By Seth Daniel
A move by Councillors Damali Vidot and Enio Lopez supposedly aimed at diversifying the City’s Boards and Commissions was roundly criticized by several Council members Monday night – with Councillor Roy Avellaneda calling the drafters “cowards.”
Vidot said many on Boards and Commissions – such as the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – have been in their volunteer seats for many years, and by enacting term limits, perhaps those bodies could become more diverse.
“Some of these boards make decisions we as a City Council have no say on and we have to face the residents,” she said. “We have people serving on some of these boards year after year. I respect the work they do, but the City is changing and maybe we need to think about diversifying these boards.”
That set off Councillor Avellaneda, who called the move “cowardly.” He noted that he had a problem with one Board member, former License Commissioner Ken Umemba, and he used the current process of Council oversight to try to remove him. That, however, he said, requires standing up and facing the dirty looks and the bad feelings.
“If you don’t want people on the Board, stand up and say ‘Thank you for your service, we don’t want you. We want someone else.’ This is cowardly. If you don’t have the guts to tell someone you don’t want them on the board to their face, then don’t do it. Standing up and doing that takes guts. It takes guts to say that to someone’s face.
“This is hypocritical,” he continued. “I can’t believe how hypocritical it is…I will fight against this. I will make a stink about this if I have to.”
Avellaneda referred to the process of Council oversight in his comments, which includes the Council having to vote for any appointment or re-appointment to all boards and commissions. The Council can vote down an appointment, which would require the city manager to put a new candidate forth.
Councillor Lopez said he was offended by being called cowardly in putting the idea forward. He said it had nothing to do with that.
“I’m not a coward,” he said. “We did this because we want to see change. Maybe it didn’t happen when you wanted it, but now it’s a different year and a different time. We want to see more people volunteer…We want people who want to come. The idea is to have different faces and not just the people who have been there all the time.”
That said, there isn’t exactly a line out the door waiting to serve on Chelsea’s boards and commissions. Many seats go unfilled, and a number of boards have trouble making a quorum in order to be able to have an official meeting – even critical boards like the Planning Board that can hold up development.
Councillor Giovanni Recupero brought that to everyone’s attention.
“If people don’t want to come serve on these boards, nothing will change,” he said. “The City needs to try to recruit people to sit on these boards. If no one wants to do it, then the people there should do it and I thank them for what they do because no one else wants to.”
Councillor Matt Frank had a good point in citing Chelsea’s history of corruption, and how the boards and commissioners purposely spread out power.
“In the past, too much power was centralized in only a few hands,” he said. “Our boards and commissions system de-centralized the power over all these boards and commissions. If you are proposing something, you might need to go to Economic Development, Zoning, Planning, and the License Commission. That’s a lot of people to go before. There was a time in the City when you had to grease one hand and you got things done. We don’t want to see that again.”
The matter was defeated by a vote of 2-8, with only Vidot and Lopez voting for it.