Council moves Funeral Fund request ahead after procedure disagreement

After 45 minutes of rancor over process and procedure, the Chelsea City Council moved ahead a request for $25,000 to replenish the Chelsea Funeral Fund due to a surge of deaths recently.

Councilor Judith Garcia presented the measure earlier this month, and Father Edgar Duarte of St. Luke’s – who operates the Fund – appeared to speak about the heartbreaking situations that have transpired. He told the Council the Fund is about to run out of money because there have been so many deaths recently.

“The need for financial assistance is there,” Garcia told the Council Monday night.

Virtually everyone agreed to the thought behind re-seeding the Fund (which the City seeded last June), but there was some confusion as to who would benefit from the fund.

Council President Roy Avellaneda said he agreed to the request, but felt that it should be specified that the Fund only be used for those who have died from COVID-19. Instead of anyone with a hardship trying to bury a loved one, he said he wanted to clarify that those benefitting had lost loved ones to COVID.

“To open the fund just for general purposes I’m not so sure about,” he said. “Realistically, there would be many in each and every year who could use it in our community. It’s too broad and doesn’t say COVID.”

That sparked Councilors Leo Robinson and Calvin Brown to call for the matter to be moved to a Committee on Conference so the details could be worked out. However, Garcia instead moved to amend it on the floor, which was accepted. It then specified COVID and also procedurally came into conformity in asking the City Manager to come up with a plan.

Councilor Damali Vidot said she was prepared to vote on the matter and asked for clarification from City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson about whether the Council had the authority to pass the motion, as written.

Watson said in its original form it had problems, but was okay after the amendment.

However, with the confusion and the quick movements on the floor of the Council to change the request, Brown said the matter needed to be slowed down and hashed out in Committee.

“We have the money, but it will be nice to do things in order,” he said. “It’s not a question of not wanting to help out; it’s a question of clarity.”

However, the motion to send it to Committee failed, 3-8.

Avellaneda said amending things on the floor, or instructing the City Manager to come up with a plan, is nothing new at the Council and too much was being made of it.

“I don’t even have enough fingers and toes to count the numbers of times Councilor Recupero has said something to the City Manager about ‘Please spend money on this or that.’ Then the City Manager takes that and sends us a letter with a recommendation of whether we can or cannot do it. I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle that this body cannot make suggestions about how to spend money.”

Said Councilor Enio Lopez, “When we need money to help our people that died of COVID-19 and we find this problem. Come on guys. Let’s do this. Let’s help our community.”

Vidot said she didn’t know why it was being questioned so much.

“I’ve seen things go through on this City Council that didn’t even get questioned,” she said. “This seems like a very minor thing and yet we are questioning it.”

Said Recupero, “We’re arguing over nothing. This is just a big – uh – nothing.”

In the end, Robinson said he was only looking for clarification and not looking to hold anything up and would support the amended request.

The order passed 11-0. It will have to be introduced once the City Manager sends a recommendation, and then it will also come up again on a Second Reading.

•The Council voted 11-0 to accept a $25,000 grant from the Nature Conservancy to further the climate resiliency plan and construction project for the Island End River.

•City Manager Tom Ambrosino sent word to the Council that he would be delivering a State of the City Address to the Council at their Feb. 8 meeting. He said it would be short, around 10 to 15 minutes long.

•Councilors Vidot and Robinson were appointed by Council President Avellaneda to serve as Council delegates on the Diversity Coordinator Interview Committee.

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