City Councilors Take Off the Gloves as Internal Rift Widens

Haverhill City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua.

Haverhill City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua.

When it comes to public participation at Haverhill City Council meetings, it may be said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Eight of the nine councilors rejected two motions from Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua—one to allow the public to address the council at the start of meetings as, for example, is allowed during school committee meetings—and another to allow three nonprofit groups per meeting, out of “hundreds” in the city to announce their events or “to tell what is happening.” Discussion over whether to change an existing practice to place, or “sponsor” requests to speak on council agenda, at times, turned to allegations of either meeting rule violations, lack of “due diligence” to research the subject or an attempt to “gain another headline.” Councilor William J. Macek criticized Bevilacqua’s proposal as a “flash in the pan idea because the school committee does it.”

City Councilor William J. Macek.

City Councilor William J. Macek.

“This is a formal body. We’re a city. We’re not a town. People are always welcome to speak to us. Matter of fact, I placed the item on the agenda for the Hilldale Cemetery Association to come here because I believe everybody has a right to speak to this council but they need to go through process. Because that’s what government is all about, process,” Macek said.

Bevilacqua, however, called the matter “a simple common sense request” and alleged members of the public are discouraged from speaking before the council if not approved for placement on a meeting agenda.

“I don’t have that high opinion of what we are in terms of the fact someone has to come and ask our approval to be put on the council agenda. If someone lives in the city, pays a tax bill, works in the city, goes to school in the city, helps our city—some way, shape or manner as a volunteer—they should have the right to simply walk in that door and speak to us without approval,” Bevilacqua said. “And it’s that point that I can’t understand why they need our approval to speak to us when they pay the bills. I think sometimes we forget that.”

City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien.

City Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien countered by pointing to a rules search she conducted.

“According to the way Roberts Rules for a city council go, you do go through a councilor. And as I said before, I don’t think it’s because it’s about permission or approval, that’s how you get placed on the agenda. And I have never refused anyone from being on the agenda – ever,” Daly O’Brien said.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle, who seconded Bevilacqua’s other motion regarding speakers from nonprofits, said all groups have the same forum as those which request fee waivers or other event conditions from the council.

“And I hope the leadership in those nonprofits is astute enough to be able to say, ‘city council meets on Tuesday nights, our event is in two weeks,’ like Hilldale Cemetery came in to announce their couple of things. I think that’s adequate as well. I don’t think it’s a bad idea but I don’t think it’s something that needs to be changed because I think it’s working very well,” McGonagle said.

3 thoughts on “City Councilors Take Off the Gloves as Internal Rift Widens

  1. I submit my opinion that Roberts Rules will be satisfied by an agenda item ” public participation” or something similar to that wording. Many issues such as totters, Parking fees, etc are of a great interest to the citizens of our city and we all should have the opportunity of expressing our support and or concerns at city council meeting where the entire council can hear the concerns rather than individual one on give and take between councilors and citizens. Of course this might seem inconvenient to council members as it would lengthen the duration of the meetings.

  2. Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien: YOU of all people need an education in decorum and professionalism when it comes to rules!!
    Just a few weeks ago you “lobbied” on behalf of a special interest group to put on the council agenda restricting Anna Jacques Hospital building a facility in the city. You did so because nurses you know are worried that competition could affect them personally. With no knowledge or understanding of the business aspects of Anna Jacque’s proposal you put a personal issue on the city council agenda. Not only was your thought process in doing so lacking any business acumen, it lacked complete lack of understanding of what your role is on the council. It is to work for the greater good of the city, NOT to work on behalf of your personal friends. And for that reason your request for this agenda item should have been refused.

  3. I disagree with Bevilaqua’s proposal. Is he going to allow three groups to speak during the budget meetings ? Those meeting last too long as it is because most of the councilors never do their homework. The council should run their meetings as they see fit even if some of the meetings are full of nonsense.