Council Effort to Delay City Hall Proposal Fails

I thought the city’s move to a new charter and a single-unified legislative body was supposed to make it easier for the city to make progress and remain flexible in a modern environment.

Instead, it almost seems like a concerted effort is being made by some members of the new City Council to obstruct and slow down city government to a pace that almost makes glaciers seem like swift moving threats to the environment.

The latest case in point, Monday night’s contentious debate about putting a ballot question to the voters of the city to see if they’d support Mayor Carlo DeMaria’s proposal to redevelop the old Everett High School on Main Street as a new City Hall and state of the art Police Headquarters.

The Mayor’s bold proposal, delivered in mid-April, is projected to cost “not more than” $88 million dollars.

However, currently the administration is seeking $3 million to further develop the full architectural and engineering plans and permitting for the proposal, which would include a good deal of public input in the process.

The result of spending that $3 million would be a completed plan for a new City Hall/Police station, a firm cost estimate and some further clarity about how the project could be funded by the city.

Instead of voting straightforward on whether or not to fund the $3 million design and engineering project, five members of the City Council put forward a motion to place the entire $88 million project on the ballot to let voters decide if the city should go forward.

In short, Councilors Peter Napolitano, Fred Capone, John Leo McKinnon, Michael Marchese and Sal Sachetta wanted to delay the $3 million engineering and design of the project, until they could ask voters in November if they supported the $88 million project for a new City Hall and Police Station.

In the end, the council voted against the proposal to make it a ballot question, but it is worth reviewing the discussion about the issue on Monday night.

On the surface, this almost seems like a reasonable and populist request. “Let’s ask the voters what to do before we spend their tax money.”

However, there are two problems with this approach.

First, without the $3 million design, engineering, and permitting work, there is no way to accurately ask the voters if they support the project, because there is no project. There is only a concept and a rough estimate of what could be accomplished.

This is why the Massachusetts School Building Authority requires that cities and school districts that want to build new schools complete an exhaustive and expensive feasibility study before projects can be approved for state funding.

The second, and to me most troublesome problem, is that to put the issue to a vote before a plan is actually completed, is an abdication of the Council’s responsibilities as leaders of the community.

Perhaps the most telling part of the argument that was made in favor of a ballot question Monday night was in the words of Councilor Napolitano who said, “I don’t want to find out after the fact that the public didn’t support this when they vote me out of office.”

Wow, way to lead Peter!

Part of the deal in being an elected official in any community is the responsibility to ask tough questions, get as many answers as you can and then make tough decisions based on what you feel is in the best interests of the community – there is no way around it.

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