Solving Parliamentary Snarls in Methuen

As a former Mayor it is usually a wise thing to be seen and not heard on local issues. Sometimes not being seen or heard is preferable. I have decided to take a middle ground, and offer some commentary on procedure, and leave the substance for current office holders. (There are many advantages to being a former official).

The issue at hand is Mayor Zanni’s submission of a “reorganization” plan to the City Council dealing with the City of Methuen’s Information Technology Department. The Mayor has recommended privatization, with the work of the Department to be handled by a private company, which would require the “layoff’ of three of the four Departmental employees. The Mayor submitted the plan to the Council, and has included as a part of that submission the contract with the new company he is recommending. The City Council took up the plan, but appeared to vote against it by a 7-2 margin. In reality they voted against a procedural motion “to table”, and did not vote on the proposal itself. Boring and mundane parliamentary issues, but they are relevant. The Council intent, based on the debate, was to vote against the proposal.

Mayor Zanni has pointed to the Methuen Home Rule Charter, which says that reorganization plans submitted by the Mayor to the City Council shall go to a public hearing within 30 days of that submission, and then be voted on by the City Council within ten days of that hearing. The actual charter language:

Every such reorganization plan shall, upon receipt by the Clerk of the Council, be referred to an appropriate committee of the City Council which shall, not more than thirty days later, hold a public hearing on the matter and shall, within ten days following such hearing, report either that it approves or that it disapproves of the plan. A reorganization plan shall become effective ninety days after the date it is received by the City Council,unless the City Council has, prior to that date, voted to disapprove the reorganization plan, or, unless a later effective date is specified in the plan. A reorganization plan presented by the Mayor to the City Council under this section may not be amended by it, but shall either be approved or rejected as submitted and shall not be subject to the objection as provided in Section 2-9(c)

It is quite clear that the public hearing is required. There is however a bit of a wrinkle. The Mayor has included the contract itself as part of the reorganization. From my perspective the Mayor, whatever you think of the plan itself, has been transparent about his intent. His inclusion of the contract is understandable, and shows where he would like to end up if the reorganization were adopted. It has however created a slight procedural issue as to whether the contract itself was being voted on as part of the reorganization. That procedural issue has likely caused a few hard feelings on both sides, but can be dealt with effectively by “two-stepping” the process going forward. Treating the reorganization under the charter as separate from the contract itself could and should solve the problem. The Mayor is entitled to a public hearing, and should receive one. The Council should be comfortable knowing that they are going to public hearing on the concept, and that a vote for “first read” or to go to public hearing would not constitute adoption of the contract. After that occurs the Charter calls for an up or down vote within ten days on the Mayor’s proposal. It would be at that meeting where a contract could be voted on if the Council chooses to adopt the Mayor’s plan.

I will now go back to being seen, but not heard!

The Eagle Tribune editorial on the need for a public hearing.

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