‘Big Top’ Comes to Chelsea City Council

‘Big Top’ Comes to Chelsea City Council

Civility was at a premium at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

While the meetings typically end with a pro forma opportunity for councillors to make community announcements and hold moments of silence to honor those who have recently died in the community, this week’s meeting ended with a flurry of accusations, banging gavels, and frustration.

Tensions were already high Monday night, as the month-long debate over a water and sewer discount for homeowners was rescinded by one vote (see related story).

Things only got hotter as the Council got to an order introduced near the end of the agenda by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda. That order asked the Council to schedule a conference with the City Clerk’s office to discuss the campaign finance filing deadline enforcement policy, and the state’s campaign and political finance office findings of campaign finance law violations, by Council President Damali Vidot’s campaign committee.

“I was a little surprised when I saw that you allowed this particular order to be placed before the Council,” District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said to Vidot. “One councillor going against another councillor, it should be ruled out of order. It’s a personal thing, and I don’t think those types of things should be put on the floor.”

Vidot ruled that Avellaneda’s motion was out of order. She said she brought the matter forward as a matter of transparency, but would not allow orders attacking her personally to go forward.

“I think this matter is totally inappropriate, and Councillor Avellaneda, I understand you wanting to embarrass me, but this is not the place to do it,” said Vidot.

Avellaneda argued that nowhere in his motion was he attacking Vidot, and that it was a motion based on facts. He challenged Vidot’s decision to rule the motion out of order.

No councillors joined Avellaneda in voting to overturn the challenge.

Matters only got more out of hand as the meeting wound down with the announcements portion that typically ends the night.

District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez accused Avellaneda of putting forward proposals that would directly affect his business ventures, which Avellaneda denied.

Vidot repeatedly banged the gavel as she tried to restore order to the proceedings.

“We are looking very circus-like,” said Vidot. “I ask that we display a little decorum and reflect on the type of representation this community needs.”

As the meeting ended, several councillors had already walked away from their seats as a steady stream of cross-talk filled the chamber before Vidot was able to settle the room for a moment of silence.

After the meeting, several councillors were visibly frustrated and expressed dismay over the recent proceedings in the Council chambers.

  • In earlier, more sedate business, the Council received communication from City Manager Tom Ambrosino asking the City to consider a request for proposals for use of the Salvation Army building for residential and commercial use.

District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero asked that the City Manager look into ways the building, now owned by the City, could be converted into a community center.

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Condo Owners say Water and Sewer Discount Unfair

Condo Owners say Water and Sewer Discount Unfair

The City Council passed District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero’s measure to provide a 10 percent water and sewer percent discount to Chelsea homeowners last month.

Yet, since that vote, there has been a fair share of resident dissatisfaction from condominium owners who don’t qualify for the price break, as well as allegations of some social media shenanigans between councillors.

But despite an attempt on Monday night by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda to consider a repeal, the discount will stand for now.

The discount applies to all units in any owner-occupied single, two-, or three-family homes and any owner-occupied condominium that has an individual water meter. The problem, as some condominium owners noted at Monday night’s council meeting, is that very few condominium units in the city have individual water meters.

“I chose 15 years ago that I wanted to buy a condominium and not a house,” said resident Suzanne Perry. “I consider this to be a basic issue of discrimination and unfairness. I’m sure it was not meant to be that way, but that’s the way it ended up.”

Condominium owner Alison Cuneo circulated an online petition with more than 130 signatures as of Monday night asking the Council to overturn its water and sewer discount vote.

“I would oppose this even if I were to benefit from (the discount),” Cuneo said.

The debate over the issue took a personal turn early in the meeting, when District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop spoke out about a social media post by Avellaneda. In the post, Bishop said Avellaneda posted a Google maps image of his home and pool, noting that Bishop would benefit from the discounted water and sewer rates.

“Councillor Avellaneda wrote that Bob Bishop would get a discount to fill up his pool next year,” said Bishop. “That is not only petty, but it is untrue.”

Bishop said that he, like many people, has an individual water meter on his pool that would not qualify for the homeowner discount.

The District 1 Councillor also said he would be in favor of extending the discount to condominium owners if there was a way to determine the water use in owner-occupied units.

Avellaneda’s attempt to overturn the discount was struck down on a procedural vote.

Council President Damali Vidot ruled the request by Avellaneda to take another vote as out of order.

“We shouldn’t set a precedent just because this is something you disagreed with,” she said. “The majority of the Council voted in favor of adopting this.”

Avellaneda challenged Vidot’s ruling that his request was out of order, but the challenge failed.

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Fiesta Verano

Fiesta Verano

Alex Taborta and Esther A. danced inside Pan y Cafe during Fiesta Verano last Saturday, Aug. 4. The second part of the Chelsea Art Walk had a hard time avoiding rain this year, having been cancelled once due to rain. On Saturday, organizers decided to go for broke, and moved the event inside Pan Y Café – courtesy of owner Roy Avellaneda. Several acts performed inside, and the Latin-themed afternoon was a hit.

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2018 World Cup is Unusual Both On and Off the Field

2018 World Cup is Unusual Both On and Off the Field

The 2018 FIFA World Cup has been rather strange.

Historically and currently elite teams struggled in the group stages—Portugal and Argentina barely squeezed through, while Germany was ousted after a major upset against South Korea.

In the Round of 16, which began Saturday, June 30, host-country Russia eliminated powerhouse Spain. After barely squeezing through the group stages, both Argentina and Portugal, starring Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, respectively, were eliminated.

However, this year’s World Cup has been unusual off the field as well.

“It’s a strange World Cup because the games are in the morning,” said Roy Avellaneda, Chelsea City Councilor and avid fan of Argentina. “Having it in the morning, in these time zones, that negated the previous benefits of this and the gathering.”

The time difference is particularly impactful after the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil, which has very similar time zones compared the U.S. With games being played at times like 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., there’s simply no time for people to gather for games during work hours, Avellaneda said.

There’s no denying that the World Cup remains a popular event, however.

“It’s something that’s on 24 hours at this point,” Avellaneda said. “It’s very pervasive that the World Cup is going on. Whether you go to a restaurant, whether you go to a bar, there’s a promotion going on.”

“Particularly in the Latino community, there’s a lot of attention,” said Avellaneda, who has Argentinian roots and runs Pan Y Café, a Latin American style cafe.

While his store doesn’t see as significant of a benefit as a sports bar would during a major sporting event, Avellaneda said he certainly doesn’t mind the additional customers who watch the games at his café in the mornings.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup continues this wee.

The quarterfinals begin this Friday, and the semifinals begin Tuesday, July 10. The event will conclude on Sunday, July 15.

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Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

Residency Ordinance for Police, Fire Hires Holds Firm at Council

A last ditch effort by Councillor Roy Avellaneda to reverse the new police and fire residency ordinance successfully passed by Councillor Giovanni Recupero failed on Monday night, June 4, in a close vote.

It represented seven years of twists and turns for Recupero’s number one issue and one that has been before the Council in several forms about a dozen times.

On Monday, the victory came in a narrow defeat of Avellaneda’s proposal, 5-6, which allowed the proposal to become the new law.

Those voting to keep the residency ordinance were Councillors Damali Vidot, Enio Lopez, Bob Bishop, Luis Tejada, Joe Perlatonda and Recupero – a one vote margin of victory.

Those voting to reconsider and repeal the ordinance were Councillors Yamir Rodriguez, Calvin Brown, Avellaneda, Leo Robinson and Judith Garcia.

“This is a good thing,” said Recupero. “It’s something the citizens of Chelsea wanted and I’ve fought for it for seven years solid. Now the councillors wanted it too. I think it’s good for the City and for the people. The police and fire can live in the neighborhood and understand the people and the people can understand them and respect them. The young men and women of the city will relate to them because they live in the same community.”

The matter will apply to anyone hired in the Police or Fire Department after July 31, 2018. It will require them to live in Chelsea for five years after starting on the job. After five years, they can move out of the city if they choose.

The negative came in that to get the measure, it had to become a collective bargaining issue. That meant that the entire Police and Fire Departments would get a raise in order to include the new condition in their contracts. Even those for whom the measure doesn’t apply will get additional pay to accept the new condition.

“Hey, it’s good for those on the department too,” said Recupero. “They’re all going to get a raise, but we’re going to get new officers that want to live in Chelsea.”

Councillor Leo Robinson said he was against the measure because of the cost. He said he was once in favor of residency, but that changed when he learned about the collective bargaining costs.

“The bottom line is you have 40 police living in the city and 26 firefighters right now,” he said. “ When we have to go and negotiate with the union that means 110 police and 96 firefighters get raises. That’s $200,000 we’ll have to give them. I think it’s foolish to do. They think it’s a great thing. You have Bob Bishop voting against the budget because he says it out of control and then he votes for this without knowing what it costs.”

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On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

On the Books:Council Votes to Limit Recreational Marijuana with Zoning Ordinance

The City Council voted in favor of a proposal put forward by City Manager Tom Ambrosino to limit the siting of recreational marijuana retail stores and cultivation facilities.

The vote came on an 8-2 majority after an amendment by Councillor Roy Avellaneda failed to get the eight votes needed for passage. Avellaneda and Councillor Calvin Brown voted against the City Manager’s proposal. Councillor Luis Tejada was absent from the meeting.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they have limited zoning areas for retail establishments to the Industrial Zone and the Highway Business zone. Marijuana cultivation and lab facilities would be limited to the Industrial Zone only.

The state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has issued regulations regarding the numbers of facilities allowed in each municipality and Chelsea could have up to four retail licensees. The CCC will begin accepting application on April 2 and will potentially begin issuing them on July 1 – though the July 1 date is still very much in the air at the state level right now.

Ambrosino said it was imperative for the City to get something on the books now to limit the locations for these establishments.

“I have proposed an ordinance to try to accommodate this new industry in a way I think is reasonable,” he said. “You do need to pass some ordinance to regulate this new industry to ensure the entire city isn’t open to establishments in this new industry.”

There was a great deal of discussion, though, before the vote was logged to pass Ambrosino’s proposal.

Avellaneda had an amendment that would have eliminated the Industrial Zones as an area for retail, and would have included the Shopping Center district instead – which is in places like the Mystic Mall/DeMoula’s and the Parkway Plaza.

He said siting cultivation facilities in the Industrial Zone is a no-brainer, but he said retail of any kind, even marijuana, doesn’t belong in an industrial area.

“This will be a storefront,” he said. “You don’t picture this in the middle of some warehouse where there are no stairs and a loading dock and lifts for pallets in front. When you think about the retail, we think of this, we should think of it like a jewelry store…You have no public transportation in the Industrial Zone. You’re not taking the bus down Marginal Street or Eastern Avenue…This proposal is drawn up by individuals thinking about this like it was 20 years ago and not today.”

Avellaneda had some measured support for his amendment, but it did eventually fail, getting only six of the eight votes needed.

Those voting for his amendment included Councillors Enio Lopez, Yamir Rodriguez, Bob Bishop, Giovanni Recupero, and Judith Garcia. Those voting against it were Councillors Damali Vidot, Calvin Brown, Leo Robinson, and Joe Perlatonda.

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Three Councillors Honored at Last Council Meeting

Three Councillors Honored at Last Council Meeting

By Seth Daniel

Three city councillors were honored by their colleagues on Monday night, Dec. 18, at their last Council meeting.

Councillors Matt Frank, Dan Cortell and Paul Murphy were honored for their service on the Council, and presented with plaques.

District 3’s Matt Frank was given a send-off by Councillor Judith Garcia.

Councillor Roy Avellaneda sent off District 8 Councillor Dan Cortell, saying it’s not an easy talk to represent Admiral’s Hill and the rest of the district as they are outspoken.

Finally, Councillor Damali Vidot gave a send off to District 1 Councillor Paul Murphy. She said Murphy was a mentor to her and was always willing to support her initiatives and petitions in the early days of her advocacy.

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Sparks Fly at Chelsea Council Meeting

Sparks Fly at Chelsea Council Meeting

By Seth Daniel

Councillor Roy Avellaneda made a stunning oration Monday night at the Council meeting regarding the accusations of ethics breaches that have been volleyed his way over the last few months – singling out a councillor, though not by name, and then calling for the councillor to be censured.

After the meeting, Avellaneda  admitted that the councillor in question was Damali Vidot.

The shocking moment came when Council President Leo Robinson submitted an order calling for an Ethics workshop to be conducted for the Council, setting off Avellaneda on a defensive course.

Over the last few weeks, several allegations have been thrown towards Avellaneda in the course of a heated neighborhood discussion that involved his request to get eight two-hour parking spots near his coffee shop in Cary Square. Though Avellaneda recused himself from the parking issue – which was approved by the Parking Commission and then rescinded by the Council last week – and was out of the room for most of the debate and voting, many felt he had crossed a line by requesting zoning changes and parking changes as a sitting councillor for the benefit of his business.

On Monday, after Robinson’s order, Avellaneda castigated Vidot and one of her supporters, and called to the carpet Robinson as well for not preventing the allegations when he was out of the room.

Ironically, Vidot was not present at Monday’s meeting during the oration, but was out of the country on a leadership training trip.

“This is the second time that false charges of ethics violations have been made against myself,” he said, passionately. “At the last occurrence, someone associated with a certain councillor’s campaign made the allegations and then this councillor rose and made similar allegations. This is the second time a councillor has done this…This is false information being allowed adjacent one’s character. It’s the essence of the definition. I’m surprised that the person making charges is a fellow councillor at-large, some would say an adversary.

“Personal attacks in this forum are not allowed,” he continued. “These are grounds for censure. As president you had an obligation to stop it and you didn’t…Quite frankly, I don’t expect this behavior to be allowed. We shouldn’t be allowing personal political attacks in this Chamber; they shouldn’t be allowed here. That’s what put the City into receivership.”

Vidot had stood and delivered an impassioned speech two weeks ago during the first hearing on rescinding the Cary Square parking program, a meeting that was very heavily attended by neighbors and residents. She indicated at the time that the proposal by a sitting councillor for business purposes was shady and didn’t sit well with her.

Others made similar statements from the general public.

Reached on Tuesday, Vidot said she was out of the country and found it ironic that Avellaneda would complain about being attacked while he was not present to defend himself – and then would move to attack her when she was not there.

“The irony that my Council decorum in holding one accountable bothers some more than the appearance of impropriety by another is very telling of the culture that existed prior to my election,” she said. “If speaking of a colleague while they’re out of the room is grounds for censure, what does it mean to talk about them when they’re out of the country? Or is this the ‘boys only’ club rules? I have and will continue to speak truths standing on either side of the dais on behalf of the residents. In fact, it may work in one’s favor to keep me close rather than to allow me to wander to the other side where it’s all fair game.”

Robinson said his order for an ethics workshop was not targeted at Avellaneda or any other councillor, but was in general to answer questions members had about ethics and the Open Meeting Law – especially as it relates to social media.

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Malone Park Still Generating Controversy Amongst Council

By Seth Daniel

One week after an idea was floated publicly by Councillor Roy Avellaneda to look into taking the Soldiers’ Home park (Malone Park) out of the state’s hands so the City could use it for youth sports programming, several councillors are lashing out and Avellaneda said it’s all politics.

This week, Councillor Luis Tejada, who represents part of the Park along with Councillor Matt Frank, said he is absolutely against any proposal to use the park for youth sports.

“I live directly across the street from the park,” he said. “For kids, we have 13-plus parks to play in. Question, how many parks do we have for the elderly and our veterans to go and be in peace and quiet? One, and now they want to take this away. The fact is that we do enough in this country to push our elderly and veterans aside so they don’t bother us and its a shame. We need to not allow this to happen. Not every park has to be set up for kids and young loiterers. Our elderly deserve respect. They have done their part in helping mold our city into what it is and it would be a shame to take the last place afforded to them just because some people feel they are not entitled.”

But Avellaneda said Tejada was playing politics.

He said he reached out to many councillors when he first starting thinking about the idea, back last spring when the playing field crisis first unfolded and it became apparent the City either needed a new field or needed to revisit the way it doled out its existing fields.

He said Tejada was open to the idea when they first spoke.

“If he had originally expressed his reservations and taken a position against this when I first talked to him, I wouldn’t have never gotten to the next step where we were meeting with the Soldiers’ Home,” he said. “For him to come out now and say he is totally against this, I ask why he mention he was against it six months ago when I first asked him about it…To do this now – being totally against it in the way he is – is bush league politics.”

Avellaneda said nothing was a done deal and it was simply an idea.

“Nothing was done in a vacuum and we never excluded the public or neighbors because, in fact, we never got to the point where we could get public input,” he said. “We were certainly going to get to that point. I was trying to find a solution to a problem. We had a long way to go.”

Councillor Damali Vidot, who initiated the discussion last year about the use of the playing fields.

She said Malone Park isn’t the answer, and looking at how the fields are doled out is what should be done first.

“I believe before the City starts to take away tranquil space from our beloved veterans and neighbors, we start to better manage our existing spaces,” she said. “We have a soccer field at Highland Park that has been completely monopolized by one entity under various names and catering to non-residents. Perhaps if we focused more on accountability and better management of those spaces, we could provide Chelsea youth the space they need as well as preserve space for our vets and neighbors during their golden years.”

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Controversy:Differing Opinions On Taking of Malone Park Next to Soldiers’ Home

By Seth Daniel

A move by some city officials to look into the purchase of Malone Park next to the Soldiers’ Home from the state for badly-needed youth sports programming space has mounted no small controversy in the last week or so.

Malone Park, or the Soldiers’ Home park, is a large open field, passive park connected to the Soldiers’ Home complex and is owned by the state. The park has been in existence for decades and is often used by the immediate neighborhood and the veterans in the Soldiers’ Home. With a striking view of Boston and an air of quietness, it’s a place of peace.

However, in the last several months, the lack of space to accommodate youth sports games and practices has developed into an emergency situation, and City Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he eyed the large open space, which he said appears to be used very rarely, and thought it could be the quick solution to housing practices for youth football and soccer.

“We were being told that the Chelsea Pop Warner had nowhere to go and had to scramble to find practice space on the baseball field at Carter Park,” said Avellaneda. “We know we need more park space…I had my sights set on Malone Park because it’s very large and very underutilized. Most times I drive up there, there is no one up there…It’s not an active park or even a passive park use…That being the case, I talked to the City Manager about trying to get that park into the City’s system and out of the state’s hands to see if we can do something about youth sports.”

Avellaneda said he envisioned using the field mostly for practice space for the two youth football leagues, Chelsea Pride and Chelsea Pop Warner, as well as for youth soccer leagues. Avellaneda said he set up a meeting with the Soldiers’ Home and some state officials to discuss the matter further and did not find everyone as enthusiastic as he was.

“I was surprised to know there was any appetite for opposition to this because I didn’t think that trying to find kids a place to play would be something anyone would be working to fight,” he said. “Quite frankly, there’s a lot of space between the residences and the park, so any kid practicing football or kicking a soccer ball up there wouldn’t be half as noisy as Runway 33L. I would actually think that more activity up there would help to get rid of some nefarious dealings at the edge of the park that I have noticed. More activity there might push it back and keep it from creeping further up the Hill.”

But the Malone Park is turning out to be somewhat sacred ground, inexorably tied to the Soldiers’ Home and devoted to promoting the peace and quiet earned by those who fought for their country and now call the Home home.

It’s pit two major constituencies against one another – the veterans vs. the youth sports.

The Soldiers’ Home declined any official comment for this story.

However, some city councillors said that the Home is not excited or happy about the suggestion to put youth sports activities on its park.

Councillor Matt Frank said he does not support the idea whatsoever, and he represents a large part of the Home in his district.

“My feeling is there isn’t a lot of passive park space on this half of the city,” he said. “That field is heavily used. It may not look that way because you don’t see kids running around, but neighbors, seniors and veterans use it to sit and rest or to walk. That park is connected to the Soldiers’ Home for a reason. It’s supposed to be a place where the Soldiers’ Home residents can relax. We do need more field space for youth sports, but every single inch of the city doesn’t need to be programmed. If you wake up on a Saturday morning and want to kick the ball around with your 4-year-old, there aren’t a lot of places you can do that. I would really hesitate and have concerns about putting programming up there.”

Councillor Leo Robinson, who lives near the Park, said he has heard nothing but concerns from neighbors and the Home about the idea. He said there needs to be more done about policing the existing fields before expanding to areas like the Soldiers’ Home.

“Some of the neighbors up there have been speaking to me and they’re not in favor of changing the park,” he said. “Some of the veterans who walk the park are not in favor of changing the park either…In the process of getting control of the parks, we need to know who is playing on the parks and fields we have. That’s what we need to look at first. Are they Chelsea residents? Or are they coming from somewhere else? If they’re not from Chelsea, then we should do something about that.”

Frank said he believes now if the time to look at really creative things rather than the taking of existing parks from the state for a different use.

He said he would like to see ideas like building a parking garage for the airport rental cars along the waterfront, and transforming the top floor into a multi-use outdoor field that could be covered in the winter and used for indoor sports.

“I think now is the time to get creative and we need to find other solutions,” he said. “When we get the new Recreation Department in, we should look at how we are using our space we have.”

Avellaneda, however, said the time has really passed to plan long-term, and lots of kids need space for youth sports right now. With a large field in the City that appears mostly unused, he said it only makes sense to use it for a pressing need.

“I challenge anyone to go up there on a regular day at any hour and say that it isn’t underutilized,” he said. “In this City, the majority needs that space. If someone can tell me where else to find a park, then tell me where that might be.”

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