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City is Failing to Get Big Issues Resolved

October 9, 2018

Who is running the City of Lowell these days -- the city solicitor, city manager or City Council?

If you base your answer on who is setting the agenda, it’s City Solicitor Christine O’Connor.

From the federal election lawsuit lodged against the city, to the eminent domain land-taking of a popular downtown dentists’ office, to the Lowell School Committee’s decision to terminate Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui’s contract, O’Connor is front and center on the progress of all these important issues.

Certainly, the city has to be concerned about the legal ramifications in each case. But while the solicitor is dragging her feet, taxpayers’ are at risk of paying the freight.

Take the federal election lawsuit for starters. This lawsuit was filed against the city in May 2017 and a three-member City Council task force was established to examine Lowell’s system for government. All we’ve heard is crickets on this issue. The city’s response is still languishing despite several U.S. District Court orders to get this case resolved -- or risk a lengthy and costly trial. The solicitor and city manager won’t say how much the city’s laborious, time-consuming computer search for documents is costing, but sources have told the newspaper it’s estimated to be in the $100,000 range. According to sources, the solicitor’s also mentioned in private that the city might have to hire outside election law attorneys if it decides to fight the plaintiffs in court.

Stop the madness. The city’s going broke on other things -- the multi-million School Department deficit comes to mind -- without adding to the deficit ledger. We believe that a compromise is in order. The solicitor should be directed to pick up the phone, call the plaintiffs’ attorney, and start negotiations on a fair and reasonable solution that can be put before the public. Don’t waste any more time and resources.

On the eminent-domain issue, we don’t know who to believe. The city manager says the solicitor has tried numerous times to meet with the dentists’ attorney, Peter Flynn of Saugus. Yet The Sun has at least five emails from Flynn to the contrary. Worse, City Hall sat on its own August 2 report on relocation costs for more than a month before The Sun got wind of its existence and published the contents. It shows that taxpayers will have to pay -- conservatively -- $4 million to $6 million to move the dentists’ offices out of their Arcand Drive location. The costs, which are subject to legal appeals, are in addition to the city’s $2.6 million land-acquisition costs.

It was disheartening to watch City Manager Eileen Donoghue’s performance at the Sept. 25 Council meeting where she couldn’t answer the most basic questions about the relocation report or negotiations with the dentists. Why? O’Connor’s running the show, keeping things close to the vest -- while taxpayers are being fed pablum on the rising costs of the Lowell High School project.

Beware the subterfuge, Lowellians. Watch when city officials revive a dead issue -- costs associated with building at Cawley Stadium -- to justify the downtown project and all its extra costs.

Finally, Salah Khelfaoui deserves to be heard by the people of Lowell as to why his superintendency has descended into “fiscal mismanagement” as alleged by the city. The solicitor should allow the request if is made.

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