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Briefings: Long Live the Noble Clerk (of Springfield)…

Tasheena Davis

City Clerk-elect Tasheena Davis (via Linked In)

SPRINGFIELD—The City Council named the new City Clerk to succeed the outgoing Clerk, Anthony Wilson, who has served since 2016. Tasheena Davis, an associate city solicitor and the Council’s legislative attorney, was elected on an 8-4 vote. She will take office August 1. Because Wilson is leaving midterm, hers will run through 2022.

Last month, the Cambridge City Council elected Wilson that city’s new clerk. Under the City Charter, the Springfield Council would elect Wilson’s successor. However, that process was nearly hijacked by Mayor Domenic Sarno. City Council President Justin Hurst moved quickly to initiate a selection process that ultimately yielded two candidates: Davis and Nancy Ramos.

When Sarno attempted to intervene in the process, he announced he would “appoint” Davis to the position subject to Council confirmation. However, that claim of authority had no grounding in law. Instead, Hurst appointed a search committee that included Councilors Michael Fenton, Marcus Williams and Orlando Ramos—no relation to Nancy Ramos. Councilor Ramos chaired the committee that sifted through 75 applications and narrowed the field to the two applicants before the Council Monday night.

Monday’s clerk election was the first to feature two candidates brought to a final vote in over 60 years.

Although Sarno continued to insist, meekly, that he had the power, Davis’ decision to formally applied under the process Councilor Ramos developed. On Monday night, Human Resources Director William Mahoney was on hand answer questions for the Council, a tacit admission the city bureaucracy would accept the Council’s decision.

Anthony Wilson

City Clerk Anthony Wilson in 2016 (courtesy Kahntapaht Sukhumhaadthaneai)

Both Davis and Nancy Ramos are lawyers, which assured the relatively new tradition of lawyers as clerk would continue. Since the Control Board selected Wayman Lee over a decade ago to take over for William Metzger, the Clerk has been a lawyer. Davis, Lee and Wilson all served in the city Law Department.

The Clerk overseas Council meetings and records votes. However, the office primarily acts as the city recordkeeper. The public interfaces with the Clerk’s office to obtain a panoply of permits and documents, including vital records.

In an interview with WMassP&I, Davis committed to continuing Wilson’s digitization efforts to make more public documents available online.

“I’m always interested in moving forward. I think, being from a younger generation, we understand technology a little bit differently and the benefits and its serves us,” she said.

Behind the scenes, political intrigue had begun to brew. Shortly before Monday’s vote, factions that supported either Davis or Ramos began to lobby councilors. Ramos, who is Hispanic and has ties to both establishment and non-establishment Latinos, got boosts from that camp. Davis, who is black, had the support of several prominent members of the city’s black political leadership.

In the end, however, the final vote could not be attributed to such dynamics. Some councilors preferred the management background Ramos had. Others liked Davis’ proficiency with Open Meeting Law and state zoning law. The latter proved more persuasive to a Council majority.

The final vote, while not especially close, was not carved in stone until after the final presentations, some councilors later said. Several spoke just before the vote, reiterating their reason for picking one candidate or another. However, a recurring theme was not to punish Davis for the mayor’s transgression of the charter.

Councilors Fenton, Hurst, Williams, Melvin Edwards, Ken Shea, Jesse Lederman, E. Henry Twiggs, and Tracye Whitfield voted for Davis. Councilors Ramos, Adam Gomez, Timothy Ryan and Kateri Walsh backed Nancy Ramos.

Council chambers

Where Davis’ new boss(es) work. (WMassP&I)

When Davis takes office, she will shift from the executive branch to the legislative branch—the Council legally oversees the Clerk’s office. Despite the rancor early on, Davis did not foresee any issues.

“The benefit of being an attorney is black-letter law. We stick with what the law says, we go with that and we stay with that,” David explained.

“It doesn’t matter which branch of the government I work under, the law doesn’t change,” she continued. “So I stick to the law and I think I’ll be fine.”