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.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the City would defend the Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) September decision to deny an affordable housing project on upper Broadway, but at the same time he said he personally believes the ZBA made a “huge mistake.”
The ZBA denied the 42 unit affordable- and market-rate residential development at 1001 Broadway in a narrow vote that was based on creating more homeownership opportunities in the City. The project included nine units of market-rate housing and enhanced access to the Mill Creek waterfront.
And Ambrosino said, personally, he feels like the Board should have vote for the project.
“Personally, I think the Board made a big mistake in denying that project,” he said. “Affordable housing is the single most critical issue facing the city and to reject an affordable housing project is ludicrous. It’s the single biggest issue I hear about every week in this office. Denying that project will not create one single unit of home ownership.”
Last week, developers Traggorth and The Neighborhood Developers (TND) indicated they would appeal the decision in Suffolk Superior Court, believing that the project had ample community support.
Ambrosino said the City would defend the decision to deny, as it does have to, but his personal opinion differs.
“The City will defend the decision of the Board of Appeals,” he said. “My personal opinion is I like the project and supported the project. I wish them well (in their appeal).”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said this week that the City has negotiated three Host Community Agreements (HCA) with marijuana operators looking to establish dispensaries in the City.
Ambrosino said all three HCAs are identical and are really a formality for the dispensaries, which include the one at the former King Arthur’s, the one on Eastern Avenue and the one on Webster Avenue at Chelsea Commons. He said the City’s policy is they would negotiate an HCA with any entity that had gotten through the process and wanted to proceed to state approval.
“My guess is that it’s another year or so before any of them are set up,” he said. “It’s my understanding that all of the enterprises with HCAs here are not very close to being approved by the state Cannabis Control Commission (CCC).”
The HCAs are the next step after the community meeting, which all three have completed. To go before the CCC, an entity must have an HCA in place, and Ambrosino said the law is clear towards what can be in those agreements.
In Chelsea’s case, the City has asked for 3 percent of gross revenues from the sales of marijuana products. Those payments will come annually and will be in addition to the 3 percent local sales tax already approved. The first 3 percent mitigation payment would come 14 months after the dispensary opens.
A second monetary piece in the agreements includes two, $30,000 payments over two years to the City’s non-profits that have an anti-drug focus.
An important aside, Ambrosino said, is that the HCA doesn’t mean the City has agreed to support the license of any entity.
“My signing off on these is not a substantive decision on them,” he said. “I’m just giving them the chance to move forward and you have to have these in place to move forward. We’ll make the substantive decisions on these proposals not behind closed doors in a negotiation, but rather at the Zoning Board and Planning Board in a public as part of a process.”
Before any of the three dispensaries could open their doors, they would need state approval from the CCC. Then they would have to come back to Chelsea and get a special permit after visiting the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the Planning Board. If that permit is achieved, they would then have to get a license to operate from the Chelsea License Commission.
Only then could an establishment open for business.
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.
Fire Chief Len Albanese had his contract renewed for another three years by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
Albanese came to the City in 2016 from North Providence after a search committee chose several finalists, including some internal candidates. His contract was set to expire in June 2019, and Ambrosino said he is very pleased with the Chief’s work over the past two years.
“The chief and I began discussions about an extension, and we recently agreed on this new three-year term,” wrote Ambrosino. “I have been extremely satisfied with Chief Albanese’s leadership and management of the Fire Department since his arrival in 2016. I believe this extension is fully justified.”
Albanese, a resident of Charlestown, will get a pay increase of 3 percent in the first year of his contract. In the following two year, upon a review by Ambrosino, he is entitled to up to 3 percent each year as well.
The Chief will get 25 days of vacation per year, and can carry over five weeks of unused vacation time from one year to another. He may not, however, carry more than 10 week maximum of vacation time.
He also gets 15 sick days per the contract, as well as an automobile.
When Ayman Souabny looked around his school and his city, he didn’t see much of anything but concrete.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino, Council President Damali Vidot and Supt. Mary Bourque join Wright Middle students Luis Cruz-Martinez,Ayman Souabny, Sherlyn Melgar and Kevin Mizhquiri in front of the school last Friday, Oct. 19, to celebrate Arbor Day by planting a tree in front of the school. The planting was a request made by the students, fulfilled by local government.
He, and many of his students at the Wright Middle School, wanted to see trees.
And the City heard their call.
On Friday, the Chelsea Tree Board and City officials joined Souabny and several other key students who called for more trees around the Williams School building to plant a ceremonial tree in honor of Arbor Day.
“In Chelsea we need trees,” said Souabny. “Things keep changing in Chelsea and now we have none left. We need oxygen to breath and trees provide oxygen. So, I thought we should tell them to plant trees around our school…I never thought they would bring them, but they did.”
Tree Board member Julie Shannon said it’s a small gesture, but it’s one that – on Arbor Day – the students will be able to remember for a long time.
“Arbor Day is a chance for us as a community to pay special recognition to the importance of trees in our community,” she said. “I wanted to give a special thanks to the students where they are the reason we are celebrating this year’s Arbor Day at the Williams school. These students understand the numerous benefits and positive impact of more trees and took the initiative to speak up asking for more trees around the school. Well, let today be a testament that you’ve been heard and today is because of you. It’s a great lesson that you do have a voice in this community. Whether it’s getting more trees planted or other areas that need attention, speak up, you can make change happen. You should all be proud of yourselves.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the new trees will be something students can remember for a long time.
“This is a City committed to improving the green canopy in our City,” he said. “For the students, the best thing is these trees will last 50 years or more. When you grow up and are in Chelsea, every time you see these trees, you’ll be able to tell everyone they are there because of your efforts.”
Said Supt. Mary Bourque, “You do have a voice in this community. Whenever you see a place to speak up, you know you will be heard.”
Council President Damali Vidot said many of the comments she gets from students are about the environment.
“The majority of letters I get from young people, probably 95 percent, are about improving the environment,” she said. “I thank you for speaking up and I thank the DPW for listening to our future leaders – these students.”
Principal Michelle Martiniello said she was proud of the students for getting such a thing done.
“A lot of the time we encourage them to get involved in the community, and this time, it showed great benefits,” she said.
Added Assistant Principal Adam Weldai, “It was great for them to hear local government did listen to them and will do things they ask for.”
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.
The Chelsea Public Library and Raising a Reader are inviting the community to the 13th Annual Family Literacy Day: Chelsea Reads, on Saturday, November 3, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Chelsea Public Library, to encourage families to visit the library and read together.
“I was born and raised in the U.S., but my mom didn’t speak English, and I felt like I was lacking in my vocabulary,” explained Jeanette Velez, Coordinator for the Chelsea/Revere Family Network. “I wanted to make sure my boys were always reading and learning. Take the time and read in any language with your child because that will help them build a vocabulary.”
Families can spend time working on fun literacy activities, such as decorating baseball caps, at the over 13 local community organization tables. Children, infants to teenagers, will enjoy face painting, taking pictures in front of a green screen, and receiving free backpacks filled with books.
“The backpacks are the heart of the event because that’s what we started out doing and continue to raise funds for,” said Sarah Gay, Chelsea Public Library director. “For some kids it’s the only opportunity for them to get new books. I love seeing people with a lot of books and being happy.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino is among the special guests who will be reading to children during story time; and pages from “Can You Say Peace?” by Karen Katz, will be mounted on boards for families to read as they walk through the library.
“Chelsea is a diverse city,” said Velez. “With everything that is going on in the world, we are encouraging kids to know we are all the same.”
Clifford the Big Red Dog will be greeting visitors, and Off Broadway Dance Studio will also be performing Latin and Bollywood routines.
“There was a time 25 years ago when kids didn’t know what a library was,” said Margot Johnson, co-founder of Literacy Day, former traveling bookstore owner, and retired member of Reach Out and Read, Chelsea MGH. “Literacy is very important.”
Family Literacy Day Committee: Margot Johnson, Sarah Gay, and Jeanette Velez.
An outpouring of community love, relentlessness and transformation echoed around Park Street Wednesday as the region’s leaders joined hundreds of young people, the adults that love them and community partners in celebrating Roca’s deep impact the last three decades.
Roca’s participants, staff, alumni and partners came together for a night of live music and food to celebrate Roca’s 30th anniversary. Roca leaders thanked the community, its partners and allies in making such a difference in young people’s lives.
“I am in awe of all of you and all the young people we have met, had the honor of working with the last 30 years and all of the Roca team, our partners and this community who made all this relentlessness possible,” said Roca Founder and CEO Molly Baldwin.
At the event, Roca honored its Roca30 Unsung Hero Awardees, including state Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Probation Commissioner Edward Dolan, Youth Services Commissioner Peter Forbes, Boston Police Captain Haseeb Hosein, Chelsea Police Captain David Batchelor, Hampden County First Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Fitzgerald and Kim Hanton, director of diversionary addiction services at North Suffolk Mental Health Association.
“These seven individuals work on issues and for people who are well out of the headlines and far from the limelight because it’s the right thing and because it makes a difference,” said Baldwin. “They are truly unsung heroes.”
Featured speakers at the event were Jay Ash, secretary of housing and economic development under Gov. Charlie Baker, Harry Spence, the former Receiver of Chelsea and Massachusetts Court Administration and Eric Rodriguez, a founding Roca youth member and lead pastor of The Way Church.
The most special part of the evening came when Roca also honored seven youth participants as unsung heroes as well – seven young people whose lives have been upended by Roca’s relentless outreach, its transformative programs and its many partnerships.
Those young people are:
Caralis Rosario Hernandez
Each of the speakers paused to honor Roca and its team, in particular the driving force of the last 30 years – Molly Baldwin. Ash, the former Chelsea City Manager, presented Baldwin with a award honoring her service and summed up the accollades of many by noting her personal relentlessness as an indisputable driver of Roca’s success.
“If not for Molly Baldwin, there are so many people who wouldn’t be where they are or even alive today,” said Ash. “Molly’s life of service and her relentlessness is an inspiration to us all.”