Sunday Notes April 26, 2015

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City Manager Kevin Murphy was dealt his first real set-back since becoming City Manager at this week’s City Council meeting, when he tried to get the Council to vote for a motion to create a Home Rule petition to take the Fire Chief’s position out of Civil Service. He lost on a 6-3 vote and as you can see from the stills captured from the televised meeting Mayor Elliott looked upset and almost in tears that his hand-picked Manager aka ” Big Brother” lost one!

The significance of this? Maybe we are starting to see an end to the honeymoon period this Manager/Administration has been on for the last year, maybe we are seeing some Councilors actually taking a stand in opposition, maybe we are just seeing Councilors bending a little to some pressure from the firefighters and Superior Officers Union in an election year.

Besides this little rebuke from the City Council, things aren’t looking up for Manager Murphy with the city employee’s either.

Right now the Fire Dept rank and file members are upset with the Manager/Administration for not only closing 2 companies per shift after being so vocal about being so Public Safety focused as Manager. They are also unhappy with his (with the Sun’s help) making them look like slacker’s by attacking their sick time use, despite the fact Chief Pitta explaining it is a result of a combination of contract language and an increase in OFF-DUTY injuries that require firefighters to use their OWN sick time opposed to being on work compensation. Firefighters are also not thrilled with the constant increasing in the number of Police Officer’s but not in the number of firefighters the city employs. They are being treated like 2nd class First Responders!

The fire side also isn’t happy with the Manager for publicly making comments like he did at the CNAG meeting stating that ‘Closing 2 fire companies is not as big a deal as some are making it out to be.” (A little shot at me no doubt.)

The Fire Dept. Superior Officer’s aren’t happy with the entire way he has handled the appointment for a new Chief and his attempt at making the deputy’s look bad by running to the SUN and complaining about the process of the Fire Chief test.

You can bet many Councilor’s were contacted and heard the concern of the Fire Dept. which is why after the SUN ran a blog post then article an article stating Murphy would have no issue changing the process he looked s bad when the Council sent it to committee.

As it turned out there was indeed an issue and the process, which may in the end, end up being changed is at least stalled for a little while. The Sun won’t we happy with Councilors Rourke or Samaras who either stated outright or gave the impression the would support the Manager and instead voted to send it to committee.

Later at the same meeting Union 1705 expressed their concern and expressed being upset with the way the administration interpret the contract when it comes to over-time. Specifically when a laborer takes a vacation day then works an extra shift, instead of Overtime, they are being paid straight time. A practice that hasn’t been enforced for several years from what I am being told and was just being in forced after a hard winter and when the Manager is trying to save every dollar to try and minimize the budget shortfall with some revenue coming in less than forecasted and the high snow and ice over-run.. The Union President also reminded the Councilor’s that their contract is up this June.

Add to that the UTL not being happy with the pace nor contract offered and you can surmise that the moral among many City Unions / employee’s is not terrific!

The Manager still has 3 strong (rubber-stamp) Council supporters including the Mayor and best of all for Murphy he still has the SUN. They are still giving him the same kid-glove treatment that former State Rep turned City Manager John Cox received (it pays to Golf or bet on horses with the editor..ask the House delegation) and that may carry over for a while (at least through November Elections) but can and will it hold on if taxes keep rising and no big economic development (NOT connected with UMass Lowell) deals occurs?

I’m not saying the SUNISTHISCLOSETOMURPHY but I won’t be surprised when the SUN publishes a story in the next few months blaming former City Manager Lynch for this year’s tax increase because he cut cost so much in Energy, Health Care and Trash during his tenure that he left this administration unable to find any cost savings.

In my view, these are signs that the honeymoon may be over for Murphy and while he just celebrated his one year anniversary, as I’ve been saying, year 2 will not be an easy one.

Pandering to the Crowd!
I heard some people remark that Councilor Mercier was just playing to the crowd along with Councilor Martin when they commented on the 1705 situation. Some thought they were both close to violating the charter, especially when Councilor Mercier stated that “before they are employee’s of the city, they are my constituents”.

In fairness to both Councilor’s under Plan E it does state:(Bold Mine)

Except for the purpose of inquiry, the city council and its members shall deal with that portion of the service of the city as aforesaid solely through the city manager, and neither the city council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager either publicly or privately.

Councilor Mercier made a statement that sounded a lot like a motion, however since it was NOT in the form of a actual motion, nor seconded and voted on, what she ended up doing was just inquiring and so was Councilor Martin.

If Councilor Mercier had made a motion to – Direct the Auditor to read the Union contract and write an explanation as to why she interpreted it the way she did and then asked the Manager to instead ignore the written contract and follow past practice, then maybe you could say she was in violation.

Timing is Everything

I find it somewhat ironic that contract language (in 1705 ans concerning staffing in the fire dept) came up on the City Council floor this week. I have been having some off-line conversations with people about the contract language in the Asst. Superintendents contracts and why it is there and is it being followed.

The items I am referring to concern the clause that “requires” the Asst. Supt. to discuss their salary’s 60 days before their anniversary date with the School Committee and whether the Committee and public are supposed to get a copy of the evaluations of these Asst. at a public School Committee meeting and what if any impute the Committee has in establishing goals for these employees?

Abrams

Durkin goal

The language in item C from what I am told, is old “boilerplate” clauses that were put in BEFORE raises were automatically given in original contracts and were then based on what unions received. Since raises are now bargained and agreed upon before a contract is signed, there is really no need to meet with the committee to review. The evaluation clause (D) wording is even more confusing and I haven’t been able to get a clear answer to what that exactly means.

Quote of the week:

Superintendents of big school systems are like high-profile coaches : They are celebrated when hired, scorned when they depart, and there is almost always someone ready to rehire them and wipe the slate clean.

Public Access use in Elections/ Campaigns

It is always interesting to see how Public access is used in an Election. Lowell Telecommunications has rules in its Policy and Procedure guide that applies to candidates for All Elected office

(Pg 19 of attached PDF) LTC_Rules&Procedures

Candidates for any elected office are prohibited from appearing as host, co-host, or consistent guest on any LTC programming beginning with a candidate’s filing of papers or official announcement, whichever comes first.

(If a program is broadcast mainly for Lowell, does the same candidate restrictions (if it is ever really enforced) apply to other candidates of shows broadcast simultaneously in another town?)

but the LTC is very Welcoming and helpful to candidates:

J. Election/Campaign Programming
1. LTC provides to all Lowell residents, including those residents running for local, state or national public office or those supporting a ballot issue, equal opportunities for access to training, equipment resources and cable channel programming time, on a first-come, first-served, non-discriminatory basis.

2. Within ten (10) business days after the filing deadline for candidates running for the Lowell City Council or the Lowell School Committee, LTC will mail to each candidate a copy of LTC’s Operational Rules and Procedures and inform them of a special orientation meeting for candidates.

They also have a list of prohibited activity:

A. Clearances and Prohibitions
In order to cablecast any programming, one must be an LTC member in good standing,
complete the Project Application and Producer Agreement/Indemnification Form, and
submit all appropriate releases and clearances. Community Producers on the access
channels are fully responsible for the content of their program material.
Presentation of the following is prohibited:
1. Any commercial programming or advertising;
2. Any material which constitutes libel or slander;
3. Any obscene material or pornography;
Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the
Constitution and cannot be cablecast at any time. The Supreme Court has
established that, to be obscene, material must meet a three-pronged test:
• An average person, applying contemporary community standards,
must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.
• The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way,
sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic,
political, or scientific value.
4. Any unauthorized use of copyrighted material or publicity rights, & invasion of
privacy;
5. Any material in violation of FCC regulations; and
6. Any material which violates local, state or federal laws.

While Dracut and DATV Public Access encourages political shows with no restrictions on how often a candidate can be on or co-host:

datv_rules_and_regs

Political Programming
DATV makes available its production and public access cablecasting facilities as an access channel
forum and encourages political discussion of issues and candidates, subject to producers agreeing to
DATV‟s lawful guidelines, policies, terms and conditions.
1. Political programming:
a) Debate programs are non-partisan and are debates in which all candidates in a particular election
are invited or have a reasonable opportunity to participate and all referendum viewpoints may be
expressed.
b) Advocacy programs may be partisan, and produced by member producers and/or sponsors, and not
by DATV. All candidates may or may not be invited and all referendum viewpoints may or may not be
expressed on such an advocacy program. A program will be considered an Advocacy program if it
includes any discussion advocating support for or opposition to candidates in the content of the
program which content shall be the sole responsibility of the producers and/or sponsors (not DATV)
involved with such programming.

with only this restriction: . Cablecast of all political programming will cease 48 hours prior to Election Day and will not resume until the polls have officially closed. It is the responsibility of the presenter/producer to alert staff of any political program content relevant to the upcoming election

DATV Policy and Procedure also clearly states what is prohibited:

Prohibitions and Clearances

Users of DATV and program producers and sponsors (and not DATV) are fully responsible for the
content of their program material and must execute a producer/sponsor agreement assuming full
responsibility for the content of their programming; and must agree to indemnify DATV for, and hold
DATV harmless from, any and all claims arising from the content of, or errors and/or omissions in
connection with, their program material and the production and/or sponsorship thereof.

The following material is forbidden, subject to lawful procedures including notice and an opportunity to be heard if and to the extent required, for presentation on the Public, Educational, and Governmental Access Channels:
1. Any obscene and / or other programming prohibited by applicable law(s).
2. Any lottery information.
3. Any invasion of privacy.
4. Any violation of trademark, copyright, or publicity rights prohibited by applicable law(s).
5. Any illegal or otherwise prohibited activity.
6. Material which constitutes libel and or slander.

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2 thoughts on “Sunday Notes April 26, 2015

  1. C R Krieger

    Gerry, about the teachers’ contract, what is the “cost” of what the are asking for, and what will be the “offset” to pay for it.  Teachers need a fair compensation, but we should understand how it will work.
    Thanks
    Regards  —  Cliff

    Reply

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