Adventures in Transparency

By: Kathy Runge – May, 2015

Although, in my opinion, violating the Open Meeting Laws is not unusual for our city council, the newest show of disrespect for city residents has to be the placing of this month’s Semana Hispana fundraising carnival at the South Common with no prior notice given to the neighborhood residents. It’s pretty bad when a council member, District F Councilor Marc Laplante, files an Open Meeting Law complaint against his own organization!

Maybe the location will work out. I hope so. Regardless of your feelings on the location, the residents of the affected neighborhood had a right to know this in advance. It’s not a big deal for at least 6 of the councilors, with excuses like it’s only one time, and Semana Hispana doesn’t want the location permanently. I guess that’s a good thing, since apparently this council would give it to them for the asking. Let me say that I’m not criticizing Semana Hispana. They just want to have their fund raising carnival. It’s the City Council that has behaved badly yet again, led by Council President Modesto Maldonado.

The members of the Ordinance Committee, which includes President Maldonado, knew about the two proposed alternate locations at their meeting but didn’t feel that information was important enough to inform the public. They claim that this information was well known and easy to find out. Let’s examine that claim.

The permit request doesn’t appear on any Ordinance Committee agenda posted online at the time of this writing. One would have to guess at what meeting it was considered. You could go through recent council agendas to see when the item appeared as new business, and try to deduce at which Ordinance Committee meeting the item was discussed.

The committee meetings may be available on DVD if you have $10 to waste and a week or so to wait. No committee meetings have been posted on the council’s YouTube channel yet this year. The alternate locations were not listed on the agenda for the council meeting of April 7, when the permit was granted. So unless you happened to go to the correct Ordinance Committee meeting or watch it or one of its limited reruns on cable TV, the average person would have had no knowledge of the proposed alternate sites.

The agenda for the April 7 meeting says only that an alternate location for the carnival is to be found. Oddly enough, that council meeting is missing from YouTube.

I’m hearing that the event’s listing on the agenda doesn’t violate the Open Meeting Law since it specified that an alternate location was to be found. The theory is that if any resident of Lawrence didn’t want the carnival in their backyard, they should have come to the meeting of April 7 to make sure it didn’t get scheduled there.

Even if the Council’s actions didn’t technically violate the OML, is this how you want your city council to behave? Is this the consideration the city residents deserve?

During the discussion on whether to suspend the rules and reconsider the permit at the April 21 meeting, Councilor Aquino didn’t think it was fair to be talking about an item when the people affected were not even there. Of course she was referring to Semana Hispana. Too bad she didn’t have the same concern for the affected residents of the South Common area at the prior meeting.

Councilor Aquino also claimed that the matter was already decided. Did she mean decided like the residency requirement that had been legally voted down? Council had no problem having a redo on that vote.

Councilor Almonte provided the entertainment when she stuck her head out of the side room to cast her vote against reconsideration of the permit. Yes, she was too bored or miffed to sit at her seat for the discussion. We should be glad she was there. She permanently exited before the meeting was over.

Many residents and politicians, including Councilor Maldonado, attended the South Common Neighborhood Association meeting of April 28 to air their concerns. Councilor Laplante found that local ordinances and state regulations were violated during the permitting process. But, as we know, laws are for mayors and ordinary people to obey, not our City Council. Even after learning of the ordinances that weren’t followed, Maldonado wouldn’t admit to even a smidgen of wrongdoing.

Maldonado spoke at the neighborhood meeting, speculating as to the cause of the residents’ displeasure. He just couldn’t understand the opposition. Could it be racism? He wondered if the residents were unhappy with the carnival because we consider Lawrence two different cities, the North (Hispanic) versus the South (non-Hispanic). What decade is he living in? He must not come to South Lawrence much. Someone used the term “riff-raff”, which he also thought may be racist. Is this a preview of his campaign platform?

Most residents of the South Common neighborhood considered the carnival a fait accompli. They just wanted to express their unhappiness and know the details, including any plans the police may have for public safety and traffic, who was going to clean up, and where everyone was going to park.

It’s a shame the residents of South Lawrence got treated this way by their elected officials. All of the councilors originally voted to grant the permit except Laplante, who was a ‘no’, and Almonte, who was absent. The only member who voted in favor of the location and wanted to reconsider at the next meeting was the Chair of the Ordinance Committee, District E Councilor Eileen Bernal. Remember this at the polls in the fall.