By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Following on the heels of a hotly contested political race, local businessman Tim Coco will be jumping into the fire once more. Mayor James Fiorentini nominated Coco to be the city's newest License Commission member. When the commission meets today at 2 p.m., Coco will have the tie breaking vote in deciding the fate of the liquor license for Bradford Shell, which was caught selling to minors six times since 2002. Fiorentini asked Coco to fill the unexpired seat of Thomas Sullivan, who recently resigned from the License Commission after he was elected to fill a vacancy on the City Council.
"It's an important board, and I think I bring a unique perspective as both a lifelong resident and a business owner," Coco said. "Obviously the utmost importance is protecting the citizens of Haverhill."
The License Commission’s two members, Gerald Sewell and Chairman Joseph Edwards are deadlocked on what action to take in regards to Bradford Shell. The city stripped the business of its liquor license in February after it was caught selling alcohol to a minor for the sixth time since 2002.
The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission in Boston rejected the decision upon an appeal by Aziz Saba, owner of Bradford Shell, and recommended the License Commission change the punishment to a 30-day suspension, with 10 days to be served and 20 days to be suspended for three years, depending on whether the business has more violations in the future.
At their meeting last week, Edwards favored returning the license and Sewell wanted to fight to uphold the revocation.
"Apparently they need a tie breaking vote," Coco said yesterday.
If the commission refuses to reverse its February ruling, Edwards said it would be up to Saba to take the city to court to enforce the state ruling.
Saba said he would do everything in his power to prevent his employees from selling to minors again if his license is returned — a promise commissioners reminded him he has made several times before.
Police said the establishment has a reputation for being an “easy” place for teenagers to buy alcohol.
In light of their opposing positions, Edwards and Sewell had agreed to postpone the Bradford Shell matter pending Fiorentini's appointment of a new member to fill Sullivan's vacant seat.
Coco was seeking the Democratic nomination for the open 1st Essex state Senate seat but in a primary election earlier this month he lost to Newburyport City Councilor Kathleen O’Connor Ives, who also beat Methuen Mayor William Manzi.
Coco said Haverhill voters overwhelmingly voted for him and that following his loss in the primary he met with Fiorentini in hopes of serving the city and the public in some official capacity.
"He mentioned the license commission and other boards that might make sense," Coco said. "I told him I'd do anything to help the city."
Coco said the mayor contacted him late last week with the offer to fill Sullivan's seat on the License Commission.
Coco said Bradford Shell was added to today's meeting agenda contingent on his attending. Coco said City Solicitor William Cox gave him a copy of the state ruling to read last night in preparation for today's meeting.
"I want to hear what the license commission members have to say, and then hear any testimony that might be presented," Coco said. "If there is, that will be a factor in my decision."
When the City Council meets tonight it is expected to review the "non-confirming" appointments of Coco to the License Commission and Mark Lemay of Bradford to the Mayor's Downtown and Waterfront Master Planning Commission.
The council will also review the "confirming" appointment of former City Councilor Krystine Hetel to the city's Planning Board, which she also previously served on. Lemay, communications manager for the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, works for Coco filling in for the morning news on WHAV.net. Lemay is a former news director for WCCM. Lemay said he planned to attend his first meeting of the Mayor's committee this morning and that he expects his duties will include helping to promote the downtown.
Hetel formerly served on the city's Planning Board and also on the City Council. Hetel, a local real estate investor, said she is looking forward to serving on the Planning Board again. "I was on the Planning Board when we voted to rezone vacant mill buildings from industrial to a mixed use to allow residential, and as a result we have all this new housing stock and new vibrant neighborhoods," she said.