EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

October 28, 2013

Lantigua ally's lease must be renegotiated

LAWRENCE — A social service agency run by Mayor William Lantigua’s campaign manager that operates out of a city building rent free and without a lease must sign an agreement with the city if it is to stay in the building, the city’s fiscal overseer said.

Isabel Melendez has run an umbrella group of anti-poverty programs at the former General Donovan School on Cross Street since 2009 under a deal approved by former Mayor Michael Sullivan, who said he negotiated a $1-a-year lease for the school.

Lantigua continued the deal when he took office in 2010 and also continued paying Melendez’s utility bills at the building and providing free water, sewer and maintenance services. So far this year, the subsidies have cost the city more than $8,000.

Aides to Lantigua said last week that no lease was ever signed with Melendez, who first moved into the building under the auspices of the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council, where she had been a program director. She left GLCAC two years ago and negotiated her own “special use license” to remain at the General Donovan School that required her to pay utilities, reimburse the city for its services and obtain insurance, but that agreement also was never signed.

Over the years, the free social services Melendez provides out of the city building — including voter registration — have made her a patron saint to thousands of the city’s poor, whose loyalties Lantigua tapped into in August when he asked Melendez to manage his re-election campaign.

Their political alliance stretches back more than a decade, including when Lantigua managed Melendez’s unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 2001. Two years ago, Lantigua hired Melendez’s son, Jaime, as the city’s $69,000-a-year director of Veterans Services.

Earlier this month, The Eagle-Tribune raised questions about whether Lantigua faced a conflict of interest when he named Melendez to manage his campaign while also providing her with a million-dollar city asset for free and providing thousands of dollars annually in services and subsidies. The school is assessed at $998,600.

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