CWW: Things I Find in the Woods

I haven’t done  a Cheap Worcester Wednesday in a while.  Not so much because cheapness doesn’t abound in Worcester…but I invariably forget what day of the week it is and around 9:30am on a Thursday I think of something cheap…and then feel like I can’t post for another six days, at which point I forget whatever it is I was going to post.

A couple of weeks ago, we were in God’s Acre and there was a cat carrier in decent shape along the side of the road.  So, frequent commenter (and person-who’s-not-scared-to-meet-me-alone-in-the-woods) Bob was kind enough to put it in the back of his car and drive me home.  Whereupon I showed it to my husband, who said, “We already have a cat carrier.”

Which is really beside the point, don’t you think? 

So, we’ve got a cat carrier in good working order that was fished out of the woods.  If you want or need one, or if you’d like something you can bring home so that your spouse/mother/second cousin, too, can say, “Why exactly did you get something we already own?”, leave a comment and I’ll get it to you.

Random Thoughts from the Council Meeting

It’s been a while since I attended a Council meeting in person, and I came without a laptop, because sometimes it’s interesting to just watch the subtle interactions between councilors.

For instance, I love that Konnie Lukes is perpetually talking in Rick Rushton’s ear, and I always wonder what she’s saying.  I believe last night, it was something like this:

“Listen, Rick, I’ve got to be the lone dissenter, because that’s why people come out in droves to vote for me.  Can you obliquely insult me in such a way that it will simultaneously appeal to those who continue to support me and identify the one characteristic everyone who dislikes me latches onto?”

Mission accomplished.


We all learned an important lesson from Joff Smith.  In his continuing quest for valet parking (10:04 mark), he noted that a loooong time ago (i.e., before Clancy was on the Council) there was a sign designating an area of Commercial Street as a passenger zone.  He requested that it come back up.  Note that this request took four minutes.

Councilor Clancy, sensing that I wanted to go home, moved to hold this under privilege.  Joff said that since it had already been there, he was just asking for signs to be re-installed.

The decision was that Clancy could hold it under privilege, because Joff had brought it before the Council.  Had Joff called DPW directly, it likely would have been taken care of, and not been held for nearly a month.

Sometimes that’s the price you have to pay for grandstanding.


In other news, MikeGermain muttered something like, “Well, this is going to be controversial,” before requesting that Green Hill Parkway be made two-way.  The person next to me said, “That’s why we love you, Mike!” to make me feel better about my fondness for Germain.  (I will leave that person nameless in case that comment was really just to make me feel a little less alone.)

While we all find the self-deprecating charm that Germain brings to the Council Chambers refreshing (especially after listening to four minutes of Joff Smith), but there’s no need to be apologetic about bringing forward a constituent request.  Though we can certainly understand a touch of trepidation after sitting next to someone who just got a Clancy smackdown.


Finally, a note in my extremely limited official capacity.

It was mentioned that Robert Goddard is still in Worcester — at Hope Cemetery, in fact.

The Friends of Hope Cemetery put together a wonderful self-guided tour of the cemetery; Goddard, along with many other significant people buried in Hope Cemetery, is listed.

This-n-That, Opiate Edition

In my continuing bid to win the “Most Informative Opioid-Related Blogger” award in Best of Worcester 2011, there’s an interesting interview with some of the members of the Worcester Cares Opiate Coalition on WCCA.  The big message is to not be afraid to call 911 if someone is overdosing.  There was also a discussion of a 911 Good Samaritan Law being proposed in the Mass State Legislature (see this link, though the links are wacky and it might not work).


Friends of the East Side Trail might be pleased to read about a proposal to buy land that would complete the trail.


 Because I really can’t make this stuff up, here’s an actual conversation from my car:

Nicole: “There’s going to be a new Hawaii Five-O.”

Husband: “Yeah, I know.  Are they going to use the same theme song?”

Nicole: “How could they not?  No one can write a good theme song these days, so they’ve got to recycle all the old ones.  I wonder who’s going to use Rockford Files?”

Husband: “And what about Buck Rogers?”

Nicole: “I don’t even remember the Buck Rogers theme song…”

Husband: [demonstrates that he knows the lyrics to the Buck Rogers theme song.  Raise your hand if you didn’t know the Buck Rogers theme song had words.  Yeah, me neither.]

Husband: “When are you going to admit your crush on Gil Gerard to your readers?”

Nicole, with a sigh:  “Admitting a crush on Gil Gerard is like telling everyone I get a reaction when a mosquito bites me.  It’s just part of the human condition.”

(Though I would like to note at this point that I do not, nor have I ever had, a crush on Gil Gerard.  I only watched that show for Twiki.)

Head Librarian Interviews (Liveblog)

(Sorry, I missed the first interview, but you’ll have me for the next two…)

Candidate 2: Mark Contois from Framingham

(As he approaches his seat, he says, “This looks like the hot seat.”)

The City of Worcester’s guidelines for this process…13 questions.  Board will ask the questions, and the same questions are from all candidates.  Decision will be made tonight about who the next head librarian will be.

Kevin: Describe approach to decision making and implementation.

Mark: Likes to think he’s pretty inclusionary, surrounded by terrific people.  He doesn’t always have the answer, by including people in process, result is always better.

Kevin: How do you approach financial challenges for libraries?

Mark: We need to do our best to get the message of libraries across every single day.  By being polite, persistent, political, but always professional, you can get the story across.

“Everyone likes libraries…some people may not know it.”

Always optimistic, but have to hustle and find different funding sources.  You will be rewarded (by various governmental bodies) for doing that.  [Big summarization on my part]

What is source of employee satisfaction?

We’ve got a great cause, the employees care, …if I care, …good things can happen up and down the library.  We’re not highest paid people, in public libraries, so people are working here for a reason.  Involving staff in decision making, putting resources in their hands, listening is key.

Describe experience working with boards, government, elected officials.

In previous position, worked with board of selectman and finance committee.   In Framingham, 5-member select board that he deals with frequently.  He’s worked with state reps and senators, particularly in Palmer. 

Discuss involvement with working with unionized employees.

In W. Springfield, was assistant director of the union.  In Palmer, was not unionized; still not unionized, but benefits have been brought up to par.  In Framingham, unionized — SEIU — one of the things working on is labor management committee to address long-standing quality of work issues and has been a great experience.  Work with board of health on people smoking directly outside the library.


What has been the most challenging situation in your professional career, and how did you address?

In Palmer, building of new library.  He was young.  He bought land abutting the library, board of directors approved it.  Received a grant; only in hindsight did he look back on that and feel that it was a small miracle, to be able to raise $1.7mil.  It was so much fun at the time that he didn’t realize how difficult it was. 

Think of someone in your career you’d never use as a reference, what they’d say if we called them, and why.

My staff thinks I’m Mr. Softy, so I don’t know…at Springfield Library was in charge of circulation, just beginning automation process, and they had 8 branch libraries.  The person who ran the show saw the computers as only a positive.  But now he and I are good friends.

“There’s probably people out there, I just don’t know it.”


Tell us about a significant risk you took, and what were the results.

Last year’s operating budget in Framingham, a month into the new fiscal year, I saw problems coming.  I know that the town’s CFO would be looking for money back from departments.  I chose not to fill two positions; it’s tough times, and you have to be able to see through to the other side.  Wanted to be able to have some money to set aside to show to the CFO.  He was able to save a few positions for the library as a result.  Have carried vacancies this year and will carry them next year as well.  Union has been very kind to him.

Bill Coleman notes that he’s “Mark John.”
Mark notes that his mother calls him that when she’s mad at him.

(And, of course, I missed the question.)

Something about numbers.  Sorry — I’m going to sit this question out on the liveblog to go cough.  (Luckily, they offered me a Coke Zero, which is almost as good as Tab.)

Crisis situation in library; can you think of a physical one?

Library needs distaster preparedness plan (in the office, under my bed at home, in my car).  Call in the resources you need (police, fire, etc.)  Safety is first: you can replace the books, you can replace the carpet, staff members and the public come first.

Tell us about the most fun you’ve had on the job.

There’s been a lot of that, not all that I can talk about (mucho laughs).  Moving from library in Palmer, which turned into demo/rebuild, moving into schoolhouse, packed up books ourselves, and with volunteers.  It was a little eerie, because it was like going back into elementary.  We turned 1905 schoolhouse into a library for 2.5 years; we had one staff bathroom.  I felt like Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day.

Finding shelving: we found it in a WWII bunker.  A lot of fun, and so many town members were involved.

Best part was when we opened it, and all the people who’d gone to school there came back.  The owner had class pictures from 1905-1992, and they were put on the walls, so people came to see themselves.

What distinguishes you as the right person for this position?

Oh, I don’t know.  (Laughs).  After 26 years in this business…you’ve probably interviewed much better librarians than me.  In terms of librarian skills, you’ve met other people with better.  What I have is a profound respect for what librarians do, and have ever since I was a kid.  “Beyond fighting with my brothers” the branch library four blocks away was my favorite place to be.

Going from Palmer to Framingham was a big leap, but a lot of it is still the same.  Believing in what you do, the people, working with the community and your board, and then good things happen.

(end of formal part of interview)

His wife is from Worcester.  Impressed with long-range plans for the city.

I’ve never learned anything from myself, but I’ve learned a lot about myself from interacting with others.

Regrettably, the library community has gotten small, so it’s not hard to know that who’s where.  He knows Margaret Cordello, another candidate, and praises her.

(discussion of candidate)

Oh — wait — there were only two candidates.  One dropped out (?)

So — here’s the final discussion.

Some impressions: Mark was very humble but also very budget-focused.  Very enthusiastic and able to sell what he believes.

Mark spoke highly of his staff, included himself in a group.

(Margaret must have been the other candidate…sorry about that…)

Doesn’t feel they got an answer from either of them on why they wanted to be here.  [Nicole — Well, did they really ask it?]  There’s obviously a concern about a head librarian being long-term.

Mark seems like he made a good impression.  Seriously, very charming guy from this side of the room.  [And goodness knows my primary method of evaluating someone is charm.]

Concern with substance (or lack thereof) of what Mark had to say, especially since this is very different from Framingham or Palmer.  Ditto legislative ability.

Didn’t feel that either of them told their own story.  Margaret had good experience with regional library, which is a real strength.

Another person said that the Palmer situation would kind of prove an ability to work with government leaders to get things done, etc.

Question about were references checked.  They are usually checked at the end of the process, once they decide on a candidate.

They will choose a candidate tonight and also a backup choice, in case the references (or something else) doesn’t work out.

Margaret writes well, and discusses the big picture well.  Felt Mark’s had mistakes and vagueness.

What does library need right now?

Discussion of Foundation, need to promote it.  Do we need an advocate, someone to put us up a notch, someone with multi-faceted skills (City Hall, working with staff, etc.)?


(Sorry — I’m zoning out at the moment — lots of praise for the two candidates all around)

During Skype conversation, more obvious than in this interview that Mark had a good sense of Foundation and Friends work, and also good legislative experience.

Mark’s personality might be a better fit.  He visited bookstore on Friday, visited GBV and FPBL as well as the main branch.

(While I space for a moment, can I just say that the gentleman who does facilities is totally awesome?  Just thought I’d share.)

Question about Margaret’s experience with actual patrons, versus being a librarian to librarians.

Vote: Mark, unanimously (at least from here).

Second choice: reopen search.

So, there you have it.  You’ll find out soon if he accepts.

Blackstone Activists: Officially Awesome

Why didn’t this get letter of the week?

What good news that the Upper Blackstone treatment plant’s current upgrades are not only meeting the 2001 permit limits, but much to their credit, they are also meeting the new nitrogen limit of 5 mg/l, and they are close to meeting the new (correct) phosphorus limit of 0.1 mg/l for the 2008 permit. This success is to be applauded and we were pleased to see it officially reported in an editorial (Telegram & Gazette, June 20). There now seems to be little reason to go to federal court.

The city and the Upper Blackstone staff insisted that it would be next to impossible for a treatment plant of this size and present technology to meet both the new nitrogen and phosphorus limits without additional huge overhauls and exorbitant costs. But the plant has met the 5 mg/l nitrogen limit without any additional overhaul; and, according to the plant manager, is saving money in the process. Meeting the phosphorus limit, which the plant is close to doing, will take some upgrading, but nothing approaching what now seems to be a quite obsolete and inflated $200 million estimate of consultant Camp Dresser McKee.

Since the Upper Blackstone plant is so close to meeting the new limits, why not take some deserved credit, accept the new permit and spend the avoided legal fees on closing the now much narrower gap to comply with the Clean Water Act?

We all will benefit from this prudent approach. So will the Blackstone River.



Blackstone Headwaters Coalition

Handwriting Analysis

First of all, kudos to the telegram web dudes and dudettes for posting the .pdfs of the councilor’s evaluations of the City Manager.  (I would like it to be known that I’m trying to do anything to get your attention.  If this doesn’t work, I’m going to have to start declaring how I have the hots for Sid McKeen.  And no one wants to see that.)

Regular readers of this blog know which councilor’s review I wanted to read first.  (.pdf here)  Five handwritten pages.  Written on the plane ride back from Orlando?  (Seriously, though…doesn’t that look exactly how you’d imagine MikeGermain’s handwriting would look?)

Now, there are a few other (visually) interesting evaluations.  Kate Toomey’s has the city seal as the background; Bill Eddy uses his own (city councilor) letterhead, as does the mayor.

But one other councilor decided to handwrite his evaluation…Phil Palmieri. (I was going to say “Germain arch-rival, Phil Palmieri”, but you could assign that sobriquet to pretty much anyone on the Council.)

Phil’s got a neater hand, and he writes on lined paper; Germain writes the same way I do when unlined paper finds its way under my hand: a touch slanted.

But Phil’s evaluation is inexplicably upside-down.  A serious political comment?  A simple lack of manipulation on the .pdf?  We may never know…

Update, 8:09am: In my continuing bid to be the campaign manager for whomever runs against Bill Eddy, I’d like to note the following passage in his evaluation, emphasis added by me:

in district a key issue for future years will be to ensure that today’s celebration of an Airport sale carries forward to a promised partnership between Mass Port and the residents of Tatnuck and West Tatnuck.

There are plenty of residents in District 5 who are affected by the Airport sale who do not live in either Tatnuck or West Tatnuck.  In fact, some of them might be residents whose homes or parkland could be taken in the event of an access road from the Airport to I-290t.  The honorable gentleman from District 5 would do well to remember that his District extends to parts south of the Airport as well as north.  And that those in Tatnuck are not nearly as affected by this as those who live on, say, Grandview Avenue.

I Am Officially in Love

(I will leave it to Victor to wax romantic about actual people.  My love is reserved for pieces of software and certain elderly men with weekly columns in the T&G.)

I’ve previously expressed my admiration for ManorLabs.  (And the Mayor once again threw me a bone by mentioning FB & Twitter at Tuesday’s City Council meeting; located towards the end of the Liveblog.)

I’ve found a similar software called IdeaScale for managing ideas and suggestions.

It has thumbs-up/thumbs-down voting on proposals:


Wiki-style editing:

And decent tools for moderators:

The best part?  It’s free to government agencies.  I highly recommend the City look into using this for citizen suggestions.


Albert Southwick thinks turning ninety isn’t a big deal.

While that may be true, ninety years of AWESOME is totally worth celebrating.

Thank you, Mr. Southwick, for your always-interesting columns, for continuing to inform the public about our history, for being an inspiration to young people, and for knowing the difference between “jerry-built” and “jury-rigged.”

(Also, in honor of your birthday, today’s BBC One Planet programme devoted the better part of a show to aging.)

Regional Transportation Plan Central Sub Region Meeting Liveblog

6:16pm: Meeting scheduled to start at 6:30; if you’ve got feedback for them and can’t attend the meeting, you can do so with the survey here.

6:33: Can I just say before this meeting starts how the liveblog as an art form would make a great master’s dissertation for someone?  (And that it’s obvious I have no abilities in this arena?  I need to be less serious and more humorous!  Also — this room is really empty.)

6:38: If I loved you, I would have typed out the whole agenda and handouts while I was waiting.  But all you’re getting is this liveblog.

Rich Ridens (sp?) from CMMPO is discussing the agenda. 

Two gentlemen from the Canal District; one representative from the City Manager’s Office; one from WRTA; one from MassDOT; a few other citizens; staff from CMMPO.

6:41: Why are we here?  On the PowerPoint, pictures of congestion on Main Street, watch for bikes sign blocking bicycle lane, cars parked on sidewalk, and truck trying unsuccessfully to get under an overpass.

6:43: Mary Ellen Bluntk, to discuss Potential Themes.

Overview of the Powerpoint; we’ll discuss in detail in a minute…

Potential Themes
Backdrop – Fiscal Constraint: not enough $, how do we make it go further?  What items do we prioritize? 
Maintenance: is preserving existing infrastructure most important?
Equity: How do we distribute funds across modes and communities?
Security: Can we make transportation systems more secure?
Congestion: Do you find yourself waiting in traffic?
Safety: Do you feel safe on roadways, buses, and trains?  Do you see a lot of accidents or areas where accidents are very likely to happen?
Access and Connectivity: Should we focus on gaps in connectivity?  Should we focus on multi-modal access?
Livability: Should roadways be designed for all users?  How do we coordinate transportation planning with economic development, housing, environment, & health.
Planning: How do we foster sub-regional dialogue?  Are there better ways to engage the public?
Technology: Can we better manage systems for efficiency & safety?  Are there low or high tech solutions that we should consider?  Should we prioritize making multi-modal choices easier?

What Themes should we focus on?
What would improve your daily travel?
What is your long-term vision for improved travel in your local area, in the region, across the state?
What do you think planners should be working on in the future?

6:52: Steve from WRTA (?)- [we should be] making it easier to use public transportation.  We could have wireless on buses, make it easier for passengers to know where bus is/on time.  More routine maintenance schedules.

John G., Canal District: agrees with Steve…we can use transportation as infrastructure resource.  American population wants to live near amenities (bike paths, parks, etc.)  Would like re-creation of Blackstone Canal; $20m investment in canal could be brought back to taxpayer in 10 years (from feasibility study).  (So, highlighting the combination between economic development and housing.)

6:57: Anne from MassDOT: for “transportation owners”, infrastructure and maintenance are high in importance.  Indicates that all the above points (in italics) are intertwined.

Tom, the guy next to me, who brought handouts!!!): proposes a potential rail plan to go from Worcester out to the suburbs.  Wrote to the city fathers (back in 1999) that we could improve the city and region by using Union Station as a regional hub.  The rail beds would need to be improved.  Many hospitals and shopping centers are close to where existing rails are. 

7:01: Tom continues, to discuss highway.  Specifically, the airport connector.  Route 9 from Warren to Worcester/Cherry Valley is “hellacious”; he proposes improvements to that part of Route 9, with a branch to lead to the airport.  The rail system would be connected to the airport by a tunnel (from Stafford Street).  So, the tunnel would be for airport patrons to have a walk/moving sidewalk to a rail station.

7:04: we should not be thinking in little pieces, but all pieces at once.

7:05: Rich addresses the freight rail question: Worcester was traditionally a hub and “needs some spokes attached to it.”  In the future, it has been suggested to expand commuter rail to Springfield.  He notes that P&W goes to Gardner; access to Providence; a line to Ayer.  P&W RR has indicated that they would be willing to explore passenger service in the future (with a public/private partnership). 

7:08: Rich discusses the recent T&G article about whether CSX would be an impact to residents.

7:11: Joe from City Manager’s office: two points:

1) Economic Development.  The CSX deal (and increase in trains to and from Worcester)is really about economic development; hoping (and seeing) that the former factory buildings in Canal District are being populated by people from the “other side of 128” and then commuting to Boston.  Thinks bicycle is the most difficult for planning.

City is really hot on econ. dev./transportation link.

2) Existing vehicle transportation.  The more we can use technology, the better off we’ll be.  About half of traffic signals have no loops; the other half are pre-timed.  Improved traffic flow comes from improved technology; they try to use it when they get funding.  Even if it’s only in a small way, it’s an improvement for the environment because less cars idling, etc.  [Can I ask why we aren’t having any lead/end green lights along Park Avenue?  Really?]

7:17: Seth, also of Canal District: had three children who all went to school outside the city who said they’d never come back…and now they’re coming back.  And bringing their friends.  Many older people are not building “trophy homes” but are coming back into the city.  You’re going to see a lot more people here in the future.

Commuter rail: increasing service.  Need railroad bridge improvements.

Signage on 290 — indicating Canal District.

Kelly Square: make it safer!

Bicycle path: many younger people are using public transportation.  We’re going to be seeing a lot more people using bike paths and public transport.

7:20: Steve from WRTA: with the addition of trains, there ought to be syncing with the bus schedule.  Not much has been discussed about that, but it needs to happen.  How can we discourage people from entering the city with cars/one-person vehicles?

Tom, picking up on the comment: the idea of people traveling from outside communities to here via rail would reduce cars coming in.  [And, yes, T, I’d like a James Street station too!]

Joe: echoes what Tom said; we had a bit of a discussion about drawing people so that they don’t need to own a car — if they really needed a car, they could rent one, but wouldn’t need it for day-to-day existence.

Mary Ellen sums up our discussion well: moving towards a more sustainable vision for transportation; think boldly about where we want to get to and plan for it.

7:28: Singjatha ((sp?): showing a traffic volume map.  No surprises; Highland, Pleasant, Main, Chandler, Park Ave are busy; the interstates are busy…

Pavement condition data: in all of Central Mass., about half are not in good shape; I’d say about a sixth are considered great.

In Worcester specifically, it’s a bit better.  [I believe this is only for roads that are eligible for federal funds.]

 7:31: very intricate map of bike and pedestrian paths; they surveyed towns for walkability in the town center.  They overlaid the accidents with pedestrians and bicylists as well. 

[I should note that I left out my own comments; I spoke to the need for better/more bike paths and lanes, making pedestrian access safer by such simple things as painting crosswalks on a regular basis.]

 She’s discussing the major infrastructure projects suggested from last time (2007).  One of the more interesting is Worcester East-West Connectors.  A Highland/Pleasant Street is under design, but because of right-of-way, it will likely be mostly intersection improvements.

 7:40: There’s a discussion of a Park and Ride study to see where it’s needed; perhaps along the ring communities with a link to public transit. 

 A woman who’s name I didn’t catch discusses having a challenge to use public transport and then blog about it, or discuss it in some way.  She thinks that would be interesting…I agree! 

 [And doesn’t all this tie in with what MikeGermain was saying at last night’s council meeting?]

7:48: Tom discusses Providence: it’s an urban center that’s cohesive (a capital city surrounded by other cities) and that Worcester has a long way to go to get to that kind of cohesion…move away from thinking in terms of individual towns.

The dude from the City Manager’s office, regarding pedestrians: in discussion of making city of Worcester more walkable.  No money for all sidewalks to be in perfect shape.  Finding paths within city…destinations people want to go…and making sure there’s a good, safe way to get there.  [Oooh…I like that.]  Maybe that works in the towns, too?  Could there be a study for a plan of destinations?  (He spoke a lot more about how it’s impossible to improve all neighborhood sidewalks at once, but that this would be a way to target the destinations.)

 7:53: more advocacy from the Canal District guys.  These guys are tenacious!

Dude from City Manager: discusses cities that have closed off the main downtown road(s) and the economic development, but has not heard about the impact to other roads around those.  Mary Ellen says that it’s mixed.   Various discussions of Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Quebec City; perhaps it’s something that can be looked at for certain days and/or times.  John G. notes that on weekend nights, Water Street is essentially pedestrian because of congestion. 


The (paradoxical) strengths of a “Weak Mayor”

(For any of the ProQuest links — indicated in red — in the post below, I suggest you go here first, log in with your library card number, press the Massachusetts Newsstand button, and then you should be able to click on the links and view the archived articles mentioned.)

In the last installment we examined some of the attractions of the “Strong Mayor” form of government.  Let’s now have a look at the other side of that equation.

On the side of Plan E

Tracy warned us to be cautious about a strong mayor form of government:

Looking around at the cities that have strong mayors, I very much do not see this as a road Worcester wants to go down. If you think city government isn’t responsive now, try having one person who makes all of the decisions–and then getting that person’s attention. This is particularly true of education, certainly (Chicago, Boston, D.C.), but it is also true of other issues. I think there are those who are dissatisfied with particular things in city government and think the entire system needs an overhaul; I’d point to the lack of turnover in the last election for how much the rank and file voters actually want change.

Tracy alluded to a couple of things:
A worry that a strong mayor form of government would politicize city government [more than it already is]. Albert Southwick quotes from an Evening Gazette editorial from the late 1950s, regarding strong mayor form of government: “an antiquated form of partisan municipal government under which could flourish the patronage, ward politics and the kind of inefficiency which once had Worcester on the ropes.”  And I think it would be fair to be concerned that a strong mayor form of government would turn into that.

As Tracy pointed out, so few people vote in elections, there’s little turnover, and (in some cases) no challengers to incumbents. Would a strong mayor form of government get people more involved in their city, or would their frustration just shift from the manager’s office to the mayor’s?  And — instead of someone who has half a clue about running a city — would we end up with a politico who ingratiates himself to enough of the electorate to continue to get elected?

In addition to Tracy’s points, it’s worth bearing in mind that city managers are professionals. They bring a set of skills to the position that may not be sexy in an electoral sense, but, when given coherent direction by the city council, a professional manager can also be a leader.  Depending on the person in the position, a manager could have experience in other municipalities or organizations, and can use that to benefit the city. If our city council were capable of arriving at a consensus on priorities, a professional city manager could then act upon that consensus.  In the absence of that, our current city manager seems to create his own set of priorities, which may or may not be in line with what the city council, and the electorate, intend.

Two-year election cycles might be too short for the administrator of a city. One of the benefits of having a city manager is that we don’t have to worry about a strong mayor who spends half his time planning for the next election, or initiating feel-good projects to win votes.

What is this discussion really about?

If you replace the word “Toledo” for “Worcester” in the following quote from this post, it’s the single best summary I can think of:

Regardless of the lessons from local history, Toledoans have been unable (or maybe it is unwilling) to retain an institutional memory. They are under the misimpression that politics can indeed be removed. Toledo citizenry puts itself in another catch-22. On one hand, Toledoans want a supposedly non-partisan, non-political, professional CEO that they allege can only be secured by having a city manager. On the other hand, Toledoans want a CEO that is accountable and responsible to the citizens, something that can only come through a CEO who is elected directly by the people, that is a strong mayor.

Steve Jones-D’Agostino asked the following six years ago:

But questions remain: Does Worcester really need a strong mayor? Or does the city need a strong leader? And if it’s the latter, will changing the form of government make any difference?

And those points are as relevant today as they were six years ago, or sixty years ago, and they will still be relevant sixty years from today.

Here are a few recent issues in our city that cried out for a LEADER:

Did anyone ask if our contract with Fontaine Brothers for the Crompton Park pool covered crazy high PCB levels, or just normal levels?  Did anyone ask if we think the other pools with also have these kinds of abatement issues, and how this will impact the city’s plans for pools and spray parks? They did not.

Did anyone ask why tobacco buffer zones get to have a public hearing, but operating a regional public health system with Shrewsbury just warrants a short note in the T&G? They did not.

Will anyone mention the lack of tenants in the Union Station Garage, the complete nightmare (for both pedestrians and motorists) that has been imposed on Foster Street and Worcester Center Boulevard, or the continued headache that is Washington Square? We’ll see tonight.

Not only did our City Manager fail to take a leadership role in such issues, none of our councilors took the initiative, either — including the Mayor.

Our councilors don’t hold the city manager to account for issues like these, and neither do we, the voters, hold those councilors to account for such omissions.  Sloppy procedures, lack of vision and an inability to LEAD are the hallmarks of Worcester governance.

Why, then, should we expect that things would be any different under a “strong mayor” form of government?  Wouldn’t he/she be the equivalent of a City Manager in most respects?  If we’re not willing to hold the City Manager to account (via our councilors), what makes anyone think that the lethargic electorate of Worcester will suddenly participate if they’re allowed to elect their leader?

When the people of Worcester shake off their apathy and get their lazy posteriors to the polls once every two years and give a vote of confidence to their elected officials, maybe I’ll consider adding my signature to a “strong mayor” petition drive.

At this point, I think it would be merely trading one form of unaccountable despotism for another.

What will wake up the electorate, then, if not some grand change to the city charter?  Perhaps some projects that we, as citizens, can undertake, whether city-wide, or within our neighborhoods — there are many areas where ordinary citizens can “lead”, despite the leadership vacuum in City Hall.  Our councilors and other city officials are sometimes even helpful and can be brought on board if someone or some group takes the initiative to get something started.  If you’re frustrated enough to want to pound the pavement gathering signatures for charter change, why not get frustrated enough to petition for bike paths, or organize a neighborhood crime watch meeting, or serve on a commission?

I’d like to thank Tracy and Williby for their thought on this topic, which helped me wrap my head around the topic of Strong Mayor vs. Plan E.  Although I have my own opinions on this topic, I’d enjoy hearing other points of view in case there are nuances I’ve missed.