By: Kathy Runge – June, 2015
I was at Lawrence’s Memorial Day commemoration and only three councilors attended. None of the Councilor’s at Large were there. In attendance were Councilor’s Dave Abdoo, Marc Laplante and Jeovanny Rodriguez. Not to worry, the city elections are next year, so the place will be crawling with incumbents and candidates.
After all of the hubbub over Councilor Estella Reyes’ real estate transactions, which you can read about in the May 2016 issue of this newspaper, I’d like to tell you about another land deal involving the city and a Councilor. Ex-Councilor Oneida Aquino bought city owned property last year.
Then-Councilor Aquino, who has owned a vacant lot at 5 Florence St. since 2007, bought the lot at 7 Florence St. from the City. The quitclaim deed (which has been called into question by some in Reyes’ case) was transferred June 29, 2015, when Aquino was still on the council.
The land’s assessed value in 2014 was $5700, which was what Ms. Aquino paid for it. In January 2015 the assessed value fell to $2600, so she paid twice the assessed value to acquire the lot. Does she know something that we don’t?
The city sells small parcels of land to abutters to expand their yards, etc. The theory is that if the parcel is added to the abutting lot, the new owners will take care of it and the land will be back on the tax rolls, thus being mutually beneficial to both parties. A “performance mortgage” is attached to the property giving certain conditions the new owners must satisfy.
The conditions in Ms. Aquino’s deed and performance mortgage included submitting a landscaping plan within 30 days of the closing. It’s unknown whether she did, but you can look at the pictures and judge for yourself. They could use one of those “Aquino trash barrels” that she used to place around her district for campaign purposes.
In my opinion, there’s no reason other than real estate speculation that then Councilor Aquino purchased this land and it is not landscaped or maintained. City employees and relatives should not be purchasing city property, period.
The Council is once again plagued with attendance problems causing a lack of quorum for committee meetings. Councilors Reyes has been AWOL since her real estate deals became public knowledge, and Councilor Alvarez-Rodriguez’s attendance has been spotty. Lawrence needs a full complement of nine councilors.
Both were absent from the May 17 meeting. A bill containing comprehensive water and sewer regulations failed to pass. Water and Sewer Commissioner Brian Pena worked for over a year creating this document and had made agreed upon revisions at the Ordinance Committee level. What a waste of our tax dollars.
Of the seven councilors in attendance, Councilors Maldonado and Laplante abstained, Councilor Almonte voted no and Councilor Jeovanny Rodriguez was out of chambers, leaving only three yes votes so the measure failed. Even if Councilor Rodriguez had voted yes, Almonte’s no vote would have prevented passage of the measure.
Almonte quizzed Commissioner Pena on the bill for over 5 minutes giving no indication of her reasons for rejecting it. Her no vote was a vote to give Commissioner Pena more power, since in the absence of ordinances the decision making power reverts to the Water Commissioner.
The bill she voted against contained a provision that required the city pick up part the cost of replacing lead services, which is legally the homeowner’s responsibility.
The bill she voted against contained a provision prohibiting the use of money orders for payment of a final bill. It seems the city has lost money by people cancelling money orders before the city cashes them. Thank you Councilor Almonte!
Commissioner Pena told me that, in his opinion, even the passage of an amended ordinance with whatever parts Almonte found offensive would have been worthwhile. But she would have had to have read the bill in order to propose that.
At the same meeting, the Council voted to accept the deeds for the Ferrous site, an abandoned industrial site that is being transformed into a park. Almonte voted for it, so the answers she got during her discussion of landscaping must have been satisfactory. She held the floor for 9 minutes, stating “anything that comes out of my mouth, trust me, it’s important,” ignoring the gavel, and muttering “ridiculous” after the vote.
I know, you’re saying Almonte lives rent-free in my head. Let’s hope she doesn’t start living rent-free in all of our heads, I hear she’s considering a run for Mayor!