Bishop Proposes City Council Pay Cut

Bishop Proposes City Council Pay Cut

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.

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‘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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Council says ‘No, Thank You’ to Recupero TIF Proposal

Council says ‘No, Thank You’ to Recupero TIF Proposal

Last month, District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero’s proposal to lower water and sewer rates for homeowners who live in the city narrowly won council approval.

Monday night, Recupero took another shot at cutting a financial break for Chelsea’s home and business owners.

This time, the support for a proposal to have City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to explore limited-term tax relief for homeowners to make improvements to their properties was less than enthusiastic. The council voted 6-4 against moving the proposal forward to the city manager for further research.

Recupero promoted the tax relief as being similar to Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which is a public financing method used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects.

“In this world, if you don’t try, you will never get anything done,” Recupero said, adding that the tax relief would benefit those who make improvements to one-, two-, or three-family homes, condominiums, or small businesses.

Several councillors said they were concerned that using the TIF structure for private homes could lead to legal issues.

“I’m concerned that we are traveling to a place that could put the council in jeopardy,” said Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson. “We’re traveling down some murky waters and I’m going to be voting against it.”

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda said the City is not in the business of being a bank, while District 2 Councillor Luis Tejada noted that the tax breaks could have a long-term impact on city finances.

“I can’t think of any benefit of giving a TIF to a homeowner if they are going to put in a new bathroom or a deck,” said Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda. He added that when there is a TIF for a business, it is usually as part of an agreement to bring more jobs to a community.

“There is no benefit that the city is getting” from a home improvement TIF, Avellaneda said.

District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop, Council President Damali Vidot, and District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia joined Recupero in voting to have Ambrosino further study the proposal.

“This would encourage people to fix up their homes,” said Bishop. “Why not encourage people to fix up their one-, two-, or three-bedroom homes and condominiums?”

Bishop said that Recupero’s request was only to have the city manager study the issue, not to immediately put it into effect.

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Time for a Trim

Time for a Trim

The 3rd annual Chelsea Free Back-to-School Haircut day took place at the Jordan Boys & Girls Club on Monday, Aug. 27. Six area barbers cut the hair of boys and girls in preparation for the first day of school Aug. 29. Here, event founder Luis Rodriguez and Councillor Yamir Rodriguez with William Arvarbo, who has a fresh trim.

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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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Council Approves Transfers for Rainy Day Funds

Council Approves Transfers for Rainy Day Funds

The Chelsea City Council approved a request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino to clean up and make a big-time deposit into the City’s savings accounts.

The Council approved a $15 million transfer into the Stabilization Fund on Monday night, and also approved a $5 million transfer into a new School Stabilization Fund. At the same time, three old savings accounts were closed out with about $300,000 going into the Stabilization Fund.

The requests came at the behest of Councillor Bob Bishop, who made the requests last month and presided over a committee meeting two weeks ago discussing the matters.

Bishop had indicated that he would like the money in the Stabilization Fund because he believes the City needs to save more money in case of a downturn in the economy. On the background, having the money in the Stabilization Fund gives the Council more control over any spending due to the fact that it requires a two-thirds vote of the Council.

Ambrosino said he supported both transfers and believed that the School Fund was a wise idea given that there are several projects coming up on the City’s schools.

All of them, he said, are in the Capital Improvement Plan.

In the same financial vein, the Council approved the final $3 million payment on the Clark Avenue Middle School project. The City has been paying cash wherever it can on the project – which is still under construction until this summer – to save money on interest payments accrued from having to borrow.

Part of the project is also funded by state reimbursements.

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Council Passes Unique Pilot for Students, Not Everyone on Board

Council Passes Unique Pilot for Students, Not Everyone on Board

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.

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Councillor Punts on Residency Ordinance, Sent to Committee

Councillor Punts on Residency Ordinance, Sent to Committee

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 matter was sent to a Committee on Conference.

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Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

Council Calls for Ordinance to Be Drafted on Residency Restriction

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.

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