Methuen Councilors Should Know Their Place ~ Valley Patriot Editorial Feb. 2020


February, 2020

After the last election, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that some members of the Methuen City Council either do not understand their roles and responsibilities as elected officials, or purposely overstep their authority as councilors

Under the city charter, city councilors represent the legislative branch of city government. They have no say over the day to day operations of the city. When they are not sitting at a full city council meeting, individual city councilors have no more power than any other citizen of Methuen. Nor should they.

Yet, councilors like Steve Saba and Jim McCarty think that their elected positions give them the right to barge into the mayor’s office whenever they feel like it to make demands for information or services.

They also seem to have no problem randomly dropping in on the various city department head offices for their pet projects as if these city employees work for them.

They don’t.

Because some city councilors have abused their authority by demanding that their constituent issues or requests for information be addressed right away (even when they are not emergencies) it has hampered the day to day operations of city business, including the mayor’s staff and department heads.

This is not acceptable, and Mayor Perry has put a stop to it with a new communications policy which requires city councilors to submit their information or constituent requests in writing, via email, to all city department heads as well as the mayor’s office.

Good for him.

Perry’s new policy memo states that councilors have been overstepping their authority saying: “While we recognize the need to address council inquiries, the practice of communications via constant interruptions and demands for immediate response on non-emergency matters outside the council agenda is interfering with the staff’s ability to focus on the city’s most pressing goals. The residents and the staff deserve a better process.”

To be clear, no member of the city council – or the public – can show up at the mayor’s office, the DPW office, the police or fire chief’s office, or any other department in the city and demand information or services be provided immediately by city workers.

In every other city and town, councilors – like all regular citizens – have to make an appointment to see a mayor or department head to request city services. They are not to be given any favors such as city workers expediting their requests simply because they are elected officials.

That style of old school favor-based politics is what the citizens of Methuen rejected in the last election when they voted for Neil Perry by a landslide 71%.

Methuen city workers must be allowed to do their jobs without part time city councilors making demands, while refusing to go through the same request process as everyone else.

As a member of the public you have to submit a public records request to get information or documents from the executive branch of city government. Under the law, the city has ten days to fulfill that request. You don’t have the right to just pop in and demand documents “immediately” like Steve Saba and Jim McCarty do. As a member of the public, no city councilor should have the ability to get city services faster than any other citizen.

Furthermore, if the information or services that councilors are demanding are of such vital importance to the city council, they should put the item on the city council agenda, discuss it with their colleagues, and take a vote officially asking for the information.

Yet, for some reasons Methuen City Councilor Saba and McCarty think their elected positions give them free reign over the executive branch of city government.

They don’t.

Mayor Neil Perry and his administration have a monumental task ahead of them trying to turn the city around after years of financial mismanagement. It’s a tough enough task given the myriad of problems Methuen is faced with, without part time city councilors interfering with that important work in order to get political favors.

In fact, we would argue that it’s this very type of political interference that caused Methuen’s current problems in the first place. ◊