The Everett City Council at their Nov. 23 meeting in a 7-2 vote approved the charter change to have an Everett mayor become a voting member on the School Committee.
The move to have the mayor be a voting member is similar to several surrounding communities.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria has been actively involved in a Listening Tour of Everett residents to get their input on having the mayor become a voting member on the School Committee.
This past motion comes on the heels of another proposed Charter Change which was rejected by the Council when it was expected to be a shoo-in, and it was a strange night that has elicited many strong opinions across the city over the last week.
Most did not even expect a vote on the issue that night, and Mayor DeMaria had just finished the third of his 10 Listening Tour sessions prior to the meeting. His administration, and many Councilors, did not expect a vote on the matter until Dec. 14 – and it was expected to be a very close vote.
As it was, Councilor Gerly Adrien pushed the issue at the meeting and asked that the Council not wait. She called for the Council to vote immediately on the matter.
In the end, the matter was decided by a 7-2 vote, which provided the super-majority necessary to approve it, and send it as a Home Rule Petition to the State Legislature for final reviews – which tend not to make changes but review for legal implications. Those voting against were Councilors Fred Capone and Adrien. Those voting in favor were Councilors Anthony DiPierro, Peter Napolitano, Michael McLaughlin, Michael Marchese, Rosa DiFlorio, Wayne Matewsky and Jimmy Tri Le. Councilors Stephanie Martins and John Hanlon had technical issues and did not vote.
City Clerk Sergio Cornelio said such a Charter Change only needs a super-majority of those present, so 7 of 9 votes allowed it to pass. He also said reconsideration was filed, but it was blocked and failed, so the matter cannot come up again. Ironically, Cornelio confirmed that later on, Martins indicated she wanted to log a ‘no’ vote on the matter, and Hanlon called to say he wanted a ‘yes’ vote.
“Those votes could not be officially counted toward the real vote, but given the issue at hand, I let it be known how they would have voted if there weren’t technical issues,” he said.
Councilor Gerly Adrien said she has heard many negative opinions about the change from her group of supporters, and said the people’s needs were pushed off. She said she actually supported the concept of the mayor being on the School Committee, but her constituents did not.
“Once again, most of my City Council colleagues have put the Mayor’s priorities first and put the people’s needs second,” she said. “I voted not to put the Mayor to have voting power because I received more than 80 comments about residents not wanting the Mayor to have a vote on the School Committee. I made a promise to put the people’s priorities first, and mine second. I will continue to fight and put the people’s desires first.”
Capone said the matter should have gone to a vote of the people, and that’s how he feels about all Charter Changes.
“I voted no on that change and frankly, I don’t even think we can get to the merits,” he said. “It’s a Charter change, and I think you have to bring that to the people. Everyone will have a problem with some piece and soon enough it isn’t the people’s document anymore. It’s a Charter issue and Charter issues should be decided by a vote of the people and not 11 elected officials…We pushed the people out of the process.”
Councilor Anthony DiPierro said he feels like there is wisdom in having the mayor be a voting member on the Committee, for the sake of accountability.
“I voted favorably to make the Mayor a voting member of the School Committee because I truly believe it is the best decision for the community as a whole,” he said. “The Chief Executive of any city should have a vote on the School Committee in my opinion. Just being an ex officio member doesn’t cut it. It makes the Mayor accountable for the decisions made on behalf of the city’s children. At the end of the day, it’s on vote.”
Councilor McLaughlin – who has likely taken the most heat from opponents for his ‘yes’ vote – said he was not in favor of voting that night. He said the people needed to be heard during the Listening Tour before any vote was taken.
“I voted in the affirmative on this measure because as of Nov. 23rd before the meeting I heard from more than 100 people, mostly supporting the measure,” he said.
Mayor DeMaria said he was grateful, though surprised, by the vote. He said he would sign it and it would go to the State House for approvals. Even though it has been decided, he said he would continue his Listening Tour.
“Thank you to the members of the Everett City Council who voted affirmatively on this measure,” he said in a statement. “I am grateful for your faith in me to do the best for our children. Although the vote has been decided, I will happily continue my Listening Tour in an effort to hear from the community on what initiatives and goals are most meaningful to them if I am appointed a voting member of the School Committee. I look forward to hearing from you all.”
The matter was not very well received by the School Committee, who would now have 10 voting members if the mayor is approved to sit on the board. Already, at a previous School Committee meeting, Supt. Priya Tahiliani expressed very direct opposition to the matter – saying it should be taken to the ballot for a vote of the people.
She declined to comment this week, but members of the School Committee were ready to voice their opinions – which were critical of the move and the process.
“One of the biggest takeaways from last year’s Superintendent search is that when it comes to education the public wants to be heard,” said Member Frank Parker. “In this case, from what I’m hearing and witnessed, that wasn’t the case and many voters are disappointed and feel disenfranchised.”
Chair Tom Abruzzese said he felt it was just not a priority right now when the goal of the Committee is figuring out remote schooling issues and trying to get kids back in school.
“Simply put, this is really I think – forget me being on the School Committee, but as a taxpayer going on in my 65th year – I think it’s something people should vote on,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic and this is not one of my priorities. Let’s just put it that way. If this is someone’s priority, I fail to see why…I still believe it’s a democracy and I’d prefer it to be the will of the people rather than a handful of people. We’ll all have to deal with it and I hope we deal with it together. There are important things to be done right now and it’s time for serious people to do them.”
Member Dana Murray said the rushed decision was not the way democracy should work, and she said it should have been voted upon by everyone. She said the City Charter is a sacred document and should only be changed by a vote of the people.
“I am not ambivalent regarding the Council’s self-serving and immoral decision to thwart the rights of the people and value their voices above those of their constituents,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I find this abhorrent and appalling. I am not opposed to the counselors having opinions – they should get a vote, just like every other voter in the city. I am opposed to an 11-member Council having enough power to push through a city charter change significantly impacts the families of Everett without a ballot vote or even allowing the people the courtesy of having a voice via the listening tours.
“The fact that several councilors decided that their personal feelings and opinions regarding this matter were the only ones of value is offensive and irresponsible, especially considering that most of them do not have children in the schools,” she continued.
Member Samantha Lambert said she was quite disappointed with the process, one that fundamentally changes the form of governing the schools and did so without even giving the people a voice.
“I have heard from a number of our Community Groups that have simply asked that if changes are needed to the City Charter prior to the current 2024 timeline, that the voters of Everett are included, because yes, an informed dialogue to examine the merits is necessary,” she wrote in a letter.
“I am disappointed in the action of the City Council in failing to recognize the hypocrisy in voting against one amendment and in favor of the other,” she continued. “There was no outpouring of public sentiment demanding this change, there was no dialogue about the benefits or consequences of these amendments, there was no public hearing. The actions taken by the City Council on November 23 disregarded the voice of the people of Everett…”
Home Rule Petitions are certainly not a done deal and some have been rejected or not acted upon by the State Legislature and/or governor. However, most times if there is advocacy and a vote of the Council, the matter is only checked for legal implications and is a formality vote.