LAWRENCE — Mayor William Lantigua returned to City Hall yesterday after spending two weeks in his native Dominican Republic — a vacation which drew the ire of many in and outside the city questioning the timing of his respite.
But the mayor said there was no way he could predict last week's spate of fires, which showed the impact of last month's layoffs of 23 firefighters and Lawrence's new dependence on outside departments to fight its fires.
"Just because I am a mayor doesn't mean I am a robot," Lantigua said. He added that "there comes a point where you have to take some time to meditate and relax."
Elected last November as the city and state's first Latino mayor, Lantigua said he's spent the past nine months working around the clock. Much of his time has been dominated by budget problems, particularly this spring as his $72 million municipal budget relied on the layoffs of 47 police officers and firefighters and 37 other city workers.
Lantigua insists he was not trying to hide from anybody during this public safety controversy but was doing what many people are doing this summer: taking a vacation. And even though he was 1,600 miles away, Lantigua said he was in constant contact with City Hall.
"Because of the situation, I was on the phone all the time. I decided to come back and address the issues personally," Lantigua said. "I went to quite a few cities but I was always on the phone making sure we were doing what needed to be done here."
Lantigua said he was originally scheduled to stay in the Dominican Republic until next Tuesday but decided to come back five days early. Part of his early return means the mayor will miss a swearing-in ceremony Monday of city officials in his hometown of Tenares. Lantigua said he hasn't ruled out a quick return to the island country to attend the ceremony.