Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn’s lawyer updates the city codes and finds some amusing discoveries along the way

Jim Lamanna checks the books for quirky bylaws at his office at Lynn City hall. (Owen O'Rourke)

LYNN — He is the first assistant city solicitor but James Lamanna’s job description has read more like a custodian’s for the past two months.

The city lawyer is putting the finishing touches on a thorough review of city codes, ordinances and bylaws that sent him into the bowels of City Hall and forced him to thumb through old records books and pore over online files with help from City Clerk Janet Rowe and her coworkers.

His discoveries have, by turns, been amusing and revealing: The city has an anti-prostitution bylaw prescribing a 30-day jail term; its taxi ordinance hasn’t been comprehensively updated since the 1980s, and there’s an ordinance banning roosters, goats and sheep in Lynn.

“It’s still on the books today,” Lamanna said.

Most cities and towns have ordinances and bylaws updated and readily-viewable online. Lynn, said Lamanna, needs to update its database. He credits city Deputy Building Commissioner Clint Muche with spending almost four months updating the city’s complicated zoning code.

Lamanna started devoting half his work day beginning in the spring to reviewing and red-flagging for updating or elimination city bylaws and ordinances. In some cases, a changing society has made certain ordinances obsolete. In other cases — like the prostitution bylaw and many local building codes — state law supersedes local action.

He plans to submit a list of bylaw updates and proposed ordinance eliminations to the City Council by September for review, alteration or approval as the city’s official municipal code book.

A requirement for a black and gold color motif for business signs installed in the central business district will be recommended for elimination. City bylaws outlining restraints for pitbulls and insurance requirements for tenants who own pitbulls will also be recommended for elimination.

“While technically still on the books, it violated state law,” Lamanna said.

Slogging through city records took Lamanna on a history tour of the city and gave him a glimpse into the way government worked almost a century ago.

In 1914, the voters went to the polls and voted 6,750 to 4,765 to allow city laborers vacations. A vote in 1920 setting a $5,000 annual mayoral salary and a $500 annual salary for councilors went down in flames with 15,601 “no” votes and 356 “yes” votes.

In 1927, the council voted to ban city department heads from leaving the city Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Lynn residents voted by a three-to-one margin in 1945 to allow women teachers to be paid the same amount as male counterparts.

“It was a binding referendum and the School Department adjusted their pay,” Lamanna said.

Lamanna said a number of 20th century ordinances reflected strong support in Lynn for organized labor. Others mirrored a tendency in the last century for the state Legislature to make cities and towns the ultimate authority on certain subjects.

Lamanna’s effort to cleanup city codes and bylaws is just the latest housekeeping effort. In 1999, the city brought in documentation experts LexisNexis to update and organize city ordinances for the first time since 1973. The firm got the job done, eliminating ordinances like the one banning speeches in public without council approval and striking down the travel restriction for department heads.

The council initiated a second review that resulted in a 2006 vote approving an ordinance update. Lamanna said the review he conducted is overdue; in part because of the necessity to clear ordinances like the homegrown prostitution sentencing off the books and to eliminate bylaws like the 1946 one permitting bowling “on the Lord’s day.”

A double undergraduate major in history and English at Boston College, Lamanna said he quickly warmed to his housekeeping project.

“I came home every night telling my wife the latest thing I found,” he said. “My next project is to codify city traffic rules.”

 

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