Pittsfield solicitor: Wording improper on bid for special council meeting

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PITTSFIELD — A petition requesting a special City Council meeting before January to resolve how council vice presidents should be selected was improperly worded, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan said in an opinion issued over the weekend.

The development leaves in question whether a meeting will be held before the newly elected council is sworn in on Jan. 4.

Councilors Jonathan Lothrop, John Krol and Barry Clairmont submitted a written request on Dec. 9 calling for a special meeting during Dec. 21 to 30. They seek a vote on whether council rules for selecting a vice president should be changed to allow a vote, rather than to continue to have the council president choose the vice president.

The councilors said there is wide agreement among officials that the new city charter, approved in 2013, requires a council vote on the vice president's position.

The solicitor's written opinion was requested by Council President Melissa Mazzeo, who at a Dec. 8 meeting halted a debate on the issue before it could be voted upon. She called a charter objection, which allows a single councilor to suspend a debate until the next meeting of the council.

However, in this case the next meeting would be on Jan. 4, after the new council is sworn in for the coming term. The council will then hold its organizational meeting — voting for a council president and, if the rules are changed, a vice president as well.

Previously, the councilor-elected president would then chose another councilor as vice president. Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell currently holds that post, having been chosen in 2014 by Mazzeo.

She said Monday that she favors keeping the council rules as they are and doesn't believe the new charter requires an actual separate vote on the vice president's post. If the councilors wanted a rule change, Mazzeo added, they should have submitted that earlier in the year when it could have been sent to the Ordinance and Rules Committee first for vetting.

"There is a lot of confusion about this," she said.

"We will have to consider the next step," Krol said Monday after reviewing Degnan's opinion.

He said its seems clear that the three councilors could file another request for a meeting and comply on the charter requirements Degnan cited, including the lack of a specific date and time for the special meeting, and adhering to the council's rules, which require providing a reason the issue to be discussed cannot wait until the next scheduled meeting.

But Krol said no date or time was included in the request to allow for flexibility in scheduling a special meeting.

The simplest resolution now, he said, would be for Mazzeo to call and schedule a special meeting to resolve the issue, thus avoiding a debate on inauguration day.

"She is the one who is jumping through hoops to make sure this meeting doesn't happen," Krol said.

The issue is one that should be voted on prior to the day Mayor-elect Linda M. Tyer, the new council, School Committee members and a new city clerk are sworn in, he said. "That should be a day of unity," he said, not one for debate during the reorganization meeting. "My hope is that we can do that before the inauguration."

Mazzeo said, however, that the charter specifies that a newly elected council must reorganize under the rules in effect under the prior council, meaning any changes voted on Jan. 4 would not take effect until January 2018. "You cannot change them [Jan. 4]," Mazzeo said.

Concerning the vice president's selection, Krol said there is "wiggle room," in that it appears the new charter allows for either nominations for vice president from all council members or a nomination from the new president, which would then require a confirmation vote.

As for the council president's position, Mazzeo said Monday she is undecided on whether to seek election to the post on Jan. 4. "I am not sure what I'm going to do right now," she said.

If she seeks the presidency again, Mazzeo is expected to be challenged by former Councilor Peter Marchetti, who won a new term on Nov. 3 and was the top vote-getter among councilors in the election.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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