LOWELL – The City Council on Tuesday approved a transfer of $55,000 from the city manager’s contingency fund to be used for a human resources audit as part of the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“I recognize this is a tough year,” City Manager Eileen Donoghue said. “We don’t know what we need contingency moneys for, but this was something that was prioritized, and something that we feel this is the only way to move forward on this.”

Councilors John Drinkwater and Vesna Nuon made the motion requesting the audit in early June.

The initial request for proposals for a comprehensive audit came back with proposals as high as $160,000. With the city unable to contend with that price during the financial challenges of the pandemic, a modified request for proposals followed, targeting the highest-priority items to start. Donoghue previously said the idea was to do the audit in phases as funding allowed.

Drinkwater said he thought funding the $55,000 for the audit was “a really positive step” and he was glad the council could take the vote Tuesday.

Bobby Tugbiyele, a resident who has been outspoken about the city’s need for such an audit and reforms to its hiring practices for years, was unavailable to participate in the meeting but provided a statement by email.

“Over the course of this year, City Council has been vocal in its resolve to uphold values around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While that resolve has been questioned and will continue to be when and if appropriate, it is equally important to recognize earnest attempts in moving the needle forward,” Tugbiyele said. “If we can consider budgets as statements of our values, as once was said, then let’s mark this initial investment in an HR audit as a step in the right direction to continually address historical inequities in our city.”

He said he hopes it is an opportunity that encourages further investment, partnership and education around DEI initiatives in the city, and he is optimistic that 2021 will prove to be a year that  Lowell “walks the walk” with such measures and serves as a model for other communities around the state.

It is unclear which of the six applicants was selected for the audit. Donoghue said she would provide a more in-depth report for the council in the near future.

In other business, the council:
-Referred to Donoghue a communication from the Lowell Sustainability Council seeking to explore possible funding to install solar panels on the roof of Lowell High School.
-Approved the reappointment of Joanie L. Bernes as tenant representative on the Lowell Housing Authority Board and accepted the resignation of Vanna Howard.
-Referred an informational report on new state regulations pertaining to recreational marijuana delivery services to the Cannabis Subcommittee.
-Accepted a $7,500 gift from Digital Federal Credit Union to be used by the Pollard Memorial Library for projects, equipment and software to make services more accessible during the pandemic.
-Accepted a $60,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Sustainable Materials Recovery Program, to be used to reduce recycling contamination and reduce associated costs.
-Authorized Donoghue to execute a five-year lease to rent space at 115 Merrimack St. for the Masshire Lowell Career Center Young Adult Department.
-Authorized Donoghue to enter an agreement with Cross Point to replace the city’s old police radio antenna, located on the roof of one of the towers, with new equipment.
-Amended the fiscal 2021 budget to transfer an additional $307,490 for service contracts and repair work on various city garages.
-Referred a loan order for $85,000 for architectural and engineering services for roof reconstruction at Shaughnessy Elementary School to a public hearing Jan. 12.

Motion responses included:
-an update on efforts to remove beaver dams contributing to flooding in the Claypit Brook area in Pawtucketville. Councilor Bill Samaras also provided a summary of discussion at the Environment & Flood Issues Subcommittee meeting earlier Tuesday, including efforts to lower the bladder dam when strong rain is forecast before the river reaches 50 feet.
-an accounting of HVAC and air quality improvements and boiler replacements in school buildings.
-reports on license fees, the Rourke Bridge design update, students being tutored by outside agencies, efforts to address a homeless camp on Middlesex Street and a letter sent to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board expressing the city’s opposition to commuter rail service cuts on the Lowell line.

New motions approved included:
-Call a special meeting for Jan. 12 to conduct the evaluations of the city manager, clerk and auditor and any actions pertaining to their contracts; a 2020 year-in-review presentation was also postponed until that meeting.
-Have the Law Department reach out to the voting rights lawsuit plaintiffs to get their opinion on changing how the School Committee is elected by using the same eight districts created for the City Council, with the mayor elected as the ninth member of the committee.
-Economic / Downtown Development Subcommittee meet to develop initiatives to stimulate economic activity.
-Request state funding for a new police station/public safety complex.
-Discuss implementing a “blue light” snow parking ban notification system.
-Have police superintendent report information on changes in the number of instances of domestic violence and sexual and aggravated assaults during the pandemic.
-Provide on the city website and social media contact information for support resources for suicide prevention, sexual assault, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health hotlines.
-An updated report on the amount of CARES Act funding the city has received and how it has been spent.
-A report on the Lowell Spinners and steps to keep the baseball team in the city; referred to executive session.
-A report on how public and private spaces may be used for mural projects and any funding sources that may be available for such projects.
-A report on MassHire, the status of employment and any grant availability.

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