An Excellent City Council Sets a Bad Example ~ THE PULSE

By: John MacDonald – Oct. 2016

On September 27th, without fanfare or discussion, the Lowell City Council approved raises for themselves and the Lowell School Committee. Currently the City Council each make a stipend of $15,000 per year and the School Committee members make $6,000 per year. Now, with a swift vote and no discussion, the Lowell tax payer will absorb a new annual stipend of $25,000 per year, per councilor, and School Committee members will make $12,000. The mayor who leads the City Council and serves as the Chairperson for the School Committee, goes from $21,000 per year to $30,000.

The Lowell City Council, which I have thought a lot of, made a terrible decision in my opinion. Police, firefighters, teachers… right down to the City Hall janitor struggle and often have to fight years, just to get a small increase. I guess, in essence, “time” is what really rubs me the wrong way about this. Within a short couple of months, since the issue arose in City Council chambers, the raise for the incoming 2018 council was swiftly approved.
The Council voted 8-1 with only one lonely councilor voting against the measure. Former Mayor Rodney Elliott stood his ground and voted no.
In speaking with the Councilor he said that he felt that the council was currently paid fairly and that there were other priorities that should have been addressed. I agree.

Personally I don’t agree when a sitting councilor who complains of the time constraints on his family and personal time, because of their service. Why? Because it’s public service. Councilor you ran to serve, you fought to serve, you worked hard to earn your spot, so you could serve. Was it all about the money?

Some councilor’s historically have spent countless hours serving the city and probably deserve higher pay, but many others make a weekly appearance at council chambers and have done little more. The current council has actually been very good and I appreciate the hard work they have done and the commitment they display, but this pay raise was wrong.

Why was it wrong, beyond sending a bad message to our public employees? It’s wrong because, never was it discussed what this increase would cost the individual tax payer per year. Again… it was wrong, because when teachers spend months and years without contracts in the past, the answer to them was always that there was no money in the budget, but now… we have money. We have money to spend on raises for public officials… almost instantly. Instead of years of discussion, this vote is taken months within from when the original motion was proposed.

Now, how can the Administration proclaim that there isn’t enough money for anything, when so little time is spent by the city council on just thinking about the impact? Just thinking about the perception to the general public in Lowell?

I really do like this Administration and City Council. However, when this opinion writer spends countless hours, side by side, with a group of volunteer veterans doing some good… it irks me to hear a city councilor whining about the time they are spending away from home. When I see volunteers give countless hours serving meals or helping their fellow man, it irks me to hear a city councilor whine about how valuable their service is to the city and that they should be fairly compensated.

It gives me pride and warmth when I learn of a Lowell teacher, who buys a child’s laptop out of her own pocket, so the child can do school work. Mom couldn’t afford it, the teacher knows it and takes her limited funds to do good. The teacher, who was dragged through the mud for three years without a contract or pay raise… buys it. So it irks me when a city councilor can sit in council chambers and swiftly vote away the tax payer’s dollars for themselves.
And it’s going to irk me when the inevitable request will come next year for a tax increase. I hope every tax payer in Lowell remembers this pay increase, when the crying and teeth gnashing begins early next year; when underfunded pensions and the Cadillac tax take swipes at the budget; or when the snow is piling up and the snow removal budget just doesn’t cut it. How about the next union contract?

So will the big stipend attract more candidates? Will it be worth it councilor if you can hang on into 2018, for that juicy stipend? Or will the big stipend become a campaign issue next year? I think the latter and… a big one.