EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 12, 2013

Council approves 20 for city boards

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — The City Council last night approved 20 of Mayor William Lantigua’s nominees for seven local boards and commissions, endorsing 16 by unanimous votes and heaping praise on most of them for their offers to serve.

But the council rejected one of Lantigua’s choices for the Airport Commission and blocked another, and it declined to consider a nominee for the Human Rights Commission out of concern that she lost interest when all of the nominees got caught in a political battle between a councilor and the mayor.

Four other nominees for the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Registrars never reached the council when Lantigua withdrew their names, saying he submitted them in error.

The council’s 8-0 vote to deny Vinicio Frometa a seat on the Airport Commission was a rare defeat for Lantigua on the council, and it may have been the first time Councilor Oneida Aquino — the mayor’s most reliable vote on the council — publicly opposed the mayor.

Frometa is Lantigua’s City Hall receptionist. He is a political foot soldier for the mayor and testified last year before a grand jury investigating allegations of corruption in the administration.

Aquino, who is finishing her second two-year term, did not join the council’s discussion of the nomination last night and declined a request to comment after the meeting. But Councilor Sandy Almonte said Frometa showed few qualifications for the post when he was interviewed by the Personnel Committee, which Almonte chairs.

“Mr. Frometa didn’t seem to know anything about the Airport Commission,” which operates the city airport in North Andover, Almonte said. “He didn’t seem to have any type of qualifications or experience at all. When we asked him if he knew anything about the airport commission, he said he didn’t. So we decided he was not a candidate for the commission.”

Frometa sat in the back of the council chambers while the council discussed his nomination, but the councilors did not invite him to the microphone, as it did with other nominees who attended the meeting.

The council also cast several 4-4 votes on Giovanni Bonet’s nomination to the Airport Commission, then finally voted to table it, which means he would be automatically approved if the council does not act on his nomination within 30 days. Bonet is the son of city Personnel Director Frank Bonet, which some councilors said could allow the mayor to pressure the father to sway the vote of his son on airport issues.

City Council President Frank Moran disagreed.

“He’s got a great education and he’s being rejected because his father works for the city,” Moran said as he put Bonet’s nomination up for vote after vote. “We’re penalizing the poor kid because of his father — not because he doesn’t have the ability to serve, not because he’s not qualified, but because of his father.”

His father jumped into the battle that erupted over the nominations last month, when he accused the Personnel Committee of “prejudice, favoritism and stupidity” in its handling of the nominations, including rejecting some nominees because they work for the city while approving others who also work for the city.

Giovianni Bonet is a clerk in the city’s Public Works Department. State law allows municipal employees to serve on local boards and commissions if they are unpaid, Frank Bonet said.

The nominations got another rough ride when the Personnel Committee reported them out to the full City Council last week, when Councilor Marc Laplante invoked a rarely used privilege to block the council from voting on them until its next meeting.

Moran reacted by scheduling last night’s special meeting.

The 20 nominees the council approved will fill vacant or expired seats on the Cultural Council, the Housing and Redevelopment authorities, the Planning and Zoning boards and the Human Rights, Historical and Airport commissions.

Several dozen other vacancies remain on those and other city boards and commissions.

Councilor Daniel Rivera, who is challenging Lantigua in Tuesday’s preliminary election for mayor, voted against about a half dozen of the nominees, including Lydia Bonilla, the wife of indicted Deputy Police Chief Melix Bonilla, for a seat on the Housing Authority. She was approved in a 5-3 vote.

“At some point, when you clamor about the mayor not doing his job, and he sends good appointments down, (if you deny) those good appointments, you end up being part of the problem,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure that government works.”