EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 23, 2012

Latest Licensing Board appointee may be in jeopardy

More delays for liquor, other applicants possible

By Keith Eddings keddings@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — Two weeks after a man Mayor Willliam Lantigua placed on the Licensing Board was forced to quit, Lantigua’s second choice may also be headed for the exit.

That could add at least two more weeks of delay for the bars, restaurants, package stores, bodegas and used car dealers who received licenses and other approvals at the Licensing Board’s Sept. 26 meeting, only to have them revoked because board member Alfonso Garcia was not properly seated when he voted for the approvals.

The board is scheduled to reconsider those approvals tomorrow, even as new doubts arise over whether one of Garcia’s successors to the board, Luis Martinez, also is holding the seat in violation of state law.

The chaos on the Licensing Board began just hours before its last meeting Sept. 26, when Lantigua invoked emergency powers to appoint Garcia without sending the nomination to the City Council for review (the council already had blocked Lantigua’s earlier effort to place Garcia on the board). Garcia held the seat only two weeks, until Oct. 9, when City Attorney Charles Boddy said Lantigua has no authority to make emergency appointments to the board. Boddy said Garcia’s nomination was invalid, adding that the liquor licenses and other permits Garcia voted to approve at last month’s meeting were void.

The establishments that lost their licenses are scheduled to reapply for them at tomorrow’s Licensing Board meeting. Among them is a religious fraternity that sought a two-day permit to serve alcohol at an event on Sept. 29 and 30, which will put the fraternity in the bizarre position of seeking permission to serve drinks that already have been drunk.

After Garcia was removed from the board, Lantigua nominated Martinez and Pedro Torres to fill Garcia’s seat and one other vacancy on the three-member board. The City Council approved both men Oct. 16.

Councilor Marc Laplante voted against Martinez, noting that he switched his party enrollment to Republican only six days before Lantigua nominated him to the board, which Laplante said makes him ineligible to hold the board’s Republican seat.

State law requires that local licensing boards include at least one Democrat and one Republican who have been enrolled in their parties for at least two years. Martinez was enrolled as an independent for 16 years and regularly pulled Democratic ballots when he voted in primaries, then switched his enrollment to Republican six days before he applied for the Licensing Board seat, his voting card at the Lawrence Election Division shows.

Jon Carlisle, a spokesman for the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, said yesterday that Martinez would not meet the partisan requirement for serving on the Lawrence Licensing Board if he has been enrolled as a Republican only since Sept. 25.

Laplante has asked Boddy, the city attorney, for an opinion about whether Martinez is qualified to take a seat on the Licensing Board. He said he hopes to receive the opinion in time for the board’s meeting tomorrow.

Without it, Laplante said any licenses and other approvals the Licensing Board issues tomorrow will be under a cloud because the board will not include the Republican member that state law requires. He also blasted Lantigua and his aides for bungling the succession of Licensing Board appointments.

“They’re either incompetent or their purposely trying to deceive the council,” Laplante said. “It’s a shame that the city needs to be put through this some more.”

Lantigua and Boddy did not return phone calls yesterday. The controversy over Lantigua’s appointment to the board comes as the agency faces several significant votes, including a proposal to revoke a liquor license held by Jowa Lounge at 336 Common St., after a string of fire code and other violations. Jowa would be the fourth Lawrence bar or nightclub to lose it license since the summer. The board tomorrow also is scheduled to consider issuing a liquor license to a bar that would open at the former Marabu Cafe, which lost its liquor license in August after a series of incidents that climaxed with a shooting in a bathroom on July 5, 2011.

In the meantime, Mayor Lantigua has named his wife, Mayra Lantigua, to chair the Licensing Board, replacing former chairman Richard Fielding, who died in September, precipitating the crisis over the board’s membership. Mayra Lantigua was appointed to the board by former Mayor Michael Sullivan.