LAWRENCE — Building Inspector Peter Blanchette was laid off yesterday less than 24 hours after city councilors shot down an emergency funding request for back pay for Blanchette's co-worker Greg Arvanitis.
"I have no other choice than to do it this way. Peter's been a good inspector who came to work and did a good job," said Mayor Michael Sullivan, who signed the layoff notice yesterday morning.
"The council gave me no other choice," Sullivan said.
But Councilor Frank Moran said the building department debacle is the mayor's doing - not the City Council's. Sullivan agreed to rehire Arvanitis "for no particular reason" amid a budget crisis that includes a $9.5 million deficit and other major financial problems, Moran said.
Now, "unfortunately, because of management, Peter will be the one paying for this," Moran added.
Peter Blanchette is the brother of City Council President Patrick Blanchette.
The layoff is the latest twist in a City Hall saga that's spanned nearly two months after Arvanitis, who was fired last February for lying and falsifying a report, was brought back to work. Sullivan said city attorneys advised him to rehire Arvanitis. But, Richard D'Agostino, an assistant city attorney, vehemently denied that claim yesterday.
Meanwhile, back on the job, Arvanitis has worked for seven weeks without a paycheck.
The city budget only allows for two building inspectors - not the three that have been working since Arvanitis' return. Sullivan has said if Arvanitis was going to get paid, Peter Blanchette, a fellow inspector with less seniority, had to be laid off. He previously placed blame with department heads, saying "political fear" had prevented them from laying off Blanchette weeks ago.
Then, Tuesday night, in a last-minute move, Sullivan asked city councilors to approve a $4,800 emergency payment, which would have covered Arvanitis' back pay. Also, Inspectional Services Director Myles Burke, who oversees the building department, urged the council to keep three building inspectors on board.
About $20 million in building projects are now underway, which will create $500,000 in permitting fees that would more than cover the inspector's salaries, Burke said.
"These guys are busy. It's not like we are trying to find things for them to do," Burke said.
Arvanitis and Blanchette each earn roughly $45,000 annually and are entitled to about $4,000 more in vehicle compensation expenses, Burke said. He described Blanchette, a city building inspector for five years, as a valued employee who worked hard at his job and to improve morale.
"And he's caught in the middle of the budget crunch and downsizing," Burke said. "His presence will be missed in the office, I'm sure."
Blanchette will be paid by the city for the next two weeks and then becomes eligible for unemployment.
City Councilor Nick Kolofoles, who publicized Arvanitis' payment problem last month, urged his council colleagues to approve the emergency funding and referred to "holiday spirit" and need "to help our fellow man." Also, he said the city was "in criminal violation" for not paying Arvanitis, who signed a legal agreement with the city.
Councilor David Abdoo said he did not agree with the way the rehiring was handled. However, he felt Arvanitis should be paid for the hours he worked and the next administration should decide how the building office should be staffed.
Sullivan, who could not run again because of term limits, will be succeeded by state Rep. William Lantigua, who was elected last month.
Councilor Jorge Gonzalez agreed Arvanitis "deserves to be paid because he's been working."
Councilor Roger Twomey also voted in favor of the emergency funding request.
But with Blanchette, the council president, abstaining, and councilor Nilka Alvarez-Rodriguez absent, the negative votes of Councilors Michael Fielding, Grisel Silva and Moran sank the emergency measure.
A positive vote, Moran said, "would have been rewarding the administration for making a bad decision."
Earlier this fall, Sullivan agreed to rehire Anthony Matteo, a public works employee accused of smoking pot on the job. Enough money was in the budget for Matteo's salary, however.
Attempts to reach Peter Blanchette and Arvanitis for comment were unsuccessful.