Take My Council, Please: That’s Out of Order!…
SPRINGFIELD—The order of items on the City Council’s agenda is defined by the Council’s rules. Items that fall under certain categories are grouped together and then listed in a certain order, each item assigned a number. The Council may, by unanimous consent take things out of order and Monday night, the Council did that shredding any semblance of the order laid out in the agenda.
Sometimes moving items around is done for the convenience of some of the city officials who explain the item or match similar, but differently categorized items. The Council also moved on a host of items not on the agenda, which is permitted under open meeting laws. The Council like other municipal and state organs, is subject to those laws.
Except for one item, transfers for the Quinn Bill, virtually all of the agenda was non-controversial. Aside from a little stammering over free carbon monoxide detectors, the Council breezed through the lengthy agenda. Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion was absent, apparently recovering from surgery.
The Council’s first moves were on items reported from committee including mayoral nomination of trustees of the Grand Army Hall. Presented by Ward 1 Councilor and General Government Chair Zaida Luna, Charles Blake and Charly Olivia were confirmed unanimously by the Council.
Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton also requested and received permission from the City Council to consider acceptance of an economic grant proposal that was not on the agenda. The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission gave a grant to the city to employee a contract employee for two years. The Council also gave approval to a rehabilitation of a dilapidated structure in Fenton’s ward.
At-large Councilor Tom Ashe pulled a grant for the SHINE program from the Elder Affairs Committee while at-large Councilor Bud Williams pulled a couple of special permits his committee had approved. The SHINE program was approved on a voice vote. Williams’ items were approved on 9-0 votes. Three councilors present at Monday’s meeting were not present at the original hearing during which the special permits were first heard and therefore could not vote under state law. This rule only applies to permits.
Moving onto the agenda itself, councilors leapfrogged around the agenda with no apparent order. Excluding items not posted, this was the order in which items were considered at the meeting using the numbers from the agenda’s posted order: 30, 28, 29, 22, 27, 1, 33, 24, 10, 23, 8, 2, 17, 34, 4, 9, 19, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12-16 (taken as a group), 18, 20, 21, 26, 31, 32.
Recently at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh has acted as the traffic cop on the agenda order, but she only objected once Monday: to a request by Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs.
Other items were typical grant acceptances including money for Fire , Health & Human Services, Planning and Economic Development, Parks, Public Works, and the Dispatch departments. A donation of carbon monoxide detectors to the Elder Affairs Department was nearly held up when Williams suggested the item wait until the absent Concepcion could hold a meeting. Backed by Twiggs and Walsh, Elder Affairs Director Janet Denney demurred noting the winter-time risks of CO poisoning. She also said she had already spoken to Concepcion on the issue. The Council accepted the donation.
Budget transfers were also approved, largely from the city’s free cash account. Veterans Affairs Director Thomas Beltan explained a $350,000 transfer was due to continuing high needs among the city’s veterans. A $41,000 transfer went to the Election Commission to pay 2012 election staff. Williams offered hilariously sincere praise for the Commission despite a damning Springfield Institute report on the election‘s execution. The Council also approved $225,000 to pay for the special Senate election, although Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola was hopeful the city would be reimbursed.
Other transfers included equipment and professional services funds for the Assessor’s Office, DPW and Housing. Funds from the Fire Department’s sale of its Fire Training Center in East Springfield were accepted, in part to pay for new fire equipment. The Quinn Bill transfer was derailed when Councilor Fenton objected to a waiver of a Council rule that requires two readings before a financial measure can be taken.
Reports for utilities along public ways and the acceptance of several private ways were also approved without dissent. A bill from last year and the deed for a tax-foreclosed property were also approved.
A move to change the city’s trash fee was also delayed, in part, because Concepcion, a chief booster, was absent. However, Concepcion, the chair of both Elder Affairs and Finance, has yet to hold a meeting on it as promised. A separate trash fee ordinance proposed by Walsh was also on the agenda, but it was referred to committee.
The City also accepted Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40, Section 58. That law enables municipalities to place liens on properties to collect fees or other municipal charges the owner has failed to pay. As City Clerk Wayman Lee explained, acceptance was necessary before the City could pass the ordinance enacting the measure. The first step needed for passage of the ordinance was then taken.
The final items of note concerned home rule petitions. One creating a retirement account for a police officer and the other involved a land swap near Forest Park Middle School. As City Solicitory Kathy Breck explained, the city had passed this land swap petition to the legislature last year, but it died in January when the new legislature was sworn in. Like the retirement petition, the land swap needed to be refiled.
Monday was largely a housecleaning day, but its execution was bewildering. In the pantheon of the Council’s problems, the order in which items appear is probably not in anybody’s top 10. However, councilors have raised concerns about chronic rearranging before and may very well do so again. Failing that, councilors seeking a more predictable schedule may simply object