With Fall River’s mayor facing his second set of federal indictments in less than a year, both his future and the former textile city’s entire form of government are uncertain, as the City Council prepares to consider ousting the embattled leader and, separately, weakening the office he holds.
On Tuesday, the Fall River Task Force will present a proposal to the council that would give executive power to an appointed city manager. It would make the mayor head of the City Council and School Committee but would remove some powers, said Councilor Steven A. Camara.
“To me, we have a systematic issue here as well as a personal issue,” said Camara, the task force’s chairman, adding that Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II — who was arrested Friday on federal charges of extortion conspiracy, extortion aiding and abetting, and bribery — isn’t the first Fall River chief executive to run into legal trouble.
Camara, who was the only councilor opposing a no-confidence vote in Correia last fall, said in a phone interview that he is “a friend of the mayor and his family” who feels “disappointment and sadness” about the 27-year-old Democrat’s arrest but has not called for him to step down.
If the City Council approves the proposal, it will land on Correia’s desk. If he signs off, the plan will then need approval from the state Legislature, and finally Fall River residents will vote.
The measure probably could not make it to the ballot before 2020, Camara said, and if approved by voters, it would not go into effect until January 2022.
Camara said Fall River began to consider restructuring its government before Correia was elected, and the task force’s recommendation isn’t about him, though it would give the City Council more flexibility in the event of a future scandal involving top city officials.
“If a city manager was doing this, then a majority of the council can fire them. A city manager doesn’t work for the people. A city manager works for the appointing authority,” Camara said, which in this case would be the City Council. “It seems to me that it’s a much better and much more efficient way to operate a municipality.”
But the measure has little chance of success, according to two other councilors.
Councilor Stephen R. Long said the council must take action Tuesday to remove Correia from office, and there’s no need to shuffle the chairs inside City Hall.
“We’re not going to be changing our government in the middle of this. That’s just not going to happen,” Long said in a phone interview.
Long said he’s open to discussing a city manager system, but he doesn’t see it as a priority — or as a solution to Fall River’s woes — and believes it is being used as a distraction.
“I think our form of government has served us well up until now,” he said. “Councilor Camara is a well-known supporter of the mayor, and I think this is how this is addressed by them: ‘Don’t look at this; look over there.’ ”
Regardless of what happens Tuesday or what results from the charges Correia faces in federal court, his name will appear alongside two challengers on the Democratic primary ballot on Sept. 17. — and if he’s successful then, he’ll be up for reelection in November.
In March, Correia won reelection on a ballot that sought to recall him, exploiting a quirk in the city charter and stunning many observers. But Long doesn’t think Correia can manage another unlikely victory.
“I hope not,” Long said, adding later, “A lot of people I know who have been past supporters of his are saying enough’s enough. He’s losing support daily.”
Councilor Joseph D. Camara, who isn’t related to Steven Camara, said Correia should immediately step down, at least temporarily, and if he doesn’t, the council should vote to force him out.
“Let’s make sure that people feel confident that whatever the accusations are, the public interest is not being harmed in any way, shape, or form,” said Camara, who was one of four candidates opposing Correia in the March recall election.
He said Correia “has lost his ability to lead” and the mayor’s word isn’t credible anymore, but Fall River doesn’t need to move to a city manager system.
“I don’t think that the problem we have in Fall River is the form of government we have. I think the problem is an individual who abused the system,” he said. “I don’t think you need to change the process; I think you need to change the individual.”
Joseph Camara said this is one of many issues for which he and Steven Camara find themselves on opposing sides.
“He ran for mayor a little while ago,” he said of Steven Camara, who ran unsuccessfully in 2009. “He wasn’t talking about changing the form of government then.”