LOWELL -- City Councilors unhappy with the number of complaints they have received about the Habit OpCo methadone clinic were happy to hear City Manager Kevin Murphy tell them Tuesday night that he's given Habit OpCo a short leash to fix the problems.
Councilor Corey Belanger put an agenda item on Tuesday night's council meeting asking Murphy for an update on the "alleged non-compliance of the newly relocated methadone clinic."
Belanger said at the meeting, "We have business owners in the area up in arms about what's going on there since their arrival. I received a video of a man urinating in the bushes on Stedman Street. People are walking on the street, not on the sidewalks. In January, when there are snow banks on the sidewalks, how will these people walk up the street? I have heard lots of complaints."
Murphy said Lowell Development Services Director Eric Slagle wrote two weeks ago "it has become apparent that there exists a potential public-safety issue regarding the operation of the methadone clinic" at 22 Olde Canal Drive.
"Our building department confirmed what's going on up there," Murphy said Tuesday night. "I also viewed videos and photographs and talked to business owners. It's come to my attention that they have not abated that issue. It continues to be a problem.
"Yesterday (Monday), (Slagle) delivered a notice to the owner of the building and their lawyer, giving them 48 hours to correct issues surrounding the operation.
Murphy reminded the council of abutter David Daly's Middlesex Superior Court lawsuit asking that it overturn the Zoning Board of Appeals' vote to grant Habit OpCo the special permit to relocate its Lowell clinic to 22 Olde Canal Drive.
"The Legislature has decided in recent years that you can still go forward at your own peril, which is why it's called a temporary certificate of occupancy," Murphy said. "If they lose the lawsuit, they will not get a permanent certificate of occupancy."
Other highlights from a busy meeting included Councilor John Leahy asking Murphy to convene a meeting with Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor about the recent spate of shootings in the city.
"We have to do some sort of campaign to get more of these guns off the street. I'd like to hear what (police) are doing," Leahy said. "We're turning the page in the city. Previously, the reasoning was, 'It's the bad guys fighting the bad guys.' Now, people are nervous about this. I know the police are doing a great job, but we need to sit down and give them the resources they need. If we have to sacrifice something this year to give them more overtime money, to call in who they need to call in, then let's do it. This is getting out of hand where people feel they can shoot their guns off anywhere in the city."
Murphy said he's meeting with Taylor and Deputy Arthur Ryan on Wednesday and "this is on my list of things to talk about. I think it's long overdue we have an update on the executive-session meeting we had several months ago and the recommendations that came up in that meeting to see if police are following through on what they promised. You have my word I will find those answers tomorrow and then make sure police address those issues and follow on the promises they made."
Leahy said, "I don't want to just throw money at this problem, but we need to put our heads together. There's a lot going on and we need some help. Anything we can do, we need to act fast."
Mayor Rodney Elliott asked Murphy if Taylor could indicate the number of guns taken in routine traffic stops. "That seems to be an effective measure in other communities."
Belanger added, "We heard the cries from the public from last year's violence. We cut other things to put five additional police officers on the street and, frankly, we have not gotten the results we wanted. I think it's time to pull in the chief and the deputy. They had strategies in executive session, but nothing has happened. It's getting worse. It's become almost a nightly thing. Something's got to give here. It's out of control."
Councilor Rita Mercier added, "It's frightening and we are fed up with it. I know the police are not mind readers where the next shots will be fired, but I have never in my life heard so many gunshots prevalent throughout the city in so many sections."
Elliott suggested contacting the national League of Cities and the national Conference of Mayors for more insights.
"We have the strictest gun laws in the country and we're still struggling with this."
The issue will be discussed at an upcoming public-safety subcommittee meeting and in executive session.
Earlier in the meeting, Elliott voiced his displeasure over the recent disclosure by City Auditor Hannah York that her office could not locate paper invoices for more than 25 percent of the city's spending on investigatory firms to probe city employees in the last six fiscal years.
York told The Sun her office tried to find the invoices for all six years in preparation of York's surveillance spending report, released Friday, but could not find them for fiscal 2009.
The city spent $42,198 in fiscal 2009 on private investigators, the second-highest total in the last six years. That sum was 26.6 percent of the $158,479 spent on four private-investigation firms from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2014.
York also found that some invoices had no subject of the investigation given, others listed a subject but it was blacked out, and the rest listed the name of the subject being observed. York told The Sun last week that the invoices she reviewed with the subjects' names blacked out were the original invoices.
Elliott also criticized that aspect of the investigation.
"To me, that's not legal," Elliott said. "I don't know how that happened, but I think we need to find out how that happened and it should be investigated. You can't black out original invoices. The city should have a list of people who were paid, why they were followed, and anything less is wrong. I think we're entitled to that information."
Criticizing the missing invoices, Elliott said, "It's embarrassing. It's incomprehensible and it doesn't smell right. I'm also concerned with the finding there's no description of $31,000 of surveillance spending in 2010. Every dollar in taxpayer money spent should be accounted for and the purpose listed. I don't understand why we can't identify this. These different findings, why it's taking so long, reeks of a cover-up. We don't know who was followed, why they were followed, and we have too many invoices with no purpose. There's too much secrecy. Why is it so difficult to identify the money spent, the purpose?"
Murphy told the council that much of the information Elliott is requesting was to be provided to the council in an executive session after last night's meeting.
"I'm transparent. Any information you seek will be provided to you. There will be no cover-up on my watch," Murphy said.