The Column: Chau’s mea culpa

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AT THE start of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Sokhary Chau formally apologized for presenting Mike Tyson a key to the city — even if he didn’t explicitly state it was about the key.

“I want to offer a sincere apology to anyone who was offended by my recent presentation to Mike Tyson,” Chau said. “Because the presentation occurred the same day as the city’s White Ribbon Day event, it is now obvious to me that the presentation made to Mr. Tyson that same day created conflicting messaging on this topic. As I stated when it was first brought to my attention, there is no place for domestic violence or violence against women in this city. This is my heartfelt position. It is with sincerity and honesty to say that I did not have enough understanding of the impact this might cause.”

Chau added that he had learned “from this unfortunate situation” and that he would work to understand “the actions that can reflect the best in our community, on the topic.”

Additionally, Chau said he had left a message with Isa Woldeguiorguis, executive director of the Center for Hope and Healing. He said he would like to work with her and her organization “on this important topic.”

The White Ribbon Day ceremony held at City Hall the same day as Tyson’s visit was organized by Alternative House, in partnership with the City Manager’s Task Force on Domestic Violence.

At the event — inspired by a global movement to end male violence against women and girls — the men present, including several members of the Lowell Police Department, pledged to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women.

Chau was not among those present for the event, because he works a full-time job outside of the city during the day. But he did ask Councilor Rita Mercier to present a citation on his behalf.

Who will take Golden’s seat?

THIS WEEK, state Rep. Tom Golden, D-Lowell, took another step closer to becoming the next Lowell city manager.

With 14 applicants to replace City Manager Eileen Donoghue before the council, Golden was the only candidate all 11 councilors agreed was worth an interview.

Barring a disastrous interview or unforeseen scandal, the job is Golden’s to lose. The question now becomes, who replaces him in the State House. The Lowell Democrat will leave big shoes to fill.

The Column believes there are two names worth watching: former Mayor Rodney Elliott — who’s already gone on record as planning on running for the seat if Golden’s not running — and Zoe Dzineku.

Dzineku is an up-and-coming voice in Lowell politics, and since the new council term started, she’s been a prominent fixture in the galley of the council chamber. She’s also got some experience.

Since 2018, Dzineku has been a member of the city’s Election Commission, and in March 2020, she was named constituent services director for state Sen. Ed Kennedy, D-Lowell.

According to a filing with the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance dated Tuesday, Dzineku has already established a committee for her campaign.

Both Dzineku and Elliott are expected to run as Democrats, if they follow through, setting the groundwork for a competitive primary.

Out of the running

THERE IS one notable name who will not be pursuing the 16th Middlesex District seat: Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Danielle McFadden.

“Ultimately, I love what I do at the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce. I’ve worked here for nearly 11 years and every day is exciting and fulfilling. I’m not ready to give that up,” McFadden said in an email.

McFadden added that she wanted to continue her work as president of the Parent Teacher Organization at the Pawtucketville Memorial Elementary School and as vice president of the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, in addition to continuing to serve on other various boards and committees.

“While I wouldn’t rule out a future run, I will not be seeking Representative Golden’s seat if he becomes City Manager. If and when that happens, I look forward to working with him and hope they’ll be opportunities for the Chamber to collaborate with the City,” McFadden wrote.

Also out of the running is Councilor Dan Rourke, who told The Column he has “no interest at all” in the position.

Leading the birthday charge 

EVER SINCE he was elected to the Lowell City Council, Paul Ratha Yem has shown a willingness to work with anyone.

This week, Yem declared himself “chair of the Happy Birthday Subcommittee” after extending his wishes to Councilor John Leahy, whose birthday is on Monday.

It wasn’t the first time Yem has led his colleagues in sharing birthday wishes. In recent weeks, he’s also shared his good wishes with Councilors John Drinkwater and Wayne Jenness.

Councilors Mercier and Erik Gitschier have extended one birthday wish each. Mercier’s wishes were to Yem and Gitschier’s were to City Manager Donoghue.

Yem is clearly making an impression on his colleagues, who he also surprised with a welcoming gift during the first council meeting of the term. At the time, Yem presented every councilor with a framed copy of their election night victory article in The Sun.

Chair-man of the board

RECENTLY, NEW chairs showed up in the Lowell City Council chamber — not just for officials, but for local media, too.

But as one Sun reporter can attest, the level of security isn’t on par with the level of comfort. When the reporter went to scooch the rolling chair an inch to pick up an item on the floor, the top half of the chair became unscrewed, falling into two pieces.

Jenness and Mercier were quick to lend a helping hand after the embarrassing incident.

“You’re glad I’m not the one writing The Column,” Councilor Gitschier joked.

Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be a conspiracy against local media. Councilor Drinkwater said a wheel came off of his new chair on two separate occasions.

Wilmington town manager responds to criticism over commuter rail accident

IN RESPONSE to a letter to the editor published in the Wilmington Apple that implied the town was to blame for the January Commuter Rail crash which killed Wilmington resident Roberta Sausville-Devine, Town Manager Jeffrey Hull wrote a post on the town website this week in an attempt to clear the record, calling the original letter “unfortunate and unproductive.”

Hull reiterated that an ongoing investigation had determined the accident to have been caused by an employee of Keolis, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contractor which operates the Commuter Rail, who had not turned the rail crossing signal back on after routine maintenance.

“While it is true that this tragedy was preventable, the culpable parties are not Wilmington officials,” he wrote. “Neither Wilmington nor any of the other communities served by the MBTA have direct control over their operations.”

Hull went on to describe the extensive measures he and the Board of Selectmen have taken since the incident to ensure it never happens again, including speaking with the town’s legislative delegation, meeting with the MBTA every other Wednesday to go over updates and calling out the agency on multiple occasions since January when there have been issues with railroad crossings in town.

“Steven Poftak, MBTA general manager, and his management team are keenly aware that town officials are not satisfied with the operations of rail crossings in Wilmington and their response to them and will not relent in our demand for answers that improve the performance of the rail crossing warning devices,” he said. “The MBTA is responsible for ensuring that the rail crossing safety features are reliable and function to protect motorists and pedestrians who pass over at grade crossings. We will continue to insist on no less.”

He also said it was not a productive use of town resources to post police officers at railroad crossings in Wilmington every time a train passes through.

Tewksbury teachers spark outrage over endorsement

WHILE IT is not unexpected for a teachers union to endorse a School Committee candidate, the Tewksbury Teachers Association did something a bit more out of the ordinary last week.

Alongside the organization’s endorsement of Kayla Biagioni-Smith and Rich Russo for the committee, the TTA also endorsed Nicole Burgett-Yandow for Board of Health, citing “her values of making the Board of Health’s meetings and information more accessible to the public, communicating on important topics like COVID-19 and its impact on the community, and highlighting different and available initiatives such as mental health resources and affordable housing programs for residents.”

The announcement sparked immediate backlash on Facebook, where commenters questioned why the TTA would endorse a candidate in the Board of Health race when they had not spoken with the other two candidates, Susan Amato and Melissa Braga.

“When I see an endorsement, I assume all candidates for the position were interviewed and considered,” one commenter wrote.

Another commenter expressed concern that Burgett-Yandow had made statements encouraging schools to continue requiring masks in classrooms and requiring students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The TTA said that its decision had nothing to do with masks, which are currently optional, and that Burgett-Yandow had been the only candidate to reach out to the union.

“Our focus has only ever been on School Committee candidates; however, this person reached out to us wanting our endorsement, and so we agreed to put her through the same interview process as the SC candidates,” TTA Co-Vice President Emily Niles wrote. “We didn’t endorse her ‘just because,’ but because members liked what she had to say, and took a vote on it. This doesn’t mean we have anything against the other candidates by any means or that they are not strong potential members.”

Moulton remembers Madeleine Albright

FOLLOWING THE death this week of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the first woman to hold the office, Congressman Seth Moulton said he had looked to her as a mentor and often went to her for advice.

Moulton recalled sitting in Albright’s living room with other government foreign policy officials during his first years in Congress.

“Few people have done more to serve our country, yet she was also tireless in her retirement, investing in the next generation as a teacher, mentor and friend,” he said. “She will be missed, not only for her history-making, public moments, but also in the quiet times, in the classroom or in late-night consultations, guiding the next generation of diplomats.”

He said the current conflict in Ukraine was a reminder of what Albright had done for the United States.

“Throughout her career, she confronted the Soviets that drove her family from Prague when she was a child,” he said. “Today, as a new Russian tyrant continues to threaten freedom and democracy, we must continue to heed her call for assertive multilateralism, with a full understanding of the sacrifice required to secure our freedoms.”

Select Board chair questions newcomer’s commitment, experience

THURSDAY’S CHELMSFORD League of Women Voters candidates’ forum had its typical share of rehearsed topics and opposing candidates, but the room became tense when, toward the end of the evening, Select Board Chair Virginia Crocker Timmins asked challenger Erin Drew about her ability to perform on the board.

Drew has served, for the past three years, on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Earlier in the evening, Drew noted that her No. 1 priority, if elected, would be continued “development,” as well as working on the town manager contract, which she said is an obstacle to said development.

Timmins later referenced Drew’s answer, questioning why she would run for the Select Board instead of the Planning Board, which she said is the highest authority for the town’s land development.

“Why did you wait until the last minute to pull papers?” Timmins asked. “And why wait so long for a board that requires so much time and commitment to come up to speed?”

Drew appeared visibly confused by the question, paused for several seconds and stated she was “aware” of the differences between the Select Board and Planning Board. She said she is campaigning for a seat on the Select Board because of its ability to set policy and have influence.

“Actually, I did consider running for the Planning Board this year,” Drew said, “but I think that my skill set and my personality set are more well-suited and more well-needed, frankly, on the Select Board.”

Timmins continued this vague, indirect challenge at Drew by asking Select Board Member Pat Wojtas, also up for re-election, why it is important to be “voting for someone with experience.”

Caught in the middle, Wojtas simply stated the need for members of varying experiences.

A border line tale

BACK IN 1968, Dracut selectmen agreed to become the licensing authority for a small waterfront, private club located at 39 Elm St. in Tyngsboro on Long Pond. Of course, that’s only one of its addresses. The other address is in Dracut because the club sits on the town line.

Local history has it that Dracut took over as licensing authority because Tyngsboro was out of liquor licenses and needed one to give to the then-new Thunderbird Country Club, which was a par 3 golf course and entertainment venue. The Thunderbird Country Club was located on Middlesex Road about where the AMC theater and a shopping center are now situated and across from the property that later was developed as the Pheasant Lane Mall.

Orchestrating the agreement between Dracut and Tyngsboro was a legend in local politics. The late Joe Tully, then a Dracut selectman, made the deal between the towns. Tully went on to become a state representative, a state senator and finally Lowell city manager.

The Fleur de Lis Club got along well — for the most part — with its neighbors for the next 40 years. It operated as a private club open only to members and their guests, featuring swimming and other activities along with light refreshments. Guests had to come with a member and leave with that member. There were some issues with the neighbors, including parking and an attempt by the owners in 2010 to take over the boat ramp adjacent to the property.

In those 40 years, both towns changed. The population of Tyngsboro in 1970 was 4,204. By 2010 it was 11,300. In 2020, it was 12,300. The population of Dracut in 1970 was 18,214, in 2010 it was 29,450. In 2020, it was 32,600.

The summer cottages that once drew city dwellers for summer vacations are largely gone. The new dwellings are on a larger scale and are occupied year-round. Elm Street, however, remains a narrow street, among a maze of other narrow streets, running along Long Pond.

The Fleur de Lis Club closed and stayed shuttered until 2019 when the Enright family bought the decaying remains, renovated the property and opened what they said would be a high-end restaurant. The new owners changed the membership model, allowing people to buy one-day memberships for $2.

But neighbors of the Shoreline Beach Club turned out in force at the recent Dracut selectmen’s meeting with a tale of broken promises. Rather than an early closing of 8 p.m., the bar was open late, music blared over loudspeakers and fights broke out in the parking lot after hours. Limited parking at the club resulted in patrons taking over driveways on Elm Street. And sometimes boats were pulled up the boat ramp and left in the area.

The neighbors were at the selectmen’s meeting because the property changed hands again and the new owner, Richard Debay, was there to request a transfer of the liquor and entertainment licenses. Debay indicated that he will use the Shoreline’s membership model when he opens the Sandbar Beach Club. After hearing the neighbors’ complaints, selectmen agreed to a two-week delay in the public hearing on the license transfer request.

That two-week delay is supposed to be an opportunity for the new owner to meet his neighbors and not wait to throw a party for them after the new club opens.

Whatever happens between Debay and his neighbors, the delay will give Tyngsboro selectmen the chance to weigh in again on the licenses.

A week before the Dracut selectmen’s meeting, Tyngsboro reaffirmed the agreement with its neighbor. After the Dracut meeting, Long Pond residents lobbied Tyngsboro Town Administrator Matt Hanson to put them on the agenda for the Tyngsboro selectmen’s meeting Monday night. They are hoping to secure Tyngsboro’s support in restoring some calm to their lives, although there may not be much that either town’s board of selectmen can do.

And then there’s the rumor of jet ski rentals.

A question was raised at the Dracut meeting about the presence of another business on the property. Attorney Adam Lagrassa, representing Debay, denied knowledge of any other business whatever its purpose. However, that possibility is under investigation.

The hunt continues

A 73-YEAR-OLD Kentucky man’s five-month treasure hunt, chronicled in Thursday’s Sun, has led him to ask for help from people across the country.

In an effort to try and solve a 160-year-old mystery which he believes began with a dying man burying coins and valuables on a Tyngsboro property and leaving clues in a note found in a bottle, Gary Marnhout has reached far and wide.

He enlisted help in California, Georgia and Kentucky, as well as from officials at the Library of Congress. But no one, Markhout said, has been as helpful as Dick Howe Jr., the register of deeds for the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell.

“Dick’s been the biggest help of all,” Marnhout said. “I have so much respect for him.”

For his part, Howe said the mystery and where the potential treasure may be buried caught his attention because it intersected three of his passions — history, law and technology.

Marnhout is hoping a Sun reader provides a lead that assists his search.

This week’s Column was prepared by Reporters Jacob Vitali in Lowell; Trea Lavery in Wilmington, Tewksbury and the 6th Congressional District; Cameron Morsberger in Chelmsford; Prudence Brighton in Dracut and Tyngsboro; and Barry Scanlon in Greater Lowell.

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