, Salem, MA

January 10, 2013

Our view: Council needs to regain citizens' trust

The Salem News

---- — After six days and 302 votes, the Salem City Council finally managed to select a replacement for former Council President Joan Lovely on Tuesday night. William Legault, who emerged as a compromise candidate, says he has “no agenda other than to serve this council and this city,” and we wish him well in what will surely be a difficult year for the council.

We say difficult because, make no mistake, the damage the council did to its reputation over the last week is deep and lasting and cannot be repaired with smooth words or promises to do better.

Few Salem residents will forget last week’s meeting, an exercise in obstinacy and petulance that lasted more than seven hours, spanning two days and 300 votes. The vast majority of those votes were split 5-5 between former Councilors Steve Pinto and Lucy Corchado. For hours, Councilors Robert McCarthy, Joseph O’Keefe, Josh Turiel, Kevin Carr and Tom Furey voted for Corchado, and Jerry Ryan, Arthur Sargent, Paul Prevey, Michael Sosnowski and Todd Siegel voted for Pinto.

Salem residents were understandably outraged and flooded this newspaper with letters to the editor on the topic. Two pages of those letters ran Tuesday, and their authors used phrases like “abject embarrassment,” “political theater,” “an exercise in futility,” “shameful power grab” and “a true misfortune.”

Even Tuesday night, it was clear that some councilors still didn’t get it.

Ryan, the new council president, suggested a change to the city charter.

“This process needs to be looked at,” he said. “We need something in place so Thursday doesn’t happen again.”

A far-simpler solution to changing the charter would be to change the makeup of the City Council. If the past week’s circus doesn’t inspire more Salem citizens to run for office, nothing will. We’re looking forward to a deep field of candidates this fall.

Sosnowki compared the criticism of the council to Salem’s 17th-century witch trials when, he said, a majority of people didn’t try to find out “the other side of the story.”

Let’s be clear — the council isn’t the victim here. The citizens of Salem are. Here’s hoping that beginning with tonight’s meeting, the council begins to regain their trust.