Take My Council, Please: Facing a Changing Climate…
SPRINGFIELD—But for one item that prompted a colorful rally and march on City Hall before it, the City Council confronted a light and uncontroversial agenda Monday night. A resolution in support of the city adopting a climate action plan drew costumed environmentalists, larger than life puppets of a polar bear and mother nature and the city’s social justice activist corp.
The remainder of the agenda was principally housekeeping as the Council, either recovering from the primary or engaged in the general, puts forth fewer policy and personal fights until after November. The vast majority of items were approvals for deed transfers or acceptance of grants for city departments.
The Council took up the climate resolution first. It called on the mayor to designate an employee of the city to be designated the city’s contact point for environmental and green grants. Supporters, who filled the chamber, said the city was leaving millions of dollars on the table because it had no such liaison.
On the steps of City Hall before the meeting, supporters decried the lack of action on climate change, largely brought on by the failure to curb humans’ emission of heat trapping gases from power plants and transportation. Among the notable activists in the crowd and later at the meeting were Arise for Social Justice Executive Director Michaelann Bewsee, 2013 City Council candidate Ernesto Cruz and members of the ad hoc Green Committee.
Jesse Lederman, a longtime activist on environmental issues in the city, said it was nice to be standing in support of a proactive green measure rather than pushing back against something as in the case of biomass. The measure had the overwhelming support of councilors who deemed it a common sense way to obtain grants for the city and help the environment.
At-large Councilor Tim Rooke drew laughs when he said, “This might be the first time I am voting with Michaelann on an issue.”
Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea thanked the activists for their support and organization, but urged them to bring their message to other cities and towns in the region to get them on board as well. The measure passed on a voice vote with no dissents recorded.
Parks, Recreation and Buildings Director Patrick Sullivan, on hand for a grants and a transfer elsewhere on the agenda, made note of some of the city’s progress on green issues like replacement of decades-old boilers in city buildings including the Municipal Group. The transfer, about which Sullivan spoke, provided funding for a wildlife coordinator to catalog and protect animal species in the city. Sullivan presented a Bright Nights training center grant, valued at $1.5 million. Its acceptance was approved on a voice vote. The transfer, needing a recorded vote, passed 13-0.
Other grants approved on voice vote were money for an after school program and the Police Department’s underage alcohol program. The Council also accepted utility reports, scheduled a hearing for a requested zone change on Carew Street and authorized payment of a bill from last fiscal year.
The Council received the monthly and revenue expenditure report. Comptroller Pat Burns said expenditures were outpacing revenues, but it was consistent with last year’s numbers at the same point. The gap was slightly larger due to larger debt and pension payments compared to last year.
At-large Councilor Tom Ashe, chair of the Public Safety Committee, read the meeting’s sole committee report, an update on negotiations on cruiser cameras and changes made to the department under Commissioner Barbieri.
Ashe indicated that it appeared unlikely that a contract amendment allowing cameras in cruisers would be approved before the contract expired in 2016. However, he also said the patrolmen’s union was interested in having the discussion, seeing the benefit for both police and residents alike.
Perhaps more notable was Ashe’s update on Barbieri’s reorganization of the department since becoming Commissioner earlier this year. Under the terms of his contract and the commissioner ordinance, Barbieri has broad latitude to organize the city’s police force. Ashe said the changes were principally “administration and personnel related.” Specifically, Barbieri shrunk the number of police in the Commissioner’s office and shifted more officers off of the day shift and to the 4 to midnight and midnight to 8 shift, when most crime occurs.
“Over time,” Ashe said, these changes “are going to make a difference for citizens.”
First step of an ordinance raising fire inspection fees was approved without dissent on a voice vote. The Council also voted to issue the election warrant for November 4 and establish the city’s polling places. Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola told the Council the warrant did not include a question on fixing the defect in succession of ward seats due to inaction on Beacon Hill. The list submitted to the Council conflicted with Oyola’s list of polling places, but was quickly corrected during a brief recess. All polling places in November will be the same as the primary in September.
The balance of the agenda were land transfers. Three were surplus land conveyances to abutting landowners to create side yards or green space. A Bridge Street building transfer to Develop Springfield passed unanimously as did the transfer of a South End Main Street building to a business. The Council also approved, contingent on a zoning variance, the sale of the former Sumner Avenue Firehouse in East Forest Park. The buyer, Roger Roberge, will turn the first floor into office space and convert the second floor into a single family home.
The Council’s final action took place behind closed doors as it entered executive session to debate the fate of the appeal of the summer decision reinstating Palmer Renewable’s building permit.
The Council scheduled a vote next Monday regarding the fate of its appeal. Two items appear on the agenda for the special meeting, which will take place before Monday’s permit hearing. One would accept the pro bono legal services of former City Councilor Patrick Markey. The other would authorize City Council President Michael Fenton to withdraw the appeal.