NAACP At-Large City Council Forum – October 18

If you’re reading this, it’s because you didn’t attend tonight’s candidate forum.

Don’t worry, there are still six (!!!) more you can attend!

1:

The NAACP will hold another forum next Wednesday, October 25th, at 6:00 PM at the Worcester Youth Center.  Tonight’s forum was great; there were three young people asking questions and keeping time.  We need more of that!  Come on down and support it!

2 / 3/ 4:

The Research Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, Telegram & Gazette and Mechanics Hall are presenting the following forums at Mechanics Hall at 7:00 PM.  Not only will you get to hear candidates’ views on the issues, you will also be able to check out Tim McGourthy’s wonderful new beard!

Thursday, October 19th—District Council Candidates
Monday, October 23rd—Mayoral Candidates
Monday, October 30th—At-Large Council Candidates
5:
Worcester State University’s Latino Education Institute and the Department of Urban Studies will have a School Committee Forum (Community and Schools Forum) on Wednesday, October 25th, from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM at WSU’s Fuller Theatre (2nd Floor of the Administration Building, 486 Chandler Street).  Yes, this conflicts with the NAACP City Council Forum; I will attend the NAACP forum and Tracy will cover this one!
6:
The Worcester Educational Collaborative will be holding a School Committee Forum at the Worcester Historical Museum on Monday, October 30 from 5:30 PM – 8 PM.  I will try to hit this before going to the Research Bureau At-Large Forum.
…and, with no further ado, here are my notes from tonight’s NAACP (et al.) At-Large City Council Forum…

 

Candidates: Rosen, Bergman, King, Petty, Straight, Toomey (no Lukes)

40 people in attendance

Bill Coleman in attendance.

Fred Taylor, NAACP, welcomes the attendees.

Sponsors: Greater Worcester Our Revolution, League of Women Voters, Carpenters Union Local 107, Main South CDC, RE/MAX Vision, Southeast Asian Coalition, New England Pride TV, SURJ, Worcester Common Ground, Worcester Community Labor Coalition, Worcester State University, YWCA

Taylor thanks Pat Yancey, Chris Crowley, Edward Robinson, Sam Martin of Youth Center

Format:

2 mins to respond to questions

3 min closing statement

 

Q1 from LWV – how are we doing with inclusion of diverse groups in government and leadership roles?  How can we improve?

Rosen – City Councilor for beautiful district 5, where the Youth Center is located.  Used to be at-large councilor, and only one who has served as both.  He grew up in Worcester, when he went to Chandler Junior High, he took civics education.  We need civics education in middle and high school for all students.  Many young people don’t know or care that there is an election coming up.  Important for service to community at a young age.  Difficult to get people interested at an older age, need to whet appetite at a young age.  Be positive, have a positive message.  The people who are appointed and elected officials must serve as role models for youth.

Bergman – complicated question, depends on how you define diversity.  Racial or ethnic – long way to go.  There are 4 women on the Council, 2 people from minority religion, 2 of color.  Boards and commissions are becoming more diverse.  How many people are running and not being elected?  Easy to say no a lot of diversity on the Council, but if folks are not being elected, could be due to info we don’t have.  [that’s a paraphrase]  Need diverse/immigrant communities to be involved in government.  We need to know more about why people from diverse backgrounds are not being elected.

King: first generation American, family came here from Bermuda.  Current City Council the most diverse one the city has ever had, women, he’s the first black male elected since 1936, first black male at-large City Councilor.  Bill Coleman here tonight, his face resonated with him when he’d see Coleman in the paper when King was in high school.  His daughter is becoming a social worker, he has been social worker for number of years.  Boards and commissions should be more diverse.  Mayor has civics academy, he has participated in it.  Voter registration drives at schools for our seniors.  These are important, to remind youth that it’s their civic duty to participate in community.

Petty: We’ve come a long way since the community meetings two years ago.  In the last year, we’ve seen highest-ranked Puerto Rican and African American in the WPD.  There is diversity in the City Manager’s office.  Advisory boards, taken conscious decision to select people who represent everyone in the city.  Graduating police class was a good mix of people.  We’ve come a long way and have a ways to go.

Straight: First time running for anything and one of the reasons he got involved is that people should be focusing on diversity.  Mr Gaffney needed to be stood up to, felt it could be his contribution.  City Councilors can set a tone that is inviting and lets people know that diversity is one of the city’s major strengths.  Hiring practices, chief diversity officer, increasing minorities on the police force.  Encouraging participation on school and collegiate level.

Toomey: has been fortunate to be a city councilor for 6 terms, before that one the school committee for 3 terms.  Understanding of the diverse school population helped when she joined the city council.  How do you reach folks where they are?  Government has worked hard on this for the past few years.  We have to reach out to people in person.  Those who have come from other countries may not be trusting of government.  Using technology trying to get a lot of people to overcome challenges.  Diversity office has helped with training and job applications.  We need to advocate for IR folks.

Q2 to Moe Bergman, from Main South CDC: do you think that the city has moved too far in terms of downtown development (federal funding).  60% of residents qualify for affordable housing.  (more to the question, didn’t catch it)

Bergman: who will lose out with downtown development?  Everyone who needs a place to live should have a place to live.  We should encourage people to buy properties, including outside downtown.  When you see evictions, it traumatized esp. children.  Albany has a program to give vouchers for folks who are buying houses, which causes more stable neighborhoods.  Not everyone can afford or do it.  Used to be the American dream to own a home, should still be.  Better neighborhoods, happier residents…

King: proud that he has filed motion on the floor requesting that manager have master plan that includes neighborhoods, esp Main South.  Need to be comprehensive in what we do.  Everyone deserves place at the table downtown.  We should be able to keep existing local businesses downtown in the midst of the development.  Times are hard, currently minimum wage is $11; supports increasing to $15 by 2021.  WRT renting an apartment, need $22/hr to rent an apartment.  Need to continue these conversations on the Council floor.

Petty: downtown projects have made a difference, they are mixed housing projects.  Not just luxury apartments.  His commitment to funding neighborhoods is important.  Main South CDC did a great job transforming the neighborhood.  Bellevue Street – when you see the houses, encourages the neighbors.  (paraphrase)  affordable housing could mean anything these days.  Important that we have people who feel welcome in these neighborhoods.  Federal funding should be focused on neighborhoods in the future.

Straight: spread development out into the neighborhoods, esp Main South and neighborhoods surrounding downtown.  Short-term tax incentives for the neighborhoods.  To build on vacant lots, renovate vacant buildings.  Increase % of affordable housing to 20% in the next 10 years.  (Currently 14-16%), supports $15 minimum wage.

Toomey: balance – pendulum may feel like it’s swung towards the downtown, some of the success there due to what is happening in the neighborhoods.  We need to be creative, workforce housing = affordable housing.  Lots of different projects/programs that can help people.  Not all 3 deckers are being rented out.  Be creative to have people rent to own the properties, similar program Cleveland Housing Network that allows renters to purchase property at discount after renting 15 years.

Rosen: great cities have great downtowns.  He used to get on the bus, had to stand up because the buses were so packed, to go downtown before the mall.  It was always everyone’s downtown.  Attention not at the expense of the neighborhoods, do have to work on our downtown.  Very little retail, two longterm businesses recently closed.  Rejects dichotomy, must support all neighborhoods.  Downtown is a neighborhood too.  Mentions that it needs a supermarket.  So much happening in district 5, airport with flights to NY and Baltimore coming soon, communications center, dog parks, Doherty High, South High.  Neighborhoods are strong, (going waaaay over his limit)

Q3, to King, from Worcester Common Ground: how should the city prioritize funding, construction, and support of affordable housing initiatives to accommodate growing demand for these resources?

King: community development is economic development.  Affordable housing, remember that we have a delegation on state level and federal partners that we need to engage with.  This is what has helped Worcester move forward.  Continue to engage with them on behalf of the city.  Each of us as councilors is one vote.  He knows how to bring forward and establish relationships and try to reach a common goal.  Listening, learning, and then leading – will always be a priority, to put children and families first.

Petty: Block grant funding, much is devoted to housing.  There are public hearings, federal and state $ available.  A lot of $ at Union Hill to make neighborhood safer, community policing, infrastructure and police helped turn neighborhood around.  Not just about housing, about the other investments.

Straight: increase of affordable housing to 20% mark.  Short-term tax incentives to affordable housing would spur development, mentions Richmond VA model.  This can have private developers do a lot of work without community block grant funding.

Toomey: look at data, talk to people about needs.  Look at transportation.  Should we be reinvigorating neighborhoods that don’t have transportation?  Build homes for people who can work in the jobs of the future.  For community to build/thrive/grow.  Just building low income housing doesn’t work for her, need to have people in a neighborhood working together.

Rosen: Don’t think any of us have a monopoly of knowledge about affordable housing.  If elected to at-large position, wants to sit with Worcester Common Ground and Main South CDC to get an education.  Those are the people who should advocate and educate city officials about this topic.  Willing to learn.  Six seats on City Council at-large, down to seven candidates.  That’s a big problem.  School Committee has seven candidates for six seats.  We have one more candidate than seat.  Is that because we’re doing a great job, or because people aren’t going to put themselves through it due to blogs?  Thinks there should be term limits put into charter so we can encourage more people to run for office.

Bergman: detour on answer – some of the responsibility is on the state.  No carrot and no stick for the 10% threshold, all the communities around us have 2-3% affordable housing, unfair for gateway cities like Worcester to be the only ones to be providing affordable housing, urban centers take on more than their share.  Gentrification should not force people out of downtowns.  Carriage houses in older neighborhoods could be rented out, a lot of foreclosures.  But goes back to his point that the state should reward and punish those communities above/below the 10% affordable housing threshold.

Q4, from Southeast Asian Coalition: do you support funding to grassroots organizations that have been cost-effective, successful in helping communities?  (Longer question…couldn’t get it all)

Petty: Yes.  Important that neighborhood groups that are cost-effective, some of the arms of the community (name-checks Ron Charette), just feeding people.  All orgs throughout the city introduce newcomers to the city.

Straight: Yes, supports facilitating collaboration between the two organizations.

Toomey: Absolutely, concurs with colleagues and challenger.  If there are certain agencies with expertise, share knowledge.  Boston’s Irish Immigration Center, Worcester’s Centro helps folks from different backgrounds.  Different cultural orgs help folks not of their culture.  Duplication of services sometimes gets in the way of providing things.

Rosen: Yes.  Perfect use of block grant monies.  Board takes a look at the funding and reviews applications and tries to recommend to City Council how to dole out the money.  Encourage agencies to apply, etc.  Problem is that the funding from federal gov’t has gone way down, fear with Trump administration is that it will disappear.  Incumbent upon us to talk to senators and congressman, administration, to release funds.  Without those funds, we can have tensions between organizations.

Bergman: layup question, who wouldn’t support organizations that support the communities they know best?  Moral support from councilors, attending church events, it’s the only time they get treated well.  As we try to get diverse communities to feel like they belong, give them financial AND moral support.

King: question that speaks to family matters.  If there is instability in healthcare, education, housing, employment, impacts kids.  Speaks in regards diversity in committee, including CDBG.  Starts with the public pushing elected officials and holding them accountable.

Q5, from Worcester State University: what kind of initiatives would you promote to expand rights of LGBT community?

Straight: something fundamental to country is that everybody is created equal, deserves human rights.  City Council sets a tone, everyone should have voice at table.  Maddening when you see a public figure talking down to groups of people, or jokes made by president, disheartening to see a group singled out for discrimination.

Toomey: the word “fundamental” came to her mind.  Fundamental right to be seen as a human being.  Important that we understand that we live in a hateful community right now.  People are very cruel to each other.  Things people say to one another are horrific.  Saw post from someone she knows who was accosted by a security guard.  First thing – say that it is not ok to treat someone with hate.  Ensure that we stand up for our principles in public.  Worcester is one of the best places for LGBT people to live.  But we need to be more accepting.

Rosen: goes back to our youth.  Make it known to the youth (a little tougher with adults) message has to be that equality and rights do not depend on anyone’s sexual orientation.  Around country there are clubs at schools, give students a chance to get together, very important.  Message is equality and rights for all.

Bergman: federal, state, and local levels have laws in place to protect LGBT, question is enforcement of laws, done well at city hall.  Children are much better at dealing with diverse communities, folks his age and older didn’t grow up with exposure, need better effort on middle-aged people and up.  Senior Center fertile ground for educating older folks.

King: pleased that colleagues are all on the same page.  Proud to stand with Mayor Petty on conversion therapy ban [FINALLY – someone mentioned it!!!].  It’s abusive.  This is something we’ve actually done.  As allies, need to remember that we are all members of a heteronormative culture, privileged culture, we don’t worry that we will be treated differently because of our sexual orientation.  We need to keep that in mind.  Number of churches that have rallied around these communities.  Proud to march in Pride Parade, public stance will resonate.

Petty: have come a long way in LGBTQ (I could go on).  We’ve risen in the index, conversion therapy ban passed.  We had a Q festival, 5 nights of film, asked them why they came.  Worcester has a welcoming reputation, don’t go anywhere that doesn’t have 100% on the index.  This drives economic development as well.  Transgender issues in WPS, meet these kids, it’s an eye-opener when young people going through emotional turmoil.  Community support can make a big difference in their lives.

(Dante Comparetto recognized for attending)

Q6, from Worcester Youth Center: how would you make sure youth have a voice in this community?

Toomey: one of the things we need to do is show up when you ask us to.  Has three children who attended magnet school program, learned that we need to engage and be here.  Loves to meet with kids, esp at sporting events, about how to make Worcester better.  She is active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter.  Happy to meet you for breakfast on Saturday morning.  Her office hours have been geared towards adults, but she can have them here, for the youth.

Rosen: from teaching days, so many youth think adults, teachers, elected officials, don’t listen.  Certainly time to listen and let youth know we are ready to listen.  We may not be back here for another two years.  He thought that there was going to be a lot of youth here tonight, but not a lot. They are not engaged in civics/gov’t/politics.  Go to schools, invite/welcome/encourage/cajole/twist arms. In two years, hopes to see a lot more youth in this audience.  Turns question back to the audience, responsibility as city, what can we all do to fill seats with youth?

Bergman: how would you make sure youth want to have a voice?  Electeds should be models of respect, civics education.  Veterans Day parade, on a day off, WWII vets, there are so few people who show up.  Heartbreaking.  Need to do better job in correcting it.  Young people deserve to see veterans and vice versa.

King: over 20 years serving youth in the city.  We always need to listen, validate youth, and then we can lead from them.  Explain to youth tangibles.  How do we get new parks, how do new schools get build, how do youth programs happen.  Show them tangibly what’s going on.  Council, School Committee, should be doing this.  Candidates during campaigns should be inclusive of youth.  He is a father of 3 daughters, 21, 12, youngest turn 1 on Nov 2.  Will do anything he can because he has lifelong commitment to this population.

Petty: kids today are the brightest kids ever.  Hired 300 youth this past summer, youth leadership program sponsored by United Way and Chamber of Commerce to develop leadership.  If Youth Center wants more involvement, they can involve the city.  This is your government.

Straight: going last is almost as bad as going first.  Mayor’s Civics Academy is great.  Programs for at-risk youth should be expanded.  King mentioned civic days of interaction with youth.  Toomey talked about participation via social media.  Good things going on, but could always do more.

Q7, from Worcester NAACP: redlining is practice of denying services to community based on race or ethnic background.  Mention of Providence case.  How can we make sure practice does not return to Worcester?

Rosen: doesn’t have the wisdom of Solomon.  He wouldn’t deny services to anyone based on (race, religion, section of the city, sexual orientation, etc). Knows fellow councilors – hasn’t seen it from elected and appointed officials.  Doesn’t think this is something anyone is interested in promoting.  If he saw it, he would speak out against it.  Make sure it stopped.

Bergman: one of the ways we prevent is that local/state/fed law enforcement are engaged and aware.  Dialog two years ago was helpful.  When you elect someone, you should feel they should respond.  All of us here are of that character.  Character does matter.  In his four years as councilor, when issues come up, we go to bat for that person.  Being vigilant and of good character can help prevent, if they do happen, need to be addressed quickly.

King: when dealing with issues of systemic racism, need to be brave enough to name it.  We need to be able to have conversations on Council floor respectfully.  Proud to have good relationship with attorney general’s office and to be able to reach out in cases of racism. (sorry, had to step away for 30 seconds; you get the idea)

Petty: homeownership is important, redlining is in the past, make sure that banks/mortgage companies are aware and are not engaging.  Lucky to live in MA where there is no question of the right to vote.  NACA gives unconventional loans to people.

Straight: similar story, friend sent a white friend to a bank, the interest rate was lower than the black friend’s rate.  This is something that still happens. Doesn’t think this is a tough question.  If this happens, needs to be reported.  AG has a hotline for everything.  Increase reporting and awareness will help solve the issue.

Toomey: issue is denying services – predatory practices for lending.  Can look at it in all different lights.  Is transportation being provided to all neighborhoods?  Cable companies avoiding neighborhoods?  Housing, rents.  Shares a story about a friend.  Not what this country is about. Need to know that it does/can happen.  Government’s role is to make sure these things don’t happen, and for community to let elected officials know when it does happen.

Closing remarks – I will type if anything comes up of interest.

Gary Rosen: take your six votes, vote for the group at the table.  This group will do very well by you.

[note that Lukes did not attend this forum]

Now that he’s getting older, getting towards the end of the political line, he’s running at large.

Bergman: he knows people joke about all the lawyers on the Council, but being a lawyer has been a great impact on his life.  Go to housing court on the second floor of the courthouse on Thursday afternoon and see how it affects people’s lives.  When people on the Council reflect the values of the people of the city, that’s democracy.

King: will fight any attempts to diminish the Fair Housing Act in any shape or fashion.  A lot of movements and moments at state and local level.  Difference between a moment and a movement, and that’s sacrifice.  There are times to take a stand when it results in a political hit.  But that’s how you keep a movement going.

Petty: worked hard to build bridges and not walls.  we need to share successes with everyone in the community.

Straight: felt someone needed to stand up to Michael Gaffney’s reprehensible behavior.  Won’t get into it because he’s dropped out of the race (applause) – Straight says “cause for celebration”

Toomey: being of service to you is an honor to me.  Hard being in public office.  Working with people gets more done than working against.  Consensus is an incredibly important thing.  In front of her house is a sign that says “Hate Has No Home Here” – wants to make sure everyone knows that.  SHE’S NUMBER ONE ON THE BALLOT!

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Livable Worcester City Council Candidate Forum notes

The following are my notes from the Livable Worcester candidate forum, which welcomed City Council candidates.

Telegram coverage here.

Highlights:

I really enjoyed this forum; the topics went by smoothly and the choice of John Anderson as a moderator was excellent.  He’s one of the few people who can (mostly) intimidate candidates into keeping to their allotted minute.

There were times when I was distracted by the most amazing candelabra in back of some of the district councilors; it was straight out of Dark Shadows.  I half-expected Barnabas Collins to appear as a D4 candidate.

For a couple of questions, Paul Franco decided to focus on his support of the lowest residential tax rate, at one point being a bit pointed at Matt Wally.  I assume that this will continue at Thursday’s district council debate (7:00pm at Mechanics Hall).  It was completely irrelevant to this forum and frankly was tiresome.  Wally came out the better for it, from where I was sitting.

Moe Bergman made some interesting comments about homeownership versus Section 8 (that is, that we should encourage homeownership versus affordable housing in the form of Section 8) and a few candidates took exception to it.  I would have liked to see more discussion on this (which could not happen due to the format); here’s hoping we may be able to hear more about this in other forums.

And — there were more than a hundred people!  Standing room only!

Event Notes:

Welcomed by Deborah Packard of Preservation Worcester; we’re in the Park View room (bottom floor of the Fire Alarm Building).

Livable Worcester Coalition: MA Audubon, PW, Walk Bike Worcester, Worcester Tree Initiative, GWLT, Jane Jacobs in the Woo (let me know if I missed anyone!)

Paul Dell’Aquila: planning and design concepts – topics represent cross-section of concerns from their groups. Submitted as questionnaire to candidates. They will email responses to attendees.

Moderator: John Anderson

A forum is an occasion for discussing matters of public interest, making Worcester a more livable city. Almost all at-large candidates are in attendance. 9 issues in the list.

He will look for hands/efforts to be recognized, not call on people. Each candidate’s response should be about a minute.

In attendance:
D1: Moynihan, Rose
D3: Asare, Russell
D4: Rivera
D5: Franco, Wally
At large: Bergman, King, Lukes, Petty, Rosen, Straight, Toomey

Please let me know if you need a fuller explanation of the questions; I have them but my fingers are currently tired of typing.  You will note that I am missing a question 7; that was not asked because of time constraints.

1 – Complete Streets question.

Toomey: grateful that mayor appointed her as chair of public safety, before that on public works and an advocate of Complete Streets. Should have walkable, livable city. Number of meetings, manager has just brought a plan going to Public Safety subcommittee, will be pedestrian safety subgroup.

Moynihan: appreciate that Complete Streets has been initiated. As an urban studies prof at Worcester State, bikes, pedestrians need to have safe streets. Use Green Man Plus technology – mobility, visually impaired, elderly to have swipe card to have more time in the crosswalk. Helps traffic flow.

Rosen – Complete Streets policy allows everyone to share the streets. As most of you know, he has spent past 6 months at intersections and streets. Need police enforcement for distracted drivers, people who don’t know light is red, pedestrians texting in the middle of Kelley Square.

Petty: traffic anarchy out there. Complete Streets is important, topography of Worcester makes a good biking program difficult, but we can work on this over time. City has replaced 25,000 trees

Rivera: May 23, petitioned that administration give update about Complete Streets. As chair of public health, they have been discussing this. Accessibility of different modes of transportation, more that we can have pedestrians walking, will improve econ dev.

(Anderson doing an excellent job of keeping folks to 1 minute!)

Wally: too many streets that don’t have sidewalks: Clover, Moreland, Flagg, taking life into their hands. A lot of us have been knocking doors, I don’t think anyone will shed a tear if we get hit, but kids – important to keep them safe.

Franco: as a father of 6 children, have seen what cell phones have done for attentiveness. Driving, walking while texting is dangerous, need education campaign. All of the other items are good, but his

Rose: this is a city of hills and old design. People living in districts are knowledgeable, residents should have a say into how the designs are incorporated. Sidewalks to school not done yet, Millbrook has a sidewalk that stops, bottom of Clark Street does not have a sidewalk. For residents to feel that, must see forest for the trees.

King: challenging in the city for those of us who are able-bodied. If you don’t have those abilities, difficult process. Was able to participate with Comm on Disabilities in wheelchair experience, eye-opening. He almost fell flat on his face. Need to keep those folks in mind.

Bergman: everyone here on board with Complete Streets. Sidewalks safe, streets need to be well-lit, curb cuts. Light sequencing, why can’t this be done here. Variety of ways to make choices better.

Straight: Pedestrian safety and bike safety is a traffic safety problem. A lot of unique things to Worcester that could be adjusted (lane markings through intersections), protecting green (green arrow, but might not understand if new to intersection).

Lukes: has been chair of traffic and parking – that’s when you learn what the neighbors who have to live with problems are concerned about. Cars go too fast in residential neighborhoods (that are not necessarily school zones). Last year, state gave municipalities right to review speed limits down to 20 or 25 mph, she filed in, no one did anything.

Asare: 25 years old, extremely nervous, running against an incumbent who has done a great job, but trying to get the youth involved. Complete Streets needed to be passed a long time ago.

Russell: I’m George Russell, I’m the guy he says is doing a good job. In a perfect world, we’d have Complete Streets, sidewalks on every street. When he was on the Planning Board, they made sure new developments did sidewalks. Hamilton Street, worked with DPW committee to make sure neighbors/businesses. If you put sidewalks on every street, would you take people’s land away? Some places where it is just not practical.

2 – Urban Design Review Committee; do you support, how would you have standards adopted?

Petty: thinks it’s time for a review panel. (Thinks Councilor Lukes filed it last month.) We have seen buildings in the past (St Vincent’s, one big block of brick). Different ways of having this committee. Has to be a balanced approach, don’t want to lose economic development. A lot of investment coming in, want to make sure things are right.

Bergman: can’t have helter-skelter approach and expect downtown to look good. The WRTA building is a terrible look. We can choose to be pickier, not have unattractive buildings next to good older building. We can do better job with design review.

Rosen: was going to mention the same building. Taking down Notre Dame church, thinks it’s terrible. Supports review board, would like to see city departments participate. DPW are not there for design, but they have to contribute much more. Public Health, Public Safety should be working together.

Lukes: glad everybody caught up with me, has been filing this for the last ten years. All she’s going to say because she overspoke next time.

Toomey: don’t need more bureaucracy but definitely need to take the silos down. Very important that public gets access to these plans as soon as they are submitted.

Moynihan: was able to attend an urban design conference via Jane Jacobs in the Woo, a model for urban design. Review is a way to increase value of surrounding properties, has to fit into historical integrity, needs to involve coordination and planning.

King: devil’s always in the details, want to do this in the right way. Design review enhances neighborhoods, not just buildings. Worcester is in a unique place right now for econ dev and interest. Building a consensus.

Asare: agrees with everyone. Engineers and architects – he is an engineer, sees a lot of lawyers at the table, he can bring a lot to help.

Russell: Site plan approval at Planning Board level, PB should be given teeth to review plans/deisgns of buildings. DPW is very involved – Hamilton St was from the engineers at DPW. Right now, exec planning office talks with developers. Washington Sq hotel was bragging about Inspectional Services.
(He tries to speak over a minute, goes on, the crowd is NOT pleased.)

Straight: likes Toomey’s ideas, would like to see crowdsourcing, online feedback from citizens.

Franco: urban design could have saved Notre Dame church. Webster Square – have to allow for some flexibility for neighbors/business to use their own ideas, innovation. Just ironclad rule could stifle creativity and development.

Wally: in favor of design review board. Have to see high expectations, we have to tell them our demands, high expectations.

Rose: urban design guidelines, little accountability about guidelines, if urban design board, there would be some accountability for traffic and other issues. Some incentive to developers for input from residents, other business owners.

3 – Blue Space/Green Space.

Rosen: for last 4 years, chair of Youth, Parks, Rec. Have done so much for parks, at Castle Park recently, which had been deserted/dilapidated for years. Coes Zone (have been involved in), fixed up the beach, the playground is packed.

Petty: we have invested $11 million in the parks last year. We brought someone on to coordinate the blue space. Hadwen Park is on the plan [he mentions kayaks there – my companion and I agree that this sounds crazy]. Crow Hill, Donker Farm. People even comment on how nice the parks are this year.

Rivera: Park Steward program for young people, started as neighborhood effort by Mary Keefe, not continuing strong, amazing residents in Castle Park who were using it, now new and improved. A lot of activity in University Park. Opening for Castle Park, outreach by Casey – partnerships are important.

Rose: efforts to put money into parks has been impressive. Will push for cost-effective programs in parks. Adjunct faculty at trauma center; these parks are opportunity to engage youth, health brain, exec function skills.

King: this is therapeutic, agrees with “Councilor” Rose. Able to get to calming place, helps everyone. Proud of parks program, has run summer league at Crompton for 22 years. Lives next to a park, brings everyone together.

Russell: past pres of Lake Quinsig Watershed Assoc, big promoter of water. Almost all parks/playgrounds in D3 have seen renovations. Proud of CM and programs with Recreation Worcester.

Franco: we do have some nice parks, still no comprehensive maintenance program. Folks that live on Patch Reservoir, Coes Pond, inflated assessments those folks have with no maintenance. Logan Field has divots, needs major renovations, need to maintain what we have.

Bergman: if you are affluent and live near a park, your property value goes up; if you are not affluent, you need a park. Parks Dept combined with DPW, now they are separate. Need to address problems earlier on. Give them some autonomy.

Toomey: has spent close to two decades supporting and advocating for parks. Calls out Dottie Hargrove. Seven year action plan, econ dev impact. Strength of public-private partnerships. Incredible beaches to sell Worcester.

Moynihan: Beth Proko and efforts to improve Indian Lake, has helped with that. Maintenance plan, bring back park rangers, get rid of trash. Roberto Clemente field needs a master plan.

Asare: not enough soccer fields. Someone shows up with a permit when he’s playing.

Lukes: sometimes we have to look at the vision of the city. She’s seen large projects forgotten or ignored. When Med City went up, she suggested that it was a good time to look at what Providence did and get it as a tourist attraction [we think she might be talking about canal?]. Green Hill Park has a failing golf course.

Wally: one of the benefits of Worcester is number of nonprofits: CDCs, Park Spirit, GWLT, etc., work with mission-oriented organizations to collaborate, meet our goals.

Straight: increased focus of maintenance around the entire city. Weeds taller than a person, trash stuck in the weeds.

4 – enhancing livability/affordability for entrepreneurs, students, immigrants, artists

Straight: about 14-16% affordable housing, above state mandated min, should increase to 20%, a lot of cities don’t have enough affordable housing for these people.

Wally: when you look at the perfect model of affordable housing, it’s 3 decker. Promote affordability of 3 deckers for new immigrants. Promote home ownership.

Bergman: agrees with Wally, what drives success is disposable income + leveraging home ownership. Giving more Section 8 vouchers promotes poverty. We need to help people buy homes, always a percentage of people who can’t, but we should help people buy homes.

Franco: maintaining current tax rate is the #1 thing for affordability. If you want immigrants, new buyers, have to have a low tax rate. He’s the only one supporting this – hopes the press is here to report that.

Moynihan: from aspect of artistic community, need live/work spaces. Save historic properties, repurpose as artist live/work spaces. If an artist can live/work in same space, have saved on rent. Perhaps if we had had some foresight, Notre Dame could have been one of those spaces.

King: inclusive redevelopment. We are in the midst of downtown renaissance but have to focus everywhere. Need to maintain supply of affordable housing. Doesn’t believe Section 8 perpetuates poverty, has helped family get out of poverty. We as Council have to support increasing the minimum wage.

Petty: neighborhood corporations, Nacker (?) do this. Affordable housing means a lot of things, not just Section 8. As we looked at the issue with Puerto Rico, we don’t have affordable housing here to bring people.

Rivera: negative narrative regarding burden immigrants put on the tax base, myth of affordable housing. Enhance livable wage, wage staff, spaces that support business incubators, Worcester World Cup.

Toomey: we have a lot of elderly folks who haven’t been renting out the other floors of their three deckers. Firemen, police officers, etc, could buy these. Workforce housing is truly the issue. Teacher housing to get people to stay.

Rosen: get immigrants involved in community. Mentions dog parks and Hadwen Park. Welcome people to the city, we need their help.

5 – Nodes/ corridors of activity. How would you link these to activity in downtown?

Bergman: I wouldn’t. They’re unique, they’re not downtown. Businesses that thrive in his neighborhood are of that neighborhood. Encourage home ownership in those nodes. Sometimes capitalism works and if you tinker with it, it doesn’t. They have grown successful through capitalism and recommends we leave them alone.

Wally: Menino had started Boston Main Streets program to help commercial corridors. (Park Ave, Webster Sq, Mill Street) could emulate something similar here.

Moynihan: echoes Bergman’s sentiments. Look at W Boylston St corridor, what can we do to invest there. Putting splash park where there used to be a pool, then work on pedestrian safety and traffic in that corridor for people who live in the neighborhood.

Rose: Nodes – he thinks of shopping malls. Not every node has its specialty or “thing” – help nodes come up with their specialty. Bus ridership is down, no way to get to different places with the bus.

Toomey: wayfinding plan has been modified, links other parts of the city to downtown. There are individual neighborhoods that should be individual. People should be educated to get out of their own spaces. Challenge college students to create an app to find out what’s going on in the city.

Rivera: has been advocating for connectability of downtown to Elm Park. Segue to airport/JetBlue. Moving out of comfort zone to mom-and-pop restaurants in Main South.

Lukes: in 1984, had charter reform, provision for neighborhood councils to empower neighbors. Never happened, probably because more grassroots groups organized. People in neighborhoods started looking for solutions, inspectional services, police officers, other invited…sometimes gov’t can’t force a solution.

Russell: met with WRTA manager and Deb Cary to try to get a reroute for kids to be able to get to Broad Meadow Brook. All city residents can walk the trails for free, but if you don’t have a car, you can’t get there. Also advocated for bus stop at front of Imperial Distributors because people who work there need a ride there.

Rosen: at Webster Square, we’ve had meetings to make it a destination/popular area. Huge turnouts of businesses, non-profits, residents. Working on master plan, doesn’t address downtown.

Franco: our campaign about putting neighborhoods first. Unlike his opponent, against raising the residential rate. Keep the residential rate the same, [keep not answering the question]

Wally: we didn’t want to take from anyone here, Thursday night another forum for district candidates, will honor spirit of forum and not get into individual argument. Franco gets grumpy. DRAMA AT THE FORUM!!!

King: need to be pedestrian friendly, transit oriented, mentions the Big D on Mill Street, ask the neighbors, move forward.

6 – encouraging rehab/reuse of buildings, infrastructure throughout the city.

Petty: some failures (Notre Dame church), would be great to have a fund to purchase the buildings, Community Preservation Act like Springfield and Boston. These are all important issues. Has to be passed by residents of Worcester through a ballot initiative.

Moynihan: what happened at Notre Dame was a tragedy, need to do more planning, work with PW and others, look at how to effectively repurpose them. Might have to adjust zoning in certain areas. Entrepreneurs are already doing this. Key is planning, can’t rely on prayer.

Toomey: use data and statistics: Older, Smaller, Better: this is one of the things they do. We need to see the beauty of the architecture, be open to creating new space.

Bergman: one of the things that happens when a developer comes in is that it’s easier for them to tear down and build new, we need to give them second thoughts, successful design review will integrate existing building with new uses.

Russell: City of Worcester charged people with “sewer connection fee” to convert a building to restaurant, food services, he changed that to raise threshold so that most who are converting for new use will not pay that fee.

Rose: one of issues with the building he works in, doesn’t have good internet connectivity. Building owners need help with connection to fiber optic. Incentivize.

Straight: short term tax incentives for developers, homeowners.

Wally: need to tell our story. There are developers who want to develop – but they may not know that there are buildings to develop (example of courthouse).

Franco: would like to spearhead development of various vacant properties in D5.

Lukes: authored the one-year demolition delay ordinance. Money is the driving force here. If we are serious about saving buildings, must have local incentive for architectural design, part of process for negotiating, outside the TIF process.

Rosen: Franco mentioned Diamond, Krock property on Park Ave, Big D on Mill Street. City has no $ to take by eminent domain. We don’t want to own the properties, we don’t want to inherit issues we can’t afford.

8 – increased citizen participating in master planning process

Toomey: surprised that not all these meetings are being videotaped. Not everyone can go to city hall, but we can bring CH to community.

Lukes: they had posted questions on website, limited success. We have been pretty good in making info available to public. If not as responsive as we should be, she wants to know about it. The question on Open Space and Rec reminded her of the program, thanks whoever wrote the question.

Bergman: new website will make things better, need other languages represented on the website. One area weak on: tree removal (without notifying neighbors). Argument – apathy begins in schools, need to engage children at a young age.

Franco: texting, twitter, facebook can be used to spread the word. Even folks who are not involved in social media, we still have robocalls. Robocall technology could be used more.

Moynihan: vital that we reach out to every community – the plan will not work if we do not reach out. Council needs to be the people to listen and bring people into the planning process.

Petty: people need to be notified when there is a project. (DPW projects) We do have Alert Worcester that notifies people of projects in their neighborhood.

Rivera: in her district, there were some issues with tree removal. Came back with report – conversation has continued to happen. When construction is happening, need to continue to support mom-and-pop businesses.

10 – Open Space and Rec Plan – what goal is most important and why?

Lukes: enhancing natural resources. When she was mayor, leaking gas lines destroying shade trees. Just learned that there are still 900 leaking gas lines, need to recover trees. Deal with garbage and dumping in the city. Ban plastic bags, has supported and wanted this in the past.

Rosen: biggest need is rectangular fields, many more youth playing field hockey, rugby, soccer.

Petty: improving public access to water resources. Mentions various ponds. Supports Green Hill Park golf course, not failing whatsoever.

Moynihan: has talked a lot on his Facebook page about this. Promote community gardens, where we have a chance, promotes open space and provides food to community. Food deserts are a growing problem. Worcester is no different than other cities where there is a lack of fresh food.

Rose: over 50% of WPS are considered economically disadvantaged. Need to work recreationally in our parks, between 3-6 pm, affordable programs for families, asking teachers to do more with less, need to bridge gaps. This summer space between when school ended and summer programs begin. Had basketball program this summer.

Toomey: need to do overview of the whole plan. Evaluate new open space opportunities for the future.

Wally: upgrade park and open space maintenance. No reason we can’t have the best urban park system in the country. Public/private partnerships. Commerce Park Field, other opportunities for partnerships. Deferred maintenance will cost more in the long run.

Rivera: Castle Park worked with senior facility next door. Connecting and supporting community garden. Support programs like Recreation Worcester and park stewards.

King: new open space opportunities. Access to water resources. Critical life skills on how to use blue spaces. We lost our pools, need kids to learn how to swim and take lifesaving courses. Need to use those resources smartly. We have young folks who need things to do.

Franco: can’t believe it, but agrees with Wally. We don’t have a comprehensive plan for maintaining the parks. Logan really needs an upgrade. If we don’t maintain parks, won’t be used, become urban blight.

Straight: Matt Wally hit nail on head. Access to waterways, these are clean, not pumping sewage into Lake Quinsigamond.

Closing Statements – I didn’t record these as my fingers were giving out!

School Committee Candidate Forum (Research Bureau/Chamber/T&G)

Update – Telegram coverage here.

As often happens at these events, when it began, there were 40ish people, and I’d guess 60-65 were in attendance at the height.

I am not familiar with all of the buzzwords/topics discussed here so feel free to comment if there are any corrections/amplifications.  What follows are my notes…

 

Tim Murray welcomes attendees to SC debate

Electeds here: Tony E, Mayor Petty, Konnie L.

21 questions, 1 minute initial candidate response, 4 30-sec responses, 15 second rebuttal.  The questions are given by Jennifer Davis Carey; Luis Pedraja, the new president of QCC; and a gentleman from CPPAC whose name I didn’t catch.

 

Opening Statements

 

Dianna Biancheria – public schools are the city’s most important resource.  Need to be competitive, prepare students for future, expand beneficial opportunities for all students.  Expand school safety, academic excellence, AP course expansion, community partnerships.  Job readiness, alternative programs, preparing kids for work.

Donna Colorio – adjunct psych/soc prof at QCC for over 20 years, MTA member, lifelong resident of Worcester.  Three children who attended WPS.  Believes we have made progress, but a long way to go.  WPS should be a better system/district.  In 2012, she visited all schools in first 100 days.  Knocking doors, asking folks what they want in the schools.

Dante Comparetto – Humbling experience at his first debate, father, founded a couple of non-profits, served on some boards.  Raised by single mother, homeless as teenager, almost killed at 17, with help he turned his life around.  Wants to advocate for high-needs learners, more wraparound, safe and healthy schools, phys ed, health, everyone should have access to quality public education.  Need more real ed advocates on the SC.

[Lots of Comparetto supporters in attendance]

Jack Foley – Elections matter.  Has had the privilege of serving for past 18 years, first kid attended K 28 years ago.  At Clark, have created some of the best ed opportunities in the country.  His role has been to raise educational challenges.  Build leadership in the school, ID strong principals as leaders, engage teachers in strategic planning at schools.  Next few years are critical for Worcester, need to be sure that good public schools are great public schools.  Greatest challenge/opportunity – work at state level on foundation budget for correct funding for WPS.

Molly McCullough – lifelong resident of Worcester, daughter of career-long WPS educator.  As citizens, we should all be concerned about success of WPS.  Focus on superb public ed, public schools continue to be a source of pride.  People should vote for candidates who have knowledge and experience.  As member of SC, will continue to advocate for ed opportunities for all students.  Greatest learning opportunities and support for all.

John Monfredo – Public service has always been part of his life.  When he retired (as teacher/principal), ran for SC.  Every decision on what is in the best interests of the students.  Never been afraid to tackle tough problems.  Most passionate about ed.  Children make up 30% of population but 100% of our future.  Parents are children’s first educators, need to advocate for them.  Education is greatest antipoverty tool, Worcester the City that Reads program.  Focus on community involvement, continues to bring understanding of schools, putting children first, etc.

Brian O’Connell – Has served with a number of people on SC, works for Hingham PS as a CFO.  Next three years will be watershed time for Worcester Public Schools, quality staff, 2500 resumes of new employees, parents who are moving into the city, businesses contacting the SC to see what they can do to help.  10-15 areas that need to be worked on: foundation budget, strategic plan (too much for me to type)

 

Jennifer Davis Carey, question to Monfredo: Many have said that Ch 70 program is flawed.  What factors should be considered in establishing an acceptable foundation budget?

Monfredo: Inflation factor creates a shortfall.  Achievement gap has a lot to do with spending.  Low spending, low achievement.  Work with other district to bring back McDuffy and (?) decision.  City management has been great to work with.

Response 1: Biancheria – when you look at what we have for revenue in schools, would like to give appreciation to CM, Mayor, Super.  Funding from the state needs to be worked on.  Accomplishments can only be worked on with legislative team on board.  We can only hope their voices are heard.

R2: Comparetto – need advocates on SC that will do this work, he has worked on No on 2 campaign, knows how to lobby the state house.  Pass fair share amendment.

R3: O’Connell – 6 particular areas in foundation budget, state is not following constitutional obligation: Health insurance, special ed, English Language Learners, low income students, inflation factors

Monfredo, rebuttal – we need to advocate for strong budget with legislators.

 

Question 2, to Donna Colorio: over years, WPS has explored many ways to support advanced students.  AB Capstone initiative, some other name checks.  How to support high achieving students?

Colorio: Give them a reason to come to school.  We have to engage gifted students.  With academies, it creates a buzz, they were able to be challenged within the school.  Believes we have to raise the bar for all students.  Create curriculum that engages our kids, finances to supplement, partners in community to help.

Response 1: Comparetto: will make sure that we are making this access available to all students.

R2: Foley: create learning communities, capstone projects, so that students are getting accelerated programs.  Enrollment with higher ed partners.

R3: Monfredo: next step is AP Capstone program.  Most of any district in MA.  Helps students stand out in college admission process.  AP Seminar, AP Research.

Colorio, rebuttal – we have lost a lot of these students to private and out of district.

 

 

Question 3, to McCullough – people of color account for 70% of student body, 30% speaking something other than English as first language, how should school hire/develop more diverse workforce?

McCullough: programs such as dimensions of learning, TESA, and others, have introduced teachers to social differences and helped them appreciate/understand differences.  Fortunately, many of texts and ancillary materials have helped with these as well.  As far as hiring, always hire most qualified candidates for job.

Foley: cultural competence, teachers should understand students’ backgrounds.  Need to build next generations of teachers, esp at the hs/college level, hard to find students of color who are pursuing teaching as a career, need to find leaders and teachers who reflect.

O’Connell: two-way bilingual program has been very successful, to get kids to know one another.  Title III ELL grants should be expanded, Harvard University’s Coop program.

Colorio: we did add 19 additional teachers for English Language Arts this year.  Reducing class size is important for all students, including ELLs.  We have become a diverse community – need to educate our teachers who are not social workers.

McCullough – ESL classes for families, increase dual language program.

 

Q4: Level 3 schools – what would you advocate to stabilize these schools?

Biancheria: when we look at the next few years, the funding will be determined by the level of the schools.  As it stands now, the Super is focusing on schools who are a level 3, look at accountability reports, have discussions with particular schools that may need additional help/programs.

O’Connell: reach out to colleges/businesses for help, reach out to parents, strong principal with high guidelines, aggressive school councils, excellent teachers

Monfredo: 11 conditions for school effectiveness.  All of these should be part of level 3 schools.  High-stakes testing should not be emphasized.

McCullough – level 4 indicates that all students are not proficient over a number of years.  Incumbent on us to get students at least to level of efficiency.  Roll out AVID program, make sure all are reading on grade level.

Biancheria – district is accountable.  Level 4 doesn’t mean across the board they are not doing well, need to look at areas for improvements.

 

 

Q5: Wraparound services, what steps should WPS take to improve family engagement and student services?

Comparetto: current approach is inadequate.  Having 15 kids is a lot.  One wraparound coordinator for 300 kids is not good.  Since many kids have background in trauma, need to support them.  Communicate to parents in native language.  WPS need to be more welcoming to new families.

Monfredo: children with engaged parents are more likely to succeed.  Parents are the consumer, schools need to be parent-friendly.

Colorio: as a past psychotherapist, most of trauma is due to alcohol and drug addiction.  Need to educate students on this to empower them.

Biancheria: need to continue to look at education as holistic piece.  Constituents: washing machines coming to school can make a big difference in someone’s life.  Small pieces to help.

Comparetto: provide quality education to all students.  Give them support through social/wraparound services.

Q6: School safety, elevated, school resource officers expanding.  Is WPS addressing school safety?

Foley: they are safe now, they were safe two years ago, and when his kids were in school.  Some of this is public perception.  Hiring police officers and building relationships as another adult to support students and family.

Colorio: perception is everything.  When she was campaigning last time, schools were not perceived as safe, now they are on the right track.  Students are starting to feel better about coming to school.

McCullough: there were some perception issues in the campaign two years ago, continue to look at the safety of schools.  Agrees with Foley.

Comparetto: while schools are getting safer, there are a lot of educators who feel unsafe.  If a kid is acting up at school, something is going on at home.  A lot of issues are better dealt with socially.

Foley: declines further comment.

 

Q7: recent review by MA gov’t’l organization, the SC was criticized for too many legislative motions.

O’Connell: we set policy, hire, review Super, need to take active role in setting budget priorities, obligation to consult with superintendent.  Handle collective bargaining with administration.

McCullough: started to have a more streamlined agenda, believes it is job to support super in her agenda items, need to make sure the agenda items are not something that can be handled with phone call or email.

Biancheria: we are the voice of the constituents.  Elected, not appointed. We are able to put items on the agenda.  185,000 residents expect us to be a voice.

Foley: looking at steps to take for consent agendas for quick items, would like agendas to focus on strategic items and thrashing out issues that require a lot of discussion.

O’Connell – not interested in making agenda shorter, doesn’t like consent agenda to hide items from constituents.

Q8: WPS has increased emergency removals, esp among certain population.  How to handle disruptive students?

Monfredo: 2fold increase of dropout for students who are suspended just once in 9th grade.  In the past, many suspensions have been for minor infractions.  New research shows disengagement for kids who have hard suspensions. In-house programs are better.

Foley: top priority to look at this, impact of suspensions.  Starting to look at this, but we need to do a lot more, incl in staff development.  Lessons learned from Meers Grant (sp?), welcoming school env

Colorio: mixed because teachers are dealing with a lot in the classroom.  One disruptive kid sets tone for whole classroom, would like expansion of alternative program and drug programs.

McCullough: CH 222 didn’t give appropriate tools for educators/administrators.  What is causing problems, causing social/emotional learning impact?  For those that are truly disruptive, look at alternative programs.

Monfredo: Positive Behavior Systems, use commonsense approach for suspension.

 

Q9: what can be done to ensure that principals can hold poor performing teachers, reward high performing teachers, then student outcomes in teacher assessment?

Colorio: administration goes into schools and evaluate best practices, very important for consistency in the district.  We want people to choose Worcester as a district, not just certain schools.  Trying to go to progress in all schools.

O’Connell: principals do have authority to hire own staff.  Challenge comes with transferring between schools.  We often see very inflated evaluations.

McCullough: principal has moral obligation for student access…90 day trial period for teacher is often not sufficient to determine if the teacher is effective.  Targeted prof dev is good, but principals should have more say.

Biancheria: evaluations are done in-house, need additional feedback before we have more conditions.  Teachers may not be effective in particular classroom.  Need to look at best practices for prof dev.

 

Q10: Public ed good for econ vitality.  What role do you see WPS playing in city’s econ dev strategy?

McCullough: feels school system has a place, best public education system will help students take on jobs city needs.  So many wonderful opportunities, need students to be prepared.

Comparetto: education should be at the forefront of any econ dev policy.  Need advocates on SC for more than 5% of foundation formula, need to lobby the legislature

Biancheria: tell our story.  Teachers need to tell their story every day in our community.  Work with realtors, more press releases that are positive.  All our successes should be spoken about, competitions should be aired continuously.

Monfredo: When people move, first thing they want to know is about the school system.  Schools can’t do it alone, need advocates in community.

 

Q11: Educators/experts have raised concerns about testing, moratorium on high-stakes standardized tests.  Do we have too much testing?

Biancheria: testing is part of education, how we rate, who is accountable, comes into consideration.  We need to review what the dept of ed requires of us.  One performance is not what matters in a school.

Colorio: no secret that I am not a fan of high-stakes testing.  Testified in numerous places, advocated for not taking the MCAS test, because parents should have right to opt the kids out.  Less of an emphasis, we only tested certain grades, we should go back to limited testing.  Teachers are feeling forced to teach to the test.

Foley: standardized testing here to stay, supports when it is used to support teachers in evaluating students.  Measuring different cohorts of students is concerning.  MCAS to PARCC, MCAS2.0, how can you measure growth and success when looking at different tests.

Comparetto: need to stop teaching to test and teach to the child.  We don’t get enough arts, phys ed, history, civics, due to teaching to the test.

Biancheria: would like to see funding for classroom and not testing

 

Q12: Worcester Tech, how can WPS leverage to increase work readiness at the comprehensive high schools?

Comparetto: lots of students applying to go to the school, not all getting in, so need voke ed in other high schools.  Ask partners for help in programming at other schools.  Emphasizes arts, etc.

McCullough: we need all students to have access to voke/tech program.  Imagining tech at North, Automotive at Burncoat, etc.  Ch 74 funding, mutually beneficial community partnerships.

O’Connell: Tech HS has a trust, involved business community in the schools, each school is capable of replicating

Foley: use folks at Tech HS to assist other high schools, use the school to make it a 16 hour day, provide additional course offerings for students around the city.

Comparetto: only candidate with experience in partnerships with businesses, parents, and looks forward to expanding the program.

 

Q13: forum with valedictorians, they mentioned lack of cross-cultural relationships, how can we improve this?

Foley: expand dual language programs.  would like to see greater cultural awareness, all students should understand the background of other students.

Biancheria: We become so focused on academic piece that we don’t look at what benefits are of the backgrounds of others.  We need to begin those conversations.

Monfredo: training on diversity should always be part of prof dev.  School events.

O’Connell: ?? program has been good at bringing students together, sports, cultural assemblies, dinners featuring ethnic food.

Foley: needs to start at elementary school level, students should feel part of the school at a young age.

 

Q14: US Dept of Ed encouraging school choice.  What can WPS do to make them attractive when compared to school choice, private, charters?

O’Connell: levels of skills and expertise for special ed that many school systems can’t, range of coueses that are available that other schools can’t match, if we publicize, can expand (currently $500k in school choice)

Monfredo: 9 innovation schools have been successful, charterlike autonomy.  Many opportunities can be achieved with this model.

Comparetto: school buildings are aging, serious health concerns, part of parental decision, investments in buildings and technology.  Tell our story better, need SC members who will be cheerleaders for the system

Colorio: transparency is good, let the best things we are doing be publicized.  Great results speak for themselves, word of mouth is best.

O’Connell: K-8 at elementary level, 6-12 program for associates degree, Doherty satellite, programs for gifted children.

 

Q15: Worcester struggles with voter turnout.  What role do schools play, how to put civic engagement in schools?

Monfredo: need to address as a system but also statewide.  Children need to know importance of being part of community, voting, community service/

O’Connell: Legislation about civics ed would help but is not all.  Monitoring elections, mock elections, etc., are good, but need more students involved.

McCullough: need to incorporate civics lessons in schools.  Has opportunity to look at April vacation city clerk program, looked at being active member of community.

Biancheria: engage parents, that will engage students and siblings.  More afterschool programs.  Looking for community service factor.  Do have voting coming up in our schools.  Hoping to build on each year.

 

Q16: WPS is one of largest corporate entities in Worcester.  Responsible for $380mil, 3900 staff, 25,000 students.  How to approach operational aspects, areas for improvement…

Colorio: budget to work within.  Not a lot of discretionary funding or wiggle room.  Consolidate some of administrative functions with City of Worcester that are duplicated.  Save some $$ on administrative costs.

Monfredo: Nelson Place was priority, then South and Doherty.  Fortunate to have Mass Building Auth funding

Biancheria: hard to estimate what/where because of long list of items that need to be done.  Boilers, windows, sidewalk repair are prioritized.  Has suggested on more than on occasion to combine law office with city law to not use outside consultants.

Comparetto: state of school buildings, need capital improvement plan.  Funding is essential.

 

Q17: WPS manage 62 buildings, 2.3 million sq feet on 400 acres, 11 buildings prior to 1900, only 5 built/renovated in last 15.  $3 million/year renovation.  How to increase funding for capital projects?

McCullough: improvements are made on priority basis, so much tied into what we need, esp tied into foundation budget.

Colorio: a lot of buildings that may need some work.  Noticed that schools are different.  Some schools where windows didn’t open.  Some schools in better condition than others.  So many buildings reviewed every year by the state.

Monfredo: every year four schools go through MA school building authority review.  Curbside appeal, inside improvements.

Foley: not enough $ to maintain buildings.  Have been able to leverage the $3 million/year to $12 million through state funding.  Strategic funding for where to invest $ going forward and to be able to justify funding from the state.

McCullough: custodians need appropriate training and resources, proactive with preventive maintenance.

 

Q18: many schools use online tools to keep parents informed, commonwealth moving to e platforms for testing.  How should WPS incorporate technology?

Biancheria: regardless of career, you need technology.  We are looking at all of the tools that will be necessary for students to be successful.  Laptops, online courses, digital projectors, growing industry, STEM ed is putting this forward.  Some of tools we need, but need additional tools.

McCullough: internet = technology, have become dependent on it, students need access.  They need computer skills that will help in every endeavor.  Continue to work for additional funding.

Comparetto: fully resourced 21st century classroom, libraries with 3D printers and makerspaces.  Online classes to be done at home, evidence just isn’t there – might work for some kids, but most need structure of classroom.

O’Connell: Category 2 funds, we need to look at 10 year plan for internet connectivity.  Need more wireless, and highspeed, connections.

Biancheria: robotics program has expanded –millions of $$ will be available from feds for STEM.

 

Q19: recent report highlighted chronic absenteeism.  17% of students absent for at least 10% of school year.

Comparetto: key is wraparound services.  Poverty is a major issue.  If they are not coming to school, something is going on at home.  There could be real issues that are best dealt with by social workers or wraparound services.

Biancheria: report specific for each student, will be calling parents, if you are not in classroom, we need to know why.  New super and SC have discussed numerous times.  We are taking a holistic view, we need funding.

Foley: starts with connections to families and students, need to be in school and they are welcome/supported in school.  Engaged principals know what is happening with students & home, have to take hard look at what is impacting families and why students are not coming to schools.

Monfredo: students will be identifies, progress report will go home to parents, program to encourage/inform parents.  Can’t just have program about why they should be in school, must be more comprehensive.

 

Q20: innovation school.   Worcester has implemented in a handful of schools.  Should this be replicated throughout the system?

Foley: look at success of level 4 and innovation schools.  Principals have toughest job in district – held accountable, but can’t always choose who works with them.  Principals can create team within these schools, really taking team approach with teachers to decide on new team members.  Ownership of success of all kids in the school.

Comparetto: we have pretty good examples of great schools in the district.  WAMS incorporates all subjects, engage parents, these are all best practices urban school districts use to improve student outcomes.

O’Connell: principals can reach out to parents, apply resources well, have extended day.  Prof dev focused on specific teachers, collegial approach.  All of those work in collaborative approach.

Colorio: served on turnaround school at Burncoat, people collectively made a commitment to make it the best school.  Look at best practices, key is commitment level of all partners.

Foley: have created team in innovation schools that have allowed them to attract new teachers who want to work at the school.

 

Q21: Worcester community has public/private collaboration for strategic plan.

O’Connell: look at what school system should look like in 5 years, 10 years.  What programs/resources needed, empower people to b einvolved in WPS.  Steady and ordered approach to progress.

Foley: has to do his homework tonight for tomorrow’s meeting on strategic plan.  We are underfunded from state, crippling ability to compete with suburban districts around us.

Colorio: active member of Worcester Strategic Advisory?? Committee, likes strategic planning.  Some of challenges are establishing priorities.  Would like to see growth in all groups, give students a reason to go to school, everyone works together, make it best urban district in the nation.

McCullough: thoughtful process for all stakeholders … [Sorry kids, I’m losing it on the last question]

Transportation should be provided, diverse membership

 

(I’ll skip the one-minute closing statement – as nothing can get me to write any more after 1.75 hours of typing.)

 

 

 

 

 

D5 Candidate Forum notes – September 6 2017

Apologies for not posting these notes earlier.

Here are my notes from the candidate forum for the D5 Candidates (Doug Arbetter, Paul Franco, Matt Wally) last Wednesday; Telegram article here.

I came into the forum not favoring any particular candidate.  After the forum, I found that I would likely vote for one of the candidates over the others.

On the whole, I would have preferred questions more particular to the district and probably a different format as well.  Not to step too much onto a soapbox, but questions about litter (and whether people could just put their recycling in a bin with a lid!) are short-sighted when we could be asking about further reducing our solid waste via curbside compost programs.  Everyone wants to reduce taxes — but when candidates talk about new police sub-stations, better funding for parks, etc., they should be pushed into how, specifically, they will increase the tax base.  Some of that was done (but not very far, at least in my opinion).

However much this forum was lacking, I hope my notes help D5 voters in their decision-making.

There were some technical issues with microphones that broke the flow of various talks a few times, but the candidates handled it pretty well.

Notables in the audience: Wayne Griffin, Donna Colorio, Dianna Biancheria, Moe Bergman, Konnie Lukes

Attendance: pretty good, it was maybe 30-40 people at the start and more like 80-90 towards the end.

IBEW Hall

Welcomed by: Gary Rosen

Moderated by Andy Lacombe of Channel 3

Panelists: Ray Mariano, Hank Stolz

 

Format:

Part One: ask one candidate question, gets 90 seconds, other 2 candidates get to respond

Final 30 minutes – town hall style debate

One minute wrap up for each candidate at the end

 

Opening statements

Arbetter: son of the district, graduate of Doherty, new property owner, came back here after masters from Columbia

1 – seniors can age in place, not priced out of their neighborhood

2 – invest more in public schools, capital infrastructure, public safety, public works

3 – nonprofits should pay their fair share

4 – will be most successful councilor this district has ever seen

 

Franco: great cities have great neighborhoods.  Put neighborhoods first.  New Doherty & South to stand test of time, undeveloped property on Mill and Park.  Successful police patrols, police substations, tax rate that puts homeowners and renters first.  Going waaay over his time…

 

Wally: thanks organizers & fellow candidates.  Issues: hold admin accountable for South High on time & on budget, Doherty approval on time.  Financing for Hadwen master plan, dog park at Boynton.  Streets and sidewalk repair and implementation.

First Question to Franco: Decision made by current City Council in the past two years that you disagree with and why

Franco: Failure to act on Mo Bergman’s request to Rules for exception to Dover Amendment.  In Ward 7, construction of an extended drug rehab facility without any notice or warning.  1010 Pleasant St, facility going in.  Council & citizens have a right to some input on these decisions, construction.

 

Wally: $3 million earmarked for school stabilization to pay down North High, that would have paid down the debt.  Our bond rating is very important.

 

Arbetter: failure to act on mayor’s report on tax reform.  Several initiatives laid out.  Failure to act on one of the recommendations.  They have not advocated for property owners enough.

 

Second Question to Arbetter: describe something positive that you have done for the district as a resident/private citizen.

Arbetter: knocked on hundreds of doors for No on 2 ballot initiative.  He is ready to get people activated for shared values and goals for things that directly impact residents.

Franco: Conservation Commission for 3 years.  Worked with area developers to help wetlands, he learned a lot on the committee, worked with developers, business on the environment.  Strong growing economy in D5.

Wally: everyone has a civic responsibility.  Volunteered for Matthew 25 since college, long-term history of giving back: GWCF board member, trustee associate of Nativity School, lots of other stuff I can’t type.

 

Third Question: when compared to other candidates, why should voters choose you over the others?

Wally: When he thinks about fed gov’t: president unfit for office, congress isn’t passing great policy (members of both parties digging heels in).  he is a democrat, but will be able to compromise for decisions that benefit the city as a whole.  The other candidates are on extremes of their political beliefs.

Arbetter: experience fighting for causes he cares about.  He has knocked on a lot of doors of folks who need to move out of the district.  Businesses can write off property taxes, no TIFs for property owners or residents, destroying neighborhoods.  Part of the character of Worcester is long-term residents.  He has already distributed his number to everyone – accessible.

Franco: tremendous amt of experience.  Father of 6, husband.  Worked for 27+ years with her as a parent, paying their fair share of city taxes.  He has been there, done more, hopes folks will come to him with any issues.

 

Fourth Question: Council is supposed to be non-partisan, has party politics crept in?

Franco: would have hoped this would not be partisan.  Can’t you go to someone for assistance without worrying about party affiliation?  Majority of people out there want less politics, more action.  He’s very good at action: military, work, family, etc.

Arbetter: proud to take position that he takes.  If you think that at the local level, the ideology of your councilor doesn’t matter, you aren’t paying attention to what is going on.  Because he takes positions, doesn’t make him extreme.  Proud Democrat, felt that Wally didn’t take firm positions last time around because he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Proud to be running as a Democrat, doesn’t view himself as a radical lefty.  Running to fight for working families, not ashamed for that.

Wally: Partisanship has crept in, a person who has a certain ideology doesn’t necessarily take that off the table.  To Doug’s comment, when he is asked a question directly, he will answer it directly.

 

Fifth Question: Assume that the deal offered in Pawtucket would be the same in Worcester.  Do you support a AAA Red Sox Affiliate in Worcester?

Arbetter: Generally reluctant to see public funding for sports stadiums.  Reluctant to support without seeing any numbers for revenue, are we sure it won’t be a dud.  It’s a matter of if it’s worth $$ in the long term.

Franco: if city’s going to contribute $15 million, then it would be tough talking to waterfront property owners for them to pay through the nose for property tax.  Hard time with public funding for sports teams.  We have Mr Creedon who has the Bravehearts, what would happen to his operation?  The city would likely be in a situation like Hartford with the Patriots.

Wally: under hypothetical numbers, would like to see a bond situation for meals or hotel tax in that district.  Would like to see Creedon/Bravehearts included in some way.

 

Sixth Question: Should Worcester move towards single tax rate?

Wally: when city went to dual tax rate, residents have paid more over the last 25 years.  When he thinks of thriving city, city with thriving business sector.  Great, strong, educated workforce, great location, great transpo network, we cannot compete against surrounding suburbs’ tax rate.  Would probably take 10 years to get to a single tax rate.

Franco: Tax rate does not seem to be hindering downtown development. City should manage assets more effectively, not overburden taxpayers.  Those on lakefront properties are really hurting.  He won a case against appellate tax board, but it was tough.  Nothing that would overburden homeowners and renters.

Arbetter: Goal is to make sure residents aren’t pushed out.  If we want to move towards single tax rate, not for highest residential tax increases.   Evidence-based measures: PILOT to make nonprofits pay their fair share.  Ch 70 funding reform on the state level.  1% sales tax.  Ways to get alternative revenues, need to look at those.

Seventh: Where can City Manager improve?

Arbetter: biggest improvement would be community budgeting, town hall meetings with constituents on what is important to them.  What we are funding is what we value.  Overall he has done an excellent job, grassroots budgeting could be an improvement.

Franco: Look outside door and see the Price Chopper that has been vacant for years, Richardson and Bradley property, Diamond Chevrolet, James Street.  Why can’t the City Manager do wonders up here?  City Manager works for the Council, would be happy to work with him to spearhead those developments.

Wally: Mike O’Brien had rolled out Buy Worcester Now, homeownership rate is 45% (too low), would like it improved.  Wants department heads to live in Worcester.

Eighth Question: Non-profits cannot be made to pay taxes.  Are they not pulling their weight?

Franco: When you hear the term non-profit and the CEO is making $500-1,000,000, but also includes churches.  If we manage spending effectively, we don’t need to tax non-profits, but it’s got to come from somewhere.  We shouldn’t have to be burdened with that.  Manage our budgets effectively.

Arbetter: supports expanding local PILOT program. Going to university and aggressively have them sponsor Recreation Worcester, even have less aggressive conversations with those smaller non-profits.  There are ways the city can have them contribute.

Wally: should always engage with the non-profits, but would shudder to think at what we would look like without colleges.  Majority of non-tax payers are state and city owned in the city.   Should discuss with the state to appropriately value the property and have them pay what they should be paying.

Ninth Q: Mounted police or should those police be working on more traditional patrols?

Franco: mounted police are impressive, privately funded.  Would rather they be used via bike patrols, which are more effective.  More mobile police force, have police substation manned.  The horses aren’t going to come to Webster Square to help us out.  More engaged with community & youth.

Wally: he would rely on the expertise of the department head.  When the mounted police were described, chief said how they would be useful.  He would rely on the chief’s expertise, and supports why he made the decision.

Arbetter: echoes Wally.

 

Tenth Q: pedestrian safety

Arbetter: background is in public health, traffic is a huge part of our public health system.  Need to look at whether crosswalks, stop signs, lights, in the right places.  Smart infrastructure.  Lowering speed limit will not magically make us safer.  Target where we lower the speed limit.

Wally: District 5 should be walkable.  We should look at lowering speed limit on certain residential street.  Need to enforce laws to protect children and pedestrians, visible crosswalks, lighted streets.

Franco: Clover & Heard St residents, he was taking his life into his hands doorknocking there.  Stepped up law enforcement, you have to pay attention when you walk, a lot is common sense.  Increased education.  Complete streets program, Salisbury St, near Worcester State.  Get off the phone, drive carefully.

 

Eleventh Q: What would you do to make D5 and the city safer?  How would you fund?

Wally: too many streets don’t have sidewalks.  Clover, Flagg.  Advocate for increase in sidewalks.  Grow the tax base so that additional revenue could pay for these infrastructure improvements.

Arbetter: privilege of living on the Moreland Expressway.  Walkable sidewalks are needed, making the city walkable should be something we contribute more to.

Franco: Agrees on sidewalk situation.  As a father of 6, many days and afternoons on the ballfields, esp Jesse Burkett and Logan Field.  We have great new parks, but not a comprehensive plan to maintain them once they are build/redone.  Parks need to be properly maintained.

Twelfth Q: does city focus too much on projects in the downtown core?  Do you see value in the density downtown?

Franco: city has done a good job improving downtown, but how long do we need to look at these large vacant properties in the district?  We want to make sure greater emphasis is placed on this district.

Wally: development downtown is not being done to the detriment of the neighborhoods, it increases tax base for us all, improving neighborhoods.  Majority of the activity downtown is from state, federal, private funders.

Arbetter: a lot of value in the investments made downtown, make sure the plans are smart.  No grocery store near there, who’s going to want to live there?  Similar complexes in other cities are above stores.  District needs a bigger focus on undeveloped property.  Property is overpriced, need to be more aggressive with the property owner.  Not opposed to put eminent domain on the table as a last resort.  Coes could be a destination, need to build on Gary’s work.

Thirteenth Q: under what circumstances do you support a tax break to a property owner or business?

Arbetter: welfare to get them to invest in the city.  They need to have a history of paying fair wages, using local organized labor.  Support the workers/residents of this city.  Stands with Councilor Russell. They need to contribute to the city. Proud to have stood with Carpenters Union on Front St.

Franco: TIF, tax breaks, in the toolbox.  Can’t be used haphazardly.  Important to use urban planning expertise.  Would not hand these out willy-nilly, without knowing whether in the city’s/district’s best interest.

Wally: TIFs/DIFs have proven to be good for local econ dev.  TIF/DIFs for existing businesses that are already here.  Enforce hiring certain number of locals, stay in business for a certain amt of time, need to take back tax revenue where appropriate.

 

Town Hall Style – no more timings

Mariano: one current councilor you most identify with

Wally: Economou, constituent services, business background but community focused.

Franco: it’s going to sound like I’m pandering –

Mariano: Don’t pick Rosen, don’t pick Rosen –

Franco: Gary really does care, very approachable.  Standing in Lincoln Square in August, baking out there, he gave him a vote.  Likes his personality.

Arbetter: identifies with King, in terms of values, and Carlson is a fighter for her district.  Mayor Petty has fought with values that are important with him.

Mariano: any City Councilor you wouldn’t want to be like?

Arbetter: There is.  Since this is a political discussion, least identifies ideologically with Councilor Gaffney.

Franco: doesn’t think it’s fair to see who we like and dislike.

Mariano: who you identify with –

Franco: he will defer not to answer.

Wally: will defer.

(UGH – AT LEAST ARBETTER SAID SOMETHING!)

Stolz: is there a time when you would have to vote against the interests of the district in favor of the whole city?

Franco: would shirk responsibility to district if voted that way.  Low tech and high tech constituent services.

There are a lot of people who don’t like new gadgets, proposes constituent office hours, or a town hall meeting like this (not like Gary had a few weeks ago!)

These people need to know that they have someone on the Council fighting for them.  Just like being a lawyer.  Without knowing a specific issue, tough to say.

Arbetter: doesn’t like blanket yes/no questions.  The reason he is running for district is that his passion is constituent work, like when he worked for McGovern’s office.  Passion to do this work.  He ran before the seat was open because he wanted to fight for what was important to him.  He wants people to call him and meet with him.

People elect him because they believe in his ability to represent them – on the front, if something tells him to vote for it, he will.  We all have to give to get in the long run.  Not opposed to giving a little to get something in the long run.

Wally: priority of the district councilor is to protect the district first, would always vote with the district’s needs at heart (not his exact words)

Mariano and some sort of sanctuary city “should the cops ask for papers” question

Franco: It all depends on the law.  Important that we enforce the laws.  We can’t just make it up as we go along.  Whatever law enforcement training the police have.

Wally: WPD has no authority to enforce federal immigration laws.  Doesn’t think it’s appropriate for them to ask about immigration status.  Victims of crime should not hide in the shadows so perpetrator can be caught.

Arbetter: Federal gov’t’s job to enforce immigration laws.  Huge part of public health is for folks to seek help.  If people are afraid to report crime or ask for help, will make our community less safe.  Data shows that communities across the country with similar policies to ours are safer.

 

Mariano, follow up, if WPD had undocumented immigrant in custody without any criminal background, should Worcester contact federal officials and notify them?  (Not required by law)

Franco: concern about undocumented residents is public safety.  If they have someone in custody, obviously concerned about that.

Mariano beats the dead horse.  Don’t we have real issues in this district?

Franco: if you get stopped without a license, you eventually get let off with a fine.

Mariano continues to beat dead horse

Franco: not for someone not a threat to community

 

Stolz: trash and litter problem in Worcester.  Do we have one?  How should we solve it?

Wally: Trash and recycling blowing around.   Recycling bins are an issue, trash bags are not an issue.  Clear plastic bags seemed to be ok, would like to see cost reduced.  Has been problem of dumping in the city, would like to commend the administration for increased cameras.  Best ways to reduce small trash is public transportation.

Franco: Barrels with lids for trash and recycling in other towns.  As long as a trash bin is open, the trash collector will take it.  Cover with lid.

Arbetter: leans towards bin with cover.  Ways to do it without a lot of debate.

Wally: concern with the bin: what about multi-family properties?

 

Mariano: to Arbetter: based on problem property, would get tough with owner and eventually get by eminent domain.  If you call a property owner, you don’t have to get them to pick up the phone.  Where is the money?

Arbetter: A few ideas: discussion with a developer who would like to acquire property.  Go to large non-profit landowners to help acquire the land.

Mariano: and they can do the sidewalk in the front too

 

Mariano to Franco: CM has done wonders downtown, can’t he do them here?  Wonders downtown started more than a decade ago, with Murray, O’Brien doing most of the work.  Now the tree is bearing fruit.  What would you expect the manager to do, knowing that gestation period?

Franco: attended a Columbus Park meeting, CM was perplexed by a similar question. Someone like him can work in a team with CM.  Property on the market for sale, need right buyer.  But how long do we have to wait?

Wally, commenting: code violations for home – good tool for tax and lien, city has a receivership program, who can make any necessary code repairs on the property and then sell the property.  Revitalization plan was approved by state, part of strategic plan, better when there is a strategy, WRA has the only eminent domain power in the city.

 

Stolz: livable city, Stearns Tavern, Notre Dame, history vs. moving on.

 

Arbetter: city has a great character. Always wants to advocate with repurposing, as in the case of Notre Dame.  Pow Wow was great, energizes community, those type of things are important.  Murals on garages (sorry, my wrist is losing steam)

Franco: doesn’t mind the mural, have to take down the Doug sign.  So many concerned citizens doing a lot of work on city parks.  Weeding at veterans memorial.  Newton Square flowers was done by private citizens.  It’s nice to tell people what to do with their property when you don’t have money to do anything yourself.  Loves Mt Carmel and Notre Dame, but money talks.  It’s nice to have these things, done pretty good project like Telegraph Bldg on Park Ave.  Honey Farms near Christ the King church, Honey Farms wants to expand but they can’t tear down the Bhadon building.  Can’t have every house built 200 years ago be preserved.

Wally: you can’t let history get in the way of progress – should be change to history can help progress.  When historic building can have good use, it will help with progress. Fine balance.  Member of Preservation Worcester.  Lengthening of demolition delay order from 6 months to a year a number of years ago was a good thing.

 

I didn’t type the final statements but they were pretty much a rehash of the opening statements.

FYI Worcester Public Library Lovers

Best beloveds,

I can’t make any comment on this because I serve on the board of the Friends of Worcester Public Library, but I thought you’d like to know that the designer selection for the first floor redesign of the main branch will be on Friday at 2pm.

You might not have realized it had anything to do with the library because, well, it doesn’t say “library” anywhere on there.

But don’t worry, kids, because no one from the library — not a board member or a staff member, certainly not the head librarian — gets a say in the hiring of the designer.

(The funding will be from PILOT.  The decisions on designer will be made by the city.)

Does that motivate you to apply for a seat on the WPL board?  It should.  Contact the city clerk if you’re interested in applying and advocating for patrons and staff.

Worcester Public Library Board Vacancy/ies

The city is currently seeking applicants for the library board to serve out the rest of Carolyn Noah’s term (expires in 2020).  More details here; applications due by this Friday (20th May).

Of note:

Jacob Sanders’s seat on the board is also vacant, but the city is not seeking applicants for his seat.

The vacancy incorrectly states that there is an opening for District 1.  There is an opening for a seat, and it can be filled by someone from any district.

There are currently no seats filled by a District 5 resident, and only one by a District 4 resident.

I urge residents to apply, especially those from D4 and D5.  I urge the City Council to continue to make the board more diverse and especially to give voice to those from D5.

(I will not be applying as I would need to step down from my position on the WPL Friends Board, and I would also like to serve out my term on the Hope Cemetery Commission.)

 

 

WRA Urban Revitalization Plan Notes

Here are my notes from the first hour of the hearing; I could not stay for the whole meeting.

I would like to note that only three members of the WRA board attended this meeting.  I know people have conflicts, but when you are talking about the potential of property taking by eminent domain, it would have been nice to have a full board in attendance.  I’ll link here to any articles I see about the meeting.

Vincent Pedone, Steve Rothschild, Dave Minasian (labor rep appted by CM Augustus), they have a quorum so moving forward

Mike Trainor

Order of Hearing:

Elected officials to speak (Dan Donahue, Mary Keefe, Joe Petty, Gary Rosen, Moe Bergman)

WRA staff and BSC group will give presentation, explanation of finances of plan

Public comment

Timeline, introduced by Pedone: City Council directed CM O’Brien to have WRA to start embarking on urban renewal plan.  Up to $500k for this exercise.  In 2014, bids through RFP for consultant to assist in putting the plan together.  Community Advisory Committee, headed by John Brissette, had 10 meetings over the course of 8 months, received feedback from those in the zone.  City Council passed request to include the Wyman-Gordon site.

Shortly after that, CAC expanded to include some of Southbridge Street.

At end of meeting, will take a vote to move this plan forward.  But this is not the end of the process.

WRA meeting a week from tomorrow (Friday the 13th) to discuss topics brought up at this forum.  Input greatly appreciated.

Ask to limit comments to three minutes, submit written testimony.

Mayor Petty speaks.  Thanks everyone for their hard work.  Half a billion invested in downtown, another step in making this a better city.

Pedone continues to talk about economic growth in the city.  This plan will tie it all together.  They are completely open to making revisions to the plan.

CM Augustus, opening comments: thanks everyone for their time and effort.  Some of us who live here do not appreciate the scale of changes that have happened over the past 20 and esp past 10 years.  Lot of property owners identified who are good people who care about the city but may not be able to afford changes.  Eminent domain is a scary thought, but isn’t the first goal of this plan.  Really is the last resort.  Brings attention to these properties.

Augustus, continued: Advocates people ratting on their neighbors who have property in disrepair.  Downtown analogous to that situation.

(My older son notes that these comments have now lasted longer than three minutes.)

Rep Keefe: Excited to hear what folks have in mind tonight.  When we talk about urban renewal, a bit of PTSD.  Wants to hear more about the public process for feedback.  This is transformational – less about destruction and more about renovation and investment.

Pedone: phrase urban renewal is scary, so (1) this authority has gone out of its way to make sure everything is public, (2) this space overlooks successful urban renewal space.  (By this he means the hospital.)

Gary declines to speak: “This is the public’s night.”

Mike Trainor now begins to go through a PowerPoint overview of the plan, Heather Gould and Jef Fasser (BSC) will both speak later.

Why Urban Revitalization?

To be a stronger, more vibrant downtown.  Economic engine for the whole region.  Strategy is to approach properties where private sector has not invested in them.  “These are the tough ones.”  24 properties plus first floor of Denholm’s.

Code violations, out of date code, brownfields vacant for 20 years, upper floors vacant, obsolete buildings private sector not willing to invest in.  Bring confidence to existing property owners, those who want to invest in Worcester.

Urban Renewal Plan by law has a 20 year shelf life.

MedCity: taxes: $27,000 in 1993, $5million in 2016.  What we spent and what has been returned has been a 30% return on investment

Introduces MGL about urban renewal.  Currently 26 active, approved plans in the Commonwealth, 18 of those are in Gateway Cities.

One active urban renewal plan in Worcester is Union Station.  They were able to use land in that area to the Homewood Suites hotel.

Heather Gould of Economic Development to discuss the DIF District.

This project is a great example of successful public/private urban renewal partnership.   Two different property owners, two different developers (Mercantile Center, City Square proper).  City has spent $90 mill for demo of mall, street network, site prep, rekindling the urban fabric that once existed.  550 space underground parking garage, will make parking more accessible.  Approximately $300 million in both projects in private investments.  Up to 370 units of market rate housing, AC Marriott hotel.

They are basing this on the Theater District Master Plan.

Transformative Development Initiative from MassDevelopment.  Worcester was chosen – focus is on Theater District.  Aim is to make the district a bustling hub of activity, where people want to go after work.  This is its own initiative but fits into Theater District Master Plan.

 

Jef Fasser of BSC Group – walkthrough of the plan.

Looking at improving gateways into the downtown, aesthetics, building stock.

12 & 22 Front Street (Mid Town Mall).  There are a lot of small businesses in that building, they don’t want to chase small businesses out.

17 Pleasant Street (former Olympia Theater).  It would be a challenge to turn around a large space like the theater and pay back the investment needed to take.  Recommendation is to demo.

66 Franklin Street, Paris Cinema.  Boarded up, investment is not really likely.

517-521 Main Street (Metro PCS, Great Wall).  Upper levels have not been used in years.  Façade improvements also needed.

484 Main Street (Denholm Building).  Upper levels are well-utilized.  All are individual condominiums; much of the bottom floor tenants have not been successful.

518 Main Street (empty parking lot next to Denholm; picture is pre-mural).

538 Main Street (Money Stop).  Upper levels not used in years.  Would require major investment to turn that around. New restaurant, that’s the kind of thing we want to encourage.

35 Portland Street (parking lots behind Hanover).  Partner with other property owners to put in garage.

McGrath Parking Lot, Salem Street: lot may provide development opportunity in the future.  No immediate action.

Wyman Gordon Parcels at Gold Street.

149 Washington Street.  Used as flea market on occasion.

Wyman Gordon, small Lamartine parcels.  Begins to transition to Green Island neighborhood.

300 Southbridge Street, Miss Worcester Diner and large building (beautiful but in tough shape).

4 Quinsigamond Ave (flea market, tattoo).

346 Southbridge Street (Hurricane Betty’s)

I’ve found that “prime development area” = “evict longtime taxpayers”

City has grant to pay for improvements on Quinsig Ave and Main Street.  They want to tie all this in to plans.

Pedestrian level improvements – sidewalks, lighting, safety, make the alleyways a place for pedestrians to walk.

Total project cost: $104 million.  Of this, $82 million would be needed.  They have identified potential funding sources.

Public comment period:

Recognizes Konnie Lukes and Sarai Rivera

John Brissette: asks the others who served to stand.  Process started in Fall 2014 comprised of a group of stakeholders.  Public forum at Crompton Collective in Feb 2015.  Another public hearing at City Hall.  Talked a lot about small businesses.

Jill Dagilis: they worked really hard to listen.  She is a city resident and property owner, WCAC executive director.  She is a huge fan of Worcester.  Believes this is a good plan, vibrant development and revitalization is good for all of us.

Frank Carroll: congratulates CM on his explanation of what is going on with redevelopment program.  Glad Tim Murray was mentioned as well.  Has been in business on Main Street for 28 years.  (He reads some remarks which had been discouraged.  Hey, some of us need notes!)  He remembers the opposition to this building (DCU Center).  We need private enterprise in order to keep our taxes down.

Non-profits don’t pay taxes, private enterprise pays taxes. Discusses how out-of-town property owners need to do more than just collect rent.  Other property owners should step up to the plate and not expect the city government to pay for the improvements.

Tim Murray of the Chamber of Commerce: if every property owner were like Frank Carroll, we wouldn’t need to be here.

Gateway Park, Shrewsbury St, Canal District, all public/private partnerships, all focused on mixed use.

Chronic problem properties for a long time have been targeted by this plan.

If we are going to leverage the public and private partnerships, we need to address these properties.  About engaging property owners, taking is a last resort.  Put primacy on rehabilitation.

Troy Siebels: success of his buildings is dependent on his plan.  Concerned that it does not go far enough.  There are other properties that might require more work, plan just addresses low-hanging fruit.  Asked if there are other properties: yes, in the immediate 500 block, the Denholm Building first floor most critical.

Deb Packard: is this a static plan?  Can areas/buildings be added?  Preservation Worcester understands that not every building can or should be saved.  They are concerned about demolishing two historical theaters in the downtown (Capitol/Paris Cinema: has heard it’s in bad shape)

Packard, continued: in terms of demolition delay ordinance, is that still in place for a year?

Very concerned about Olympia Theater. She was in the theater less than a month ago.  She is reminded of what people said about the Hanover Theater ten years ago.

Putting her library hat, Pres of the Library Board.  They are very enthusiastic about opening the front door.  However, parking is a concern, patrons have children, strollers, elderly, we might lose them, important downtown institution.

Trainor: idea of any development is longterm thought process.  Wants to increase parking availability. They will not leave the library with less parking.