I Go To City Council Meetings #12

Financial Reports, an Order to strengthen democracy in public housing, and empty cans of iced tea

by JULES MARSH

On Thursday, August 16th, the Northampton City Council held their thirteenth meeting of the year. Councilors Gina-Louise Sciarra (Ward 4) and Bill Dwight (At-Large) did not attend the meeting. Approximately 12 people were present.

Public Comment

During public comment community members voiced their support for the order to strengthen democratic representation in the Northampton housing authority.   

Tom Burton, a resident at Salvo House, thanked Councilors Marianne LaBarge (Ward 6) and Jim Nash (Ward 3) for their support during the public health crisis created by the mishandling of the window A/C unit policy by the Northampton Housing authority. Burton added, “This order is a way to get the community more involved.”

Elizabeth Humphrey also voiced her support for the order.

Jude Simmon, a resident at McDonald house thanked Marianne for her help with the A/C problems at her building and added, that she hopes Councilor LaBarge will, “hang in there with them for the mold problem.”

Pamela Powers, Northampton’s city clerk, reminded everyone that Tuesday, September 4th, is voting day in Northampton and in the entire state.

Mark Chezpro voiced his concern about the unresponsiveness of Northampton’s animal control officer whom he said had not returned his calls.

Two people spoke about a housing development to be built on near their homes.

David Dombrowski said that the postcard announcing the hearing regarding the housing development on Emerson Way was confusing and because of that he did not attend. He told the council, “The city’s residents should have final say.”

Barry Roth complained that the original plans made 15 years ago for the housing complex were not being adhered to now that the development is under new ownership. He argued that the alteration of plans was illegal and shared that the builder of the development contributed $250 to Mayor (and playwright) David Narkewicz’ mayoral campaign.

Frequent city council meeting attendee Eric (see public comment regarding a Dinosaur Cart in I Go To City Council #3) informed the council that Arizona Iced Tea is not recyclable in Massachusetts yet. He theorized that if they were, the cans could provide hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to subsidize their rent.

The council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to lower the voting age for northampton municipal elections which has been much discussed in previous council meetings.

Revving and Idling

Addressing the Council’s granting of a taxi cab license to Cosmic Cab after a multiple month process in which the owner of the company had sought out and received approval for its headquarters from the city’s building inspector, Councilor Jim Nash shared that residents of his ward were concerned about the fact that Cosmic Cab employees “rev” and “idle” their vehicles when they switch shifts.

Profits and Turnbacks

During public comment, Mayor Narkewicz remained glued to his phone in the back of the Council chambers. He then moved to the front of the room when the finance committee portion of the Council meeting began.

Susan Wright, the city’s financial director delivered the 2018 fourth quarter financial report to the councilors. Hotel/motel tax receivables are up 6% ($42,000), Meals tax is up 5% ($30,000), and building permit revenues are up 15% ($119,000) from last year. Wright called these, “pretty healthy” revenues. She added that this year 2.2 million dollars of the budget were turned back, or returned to the city, because certain departments didn’t spend their entire budget. This is up $300,000 from last year’s turnbacks which was 1.98 million.

The councilors then had an in depth discussion about how to diversify the auditing agent of the city.

Priorities

After a long financial section of the council meeting, council president Ryan O’Donnell remarked that many in the room were present for an order and he requested that he move it up in the agenda of the meeting. (A number of people The Shoestring spoke to after the meeting shared that they were surprised when O’Donnell immediately revealed that he was not referring to the residents of the MacDonald and Salvo house who attended the meeting to support the order that O’Donnell wrote.) He instead prioritized an order to rename a road after previous Northampton Mayor, Sean Dunphy. Mayor Narkewicz then presented the dedication to the council.

Due to the lengthy financial committee meeting and road dedication that were prioritized by O’Donnell, a resident of Salvo house had to leave before O’Donnell introduced the order that addressed the housing authority. Indeed, the council, with the exception of a few rapid votes on historic preservation funding, saved the order to strengthen democratic representation in the Northampton housing authority for last, subjecting those who came to support it, to 75 minutes of other City Council business.

An order to strengthen democratic representation in the Northampton housing authority

The order states that the six tenants, elected by their fellow tenants, shall be members of the housing authority board in addition to the 5 non-tenant members of the board. The order was sent to Community Resources committee and the Legislative Matters committee, but not before Councilor O’Donnell expanded on why he authored the order.

O’Donnell acknowledged that people living in public housing in Northampton are dealing with many issues, saying, “It is not just air conditioning.” He said that public housing issues often, “blur the line between city issues and landlord tenant issues.” He likened the institution of the housing authority board to an isolated land mass, saying, it is “kind of like an island.”

In an effort to get the essence of his legislation across to those who don’t live in public housing, but who instead live in a condo or those who don’t live in a condo but could attempt to imagine living in one, O’Donnell asked, “How would you feel if your condo association was made up of people either appointed by someone else or by people who didn’t live there?”  

He went on to make the argument that if tenants, who have a stake in what policies are created, were able to be a part of creating policy, that would only strengthen the policy making process.

Councilor Nash thanked O’Donnell for writing the order and described the reaction of tenants to the public health crisis created by the policy of the housing authority as, “angst created by the air conditioner discussion.” He went on to say he was not sure that O’Donnell’s order was the correct way to give tenants, “more voice on the board.”

I left this meeting with a couple questions

Could recycling Arizona Iced Tea cans actually subsidize all of our rents?

Why didn’t Council President O’Donnell move the order for a more democratic housing board up in the agenda?

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

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