The Chelsea City Council passed a unique pilot program by a vote of 8-2 on Monday night that would allow qualifying students at Chelsea High an opportunity to finish their Associate’s Degree after high school on the City’s dime.
The program is a partnership with Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) and was championed by City Manager Tom Ambrosino this year in his State of the City. It is seen by him and the School Department as a logical extension of the dual enrollment program at the high school that allows students there to take college level courses at BHCC.
The problem with the program in Chelsea, Ambrosino and others said, is that many students after graduation don’t have the financial resources to continue on and finish the Associate’s Degree they have been working towards.
The pilot program would use $150,000 in the first year, and would be open to students who have completed 12 credits while still in high school within the dual enrollment program. They also must remain Chelsea residents while receiving the benefit.
If a student applies for and gets a Pell Grant, BHCC will provide a subsidy as well and will waive tuition for the student as part of their end of the bargain.
“I had concerns at first, but I did some digging and it’s a good program,” said Councillor Leo Robinson. “I will be supporting this.”
“Many of the students in dual enrollment can’t complete their degree by the time they graduate high school, and they just don’t have the resources to complete it afterward,” said Council President Damali Vidot. “I think now is a great time to invest in our young people.”
But not everyone was on board, and some who voted for it had concerns as well.
Councillor Luis Tejada ended up voting for the matter, but said he was challenged by it.
“My challenge is with the money going to just Bunker Hill,” he said. “What I have a bigger problem with is you take care of your household first before you take care of your extended family. If you take care of everyone else before your household, you will tank…We have a $3 million deficit in our school system and Free Cash should be devoted to that first…If there is excess cash, maybe it should be devoted to the public schools.”
The chief detractor, however, was Councillor Bob Bishop, chair of the Finance Committee. Bishop said it’s a good program, but shouldn’t be funded by the taxpayers.
“To me, it’s a big problem because we’re using taxpayer money on something we’re not required to spend it on,” he said.
“This $150,000 is a pilot program and next year it could possibly be a lot more money,” he said. “I don’t understand how we can get involved in the business of paying for college for a select few…I suspect this is a misuse of taxpayer dollars. This is $150,000, but it will be $500,000.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero agreed with Bishop, saying it should be funded by private money and not taxpayer dollars.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda said it was about investing in the future of students in the modern era.
“The school education system we have is outdated,” he said. “Everyone knows you need more than a 12th grade education in this economy. You need advanced courses beyond high school. As a City, we have to prepare them. It only makes sense to prepare them for today. Unlike 30 or 40 years ago, a college education is required for that.”
Councillors Judith Garcia was absent for the vote, but had vocally supported the matter in previous meetings.
On a related note, the Council voted 10-0 without much discussion to approve a $50,000 program to help City Hall employees pay for courses to advance their education. That program was also proposed by Ambrosino and championed by the Council.
Just when it appeared that Councillor Giovanni Recupero might finally get a version of his long-sought-after residency ordinance passed on Monday, the votes quickly disappeared – causing him to have to pull the measure before the vote and send it to a Committee on Conference.
“Why are these councillors so opposed to it?” he asked. “Everett has it. Boston has it. Revere has it. Everyone has it, but we don’t because some councilors say we’re wasting our energy and wasting our money. In the end, the people want this. Everett is 2.4 sq. miles and they have it. That’s only a little bigger than we are. If it’s good enough for me to live here, it should be good enough for the police…It’s good enough for these councilors to ask for the people’s vote and say they will represent the people, but then they do this and don’t represent the people right. I speak to my constituents all the time. This is what the constituents want.”
Recupero had ordered two weeks ago that the City Solicitor’s Office draft a residency ordinance that would go into effect on April 1 and would be for only new hires of the Police and Fire Departments. Any new hire would have to live in Chelsea for five years after being hired. Currently, any new police officer or firefighter gets preference in hiring if they’ve lived in Chelsea one year before applying.
There is, however, no residency requirement.
Recupero has been pushing some form of a residency requirement for about four or five years. On Monday, he seemed to be at the brink of getting something passed.
With only eight councilors in attendance, the votes seemed like they might line up. However, as discussion went on, he lost some key votes and was going to only end up with three or four in the affirmative.
That’s when he decided to pull his request for a roll call and send the matter to a Committee on Conference.
Part of the problem was that many were confused by what the new ordinance would cost – as it would require the City Manager to collective bargain the new provision with the Police and Fire Unions. That would mean to get the new work condition – meaning the residency requirement for new hires – exisiting police and fire would have to be paid more money contractually.
“I think the situation deserves a little more attention and discussion,” said Councillor Luis Tejada, who has supported the idea in the past.
Councillor Calvin Brown, who filled in as Council president on Monday due to President Damali Vidot being ill, spoke on the matter and said he couldn’t support it.
“I don’t think I’m ready to vote on this or have enough information from the unions,” he said.
Councillor Judith Garcia said she believed that focusing energy and money on residency was a waste of time.
“If our main focus is to have some of our own in the Police Department and Fire Department, the we should focus our attention on recruitment,” she said.
The Chelsea City Council voted 9-1 on Monday night to call for City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson to draw up a new ordinance requiring a five-year residency period for all new police and fire hires.
The controversial move was brought for the umpteenth time by Councillor Giovanni Recupero at Monday’s Council meeting, and it had been highly anticipated by the membership for several weeks.
Recupero’s plan calls for any new hire of the Police Department or Fire Department to live within the city for five years after being hired.
Currently, there are no such restrictions, but Recupero has been on a mission for more than five years to get something drafted and passed.
His order on Monday simply called for the Solicitor to draft up an ordinance and have it ready for Council consideration by the next meeting.
“For many, many years I’ve been trying to have people who work here live here,” he said. “Other cities do this. We should too. The residents like us love our city. It’s not to say they don’t love the City, but there’s a little extra care when you live here…Life is not what you want. Life is what it is. If you want to work here, you live here.”
Many had been interested to see what new Councillor Bob Bishop might think of the matter, as it was the first time it had been before him. And he made himself quite clear that he supports residency.
“I’m very upset on payday in Chelsea because three-fourths of our paychecks go to Saugus or Lynnfield. We don’t get an economic bang for that buck because that money of ours isn’t circulating in Chelsea. If you’re hired in Chelsea as a firefighter or police officer and you don’t want to live here, then don’t take the job. Someone else will. I think it’s a good thing to have police and fire live here.”
Councillor Roy Avellaneda was the lone lawmaker against the measure this time, and said he thinks the Council should focus on other things.
“I’d rather focus my energy on making Chelsea a better place to live than a place to be forced to live,” he said.
Councillor Judith Garcia didn’t vote on the matter as she was absent.
Fisher Watson said there are concerns that any such ordinance would conflict with collective bargaining agreements, so she wasn’t sure she would be able to produce the new ordinance.
Recupero said that any such conflict does not exist and the ordinance can be written up and considered. He said after the Council passes the ordinance, it’s up to the City Manager to negotiate the collective bargaining to include the new requirement for new hires.
A major first jab at banning plastic shopping bags took place at City Hall on Tuesday night, Jan. 23, and many believe that momentum is gathering for the ban.
Council President Damali Vidot and Councillor Enio Lopez are leading the initiative, along with environmental organizations like GreenRoots. The turnout for the Tuesday meeting was very large, and Vidot said she got the sense that public opinion is on the side of a ban.
She said, however, nothing has been decided, but that only they would take the discussion to the next step.
“We will continue the conference to a later date and propose a rough draft of an ordinance to get the ball rolling,” she said.
Councillor Luis Tejada said he also got the sense that the City is moving in the direction of a ban – which Boston has already passed last year, with implementation coming this year.
“At the moment it appears as though we are moving in the direction of banning the plastic bags, but of course there is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Tejada said trying to figure out which types of plastic bags to keep and get rid of will be a key part of the conversation that is often overlooked. He said he would really like to understand the impact on businesses.
Already, in a story in last week’s Record, Compare Supermarket owner Al Calvo said he felt it was just another tax on small business – noting it will cost him tens of thousands more to invest in the thicker bags.
Tejada said he wants to hear from more businesses before he makes a decision.
It is important to know what is the impact on our local small businesses that literally have thousands of bags with their logo on them,” he said. “This would impact them significantly if the measure was approved and enacted too swiftly. What I would like to do is put the small and large businesses on notice that it looks as though the city is moving towards a more environmentally conscious lifestyle, and they should begin to look at and enact whatever measure they are considering when this goes into effect. If they do it sooner rather than later, it can minimize any potential burden and or loss when the measure does take effect.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda said he is very interested in eliminating litter, and plastic bags are just one piece of a bigger problem in Chelsea. He said he doesn’t feel like they should come down hard on plastic bags, while leaving out other litter items like lottery tickets and dog poop.
He also said some residents have told him they don’t like the idea.
“I had one resident tell me this is just another tax being imposed on residents of Chelsea, which many of us can’t afford,” he said. “With everything going on, I’m concerned that the top priority is plastic bags. It was a great turnout, but I wish more people would turn out for other issues. There are other issues that need to be addressed that should take precedent over a plastic bag ban.”
Vidot said the next meeting has not been set, but should be on the docket soon.
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.
Governor’s Councilor Terence Kennedy stopped by the polls to greet those campaigning, including here Candidate Henry Wilson, Councillor Enio Lopez, and Councillor Yamir Rodriguez.
Incumbents prevailed in several contested district Council contests on Tuesday, Nov. 7, while Council President Leo Robinson showed that experience equals strength in topping the at-large ticket with more than 1,000 votes.
Aside from School Committeeman at-Large candidate Frank DePatto, Robinson was the only candidate to top the 1,000 vote plateau.
In the at-large race, Robinson had 1,023 votes, Roy Avellaneda 986 and Damali Vidot 827. None of the three at-large seats were contested, but there was a spirited race to see who would top the ticket – a victory that carries implications for Council President.
“Now it’s time to stay focused and keep moving the City ahead,” Robinson said. “I want to thank the voters and all my supporters for hard work and dedication in making this victory happen.”
Meanwhile, in District 1, an empty seat saw Bob Bishop – the former councillor and city clerk – emerge as the victor over Planning Board member Todd Taylor, 267-213.
Bishop did win the Preliminary Election, but it came in spite of an endorsement of Taylor by outgoing Councillor Paul Murphy and Gov. Charlie Baker.
One contest that was very high-profile was that between Councillor Yamir Rodriguez and challenger Mark Rossi, of the License Commission. The two ran organized campaigns, with Rodriguez winning 129-98.
Another such contest came in District 5, where a rematch between Councillor Judith Garcia and Planning Board member Henry Wilson also showed lots of action.
Garcia won fairly easily in the end, 148-83.
On Admiral’s Hill in District 8, an empty seat saw former Councillor Calvin Brown cruise to victory over Jermaine Williams, 303-79.
In District 6, Councillor Giovanni Recupero prevailed 101-17 over Kristofer Haight, who had withdrawn from the race in September.
Up on the Soldiers’ Home in District 2, Councillor Luis Tejada beat challenger Olivia Walsh 124-94.
Former Councillor Joe Perlatonda will make his way back to the Council after winning an unopposed election for an open seat in Mill Hill (District 3).
Finally, District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez won an unopposed contest with 109 votes.
The results will mean that there will be three new faces on the Council in 2018.
For School Committee, two of the seats (District 4 and 5) had no candidate on the ballot. However, Lucia Henriquez put together a write-in campaign for one of the seats, and is believed to have won there.
Other winners included DePatto (at-Large), District 1 Rosemarie Carlisle, District 2 Jeannette Velez, District 3 Rich Maronski, District 4 no candidate, District 5 no candidate, District 6 Ana Hernandez, District 7 Kelly Garcia, and District 8 Yessenia Alfaro-Alvarez.
The City Election is fast approaching and several races are heating up in the City.
In the district City Council races, at least five seats are contested.
The most active race at the moment is in Prattville, where the District 1 seat has been vacated by Paul Murphy. There, former City Clerk Bob Bishop and Planning Board member Todd Taylor have been out and active since the summer in reaching the voters.
Bishop showed great strength in winning the Preliminary Election with 45 percent of the vote in September, but Taylor has balanced that with several key endorsements this week.
Councillor Murphy has made a recommendation, and that came in the form of an endorsement of Taylor.
Likewise, Taylor has also received an endorsement from popular Governor Charlie Baker.
It will be a battle of great wills on Election Night in Prattville.
Another race to highlight comes in District 7, where Councillor Yamir Rodriguez faces a tough challenge in License Commissioner Mark Rossi.
Both are very qualified and both are very popular.
Rodriguez has great report with the youth in the district and has made a focal point of his tenure in reaching out to young people, organizing youth events and helping residents with quality of life issues like parking.
Meanwhile, Rossi is an attorney who, like Rodriguez, is also bi-lingual and has focused his campaign on immigration issues and streamlining City government. In recent days, though not official, Rossi has seemed to get help from some incumbents and organizational leaders in Chelsea.
Rodriguez, however, seems to have a great command of what is needed in the district, being a key part of some of the newest resident-led initiatives like the Chelsea Hills Community Group.
In District 6, first-term Councillor Judith Garcia faces a re-match with challenger Henry Wilson. There was no preliminary, but the two had a close race two years ago when Garcia won.
Garcia has been hitting the streets throughout the summer, knocking on doors and attending most all community events. She has shown initiative in her first term as well, filing orders to lower the speed limit to 25 mph and also looking for solutions to the parking situation.
Wilson, for his part, has shown much better organization this time around, getting support of several incumbent councillors and community leaders.
In District 8, former Councillor Calvin Brown looks to be gaining momentum over challenger Jermaine Williams. Brown easily carried the Preliminary over Williams with 73 percent of the vote, and Williams has seemingly been nowhere in the last month.
Incumbent Councillor Dan Cortell is leaving the seat, and has not endorsed anyone.
In District 2, Councillor Luis Tejada is facing Attorney Olivia Walsh. Both are very popular in the District and around the City.
Councillor Giovanni Recupero is basically running unopposed, as challenger Kris Haight suspended his campaign a month ago. However, his name will still appear on the ballot next week – even though he is no longer running.
Councillor Enio Lopez is unopposed, and Councillor Matt Frank is not running in District 3. Former Councillor Joe Perlatonda is the lone candidate running for that seat.
In the at-large race, there are three incumbents on the ballot and no challengers.
Council President Leo Robinson and Councillors Roy Avellaneda and Damali Vidot are running for re-election. Though all are assured a seat, there is a fair amount of jockeying for position to see just who tops the ticket.
That likely has less to do with the City Election, and more to do with who will be the next Council President. Robinson is already the president, but would love to make a good showing at the top of the ticket.
Meanwhile, Vidot and Avellaneda are both likely candidates for the presidency come December. A strong finish would give one the edge over the other.
In the School Committee, there is little intrigue aside from the at-large seat. Incumbent Shawn O’Regan ran in the Preliminary for the District 1 Council seat, which opened up the at-large seat on School Committee.
Former Chelsea High Athletic Director Frank DePatto put his papers in and got his name on the ballot unopposed.
However, in recent weeks, O’Regan – who lost in the Preliminary Council election – has announced he is running a write-in sticker campaign to try to reclaim his seat on the School Committee.
A move by Councillors Damali Vidot and Enio Lopez supposedly aimed at diversifying the City’s Boards and Commissions was roundly criticized by several Council members Monday night – with Councillor Roy Avellaneda calling the drafters “cowards.”
Vidot said many on Boards and Commissions – such as the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – have been in their volunteer seats for many years, and by enacting term limits, perhaps those bodies could become more diverse.
“Some of these boards make decisions we as a City Council have no say on and we have to face the residents,” she said. “We have people serving on some of these boards year after year. I respect the work they do, but the City is changing and maybe we need to think about diversifying these boards.”
That set off Councillor Avellaneda, who called the move “cowardly.” He noted that he had a problem with one Board member, former License Commissioner Ken Umemba, and he used the current process of Council oversight to try to remove him. That, however, he said, requires standing up and facing the dirty looks and the bad feelings.
“If you don’t want people on the Board, stand up and say ‘Thank you for your service, we don’t want you. We want someone else.’ This is cowardly. If you don’t have the guts to tell someone you don’t want them on the board to their face, then don’t do it. Standing up and doing that takes guts. It takes guts to say that to someone’s face.
“This is hypocritical,” he continued. “I can’t believe how hypocritical it is…I will fight against this. I will make a stink about this if I have to.”
Avellaneda referred to the process of Council oversight in his comments, which includes the Council having to vote for any appointment or re-appointment to all boards and commissions. The Council can vote down an appointment, which would require the city manager to put a new candidate forth.
Councillor Lopez said he was offended by being called cowardly in putting the idea forward. He said it had nothing to do with that.
“I’m not a coward,” he said. “We did this because we want to see change. Maybe it didn’t happen when you wanted it, but now it’s a different year and a different time. We want to see more people volunteer…We want people who want to come. The idea is to have different faces and not just the people who have been there all the time.”
That said, there isn’t exactly a line out the door waiting to serve on Chelsea’s boards and commissions. Many seats go unfilled, and a number of boards have trouble making a quorum in order to be able to have an official meeting – even critical boards like the Planning Board that can hold up development.
Councillor Giovanni Recupero brought that to everyone’s attention.
“If people don’t want to come serve on these boards, nothing will change,” he said. “The City needs to try to recruit people to sit on these boards. If no one wants to do it, then the people there should do it and I thank them for what they do because no one else wants to.”
Councillor Matt Frank had a good point in citing Chelsea’s history of corruption, and how the boards and commissioners purposely spread out power.
“In the past, too much power was centralized in only a few hands,” he said. “Our boards and commissions system de-centralized the power over all these boards and commissions. If you are proposing something, you might need to go to Economic Development, Zoning, Planning, and the License Commission. That’s a lot of people to go before. There was a time in the City when you had to grease one hand and you got things done. We don’t want to see that again.”
The matter was defeated by a vote of 2-8, with only Vidot and Lopez voting for it.
Parking is at a crisis point according to many in Chelsea, and Councillor Enio Lopez said at Monday’s meeting that matters are only made worse by some who park multiple commercial/business vehicles on City streets where parking is scant.
The matter passed the Council and was reported to the City Manager and Parking Clerk for review and suggestions.
“A lot of times you will see three or four commercial vehicles from one house parked on the street,” he said. “I think you can only have one van or one truck, but I have seen some people that are parking four cars or vans on the streets for their businesses. They should pay for a parking lot to park their business vehicles. These spots are for people who live in the City and may be coming home from part-times at night and can’t find a spot.”
Councillor Matt Frank said Lopez had identified a large and growing problem in the City that makes parking much more difficult.
“This is a serious problem when you have a small side streets and you have four or five vans operating there and parking there and there is nowhere for residents to park,” he said. “A lot of people are running small businesses out of their homes. That’s great, but if you start bringing in 10 or 12 employees and then you park your vans on the street, that’s a problem.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero agreed, saying he sees it a lot in his district.
“There’s a loophole based on the numbers of axles, the difference is between a commercial vehicle and a commercial plate,” he said. “The way it is now, they can park all day long. Maybe we can go back and change this so it doesn’t have that loophole. We have to revise the regulations to accommodate residents.”
Councillor Dan Cortell agreed, saying that making the distinction between commercial vehicles and commercial plates might be a problem. Perhaps, he said, both should be included in the regulations.