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Take My Council, Please: Learning from Our History, Not Repeating It…



SPRINGFIELD—With the close of the fiscal year anon, the City Council spent much of its time Monday night approving budget transfers to balance out accounts. There was a fair amount of policy afoot, too, from historic preservation to labor relations, although little of it generated much controversy or split votes among the 13-member body.

Taking up what is likely going to be its last regular agenda until the summer lull begins (the Council meets only sporadically in July and August), the meeting moved quickly, mirroring the pace of its budget meeting the same night.

The largest budget transfers were $280,000 in unused capital project funds moved to the city’s pay-go capital account and $278,000 shifted from various departments shifted to pay for city employees’ contractual raises. Another $244,000 leftover from repaving Parker Street between Cooley Street and East Longmeadow was transferred to the Boston Road reconstruction and city paving projects.

A smaller transfers included nearly $62,000 within the Information Technology department for the first year of a five-year lease with IBM (being a five year lease, it also needed and received Council approval). Nearly $27,000 was transferred within the Police Department for new motorcycles and about $63,000 among three requests was moved within Parks and Recreation for gym programs, power equipment and to repair a fire-damaged facility.

Only two grants were on Monday’s agenda the smaller of the two being a token amount for the Library Department. However, Fire Commissioner Joseph Conant said a $729,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will relieve pressure on his department’s capital equipment budget. US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and US Rep Richard Neal helped secure the grant. Warren feted the grant in person at the department’s Worthington Street headquarters last month.

A labor contract between the city and SEIU Local 888, who represents Springfield’s civil engineers, passed quickly too. Technically two contracts, the first covered fiscal years 2013-2014, with only one 2% raise in FY2014. The second from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017 has a 2% raise each year. HR/Labor Relations Director William Mahoney told the Council residency for engineers was already included from previous contracts. The Council vote was unanimous.

The Council passed first step on a one-plot historical district in downtown Springfield to protect the Willys-Overland Building on Chestnut Street. Damaged in the 2012 gas explosion, but otherwise sound, the Historical Commission recommended the district after the owner filed for a demolition permit.

The Willys-Overland Block in downtown (via wikipedia)

Historical Commissioner Robert McCarroll explained the proposed district to the Council. Under the city’s demolition-delay ordinance, demolition permits for structures of a certain age are held for nine months. During that time, the Commission review the building’s history and makes recommendation for protection if appropriate. McCarroll noted several properties had been before the Commission under the ordinance but most were not recommended for preservation.

“In this case, given that the building is already on the national register, the Commission felt it merited local historic district protection,” McCarroll said. He added the Willys-Overland building is key to the city’s place in automotive history when many car companies built their products in Springfield.

Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos, sounding a skeptical note, asked if the Commission would help the current owner or a new one find historic preservation grants. McCarroll said it would, although the owner has said he has no redevelopment plans post-demolition. But, the Commissioner continued, given the number of empty lots in Springfield, the building’s resale value, would likely be hirer than anything the owner could get for vacant land.

Another view of the Willys-Overland Block, date unknown (via

Other Councilors were more enthusiastic. Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, while admitting “I am not necessarily a ‘some old building’ kind of guy,” pointed to the building’s history and it having a twin in Detroit. During public speak out, that connection was also noted.

“Springfield has many direct connection with national history,” architect Bill Devlin said. Willys answered a US government design request for an all-purpose vehicle that would later become Chrysler’s Jeep line.

The Detroit Willys-Overland building, Devlin said, has been successfully converted to residential condos and retail. “What does it say about Springfield if we cannot even match Detroit on a project,” Devlin added.

Other councilors added words of support before passing first step on a voice vote. Although enacted as an ordinance, the city’s preservation process is controlled by state law. Following a state historical survey and local Commission public hearing—which McCarroll said had been held previously—the Council may establish the historic district with a two-thirds vote. Normal ordinances only require a simple majority.

President Barack Obama in Connecticut last year (WMassP&I)

The Council also passed a resolution calling on the city to implement President Barack Obama’s challenge to help mainly at-risk young men of color as part of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. At-large Councilor Justin Hurst spearheaded the resolve, which praised the city for accepting the challenge. Yet it urged it to meet all of it, including ensuring at-risk youth can go to college or vocational school, find a job and are safe from violent crime.

After approving a transfer of property to the Conservation Commission, the Council approved an order for Council President Michael Fenton to write a letter to Mayor Domenic Sarno on sending tax incremental financing agreements to the Council with little notice. At the last meeting, the Council approved such an agreement for a Taylor Street property, but after work had begun.

At-large Councilor Kateri Walsh, underscoring the Council’s role in the TIF process said, “No reason the Springfield City Council, the legislative body, is the last to know.”



The Council approved the order to write the letter 13-0. Fenton indicated his letter would not recommend a specific timeline the Council should be appraised of pending TIF’s. But he said that if the TIF is transmitted to the Council after the developer has bought the land or work has begun, that was too late. The TIF was, at the point, not long an incentive, but a bonus to the developer.