Lowell City Council Meeting: February 9, 2016

Update on Auditor selection process: Councilors have each submitted their top three choices from the resumes/applications, so the next step is to schedule interviews with the three top candidates. The three top candidates are Brian Perry, John Linnehan, and Sheila Rouix. Next Tuesday, the council will pick a future dates for interviews.

Report on the Hamilton Canal Parking garage timeline (which calls for the garage to be completed in late 2018). The start of the design process is dependent on the sale of lots to Watermark and Genesis since the proceeds of that sale will pay the cost of design. Manager Murphy states that Lowell’s State House delegation announced today that the Commonwealth has selected a general contractor for the construction of the Judicial Center (which is to be completed in spring 2019). Consequently, it is even more important that the garage construction stay on schedule. Councilor Elliott asks about the Lord Overpass. Manager Murphy says it is still in the design phase which will continue until 2017. Construction will take place in 2018.

Net School Spending: Manager Murphy reports that Lowell Public Schools will be funded beyond the minimum requirements of net school spending by more than $5mil. That’s partly due to an increased cash contribution by the city to the schools and also due to increased services for the schools from the city. Manager points out that the schools are in buildings owned by the city. The city pays for heat, electricity, maintenance, and also handles payroll, bill-paying, and other administrative tasks. The city gets credit for all of this towards net school spending. Manager Murphy emphasizes increased emphasis on repairs and maintenance of the schools by the city.

Vote to declare surplus the property at 25 Olney St. Passes.

Ordinance to amend city Veteran’s Commission ordinance. Referred to a public hearing.

Subcommittee Report from Zoning: Met today to discuss revising definition of a dwelling in zoning code (motivated by a structure that resembles a house trailer qualifies as a house). Subcommittee will continue working to clarify distinction between trailers and prefabricated homes. Inspectional Services Department will provide subcommittee with additional information.

Public Hearing – Amend ordinance to ban replica firearms. Police Supt Taylor speaks in favor of this, explaining that police officers are unable to quickly distinguish between real and replica firearms (which increases chances of someone getting killed). Says it will promote safety of citizens and of officers. Mentions the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland last year. Wants to avoid something like that in Lowell. Jeff Peirson speaks in opposition to this. Says he’s really concerned about this ordinance. He says he does not approve of toy guns. He does own several handguns. He says that is his decision and he shouldn’t tell people what they can and can’t do with their kids. He asks whether criminals in the city will comply with this ordinance. Says this would give police “complete discretion” to confiscate any firearm in this category with no due process. Says definitions in ordinance are vague. Says he has spent 25 years writing manuals for software. Says this is the most vaguely worded document he’s ever read. Complains of definition of “replica.” Says in Massachusetts it is legal to own a “replica firearm” that actually fires. He’s referring to colonial-era muskets – he’s dressed as a revolutionary war soldier of which he is in a re-enactor group. Says if his comrades were in a parade in Lowell the police could seize their muskets. He then goes in to the history of the U.S. Constitution and asks if this taking of personal property is the way we honor them. He reminds everyone of the “negative” publicity the city received for “violations” of the 2nd Amendment in the name of “public safety.” He says throughout history, “public safety” has often been used for nefarious reasons. Dan Gannon speaks in opposition to this. Says for a city council that has repeatedly said it doesn’t know anything about firearms, it’s striking that this is the second firearms-related matter before the council recently. He then lectures the councilors on their ignorance of state and federal firearms law. Says this is another case of “we can do whatever we want.” Says the President of the U.S. can’t do whatever he wants but this council thinks it can. He says people in Lowell are worried about being robbed on the street. They’re worried about cop-killers from foreign countries walking around our streets. Quotes “an Attleboro Democrat” who told this group you get the government you deserve and it sounds like Lowell needs a new city council. Randy Bretton opposes this. Says he doesn’t understand what the council is trying to do. He says the council has already trampled on the 2nd amendment rights; now the council is trampling on individual property rights. He says there has been no incidents of kids with replica guns being killed. He says criminals will do whatever they want. Says criminals put shotguns inside squirt guns. Also mentions that woman are now buying pink guns which might be mistaken for toy guns. Said this is just window-dressing and urges them to do something useful. Says we should teach kids that “all life matters” and that robbing someone of $10 is not the way to make money. Teach the kids respect of the law. And to politely stop if a police officer tells you too. Asks the council if it really wants more bad national publicity for the city because of gun rules. Says his group is investigation a recall election in the city. When city councilors “turn a blind eye” to state and federal law. He threatens the council with “all the good contacts I’ve made in the national press.” Armand Hebert says he doesn’t own a gun. Says he “thinks we’re getting out of hand.” Says police should be able to distinguish replica guns when carried by kids and if it’s a criminal carrying a replica gun then he deserves to be shot. Says all this talk about guns is dragging the city down. Says the city should be enforcing other ordinances to help people who don’t have jobs instead of spending time on this. Says in New Hampshire, it’s easy to get a gun. Doesn’t see why we can’t be like that. Phil ____ says if this ordinance goes through, we will decimate revolutionary war and civil war reenactors. It will shut down the Lowell High ROTC program. It will shut down theaters where replica firearms are used. They wouldn’t be able to film the sequel to the Fighter because the police officer actors wouldn’t be able to use replica guns. How about those who play paintball? Or people who collect antique toy guns? Cliff Krieger says this is feel good legislation that won’t be effective. That leads to more laws and people having less respect for the law.

Councilor Elliott thanks everyone who spoke. Says he filed the motion and he supports the proposed ordinance. Says we have a problem with illegal guns in this city. He doesn’t want police officers to be put into life-and-death decisions because of true replica guns. This is not about toys. Many cities across the country are adopting that. This is a public safety issue whether we want to hear it or not. Says this doesn’t deal with sanctioned events like parades. Asks city solicitor to clarify that. City Solicitor explains that Boston and many other places are similar to this. This only applies to “public spaces” so it wouldn’t impede performances. Councilor Elliott denies that the council is trying to impede gun owner rights. Solicitor explains that any gun seized can be retrieved after a 24-hour waiting period. Solicitor also explains that a real firearm for which you’d have to be licensed would not be covered by this (by that, I think she means something that actually fires is not considered a “replica” by this ordinance; it would be an actual working weapon, even if it was made in 2016 to resemble a musket from 1775). Councilor Mercier says “the other side makes valid points.” Says she saw on the internet a pink-colored rifle that was a real gun. She thinks the ordinance is “a bit vague.” Asks if we would be confiscating guns from re-enactors in a parade. Solicitor says owner of the pink gun would have to be properly licensed. Same thing with re-enactor if the gun fires. If it does not fire, there are ways to make it easily identifiable, such as putting an orange plug in the muzzle. Councilor Mercier says she has not sympathy for people who commit crimes with toy guns. Councilor Elliott moves to approve. Seconded by Councilor Belanger. Councilor Leary asks about the reenactor, says if he has a license to carry the gun, this ordinance doesn’t apply? Solicitor says that is correct. Clarifies that if you want to have a pink “actual gun” this ordinance doesn’t effect that (correct, because you would need a gun license for that). Councilor Elliott asks Police Chief how many gun permits issued in the city? 6000. How many gun-related incidents occurred in the city last year? Will have to get that data. Elliott’s point is that council should be doing everything it can to help police officers. Councilor Leahy says he’s not sure about this. Says “it’s a bit vague” and won’t vote for it tonight. City Manager responds to “disparaging remarks from Attleboro Rep Paul Heroux” who made the disparaging remarks about the Lowell City Council. He says this council is far superior to Paul Heroux.

Ordinance passes, 7 voted yes (Milinazzo, Rourke, Samaras, Belanger, Elliott, Kennedy, and Leary); 2 voted no (Leahy and Mercier)

Report of Economic Development Subcommittee – Presentation from John Power of Farley White Interests. SC (subcommittee) thanked him for the Christmas lights on the Wannalancit smokestack. Power said 20 years ago when he was the leasing agent for Cross Point, he learned that Lowell was a special place. He says over the past five years, it has gotten easier for him to “sell” Lowell. He cited the Lowell Plan which is being copied by other cities around the country. His company owns more than 1 million square feet including Wannalancit, Cross River Center, and other buildings. He said UMass Lowell is a great resources. He said too often we view the city in a negative light but Power said visitors see the city in a much better light. He praised the city for its form of government and its transportation infrastructure. He said we should do a better job of sharing that story outside the city.

Motion by Councilors Belanger and Samaras asking for a report on status of state-owned Mack Building on Shattuck Street.

Motion by Councilor Belanger for manager to work with LRTA to implement “multi-modal transportation” like Zip Cars or Bike Rentals which would give visitors mobility options when traveling to Lowell by train.

Motion by Councilors Leary and Leahy that Manager contact telecommunications companies to brief the council on their plans for Lowell in 2016.

Meeting adjourns at 8:11 pm.

3 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: February 9, 2016

  1. Brian says:

    Good motion by c Belanger to implement multi-modal transportation options. It’s the only way to beat congestion.

    Is it possible to reduce the number of spaces in the HCD garage? It doesn’t make sense to attract more drivers to downtown Lowell.

    If accessibility to DTL can be shifted from car to everything else everything else we want can happen.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Regarding ordinance to ban replica firearms, and its vague language:

    Many families enjoy going to Lowell Spinner games, where authentic looking Minutemen fire replicas of 18th century Flint Lock muskets. There are no projectiles, just smoke, fire and noise in celebration of Lowell’s history and heritage.

    Historically, the Minutemen who perform at the Spinner games march in formation across the Aiken street bridge and then into the stadium before games. The fans coming to the games LOVE this, especially the kids.

    To continue with this tradition, will each Minuteman now need to seek a “permit”? Exactly what type of permit will be required? Beyond the permit, will Minutemen have to paint their (expensive) Muskets a bright color?

    Is Councilor Elliott seriously afraid that a police officer in the city of Lowell is going to mistake one of the fully dressed minutemen as a potential threat to his life?

    Why was there no effort at all to go back and address valid concerns about vague wording? Haven’t law abiding citizens (and baseball fans!) already sacrificed enough in the name of public safety?

  3. DickH says:

    I don’t think the replica gun ordinance is as ambiguous as those who oppose it make it out to be. The city solicitor was pretty clear last night that if a gun is able to be fired – as in a projectile can be expelled from its barrel by some chemical reaction – it is not a replica but an actual firearm. Someone carrying it must be licensed under existing law and this replica ordinance would not apply. That the firearm was made in 2016 to resemble a musket from 1776 does not make it a replica under this ordinance. That the person firing the gun chooses not to load it with a projectile but only with powder and some wadding does not make it a replica under this ordinance – it is still an operable firearm. The solicitor was also clear that if the artifact is not capable of firing a projectile and was therefore a “replica” within the meaning of this ordinance, then inserting an orange muzzle plug in the end of the barrel would bring it into compliance. There would be no need to paint the entire thing a bright color.

    On a related matter, one thing that has struck me about the speakers who opposed this last night and those who opposed the gun licensing requirements a few weeks ago (mostly the same people), is how angry they seem to be. It’s good to be passionate about your cause but when your cause is gaining the right to freely carry a gun amongst the rest of us, displays of anger don’t help make your case. To the contrary, the demonstrated demeanor of the gun-rights advocates just strengthens the position of the police superintendent.

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