LAWRENCE — A fourth effort by Mayor William Lantigua to fill vacancies on the Licensing Board went off another cliff yesterday, forcing the board’s lone member to cancel a meeting scheduled for last night and deepening the stack of unattended applications pending before the board.
Lantigua used his emergency powers to call a special meeting of the City Council at 5 p.m. yesterday to consider two nominees to the three-member Licensing Board, which would have given the council two hours to act before the board’s meeting at 7.
But the effort stumbled out of the gate when questions arose about whether one of the nominees could serve on the Licensing Board while also serving on the city’s Board of Registrars. The answer came at 4:18 p.m. — 42 minutes before the City Council was to meet – when Lantigua’s secretary sent an email to the nine councilors abruptly canceling the emergency meeting Lantigua had called only the day before.
Left without a quorum, the sole member and chairman of the Licensing Board – Mayra Lantigua, the mayor’s former wife – then canceled the bimonthly meeting of the board that was to follow the council meeting.
Lantigua’s inability to fill the two Licensing Board seats – one has been vacant since Jan. 1 and the other since Sept. 9 – after four tries added to the exasperation over the issue on the City Council.
“The amount of time and energy wasted on this appointment process is very frustrating,” said Councilor Eileen Bernal. “This could have been avoided if the administration just made the effort to send down an appropriate and qualified candidate for confirmation weeks ago.”
“At the end of the day, it’s just really sad that (Lantigua) can’t get the process together to give us a candidate to vote on,” said Daniel Rivera, the council’s vice chairman. “So the city suffers until he decides to send us qualified names and give us time to review them.”
Council President Frank Moran did not return a phone call yesterday. Councilor Roger Twomey, a former chairman of the Licensing Board, also did not return phone calls.
Lantigua’s inability to restock the Licensing Board stretches to late March, when he nominated Alfonso Garcia to fill the seat held by Tom Murphy, who stepped down from the board Jan. 1. The council rejected Garcia, citing the conflict he might face while serving on a board that sets city policy while also collecting a city paycheck.
The Licensing Board continued to meet with just two members until Sept. 9, when former chairman Richard Fielding died, leaving the board with just one member and unable to meet. Lantigua declared at the time that the lack of a quorum was an emergency, which he said allowed him to bypass the council and put Garcia on the board without its approval. Two weeks later, City Attorney Charles Boddy said the mayor has no emergency powers to fill vacant seats on the board and invalidated Garcia’s appointment, as well as the votes Garcia took at the Licensing Board’s Sept. 25 meeting.
Lantigua then nominated Luis Martinez and Pedro Torres. The council approved them on Oct. 16.
A few days later, City Attorney Boddy said the two also were ineligible 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. The Lawrence board already has one Democrat — Mayra Lantigua — so it must have at least one member who has been an enrolled Republican for at least two years before it can conduct business. Martinez enrolled as a Republican last month. Martinez said he is unenrolled.
Lantigua responded by calling for yesterday’s special council meeting, telling the councilors by email that he would ask them to consider a new nominee – presumably a Republican – and also would resubmit Martinez’s name.
Lantigua did not identify the Republican – further infuriating the City Council – but Ronald Martin, the chairman of the Board of Registrars, said yesterday that it was him.
“He was in a bind,” Martin said, referring to Lantigua’s inability to find a Republican in a city where only 7 percent of about 40,000 registered voters are enrolled in the party.
“He’s seeking out a Republican and we’re an endangered species in this city,” Martin said.
“He said, ‘Take it for a short time till this gets straightened out.’”
Martin said he considered the offer, but declined when questions were raised about whether he could remain on the Board of Registrars while also serving on the Licensing Board. He said he believed Boddy, the city attorney, issued an opinion saying he could not.
Boddy would not comment yesterday on whether he advised Lantigua on the issue.
— Staff reporter Mark Vogler contributed to this report
In the meantime, one city councilor joined in the search for candidates yesterday when he advertised the vacancies on his Facebook page.
“Since the mayor is apparently having difficulty finding qualified individuals to fill the Licensing Board, I am reaching out to my social media friends to see if you know of any interested individuals in Lawrence who would be interested in applying for the position,” Councilor Marc Laplante’s posting says.
The board is best known for issuing liquor licenses, but regulates a wide range of businesses that also includes package stores, car dealers, bodegas, boarding houses and any business that sells milk.