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Medford council grinds to halt after failing to elect officers

Posted by Jarret Bencks  January 8, 2013 10:39 PM

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Medford City Councilors stumbled their way into being unable to hold a meeting Tuesday and brought legislative duties to a screeching halt after finding themselves unable to appoint officers for the 2013 calendar year.

The council was supposed to elect new officers at the start of the meeting and then move on to items including handing out commendations to retiring local restaurateurs and voting on whether to grant a license to a grocery store looking to open at the end of the week.

But those latter items were never brought up after one councilor invoked a state law that allows the end of debate on any subject as the council discussed a resolution to appoint new officers. Without elected officers, the council could not proceed.

A special meeting has been called for Thursday, where the council will attempt to move on and conduct city business.

As the meeting began Tuesday night, Councilor Michael Marks, citing a recent exchange he had with the state Ethics Commission's staff attorney, said anyone nominated for officer positions shouldn't vote for themselves, pointing to a state ethics law preventing elected officers from voting for any measure that benefits them financially. The president and vice president positions come with a salary increase.

"We are not allowed to pick and chose when the conflict of interest laws apply to us," he said.

Despite this, Fred Dello Russo nominated Robert Maiocco as president. Marks continued to suggest that nominees either recuse themselves, or the council table voting on new officers until it can get a ruling from the cthics commission.

Paul Camuso, Maiocco, and Dello Russo attempted to move the election of council president forward by nominating three other members of the council to the post. Camuso nominated Marks, Maiocco nominated Camuso, and Dello Russo nominated Robert Penta.

If all four nominated councilors recused themselves, there wouldn't be enough remaining councilors to hold an official meeting and, thus, Camuso said, the council could invoke "the rule of necessity," allowing the councilors citing conflict of interest to rejoin the meeting.

Bob Penta was dubious of Camuso's attempt.

"It's obvious that there appears to be a little bit of a game going on," he said.

Camuso asked City Solicitor Mark Rumley for his opinion, but Rumley refused to comment. Since Marks already had sought the opinion of the Ethics Commission's attorney, he did not want to interfere, he said. If the council wanted opinions on the matter they would have to go to the commission, he said.

"It is there that you'll find your answers," Rumley said.

Following Rumley's refusal, Penta immediately invoked "section 22," a state statute that allows a legislator to immediately end discussion on any issue until its next meeting.

The council moved on to its next item -- voting for a vice president. Camuso nominated Dello Russo, and Penta promptly again invoked section 22.

"This is too serious of a matter to just accept," he said.

This put the council in a conundrum: Law calls for the city clerk to lead the council in one specific circumstance: at the beginning of the year, to call for a vote on new officers and swear in those newly elected officers.

Medford City Clerk Ed Finn found himself standing at the podium, leading a council he had no power over.

"We're at a standstill," Finn said.

Penta said he wanted to continue with the other items slated for the meeting, with Finn leading the council. But Maiocco refused. The council needed elected officers to conduct a meeting, he said.

"How can the council proceed? It can't," Maiocco said. "In my 30 years of being on the council, if never seen anything like this."

Camuso said the request by Marks was a "sneak attack."

"You wonder why you're not the president," Camuso said to Marks.

Marks jabbed back, saying "business as usual -- family connections." Referring to Camuso being Maiocco's nephew by marriage.

Councilor Rick Caraviello could be seen rubbing his eyes and shaking his head as his fellow councilors argued. One of the items the council was supposed to vote on was a common victualler license for a new Stop & Shop on Salem Street. The store already has received approval from all the necessary city departments and the license is typically considered a formality in the city. It plans to open on Friday, but needs the license to do so.

"There will be 100 people out of work on Friday," Caraviello said. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."

The council took a five minute recess in an attempt to find a way to carry on with city business. When members returned, Camuso called for a special meeting to be held on Thursday in an effort to address the Stop & Shop license before Friday. It was approved by the council.

Camuso said those who were scheduled to receive commendations, including Lino and Audrey Avellani of Lino & Audrey's Restaurant for their retirement, could be rescheduled to a different date.

"If they don't come back after this fiasco, I don't blame them," he said.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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