The first city council meetings probably began in Ancient Mesopotamia, but here we are 6,018 years later and they are still going strong! We rung in the new year with the inauguration of fresh council members and some unconventional suggestions from the old ones.
In perhaps the biggest event of 2018, I gave the annual State of the City Council Meetings address to a joint session of Congress. While I feel bad that they all had to return a few days later for some other “state of the” something, I got my message across loud and clear: I, too, can read a teleprompter.
For the address, the reviews, and the podcast interviews, do not wait another year to check out the January Month in Review.
And if someone tells you that January was just a so-so month for council meetings, you tell them, “when else are you gonna hear a councilor say the phrase, ‘Brawls Deep?'”
“Cozy” is how I would describe the New Bedford city council chamber–with curtains decorating the window and an angel topping a Christmas tree in the corner. It could have been someone’s living room. But, you know, with cameras.
The women occupied the front row; men took up the rear. Councilors sat in high-backed reclining chairs, each with his or her own personal desk.
Today there would be no long debates or drawn-out votes on new ordinances. Instead, “Councilors, I’ll open the floor for nominations of council president pro tem,” announced city clerk Dennis Farias.
“I move to nominate Councilor-elect Joseph Lopes,” declared Councilor Linda Morad.
Farias nodded. “Would Councilors-elect [Debora] Coelho and [Ian] Abreu please escort Councilor Lopes to the podium?” As the trio crossed the floor, a smattering of applause greeted Lopes when he took his seat.
The adulation was short-lived.
“We are adjourned,” he slammed a gavel on the wooden desk. While it was only five minutes into the meeting–and would have been a contender for shortest meeting on the books–this was actually a pause to swear in councilors elsewhere.
I can only imagine the pomp and pageantry that took place off camera, for two hours elapsed before Councilor Lopes smashed the gavel again to reconvene.
As it turned out, it would be his final gavel to smash.
“I would like to nominate Linda Morad” for council president, Councilor Coehlo stood to deliver a glowing portrait of her nominee.
“She is a lifelong resident of New Bedford. She dearly loves her family. She attended local public schools,” Coehlo rhapsodized as Morad stared stiffly with her hands clasped.
Councilor Dana Rebeiro suddenly shot her arm in the air. “May I–?” she began.
“We’re only having one person speak,” Councilor Lopes rebuffed her. Rebeiro hunched over in disappointment.
The vote was unanimous in Morad’s favor, and amidst polite applause she wended her way to the podium, giving hugs and shaking hands along the perimeter of the room.
Standing with her palms flat on the desk, President Morad gave a steady but intense pep talk to her councilors.
“We are the seventh-largest city in Massachusetts. Being a city councilor in New Bedford is a big deal. YOU are the face of government here.”
She reached for a political cliché. “Just like a family, which we are, we won’t always agree. But hopefully we can work together.”
Then, she turned to her right. “I have a couple more pages of my speech. Were you able to get those?” The clerk pushed a hefty stack of papers toward her and Morad thumped them loudly on the desk for effect.
Councilors cackled at the joke.
“Just a few more words if you don’t mind,” she deadpanned.
“Madam President,” the clerk segued, “the next item is the drawing of seats.”
A seating chart lottery?! What a rare event to witness. I always wonder how a council seating chart gets birthed and I’ve never seen an actual random assignment. My curiosity will finally be satiated!
“Colleagues, I communicated with you today that Councilor [Hugh] Dunn is not with us tonight,” Morad explained. “Councilor Dunn is interested in moving his seat, so I respectfully ask that we consider tabling this item until our meeting on January 11.”
What?! No, I won’t be watching then!
“The ayes have it,” Morad announced as the deferment passed.
Nothing could have prepared me for the shocking twist in this week’s Lynn city council meeting.
A mild bit of controversy confronted the council right out of the gate: whether to give one convenience store a wine and malt beverage license.
Witnesses rotated to the podium like they were on a carousel, impressively arguing their case in no-nonsense, rapid-fire succession.
“I’ve known the owners at least 60 years. They’re a reputable family,” a man in a tan suit nodded.
“I work in the area and think it would be an improvement. That’s it,” another man grunted.
“I really think we have enough liquor stores,” countered a woman wearing a crucifix around her neck. “I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”
“Too close. Very close,” a rival liquor store owner complained with arms crossed.
With each side fielding an equally compelling roster of testifiers, what would the council decide?
“This issue has come up a number of times,” a gravelly-voiced Councilor Peter Capano rubbed his eyes. “There’s just very strong neighborhood opposition, so I’d just make a motion to deny this.”
The rest of the council fell into line and unanimously shot down the license.
Council President Darren Cyr shoved his glasses onto his forehead and gazed across the chamber. “Any other business?”
“Motion to adjourn–” one councilor spoke up.
“No. I…no,” muttered Cyr strangely. “I wanna say something.”
From the back of the chamber, a man began speaking out of turn. Cyr instantly grew livid.
“HEY, JEFFREY! QUIET,” he screamed, slamming the gavel against the wooden desk. “IF I HAVE TO SAY IT AGAIN, I’LL ASK YOU TO LEAVE.”
Cyr braced himself on the podium. “As council president, this is probably the toughest moment that I’ve had,” he stared solemly at the ground. “I’m gonna ask Councilor Trahant to make a statement.”
He sniffed, then continued in his thick Boston accent. “I’m gonna stand beside him because he’s my brothah. He’s my friend. I’ve known him since I was five years old. I respect him more than I respect any other man.”
Oh, god. What horror is about to befall us? This feels like something out of a mob movie where someone gets 86’ed.
Councilor William Trahant hugged a tearful Cyr.
“Well, this a tough way for me to get up here, but I gotta do what I gotta do,” Trahant nervously gripped the microphone. “As everybody knows, about six months ago I had a pretty bad heart attack. I’ve got a leak into my valve and I need a little more time to rest.”
The room was dead silent as Trahant glanced from face to sympathetic face. “I’m so sad I have to leave. You guys–” he began to cry as Cyr rubbed his back. “You guys did everything for me. You’re like family.”
Other councilors wiped their eyes. Trahant hung his head and searched for the right words.
“I just gotta get better. And I’m gonna get better. I love you very much.”
He received a standing ovation as he stepped down, hugging everyone on the trek back to his seat.
“May god have his hand on you, Billy,” called out President Cyr over the applause.
“Love you, Billy,” Councilor Brian LaPierre whispered.
Final thoughts: For easily being the saddest meeting I’ve seen, I give Councilor Trahant 10 out of 10 “Get Well Soon” cards.
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so you know what that means: time for leftovers! For us, that means looking back at everything that was chronicled in October. Take a read–and a listen–of the highlights from Spooktober.
One if by land! Two if by sea! Three if…Revere’s mayor cancels the community forum?
“I got an e-mail from the mayor’s office,” announced a sullen Councilor Charles Patch. “The subject was tomorrow’s community forum. They postponed it. They’re either going to reschedule it or they want you to go to the Ward 4 meeting. I hope the mayor’s going to have somebody standing down there at six o’clock for the people who are going to show up.”
Here’s the problem: with his thick accent and his hand clenched in a fist, Patch sounded less like John. Q. Councilor and more like a mafia boss discreetly ordering a hit:
So I got an e-mail from the mayah’s office. They postponed the community forum. They want you–YOU–to go to the Wahd Fo-ah meeting!
Well, I SURE HOPE the mayah’s gonna have somebody standing down theah at six o’clock for the “people” who are gonna show up.
As it turns out, a bunch of goons kneecapping the mayor was the least of Revere’s problems.
“Calendar item #3,” read the clerk, “requesting the police and fire chiefs appear before the city council to discuss ways to lessen overdoses at Dunkin’ Donuts.”
“Overdose” is a little extreme, don’t you think? I mean who hasn’t had one too many French Crullers and passed out on the floor of a Dunkin’? Is that what we’re talking about, Councilor George Rotondo?
“We have to do something about people utilizing public bathrooms and doing drugs, in particular heroin,” the bearded councilor wrung his hands. “If they are in a bathroom alone, the likelihood for mortality is very high.”
Councilor Anthony Zambuto was quizzical about this toilet fixation. “I’m not sure what he’s asking…that we let two people go in the bathroom? So if one shoots up, the other can call 911 if they have an overdose?”
Councilor Rotondo balked at the suggestion of having a buddy system for needle pushers. “No! To the contrary. In Bahstahn they actually have someone sit in with someone who is shooting up, but this isn’t what that is at all!”
The council took a vote as the camera operator made a vertigo-inducing pan. Look away if you feel nauseous:
But when it rains, it pours. And Councilor Patrick Keefe had a piece of bad news that affects the most sacred of Boston institutions: baseball.
“I think we all read the newspaper this last week…there happened to be some illegal activity happening on the field or in the dugout areas. We should find the money to have good camera systems down at the stadium and the field.”
Councilor Patch piled on to the list of problems. “We’ve had a couple of overdoses down there also. I think the cameras are necessary.”
A frustrated Councilor Rotondo furrowed his brow and grimaced deeply. “We need to put cameras in EVERY SINGLE FACILITY that we have in the city! We’ve had several overdoses in city pahks. To save one life, it’s worth all the cameras!”
Final thoughts: For trying to clean up the city, I give Councilor Rotondo 10 out of 10 broomsticks. Vaya con Dios.
Grab some chowdah and pahk your cah in the yahd–today we head to Boston!
Immediately, I knew that the MVP of this council meeting would be city clerk Maureen Feeney, who called roll in the most legit Boston accent this side of Bunker Hill.
“Councilah Flehrety [Flaherty]…Councilah MaCaathy [McCarthy]…Councilah Wooah [Wu],” she blurted out like a hotdog vendor at Fenway Park.
As a pastor stepped to the dais to offer the day’s prayer, it raised an important question: why is the Boston city council meeting in the concrete basement of Montresor from “The Cask of Amontillado”?
Councilors got down to business, with the clerk helpfully narrating the big issues:
“Dahket numbah 0993: accept for the city of Bahstan a donation from the Coast Gaahd. The boat and trailah will be added to the Habah Patrol and will benefit the city of Bahstan.”
“Dahket numbah 0823, sponsored by the mayah: Bahstan Latin School pahtial boilah replacement.”
But it wasn’t all trailahs and boilahs–there were serious problems facing the council as well.
Gas leaks: “There are anywhere from 1,300–which was a conservative estimate–[or] double or triple that,” Councilor Matt O’Malley cautioned.
LGBTQ youth: “Of the youth studied, one in five attempted suicide in the past year,” Councilor Josh Zakim fretted.
People without IDs: “Getting a formal identification card is burdensome for certain communities–undocumented immigrants, residents who are experiencing homelessness, transgender,” Council President Michelle Wu wu-arned.
Yikes, I haven’t seen this much chaos in Boston since any given Red Sox game.
But all was not lost. Riding in like Paul Revere was Councilor Ayanna Pressley. “I’m rising to create a little peer pressure for everyone,” she said cheekily. “If your spouse’s birthday falls on the same day as the council meeting, you will now feel the pressure to do the same thing I’m doing: happy birthday, sweetheart! Thirty-nine years young!”
Let’s see…13 council spouses…52 council meetings per year…the odds of another birthday happening are…gosh, where’s a math-savvy MIT janitor when you need one?
And what’s even better than a Boston birthday? A Boston boast-day:
“My office was contacted by the comptroller in New York City looking for information on our free sunscreen in the parks program,” Councilor O’Malley bragged. “This is a public health service that we are offering at zero cost to the taxpayer. New York City is piloting it this summer at their city pools.”
He gave a sly grin. “So I wanted to congratulate the great city of New York for ONCE AGAIN following Boston’s lead.” The other councilors whooped and guffawed like it was the second coming of the Boston Tea Party. (I admired their restraint for not also chanting “YANK-EES SUCK!”)
And on that note of being BRIEFLY, on ONE thing, SLIGHTLY better than New York, the council adjourned for some Dunkin’ Donuts and a packy of Sam Adams.
Final thoughts: What a wicked pissa of a council meeting! For slipping an F-U to New Yorkers, I give this meeting 8 out of 10 deflated Patriots footballs.