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Council forms new dynamic in Janey’s absence

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Council forms new dynamic in Janey’s absence

With Council President Janey taking on the title of mayor, and multiple councilors running for mayor, the city council may be facing some dramatic changes.

Janey’s prolonged absence from the District 7 seat brings the total number of city councilors from 13 to 12.

The new president pro-tempore is District 6 Councilor Matt O’Malley, who is not running for reelection this fall, so will be departing at inauguration time in January 2022. Also departing in January are mayoral contenders District 4 Councilor Andrea Campbell and at-large Councilors Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu.

Should one of the councilors win the mayoral race in November, she would assume mayoral duties in November, ending Janey’s term as acting mayor. An amendment to the council’s recent home rule petition stipulates that the next mayor will take office immediately after the November election, rather than waiting for a January inauguration.

The last time the council saw this much change between elections was when Mayor Raymond Flynn became U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See in March 1993, making Thomas Menino acting mayor of Boston before winning the mayoral race in November of that year.

Janey is still technically the council’s president, but now she’s on a prolonged absence from her seat. This has sparked a conversation in recent weeks among the councilors on the dynamics of moving forward.

“There was a question of whether [Mayor Janey] could have one foot in her office and one foot in the mayor’s office,” said City Clerk Maureen Feeney, “and of course you can’t. It would be an absolute conflict of interest to do both.”

Feeney was elected to the city council in 1993, as Mayor Menino took office. She represented District 3 for nine terms, including two terms as council president, before leaving the council and becoming the city clerk in 2011. She told the Banner she has not seen so much change in the council’s body in all those years.

Feeney noted that she was pleased when District 8 Councilor Kenzie Bok proposed Rule 51: a rule that will clarify the separation of powers between the council and the acting mayor as important measures like the budget and reforms go from the council to the acting mayor’s desk.

The council already has a rule that clarifies who steps in for the council president, making O’Malley, the vice chairman of the Committee of the Whole, the president pro tempore, but Rule 51 expands on this further. It confirms that Janey cannot participate in any council duties and can only introduce items to the council’s docket as mayor.

Rule 51 also gives the president pro tempore all the powers of the council president, including presiding over the Committee of the Whole, which reviews any disputes related to City Council, and the Committee on Rules and Administration.

In the event that President Pro Tempore O’Malley leaves earlier than planned, the Council will elect a new president by simple majority.

The new rule passed unanimously.

It’s also an unusual situation, Feeney said, because councilors don’t yet know whether Janey will run for mayor. Nomination papers are open starting April 13, but three of her council colleagues, Andrea Campbell, Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George, are already campaigning.

“[If Janey] runs and wins,” Feeney said, “that means she doesn’t go back to her council office, and her staff will finish out till December.”

But if she runs and loses, Janey will likely finish out her term as council president, while the winner of the election takes the mayor’s office in November.

“It’ll be interesting to see,” Feeney said, “and that’s why I think at least having Rule 51 is a good basis.”

During the debate on the rules, District 5 Councilor Ricardo Arroyo presented an amendment and proposed that the discussion be delayed because there is a rule on the books, Rule 3, that determines some of the process already.

That rule says, “In the event of the absence of both the council president and the president pro tempore, the senior member by age shall preside.” But it doesn’t detail a separation of powers or talk about more permanent vacancies.

“And I would say that this requires a hearing to ensure that we’re not creating a rule that, in my opinion, directly conflicts with Rule 3, and which is the reason why [O’Malley is] right now serving as president pro tempore,” Arroyo said during the council meeting.

His amendment was voted down, and any conflict of the rules will have to be determined when and if they arise in future meetings.

For now, O’Malley is secure in his role as president pro tempore. “To be clear, I’m not planning on going anywhere,” he said.

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