Racism wasn’t the only emotionally charged Brighton City Council discussion June 16. Needlepoint bipolar ionization got councilmembers equally worked up.
While some councilors were relatively indifferent about a technology that aerates city office spaces, others considered it wasted money. Eventually, though, some council members chastised city staff for how members did their jobs, which resurrected old tensions.
The needlepoint bipolar ionization is an air filtration system for enclosed spaces, which would help eliminate COVID-19 particles in the air, said Chris Hill, a representative of Building Technology Systems Inc., at a study session June 9. It wouldn’t cost more than $261,000 and would ultimately be covered by the city’s funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, according to a resolution drafted for the June 16 meeting.
Some counci lmembers expressed support for the product because it could help reduce the risk of city employees contracting COVID-19. Councilwoman Mary Ellen Pollack, on the other hand, said “We’re just being typical government, just wasting money.” The technology isn’t necessary she argued, citing other precautionary measures already in place, such as sneeze guards and face covering requirements.
“I hope the media gets their hands on this and just lets them (people) know just how much you all sit there and think that federal money is free money and they could sure use it,” Pollack added, “And if they don’t print it, I’ll put out a press release.”
Mayor Pro Tem Matt Johnston, while initially supportive of the idea, changed his mind after Pollack spoke. “I don’t know why the hell we’re right here right now,” he said. He said city staff should have presented other options before suggesting air filtration.
Then, Johnston pointedly asked Acting City Manager Marv Falconburg why city staff didn’t provide council with certain bipolar ionization studies in a timely fashion. “What happened? We all asked for it (studies) and we continued it to this moment and now we’re continuing to waste more damn time on it.” Johnston’s tone matched other comments he’s recently made to Falconburg about half streetsand COVID-19, suggesting greater strife between the two.
Pollack piggy-backed off Johnston but pivoted to criticize city finance staff for not proposing other ways to use CARES money, which she said she requested. “It’s like I’m talking to the damn wall,” Pollack said. That’s when Finance Director Maria Ostrom stepped in to defend her budget manager, Kayla Barber-Perrotta, who was responding to Pollack.
“First of all, council, you are going to have to get yourselves under control. That was harsh … It’s not OK to degrade my staff, that is unacceptable,” Ostrom said. She said the way Pollack and Johnston chastised staff and their outright rejection of the air filtration technology shows little consideration for staff.
Johnston found Ostrom’s comment unacceptable, firing back that she misrepresented him. He added, “Staff should be second (in line) to the residents. I’m going to tell you that, Ms. Ostrom, Mr. Falconburg. If you didn’t understand that through the last two years, staff was made ahead of the residents.”
While Johnston didn’t further explain, in 2018 and 2019, 85 city employees stopped working for Brighton for various reasons. Several of those employees were terminated after conflict with city management, according to an analysis of data obtained through an open records request.
The discussion eventually cooled off, and council ultimately voted for Johnston’s motion to revisit bipolar ionization after the body votes on widespread COVID-19 testing.
Towards the meeting’s end, Councilman Clint Blackhurst found an opportunity to refute his fellow councilors. “I, for one, find it amazing that you guys are doing this much work,” he said to staff, who he called, “the boots on the ground who are actually getting this work done.”
In other council news:
- Ann Taddeo took the oath as a new councilmember, filling a seat that’s remained vacant since December. Read our post-election interview with her.
- Council voted to keep a requirement that anyone over the age of 2 and without a disability wear a face covering in city facilities, such as City Hall and Historic City Hall.
- Acting Police Chief Frank Acosta presented on the police department’s use of force policies. More details can be found on the city’s website. To read more about Brighton Police’s use of force policies and how it compares to other local law enforcement agencies, read this Blade story from February after an officer-involved shooting trial.
Ann Taddeo takes the oath as the newest city councilmember. Courtesy of Ann Taddeo