Saturday, October 22, 2011

A reaction to a debate I only read about in the Item

A reaction to Friday's very early Councilor-at-Large debate from only reading the Item.

Thanks for the coverage. I can never make these weekday morning breakfasts and it appears I missed a good one. I'm a business owner (UPSIDEMEDIA/LynnHappens) and Chamber member by night, and public employee by day. While I understand and appreciate the target audience of this debate and the venue, I'm still on the fence over charging an admission fee to be part of a debate audience for a city election.

The topics they sparred about are the sort that I can't help myself from jumping in on. Some - most of the proposed solutions - for bringing businesses downtown, come close to what's necessary but don't quite reach the mark.


Streamlining the processes in city hall and providing a road map for permitting that doesn't have business owners running in circles: YES. This just may be issue #1 because it benefits all other issues, and every candidate seems to agree more or less, but we also need a clear road map towards implementing any solution. Also, employee training is important, but not good enough on its own. I've had to take a lot of hollow professional development courses in my own field. That's not a guarantee that anything's going to change as far as this taxpayer is concerned. How about a poster-sized chart on the wall with 'stops' along the route one must take towards their grand opening? No course is needed for that, and it won't cost much. It can mirror one online, and one in pamphlet form. Hand people a checklist version to note progress along the way. A proper graphic designer would know how to keep it simple. Then, have the Mayor's feedback forms nearby, and simply ask City Hall employees to be as welcoming as possible to newcomers. After all, they are putting money into our city, and we need it. Lastly, make it possible to run the route - faster. That doesn't have to mean you skip over essential parts of the process. For example, if a variance is needed, a fair hearing taking in the necessary considerations should be held, but a hearing should not be a brick wall stopping progress in its tracks, it should be a way to figure out how to go forward so that more people benefit than not - and even if it means scheduling more ZBA meetings, it should happen soon.This is an important issue. Fixing it and becoming more resident/business/newcomer friendly can bring more revenue for schools and other services. It only helps everything!

We have rather large municipal lots. Councilor Duffy, we don't need, nor want, angled parking downtown. The streets are not wide enough in most cases, except perhaps Market Street, and knowing how to parallel park is simply part of knowing how to drive. The clear solution for anyone with a distaste for street parking is a make-over of the downtown lots and the way they're run, and Dan Cahill's push to replace the Off Street Parking Commission with a standard Parking Department that has greater oversight from the Mayor and Council is one important part of the solution, because it makes the Parking Department slightly more accountable to the voters. Duffy, if you prefer to park at an angle, maybe have the municipal lot spaces angled, and a stretch of Market Street. It would work there. (I once pointed out an issue of poor/confusing signage downtown and neither Parking Commissioner Jay Fenton nor Council President Phelan seemed aware of exactly what was on the signs downtown. I was asked to take photos to show them. I at first was agreeable, but then refused to do the homework. There's two individuals in City Hall who first need to spend more time downtown before they begin to think about what's best for downtown.)

On non-profits, I believe there is some misdirected blame, here, but some legitimate frustration as well. It's not right to lump all of the non-profits together as a group. Some non-profits have brought large numbers of employees downtown and have helped to fill the streets with lunchtime customers while also performing services that people need. Some hold regular events in Lynn establishments as paying customers, and have become involved as catalysts for the arts. Some are arts organizations, even. We need that. We need the jobs they provide, too. But we also need businesses occupying more spaces downtown. What we shouldn't have, is too much of an imbalance. If you include the numerous religious organizations in storefront and office spaces downtown, then perhaps there is an imbalance. And when you consider that some Lynn non-profits consistently hold gala events, fundraisers and more outside of Lynn, one has to wonder who their target audiences really are. What do we need? Another non-profit with a mission to attract for-profits? If we fix number 1 on this list, we may not.

This one's not covered in the debate as far as I can tell from the article, but we need to get rid of residency requirements for City Hall and city department employees. (I'll tackle residency for police/fire some other time.) It's absolute nonsense that this city can not hire the grant writer it wants because the prospective hire doesn't live in Lynn. It's not the sort of position that should require living here. Neither are most of them, if they are to be judged on job performance rather than having been "Life long Lynners" of known families. I think it's so ingrained in the culture here, that people don't even realize their preference for sticking with the people and families they know half the time. And lets stop the practice of declaring oneself a "Life long Lynner," or saying "I've lived in Lynn my whole life" at the start of any debate, or even at the podium at Public Hearings in City Hall. I wasn't born here, nor was I raised here, but as long as I pay taxes here what I have to say is just as valid.

Buzzy, I think I agree with you that we need to spend money to make money, but this is where it isn't simple. This is where the city has to stop hiring its local friends and look for a marketing firm located elsewhere, preferably in the midst of where our target audience is. We're not going to bring new businesses to Lynn by marketing to our selves. Secondly, while a worthy endeavor, this task is very, very, hard. If the message isn't crafted just-so, a marketing campaign will do more harm than good. Again, another argument for looking beyond our borders for the best of the best so that we can defy people's expectations of Lynn and the more immediate North Shore (closer to Boston). We have some stereotypes to battle.

Getting back to issue #1, Phelan, we need a guide, but not a "guidebook," not even a booklet. If it's not short and simple, we're doing it wrong. Cahill, we agree on many things, but something else is wrong if we need our City Hall employees to take extra "Professional Development" courses in how to be City Hall employees. Frankly, if there's enough material to put together a course on in how to steer people through City Hall, then the process is just broken. Well, maybe taking all of City Hall on field trips to see how other cities are doing business might not be half-bad. We might have something to offer them, as well.

Finally, life-long Lynners, please don't take offense. Some of you are my friends. Just put yourselves in the shoes of someone who grew up elsewhere, if you can. Try to see things from the perspective of a new arrival to Lynn. Why? Because we need to attract more businesses and their employees to our city, for jobs, for our schools, for our quality of life, for the money for DPW to clean up parks, and to invigorate ourselves with the vibrancy one should expect for a diverse city of 90,000 people at the gateway to the North Shore.


One more thing - I said my top post would remain the previous one until it was resolved. I'm not running for office, so I can go back on my promises. However, I'm not going back on the issue. Stay tuned.