City Council Preview: December 14
The Worcester City Council meets Tuesday at 6:30pm. The agenda is here.
This week: Police operations, facial recognition, School Committee districts.
Boards and Commissions: The Manager has appointed Charles Hopkins to the Human Rights Commission. The Council will vote whether to expand the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board from 7 to 9 members. This board is newly created, and once the Council finalizes the number of members, the city will start asking for applications.
Snow Plow Conflict of Interest Waivers: Some city employees want to plow snow for the city as contract workers. They unsurprisingly need the Council to approve this. This week, police officer David Rutherford has a waiver request before the Council.
Restructuring the WPD Operations Division: The Chief has a report on their new plan. Currently, there’s always a captain on duty, overseeing the entire city. Captain shifts are 8 hours. When your shift is over, whatever issues you are dealing with are the problem of the next captain. Under the new plan, each district precinct will be assigned a captain, and that captain will be responsible for the precinct 24-7. The precincts will be: 1) Northeast, 2) Southeast, 3) Northwest, 4) Southwest, 5) Union Station. Precinct 5 includes City Hall, the Neighborhood Response Team, and Special Ops. (I don’t have much knowledge in this area, so my apologies if this summary is inaccurate.)
Library Service Increases: The library will be increasing teen services, including expanding their number of teen librarians from 1 to 3. Attendance at teen library programs has increased 608% during the pandemic.
ARPA Funding: There is another report on plans for what we’ll do with our estimated $146M in federal ARPA funding. This plan is always changing and the devil is in the details, so I’m not going to try to summarize this particular draft of the plan.
Removing Police from the Schools: The Manager has a report this week on the current plan to remove police officers from the schools. We will be switching from “school resource officers,” who work in the schools full-time, to “school liaison officers” who are assigned to a quadrant of the city and are available to deal with school issues, but who are not based inside a school and will be doing neighborhood foot patrols or something else if there’s not a pressing school issue. We will also be expanding the use of “wrap-around coordinators” in the schools, who try and keep things chilled out.
Banning Facial Recognition Technology: The Council will consider an ordinance banning city employees and contractors from using facial recognition technology. A previously-suggested ordinance would have done this in a roundabout way, and grandfathered in anything currently in use. This new ordinance just straight up bans it. (Tech that has the option for face recognition is okay, as long as the employee/contractor does not turn that feature on.)
School Committee Districts: Last week, the City Council voted to change the School Committee so that there would be 6 district seats and 2 at-large seats. Since there are only 5 Council districts, having 6 Committee districts seems designed for confusion. This week, the Council will consider a proposal to change the Council to have 6 district seats, too. (Bill Shaner has a great deal more on this item.)
Tax Rates: This isn’t an issue this week, I just wanted to note that last week, the Council set the property tax rates for the upcoming tax year. A proposal from Councilor Toomey was narrowly defeated; a proposal from Councilor King, with slightly lower residential rates and slightly higher commercial ones, narrowly passed. Residential property taxes will be $15.21 per $1000 assessed value, down from $16.28 the previous tax year. Commercial rates will be $33.33, down from $36.20. (Georgist land value taxes were not considered.)