Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Their own deadlock in electing a mayor and the dragged-out conflict over a driveway tested the patience of the City Council on Monday, but neither issue actually got resolved.

The councillors took their eighth ballot for mayor — giving Leland Cheung three of the needed five votes, Marjorie Decker and Craig Kelley two each and Henrietta Davis and David Maher one each — then voted 5-4 against holding a ninth ballot.

“We’ve got to figure this out,” said Decker, who proposed the failed ninth ballot and then to meet next week although there is no council meeting scheduled. “We are now headed toward, I think, the longest time without having a mayor elected … at some point we have to vote for a mayor. And if it means several rounds of voting or if it means sitting in this room and throwing up smoke once we’re done, something must be done. We’ve been elected to sit in committees, we’ve been elected to give the School Committee their leader and their seventh voter and we’ve been elected [to look at] various things that come through the Ordinance Committee that have to do with the physical shaping of our community — that can’t be looked at until there’s an Ordinance Committee.”

Indeed, during the meeting councillors moved to refer debates to committees that can’t be formed or begin work until a mayor is elected and appoints committee leaders. Councillor Tim Toomey used his “charter right” veto to kill one such suggestion until the next council agenda.

How to elect a mayor, revised

There was agreement to hold a mayoral vote Wednesday, and Decker said that if that didn’t work she would propose they would meet every day to vote. “I would ordinarily send this to the Ordinance Committee, ironically,” she said.

Looking back two years to the start of the previous term, it’s true it took only six ballots to elect a mayor, but the uncertainty did extend to Feb. 22, when Maher won six votes. (There have been other lengthy mayoral elections, including in 2000 and a four-month, 1,321-ballot record-setter in 1948.) In the previous two months there had been similar despair over how long the process was taking, but at that time Decker doubted just adding opportunities to vote would make a difference in the outcome. When additional meetings were proposed (and accepted with seven votes including her own), here’s what she had to say on the idea:

“I don’t think there’s anyone, after all the conversations I’ve had, who’s going to say, ‘I just don’t want to go to one more council meeting and vote on this, so I’m going to change my vote to so and so.’ I’m not aware of that as a motivating factor. Clearly, some of you think it is, and if that works I’m happy to try it. But I’m a little skeptical.”

Kelley, who voted against adding voting dates, said in 2010: “We could meet 20 times a week, and I’m not sure how that would change my opinion,” he said.

There were also several suggestions about changing mayoral elections, some of which were intended to go to committee or the city’s lawyers, but none of which are playing a role now.

The infamous Avon Hill driveway issue

The issue that might have gone to committee without Toomey’s charter right concerned curb cuts, and was inspired by the infamous Avon Hill driveway issue that was been before the council since October, repeatedly bumped from agenda to agenda at the request of the property owner seeking the curb cut and the dozens of neighbors opposing it. Three times one side or the other has asked delay so they could negotiate, but on Monday the council debated whether the result of those negotiations could even be considered in casting votes.

In this case, the property owner was agreeing that his controversial proposed second curb cut on little Wyman Street would remain only as long as he and his family kept the property as its home, and that almost all traffic would be directed to his lot’s first driveway, the one using a curb cut on Raymond Street.

“In 22 years I don’t remember anything like this. A curb cut should stand on its own … Either it’s a valid curb cut or it’s not,” Toomey said. “Every curb cut that comes before us, neighbors will be saying, ‘What can we get out of it?’ This is setting a very bad precedent.”

He also rejected neighbors’ safety concerns, having visited the site — after spending 45 minutes finding it — and other councillors shared his concerns about precedent and his exasperation with the complication and delay.

While Kelley and Decker wanted the city’s lawyers to weigh in on the conditions, which would delay a vote, Denise Simmons leaned toward ending the issue once and for all. “It’s certainly something we should vote this evening. It has been before us a long time,” Simmons said, disappointing neighbors who asked for more time during Monday’s public comment period.

Reeves added an element of distaste for the neighbors’ extreme reaction to the proposed driveway, calling it “a lot troubling.”

“My reaction is that whatever this is about, it’s not about a curb cut,” he said, noting that neighbors had gone so far as to ask whether the couple owning the property would stay together and to oppose the work because it might affect their own property value. “We’re not in the business of determining property value at all. That’s not a question that walks in this door. [And] when I first heard of this condition, it sort of stunned me, but it was evidence [the property owner] was willing to bend over backward.”

In the end, a move to vote on the curb cut without formally including the conditions failed 3-4-2, with Kelley, Reeves and Toomey in favor and Decker and Minka vanBeuzekom voting “present.”

A vote on the curb cut including the conditions passed 8-1 (Kelley was the “no” vote) with a surprising amount of conditional language on the part of the council. Reeves votes in favor “reluctantly.” Toomey gave it a “soft yes.” And Decker, who at first voted “present” again, changed her vote to “yes, a reluctant yes, if we’re characterizing our votes.”

Then Toomey tried to lock in those votes, an effort that seemed to pass 7-2 (with Decker and Kelley opposing), but in fact failed because a move to reconsider the vote had already been quietly filed by Kelley with the city clerk.

That means the curb cut vote will come before the council at least one more time.

Update: Although Kelley had filed for reconsideration, on the Feb. 27 council reconsideration list the city clerk said the matter was “ placed on file under Rule 19” and the “adopting order stands.” Rule 19 says:

Any ordinance, order or resolution may be passed through all its stages of legislation at one session, provided that no member of the City Council objects thereto; but if any member of the City Council objects, the measure shall be postponed for that meeting.