The City’s new Charter Review Committee is in place, although some questioned the representative makeup of that committee at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Once every 10 years, the City Council establishes a special committee to review the charter and to make a report, with recommendations, to the City Council concerning any proposed amendments which the committee may deem necessary. The review committee, appointed by City Council President Roy Avellaneda, includes five City Councillors, three School Committee members, and five members from the community at large.
Tensions were high before the committee’s names were even read into the record on Monday night, and things got no better afterward either.
During the public speaking portion of the Council meeting, School Committeewoman Marisol Santiago questioned how representative the review committee is of the community. She also took exception to District 1 Councillor Todd Taylor’s appointment to the review committee. Taylor is the lone Republican on the 11-member Council, and was recently elected Chelsea’s Republican State Committeeman.
“This is a once in a decade opportunity where the city is able to look at what is called our City’s constitution,” said Santiago.
On diversity of the commission, Santiago said she found that the appointments willfully excluded the diverse living experiences of people living in the city, specifically pointing out a dearth of single mothers, tenants, and people who work in immigrant services.
“Upon looking at the Council members selected, diversity is not just race and ethnicity, diversity is voice and representation,” said Santiago.
In addition to Taylor, the Council members appointed to the review committee were Judith Garcia, who will be the chairperson; Leo Robinson, Calvin Brown, and Melinda-Vega Maldonado. The School Committee members are Rosemarie Carlisle, Yesenia Alfaro, and Henry Wilson; and the Chelsea residents are Alex Balcarcel, Jason Stocker, Mary Bourque, Mimi Rancatore, and Sharlene McLean. The School Committee representatives were selected by School Committee Chair Kelly Garcia.
“Per the charter, the City Council President is responsible for the decision for what the process was,” said Santiago. “It was in your authority and your discretion, but it is the responsibility of the City Council to make sure (the committee) is inclusive and representative of the City population.”
Taylor was singled out by Santiago for his inclusion on the review committee as she cited his recent Republican State Committee campaign literature which she said advocated against illegal immigration and sanctuary city status.
She said these views were not in line with the City’s ideals and asked Avellaneda to consider either replacing Taylor on the review committee, or looking at its overall composition.
“I’m concerned about that rhetoric and concerned about someone trying to represent the City in a charter review that will determine what the city is going to look like for the next 10 years,” said Santiago.
Avellaneda gave Taylor the opportunity to respond to Santiago, since she brought him up by name during the public speaking portion of the Council meeting.
“I have never brought national politics to this body, but they are being brought here tonight, but that is being brought here tonight where it seems I am being asked to step down for my views,” said Taylor.
Taylor said there is a diversity of not just race, but also opinion in Chelsea, and he said he supported people’s right to be critical. He added that immigration and sanctuary city status are complicated issues he would be happy to discuss with anyone who wants to.
“If someone called me to discuss it, I’d be happy to do it, rather than coming to give public speeches to condemn me,” said Taylor. “It is a dialogue that I am happy to have, but I don’t appreciate people coming up and attacking me for something I had not brought to the Council. I have never brought national problems to this board; I was elected to solve the problems of Chelsea and that is what I am going to do.”
Later in the meeting, Councillor-At-Large Damali Vidot also criticized the representative makeup of the Charter Review Commission. Both Santiago and Vidot had applied to be on the Committee, but were not chosen.
“I’m extremely disappointed with this Charter Review Committee,” said Vidot, adding she felt the commission was one-sided in terms of the Council members selected, and that it lacked adequate representation of the City’s Latino population, tenants, single mothers, and mothers of school-aged children.
“We have the opportunity to reflect the charter as being more reflective of our new community,” said Vidot. “It needs to be more multi-dimensional, and not just perpetuating the same crap that always happens.”
District 4 Councillor Enio Lopez also said that he did not believe he saw enough Latino representation on the Charter Review Committee.
Robinson said he took offense at Vidot’s characterization of the committee, stating that all those named would be fair and above reproach.
Avellaneda also defended the process of appointing the committee, pointing out that it is both a majority-minority committee and a majority female committee.
“There was a question about the diversity and the makeup, if someone was to look at this and see there are seven women on this committee, six men; seven (of the committee) are majority minority,” said Avellaneda. “On the resident side we have a business background, health and service, and as we just saw, a range of ideology and opinions and parties on the issue.”
The Council President said he did his best to make the committee as diverse as possible.
“Of course, any time you have a committee like this, of course there is going to be some public comments and criticism, but I did my best based on the submissions that were from the residents themselves,” said Avellaneda. “I hope the people will be a little more satisfied once they see the process.”
Avellaneda also stated that any member of the Council, School Committee, or the public can attend meetings and make suggestions to the Charter Review Committee as the process gets underway.