The Everett City Council met on Monday night and approved a plan to move their meetings to the Everett High School Library while their Chambers are being updated for better online capabilities, while at the same time approving a new Council rule that sets a code of decorum for remote online meetings.
The Council informally agreed to an offer from School Committee Chair Frank Parker and Supt. Priya Tahiliani to move in-person and remote meetings to the Everett High Library – where the School Committee holds their meetings currently. The move would take place soon while the Everett Council Chambers are being refurbished and updated for better online capabilities and more COVID-conducive seating arrangements. The massive overhaul is expected to take several months.
Chair Parker had sent a letter, with Supt. Tahiliani, offering the library space. The School Committee has begun in-person meetings this month with remote elements for the public and some members. Parker said the Library was outfitted with Plexiglas dividers and gives the ability to produce a smoother online meeting too.
In a voice vote, all members present agreed to make the move to the Library.
The City also announced at Monday’s meeting it had contracted with an audio visual firm to replace the archaic equipment in the Council Chambers.
“We feel that once addressed, the issues that have been happening will be obsolete,” read a letter from the Administration to the Council.
“We even had trouble tonight transmitting,” said Councilor Fred Capone. “Our issues with online meetings continue to go on. I know it’s frustrating for the public to continuously see us have these problems. I’ve heard that at times the meetings will just completely lose sound. That’s not an open public meeting. We need to correct this.”
In a separate, but similar, vein, Councilor Rich Dell Isola’s piece on decorum in online meetings passed by a 7-0 vote of the Council. The rules would govern how members are supposed to present themselves and conduct themselves during online meetings. That has been an issue for the past seven months since online meetings debuted at the Council. The new rules of decorum would, in a nutshell, require members to be present and uniformly focused on the meeting and no other tasks.
Councilor Rosa DiFlorio pointed out that in Phase 4 of the re-opening plan, the meetings would be able to return to all, in-person meetings. That, she said, would eventually negate the rules of online decorum.
•Need the Senator
Councilor Gerly Adrien expressed her displeasure that her resolution in support of a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Sal DiDomenico that would seal eviction records was postponed at Council for a second time.
The measure is meant to be a protection for tenants who have been evicted during the COVID pandemic, and it’s supported by several organizations, including Boston Medical Center.
At Monday’s meeting, Adrien had called for the approval of the resolution, which would simply show support for the bill proposed at the State House. However, her colleagues were not yet comfortable with it, while some opposed it outright, and others wanted Sen. DiDomenico to come explain it.
“I don’t know what other questions you have for the state senator,” she said. “The bill and language is in front of you…Again, it’s very frustrating and sad one of your colleagues has read the bill, but for you to satisfy your understanding, you need our state senator to come before you to read it or explain it. That’s my sentiment.”
For some members, the resolution was controversial – as they don’t support it. One of the key points of contention is that it would seal eviction records after three years.
Councilor Michael Marchese said it could make it difficult for apartment owners to be able to place quality tenants.
“I understand it’s meant to provide as a helping hand to get an apartment, but what I’m finding in the last couple of years is it’s not like that,” Marchese said. “It may be a good idea if you don’t have property, but I do have property and I need to know who I’m putting in my property.”
Said Councilor Capone, “Sealing all eviction records after three years, I think that’s a mistake and is the one thing that causes me not to support it.”
The Council agreed to invite Sen. DiDomenico to the meeting to explain the bill.
•Pope John Stay a School?
There was a call from many on the Council Monday night that the administration consider keeping Pope John High School and education facility and maybe re-think the plan to make it into elderly/veteran affordable housing.
The idea was proposed by Councilor DiFlorio, who asked the administration to consider making it into a new vocational school.
“I don’t want to take the housing away from veterans and seniors, but I want to check with the administration to see whether we could put a voke school at Pope John,” she said. “When I went to the vaccine clinic there, I saw a school already set up and we have to move the vocational school.”
Councilor Capone said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with the sentiment, and had actually called for that in 2019.
“I think it’s set up as a school and in a neighborhood that’s used to a school,” Capone said. “The need for a school is critical.”
Councilor Marchese also agreed that it would be a good use to continue it as a school.
“It costs $60-80 million to build a school and we paid $10 million for that,” he said. “That’s short money to pay for a school like that.”
DiFlorio said she would like an answer within two weeks.
•School Savings Account
The Council voted 7-0 on Monday to approve a School Savings Account, allowing the School Department to save up to 2 percent of their budget each year for specific things like Special Education Transportation to out of district placements.
The creation of the account had been advocated for by the School Committee, and it needed Council support as well. It is authorized by state law, but has to be approved locally.
The Account would need approval from the School Committee and the City Council to remove and use any funds.
The investigation into the missing meeting from October – where Councilor Gerly Adrien was told by her colleagues to either come to in-person meetings or re-consider her role as a Councilor – has officially been counted as a loss.
On Monday, a report from the Administration detailed that the investigation revealed that someone had hacked into the ECTV servers using known credentials shortly after the meeting was uploaded. However, the investigation only revealed that the hack came from within two blocks of City Hall, and it couldn’t be pinpointed to exactly who the hacker was.
The meeting still has not been recovered and the proceedings are not available to the public due to the malicious hack.
Since January, Councilor Capone has been trying to compile the cost of the Christmas décor that was approved in 2019 and 2020 – at a cost now determined to be around $320,000.
A final piece of the lighting costs came on Monday as it was revealed that the Wehner Park lights cost a total of $15,000. The lights were purchased for $8,100 and the City intends to run them 24/7 all year long. Between the costs of the new wreaths, the Kissing Balls, the Christmas trees and the labor, Capone tallied the cost to be at around $320,000 over the last 14 months.
The Council uniformly wished congratulations to City Clerk Sergio Cornelio on Monday night, as he was married last weekend.