Councilors Keith Bona and Joshua Moran votes to postpone approving two taxi-driving licenses failed 7-2.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Routine end-of-meeting approvals for taxi drivers turned into a lengthy debate at Tuesday's City Council meetings.
At issue were two applications, from Erik Shields and Brandon Hurst, to drive for Michael McMillian of City Cab. Such applications rarely raise an eyebrow until Councilor Keith Bona requested the approvals be postponed until a later date.
"I'm going to request that we postpone until we meet with the owner of City Cab, just due to some recent ordinance violations," Bona said. "I don't think this is going to infringe on the business because, as you know, we've approved many taxi drivers."
Bona said the Public Safety Committee, of which he is chair, planned to meet with McMillian within a couple weeks. The council could postpone the approvals, or approve pending the outcome of the meeting.
"What I want to do is have an opportunity to sit down with the committee, with the owner, and talk about some of these concerns," he said.
Councilor Wayne Wilkinson, however, objected to the postponement, noting the taxi company had a legitimate license.
"Why should we hold up two people from making a living?" he asked. "I don't think we should penalize the applicant because there's a problem with the company."
If the violations were so egregious, Wilkinson said, why was the company still operating and why wasn't the Public Safety Committee meeting immediately?
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he and Lt. David Sacco had spoken with the owner last week after reviewing the city's taxi ordinances.
"But based on that meeting, I don't see a lot that's changed," the mayor said.
City Cab, approved this past May, is authorized to operate two cabs and is awaiting permit for a third, but three cabs have been seen operating. Alcombright said there have also been complaints about smoking in the taxis, in violation of state law, and witnesses have seen non-licensed people driving the cabs. City Cab is also undercharging in violation of the city's taxi ordinances, he said.
"We need to get Mr. McMillian in to the Public Safety Committee to discuss those violations," the mayor said.
Councilor Jennifer Breen, however, objected strongly to the discussion of what she said should be qualified as "allegations."
"I think it's a violation of the owner's rights," said Breen, who asked if McMillian had been notified he was going to be accused publicly by elected officials. "I'm ashamed that this is even happening now."
Bona said the violations, which he had witnessed, were serious and had to be addressed. Alcombright said the process is to bring complaints to the City Council and have them referred to the Public Safety Committee: "This is the place to get it on the floor."
The mayor said he was "not concerned right now whether these licenses are approved or disapproved."
In a roll call vote, the motion to postpone the first applicant failed 7-2, with Councilor Joshua Moran voting with Bona; the second vote, by voice, tallied the same response.
In other business:
• The council approved the reappointment of Christopher Tremblay and James M. Neville, with terms ending in 2019, to the North Adams Housing Authority, and the reappointment of election officers for one year beginning Sept. 1.
It also approved reappointment of Shirley Davis and Robert Burdick, with terms ending in 2017, to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art Commission.
"They do it for love of community and for that we thank them," said the mayor, regarding the city's volunteers on boards and commissions.
In response to a question from Wilkinson, City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau explained that election workers get paid by the hour during elections, or about $40 a piece. The state reimburses the city for three hours of statewide elections because polling is open 13 hours, rather than the city election's 10 hours.
• The council set the state primary election for Tuesday, Sept. 9, from 7 to 8. (Voter registration information can be found here.)
Alcombright said the council will have to decide on moving Wards 1,2,3 and 5 in the future because St. Elizabeth's Parish Center is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act audit done on public use buildings by the Department of Justice.
Fixing some of the issues, such as doorways and walkways, would be "quite extensive and quite expensive," he said, while Colegrove Park Elementary School, opening in fall 2015, will be fully compliant and have available parking.
• A right to farm resolution was postponed to September to allow for proper vetting of language, and the mayor announced a $425,000 federal grant toward a new fire truck pumper and reviewed the issues regarding the water and sewer bills.
• The council also set a public hearing on Dufour Inc.'s proposal to install an aboveground, 10,000-gallon diesel fuel tank for Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m.