SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 2, 2013

Councilors explain meeting absences

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — In the aftermath of Thursday’s no-show City Council meeting, some of those among the six missing members are explaining that it wasn’t as bad as some might imagine.

In particular, three members, Arthur Athas, Barry Osborne and Dave Gamache, had called ahead of time to alert City Clerk Tim Spanos that they would not be able to attend the regular council session. Moreover, Ward 6 Councilor Barry Sinewitz said that his attendance wouldn’t have made much difference when it came to the major item on the agenda — a land-taking to allow the state to repair a bridge on Howley Street.

Because his business is on the site to be taken, he would have been required to recuse himself, leaving no quorum when the vote was to be taken, Sinewitz said.

“I couldn’t have voted,” he said, adding, “If I did anything wrong, it’s that I probably should have called.”

For Athas, the Ward 2 councilor, the problem was a long-planned family trip.

“And there were no hearings scheduled” in a very brief Thursday-night agenda, he said. “It didn’t seem the meeting was necessary.”

The council had just completed a stretch of several long meetings in June, some dealing with the city budget.

Athas also objected to an article in The Salem News that referenced councilors playing hooky.

“I think I’ve missed two meetings in seven and a half years,” he said. “It’s unfair to criticize me.”

He objected, as well, to remarks from some of his colleagues, who were annoyed that the meeting had be rescheduled.

For his part, Ward 5 Councilor Gamache said that he had just finished an exhausting day of work. “I’d worked about 20 hours straight, and I almost fell asleep driving home.”

Even so, he said he would have attended if he had gotten the call from council President Tom Gould, but he had inadvertently left his phone in the kitchen while sleeping in the bedroom and never heard the ring.

“We all miss meetings occasionally,” Gamache said. In this case, he had alerted the clerk ahead of time, he said.

“I called Tim, and I told him I wasn’t going to make it,” Gamache said.

Meanwhile, Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne was in Fort Worth, Texas, on a business trip. He, likewise, had given warning that he would not be able to attend. Even so, there has been a backlash from constituents over the missed meeting, he noted.

“People aren’t happy, but they don’t want to listen to explanations,” he said.

Two other absent councilors could not be reached for comment. At-large Councilor Jim Liacos and Ward 3 Councilor Rico Mello have already announced that they will retire at the end of the year. Gamache has also declared his intention to retire.

Spanos agreed that the canceled meeting was something of a freak incident. Attendance has not been a problem in Peabody, and councilors are kept busy with a biweekly regular meeting, subcommittee meeting and neighborhood meetings. Having even as many as three councilors miss a regular City Council meeting is a rare occurrence.

The next council meeting is scheduled for July 11.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.