By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua will hold an open house tomorrow to recruit applicants for dozens of empty seats on city boards, commissions and authorities. Already, two lack enough members to do business, and vacancies threaten to shut down several others.
At least 54 seats on 11 agencies are vacant or are filled by people whose terms have expired but are continuing to serve, allowing the agencies to hang onto their quorums until Lantigua acts to fill them.
Last week, the city Conservation Commission and Planning Board were disabled when resignations left them without quorums.
On Thursday, Alice Baker’s resignation from the Planning Board left that board with three members, one shy of the number needed to carry out most of its key functions, including issuing special permits. On Friday, Conservation Commission Chairman Tennis Lilly canceled the commission’s Aug. 20 meeting after the resignation of Barbara Huntress-Rather left it with just two of its five members.
Last year, the Licensing Board went out of business for two months when the death of its chairman left it with just one member, Mayra Lantigua, the mayor’s ex-wife. The third seat had been empty for nearly a year.
State Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, one of six candidates Lantigua will face in the Sept. 17 preliminary election as he seeks a second term, said the empty seats, expired terms and hobbled boards are a sign of Lantigua’s inability to lead or recruit people to his administration.
“The lack of leadership has brought us to this point,” Devers said. “That’s why he lost the schools to the Department of Education. He gave the DOE the pretext to take the schools. Now we’re losing quorums on those boards and commissions because there’s no leadership. He needs to inspire people to work with him.”
The DOE took control of city schools from the superintendent of schools and the School Committee in 2011, citing chronic under-performance and poor leadership. Lantigua chairs the School Committee. He did not return a phone call yesterday.
“I want to applaud the mayor. It’s a good idea — three and a half years late, but it’s a good idea,” said City Councilor Daniel Rivera, also a candidate for mayor. “I’d encourage people to go to that meeting.”
Sandy Almonte, the chairman of the council’s Personnel Committee, said she was at a public event and was unable to discuss the issue when reached yesterday.
On Monday, Lantigua posted a notice on the city’s website and on his Facebook page inviting anyone interested in applying for a seat to meet with him at the Department of Community Development on the third floor at 225 Essex St. at 5:30 tomorrow night. He said “a brief explanation of the duties and responsibilities of each board and commission” would be provided.
The boards, commissions and authorities are run by volunteers who exercise vast power over major issues and institutions in the city, including land use, voting, human rights, licensing, redevelopment, as well as the airport, the Bellevue Cemetery and the sewer district.
Some of their seats have been empty or filled by members whose terms have expired for several years, including the Licensing Board, which is chaired by Mayra Lantigua, the mayor’s ex-wife, whose term expired six years ago. Mayor Lantigua did not include her seat on the list of vacancies or expired terms that he distributed last week, suggesting he may allow her to continue serving without renominating her, as state law allows. Her renomination would have to go to the City Council, where some members have said they would oppose it because of the conflict of interest they say has existed since Lantigua became mayor four years ago.
Mayra Lantigua was appointed to the Licensing Board by former Mayor Michael Sullivan.