LOWELL — While acknowledging it does not know where to put former Mayor Patrick Murphy’s controversial portrait, the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask its rules subcommittee to establish guidelines as to what the mayoral portrait should consist of.
Murphy’s portrait shows him holding hands with his wife and young child with their backs to the camera in a leafy alley. It’s in sharp contrast to the portraits that line the walls of City Hall showing former mayors in dress clothes, staring straight ahead, while often standing in the City Council chamber.
City Councilor Rita Mercier first voiced her opposition to it last week to a Sun reporter, then filed the motion for Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I never thought I’d see the day when someone had to make this motion,” Mercier said Tuesday night. “There’s no guideline on being dressed up, so maybe I should have worn pajamas and slippers to the meeting. … (The proposed fiscal 2014 budget) says mayor’s portrait. It doesn’t say mayor’s family portrait.
“That picture is a beautiful picture. It just doesn’t fit in this setting. It belongs on his mantel in his home. It’s not a reality show, ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians.’ It’s not about turning your back to the public. It’s supposed to be about the person chosen to lead the City Council leading in a dignified way. Although there are no official rules in place, it’s a given.”
Councilor Jim Milinazzo clarified by saying the vote was to address future mayoral portraits.
“I don’t think this motion was to look back and say to Mayor Murphy, ‘You cannot hang that portrait in City Hall,’ ” said Milinazzo.
Mayor Rodney Elliott said the lack of existing protocol makes it difficult to decide how to handle Murphy’s portrait.
“The challenge is moving the portraits to where they will fit and where they will hang. There really is no rhyme or reason other than the most current hang outside and then shift all over the place,” he said.
Elliott said the line item in the budget deals with the mayor’s portrait.
“The definition of a portrait is an image of an individual. It is taxpayers’ money and it should be an individual portrait. I don’t know what to do with it right now as the current mayor to go along with what has been done in the past. It’s not consistent. It’s not on canvas. It’s not framed. We do have many more issues, but this has been an issue in the past with prior mayors.”
Councilor John Leahy said, “I don’t mind anybody being different, but in this case, we’re looking for a traditional portrait of a mayor.”
In other business, one week after blocking one board appointment of City Manager Bernie Lynch while approving two others, the council voted 8-1 to request Lynch hold further appointments until a new manager is hired.
Speaking in support of his motion, Elliott said, “Now that we’ve initiated the hiring process for a new city manager, it might be a good idea to hold off on city-manager appointments. Long-term appointments and individuals play an important role on not only regulatory boards, but other commissions. We’ve done it in the past and I believe it’s good practice and good policy that we hold off on these until a new city manager is in place.”
Milinazzo, the lone vote against Elliott’s motion, said he opposed it because it could be in violation of the city charter.
“I understand the reason behind Mayor Elliott’s motion. I hope at this point in time since the manager announced he’s leaving that he got the message. If it violates the charter, it’s not a motion I can support.”
Interestingly, Milinazzo said he supported a similar motion in 2006.
“In this business, you can’t have a do-over, but thinking about it, I’m not sure it was the right vote eight years ago. I’m not supporting this motion so I’m not being consistent, but I believe after it’s been discussed the last three meetings that the manager has gotten the message. In the spirit of what the mayor is trying to achieve here, I hope you get the message and won’t be bringing many appointments forward, but in possible violation of the charter, I don’t support this.”
Lynch quickly said he thought Elliott’s motion was in violation of the charter, but added, “It’s not my intention to wave the charter around. It’s not my intention to bring any further appointments moving forward unless it’s an emergency and we need to get someone on a regulatory board. I would notify the council. I think operation of the city is crucial, but I concur with the notion we should let the next manager make those appointments and I have no intention of bringing other appointments forward at this time.”
Councilor Edward Kennedy said, “The motion is worded as a request so I don’t see it as a violation of the charter. I will support the motion, but if any appointments are compelling, I hope he will bring them forward. It is a request so I think we should pass it and move forward.”
Councilor Corey Belanger said, “You are here until March 10 and you need all the powers you can to run the city efficiently, but I appreciate you conceding here. I see problems that could arise with appointments that could divide this council. I’ve already had to say ‘no’ to some good people and I don’t want to have do this again.”