METHUEN — Citing abuse by past mayors, the City Council recently voted in favor of changing the city's charter to limit temporary appointments to 90 days.
City Councilor D.J. Beauregard, who co-sponsored the resolution to amend the charter — the city's governing document — said the change was needed to "tighten up an ambiguous area."
"In prior years, we've had mayors hiring political cronies on an acting, temporary basis to city offices," he said. "The charter says it's OK to appoint someone on a temporary basis, but how long is temporary? In a very recent case in a prior administration, the process was severely abused with a temporary appointment lasting over a year."
He said the mayor at the time was able to avoid the City Council's role of consent for appointments.
"It was crazy and not in the spirit of the charter,," he said.
Former Mayor James Jajuga hired Water Department Superintendent Daryl Laurenza as acting head of the Department of Public Works, keeping him on the job for more than a year.
Jajuga also appointed another public works employee, Frank McCann, as acting director of operations in 2018. He was let go from the position last year by Perry, who eliminated the position. Pat Bower, the former head of the DPW, was brought back in to lead the agency and Laurenza remains in his old job in the Water Department.
City Council Chairman Steve Saba, a co-sponsor of the resolution along with Beauregard and Councilor Joel Faretra, said the council and mayor are working closely together to clean up past problems such as the use of the temporary appointments to hire people who might not receive approval from the City Council. All department heads must be approved by the council, according to the charter.
"Mayor Perry has been fine," Saba said. "He has not abused it at all. It goes back to the charter — this council and the administration have been working very hard to not just get us out of previous messes, but to improve, and make the city better moving forward."
The council's vote Tuesday initiates the home-rule petition process, under which the resolution to change the charter must first be approved by a two-thirds vote of the council, which it was.
Next, the petition will go to the mayor for his signature. If he approves it, the home-rule petition would then be sent to the Legislature, at which point state Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, would usher it through approval of the Legislature.
Ultimately, it would need a signature from Gov. Charlie Baker before being returned to the city. At that point, the charter would be amended by the City Clerk.
There was considerable debate among councilors regarding one section of the proposed resolution. The first part simply amends the charter to make temporary appointments 90 days at the will of the mayor. But the councilors wanted to give this or future mayors some flexibility by adding an additional 60 days onto the initial 90 days in case it is needed. However, the additional 60 days must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the council.
"This charter change is not designed to strangle the mayor," Saba said. "If a future mayor has a good reason to need another two months, a search lasting five months should be long enough."
Councilor James McCarty said the 60-day addition seemed like council overreach.
"I think we are going a step too far with one subsequent extension of 60 days," he said. "The charter already says the City Council confirms department heads for three-year terms. For us to be able to do 60 more days is a contradiction. I think the way it is now, the City Council votes to approve someone for three years, not 60 days."
The council voted 6-2 against an amendment to strike the 60-day extension.
In the end, the council voted 8-0 on the entire resolution. Councilor Mike Simard was not present.