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In Year 2 as Council Prez, Williams Reshuffles & Puts Transparency on the Menu…

Marcus Williams

Council Pres. Marcus Williams, pictured pre-presidency, promises a robust legislative session. (still via Focus Springfield)

This week Springfield City Council President Marcus Williams released committee assignments for the municipal legislature. Coming days after beginning his second year atop the Council and his fourth term as the Ward 5 Councilor, Williams assignments will reshuffle a number of the legislative panels. However, he also forwarded some substantive changes to special and standing committees.

Williams said the Women’s Committee will become a standing panel, given the doubling of women on the full Council. November’s election saw two more women join the body for a total of four out of 13. The Council President also announced a new committee with a mandate to review and improve resident access to city services. Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen will chair it. Williams also made forward-looking changes to the COVID-19 committee at-large Councilor Jesse Lederman chairs.

“The City Council will take up a robust agenda this year and subcommittees will play an integral role in providing a platform for city staff and residents to engage in constructive discussion around those issues,” Williams said in a statement this week.

Compared to Congress or even some cities like Holyoke, Springfield City Council committees—often styled as subcommittees—are not especially powerful. It is not practical to indefinitely bottle items up in committee absent considerable effort. A determined and patient councilor can usually force a vote on anything eventually. Several committees such as Finance and General Government are inevitable stops for legislation and financial orders the Council considers.

Ultimately, committees are whatever their chairs make them. Some have slumbered for years under absentee chairs and others become beehives of activity.

In 2022, Williams has laid out some leadership changes and kept other chairs the same.

For example, at-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield will continue to chair the Finance and Civil Rights Committee as she did last year. At-large Councilor Sean Curran still leads the State & Federal Relations Committee. At-large Councilor Justin Hurst, a possible mayoral challenger in 2023, will stay on as the Audit Committee chair. The Elder Affairs Committee shall have Allen as chair for another year.

Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton will continue to helm the Council’s casino oversight committee as he has for several years now. No changes are due to the Council’s membership on the Responsible Employer Ordinance (REO) committee. Allen and Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards have spent years on it. Edwards shall chair it for another year.

Lederman, also a possible 2023 mayoral aspirant, will continue to helm the Sustainability & Environment committee as well as the Council’s COVID-19 Response panel.

Lederman Davila Williams

Councilors Lederman, Davila & Williams on the last pre-COVID Election Day. (WMP&I)

The coronavirus committee differs somewhat from other committees. It functions like the committee of the whole with no specific members other than its chair. In 2022, Williams added a recovery portfolio to the committee’s ambit. Henceforth, it shall be the COVID-19 Response & Recovery Committee.

While the chairs of these committees stay the same, the other members are switching around. Allen served on Finance and Civil Rights alongside Whitfield in 2021. In 2022, first-term Ward 8 Councilor Zaida Govan will join them on Finance while Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila will be on Civil Rights with Allen and Whitfield.

Curran’s committee shall keep Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown and welcome first term Ward 1 Councilor Maria Perez. Allen remains on Audit with Chairman Hurst, but Curran will join them this year. In 2022, Brown and Govan join Lederman on the Sustainability & Environment.

There will be changes to other chairs. In 2022, Lederman will chair Maintenance & Development (M&D) while at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh will chair Health & Human Services, the reverse of 2021. Lederman had been on M&D in 2021 and Curran and Perez will join him. Alongside Walsh on HHS will be Govan and Hurst.

The 2021 chair of Public Safety, Orlando Ramos, retired last year to focus on being a state rep. Davila will chair that panel in 2022. Joining him are Fenton and Whitfield. The latter was on the body last year, too. Councilor Edwards shall take over the Planning & Economic Development committee whose other members shall be Lederman and Perez.

Walsh Whitfield

With Councilors Walsh & Whitfield now only half the Council’s women population, Pres Williams will move to make the Women’s panel a full committee. (WMP&I)

Fenton takes on the chair of General Government, which has one of the broadest mandates aside from Finance. Walsh and Edwards shall serve on that committee with him. With court rulings on the Council’s authority to reorder city government due this year, General Government could draw considerable attention this year. Decisions about residency and the Police Commission could spur councilors to consider other changes to city government that Mayor Domenic Sarno might have tried to block before.

Williams announced that he would ask the body to formally elevate the Women’s Committee to full standing status. After years of being second only to Chicopee in legislative maleness, 2021 finally become a year of women for Springfield. Only Walsh as chair appears in his release, however the committee will not want for potential members. The 2022-23 City Council will not only have four women but three are women of color.

Councilor Brown will round out the Special Committees chairing the Youth Committee.

The Government Accessibility and Accountability Committee Allen will chair is in its formative stages.  However, in an interview, Allen called the committee “a chance to make government less imposing and less intimidating.” Discussions are underway about its shape, but he said he would be interested in meetings with neighborhood associations, residents and city officials.

Councilor Tim Allen, in 2016, looks to make the city more open in 2022. (WMP&I)

Allen added he and Williams have talked about improving the availability of information to the public. Often, the public does not even know about resources City Hall has. Examples include trash fee discounts, property tax relief and home ownership programs. Many residents may not know such things exist, he said.

“At a minimum it’s getting information that’s in City Hall that is not necessarily out there as best we can,” Allen assured.

The goal, he explained, was not just to solicit the public for their opinion. Rather, it was also a way to connect with city officials, hear out their perspective and reassure them about the value of more openness.

“I look at it as a chance to speak to all segments of the community and have a good discussion about how we can make the city more accessible to them,” Allen continued.