To the editor:
In my role as a city councilor, I take my responsibility to be answerable to the public very seriously. After hearing nothing from Mayor Bettencourt for months after having sponsored a unanimous motion for the City Council to be included in decisions regarding the reopening of City Hall for the public’s business -- including council meetings and hearings -- I was dismayed to receive the mayor’s robocall and to read the mayor’s announcement in the Salem News that the council and private parties would convene in person at City Hall but the public would continue to be barred from attending and being heard in person. While for the last few months the private parties, the councilors and the public all attended by Zoom, now the public will be on the outside looking in remotely as private interests curry favor in person with the city, which has again put its thumb on the scale in favor of business, development and private concerns.
We learned that once again, when choosing between the public good and private business interests, the private business interests always win in Peabody. According to the Salem News article of Aug. 12, residents will not be able to attend City Council meetings in person, but petitioners and their attorneys will. According to the City Council president, Peabody’s health director “is not going to recommend the public come back because we don’t have the mechanisms in place to screen or limit those attending meetings, especially with the new state limits on indoor gatherings.” Aside from the important and much-overlooked fact that the state limit on indoor gatherings does not now nor has it ever applied to municipal legislative bodies, are we to believe that Peabody’s health director chose to allow businesses and their attorneys face time with the council over residents? Of course not —that is beyond her scope of responsibility. The City Council is scheduled to meet to discuss how we will conduct our future legislative meetings tonight, Thursday, yet we have already been told what has already been decided, again.
We were told in March we would be meeting by Zoom knowing we would be unable to include all members of the public and a supermajority of the City Council was very comfortable with this and went along willingly. Now we are being told we will further infringe upon individual rights by choosing who shall enter a public building for public hearings on public issues and who shall not! Why would anyone ever even consider doing this let alone make such a decision to do so without any discussion with that full legislative body before the public?
Developers and their attorneys have been chosen (by whom?) to have unimpeded access and face time with the City Council over the taxpayers who have been told they are not welcome in their own building because all the seats are taken. The taxpayers should be the most important people in the room — not the ones left out in the cold — again.