Council Mislead but
Should Know Better
On the threshold of
Labor Day weekend as the unofficial close of summer
approached, many of us were enjoying the last throes of
warm weather, or preparing our children for the new
school year, or just plain wondering Where did it
In Lawrence, however, for the political power elite, all
municipal employees and their families, and the various
City Hall denizens of all stripes lurking in the shadows,
the approaching September 1st Labor Day weekend posed
questions of more serious heft Would there
be a city budget, or would the city effectively be shut
down without an approved spending plan?
What ensued thereafter on August 30th will be the stuff
of lore for years to come. You can read the story
for yourself within these pages. You can see that by
reaching out to the states Department of Revenue
for guidance and by using legal legerdemain and statutory
interpretation, Mayor Michael Sullivan outflanked the
city council politically and legally, plain and simple,
to invoke his spending plan.
In reality this was the direct end result, not of any
chicanery on the Mayors part, but of a lack of
appropriate leadership from council president Patrick
Blanchette as well as the lack of appropriate legal
guidance from the professionals in the office of the city
attorney and the office of the city clerk upon whom the
The real questions councilors should be asking are,
Why was this budget fiasco allowed to continue for
so long? and How did we allow the council
president and our attorneys to get us into this mess?
Why the City of Lawrence did not have an approved
spending plan in place well before the July 1st start of
the fiscal year is the subject of much debate,
consternation, and in many quarters just plain old
whining. After two 30-day temporary spending plans,
passed with council approval, Mayor Michael Sullivan made
it clear than he was not interested in a third 30-day
budget as the city council could not get itself any
closer to finally approving his budget - or any amended
budget for that matter - after reviewing it and debating
its merits and demerits for two and one-half months.
As the clock was ticking on the second 30-day budget,
with no plan for a full budget in place, the Mayor used a
legal technicality based on the councils inability
to follow proper procedures laid out in the City Charter
and in state law.
He took that loophole and drove a Mack truck through it
to ensure that police and fire officials would not be
laid off and the city would not be shut down for the
month of September and thereafter.
Mayor Sullivan filed a notice for an FY 2008 budget plan
with the city council on June 5, 2007. The council
technically did not have a document to look at until June
Nevertheless, regardless of which date one wants to use,
by the letter of the law of the City Charter, the council
was obligated to set a date for a public hearing at that
time and they simply refused to it.
Section 7.2 of the City Charter states the following:
The city council shall, within seven days following
the date the proposed budget has been filed with the
clerk of the council, cause to be published in a local
newspaper the general summary of the proposed budget as
submitted by the mayor and a notice stating (1) the date,
not less than seven nor more than fourteen days following
such publication, and the place at which the city
council, or a standing committee of the city council,
will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and (2)
the times and places where complete copies of the
proposed budget will be available for examination by the
public in advance of said hearing.
If the council had just followed its own law, much of
this mess could have been avoided. Under the law, setting
the date for the public hearing is not even a subject of
debate. For this council it is, however.
The council shall means just that.
The council should have published by June 19th a public
hearing notice for a hearing to be held within 14 days
from that date. It took several votes cast after
debate over several weeks to finally set a date
for mid-August. Even at that they couldnt get
it right as the clerk published the wrong notice with the
glaring omission of the general summary on the budget
thereby causing the hearing to be further delayed
As the weeks ticked away, not one person in the city
attorneys office or the city clerks office
said to the council, You may want to look at the
City Charter and do things by the book. Theres
this little law here that you may want to follow.
Some councilors, especially the president, are fond of
quoting chapter and verse from the City Charter when it
suits their needs. Yet, in this case, the charter was
completely ignored. It is this very lack of
compliance with the City Charter that ultimately was part
of the councils undoing. It was the lack of a
public hearing on the June 12th budget that allowed the
Mayor to declare his budget as having legal approval.
Furthermore, the councilors received no appropriate legal
guidance from the attorneys office or the clerks
office addressing their noncompliance with the charter or
state law. Why were the councilors inappropriate
actions met with silence?
We are a nation of laws that are to be taken quite
seriously. Statutes, charters, and by-laws are not mere
suggestions to be dusted off, looked at and ultimately
ignored when its convenient. Why is our council,
time after time, allowed to go down these paths of
non-compliance? Why are there laws for the other 350
cities and towns of the Commonwealth and a completely
different standard set for Lawrence? When will this
systemic dysfunction infecting the Lawrence city council
come to an end?
At this point in time, as the city moves forward, having
averted a serious fiscal disaster with the threatened
shut down of services, the city council should not be
wasting more time and money by suing the Mayor. Judicial
intervention should not be the next act in this soap
The council, instead, should be asking itself what type
of leadership it is getting from the current president
and what type of guidance it is getting from its own
professionals in the offices of the city attorney and the
After all, this time it was just a matter of knowing what
they should be doing and then doing it. Shame on the
Lawrence City Council and its own professionals for not
reading the same laws we all have available to us,
including the Mayor.
*Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The September 2007
Edition of the Valley Patriot
The Valley Patriot is a Monthly
All Contents (C) 2007, Valley Patriot, Inc.
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