By Jonathan Phelps
---- — METHUEN — City councilors last night voted to streamline the process of selecting an acting mayor if the city’s top executive cannot perform his duties.
The council voted 8-1 last night to approve a resolution filed by Councilor Jamie Atkinson to have the City Council chairman serve as the city’s acting mayor in the absence of the mayor. The resolution will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013.
The city charter already states that one of the city councilors is to be appointed by the council as acting mayor if the mayor cannot perform his duties for three consecutive businesses days, but the resolution voted on last night specifically states that it will be the chairman to fill in.
Atkinson proposed the resolution after a discussion at the last council meeting about Mayor Stephen Zanni being on vacation. Councilors said the mayor left the city for Florida on a Thursday and returned the following Thursday.
“The intent was the simplify the process of appointing an interim mayor if something arises,” Atkinson said.
Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo voted against the proposal.
“I can’t believe we are spending as much time discussing something that I think is frivolous, it is redundant, it is already in our charter,” she said.
The discussion sparked fireworks at the meeting over comments Pappalardo made about the proposal earlier in the morning on a cable access television show that she hosts.
Atkinson did not describe what was said on the show during the meeting, but called her comments “disrespectful and rude.”
Chairwoman Jennifer Kannan said she agreed with Atkinson’s intent and the resolution would help clarify the charter. “This is about procedure, not politics,” she said.
Council Michael Condon said the board votes to put its faith in the chairman and it makes sense to have them fill in as acting mayor if needed.
The city’s charter states, “Whenever, by reasons of sickness, absence from the city or other unexpected cause, the mayor shall be unable to perform the duties of his/her office for a period of three successive working days or more, the City Council shall appoint from among its members, an acting mayor to serve in the mayor’s absence.”
The charter outlines that the council should vote on such an “acting mayor” at its organizational meeting each year. The resolution will cut out this step by automatically appointing the chairman, councilors said.
At the last council meeting, Zanni said he believes the charter only applies if he sick or in a “coma” and not while he is on vacation where he can have contact with city employees.
During his vacation, Zanni said he was taking phone calls from city employees and was well aware of what was going on in the city.
Atkinson said after the meeting that the resolution would only apply if there is an emergency in the city, such as a flood, or if the mayor cannot perform his duties because of sickness or other unexpected events.