By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — James Jajuga threw Mayor James Fiorentini under the bus last night, and the mayor appeared to be a willing scapegoat.
Jajuga, a Methuen city councilor and former state senator, is at the center of a controversy involving a letter that former Haverhill City Council President Robert Scatamacchia signed in November on behalf of a company that wants to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in Haverhill.
Jajuga, who until recently worked for the proposed dispensary operator Healthy Pharms Inc., initially asked Fiorentini to sign the letter, but the mayor refused. Instead, the mayor had his aide David Van Dam call Scatamacchia and ask him to come to the mayor’s office to sign the letter, which Scatamacchia agreed to do.
Last night, Scatamacchia said he was tricked into signing the letter, which he said he did not realize would be used to help Healthy Pharms win a provisional state license for a dispensary.
Jajuga sat in attendance for last night’s three hour meeting, but he did not address the council. Jajuga sat with a man who refused to identify himself to a reporter.
After the meeting was over, Jajuga told a reporter outside the room that the letter he brought to Fiorentini’s office was written by Healthy Pharms’ attorney, but that the mayor re-wrote it and then had Scatamacchia sign it.
“It’s crystal clear,” Jajuga said. “You heard the mayor. He said he wrote the letter. He said he wasn’t under duress and that he wasn’t duped.”
The letter, which stated the city does not oppose a dispensary in the city, scored Healthy Pharms points in a state evaluation process that was key to the company being granted a provisional license for a dispensary on Hale Street near the city’s downtown.
Scatamacchia said last night that he had no idea the letter was to become part of the company’s application and would be used to bolster its case for a dispensary license. The letter was signed by Scatamacchia on behalf of the full council, but other councilors said they knew nothing about it and did not agree with it.
Fiorentini apologized to Scatamacchia last night.
“I didn’t realize this letter would put a good and honest man on the hot seat,” the mayor said of Scatamacchia.
Council President John Michitson grilled the mayor on details of the letter, but said after the meeting he was unable to get to the truth about what happened.
The mayor told Michitson he knew the letter was meant to help the company secure a dispensary license, but that he did not specifically know it would win it points on its application.
“I know they needed it to keep the process open,” Fiorentini said. “I saw nothing wrong with the letter then, and I still don’t.”
The mayor said he rewrote the letter that Jajuga brought to him to more accurately reflect the city’s position on medical marijuana dispensaries, including that there was a temporary ban on them in place until Feb. 25, while the council decided the best place to locate one. The mayor also said Jajuga’s original letter was overly supportive of the city’s position on hosting a dispensary.
At the end of his remarks, Fiorentini recommended the council extend the city’s temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries to June.
“I recognize there are hurt feelings and that the process is flawed, but we still need to move forward with zoning to decide the best place for a dispensary,” Fiorentini said.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to extend the temporary ban on dispensaries to Nov. 18. It also voted to send the zoning issue to its Administration and Finance Committee to hold a public hearing to get input from the community on the best place for a dispensary in the city.
Fiorentini and several councilors said they were concerned about several instances in Healthy Pharms 144-page application in which the company claimed to have met with local officials who were supportive of a dispensary in the city. However, three of those officials — including Planning Director William Pillsbury — said they never met with anyone from the company.
“On page 22, they said they met with William Pillsbury of our Public Health Department and they said he supports their application and the proposed (Hale Street) location,” Fiorentini told councilors. “He (Pillsbury) never supported either.”
The mayor said he invited representatives of Healthy Pharms to attend last night’s meeting to explain the apparent misrepresentations, but they declined the invitation.
Michiston said an official at the state Public Health Department told him the department would investigate allegations of misrepresentations by Healthy Pharms in its application at the council’s request. The council did not pursue that option last night, but Councilor William Macek said it may at a future meeting.
Councilors also did not pursue an invitation from Michitson at the start of the meeting to consider contacting the Attorney General’s Office about the company’s alleged misrepresentations and Jajuga’s actions on behalf of the company. Scatamacchia previously called for an investigation by the attorney general in a story earlier this week in The Eagle-Tribune.
“There’s no appetite on the council to ask the attorney general to investigate,” Michitson said after the meeting.