If you thought last month’s disagreement over the mayor’s request for two support staff might be a rare public spat, now it’s just open warfare among the administration and City Council — despite the fact that all members of the same political party (Democrat). Monday’s public meeting brought more allegations, complaints and condemnations, a day after reports about the city’s lack of a full-time health officer.
The governing body followed through on its request that the state Department of Community Affairs “investigate the failure of the mayor to timely hire a full-time health officer” after deciding against placing on the agenda a $10,000 resolution from Mayor Rick Proctor to hire outside legal counsel. Amidst some confusion over meeting protocol, the City Council voted 5-2-1 to not place the resolution on last night’s meeting agenda. Fourth Ward Councilman David Brown and Councilman At-large James Baker voted in favor of placing the resolution on the agenda while Councilman At-large Sal Mione abstained. Third Ward Councilman Jerry Scaturo was absent.
City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said he had no knowledge of the resolution for the mayor’s outside legal counsel. Later in the meeting, he revealed that he had filed an ethics complaint against the mayor over the selection process for health officer but also allegedly tried to get compensation for his wife. Proctor’s wife was among the top candidates for the health officer post, according to published reports appearing on Sunday. Pelissier said he has retained an attorney who advised the mayor that the complaint had been filed and warned him against making disparaging public remarks or creating a hostile work environment.
“I really didn’t want this to be on the agenda because I try to be respectful,” said 6th Ward Councilman Samson Steinman, but he lambasted the resolution for outside counsel as an “absolute joke,” adding that it shows how out of touch the mayor is with reality after the council removed his request for two staff members.
Proctor started the meeting seated in his usual seat next to Pelissier on the dais but moved to a public seat before addressing the City Council from the public speaker’s microphone. [The mayor was elected in November, took office in January, and reappointed Pelissier to another four-year term as city administrator]. He called the investigation “tantamount to a witch hunt” and blasted the City Council for relying on Pelissier’s claims. Proctor said his efforts to make the administrator accountable for his time have not been welcomed and have resulted in heavy-handed tactics. “This is not about health concerns but about job preservation,” he said.
Steinman called the mayor’s comments “The most juvenile display by an elected official” and instead of putting forth a resolution for legal bills, Steinman said he would rather approve a resignation letter from the mayor.
First Ward Councilman Robert Rachlin said he was “saddened by what transpired at this body the last couple of meetings. All I want to know is the truth.” Brown, the council president, was hopeful that once the investigation was complete, the truth would be known while other council members did not publicly comment on the situation during their portion of the meeting.
Editor’s note: You might be asking yourself, as some have asked me, ‘What’s this got to do with redevelopment? Why are you writing about this?’ Well, the initial proposal for two staff in the mayor’s office included a chief of staff, whom the mayor described would deal with ‘policy’ issues, which I interpreted to mean redevelopment, at least to some extent. Now it’s just a matter of the more time spent on these efforts leaves less time to focus on redevelopment efforts. And besides that, until Sunday’s stories about the health officer situation, no news sources seemed to be covering these issues. -MH