“What the heck is going on here?”

I’ve had my issues with freshman D3 City Councilor George Russell, mostly due to parking.

But — beyond that — George Russell has been the best surprise we’ve seen in city government in a long, long time.

He has been beyond supportive of Sunshine Week.

His advocacy for the city doing business with local banks is quite admirable.

But nothing beat his comments Tuesday night. He requested a clarification of the Research Bureau‘s role in city government, much to the chagrin of Councilor Lukes.

In case you missed them, here is the exchange –

Russell: “The Research Bureau provides us with an awful lot of good information in the course of a year, but I would like an opinion from the law department [Lukes walks back into the room], Mr. Chairman, as to what just exactly the Research Bureau is. Legally. Are they a lobbyist group? Are they a corporation? … I think it’s a fair question from me as a freshman city councilor, consuming all this information that being given to us on behalf of various different groups. At least with other different groups I know exactly where they’re coming from. … Are they an arm of city government?”

Lukes: “I find that kind of request alarming. That means that this Council can’t tolerate other opinions or people that come to the microphone with a strong opinion that is different from the majority of this Council. It is very easy to find out all that information by going to the website.”

[This coming from a woman who once requested that the City Manager provide her with a list of cities and towns in Worcester County.]

Lukes, continued: “Making an issue of it on this floor, through the law department, basically sends a message, ‘Don’t come here, don’t bother us, we don’t want to hear from you or the people that support you.’ This city is becoming very … limited and intolerant of discussion and issues. … I am really disturbed about the direction I see this Council going in, when we can’t tolerate anyone coming in here with an opinion that we disagree with. What the heck is going on here?”

The exchange was summarized nicely by Steve Foskett on Twitter:

http://twitter.com/SteveFoskettTG/status/212707790307860482

Russell then responded: “I’m asking a simple question.  … When a labor union comes before us, we know what they are.  When a paid lobbyist comes before us, we know who they are.  I’m just asking, legally, what the Research Bureau’s role is, what they are, the definition.  Maybe I shouldn’t be asking the law department, maybe I should be asking through the administration.  … If [Councilor Lukes] takes offense at that, I’m sorry, but all I’m asking is to find out when people stand before this microphone, to know where they’re coming from.”

http://twitter.com/SteveFoskettTG/status/212707924668203008

(Screenprints via kwout)

So — to get this straight — Councilor Lukes thinks there’s a problem asking whether a group that receives half of its funding from “80 regional corporations” is speaking in a lobbying capacity when it opposes the Responsible Employer Ordinance.

Of course an organization whose board of directors reads like a Who’s Who of Worcester business is going to be completely impartial when it comes to labor issues!  What could Councilor Russell possibly be thinking?

If anyone else is asking themselves “What the heck is going on here?” — as Councilor Lukes so eloquently asked Tuesday night –

George Russell is kicking ass, and knocking over a sacred cow or two while he’s at it.

This is something the city has been aching for, and I hope he keeps it up.

Watch out, Mike Germain — I’m treading dangerously close to picking a new favorite City Councilor!

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