Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Why I March and #FTP

Our country’s Founders had the revolutionary idea that everyday citizens would be more capable and effective than a monarch or elite class at creating a just and egalitarian society. One of the requirements of this vision is that everyday citizens take an active role in governance.

As an elected official, it is clear that I am interested in participating in this grand experiment we call democracy. From my work as a community leader I have demonstrated my commitment to motivating people to get involved in governance- whether by encouraging people to run for office, working with youth to develop their civic skills, training young leaders to organize campaigns, or by creating CRUSH- a social network where people could exchange ideas and develop new projects that could contribute to our community.

I want my son to know human beings have the ability to affect extraordinary changes- not only in our own lives, but also in the lives of others and in society. That when injustices are exposed, we have the capacity to not only recognize them, but to rectify them as well. It is for this reason that he and I took a bus down to NY this past September to participate in the “People’s Climate March” (to protest overreliance on a fossil fuel economy and support a transition to renewable energies) and it’s why I marched with him through the streets of downtown Holyoke last Friday in “From Ferguson to NYC to Holyoke” (to protest the recent shootings of unarmed black men, women, and youth and support the call for reforming problematic police practices).

As an elected representative of the community it was important for me to demonstrate to both the protestors and the police force that I expected the march to proceed peacefully, so much so that I was willing to be present at the march with my 14-month old baby strapped to my back. I joined the group as the moment of silence concluded outside of the Holyoke Police Department.

Several messages were chanted as the group made their way through the streets and it has come to my attention that some people are accusing me of chanting “FTP” (f@$% the police). I want to make sure that there is no mistake here- I did NOT have any interactions with police officers that day nor did I chant “FTP” at any point and I would not ever give my voice to support such a sentiment- I find it to be degrading and that it doesn’t reach the people who we need to include as we grow the movement- namely police officers and white, middle-class citizens. It was also my experience that this particular chant was not sustained by the group marching for very long- it came up, but died quickly unlike some of the other chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Here again is why participation is so vital- it shapes the movement and the discourse; your voice can energize those aspects that you’d like to support and the absence of your voice can also rob less desirable aspects of the lifeblood they need to continue.

My father and grandfather as well as my mother’s brother are all retired NYPD. I have a deep appreciation for the hard work and risks that police officers take on every day in the field. I also believe that many police practices are in need of reform.

Since the Ferguson issue first came up I have seen it as an opportunity to explore what we are doing locally and only recently wrapped up a Public Safety Committee discussion with Chief Neiswanger about the level of militarization within the Holyoke Police force. I was very pleased to hear that the HPD had not acquired any military surplus items and that the Chief’s Community Policing efforts are the centerpiece of his law enforcement philosophy. To this end, the HPD has made significant investments in its human (as opposed to weapons) resources with skills and tactical training, so that our force is better equipped to make faster, smarter decisions in the field, under pressure and deescalate potentially violent situations. While I do not believe that any police force has got it down perfectly, I think that the Chief’s efforts are steering the Holyoke Police Department in a productive direction that more troubled departments may wish to emulate.

In closing, I think it’s important to remember that social movements not monolithic- they are conglomerations of multiple forces and groups that have different motivations for coming together to be heard and seen. I’m participating in these movement protests because I believe that we can successfully address the problematic police practices that are causing divisions within police forces and communities across our country. I have full confidence that through more engaged community dialogue and participation our country will be able to heal from these wounds.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holiday v Christmas Tree?

Recently, the media has been reporting a debate about whether the City of Holyoke should call the tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree” or a “Christmas Tree.” While I did not say one word about this issue at either of the two meetings where it’s come up, I feel that I have been unfairly placed on the side of “Holiday tree” and labeled a “bah-humbug.”[1] I’d like to set the record straight on a few points and articulate my perspective- which is that I simply do not care to discuss what I see as an unnecessarily divisive and frivolous order at a time in our City’s history when so many more substantive issues need our attention.

First, at the December 2 meeting of the full City Council, I remained completely silent on Bresnahan’s order when it came up for discussion. At an already very long meeting with several serious financial transfers and other matters to discuss, I chose to remain silent to help limit the time spent on floor discussion and move the process along. Ultimately, Besnahan’s order was sent by the body to the Ordinance Committee, the committee of which I am Chair.

Second, as Chair I have wide discretionary power over what is placed on the agenda for our Ordinance Committee meetings. Ordinance Committee is by far the busiest committee of the City Council; we meet every Tuesday night that the full council is not meeting (nearly every other Tuesday), for several hours, and take care of some of the most important legislative work of the City. I would be completely within my right to let Bresnahan’s order be placed quietly in the long cue of orders that have come before it and not take it up for several months. However, despite my personal feelings on the issue I recognized its time-sensitive nature and out of respect for Councilor Bresnahan decided to put it on the agenda, so it could come up for debate.

At the Ordinance Committee meeting on December 9, we had a full agenda with several public hearings and other issues (including high profile orders such as the Public Art Process) preceding the Christmas tree order. When the issue came up for a vote take it off the table for discussion I exercised my right to vote ‘no’ on that motion along with two other councilors (Alexander and Bartley). It is not a requirement that everything on the agenda be discussed. In fact, there were other items on the agenda (one filed by Councilor Vacon and two filed by Councilor Valentin) that failed to achieve the votes necessary to take them up for debate- there was no singling out of Councilor Bresnahan’s order. Voting ‘no’ does not ‘kill’ the order- it simply remains on the table for discussion at a subsequent meeting.

Additionally, some have commented that since Councilor Bresnahan was at the meeting we should have afforded him the professional courtesy of hearing his order. Perhaps this should have been so- I can see that this point has some merit. However, as Chair of a continually overburdened committee I may be more sensitive to the time constraints we face and did not want to take up a potentially controversial order when 1) we had a legal opinion that said that this item did not require an ordinance change and 2) there did not seem to be a need for the order at all considering there was nothing that legislated calling the tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree” in the first place.

To the first point, once I placed the “Christmas Tree” order on the agenda I called the Legal Department for an opinion as to whether it would be legal for the council to take action on this item given the order’s tenuous relationship to the Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The Legal Department advised us that a resolution would be more appropriate because an ordinance carries the full weight of the law behind it and comes closer to violating the Constitution.[2] This opinion was forwarded to Council Bresnahan as well.

To the second point, it is my opinion that Councilor Bresnahan completely fabricated this controversy as there was no previous action taken by either the Mayor OR the City Council that specifically and/or exclusively designates the Christmas tree outside of City Hall a “Holiday Tree.” Councilor Bresnahan continues to reference 2012 as the year that “everything changed”- insinuating that Mayor Morse must have made this change when he took office, but I have not been able to locate any official action that limits the calling of the City’s Christmas Tree to a “Holiday Tree.” Councilor Bresnahan openly admits that he got the idea from a conservative talk radio show that he listens to on his commute home from work[3] and then arbitrarily applied it to our City. If I am mistaken, I would ask that Coucilor Bresnahan please reference the 2012 action that designates the City’s Christmas tree a “Holiday Tree.”

Finally, as someone who grew up with a Jewish mother and a Catholic father and whose household celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah, Easter and Passover- I’d like it to be very clear that I am completely comfortable calling the tree outside of City Hall a Christmas Tree. My point of contention is that I do not believe that we should be politicizing the issue and taking time to legislate the matter. It has proved to be unnecessarily controversial, divisive, and distracting from what I believe to be more important city business.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large


[1] Dan Bresnahan on “The Chump Line.” Howie Carr radio show Friday, December 12, 2014.
[2] Email communication from Kara Lamb Cunha to Rebecca Lisi on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 at 12:54pm re: Christmas Tree Order.
[3] Dan Bresnahan on “The Chump Line.” Howie Carr radio show Friday, December 12, 2014.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On "Misogyny and Loathing in Holyoke"

Thanks everyone for the outpouring of kindness and support that you have demonstrated toward me in reaction to the comments inadvertently caught on tape at last night's City Council meeting. Below you will find my thoughts on the incident:

This is not the first time Bresnahan has lobbed insulting or inappropriate comments at me or my husband, Building Commissioner Damian Cote, so his behavior does not surprise me.

The occurrence speaks to Bresnahan's character- which he clearly exposed to the Holyoke community through his comments.

He not only owes me and every other mother, or mother-to-be an apology, but he also owes the Holyoke community at-large an apology for the detrimental representation of our city that his actions portray to surrounding communities -- especially when there are so many of us working hard every day to create a more positive image of Holyoke.

I hope that the voters hold Bresnahan accountable for his actions and fail to re-elect him to the City Council this November. I also hope that in the future Councilor Todd McGee would refuse to tolerate such sexist and unprofessional comments in our work environment.

For my part, I want to focus on the exciting step that my husband and I are taking together in welcoming a new addition to our family.

*****
For more information regarding the incident and Council members' reactions, see also:

Misogyny and Loathing in Holyoke

2 Holyoke City Councilors apologize for remarks about pregnant colleagues in pre-meeting chat captured on microphone

Friday, August 23, 2013

Appeal Letter to Holyoke First Members; Stance on Wal-Mart



22 August, 2013

Dear Holyoke First Members,

On behalf of the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi, I would like to request that you consider supporting my 2013 re-election bid for Holyoke City Council At-Large with a formal endorsement and by making individual financial contributions to my campaign.

During the 2008 Lowe’s controversy I consistently represented the neighborhood’s opposition to the changing the zoning of the sited Whiting Farms Rd. parcel.  In fact, I was one of only four councilors (Lisi, Lopez, Pluta, and Whelihan) to vote against the zone change at our January 6, 2009 city council meeting.  As I stated then, jobs and a robust tax base are the keys to successful economic development.  The development of a Wal-Mart does not contribute to our ability to develop either of these goals and the “by-right,” Business General zoning actually puts us at a disadvantage in negotiating contract benefits for the city compared to where we were years ago when the Lowe’s project was on the table.

Holyoke was founded on and drew its past success from sophisticated urban planning.  Like you, I believe that Holyoke’s future rests in its ability to attract an arts and industrial economic base that will support a downtown revitalization and renaissance.  I have advocated for this course of development since my 2005 city council campaign.  “Big box” development such as Wal-Mart in the Whiting Farms neighborhood directly undermines the progress we have made in welcoming creative projects such as the Victory Theater, the MA Green High Power Computing Center, and the Gateway City Arts to the downtown area.

I hope that you will support my candidacy for another term as the only remaining councilor that has a proven track record for defending the neighborhood’s interests.  The at-large race is very competitive this year and I will certainly need your help.  I look forward to continue working with you all on growing and sustaining Holyoke’s burgeoning arts and industrial presence in Western Massachusetts.

Best regards,


Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Councilor At-Large

To donate, please make checks payable to the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi and mail to
25 Reservation Rd., Holyoke, MA 01040, or contribute on-line at http://www.votelisi.com/fundraising_contribute.htm


References:
Lisi, Rebecca.  Monday, December 8, 2008.  “Holyoke Needs to Engage in Plan for Economic Success.”  http://blog.votelisi.com/2008_12_01_archive.html
Lisi, Rebecca.  Sunday, January 4, 2009.  “Zone-change presents unique opportunity for Holyoke.”  http://blog.votelisi.com/2009_01_01_archive.html

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Appeal Letter to Citizens for a Better Holyoke Members


Dear Citizens for a Better Holyoke Members,

On behalf of the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi, I would like to request that you consider supporting my 2013 re-election bid for Holyoke City Council At-Large with a formal endorsement and by making individual financial contributions to my campaign.

In my 2011 campaign platform I promised to oppose casino development in Holyoke and have held true to that commitment over the past two years.  I have proven to be a strong and vocal opponent of casino development in the council chambers and have voted against all the proposed orders that would have helped to advance casino development in the city.  I also played a key role in persuading Mayor Morse to reverse his course of action at the moment that he was considering opening up Holyoke to negotiations with casino developers in November 2012.

Like you, I believe that Holyoke’s future rests in its ability to attract an arts and industrial economic base that will support a downtown revitalization and renaissance.  In fact, I have advocated for this course of development since my 2005 city council campaign.  Casino development- anywhere in the city- would directly undermine the progress we have made in welcoming in creative projects such as the Victory Theater, the MA Green High Power Computing Center, and the Gateway City Arts.

I appreciate the trust that you have placed with me regarding this issue and look forward to upholding my clearly anti-casino position in even the next term.  Additionally, I hope to continue working with you all on growing and sustaining Holyoke’s burgeoning arts and industrial presence in Western Massachusetts.

Best regards,


Rebecca Lisi
Holyoke City Councilor At-Large

To donate, please make checks payable to the Committee to Elect Rebecca Lisi and mail to
25 Reservation Rd., Holyoke, MA 01040, or contribute on-line at http://www.votelisi.com/fundraising_contribute.htm


“Rebecca Lisi’s leadership on the casino question provides a great example of her thoughtful approach to complex issues. As a resident of Ward 4, I particularly appreciate her attention to the real and detrimental consequences a casino would have for downtown economic development as well as for quality of life throughout the city. Rebecca takes into account constituents’ concerns while always keeping an eye on the big picture, and I trust her to make good decisions on governance and policy, to step up on important issues, regardless of how controversial taking a clear position may be.”

                                                                                    -Susan Van Pelt
246 Walnut Street
                                                                                                                                     

“While City Councilor Rebecca Lisi is certainly not a “one-issue” representative, I am confident that she understands that bringing a casino into Holyoke would not have solved our economic, educational, safety, or social problems, and more likely would have increased them.  She consistently and accurately educated herself and her constituents on this serious issue and her voting record reflects this.  I believe that Rebecca Lisi understands that no form of a casino would ever be beneficial to Holyoke, and that we must concentrate on the industries and healthy development that would enhance the lives of all of Holyoke’s residents from Ward 7 to the Flats.”

-Lyn Horan
100 Southampton Road


“Rebecca Lisi has my support and my vote for Holyoke City Councilor, not in the least because of her extremely strong and well-articulated anti-casino stance. When the casino winds started blowing through town, Rebecca didn't lose her cool, but instead laid out the facts so that the greater good of the community would not be lost in the face of unsubstantiated propaganda.  Progressive Holyokers can rejoice that someone as smart and passionate as Rebecca is representing them, and that is why I will be casting my vote to re-elect Councilor Lisi.”

-Morriss Partee
127 Saint Kolbe Drive

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