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Take My Council, Please: Eight Is the Loneliest Number since the Number 9…

UPDATED 9:39PM: To add statements from Councilor Williams.

(WMassP&I)

The Springfield City Council, during a special meeting Wednesday night, failed to override Mayor Domenic Sarno’s veto of the chief diversity office (CDO) ordinance. The proposal, which would create a new office to oversee programs and initiatives to diversify and broaden the city’s workforce, had passed the Council on June 25. The mayor almost immediately turned back the bill, arguing it was violative of the charter and duplicative.

While his legal arguments were nonsense and his policy reasons fit a pattern, Sarno was within his rights to veto. The veto had seemed only a speed bump as the bill had passed with 10 votes. But rather than driving over the carcass of mayoral opposition to the CDO, councilors barreled into a pothole yielding an embarrassing, if reversible setback.

According to those who attended the meeting, at-large Councilor Justin Hurst and Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs were absent Wednesday evening.

The Council also considered and easily approved the new patrolmen’s contract and additional funds needed execute it. The new police contract, notably, institutes body cameras for officers and subject new patrolmen to the residency ordinance. Like firefighters, cops must live in the city for 10 years following their date of hire. The contract nearly caps a dramatic revival of the residency ordinance, which had been left for dead not even 10 years ago.

Mayor Domenic Sarno in 2017. If he was up to something on the CDO, it didn’t matter. (WMassP&I)

The CDO was not as lucky. City Hall sources say councilors had been leery of chicanery on the part of the mayor, possibly using a procedural tactic to derail the override. Perhaps that prompted an attempt to quickly pass the override rather than go through the customary introductions and debate.

Unfortunately, proponents were down votes.

On June 25, the Council passed the ordinance 10-1. Councilors Twiggs and Thomas Ashe were absent that day and Councilor Kateri Walsh cast the sole no. Nine votes are necessary in order to override. Ashe was present Wednesday night and voted no. He had previously telegraphed concerns and is a frequent ally of Sarno’s.

What supporters did not account for was Hurst’s absence and Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea flipping to no. Twiggs, were he present, would likely have supported the override, too. Instead, the override went down 8-3.

That led to a tangled attempt to cancel the failed override vote, but that effort, well, failed. It may not have mattered, anyway. The only legal mechanism to void a duly cast roll call is reconsideration. Ward 1 Councilor Adam Gomez moved for this, which means the Council could try to override again at a future date.

Councilor Marcus Williams on June 4. (via Focus Springifeld)

Ward 5 Councilor Marcus Williams, the CDO’s chief sponsor, took to Facebook to express disappointment both in colleagues that voted no, but those who were absent. He pointedly called out habitual obstruction to change such as the CDO ordinance. However, Williams, too, promised to press the issue.

“I intend to call a reconsideration vote in the near future considering the rules allow that,” he wrote.

Those at the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed some doubt as to whether the Council can reconsider its veto vote. However, the body has reconsidered unsuccessful vetoes before.

In 2013, Sarno vetoed an ordinance tightening residency waivers. The Council held an unsuccessful override that August, but Twiggs moved to reconsider. That new vote was successfully held in September, but councilors still came up short. That ordinance would not become law until a more agreeable Council was elected.

Even if Council can’t get nine CDO supporters in the chamber whenever they revote  or otherwise fails to revote again, all is not lost. The body could simply pass the ordinance again. Though the issue is a priority for councilors, time is not exactly of the essence. As Sarno did not fund the position in this year’s budget, enactment of the ordinance would have no immediate effect.

(WMassP&I)

Councilors could lean on the mayor to approve funding in a supplemental appropriation. However, their leverage to fund the position will be greatest early next year when planning for the next fiscal year begins.

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