By Laura Plummer
Tensions were still running high at the City Council on Monday, March 11, as Councilor Michael McLaughlin used a moment in the meeting to make a pointed response about the exchange that transpired between himself and Mayor Carlo DeMaria at the Council last week.
Monday’s meeting came on the heels of a contentious meeting of the Council’s Committee on Government Operations, Public Safety & Public Service on Monday, March 4, in which Ward 6 Councilor Michael McLaughlin engaged in a heated argument with invited guest Mayor Carlo DeMaria. During the exchange, at one point the mayor moved quickly to take papers off of McLaughlin’s desk, initiating a sharp rebuke from the councilor about moving into his space. That has been the subject of much discussion over the past week, as has the mayor’s defense of the Wellness Center – which he announced was growing in revenue and membership.
At the Council meeting on March 11, McLaughlin reflected on that exchange in a prepared statement, expressing his shock and disappointment with the mayor’s actions the previous week and urging the Council to take action to prevent a similar scenario from occurring in the future.
“As city councilors, we have a duty and responsibility to ask questions and seek answers,” said McLaughlin. “If the mayor disagrees with this role, I would be curious what he thinks we’re actually doing here.”
McLaughlin roundly condemned “the mayor’s tendency to use [the Wellness Center] as a personal employment agency for insiders and friends.”
Mayor DeMaria was out of town and was not present at the meeting.
McLaughlin also explicitly called out Committee Chairman Anthony DiPierro for his attempt “to protect the mayor and his department heads at all cost, regardless of what is best for residents.”
McLaughlin said he worried about a future in which Council members hesitate to propose an item for fear of retaliation by the DeMaria administration. He ended his remarks by assuring those present that he had no plans to resign, despite rumors to the contrary.
“The mayor answered every question that he was allowed to answer,” DiPierro responded in his own defense.
DiPierro also suggested that a vetting of the Wellness Center employees could open the City up to “potential litigation” and that he felt it was not the Council’s job to “assist potential plaintiffs.”
“I’m not going to let propaganda dictate the business that we conduct in these chambers,” he said.
Councilor Fred Capone, however, backed McLaughlin, stating that he was “appalled” by the mayor’s behavior on March 4, and that McLaughlin was owed an apology for being “belittled and insulted.”
“The councilor’s concern was of deficiencies he saw in a City department,” said Capone. “He asked questions. That is what he was elected to do.”
When it came time to introduce reports from that committee meeting, McLaughlin presented a list of questions he had created for the February 11 meeting, and added another two to his list: obtaining any assessment reports that have been conducted of the Wellness Center in the past two years, and inviting the Wellness Center’s Human Resources Director to explain its management structure and history.
McLaughlin motioned to have these concerns moved to the Council’s Ways and Means Committee, and the Council voted to do so, but only after pushback from Councilors Wayne Matewsky and Rosa DiFlorio.
DiFlorio emphasized that she’s “not taking sides” with either the mayor or McLaughlin, but echoed DiPierro’s concern of the potential lawsuits that a thorough vetting of City employees could invite.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” she said.
“The Wellness Center is a big success to this community,” said Matewsky.
He also questioned why McLaughlin’s items were being moved to another committee, and seemed to insinuate that McLaughlin was using heavy-handed tactics by requesting that his items go before Ways and Means.
“I don’t like bullies. After this committee, this is it. You can only beat a dead horse so much,” said Matewsky.
When the floor was opened to commentary from the public, Everett resident Reverend Renee Solano – who is running for Council – urged that a thorough audit be imposed not only on the Health and Wellness Center but on all City-run organizations.
“You guys should be cleaning the entire house and investigating every single department,” she said. “I would really like to see the best qualified people [in these jobs].”
The Ways and Means Committee will address McLaughlin’s concerns at their meeting on April 4, during which the mayor and officials in his administration will be given the opportunity to respond.
The next City Council meeting will be on March 25 at 6pm. This meeting, as all meetings of the Council, are open to the public.