Some Councilors Say Ordinance Update May Limit Ability to Consult City Solicitor; Two Disagree

Haverhill City Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski. (Courtesy photograph.)

With some expressing worries it would reduce the body’s powers, Haverhill city councilors voted to send a proposed ordinance update on the council’s relationship with the city solicitor to subcommittee last night.

Councilors Melissa J. Lewandowski and Shaun P. Toohey voted no on the motion. Lewandowski told WHAV after the meeting most of the subsections to the amendment refer to the authority of the mayor or city council, not exclusively the mayor.

“As I read it, it doesn’t abrogate any of our ability to ask for opinions, to get both a verbal opinion or a written opinion, to call upon them on any matter indirectly or directly affecting the city council, to even ask them to appear before different legislative bodies on our behalf,” she said. “It doesn’t give any of that away.”

While Haverhill used to have a local city solicitor, it now employs Assistant City Solicitor Thomas C. Fallon and an outside law firm, Mead, Talerman & Costa, headed by former Newburyport Mayor Lisa L. Mead.

In Lewandowski’s eyes, sending the proposed update to subcommittee will slow the process of governing. “I’ve worked in the state, in different capacities, for my nearly 30-year law career, and I know how slowly, sometimes, things work, and that, sometimes if you get lost in the weeds on these things, unnecessarily, it makes things more complicated than they need to be,” she said.

Councilor John A. Michitson motioned to send the amended ordinance to the Administration and Finance Subcommittee for further investigation after Councilor Colin F. LePage raised concerns about a loss of power.

“The title of the mayor is never listed in this ordinance,” LePage said, referring to its language before the proposed change. “It was always the city council. I don’t know if anyone had noticed those changes, but going through this and looking at it, and redlining it, the city council has been removed from some places and inserted with the mayor and, other places, as the mayor and/or city council.”

Mayor Melinda E. Barrett said, in her opinion, the current ordinance had simply been copied in 1966, when Haverhill switched from having a city manager and strong council, to a form of government with a strong mayor. She said she thinks the proposed update aims to make the ordinance consistent with the current system. Agreeing, Vice President Timothy J. Jordan said there is a legal question as to whether the city council can have some of the powers stipulated in the ordinance.

Barrett said, “I have no intention of running roughshod over you folks, and if you want to send it to committee go ahead. That’s up to you guys.”

While Jordan, who seconded Michitson’s motion, said he agreed the council had a good relationship with the current mayor, he worried that might not always be the case.

Referring to former Mayor James J. Fiorentini, Jordan said, “In the past, sometimes it felt like, yeah, the legal opinion of the city solicitor was whatever the mayor told him his legal opinion was.”

Lewandowski told WHAV she plans to go to the Administration and Finance subcommittee meeting to share her view that this most recent amendment to the ordinance leaves the city council with sufficient power.

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