METHUEN — A new rule about contracts has city councilors and Mayor William Manzi embroiled in a power struggle.
Councilors voted 8-1 on March 16 to pass an amendment to the Methuen Municipal Code ordering that all city contracts worth $25,000 or more be approved by city councilors. Until the vote, the mayor could approve any contract up to $50,000 without the council's approval.
The new rule will mean more eyes looking at more contracts, and gives councilors more say in who works for the city, councilors said.
"That's what the people elected us for," said Councilor Larry Giordano, who cosponsored the measure with Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo. "We're the checks and balances."
When Dennis DiZoglio was mayor, city councilors had to approve any contract worth $10,000 or more. The threshold was increased to $50,000 when Sharon Pollard — DiZoglio's successor and Manzi's predecessor — was mayor, Giordano said.
"The City Council is losing their power," Giordano said.
"That's not my motive for this," Pappalardo said. "It's about, plain and simple, the spirit of transparency."
But Manzi said their vote is trouble.
"At its core, it would be an impediment to doing business in a timely fashion," said Manzi.
The order will require the mayor to wait for councilors to meet and vote on more contracts. Also, "it's diminishing the authority of the office of the mayor," Manzi said.
"When I was on the City Council, I voted to increase that authority. So my opposition hasn't changed now that I'm mayor versus when I was a city councilor," he said.
Councilor Steven Zanni cast the lone opposing vote. He said he wanted the council's new finance subcommittee, of which he is a member, to finish reviewing all the contracts before the council voted on the order.
If councilors suddenly have to approve or renew 20 or 30 contracts, then it will be tough for the city to get work done, Zanni said. The new rule also is a way for councilors to "micromanage."
"You're putting more government in place," he said.
Manzi said he plans to veto the order.
"But it takes six votes (two-thirds of the nine councilors) to override your veto. Maybe we may have them Mr. Mayor," Pappalardo said to Manzi at the March 16 meeting.
"Don't count me out," the mayor replied.
To maintain the contracting power, Manzi needs at least four councilors to vote against the override.
"See whose arm's going to be twisted," Giordano said.
Manzi isn't talking about twisting arms though, he said his prerogative is to "try and reach a compromise."
He said he will propose a compromise with three components.
First, he is offering to give any contract worth between $25,000 and $50,000 to the council for review, although councilors wouldn't have any power to approve or deny the agreement.
"There's nothing here that we're afraid to let out to the public or the City Council. It's just about the more flexible management of the day-to-day affairs of the city," Manzi said.
Councilors have complained that sometimes when a contract is large enough to require their vote, Manzi gives it to them at the last minute. So Manzi said he will now provide proposed contracts 10 days in advance of when councilors are scheduled to vote on them.
The third part of his compromise is that he will agree to allow the council to have authority to approve changes to collective bargaining agreements, he said.