I Go To Northampton City Council Meetings # 22

A resolution to support the right to counsel in eviction cases, beefed up security for the parking ticket and collections office, HRC receives a whopping $1,000

 

August 4, 2019

by Jules Marsh

On July 11, 2019 the Northampton City Council held its thirteenth meeting of the year. All councilors and the Mayor were present. 

Public Comment

A number of speakers urged the Council and Mayor Narkewicz to increase the school budget by $250,000. 

Andrea Eggito, a teacher and chapter coordinator of the Northampton Association of School Employees (NASE), criticized Mayor Narkewicz for underfunding teachers by $250,000 in his recent city budget, which was recently approved by the council. “We are still here,” said Eggito, a point which NASE demonstrates every Thursday evening at protests in front of City Hall. She asked the council, “Do you value educators in this city? Do you value their work? Or do you expect that a predominantly female workforce will quiet down, be nice, and be grateful for what they are given?” She referenced the 1.3 million retail weed revenues that Northampton has dedicated to capital improvements, and a recently approved $950,000 cold storage facility, and stated, “We are not going to take it anymore, and let capital improvements be built on our backs.” 

Mike Kirby, a former Northampton City Councilor, told the council that he was feeling “in high dudgeon” because of the distribution of funds in Narkewicz’ budget. He noted that there are new stakes along Prospect St. marking where new trees will be planted but that teachers are not getting paid a fair wage. “Trees are beautiful but they cost money.” He went on to note that the Department of Public Works’ (DPW) budget went up 15% but that the school budget only went up 4% and criticized the Mayor’s spending priorities. “Over the last month or so, I look at the brand new trucks and DPW that they have, that other communities rent on a need basis. We bought a tree stump grinder, a top of the line, it costs close to $100,000 and we already have one. We need to spend money on these teachers.”

Marissa Marks, who moved to the U.S. from the former Soviet Union when she was 9, shared that she and her husband decided to stay in Northampton because, “We wanted schools Northampton has had to offer. I want these teachers to stay and those recruited to be high quality.”

Julie Hammonds, a teacher at South Hadley High School, shared that she and her significant other wanted to buy a house in Northampton, but reconsidered when they heard that Northampton teachers weren’t being valued. “I hope to come back to Northampton but only if a budget is passed that values educators in our community.” 

Speakers also asked the council to pass a Resolution in Support of Right to Counsel in Eviction Cases and Eviction Sealing to Promote Housing Opportunity and Mobility.

Jennifer Dieranger who provides free legal aid specializing in tenant and eviction cases at Community Legal Aid (CLA) asked the council to support the resolution and reported that over 90% of MA tenants are not represented and have to represent themselves. According to Dieranger, CLA turns away 50% of people who come to them. She shared the story of sexual assault survivor who dealt with mental problems who was able to avoid eviction from subsidized housing and remain a tenant after recieving stabilizing support resources from CLA.  

Pamela Schwartz, another former Northampton city councilor, stressed the importance of helping tenants avoid eviction notices which she noted are ‘like scarlet E’s across a tenant’s forehead’ and “effectively bans housing for life.” She continued, “The consequences are life long and a direct contributor to homelessness.” In closing she noted the higher probability of people of color being evicted, “In Massachusetts 74% of tenants are Latinx, 66% are African American, and 32% are white.” 

Joe Feldmen, who has a small local civil rights and tenants practice, commenting on the same resolution, told the council that, “The system is designed for two lawyers. The difference between having a lawyer and not having a lawyer is enormous. A system designed for two lawyers should have two lawyers and not depend on the ignorance of one party to get an unjust result.”

Andrea Ayvazian, a registered nurse, ordained minister and TERF-y op-ed writer, encouraged state legislature to remove religious exemptions to vaccinations. Ayvazian spoke in favor of the council’s recent resolution to increase local measles immunization rates.  The resolution was approved in the previous meeting and was on the meeting agenda for its second reading (the council votes on everything twice.) “Measles can be very dangerous, possibly fatal. I am concerned that there are pockets of low immunization rates that pose a risk for our entire community. Massachusetts should join a growing list of states disallowing religious exemption for vaccination keeping in place only medical exemption.” 

 Above ground fuel storage tank

The Mayor asked the council to allocate the $633,000 already approved in the budget to replace a fuel storage tank that is used to fuel all city vehicles including the DPW, fire department, NPD, and public school vehicles. The new tank will be stored above ground instead of the current tank which is stored underground. According to Narkewicz, the tank is old enough to need replacement and  the above ground tank, is “Less costly than below ground, and less risky for underground contamination.” Though no leakages have been found in Northampton, 21 sites in Massachusetts have found leakages from underground tanks.

Charter review committee

Councilor Bill Dwight (At-Large) gave his update on the City Charter Review on which he serves as a member of the review board. The review board has been meeting and discussing the charter in preparation to make recommendations to the Mayor on possible charter amendments. The charter is only reviewed every ten years. His update was quite jumbled, but he noted that the charter is the equivalent of the city’s constitution and that it is possible people don’t understand its importance in their lives. The meetings are open to the public, but perhaps Dwight was trying to imply that not many people are showing up. Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of each month for the rest of the year. 

A resolution supporting the right of counsel in eviction cases 

A resolution supporting the right of counsel in eviction cases was co-sponsored by Councilor Gina-Louise Sciarra (Ward 4) and Councilor Dwight. The resolution served to support current house bills in the Massachusetts legislature. In introducing the resolution, Sciarra noted the particularly egregious fact that children inherit the association of eviction of their parents, “I think it is appalling that children and minors who are named in these evictions keep these records with them. It impacts their ability to have a home as an adult.” Dwight declared, “We are not allowed to brag about our legal system in this circumstance when there is no guarantee of representation in these courts. Given to the numbers described in the bill, the growth of homelessness, and that a huge proportion of this happens to persons of color, persons of a certain class, this is an obscenity. We lend our support and emphatic endorsement to allow our representatives to be supported.”

Councilor Dennis Bidwell (Ward 2), an enthusiastic member of the Mayor’s Panhandling Task Force which meets in private and keeps no public meeting notes and which conducted a study specifically designed not to address the underlying causes of why people might panhandle, but instead to rid Northampton of the activity of panhandling, noted that “So many good outcomes are tied to the stability of housing. We allow these incredible roadblocks that get in the way of the stability of housing.” 

$20,000 to beef up security at the parking ticket and collections office, $1,000 for the Human Rights Commission

The council appropriated a total of $340,000 funds requested by the mayor to fund a variety of capital projects including $45,000 for a new HVAC van, $48,000 for a vehicle lift for the Fire Department, $40,000 for staff vehicle replacement for the Fire Department, $20,000 for security upgrades to the city’s parking/collector’s office, and $10,000 to fund a study to utilize space at the Senior Center. 

The council approved $1,000 for the Human Rights Commission (HRC), a commission made up of members appointed by the Mayor, to use toward costs of outreach and education. The financial order called for two readings in one night. When Council President Ryan O’Donnell asked the Mayor why the order was being expedited, Narkewicz joked, “Human rights are under attack around the world,” to which O’Donnell replied, “that would take more than $1,000 to solve,” to which Narkewicz quipped, “every bit counts.” The order was being expedited because that would give the HRC access to the money by the time it has its next meeting. 

Jules Marsh is a co-editor of The Shoestring. They are alive in Massachusetts.

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