LAWRENCE – For the third time in five weeks, Mayor William Lantigua has invoked his emergency powers to call a special meeting of the City Council in his latest move to make the Licensing Board functional again.
The mayor has scheduled the emergency session for 5 tonight in council chambers for votes on two appointments to the three-member board:
Leocadio A. Paulino, of 41 Bourque St., a local construction supervisor and contractor,
Ronald F. Martin, of 12 Plummer Road, retired Internal Revenue Service worker and long-time city employee and board member.
In a letter delivered to city councilors last Thursday, the mayor cited “the lack of a quorum” as the reason for the emergency. The board has been without adequate membership since the Sept. 9 death of its Chairman Richard Fielding.
Mayor Lantigua stressed that the board’s inability to meet has created “a sudden, generally unexpected occurrence of set of circumstances demanding immediate action.”
Lantigua requested the council to consider each appointment as “an emergency agenda item” so the Licensing Board can conduct business at its next scheduled meeting, which is set for 7 tonight – just two hours after the emergency council session.
At least one councilor – Marc Laplante, who represents the city’s District F South Lawrence East area – said he is ready to challenge the emergency session, calling it “a circumvention of the City Charter process.”
“He’s (Lantigua) created an artificial emergency which could have been prevented with proper planning and leadership,” Laplante said in an interview last week.
“The mayor is doing a disservice to the residents of this city by not allowing the process to go forward as it is supposed to. I will certainly make an impassioned plea to the rest of the council that these names be sent to the Personnel Committee so the committee can do its work, as directed by the charter,” Laplante said.
“These two individuals may be very good individuals. And at the end of the day, they may be stellar. But they need to go through the process. I would hope that the council would want these names to go before the Personnel Committee. This board is too important for us to shortcut the process.” he said.
The mayor, who did not return messages left on his cell phone, had called an emergency meeting of the council on Oct. 24 to fill the two vacancies, but cancelled the special session less than an hour before councilors were scheduled to meet after questions surfaced about a candidate’s eligibility.
In a previous emergency meeting called by the mayor on Oct. 16, the council approved the mayor’s nominees by a 6-2 vote.
But a few days later, City Attorney Charles Boddy ruled that candidates Luis Martinez and Pedro Torres 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 mayor’s ex-wife Mayra Lantigua is a Democrat. But Martinez, the Republican, only enrolled in that party in September, so his candidacy was invalidated.
“l believe it (the requirement for having a Republican member) would have been uncovered had it gone to the Personnel Committee,” veteran City Councilor Roger Twomey said in an interview last week.
“The mayor does have the right to call an emergency meeting. But, the last time it came down (a request for “emergency” appointments to be approved by full council), I voted against it,” said Twomey, a former Licensing Board chairman.
“I know it’s going to delay the action by sending it to the Personnel Committee. And, I really do feel for the people who are coming down looking for different things from Licensing Board,” Twomey said, noting the backlog of cases because of the lack of quorum
“But, I really believe we have to play according to the rules and the way it was set up (by the City Charter). I believe it should follow due process, come down to the council, go to the Personnel Committee and let them do their due diligence and then let it (the committee recommendation) go to the full council,” he said.
The Personnel Committee process was set up to allow for thorough scrutiny of all mayoral appointments, according to Laplante.
Councilors serving on the Personnel Committee get to grill candidates on their backgrounds, qualifications and philosophies about the duties of their appointed positions.
“We need to have a chance to talk to them and ask a number of important questions if we are to do our job well,” Laplante said.
“Are these the best candidates we can get? Are they paid up on their taxes? Important for the Licensing Board applicants, do they have any interests in either the manufacture of distribution of alcohol. Do they have any issues that would make them unfit,” he said.
“I am expecting that these nominees will be jammed down our throats on Monday without the benefit of having the individuals being properly vetted by the Personnel Committee. The mayor essentially put a gun to the City Council and said ‘if you don’t pass my nominees, the City Council is to blame for stopping progress in the city,” he said.
The Licensing Board hasn’t been at full strength since late last year. The first vacancy occurred when Thomas Murphy resigned Jan. 1.
Several councilors have complained that the mayor never made it a priority to replace Murphy promptly, forcing the committee to operate short-handed for much of the year. This resulted in several stalemates on contentious issues – like rolling back closing hours – because there wasn’t a tie-breaking vote.
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.
Both candidates nominated by the mayor have cited working with the Police Department to reduce crime in the city as major objectives in their applications submitted to city councilors.
Martin, who served as an assistant city tax collector from 1999 to 2008, recently resigned as chairman of the Board of Registrars to eliminate a potential conflict as a Licensing Board member.
The long-time Republican said he wanted to help stabilize the Licensing Board. He cited “quality of life” and “controlling activities at local liquor establishments” as major issues confronting the board. He worked for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for 38 years.
Paulino said he’s had experiences with social clubs during many years living in the city.