A Sun staff report
DRACUT TOWN Manager Jim Duggan admits he’s sometimes “like a bull in a China shop” and that perhaps his bedside manner can be a little gruff.
But make no mistake about it: Since Duggan came to Dracut from Gloucester in 2014, the community’s finances are the strongest they’ve been, due in large part to tax-generating economic development that has been the hallmark of Duggan’s tenure.
Despite such accomplishments, two selectmen, Joe DiRocco and Tami Dristiliaris, gave Duggan significantly lower scores in his recent evaluation than their three colleagues Jesse Forcier, Tony Archinski and Alison Hughes.
The disconnect is attributable to one word — personnel — or, more specifically, one person, David Chartrand.
Late last year, the state’s Civil Service Commission rejected the 10-day suspension Duggan imposed on Chartrand, the town’s deputy police chief, over the his handling of documents in now-retired Lt. Michael Fleury’s personnel file.
The mega-suspension was reduced to a letter of reprimand.
The decision marked the latest chapter on a long-running political saga that observers predict will end with a Chartrand vs. Town of Dracut lawsuit.
Dristiliaris is close with Chartrand and his family. DiRocco, the town’s former fire chief, tends to back Dracut’s public-safety personnel. Audits of both the police and fire departments, commissioned by Duggan, were never fully embraced by DiRocco despite their startling finds, particularly in regards to the PD.
It will be interesting to watch selectmen at their next meeting in two weeks, when Duggan’s salary is discussed. He received a raise in 2017 that brought his salary to $170,000 annually.
ONE OF several former Lowell city employees who got better financial deals in Dracut over the last couple years is in the news again.
Dave Ouellette confirmed he’s exploring a bid for City Council.
“Wow, news gets out fast,” he said when contacted about the potential bid.
Ouellette, 58, Dracut’s health agent, said there’s a “very good possibility” he’s running. The Acre resident, born and raised in Lowell, said he’s getting his team together.
He touted his experience working in the city, completing inspections and dealing with homeless and needle issues.
He knows the buildings inside and out, including the high school, he stressed.
“Every single inch of that building,” Ouellette said.
He’s been very involved in the Acre, and is a former president of the Coalition for a Better Acre. He also unsuccessfully ran for state representative.
THE 2017 city election was an anomaly for City Councilor Rita Mercier.
The former mayor got elected to her 12th consecutive two-year term, but it was bittersweet in that she finished fifth when she’s accustomed to finishing first.
Mercier was a stout defender of building a new high school at Cawley Stadium, when that year the city overwhelmingly voted to keep Lowell High downtown.
But the former mayor is undeterred and is looking forward to this fall’s election. She pointed to two long-serving former colleagues.
“Dick Howe had 40 years and Bud Caulfield had 24,” said with a smile. “I’ll never reach Dick Howe, but I could catch Bud.”
MERCIER DID acknowledge she waded, albeit lightly, into a recent city personnel issue when she encouraged former DPW commissioner T.J. McCarthy to throw his hat into the ring to become Lowell’s next top building, parks and streets guru.
McCarthy held the post during the administration of former City Manager John Cox and remained there until the summer of 2010 when UMass Lowell came calling with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He’s a hands-on type of guy who gets the job done and the DPW needs that right now,” said Mercier, in reference to musical chairs at the top of one of Lowell’s biggest departments. “But he doesn’t want it.”
Why would he? At UML, where’s officially known as the director of operations and services, McCarthy makes nearly $143,000. The most he’d make in Lowell is $130,000.
The city received nine applications for the job. City Manager Eileen Donoghue expects to make her selection known this week.
Not in the applicant pool is City Councilor John Leahy. A professional painter by trade, Leahy announced late last year he was interested in the job. But state law, and the city’s charter, spells out prohibitions that kept Leahy out of the hunt.
LOWELL OFFICIALS were busy with the voter rights lawsuit last week — on Tuesday in a City Council executive session, and then a day later in a Boston federal court mediation session with the plaintiffs.
The council took no action behind closed doors, according to sources.
Besides top city officials and councilors, also present was an expert the city has hired as it navigates the complicated case.
Because the plaintiffs have not yet disclosed who they’ve hired for experts, city officials are mum on who their expert is.
Another closed session is scheduled for Tuesday.
NEW STATE Sen. Edward Kennedy has hired some familiar faces, both young and old, to run his Statehouse office.
Lowell’s Patti Kirwin-Keilty, a veteran of the Massachusetts political arena, will serve as chief of staff. She has worked on more than a dozen local, state and national political campaigns including the congressional campaigns of Marty Meehan and Niki Tsongas.
Kirwin-Keilty has a professional background in social work, business and non-profit administration, having worked for the state’s Department of Social Services as a social worker and administrator. She has also served as the regional director for Merrimack Valley Catholic Charities. She will earn $65,000 in her new role.
Chelmsford’s Phil Geoffroy, a rising political star behind-the-scenes, has been named Kennedy’s legislative director. He previously served as a congressional aide to Tsongas in the Lowell district office. He will earn $54,000 as legislative director.
Burlington’s Frank Munro, who worked for the senator’s predecessor, Eileen Donoghue, will serve as Kennedy’s constituent services and policy director at $40,000 a year.
Dracut’s Jennifer Myers, a Sun alum, will serve as Kennedy’s communications director. Most recently, Myers was the resource development and communications manager for Coalition for a Better Acre in Lowell.
Myers was a reporter for The Sun for more than a decade, including a three-year stint covering Lowell City Hall. During her time at The Sun, Myers won nine awards for her writing from professional organizations, including being the first journalist to receive the New England Society of Newspaper Editors “Newsroom Rising Star” award in 2011.
Her salary has not been finalized.
REP. LORI Trahan wasn’t expecting a large turnout for the opening of her district office in the Boott Mills on Monday night – maybe a few dozen or so. However, close to 200 people braved the whipping cold winds to stop by, say hello and take a selfie.
Much of the district was represented at the event that went on for nearly three hours.
Among those in attendance were Lowell Police Chief Kelly Richardson and Fire Chief Jeffrey Winward, City Councilors Leahy and Vesna Nuon, Westford Selectman Elizabeth Almeida, Chelmsford Selectman Pat Wojtas, Rep. Rady Mom, and Middlesex Community College President James Mabry.
IT’S a new year, but the state Legislature — despite the efforts of a few new faces — remains about as committed to transparency as a brick wall.
Even after reforms to the public records law that made it easier for citizens to acquire information from government agencies, the state House, state Senate, governor’s office and judiciary were still exempt. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation where that is the case.
In 2016, lawmakers formed a commission to examine the issue. Generously speaking, it went nowhere.
On Thursday, news emerged that the commission had missed the last deadline to file a report with recommendations on how to improve transparency. Because the Legislature did not extend the deadline once again, the commission was dissolved.
Members of the commission from the Senate did file their own version of the report that recommended changes such as making written testimony available to the public and requiring 72-hour notice before public hearings. But even that pales compared to how little progress was made overall.
It’s a bad look for a state government that is already facing several transparency issues, from votes not being formally recorded to state police embroiled in an overtime-pay scandal. Criticism of the Legislature came swiftly following the news Thursday, with the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance penning a letter to what it called “the legislative commission of nothingness” and demanding lawmakers involved to forego paychecks until a consensus is reached.
“The failure of the 2016 public records legislative commission to produce a final product of any kind is just the latest setback for proponents of government transparency,” the group wrote. “It adds another stain to the already embarrassing record of the Massachusetts legislature when it comes to issues of good governance. Adding further insult, it was announced a week after several newly sworn in House members had the courage to make a stand on the floor of the House in the name of transparency during the Speaker’s election.”
PRIOR TO announcing his impending departure from the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen on Monday, Chairman Glenn Diggs requested the board discuss making changes to the town’s senior tax rebate work program.
Diggs said the board should consider adding elected officials over 60 — who generally put in more than the 60.5 hours of municipal service required — to the seniors eligible to get a $665 rebate on their property taxes through the program.
He said “it seems ridiculous to have people already working hundreds of hours” to have to work another 60 hours doing something else in order to qualify.
“We’re never going to get rid of the two of you,” Selectman Ken Lefebvre said in jest.
(It’s unclear which other selectman he was referring to — both Pat Wojtas, whose seat is also up for reelection this year, and George Dixon, reelected last year, are over 60.)
“Well, that’s not true,” Diggs said, before launching into the announcement that he would not run for reelection at the end of his term, which is up in April.
Town Manager Paul Cohen said changing the rules of the program may not be as simple as a board vote — it may require an act of the state Legislature.
The item is expected to come up at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.
WITHIN THE first week of the new year, five Wilmington residents have already pulled their nomination papers for the upcoming Annual Town Election.
Greg Bendel and Kevin Caira are both seeking re-election for a second term on the Board of Selectmen.
Jo Newhouse is running for School Committee. Newhouse was appointed to fill out the term for School Committee member Peggy Kane who stepped away in June. Jesse Fennelly has also pulled papers for School Committee. Fennelly ran unsuccessfully in last year’s School Committee race. He also applied for the appointment to finish Kane’s term. In addition to Newhouse’s seat, School Committee members Julie Broussard and Tom Talbot have expiring terms as well.
Robert Peterson Sr. has pulled papers to run for re-election on the Shawsheen Tech School Committee.
All three races are for three-year terms. Nomination papers are due back to the Town Clerk’s Office by 5 p.m. on Friday, March 8.
Contributing to The Column this week: Rick Sobey in Lowell, Kori Tuitt in Tewksbury and Wilmington, Alana Melanson in Chelmsford, Chris Lisinski at the State House and Enterprise Editor Christopher Scott.