It’s a telling sign of the political disarray in Lawrence that something as simple as appointing members to the Licensing Board has been mired in months of controversy.
The three-member board tasked with issuing liquor licenses — and also regulating other businesses including car dealerships, convenience stores, boarding houses and any business that sells milk — has been in turmoil for more than a year. Mayor William Lantigua’s efforts to stack the board with members favorable to his political interests have turned what should be a simple appointment process into a months-long carnival of confusion.
It began in January 2012 when former board member Tom Murphy resigned. Lantigua tried to replace Murphy with high school administrator Alfonso Garcia. But the City Council rejected that request because of the conflict Garcia might face drawing a city paycheck while also serving on a board that makes city policy.
Lantigua made little further effort to fill the vacancy and the board operated with two members until Chairman Rick Fielding died in September. With just one remaining member — Lantigua’s ex-wife Mayra Lantigua — the Licensing Board was unable to act.
Mayor Lantigua tried again to place Garcia on the board, this time as an emergency appointment without council approval. City Attorney Charles Boddy issued an opinion that such a move was not permitted under emergency appointment provisions.
Lantigua then nominated Luis Martinez and Pedro Torres. Responding to an inquiry from Councilor Marc Laplante, Boddy rejected them as well because they did not meet the partisan qualifications for serving. State law requires that licensing boards have at least one Republican and one Democrat.
Finally, in November, Lantigua succeeded in appointing Ronald Martin, a retired IRS employee who resigned from the Board of Registrars after 14 years to take the Licensing Board seat, and Leocadio Paulino, a building contractor.
But that has not been the end of the controversy surrounding the board.
The latest is that Lantigua has appointed his ex-wife Mayra to be the chairman of the board, in spite of the fact that her appointment to the board expired nearly six years ago.
Mayra Lantigua was appointed to a two-year term the board in April 2005 by former Mayor Michael Sullivan. She was never reappointed but continues to serve as state law allows appointed board members whose terms expire to continue to serve until they are reappointed or replaced.
Her appointment as chairman of the Licensing Board raises two problems: The first is a conflict of interest.
Mayra Lantigua’s promotion to board chairman could more than double her stipend for service from $2,400 to $5,000 a year. The Lantiguas have three children together.
“She might be a good person, but this doesn’t pass the smell test,” Councilor Daniel Rivera told reporter Keith Eddings. “A board that’s so important to all the issues we have in the city, you want to make sure all the members are beyond reproach.”
Rivera has announced that he will challenge Lantigua in the next mayoral election.
The second problem is that it may be a violation of a local law for a board member whose term has expired to serve as chairman. Another opinion from City Attorney Boddy is in order here.
All this is important as Mayor Lantigua continues to use the city’s clubs — all regulated by the Licensing Board — as a base of his political support. Recently, Lantigua held two campaign events at Rio’s Bar and Grill on Appleton Way, including one in December at which he announced his re-election, Eddings reported.
Such shenanigans would ever be tolerated in a community whose citizens demand more of their elected representatives. This is an election year for mayor in Lawrence. Let’s see if Lawrence voters will take Lantigua to task for his blatant efforts to mold city government to his favor.