WTHHLN: “Discordant Elements”

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts about What The Hell Happened Last Night.  It’s an experiment in heavily biased reportage.

The first part of last night’s City Council meeting was devoted to the proposed ballot question about changing the composition of the School Committee.

You can read the Telegram story, the Worcester Mag liveblog, and/or Tracy’s excellent notes about the School Committee member’s comments, City Council discussion, and her own remarks.  You can watch the meeting as well.  My thanks to all these sources for the quotes included in this post.

The way City Council procedure works (as far as I can tell) is that members of the public (or, rather non-City Councilors) speak first, the folks proposing the item speak next, and those opposing speak last.  Things were a bit out of order, because Councilor Lukes (opposing) spoke before Councilor Palmieri (in favor); she was in enough good humor at that point in the evening to joke that Phil wanted to come after her just so he could respond to her comments.

I think the School Committee members (who spoke first) made excellent points.

But, according the Laws of Worcester Politics, neither persuasive argument nor skilled oration will sway City Councilors who have made up their minds.

And, according to another Law of Worcester Politics, there’s nothing like a City Councilor speaking in favor of something to prove his opponents’ points.

To wit, Mayor O’Brien said that he wanted to have “discussion in the community first.”

This is, of course, why the City Council shut down proposals for open access forum during the first 30 minutes of City Council meetings, for all members of the public to be allowed to speak on any given issue, and for a question to be put on the ballot about charter change just last week.  Because nothing says “discussion in the community” like not encouraging people to participate in public meetings.

To further wit, Councilor Rushton said that North High would have been built in a quicker time frame (that is, less than 30 years) if there had been district representation.  Of course, the City Council handles capital items, and they’ve had district representation lo these 24 years.  So, blame the lack of speed in construction of the new North High on the City Council (and district representation).

Lest we leave out a district councilor,Councilor Palmieri made a similar point: that the windows at Lakeview School have chicken wire.  As Tracy notes, windows are a capital expense, and thus are in the Council’s court.  (Palmieri also had the most awkward quote of the evening — “I really do applaud the mayor having the onions to do this.”  I really have no desire to know about the Mayor’s — or any other politician’s — onions.)

Councilor Clancy said that “I think the rationale [for district seats] is you would get more people turning out for an election.”  Which is why no one showed up at a D3 candidate debate, despite there being four candidates to choose from in a highly contested race.  I would be pleasantly surprised to see high turnout at the D3 preliminary election.  District council seats have not brought the promise of more voter turnout; why would district school committee seats do anything different?

Considering the councilors in favor of the proposal did such a great job proving their opponents’ points, you’d think the opposition could just rest.

But Councilors Toomey, and especially Eddy (!) and Lukes, did an excellent job making their point.

Eddy said that this was tantamount to asking for charter review (“If you’re going to have a discussion about charter, you can’t be just a little bit pregnant”).

He also expressed his openness to bring questions driven by the public to the ballot, saying that he would be the first to sign if “you want to have a discussion about what should be the official nut of Worcester.”  (I am all about putting a question on the ballot about who should be the official nut of Worcester.  Yes, I’m in the running!)

But it was Councilor Lukes who was by far the most pointed in her remarks and who proved most quotable.  And she used quotes (like “shining symbols of partnership”) from Mayor O’Brien’s inaugural speech and dismissed them as “good speeches.”  She took the Mayor’s ostensibly collaborative approach to task by saying, “Here we started this whole process of having voices heard and having collaboration and having partnership by doing just the opposite.”

Further Quoteable Lukes —

  • “Is this an election-year headline?  It came out of the blue.”
  • “The reason I heard for having the change was to get diversity, minority representation and to allow people an easier route to be elected in this city. Nothing about the governance of the public schools.”
  • “there has to be some deficit we’re correcting in the ways the schools function”…”So what are we correcting?”

The arguments that changes should originate in the people, involve extensive public comment before being pursued, and should stem from deficiencies in the current state of affairs did not sway fellow Councilors, and the (non-binding) question will be put to the voters in November.

Aside: Mike Germain was the fifth councilor to speak, and the first to apologize for the way the question had been handled.  Then he went for the provocative — “I for one think the City Council is too large.”  He then suggested removing some at-large and district seats.  Which would, of course, mean that he would be the first out.  So much for the self-preserving nature of politicians!

In his remarks, Councilor Clancy said that he “wouldn’t call any of the city councils I’ve served on ‘discordant or discourteous or uncooperative.’  We got many, many  good things done.”  (The title of this post is a quote from him, saying that this is what people said would happen when district councilors were introduced.)

By the end of the evening, however, Councilor Clancy probably wanted to eat his words, or at least the word “discordant.”

The contentiousness between Councilor Lukes and Mayor O’Brien had only just begun.

I’ll continue with an account of Lukes’ Secure Communities proposal later this evening.

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