UDPATED 10/18/12 2:22pm
During a relatively quiet meeting at the Springfield City Council, two things were clear. The Council remains skeptical of the mayor’s budgeting tactics and everybody loves the Student Prince. Beyond that, much of the evening was focused on a couple of tax incremental financing plans that passed unanimously, a few grants, and several resolves of varying significance. Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards was absent, still recovering from knee surgery.
At-large Councilor Bud Williams opened the meeting with a discussion on some TIF’s for Nash Manufacturing and Latino Foods, which were locating to new buildings within the city. Nash manufacturing came in from Holyoke, while Latino Foods came in from West Springfield. Both agreements came with a condition that the companies fulfill their commitments and if not, they would repay the city the tax savings.
Without much complaint, the Council also authorized payment of leftover bills from Fiscal Year 2012. The body also accepted grants for the Parks and Veterans Affairs Departments as well as a WMECO utility report. The Council authorized orders to begin construction on the Dryden and Brookings Schools that were damaged in last year’s tornado. Part of that included acceptance of a property donation for the Brookings school on Melrose Street. Moneys to demolish that property, which were leftover from another project, funded the demolition.
Within the realm of the tornado was a resolve to retire some of the cities emergency expenditures after that storm. Millions of emergency funds from state and federal sources made that possible.
The Council also sent to committee, at the request of Planning and Economic Development, grants for Union Station and Court Square.
The monthly dose of Council skepticism came over the issue of apparent pay increases for the Procurement Department. Ostensibly, the Finance Department, responding to some employees in Procurement’s plans to seek alternate employment, sought the transfer from the city’s paper thin contingency fund to give Procurement a pay hike. After negotiation with the affected union, the item was submitted to the Council. On the October 1 meet, the item was put on hold due to a Rule 20 invocation by Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna.
The item ultimately passed on a 9-3 vote, with Lund, Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak in dissent. Councilor Williams expressed concern that raise might provoke a grievance from other unions, although Finance Director T.J. Plante said that since nearly all employee contracts had expired that was improbable. The explanation as to the raises increase came in reply to a comment from Luna. At-large Councilors Tim Rooke and Kateri Walsh both took time to support the measure, but Walsh made note of the diminishing contingency fund.
Follow up with the city on this item has yet to be answered.
The other item that attracted a great deal of attention and adulation was a measure to transfer the old Asylum Building on Main Street to the New England Farm Workers Council. NEFWC head Heriberto Flores informed the Council that the owner of the Student Prince, Rudi Scherff had plans to open a Beer Garden.
The plans elicited several positive comments and praise for the Student Prince, Scherff and his investments in Springfield. Virtually every councilor rose to express verbal support for the project and Scherff. However, there was an odd dichotomy between the oratorical flourishes showered upon Scherff and his individual commitment to the city and the hostility and disapproval of the city’s proposed zoning revision. That revision, could potentially open up the city to other innovators, rather than keep the deck stacked for a small cadre of developers.
Besides the tornado resolve, which did carry the force of law, the other four did not and three out of four of those were sent to committee. They included resolves supporting the Massachusetts Nurse Association and their Labor battle with Bay State Health Systems, implementing rebates over a stricken fire alarm ordinance and a COLA for retirees.
The one other resolve voted on honored the recently deceased Mafalda Albano, the mother of former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano. Many Councilors praised the late Albano, in particular at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera, the lead sponsor, who stepped down from the President’s lectern to discuss the matter on the floor.
Still, the praise seemed odd and out of place and a distinction for somebody like Mafalda, a non-resident, would typically be a proclamation, not a resolve. The resolve itself pointed out that she did not live in Springfield after 1938 and that much of her public service career appeared to be in Longmeadow. Other than her son’s mayoralty, which ended under a cloud and remains a low point in the city’s history, her connection to Springfield seemed tenuous at best. What if any connection appears to be her pasta sauce, which the resolve claims to have raised money to benefit needy city residents.
The resolve was approved on a voice vote. Although no dissent was recorded, the ayes clearly lacked the voices of all twelve present councilors.
Monday’s brief hearing left a great deal of committee work. However, among the few eyebrow raising items, there was evidence of movement for some major city projects. The tornado ravaged schools are set to be rebuilt and, although in committee, the Union Station and Court Square grants do spell progress on two until interminably stalled projects.