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Transitions at Springfield City Hall Touch Clerk & Mayor’s Offices…

City Clerk-designate Anthony Wilson (courtesy Kahntapaht Sukhumhaadthaneai)

City Clerk-designate Anthony Wilson (courtesy Kahntapaht Sukhumhaadthaneai)

SPRINGFIELD—While some transitions at 36 Court Street have been defined by acrimony and suspicion, others have commenced with broad approval and acclaim. The City Clerk’s term expires at the end of January and the incumbent, Wayman Lee, has opted to retire. Yesterday, city officials unveiled the individual who will take over early next year.

Only a few weeks ago, city councilors lamented the departure of their attorney, assistant city solicitor Anthony Wilson, to one of the city’s eminent law firms. But Tuesday, at an event inside the Council chamber, Mayor Domenic Sarno, Council President Michael Fenton, Solicitor Ed Pikula and other officials announced Wilson would remain at City Hall as Lee’s successor in the clerk’s office.

The office “could not be left in better hands,” Lee told the crowd of department heads, city employees and Wilson’s family and friends.

Lee was appointed by the Financial Control Board in 2006 to complete the term of longtime clerk William Metzger. Shortly before the Control Board released a report that criticized a lack of technology and poor management practices in his office, Metzger retired after 25 years as City Clerk.

Lee, a 28-year city employee who once held Wilson’s role as attorney to the City Council, was rightfully praised for modernizing the office. Partly due to Lee’s efforts, recent Council records are now archived online alongside agendas and videos of past meetings.

Wilson with family, Sarno chief of staff Denise Jordan, second left, and Mayor Domenic Sarno (courtesy Kahntapaht Sukhumhaadthaneai)

Wilson with family, Sarno chief of staff Denise Jordan, second left, and Mayor Domenic Sarno (courtesy Kahntapaht Sukhumhaadthaneai)

“I want to continue that,” Wilson said in his remarks, committing to continue digitizing the office and improving access to city records. However, he expected to lean on Lee for advice. “He thinks he’s retiring, but I’m going to be calling him every day!”

Sarno’s office had billed Tuesday’s announcement as a nomination to a cabinet-level post, which the Council would confirm. The Council will vet Wilson before formally giving him the job, but it, not the mayor, has sole power to elect the City Clerk. Moreover, the Clerk is an independent organ of city government, not part of the mayor’s cabinet.

Under the city charter, the Council has sole authority to appoint the City Clerk and evaluate the office’s performance. The mayor has no role. Most cities appoint the City Clerk for three years at a time, Springfield’s clerk serves six-year terms under a 1998 law.

City Hall sources suggested Sarno inserting himself into the process had created consternation among councilors, who, per the charter, have few substantive appointments under their exclusive control. Legally, Sarno’s selection is only a recommendation to the Council.

Yet many councilors also legitimately felt Wilson was a superb Clerk candidate. They valued the bright, young attorney, who served them diligently since 2012 and never became overwhelmed by the madness of the Council chamber. Rather than mar his day with process complaints, councilors were feting Wilson’s ascension to the City Clerk’s office.

Mayoral Communications Director James Leydon (via Google+)

Wilson’s takeover of the Clerk’s office from Lee was not the only transition announced Tuesday. The mayor’s longtime Communications Director, James Leydon, announced his last day would be November 13. Formerly Sarno’s constituent services director, Leydon took over the role as the mayor’s chief spokesman after Thomas Walsh resigned from that post in 2012.

The statement, released by the mayor’s office, did not describe Leydon’s plans, although city political sources expect he will stay local, perhaps in a communications role for an entity outside of City Hall.

If Leydon brought anything to the job as the mayor’s spokesman, it was a zealous representation of Sarno’s interests both in the press and in private. Leydon’s deputy, Darryl Moss, is expected to ascend to Communications Director.

Still, the greater fanfare Tuesday was reserved for Wilson, who will face the challenge of operating one of the commonwealth’s busiest municipal clerk offices. As the distributor of birth, death and marriage certificates among other licenses and forms, it has perhaps the most frequent contact with residents among city agencies, except the collector’s office.

As City Clerk, Wilson will have a level of freedom he lacked working for the City Solicitor, who serves at the pleasure of the mayor. Speaking to the press, Wilson said he was “still a public servant,” and was mindful he remained accountable to elected leaders, to whom voters will convey issues they have with the Clerk’s office.

“I’m independent,” Wilson said, but if problems arise, “there are consequences as well.”

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