EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 24, 2012

Lawyer: IT vote violated charter

Public hearing required, memo says

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — The City Council failed to follow the city charter when it voted against the mayor’s plan for a privatized Information Technology department without first holding a public hearing.

That is according to a confidential memo obtained recently by The Eagle-Tribune. But what it means for the future of Mayor Stephen Zanni’s so-far-unsuccessful push for IT privatization remains to be seen.

The memo was written by City Solicitor Peter McQuillan and sent to City Council Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan on Nov. 15 — 10 days after a majority of councilors voted against a measure which, if approved, would have cleared the way for a public hearing on IT.

It was believed the 7-2 vote killed the mayor’s proposed reorganization of the four-employee municipal IT department. But Zanni contended a public hearing should have been held before the vote. According to McQuillan’s memo, he was correct.

In question is a section of the city charter titled “Reorganization Plans by Mayor.” McQuillan wrote to Kannan that disapproval of such reorganization plans “can only occur after a public hearing.”

“Although this provision of the charter like others is neither precise nor clear in its language, I believe that the intent ... is to provide a public hearing on any reorganization plan given the nature of the measure and its impact on the city and its citizens,” wrote McQuillan.

McQuillan’s memo was discussed briefly last week at a council meeting that featured several heated exchanges between Zanni, councilors and McQuillan regarding the mayor’s proposed IT reorganization.

“Evidently, the mayor was correct in what he was saying two weeks ago,” said Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo.

“I’m not going to confirm or deny that,” McQuillan replied, to which Pappalardo said, “Well, you did in your memo.”

“The memo was issued on my own volition because I thought it was the appropriate thing to do,” McQuillan said. “It seemed to be the prudent thing to do. It’s up to this council, however, which way they want to treat it.”

Despite the memo, Kannan indicated at the meeting that the council would not reconsider the mayor’s IT plan.

“As far as I’m concerned, the council is still standing on the 7-2 vote,” Kannan said. “And that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Zanni said the city would save $485,000 over the next four and a half years by eliminating the existing four-employee IT department and contracting instead with the private firm Corporate IT Solutions of Norwood.

The mayor’s plan called for the layoffs of three municipal IT employees — IT Director Kingsley Lough, Network Administrator Bill Lasonde, and Information Systems Technician Peter Stone. After voting against the plan, several councilors said they would rather see the city pay for upgraded computers and equipment before making sweeping management changes.

Zanni selected Corporate IT Solutions with the assistance of a three-member City Council subcommittee.

His previous push to hire RetroFit Technologies, Inc. of Milford in February was rejected by councilors, who said the proposal should be put out to bid.

The city charter reads that the mayor can submit plans to the City Council to “reorganize, consolidate or abolish any city agency, in whole or in part, or establish new city agencies, as he deems necessary or expedient.’’

“Every such reorganization plan shall ... be referred to an appropriate committee of the City Council which shall, not more than thirty days later, hold a public hearing on the matter and shall, within ten days following such hearing, report either that it approves or that it disapproves of the plan,” reads the charter.