Showdown on 11th School Committee seat diverted to joint committee

An intense showdown between City Hall and the School Committee over the past week cooled off substantially Monday night when the City Council voted unanimously to put off voting on a Charter Change adding an 11th member to the School Committee.
It is said that oil and vinegar don’t mix, and at no time in the last year has the mixing of City Hall and the School Department been so much like those two substances in that they have found it hard to blend efforts. That has been made worse by quick actions taken by the City Council and Mayor Carlo DeMaria to adjust the membership of the School Committee without much consultation of the Committee itself. Under the Charter, such a vote to make those Charter Changes only lies with the Council.
Things started this fall when the Committee was surprised by an unexpected request from Mayor Carlo DeMaria to change the charter and add him as a voting member. That hadn’t been discussed much, though it was a suggestion two years ago by the School Finance Blue Ribbon Task Force. That set off some less-than-jolly feelings between the two, though DeMaria indicated it had been a mistake to put the matter on the Council agenda in a rushed fashion. He began a Listening Tour of the City online with various constituencies, but before he could really get started, the Council surprised everyone by voting in the Charter Change earlier than expected.
Last week, also quite suddenly, another Charter Change was added to the Council agenda to add an 11th member to the School Committee – again done without any consultation of the Committee. Tragically, technical issues prevented that meeting from happening, so the matter was delayed until this Monday night.
By that time, a caustic stew had brewed throughout the world of elected officials in Everett.
The School Committee had asked to be part of a discussion before any such change was made.
The Council didn’t appear to be interested.
Monday morning postulation indicated the Change was headed to a near-unanimous vote that night.
However, when push came to shove, the Council voted 9-1 to call a joint meeting of the Council and School Committee to talk over the change and, perhaps, iron out their recent differences.
“I’m fine with that,” said Councilor Anthony DiPierro. “If the School Committee wants to discuss it, I’m fine with that.”
Said Council President Rosa DiFlorio, “I think we can all come to an agreement because this bickering back and forth is not right. We can add a member or take one away from the body. Let’s have a meeting and discuss it.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he didn’t mind meeting, but his mind was made up.
“What I have a problem with is individuals telling us how to do our job,” he said. “I’m happy to discuss it with the School Committee. Quite frankly, it’s not going to change my mind one bit.”
A date has not been set for the Committee meeting, but will likely be in the new year.
•THE $471,000
Never (well maybe never) has such a small amount of City money been batted around and discussed than the infamous $471,000 COVID-19 refund request put in by the School Department.
But many minutes and hours have been plowed into this refund, which comes for the School’s purchasing hand sanitizer and Chromebooks and PPE for the current school year. Time was of no value again on Monday night as the Council spent 80 minutes talking about the refund, only to learn that really they cannot do anything to advance the matter – as it is only actionable by the mayor and he is still reviewing the request.
“He has never indicated he is unwilling to put that order before the City Council,” said Erin Deveney, chief of staff. “His position has been he thought he needed more information for the Council to understand because the money would have to come from Free Cash.”
She said the mayor is set to discuss some questions about the transfer with Supt. Priya Tahiliani and the School Committee at their Jan. 4 meeting.
One key piece of information, though, came in solid questioning by Councilor Gerly Adrien of CFO Eric Demas.
A contention from the School Department is the City put in the $471,000 CARES Act refund in early August, but never informed the schools of that refund. A day or so later, it was returned to the City in a large transfer and the School Department said they had no idea it was there as a reimbursement. Demas has said they would have to have been aware, and if they returned the money, they obviously didn’t need it.
Monday, though, Adrien asked Demas if he specifically sent an e-mail to the School Department to tell them the money was there.
In fact, he did say that he never sent an e-mail specifically to anyone in the School Department about the transfer of the refund. However, he said they should have known.
“To say they were unaware of it, it’s not possible,” he said.
Councilor Gerly Adrien put in a motion on Monday to look into the vacancy of Assistant City Clerk and the resignation of Councilor Peter Napolitano so he could pursue that job.
She said she wanted the City Solicitor to look at the matter to make sure no Ethics Violations occurred and the Council wouldn’t be violating those rules in voting on the next Assistant City Clerk. She also said him resigning just as the job opened up, and in just enough time to meet the 30-day “cooling off” period was too cozy for her.
“I do have a concern one of our City Councilors resigns and wants to apply for a (City) job and makes sure he did it within a 30-day period and to then magically a job opens up,” she said. “I’m sick and tired of what happens here for so many years. Residents are sick and tired of it. We need to open jobs fairly. We need to interview people fairly. We need to give full consideration without already having made a decision or deal to give it to the former City Councilor.”
The wreaths on the poles throughout the City, including the lights that adorn other areas of the City have gotten a lot of attention. Some now are questioning the cost of them. While the lights and wreaths are not completely new, there has been some additions this year to brighten things up even more.
Monday night, Councilor Fred Capone said he has heard great things about the wreaths, and he has heard concerns about what they might have cost.
He said he has heard a lot of speculation and would like to get a breakdown of what was spent on the wreaths this year, if anything.
Councilor Anthony DiPierro said he looked forward to the conversation because the décor was brought on in prior years before the pandemic.

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