A new history book about Lowell by Richard P. Howe Jr and Chaim Rosenberg to be published on March 11, 2013. To order a copy and to learn about local readings and book signings, check out our Legendary Locals of Lowell page.
There were some interesting comments on my Tuesday post on City Councilor Patrick Murphy’s successful motion to have the Rules Subcommittee “discuss Charter Changes to increase civic participation.” It might be helpful to review how the city’s charter has changed through the years.
Lowell was organized as a town in 1826 but the official
was granted on April 11, 1836 (which makes next year the city’s 175th anniversary but that’s another story). Skipping the early years of alderman and mayors elected to one-year terms, the first modern governmental charter was enacted in 1921. It provided for an elected mayor and a council of 15 members with 9 elected by ward and 6 elected at large. The school committee consisted of 9 members elected at large.
The city adopted Plan E in 1944 which consisted of a city manager, 9 city councilors elected at large, and 6 school committee members elected at large – essentially the system we have today EXCEPT the council election used proportional representation, the voting method that requires voters to rate their candidates 1 through 9. A complex formula that tabulates all the #1 votes, then all the #2 votes, and so on, is used to decide the victors. (This is the system that the 2009 referendum sought to enact). A major change occurred in 1957 when the city discontinued proportional voting in favor of “plurality voting” which is the system we have now – one vote counts for one vote with no weighting involved.
In the late 1960s, a charter commission was elected. That group proposed a change to a “strong mayor” form of government but the voters rejected that in the 1971 election by a 2 to 1 margin. I remember that the election of charter commission members was a hotly contested race with many prominent citizens winning election and serving. (Beyond the election and the personalities, I’m fuzzy as to the when, what, where, how and why; so more research is called for on that topic). The defeat of the charter change by such an overwhelming margin seemed to suppress the reform impulse for a couple of decades.
The only subsequent attempts to alter the charter by way of the ballot box were the four non-binding questions in 1993 and the proportional representation referendum from 2009, both of which I discussed in my Tuesday post.
I spent today in meetings at the Worcester Registry of Deeds but was privileged to have lunch at one of that city’s fine dining establishments – George’s Coney Island Hot Dogs. Coney Island is to Worcester as Elliot’s is to Lowell. If you find yourself in Worcester, check this place out. They serve a very tasty hot dog in a place with great atmosphere as the following video will attest:
From the Governor’s Daily Update under “Ready to Finsh the Work We Started”:
In an effort to maintain a top-notch Administration during his second term, Governor Patrick last week asked his Cabinet secretaries and senior Administration officials to reapply for their positions. The Governor understands the demands these jobs can have on family life and wants to ensure that each member of his Administration is fully committed to the work that lies ahead. Over the past few weeks, the Governor has shared his vision for the second term and emphasized that the next four years will be about finishing the work he and Lieutenant Governor Murray have started – creating jobs, closing the achievement gap and making health care as affordable as it is accessible. “I have a lot of confidence in this team,” said Governor Patrick. “I acknowledge these are demanding jobs, and our agenda is ambitious. So I think it’s only fair and natural to ask everyone to think about their commitment and for me to think about mine.”
Read more here in the Globe and here in the Herald.
The Governor Patrick and Lt. Governor Murray will be sworn-in for a second term on January 6, 2011 in a State House ceremony.
Every Tuesday I call Jack Baldwin on WCAP’s midday program to give an update on the latest real estate statistics. Yesterday we received a number of calls from Lowell homeowners who lived next to foreclosed and abandoned properties that had fallen into disrepair, thereby diminishing the value of all the homes in the vicinity. What could be done to rectify this, they asked?
In the summer of 2008, the Lowell City Council adopted a new article in the Lowell Code of Ordinances dealing with vacant and foreclosed properties (Chapter 227-7 to 227-16). The ordinance requires the lender, at the commencement of any foreclosure action, to register with the city, to identify a resident (i.e., within 20 miles) agent responsible for the property, and to maintain the property. Noncompliance results in a substantial fine that continues to grow over time.
The city ordinance seems comprehensive enough; the challenge is in identifying the responsible party which is a consequence of the changing nature of the lending industry. Years ago, home loans were made by local banks and administered by folks who lived in the community and had a substantial interest in preventing problem properties from falling into decay. Over the past decade, the home loan business was transformed from a local/regional operation to one nationwide in scope. Huge national lenders became more interested in the volume rather than the quality of transactions. To those responsible for monitoring these loans and the property securing them, a mortgage no longer represented a specific piece of property; it was just another line on a spreadsheet along with hundreds of thousands of others. While this model resulted in huge profits for the home lending industry, it also disengaged that industry from the communities in which the homes were located. It was that combination of greed and disengagement that gave rise to the housing bubble in the first place and it’s that same greed and disengagement that perpetuates the problems of unmaintained foreclosed properties that plague us today. Lowell’s ordinance is a good one, but the scale of the problem is so large that no ordinance by itself will solve these problems.
If there’s any good news it’s that the rate of foreclosures seems to be slowing slightly. The “order of notice” is the document that signals the start of the foreclosure process. The number of orders of notice recorded for the Middlesex North District in October 2010 was down 23% from the number recorded in October 2009. For the first two weeks in November, the number was down 63%. Hopefully, that trend will continue. That’s of little consolation to homeowners who live next to dilapidated, abandoned houses. For that reason, we’ll continue to work closely with the city’s Inspectional Services Division to identify the parties responsible for these properties so they can be coerced into performing minimum maintenance on them.
Congratulations to Middlesex Community College President Carole Cowan. Yesterday the city of Lowell announced that President Cowan was selected to be the Grand Marshall for this year’s City of Lights parade. At the announcement City Manager Bernie Lynch praised Cowan and the entire college “for being such a strong partner in the city’s growth…”. Lynch went on to say “this year was a perfect opportunity to acknowledge the collaboration, with the college celebrating its 40th year, and Cowan commemorating her 20th as President” (MCC blog).
President Cowan will lead the parade along Central and Merrimack Streets to City Hall on Saturday, November 27 at 4:30PM.