City Councilors Behaving Badly

By Kathy RungeApril, 2015

modestoCouncil meetings in February and March were a train wreck, but everyone got their vacations in. Councilor Maldonado opened the meeting of March 3 by saying that he hoped meetings would be regular now and they wouldn’t get snowed out anymore, as if that’s the reason their meetings haven’t been regular.

The second meeting of February was postponed due to school vacations, so they rescheduled that meeting for the following week. A trip to DC for the White House Dominican Americans Policy Briefing came along for four councilors, so the meeting had to be rescheduled again at the last minute.

Yet they wonder why there wasn’t a huge turnout for Mayor Rivera’s State of the City Address. Let’s hope the weather is good for the third Tuesday in April, the scheduled meeting during April school vacation.
In my mission to let you know how our elected officials actually behave, I have some lowlights from the past few months.
After deciding not to renew City Attorney Charles Boddy’s contract in early 2014, the council finally started the search for a new attorney last fall. Among the candidates we are told that there were about six that passed the preliminary screening, with current City Attorney Boddy and two others having strong resumes.

So how did the interviews go? The answer is that they didn’t have any interviews. Our council couldn’t get it together enough to show that simple courtesy toward the applicants. They are preparing to negotiate a contract with Attorney Boddy.

Do they have any idea how much work it takes to put together an application for a job like City Attorney? Of course not. I can guarantee you that if one of the councilors had an attorney friend who was interested in the job there would have been interviews. But that darn global warming played havoc with the council’s schedule. I suppose the applicants should have been honored to have been able to apply for a job with the great city.

Councilor Almonte generally brings her son with her to the meetings in lieu of getting a babysitter. He stays in the office off to the side of the meeting chambers. She can get enough votes in District A to win elections but can’t find one person who will babysit for her twice a month. My theory is that she likes having the excuse to get up from her seat and check on her child.

Lately council employees seem to go into the office during meetings at a signal from Almonte. What if something happened in the side room? Would the city be liable? Does she pay the videographer for babysitting? In my opinion this is strange and unethical behavior for a councilor who’s worried that the city will need all of its free cash to pay off legal settlements.

Councilor Almonte has lost her temper twice during recent meetings, going on tirades and refusing to stop. The last time the audience could still hear her ranting after she left the chambers. A recess was needed to restore order the first time.

The February 23 public participation section of the council’s meeting opened with a five-minute mini-seminar for the councilors from Mike Sullivan of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance. Getting briefed on campaign financial filings at a council meeting shows absolutely no regard for the public. Mr. Sullivan had just come from a seminar on this subject in Saugus. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that the seminar in Saugus didn’t occur during a council meeting.

I guess it was the only time Mr. Sullivan could get most of our councilors together. It was rude, inconsiderate, and shows the attitude some on this council have for the residents. Getting kudos for at least pointing out the impropriety of this are Councilors Marc Laplante and Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez.

When Mr. Sullivan opened the floor for questions, Laplante noted that councilors weren’t allowed to ask questions during public participation. Alvarez-Rodriguez stated that Sullivan wasn’t being held to the time limit and that conducting the information session during public participation could be perceived as inconsiderate.

Council President Maldonado shrugged these concerns off with a grin, saying it was fine to have this during public participation and proceeded to ask Mr. Sullivan a question. By the council’s own rules public participation is limited to 2.5 minutes (well, really 2) and councilors are specifically prohibited from speaking unless they sign up to speak. Laws are made for mayors to follow, not the councilors! Mr. Sullivan turned to the peasants, oops, I mean audience, with a condescending look and said he appreciated everyone’s indulgence and would be done shortly.

The good news is that the law now requires candidates in Lawrence to file their financial statements with the state instead of the local government. Stay tuned everyone, that should provide hours of entertainment.