I Go to City Council Meetings

It is hot in there.

JULES MARSH

[Editor’s note: We are thrilled to announce that Jules Marsh will be reporting regularly on Northampton City Council meetings. This will be the first of many installments of a regular column that will push beyond the banality of journalistic convention; it will try out creative ways to hold elected representatives accountable to the public.]

Last night, the Northampton City Council held its first traditional meeting of the year. This follows a non-traditional Council meeting that took place on Jan 10, in which the Council overrode Mayor Narkewicz’ veto and voted for a third time to pass the Ordinance to Restrict Surveillance Cameras.

Approximately 20-30 people attended this meeting. Three community members spoke during public comment. (During public comment, anyone can speak to the council about anything for three minutes.) Two of the public speakers spoke in support of the Resolution in Support of 100 Percent Renewable Energy. One speaker asked the Council to consider the unwanted noise that wind turbines can bring to nearby communities. A MassLive reporter was present at this meeting.

The Council passed two resolutions last night: A Resolution to Support the $15 Minimum Wage and a Resolution in Support of 100 Percent Renewable Energy. (Resolutions are non-binding documents that hold no legal weight, but do express the will of the Council.)

The Renewable Energy resolution proposes that Northampton have 100% renewable energy by the year 2050. Sam Titelman, a member of Climate Action Now, gave a presentation advocating that this goal be achieved by establishing Community Choice Energy Aggregation (also known as a CCE Plus), in which community members form co-ops to manage their energy sources.

This was the second reading, or vote, of the $15 minimum wage resolution. (The Council votes on EVERYTHING twice.) Councilors Dennis Bidwell (Ward 2, former Chamber of Commerce board member) and David Murphy (Ward 5, realtor, Bush-Cheney ‘04 contributor) have most vocally expressed concerns about the impact of a $15 minimum wage on local business owners. Councilor Bidwell suggested a two-tier system for such a policy in which young workers like teenagers who “work in a deli or an ice cream shop” would not receive a full minimum wage. Councilors Maureen Carney (Ward 1) and Alisa Klein (Ward 7) argued against a two-tier system and gave accounts of their own work experiences as young people in which their wages helped to support their families. In a previous meeting, Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra (Ward 4) sympathized with local businesses, but felt that workers need higher wages to survive. She pointed out the complications of enforcing a two-tier system, while Councilor James Nash (Ward 3) and Councilor Marianne LaBarge (Ward 6) stressed that a two-tier system was not a fair system to all workers. Councilor Murphy abstained from this vote saying that he could not pick an arbitrary wage amount without research on how it would affect local businesses. He feared that a $15 minimum wage would eliminate jobs including a job at his own non-profit business.

I walked away with two questions after attending this meeting:

  1. Will we all be dead by 2050?
  2. Can all of the businesses owners in Northampton please provide their individual earnings and access to funds from the businesses they own, so that we can figure out how much less they need to make in order for the $15 minimum wage to work successfully?

The Scorecard

CouncilorWardResolution to Support the $15 Minimum WageResolution in Support of 100% Renewable Energy
Maureen Carney1YesYes
Dennis Bidwell2YesYes
James Nash3YesYes
Gina-Louise Sciarra4YesYes
David Murphy5AbstainedYes
Marianne LaBarge6YesYes
Alisa Klein7YesYes
Ryan O'DonnellAt-LargeYesYes
Bill DwightAt-LargeYesYes

Jules Marsh is a co-editor of The Shoestring and is alive in Northampton, MA.

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