City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he would gladly enforce the new Police and Fire residency ordinance confirmed last week at Council, but not until at least 2021.
“It has to be negotiated through collective bargaining,” he said. “The firefighters are under contract until 2021, and the police are now at the state Joint Labor Management Commission. It probably won’t be able to be negotiated with either unit until 2021. We have no plans to enforce it until there is a new contract because the law is clear this is a change in the contract subject to collective bargaining.”
The Council voted for the matter last month, and staved off a challenge to that vote last week, led by Councilor Giovanni Recupero. Recupero has tried for seven years to get the residency plan in place for new police and fire hires. The plan now in effect would require all new hires as of July 31 to live in the city for five years after hire.
The matter, however, cannot be enforced until the City Manager re-negotiates the contracts with the police and fire, meaning that all member would get raises in exchange for that change in working conditions.
Ambrosino said the unions could decide not to agree to the matter, which would also make it unenforceable if it is outside any contract.
“An ordinance cannot supersede a mandatory collective bargaining matter,” he said. “It is unenforceable until it shows up in a collective bargaining agreement.”
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.
By most accounts, the order put in by Councillor Giovanni Recupero on Monday night to effectively put term limits on members of appointed boards and commissions in the city would have been voted down in year’s past.
But the new Council has a new outlook, and the order was approved and pushed to a Committee on Conference by a vote of 7-4 on Monday night.
The measure calls for the Council to adopt a policy that would require the Council not to be able to re-appoint any member of a Board or Commission if they have served two consecutive terms already. The provision would only take effect if someone else in Chelsea is willing to serve on the Board. If no one else is interested, then the re-appointment could go through.
“I’m not for anyone serving over and over and over,” said Recupero. “They need fresh ideas. Some of these people on the boards have been there 20 years. Nothing changes with that. It’s all just the status quo. I’m even for term limits on the Council. I don’t think anyone should serve more than 10 years. It should be 10 years and then you’re out. Same for the Boards and Commissions.”
Recupero’s order did get some pushback, with opposing votes from Councillors Roy Avellaneda, Leo Robinson, Yamir Rodriguez and Calvin Brown.
However, seven other councillors were behind Recupero’s idea.
It continued a hot debate that began last year when Councillor Roy Avellaneda attempted to not re-appoint License Commission member Ken Umemba. That political skirmish led to Councillors Vidot and Enio Lopez presenting an order last fall that called for an effort to have more diversity on the City’s boards.
That was followed up by Vidot unearthing in the Charter that the City had not been advertising the open positions in the paper due to an oversight. That has now begun on a quarterly basis.
Vidot said the matter is now moved to a Committee on Conference.
By a preliminary vote of 8-0, Councillor Damali Vidot received the support of her colleagues to become the new Council President in 2018 during a meeting on Monday.
The annual Conference Committee on leadership took place Monday with two possible candidates, current President Leo Robinson and Vidot. Both had been vying for the position behind the scenes, lobbying their colleagues for the position.
However, Robinson apparently had withdrawn his name before Monday’s conference, conceding the gavel to Vidot.
Those voting for Vidot to be president were Councillors Luis Tejada, Yamir Rodriguez, Giovanni Recupero, Calvin Brown, Bob Bishop, Enio Lopez, Robinson and Judith Garcia.
Vidot did not vote for herself, and Councillor Roy Avellaneda did not show up for the Conference. Councillor-elect Joe Perlatonda was absent during the president vote.
Vidot said she was honored to receive support from her colleagues, and will lean on the experience of long-time councillors to help her with the new role.
“I am honored to have received the support of my colleagues in serving as president of Chelsea City Council,” she said. “It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I intend on leaning on the experience of longer-serving councillors while building on the passion and ideas of newer colleagues. We all have something different we bring to the table and I want to honor all of those voices while working cohesively on the concerns of our hard-working residents.
“More importantly, I want to ensure that we are always adhering to our City Charter and it’s ordinances and ensuring that the process is always fair and transparent,” she continued.
The vice president role was more hotly contested, with Councillor-elect Brown getting the nod over Recupero in a vote of 6-4.
Those voting for Brown were Vidot, Rodriguez, Brown, Bishop, Lopez, and Garcia. Those voting for Recupero were Tejada, Recupero, Robinson, and Perlatonda.
Avellaneda was not present for the vote.
Tejada was unanimously elected as the new School Committee liaison in a vote of 10-0, with Avellaneda absent.
The Council also participated in the annual drawing for Roll Call vote order and seating order.
Vidot will be the first vote next year in any roll call, with Recupero being the last vote.
In seating, there will be some interesting neighbors – with Councilors Recupero and Perlatonda sitting next to one another again. The old friends sat next to one another when Perlatonda was on the Council previously. Oddly enough, Perlatonda will also sit next to Garcia, who replaced him two years ago and whom he has criticized from time to time. Bishop will site on one end of the Council, while Calvin Brown will sit on the other end.
For at least three years, Councillor Giovanni Recupero has been pleading for a pedestrian crossing light on Marginal Street so as to make getting to the new PORT Park safe.
With tractor trailers and vehicles of all types flying down the thoroughfare, reaching the new park is very dangerous, especially for a child or a mother with a stroller.
For all those three years, he was told to find the money and maybe he could get it.
Well, he did, and last Monday night, Sept. 25, the crossing area was voted in by the City Council.
“This is one of the best things I have done,” he said. “I worked very hard for this. It took me three years. There was no funding, they said. Well, I found the funding. Now we have it.”
With the money he found, and a significant amount of extra funds allocated due to cost overruns, the signal is now designed and ready to be installed in the spring, hopefully in time for next summer.
Recupero identified $145,000 in funds from the Eastern Salt mitigation fund that came in 2007 as a result of adding the second salt pile. Part of that money went to the Highland Park Field, and some was left over.
Recupero said that’s the money he found.
However, earlier this month, City Manager Tom Ambrosino reported that a major increase in the cost had occurred. The design and construction had gone from $145,000 to $402,000 due to the signal being far more expensive that estimated.
However, Ambrosino still supported it.
“Although this is a major change in scope, I still feel this signalization is a worthwhile effort,” he wrote. “If we want pedestrians to get safely to the park from the abutting neighborhoods, the new scope of work is essential.”
The additional funding of $257,000 was voted in by the Council Sept. 25 as well.
For Recupero, it’s a double celebration as on Monday his opponent, Kris Haight, withdrew from the Council race.
Haight, a public transportation advocate, said his work was too demanding to also give attention to a Council position.
“After great consideration, I have decided to bow out of the Chelsea City Councilor’s race,” he wrote in a statement. “I am dropping out for a number of reasons, but time and effort is the biggest one. My day job has become a bear, to the point where I am going non stop most of the day. I’m just exhausted when I get home, let alone have to get on my feet to canvass for a few hours to meet the voters.”
He said the demands of his job would not allow him to be an effective councillor, and if elected, that wouldn’t be fair to the residents.
He said he is no longer a candidate.
Recupero said he is running and hopes the voters notice the things he’s done, such as the pedestrian crossing signal, and believe he’s doing a good job for them at City Hall.
“It would be my honor and pleasure to continue representing the people of District 6 for another term,” he said. “I will try my hardest, and I hope they will help me get back to City Hall for another term.”
Tuesday night featured the long-anticipated Residency Ordinance committee discussion amongst the new City Council, and when the cards had been laid on the table, it appeared to be a 5-5 tie with Councillor Roy Avellaneda still holding his cards close to the chest – likely to be the deciding vote if the measure comes to a roll call.
Members of the City Council, police union officials, fire union officials, City Manager Tom Ambrosino and interested residents packed the meeting room on Tuesday to learn about what could be done and where decision-makers stood on the issue.
The matter of a residency ordinance for new hires in the police and fire department has been before the Council scores of times over the past few years, and this time around Councillor Giovanni Recupero and other supporters were looking to give the populist cause another run with six new councillors now seated.
In this iteration of the proposed ordinance, which holds high popularity with the voters of the city, Recupero has called for all newly hired police officers and firefighters to remain living in the city for five years after being hired. Right now, anyone taking the Civil Service test to become a police officer or firefighter must have lived in Chelsea one year prior to taking the test. That develops the residency hiring preference, but many fret that some officers and firefighters leave town after being hired.
Others, however, weren’t so worried about where these folks lived, but rather how they performed their jobs.
City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson said 39 of 102 police officers live in Chelsea and 17 of 88 firefighters live in Chelsea. Overall, out of all City employees, 38.8 percent (out of 876 employees) reside in Chelsea. Recupero’s initiative would only apply to newly hired police and fire, though.
“It makes good sense for them to live here with us,” said Recupero. “They would provide us with a middle class in our city, which we do not have. The middle class drives us. The average person in Chelsea doesn’t make that much money. They make $25,000 or $30,000, while police and fire make $75,000 or $80,000. They also get to see with their own eyes what the people go through every day. They would be more involved in the community. The gain is you live in the community, work in the community and are part of the community. If it’s such a bad idea, why does Boston, Everett and Malden do it?”
Recupero found allies in Councillor Damali Vidot, Luis Tejada, Enio Lopez and Leo Robinson.
Vidot said she may not totally agree with the ordinance, but sees that her constituents overwhelmingly want it.
“It is overwhelming the amount of people that want the police to live in the city,” she said. “I am representing the community. When I speak with them, this is what they want. If I’m here because the public voted me here, I have to represent them. I have to say it is overwhelming that the people want the police and fire to live here and it should be DPW and other departments too.”
Said Lopez, “If they buy a house here, they live there and pay taxes to the City. That should be a gain to the City. Plus, the young people will see them as an example and something to look up to.”
Others did not agree, including Council President Dan Cortell – who has long opposed the idea.
“We have about 40 percent of the police living here and 20 percent of the firefighters living here and without requiring it,” he said. “I have always said the day those numbers are down to 5 percent, I would consider this. If there are that many living here in Chelsea now by their own choice, we have good numbers. It’s not broken and we don’t need to fix it.”
He was joined by Councillors Judith Garcia, Yamir Rodriguez, Matt Frank and Paul Murphy.
“The ordinance would make it hard to track down people,” he said. “I don’t believe we would have implied distrust of our police and firefighters.”
Garcia said she wanted to focus on the best person for the job.
“If we are going to get the best officers, we need to focus on recruitment and not residency,” she said, noting that studies from Washington State University and others have proven that residency ordinances don’t necessarily make communities safer – in perception or reality.
The only councillor who didn’t make his or her opinion known was Avellaneda, and he will likely be a deciding factor if an when the measure hits the floor of the Council.
Union officials were adamant in their distaste for the proposed ordinance, both fire and police unions.
“As a union president and a taxpayer, I don’t care if they live on Webster Ave or Mass Ave, as long as they can do the job well,” said Police Patrolmen’s Union President Mark O’Connor.
Fisher Watson said if the ordinance were to pass, it would only be a recommendation to City Manager Tom Ambrosino – who may or may not choose to enforce the ordinance. It would also, if passed, require a new collective bargaining agreement with the public safety unions.
The City Council is preparing to have another conference committee meeting on a proposed residency ordinance introduced two weeks ago by Councillor Giovanni Recupero.
Recupero said this week that he will amend the ordinance, which now calls for all new hires to remain living in the city for seven years after being hired, to read that it would only be five years after being hired.
He said that was a compromise amongst colleagues and he indicated he believes he has the votes necessary to pass the measure. He has proposed iterations of the residency ordinance many times over the past few years, but never with so many new faces on the Council.
The proposal will likely be a litmus test for the direction that the new Council heads on such measures that were often not entertained in the past.
“I have agreed to amend it to five years from seven years,” he said. “I believe I have at least six votes lined up for this. People say that there is no place for them to live, but that’s not right because they have to live in Chelsea already at least one year before they can even be hired. I’m not looking to hurt anyone who is already on. They will be grandfathered. It’s only for new hires. What’s wrong with them living in our city? What’s so bad about living here?”
In a Letter to the Editor in this week’s Chelsea Record, Councillor Leo Robinson also indicates he supports the new ordinance proposal.
“The virtues of hiring local residents for local jobs are obvious: more employment opportunities, more spending within the community, more tax revenues, and less crime,” he wrote. “Although our community has shown interest in creating employment opportunities, most of the focus has been on low-skilled, low-wage workers. Employment policies should be equally concerned with retaining high-skilled, high-wage workers within the community, for that would mean more homeowners and taxpayers, not to mention more community involvement.”
He indicated that official numbers showed that 71 of 90 firefighters lived outside of the city, and 63 of 102 police officers live outside of the city.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said the ordinance is not a priority of his, but he isn’t interested in waging a war with the Council if it is its priority.
“It’s not something I would pursue on my own and I don’t have a strong opinion on it, but it’s also not something I’m going to fight a battle with the City Council on,” he said.
He said he opposed the idea of a residency ordinance when he was mayor of Revere many years ago, but it was a priority of the City Council and he worked with them.
Council President Dan Cortell said he doesn’t support the measure, and never has. He said he believes that there are enough Chelsea police and firefighters living in the city.
“I am not going to support it,” he said. “I have always said if it gets down to five officers or firefighters in the city, I might have to take a look at it, but the last numbers I saw that isn’t the case. I see it as trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Taking the gavel once again this January will be District 8 Councillor Dan Cortell, after he received unanimous support of his colleagues in their caucus Monday night.
The incoming Council met on Monday night for its annual caucus session to pick its officers, its seating position and its voting order for the 2016 session. Gone were many of the councillors that have served for decades and, in their place for the first time, were several new councillors who will take a place at the table next year.
Cortell was chosen as the president in a vote of 9-0. Missing from that vote was Councillor Giovanni Recupero, who has been tending to a family issue for a few weeks, and Councillor-elect Luis Tejada, who came in just after the vote.
Council President Leo Robinson – the dean of the Council – ran the meeting and kicked off the proceedings.
Councillor Paul Murphy nominated Cortell, and Councillor-elect Damali Vidot seconded that motion.
Then, Councillor-elect Yamir Rodriguez nominated Councillor-elect Roy Avellaneda for president.
Avellaneda, who has been running for the position over the last month, had apparently failed to secure the necessary votes and withdrew.
“I appreciate it, but I will withdraw,” he said.
He then threw his support behind Cortell, who was elected unanimously.
“I am honored to have been chosen to lead Council’s next session by both councillors I have worked with over the years and some who I’ve only recently gotten to know,” said Cortell. “From the many conversations that have taken place since, and even before elections were over, I’m most confident that all councillors put their name on a ballot, campaigned and ran to play their part in making Chelsea the best it can be. I have inherent respect for anyone who takes the leap from interested resident to elected official and am confident we’ll have an active and effective Council that, despite inevitable periodic disagreement, will work collectively and with City Manger Tom Ambrosino to better the City we have a shared passion to see reach its full potential.”
Following that, Vidot was chosen as vice president of the Council – a relative rarity that one who has yet to take a seat on the Council would have secured the votes needed to be second in the leadership chain.
“I’m excited to serve and am looking forward to working together with everyone to move Chelsea forward on a City Council that hears the needs of everybody,” she said.
She was chosen by a vote of 10-0, with Recupero absent.
Tapped to be the School Committee delegate was Councillor-elect Yamir Rodriguez of District 7.
Avellaneda returned the favor and nominated Rodriguez, which was seconded by Cortell.
The vote was a unanimous 10-0 with Recupero absent.
In other more mundane matters, the Council (using the same envelopes they’ve
Council Clerk Paul Casino spreads out the envelopes to help choose seating position as the Council caucused Monday night to choose a president for the 2016 session. In a unanimous vote, Councillor Dan Cortell was chosen for the position.
used since receivership, a nod to frugality) chose closed envelopes that contained numbers and determined where they would sit in the coming year.
Avellaneda chose number 1, meaning he will be on the far left, while Councillor Matt Frank chose number 10, which means he’ll be on the far right. In between, left to right, will be Paul Murphy, Enio Lopez, Recupero, Tejada, Vidot, Robinson, Judith Garcia, and Rodriguez. Cortell will be seated at the rostrum as the new president.
An official vote for officers will take place on inauguration night, Jan. 4, but the vote of the caucus most often stands
As the new configuration of the Council approaches a January inauguration, already plenty of politicking is being done to secure the transformed body’s new leader.
Council President Leo Robinson will be one incumbent who is returning to the Council, but it is typically frowned upon for one to seek a second term. He also apparently lacks the support even if he were pursuing it, which he isn’t.
That leaves three councillors who are now jockeying for the post, including Councillor-election Roy Avellaneda, Councillor Giovanni Recupero and Councillor Matt Frank.
The process will work itself out next month when the returning Council members and the newly elected members will sit down for a caucus on the subject. At that point, those in the room will pledge their support to their choice for president. The first to receive a majority will be tabbed as the designated choice. However, an official vote does not take place until right after the inauguration in January. Things can certainly change in that period of time, but the custom has been to stick with the caucus.
Avellaneda, who has been on the Council previously, said he is pursuing the post.
“I am pursuing council president and I’ve had a couple of conversations asking for support,” he said. “No one has officially committed yet. I hope they’ll look at my experience and willingness to work with everybody and the way I’ve been trying to consult them in getting prepared for the Council as a true sign of a leader. It’s not locked in yet. A few would support me and others are thinking about it.”
Councillor Matt Frank said he is actively pursuing it, and was the president just two years ago before Robinson.
“I am publicly poking around about it,” he said. “I would like to be president again. When I was president previously we opened up a lot of what we did and brought a lot of new people into the Chambers…I was fair with my colleagues, even those I disagreed with. I’ll work with everybody regardless. I have the track record to show for it and I’m open to the public.”
Talk around the coffee table indicated that Frank may have Councillor-elect Damali Vidot’s vote already in place, as he made a late season endorsement of her candidacy just prior to the election. Some have indicated that was a quid-pro-quo agreement, but neither confirmed that.
Meanwhile, Recupero did not publicly acknowledge his bid for president, but others have mentioned he is looking for support.
It is believed he might have the support of some of the incumbents on the Council and some of the newcomers that he helped in the past election.
Of course, nothing is set in stone on this internal Council scramble until much later next month, and just about anything can happen until the caucus is convened.
The spray painted markings on the pavement of Lynn Street Extension are hardly noticeable, but for Councillor Giovanni Recupero and neighbors of the side street that runs from Suffolk to Central Avenue, such markings are cause for celebration.
The markings indicate the spot where a street light will now be placed.
Seems like an odd cause to celebrate, but the heavily travelled street that has a preponderance for occasional violent crime has been dark for decades; not one street light adorns the popular cut-through between the forest of one-way streets. Recupero and neighbors contend that the darkness has attracted crime, prostitution, drug addicts and drug sellers to the quiet area, where most of the homes are well-kept and flowers adorn most every small front yard.
Put in context, maybe the street light is a little bit of a big deal.
“I think it’s a big deal, yeah,” said Recupero. “It took me three years to get a light here, but that’s just one. Look at how long this street is. Can you imagine how dark it gets here at night? There’s never been any light here as long as I can remember and it’s a real public safety problem. I’ve been fighting and fighting, but this is the people’s victory. They complained to me about this right after I was first elected. Why didn’t the City do anything? I don’t know. They told me they couldn’t. Now, suddenly, they can.”
The street light is critical, as shootings and violent episodes do happen in the darkness from time to time.
Last week, police arrested two youths who were carrying a gun and fired it as police closed in on them.
“It’s not like this street isn’t used,” Recupero said. “This is the way that people get up to Essex, Congress and Maverick Streets. It’s so dark that people are scared to walk there. They go around and they shouldn’t have to. The whole Lynn extension is dark and doesn’t have any lights. We’ve had shootings there recently and other crimes. Maybe this light will help slow down the crime here.”
The victory, however, is short lived for Recupero, who said his district has been allowed to decay over the last several years.
Potholes, more like craters, line parts of the street, and the same is true for Maverick Street and others.
On Suffolk Street, he points to sidewalks covered in tall grass and broken glass. Others are just overtaking by dirt and weeds, long since surrendered by the City to the elements.
Trash covers the area, as well as used condoms and drug needles.
A small flower bouquet memorial sits on one side of the street where a woman’s body was dumped last year.
“When that woman was dumped, I started calling for streetlights on Suffolk Avenue again,” Recupero said. “It took me eight weeks for them to get the lights on again. People like that come here because it’s dark and there are no lights or the lights don’t work.”
On Highland Street, he points to a crumbling sidewalk on the western side of the heavily-walked street.
“I’ve been here 35 years and I don’t know if I can remember them ever doing the sidewalk here or on Lynn Street extension,” he said. “Yet, this summer, they’re doing Gillooly Road for the second time in two years. This isn’t a slum over here. People keep their property up. Look around; there aren’t any crumbling houses or anything. But the City doesn’t keep its property up. These people pay taxes too and it’s not right.”
Further up Highland, Recupero points to a sewer grate that’s falling into the curb – covered up by an orange barrel.
“It’s been like that for so long and I keep telling them about it,” he said. “You can go all over my district and it’s like this everywhere.”
Recupero said he is hoping to conduct a walking tour of his district with new City Manager Tom Ambrosino to show him the problems that could be easily fixed. Until that time, he said he will continue the fight.