By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua has given a part-time security guard a temporary appointment to the agency that oversees elections in the city, an 11th-hour appointment that could avert the City Council’s full review but gives the agency a quorum to operate as it heads into the April 30 special election.
Yesterday, a day after giving Laurence Collopy the temporary appointment to the Board of Registrars, Lantigua followed it up by sending the nomination to the council with a warning that he would give Collopy the appointment if the council did not act on it immediately.
The apparent discrepancy — using the threat of a temporary appointment to pressure the council to approve an appointment he already had made — left several councilors bewildered at last night’s council meeting.
Adding to the confusion, Lantigua asked the council to declare the nomination an emergency, a declaration needed to allow the council to act on the nomination even though Lantigua did not send it to the council in time to get it on last night’s printed agenda.
The councilors voted 8-0 to declare the emergency and add Collopy’s nomination to the end of their agenda, then voted 8-0 to send Collopy’s nomination to the Personnel Committee. Both votes came without discussion. The committee will consider it next week.
The two tracks Lantigua took in appointing Collopy to the Board of Registrars confused even Collopy, who left last night’s council meeting believing his appointment would not take effect until the committee had reviewed it and sent it on to a vote by the full council.
In the meantime, Collopy’s temporary appointment will allow him to serve indefinitely, even if the council eventually rejects him.
Ana Medina, the only other appointed member of the board, also was a temporary appointment. Lantigua put her on the board on Nov. 3, 2011. City Clerk William Maloney is an ex officio member of the board. Two seats are empty.
The process drew fire from two residents who spoke at the open microphone at the beginning of the council meeting, including Dick Russell, who called it “government by crisis management.”
The rush to restore a quorum on the Board of Registrars seemed apparent even in the nomination letter Lantigua sent to the City Clerk, which misspelled Collopy’s name as “Callopy.”
Boards of registrars oversee elections in Massachusetts municipalities, a duty that includes ruling on voter challenges, conducting recounts and certifying results. In Lawrence last year, the board rejected petitions calling for Lantigua’s recall, saying they did not contain enough valid signatures.
The board became incapacitated when Lynne Garcia resigned Jan. 25, leaving it one member shy of the three needed to conduct business.
Garcia’s resignation followed the Nov. 13 resignation of Ronald Martin, who quit the Board of Registrars to join city’s Licensing Board in an effort to help Lantigua end a similar crisis over membership on that board, which also had been unable to conduct business for months because it had no quorum.
Lantigua’s effort to restore a quorum to the Licensing Board stumbled several times, when his first four nominees were rejected by the City Council or deemed unqualified by City Attorney Charles Boddy.
Lantigua’s rush effort to restore a quorum to the Board of Registrars, after letting it languish for months with three members and then two, also stumbled out of the gate.
The effort has been hobbled by the fact that both empty seats on the board are reserved for enrolled Republicans, who make up only about 7 percent of the Lawrence’s 40,000 voters.
Last week, Lantigua offered the seats to two bitter political rivals, former Mayor Michael Sullivan, who declined, and David Abdoo, who was the runner up against Lantigua in the 2009 race for mayor and is considering another run this year. Abdoo is not enrolled in a party, making him ineligible to fill the Republican seat on the board.
Lantigua waited until the last few days to ask David Camasso, the chairman of the Republican City Committee, for a list of nominees, as he is required to do under a state law that directs mayors to seek names from party leaders when they fill vacancies to their boards of registrars.
Lantigua apparently called Camasso, who besides serving as Republican chair also is city comptroller, over the last few days. Collopy said yesterday he was contacted for the post by Camasso.
Collopy has a bachelor’s degree from Merrimack College and has worked as a part time security guard for eight years. He’s served as a poll worker and then a clerk at city polling places for several years.
“I just want to make sure everything’s running smoothly and everything’s above board,” Collopy said about why he wants to serve as a top election official in a city known for election irregularities. “I’m tired of people taking on my city. I love this place. I love the fact that the ethnicity keeps changing. Ten years from now, people will say, ‘What did you have back then? Hispanics?’ I love that it’s an international place. That’s fun.”
He may have less love for Lawrence police and firefighters. Asked on his application to serve as a registrar to cite the most important issues facing Lawrence, he cited what he called the “could care less attitude” of police and firefighters.
Asked to elaborate yesterday, Collopy said he was annoyed when a police or fireman “pushed my neighbor’s kid around” at a weekend fire that destroyed three homes on Hancock Street.
“I didn’t like that,” Collopy said. “And neither did his father.”
The April 30 special election is the first of two needed to fill the U.S. Senate seat John Kerry resigned to become Secretary of State.