The Courts and in Executive Session Behind Closed Doors.
With city officials in the midst of an extensive discovery process, a federal judge recently asked the two sides in the lawsuit Huot v. City of Lowell to engage in mediation.
Samaras on Tuesday asked City Solicitor Christine O’Connor for the Law Department’s opinion on Elliott’s motion in public.
“We need to ensure we are on safe grounds,” the mayor said. “We need to ensure we follow the rules.”
The city solicitor opined that public discussion of litigation “could have a detrimental effect on the city’s position.”
She recommended that the motion get referred to executive session. City Councilor Jim Milinazzo made that amendment.
But Elliott persisted, arguing he had the floor for discussion because his motion was seconded by City Councilor Rita Mercier.
“I feel like I’m entitled to speak on this,” he said. “I don’t know why this is behind closed doors. We’re going to lose this lawsuit.”
Samaras banged his gavel several times.
O’Connor then said the meeting chair, Samaras, determines who can speak and what’s in order.
“The city solicitor does not run this city,” Elliott said, resulting in more gavel banging. “Maybe she think she runs the city, but she does not. This governing body does.”
“You are out of order, sir,” Samaras yelled.
Elliott responded: “You are usurping power that’s not within your jurisdiction.”
The mayor repeated that Elliott has a right to bring this all up in executive session, but not in public.
“My job is to watch out for the city,” Samaras said.
Elliott said the mayor wasn’t watching out for the city, as the lawsuit is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Samaras said Elliott was releasing information from executive session.
“That’s unacceptable,” the mayor said.
“Is it a secret that it’s costing us thousands of dollars?” Elliott responded. “What’s the secret?”
The council voted 8-1 to refer the motion to executive session.
Elliott said he’s simply trying to protect taxpayers.
“This needs to be settled,” he said.
The mayor agreed that it must get settled.
Thirteen Asian-American and Hispanic residents brought the lawsuit. The plaintiffs argue that Lowell’s at-large election system discriminates against minority communities in ways that could be solved by a district-based system.
The lawsuit argues that citywide elections have allowed the city’s majority white population to vote as a bloc and ensure white candidates gain office.
The belief is a district-based election system would give minority residents an equal opportunity to have at least one district a majority-minority district, and therefore increase the chances of a minority candidate gaining office.
The city’s extensive discovery process for the case includes searching for tens of thousands of documents.
The plaintiffs have requested records pertaining to snow plowing, park maintenance, road repairs, the race of city employees, and other metrics that can be used to measure whether Lowell’s minority communities receive services and representation equal to predominantly white neighborhoods.
The city solicitor has said they’re using software to process the discovery requests, and said she did not have a figure for how much it will ultimately cost the city.
Instead of going through this lengthy process, Elliott has said the city should do what it takes to settle the lawsuit.
Elliott, like City Councilors Karen Cirillo and Vesna Nuon, supported moving to a district-based or hybrid model during their recent campaigns.
The City Council’s ad hoc subcommittee has been researching other election models, and is getting close to coming up with an election system proposal.