From My Corner: June 22, 2015

Lawrence Housing Authority Truck from 2001 RUMBO story
Lawrence Housing Authority Truck from 2001 RUMBO story

History repeats itself

On October 1, 2001 we had an article about two city officials, both managers of two housing projects in Lawrence, who were using a city truck and equipment as well as a truckload of soil on a Sunday to landscape the front and back yard of a home in South Lawrence.

When we arrived they panicked and ran to the back of the house leaving us only the option of taking a picture of the truck parked in from of the home.  The individuals in question were Efren Rolon, manager of the Hancock Project and Daniel Rivera, manager of the Stadium Projects.

Read the entire 2001 story
Read the entire 2001 story

As a result of the article we published, I understand that they were reprimanded by the director of the Lawrence Housing Authority.

Years later, during the mayoral campaign, you might remember that I was a member of the media questioning the candidates at the debate held at Lawrence High School.  Remembering the 2001 story, I specifically asked all the candidates, “If elected, would you use city property or equipment for personal purposes?”  While I looked into Danny’s eyes, I’m sure he could read my mind and knew the reason for that query.  As expected, he said he would not.

Well, it may not have been for his personal use, but he has shown his total disregard for respect of city property and equipment allowing James Blatchford’s wedding to take place at the City Council Chambers after hours.  He is using that building as his personal property and for the benefit of his friends.  Mayor Rivera officiated the ceremony.

But, it doesn’t stop at the ceremony.  The wedding party met after hours twice for rehearsals and to top it off, the City Council’s video equipment was used to record the wedding ceremony.  I wonder if permission would be granted to other couples trying to do the same.

Celebrating marriages at city hall is a normal function of the city clerk during working hours.  Opening city hall after hours for the benefit of a private event is not legal.

The mayor has no business using the City Council Chambers at will.  He has no jurisdiction over the premises and he should have secured permission from the councilors.  Using the video equipment is completely out of the question.

These abuses bother me even more because the groom, James Blatchford is a member of the school committee and is now a candidate for the city council at-large.  Also, District C Councilor Kendrys Vasquez who was in the wedding party should have refused to partake in something that he should have known was illegal.  Just read the Massachusetts Code of Ethics on this page making it clear that it is a conflict of interests and that using public equipment and resources for personal business is using an official position to obtain an unwarranted privilege of substantial value not properly available to others.

The Ethics Commission takes these cases very seriously.  Remember the 2009 case involving Mark Rivera, who was Urban Affairs Liaison and Special Assistant to Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy.  Rivera repeatedly misused his School Department authority to access the LexisNexis database through the School Department’s account to conduct hundreds of searches of non-public information on individuals, including state and local elected officials, professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities, for his own private purposes, and, according to Rivera, to some extent for the private purposes of Superintendent Laboy.

The privilege was unwarranted because it involved the use of public resources for a private purpose and the end result was that Rivera had to pay the Commission the sum of $5,000 as a civil penalty for violating the law.

FY16 Budget

There were not many changes worthy of notice during the budget hearings with the exception of the elimination of the city engineer’s salary – Theodoro Rosario, the agronomist posing as city engineer because he the mayor’s friend.  You can be sure that, either he will remain there and the mayor will continue paying him from somewhere or he will be accommodated at some other job.

The other decision was giving the mayor three months to post the police chief job and hire a permanent chief.  Going through all that is only a waste of time and resources; it may prove unnecessary or even worse, dangerous: we may end up with another John Romero.

Mayor Rivera has the authority to appoint permanently our current interim chief James Fitzpatrick.  How can any outsider compete with the qualifications and character we already know about this officer?  I think we’ll be going for the sure thing.

Mayor Rivera, get the city moving forward and make a decision today!

Water rates

During the budget hearings we heard the Water Commissioner Brian Peña announce that the water rates will be increased in 2019 so I called him to clarify that for me.

Fifi García often mentions on her radio program that the water rate has gone up and I also heard Benny Espaillat say on his morning show, very authoritatively, that in the past 9 years, the water has risen 38%.  Brian explained that the last water rate increase was in June of 2009, something that should happen every 10 years, which is why the next increase is scheduled for 2019.

He also attributes the increase Benny mentioned to the new water meters’ accuracy.  That accounts for an additional $1.8 million the city has collected.

LPL air conditioning

Regular users and employees of the Lawrence Public Library are feeling the heat – yes, the air conditioning system has been out of order for a few weeks.  The cost of repair or replace it is around $80,000 and the city has had no money to do it.

With the passing of the new budget beginning on July 1st it will be possible but for the next two months of summer, the temperature will be unbearable in there on certain days.  Fortunately, the union contract allows the director to send everyone home when it goes up (or down) to a certain level.

Councilor Sandy Almonte

Sandy, you are very feisty during the council meetings but you cannot cover yourself and expect to be reelected by your claims of “all I do for my community.”  The “work” you might be doing among the youth and eradicating graffiti in your district does not compensate for your lack of responsibility attending city council meetings and being present to take a vote on issues detrimental to our city.  We have seen your modus operandi through the years.