LAWRENCE — The Licensing Board was stripped of two of its three members and plunged deeper into chaos yesterday when City Attorney Charles Boddy declared that two men the Council approved for the board last week are ineligible to serve.
The opinion reduced the board to one member – Mayra Lantigua, Mayor William Lantigua’s former wife — prompting the mayor to use his emergency powers to call a special City Council meeting for 5 p.m. today with the hope of filling at least one of the vacancies in time for the board’s bimonthly meeting later tonight.
The emergency is the third in a month that Lantigua has declared or asked the council to declare regarding the membership of the Licensing Board, in an effort to fill at least one of the vacancies so that it can conduct business.
All have been without success.
And Boddy’s opinion yesterday voiding the appointments Pedro Torres and Luis Martinez, approved by the council for the Licensing Board last week at Lantigua’s request, follows another forced departure from the Licensing Board only two weeks ago.
Alfonso Garcia was the first to go, on Oct. 9, when Boddy said Lantigua did not have the authority to invoke his emergency powers to put Garcia on the board without first sending his nomination to the City Council. Garcia, a newspaper columnist and radio talk show host who regularly uses his media platforms to rally political support for Lantigua, served just two weeks before he was forced to quit.
Yesterday, Boddy said Torres and Martinez also cannot serve because of a state law requiring local Licensing Boards to have at least one Democrat and one Republican who have been enrolled in their parties for at least two years.
Because the Lawrence board already has one Democrat — Mayra Lantigua — it must have at least one member who has been an enrolled Republican for at least two years before it can conduct business.
Martinez was enrolled as an independent until switching to Republican on Sept. 25, a week before Lantigua named him to the Republican seat on the Licensing Board, his voting card on file with the Lawrence Election Division shows. Torres said yesterday he has been an independent for several years, but Boddy said records he received from the City Clerk show Torres is enrolled as a Democrat.
Yesterday, two city councilors expressed exasperation at Lantigua’s inability to nominate members to the Licensing Board whose appointments can stick.
“These are self-created emergencies that, because of the way the mayor does things, have now become what looks like, to people from outside the city, a circus,” said council vice chairman Daniel Rivera. “The number-one thing that businesses need is the expectation of continuity and an understanding of what the rules are. Not having that on this board has created chaos for the license holders and for enforcement of public safety.”
“It’s indicative of much bigger problems,” said Marc Laplante, who was the first to challenge Lantigua’s Licensing Board appointments. “This is a track record. The mayor has continued to bungle and make missteps. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, the individuals who suffer are the residents of the city of Lawrence, because we don’t have a government that is working optimally.”
Lantigua could not be reached yesterday. City Council President Frank Moran also could not be reached.
In his memo to the City Council invoking his authority to call it into an emergency session today, Lantigua said he would be submitting a new Licensing Board nominee for the council to consider – presumably an enrolled Republican — and said he also would be asking the council to reconsider Martinez’s appointment.
That raised still more questions about the appointments, as well as the possibility that more chaos and challenges could ensue when the City Council and the Licensing Board meet in back-to-back meetings tonight.
“Can the City Council vote to reaffirm (Martinez’s) approval?” City Clerk William Maloney wrote in an email to Boddy, the city attorney, yesterday afternoon. “And if not, would a vote to reaffirm an unlawful vote be considered unlawful?”
Laplante said he will oppose voting on any new appointments to the Licensing Board tonight. Rivera said he is unsure how he will vote.
If the council declines to vote on the appointments, Mayra Lantigua will be denied the quorum needed to convene the Licensing Board later in the evening, further delaying action on the licenses and other approvals pending before the board.
When he invalidated Garcia’s appointment to the Licensing Board, Boddy also said that the licenses Garcia voted for at the board’s Sept. 25 meeting were invalid. Those applicants were directed to return to the board to seek new approvals tonight, when they may face a hobbled board unable to act.
Mayor Lantigua named his wife to chair the board following the death of its former chairman, Richard Fielding, last month. He did not publicly announce the appointment.
Mayra Lantigua was appointed to the board by former Mayor Michael Sullivan and her term has expired, but the mayor has not attempted to replace her or resubmit her name to the City Council. Rivera and other councilors have said they would oppose her because of the conflict they said she faces sitting on a board that makes policy for the city while her former husband is mayor.
The Licensing Board is best known for issuing liquor licenses to bars and nightclubs, but also regulates a wide range of businesses that includes package stores, car dealers, bodegas and boarding houses, making it one of the city’s most powerful agencies.