Council Committee Delays Action on Safety Ordinance

Friday, June 14, 2013
By Cary Shuman

The meeting had a little bit of everything: an impassioned speech by Fire Chief Paul Flanagan, an amicable exchange between Council President Peter Gill and former President Jeffrey Turco, hearty applause for former Selectman Martin O’Brien, and three hours of, at times, animated discussion.

But Tuesday night’s rules and ordinance committee meeting did not have a true conclusion. Thought it ended at 10 p.m., committee chairman Philip Boncore and members Nicholas DelVento, and Paul Varone agreed to continue discussion of the Rental Property Registration and Inspection Ordinance at a meeting on June 25 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Many in the audience were expecting the committee to vote on the so-called “Sanitary Fitness Ordinance” that would allow for the inspections of homes, multi-family dwellings, and rental units in the town. Had the committee voted in favor of the ordinance, it would have gone before the Town Council for ratification.

One reason for the delay in the vote was that Boncore and others at the meeting felt the ordinance was “poorly written.” Residents and officials noted that in the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors section, the words “carbon dioxide” appeared in the ordinance where “carbon monoxide” should have appeared.

Boncore said there will likely be amendments to the document brought forth at the next meeting, but the manner in which the ordinance was written doesn’t affect his opposition to it one iota.

“It is a poorly written document but I’m dead set against any kind of forced inspection on people because I believe it’s government intrusion into people’s lives and we don’t need any further government intrusion so I’m against any kind of mandatory inspection policy or ordinance. These inspections should be on a voluntary basis. We should educate our residents to what the state sanitary code says is acceptable for living.”

Despite being opposed to the controversial ordianance, Boncore, an experienced attorney, drew praise from people on both sides of the issue for his leadership of the meeting.

DelVento said the document [ordinance] is “a good starting point.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s poorly written – we’ve received a lot of input from people and we’re going to try to improve it,” said DelVento.

Police Chief Terence Delehanty, a leading proponent of the sanitary fitness ordinance, was first to speak at the meeting. “Public safety, building and health [departments] feel that this ordinance is pertinent in keeping the town safe…this would help correct in a pro-active manner instead of a reactive manner and keep the firefighters and police officers safe and keep our neighborhoods in a much better condition that we currently see them in,” said Delehanty.

Delehanty said he received 352 emails in favor of the ordinance.

John Stanley, who owns an apartment building in town, spoke against the proposed ordinance. He called the “carbon dioxide” reference “a blatant mistake.”

Winthrop resident James Polino said, “I am all for safety in a building and the code being up to date, egresses being the way they should be and of course I’m concerned about police and fire, so I’m in favor of that – I’m just against the way this ordinance is written.

“This ordinance requires inspections upon vacancies and it requires within 10 days of the vacancy that the landlord notify the inspectors of an upcoming vacancy and the inspector has 10 days to respond. If that all occurs the way this is written, then the inspector could be there on the day the existing tenant is leaving the apartment.

“How we operate as landlords is that we don’t want to be interfered with running our business and our cash flow, so we’re concerned about, ‘Will the inspector get there on time? Will he find a minor violation?’ Therefore we can’t rent to a tenant that we have waiting. We have to make the repairs and invite the inspector back. This will all interfere with our business process and result in a loss of income.”

O’Brien, a property owner in the town, said he “took exception to some of the innuendos about Winthrop landlords.”

“I know four or five landlords in the room who are great landlords,” said O’Brien. “I’d love you to ask my tenants what type of landlord I am. I think this [ordinance] is very shortsighted. I actually believe that we are becoming Winthrop, Everett, Revere by our shortsightedness of the proposals that we’re putting forth. I actually do believe some of this proposal is good stuff. But let’s not paint every Winthrop landlord with the same brush.

“Winthrop is a very special place and you all know how much I love Winthrop. Winthrop has been a fabulous place for me and my family to be raised. The school system is second to none. This town is second to none. Don’t start making city regulations in a town.”

O’Brien comments drew the most significant applause from opponents present at the meeting.

Flanagan, a long-time resident and current chief of the Fire Department, delivered an emotional speech that articulated best the public safety aspect of the ordinance.

“The highest rents in this town are being collected in the most troublesome properties because the federal government is paying,” said Flanagan. “From Shirley Street and Sturgis Street, down to the Winthrop Yacht Club, it’s a jungle down there.

“I’ve lived here all my life,” said Flanagan. “I’m not ashamed to say I grew up down the beach station. But if I had my friends coming from other towns, I’d sure be ashamed to drive them through that section – with what goes on there in the evening. It’s a beautiful town. Eventually as young people in South Boston can’t afford their rents, those are the kind of people we want to bring to Winthrop and we can’t bring them to Winthrop in the condition that these apartments are in right now.”

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