Discover more from Worcester Sucks and I Love It
National spotlight, local dome of silence
The Washington Post found it important but not the City Council! Plus: the lifeguard situation
Hello everyone! Hope you had your fill of bars and stars yesterday. I know I did. I’m back from a nice weekend vacation visiting relatives with my girlfriend. We made a big loop around upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and that weird part of Maryland between the Virginias and Pennsylvania (shouldn’t exist imo). We got roadside barbecue, we shot guns, we sang CCR songs by the fire, we floated on bonafide inner tubes down a rocky creek. The longhaired country boy in me was happy as can be.
Now I’m back in Worcester, back ponderin’ the recent events, and man this Clearway Clinic lawsuit... we need to take another look at that. Lord knows the city isn’t.
We’re also going to talk about the lifeguard situation, wonderfully kicked off by Johanna over on the Worcester Sucks Instagram the other day. It’s fucked up! And it caught a lot of people’s attention over on Instagram. I asked Johanna if she’d like to write something up for the newsletter, and she did a wonderful job. It’s the first subsection.
Everyone give it up for Johanna by the way she’s been running the Instagram for months now with close to zero supervision from yours truly and has truly made it “her thing.” Makes me proud!
Running that half off anniversary deal for just a few more weeks!
Today I’m gunna take it sorta easy. Unlike the last two posts where I took it very “not easy.” Both were very well received and a lot of people had nice things to say so thank you for that. I feel like I get a little better at this writing thing with every post but with these two posts in particular I feel like I leveled up big time.
Last week: Before Adam was dead, Adam was blight
The week before: If the cops weren’t there something bad could have happened
Both are let's just say long and challenging reads. The goal today is to be not so challenging. So first, a word from Johanna on lifeguards, then a word from me on the Clearway Clinic lawsuit.
No lifeguards, lots of cops
By Johanna, the IG Admin
The city announced that aquatic facility access will be limited this summer—some won’t open at all, and others will open with no lifeguards.
The latter including Bell and Coes Pond Beaches. They will open with “no lifeguards or parks attendants.... Individuals can access the beach at their own risk,” per the city’s release.
Taking a closer look, both these beaches are within walking distances of several public housing projects, they are in areas that are made up primarily of renters, lower income and non-white residents.
Shore Beach, on the other hand, is conveniently owned by the city but run by the Greendale YMCA and will remain open and staffed. It’s located where the majority of people are white, and with a quick look at Google Maps, seems to have a lot of swimming pools and shady tree lined streets to cool off in. Nevermind fully renovated facilities.
The city’s press release also included the excuses as to why they don’t have enough lifeguards and how hard they worked to get them. “Every effort was made to incentivize employment,” they said.
That “incentivisation” included an hourly rate of $17.50 an hour, the city calls this one of the “perks” of the job. A whopping $2.50 over minimum wage.
My list of grievances:
A quick search of surrounding cities and private facilities show higher pay.
You can make more than that at a coffee shop with no experience or certification, uniform included and no one's life in your hands.
One IG follower let us know they made $15/hour lifeguarding in 1999 (when the minimum wage was $5.25) another made $20 in 2004 (min $6.75).
According to MIT the living wage for Worcester county is “18.28/hour.” Got a kid? You’re gonna need $40.57/hour.
And don’t even come at me with “It’s a highschool summer job” 1. OKAY BOOMER 2. Do you spend every second of your work life waiting for someone to DIE activating you to have to bring them back to life? No? Then GTFO I don’t care who's doing the job or what season it is.
Some people who want to continue to ignore the lack of decent or respectable pay—and say it’s the violence and abuse lifeguards face that has caused the shortage. And while true, there has been violence, including a stabbing last year—let’s think critically. Do we just have a bunch of violent people running around our beaches going after underpaid lifeguards? Or are those beaches run by a city who refuses to pay enough people enough money to fully staff them? Or, more importantly, does the city care to run these beaches properly from the top down? Check out this comment from School Committee Member Tracy Novick.
Maybe if the city had a protocol of calling the police when beach patrons are found to be drinking or smoking instead of sending a 17-year-old boy over to handle it there wouldn’t have been a stabbing. Does the city even care that they put that child in that position? And if the city hasn’t addressed this, and the job continues to put people at risk, then shouldn’t the City be offering a wage that makes the risk worth it? Hazard pay? Isn’t that a thing? For cops that’s a thing.
In classic Worcester we-love-cops-more-than-poor-people fashion they “can’t” pay lifeguards to man the beaches but they can pay cops to patrol them! To make sure people don’t swim because there’s no lifeguards! What could go wrong with that! Is this another overtime gig for the WPD? The release is unclear. But lord knows they have the overtime budget to pay for it. No overtime budget for the $17/hour lifeguards but the police overtime budget is more than half of all overtime in the city.
“With an emphasis on safety, added police presence will be placed around the unattended facilities, namely Bell Pond Beach and Coes Pond Beach”
Ah! These cops will be placed mainly around the two beaches in low income areas where the residents are far more likely to not have access to other convenient forms of escaping the heat.
Intentionally setting these residents up for police interactions (which quite literally can lead to death in this country), as opposed to setting residents up for safe summer water access, the importance of which is summed up here by City Manager Batista himself.
“The benefit and significance of the City’s aquatic facilities cannot be understated, we know that the City’s pools, beaches and spray parks provide recreation, socialization, and much-needed relief from the heat to residents of all ages.”
The posted salary for lifeguards has been $17.50 since January. Even with this shortage and beach closures they have chosen not to raise the rate. Apparently, just have decided $17.50 is their highest selling point and therefore people can just drown or be arrested.
More than half of the city’s projected overtime spending in fiscal 2023 will go toward the police department, at more than $18.4 million… in recent years the department has consistently spent more on overtime than officials had OK’d in the budget process, the city has seemingly tried to stay ahead of overtime spending by increasing the department’s overtime budget by 40% over the past decade.
So we have millions of taxpayer dollars to pay cops for details (and we still don’t know whether these beach patrols are detail work or salary work) but there’s no money anywhere to increase the wages of lifeguards so that we can actually have enough. I mean? *insert head exploding emoji*
And I know this part below is kind of a joke... but also... no it’s really not?
Why can’t these cops just take the certification, don some red swimming trunks, leave their guns in the ole’ patrol car and do the job? Like that is a far more rational thing to do then just have people drown or dogde cops and possible jail time for trying to access relief. That would be real public safety.
But what do I know, I’m no city manager.
National spotlight, local dome of silence
Ok Bill again now.
Worcester made the Washington Post this week! National news! All eyes on us. It’s not every day our little city makes the pages of the Post or the New York Times. There are only a few ways a little post-industrial political backwater like Worcester catches the attention of the big dog newspapers responsible for shaping, directing and defining “national news.” A remarkably horrible crime or tragedy will do it, but it has to be really bad. A reporter will sometimes use Worcester as a stand-in for a “small and gritty city” in a piece about such places. A big flashy project like Polar Park will get a cursory write-up but not much else. The DOJ investigation gets a quick mention. But overall, what happens here is of little concern to a paper like the Washington Post. It has to be a big deal.
On Monday, the Washington Post decided that the recent lawsuit filed against the crisis pregnancy center Clearway Clinic was a big deal. The headline read “Clinic missed ectopic pregnancy signs, endangered woman’s life, suit says” and it wasn’t some recycled wire story, copied and pasted for content’s sake. It was written by Praveena Somasundaram, a WaPo staff reporter, and includes original reporting. Before the WaPo piece, Jezebel, a national magazine, published a story about it last week. Before that it was obvious statewide news, covered in the Globe and everywhere else. It is a thing. It’s not hard to understand why. Here in this city in true-blue Massachusetts where we love to hold our reproductive rights protections up as evidence of our moral superiority, a woman almost died at the hands of anti-abortion activists who used her body and her mind and her need for support as a battleground to wage holy war against a medical practice.
That’s what crisis pregnancy centers are there for. They are a component of a larger political project. While other anti-abortion activists fight in the courts and legislative bodies and on campaign trails, crisis pregnancy centers take the fight directly to the bodies and minds of individual people. The person, not the law, is the terrain. The weapons are fear and deceit and false pretenses. The sole objective is preventing a medical procedure. The health, wellbeing and autonomy of the women are, at best, secondary concerns. Crisis pregnancy centers are direct action in the overall campaign to impose a theocratic social order. While the Supreme Court gets the headlines, crisis pregnancy centers quietly carry out the same project on one pregnant body at a time. Slow, subtle violence on invisible people in vulnerable situations. The violence hidden by a veneer of compassion, inflicted by carefully crafted lies. Victums lured by the image of a helping hand and the promise of support. The more vulnerable a woman’s circumstances, the easier they are to trap.
It is fucking ghoulish that these centers are allowed to exist. It is an indictment of our entire healthcare system that a pregnancy makes people desperate enough to fall for the CPC trap. It is insane that in Massachusetts—where we see ourselves as a “good place” in which reproductive rights are strong and abortion is “safe”—these centers exist with almost no regulation. So much hay has been made of late about making sure people from the “bad states” can come here to get reproductive services. When those people get here, CPCs like Clearway and Problem Pregnancy will come up on the top of Google searches for pregnancy services. A woman who flees Alabama and ends up in Worcester, Massachusetts at the Clearway Clinic she found on Google. There would be no warning, no advisory, no reason to believe they weren’t a medical clinic. Out of the frying pan, into the same fucking fire.
So here, in this lawsuit, we have an extremely clear example of crisis pregnancy centers as the small direct action fronts that they are.
Seeking to confirm she was pregnant, a woman went to Clearway Clinic last November. She found Clearway via a Google search. At the clinic, a “nurse” gave her an ultrasound and declared the pregnancy healthy. She left the clinic with a “doctor”-signed form saying “everything was fine with the pregnancy,” according to WaPo. The doctor who signed the form never examined her.
A month later, in November, she felt a shooting pain in her abdomen and had to be rushed to the hospital. There, real doctors whose primary objective is real medical advice and treatment diagnosed her with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Left untreated, it’s a death sentence. She had emergency surgery and lost a fallopian tube in the process.
The people who told her the pregnancy was healthy did so in service of a political objective. The people who saved her life from an unhealthy pregnancy did so in service of the Hippocratic Oath. This is the key distinction! Not hard to understand. The Hippocratic Oath people are intensely regulated. The political objective people are not regulated at all. When they lie to women, it’s free speech. When they fearmonger and push their politics, it’s a matter of consumer choice. The harm they do is almost always invisible. People who can afford a general practitioner are less incentivized to visit these places. Crisis pregnancy centers tend to concentrate around low income and diverse areas.
That is the reason this story has been deemed fit for national news. It is egregious and grotesque. It happened right here in one of the “safe” states.
What isn’t making the national news however is the fact that City Hall could have prevented this from happening. It is egregious and grotesque and also an obvious policy failure. The city administration chose not to do anything when they could have done something. It wasn’t negligence. They willfully chose not to. There was a proposal on the table to act, and it was simply ignored. And it wasn’t so much the administration as it was City Manager Eric Batista, ignoring it unilaterally. He’s not supposed to be able to do that but Joe Petty’s City Council lets him do that all the time.
Last week the majority of the City Council gave Batista a standing ovation after concluding an annual public evaluation process. It was laced with effusive praise. Only a handful of the councilors took the opportunity to critically evaluate the man. The majority lavished complements and shows of fealty. It was a pathetic display of political theater by an executive body that is uninterested in being an executive body. Only Thu Nguyen, Etel Haxhiaj and Khrystian King, the council’s progressive bloc, provided Batista substantive critique and concrete expectations. Nguyen addressed the lawsuit specifically, as well as the fact the city could have done something and didn’t. The lawsuit had just been made public a few days earlier. It put Worcester in the spotlight. It made Batista look bad. It was completely ignored by the majority of the City Council. They all agreed to pretend it wasn’t happening and everything was fine. Dome of silence, activated.
But everything is not fine. The events that led to this lawsuit were preventable. They are the product of a policy failure. Batista’s administration failed, and continues to fail, people like the plaintiff. The two crisis pregnancy centers in Worcester continue to go about their dirty work unabated. In order to really understand how this is a policy failure, a timeline is useful.
March, 2022: Somerville passes an ordinance on deceptive practices of CPCs.
June, 2022: The Supreme Court overturned Roe and public officials across the state and city loudly condemed it. Governor Maura Healey was the Attorney General at that point, and she posted a consumer advisory about CPCs on her website. Not the boldest act in the world but it was at least an acknowledgement of the problem.
July, 19, 2022: Thu Nguyen’s order to request a draft crisis pregnancy ordinance similar to the one in Somerville passes by a 6-5 vote. The affirmative vote mandated that the city manager and city solicitor draft an ordinance and submit it to the council for review. Not a Roberts Rules expert but I’m pretty sure they had to do it within 90 days.nThose sort of rules are rarely followed by the Worceser City Council. Everyone at this time expected a response from the manager not in 90 days but certainly at some point in the future. We expected it would prompt another pitched argument on the council floor and another vote on what to do with the proposed ordinance. That’s generally how it’s supposed to work. As we’ll see, it didn’t.
September 2022: At this time City Solicitor Mike Traynor apparently had some sort of conversation with some vague and unnamed person in the state Attorney General’s Office, according to recent statements City officials have made. This unnamed person told the city to hold off on the ordinance, allegedly. The only source for that is Batista. Recent comments from the Attorney General’s Office call to question the truthfulness. While they refused to comment directly on the situation, they told Nguyen the Attorney General’s Office does not give guidance on local ordinances as a general rule. At this time, Governor Healey was the AG, and during her tenure Somerville and other communities were going ahead with the CPC ordinances that Traynor was allegedly advised against. Were they told the same thing the AG told Traynor and just ignored it? Or did the AG follow ther general rule and not get involved? Hm.
In recent comments Nguyen said that the manager also told them directly around this time that he wasn’t going to put an ordinance on the agenda because he personally assessed it wouldn’t have the votes to pass. This is not a decision a city manager should be making, first of all. Second of all, this excuse is a lot different than the AG excuse. Multiple separate excuses!
I wrote extensively about this little web of sketchiness in the last newsletter post, in the section titled “A Thu-done-it”. The link should take you to the section directly. The wild thing about it is that Batista chose to throw the governor of all people under the bus. Even if he’s telling the truth what does he or the city gain by doing that?
All of this stuff back then happened behind the scenes—as so much does—with no effort to disclose anything to the council or public. Not even the pretense that a decision on a CPC ordinance was a democratic one. This is how everything works at City Hall. We only know about this instance because Thu had the stones to call Batista out on it publicly. Big taboo for the Worcester City Council. Not normative behavior. Very “divisive.” Bad for democracy, that “divisiveness.” Going to hear that a lot in the coming months. We have to “work together.” In this confrontation between Thu and Batista, we saw a glimpse at the way decisions are really made. It wasn’t democratic. It took Thu being divisive to let us see the real nature of it. Bad for democracy when people are “divisive” as Joe Petty’s wife recently said. Harder to fake it. Harder to conceal the undemocratic nature of the real decision making.
Batista was never going to submit any draft ordinance to the council. He vetoed it without having to say so. He pronounced it dead. He’s not technically supposed to do that but the mayor didn’t call him on it. He didn’t ask for the council’s approval to veto. Didn’t even inform them formally. The ordinance came into his office as a mandate from a democratic body. Once it got to his desk, though, it was no longer democracy. It was his decision. He chose to do nothing with it and chose to keep that decision from the public until he couldn’t any longer. His explanations are shaky. He suffered no consequences at all. It was allowed to quietly fade away.
October, 2022: The plaintiff of the lawsuit goes to Clearway Clinic, about a month after Batista apparently decided to scrap the ordinance that could have stopped her from doing so. She found it via a google search. If the city had passed an ordinance like Somerville’s, Clearway would have been prohibited from advertising their services in a way that insinuates they’re a medical facility. Doing so would be a fineable offense. Instead, the tagline on the webite reads “get the care you need from the experts you trust.” There is nothing to suggest that those “experts” are not who they claim to be. To this day, the website the woman googled that steered her to Clearway promises “experts” and “care you need” and says nothing about their core political project. This woman was nearly killed and permanently marred by one of these “experts.” If the pregnancy killed her, the primary goal for Clearway was still achieved. The abortion was prevented. Shame how it had to happen but it’s still a W for crisis pregnancy centers.
November, 2022: The woman goes to a real doctor after feeling a sharp pain and has to have emergency surgery and a fallopian tube removed. If that Google search had steered her to a real doctor and not religious zealots pretending to be doctors, it’s not hard to imagine a real doctor spotting an ectopic pregnancy before it gets to emergency surgery level. The city could have done something to steer this woman toward this outcome. Toward real medical care providers in the city and away from fraudulent ones. They didn’t, though. Consciously, secretly and undemocratically, Batista decided against trying to fix the problem. The majority of the city council allowed it. Bringing it up became the “divisive” thing. Trying to fix the problem became the problem.
March, 2023: When asked for an update on the status of the draft ordinance for my story in Teen Vogue, a spokesman for the city completely ignored the substance of the question. Instead, they brusquely told me residents can contact the Attorney General’s Office and file a consumer complaint. This exchange is in the Teen Vogue story.
June 22-23 2023: The lawsuit was announced. It becomes a big local story and then a statewide story. The next day, Nguyen makes a public comment on social about how the city could have done something and didn’t.
Last night when I learned of the lawsuit, it felt harsh on my heart. Governing on a local level feels like a dead end sometimes. This lawsuit may allow me to have another angle to keep pushing for an ordinance here in Worcester, to say “see this is why I do this work and why y’all shouldn’t have stalled on it.” But truthfully, it feels unsettling that it takes a person going through this much pain and trauma to resurface effort on a policy that could’ve been here many months ago. These are things we could’ve prevented and protected people from experiencing. And let’s be real, these cases and different levels of trauma due to CPCs happen more frequently than we can imagine, we just don’t hear about it.
The city still hasn’t commented in any way on the lawsuit or Thu’s order at this point.
June 26, 2023 - The following Monday—the day before Batista is set to be reviewed by the council—the Patch gets him on the record about the ordinance for the first time since it was filed last July. The first time!
"The city solicitor spoke with a representative in the Attorney General’s office who informed the solicitor that they were not recommending municipalities act for a variety of reasons," Batista's office said in a statement.
This is the first and only public statement. This was days after the lawsuit was public. After several waves of articles. After Batista had been accused of taking no action on crisis pregnancy centers and he defended himself by blaming Governor Maura Healey. After Roe was overturned, Batista put out the sort of righteous statement of condemnation expected of Democrats in the moment. Put in the position to actually do something with his power, however, and there’s no such statement, no conviction. Nothing.
Update/correction: I had intended to cut the sentence “After Roe was overturned, Batista put out the sort of righteous statement of condemnation expected of Democrats in the moment.” Not sure that he did and can’t find any proof he did that despite remembering he did vaguely. I crossed it out in my paper edits but didn’t delete it in here. Whoops! As an editing oversight, it made it into the first version/the email version.
June 27, 2023: Batista receives his glowing evaluation from the majority of the city council. It was mostly substanceless and there was a lot of self congratulating. “You live and breathe Worcester, because you are a Worcester guy,” said Candy Mero-Carlson. It was all like that. Tortorous and embarassing to watch. The CPC order is not discussed in a substantive way, despite it being the one thing curently putting the city in the news. In not bringing it up, the council tacitly supported Batista’s inaction. A woman was nearly killed and lost an organ because of the abusive practices of a business in our city. The City Council could have done something. A progressive minority wanted to do something but didn’t have the votes. On the other side, a majority of deeply entrenched and provincial politicians—well versed in the rules of the game, the personal rewards in it, the customs, the ways of speaking, who has atual power—protect the city manager from having to do better. They shield him from public criticism and scrutiny and sing his praises while he does whatever he wants with the city away from the public. In return they get the things they want from him for campaigning purposes. It’s a feedback loop of self preservation and it runs on an assumed mediocrity and a general understanding that the role of a city councilor is a bit different than what’s written in the charter. .
There’s eight city councilors who use the councilor position this way. There are three who don’t. If we add three to the progressive bloc in November, that’s only five councilors in the feedback loop versus 6 who aren’t. A 6-5 simple majority would allow us to tip that feedback loop over ever so gently. A clay pot off a ledge. Smash! All the clay’s still there on the ground but it is no longer a pot. “The way things are done” is a mantra in City Hall and it is the pot. It needs to be smashed before any real change is possible. The simple act of smashing it would be unprecedented.
We have a legitimate shot this year. We could be one of those progressive-controled cities popping up around the country in recent years and set an example for a new way of local governance. We could start to try to undo the things that make Worcester provincial and miserable and stuck like every other city where people live because they can afford it. It is exciting to consider the possibilities. It’s the kind of energy that pulls people in for the right reasons. Let’s go!
Odds and Ends
Thanks for reading! Please consider this sweet deal on a paid subscription.
Thanks to the folks at the Weed Out podcast and Andrew Quemere over at Mass Dump for discussing my recent piece on the June 1 2020 force marching of protestors. It’s at the end of the episode.
Me and my lady started watching that show Alone. Man that show kicks ass.
I cut a huge section from this post about some game theory on how to win the next local election. I might put it up sometime soon as a paid post so it doesn’t go out to a “general audience” but we’ll see.
Ok I gotta run. Talk soon!