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***BREAKING NEWS*** Lazo: I'm taking Vecchia out


Says he'll remove subcommittee chairman



Albert_Vecchia
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Town Council Chairman Steve Lazo says he will remove Al Vecchia, above, as chair of the Protection of Persons and Property Subcomittee. File Photo. (click for larger version)
September 03, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Albert Vecchia is no stranger to political controversy. Has it finally caught up with him?

Mincing no words and sounding doggedly determined, Town Council Chairman Steven Lazo said Vecchia's days as chairman of the Protection of Persons and Property (PPP) Subcommittee are coming to an end.

"I'm taking him out," Lazo said by phone Thursday afternoon.

Lazo said both a recent council meeting during which Vecchia, who is also the council's vice chairman, "went after the chairman of the School Committee [Jack Jovan]" and Vecchia's subsequent scheduling of PPP meeting were the proverbial final straws.

"He didn't go through the chair to put his PPP meeting in the proper way," said Lazo, who said he was also upset by what he saw as Vecchia pitting the schools and police department against each other during an Aug. 24 council meeting.

"He didn't have any right to say, 'You post the meeting and I'll get it passed,'" Lazo said of Vecchia's promise to Police Chief Daniel Charette to approve the hiring of police officers. Vecchia subsequently held a subcommittee meeting Tuesday, Sept. 1, during which a 3-2 vote approved a recommendation to hire a new police officer for Oct. 1, and possibly another one month later.

"He was totally out of line," said Lazo. "He should have gone through the chair. I called him after the meeting and said you didn't go through the chair and ask for the meeting and I request that you don't have that meeting. He refused. He posted the meeting.

"I asked him again and he refused me again, so I went to the town manager's office and told him I would be removing Al Vecchia as PPP chair."

Town Manager Christopher Clark acknowledged a voice mail he said he received from Lazo last week in which the council chairman stated his intention to "remove Apple [Vecchia's nickname] from PPP."

Reached for comment, Vecchia offered this account: "After the [Town Council] meeting Monday night, Danny [Charette] e-mailed me the next morning. He took action right then and there. I told Steve Lazo he wanted me to call a meeting. He didn't say anything, so I posted the meeting. Then Thursday morning, Steve called me and told me to cancel the meeting or he would never talk to me again. I told him I couldn't because I had posted the meeting and I had given Danny my word. He hung up on me.

"I had the meeting and [Steve] showed up. Everything was done legal and aboveboard. The next morning he called the town manager's office and he stated I'm removing Apple as the PPP chairman. [Lazo said] he's got nothing to do with the agendas and the agendas have to go through me."

Vecchia sounded confident that he will retain his seat.

"[Lazo] can't remove me," he said. "It states in our rules and regulations that he appoints us and we serve until the next sitting council comes in."

That is a potential obstacle for Lazo. As Vecchia maintained, Clark said it is his understanding that Town Council rules prohibit the chairman from removing a subcommittee chairman from his or her post. He said he sought an opinion from Town Counsel Kopelman & Paige and was informed that the appropriate way to initiate such a removal would be to change council rules.

Clark said that opinion was similar to one from K&P in 2002, which Lazo said concerned Vecchia.

Lazo said he doesn't share counsel's belief, saying, "These are my chairmen on the subcommittee and I believe I have the authority to [remove them]," he said. "I can't remove someone as council vice chairman."

Nonetheless, Lazo said, Clark's advice to him was to bring the matter to the council floor to change the rules so that subcommittee chairs would serve "at the pleasure of the council chairman."

The issue is expected to come up at the council's next meeting, Sept. 14. Lazo said he's confident he has the votes in his favor.

"If I had the power to remove him as vice chair [of the council], I'd probably have the votes for that, too," said Lazo.

Power, said Vecchia, is exactly what's in play here.

"What you would be doing is giving the chairman absolute power," he charged, after first saying he would "see where the chips fall."

"I don't think that's democracy," he continued. "If he's able to get rid of a chairman he doesn't agree with, that's absolute power. That's a dictatorship."

Vecchia sounded contrite when asked about his actions during the Aug. 24 council meeting.

"I gave a speech at the subcommittee meeting where I wanted to clarify what I meant to say at that meeting," he said. "I meant to say to Danny that now that the budget cuts are here, I'll call a meeting of my committee. The words came out wrong. I don't think I should be crucified. I made a blooper. Words stumble out of all of us from time to time."

Lazo sees it differently.

"I told Apple, 'You were doing fine at first,'" he said of an earlier conversation with Vecchia about his time as councilor. "I don't know what happened that Monday night. He had a big fight with [Councilor Denise] Clemence and he's yelling at me from the dais during our 10-minute break like a banshee. He's yelling, 'Come up here now! The break is over!'

"He was totally out of line. It's all about Al Vecchia getting re-elected in June. It's all about power. He's playing games. He's pitting school against police."

Lazo was asked whether he thought Vecchia, in reversing his earlier course of not hiring new police officers, was trying to smooth things over with Charette, of whom Vecchia was highly critical recently when he learned that a police officer had been allowed to resign after admitting stealing money during a drug bust.

"Yes and no," said Lazo. "I stand behind Vecchia on that issue. I still believe that that police officer should be fired."

Vecchia had a quick response when the same question was posed to him.

"Absolutely not. I only report to the people of Southbridge," he said. "I'm trying to move the council forward. I just trust the town manager. He said we can put these cops on and still keep tax increases minimal in October. So I trusted him and said we could bring these cops on."

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