PITTSFIELD — Melissa Mazzeo — in possibly her last act as City Council president — thwarted an effort to have the newly elected council next month choose its vice president, which is currently appointed by the president.
The 11-member panel Tuesday night was poised to vote on the change in council rules when Mazzeo evoked a charter objection, automatically tabling the measure. Mazzeo is expected to face strong opposition when the council decides Jan. 4 who will be its leader for the next two years.
Mazzeo's halt to Tuesday's vote prompted councilors John Krol, Barry Clairmont and Jonthan Lothrop on Wednesday to file a letter requesting she call a special meeting between Dec. 21 and Dec. 30. Krol senses the majority of the council wants to resolve the matter before the new council takes office in four weeks.
"It's the proper thing to do," he told The Eagle Wednesday afternoon.
On Tuesday's council agenda, Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop had proposed an amendment to the council rules. It called for a separate election for vice president after the council chose its president — a procedure that takes place on the first Monday in January following a municipal election in November. Lothrop's revision was to bring council Rule 1 in line with the new city charter Section 2-2(a) requiring the council to separately elect its leadership team. However, the section notes the elections must be in accordance with council rules.
Based on the debate leading up to Mazzeo's charter objection, approval of Lothrop's amendment appeared to hinge on a single vote difference. Mazzeo objected to making the change at the eleventh hour. Tuesday's council meeting was the last one of the calendar year before the new council is sworn into office on Jan. 4.
"There is so much stuff to fix ... that one amendment won't do it," she said, referring to other erroneous language governing how a council vice president is chosen. For example, council Rule 26 still calls for the vice president to be appointed by the president.
Lothrop admitted it should have been done sooner, but the matter should be resolved immediately and even suggested a special meeting to vet the issue before the new council takes office.
"The urgency of the matter for me is leaving this unaddressed ... or leave this as a big, fat undone list for the next council," he said.
Ultimately, the debate became a philosophical one of a decades-long tradition of an appointed vice president versus an elected one under a charter voters approved in the 2013 city election.
"The person sitting in that chair should have the right to chose who sits next to him or her," said Mazzeo, looking toward the council president seat occupied by the council vice president, Christopher Connell. As council president, Mazzeo relinquished the gavel to Connell so she could speak freely on the matter.
However, the revised charter is clear how the council should chose its second in command, according to Councilor at large Barry Clairmont.
"The intent was the vice president should be elected," he said.
Whether Mazzeo gets to chose a vice president to start the new year remains to be seen. City political insiders expect Mazzeo will face a challenge for the presidency on Jan. 4, likely by Peter Marchetti, who's returning as a councilor at large following a four-year absence. After eight years on the council, Marchetti ran for mayor and lost to Daniel L. Bianchi in 2011, who in turn lost to Linda M. Tyer last month.
In November, Marchetti came storming back to the council chambers as the body's top vote-getter, amassing 7,229 votes of the seven at large candidates vying for the four available at large seats. Mazzeo was a distant second at 5,821, followed closely by incumbent Kathleen Amuso and council returnee Peter White with only 400 votes separating the three.