Apparent Stubbornness Sets Stage for Competing Mayoral and City Council Public Events March 21

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini delivers annual State of the City address in 2019. (WHAV News file photograph.)

A long-running rivalry between Haverhill’s mayor and some members of the City Council means competing public events next month.

Mayor James J. Fiorentini plans to deliver his final State of the City Address Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m., in City Hall auditorium while the City Council meets at the same time across the hall. In a narrow 5-4 vote, city councilors Tuesday night repealed their own rule that the annual address take precedence over their own scheduled meetings.

Haverhill City Council rules had read that “in any year that the mayor should choose to deliver his/her State of the City address on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m., the City Council meeting scheduled for that week shall be appropriately cancelled in advance.”

Voicing concern that the rule effectively gives the mayor the power to cancel a Council meeting, Council President Timothy J. Jordan and Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski proposed eliminating that sentence. However, not all councilors were onboard. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, for example, said he wants both sides to work together.

“It seems to me the way in which this should be done is for the mayor to give his State of the City speech before the City Council and then the City Council would have a meeting right after that,” he said.

Fellow Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan agreed, suggesting a compromise the mayor give his State of the City speech at 6 p.m. followed by the Council at its regular time.

Members narrowly voted to eliminate the rule with Jordan, Vice President John A. Michitson and Councilors Michael S. McGonagle, Catherine P. Rogers and Lewandowski in favor and Councilors Melinda E. Barrett, Shawn P. Toohey, Bevilacqua and Sullivan opposed. Following Sullivan’s suggestion of the mayor speaking before the meeting, it appeared a compromise might be reached.

An exchange of emails between Jordan and the mayor, however, set the stage for dueling events.  Jordan wrote, “It would be great if you gave your State of the City address at 6 p.m. on March 21st. All of us councilors will be in attendance. We can then attend your reception and be back in the Council chambers for our regularly scheduled council meeting at 7 p.m.”

Fiorentini responded by holding firm to his 7 p.m. start time. He said he already compromised by choosing not to deliver his address at the Dr. Albert B. Consentino School, where he also planned to honor several of the city’s unsung heroes.

“I understand you voted last evening to have a Council meeting, if you so choose, on March 21.   If you do choose to have a meeting that night, I welcome you to have it right after the speech and reception. I am more than happy to have my chief of staff attend after the State of the City speech,” the mayor wrote.

The mayor said he originally chose Consentino to highlight plans to build a new school without the necessity of a debt exclusion vote.

WHAV, which usually broadcasts both the State of the City Address and City Council meetings live, has made no commitments to either side.

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