Browse By

The Outer Belt Comes Off, Lashes Council President…

 **The following is a follow-up to our Tuesday (1/10) bulletin about the Outer Belt Civic Association’s letter condemning Councilor Ferrera’s Council Committee Appointments.**

Councilor Ferrera (via Urban Compass)

The pressure on Springfield City Council President Jimmy Ferrera continues to mount, but Ferrera shows no sign of buckling after igniting one of the city’s highest profile personal political spats in several years.  Earlier this week, the Outer Belt Civic Association sent a letter to city officials and the news media condemning Ferrera’s decision to dole out to two of the city’s ward councilors meager committee assignments.  The OBCA is a neighborhood council for the city’s southeastern corner.  Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton received no standing committee assignments, a situation without precedent in the council’s recent history and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, who represents the Outer Belt, received one committee.  Other councilors received as many as five assignments.

The letter from the OBCA, signed by its president, vice-president, treasurer and three board members calls the appointments or lack thereof “childish” and a “slap in the face” to the people who voted Fenton and Allen into office.  The OBCA writes that it needs councilors that will listen to them, not ones that “slight us because we may not always agree.”  The letter goes on to criticize the rather blatant political process by which Ferrera appointed councils, which, despite dictionary definitions, he claims was not “political.”

In a phone interview, OBCA Vice-President Mary Dionne confirmed that her organization wrote the letter and described what brought the letter into being.  Dionne said she had already decided to do something herself, but fate would have it that an OBCA Board Meeting was scheduled for the Saturday after Ferrera made the appointments public on January 5.  At that meeting, the Board of Directors decided to write the letter after two hours of discussion.

Councilor Allen (via Facebook)

Dionne emphasized, as the OBCA Board members did in the letter, that the most appalling aspect is the lack of communication.  “Our relationship with City Councilors has always been very good,” she said.  There are always disagreements, but she continued, we move on from them with respect among all parties.  In this case, however, she and the others felt, Ferrera had gone too far and given no notice of what he planned to do.

Dionne explained that since ward representation had gone into effect, they tended to work through Allen first and worked their way out to other councilors from there.  The OBCA’s concern with Allen having so few committee appointments comes from the important role committees play in council processes.  Since committees review measures and ordinances in addition to gather testimony and write legislation, it seemed that Dionne felt like their ward rep and Ward 2’s rep were given second class status by being largely excluded from that process.  She and the OBCA were not happy with a scenario, as they saw it, where their representative was “not part of the real city council.”
The OBCA demanded in their letter that the situation to be rectified and an apology given.  Dionne also said they would like to meet with Ferrera to discuss the matter.
Dionne noted that neither Allen nor Fenton had any role in their decision to write a letter.  Fenton confirmed to WMassP&I that the first he heard of the letter was Tuesday morning when the OBCA sent it out.  Allen, in an email to WMassP&I, also confirmed Dionne’s statement saying, “I had absolutely no role in their decision to write that letter.”

Springfield City Council on 1/9/12 (WMassP&I)

The Republican, who reported on the letter today, noted that Council President Ferrera appears to have no intention to change course. However, it does bring to mind some parties to this hullabaloo.  Namely, at-large Councilor Tim Rooke, Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna and Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea.

Rooke, who often wears the Good Government halo in Springfield among at-large councilors, is also a careful politician.  While he is no less the councilor of the affected wards, he had to know engaging in even inadvertent schadenfreude at Fenton and Allen’s expense could upset his carefully crafted image as a good guy.  He also faces risk because he also defended the notion of Ferrera simply having his turn while calling the committee outcome “to the victor goes the spoils.”  It smacks of the insider politics Rooke often decries, but at the same time shrugs at a seemingly unfortunate result when the event that precipitated it was preordained.

Councilor Luna (WMassP&I)

Meanwhile a conundrum faces Luna and Shea, who hit the committee jackpot the most arguably in light of either the number of assignments outright (Luna) or number of assignments given a lack of seniority (Shea).  Neither has spoken publicly since the appointments were made, but since Ferrera showered them with gratitude it presents a problem for them as well.  If we assume neither asked to have their decks stacked as they were (our previous report indicates Luna did not request quantity over quality of appointments), the question becomes how they could respond to the increasing pressure over the appointments.

Councilor Shea (WMassP&I)

Either one could offer to give up a seat, but doing so would likely incense Ferrera.  Even if that were not a consideration, it presents a strange dynamic because at issue is the diminution of influence of two high-voting wards (2 & 7).  In the case of Ken Shea, this is not really a problem because Ward 6 is among the city’s most electorally active wards.  However, Ward 1 is perhaps among the city’s wards most in need of adequate representation before the council.  Even if she believes Ferrera’s actions were wrong, how could Luna beg off an assignment or two without appearing to be placating the city’s more influential wards?  Incidentally, this dynamic also works in Luna’s favor in other matters since she has no obligation to please those wards.  Luna can serve her ward’s interests over those of the city’s power brokers whose influence only laps at Ward 1’s shores.  

For what it is worth, the idea that Ferrera gave Luna the added assignments to empower that area of the city is undermined by the minimal assignments he also gave Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, whose ward also experiences disconnect from the machinations at 36 Court Street and elsewhere.

At this point, the likeliest outcome is that nothing will change.  Allen and Fenton are not about to let this stop them and Ferrera, if the Springfield Intruder’s thesis about the latter’s attempts to appear more “manly” has any merit, is not about to cave now.  However, it seems unlikely that pressure is going to let up either.  Beyond the Valley blogosphere’s general distaste, Ferrera’s support in the city has been at best tenuous and this story will hang around Ferrera’s neck until the next council president is appointed.  However, better that this story remain and get old rather than some new gaffe appear and call further attention to Ferrera as an impolitic oaf.