Oh, How far we in Lawrence Have Sunk


By: Attorney Robert O’Koniewski – September, 2010

The financial crisis plaguing our fair city is well documented and requires no re-hashing. You’d have to be living in a cave at this point not to know about the $35 million state bailout of our community and the accompanying controversy. Surely a steady string of incompetence, commencing with the inception of the current charter in the mid-1980s, has delivered us to this shining moment.

Layer upon layer of structural deficits; unqualified and unchallenged elected and appointed public servants; uninspired “leadership”; widespread public apathy; an in-bred, governmental systemic dysfunction – all ingredients of the urban miasma plaguing us.

One would think that the current crisis would serve a wonderful opportunity to re-configure how government is structured, how it collects our tax dollars and then spends said dollars.

Given the chance to reform the provision of government, most professionals with vision would take advantage of the opportunity and strive for re-jiggering the same old-same old that just does not work – reorganize departments, hire actual professionals and experts in their fields, perhaps even reach out to the talent found in the great universities in and around Boston to confront urban planning needs for the next 5, or 10 or 20 years. One would think. But not here. Just what does the overseer do all day besides collecting a check?

Instead of a commitment to excellence, we get a commitment to cronyism. We get job postings to cover any legal questions to conceal the fact that a 10-year city councilor already has a particular job lined up as economic director for the city, regardless of the fact that he has absolutely no economic development experience.

He wasn’t even the highest scorer on three of the four interviewers tally sheets. His main qualification – he endorsed the current mayor in his election bid last year. One would think that a city of a shrinking tax base and 20% unemployment could find a true urban architect to prepare this city for the future. But if you don’t stick any worms in the water, you’re not going to catch that type of fish.

We get job postings to cover any legal questions to conceal the fact that we are saddled with a personnel director who does not even have a college education, much less any extensive professional experience in the field.

Brief stints under the last administration and in a federal agency do not a personnel director make. Real professionals spend years honing their trade before they attain a position of such importance – probably the most important administrative slot in any large-scale organization.

One would think with all the personnel issues we have faced over the last decade alone we need something more than a coat holder for the mayor in the last election.

We get a recycling coordinator who did not even meet the qualifications of the job as posted. When one tries to talk to said coordinator about the current recycling program, one should not receive a blank stare back as if Euclidian geometry was the topic of discussion.

We get board appointments who have no idea what the board does that they will be sitting on, but “they care about the community.”

And now we are on the threshold of another election cycle and one can only wonder what problems will come up this year because of the feckless management of the process from the city clerk’s office and the disparate implementation of the rules throughout the city’s polling sites.

It is as if we are governed by a cabal of the ignorant. Sure, a mayor is entitled to appoint whom he wants. But at least make the effort to find experts in the field. And we have a city council, albeit for one member, that completely serves as the rubber stamp for the mayor’s cabal.

“Whatever you want, Mr. Mayor” should be printed on their letterhead. Any serious questioning, most often conducted singularly by District F Councilor Marc Laplante with an occasional assist by District C Councilor Modesto Maldonado, gets short-circuited and derailed by the hue and cry of the Lantinguaistas on the council, aided and abetted with the heavy gavel of council president Moran.

The kangaroo court in full force on the council prefers to demonize the legitimate inquiry proffered by Councilor Laplante, and you can almost hear them all saying, “We don’t care about what you have to say, let’s just get this over with.”

And now, as our elected officials strive for the lowest common denominator at all times, apparently swearing, name calling, personal insults, and general thuggery are acceptable behavior in the council chambers.

At which point will the mayor realize his unashamed and unapologetic use of profanity during a council meeting really does set a negative tone for himself, his administration, and our community? Must have made him feel like a real man to swear like a five year-old at Christmas dinner. It unfortunately also gives great cover for other politicians to push the envelope even further into the behavior realm. We see it already as certain councilors take their style of performance art to a whole new level.

Calling your fellow councilor an “idiot”, with no gavel rebuke from the council president, is probably not the best image we want to put out to the public. But when you have mayor’s swearing and a chief of staff verbally and physically trying to intimidate city councilors during their meetings, what else would you expect from the feeble minded that represent us.

Our city has alot to offer – great economic opportunities, affordable housing stock for young professionals, vibrant religious communities, active youth sports leagues, a varied cultural atmosphere, entrepreneurs striving to develop a viable middle class, citizens committed to making this place work, homeowners who actually pay their taxes and clean their property.

However, if our current crop of officials continue to extort and manipulate a system of governance for the worse through a style of dictatorial exuberance that in 2010 is just not a sustainable or acceptable model based on 80% state support, at what time do we achieve the tipping point when all the good is overwhelmed by the miasmic dysfunction? With each passing mile post we seem to be getting closer to the finish line at the bottom and not at the top.