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Take My Council, Please: Fear & Loathing in Springfield…

The Springfield City Council meant to bring some measure of finality to the budget process and a provide a measure closure to the acrimony that has bedeviled the City Council and the Mayor’s office.  Between a canny move by at-large Councilor Jimmy Ferrera and a procedural gaffe, that effort fell apart descending into more acrimony and less fiscal responsibility.

Among the boilerplate disposed of by the council was the formal receipt of grants for the redevelopment of Union Station and the adjacent Hotel Charles site.  Allegedly, the project is moving forward.  An ordinance on livery vehicles was referred to committee and a first step was made for an ordinance that provided clarifying language to the city’s vicious dog ordinance.  Various property transactions were also approved and an authorization to pay bills from previous years was sent to committee.

The council received a report from finance officials that said the city was on track in its budget spending.  Planning and Economic Development Chair Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen also announced that the city will likely expend more than $106 million in tornado rebuilding and recovery costs.

Councilor Fenton (Facebook)

However, by far the most interesting part of the meeting came from an item that was not even on the agenda.  Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton, the Finance Committee chair, brought an item out of the committee to fund tiered furloughs, terrace mowing and an extra position at the animal control center.  However, the actual measure was one sent up by the mayor at the last meeting which would do all those things, but add $100,000 to the police department budget above the mayor FY2012 budget and provide money for bulk pickup.  It is unclear what the bulk-pickup referred to as there has been no apparent cessation of bulk pickup in the city.

The finance committee had been wrangling with the mayor for weeks to get the tiered furloughs without being forced to accept essentially rescinding the more than $2 million in cuts the city had ordered for FY2012.  Administration officials had essentially been claiming that the council had cut terracing mowing and police overtime.  While the former was caused by an indiscriminate 5% cut from other-than-personnel-services accounts led to the reduction of some services like terrace mowing and animal control, police overtime was never at issue.

Fenton, after he offered his changes to the mayor’s appropriation, called on the mayor to “be genuine to the principles of government.”  City Council President Jose Tosado, a challenger to the mayor this November, also chastised the mayor for playing games with the council.  Finance Director T.J. Plante snapped at the council for not alerting him or the administration about the finance committee meeting that preceded the council meeting.  However, the meeting was properly and publicly posted and Fenton reminded Plante that he had apologized for not extending a personal invitation, an apology impliedly had been accepted.  Throughout the back and forth between the council and Plante, the finance director remained evasive and indignant at the council’s deliberations.

Councilor Ferrera (Urban Compass)

Nevertheless nobody saw Ferrera’s move to amend Fenton’s order to include the police overtime and bulk pickup funds anyway.  Confusion ensued as Fenton tried to withdraw his motion to stop the process.  However, the clerk announced that Ferrera could just as easily pull the item back from committee.  City Clerk Wayman Lee said the vote for Ferrera’s motion could proceed because the item had been in the committee for long enough.  However, the clerk miscalculated the days.  Thirty days must pass before “any” councilor can pull an item from committee.  Not nearly as much time had passed since the measure was sent to committee initially.

Members of the council, fearful of appearing to oppose a measure that would ostensibly benefit the police department, fell into line and voted for the measure by a wide margin.  Fenton permitted his original motion for the tiered furlough, mowing and animal control to pass as well, which was approved overwhelmingly.


The entire show was a sad display of the fear, incompetence and opportunism that still, apparently runs wild through the city council.  The council did not cut the police overtime budget.  In fact, the mayor offered a smaller number in this fiscal year than last and now wanted the council to add more to the budget.  Additionally troubling is that police overtime will do nothing to correct the city’s crime problem.  The problem is not enough cops on the beat, but a broader more systemic social problem that no amount of policing can correct by itself.  Problems like poverty, poor education and a lack of jobs play a far bigger role than policing alone.  Sadly, addressing those problems thoughtfully and intelligently because impossible without the wise fiscal stewardship the city requires.