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City manager "search" update, Starbucks unionizing, and other notes
This morning, my roommate woke me from a pleasant dream like the guy in the plane in Band of Brothers that sends the paratroopers off behind enemy lines—“GO GO GO!!”—only I wasn’t behind enemy lines, I was just blissfully unaware my car was about to be towed.
The way we do street sweeping in Worcester is insane. I refuse to believe that a city this size cannot come up with a better system than “be on high alert for three weeks because one day you might get towed and you won’t know it’s coming until it’s too late.”
Thanks to my roommate, I did not get towed but I still got a $55 ticket. The experience has made me angry at the world as it does every year and my rage found a hapless target in former City Councilor Rick Rushton. Jury, judge, and executioner, I find him guilty of saying something very stupid on Twitter dot com.
As covered in earlier newsletters, Rick Rushton played an integral role in the installation of Ed Augustus as city manager eight years ago. The balls on that guy to now look at the exact same thing happening in real time in the exact same way and try to call it a conspiracy… But I’ll get to that later.
First, some good news!
Workers at the Starbucks on East Central Street are unionizing! That’s the one across from the post office. Last week, they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board and, at the same time, penned an open letter addressed to Starbucks CEO Howard Shulz.
“Partners have come together in solidarity to build a better Starbucks and today we join them. We see the bravery of those before us and it has inspired us to embark upon our own journey,” the letter says.
The newly formed union of Starbucks employees, Starbucks Workers United, has been in the news lately as stores across the country enlist. It’s a national story, and now it’s a Worcester story too. It’s also one of the best examples out there of the recent awakening of workers to the power of unions. It’s been a bad couple years for just about everything—but not for organized labor. It was on the ropes in the Before Times but it’s coming back baby. Let the histori of the Amazon warehouse in Staten Island
The Worcester Starbucks still has a lot of work to do and an internal election to win in order to officially join the union and enjoy its protections. But they’re excited, they’re working together, and they really want it.
I know that because the other day I brought in two partners at the store, Jacob Roessler and Chanel Rodrigues, for a Worcester’s Good But Hurts interview that you can listen to here or here…
“I believe in the working class,” Roessler said in the interview. “I don’t see how we can possibly sustain ourselves in 20 years if things go the way they do, and it’s even too late to be doing this. But it’s amazing (to be involved).”
Rodrigues said they’re excited to join in on the movement.
“Especially recently, with the way things have been going not just at our stores but at stores all around, it feels like now is the time,” said Rodrigues. “So much has happened, and we need the support now more than ever.”
And we should be supporting them! Best thing to do for now, they said, is go and visit the baristas, cheer ‘em on and give ‘em a good tip.
As we get closer to election time, I’ll be watching for any chicanery from management. Let the Memphis 7 attest that Starbucks is willing to play dirty. But as of yet, it’s been oddly quiet on the Worcester front, Rodrigues told me, and it’s unclear whether it’s a good quiet or an eye-of-the-storm quiet. The only thing Starbucks has done is formally acknowledge the upcoming union election, they said.
I just think it’s neat they’re doing this, and I wish them the best of luck.
Solidarity from the guy who couldn’t get representation from the Telegram & Gazette’s union after Worcester Magazine got folded into the Telegram operation despite the fact all of his bosses were Telegram employees and the Telegram routinely published his work. Technically he was still officially a “Worcester Magazine” employee and the only Worcester Magazine employee on the editorial side because they had laid off everyone else so what are you going to do, start a union chapter of one? Bargain with the collective power of one individual? Of course the ownership company (Gatehouse, now Gannett) could have changed my designation with a pen stroke at any time, but they must have known that union representation would have meant a $5,000 raise off the bat so that wasn’t gonna happen buddy. Lisa Stratton, some senior vice president of whatever the fuck, did sit me down to confront me about Facebook posts of mine she screenshotted where I was joking that we need to steal the WoMag archive books before Gatehouse throws them in the trash (three guesses where they are now). That was a fun meeting. She was wearing like three pounds of gold and theatrically recorded the meeting.
An executive of a company that makes its nut by laying off journalists has nothing better to do than try and big dick a reporter for saying something on Facebook… She didn’t even have the balls to fire me. She just wanted me to know she was watching. Yes I am including her full name on purpose and no I will not look up her actual job title. “Job” title, more like it. Put that in your little folder of screenshots, Lisa.
God, local journalism is so bleak.
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Okay… Rant over. Time for topic #2, as promised in the beginning of the post: Our new “acting” city manager, Eric Batista.
The City Council last night appointed Assistant City Manager Eric Batista to the role of “acting city manager” starting June 1 and ending… well, that part wasn’t so clear. Ending when we hire a new city manager, I think. That’s what the city’s lawyer said. Or six months. Or nine months. It wasn’t super clear.
Like a member of the X Men, Joe Petty has taken a weakness (his mumbling and at times bumbling speaking affect and the inability of other councilors to make heads or tails of it) and made it a strength. When he wants something to be unclear, he’s damn good at it.
Petty also casually mentioned that he changed the wording of his order to make it so Batista would be the “acting” city manager as opposed to “interim.” As discussed in the newsletter last week, the difference in language is crucial. An “acting” manager serves until a new manager is hired, and the wording of the city charter does not leave it open that an acting manager can assume the full position. An interim manager, however, can just get a lifetime appointment as was the case with Augustus.
Several councilors pulled a Rick Rushton and tried to declare Batista the new Manager For Life. George Russell made a motion that the council just give him a two-year full city manager contract offer. It failed laughably. Candy Mero-Carlson said she’s going to vote for Batista if he’s up for the full city manager gig, and she more or less said she likes him because the developers like him. I myself would prefer someone the developers don’t get along with. Someone who demands the developers do better.
Hey, who are you serving anyway, Candy—us or the developers? Rhetorical question. We both know the answer.
However, a not-insignificant number of councilors pushed for a full, above-board search. That was heartening. Even Moe Bergman, who is almost always on the side of the most nightmarish path the city could take, said he wants to see a full search. Luckily, the search will go through a committee controlled by Khrystian King. And he’s taking it seriously. On the floor last night, he asked for a draft list of qualifications for the city manager and a draft proposal to contract a search firm.
Petty’s motion eventually passed unanimously.
So where we’re at now is this: If Petty is trying to turn Batista into Augustus 2.0, he’s going to have to work a lot harder at it than he did last time.
We deserve a full search. We deserve to have a talented, competent person in this position. Further, we deserve to have someone come in with fresh eyes, someone who hasn’t been entrenched in the game of political favors and grabassing that surrounds the Petty/Augustus/Murray/McGovern/Angelini class of people who have controlled this city for the past three decades.
Speaking of that, someone sent me a screencap of a Worcester Registry of Deeds Search that was… interesting. And further investigation makes it all the more interesting.
Apparently, Batista sold Augustus a condo on Fremont Ave in 2020 for $158,700.
Two years prior, in 2018, Batista bought that condo from Kelly Bibaud (of the “Judge Bibaud” clan) for $95,000.
William Bibaud owned the condo for a long time, having bought it from the property manager back in 2006 for $140,030. At some point ownership was transferred to Kelly. It was likely sold to Batista in a sort of estate firesale. Bibaud died in 2014.
I’m putting this out there not to speculate on anything really sketchy going on here—though it does kick ass that Batista made a clean $70,000 off his boss—but to illustrate the point we’ve all been hemming and hawing about for the past couple weeks about Worcester’s inner circle.
Contrary to what you may have read recently, breaking into Worcester’s inner circle is not a matter of just showing up and being down to collaborate (or white, or married to someone in the real inner circle). The inner circle is a web of power and influence that is very carefully maintained and runs very deep. If you’re new around here, you’re only breaking into it if you have money—take Cliff Rucker, for instance. Or if you are very good at navigating the web of influence held by our local power brokers (McGovern, Murray, Augustus, Angelini, etc). The “McGovern Crime Family” adage of the local right wing cranks is silly and reductive, but it contains a germ of truth. Nothing gets done around here without the say-so of a handful of powerful, connected men.
So real-estate transactions like this one between Batista and Augustus have far more to do with the inner circle than anything you could say at the monthly quasi-public meeting at the Worcester Club (jacket still required, I’m sure). How does Batista get that property for $45,000 less than Bibaud paid for it? How is he in the position to sell it to Augustus and at such an exorbitant profit?
Well, you’d certainly have to be part of the inner circle to pull that off, now wouldn’t you?
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Speaking of the inner circle, the Public Hearing podcast did a very good episode on the matter which I suggest you listen to!
On the Worcester Council Theater 3000 stream, Brendan Melican brought up a very good point about the concept of “bikeshedding” and how the Worcester City Council is rife with it. The idea is that if you overload a meeting with too much important stuff, people are going to focus on the more trivial elements.
“Bikeshedding, also known as Parkinson’s law of triviality, describes our tendency to devote a disproportionate amount of our time to menial and trivial matters while leaving important matters unattended.”
The meeting last night featured topics that deserved far more attention than they got—chief among them the police using the body-camera program to get more tasers and also a drone. While some councilors bravely pushed against the department’s wanton acquisition of new and diverse sets of unnecessary toys, just as much if not more time was devoured by discussing whether Eric Batista should get six months versus two years or waxing nostalgic about what the Denholm Building used to be (as the city buys and transfers it to the Worcester Redevelopment Authority under spurious circumstances and toward mysterious ends).
For all the years I’ve covered it, the City Council’s culture has been complete indulgence in bikeshedding without even acknowledging it’s a bad thing.
Lastly, I would ask my readers to take the time to contribute to this survey about the future of Worcester and what we should focus on. It’s a series of opinion statements, and all you have to do is say “I agree” or “I disagree.” The statements offer a good spectrum of the opinions people around here have, ranging from very good to very bad. Please help push the survey results over to the good side!
‘Til next time!