Council President Roy Avellaneda proposed forming an Advisory Committee at Monday’s Council meeting to begin looking at the district lines, only to withdraw the proposal after 20 minutes of contentious discussion and move to form the Committee without a vote.
“I move to withdraw,” said a frustrated Avellaneda, after numerous repeated questions stood in the way of the vote on the matter.
“I’m going to do it anyway so it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Avellaneda, as president, has the power to form such a Committee without a vote of the Council, but on Monday night he brought the matter to the body and requested a vote out of courtesy, he said.
The idea was to get a jump on the redistricting process locally and form a Council Committee to start working with City officials on balancing out the boundaries. He nominated to the Committee himself, Councillor Leo Robinson and Councillor Calvin Brown. Redistricting is done every 10 years following the results of the Census, which are due to be delivered to the City in May. From there, the City has to look at the numbers of people in each area and try to balance the districts street by street so they have a nearly equal amount of people in each district. The new district lines wouldn’t be effective in a City Election until 2023.
Avellaneda said he nominated himself and Robinson as they were two at-large councillors and new boundaries wouldn’t affect them. Meanwhile, Brown has experience with redistricting working in the Secretary of State’s Office, and his district – District 8 – doesn’t appear to have any changes in store. All three had participated in the re-districting process in 2010 also, though that was under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice – who still had a decree over the election process in Chelsea due to a lack of diversity on the Council and School Committee at that time.
The plan was met with pushback quickly from Councillor Damali Vidot and Giovanni Recupero.
Vidot said she was suspect about the plan and felt there was more to it, especially since she was the third at-large councillor and was left off the Committee.
“My point is I am the third at-large councillor,” she said. “It appears suspect to me and I’ll absolutely be voting ‘no.’ The only difference I can see between myself and the other two at-large members is I recently had a state rep race and I don’t want this to be politicized.”
Said Avellaneda, “We are not starting anything up. This is the way it’s been done. The reason why this was not done this way 10 years ago under Jay Ash is we had the overseer of the Department of Justice in place. It is the role and job of the City Council to approve these lines every 10 years after a Census. Every City does it this way. We’re not doing anything different. The difference is maybe I’m being a little pro-active to get the ball rolling.”
Robinson said the effort is done with great oversight and the City Departments would be coming up with the plan – with the input of the Council Committee – and then the full Council would have to vote on the plan.
City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson said the Council is the ultimate authority on the matter, no matter what advice the Committee would give during the re-drawing process. She said 10 years ago they drew the lines, and the Council sent the plan back to the City to revise. After a revision, it was then approved by the Council.
Brown said it will be a challenge, but it’s necessary, and the Council should have voices at the table during the working sessions.
“It’s a challenge we have to take on,” he said. “It will be overseen by eye beyond Chelsea. There’s a lot of oversight.”
•DIVERSITY HIRING COMMITTEE FORMED
City Manager Tom Ambrosino announced he has named most of the Interview Committee for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) hiring process. He said he is only awaiting the Council to name two members to join the team, and the work would start immediately.
They would be charged with collecting resumes for the new director, checking resumes, interviewing candidates and forwarding a list of finalists. He expected their work would be completed in a maximum of 45 days.
Members of the Interview Committee are City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson, DPW Director Fidel Maltez, Human Resources Director Dana Carey, Chelsea Schools Director Aaron Jennings, Chelsea Black Community President Joan Cromwell, Sharon Caulfield of BHCC, and Sylvia Ramirez of La Colaborativa.