By Seth Daniel
At the next City Council meeting on July 20, there will be a noticeable difference in personnel.
No city councillors will be missing, but for the first time in more than 30 years, former City Clerk John Henry won’t be coordinating the meeting.
Henry submitted his letter of resignation to the council late last week, which will become official today, July 15, due to his retirement as full-time city clerk.
“I submitted a letter of resignation to the City Council that is effective this Wednesday, July 15, due to the fact that I’m retiring as a full-time city clerk,” said Henry on Monday. “My wife just retired from the Revere School System, so she’s around, and I’m 65 now. I’m in that range where people retire.”
Henry has indicated that he will stay on as temporary clerk if the council so wishes, and that arrangement will likely be the council’s first order of business on July 20 – whether to keep Henry on a temporary basis.
Two things will prevent the council from making an immediate decision about his replacement.
First and foremost, there is a spirited battle going on behind the scenes between a handful of people who are looking to become the next clerk. The city clerk’s position is an appointed position from the City Council. Only the City Council can choose whom they would like to serve as city clerk, and a mere six votes gets someone the job.
Secondly, there is a piece of legislation at the State House that looks to repeal the life tenure of the Revere city clerk. That measure passed the council several months ago, but was only recently heard on Beacon Hill. It will be reported out of a legislative committee this week and could be adopted by the Legislature sometime this summer.
The measure would give the city clerk a five-year term. Right now, the clerk enjoys life tenure, as Revere voters approved such an arrangement in a 1923 ballot question.
So while the dust settles on those matters, Henry has agreed to work without pay.
“During the interim period of time, upon a determination by the City Council, I would be willing to serve as temporary city clerk without compensation until the Massachusetts Legislature repeals the City Clerk Tenure Act and the appointment of a new city clerk by the City Council,” Henry wrote in his resignation letter.
He also indicated that any savings from his salary could be put towards keeping City Hall open on certain Fridays after Labor Day.
Mayor Tom Ambrosino said he has asked Henry to stay on as parking clerk, as supervisor of the city’s parking lots and as the clerk of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
“I have asked him to stay on,” said the mayor. “I certainly want him to stay on as long as possible.”
Under state pension laws, Henry can retire from the clerk’s position and still work and receive income for the three other positions, which carry much smaller salaries, compared to that of the clerk.
Ambrosino and others said the potential of losing Henry can’t be measured. He is the institutional memory of the city for the last 30 years, in addition to all of the information he inherited from his predecessors, Joseph McCristal and Albert Brown.
“I was surprised to hear of his retirement,” said the mayor. “John Henry is an exceptional city clerk and very knowledgeable. I’ve relied on him quite a bit in my tenure as mayor for all sorts of advice and counseling. I hope he stays because I would miss him terribly.”
Councillor George V. Colella, the dean of the City Council, said losing Henry is devastating to the city and to the taxpayers.
“He came in with great credentials and he did an absolute superior job as clerk,” said Colella. “It’s a devastating loss.”
Henry first mentioned that he might retire late in January when the state’s fiscal crisis began to rear its ugly head. He indicated at that time that if it would help the city financially, he would step aside.
In his 30-plus years, Henry has been the continuity of the city, seeing several mayoral administrations and city councillors come and go. The personalities, the in-fighting and the victories – he has been there for all of them. There have been issues upon issues, and he and his staff have been there to record those comings and goings, along with the more mundane duties of keeping birth and death records, dog licenses and marriage certificates.
A native of Revere, he became the clerk in 1978 after having worked for several years as the director of intergovernmental affairs for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
He said one of the biggest changes has been new technology, not only at his office in terms of computerization and the Internet, but also at the City Council meetings.
“There are fewer and fewer people participating in the Chamber meetings,” he said. “When I first came in, the Chamber was packed. Every seat was taken. Now, about every seat is open. They have access to TV now, and they watch it there.”
He said the public has access to much more information than when he came in – from the meeting agendas, which are much more detailed, to the information on the city’s website.
In the meantime, Henry said he hopes to do some traveling and he will continue doing historical research on Revere – producing short historical pieces for the newspaper, for the local cable access TV and for local lectures.
Though he said he is ready for the change, he indicated there was some sentimentality in closing his chapter as Revere city clerk, a position that doesn’t see a retirement very often.
“There’s a little nostalgia about stepping aside,” he said. “When you sit in that chair [in the council chambers] and in the clerk’s office, you become part of the building. It’s a little emotional…I’ll still be on Broadway, though, at 7 a.m. having my coffee and then coming over here and starting my computer. Any way I can help the city, I will.”