The Right of Appeal: A Preview…

**This post has been updated to reflect clarifications of some legal issues in this appeal.**

Biomass Protesters at Revocation Hearing last year

This Wednesday Springfield will see perhaps the highest profile showdown over the proposed biomass facility on Page Boulevard since the Springfield City Council revoked Palmer Renewable Paving’s permit.  Indeed, this may be more of a nail biter as most of the 2/3 of the council that voted to revoke had telegraphed for weeks that the PRE’s project and its changes made it ripe for revocation.  Wednesday, however, will be something different.  For the first time an independent body will assess the council’s decision to revoke PRE’s permit.  This is very different from the permit granting process PRE faces before the Department of Environmental Protection, where the issue is not the validity of the revocation or Building Commissioner Steven Desilets’s permit, but one of air quality.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is a body chartered under Massachusetts General Law to resolve zoning disputes within cities and towns.  The matters before it and indeed the people before it are dictated, however, by the city’s zoning ordinances.  In that way, the mere fact that the council, who is not the only party opposing Desilets’s issuance of PRE’s permit, is in part due to their own ordinance.  Under Springfield zoning, the Springfield City Council approves special permits.  While this has often led to some concern that a political, rather than professional, appointed body (which can also be political), approves these permits, it also puts the Council in the game to stop PRE’s building permit.  Because, in the council’s view, its will with regard to the special permit is being subverted by the building permit, they have standing to appeal.  Were they merely the writers of the zoning ordinance, they may not be an aggrieved party within the meaning of the state zoning law.  In that case, only the private appellants to the building permit could go before the appeals board and, if still dissatisfied, onto court.  The private actors consist of nearby residents and several anti-biomass groups like Arise for Social Justice and Stop Toxic Incineration.

Now that the appeal is before the zoning board, whether the appeal of citizens or of the council, the issue will boil down to three basic issues.  It seems likely, as with any appellate board, that the board could choose to consider the appeals as broadly or as narrowly as they like.  Often times, to minimize the political blowback on themselves, such boards or appellate courts will consider matters as narrowly as possible.  They do not always, however.  Consider the Citizens United decision from the US Supreme Court.

The overall argument of the appeal is that the building commissioner acted beyond his authority to issue the building permit.  It boils down to several arguments.


The first issue is whether Desilets acted in direct contravention of state law when he gave PRE their building permit.  Appellants are expected to argue this point first and foremost since it is probably the most airtight argument.  Massachusetts regulations say that before a building permit can be issued all other permits must be received first.  However, this does not turn on the special permit as its necessity is under dispute anyway.  Rather, appellants will likely point out that the commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection has yet to issue PRE’s air quality permit.  The Conservation Law Foundation and local groups had opposed PRE’s receipt of that permit as well, but were uled to not have standing by a DEP hearing officer considering the case.  That hearing officer was overturned by the DEP commissioner who ordered the hearing officer to consider the matter again on the merits.  Consequently, there is no air quality permit and remains in litigation.

If the ZBA wants a clean way out, for now at least, they could rule on this alone in favor of the appellants.  It seems unlikely that either the Building Commissioner or PRE would appeal that ruling to court due to how cut and dry it is.

However, the other two issues will be presented too.  The final two are somewhat related.  Is a special permit necessary and is the facility an incinerator?  The city Law Department has issued a memo, upon which Desilets relied, that said a special permit was not necessary because the new design was not, as the original now-revoked special permit, a recycling center.  It is not using construction and demolition waste as a fuel and therefore is not a recycling center.  Consequently, no special permit is necessary.  However, the city zoning ordinance may still apply, appellants will argue.  The city requires a special permit for incinerators.  Because this facility, whatever the purpose, is burning wood chips, it is, as appellants will argue an incinerator.  The city requires a special permit for that, which PRE has never received or requested.

Largest Smoke Stack in the World (wikipedia)

These second two issues will undoubtedly reappear if the ZBA chooses to only reverse building permit on Wednesday on the narrowest grounds.  Indeed, they will likely reappear before the ZBA, unless the board sides with the building commissioner on the air permit.  If the board decides to rule beyond PRE’s lack of an air permit, then there will almost certainly be an appeal regardless of who wins on the other grounds.  If the ZBA rules in favor of the building commission the citizens groups and the council will appeal.  Biomass opponents on the council still have more than enough votes to appeal to court.  That raises significant questions about the council’s ability to represent itself because they cannot appropriate money, but none of the biomass opponents seem particularly worried about that.

The ZBA will have up to ninety days from the date of appeal (December 7, 2011) to make their decision.  An affirmative vote is required.  As an appeal is likely, the losers will have 20 days to appeal to court.  If the council is on the losing end, it will likely need a special meeting to vote to appeal to court in enough time and survive a Rule 20 invocation.

If the council and the citizens groups win, then it may get more interesting.  Who will appeal in that case?  PRE has standing to appeal to superior court, but the defendant, if they sue, will no longer be the city council, but the ZBA.  This could tidy up some of the legal wrangling as the Law Department would no longer be conflicted by having two adverse plaintiffs (the building commissioner and the board of appeals).  However, as Ward 8 Council John Lysak noted at a meeting last year, there may already be conflicts within the law department that could disqualify them regardless.  If the Building Commissioner appeals, which in theory he could if the City Solicitor agrees to represent him, then the Law Department becomes conflicted again.  Moreover, the ZBA, as the defendant is even more unable to defend itself if the law department steps away.  However, the Council and the citizens groups could easily intervene and take control of the case in court.

This situation presents a strange legal disposition.  Intra-municipal conflicts such as this one have been rare for fifty years  Indeed, the most authoritative case law on the matter stems from the 1920s, 30, and 40s when many of the laws governing municipalities, zoning and the like were originally written.  Certainly, it is common for the controversies to arise soon after a law is passed, the lack of significant case law since suggests that these conflicts are intentionally managed away by politicians and officials.  This leaves archaic, if valid case law for a legal situation that has itself become rare.  One way or another, Wednesday, as important as it may be, is not the last stop on this legal train.

After the Blackout…

We are pleased to see the outpouring of support for several companies blackout protest of the anti-piracy bills, SOPA & PIPA.  Despite today’s surge it is critical that everybody understand that this fight is not over, yet.  We welcome Cong. Richard Neal’s statement of opposition to the bill as written, but we encourage our readers, as other media companies have, to have their voices heard.  For the record we can confirm, Neal is joined by Senator Scott Brown, his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren, and Representatives Capuano McGovern, Olver & Tsongas in opposing these bills. 

Wikipedia, now up & running again, has a handy article on the protest with links to more information and ways to communicate with your members of Congress.  Thank you to all of those who have reached out to their member of Congress and urge you to continue to do so.  Perhaps now Congress will sit down with both creative communities like Hollywood and the tech communities like Silicon Valley and Route 128 to find a solution that protects copyrighted material from piracy without jeopardizing the freedom and innovation of the Internet.

UPDATED: Statement on SOPA & PIPA…

**** UPDATED:  SEE BELOW ****Congressman Richard Neal has released a statement on SOPA (which is the House version of PIPA and vice-versa), wherein he appears to oppose the current version of the bill.  We print it in full below:

“Thank you to those who have made the effort to contact me in regards to SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act (H.R. 3261). Committee action on this bill has been postponed, and it is uncertain when or if the bill will be brought up for further debate. I do not like SOPA in its current form. I would like to reiterate my personal belief in the right to freedom of speech. There are few things more uniquely American than the right to voice one’s own beliefs.”

**The following statement has been posted to the Facebook Wall of Congressman Richard Neal who represents Western Mass Politics & Insight in the United States House of Representatives.  The background of this post has been changed to reflect our support of Wikipedia, Reddit, Google and other protests across the Internet.**

Congressman Neal:

WMassP&I would like to express to you our deep reservations about SOPA and PIPA today when dozens of other online sites are blacking out in protest.  This blog is fully supportive of the creative community’s efforts to stop online piracy.  However, the censoring and Internet provisions of these proposed laws that threaten online creativity and freedom go too far.  Furthermore, despite some efforts to remove the most offensive sections, we feel that in the end, such provisions cannot be effectively purged from these bills.  A new, smarter bill that is written not only at the behest of the creative community, but in collaboration with the technology community is the answer.

We as a nation are quite able to cut back on the violations and theft that imperils artists’ ability to live off their creations without turning the Internet into a police state or endangering current and would-be tech companies’ ability to innovate & grow.

As one of Springfield’s venues for online commentary, discussion, creativity and involvement in our community, we feel it is our obligation to oppose these bills and convey that opposition to you directly.  We hope that you will do the same and join the increasing ranks of your colleagues who already stand opposed to these bills.  Instead, please seek NEW legislation–made from scratch–that protects the financial viability of creativity in this country but also defends and strengthens the innovation and freedom of the Internet.

-Matt Szafranski
Western Mass Politics & Insight

You can see our statement on Cong. Neal’s page here and here


Tardy Tuesday Takedown 1/17/12…

…And the World:

Last week the limelight was on British Prime Minister David Cameron leader of the Conservative Party for his and his government’s handling of the Scottish question.  This week the focus turns to Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour party, whose leadership is under threat after agreeing, at least in principle, to some of the austerity measures affecting public employees.  One union is openly criticizing Miliband’s decision with the threat of fracturing Labour.  While Miliband’s remarks over the weekend were more of the substance that Labour is not in a position to promise reversing Cameron’s harsh cuts should Miliband’s party regain Parliament in 2015, it was read as a hard turn to the right.  Labor unions in Britain supply, not surprisingly, a great deal of the Labour party’s money, and a schism could threaten the party’s electoral chances.  Unions, for their part, fear that Miliband may be following the path of Tony Blair who often took the unions for granted while taking allegedly “centrist” positions to retain his majority in Parliament.  Miliband beat his own brother, David, in 2010’s Labour leadership elections with the help of the unions and the left wing of the party.

A war is brewing in the Middle East.  Not Iran, but Israel.  No, not with Iran!  Cyber warfare has taken hold among Israel and some of its neighbors on the part of hackers.  Hackers in both Israel, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have traded claims of stolen credit cards and personal information.  In the latest salvo, the Israeli Stock Exchange and leading airline El Al, were attacked.

While negotiators return tomorrow to find a means to cut Greeces debt, European leaders are becoming increasingly pessimistic that Greek leaders can enact the reforms the country needs to move forward.  Unlike his Italian counterpart, technocratic Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was unable to appoint his own cabinet.  As a result many reforms that have passed remain unimplemented.  A Greek default in priced into the market, but only if it is orderly.  A disorderly default, which could happen as soon as March, is in all likelihood not priced into markets.
Death toll rose to 11 in the Costa Concordia shipwreck off the Italian coast (via NPR).

The Feds:

With Mitt Romney seemingly unstoppable in his quest to become the Republican nominee, candidates are trying to throw everything they’ve got at him.  A Santorum ad says the former Massachusetts governor is too much like Obama, while a Super PAC new the South Carolina primary calls Mitt a murderer!

Meanwhile, at the last debate Mitt Romney said the President of the United States, Barack Obama did not have a jobs plan.  That’s right folks!  Mitt Romney says the President does not have a jobs plan.  None.  Zilch.  Zero!  Therefore it cannot exist!  He never proposed one!  Pay no attention to those links that clearly prove the president presented a bill and gave a speech on the American Jobs Act!  (BTW, h/t to Greg Sargent at Washington Post for the link and also as the link points out Romney does not actually have a plan himself).
Oh, and Jon Huntsman got out of the race and endorsed Mitt Romney.  It really doesn’t change anything, but Lawrence O’Donnell, gleefully showed how Huntsman’s endorsement is not particularly meaningful given how much he’s slapped Romney around.

Democrats in Wisconsin have turned in over 1 million signatures in order to recall Governor Scott Walker.  Organizers need 540,000 qualifying signatures to force a recall, which even Walker is resigned to at this point.  While the effort began after Walker stripped public employees of any meaningful union rights, it has picked up steam as Wisconsinites have seen the damage that Walker’s rule has wrought.  Like a petition drive to repeal an Ohio union-stripping bill, the petitions were delivered by truck to the state agency responsible for elections.  Petitions to recall four state senators were also submitted including against the Senate President who is thought to represent a blood-red district.  State Democrats did not initially try to recall the President, Jeff Fitzgerald, because of his district’s complexion so a local photographer living in the district launched her own grassroots effort to recall the Walker ally.

The State of Things:

Federal Prosecutors are gearing up to indict several employees of Massachusetts’ Probation Department and their legislator patrons.  In the Boston Globe article, (behind a pay wall), prosecutors working under Massachusetts US Attorney Carmen Ortiz are believed to be merely dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, but an announcement of the indictments has yet to be scheduled.  Prosecutors do not discuss ongoing investigations, but Grand Juries, which issue the indictments, often leak via the witnesses called before them.

The Senate race took an interesting turn over the weekend as Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren’s campaigns agreed to discuss limiting third-party groups’ ads.  We first tweeted about the meeting over the weekend, but the Republican followed up with a fuller article.  The back and forth started after Brown challenged Warren to denounce third-party ads, but Warren returned with a starker challenge: that the campaigns work out an enforceable agreement to banish the ads.  However, many question how the candidates could actually enforce a rule on third party groups who can, post-Citizens United, spend whatever they want.  Glen Johnson, politics editor, calls it political theater and it may very well be nothing more.  Still, it challenged Brown to do more than complain about negative ads without Warren giving him the political high ground by accepting his request for a denunciation of ads opposed to him.

City Slickers:

Its that time of year again!  The shaming of tax delinquents brings new calls to property owners to pay up before the city places liens on their property.  Many delinquent properties this year include cites of former bars and clubs in downtown Springfield, which has experienced a sudden contraction of eateries and watering holes in the last couple of months.

An interesting development is brewing over a grant that the city council sent to committee at the urging of at-large Councilor Bud Williams last week.  The grant is meant to help at-risk youth in the city’s troubled neighborhoods.  The program was started by the governor’s office with the help of AWAKE, a local activist group in Springfield.  However, AWAKE did not receive any of the grant money from the city who was given the money from the state to distribute to local groups.  Because Chelan and DeJuan Brown, who run AWAKE, were supporters of Jose Tosado in last year’s election, some sources say the result was one of political retribution on the part of Domenic Sarno.

Twitter Chatter:

In last night’s debate Mitt Romney gave a stammering answer when pressed to release his tax returns.  Culled from the muck of his answer last night and a clearer claim today, that may happen by April.  Romney has as much admitted that he pays taxes at about a 15% rate because nearly all of his income is “investment” income and thus not eligible for the income tax.  That means he pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than most working stiffs.  This may be an interesting and problematic development for the well-healed former governor, if as expected, he goes up against Obama in the Fall.  In the meantime, ever Twit-witty Boston Phoenix reporter and the state’s top political tweeter, David Bernstein (@dbernstein) brought together two Romney absurdities together in one tweet.  Namely, his taxes and his story about hiring illegal immigrants to maintain his property in Belmont. “For Pete’s Sake!” we’ve got to award Bernstein a tweet prize this week!

The Outer Belt Comes Off, Lashes Council President…

 **The following is a follow-up to our Tuesday (1/10) bulletin about the Outer Belt Civic Association’s letter condemning Councilor Ferrera’s Council Committee Appointments.**
Councilor Ferrera (Urban Compass)
The pressure on Springfield City Council President Jimmy Ferrera continues to mount, but Ferrera shows no sign of buckling after igniting one of the city’s highest profile personal political spats in several years.  Earlier this week, the Outer Belt Civic Association sent a letter to city officials and the news media condemning Ferrera’s decision to dole out to two of the city’s ward councilors meager committee assignments.  The OBCA is a neighborhood council for the city’s southeastern corner.  Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton received no standing committee assignments, a situation without precedent in the council’s recent history and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, who represents the Outer Belt, received one committee.  Other councilors received as many as five assignments.

The letter from the OBCA, signed by its president, vice-president, treasurer and three board members calls the appointments or lack thereof “childish” and a “slap in the face” to the people who voted Fenton and Allen into office.  The OBCA writes that it needs councilors that will listen to them, not ones that “slight us because we may not always agree.”  The letter goes on to criticize the rather blatant political process by which Ferrera appointed councils, which, despite dictionary definitions, he claims was not “political.”

In a phone interview, OBCA Vice-President Mary Dionne confirmed that her organization wrote the letter and described what brought the letter into being.  Dionne said she had already decided to do something herself, but fate would have it that an OBCA Board Meeting was scheduled for the Saturday after Ferrera made the appointments public on January 5.  At that meeting, the Board of Directors decided to write the letter after two hours of discussion.

Councilor Allen (Facebook)
Dionne emphasized, as the OBCA Board members did in the letter, that the most appalling aspect is the lack of communication.  “Our relationship with City Councilors has always been very good,” she said.  There are always disagreements, but she continued, we move on from them with respect among all parties.  In this case, however, she and the others felt, Ferrera had gone too far and given no notice of what he planned to do.

Dionne explained that since ward representation had gone into effect, they tended to work through Allen first and worked their way out to other councilors from there.  The OBCA’s concern with Allen having so few committee appointments comes from the important role committees play in council processes.  Since committees review measures and ordinances in addition to gather testimony and write legislation, it seemed that Dionne felt like their ward rep and Ward 2’s rep were given second class status by being largely excluded from that process.  She and the OBCA were not happy with a scenario, as they saw it, where their representative was “not part of the real city council.”
The OBCA demanded in their letter that the situation to be rectified and an apology given.  Dionne also said they would like to meet with Ferrera to discuss the matter.

Dionne noted that neither Allen nor Fenton had any role in their decision to write a letter.  Fenton confirmed to WMassP&I that the first he heard of the letter was Tuesday morning when the OBCA sent it out.  Allen, in an email to WMassP&I, also confirmed Dionne’s statement saying, “I had absolutely no role in their decision to write that letter.”

Springfield City Council on 1/9/12 (WMassP&I)
The Republican, who reported on the letter today, noted that Council President Ferrera appears to have no intention to change course. However, it does bring to mind some parties to this hullabaloo.  Namely, at-large Councilor Tim Rooke, Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna and Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea.

Rooke, who often wears the Good Government halo in Springfield among at-large councilors, is also a careful politician.  While he is no less the councilor of the affected wards, he had to know engaging in even inadvertent schadenfreude at Fenton and Allen’s expense could upset his carefully crafted image as a good guy.  He also faces risk because he also defended the notion of Ferrera simply having his turn while calling the committee outcome “to the victor goes the spoils.”  It smacks of the insider politics Rooke often decries, but at the same time shrugs at a seemingly unfortunate result when the event that precipitated it was preordained.

Councilor Luna (WMassP&I)
Meanwhile a conundrum faces Luna and Shea, who hit the committee jackpot the most arguably in light of either the number of assignments outright (Luna) or number of assignments given a lack of seniority (Shea).  Neither has spoken publicly since the appointments were made, but since Ferrera showered them with gratitude it presents a problem for them as well.  If we assume neither asked to have their decks stacked as they were (our previous report indicates Luna did not request quantity over quality of appointments), the question becomes how they could respond to the increasing pressure over the appointments.

Councilor Shea (WMassP&I)
Either one could offer to give up a seat, but doing so would likely incense Ferrera.  Even if that were not a consideration, it presents a strange dynamic because at issue is the diminution of influence of two high-voting wards (2 & 7).  In the case of Ken Shea, this is not really a problem because Ward 6 is among the city’s most electorally active wards.  However, Ward 1 is perhaps among the city’s wards most in need of adequate representation before the council.  Even if she believes Ferrera’s actions were wrong, how could Luna beg off an assignment or two without appearing to be placating the city’s more influential wards?  Incidentally, this dynamic also works in Luna’s favor in other matters since she has no obligation to please those wards.  Luna can serve her ward’s interests over those of the city’s power brokers whose influence only laps at Ward 1’s shores.  
For what it is worth, the idea that Ferrera gave Luna the added assignments to empower that area of the city is undermined by the minimal assignments he also gave Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, whose ward also experiences disconnect from the machinations at 36 Court Street and elsewhere.

At this point, the likeliest outcome is that nothing will change.  Allen and Fenton are not about to let this stop them and Ferrera, if the Springfield Intruder’s thesis about the latter’s attempts to appear more “manly” has any merit, is not about to cave now.  However, it seems unlikely that pressure is going to let up either.  Beyond the Valley blogosphere’s general distaste, Ferrera’s support in the city has been at best tenuous and this story will hang around Ferrera’s neck until the next council president is appointed.  However, better that this story remain and get old rather than some new gaffe appear and call further attention to Ferrera as an impolitic oaf.

Take My Council, Please: Non-Resident Evils…

Fresh from the tension and consternation brewing up from the less than stellar appointments Council President Jimmy Ferrera gave to Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, the City Council met to face its first agenda of 2012.  Consequently, with a fresh, unflattering Republican article and the admonition of the city’s three major political blogs (including this one), Ferrera came to the lectern to preside over his first council meeting.  Lucky for Ferrera the agenda consisted of mostly non-controversial items or ones destined for further debate in committee.  Although that was part of the problem with one of them.

Surprisingly little routine business was before the council Monday night.  Leftover expenses needing payment was the only common item and a $1.2 million grant was accepted for improvements to the Hollywood section of the South End
However, nine like items were bundled early on and voted on en masse.  Assistant School Superintendent Daniel Warwick presented the council with an authorization permitting the school superintendent to seek funding to repair schools.  While councilors wished they had more information, namely how much money these projects could be, Warwick explained that that data is not available.  Rather, he explained, this was merely authorization to request funding, it would not, itself obligate the city.  These projects are unique because until now the Massachusetts School Building Authority only funded new building projects.  Now the MSBA covers repairs and these projects, if approved by the authority, would receive state funding at an 80/20 ratio.  The authorizations were approved on a voice vote.

Pres. Ferrera (Michael Beswick)
On the next item, however, Ferrera, due to either inexperience or personality allowed something slip by that should not have.  An $800,000 grant for a police youth intervention program required approval from the council before it could be spent.  This type of formal acceptance by the council should be one of those routine measures, but Monday it was sent to committee at the request of at-large Councilor Bud Williams.  Grants Director Cheryn Wojcik tried to warn the council against that action, but Ferrera accepted the motion to committee before she could explain.  Fenton rose in between items to find out what Wojcik wanted to say, but Ferrera, donning a scowl, ordered the Ward 2 Councilor to sit down because, in his estimate, the subject was closed.  By contrast, former Councilor Tosado as president frequently entertained inter-item debate by members.

Wojcik told WMassP&I that the problem lay in the structure of the grant.  Being a 12 month grant, that is operating on a calendar year, its immediate acceptance was necessary in order to ensure a funding continuity from last year to this year.  Wojcik warned that the time between Monday’s meeting, a committee hearing and the next meeting could “jeopardize implemenation”  of the Police Department’s at-risk youth program due to a funding gap.

Another routine item, albeit an annual one, was the acceptance of the rules and orders of the council.  However, Ward 5 Clodo Concepcion and others wanted committee work on the rules.  Concepcion wanted work on Rule 33, that is Reconsideration.  That rule had caused problems for the council last year as members attempted to use the rule to change a vote on a special permit in contravention of state law (the state law in question prohibits revisiting a special permit after denial for two years, which reconsideration technically is).  That confusion over when the rule can and cannot be applied appeared to be the impetus for the move to committee.  The motion was passed on a voice vote, but there were several dissents.  The unsureness of the chair should have forced a recorded vote, and one was requested from the floor, but Ferrera again said he had already accepted the motion.

Councilor Fenton (Facebook)
After that little number, the council turned toward acceptance of a series of tax abatements.  The abatements included property tax reductions for national guardsmen/reservists, small businesses and additions necessary to care for elderly relatives.  Changes were also made to income requirements for certain abatements.  The National Guard/Reserve abatement was sent to committee to discuss the process of developing an ordinance to properly implement the abatement.  The others had clear statutory language in state law.  All were authorized from M.G.L. ch. 59 Sec. 5.
The main event of the night was a residency ordinance.  In 1995 Springfield passed a residency ordinance that mandated all employees of the city live in the city or, upon hiring, move to the city within six months.  The ordinance calls for a compliance commission to find employees not in compliance.  While theoretically unionized city employees are covered too, it is possible under the commonwealth’s collective bargaining law for cities and towns to bargain away any of their ordinances.  Waivers to the law are permitted, but have been issued with seemingly little rhyme or reason.  Nevertheless over the past decade the human resources department has not sent out residency certificates to employees and the compliance commission has gone without any appointments.
The new ordinance, crafted by Fenton and Allen, would set firm penalties on employees that do not comply.  The intent of the new ordinance is to clamp down on the exceptions to the ordinance and establish a stronger regulatory regime to ensure city employees remain residents.  Councilors, in introducing their ordinance stressed that there is no plan to terminate any employees, which is allowed under the 1995 ordinance.
Councilor Allen (Facebook)
While the ordinance is working its way through, however, the Human Resources department has begun the process of enforcing the existing ordinance.  Certificates of residency will be sent out this year and the results of which will be compiled in a report expected before the council by March.  The mayor is also expected to appoint a compliance commission.  Indeed, enforcement of the current ordinance should at limit non-resident employees to those with waiver; those hired before 1995; and those excused due to collective bargaining.

Williams, who remembered the earlier fight for the original residency ordinance stood in support of strengthening the law and noted that the council must not allow the ordinance to be bargained away either.  He and Allen both noted that Boston has a solid residency ordinance that terminates violators.  Most of the councilors were supportive of a stronger and better enforced ordinance, but appeared most vehement about ensuring deputies and directors live in the city.
Counilor Twiggs (Facebook)
The debate took an odd turn, when Concepcion went on a tirade against Allen and Fenton for proposing an ordinance and forming their own committee on the subject.  No such committee existed or ever met.  Rather, Fenton and Allen proposed their ordinance as is the right of any councilor.  Concepcion’s bizarre tirade was largely dismissed by other councilors.
Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs offered the best defense of a a strong residency law saying, “Anybody here [on the council] opposed to residency ought to resign!”  The measure was approved for first step on a voice vote, but sent to committee where tweaks and changes are expected.

The final item before the council was an amendment to its historic preservation ordinance to provide tax incentive to those that renovate or develop historic properties.  Springfield has a large number of historic homes and buildings that have suffered mightily due to neglect and blight.  Several more were damaged in the tornado.  That ordinance, too, passed first step on a voice vote.

All in all, the meeting, which was largely driven by items brought up by councilors Fenton and Allen proved two things.  Ferrera’s decision to exile those two from committees did not minimize their productivity as much of the agenda was nevertheless driven by their items.  Second, it also showed that Ferrera’s control over the meeting did not stifle the two except on the Police Department youth program.  That may come back to bite Ferrera if the program does face a temporary suspension as he enjoys some support from law enforcement.

BREAKING: Outer Belt Rebels, Others May Follow…

Western Mass Politics & Insight has obtained a letter from the Outer Belt Civic Association condemning Council President Jimmy Ferrera’s appointments to the Springfield City Council committees.

The letter calls Ferrera’s appointments, which left Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen (who represents the Outer Belt) with one committee assignment and Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton with essentially zero, “devastating.”  It demands that the situation be rectified or that Councilor Ferrera step down as president.  The letter was also sent to Councilors Fenton & Allen, Mayor Domenic Sarno and the Republican.

Mary Dionne, Vice-President of the OBCA, said her organization has always had a good relationship with all councilors, but they found Ferrera’s actions to be a direct afront to them and their ward councilor.  She also said other civic groups were also angered and may yet act, but that only hers has come forward with a letter so far.

We’ll have more as this story develops!  Full story here!

Manic Monday Markup 1/9/12…

Lots going on!
…And the World:

In South Africa, the African National Congress, the ruling party since free and fair election began with the fall of Apartheid, celebrated one hundred years of existence yesterday.  However, the party, which holds the presidency and lopsided majorities in both houses of the legislature, reaches this centennial with a cloud over its head.  Promises for a better life for blacks have fallen short and wealth remains concentrated in the hands of whites while, according to the New York Times, scandals and corruption have turned off the black middle classes.  While the celebration put up a face of unity, the ANC has shown fissures over time.  Nelson Mandela, 93, the Noble Peace Laureate could not attend due health reasons.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne wants a quick vote on Scottish independence to come sooner rather than later, in a possible effort to discourage a vote for independence.  While the Scottish National Party, which controls the Scottish Parliament in Ediburgh is not in favor of full independence, it does want more powers devolved from the National Parliament in London.  It would like to see that vote several years from now.  The Prime Minister David Cameron appears to want an all or nothing vote on independence within 18 months.  It is a gamble, but the theory goes that by giving Scots a choice to receive more local control, but nevertheless maintain union in some way, the SNP wins.  An independence or not option forecloses any such victory for the SNP.  True independence is not widly favored in Scotland.  Also problematic is the fact that an independent or merely freer Scotland could harm the Labour party, that traditionally draws important support from Scotland.  The way the Cameron government has announced its plans for a referendum has irked both Labour and their own governing coalition Liberal Democrats.

If you thought Congress was dysfunctional apparently the Knesset in Israel has problems of its own.  An MK from the right-wing Yisrael Beitineu Party threw the contents of a glass at a Labour MK during a heated debate over whether to fire a principal for taking students to a human rights march in Tel Aviv.  The Knesset is led by the Center-right Likud party, but govern with Yisrael Beitenu, which like some factions in the GOP controlled House, enjoys its own host of fanatical characters who often drives the body further right than more rational rightists would permit.  This comes at a time of increased attacks on Palestinians and Israeli military forces by militant Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

The Feds:

Cong. Gabrielle Giffords returned to her native Tuscon to mark the one year anniversary of the attack that killed six and wounded nineteen including herself.  The Congresswoman, who has made a remarkable, though incomplete, recovery led the ceremony by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance slowly, but defiantly holding up her incapacitated right hand over her heart with the help of her left hand.

William Daley, the President’s Chief of Staff is resigning after a tumultuous year as President Obama’s right hand aide.  He had been brought on in an effort to smooth over the president’s stormy relationship with the business community, but is largely seen to have not really succeeded on that front.  He had been working with diminished responsibilities since the fall after an effort for a grand bargain during the debt negotiations failed.  He will be replaced by Budget Director Jacob Lew.

Indiana Democrats returned to the floor for the first time since the new legislative session began, but made no promises to remain through the week and allow passage of Right to Work bill.  The bill is a top priority for Governor Mitch Daniels, but would likely cripple labor in this red, but otherwise union friendly state.  Right to work prohibits contracts that require workers to pay union dues, and the result is, not surprisingly, weaker or no unions as workers can get the benefits of negotiation at no cost to them.  Under federal law, nobody can be forced to join a union, only pay the necessary costs of negotiations.  Supporters also argue that more and better paying jobs exist in right to work states, but experts disagree with that notion. Weighted for cost of living, wages are in fact lower in right to work state, which are most common in the South and Midwest.  Democrats in Indiana have used the state’s 2/3 quorum requirement to stall the process and want, at minimum, more hearings across the state before permitting passage.  A legislator walk-out last year delayed further debate on the subject until now.  A similar bill in New Hampshire was vetoed by Democratic governor John Lynch, but several Republicans have joined Democrats in sustaining the veto in the New Hampshire House.
Oh, and Mitt Romney likes to fire people.  His quote is kind of out of context, but he’s been doing that to President Obama for a while now and now wants to be treated as he himself does not treat others.

The State of Things:

Senator Scott Brown had a record fundraising haul in the fourth quarter, raising $3.2 million since the start of October.  That brings his yearly total to $8.5 million and his cash on hand to $12 million.  Elizabeth Warren, the presumptive Democratic nominee has not released fundraising numbers yet.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren has eliminated any concern that she is at all like Martha Coakley, almost deliberately doing what Coakely allegedly did not like to do.  Shake hands at Fenway Park…in the cold.  Warren was at the stadium for the Frozen Fenway College games.  Here’s another photograph from outside with fans. (h/t Mother Jones)

Meanwhile, the saga over Lt. Gov. Tim Murray’s car crash goes on.  Most recently, he emailed supporters saying that the falsh rumors that have dogged him since (including claims of intoxication) were false.  Murray wrecked a state car while driving to survey storm damage last year.  Murray now believes that he nodded off when the vehicle crashed.  The car’s “black box” recorded a 108 mph speed.  A fair degree of forensic evidence does seem to support Murray, who is widely seen as a leading contender for the 2014 gubernatorial race.  However, the worse thing for Murray may be those rushing to his defense.  Ladies and gentlemen, former Springfield mayor Michael Albano (h/t to Dorchester Reporter writer Gintautas Dumcius).

City Slickers:

Well that was fast!  Not even council president for a week and at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera has not only egg on his face, but a whole breakfast.  Over the weekend the Republican printed a story in which Ferrera denied his appointments to council committees were vindictive.  He appointed Ward 2 & 7 Councilors Mike Fenton and Tim Allen to only one committee each.  Fenton’s appointment was to a special animal control committee making him the first in recent city history to receive no appointments to a standing council committee as we reported yesterday.  Maureen Turner rightly calls Ferrera’s actions an “insult” to Fenton & Allen’s constituents and notes his petty retribution toward two of the council’s more engaged members does nothing for the city.  Bill Dusty says Ferrera even messed up his effort to stick it to his enemies.

The meeting tonight will focus on new abatements for city taxpayers and revisions to the city’s residency ordinance.  Councilors hope to work with the mayor to strengthen the city’s requirement that city employees live in the city, which after modification by the Finance Control Board has become effectively useless with numerous waivers being granted on a near-constant basis.

Friendly’s emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy today, but another 37 stores did not.  Two of the company’s Springfield stores, one at Five Town Plaza on Cooley Street and one on Page Boulevard closed after new leases could not be negotiated with landlords.  The Holyoke Mall and Longmeadow Shops stores also closed for the same reasons.

Twitter Chatter:

Twitter has long been a haven for parody accounts of public officials.  They are a chance to lambast officials either out of fun, out of righteous indignation or out of juvenile spite.  Springfield, with its political apparatus possessing little interest in social media, has not had many, but a newcomer on the scene has change this.  Many groaned when new broke that at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera became Council President, but after some pretty awful quotes in the weekend story linked above, it became clear that those fears were justified.  

Somebody, identify unknown (it is not us, we wish we had been that clever) has formed their own Ferrera parody Twitter handle, @JFerreraquotes.  The handle includes real quotes from Ferrera, updates and also parody statements very similar to actual Ferrera statements.   When we found this handle, we began following it, which provoked this tweet spoofing Ferrera’s stated reason for shafting some councilors with committee assignments.  Based on the premise of this tweet’s logic, we expect to be on easy street once the person behind this account is “elected.”


“I Am Not a Committee!”…

**This post has been updated to reflect additional reporting and council committee statistics and to replace broken links to pictures.**

The Post Title is a quote from Princess Leia
Played by Carrie Fisher (Wookiepedia)

Inaugurating a new city council in Springfield is more than just one day. It is a process that in its way takes several days from the fanfare of the inauguration itself to the first formal meeting where several pieces are discussed. Somewhere in the middle the committee assignments are doled out by the City Council President, who in 2012 is at-large councilor James Ferrera. A former Associated Press reporter based in Boston once described former Massachuetts Senate President William Bulger’s philosophy as this: government is to be used to help your friends and screw your enemies. Despite Ferrera’s claims to the contrary, it appears he did just that in assignment committees.

A reshuffling of committees and their chairs is not unusual. As decentralized as the council presidency is compared to, say the Massachusetts Senate presidency, it does retain one prominent feature. The council president selects the committee chairs and the councilors who serve on those committees. Often committee chairmanships are doled out to those who support the president’s nomination. It is not uncommon for committee heads to have their chairs pulled out from under them either because somebody else has found favor with the president or because it is simply time to share. However, in recent years a council president-elect has not gone this far. Continue reading


Another Battle for the Senate…& Iowa…

We have some pretty big Massachusetts political news bubbling up from the streets of Springfield, but first a quick word on Iowa.  Willard Mitt Romney should have stayed away.  Yes, he won by eight votes, but unlike the polls that raised up and slapped down anti-Romneys before, the effective tie Rick Santorum secured means Romney will be spending valuable time and money batting him away for weeks to come.  Santorum has a heavy lift garnering money and supporters, but with Michele Bachmann out and Rick Perry effectively so, Romney will have to slog through a probable South Carolina loss and a possible a Florida defeat, too.  By Michigan, he should be alright, but he will be damaged and he will still not be the best candidate to lead a fractured GOP into the general election.  
Nevertheless, Democrats should remain nimble.  They have spent a great deal of time sharpening their spears for Romney, but they should at least prepare for the unlikely possibility of a Santorum challenge, if for no other reason that he could be a possible Vice-Presidential nominee.

Councilor Melvin Edwards (Facebook)
Now onto the local political fun.  WMassP&I has confirmed that Springfield Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards will challenge James Welch in September’s Democratic Primary.  Sources close to councilor say he will make a formal announcement within a couple of weeks.  Edwards was elected in 2009 in the city’s first Ward elections in decades and was unopposed in November’s municipal elections.  He was sworn in Monday for another two year term.

Although Edwards’s ward in 2009 featured meek turnout, he won with 62% of the vote.  Since joining the council Edwards has usually been among the more fiscally vigilant bloc of the council.  His ward, which includes the South End and Six Corners sustained heavy damage from the June tornado.  Indeed, Edwards himself recounted his own harrowing experience during the twister at a council meeting following the storm.  Edwards was among the early supporters of at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera’s bid for council president which many saw as an attempt to smooth over their otherwise less than ducky relationship.  Edwards has on more than one occasion sparred with Ferrera often to the latter’s embarrassment.

The opportunity for Edwards to challenge Welch came about from redistricting.  Seeking to avoid the embarrassing violations of the Voting Rights Act during redistricting after the 2000 census, Beacon Hill’s redistricting committee significantly rebuilt Welch’s district to make it minority-majority.  Agawam was dropped from the district, while several minority portions of Springfield extending as far as Indian Orchard were brought in.  Minority communities in Chicopee were also drawn into the district.  Whiter parts of Springfield, particularly in Forest Park were deposited into Gale Candaras’ District as well.

Rep. Ben Swan (Facebook)
According to other City Hall sources, Edwards had been planning to mount a challenge against Representative Ben Swan, an invincible fixture of Springfield’s African-American community for decades.  Over the last ten years Swan has faced several challenges and has turned back all of them from young up and comer Lorenzo Gaines to the oft-criticized Chelan Brown.  Edwards’s challenge to Swan may have met a similar fate, but redistricting scrambled the edges of Swan’s district ejecting Edwards’s precinct while preserving its historic heart in Mason Square.

While Edwards certainly faces long odds against Welch, he does face some advantages.  First of all Welch is only a freshman senator, which entails less incumbent strength than usual.  Second the change in the district’s complexion complicates Welch’s reelection.  Forget for a moment that the district is minority majority.  Thousands of people who were not in Welch’s district before are now his constituents.  To them, he is not an incumbent.  Finally, since Linda Melconian retired from the same seat in 2004, Springfield has not had a Senator from the city itself.  That could play well to residents who may want representation closer to home.  
Sen. Jim Welch (Facebook)
In the same vein, the district is now Springfield heavy.  Under the old map, Springfield was split about 50/50 between Welch and Candaras’ districts.  With each senate district containing about 150,000 people (incidentally Springfield’s historical population over the last thirty years), Springfield was about equally weighted by its neighbors.  For Welch’s district, which already included many of Springfield’s lower turnout minority communities, this weighted the influence to Agawam and West Springfield.  Now with Agawam gone, the tables are turned and the district overwhelmingly consists of Springfield residents.

Edwards has also been known for gleaning considerable crossover support.  Among his prominent supporters during the 2009 campaign was conservative Bill Dusty.  Although Edwards had the benefit of a nonpartisan municipal election in that race, he could draw upon that appeal to draw in unaffiliated conservatives in a primary election, which will almost assuredly be a more important election than the general.

Ultimately the biggest X factor is what will turnout be.  The Primary this year is bizarrely on a Thursday to avoid a conflict with a holiday.  Why legislators did not simply move the date to another Tuesday is not clear, but with poor turnout on normal primary days, a Thursday election may throw off supporters from either side, but especially Edwards’s.  However, with enough organization and enthusiasm could counter those additional hurdles.  If he can secure that ground game and sufficient financial support we could be in for a hell of a race.