Lawrence at a crossroad: The “four Rs” of public policy


By: Joe D’Amore  October, 2012

With headlines announcing indictments of key public officials in Lawrence the city has reached an historic crossroad which will define its emergence or decline from the current state of turmoil. At stake is the well- being of the city and all the surrounding communities as results that stem from months of secret dealings of a Grand Jury have now surfaced producing tangible evidence that forces have been stirred that will transform this city . Simultaneous with the indictments are pronouncements from key officials such as District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett that the public should expect further actions and the implication is clear; there is one primary recipient of their impending consequences and that is the current Mayor of Lawrence, William Lantigua.

Discourse has reached a palatable cacophony in barbershops, street corners, bus stops, public meeting places and on the internet. Anyone who is paying attention senses that events are no longer subdued and bracketed by the proverbial slow wheels of justice, but rather taken on a life on their own and are accelerating at a rate that will strip the people of their collective ability to control their destiny. The city is awakened to a new era of uncertainty.

In seeking to define a course and to anticipate an outcome many politicians and officials from outside and within the city’s jurisdiction are revealing tenets of what I call the “Four R’s” for Lawrence. These four R’s bare reflection and study for their possible utility in guiding public policy.

Resignation: Several local politicians have sought a solution for Lawrence that centers on an appeal to the Mayor’s conscience to affect a change that is in the best interest of the people. Is this opportunistic or substantive? Regardless of motive, this suggestion serves only to deliver great headlines that call attention to the plight of the city. The act itself would likely remain remotely a consideration by the Mayor as its acceptance at best would mean abdication and at worse an admission of criminal complicity. The notion retains appeal though because beyond the fantasy of it materializing such a meritorious action would create an immediate redirection of leadership that could be better suited for the city.

Recall: The re-introduction of a collective action remains elusive not because the will is lacking across wide sectors of the city’s population but because people sense that the time constraints imposed to frame it effectively is too short. The voluminous effort to marshal legal, written instruments and to distribute and execute them is an exercise that would have served the community only if the urgency to accomplish it was underscored by a supportive condition. But now if such an effort were initiated the timing of it most likely would not coincide well with the sudden and unexpected exit of the Mayor. Recalls are directed to those who are entrenched in their seats not those that are pre-disposed to exiting them.

Receivership: The city is already under partial and yet significant state- control in two key areas; management of its credit facility through a state appointed overseer and direct state control of its school system. With the manifestation of two successive and successful budget cycles many would place a great deal of merit in going just a bit further and complete the process of protecting the fiscal resources of the city with comprehensive receivership. The move would also align legal remedies, resources and authoritative structures that would complete the work of the Grand Jury and ultimately the courts; that is to rinse the city completely of its apparent, greatly influential sub-culture of corruption. This solution is the only one that will accommodate well a sudden re-organization of the city if key positions are vacated by the force of court order. However, for the people of Lawrence all perceived gains would have to be substantial to overcome the stark condition of democracy being extinguished in Lawrence. A people without a voice will eventually be a defeated people and this can be ushered in by inept management of municipal resources, corruption or a state sponsored condition. It is unsettling that a substantial number of Merrimack Valley politicians have publicly advocated for such a measure.

Clearly they are signaling that self-rule is no longer a viable option for this city that was once the crucible of cultural, economic and political enlightenment in Massachusetts.

Representation-renewed: If any action or act of conscience ushers in the vacating of positions in the Mayor’s office the people will have an opportunity to reconfigure its government by directing those who are enlightened by a call to public service. Should an appointment be made from the City Council seats or a Special Election pursued if positions need to be filled before general elections in 2013? Are there courageous candidates who are encouraged, capable and ready to assume roles of responsibility? Will the collective will of the people direct public policy with the auspices that despite the current dislocation and uncertainty they are indeed capable to form a social agenda and re-direct their destiny? These are questions that will inevitably be addressed in the course of the next several weeks and months. In equal measures there is hope and yet uncertainty in this area and a calculable level of political will remains elusive.

Many of us in and outside of Lawrence remain riveted by the energy and force of recent events. The expectation is clearly that change is underway. The perception is that a crisis that has percolated has now revealed itself in all its excesses forcibly. Yet one cannot help sensing that the ultimate conclusion will be a good one because surely those who will retain authority -in relative and inverse terms- be better than those that seized it away from the people.

But then again that’s just a limited and self-serving conclusion from the writer of this column who always sees the glass as half full and never empty

Joe D’Amore writes from Groveland, MA