By all accounts, the election of Councilor Wayne Matewsky as the new Council President has brought a clean slate to the City’s legislative body after one of the most technologically, and emotionally, challenging years in decades.
After a good start in January, the Council quickly became very divisive last year, and then fell into complete chaos when COVID-19 hit – with technology challenges by members and the City infrastructure taking a huge toll on getting City business done. That was compounded by frequent infighting and jousting between numerous members over Zoom and in the Chambers.
However, Matewsky – who said he plans to run again this year for at-large Council – said the challenges of 2021 on the Council would be in the past as he takes control. At Monday’s meeting, that showed right off the bat with a new sense of order, and a quicker move through the agenda, leading to a much shorter and efficient meeting.
“Everyone has their own agenda,” he said Tuesday morning. “We were all elected by the people and we have to respect each other. That’s what I plan to do…The membership is getting used to the Zoom procedures, which was new to me. I never used it in my life and never thought I would have to. I thought this was a temporary situation but with the Virus exploding even a few of our members have had it. So, we have to be very careful how we go about this…It’s a very unusual and bizarre time in our lives, but the membership has been in touch and everyone wants to start new. I think the ‘I gotcha’ moments are going to be gone with me because I’ve been around long enough to know how that works.”
Matewsky began his political career in Everett after being elected and serving his first term in 1981 during the old, bicameral form of government and continuing on for many years. He served as state representative for a term, before coming back to the new City Council – where he topped the ticket on his return. He has served on the Council now for six years, and this was his first time being elected as Council President of the new body.
One of the first orders of business, he said, is to proceed with renovations of the Council Chambers, changing the layout to accommodate social distancing and investing in better technology to make Zoom meetings smoother and reliable. He said the City had asked if he wanted the renovations to happen over the summer, but Matewsky said they would do it now rather than later.
“I excited to announce the Chambers are going to be renovated,” he said. “We’re going to have a new microphone system and a new layout of the membership desks and an upgrade in technology. That is exciting. They asked if I wanted to start that in the summer, but I said sooner rather than later. It’s a two-month project.”
Matewsky also said there have been 11 Committee of the Whole meetings this year, which he described as “absurd” and far too many. He said the Committee structure is there to prevent that and to specialize in issues and work out minute details. That, he said, will make a comeback under his leadership.
“We going to move to use the Committee structure more than we did last year,” he said. “We’re anticipating a very good year with that under the circumstances.”
Right now, he is currently taking requests from the membership for Committee assignments, and should have that public by next week. One change will potentially be to revive the Celebrations Committee. He said he has high hopes to be able to stage a large July 4th celebration in collaboration with the City and the Council that will serve to celebrate Independence Day and potentially the end of Virus lockdowns.
“The City Council and the people deserve it,” he said.
Another change will be to institute the five-minute rule for speaking. Members will have to follow the existing rule that limits the amount of time someone can speak on an issue. That, he said, is a nod towards shortening the meetings and becoming more efficient. Many meetings last year – especially on Zoom – wandered into the wee hours of the morning, sometimes beyond midnight.
“We’ve had more than half of our meetings go on until after midnight,” he said. “It’s become repetitive and it’s obvious to the people that it’s unnecessary. The majority of the membership feels the same. It’s way out of line. This new Council was supposed to be streamlined and that’s what I plan to do. It’s not to cut off anyone, but to be fair. It’s part of the rules now and we just need to practice it more and that will move our meetings into more of a positive direction.”
Another change he said they will welcome in is the change to Ward-only voting for the Council and the School Committee ward representatives. At the moment, the City Charter calls for ward representatives to be voted citywide, but that is currently proposed to be changed at the State Legislature. It was approved last month by the Council.
Matewsky said he is honored to be Council President and will be even more dedicated to the community now.
“I’ve been so fortunate over the many years to have so many supporters in Everett,” he said. “I make new friends every day and appreciate their support very much…Not everyone will like me and I understand that, but I’ll take 51 percent of the vote any day.”