LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua has said little publicly about what caused him to withdraw his nominee for budget director minutes before the City Council was to consider it this week, but the controversy that resulted already has generated an angry exchange of allegations and the threat of a lawsuit.
The first shot was fired as the council voted to take the nomination off its agenda at Lantigua's request Wednesday night, when Councilor Marc Laplante suggested that all the mayor's major appointments so far have been second-rate.
"We're not going to get a top-notch candidate applying to this city as long as Willie Lantigua is mayor," Laplante said. "If anybody is willing to dispute my claims about Willie's ability to get high-caliber talent, all he needs to do is look at his senior staff."
Laplante said Lantigua's three major appointments so far — Personnel Director Frank Bonet, Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla and Economic Development Director Patrick Blanchette, who is doubling as Lantigua's chief of staff and also is a former City Council president — got their City Hall jobs because they worked in Lantigua's 2009 mayoral campaign.
Yesterday, Laplante said he received a letter from Bonet threatening to sue both him and the city over his "careless mischaracterization of my name."
"While we may even understand every politician's penchant to make mischief in attempts to score political points, the subsequent comments were an attempt to make my name look bad and to feed and mislead the fellow voters of our city," the letter said. "Any additional comments, that mischaracterize my name by you, will bring a lawsuit against you and the city, on my part."
The letter was signed "Truthfully, Frank Bonet."
Bonet did not return a phone call yesterday seeking to confirm the letter was his and what he thinks the city's liability might be.
Laplante called the letter "bizarre" and said it is evidence that "the Lantigua administration is falling apart."
"Bonet's threats against the city if a city councilor wishes to express his opinion on a city related matter is an attempt to intimidate a city official and to muzzle free speech and debate," Laplante said in a press release. "It will also waste the city's legal resources."
Lantigua has not returned phone calls from The Eagle-Tribune on any issue involving his budget nomination since he made it July 7. He did not again yesterday.
Blanchette and Bonilla also did not return phone calls.
Lantigua pulled back the name of former Natick comptroller Charles Panagopoulos for the Lawrence budget job after just four days, following an Eagle-Tribune story about unfavorable audits Natick received while Panagopoulos was comptroller. The story caused an uproar on the Lawrence City Council, where the nomination seemed doomed.
Panagopoulos's nomination was Lantigua's second false-start on the budget appointment this year. He asked the council last winter to reserve space on an upcoming agenda to consider a first nominee, but withdrew the request before even naming the nominee.
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