HAVERHILL — At their May 13 meeting, city councilors complained that the firefighters’ annual Labor Day collection for the Muscular Dystrophy Association has clogged streets and inconvenienced drivers.
The event has created unsafe traffic conditions caused by firefighters standing in the road, the councilors said.
Councilors said they would not approve firefighters taking to the streets for this year’s collection unless they were able to come to an agreement on rules for collecting donations at busy intersections.
That was until a dozen firefighters, representatives from the statewide Muscular Dystrophy Association and a 10-year-old boy in a wheelchair showed up to confront the councilors, however.
Barely two minutes into last night’s meeting and just after Councilor William Ryan arrived late with a group of firefighters trailing him, Council President Robert Scatamacchia brought approval of the fund-raising drive up for consideration. It quickly and unanimously passed without discussion, leaving those preparing to address the council unsure of what had happened. Just before the meeting, Ryan, the chief complainer about the traffic problems, was spotted talking to a group of firefighters for several minutes at the side entrance to City Hall.
Eric Miller of Haverhill, who brought his 10-year-son Joseph to the meeting, said he was disappointed he and others were not allowed to address the council. Joseph suffers from muscular dystrophy and came to the meeting in his wheelchair.
“We wanted to say our piece on this so we don’t have to come back next year when they try it again,” Eric Miller said. “We came here tonight because we wanted to speak. But because it’s become a blown-up political issue, they just wanted to get it over as fast as possible.”
Dena Miller said her son Joseph is the statewide goodwill ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“We go around the state visiting fire houses and telling the firefighters how much we appreciate what they do for us,” Dena Miller said. “We wanted to tell the councilors about the history of the boot drive and how important it us. It started in Massachusetts and it’s a Massachusetts legacy. To say we can’t do it in an city or town in Massachusetts doesn’t make sense.”
Brad Gosselin, a regional fund-raising coordinator for the MDA, said he was relieved the council approved the request.
“These boot drives are a high priority for every one of our families,” Gosselin said.
After the meeting, which lasted about five minutes, Councilor Michael Hart said he was also happy with the result.
“They raise money for a good purpose and no one wants to spoil that,” Hart said. “We don’t want to be unsympathetic to a good cause.”
Hart said no councilors indicated they wanted to speak on the matter, so Scatamacchia called for a vote without discussion. When it quickly passed, that was the end of it, Hart said.
Ryan quickly left City Hall after the meeting. He did not return a reporter’s phone call last night seeking his comment.
At the May 13 meeting, Ryan led the effort to block the license.
“It’s a great cause and I agree having toll booths with firefighters in uniform in the middle of street stopping traffic is a great way to raise money,” Ryan said at that meeting. “But I don’t think this is something we should be doing or allowing. ... Families who are trying to leave the city on vacation are basically being subjected to a toll.”
After that meeting, councilors obtained a legal opinion from City Solicitor William Cox. The opinion said council has broad discretion in imposing limitations on requests from groups to seek donations during “tag day” fundraising appeals. In summary, it said the council could deny any location on public safety grounds.
The boot drive is now set for Aug. 30 at the intersection of Main and Rosemont streets, and at River Street and Lowell Avenue.
The license also allows firefighters to collect money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at three off-street locations — the High Street and Water Street fire stations and a parking lot in Bradford’s Central Square.