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Salem councilors fail to override veto on city job-waiting period

Posted by Sean Teehan  April 29, 2011 11:16 AM

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A Salem ordinance requiring elected officials to wait a year after leaving office before taking a paid city position will stand after the City Council failed to override a mayoral veto against amending it.

The final decision was two votes shy of the two-thirds "super majority" needed to pass the amendment, which would have eliminated the waiting period. The vote was 6-5. Mayor Kimberley Driscoll vetoed the measure last month, citing conflict of interest concerns.

"I personally think [the ordinance is] unfair," Councilor at Large Steven A. Pinto said during the meeting. "It gives more of the perception, waiting, that we're trying to hide something."

When Pinto told councilors that several neighboring communities had no waiting period between serving as an elected official and working a paid city position, Ward 7 Councilor Joseph A. O'Keefe said he sees this as something to preserve.

"I think that's a wonderful thing, that we are the only ones on the North Shore," said O'Keefe, who represented one of the two votes against the amendment when it originally passed last month. "I think that's to our standards [on the] City Council in Salem to have this prohibition."

Councilor at Large Thomas H. Furey also stood in opposition to the amendment, saying the ordinance as it stands helps put elected officials beyond reproach.

"It sends the wrong message," Furey said, pointing out former city councilors who obtain a city job could be perceived as having used their votes as leverage to earn the position. "I think Salem should be a role model."

The required waiting period was put on the books as a "knee-jerk reaction" to a former city councilor who became head of the Council on Aging in the past, Councilor at Large Arthur C. Sargent, III said.

"I believe the ordinance swung the pendulum a little bit too far," Sargent said, adding that the ordinance can bar the best job candidates from filling city positions. "You can be the most qualified candidate, and you can't be hired because you've only been out of office 11 months, not 12."

Councilor at Large Joan B. Lovely, who originally supported the amendment, changed her position before last night's vote, she said.

"Elected officials are held to a whole different standard," Lovely said. "It's just the way it is."

The vote came in with six councilors favoring the override and five supporting the ordinance as it stands.

Councilors at Large Sargent and Pinto as well as Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski, Ward 5 Councilor John H. Ronan, Ward 6 Councilor Paul C. Prevey, and Ward 1 Councilor Robert K. McCarthy voted in favor of the veto override.

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