Michael T. Gaffney
Worcester City Council
REPEATING THE SAME MISTAKES
I am tired of watching the politicians do the same thing over and over again with little success. As it is election time the local politicians are all talking about the Theater District, which is the latest project that is supposed to revitalize the city. No doubt we will spend countless dollars and hours planning and discussing how great the project will be for the city. The communication to voters will be that this project is the key to improving the city. We have had many key projects like this before. Unfortunately, like those past projects, two years from now this idea will be a distant memory. Past projects have included the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets, the forgotten Arts District project and the Union Station project that is now a multi-million dollar banquet facility. In fact, at the heart of the Theater District project is the demolition of the Worcester Common Fashion Outlets to reopen Front Street. The politicians went out and held meetings regarding the planned Theater District to get input from the public, but then ignored the suggestions, making only a few grammatical changes to the final plan.
What we should do is stop trying for the home run project and focus on building a middle class tax base in the city so we can rebuild our services. We should also avoid the nonprofit takeover of our city. The City Council just voted to grant a loan to another nonprofit for building improvements in an area without any parking infrastructure to support it. They are simply filling buildings at any cost.
Our City Councilors do not critically and thoroughly review the reports they request and we pay for. As an example, a report on the state of parking in the city came before the council that called for the city to hire a parking manager to make the parking fees “competitive” with other major cities. In short, they wanted to raise parking fees. The report did not include any data concerning utilization of the parking lots and the information concerning expenses did not match the annual report. After protest by another citizen and me, the report was withdrawn. One week later, the Telegram and Gazette published an article exposing a lawsuit between the city and the Hilton Garden Inn as the hotel owes the city over $700,000.00 in parking fees that it had not paid. The report did not include any information concerning the monies owed by the Hilton Garden Inn.
We are down 60 police officers here in Worcester. Our City Council has been talking about the new class of 25 recruits graduating this summer; however, with 15 retirements expected, we will still be short 50 police officers. The City Council clearly has no plan for public safety as they have no intention of rebuilding the police force and little plan for keeping up with attrition.
More recently, the City Council has refused to properly handle the proposed slots parlor. The slots parlor is being advanced by a company named Rush Street Gaming. They spent $400,000.00 just to get the rights to negotiate with Worcester. They have a complete and detailed plan of exactly what they want. Rush Street Gaming knows exactly what the initial offer will be and what each and every subsequent offer will be thereafter; however, no offer has been made. Instead, the City Council wants to give permission to the City Manager to negotiate a host agreement with Rush Street Gaming so that it can be put on the ballot.
The City Council has the ability to just say “no” to the slots parlor and stop it dead. Instead, they refuse to even discuss their position publicly claiming that they want to see what is in the host agreement before evaluating it. Of course, once the host agreement is complete, the matter is going to be put on the ballot rendering the opinions of the council members moot. Thus providing them with the opportunity to dodge stating their opinion and allowing them to escape the scrutiny of the voters. In fact, two councilors have already taken multiple positions by stating that they will vote for to allow the host agreement to go to ballot where they will then vote against it. This is the classic, "I was before it before I was against it".
What the City Council should have done was to hold up the vote on allowing the City Manager to begin negotiating the host agreement pending receipt of a proposal from Rush Street Gaming. Then allow the citizens of Worcester to see what the proposal from Rush Street Gaming is before it goes to the City Manager and then hold public meetings so that the citizens of Worcester can comment of the actual proposal from Rush Street Gaming before it goes to the City Manager.
Instead, the City Council held one meeting for citizen input and continued the second meeting until after they already voted to advance the matter to the City Manager for negotiation.
The City Manager is an unelected official. The City Councilors are elected to represent the citizens of Worcester on the issues that face the city. Passing the final decisions to the City Manager demonstrates a total lack of leadership and underscores why the only option that the city has for the building site is the slots parlor.