6 Weeks In: Reflection
It’s been just over a month since Inauguration, and I believe things have gotten off to a positive and productive start on the City Council. I am trying to always look at things through a lens of how we, as a body, can be more productive and effective on behalf of our community. As in any city, there’s so many needs to address here in Medford – from better navigability and sidewalk safety in the aftermath of snowstorms, the ongoing battle with food insecurity, continuing to respond to the conditions of the pandemic and charting an equitable path out of it, and more – that it feels like there’s no time to waste. As I reflect on this transition from “constituent” to “representative,” this has been a major theme: trying to reconcile the sense of urgency I feel around many of these issues, plus the impatient parts of my personality, with the realistic pace of government-level response and coordination.
In this update
City Council meeting information
Citywide opportunities and updates
January roundup: Heavily abridged, mostly-chronological list of accomplishments and updates from the first 4 weeks of the term
Extracurriculars: Office hours, testifying for state bills
Running total of business licenses approved for pizzerias
City Council meeting information
Agendas for our regular Tuesday City Council meetings are posted online the Friday afternoon before. Once they’re posted, you can find them in this Google Drive folder which is listed on the City Council page of the city website under “Meeting Agendas” (not “Upcoming Meetings”).
Citywide resources, links, and updates
Medford 2022 Recycling & garbage info
Where to find plowing & parking information during snowstorms
Have you been to the new Medford Public Library yet, in its beautiful, net-zero new location on High Street? If you want to support our new library, there are many naming opportunities still available: https://www.medfordpubliclibraryfoundation.org/donate
Assigning Council members to subcommittees is one of the Council President’s many responsibilities. President Morell created our new subcommittees in early January, and at the same time consolidated the overall list of subcommittees. You can view the whole list here.
As for me, I’m chairing Public Health & Community Safety and Housing; and I’m a member of Business, Cultural Arts, and Economic Development; Communications & Public Engagement; Ordinances & Rules; Signs; and Zoning, Planning and Development. Very pleased with my assignments!
I started January with a dream of delivering comprehensive reports on everything we talk about in our City Council meetings. But here we are in mid-February and I’m just sending out an abridged January roundup – so I’m going to lower expectations for now and see if I can increase frequency from here. In mostly chronological order, here are some of the highlights (in my opinion) of what we did in our first 4 weeks of the term. Plenty has transpired since the time that these updates leave off, and I hope to send out another update soon!
Week of January 3rd
We elected new Council leadership: President Nicole Morell and Vice President Zac Bears. Congratulations!
On a motion by Vice President Bears, we resolved to do a comprehensive review of the City Council rules to update and modernize them. This discussion will be had by the Subcommittee on Ordinances & Rules, of which I am a member. The first subcommittee meeting to go over Council rules will be February 23rd at 6pm. To my knowledge, the City Council rules – which cover everything from public participation norms, to meeting schedule – have not been reviewed in a long time. I’m sure we will be able to find several adjustments that will make for more streamlined, productive meetings, as well as removing outdated language and norms.
On a motion by President Morell and Vice President Bears, we resolved to have the City look into joining the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which would mean extending this meaningful and supportive benefit to municipal employees. Currently cities are exempt from the mandate to extend this benefit to employees – so if Medford adopts it soon, we could be the first city in the state to offer PFML! What a feather in our cap that would be. The Committee of the Whole to further discuss this program is this Wednesday, February 16th at 6pm.
We have been going through the steps of approving several Amendments to Medford’s Personnel Ordinances. In some cases, this means assigning a position to a new “CAF,” or salary level, so that the city may offer higher compensation for the role.
This is the case with the Amendment regarding the role of Finance Director/Auditor; we approved the Mayor’s amendment to raise this role to the highest salary interval. I was glad to be one of 4 votes in favor of passing this amendment. My view: This position has been open for 6 months, and it’s important that we fill the role of city CFO and that we attract great candidates for that role – if offering a better salary for this important role is part of what that takes, then we should do that.
Other new personnel amendments included a variety of roles for our brand-new Parking Department (the city’s contract with Republic Parking ended early January, and Parking Director Morrison is hard at work getting her department staffed up and operational). They also included several roles that will be funded by ARPA monies, including a Food Security Specialist, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Epidemiologist, Public Health Response Nurse, and more.
It would be hard to overstate how eager I am to see these roles filled. And, though it’s a few years away, I think it's crucial that we already start planning for how we can sustain these roles in a post-ARPA city budget. The pandemic has demonstrated that our public health capacity needs to be much more robust at a baseline; we must maintain and even raise that baseline before the next crisis occurs. That sounds macabre even to me, but in my view the role of government is to protect its constituents, and that means shoring up our public health resources. It’s our role to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect our community’s well-being, in every sector – economic, public health, climate resilience, etc.
Week of January 10th
With Councilor Tseng as a co-sponsor, I offered a resolution to follow up on the Administration’s response to the offensive menorah display at the 2021 Holiday Extravaganza, and the need to improve inclusivity in general, across the board, and make sure that people from all backgrounds in Medford can feel equally at home at their City Hall. The Council unanimously passed our resolution to “affirm the Administration’s renewed efforts to cultivate robust community engagement in the planning of municipal events, and strengthen relationships with our city's many faith, cultural, and ethnic community groups in order to make City Hall a more inclusive and welcoming space for all,” and ask the Administration for an update on improving community engagement and strengthening relationships with communities that are underrepresented in City Hall.
The Mayor shared an update on January 11 via her Facebook page: “In an effort to grow our understanding of all backgrounds and faiths, my staff and I are participating in a series of trainings and seminars that will enable us to become better allies and lead to a more thoughtful and meaningful experience for the community. Our first training is on January 26, led by the Wayside Youth & Family Support Network, with more being planned with District Attorney Ryan’s office. We’re looking forward to increasing our knowledge, hearing different perspectives and ultimately making better decisions about how we organize and implement community-focused events—and we want your help to make our City as inclusive and welcoming as possible.”
We also passed several resolutions by Councilor Tseng that sought updates on the City’s efforts and plans to have an equitable Covid-19 response, including distribution of vaccination and testing opportunities, plans in place for senior living and nursing home facilities, and a request to provide KN95 masks to priority groups.
Week of January 17th
On a motion by Councilor Knight, we resolved to request a determination on whether Community Preservation Committee funding could be used to fix the lack of hot water in the Medford High School showers. This is a persistent problem that has been raised several times in the past year, including, most recently, an appeal from MHS pool users sent to the City Council in December.
We met in a Committee of the Whole to discuss the creation of an Election Commission. This was a followup to a motion by Councilor Bears we passed in our first meeting, to explore adopting a State provision – Mass General Law Chapter 51, Section 16A – that would allow us to transition our Registrar of Voters into an Election Commission. As I said when we voted on the resolution initially: I am excited for Medford to form a commission specifically dedicated to the work of running elections. In a city the size of ours, I think this is an appropriate structural evolution that will help us to continue to run our elections more smoothly.
Week of January 24th
Councilor Caraviello put forth a motion to have the Administration look into regularly purchasing replacement vehicles for the Medford Police Department. We passed the following conditions as amendments:
Vice President Bears requested information on if the MPD will continue to purchase SUV-type vehicles, as opposed to smaller patrol cars.
President Morell requested an update on purchasing hybrid or EV vehicles for the police fleet.
Councilor Tseng requested to see the purchase plan in the context of a full capital plan.
My comments on this motion included the following:
“Obviously, we need to make sure that every city vehicle is a safe vehicle. I would like to hear an accounting from the administration on how frequently these vehicles need to be replaced based on safety and usage. As we all know, resources are finite, and needs are many – throughout our city departments and within the MPD too. So I’d like to hear more about what’s recommended based on safety and necessity and in the context of other funding priorities.”
I also requested to note, for the record, that even if we were to purchase exclusively hybrid or EV vehicles for the MPD fleet, there is a huge emissions cost baked into the manufacturing of these vehicles; and I would like to see those emissions incorporated into our plan for zeroing out our carbon emissions by 2050 (City’s stated goal – obviously, sooner is better).
As mentioned in the January 3rd section, we have been going through the steps of approving salary levels for new positions. Several of those ARPA-funded positions still need to go through their “third reading.” Any change in the city’s ordinances must pass three readings: One vote by City Council; publishing in local media (the Medford Transcript); and a second vote by City Council; and then they can be adopted into our charter. This week marked the first of a handful of times that I sought to “take from the table” these personnel amendment papers. In this case, I just misread the date wrong: They would become eligible for third reading the following week. Oops! I’d go on to try again the next week. I want to make sure the City Council is doing everything that it can to get these positions filled as soon as possible. The papers are 22-023 and 21-613, if anyone is interested in reading the nitty-gritty. They include such positions as Economic Development Planner; Public Health Sanitarian; Community Liaison; Epidemiologist; Emergency Preparedness Coordinator; Health Equity and Outreach Coordinator; and more.
I was excited to host my first office hours in January, from 12pm-1:30pm on Zoom on Thursday the 27th. Since I didn’t have my newsletter up and running yet, I advertised this on my social media channels, on Medford community Facebook pages, and the Our Revolution Medford social media team helped broadcast too. I hope to pick my next date soon. My plan is to workshop how and when to do office hours, to try and make them accessible for as many folks as possible – i.e. switching up times of day, weekday vs. weekend; and I hope to schedule outdoor office hours in public spaces as soon as the weather gets a bit more amenable. In the meantime, I welcome any suggestions about how to make these more useful to you or other folks you know.
In my view, part of the role of being a City Councilor is using my now-amplified voice to advocate for policies that affect our community that are governed at the state level. So I was pleased for the opportunity to testify in enthusiastic favor of several bills in January. They included:
January 11: Bills H. 1378, An Act Enabling Local Options for Tenant Protections, and H.1440, An Act Relative to the Stabilization of Rents and Evictions in Towns and Cities Facing Distress in the Housing Market. Here’s part of what I said in my testimony:
“As a local elected in Medford, I feel urgently that our community needs and deserves the right to decide for itself how to deal with the housing crisis as it manifests in our city…The existing prohibition on local measures hobbles the ability of constituents to use their most local and direct form of governance, to decide for themselves what form of rental control or other measures will help stop the bleeding where displacement and increasing cost of housing is concerned. We need to be allowed to consider more powerful tools to withstand the increasingly expensive and speculative housing market. Please report these bills favorably so that residents themselves, through their local representatives, may be allowed to decide for their own communities what measures to take so that we have a fighting chance against the increasingly expensive, exclusive, and speculative real estate market.”
To no one’s great surprise, sadly, these bills were not passed favorably out of subcommittee before the February 2nd deadline. The work to de-illegalize rent control continues!
January 28: Bills S. 1874 and H. 3080, An Act relative to payments in lieu of taxation by organizations exempt from the property tax. Here’s part of what I said in my testimony:
“It goes without saying that large resident nonprofits provide many benefits to their host communities. One of the prominent examples here in Medford is Tufts University, which I happen to be proud to call my alma mater. But they still need to pay their fair share. The amount of property held in tax-exempt status by large, wealthy institutions like universities represents a gaping hole in municipal tax bases. And the point is the downstream effect of this lack when it comes to municipal capacity across the board. As a City Councilor, I see so much deep, dire, and overdue need in our community – for things like navigable and safe streets and sidewalks, funding the transition to a climate-resilient future, expanded constituent services, investing in educational outcomes…This has never been more apparent than in the past couple years, when our local Boards of Health bear the brunt of responsiveness and decision-making during an unprecedented pandemic. What I am asking, through my advocacy for these bills, are for provisions that will streamline and standardize the process of having our large institutional neighbors pay their fair share in taxes – just like me, my neighbors, my constituents, and all residents of this city do. Municipalities already bear a heavy load of governmental responsibilities in proportion to the resources that they are allocated. These bills would help strengthen municipalities through providing a framework for wealthy resident nonprofits to pay their fair share.”
The reporting date for this bill actually got extended – which is relatively good news! It means that the subcommittee now has until May 4th, not February 2nd, to report this bill. (If they don’t, it “dies.”)
Business licenses for pizzerias approved in first 4 weeks of term
2 (GNP House of Pizza; Pinky’s)
Thanks to all who read along. I hope that these updates will be informational for those who are interested, and help serve as a record of the term, at least through my own perspective.
I always welcome your outreach. Medford residents, I want to hear from you – what’s on your mind, what’s working for you, what isn’t. And I’d like to reiterate this standing offer: If you are intrigued by the idea of running for public office, or know someone who is, please email me. I want to do what I can to demystify the process of going for it.