Mayor Fiorentini, City Council Appear to Remain Far Apart on Spending Plan Resolution

Both sides in Haverhill’s budget battle appear to be digging in as the city continues operating on a temporary budget. City councilors Tuesday night approved a budget for July after defeating Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s full-year budget by a vote of 6-3. In separate interviews with WHAV this week, City Council President Melinda E. Barrett said councilors have consistently called obsolete fire trucks a public safety issue, while the mayor said the council vote took him by surprise. “Capital projects, like fire trucks, are discussed later, when you’re doing capital plans so…I was stunned, quite frankly,” Fiorentini said. Barrett countered the mayor was present when councilors voted 7-1 Monday night that he commit to replacing the city’s two oldest fire trucks.

Haverhill City Council Backs Keeping Statue of Hannah Duston at GAR Park

(See related content: “Hannah Duston and the Mysterious, Mostly Missing Monument.”)

Haverhill’s statue of Hannah Duston will remain at GAR Park for the time being. Recent waves of protest against statues and monuments across the country—which some call symbols of white supremacy and racism—prompted local resident Judy Matthews Tuesday to ask the Haverhill City Council to consider removing the statue of the Puritan. Matthews read from a statement by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. “MCNAA believes that the statue is harmful to the community due to its perpetuation of racial stereotypes and its presence as a symbol that continues to illustrate the structural racism that has been a foundation of the United States since its founding,” she said. The statue, erected in 1879, commemorates her escape from the Abenaki tribe who had taken her prisoner and is engraved with the phrase “pursued by savages.” Matthews went on to say that offensive symbols, such as the Hannah Dustin statue, perpetuate the idea of warlike Indians.

Haverhill Adopts 1/12 Budget, Averting City Hall Closure Today, in Dispute Over Fire Trucks

The City of Haverhill has a budget—at least for the month of July. For a while last night, the City Council turned down Mayor James J. Fiorentini’s $205.5 million budget request for the year that starts today. Councilors rejected the full-year budget primarily because a separate borrowing order did not include money for a second new fire truck. After the initial rejection, the mayor called the vote “reckless and irresponsible,” saying “Unless there is a change of vote tonight, there is no money to run city government starting tomorrow morning and city hall will be closed.” The mayor did not attend the meeting because of a death in his family. Councilors voted 7-1 Monday to ask the mayor replace two 33-year-old fire trucks (see earlier story), but the mayor stood by his bond request for $521,000—the cost of a single vehicle.

Haverhill’s School Bus Provider Demands the City Pay $613,000 or Face Legal Action

Haverhill’s principal school bus provider is threatening to take the city to court, saying officials have no right to withhold payment regardless of school closures. NRT Bus, through its lawyer Howard M. Cooper of Todd and Weld, said in a letter Monday the city owes the company $613,405. The law firm said a School Committee vote in early April to “no longer pay for services not received” isn’t legal. In the letter to Mayor James J. Fiorentini, school Superintendent Margaret Marotta and assistant Superintendent Michael Pfifferling, NRT says the city must continuing paying for transportation services “whether or not they have actually been rendered during the pandemic.”

Further, the NRT says state law “explicitly permits payment for the full range of services” during pandemic-related school closures. Fiorentini told city councilors Monday night that while he doesn’t believe the city owes NRT money, the schools still must try to reach agreement.

Haverhill Signs New Cable Television Contract; Pact Calls For High Definition Local Channel

Haverhill has completed a new 10-year agreement with Comcast which, among other things, calls for one local television channel to use high definition technology. Comcast has three years to convert one of the local channels—either public access, education or government—to the high-quality video format. The agreement, negotiated by the city’s Cable TV Advisory Committee, also requires Comcast to pay 5% of its local gross revenues—currently $1.3 million annually—to support local programming and $1.1 million over the life of the contract for equipment upgrades. In a statement, Mayor James J. Fiorentini emphasized the agreement is non-exclusive and the committee sought cable and internet competitors. “They worked really hard to recruit another company to come here so that there would be competition.

Whittier Tech’s Lynch Says Student Video ‘Offensive and Hurtful;’ Calls for Talks on Racism, Diversity

The superintendent of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School is calling for more discussion about racism, diversity and tolerance after learning of an “offensive and hurtful” video created and shared by students. Superintendent Maureen A. Lynch said she became aware of the video on the Tik Tok platform Monday morning and that it “trivializes instances of racism and discrimination people of color face every day.” She said she hopes “this moment can act as a learning opportunity from which we can grow.”

“We are disappointed that students felt such a video was appropriate, particularly at this time in our nation’s history, when so many people are working tirelessly to examine and address the historic racism and injustice in our shared past,” Lynch said. She said the school reached out to the parents and guardians of the students. Lynch said the school is “even more saddened by the deep hurt this video has caused by isolating members of our community and attempting to minimize the discrimination and racism that is unfortunately alive and well today.” She added Whittier Tech “denounces all forms of racism, discrimination and hate” and values diversity. The superintendent said Whittier had a professional development program on diversity and inclusion two weeks ago with more than 65 staff members.

Haverhill Budget Up for a Vote Tonight; Councilors ask for Fire Truck, Library Spending Increase

It’s up to the Haverhill City Council tonight to decide whether the mayor’s $205.5 million meets with its approval. Councilors, however, gave indications last night there could still be a showdown over buying another fire truck and giving the public library enough money to win accreditation. At last night’s final budget session, councilors voted 7-1 to ask Mayor James J. Fiorentini to approve two new fire trucks at the top of the fleet to force out two 33-year-old trucks in standby service. The mayor previously agreed to replace one at a cost of $521,000, but Councilor Colin F. LePage, among others, told the mayor the old Hahn trucks use open cabs and are dangerous. “It’s just doing a piecemeal approach.

Podcast: Rep. Campbell Says COVID-19 Fears Driving Mail-In Voting Legislation

A deal was reached yesterday between leaders in the House and Senate on early voting and vote-by-mail legislation that should pave the way for a major expansion of voting options ahead of the 2020 election. State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, who appeared recently on WHAV’s morning program, says one of the driving forces behind the bill is “safety concerns” due to the coronavirus. “We do know that there are a number of our elders that have said that they wanted to vote, but this time they’re not going to go because they’ve seen what’s happened in other countries with people standing in line for hours. They’ve just said, ‘you have to come up with a mechanism to allow us to vote.’ We believe that a tremendous amount of work was done on this, very early on when COVID broke because we knew this was going to come and it takes a lot to get this right, and to make sure it’s a very secure way of voting,” she says. Campbell says the measure also expands the early voting time frame if people want to physically cast ballots.