Some Aldermen Irked by 'Last-Minute' $2 Million Bond Request
Approval of the bond nearly failed when one aldermen voted against it.
A $2 million bond request, intended mostly to fund repairs at school buildings, also contained line items for a few non-school-related things, including $200,000 for a covered walkway at the city's new ice rink and another $200,000 for a police shooting range.
The bond request frustrated some aldermen, who felt it came at the last minute from the mayor's office.
When the matter came to a vote at the Board of Aldermen's meeting Thursday night, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz voted against it. Because three aldermen were absent from the meeting, her lone dissenting vote meant the bond didn't receive the two-thirds approval necessary to pass.
After a recess, the Board of Aldermen voted on the matter again. This time around, Gewirtz changed her vote to "yes," but she also spoke against the manner in which it came before the Board.
Some of the items were "tacked on," she said, adding that "This Board of Aldermen has an important role to play" in terms of scrutinizing expenditures.
Ward 7 Aldermen Robert Trane also expressed frustration, saying, "We get a lot of these things last minute."
Speaking after the meeting Gewirtz said she changed her vote because she didn't want to hold up funding for necessary school repairs. "The school things need to happen now" while students are on break for the summer, she said.
The other items "need a full vetting," she said. "I can't see a reason why we should be voting on a bond request the night of."
She said of the bond request, "It was handed to me when I got here" that night.
The item was not included on the photocopied 14-page agenda made available at the start of the meeting.
Also speaking after the meeting, Thomas Champion, a spokesperson in the mayor's office, took issue with the idea that the bond request was made at the last minute.
He pointed out that it was brought before the Board at its June 21 meeting.
The item was introduced at that meeting as a late item. It was "referred for recommendation" to the finance committee, but there is no record in the city's online tracking system that the finance committee took up the matter, and it was not on the finance committee's June 26 agenda—the only meeting that committee had before Thursday's gathering of the full Board. It is cusumary for sub-committees to scruitinize items and make recommendations to the entire Board of Aldermen on how to proceed, but it appears this item didn't go through that process.
Champion also noted that the Aldermen don't have another meeting for the rest of the summer. Its next meeting is on Sept. 13, after school repairs need to be made. "To characterize it as something brought before the Board at the last minute to rush passage is to ignore the reality of the Board's summer schedule," he said.
As for the police shooting range, Somerville Police Chief Thomas Pasquarello said the existing range, at the police station, has not been operable for over a decade and the department spends time and money transporting police officers to the town of Harvard so they can fulfill their firearms certifications. Fixing the range in Somerville would allow officers to conduct that training in the city.