Business as usual
Lawrence Mayor Lantigua has brought
nothing but chaos and has no plan
By: Robert O’Koniewski, Esq. - July, 2010
When Mayor William Lantigua took over city government in January, he promised a break from the business as usual that we have seen under all previous administrations. His rhetoric may have been lofty, but it belied the fact that he was going to be severely handcuffed by a debilitating fiscal situation. Even the new councilors, to a person, were willing to give him the usual bouquets of cooperation and conciliation to move the city forward. The only problem is – where is the city moving to? The mayor has yet to really articulate a long-term plan half-way through the first year of his four-year term, and the city council has been a willing enabler.
For once, the City of Lawrence actually completed its budget deliberations in time for the start of the 2011 fiscal year on July 1, albeit with no discernible vision or plan for our city. You had all the usual administration heavy hitters, including the guy who drew up the budget, state overseer Bob Nunes. But what would politics be in Lawrence without the usual name-calling, finger-pointing, and hypocrisy. This year’s City Council efforts certainly did not disappoint.
Despite all efforts by Budget Committee chairman Dan Rivera to create a process more along the lines of a Woodstock love-in as opposed to the usual Saturday night of gladiators and lions at the Roman Forum, leave it to the likes of the mayor’s chief of staff and erstwhile insurance salesman to ignore all decorum and respectability and throw hand grenades into the proceedings simply because he can. The subject of his continual, unjustified ire? District F councilor Marc Laplante. The reason? Mr. Laplante simply sought assurances of transparency and accountability not only in the development of the budget but also in its implementation. The chances of that happening, this being Lawrence, perennial ward of the state? Slim to none.
Who would have thought at this time six months into the takeover by the Lantiguaistas that the budget bulldog sticking up for the real taxpayers would have been Councilor Laplante? Councilor Laplante amongst his colleagues has been the only All-Star to date to insist that the administration provide real answers to serious questions about spending, the hiring process, the qualifications of new hires and board appointments, city hall efficiencies, and salary hikes, just to name a few. What has he been met with by the mayor and his chief of staff? Accusations of racism and puerile rants and open hostility, with no back-up from his fellow councilors. As we have written on these pages before, when you cannot win on the facts, accuse your opponent of being a racist. It is the ploy of the intellectually lazy and feeble minded. It’s no wonder that the mayor’s chief of state has turned it into an art form.
As he started the budget proceedings weeks ago, Councilor Rivera gave appearances of advocating for group hugs as he handed out tie-dyed shirts. His was going to be a Budget Committee built on decorum, orderliness, peace, sweet nectar flowing forth as councilors and administrators engaged in high-level discourse on how there would be shared pain throughout the system, all for the sake of creating the New Athens. To his credit, his first act was to do something no mayor was apparently capable of since time in memoriam – he put all budget documents and contracts on a separate website link for everyone to see. What he could not deliver, however, were the doves, white puffy clouds, wine flowing in the streets. Instead, we got hypocrisy in its basest form, despite his best efforts to the contrary.
While fire and police budgets were being irresponsibly slashed by 17% and 13%, respectively, you had city councilors, who basically are part-time city employees, balking at 20% pay cuts and health insurance eliminations. This when scores of fire and police are being laid off and the survivors are suffering major pay cuts. The councilors did not come to this conclusion based on any facts or in-depth policy analysis. No, they balked at cutting their own featherbedding based simply on their own personal situations. One city councilor on a fixed income couldn’t handle the pay cut, even though the pay would still be at a level higher than when he was first elected three years ago. Another city councilor said it wouldn’t work for her, but she left out the fact that she quit a full-time, well-paying gig with the school department so she could take on the role of a part-time city councilor. Good jobs at good wages be damned. The discussion about their accessibility for health insurance on the taxpayer nickel was even worse, voting for the elimination before they realized what they did and then reversing it, thinking no one was watching at home at such a late hour. So much for shared sacrifice and pain.
Sure, the city is in dire straits, as are most of the other 351 communities across the Commonwealth. And sure, the city is so bad off it had to borrow $24 million dollars, and spend it faster than it came in. But one would think that such a disaster would be prime time for revamping the entire city hall system and instituting much needed consolidations and modernizations. Instead, what we got is an administration whose first act was to declare war on the public safety components of our city services – the one sector we really need. And to top it off, their idea of improving code enforcement and bringing in more revenue through more fines and penalties is to cut the Inspectional Services Department by 14%. It is as if the Lantiguaistas want to drive us so far into the hole that a receiver will be faced with a city whose burgeoning middle class was driven out by short-sighted, petty policies of those ill-equipped to govern.
The mayor has made the point a thousand times if he has made it once – we are suffering under very expensive union contracts. We agree. But to telegraph your negotiation stance ahead of time and to cut public safety personnel beyond the necessary levels demanded to maintain societal order in the criminal chaos that is Lawrence is no way to go about governing and building confidence amongst the taxpaying constituents.
Whether by design or by accident, this administration has set us on a downhill course and most of our city councilors are too blind with glory to see it.
Robert O’Koniewski is an attorney in Boston, a former member of the Lawrence zoning board and is the former campaign manager for Marcos Devers. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org