Take My Council, Please: Ages of Miracles, Art, Excess & Satire…
UPDATED 4/14/23 6:43PM: To include comment from Springfield Preservation Trust and to clarify that the Trust proposed the new historic district. A previous version of this post indicated another entity was responsible.
The Springfield City Council remains a sea of relative political calm even as the mayoral race begins to make waves. Fortuitously, Monday’s meeting included three challengers to Mayor Domenic Sarno—two incumbent councilors and a former councilor. The principal common bond? A resolution in support of a bill to make a local singer’s tune the state jazz song.
The balance of the agenda was somewhat uneventful. Council President (and mayoral candidate) Jesse Lederman saw his paid leave resolution pass easily. Emergency services legislation received approval and the city appears to be one step closer to adding another historic district.
Councilor Kateri Walsh was absent from the meeting. Councilor Malo Brown, Justin Hurst and Tracye Whitfield participated remotely.
The Council heard reports of committees first. Public Safety Chair Lavar Click-Bruce related a recent meeting with Springfield Police Superintendent Cheryl Clapprood in which she described Pearl Street as “fragile” and facing difficulty replacing retired officers. At another meeting, Click-Bruce said, officials presented the city’s hazard mitigation plan, which was up for a vote Monday.
Comptroller Patrick Burns presented the revenue and expenditure report for February. He reminded councilors that energy costs had been exceeding projections, but he said they had dropped considerably in March. Beyond that, Burns said there were still budgeting moves to address snow and ice removal costs. In addition to accepting the report, councilors greenlit utility work on Burlington and Plainfield streets.
Parks, Recreation and Buildings Executive Director Patrick Sullivan presented a $100,000 grant for a memorial to the Geisel family. Unlike the garish Dr. Seuss sculpture at the Quadrangle, Sullivan said this would celebrate the wider Geisel family. The good doctor’s family left a mark on the city—arguably a more particular one. His father was a longtime parks superintendent.
Sullivan said the grant for the Geisel memorial was part of a suite of Forest Park improvements. Recent components include the grandstand, but he also said the old monkey house was slated for renovation. It will open to the public for events and, eventually, become home to the winter farmers market. The grant received approval on a 11-1 vote with Brown, Ward 4’s councilor, in dissent.
Smaller grants for the Planning & Economic Development and Fire departments passed unanimously. The body also approved donations to the Animal Control Department—which also runs the city shelter—and the Fire Department.
Deputy Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Lindsey Hackett told councilors that a $11,774 transfer to human resources from reserves related to an employee’s retirement. Meanwhile, she said a $3100 bill from last year was for MGM’s management of Symphony Hall.
The next item was adoption of a state statute to establish a special fund for public access service. Deputy City Solicitor Kathy Breck explained that the fund would be a way to manage monies received from Comcast. As the city’s cable provider, it pays fees that finance public access services. In Springfield, that principally means Focus Springfield. Establishing this fund would improve planning and execution of public access programming.
Ward 8 Councilor Zaida Govan asked if this would include the possibility of providing Spanish translation of meetings, something the School Committee has done. Breck said that was kind of the thing this item could facilitate. The Council accepted the statute without dissent.
Steve Cary, Focus Springfield’s Executive Director, welcomed the Council’s action and thanked the Finance Department and Council with trusting the organization.
“Focus looks forward to continuing the important job of broadcasting municipal legislation to provide transparency of proceedings with City Council & school committee, the creative coverage of arts, athletics and culture, and sharing what’s happening in our schools and our other educational community,” he said in an email.
“And perhaps, most importantly, Focus Springfield will continue to produce positive stories from the city we love to live, work, learn and play in,” Cary continued.
Councilors approved first step on an ordinance establishing an additional revolving fund for health care for the homeless. They also authorized the School Department to pursue four-year leases for student laptops. The department’s chief information officer said the four-year agreement—Council authorization is required for any contract longer than three years—would result in savings and maintain a sustainable replacement schedule.
Hackett also presented the revised hazard mitigation plan. The plan, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved, updates the city’s response plan to disaster. She said it incorporates risk assessments based on events that have occurred in the intervening years and build resilience. Councilors approved it without dissent.
The Council also approved first step of a new historic district. The city has seen several new districts in recent years, often at the behest of the Springfield Community Preservation Committee. The Committee, which funds parks, housing and historic preservation work, has a policy of approving historic funds only if it has protection or secures it. In Isolation Hospital’s case, however, the Springfield Preservation Trust proposed the designation.
The proposed district, as state law requires, received Springfield Historical Commission. Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton said the body usually hears from the property owners on these occasions. However, he would not oppose advancing the ordinance as the Council still had another vote to take before the district came into being.
In an email, Jim Boone from Springfield Preservation Trust noted that the building had been on the trust’s most-endandered list and then on PreservationMass’s.
“The reason for the concern was the property was being listed for sale as ‘cleared’ site thus suggesting demolition was planned,” he wrote.
After an attempt to protect the building through zoning failed, it moved toward a historic district. After some back and forth between the city and state historical commissions, the proposal moved forward at the Council. As to input from the owners, he said they received notices consistently.
“At every step of this procedure, the owners were notified of public hearings both at the Historical Commission for discussion and Public Hearing, and the City Council for both Zone Change and final vote,” Boone wrote. “The owners did not attend or communicate their feelings at any time.”
Councilors passed that ordinance without dissent as they did with first step on a fire safety ordinance. Fire Commissioner B.J. Calvi said the item related to appliances.
As the meeting began to wrap, they moved on to resolutions. The first was in support of Representative Ramos’ bill to make “Massachusetts” sung by Montenia Shider the state’s official jazz song. Councilors and Shider evoked the late Ray Jordan, a former state rep and vice-chair of the state Democratic Party, who enjoyed the tune.
Jordan would have served with few in the Massachusetts House today—Speaker Ron Mariano and Jordan overlapped for a little over two years. Still, right up until his death last year, he was an iconic and respected figure in state politics.
Ramos addressed his former colleagues briefly, thanking them for their support. Councilors Click-Bruce and Whitfield knew Shider and her family well through their churches. The resolution passed with only Brown abstaining, ostensibly because he worked for the legislature.
The final item was a resolution Council President Lederman introduced. It called on the administration to establish a plan to deliver paid family medical leave for all city employees. Lederman ceded the dais to Council Vice-president Melvin Edwards so he could explain the resolution.
As with many state wage, hour and benefit laws, municipalities are exempt from the requirements that apply to private employers. From a practical standpoint, many municipal workers receive such benefits through union negotiations, but not all do. Lederman’s resolution calls for a process to identify who does not have this benefit and what other communities have done to deliver it to their workers.
Govan, who is a social worker, thanked Lederman for putting the item forward. She said many of her clients experience problems due to a lack of leave. Councilor Fenton also praised the item, especially its investigatory manner. Lederman thanked his colleagues, but also recognized labor and the city employees who stepped forward to describe the problem. The resolution passed unanimously.
If any mayorally-minded councilors/ex-councilors had objections to their colleagues’ legislation, it did not show Monday. There was no real objection to any of these items, either ideologically or substantively, to what was before them. Indeed, if any such fissures exist, nobody is letting them show in public. For now, the Council Chamber is not an arena in this race.