A small order on the Feb. 25 Council agenda
likely didn’t attract a lot of attention at the regular meeting, but Council
President Damali Vidot said she had hoped it could have sparked a conversation.
That measure, which she introduced, revolved
around looking at the possibility of allowing non-citizens that are here
legally to vote in municipal elections.
Instead, she said, she was greeted with
silence – and a ‘no’ vote.
“We have people invested in our community,
who own homes, have kids in the schools and own businesses, but because they
are citizens, they can’t vote in our elections,” she said. “Why not have a
conversation about allowing them to vote? The fact my colleagues didn’t want to
at least have a conversation is a travesty.”
The roll call consisted of a 5-6 defeated
vote, with Vidot and Councillors Judith Garcia, Yamir Rodriguez, Enio Lopez and
Giovanni Recupero agreeing to begin talking about it.
Those voting against were Councillor Roy
Avellaneda, Calvin Brown, Joe Perlatonda, Luis Tejada, Leo Robinson and Bob
Vidot said she fully intends to bring the
matter back in 90 days.
“I don’t understand why we couldn’t
entertain this, to allow people to be part of the civic process,” she said. “At
the minimum, I thought we could have a conversation. If I had known there would
be this reaction from my colleagues, I would have organized before. I have
every intention of bringing it back again in 90 days. We can’t be in the habit
of saying ‘no’ without talking about it.”
Other cities in Massachusetts have voted to
allow non-citizens to vote, including Cambridge and Brookline. Such a petition
by the Council would require a home rule petition by the State Legislature. It
would also require legislative action by the State House as well.
The measure in
Chelsea would not allow non-citizens to vote in state or federal elections.
Rather than Russell Disposal, the trash and
recycling trucks rumbling down city streets could one day say City of Chelsea.
While that possibility is a slight one at
the moment, the City Council is asking City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to look
into the costs of the City owning its own trash trucks and picking up its own
trash. Currently, the City has a contract with Russell Disposal, Inc. of
More than half the sitting councilors had
their name attached to the order that was introduced at Monday night’s meeting:
President Damali Vidot, District 6 Councilor Giovanni Recupero, District 1
Councilor Robert Bishop, District 4 Councilor Enio Lopez, District 3 Councilor
Joe Perlatonda, and District 2 Councilor Luis Tejada.
Lopez said he does not believe Russell is
doing a good enough job with trash removal, sometimes leaving trash behind and
picking up recycling on a haphazard schedule.
“They are being paid big bucks and they are
not doing it,” Lopez said. “For the amount of money we are paying, we can get a
few trucks and hire people from the city of Chelsea.”
Bishop said he has heard no complaints from
his district about trash collection, but did support having Ambrosino look at
“If this saves money, I’m interested in what
(the city manager) has to say,” said Bishop. “The whole idea is to see if we
can save money.”
In some procedural wrangling,
Councilor-at-Large Leo Robinson made a motion to move the issue into conference
“I feel like we keep putting things out
there and we have no idea what the costs will be,” said Robinson. The
councilor, who said his family has a long history in the waste management
business, said a single trash truck could cost over a quarter of a million
dollars, along with additional costs to retrofit the trucks to collect trash
barrels in Chelsea.
“If we make the move to go pick up our own
trash, there is a lot involved,” Robinson said. “I don’t have a number in front
of me, but it could cost $3 million to $3.5 million per year.”
Recupero said there was no need to put the
issue into council committee at this time, since the request was to have
Ambrosino get more information and numbers on municipal waste collection.
“If he tells us it’s not feasible, then it
can’t be done,” he said. “If it is feasible, then we can send it to committee.”
Perlatonda estimated that the costs could be
even higher than those estimated by Robinson.
While Cambridge has more than double the
population of Chelsea, he said annual costs of municipal collection there are
about $12 million.
“I don’t think it is going to be feasible to
find (an option) cheaper than Russell,” he said.
The vote to move the issue to committee failed,
with Robinson, Perlatonda, and District 7 Councilor Yamir Rodriguez on the
short end of the vote. The request will now go to Ambrosino for his review.
When Chelsea residents go shopping for the holidays next year, they will have to either bring their own bags or pay a dime for a heavy-duty plastic bag.
Monday night, the City Council approved an anticipated single-use plastic bag ban in the city. The ban goes into effect one year from the Dec. 17 vote.
The proposal has been discussed in committee and meetings on the ban have been held with local businesses, but the issue was not listed on Monday night’s agenda.
District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez made the motion to take the ban out of conference committee and have it voted on by the full Council. Lopez noted that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment and are also a constant source of litter around the city.
“This is a great idea and it is in our power to do it,” said Council President Damali Vidot. “I think small businesses will be able to adjust to the change.”
District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop said he initially had some mixed feelings about the proposed ban, but said he was swayed by Sunday night’s ‘60 Minutes’ segment on the environmental dangers of plastic.
“I think plastic will kill us all if we keep going the way we are going,” said Bishop. While Bishop said plastic bags are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers of plastic, banning plastic bags is a start.
District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda voted for the ban, but said he did have some concerns about the cost to consumers and businesses. While single-use plastic bags will be banned, consumers will be able to purchase sturdier, multi-use plastic bags for 10 cents.
Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson shared some of Perlatonda’s concerns and recommended the proposal be kept in committee, giving local businesses more time for input.
But the majority of the Council favored taking action Monday night.
“There have been other cities that have implemented this, and you can see a huge difference in the streets,” said District 2 Councillor Luis Tejada.
The one year time-frame before the ban goes into effect will give the City time to do outreach to local businesses, and give the businesses time to go through any existing stock of plastic bags.
The ban passed with a 10-1 vote, with District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown casting the lone vote against it.
After more than two and a half years of negotiations, the City is on the verge of a new contract with its two police unions that will see pay increases of up to three percent and implement residency requirements for new hires.
Monday night, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino requested the City Council approve the contracts, which are retroactive to Fiscal year 2017. The Council forwarded the request to its subcommittee on conference, and will take up an official vote on the contracts at a future meeting.
The collective bargaining agreements are for the unions which represent police superior officers and patrol officers.
“Both deals encompass four years, made up of two separate contracts: a one year deal for FY17; and a subsequent three year deal for FY 19-FY20,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council.
The contracts include a retroactive salary increase of 2.5 percent for FY17 and 3 percent for FY18 and FY19. There is also a 3 percent increase slated for FY20 and an additional 1 percent increase that goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
All told, the retroactive salary increases total about $876,000.
“I strongly recommend that the City Council support these agreements, which have been the subject of lengthy negotiations spanning more than two and a half years,” Ambrosino stated. “We set aside in Salary Reserve for the resolution of these two agreements a total of $700,000. Accordingly, we will need an additional appropriation from Stabilization of $176,000 to satisfy these contractual commitments.”
The salary hikes are the only cost item in the new contracts, according to the City Manager. Other items in the contracts related to longevity, detail pay, sick leave incentive, and clothing allowance are limited to clarifications or minor changes and do not add any additional costs to the City, he added.
The percentage increases for salary are slightly more than those other City Hall unions have received, Ambrosino said.
“However, in return, the City did secure new language on residency upon which the City Council insisted,” he stated. “As of January 1, 2019, all new police hires must live in the City of Chelsea for five years, consistent with the Ordinance approved by the City Council earlier this year.”
While there was no debate over the union contracts themselves at Monday’s Council meeting, District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop did raise concerns about the City’s use of its stabilization, or “rainy day” funds.
Bishop noted that Ambrosino was requesting the use of stabilization funds for improvements to Eden Park and for a protective cover for the new high school turf field as well as for the contract salary costs.
Those stabilization funds should be used for emergency situations, Bishop said.
“I don’t think any of these requests rise to the level of an emergency to use the rainy day fund,” he said.
While Bishop said he supported the requests being made, he wanted assurances that any money taken out of the City’s stabilization funds be replaced by free cash as soon as those funds are certified by the state.
Outside graduation coming closer to a
resolution, decided Dec. 17
The Chelsea High School Class of 2019’s quest to graduate outside at the high school could come to a conclusion at the City Council’s next meeting on Monday, Dec. 17.
That’s when the Council is expected to vote on a $170,000 appropriation from the school stabilization account to pay for a protective mat for the new turf field at the high school.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino made the request for the funds for the protective mat, which he said will allow for the use of the turf field for non-sporting events. The turf field comes with an eight-year warranty, but that warranty is voided if there are certain non-sporting uses on the field.
The possible purchase is good news for members of the high school’s senior class, who have been working with school and city officials, as well as fundraising, in an effort to have their graduation moved to the high school field.
Senior Manuel Teshe said the turf field cover will benefit the whole city, as well as students and their families attending the graduation.
“This investment is going to last for years,” he said. “If this is done, it is done for the city, and the future of the city is the students at Chelsea High School right now.”
Senior Class President Jocelyn Poste was one of a number of CHS students wearing “Dream Big” shirts who addressed the Council on Monday night.
“We are close to achieving our dream of graduating outside on our own field,” said Poste. “With the help of the City Council, this can be a possibility.”
School Supt. Mary Bourque also lent the students some support before the Council.
“This is a wise investment for our future and will have a positive impact on every generation here,” Bourque said.
District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia urged all the students present on Monday night to return with their friends on Dec. 17.
“I’m so incredibly proud of everything that was said tonight,” she said.
In other business, the Council approved a change in the zoning ordinance requiring tighter building controls in the Admiral’s Hill neighborhood.
Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda introduced an order requesting that the License Commission hold two recreational marijuana licenses for applicants that have a majority ownership consisting of Chelsea residents.
Ambrosino asked the Council to approve funding for renovations to Eden Park.
The majority of the renovations will be reimbursed through a state grant, the city manager stated.
“The proposed renovations of Eden Park include replacement of the playground’s rubber surfacing, introduction of new playground equipment, installation of a new water feature and splash pad, installation of new site furniture and lighting, and reconstruction of all site utilities,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the Council.
The total cost of the renovations is about $750,000, according to Ambrosino. The City Council appropriated $250,000 through the Fiscal Year 2019 Capital Improvement Program. Of the remaining $500,000, the City Manager said $400,000 should be reimbursed by the state.
A proposed $6,000 per year pay cut for City Councillors was handily defeated Monday night.
District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop proposed slashing councilors’ salaries from $14,000 to $8,000 annually as a way to begin a wider budget belt tightening across all City departments.
“The councillors all work very hard for the stipend they are given,” said Bishop. “This is not to indicate that we are not working hard. It’s not easy, and the job has become more demanding than it was 20 to 30 years ago.”
Rather, Bishop said the salary cut was needed as part of the Council taking a hard look at the City’s financial situation.
“The tax rate just goes up and up, and there is only one solution,” he said. “We have to cut the budget. Where do we start?”
While Bishop said there should be cuts across the board in all departments, the Council should start the process in its own chambers.
District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda argued that cutting the Council pay so drastically could limit the pool of candidates for office, noting the long hours, travel, and constituent services each councillor puts into the job.
Perlatonda said that councillors in Malden make $17,500 per year, and in neighboring Revere, the City Council salary is set at $18,000 per year and councillors there are eligible for health insurance and other benefits.
Councillors in Chelsea do not get any additional benefits.
The salary cut was defeated by a 9-2 vote, with only Council President Damali Vidot voting alongside Bishop.
In other Council business Monday night, several orders introduced by District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero were sent to committee for further discussion.
One order introduced by Recupero and District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez asked City Manager Tom Ambrosino to implement a policy where any company that does work in the city remove any equipment that is moveable and has rubber tires after work hours.
Recupero said that many parking spaces are lost in the city as large construction vehicles remain parked on city streets overnight.
“There’s no need to have all these big dump trucks in all these areas,” he said. “They are taking very precious parking spaces away from the people.”
Several councillors said they understood Recupero’s sentiment with the order, but felt it was too broadly written and could have a larger impact than he intended, if passed.
“I love to support anything that improves the lives of residents, but this is so broad,” said District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia. She said that if a more defined, revised version of the order came back before the Council, she would be happy to support it.
Bishop did attempt an amendment to the order on the floor, but Vidot and several other councillors said they were uncomfortable with the process of making policy on the fly. Councillor-At-large Leo Robinson moved to send the order to committee to get a better handle on costs and impacts of Recupero’s proposal.
The majority of the Council also recommended further study of another order introduced by Recupero. Recupero asked that when the City Manager hires new employees, that he implement the same procedures used to prove residential tax exemptions.
Several councillors pointed out that the order as proposed by Recupero was too limiting, since the residential tax exemption only applies to homeowners and not renters.
If District 1 City Councillor Robert Bishop gets his way, he’ll be taking $6,000 per year out of his own pockets, and those of his fellow city councillors.
Monday night, Bishop introduced an ordinance asking that the Council salary be cut from $14,000 to $8,000 per year beginning in 2020. The councillor said he was unhappy when the salary increased from $8,000 to $14,000 several years ago, and wants to see it cut back.
The ordinance was moved to a second reading at a future council meeting before there was any discussion on the proposal, but Council President DamaliVidot said there will be an opportunity for debate and discussion during the second reading.
The council voted for the pay raise to $14,000 in 2013 and it went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
In other business, the council heard a legal opinion from City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher that stated that the Council’s subcommittee on finance violated the open meeting law when it discussed a $20,000 appropriation for legal services that was not properly placed on the subcommittee’s agenda. Bishop, who heads the finance subcommittee, countered that the matter was properly posted and fell under the heading of financial requests.
“I felt it would be appropriate to discuss,” Bishop said. “I see nothing in Rule 26 that says we could not speak about it. … To me, this is kind of petty and picayune.”
But Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson said he didn’t understand how the matter had gotten to the finance subcommittee without coming before the full Council first.
Vidot said there will be a subcommittee discussion about how to best move forward with financial matters on the Council.
Bishop also asked for a meeting to discuss traffic flow issues at Revere Beach Parkway and Washington Avenue, Revere Beach Parkway and Webster Avenue, and Spruce Street and Everett Avenue. The councillor noted that motorists are faced with an especially dangerous intersection at Revere Beach Parkway and Washington.
“It’s a wonder that there are not more accidents than there already are,” Bishop said.
The District 1 Councillor is also requesting a subcommittee meeting to discuss issues with the city and the Chelsea Housing Authority’s rodent baiting programs. Bishop said he has concerns that the programs are ineffective and dangerous for the workers implementing them.
District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero introduced an order asking the public works director provide the Council with an accurate account of how the City sets water and sewer rates and how those rates could be stabilized.
In contrast to the past several meetings, when discussion over water and sewer rates brought a steady stream of residents to the microphone, it was a more subdued public speaking session at Monday’s meeting.
Chelsea High School senior Manuel Teshe advocated for fundraising efforts that would allow the senior class to graduate outside at the school’s football field. Teshe estimated the total cost of covering the field to keep it safe for a graduation ceremony would be about $30,000.
“We are passionate about this and want to graduate from the school in the best way possible,” said Teshe.
Teshe’s classmate, senior class president Jocelyn Poste, was also on hand at the meeting to promote the Red Devil Turkey Trot race on Saturday, Nov. 17 to benefit the school’s track and cross country programs.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the race can visit HYPERLINK “http://chelseahightrack.com” t “_blank” chelseahightrack.com. The event begins at 10 a.m. at Admiral’s Hill.
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.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino told the City Council he believes it might be time to start a discussion about charging everyone a trash fee in the coming years as costs continue to rise for rubbish collection and recycling.
This came at the same time that he announced water and sewer rates would increase by 7.95 percent this year and the existing trash fee would climb 10 percent over last year.
Currently, trash fees are only charged to properties that are not owner-occupied. However, Ambrosino said it might be time to change all that.
“This new trash fee represents an increase of 10 percent,” he said. “Residential owners will pay an additional $32.88 annually as a result of this increase. I recognize that annual increases of 10 percent are painful, but even with this increase we will not cover the cost of our trash system with our fees. I have mentioned for some time that the City should consider changes to our current rate structure for Solid Waste Disposal. Specifically, I suggest we start the discussion of at least some nominal fee for owner occupied units. Otherwise, 10-plus percent increases will be the norm for the foreseeable future.”
The trash rate will increase to $30.09 monthly for residential property and $141.96 monthly for commercial units in mixed buildings.
Meanwhile, for water and sewer rates – which affect every homeowner – the combined rate increase will be 7.95 percent over last year. The average water user can assume a bill of $1,776 annual for water and sewer charges.
The water rate alone will go up 6 percent, and the sewer rate alone will go up 9 percent. Together, they arrive at the combined rate increase of 7.95 percent for residential users.
For Tier 1 users, the combined rate is $14.80 per hundred cubic feet.
The rates went into effect on July 1, but a Monday’s Council meeting Councillor Bob Bishop was quick to criticize.
“The water and sewer rates in Chelsea are too high,” he said. “I think we should be doing everything we can to hold the line or decrease these rates every year. Other cities and towns aren’t charging the rates we charge…It seems to be a feeding trough at the water and sewer department. I don’t like it.”
Facing many critics from the public that showed up to speak against two-way Broadway, the City Council on Monday decided to defer any vote and, instead, hold a Committee on Conference to review the matter.
In August, the Traffic Commission voted 5-1 to approve the two-way plan, as well as a spate of many other non-controversial changes to Fay Square, Chelsea Square, Bellingham Square and City Hall Avenue.
Council President Damali Vidot called for the committee, and the Council approved the move. She said they had until Oct. 6 to hold the meeting and to have a vote of the full Council. The City Council must approve all actions of the Traffic Commission, but if they do not do so by Oct. 6, the Commission’s approval will become law.
Many on the Council have not made their opinions known yet, but some have, and ultimately the fate of two-way Broadway will fall on the votes of 11 members of the Council.
Council President Vidot has been critical of the idea, and has particularly disagreed with the planning process that has unfolded over the past two years. In the past, she has been against the change.
Councillor Leo Robinson, however, said this week he is in favor of two-way Broadway.
“I’m a two-way Broadway guy,” he said.
Councillor Joe Perlatonda has also spoke in favor of the plan, and said the one-way plan is dangerous because it calls for cars to park outside of the protected bike lane. He said that would leave those exiting their cars in a dangerous position with oncoming traffic and with oncoming bicyclists.
Meanwhile, Councillor Bob Bishop said he doesn’t buy the idea of two-way Broadway. To this point, he said he isn’t convinced it’s a good change.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and Chief Brian Kyes are some of the biggest advocates, and though they don’t have a vote, they have strongly called for the change for months.
Resident Sharleen McLain, however, was one of several residents who said the plan is flawed and has been forced upon the public.
“From the very first it was clear the City Manager and the planners have been pretty bent on getting two-way Broadway,” she said. “They’ve been pretty manipulative in moving forward on this two-way plan. None of these meetings have allowed for meaningful input. It wasn’t until the July Traffic Commission meeting that members of the public were able to speak directly to the plans.”
Said Barbara Richard, “I think two-way Broadway is spot-on dead wrong. Businesses will go under. I also think it hasn’t been a good enough outreach to the community.”
Ambrosino said he is in favor of the two-way plan, but he implored the Council to consider the plan is much more than just the two-way Broadway situation. He said there are many, many more non-controversial changes in the package that people do want universally.
“Much of what is before you is non-controversial,” he said. “Whether it’s Fay Square, Bellingham Square or City Hall Avenue, these provisions have no opposition to the changes.”
The Council will meet next on Monday, Sept. 24, and the Conference Committee will likely take place next week.
The City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the locked out National Grid gas workers in a vote of 8-0 on Monday night, adding to the numbers of elected officials now supporting the workers – who have been locked out in a contract dispute for 12 weeks.
Ray Bell of Chelsea – who has lived here for 45 years – came before the Council as one of the locked out workers. He said it’s a matter of public safety, as the replacement workers are not trained or experienced enough to carry out the work they’re doing.
“This is a matter of public safety,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. This is not a labor issue. The workers trained and experienced need to be in the ground fixing our pipes. This is a no-brainer. It’s putting Chelsea people first…They’ll bury their mistakes. It may not go off now. Maybe it goes off in two months or two years. It could be a disaster. I’m telling you they don’t have experienced and trained people working on these gas pipes.”
Former Councillor Paul Murphy – whose brother is currently locked out – said he doesn’t want to see a disaster either.
“Knowing the work they’re doing on our streets, there could be a disaster here,” he said. “It is a labor dispute, but a different one because they’re locked out. They want to work.”
Councillors were very much in support of the measure despite a miscue last month at a special meeting when the matter didn’t pass due to Councillor Bob Bishop objecting to it. At a special meeting, one objection to a matter can kill it.
On Monday, Bishop said he didn’t oppose the matter, but had concerns last month due to the fact that it conflicted with the charter. Now, he said, the new draft of the resolution was free of any such conflicts.