contamination

The city contracts with Waste Management (WM) for removal of trash, recycling and yard waste. WM then conducts audits of the materials sent to their facility. As per the terms of the contract, when the City exceeds its set limit for contamination (ie: when “regular” trash ends up in the recycling bins), WM charges us a penalty. Last night, a motion response set forth some information on this process and the penalties we have been paying:

Are these penalties flowing in both directions? When the city steps out of line, we get fined – to the tune of over $200K a year. However, when Waste Management steps out of line, to my untrained eye, it looks like they get a pass.

In September of last year, there was a motion seeking a report on the number of fines the city issued to Wase Management. The response indicated that there were 4,104 reported missed pick-ups in 2021 and 2,169 in the first 8 months of 2022. Keep in mind that these are only the reported missed pickups – reporting a missed pickup requires citizens to be savvy enough to log on to the website and create an account. In the alternate, you have call the office and hope that someone answers the phone and logs the report. In other words, I would bet the real # is much higher.

Nevertheless, as part of that report, we learned that the City had not issued any fines to Waste Management for over a year:


I’m unclear as to why that is? Were each and every one of these 6,000+ reportedly missed pickups permissible under the contract? It sure seems like our current arrangement provides a nice little side-hustle for WM. If they miss a pick-up, trash starts to back-up and residents are more likely to throw their overflowing trash into the recycling bin. WM then screams “contamination” and exercises their right to fine us. If we are not exercising our right to fine, we create a scenario where WM has a greater financial incentive to provide subpar service. I don’t get it.

One positive to come out of the discussion was the return (from Haverhill – I think?) of Gunther Wellenstein, now a Deputy Director at DPW. Mr. Wellenstein used to appear on WCAP for a segment on waste management issues that was always pretty informative. Councilor Yem inquired as to whether he would be willing to do so again. I think this is a great idea. I just hope that he will be able to get a word in edgewise.

3. Last on the List but First in our Hearts

The Red Rose Restaurant was recognized for being named a James Beard Award finalist for Outstanding Restaurant. How cool is this?

An Informational Report on Lead Service Line Inventory and Replacement Program. I don’t drink tap water because the fluoride is a government plot to keep us docile and obedient. Probably. Anyway, I recognize effort when I see it and there’s a nifty presentation attached to the report that someone put some TLC into.

A motion of note from Councilor Rourke – Req. City Mgr. Have The Appropriate Department Investigate The Creation Of An Elevator, Hood And Vent Installation Program To Support Renovation Of Downtown Buildings. Revisiting a solid idea right here. This came up in March of 2022 as part of the Downtown Rapid Recovery Plan – but it’s worth acting on.

An update on the Mass School Building Authority’s (MSBA) October 2022 recommendation that funding for its “Accelerated Repair Program” be paused.

Yet another, high-effort motion response on the repair or replacement of ADA compliant ramps throughout the city. I missed most of this discussion, but it seems like it exposed an issue the city may be having in getting contracts timely approved so that work can be completed during the appropriate season and at a predictable cost.

Finally, an motion from the School Committee caught my eye – Dominik Lay: Ask the Superintendent to communicate with City Manager in regards to the possibility of acquiring the property at Jean D’Arc School. 

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