By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — The City Council has reversed its previous decision to use $30,000 worth of unspent tax money to hire a city branding consultant.
The branding consultant proposal was defeated late Tuesday night by a vote of 5-4, with councilors Anne Ferguson, Robert Gilday, Bob Lavoie and Allen Neale voting in favor and Donna McClure, James Kelcourse, Joseph McMilleon, Derek Kimball and Christian Scorzoni voting no.
The vote to quash the branding consultant proposal went against the council’s own recommendation to itself, made at a March meeting when the same nine councilors met as the Finance Committee. At that meeting, the council voted 5-4 to recommend to itself the hiring of the consultant. It’s at least the second time in the past decade that the council has rejected its own recommendation.
The council’s rules call for bills to be heard and voted on by a Finance Committee before the council itself can vote on it. The Finance Committee’s role is to recommend, or not recommend, proposed expenditures.
Several years ago, the state advised that the Finance Committee consist of all nine council members. But that structure has been controversial and the subject of occasional debate — some have argued that the Finance Committee should be an independent board made up of some councilors as well as appointed citizens.
The swing vote on the branding consultant debate turned out to be Scorzoni, who voted in favor of recommending the bill in the Finance Committee but then cast the deciding vote against it late Tuesday night.
Scorzoni could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The branding consultant plan had been advanced by Mayor Thatcher Kezer, in an effort to create a marketing image for Amesbury. At the March Finance Committee hearing, the plan drew skepticism from the councilors and from the audience, many of whom suggested that it would be a waste of money and that Amesbury already has a brand.
The council also passed four spending bills unanimously, including a proposal to use $200,000 of free cash — or unspent tax money — for the repair and maintenance of streets and sidewalks, $125,000 to improve the city’s parks, particularly the Town Park and the Collins Street Playground, $25,000 for the restoration of monuments and war memorials and $20,000 to hire a solar park development consultant.
After the free cash votes, the council also unanimously approved two other measures. The council accepted a trail easement on Elm Street from True Homestead Limited Partnership I to be used as part of the Riverwalk, and the council voted to amend the official polling location for elections from the “Amesbury High School cafeteria” to just “Amesbury High School.”
Three other orders of business were tabled until next month’s meeting. Those were an order to accept the Quitclaim deed from Yvon Cormier Construction Co. for land off Goss Avenue, an order to transfer and convey the Horace Mann School from the School Committee to the mayor, and a proposal to establish a local option meals tax in Amesbury.
The local option meals tax has already generated a great deal of opposition from local restaurants, and at a recent Finance Committee meeting the councilors were deadlocked on the matter, sending it back to the council with a divided vote of 4-4-1. The Ordinance Committee will pick up the proposal at its next meeting on April 16.
During public comment, City Clerk Bonnijo Kitchin announced that Christine Reed, the assistant city clerk, will be retiring on April 18 and the office’s administrative assistant Sharon Dunning will be moving up to replace her.
Kitchin and the councilors each thanked Reed for her years of service, and Kitchin said that a job posting for Dunning’s former administrative assistant position would soon be posted in City Hall and on the city’s website.