In its first session of 2021, Boston City Council continued to discuss the response to COVID-19, improvement to city infrastructure, and national politics. The council also addressed the new challenges of Mayor Walsh preparing to vacate office, leaving City Council President Kim Janey to step in as acting mayor if Walsh is confirmed by the Senate to his appointment as labor secretary for the Biden-Harris administration.
Order for hearing on COVID-19 vaccines – Docket 0142
Councilors Andrea Campbell and Ricardo Arroyo presented a refiled docket from the end of last year, seeking public forum to inform residents about COVID-19 vaccines and how they will be distributed to the community. Both councilors addressed the importance of the vaccine, and how communities of color, immigrants, and undocumented Bostonians have concerns that must be publicly addressed.
Many of these communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus, and continue to lack consistent access to COVID-19 testing, Campbell said. Education is critical for these communities to make informed choices about their options regarding the vaccine.
“While the exact timeline for disbursement may continue to shift,” she said. “It is critical that the city has a plan to distribute the vaccine equitably and efficiently, and of course that it be free.”
The docket was assigned to the committee on public health.
Petition for special law regarding mayoral elections – Docket 0155
Given the appointment of Mayor Walsh to the Biden administration, it is possible that the mayor will vacate office before March 5, 2021. Boston’s city charter maintains that a special election must be held to replace him if the office is vacated before this date, regardless of the regularly scheduled mayoral elections in September and November.
Councilor Arroyo presented a petition to the council which would allow President Janey to remain in office for the rest of Walsh’s unexpired term instead of holding this special election. Per the Boston city charter, this would be the case if Mayor Walsh vacates office any time after March 5.
Based on the continued spread of COVID-19, the current budget deficit in Boston, and the high barriers to participating in elections for Boston’s most disenfranchised, Arroyo said, it would be fiscally responsible to direct the resources that would be spent on a special election to continued support of housing access, food distribution, and necessary public health initiatives.
“It would be irresponsible of us to allow for the possibility of four elections for the same office in a five month span,” said Arroyo.
Council Vice President Matt O’Malley objected to this proposal, stating that it’s unclear when Mayor Walsh will vacate office, and added that there would be potential for disenfranchised voters to distrust the electoral system if the Boston city charter is changed to allow Janey to remain in office until the elections this autumn.
“I would hate to see that we’re putting the thumb on the scale for anyone,” said O’Malley.
The docket was referred to the committee on government operations.
Calling for the removal of Donald Trump from the office of President – Docket 0160
Councilors Janey and Arroyo, alongside Councilor Lydia Edwards, called for the removal of President Trump from office due to his role inciting a violent insurrection against the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
The current President used his social media as a platform “a platform for lies and conspiracies, amplifying bigotry, and violence,” said Edwards. “What a shameful thing, that any president would do that.”
According to Edwards, this docket represents the council calling upon the federal government to follow impeachment proceedings and remove the sitting President before the inauguration of President-Elect Biden next week. The docket is also a show of solidarity for a former Boston city councilor, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. The Globe reported that Rep. Pressley’s team has stated that panic buttons in her office had been removed at some point prior to the riots.
“It shook me to my core as I know it did all of you, and for so many Americans watching,” said Janey. “He must be held accountable.”
The docket was passed unanimously, and Donald Trump was impeached later the same day. Impeachment proceedings are currently ongoing.
Order for hearing on the prevention and investigation of incidents of hate crimes and discrimination – Docket 0165
According to Councilor Ed Flynn, Boston has multiple departments that interact with constituents who have been victimized or discriminated against. The city established a Human Rights Commission in 1984, under Mayor Raymond Flynn, but it was inactive for a period between 1996 and 2019, when it was re-established by Mayor Marty Walsh.
The proposed hearing would create a public forum for the city to work with residents of Boston to ensure that all bias-motivated crime and discrimination would be properly documented through the city’s official channels. The hearing would also address ways to educate the public about their rights, and where to report hate crimes or instances of discrimination.
“We want to make sure the city resources are there,” said Edwards.
The docket was referred to the committee of civil rights.
Order for hearing on zoning amendments proposed by the Boston Groundwater Trust – Docket 0181
Councilor Kenzie Bok brought the issue of groundwater zoning to the council on Wednesday. A significant amount of Boston is filled land, where sand or gravel are placed on top of mudflats to make the land suitable for building, and these pilings must be submerged in groundwater in order to not rot. Any building in these areas must take appropriate steps to recharge the groundwater, and the Boston Groundwater Trust has recently surveyed more land which is built on these pilings but not included in the official Groundwater Conservation Overlay District.
According to Bok, there is an official process that the Boston Groundwater Trust is going through at the zoning commission to update this zoning, but it is important that there be a public forum created to parallel that process, since much of the filled land in question is publicly accessible or residential.
“This is a very, very important issue,” said Councilor Frank Baker. “Not very sexy, but very important.”
The docket was referred to the committee of planning, development, and transportation.