PITTSFIELD — Accepting a compromise option proposed during a special meeting on Tuesday, the City Council has amended its rules to allow a vote by councilors on the president's choice for vice president.
The council approved the rule change after about an hour of sometimes impassioned debate and after previously debating a similar rule change during a Dec. 8 meeting.
At that time, council President Melissa Mazzeo halted the discussion prior to a vote by raising a charter objection, which allows one councilor to suspend debate until the next meeting.
The special meeting was scheduled after five councilors signed a petition calling for a reconsideration of the issue.
The compromise wording inserted into the council rules change was proposed in a letter sent to councilors by City Clerk-elect Jody Phillips and Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer, the current clerk. After considerable debate about whether the council should elect its vice presidents, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli proposed the compromise submitted by the two women.
Quoting from the letter, Simonelli said the compromise would "honor the spirit of the current [council] rules," while giving all councilors a chance to vote on the vice president choice.
He said he was philosophically opposed to taking the choice of a vice president, who works closely with the president, away from the president. Traditionally, the president, after being elected by the council on inauguration day in January, had named a vice president.
Mazzeo and others objecting to the change as originally proposed by Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop had insisted the city charter wording concerning election of the vice president was unclear. Mazzeo said it gave the council the leeway to decide on rules for reorganizational meetings following a city election.
The next president and vice president will be chosen on Jan. 4, in a meeting to be held after the councilors, mayor, clerk and School Committee members are sworn in for the new term.
Mazzeo also argued, as she had at the prior meeting, that the issue should be sent to the council's Ordinance and Rules Committee for vetting and to consider possible related rules changes.
Lothrop and others pressed for a vote during 2015, however, noting that the charter specifies that the outgoing council rules must guide the format for the organizational meeting of the incoming council — therefore, the change had to be voted now.
Councilor at large Barry Clairmont said he also wanted to see the issue decided before Jan. 4, fearing issues of legality or points of order could be raised that would lead to "the real possibility of a floor fight on inauguration day," which he said should be a day of celebration, not strife.
Lothrop, whose proposed rules change would allow for the election of vice presidents, said he was concerned that the compromise amendment amounted to hurrying to "make sausage," which he said opponents had accused those who supported his proposal of when the issue was brought up in December.
Mazzeo stressed that the council had two years to make the rules change and should not rush it through without a review in committee. Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said there was "no pressing need" to tackled the change in late December.
Ward 1 Councilor Lisa Tully said prior to the votes that she didn't "understand why this is so difficult," as she sees the charter language concerning election of vice presidents as clear.
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said he would support Lothrop's proposal, but had reservations about the amendment procedure leading to the compromise plan put forth by Simonelli. "That's really funky," Caccamo said, adding that perhaps that change could be vetted next year in committee.
But Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who is seeking the vice president's post, said, "I like the compromise" and proposed its passage.
The council ultimately voted 6 to 4, with Krol, Caccamo, Simonelli, Mazzeo, Christopher Connell — the current vice president — and Morandi in favor, and Kathleen Amuso, Lothrop, Tully and Clairmont opposed. Councilor Churchill Cotton was absent.
Tully then proposed adding the exact language for a rule change as submitted in the letter from Phillips and Tyer, and that was approved 9 to 1 with Mazzeo opposed.
The council then voted to change another council rule that mentioned appointment of the vice president by the president to reflect the first vote.