By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Gloucester residents will have the chance to answer a question that has stirred discussion for some seven years in an upcoming, non-binding referendum question asking what they think would be the best use of the Fuller School building.
City councilors voted Wednesday night 8-1 in favor of overriding Mayor Carolyn Kirk’s veto of the city councilor’s proposed referendum, though councilors will take into account Kirk’s specific objections in a likely tweak of the referendum question.
“I don’t see it remaining the same,” said City Councilor Greg Verga. “But the general question of whether there will be a question on the ballot...It has passed.”
Kirk had vetoed the referendum that initially proposed offering voters three choices — repurposing the space as a municipal building, putting the building back to use as a school, or selling or leasing the property, with each option also allowing for a combination Police and Fire Department safety building. Kirk most criticized the option of using the space as a school, after the School Committee had already found that’s not a viable choice.
As city councilors reword the referendum in coming months, the school option will likely vanish from the list of choices, Verga said Thursday.
”I wouldn’t stand in the way of that,” Verga said. “If I’m on the School Committee, I wouldn’t want another body telling me the educational decisions being made are not correct.”
While Verga and other councilors see the referendum as a work in progress, Councilor Joseph Ciolino, speaking of his dissenting vote, said he does not support the referendum as is, and he cast his vote based on what was before him, not what was to potentially come.
Ciolino, also the only dissenting vote when city councilors first voted to pose the non-binding referendum, said he would like to see specifics and financial details added to the referendum before he would support it.
”My problem with it is that I saw that the language was not comprehensive enough for the voters to make an informed decision,” Ciolino said.
Ciolino also said he opposes having the school option on the referendum, given that the councilors failed to consult the School Committee before creating that choice. And, he added, the options fail to encompass some potential avenues.
”There was just too much rushing to get this done, when there’s plenty of time to do it and do it correctly,” Ciolino said.
Still, beyond concerns about the referendum’s wording, there remains another uncertainty regarding just when the referendum question can be asked. With the next local election slated for November, councilors may have plenty of time for fine-tuning the referendum, but most would like to see the referendum presented sooner.
Acknowledging such a choice is unlikely, City Clerk Linda T. Lowe said Thursday she plans to speak with the Secretary of State’s Election Division to inquire about including the non-binding referendum on the ballot if the time comes to vote to fill Sen. John Kerry’s seat. Kerry is likely to vacate the seat, with President Obama having nominated him to become his next Secretary of State.
But whether the referendum goes on the November ballot or a special election one, and no matter how the wording of options changes, Gloucester residents can plan to answer it, with Kirk’s only chance to veto now overridden, according to Lowe.
”The ultimate thing is, it’s a non-binding referendum relating to the Fuller property,” Lowe said. “Whatever gets changed, it’s still a non-binding referendum relating to the Fuller property.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.