Congratulations, Brian Sullivan

We have been remiss for not having offered our congratulations to Chelsea native Brian Sullivan upon his recent appointment by Gov. Charlie Baker, and subsequent confirmation by the Governor’s Council, to the position of Clerk-Magistrate of the Lynn District Court.

Brian’s ascension to the clerk-magistrate’s position culminates a long career in the court system that began as a Probation Officer in the Chelsea District Court in 1986. He became an assistant clerk-magistrate in that court and then the Salem District Court before being named the Acting Clerk Magistrate of the Cambridge District Court prior to his appointment to the Lynn District Court.

Brian is a Chelsea guy through-and-through. His dad, the late Vincent Sullivan, who was the long-time Assistant Commandant of the Chelsea Soldiers Home, and his mom, Eleanor, raised their four children in the Mill Hill section of the city, where they were one of the most-respected families in Chelsea.

Brian attended St. Rose grammar school before going on to Malden Catholic and Northeastern University. He was a member of the Chelsea Knights of Columbus and was well-known as a member of the K of C’s softball team in the heyday of the Chelsea Modified Fast Pitch Softball League when that league drew huge crowds to Highland Park in the early 1980s.

Brian married the former Paula Hansbury, who also is a Chelsea native and well-known Chelsea High grad, and they have raised their family in Swampscott.

If we were writing this column in another era, it might have been titled, “Local boy makes good.” We know we speak for all of those who have been friends and acquaintances of Brian Sullivan and his family through the years in offering our congratulations to Brian upon his appointment and in wishing him continued success in his outstanding career in the Massachusetts judicial system.

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Councillors Want Guarantee on Soundproofing for Massport Money

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero doesn’t like some of the noise he is hearing about a proposed Massport-funded soundproofing program.

Earlier this spring, Recupero and Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda proposed that the City use $300,000 of the $600,000 annual Massport mitigation payment to help provide soundproof windows for residents who deal with the whoosh of jets traveling to and from Logan Airport.

But a letter from City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to the City Council states it might not be that easy to automatically earmark those funds for a soundproofing program.

“I am not opposed to creating some local grant program, operated through our Planning Department, to provide funding for soundproofing to residents adversely impacted by airport related noise,” Ambrosino stated. “Deciding who should qualify for such grants, and how to prioritize areas of the City, might be a bit challenging. But, I feel with some time, we can work out those details together in collaboration with the City Council.”

But Ambrosino said the funding proposed by the Council is problematic, since the annual mitigation payment cannot be directly used for a specific program. The payment is considered a payment in lieu of taxes by the state’s revenue department, making it a general revenue source that is deposited into the City’s general fund.

“If the Council desires to depend upon this Massport payment to help fund a soundproofing program at the level of $300,000 annually, it must appropriate the $300,000 separately,” Ambrosino stated. “It can do that either in an annual Budget line item, or as an isolated appropriation from a source such as Stabilization or Free Cash.”

Ambrosino recommended the City commit to appropriating $300,000 for the soundproofing program from Free Cash whenever it is available, rather than making it a permanent part of the budget.

“I can see what the City Manager is saying, but this money comes to us direct from Massport, we get it all the time, so why do we have to wait and put it in free cash?” Recupero asked. “What kind of guarantee can the City Manager give us? I want the City Manager to give us some kind of guarantee that the money will be used for that purpose, not all of it, but a piece of it.”

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City Council Approves $18 Million CIP Plan with Some Reservations

With a few adjustments, the City Council approved City Manager’s proposed $18 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) budget for Fiscal Year 2020. About $4.7 million of that proposal comes from the City’s free cash reserves.

The Council held a special meeting Tuesday night, May 28, to pass the CIP before the June 1 deadline.

The major changes to Ambrosino’s requests included paying for the second phase of the Mary C. Burke School roof project through $825,000 in free cash rather than the school stabilization fund, and doing away with $450,000 in the FY20 CIP for an updated Master Plan.

“Even though I am a huge proponent of the Master Plan, I think we should take a step back,” said Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson.

He said the City will be looking at some zoning issues in the near future, and should focus on that before it moves forward with a Master Plan update.

Earlier this year, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented the proposed 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the City Council. That document included 45 projects totaling $18 million for FY20.

“It is my strong belief that this comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan fully meets our promise to invest the City’s strong reserves in projects that enhance the quality of life in our City,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.

The program areas addressed in the CIP for FY20 include equipment purchases including furniture, desktop replacements, and vehicles for the library; roadway and sidewalk improvements; improvement and expansion of open spaces, including the Mary C. Burke playground; replacement of police cruisers, radio communication equipment, and a new engine pumper; and nearly $7 million for infrastructure improvements including utility replacement on Upper Broadway, mitigation of localized flooding and expansion of the City’s lead service replacement program.

“This gives our City Manager the leverage to go out and continue to fix our sidewalks and roads and also help with school projects and water projects,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin T. Brown. “It’s a lot of money, but it needs to be done to improve the quality of life in Chelsea.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero voted in favor of the CIP, but questioned why the Council vote is necessary, since the City Charter already requires the annual adoption of the CIP. “The charter is telling you it has to be approved,” he said.

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Council Looking to Limit Resident Parking for New Developments

It’s a general consensus among City officials that parking and traffic are among the greatest challenges facing Chelsea.

But the best way to help ease clogged streets and ensure residents aren’t endlessly circling their block to find an open parking spot are open to debate.

The latest proposal is an ordinance introduced by City Council President DamaliVidot and District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop seeking a change in the City’s off-street parking requirements.

Under the proposal, the residents of any development or housing that is granted relief by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) from the City’s parking requirements won’t be eligible to participate in the residential permit parking sticker program. Already, in Everett, City officials at their ZBA have been requiring new developments or expanded housing units in triple deckers to not participate in their parking sticker program. That tool has proven quite successful over past several months.

The Chelsea proposal will head to the Planning Board for a recommendation before coming back for a public hearing before the City Council.

“This will require any developer that comes into the city to put their money where their mouth is by asking tenants not to participate in the City parking program,” said Vidot.

Bishop said it is unfair that larger developments come into the city and ask for and are granted well below the 1.5 parking spaces per unit required by the City.

“There are too many units and not enough parking,” said Bishop. “Where do you think all those cars go? They go all over the streets, that’s where they go.

“There is very little parking even in areas where there was once parking. This is something we should have done years ago.”

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero said that while developers promote the use of Ubers, Lyfts, and public transportation, the fact is that more development brings more cars into the city.

“There are more cars being registered in our city, our streets can’t support all the cars,” Recupero said.

If developers want to build in Chelsea, Recupero said they should do like they do in Boston and provide parking underneath the units.

Several councillors said there are still some questions about the proposal made by Vidot and Bishop.

Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda asked what would happen with condominiums, where there are owners as opposed to tenants. He also questioned what would happen if developers did provide required parking.

“If they meet the conditions and there are 15 spots for 10 units, would we still allow the parking sticker?” he asked.

Avellaneda said he is supportive of working out more details for a parking plan, and also noted that many of the biggest parking issues come not from the larger developments, but from smaller conversions where parking relief is granted for buildings increasing from one to two or two to three families.

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda said there needs to be a closer look at the overall parking program for the city.

He said the current program, which limits resident sticker parking to 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. is unfair to residents.

“Unless we change the parking program to 24/7, these people are still going to be parking in our streets, and I’m sick of it,” said Perlatonda.

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TND, Traggorth Finally get the Green Light on Midas Site

A 38-unit affordable housing project at the former Midas site on Broadway can move forward after the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) unanimously granted a special permit for the project Tuesday night.

The $15 million project is a partnership between the Traggorth Companies and The Neighborhood Developers (TND). The developers initially came before City officials last year with plans for a 42-unit housing development with some market rate units included.

In addition to cutting the project down to 38 units and making all the units affordable, a planned fifth floor of a building along the Broadway side was eliminated.

“This project cannot do everything for everyone, but it can achieve many things for Chelsea by creating 38 units of affordable housing,” said Dave Traggorth of the Traggorth Companies. “This blighted site pays very little in taxes. This will change that and bring revenue to the city.”

In addition to providing affordable housing, Traggorth said there will be public access to Mill Creek for all Chelsea residents.

As has been the case during past public hearings on the project, a number of community members touted the need for affordable housing in Chelsea and TND’s past successes in bringing affordable units to the city.

City Council President Damali Vidot said she has never supported a TND project in the city until this one.

“There is a huge problem with affordability in this city and we are displacing residents at a rapid rate,” said Vidot.

Resident Sandy Maynard supported the creation of affordable units and the improvement of a blighted site in the city.

“I can’t think of a better project than this one to meet that (affordable housing) need and to beautify Chelsea,” said Maynard. “That lot is an ugly, ugly place.”

Several residents who have been homeless also spoke in favor of the project and of the need of affordable housing.”

A letter from District 3 City Councillor Joe Perlatonda cited his objections to the project, including the welfare of neighboring residents due to traffic and parking concerns.

City Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda, who has spoken against approval of the 1001-1005 Broadway project in the past, said his overreaching concern has been TND’s lack of a vision to bring affordable home ownership, as opposed to rental units, to the city.

“Teachers and city employees are not able to bid on homes (in Chelsea) and they are pushed out,” said Avellaneda. “I understand the need for affordable housing, but there is no balance here … There is a broader discussion that is needed in this community.”

The special permit granted by the ZBA was required because the project did not meet minimum zoning requirements for rear yard setbacks, number of off-street parking spaces, and maximum lot coverage percentage.

A housing lottery will be held for all of those units, with 30 offered at 60 percent of the Average Median Income (AMI) for the area (about $64,000 for a family of four) and eight at 30 percent AMI (about $32,000 for a family of four). The maximum preference allowable under state law will be given to Chelsea residents for the units.

There will be 42 parking spaces for the 38 units (the majority of which will be two-bedroom apartments). And because of state law regulating public access to public waterways, 31 of those parking spaces will be available as public parking from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to provide access to Mill Creek for everyone.

•In other business, the ZBA held a public hearing for a retail marijuana shop at the site of the former King Arthur’s strip club at 200 Beacham St. GreenStar Herbals, Inc. is seeking to tear down the existing two-story building and replace it with a one-story retail facility.

Representatives from GreenStar said the building will feature state-of-the-art security and 34 parking spots on site. Representatives of several of the neighboring local produce businesses came to express concerns about traffic and parking affecting their businesses.

The GreenStar proposal still needs to go before the Planning Board later this month before coming back to the ZBA for special permit and variance approvals.

•The ZBA also denied a special permit for a church to operate out of the second and third floors of 307 Broadway because the plan did not include any parking spaces.

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City Budget Request Submitted and Sits at $181.5 Million

City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented a city budget just short of $181,500,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 to the City Council Monday night.

The proposed budget funds city expenditures at $86,095,981 and the schools at $95,391,784 for a total budget of $181,487,765. This budget is about $6.5 million more than the FY19 budget, an increase of 3.71 percent.

“The FY20 budget continues support for many programs we have implemented over the past few years,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.

The City Manager is proposing full funding for social services programs in the downtown, including the Navigators and Youth Navigator program. The Health and Human Services budget also includes a new social services contract to support the ISD housing program.

The budget does include new positions in three city departments — E-911, DPW, and Elder Services — and an increase from a part-time to a full-time position in the Licensing Department. The E-911 increase, a total of three new full-time positions, follows a personnel review by the department’s new director.

Increases in the DPW include personnel for a new 311 system as well as a group of new hires required for the city to operate its own Water and Sewer Department.

The FY20 budget includes funds in salary reserve to cover the anticipated costs of ongoing union negotiations with City Hall employees. With the exception of the police and fire union contracts, all municipal union contracts expire on June 30 of this year.

•In other business, the Council approved an order proposed by councillors Giovanni Recupero, Enio Lopez, Luis Tejada, and Damali Vidot requiring that all street cleanings should be limited to the same amount of time in every street. Lopez and Recupero both noted that residents who live in areas where they have to move their cars for five hours for street cleaning face greater hardship than those where street cleaning is limited to two hours.

•The council also held a public hearing on zoning amendments that will allow for outdoor dining and improved signage and facades in the city.

Several local business owners and city officials spoke in support of the zoning amendments, noting it would improve the look of the downtown and make for a livelier, safer city.

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In Contentious Vote, Council Votes to Allow Change to Insurance

Current and former municipal employees crowded into Monday night’s City Council meeting as the council took up a vote to allow City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to negotiate changes to the city’s group health insurance policies.

Most of those employees did not leave happily or quietly as the council voted 8-2 to grant Ambrosino that authority to negotiate the changes. Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Yamir Rodriguez voted against the order, while Councillor Calvin T. Brown was not present at the meeting.

The city’s current group health plan is governed by a three-year agreement with the Public Employee Committee (PEC) that expires on June 30 of this year.

“During the months of November through March, I did attempt to negotiate with the PEC a new multi-year agreement that would provide some cost savings to the group health plan,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the council. “Unfortunately, I have not been able to reach agreement with the unions.”

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Ambrosino stated, in the absence of a new agreement, the old PEC agreement will remain in effect indefinitely. Without City Council action, Ambrosino said he cannot put any health care cost savings in place.

The action approved by the City Council allows the city to take advantage of recent state legislation that allows municipalities to implement cost saving plan design changes on its own if no agreement can be reached with the PEC as long as the city agrees to share a percentage of its first year cost savings with the unions.

With the newly granted authority by the council, the City Manager said he will negotiate reasonable design changes to the city’s group health policies, likely by imposing deductibles in line with deductibles paid for health insurance by state employees.

Ambrosino said even with any changes, Chelsea will always have health insurance at least as good as that provided to Massachusetts public employees.

However, a letter to the City Council submitted by the Chelsea Public Employees Committee outlined over two dozen reasons why members believe the adoption of the changes to the group health insurance should not be adopted.

“The PEC strongly believes that the adoption of Sections 21-23 is inappropriate and premature for multiple reasons: the Self-Insurance Trust Fund is running about a $2 million surplus; the PEC has agreed to apply any surplus to reduce future health insurance costs; City Manager Thomas Ambrosino wants the sickest families among City employees and retirees to pay $1 million more on an annual basis currently paid by the City; the PEC and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino agree that no changes to employee/retiree health insurance are needed until FY2022; Ambrosino has failed to bargain in good faith for a successor PEC agreement; a grievance, including an alleged unfair labor practice, are pending at this time; and Sections 21-23 will effectively disable bargaining on health insurance,” the letter summarizes.

City Council President Damali Vidot noted that her husband works for the Department of Public Works and that any changes in health insurance would directly affect her. However, she said the changes are necessary to allow Ambrosino to negotiate with city unions.

“We hire the Town Manager to negotiate with the unions, and I’m not comfortable when he does not have all the tools needed for the negotiations,” said Vidot.

Vidot she said she hopes Ambrosino can go back to the unions with the new negotiating tools and find common ground with the unions. In addition to wanting the best for city employees, Vidot said the council has a fiscal responsibility for the entire community.

The council president also said that there has been some miscommunication on the issue, especially when it comes to retirees. Vidot said changes to group health insurance plans would only affect a very few retirees who do not qualify for Medicare.

District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said he agreed that the City Manager should have all the tools available as he negotiates with the city’s union.

As the vote took place, many in the audience shouted and voiced their displeasure, with several people stating the council should be ashamed of their vote. The meeting came to a brief halt as the crowd noisily filed out of the council meeting, with several audience members individually appealing to councillors.

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10 Weeks: Bumping and Grinding Not Part of Latino Culture, Commissioners Say

The City’s Licensing Commission might want to consider making its public hearings adults’ only affairs.

At its Thursday, May 2, meeting, the commission handed down a 10-week liquor license suspension to Latinos Falcons at 185 Broadway after police showed a video from the bar featuring an assortment of groping, grabbing, grinding and all-around Dirty Dancing among waitresses, staff, and patrons.

The Falcon was called before the commission for a public hearing after a patron was placed into protective custody for public intoxication after drinking at the bar.

Before video from the bar was screened, the attorney representing Latinos Falcons, asked that the commission members keep in mind that some of the displays of affection captured on screen were merely representative of the restaurant’s predominantly “Latino culture.” The attorney also noted that there has recently been training at the bar for staff to help prevent future incidents.

As the video, featuring a fair share of bumping and grinding, came to an end with a shot of a security guard at Latinos Falcons sniffing a waitresses hair, commission member Gladys Vega was having none of the attorney’s justification.

“This has nothing to do with Latino culture,” said Vega, visibly incensed and angered despite battling laryngitis. “You should be ashamed. That is so disrespectful to say what you do about my culture.”

While the video evidence was from only one night at Latinos Falcons, and City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher stated that the bar has not been formally cited before, City Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda said the behavior shown was nothing new.

“I’ve been told about these allegations for a while now, and in 2014 and 2015 I witnessed them myself, this is nothing new,” said Avellaneda. “Unfortunately, this (behavior) is prevalent in a few bars in Chelsea and we’ve heard complaints from former waitresses, especially at this place.”

The councillor urged the Licensing Commission to send a message to Latinos Falcons and other establishments that exhibit similar behavior in the city with a heavy punishment.

“This was only one night, you can imagine what else happens,” said Avellaneda. He noted that patrons, waitresses, and owners were all engaging in unseemly behavior at Latinos Falcons.

City Council President Damali Vidot said she initially showed up at last week’s public hearing to support local business.

“But if this is the way you do business, I have a huge problem with the way you treat women and them being objectified in this video,” said Vidot. “This video is very disturbing.”

Kimberly Martinez, who said she is a Salem State University student who has worked at Latinos Falcons for six months, countered that she has never been encouraged to act in any sexual manner or to flirt with customers as a way to increase the bill. She said many of the problems at the bar are caused by certain clientele.

“We are trying to filter that as best we can,” she said. “I feel like we are moving forward and things are changing.”

But for the commission members, it wasn’t enough to sway them.

Commission member James Guido noted that on top of everything else, the waitresses were seen drinking with customers and called for harsh punishment.

“For me, this is so disturbing and troubling,” said Commission Chair Mark Rossi. “How anyone could allow that in their establishment, with the owner taking part, is so out of line … How can that environment be conducive to reporting sexual harassment?”

Rossi, who sometimes acts to tamp down harsher penalties proposed by other commission members, wasn’t averse to going all the way to the most extreme punishment for Latinos Falcons.

“I will shut you down right now, this is so repugnant,” he said.

Guido initially proposed a 30-day license suspension for the bar, but it failed to pass. The lengthier 10-week suspension passed unanimously, along with a rollback of the bar’s hours from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. to 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

•In other business, the commission continued a public hearing on a change in manager for Los Agaves at 950 Broadway. There are currently legal proceedings in probate court over the ownership of the restaurant.

Licensing Commissioners are asking that all the current owners work together to find a new manager acceptable to all sides in the fight as the legal case makes its way through the court system.

•The commission also adopted revised licensing rules and regulations. The revised regulations place stricter requirements on security staff at bars and restaurants, requiring that security wear clearly marked red shirts, have city-issued identification, and not carry anything that could be used as a weapon.

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School Superintendent Finalists Visit Chelsea for Community Forums

The three finalists for the position of superintendent of schools have been on whirlwind tours of the district this week, concluding the day with a community forum at the Williams School.

On Monday, Weston High Principal Anthony Parker visited Chelsea and spoke with teachers/staff, business leaders and at a community forum in the evening. On Tuesday, Ligia Noriega-Murphy, currently the assistant superintendent of secondary schools in Boston Public Schools, went through the same agenda. Finally, today (May 2), Almudena Abeyta, currently the assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for the Somerville Public Schools, will visit the city and have a forum at 4:30 p.m.

School Committeewoman Jeannette Velez said the School Committee would start with separate rounds of public interviews with the candidates. They would follow the same order as this week.

All interviews are open to the public. Interviews will be held at City Hall Council Chambers in the evening.

The goal of the Committee is to have a vote on May 9 – after the final interview – to decide who to pick and negotiate a contract with. If all goes well, that person would likely begin on July 1.

At Monday’s community forum, Parker said he was very interested in Chelsea because it was a challenge and a place to learn. Though he has spent most of his career in suburban schools like Newton and Weston, he said he feels like he could be very successful in Chelsea.

“I like what I read about Chelsea and I like the emphasis on building bridges and the pathways,” he said. “I like the diversity of it…It was different enough for me to be interesting. I think any district is a challenge. It’s the opportunity to build on what is here. What you have is Chelsea is you have a great district that wants to be excellent in many ways. I believe I can help you do that.”

He also said he hasn’t applied to any other districts, only Chelsea.

“This is where I want to be,” he said.

The forum was sparsely attended, and likely because it wasn’t well publicized ahead of the beginning of the forums by the Collins Center – which is running the superintendent search process.

However, numerous students from the Chelsea Collaborative and organizers from the Collaborative did show up with many questions.

The conversation went from opinions on expulsion to outside opportunities to gun violence.

At that, Parker said his students – like Chelsea last year – organized a walkout for school safety.

He said he believes in supporting student voices – something that has grown to be very important to students at the high school over the last year. Students at Chelsea High have successfully organized the walk-out, and also successfully advocated to move graduation back outside on the new turf field.

“I walked out with them,” he said. “We knew it was happening and supported it. It was a genuinely student-led effort. We need to support that even if we disagree with that they want to do. I think if a district didn’t support students on that particular situation, I think they missed out.”

When it came to challenges between suburban Weston and urban Chelsea, Parker said he would likely have a learning period with getting community and parent participation – which often lacks in Chelsea but is strong in Weston.

“If our parents cannot make meetings or conferences because they are working multiple jobs or are too busy, then we need to go to them,” he said. “I would spend time finding out where they are and where I need to go to engage them.”

The process with the School Committee next week on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday is open to the public.

Cutline –

Anthony Parker, currently the principal at Weston High, listens intently to a question from students during Monday’s community forum at the Williams School. The three finalists have been in Chelsea this week for whirlwind tours and forums. Next week, all three will meet with the School Committee for public interviews. A decision is expected May 9.

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City Looks to Introduce 3-1-1 Reporting System for Constituent Services

Have a problem?

Soon Chelsea – like other cities – can “3-1-1” it.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he hopes to proceed with introducing a 311 constituent services reporting platform to the City in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Already, Everett, Revere, Boston and others feature a telephone and online/app 311 system that residents can use to report anything from a pothole to graffiti to a rabid skunk.

“The goal is to provide better and more prompt responsiveness to constituent complaints,” read a letter from Ambrosino to the Council.

Ambrosino said the system he has in mind would operate with two employees working out of the DPW building. They would field complaints from 311 by telephone, email, text message and web-based reporting. They would fall under the supervision of Public Works Commissioner Fidel Maltez.

Once having taken the complaint, the employees would then assign the complaint to the appropriate department.

That would open up a series of accountability measures on each complaint, he said.

“These employees will be responsible for assigning the issue to the appropriate department representative or directly accessing the relevant information in a City database, tracking progress on the issue providing information on the resolution of the issue to the individual who reported it,” he wrote. “We believe this will be a much more effective way of addressing constituent complaints and hopefully it will be well-received by our residents.”

Start-up costs would look to be $162,000 for employees and the computer software. He said there is already $27,000 set aside for the program, and $50,000 from a state grant received last year. The remainder of the first-year costs would have to come from a budget request.

“I hope the Council will see the benefits of this improved constituent services effort and approve the requested FY20 appropriations,” he wrote.

The new system would replace the old SeeClickFix reporting system, which never worked as advertised.

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