From my Corner: January 8, 2021

We demand a Special Election

For over 30 years living in Lawrence never ceases to amaze me how submissive we are. Politicians play games with us and we end up like chess pieces manipulated at their convenience. The most they do is an occasional complaint on the radio that goes nowhere because the ones responsible for the damage are not listening.
There was a time when we had an English-language radio station that offered not only variety in the programming and educational value but, since its closing, a big segment of the Merrimack Valley was left without any means of communications in the English language for local news.
For the past 15 years, I have been complaining ad-nauseam about the community access television station that has been banned to the general public. Only very few chosen ones are allowed to produce programs when that facility could be entertaining and educating residents to make a better living and be informed of what surrounds them. Instead, it is a direct effort to keep us ignorant thus enabling the manipulation.
But something has occurred that appears to have picked the interest of voters. Some members of the City Council concocted an illegal maneuver to violate several laws in the City Charter as well as Massachusetts General Laws. The best part is that they got caught and the people are saying, “We had enough and we’re going to fight back.”
Besides writing letters to government officials (that historically never respond to our problems) former Council President Modesto Maldonado and I filed two separate injunctions in Lawrence Superior Court. The case will go before the judge on Thursday, January 14 at 11:30 AM.
The purpose of this action is to protest the filing of S2993 by State Senator Barry Finegold requesting a series of changes to the Lawrence City Charter depriving the community of input on the decision in violation of the City Charter and Massachusetts General Laws, after Mayor Daniel Rivera resigned from his position. His last day was January 8, 2021.
The proposed Charter changes have the interest of violating the rights of Lawrence residents to a Special Election to replace the outgoing mayor. The excuses being used are:
1. The pandemic. In the past three months, Lawrence held 3 elections (Primary, Presidential and Dominican elections) with no known increase in numbers as a result of that. Other cities and towns will be holding elections this spring taking the necessary precautions.
2. The expense. We have almost $16 million in free cash that could be used for that purpose, although the cost is minimal by comparison.
3. Turmoil. Having an acting mayor now, a Special Election with a new mayor until November and then whoever is elected for the next 4 years will be too hectic for us.
The past two years have been a disrupting turmoil in Lawrence with the gas explosions and the pandemic; those are not reasons to give up our rights.
These are excerpts of what the City Charter stipulates on page 6, 4.11 Vacancy in the Office of Mayor:
(a) Special Election. If a vacancy in the office of the mayor occurs in the first forty-two months of the term for which the mayor is elected, the city council shall forthwith order a special election to be held not more than 90 days following the date the vacancy is created, to fill the vacancy for the balance of the unexpired term.
(b) Council Election. If a vacancy in the office of mayor occurs after the first forty-two months of the term for which the mayor is elected the clerk of the council shall forthwith call a special meeting of the city council, and, the city council shall then elect by majority vote, one of its members to serve as mayor. If the city council shall fail to elect one of its members within fourteen days following the date of the meeting called by the clerk of the council the president of the city council shall become the mayor. Upon the election and qualification of any member of the city council as acting mayor, his office of councilor shall be deemed to be vacant.
(c) Power, Term of Office. The mayor elected under either section 4.11(a) or (b) shall have all of the powers of the mayor. A mayor elected under section 4.11(a) shall serve for the balance of the term which remained unexpired at the time of his election. A mayor elected under section 4.11(b) shall serve until the date of the next regular city election and the person elected at the election to the office of mayor shall forthwith be sworn and shall, in addition to the term for which he was elected, serve for the balance of the then unexpired term of the mayor.
In this case, 4.11(a) is what we should go by because the mayor left after 36 months on his term and that calls for a Special Election.
The members of the City Council set up two meetings:
December 28, 2020, 7:15 PM – This meeting called for Public Participation and as soon as it began, In the absence of Council President Kendrys Vasquez, Vice President Marc Laplante started receiving calls from the audience, everyone complained that it should have been a Public Hearing to allow the community to speak on the subject of canceling the Special Election. He quickly decided to change it to a Public Hearing with no time limit. People continued complaining that it was illegal because it should have been advertised for 48 hours as such.
Item #268-20 Home Rule Petition 4.11(a) of the Lawrence City Charter-Vacancy in the Office of Mayor – Special Election – filed by Councilor Estela Reyes – Ordinance Committee. It ended when Councilor Pavel Payano Charter objected. It had over 6,000 views and 250 comments.
December 29, 2020, 7:00 PM – Item #268-20 was brought up as an Old Business and after listening to a few callers, Councilor David Abdoo began to read the changes in the Charter he had drafted over the residents’ objections. Councilor President Vasquez participated in this meeting for the first part and left.
Councilor Abdoo read the proposed changes in a rush and a vote was taken without discussion with total disregard to the public and the 3 councilors in opposition. The session ended after 9 PM and little did we know that it was an award-winning performance because Senate Bill #2993 had been filed earlier that day!
By the way, voting in favor of these changes were councilors Estela Reyes, Celina Reyes, Maria De La Cruz, David Abdoo, and Marc Laplante. That’s 5 votes and Article 89, Section 8 states that (1) a petition filed or approved by the voters of a city or town… The voters were forbidden to express their views. (2) by a two-thirds vote of each branch of the general court and 5 is not two-thirds of 9 or even 8 which is how many were present.
Section 6, enables cities and towns to exercise their home rule power only to the extent their actions are “not inconsistent with the (state) constitution or (the) laws.” That meeting had 4,900 views and 529 comments with almost all of them asking for a Special Election to take place.
S2993 – These are the proposed changes:
Please note that the President of the City Council doesn’t automatically become Acting Mayor. The Charter specifically says that councilors should meet and select one of them to take that place.
There are discrepancies such as, it states that the acting mayor shall serve for the balance of the then unexpired term of the mayor, which means until January. But further down it explains that the winner of the November municipal elections will be immediately seated and assume all the powers of the mayor and serve the balance of the then unexpired term of mayor. I think this is a conflict and we could end up with two mayors for two months because this will be legally binding.
Local laws cannot override Massachusetts General Laws and Article LXXXIX Section 4 states, Procedure for Amendment of a Charter by a City or Town. Every city and town shall have the power to amend its charter in the following manner: The legislative body of a city or town may, by a two-thirds vote, propose amendments to the charter of the city or town; provided, that [1] amendments of a city charter may be proposed only with the concurrence of the mayor in every city that has a mayor, and [2] any change in a charter relating in any way to the composition, mode of election or appointment, or terms of office of the legislative body, the mayor or city manager or the board of selectmen or town manager shall be made only by the procedure of charter revision set forth in Section 3. All proposed charter amendments shall be published and submitted for approval in the same manner as provided for adoption or revision of a charter.
According to Assistant City Attorney Timothy Houten during the January 5th City Council meeting, this was a charter change.
In my opinion, this has been planned and executed by Mayor Daniel Rivera and his allies in the council. Kendrys Vasquez has been loyal to the mayor for years and he is now unemployed; this is a personal favor to his friend.
This country is going through enough turmoil. The people of Lawrence want to be respected and all I am asking is for the laws to be followed. This community is only asking for the right to select our leaders, not having them imposed on us.
We have a big fight ahead of us. We don’t have an attorney representing the interest of the residents and the Legal Department at City Hall exists only to advise municipal departments, agencies, boards, commissions, and officers. That’s why Attorney Houten showed up in court while Modesto Maldonado and I were filling out the subpoenas to be served to the councilors.

The inauguration
We have been through at least three Acting Mayors; they were sworn-in at City Hall and went to work. Kendrys held a formal event as if he had won an election and calls himself “Mayor” avoiding the whole title of “Acting or Interim Mayor”. He has not been elected to anything.
His most important responsibility now is to safeguard the positions of the incompetent cronies hired by Dan Rivera in the hope that they can campaign and elect in November a suitable candidate that will continue the traditions Rivera started of giving priority, and city benefits to friends, relatives and particularly certain councilors.

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