It’s a darn good thing the Everett City Council isn’t participating in remote schooling this year, as they likely wouldn’t even make it online to be counted.
They didn’t make it much further than the attendance call on Monday night at their in-person meeting, a meeting that had high hopes for finally getting the technology issues worked out, but one that went haywire fast – with the Council abruptly and contentiously adjourning without doing much but arguing for 70 minutes.
The crux of the arguments had to do with Councilor Gerly Adrien preferring to remain on Zoom for meetings in remote format due to health concerns.
However, several councilors blamed the hiccups on Adrien. They basically called on her to resign for not attending meetings in person, saying if she has health concerns maybe the Council isn’t for her.
“There are four or five members in the Chamber over 60,” said Councilor Napolitano. “Most have health issues and we’re here. I respect the councilor’s health concerns…But if you aren’t able to do the job, don’t take the assignment. We all have health issues. I have high blood pressure…We’re here because we took an oath to the residents of Everett. If you can’t do it, you have some decisions to make.”
Said President Rosa DiFlorio, “We need to go back to the old fashioned way. If the Internet goes off, then come on. We have a job to do. To the extent and individual does not want to be here, that’s their decision.”
Councilor Wayne Matewsky said one needs to be at the meeting, or they’re absent.
“We’re required to be here,” said Matewsky. “Every other City is in their Chambers. Let’s eliminate this Zoom thing and get on with the City’s business…If someone can’t make the meeting, then they’re absent.”
Said Councilor Michael McLaughlin, “We have a job to do and are elected to do that job…Everyone knows my health issues and I’m very susceptible to COVID-19, and if I got it, I might not get up from it truthfully. If a colleague could not attend, it’s not our business and it’s not our concern. We owe it to the people of Everett to show up and make sure checks and balances are made…We need to resolve this.”
Adrien, after the meeting, said she didn’t hear most of those accusations, but during the meeting she did respond from online to those attacking her for not coming in-person. She said she has serious health concerns, and has produced valid doctor’s notes that have been provided to the Human Resources Department detailing her health issues – and her fear of how they may be exacerbated by COVID-19 – and requesting the Zoom accommodation. She charged her Council colleagues were violating common decency.
“First of all, I’m getting texts from the public they can’t hear,” she said. “As City Councilors we were elected by the people and they should hear and understand what we’re doing…I have gone to Human Resources. I have doctor notes. I have gone to get doctor’s notes on why I can’t attend the meetings when they are more than a half-hour. You are violating HIPA and ADA in regards to my health and my concerns from my doctor…For someone to say that I’m out of state and have no concerns that I could be sick and there is no concern for me, that is inconsiderate.”
It was indeed what the meeting became about.
The Council’s struggles with hosting online and in-person meetings have been well-publicized for several weeks, and while other bodies in Everett have found a way to pull it off, it has eluded the Council. While other Council meetings were impossible to hear, or difficult to follow, Monday’s meeting was just out of control.
Right off the bat on Monday, there were problems as the television audience could hear Councilor Adrien – who has been attending meetings remotely due to a health concern, she said – but the councilors in the Chambers couldn’t hear her.
There were also messages sent in from the public as that they could not hear things going on in the public hearings, and there were “echoes.” Some of those texting councilors had wanted to speak on the matters, which complicated things and caused the Council to have to lay over the matters to the Nov. 9 meeting to allow people to comment.
Councilor Fred Capone had called for an adjournment, saying if the public couldn’t hear, then it had to be fixed.
“I think we have to adjourn and fix this,” he said, noting that he was not taking issue with Adrien being on Zoom. “If people can’t hear and it’s not easy to understand, we have to lay it over until we can fix it.”
However, they tried to persevere.
On the matter of accepting a $184,000 grant from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC), fireworks erupted in a debate over e-mail versus paper. Adrien had questions on the grant, which was a grant for more police presence and equipment at the casino, but said she didn’t get any information about the grant on e-mail.
Council President DiFlorio said they don’t e-mail the Council documentation packet. Instead, they hand deliver the paper copies to each Councilor’s home.
“We can’t be e-mailing and sending things in the mail,” she said. “To scan it costs money…I don’t see an issue of getting it at home…Enough is enough. Let’s be adults here. Enough with the smirks.”
Said Adrien, “It does not cost a penny to scan documents. If anyone needs help doing that, I can show them how.”
However, no one could hear her say that, except the public audience, and the Council continued despite Adrien still having the floor in Parliamentary procedure. Yet, no one could hear her questions or what she was saying and they called for a vote.
When she protested, DiFlorio got upset and called for an adjournment – the first such call Monday night. That erupted into some bickering and finally DiFlorio proclaimed a 10 minute recess.
“That’s it; she’s out of control,” said DiFlorio of Adrien, whom she couldn’t actually hear, but could see on the TV screen.
Earlier in the meeting, when concerns first surfaced, DiFlorio said the City Hall is old and they’re dealing with bad equipment. She said they were going to buy new equipment to have top-rate online meetings, but COVID took away that money and they couldn’t.
Capone said it isn’t that complicated, and the City should be able to put money into fixing the Council meetings. He said other cities have been successful, and so have other boards in Everett.
“I know it’s an old building, but it’s a City – a multi, multi-million dollar city,” he said. “Every other city can do it and we can do it too.”
Of course, this was all done with the backdrop of COVID-19 cases being on the rise in Everett – a ‘red’ high-risk community for several weeks. From Friday to Monday, there had been 65 new cases reported in Everett – with the daily numbers on the rise.
“Tonight has been a circus,” said Councilor Anthony DiPierro.
“If this continues, I don’t want to come to another meeting that’s hybrid.”
Said Councilor Capone, “Some here tonight made a few comments that may have gone a little too far and I want to say I’m embarrassed by it.”
That was followed by the 7-4 vote to adjourn.
And then in a fun “hot mic” moment to end the proceedings, Councilor Matewsky said on live television, “That’s bull (expletive deleted).”
And that pretty much put a proper nightcap on the proceedings.
Further discussion on Tuesday indicated plans are in the works to eliminate the Zoom option, forcing Adrien to attend meetings in person or be counted absent – while also requiring the public to come in person to the Chambers to give input, participate and testify on public matters.
•’COOL’ MOMENT FOR FOOD PANTRY
Many of the workers from the Grace Food Pantry and Director Irene Cardillo appeared at the Council meeting on Monday, and President DiFlorio broke tradition to allow Cardillo to speak about all they have done through the pandemic.
She said it has been 230 days of non-stop work to make sure residents from all over the city had food, clothing and school supplies. She said they have provided 1.22 million pounds of food to 9,000 families per month since March 1.
“I love my city and am proud of my city, but over the last several months there has been such a dedication and concern to meet the needs of all the residents in all the neighborhoods of the city,” she said. “It’s truly amazing.”