This season’s budget presentation to the City Council has so far been a cordial, quiet process. Even humdrum. But if any presentation for a city department were to get testy, it would be the one about the plastic bag ban.
That’s what unexpectedly happened on Monday, when Inspectional Services Commissioner William “Buddy” Christopher and the city’s chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, Austin Blackmon, appeared to exhibit some tension — between themselves, and also with a city councilor.
After discussing building regulations, staffing levels, and rodents in the North End, the topic turned to the plastic bag ban that goes into effect at the end of this year. Councilor Matt O’Malley – a lead proponent – appeared surprised that officials are still in planning stages to implement the new ban, which seemed to put Christopher on the defensive.
“The ordinance did not take in to consideration the process at all,” said Christopher, whose department is in charge of enforcing the ban.
That apparently didn’t sit so well with O’Malley, who helped write the legislation.
“I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?” O’Malley asked.
Blackmon, sensing the moment, sought to intervene and explain “I think what Buddy is talking about is…”
“Buddy can’t speak for himself?” Christopher interjected.
Blackmon went on to explain his point anyway, that they were implementing the program in stages. O’Malley wanted to make sure that’s what Christopher meant. It was, Christopher told the councilor.
Good, O’Malley said, because the legislation deferred to the discretion of “your boss.”
“For the record,” Christopher interjected again, “my boss is the mayor.”
O’Malley then explained that the ordinance spells out that Blackmon — or, “who ever holds that position” — has the duty to implement the program.
“If you had problems with the ordinance, there was a whole two year period where you could have weighed in on this, so I’m a little taken back with your tone right now,” O’Malley said.
The exchange ended with O’Malley urging the inspectional services division to finalize plans, “because I am fielding questions right now.” He pointed out the city has not finalized a website announcing the process.
“We have a lot of work to do that has not been done,” he said.
Blackmon said the city would respond to the councilor’s concerns.
The plastic bag ban goes into effect in December.Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.