At the January 24 meeting of the City Council, two items generated controversy.
The first was an order by Councilor Stephanie Martins asking that the matter of “cash collected as a fee for officiating during work hours at City Hall as part of the official duties of the City Clerk’s office be reviewed to determine whether such funds pertain to the city budget.” A request for this information was sent to the City Clerk at the last council meeting on January 10. However, the requested information had not been provided for the council’s meeting on January 24.
Martins estimated that the Justice of the Peace fees for weddings performed by personnel in the clerk’s office could be as high as $30,000 per year.
Councilor Wayne Matewsky noted that he is a Justice of the Peace and has performed more than 300 marriages for family and friends over the past 28 years, but only two were requested from the City Clerk’s office. He suggested that there should be a list of 10 or so Justices of the Peace in the city clerk’s office for the public to choose from. Matewsky said, “I find it insulting that there is no list of how many weddings are being done at City Hall.”
Councilor Anthony DiPierro said, “This is the second request for how many weddings. We talk about everyone’s compensation and this should be included in the compensation figure.”
City Clerk Sergio Cornelio noted that there are between 350 to 400 marriage intentions filled out in the clerk’s office, but he estimates about 40 marriage intentions are never picked up. He said that the filing of a marriage intention costs $40 and this money goes back to the city budget. However, a Justice of the Peace fee is private.
Cornelio also noted that the fee that he collects is “outside the realm of pay.”
Councilor Stephanie Smith said, “We have hounded this enough. There is no conflict of interest according to the State Ethics Commission and Cornelio can keep the fee and do the ceremony during work hours.”
DiPierro queried, “Why not know how much cash is going through the office of City Clerk that this body has control over?”
The motion was postponed with a request for how many marriages were officiated by the City Clerk from 2019 to 2021.
Another issue that generated controversy concerned the legal standing of two School Committee members, Chairperson Jeanne Cristiano and Ward 4 School Committeeman Michael Mangan, since they are both also employees of the City of Everett. According to City Solicitor Colleen Mejia, the State Ethics Commission suggests that both should be designated as “special municipal employees.” This designation would allow them to serve on the School Committee and discharge their duties as city employees.
However, the question of whether Mangan and Cristiano also can collect a School Committee salary was still unclear.
Councilor Stephanie Smith noted that serving on the School Committee takes a lot of time and the question is whether they can be compensated as are other members on the board. The motion was referred to the City Solicitor with a written response from the State Ethics Commission by the next meeting.
The council approved a request to transfer a $100,000 in unexpended funds to pay the costs of an elementary school project to the Webster School for roof improvements
Superintendent Priya Tahiliani noted that the roof is more than 30 years old and that the $100,000 is seed money for an ultimate reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA). The entire roofing project is expected to cost more than $695,000.
While discussing the roof repair, it was noted that the original plan to build a new elementary school has been abandoned by city officials. With the elementary schools at capacity and school enrollment only increasing, the idea of applying to the MSBA for a new high school now is on the city’s radar. The present high school would be used by students in the lower grades to relieve the overcrowding in the elementary schools. Encore Casino discovered that it will get no special treatment from the City Council. A petition requesting the renewal of an innholder’s license for Encore Boston was postponed as the application was incomplete because not all of the required financial paperwork was in the packet