, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 1, 2013

PI proposal brings dissent

Council fails to pass measure amid talk of political posturing, insults

NEWBURYPORT — Amid claims of playing politics and leveling personal insults, the City Council last night failed to pass a measure proposed by City Councilor Dick Sullivan Jr. to make public the council’s executive-session minutes regarding the troubled Plum Island water and sewer system.

Five councilors voted in favor of Sullivan’s measure (Brian Derrivan, Tom Jones, Bob Cronin, Tom O’Brien and Sullivan), three councilors voted against (Allison Heartquist, Ed Cameron and Barry Connell) and two voted “present” (Ari Herzog and Greg Earls).

Councilor Steve Hutcheson was absent due to a death in the family.

The measure required six affirmative votes to pass, according to City Clerk Richard Jones.

Discussion of the proposal brought the sharpest public disagreement in the two-year tenure of this council.

Sullivan, who is running for mayor, had introduced a measure “to release for public inspection all executive session minutes pertaining to the ongoing problems with Plum Island water and sewer services.”

“This is about open government, and the people who are paying deserve to know” what councilors have been told about possible problems, he said.

Municipal leaders in recent months have launched a study to determine the source of problems with the water and sewer system that runs from the mainland to Plum Island in both Newburyport and Newbury.

The water system has failed to function properly on several occasions, temporarily leaving residences without water.

Municipal engineers are concerned about a major disruption if there is a fundamental problem in the system.

Mayor Donna Holaday has launched a study, and she has kept councilors informed. But she and lawyers working with the city, including those in the state attorney general’s office, have urged councilors not to make the information public.

Councilors have maintained silence, though several privately have expressed frustration that they could not inform their constituents.

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