, Salem, MA

June 27, 2013

Free Chief Champagne!

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — The day police Chief Robert Champagne can begin his retirement comes nigh, according to Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem. She represents Peabody and is helping shepherd through the Legislature Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s home-rule petition to remove both police and fire chiefs from Civil Service. The move, theoretically, gives the city more options when they pick a chief.

The needed home-rule petition passed the state Senate yesterday, Lovely said.

“We were able to turn it right around. ... I think in a couple of weeks, it will go to the governor’s desk,” she said.

It’s already passed the House, but procedure requires it now to return to the House for another vote before heading back to the Senate.

“It’s a very thorough process,” the senator noted.

She praised Reps. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, and Leah Cole, R-Peabody.

“We work very closely together,” Lovely said, adding that the mayor is kept informed.

Champagne, scheduled to retire at the end of May, is soldiering on, having agreed to stay as the gears of government grind. On the fire side, Chief Steve Pasdon recently punctured rumors that he has plans to leave anytime soon.

Go Gomez

If Peabody did the choosing, Gabriel Gomez and not Ed Markey would be the new U. S. senator from Massachusetts. The Cohasset Republican garnered 4,849 votes in the Leather City to 4,701 for his opponent.

The results did not escape the notice of Lovely. Noting past support for people like Scott Brown, she sees a possible trend toward a more conservative, Republican-friendly Peabody.

“That’s why I’m glad I’m a more moderate Democrat,” she said. “It will be interesting to see the next partisan election.”

Pay day

Freedom isn’t free.

Neither are elections. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get somebody else to pay for them.

Bettencourt tried to get permission to appoint an interim state representative following the death of Joyce Spiliotis last year. But Gov. Deval Patrick nixed the idea as lacking authorization from the Legislature.

What Peabody lost in legislative clout, however, it gained in dollars. Said Cole in a statement: “I heard about a bill that allowed for the salary that would have been collected by the former State Representative ... (to) be used towards the cost of the special election. ... I rolled up my sleeves and got to work with the House and the Treasury to make this a reality.”

In other words, the city was awarded the $25,000 that would have been paid for a sitting representative. It’s enough to cover the cost of the primary election on March 5, even leaving a bit for the final in April, according to City Clerk Tim Spanos.

“We appreciate the relief,” Bettencourt said in a press release.

Get outta my house

When the School Committee rescheduled a recent meeting, it was because the schools were in use for Tuesday’s U.S. Senate election.

“How ironic is that?” asked member Brandi Carpenter, currently seeking to bar the use of the schools for elections.

Her colleagues won’t act, however, until city lawyers give an opinion on whether “we can force the issue,” she said.

Carpenter lamented both the restrictions placed on the schools by the electoral machinery, as well as the dangers of flooding the buildings with strangers.

“Forcing the issue” would seem to mean telling the city to pack up its ballot boxes and go.

The Board of Registrars is expected to give its views shortly. Meanwhile, an alarmed Spanos believes barring the ballots will create inconvenience for taxpaying voters and cost substantially more than the current system.

Pole watchers

A contingent of Ledgewood residents might have gotten their hopes up attending the hearing on Total Outdoor Corp.’s Lowell Street billboard. Waiting for the case, they watched a drunken driver whose record stretches back to the 1980s get slapped with a prison sentence.

What’s the penalty for putting a 92-foot pole in the wrong place? The court has the question under consideration.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at