Vox Populi on Ad Hoc Committees…
SPRINGFIELD—Earlier this month, City Council President Mike Fenton had urged residents to apply for four ad hoc committees he was forming, prompting a flood of applications into the Council office. The response exceeded expectations, leading Fenton to regret Monday night that he had “turn down” many people who had sought to join the committees.
At a press conference in the Council Chambers at City Hall, Fenton, who represents Ward 2, presented the 29 members of the public slated to join committees that will investigate issues and present items for the full Council to vote on.
Fenton announced the application process for four ad hoc committees the day after he was sworn in as President of the Council. As the body’s leader, Fenton can make appointments to the city’s standing committees, but also empanel ad hoc committees consisting of councilors, citizens or both.
Fenton opted to establish three new ad hoc committees of residents joined by one Councilor to serve as chair. He formed New Revenue, Workforce Development and Young Professionals and refashion an older ad hoc body, the Green Committee, in the same image as the newer three. The Fenton had revealed the identity of the chairs at the announcement of the ad hoc application process.
The Council’s standing committees have traditionally been reactive, focusing on matters referred to them by the full Council although the chair can hold a meeting at any time on any subject within their jurisdiction. Nevertheless, forcing proactive behavior on the part of committees is political difficult as once appointed the chairs essentially have free reign. The ad hoc process had been used before to steer a specific subject matter to build a legislative produce the Council can then debate, amend, pass or reject.
Trumpeting the diversity of backgrounds, race, professions, gender and sexual orientation, Fenton introduced the members by name and invited the chairs to explain the new committees’ mandates. Seats were allotted among the committees for members recommended by business groups, organized labor, young professional associations, employment groups and social justice organizations.
At-large Councilor Justin Hurst, who ran on a platform that included making the city more hospitable to young families and professionals, will chair a Committee on Young Professionals. Serving on the committee with him will be Angelina Stafford, Kerri Sullivan, Jeremy Casey, Edward Nunez, Ariana Horne, Janice Desarden, Farah Rodriguez and Jay Lattore. Noting his platform, Hurst thanked Fenton for appointing a committee with this specific charge and emphasized the importance of keeping the city’s college grads in the city.
Working closely with Hurst’s committee will be the Workforce Development Committee, chaired by Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen. In brief remarks, Allen echoed Hurst noting the importance of keeping the workforce it educates, but also ensuring that all residents are equipped with the skills modern employers seek. Vanessa Otero, Melissa Scibelli, Aimee Loiselle, Johnnie McKnight, Jill Monson-Bishop, Jeff Welch and Lidya Rivera will serve on that committee with Allen.
Allen is also chairing the Committee on New Revenue. The Ward 7 Councilor noted that around budget time, there is often a sudden flurry of ideas to bolster the city coffers to protect favorite programs. However, often being at the last minute, these proposals often go unexamined let alone implemented. Allen said his intention was to take a proactive approach to these ideas and consider their merit carefully rather than under duress. Serving on the New Revenue Committee will be Russell Selig, Melinda Graulau, Ray Berry, James Channing, Jack Wojick and Bob McCollum.
Finally Fenton said he would be chairing the Green Committee which would look at ways to improve the city’s environmental impact, naming emissions in the particular. Because his duties as Council President may prohibit his chairing of every meeting, he appointed Burt Freedman, a teacher in the city’s public schools who runs the city’s environmental education program (ECOS) to be Vice-Chair. Freedman will be joined by Dan D’Alma, Mike Kozmiersky, Wanda Givens, Rob Valenti, Ann Leavenworth, Doug Barnshaw and Ibrahim Ali.
Fenton said that the committees must complete their work and produce legislation or other orders upon which the Council can act by the end of the year.