While voting on last year’s Methuen city budget and union contracts there were at least five (of nine) members of the city council who had a conflict of interest because they had immediate family members working for the city.
The state’s conflict of interest laws say that elected officials with family members on the payroll cannot vote for a budget or contract that their family member(s) will benefit from.
That means five of the nine councilors could not vote on union contracts or the city budget that affected their family. This left the council with not enough members to pass the budget and contracts.
But a funny thing happened in the world of Twilight-Zone Methuen politics.
During discussions it was revealed that there is a little known provision called the “Rule of Necessity”.
The “Rule of Necessity” states that if too many people on a public board have a conflict of interest and there are not enough board members to pass the budget or contract, no problem, everyone with a conflict can vote anyway.
In other words, if most members of a public board have a conflict, it’s open season on raiding the taxpayers’ money for their personal gain.
RAISES FOR EVERYONE!
We believe the “Rule of Necessity” is really a “Rule of Corruption.”
It means conflict of interest laws are a ruse to fool the public into believing that elected officials can’t benefit from their “service” when in reality there’s always a loophole to let them to do whatever they want.
This is why the Methuen city budget is so out of whack, with the School Department $4M in the red, and Methuen police officers making more than any other officers in the country.
What’s worse is that former city council president Jamie Atkinson voted for a budget and a contract that created a new job in the police department. A job that he himself took the minute he was no longer a city councilor.
Jamie voted to create his own job and his own salary, while also approving enormous raises and irresponsible spending that could not be sustained once he was gone. This leads the public to rightfully wonder if deals were made. Given the evidence we’ve seen so far, it certainly looks that way.
Nobody, but nobody objected.
Fast forward to this year’s Methuen budget and contract discussions. Councilor Steve Saba made a motion to do away with Jamie Atkinson’s position but not ONE of his fellow councilors would second his motion. Not one.
Then the mayor and returning city councilors acted shocked … shocked … that there was a budget deficit this year, pretending they had no idea whatsoever that police salaries were so high, that the schools were so in debt, and that major cuts were going to have to be made.
Videos of last year’s meetings show that Mayor Jajuga (then a city councilor) was well aware of school department funding shortages for special education. Videos also show that councilors were well aware of the rising costs of the union contracts.
Instead of a “Rule of Necessity” that lets officials with a conflict of interest raid the public trough, there should be a “Rule of Replacement” whereby any public board with too many conflicts must give their job to another board (like the school committee) to negotiate and settle the conflicted budget and contracts.
A simpler solution might just be for Methuen voters to simply stop electing city councilors with conflicts of interest.
But, we all know that’s just a little too much to ask.