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Briefings: The Fenton Council Presidency, Part II…

Once and future Council President Mike Fenton. (WMassP&I)

Once and future Council President Mike Fenton. (WMassP&I)

SPRINGFIELD—With the latest election cycle concluded, eyes are beginning to turn to 2015. While it is too early to know exactly what to expect from next year’s elections, the City Council appears set to reelect Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton as its president for another year.

Fenton announced today he had the support needed to lead the chamber as it and the city heads into a full-blown election year. Against the din of this year’s elections with several councilors running for higher office or involved in campaigns, Fenton included, there was little noise about any fight for the presidency. Fenton had been expected to seek another term.

Fenton, 27, is in the middle of his third term as Ward 2 Councilor, which stretches along Springfield’s northern periphery to include Atwater Park, Liberty Heights (Hungry Hill) and East Springfield including part of the city’s industrial area straddling I-291. He secured the presidency with the support of nine of his colleagues following last November’s elections. At-large Councilor Bud Williams had also sought the presidency last year, but when it came time to vote, the Council picked Fenton unanimously.

Although the Council was often overshadowed by the state election cycle, there were notable developments. A push to reinstall a Police Commission, which was a hot topic in last year’s council election, prompted Mayor Domenic Sarno’s expedited selection process for a new police commissioner. The Council lacked the votes override Sarno’s promised veto, and activists and several councilors, Fenton included, feared the mayor’s choice has already decided on an individual much of the city would find unpalatable.

Sarno ultimately chose John Barbieri, whose selection was widely praise. However, it came only after heavy lobbying by Fenton behind the scenes and public pressure from community activists like Bishop Timothy Baymon, Michaelann Bewsee and Rev. Talbert Swan.

More recently, Fenton, currently one of only two attorneys on the Council, has remained visible in the biomass fight, temporarily representing the body while he searched—successfully—for a lawyer to represent the body as it appeals an adverse August Land Court decision. Stopping the proposed biomass plant, slated for just across I-291 from Ward 2, has been one of Fenton’s causes since his first election in 2009. As president, he took the lead in driving the Council’s appeal forward despite Sarno’s refusal to hire a lawyer to litigate before the Appeals Court on the Council’s behalf.

In his release, Fenton also touted the passage of a pawn shop regulation ordinance backed by at-large Councilor Thomas Ashe, that was repeatedly killed in the last session.

Fenton would be the third Council President in a row to serve back to back terms, effectively ending a tradition of councilors serving only one year at a time. Fenton would also have the option of reorganizing the Council’s committees, although the extent to which he will do so or appoint new ad hoc subcommittees is uncertain.

In his announcement, Fenton also promised a brisk agenda for next year including a casino ethics ordinance and a bid to expand the Police Department’s ranks.