EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 12, 2012

City attorney: Mayor broke state law

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

---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua violated state law when he bypassed the City Council to make what he called an emergency appointment to the Licensing Board, the city attorney said in an opinion that also said the votes the appointee cast at a recent meeting are no good.

City Attorney Charles Boddy’s opinion could reduce the three-member board to a single member, making it impossible for it to act, and suggests that any of the 14 bars, bodegas, car dealerships, rooming houses and package stores that received approvals at the board’s Sept. 26 meeting have been operating without licenses.

The opinion also extends the showdown between the mayor and the council over the vacancies on the board, which was reduced to two members when Thomas Murphy stepped down Jan. 1, and then to one when Richard Fielding died Sept. 9.

The remaining board member is the mayor’s ex-wife, Mayra Lantigua.

Boddy did not return a phone call seeking to learn what force his memo would have, including if the emergency appointee, Alfonso Garcia, attends the next meeting Oct. 24 and attempts to vote.

Garcia and Mayra Lantigua also did not return phone calls yesterday.

But City Councilor Eileen Bernal, who has led the charge against Garcia’s appointment since the mayor made it Sept. 26, said Boddy told her Garcia won’t be seated at the next meeting.

“I asked, ‘What happens if he shows up?’ “ Bernal said about her conversation with Boddy after she received his memo Tuesday. “He said, ‘This will not happen. It’s not a valid appointment. You don’t have to worry about that.’ “

Unless Mayor Lantigua makes at least one nomination to the board in time for the City Council to approve it, the board could be unable to conduct business at its Oct. 24 meeting. The council has one meeting before then, on Tuesday, which would mean it may not have time to refer any nominee it receives by then to its personnel committee for review.

Boddy’s memo said Garcia’s appointment is invalid because the Licensing Board is a state agency – even though its members are appointed by towns and cities – and so the appointment process has to follow state law. State law does not allow for emergency appointments to state boards.

Although Lawrence’s City Charter allows emergency appointments, Boddy said the charter governs appointments to city boards and departments only.

“The Licensing Board is not a city department, it is a state office, and therefore the appointment procedures of (the City Charter) are inapplicable,” Boddy said in his memo to the council and the mayor.

Although the Licensing Board has been down at least one member since Jan. 1 – and Murphy announced months in advance that he would be stepping down – Lantigua has done little to bring the agency up to speed.

He waited until March nominate a candidate to fill the Murphy vacancy, when he nominated Garcia.

The City Council rejected the nomination because members said Garcia, a school employee, would face a conflict by ruling on city business while also getting a city paycheck. They also noted he already collects a city paycheck; Licensing Board members receive a $2,400 annual stipend.

Lantigua sent no other nominations to the council for seven months, but his hand was forced when the board was left with just one member when Fielding died Sept. 9.

Hours before the Licensing Board’s Sept. 26 meeting, Lantigua deemed the two vacancies an emergency because of the board’s impending meeting. He gave the emergency appointment to Garcia, sidesteping the council’s earlier vote against him.

Garcia hosts a Spanish-language talk show on WCEC and writes an occasional column for Rumbo, a Spanish-language newspaper. On the air and in print, he is a steadfast supporter of Lantigua. In an internet blog last year, he described a recent effort to recall Lantigua as a “dirty, negative and divisive political campaign.”