By JOHN HOWELL After nearly two weeks of talk of who would become the City Council President following inauguration ceremonies in January and speculation that as many as four members of the nine-member council could win the job, the council met in caucus
After nearly two weeks of talk of who would become the City Council President following inauguration ceremonies in January and speculation that as many as four members of the nine-member council could win the job, the council met in caucus Saturday at the Greenwood home of Steve McAllister to unanimously select him as their leader.
“It got me to do some raking,” McAllister said of preparations for the meeting, which was held at 1 p.m. in his backyard. He said the two member-elect councilmen, William Foley in Ward 1 and Vincent Gebhart of Ward 9, plus the six incumbents and himself were all masked and properly distanced.
He said Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe nominated him as president and the second was unanimous.
“It was pretty quick after that,” he said, adding that no city business was discussed in compliance with open meetings regulations.
The official vote will come at the first council meeting, which customarily follows the swearing-in of the mayor and the mayor swearing in the council.
Over the weekend, Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi said he has not selected a location for the ceremony, noting that it could be affected by COVID regulations, the size of permissible gatherings and the need for distancing. Picozzi has mentioned the possibility of holding the event at the Veterans Middle School auditorium, as that is one of the largest in the city. By City Charter, the inauguration is held the first Tuesday of the New Year, which is Jan. 5.
Jockeying for the presidency started soon after Steve Merolla announced in May he would not seek reelection to Ward 9 and was a candidate for the state Senate District 31 seat being vacated by Erin Lynch Prata. Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi actively pursued the post and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur let his colleagues know he was also interested in the leadership position.
Frustrated by the administration’s failure to address concerns in his ward – including repairs to Lippitt Park following an accident where a car plowed into a bicycle rack and posts, potholes in Anglesea and the installation of a crosswalk for St. Kevin Church on Sandy Lane – Ladouceur broke ranks with Democrats and endorsed independent Picozzi for mayor. Now that he was appealing for the support of fellow Democrats for council president, he didn’t get it.
In a text message Sunday, Ladouceur wrote: “One thing is certain, I will continue to do exactly what I’ve been doing to protect the people in Ward 5 and all the taxpayers just as I’ve been doing these last 8 years.”
Citing his tenure on the council and his work as chair of its Finance Committee, Ladouceur said Wednesday he was disappointed not to be chosen by his colleagues. He said he worked hard to bring about a “culture change” in the city’s purchasing practices, resulting in increased participation by vendors and savings of “millions of dollars” for the taxpayers.
When he recognized he didn’t have the votes, Ladouceur said he backed McAllister.
“I don’t want to start the New Year the way the old one ended,” he said, referring to divisions on the council.
“I’m excited to work with Frank Picozzi,” he said, adding that he won’t be backing away from issues he sees as critical to the city, including the “legacy costs” of pension and health care reforms for municipal retirees.
Reached Wednesday, Sinapi said he has talked with Picozzi and finds him “genuine … he cares a lot.” He believes the city is in for a good two years where the aim is making the city better instead of petty politics.
He said he feels the mayor and the council “will work toward the same goals.”
McAllister said he met with Ladouceur at his place of business where they each made “their pitch” for the position. In the swirl of uncertainty as to who had enough votes, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis, who has held the position on two occasions, was seen as a potential consensus builder.
McAllister said he also met with Travis and made his pitch for the job. Travis could not be reached for comment.
Overall, McAllister said it didn’t come down to a contest against anyone, but each of the candidates promoting how they would fill the position.
McAllister plans to make council meetings “more citizen friendly,” inviting groups to attend meetings once in-person meetings resume. He pointed out that Boy and Girl Scout troops have led the council in the Pledge of Allegiance and that the council has recognized youth athletic teams on their achievements. He said he would like to do more of those events going forward.
He is also looking to more actively engage council members by assigning legislation and resolutions to a wider spectrum of committees. Presently, the lion’s share of legislation is funneled through the Finance Committee when it could be parsed to the Ordinance and other committees.
McAllister said he has been asked about committee assignments, but hasn’t made any decisions yet. He intends to talk with council members about their preferences.
McAllister also aims to start council meetings on time at 7 p.m. even though committee meetings that traditionally start at 5 p.m. have delayed the council meeting to 9 p.m. and later. He pointed out that members of the public could wait for hours, not knowing when the issue they are interested in will be heard. By starting the council meeting on time, citations and other recognitions could be made so as not to hold people up.
McAllister and his wife, Vanessa, a first-grade teacher at Cedar Hill School, are parents of Grace, who was born on Oct. 17.
McAllister put schools on top of the list when asked what he considers the city’s most pressing issue. Schools are closely followed by the city’s “infrastructure.” He notes efforts are being made in that direction, citing the road-repaving program initiated by Mayor Solomon. He also has his sights set on the city’s aging sewer and water systems.
McAllister said he has talked with Picozzi and is looking forward to working with council members to address issues they have relating to their ward as well as the entire city.
McAllister is no stranger to state or national issues as they relate to businesses. He is the director of the Eastern Region for the United States Chamber of Commerce. He said that while both sides of the political aisle agree federal spending needs to be increased on infrastructure, a bill has not emerged. He is hopeful federal funding for infrastructure repairs on the municipal level will be available.
Merolla said Monday he would offer McAllister any help he needs in preparation for his new role on the council.