Lawrence City Council Power Trip Censors Rebroadcast of Meetings

Councilor Almonte

By: Katy Runge – January, 2015 

Happy New Year to all of The Valley Patriot readers! If you missed the City Council meeting of December 16 you should watch it on YouTube (Channel: LawrenceCityCouncil), because it was a gem. Public safety loans were denied, a vote of no confidence in the mayor was attempted and confusion abounded. Of course you won’t get to see the entire meeting because it was edited. This first came to my attention when it was pointed out that my comments in the public participation section of the meeting were cut off almost immediately. Was it something I said?

Maybe it was when I said the council’s issues with the personnel decisions of Mayor Rivera were purely partisan, or when I asked if they believed that all of the employees complaining about recent personnel decisions got their city jobs because they were the most qualified candidates in a fair competition, or my suggestion that the council had no problems when this happened under the previous mayor. Rich Russell, another speaker who expressed much the same views, also had his comments severely edited.

More disturbing is the fact that a segment containing two discussions and votes was missing in the online video. This could merely be an equipment malfunction, but it seems like this break was made to slip by unnoticed unless you’re watching closely. One’s curiosity is heightened when one of the missing votes, a vote to award a livery license that evidently passed, was brought up by Councilor Bernal at the end of the meeting. She wanted everyone to understand what they had voted for and said she may put forward a motion to reconsider at the next meeting.

Other comments by councilors were also omitted on the YouTube video. What are we to expect when watching Council meetings online? What will be cut out? Why are we paying people to make a biased record of these meetings? Why even post it online?

In other news from the meeting, the council’s investigation of Mayor Rivera’s personnel decisions went nowhere. Mayor Rivera made a statement saying he would not meet with the council in executive session, the main reason being that the council has no jurisdiction in these matters.

Not to be discouraged, Councilor Maldonado called for a vote of no confidence in the mayor. Councilor Laplante called a charter objection so the vote was delayed until the next meeting. Wouldn’t such a vote have been a violation of the Open Meeting Laws? Maldonado pointed out that a charter objection can only be made once on an issue, so there can be no more of those shenanigans! The dossier containing the alleged grievances was set aside until the next meeting.

The issue of approving a loan to buy ten cruisers and three license plate scanners for the police department, and a ladder truck for the fire department was voted down by our council. Hard to believe, isn’t it? There were five votes to approve, with Councilors Almonte, Aquino and Twomey all voting against the loan and Councilor Reyes absent. After much confusion, it was finally decided near the end of the meeting that six votes were required to pass so the loan authorization failed.

The dissenting councilors all thought that we should take the $2.5 million out of the existing $9.5 million free cash. They ignored the advice of Budget and Finance Director Mark Ianello, who stated that $9.5 million was not a large amount of free cash for a city of this size, depleting the free cash might be detrimental to our bond rating, and gave a number of other reasons why borrowing was the better option.

Councilor Almonte’s comments deserve to be summarized here. Her comments that sounded like she was calling the police lazy have been discussed elsewhere, so I omit those. She also said that we would be spending $5 million to pay off a loan of $2.5 million, clearly not understanding when Mr. Ianello stated that the total debt service was estimated to be $3.1 million, with the interest being about a half million dollars.

She compared the loan to borrowing $10 and having it cost you $100. A more correct comparison would be borrowing $10 and having it cost you $12.40. Almonte knew about this loan for at least a month and had no idea of the total amount she was voting on.

Councilor Almonte also noted that she didn’t want to “jeopardize the futures of my kids, of your kids, of my grandkids” and “we don’t want them to have to struggle to pay back the debts that we are putting for them.” Couldn’t they just move to Methuen? She’s probably planning for her children to have city jobs, so they may have to live in Lawrence if the residency requirement passes.

All of these issues are expected to be addressed at the next meeting, which has been postponed until January 13 at 7 pm in order to give the council an extended holiday break. See you there! PS: Could someone please make me a DVD of the meeting?