City Hall Insider …

By Charles Sercombe

The City Council met on April 12, and all but Councilmember Kazi Miah were in attendance. The meeting ran for two hours, followed by a closed session.

Following up from the last council meeting, a lengthy discussion from the public and council ensued over whether to authorize a payment of $5,500 to The Review for the front cover of a soon-to-be-published city telephone directory.

The front cover will promote the soon-to-be opened Historical Museum.

Well, let’s start with the predictable. Former city official Robert Zwolak (last count he was at one time city clerk, councilmember and charter commission member.)

Zwolak once again spoke against the purchase, saying the city has other spending priorities and that promoting the museum is “premature.” (Editor’s note: The directory is coming out in May, and the museum is opening in June.)

In a related note, sort of, Zwolak said the city needs to publish and distribute a community newsletter because outside of two online blogs, there is no local media outlet.

(Editor’s note: Oh, Bob, you don’t mean to say The Review doesn’t count, do you? We feel so totally publically humiliated and flogged.)

Marianne Burrows also spoke against advertising in The Review’s phone directory, saying the city should instead tap into online social media outlets, like Facebook.

She also said that the city’s money would only go “into this man’s pockets,” referring to Review Publisher John Ulaj, who was sitting in the front row.

John Ulaj spoke next, and not surprisingly, urged the council to vote in favor of advertising in the directory. He pointed out that it’s not just the cover the city is getting, but eight pages worth of articles about the museum and the Historical Commission’s work.

So, onward to the first topic of business and it was the vote on whether to OK the advertising deal.

Councilmember Cathie Gordon, who asked for the proposal to be tabled from the last meeting in order to seek alternative funding, said it’s time for the museum to “stand on its own two feet.”

She said the Historical Commission and DDA should kick in money for the deal.

“We’re in a financial crisis,” she said.

Gordon also added that the city can’t afford to support “special interest groups.”

Councilmember Tom Jankowski said he did some deep thinking about the matter, and said he had to separate the newspaper, which he pointed out expresses an opinion, from the bigger picture at hand.

He said he would support the deal.

Councilmember Catrina Stackpoole said it’s the city’s business to promote businesses. (Editor’s note: the directory includes a listing of businesses in the city.)

Stackpoole suggested, however, that the council “chop” the purchase in half with the Historical Commission. That prompted Councilmember Jankowski to motion that the city authorize $3,000 to be spent on the advertisement.

In an aside, Councilmember Mohammed Hassan offered to write a check in support of the book and so did Stackpoole.

In the vote to authorize the purchase, only Councilmembers Gordon and Hassan objected.

In a review of city expenses, Councilmember Gordon questioned why the city was being billed $840 from City Attorney James Allen. She was told it had to do with a review of a contract to have a heating system installed in the Historical Museum.

That prompted Gordon to question why the city is footing the bill for the museum. City Manager Bill Cooper said it’s because the city, technically, owns the building and is thus responsible for it.

In another legal bill, Gordon questioned why Allen has apparently stopped taking a 10 percent cut in pay. Allen said he was able to take the cut for 120 days, but he could no longer sustain it.

Gordon also questioned the legal fee for a report Allen prepared regarding a breakdown of costs for the city to defend Councilmember Shahab Ahmed in an incident that occurred during the last election.

(Irony alert!)

Allen explained that the information was what Gordon requested even though that same information had been provided previously. Long story made short, the information on how much it cost the city to defend Ahmed cost the city an additional $120.

Later in public comment, Robert Zwolak (a former charter commission member), noted that according to the charter, no single councilmember can make requests that will ultimately cost the city money.

He said the council must speak through resolutions, not by individual councilmembers.

For the third year in a row, the Bangladeshi community was given permission to close off part of Conant to hold a festival. This year, the festival grounds have been moved a few blocks north, between Commor and Harold, in order to accommodate the Mass schedule at Our Lady Queen of Apostles.

The festival will be held June 24-26.

The council approved a series of contracts for tree removal, lot clean-ups, street sweeping, building board-ups and sewer maintenance.

However, it should be noted the budget for much of the work is limited, and City Manager Bill Cooper told The Review the city may have to cancel basic maintenance because of a possible budget shortfall later in the year.

In a closing note, or as Councilmember Jankowski put it, “food for thought,” he suggested the council invite the public to meet one hour before council meetings to ask questions and make comments.

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