The Fitzgerald campaign let loose a broadside Wednesday afternoon, criticizing opponent Ted Bettencourt for exaggerating his role in the workplace and on the council floor.
Sean Fitzgerald said Bettencourt has done this consistently during recent debates between the two mayoral candidates, in news stories and in all manner of campaign literature.
“My opponent has made the unfortunate choice to attempt to belittle my record of experience and leadership. That being the case, he has opened up his own record to greater scrutiny and it is my sincere belief that Peabody voters will look at the facts and make an informed decision on how he is overstating his record,” said Fitzgerald in a press release.
'Local business owner'
Fitzgerald pointed first to , dealing with many of the same challenges facing other small businesses in Peabody.
Fitzgerald noted Bettencourt is not listed as a partner at his firm, but rather “of counsel” at , which could mean a few things, but is a “big stretch” from being a business owner. Fitzgerald added to the critique the fact that Bettencourt has received health insurance from the city since entering office in 2004 for what is – technically speaking – a part-time job. That health plan costs taxpayers more than $17,000 per year at current rates.
Fitzgerald argued that most successful business owners pay for their own health insurance.
“The public deserves to know, especially when my opponent claims to have the concern of the taxpayers at heart – actions speak louder than words,” he said.
The Bettencourt campaign fired back through a press statement of its own Wednesday evening.
“Sean continues his campaign strategy to misinform and mislead voters. It’s sad to see. Either he doesn’t do his homework and doesn’t make the effort to find the truth, or he knows the facts and chooses to distort them to deceive voters. Either way, the voters deserve more respect from someone running for mayor,” said Bettencourt.
As for being a business owner, he has been a partner at since 2003, Bettencourt said. He simply stepped back from partnership and set up a separate practice within the firm last year when he decided to run for mayor. He added that he documented all this in his campaign filing with the Secretary of State’s office.
“My opponent may not understand what constitutes owning a private business as he has made a whole career out of jumping from one public payroll to another,” Bettencourt said.
In regard to health insurance, Bettencourt’s statement simply noted he takes the insurance offered to all city employees and elected officials.
A leader on the council?
Fitzgerald also took aim at Bettencourt’s work on city budgets over eight years and his involvement with improving the city’s bond rating and ensuring greater transparency in local government.
“After reviewing the public record, it is difficult to describe these claims as anything but gross exaggerations,” Fitzgerald said.
Attempting to offer some , Bettencourt had noted he worked on eight years of city budgets that now exceed $130 million and dwarf the small town budgets of Plaistow, N.H.
The City Council, however, typically only holds two Finance Committee meetings on the budget each year – sessions that involve the mayor and department heads explaining the proposed budget and fielding questions from councilors. The budget is then voted on at the council’s next regular session, often that same week, which Fitzgerald pointed out.
He noted Bettencourt – one of 11 councilors – has never voted against one of the mayor’s budgets, nor offered any line items to cut, despite claiming to scrutinize the budget line-by-line. Bettencourt has served in the past as Finance Committee Chairman.
In contrast, Fitzgerald argued he has created budgets and has had to live within them in his role as a town manager for three years.
In his response, Bettencourt merely noted that Peabody has a strong mayor form of government under which the council can only approve or cut funds. He said he has “scrutinized” each budget and a councilor cannot add or shift funds from one line item to another. Fitzgerald, however, didn’t imply that he could.
In regards to rescuing the city’s bond rating, Bettencourt did chair a special panel to review finance and reserve policy, but the full council never adopted the recommendation from the committee and neither did the city ever formally adopt a reserve policy, argues Fitzgerald. He added that Moody’s Investors has never cited the work of any city councilors in its annual reports with improving the city’s bond rating in the five years since that initial policy review.
In his defense, Bettencourt points to an excerpt from a story published in the Peabody Weekly News in 2006 in which Mayor Michael Bonfanti was quoted giving credit to Bettencourt and the other councilors on the committee for crafting a reserve fund policy.
“Under Ted’s leadership, they worked to come up with a plan that recognized the need to boost reserves and to strengthen the bond rating,” Bonfanti was quoted as saying in the article.
In his statement, Bettencourt did not respond to Fitzgerald’s last criticism of his role in ensuring greater transparency in local government in regards to complying with the state’s Open Meeting Law.
The special council committee Bettencourt chaired only met once in October and never issued any recommendations to the full council, Fitzgerald said. He added that the committee’s minutes for that one meeting show the initial concern Bettencourt had relating to the Zoning Board of Appeals wasn’t even discussed.
“I’d ask the voters to examine our records and choose based upon real experience and results,” Fitzgerald said.
Bettencourt, calling Fitzgerald’s critiques a “barrage of misinformation,” said he is confident more important concerns to Peabody taxpayers will take precedent over these in the candidates’ next debate on Oct. 20.