SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 2, 2013

Heard Around Town: More Champagne for Peabody

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Whether you’re cooking rice or making laws, you can’t hurry the process. It takes as long as it takes.

That’s the message from state Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, who also stands for West Peabody and who is predicting that legislation allowing the city to take the police and fire chief out of civil service is not likely to be approved anytime soon.

Even as the chairman of the Committee on the Third Reading, a prestigious House office, he can’t make it happen faster than June 1, when current police Chief Robert Champagne is scheduled to grab his fishing rod and sail off into retirement.

“It will definitely not be in time for that,” Speliotis says. “We’re very formal.”

At the same time, Mayor Ted Bettencourt will not rush the process of choosing a new chief by using the old civil service system. Consequently, he says, “We’ll ask the chief to stay on. He’s indicated he would be willing to stay for a few weeks, and maybe a few months.”

Attack of the 40Bs

How frightened are public officials of 40Bs, the housing developments allowed to bypass local zoning by including 10 percent low-income housing? The mention of them, Councilor Barry Osborne said at last week’s meeting, is enough that “if Councilor (Dave) Gamache had any hair, it would stand up.”

A smiling Gamache took the needling in good humor.

An exclusive address on Newbury Street?

No, not that Newbury Street.

Planning to retire after this term ends, Gamache made a prediction about 40Bs in Peabody, the housing projects constructed over local objections and in violation, often, of local zoning because they include some affordable units.

“Route 1 is a prime spot for a 40B,” he said. “Whether we say it or not. ... It’s going to happen.”

Golden Banana Estates, anyone?

Making the council an offer they could refuse

A plan to stop 40Bs by building 40Bs in certain areas won passage in the City Council last week, but only after a little kicker suggested by a consultant was stripped from the measure. In fact, the idea that the right to grant special permits to builders be transferred from the City Council to the Planning Board never got out of the council’s subcommittee.

“I’m surprised no one has taken my head off for it,” Community Development Director Karen Sawyer said. The reasoning, she explained, was to prove to the state that the city is serious about its efforts to increase low-income housing. Taking the power to approve projects away from the elected council and handing it to the appointed Planning Board might make it appear that the process is less political.

“The consultants are saying you’ve got to be more creative,” Sawyer said, “if you want to avoid a 40B.”

“The City Council is accountable,” replied Councilor Arthur Athas, in opposing the change. In other words, having elected officials making these decisions is seen as a plus and not a minus by councilors.

You can’t believe everything you read

A certain newspaper (this one) has suggested that even before she takes her seat, state Rep. Leah Cole has an opponent for re-election.

City Council President Tom Gould, however, dismisses speculation that he has already decided to gear up to compete against the fledgling Republican officeholder in 2014. “Too soon,” he said during a break from working at Treadwell’s, Peabody’s ice cream oasis.

Looking on

Seen in the gallery at Cole’s swearing-in — Sawyer, accompanying Bettencourt. And Peabody High School history teacher Ken McCue, who brought students Joanne Frangias and Pam Zabala to see democracy in action.