WTHHLN: “She’s Homeless”

This is a continuation of a series of posts about What The Hell Happened Last Night. Like previous installments, it is heavily biased reportage.

There were two main topics of interest at last night’s Council meeting: Occupy Worcester and homelessness.  I’ll cover the latter in this post.

The homelessness issue was, unfortunately, split up into two parts: an abridged non-discussion of the proposed SMOC triage center at 1398 Main Street, and the Human Rights Commission’s request for a new ten-year plan to address homelessness.

SMOC/Triage Center

I showed up at the last night’s City Council meeting on the early end of things and sat down on a bench outside Esther Howland chamber.  A man sat next to me and we started talking.  He lives in the area close to the Anna Maria Rest Home, and spoke with great hostility towards the project.

He said that if the proposed triage center moved there, he would burn it down.

Sadly, after reading the T&G account of Monday’s meeting on the triage center, this sort of violent rhetoric is not out of the ordinary.  In fact, it appears to have been encouraged by at least one elected official.

Whoa, that was quick…

The public first found out about the triage center as a brief mention in the November 15th Council meeting.  Last night, since Phil Palmieri held the item, no one really spoke on it.

Next week’s Council meeting will be November 29.

The temporary triage center is set to open on December 1.

…because that’s the city’s M.O.

The city has never learned the most important lesson of public scandals: it’s the coverup, not the scandal, that will do you in.

We are so often presented with these projects as a fait accompli rather than a collaboration between the neighborhood and the city (or social service agency, or large business).

When people are presented with a done deal in their own backyard, their reactions can seem like NIMBY.  But part of that reaction is a (perceived or real) lack of respect and loss of agency.

If the city administration is willing to act on a plan and disenfranchise you right from the get-go, without involving any of your elected officials, why would you then trust any assurances they make about the safety of your neighborhood or the appropriateness of the site?

Not involving the appropriate people at the appropriate times is the hallmark of the current city administration.  And — in fairness — none of our city officials are willing to consistently require that of the City Manager.

[An example of a process I thought worked relatively well was the James Street Bridge.  There were hearings, and I didn’t get the sense that everyone’s minds were made up before the process began.  Was it perfect?  Was everyone ecstatic?  No and no.  But there was a level of respect and fairness that this process is lacking.  The difference?  It was run by MassDOT, not the city.]

Clarification of the neighborhood

Last night, Councilor Eddy said that “property located in an institutional setting is a better fit than in a residential neighborhood.”

But the Anna Maria Rest Home is not located in a residential neighborhood.  There’s a vacant lot that was once a car dealership on one side, and a building that used to house a restaurant on the other.  While there are people who live all around it, and while there are purely residential streets adjoining it, the corner of Main Street and Goddard Memorial Drive is hardly a residential neighborhood.

Should there be concerns about folks who might be wandering around the neighborhood?  Probably, though it’s been noted that the Queen Street area didn’t see an uptick in crime.

The two areas I’d expect to see more foot traffic would be from Anna Maria to the convenience store on Goddard (for folks to get smokes and snacks) and down Grandview to the liquor store at the corner of James and Stafford.

But not everyone who’s homeless is a drinker (despite what the gadflies would have you believe), and it’s unclear what sort of behavior would make someone unwelcome at the triage center.

And it is worth remembering that the behaviors so many of us associate with the homeless — including staggering down the street in a drunken stupor — occur in neighborhoods all across the city, including the very neighborhood we’re talking about.

Homeless people do not just fall out of the sky

Many people have argued that a triage center for the homeless should not be located so close to three schools (Sullivan Middle, South High, and Caradonio) and to school bus routes.

Those folks seem to forget that many students at the Caradonio New Citizen Center are refugees, and that 12% of students at South High School are homeless.

The next hearing on the proposed triage center will be at South High School.

If the discussion next Monday deteriorates in the same manner it did last Monday, what kind of message will that send to the homeless students at South High?

Homelessness is not just a problem for Main South or the Village of Piedmont.  This is a problem that affects the whole city.

Much of the online discussion seems to equate being homeless with being a criminal.  We can certainly ask questions and ensure safety for both existing neighborhood residents and those who might use the triage center — but without resorting to rhetoric that only serves to stereotype and fan flames.

Mission accomplished?

Part of the reason we are facing a temporary triage center in our neighborhood is that the city had a three-year plan to end homelessness that was declared a success . . . but which has been, in fact, a failure.

There was no way City Manager O’Brien could have won in this situation.  But he could have done much to minimize the now-inevitable ill will the neighborhood will bear towards him.

The biggest misstep, as I said before, was not including the neighbors earlier on in the process.  As the City Manager should know by now, this allows neighbors to spread their own forms of disinformation amongst themselves because there’s a dearth of real information.

The mushroom policy has been in effect for years now.

They’ve kept everyone in the dark.  If they had kept neighbors apprised of the situation, there would still be opposition, but everyone would be in the same place with same set of facts.

But by keeping people in the dark, the Manager has made sure that neighbors feel the only way they can have any impact on this situation is to take things into their own hands, wherever their visceral impulse leads them.  It could very well get ugly, and for some people this is the only way they feel the city administration is going to listen to them.

And when things get ugly, it’s very easy for the Manager to ignore everyone, or to shut down a meeting.  And then the voices of the more reasonable or more quiet among us are silenced.

Mike O’Brien needs to take a crash course in Diplomacy 101 and polish this turd the best he can.

What we’re seeing here is the difference between a relatively competent manager and a leader.

And this case clearly shows his skill deficits.

What a difference a week makes

Regarding the proposed temporary triage center (if something can be called “proposed” when it’s already a done deal):

Last Tuesday:

No opposition was voiced by the City Council when the plan was announced last night. District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy, in whose district the temporary site will locate, noted City Manager Michael V. O’Brien assured that there will be good supervision and noted its short-term nature.

Last night:

District 5 Councilor William J. Eddy called it “a very poor process” and called the location “a very poor choice.”

But the best part of the meeting:

Finally, after an hour, City Manager Michael V. O’Brien announced that the meeting would have to end because the Fire Department declared that the hallway was overcrowded.

Election Commission Liveblog

5:47 – got here late, forgot it was at the library.

Of note: both Colorio and Mullaney are here.  #OccupyBoylston is here as well.

Right now someone from Neighbor to Neighbor (will be referred to as N2N) is giving an overview of their activities.

“Tonight our focus is a concern based on several instances that came up.”

They are addressing N2N literature left within 150 of a polling station (at Senior Center).

N2N – “It’s duty of poll workers to do a clean sweep. … If there’s anything left behind…” duty of poll workers.

5:50 – according to the police officer, it was hidden in a stack of newspapers.

N2N – “The work that we did across the city did not include the Senior Center.”

Seems like there are questions from the gallery.

David Coyne  – we need to recognize that some locations are public access locations.  In Senior Center lobby, there can be newspapers with ads and endorsements.  The presumption (and he’s offended by it) is that N2N put it there on Election Day and that they hid the materials.

Clarification — there were 40 or 50 pamphlets.  Commissioner – “I’m not accusing N2N of placing them there.”  He wants assurance that this will not happen again.

5:56 – Coyne – “If the Telegram hasn’t removed the newspapers from that location, then they are violating the law.”

The chair said she looked carefully around at Senior Center and “there was nothing there.”  The bulletin board had nothing.  Didn’t see a pile of newspapers, and wouldn’t have thought to look inside a pile of newspapers.

Kennedy from N2N – “our strategy is in the field.  … We do encourage people … whatever they take … that if it’s material they take it with them.”

#OccupyBoylston says that the Worcester Senior Center – you cannot leave material there at any time.  They would confisgate it if it had been there before.

Timothy Dillon was pollwatching in Ward 10 pct 1 and 3, and a N2N person brought in campagin materials.  [There are pictures.]  A poll warden confisgated it and put them on the windowsill next to the door, next to the ballot box.

6:01pm – Flyers that N2N brought in threw it in the garbage.  But it was still in the polling place.

The warden confisgated from both voter and N2N worker.  Unclear why they confisgated it from the voter.

Dillon – The police “took control of the paperwork after it had been thrown in the garbage.”  The N2N person did not walk into the booth with the voter.

Commissioner – sounds like this was handled quite well by the voting staff.

The Tea Partiers seem to have concerns that this was next to the ballot box.  Unclear why.

He says that the N2N person had a N2N t-shirt, except you can’t see that in the photo.

6:04 – Kennedy – this is an example “of the good work that we do.”  They turn out the voters.

#OccupyBoylston made an outburst, the chair warns her to shut her trap or she’ll throw her out.  Dillon mutters under his breath as well.

Kennedy of N2N continues. 

6:06 – Kevin Ksen – is it the policy of the election commission that photos can be allowed in the polling location?

Josh Meduna – Yes, as long as it’s not of the person marking the ballot, etc.  Audio recordings are prohibited.

Kevin K. continues — the warden should fill out an incident form so that we’re not going by testimony of someone who’s hostile..

The police were involved in the Assumption case where a couple was almost arrested, according to the chair, but there was no police report.  Kevin would like more info, Rushford says it’s not public info.

6:09 – #Desireeeee – asks if the commission thinks what N2N did is illegal.

Chair says she has not seen any evidence of illegality, it was handled correctly by the warden.  Does not know what possible motive someone would have in sticking a pile of leaflets in a newspaper.

New Commissioner — it’s his first meeting — thinks we have to look at the process overall as a commission.  needs to make everyone feel fair.

#Desireeee is concerned that there was a sample ballot and that they are a partisan political group.

[We should note she is testifying and operating a camera at the same time.  Skills, people.]

Chair says as long as the leaflet was in the hand of the voter, that was legal. 

#Desireeeee – “the intent!”

Chair – “we can’t draw a what if”.  “It looks like our policy was affirmed and enforced.”

#Desireeeee – she knows how active N2N is.  They were at Ward 4 Pct 3, Ward 6, Pct 4, Webster Square Towers, they had sample ballots.  Within the 150 foot limit! 

[THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU REPORT IT?!!!!!]

Except she wasn’t inside the polling place.  This is all based on her psychic intuiting.

6:14pm – gentleman whose name I didn’t get.  Lots of immigrants in this city who are citizens but who cannot read.  Wants to confirm someone can take a leaflet into the polling place themselves (that is, a voter).

Chair confirms that.

He doesn’t feel that N2N is responsible in cases where it might be a voter leaving leaflets, or someone else…

Commissioner – voters can’t unduly display election materials in the polling place.

Rushford – in conclusion, wants to confirm that poll workers will be continue to be trained on sweeps of polling places.  They (Rushford and Meduna) confirm that lights are working, that there are no signs close by, brush removed from sidewalks, etc., before election and will do so again.

Yet another commissioner thanks the TP folks for bringing these issues to the forefront.  Observes that everybody that works for the election commission is much more aware of the rules than they were before the complaints.  “As far as I’m concerned…[the situation with the throwing away of the materials] is everything we want to achieve.”

moving on…new business…

opening of overseas absentee ballot (singular): 

Councilor at Large – Lukes Petty Rushton Toomey, two blanks
District – blank
Mayor – Lukes
SC – Foley Monfredo Ramirez, three blanks
Non-binding question – no

(So, no change in SC race)

Deadline for conducting the SC recount – Friday afternoon.  Recount will happen on Monday, November 28 at 9AM.  4 policemen, 20 poll workers, ballots will be under police guard or lock at all times.

#OccupyBoylston – “food? break? lunch?”

Rushton – Breakfast and lunch are already ordered, according to Rushton, for poll workers and observers.  Food outside the room, no pens allowed inside.

Mullaney – how often is tally brought?

Meduna – every single block of 50 ballots is tallied.

communication from N2N about September 20 preliminary —

6:35 – there’s some information about households, Ward/Precinct changes, and how that would affect the presidential primary in March.

adjourned!

There is a difference between collegiality and Stepford-like obeisance

Nick K. for the money quote:

“There’s definitely an unhealthy tension between the city manager and mayor over this,” Mr. Palmieri observed. “We should be focusing on more important issues. If there is going to be disagreement between the manager and mayor, let it be on a far more substantive issue.”

This request for a focus on more important issues is about as out of touch as Konnie Lukes’ suggestion that “we’ve sort of turned the tables around where the City Manager is leading and the City Council isn’t doing much of anything.”

Yes, Ponytail, the problem is that we should be focusing on more important issues.  And that’s been the problem for quite a few years.

What issues, pray tell, are too unimportant for the City Council?  Cigarette rolling machines?  Pit bulls?  Taxi cabs?  Shoveling sidewalks?  Hot dogs?

The City Council decided quite a long time ago (not recently, contrary to Councilor Lukes’ assertions) to play sideshow to the City Manager’s main event.

The City Council has allowed the City Manager to be the ringmaster and have relegated the role of clowns to themselves.

Every major policy point or project is delegated to the City Manager, whether it be CSX or homelessness.

Isn’t it an issue that there was roughly one police officer per three gallery members at the last City Council meeting?  I don’t recall that many police officers at the Council hearings on pit bulls, which involved much more anger and considerably more participants.

One can assume that the “unhealthy tension” between the City Manager and Mayor is not of the homoerotic Edward/Jacob variety.

One can also assume that most City Councilors feel that any tension is of the “unhealthy” variety.

There is nothing wrong with there being some tension between the executive and the legislative.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the idea that collegiality equals consensus does not help the city.

It’s ok to disagree.

And it’s especially ok to disagree when we talk about a group’s rights to assemble and speak.

I think Occupy Worcester’s aims and methods are questionable.

I think there are still questions about what constitutes traditional public forum (vs. limited public forum) and I don’t know that OW is always on the right side of that debate.

But I would hope that more than one City Councilor would be concerned that members of OW were accused of trespassing for entering City Hall a couple of weeks ago, and that their presence at a City Council meeting was met by quite a few police officers.

The primary criterion we use to elect City Councilors should not be the ability to harmonize while singing Kumbaya with the City Manager.

If we’re kicking people out of City Hall because they want to speak with the man in charge, if the last City Council meeting was an exercise in determining the precise definition of “disproportionate force”, then our elected officials should be speaking up.

Mysterious Pearson

Go for a drive down Granite St. some day and you may see this lonely street name sign:

Welcome to Pearson Street, 01607.

On first glance, this “street” seems home only to a discarded packet which once embraced some McDonald’s fries. Otherwise it’s woodland. Nor does the sign point to a street on the other side of Granite Street — come do a visual pirouette with me:

The circular driveway located there certainly couldn’t be Pearson St. At first I thought I’d discovered Worcester’s own Brigadoon, where the street and all its denizens vanish every hundred years and are known only to ancient DPW workers who’re AWOL on decades-long coffee breaks.

Unfortunately for Worcester’s hopes of a ready-for-Hollywood plot/location, there’s a real Pearson Street, though it’s actually two streets removed from Granite St.:

C’est la vie. Worcester has more of a Groundhog Day vibe than a Brigadoon one, anyway.