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City Council prevails with budget cuts

Date: 7/5/2011

July 6, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE — The mayor was a no-show, the City Council didn’t reconsider its budget cuts and, as of July 1, two city positions no longer exist.

While the special meeting of the City Council on June 29 was relatively short and lacked the emotional intensity of the meeting on June 23, it became clear in the public speak-out that the previous meeting had left its mark.

Three councilors, Frank LaFlamme, John Vieau and Timothy S. McLellan, addressed their colleagues during the speak-out. LaFlamme said the budget that was passed was financially responsible and he objected to the raises that Bissonnette had wanted for several city employees. He also took exception to the accusation that Bissonnette made that councilors had broken the Open Meeting Law.

McLellan said of the budget process, “I was hoping the mayor was going to lead by example, but he didn’t.”

He viewed the accusation of ethics violations as “an attempt to bully us.”

John Vieau said his opposition to certain parts of the budget was not politically motivated. He supported level funding of city services and opposed “sweetheart deals for certain department heads.” He also said the remark Bissonnette made about not needing his staff was something Vieau took seriously.

Vieau added the budget that was passed was legal, a key point Bissonnette challenged the previous week. City Solicitor Karen Betourney confirmed the meeting was legal, based on a review of the audio recording, and the budget that was passed was valid. She said the mayor’s opinion was just that, a personal opinion.

Betourney told Reminder Publications there had been “a lot of confusion” on June 23 as the meeting had started 45 minutes late. She said the tardiness didn’t invalidate the meeting as it did start “within a reasonable time” of its posted time.

Bissonnette lost two staff members in his fight with the council and Betourney said the mayor has filed a violation of the Open Meeting Law against members of the council. She explained the violation, which was received by the council on June 29, gives the body 14 days to develop a “remedy.” When asked what a remedy could be, Betourney said restoring the cuts that were made could be one option.

If the council doesn’t address the violation, it will then be forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General for investigation.

Betourney said the actions of the councilors in question “was pretty well orchestrated” as they made one motion to cut the budget after another.

Betourney, whose position was cut to a part-time salary from a full-time one of $75,000, objected to a description of her as “the mayor’s lawyer.” She said she works for the city and has often contested Bissonnette on legal issues.

She added the mayor had never said he could do without his staff, but rather said he could do what he has to do as mayor on his own, but he needs a staff for constituent services.

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