Special meeting held on ‘Pay to Play’ ordinance

On October 22, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times
City residents and Aldermen weighed in on the “Pay to Play” ordinance veto at last week’s Special Meeting of the Board.

City residents and Aldermen weighed in on the “Pay to Play” ordinance veto at last week’s Special Meeting of the Board.

By Jim Clark

A special meeting of the Board of Alderman was convened on Tuesday, October 14 to serve as a public hearing on the mayor’s veto of the so-called “Pay to Play” ordinance, as well as to provide an opportunity for city officials and members of the general public to ask questions and make comments on the matter.

The controversial ordinance adopted by the Board of Alderman would have limited campaign contributions by property developers to $250, compared to the current limit of $500. The law would affect those who develop 10,000 square feet or more in the city. The mayor submitted his formal veto of the ordinance at the last Regular Meeting of The Board of Alderman on October 9.

The meeting began with several members of the community coming forward to share their opinions about the ordinance and the veto. A clear majority of those who spoke urged the Board to vote to override the veto.

One woman who stepped up to speak said, “I think that we have a conflict of interest when you have big corporations giving campaign contributions. And I think the influence of these big money interests should be limited.”

Rand Wilson, member of SEIU Local 888 and the Somerville Labor Coalition, remarked that he was only representing his own personal point of view when he said, “This is a vote where Somerville has to be a leader, and I think labor in general supports overturning Citizens United. We support transparency and we support more democracy.”

After comments by the public, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah L. Gewirtz formally moved that the Board vote to override the mayor’s veto. Speaking in favor of the override, Gewirtz said, “There’s no good reason that I’ve heard why we shouldn’t take this simple step. We’re not politicizing any Board, we’re asking people to fill out a form. The end.”

Alderman Maryann M. Heuston of Ward 2 indicated that if there were motion to put the matter back into Committee she would be voting that way. “I do support the intent of this,” Heuston said. “But I do feel there are things we need to think about in terms of the logic of this.” The Alderman went on to indicate that she had concerns about the effectiveness of the ordinance. “What is so magic about the difference between $500 and $250? $500 is impropriety. $500 is undue influence. $250 is not. In fact, $250 triggers nothing.”

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang voiced his support of the veto override while indicating that he felt much more needs to be done saying, “I’m looking forward to working with all of you and with the mayor on substantial, radical campaign finance reform,” said Niedergang.

Mary Jo Rossetti, Alderman At Large, said that she totally supports the concept of the ordinance but that she would not change her vote and go along with overriding the veto. “I think we’re close, but we’re not completely there yet,” said Rossetti. “I can’t in my heart of hearts vote for something tonight knowing that it’s not grand enough. I believe that within a couple of meeting we can get there.”

Rossetti expressed her wish to have the matter go back into Committee and stated that she would have undertaken steps to do so if she had been given the opportunity. A somewhat heated exchange followed as Board President William A. White Jr., Alderman At Large, suggested that she had not properly followed parliamentary procedure in an effort to make this happen.

Alderman At Large Dennis M. Sullivan expressed his support of the veto override. “I believe in my heart this is a modest change. I think it makes sense. It’s not going to eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest, but it’s going to limit it,” said Sullivan. “I have not heard one resident say they are against this proposal.”

Matthew McLaughlin, Ward 1 Alderman, also favored the override. Commenting on the ordinance, he said, “I’m so angered and frightened by the amount of influence that developers have. People power can beat money. It will beat money.”

Ward 7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne joined the ranks of those supporting the ordinance. In her remarks she stated, “This ordinance is a modest step forward to limit the contributions for developers who are doing business with the city. Where the developers are looking out for their shareholders, I as an Alderman, along with my six other colleagues, want to look out for our constituents.”

Robert J. McWatters, Alderman for Ward 3, said, “For the record, I represent Ward 3. I don’t represent the administration. I don’t represent developers. I represent my constituents and the voters of Ward 3. I conceptually disagree with this. I think if you want to get serious, let’s stop taking contributions from developers – period. I would go on record as supporting that.”

Ward 4’s Tony Lafuente spoke in favor of the override saying, “I’ve said in public before, $250 is not a big difference. Might as well stay at zero. However, it’s a beginning, and that’s what we do here.”

Alderman At Large William A. White Jr. got the last word in saying, “When money talks the poor are silent. Neighborhoods can be silenced. What we have before us, I believe, is a finely tailored ordinance that has had considerable discussion, debate and legal weigh-in that can survive a challenge.”

With all Aldermen having spoken, with the exception of Alderman At Large John M. Connolly who was absent, the vote was then taken.

Voting in favor of the veto override were Aldermen Sullivan, White Jr., McLaughlin, Lafuente, Niedergang, Gewirtz, and Ballantyne. Voting against the override were Aldermen Rossetti, Heuston, and McWatters. The veto override, requiring eight votes for passage, was not approved.


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