The recently-inaugurated City Council was ready to start its business for the New Year with all councilors present at the January 10 meeting.
The problem of the growing number of tents and homeless encampments near Santilli Circle had the councilors more than a little concerned.
Ward 3 Councilor Anthony DiPierro, one of the sponsors of a motion asking representatives from the city’s Inspectional Services Dept. (ISD) and from the Police Dept. to come to the council to discuss the issue, cautioned his fellow members that this encampment was near a school and “it could get worse.”
Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Matewsky echoed this concern, recalling the fire last year at the encampment area and noting that the encampment is just down the street from the $3 billion dollar casino.
“We cannot just throw them out, but we have to do something,” said Councilor at Large Richard Dell Isola, adding that he and his son have brought down supplies for those living there. “They are on state property, but this is our city.”
The council then voted to refer the motion to the Public Safety Committee and requested representatives from the ISD and the Police Dept. to appear.
The controversial matter of compensation and longevity pay for the office of the mayor once again was discussed by the council.
Ward 2 Councilor Stephanie Martins sponsored a motion that the issue be discussed at a special meeting of the council, which is formally known as a Committee of the Whole.
“We should put politics aside and talk about the compensation of the office of mayor now and in the future,” said Martins, who added that at this meeting all compensation should be discussed, as well as taking into consideration the compensations of mayors and city managers in other communities.
“I have no problem with the salary of the mayor, but with the longevity section,” said Councilor at Large Michael Marchese, who voiced the view that the issue does not need a special meeting of the Committee of the Whole, but should be discussed right now.
However, Martins countered by stating that a special meeting would be beneficial and will provide an opportunity for the council to go into depth on the question since there will be no other matters before the councilors.
“This issue has been kicked around,” said Matewsky, who also noted that whatever the council does, the new regulations will not take effect for four years.
In the end the council voted 9-2, with Marchese and Matewsky casting the dissenting votes, to send the matter to a Committee of the Whole.
In a related matter, the councilors also discussed a proposed ordinance by Marchese to repeal the longevity section with regard to the mayor’s compensation. Speaking on his motion, Marchese said, we can ”discuss it now or kick the ball down the street.”
“The ordinance is not clearly delineated and we cannot use the mayor as a scapegoat,” said Ward 4 Councilor Jimmy Tri Le.
But this matter also was referred to the Committee of the Whole on a 9-2 vote, with Marchese and Matewsky again casting the dissenting votes.
Martins introduced a resolution that seeks to have “transparency” about the fees being charged by the City Clerk’s office for the officiating of marriages.
She estimated that the fees could total about $30,000 and queried whether the officiating of marriages falls with the “official” duties of the City Clerk’s office when marriages are performed during working hours and whether the fees that are collected should “pertain to the city budget.”
The matter was referred to the City Solicitor and the City Clerk to look into the total amount being charged.
Matewsky noted that he is a Justice of the Peace and that he only has been called upon twice in 26 years. He added that perhaps a list with all available Justices of the Peace should be placed on the counter at the City Clerk’s offices to give prospective couples a choice.
Calling the lower Broadway area a “war zone, especially at night,” as evidenced by the constant blaring of sirens by emergency vehicles, Matewsky filed a motion that the mayor’s office consider constructing a new public safety facility on lower Broadway near the casino that will house police, fire and ambulance services.
Matewsky added that with all of the new construction underway, such as the 150 residential units on Bow Street and the potential development of the Exxon Mobil site, which is being rezoned from industrial to residential/office, there is a need for a public safety building in that area.
The council voted to refer the motion to the mayor with a response expected by the council’s first meeting in February.