Former city clerk Robert Bishop is fighting to get his job back after being bumped by Debbie Clayman, a senior member of the Steel Worker’s union they are both members of.
Six members of the city council rallied to his side with the motion, which seeks to impose a residency requirement on Clayman, who lives in Revere, and is the city’s longtime Licensing Board Director.
Bishop and his supporters believe the city charter requires the city clerk to be a Chelsea resident.
An effort to pass a motion requiring city clerks to maintain a Chelsea residency was sent to committee by the city council after brief but compelling discussion of the issue, which had all the appearances of an old-fashioned, pre-receivership political/personal debate.
“This an embarrassment. I’m embarrassed by this. We have never called a special meeting for an employee. We do not attempt to play favorites with employees, yet six councilors have jumped in to do so,” said Councillor Brian Hatleberg.
“I’m outraged. I’m embarrassed. We’re considering an improper action,” he added.
Hatleberg said that every councilor who signed the motion should be embarrassed.
“I was shocked by the special order.
Councillor Roseann Bongiovanni was not persuaded by Hatleberg’s emotional outpouring.
“It is a political issue. We need to discuss it. I am not embarrassed. It is our job,” she said.
Clayman’s right to bump Bishop is part of the union contract binding the city and its Steel Worker union employees and which the city, by law, is obligated to enforce.
Under the collective bargaining agreements arbitrated by the city with the union, Bishop must give up his job on January 13 and will be replaced by Clayman on that date.
The City’s Administrative Code maintained by the City Manager, and about which the city council has no formal authority, states that all appointees shall be city residents, unless the City Manager issues a waiver to that residency requirement.
The existing collective bargaining contract allows the Licensing Director (Clayman) to bump an employee with less seniority (City Clerk Bishop), provided that Clayman meets the minimum qualifications for the position.
Because Clayman’s bumping of Bishop is not considered a new appointment, the Administrative Code requiring residency would not apply.
Clayman has been employed by the city for 25 years and at one-time served as the assistant city clerk.
Even if the residency requirement was to apply in this instance, the contract provision exempting all employees hired prior to 1996 would have taken precedence.
In this instance, Licensing Director Clayman was hired by the City in 1984. Also if it had applied, the City Manager could have issued a waiver on the residency requirement).
City Manager Jay Ash determined Clayman has the requisite qualifications. He did not issue a waiver on residency.
“It would be against the law and against the union contract,” he said.
Bishop, however, is not going quietly and not without an effort to hold on.
The motion on residency was sent to committee and is likely not to stop at least five councilors from pursuing the matter in earnest.
Council President Leo Robinson told the Chelsea Record after the meeting he had made a mistake.
“I’m sorry I signed the motion,” he said.
City Manager Ash said he believes the wishes of those city councilors seeking to force the residency issue are in conflict with existing labor law.
“The case law and the straightforward nature of the contract tells me the motion for residency would not be allowed by the courts,” said Ash.
Additionally, those in favor of the residency motion, and Bishop especially, suggested
that the Clerk, by virtue of his service as a member of the Board of Registrar of Voters, is required, by State law, to be a registered voter in the community in which he serves. Because the Licensing Director Clayman no longer resides in Chelsea, the reasoning is that she would be unable to meet the State law requirement.
The State law requires “appointed” members of the Board of Registrar of Voters (which oversees local election activities, including voter registration, municipal elections and challenges to the both)to be residents.
However, the City Clerk is an “ex officio” member of the Board, meaning that Clayman as the City Clerk is an automatic member by virtue of the position, and not an appointed member. Thus, the State law requiring residency would not apply.