Take My Council, Please: Allow Us to Clarify…
UPDATED 8/26/14 1:04AM: For clarity and for confirmation of the mayor’s signature on the home rule petition and to note Councilor Ramos’s abstention.
SPRINGFIELD—The City Council awoke from its annual summer break to take up housekeeping items, largely financial orders for a host of capital projects, purchases and more. Nearly all of the items were of a largely uncontroversial nature or mere final steps to previous debated and approved measures.
Monday’s meeting was a specially called meeting to clear out some of the Council’s backlog, but occurred on the same night as its regularly scheduled permit’s meeting for August at 7 PM. The special meeting, beginning at 6 PM, began late, delaying the permit hearing. In recent years, such a meeting is usually called.
All councilors were present for Monday’s meeting by the end, although some arrived late or stepped out. Most absences from votes occurred for this reason.
Right out of the gate ratification of labor agreements with employees represented by United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1459 was delayed at the request of Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton. Fenton, the Council President, ceded the podium to Councilor Vice-Presient Kateri Walsh to request the item go to committee to consider its language with regard to employee residency.
Just before Fenton’s motion, HR/Labor Relations head Bill Mahoney told the Council that there were two agreements before it. One was a retroactive contract from July 1 2012 to this past July 1. The second would run for two year from this past July 1. The employees represented by UFCW 1459 are Parks, Facilities and Public Works employees and a few police department employees. Mahoney said the agreement made some changes to benefits and take-home vehicle rules, but included a 2% raise in fiscal years 2014-2016. The first year covered by the agreements, FY 2013, beginning July 1, 2012 had no raise.
Mahoney’s description of the residency language appeared to suggest that the two sides would review the residency issue if changes are made to the city’s residency ordinance. Employees represented by UFCW 1459 are already subject to the ordinance with no exemption as other unions have had. Fenton’s motion to committee prevailed, but the items will reappear at a special meeting next Monday.
The Council then considered a tax incremental financing (TIF) agreement with Freedom Credit Union, which is expanding operations near its Main Street Office on the edge of downtown. The agreement covers a building facing Boylston Street and will house call center workers and centralize operations. The credit union’s plan to open a branch within Putnam High School, which will employ students and educate them about personal finances.
The TIF passed 10-0, at-large Councilor Tom Ashe, Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna and Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards were not in the chamber during the vote.
Walsh, an at-large councilor, read a report from the Maintenance and Development Committee on a series of financial matters related to infrastructure and park equipment. The Council approved leases for a Zamboni for Forest Park’s Cyr Arena and maintenance equipment for the city’s golf courses.
Bonding was approved for the expansion of the closed Pine Point branch library (it is being repurposed for community uses), resurfacing Parker Street and energy improvements for the Municipal Group. The Parker Street resurfacing runs from the beginning of Cooley Street to the East Longmeadow line.
Luna, the Ward 1 Councilor, asked DPW chief Chris Cignoli about long-rumored plans to repair Main Street as it goes through the North End. She said that work had been promised for years and still had not begun. Cignoli said the projects was under state administration and not within the city’s direct control, but that the Main Street work was expected to begin next April.
Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen asked Cignoli about the use of bonding for a road surfacing projects (such work is usually done with the commonwealth’s annual Chapter 90 appropriation). Cignoli said that the cost of the repairs were such that it would eat up 1/3 of the city’s annual appropriation for roads. T.J. Plante, the city’s Chief Administrative and Financial Officer, indicated that using borrowing for this project was well within the city’s bonding capacity.
All of the above passed unanimously with one or two councilors absent.
The Council also approved the money and the purchase of 15 Catharine Street for use by the school department for classroom space. The excess space will be leased by the city to interested tenants, the revenue of which will return to the general fund. This project, too, was funded by bonding.
The Council declared two Indian Orchard city properties surplus so as to allow the city to sell it. The Council also approved three grants for the dispatch department.
Finally the Council gave approval to a technical change to a home rule petition the Council passed last year. The home rule petition, currently working its way through the legislature, would correct a defect in the charter and order special elections if a vacancy occurred in a ward or district seat on the Council or School Committee respectively. The seat would remain vacant if occurred less than 210 before the term’s expiration.
Fenton, who again ceded the podium to Walsh, explained the legislative counsel in Boston requested changes to permit the city to hold a referendum on the issue this November. This would allow the measure to take effect before as many of three members of the Council and School Committee could assume legislative seats and, potentially, resign their city positions. The law would have no impact on at-large seats, which would continue to be filled by the next highest vote-getter.
The measure passed 12-1. At-large Councilor Bud Williams voted no. Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos, who works for Senator Jim Welch, abstained from the vote. The City Clerk confirmed that since Monday’s meeting, Mayor Domenic Sarno signed the petition, sending to the legislature.
The home rule petition will not replace the old one, however, the new one shall act as permission for legislative counsel to amend the old petition. If passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, a question will appear on city voters’ ballots in November. The Council will reconvene Monday, Aug 25 at the Fortress of Clodotude nee Greenleaf Community Center to consider the UFCW contracts and two additional TIF’s at 6 PM.