Chaotic Council Meeting Ends Abruptly Over President, VP Vote
Debate over potential conflicts of interest in voting leads to a meeting that ended shortly after it began.
UPDATE, WEDNESDAY: Thursday's council meeting will take place at 8:15 p.m. and not 7 p.m. as originally reported. Here is the announcement on the city website.
ORIGINAL STORY: Rancorous debate, shouting matches and a malaise of motions marred Tuesday night's brief Medford City Council meeting, which ended after councilors didn't vote for a new president and vice president for 2013.
Debate was halted after Councilor Robert Penta asked Section 22, a council bylaw ending all discussion on a topic, be invoked first on election of the new president and then for the election of the new vice president.
The council is expected to hold a special meeting Thursday at City Hall at 7 p.m. to take up Tuesday night's agenda.
It all started when Councilor Michael Marks raised a concern over councilors voting for themselves after being nominated for either president or vice president.
Marks questioned if such an action would present a conflict of interest as those council positions carry higher compensation.
Marks said he obtained a legal opinion from a staff attorney at the state Ethics Commission on the matter.
"I think it's only appropriate that based on the feedback I received from the Ethics Commission that anyone running should refrain from voting for themselves based on a conflict of interest," Marks said.
Marks added the council could receive an official opinion from the commission "swiftly."
After Councilor Frederick Dello Russo, Jr., entered Councilor Robert Maiocco's name for nomination as president, Councilor Robert Penta asked the vote for president be put off until an official opinion could be obtained.
At first, Councilor Paul Camuso asked the pay for those two positions be withheld pending the opinion of the commission.
"This body has the responsibility to put someone up there on the chair," Camuso said.
"We can't pick and choose whether or not we want to adhere to state law," Marks said in response. "The law is very clear."
Eventually, the names of Camuso, Penta and Marks were all included in the pool for presidential nominations along with Maiocco.
Camuso then attempted to "invoke the rule of necessity," as four members of the seven-person body would be unable to vote due to the appearance of a conflict of interest and the meeting would be allowed to proceed.
Penta noted that "something of a game is going on here" and invoked Section 22 to end the discussion.
When Camuso suggested that meant there could no longer be a meeting without a president, Penta said City Clerk Edward Finn could conduct the rest of the meeting. Other councilors vehemently disagreed.
"How does this council proceed?" asked Maiocco, who has served 14 years as council president. "It can't. In my 30 years on the Medford City Council I have never seen anything like this."
Maiocco accused Penta of not understanding the rules of the meeting, saying it was an "organizational" one and without organization there could be no meeting.
Several members of the public addressed the committee during the proceedings, including resident Joe Viglione, who called Maiocco an "immature man, drunk with power."
Finn moved on from the presidential vote to the vice presidential vote, where Dello Russo's name was entered by Camuso, who said councilors had voted for themselves for president and vice president in the past.
Penta again tried to table the vote for vice president. When Camuso moved to delete the line item in the city budget for council president and vice president salaries, Penta again invoked Section 22.
"I guess this all just about playing games then," Camuso said, and moved to adjourn.
"You can't have a meeting without an organization," Maiocco said. "It's illegal. We can get a ruling from the Ethics Commission on that."
Members of the audience shouted at Maiocco, saying he was "embarrassing himself."
After a motion to table all remaining items on the agenda failed, Maiocco himself invoked Section 22 to end the meeting.
The council took a brief recess at Finn's suggestion and when they reconvened Camuso moved to hold the special Thursday meeting to take up Tuesday's business.
Camuso called Marks' decision to bring up the conflict of interest matter a "sneak attack" while Marks called the entire ordeal "business as usual."
Finn and others apologized to the people who came out to Tuesday's meeting just to see it end so abruptly.
"If they don't come back after this whole fiasco, I don't blame them," Camuso said.
After the meeting ended, Councilor Richard Caraviello called the committee's actions "embarrassing."
Caraviello said the committee may have endangered the opening of the new Stop & Shop on Salem Street Friday by its actions. The store needs approval of its common victualler license before it can open, and that was on Tuesday's agenda.
"That could mean 100 people are out of work," he said.