PAYING ATTENTION with Tom Duggan – November, 2009
Few people can really understand the magnitude of the changes that are about to occur in the City of Lawrence with the election of State Representative Willie Lantigua (da chief).
Not only did Willie win an overwhelming victory on Election Day, but almost every one of his “slate” of candidates for city council and school committee won as well.
What this means is that Lantigua, at least in his first two years (of a four year term) has absolute power over Lawrence city government. That’s a lot of power in the hands of one man.
As mayor, Willie will control all of city hall. He controls the hiring and firing in the city as well as promotions of city employees and every expenditure in the city budget. He controls the police department, the personnel department, the DPW, inspectional services, the city assessors office, the tax collector’s office, the hiring and appointment of all boards such as the licensing board, the planning board, the workforce investment board, even the Lawrence Public Library Board of Trustees.
The mayor also controls all city contracts, hiring of outside consultants, the water department, and the enforcement of all city ordinances. He also has the discretion to decide which city ordinances to enforce and which to ignore as previous mayors have refused to enforce a residency requirement and cherry picked which parts of the charter to follow.
And that’s just his power as the duly elected mayor according to the city charter.
But, Willie will have so much more power than that when he takes office next January.
Because he also ran a slate of candidates for city council, (most of whom were victorious because of Lantigua’s endorsements) the legislative branch of city government (which is supposed to provide the checks and balances of local government), will also be under the control of Willie Lantigua (da chief).
Winning in November with the help of Lantigua were Councilors: Frank Moran, Dan Rivera, Sandy Almonte, Grisel Silva, Modesto Maldonado, and Oneida Aquino. That’s an almost guaranteed six votes out of nine councilors for whatever Lantigua wants to accomplish.
The City Council is in charge of passing the budget, passing and amending city ordinances and making changes to the city charter, as well as approving the hiring and firing of department heads and approving policies governing the size of buildable lots, the placement of new city buildings, and the sale of city owned land.
But that’s not all … not even close.
When Lantigua takes office in January he also has a majority of the votes on the School Committee and will sit as the board’s chairman.
With Superintendent of Schools Wilfredo Laboy’s job in limbo due to multiple criminal investigations, Lantigua said before the election that he was going to replace Laboy and look for a new head of the Lawrence Public Schools.
That’s something he will be able to do with total autonomy since the school committee will be squarely in his pocket.
He will also control all school department policies, the hiring and firing of all school department personnel, where new schools will be built, who will be hired to oversee them, the construction of new school buildings and who will get those construction contracts, and the curriculum taught to school children in the classrooms.
If all this wasn’t enough for one man to control, Willie Lantigua will also maintain his job as State Representative for the city of Lawrence. He controls all legislation coming out of the city and has tremendous influence over any legislation that would affect the city.
When he takes office in a two months, Willie Lantigua’s combined salaries, (between his job as mayor and his position as the sitting State Rep.) runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $170,000.
And, since the state and municipal retirement system calculates a person’s retirement from their highest three years of income, Lantigua stands to walk away from government service with a very hefty, lifetime paycheck.
Lawrence has a myriad of seemingly insurmountable problems facing its’ citizens right now. The enormous task Willie has ahead of him in the next four years may mean he will earn every single penny of it.
Just for starters Lantigua’s burden come next January includes; a rise in crime, a $10 million budget deficit this year (and a guarantee of more deficits in coming years), a housing crisis that has resulted in over 400 abandoned properties, two fire stations closed, ten firefighters laid off, racial tensions, the highest unemployment rate in the state, a crumbling infrastructure, a huge illiteracy problem, and a city charter that is clearly broken.
The one good thing about all this power Lantigua alone will wield is this: under the current mayor and city council nothing productive is getting done. Council President Patrick Blanchette and his puppets on the council have thrown roadblocks in Mayor Sullivan’s way and the war between the executive and legislative branches of city government have brought progress to a near stand still over the last two years.
And, under the current “leadership” of our elected officials in the city, finger pointing and passing the buck has been brought to an art form. The city council micromanages the mayor’s every move and then wrings their hands and whines about the mayor’s lack of progress.
Who you believe depends on who you supported in the last election but, the result is always the same. When the mayor manages to succeed at accomplishing something significant (despite the council’s interference), they climb over themselves to take the credit and bash the mayor along the way.
With one man controlling everything in Lawrence (similar to a mini-dictatorship) there is really only one person to blame or take the credit no matter what happens in the next two years, and maybe even the next four.
One thing for sure, a few years from now when you drive around the City of Lawrence, the conditions we observe (for better or worse) will be the success or failure of one man, Willie Lantigua (da chief).
For the sake of the city, let’s all hope that we will be looking at a bustling, thriving mecca of business, industry and culture, that is inviting to tourists and outsiders and safe for Lawrencians to live in and work in every day.
For as Lawrence goes, so goes the rest of the Valley.
As for me, I’ve witnessed Lantigua’s criminal attitude towards government first hand over the last fifteen years, and I’m not holding my breath.