Initiative – October 14 At-Large Council debate notes

Candidates scheduled to be here: Bergman, Coleman, Gomez, King, Lukes, Petty, Sargent, Toomey, Wally

Not here: Gaffney, Parham, Zlody

(Just so folks know – the previous debates had gone in ascending alphabetical order; this one will go in descending order by last name)

Once again, Juan Gomez wins the “chapeau of the evening” category of the debate.

(You can thank Tom Quinn of WoMag for this liveblog, as he helped me get the WiFi password.  I don’t see anyone from the Telegram here.  Lukes is the only scheduled candidate not here yet.)

Tonight’s topic: Civic Engagement and Accessible Government

Next Wednesday – School Committee forum at MCPHS.  In two Wednesdays – last CC forum from the Initiative.


Format change: six questions.  Each question 1 minute, 1 minute for closing statement.  Descending alphabetical order.

Q1: As a way to increase citizen participation, would you change the City Council rules so that all Council meetings be held after 5pm?  What other ways can we increase public engagement?

Wally: in order for community to realize potential, needs full participation of residents.  Concern about “require” — would rather “ensure that most” meet after 5pm — there are those who work after 5pm.  1) Make sure that those who want to attend meetings are comfortable speaking, 2) open forum for those who want to approach

Toomey: would commit to having a discussion about that.  Any committee she chairs meets after 5pm.  Public meetings for the public.  Other ways to increase engagement — ask people if they want to send in questions.

Sargent: Time isn’t problem, citizens aren’t being engaged.  Livestream on the internet Students are not learning about how city government works.  Livestream meetings, accept questions from Twitter, don’t need to be in the room to engage.

Petty: has been around 18 years (to Lukes’ comment: “Not as long as you.”)  Generally, he likes to see meeting after 5pm.  In January, CM will ensure every board and commission and subcommittee meeting is televised.  When there’s an issue that affects people, they show up, and he allows people to speak and does not shut them off.

Lukes: Rule is that meetings should occur after 5; some has deviated.  Post notice on city’s website, we allow email access to city councilors, and you can call any of us up.  All are accessible.  We do have Jo Hart — “our most notorious member of the city” who has held the city to account.

King: supports having meetings after 5pm. We need to increase bus service, help people get to meetings.  Why not have mobile city hall, with office hours in the neighborhoods?

Gomez: would vote to require that all public meetings are held after 5pm.  Would encourage administration to put CC and subcom meetings on the internet.  Three minutes is not enough time to speak — anyone should be able to speak when the item comes up, not just at the beginning of the meeting.  Subcommittees to meet outside city hall, around the city.

Coleman: Rules Committee DOESN’T MEET.  George Russell is a great guy, but he only had one meeting this summer.  There are items for the committees that are more than 500 days old.

Bergman: he’s learned not to be an expert in everything; lack of participation is not just at local level but state and federal. Never been a problem to give people more time to speak – problem is that it’s the same people talking, not new voices. Engage conference calls for the physically disabled, WRTA free on those nights. Translation services.

Q2: In the last three weeks, Code Dept has collected over 40 tons of illegally dumped waste. Many low-income neighborhoods blame pay-as-you-throw.

Toomey: congratulates code department. Education is a critical component, hold landlords accountable. Can landlords have trash services as part of the rent? We are not even paying for trash to be removed with the yellow bag fee. [This is true, much appreciated that she said that.] Emphasizes education issue.

Sargent: We’re putting committee meetings on the TV? This appears to be news to him. The Council needs a new voice. As far as trash goes, we need people to care about their neighborhoods. People from outside those neighborhoods go and dump. Do neighborhoods on the outskirts of town have dumping? They do not. [Actually, they do. Come on down!]

Petty: there are people from outside the city who come in and dump at donation bins. Ward St, etc. If trash bags are affecting cleanliness, can take a look, but doesn’t think that’s the case. Cameras will catch people.

Lukes: Ideal solution would be trash pickup for free, but then everyone from surrounding communities would take advantage. She had suggested a swap shop [kind of like what happens at transfer stations].

King: Go to the people who are being affected. Doesn’t have response from folks about challenges. Accessibility – having to make appointments with limited hours.

Gomez: more education efforts are needed. 15-20 years ago with PAYT, spend money to educate community, hold neighbors, landlords, and organizations responsible. Improve accessibility at Clark and Ballard St drop-off sites.

Coleman: Did I hear the expression a “spade a spade”? [Sargent had used this, I preferred not to mention it because I do not like that phrase, but I appreciate Coleman’s calling him out.] He has done numerous cleanups, people don’t like the yellow bags, once every quarter they should have a “take anything” day.

Bergman: some questions with what law allows for 4+ unit housing; would like to see them required to have dumpsters. Negotiate with yellow bag company for free bag for lower-income residents. Fines, second time license suspension, third time car impoundment.

[Since I know more about this than most people here, I will say that it is nearly impossible to convict someone on dumping!]

Wally: Code dept deserves a lot of accolades, REC and other partners. He owns a three-decker, saw a tremendous amount of dumping. Doesn’t think it’s because of the trash bag cost, he saw trash dumped when tenants moved out [YES! This is what I see as well!]. Should be pointed out that residents might not be dumpers, it’s outsiders and some contractor dumping. [Yes, this is what I see as well.]

Q3: Is city more responsive to those from certain neighborhoods? (Sorry, it was longer, but that’s the gist.)

Sargent: Schools are not the problem, they’re the solution. Ask students how they can engage. We need more translators, in all different departments of the city.

Petty: we try to be fair to every district. Districts are represented well. Civilian academy about police, clergy/police group,

Lukes: Most city councilors spend time going to crime watch and neighborhood meetings. Main South more crucial/immediate needs than her neighborhood. When the district councilors bring those items before us, we react. Part of this needs to be grassroots, mentions Webster Sq block party. Internet services –

King: We can do better at strengthening neighborhood associations. Ideas about how to tie folks to projects in neighborhoods, youth-friendly. Folks need to know tangibly what city hall does; kids need to know civics and how it impacts them.

Gomez: lots of folks feel government not responsive; elect people who are responsive and reflect the community. We don’t need translators. We need people employed by city hall who reflect population supposed to serve. He gets dozens of phone calls from people who feel that he’s the only one who can fix the problem [as if he is still an elected official]

Coleman: never been elected to office, but people have called him for thirty years. (Gomez: “This is true.”) Coleman talks about filling in people’s potholes. If you vote, you count. Salisbury St crimewatch is packed; St Peter’s Church – 50 people vote out of 1800 eligible voters.

Bergman: very leery to make this an answer – low income neighborhoods made up of people from many different colors; power in numbers, vote. District city councilors work well. Why not have district councilors at school level?

Wally: certain depts have better reputation than others (Code, DPW, the 929-1300 number works well). Stop bemoaning what we don’t have and start looking at what we do. There are 21 openings on boards. One of biggest disappointments in campaigning is apathy.

Toomey: Echoes the “world is run by people who show up” comment. As elected officials, need to get out of comfort zone. Elected officials go to all sort of meetings. When people know you are listening, it makes a difference.

Q4: Please identify number 1 barrier towards civic engagement and how you will specifically address this as a city councilor in the next term.

Petty: People need to feel they are part of the city of Worcester. People think there is a barrier between city hall and the community. Conversations with race made a big difference. Mentions early voting next year that might be a possibility.

Lukes: tried several strategies and techniques. Boards and commissions issue an issue 30 years ago, still have problems getting women on boards now. Neighborhood councils – proportional representation would allow you to rank candidates. Promotes fairness and diversity.

King: civic engagement must be part of lives. As elected folks, depends on who votes. Elected to represent every corner, if neighborhoods feel ignored, they will not engage. Also thinks that with youth intervention, need to go to middle schools how parks funded, teachers paid, this is how it affects you.

Gomez: agrees with Petty that people feel disengaged. Three lawsuits from minority police officers who have not been promoted. Goes through the stats. If you want to make an effort, establish goals to achieve real outcomes. Go far beyond talking and act. There are a lot of good people in this city. Get out of comfort zone and do what’s right.

Coleman: Talks about the form of government before current plan: strong mayor with that huge council and alderman. That’s four years down the road. Filed petition for WRTA to provide free bus transportation to polling places.

Bergman: #1 barrier is economic disparity. When you don’t own house, you don’t need to worry about residential/commercial tax rates, etc. Give people more opportunity to own homes. If you don’t have skin in the game, you’re not going to show up.

Wally: civic engagement doesn’t always mean government engagement. An individual can become engaged. (Bill C. is passing out cough drops and completely derailing this.) Someone can get involved in non-profit boards: organizations like REC, Nativity School, etc., are always looking for board members.

Toomey: #1 barrier is time. So many people who are working 2, 3, jobs. When she was on the school committee, she spoke with parents who were trying to keep heads above water and did not have any time to meet with teachers. Help direct once people have time.

Sargent: if you don’t teach the kids about it, they won’t know about it. In the future, we will be using the internet to vote. [Um, I am not a fan. Keep paper ballots.] He endorses voting by device. Would like to see an ROTC-like program for fire and police in the schools.

Q5: City Council had foresight to adopt Fair CORI practice ordinance a year before the state. What can we as city to continue to adopt fair practices in hiring?

Lukes: we do need to protect those under jurisdiction. We have had publicity about children in foster homes, under DCF care, etc. We cannot afford to ignore danger signals, but also can’t afford to treat people unfairly.

King: In our country, we have a system that disproportionately impacts communities of color in judicial system à CORI. Encourage small and medium businesses to hire challenged applicants. Remember that once someone has paid dues, they have rehabilitated themselves. At what point to they stop paying and be allowed to practice civic duty?

Gomez: Lead by example. Law says that you interview, review candidate’s background, references, etc. Then check CORI. Make sure that that is being done at every level.

Coleman: asks folks to keep passing around the lozenges. Everyone deserves a break, but before all this happened, he asked for this a long time ago. We need to keep an open-door policy.

Bergman: those folks who have money who have crimes, have records sealed, and don’t have to worry about CORI. You should automatically have records sealed if you are entitled to it – shouldn’t make a difference if you have the money or not. That’s what we can continue to do.

Wally: does not know too much about ordinance passed by City Hall. We have fair labor laws, those individuals who are looking for a job should be able to apply, find jobs– use partners like Community Legal Aid to raise awareness in community.

Toomey: need to work with HR departments to make sure they are aware. Education is critical.

Sargent: key is education, getting folks in the room with those who can help them find jobs. Prevention is key. Economic opportunities are important. Trying to put band-aid on the situation.

Petty: City has made great moves in diversity in hiring. HR Dept going into neighborhoods on a quarterly basis. Mentions the youth who were hired this past summer for internships.

Q6 (last question): If City Hall were working for everyone, what specific measurable indicators would we see? How would you describe a city hall that works for everyone?

King: Frontline social worker for the state. You are given the public trust, important that we are transparent and inform neighborhoods. City Hall that works for everyone moves in positive direction for neighborhoods. Accessibility, accountability, transparency.

Gomez: reflective of people it’s supposed to serve. Mentions discrimination lawsuits again. Instead of city settling lawsuits, they appeals. If we’re going to be committed, have someone who looks like community in economic coordinating council. Make sure ordinance that requires equal accessibility to all for employment and promotions.

Coleman: “Elect me.” Has been doing this city council dance since 1979. Brings people to the council and explains how things work. Petitions don’t go anywhere, two years go by before you hear something. “Just elect me – trust me”

Bergman: you would see contentment, demand on housing, classrooms bulging at seams, increase in voting. [Note that he actually answers the q] Day-to-day operations of city hall should make everyone feel as if they are being treated fairly.

Wally: might consider city hall working for him differently than Jo Hart. Accessible, where everyone feels voice is being heard. Decrease in vacancies on boards, increase in voting.

Toomey: increase in business development, world marketplace. Measurable indicators: greater communication with electeds, more voting, more volunteering. Would like to see five-year plan.

Sargent: when we are talking about city hall, talking about people working in it. Need people there to work for people on outside. More transparency, transportation, outreach to citizens, vibrant common.

Petty: Investing in parks, economic development, dependable public works department. See things changing, population up, there are more kids in schools.

Lukes: two questions, each could stand by itself. Would like to see more people running for city council. More people applying for boards and commissions and participating in meetings. Day-to-day operations: crowdsourcing (she filed that), vendor checks online (she filed that), would like to see health department reports online.

Audience walking out, but there is time for closing statements!  We’ll see if that happens.

(I will only report if there’s something new and exciting)

Coleman: “October 20th is my birthday…and I turn the big something”.  he encourages you to serve on the library board!

Gomez: “At times, I may seem angry […] and loud…but that’s the Latino in me.”  Thank goodness he mentions his plan.  READ IT!

Lukes: When I first started running, she touted herself as young and enthusiastic…now she’s experienced and seasoned!  (She said it better than I typed it.)  “I’m right above Bill Coleman [on the ballot]  — for what it’s worth.”



3 thoughts on “Initiative – October 14 At-Large Council debate notes

  1. Amy West says:

    Here’s a plug for the CPPAC school committee panel that we’re having next Thurs. at 7 PM at Worcester Technical High School.

  2. Amy West says:

    Not to start a linguistic flame war, and granted, I haven’t gone to the references on this yet, but I believe that “call a spade a spade” is actually a neutral phrase, with the “spade” in it being interpreted as the tool or or the card suit; I think hearers carry over the negative associations with “spade” from the derogatory/derogatorily used “black as a spade” phrase. I am open to being wrong about this. . .

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