SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 7, 2013

Benton: Civil service change in the offing for Peabody

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — State Rep. Ted Speliotis says Peabody can expect quick action on the home-rule petition taking the police chief’s position out of civil service, once the legislation reaches his desk.

The Danvers Democrat, whose district includes much of West Peabody, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that once the legislation arrives in the Committee on Bills in Third Reading “it will go out the next day.”

The veteran lawmaker chairs the committee that, quite literally, holds the key to all bills seeking to come before the full House of Representatives. (The actual documents are stored in a safe in Speliotis’ office in Room 20 at the Statehouse to which only he and a top House administrator have the key; and they don’t go to the floor until they have the chairman’s signature.)

Mayor Ted Bettencourt, seeking more flexibility in appointing a replacement for soon-to-retire Chief Robert Champagne, convinced the City Council to go along with his plan to remove the position from civil service. But while such home-rule petitions normally are a slam dunk when they arrive on Beacon Hill, this one appeared stalled.

Speliotis dismisses suggestions that he was upset by the fact freshman Republican Rep. Leah Cole was the lead sponsor of the bill, noting that he had readily agreed when the minority leader came to him asking that her name be added. The fact that the bill received a hearing without his being informed beforehand didn’t exactly please the chairman; but Speliotis says that wasn’t the reason for the delay, and he expects to see it out of his committee and onto the House floor any day now.

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Many of Speliotis’ fellow Democrats are still smarting over Cole’s upset win in the special election held earlier this year to replace the late Joyce Spiliotis in the 12th Essex District. And it is strongly rumored that his brother-in-law, Peabody Councilor-at-Large Tom Gould, will be a candidate for the seat next year.

Nevertheless, Speliotis says he’s been impressed by Cole’s performance in office thus far, noting, “she’s not going to make many mistakes — she doesn’t overreach.”

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Salem will mourn the passing of Jean Levesque with a wake Sunday and funeral Mass at St. Anne’s Church Monday.

This reporter covered much of Levesque’s tenure as mayor, which began with his selection by the council as interim chief executive when Sam Zoll was appointed to the bench in 1973, and ended with his loss to a stunned Tony Salvo a decade later.

Levesque came from the same Franco-American neighborhood in the Point, which in this same era produced a police chief, Robert St. Pierre, and a managing editor of this newspaper, the late Rollie Corneau. The new mayor had the wisdom to retain many of the people and policies Zoll had put in place during his brief tenure, and thus became instrumental in the effort that made Salem the model city it is today.

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As if he hadn’t given his opponents enough grounds for criticism, Barack Obama this week appointed Susan Rice, the alleged master spinner of the since-discredited protest-run-amok theory as to why U.S. diplomats died in Benghazi, as his national security adviser.

“I am absolutely thrilled that she’ll be back at my side leading my national security team in my second term,” Obama said of Rice Wednesday.

So are the Republicans, Mr. President.

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Nelson Benton spent 40 years covering politics on the North Shore before retiring from The Salem News. Contact him at nelson.benton3@gmail.com.