Take My Council, Please: Amended Complaints…
SPRINGFIELD—Reversing itself fully from a meeting just two weeks ago, the City Council killed an amendment to its historic foreclosure ordinance and with it a settlement to a lawsuit launched shortly after its passage. The rejection on Monday was arguably the most significant actions taken during the unusually short meeting.
The agenda was short and consisted largely of items that were leftover from the previous meeting. The new business was largely minor and routine matters. At-large Councilor Kateri Walsh, Ward 1 Councilor Zaida Luna, Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen were absent from the meeting.
The Council received the monthly revenue statement from the Comptroller. It also approved zoning reports which will voted on formally next week. Orders approving equipment leases for Xerox machines and dispatch equipment were also approved.
Despite much ballyhoo in sending the items to Committee two weeks before, Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion, the chair of Finance reported those items out with little debate. The report of committee and the meeting minutes do not explain why Concepcion backed away from an earlier threat to oppose Central High School’s roof and science lab bonding project until he got word of progress on the city’s new senior center.
Acting CAFO and Finance Director T.J. Plante may have salved Concepcion’s worries by noting, according to meeting minutes, that the city was seeking federal funding for the senior center.
That Finance Committee report from Concepcion covered deficit spending and the Central bonding. City officials explained that the roof was reaching the end of its useful life and that the size of the project mandated that a sprinkler system be added to the structure. After at-large Councilor Bud Williams’ obligatory round of questions for the benefit of the Public Access viewers, the financial measures were approved unanimously.
By a unanimous vote, the Council also gave final approval to a municipal lien ordinance that will permit the city to place liens against properties for non-payment of certain non-criminal violations. The Council also sent to committee acceptance of state law regarding city employees who are representatives of employee associations.
By far, however, the most critical act undertaken by the Council was its rejection of amendments to the city’s landmark foreclosure ordinance. The amendments were part of a settlement reached during mediation with banks which had sued to stop the ordinance. The amendments called for an opt-out from the ordinance’s requirement that banks foreclosing on homes post a bond from which the city could draw to maintain the property. The mandatory mediation portion of ordinance would not change.
At the last Council meeting, the sponsors of the revision had sought to take first step and then hold a public hearing on the matter before giving final approval to the amendments and settlement. However, Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak invoked Rule 20, a parliamentary tactic that terminates debate on an item pending a report from the Comptroller.
In stark contrast to that tense meeting two weeks ago when supporters of the ordinance squared off with councilors, the Council seemed prepared, without much debate at all, to kill the amendments. The Council even waived the reading of the Rule 20 report.
In the interim, Councilor Luna had held a well-attended General Government Committee meeting with Councilors, activists and law department officials present. According to those at the meeting, assistant city solicitor Lisa DeSousa could not say why or who decided that the ordinance had not been enforced despite the fact that no court order was prohibiting the city from doing so. Furthermore, there was doubt that implementation would happen right away if the Council accepted the settlement.
A request for clarification from the mayor’s office was referred to the Law Department. Their answer will be posted upon receipt.
Former Ward 6 Councilor Amaad Rivera, who spearheaded the ordinance’s passage in 2011, had explained to WMassP&I prior to Monday’s meeting that the amendments, had deleterious consequences. Allowing banks to opt-out would essentially kill the funding mechanism for the foreclosure ordinance overall. Additionally, without the leverage of the bond, banks would have no leverage to participate in good faith with mediation, Rivera explained. This concern was also aired in the committee meeting.
Councilors had favored the amendments originally when they thought the mediation requirement would be unaffected. When it became clear mediation was at risk, councilors cooled to the settlement.
“After details of the proposal were discussed further, it was the consensus…that it was not advantageous to move forward,” on the proposal Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton said. Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards alluded to the risk of the loss of funding. Edwards called the ordinance “unique” because the Council actually developed a policy and found a way to pay for it.
Councilor Williams engaged in another round of questions about the ordinance, which did not appear to paint the ordinance positively. However, the phrasing of his questions caused visible consternation for ordinance proponents. Williams was not on the Council when the measure passed. Upon conclusion, the amendments failed unanimously.
The meeting finished up in just under an hour. It remains unclear exactly when the foreclosure ordinance will be formally implemented. With the settlement rejected, the matter will now likely go before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.