By James David Mitchell
I’ve spent a lot of time in city hall; not just wandering the halls, but sitting in the Joseph DelGrosso Council Chambers for a good part of 20 years specifically with the business of covering the city council business for the Revere Advocate.
I’ve seen reporters come and go for local news publications, but like very few city hall employees, I think Joan Grenga’s 21 years: eight years working in former Mayor Bob Haas’ office; and 13 years as the executive assistant for the city’s licensing board has got me beat by a country mile.
During any given Thursday afternoon meeting, Joan sits to the left of the board members, perched in a council seat, listening intently to the day’s proceedings giving any applicant the impression that she was part of a jury. It’s up to her to know exactly who is appearing before the commission – paperwork in order. In other words, you have to get past Joan Grenga to make it to the commission’s podium.
Having dealt with the residents for the Haas administration and bilingual – it all comes pretty easy.
“She was great for the city, came highly recommended, phenomenally Italian, and everyone knew her,” said Councillor-at-Large Bob Haas, when reached by phone, recalling Joan’s work as his executive secretary during his time as mayor. “I can understand why (mayor) Tom Ambrosino would keep her on in the license commission.”
This year, Joan will be retiring from public service, saying farewell to her small second floor office on Sept. 1st and welcoming her replacement, Kathy Mercurio.
I caught up with Joan during her recent training sessions with Kathy in the license commission office. It was easy to see the two were comfortable with each other when I entered the room unannounced, given their conversation about the paperwork which must be a sight to behold on any given day. (In my defense, Joan was reluctantly expecting me for a photo op).
“This is like a law office – we put together cases, research all the applicants before we present them to the ‘jury’,” said Grenga with a warm smile. “And by ‘jury’ I mean commission for approval or disapproval.”
In many cities and towns, licenses are approved by the council, selectmen or governing bodies and in most cases, every applicant must be accepted – but in Revere, every applicant must appear before the three-person commission prior to the approval of any licenses or permits.
When I asked Joan if she could recall her best day working at the commission, she stated, “It was the day Kathy arrived and I never even met her,” smiling at Kathy with a reassuring look of “you’ll be alright”.
And those words mean a lot considering what Mercurio will be dealing with right off the bat. Just last month, the license commission voted to reinstate the 2:00 AM closing time for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol. Many of the local establishments have to reapply for the new licenses through the ABCC – a “trial by fire” for the new administrative assistant.
“There’s a lot going on with the new rollback of hours – renewals of all-alcohol licenses at the same time,” said Mercurio, most likely wondering what she got herself into.
“But everyone’s been very helpful and it’s nice to be next door to the city solicitor’s office – kind of a safety net,” she said. “And it’s a very interesting job – very challenging. It’s not what it seems on paper.”
The Revere License Commission is chaired by Joseph W. Quarantello, along with commissioners Linda Guinasso, and John M. LaCroix, and one police representative. The commission issues licenses, enforces rules and regulations, city ordinances, state laws relative to the sale of alcoholic beverages, common victuallers and various other licenses from used car dealers to the sale of precious metals. It is up to the executive assistant to research each applicant before presenting their respective application to the commission for approval. The Commission meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 3:00 p.m. in the second floor Council Chambers. The office of the License Commission is open Monday through Thursday, 8:15 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.
Mercurio, who worked as the lead customer service representative for the People’s United Bank for nine years, says she ready to take the reins as soon as Joan says she’s ready.
Joan believes Kathy’s ready and able to do the job.
“I gave her the keys on the first day,” said Joan. “You’re a ’key person’,” said Grenga to her apprentice, “She’s going to be perfect.”
Well, as one whose observed local government in action for many years, Joan, you’ve been perfect, too. You will be missed and wish you only the very best – you’ve certainly earned it.