Take My Council, Please: A Gentle Cycle of Rinse and Repeat…
The Springfield City Council faced a light agenda this past Monday. Once more the Council held off on final passage of a historic district for the former Isolation Hospital. The body continues to meditate on the owner’s litigation threat. Before the meeting during public speak-out, several individuals denounced some of the company’s claims about the city’s process.
That limited the meeting to uncontentious items. Among them was a revote on the firefighters’ labor contract due to a drafting error. Councilors also approved a new memorandum of understanding, with the city’s public access provider. The pact assures the funding the city receives for public programming from Comcast goes directly to the access provider, Focus Springfield.
Councilors Lavar Click-Bruce and Tracye Whitfield were absent from the meeting. Councilors Malo Brown, Justin Hurst and Kateri Walsh participated remotely.
The meeting opened with a smattering of committee reports. The citizens committees on digital equity, labor relations, and neighborhood quality of life all announced they had held organizational meetings.
In addition, Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton, the Council’s designee on the Residency Compliance Commission, gave the body an update. The RCC enforces the city’s residency ordinance. In 2021, a judge ordered the city to establish the body as the ordinance commands.
Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards, the chair of Planning & Economic Development, described that panel’s meeting the proposed Isolation Hospital Historic District. Edwards said that City Solicitor John Payne had discussed some of the risks, but the Committee could not enter executive session to discuss legal risks.
Consequently, Edwards requested that the item remain in his committee for the time being. The Council obliged later in the meeting without dissent.
Councilors received notice of a requested zone change and approved a company installing fiberoptic cables to perform work on Main and State streets.
The body also accepted an increase of $149,199 for the Safe & Successful Youth Initiative. Other financial items included transferring about $34,000 from reserves and contingencies to the city’s animal shelter. It will balance out the salary line for that agency. Another $7500 moved to the building department budget for fuel and diesel costs. Finally, a $500 donation to the Mason Square branch library went through.
The Council had to vote on the firefighter contract again due to missing language for the last two fiscal years in it (FY22 and FY23). There was no substantive change from the previous vote for the same pact.
The Focus Springfield issue was two items. Besides the MOU was a $701,000 transfer. This was to put funds aside for Focus Springfield pending implementation of the MOU. Associate City Solicitor Thomas Moore told councilors that the contract is intended to run concurrently with the city’s contract for the cable franchise with Comcast. Moore highlighted how critical Focus was when municipal meetings had to go online due to COVID-19.
“They did a fantastic job during the pandemic,” Moore said.
Councilors echoed that praise before voting to approve the MOU.
Focus Springfield’s executive director, Steve Cary, thanked councilors for their support. He noted that going hybrid presented unique challenges, especially since rooms like the Council chamber are not conducive to operating with virtual participants. Focus was looking at ways to bring back simultaneous translations for hybrid meetings, too He added there were plans to install more equipment to improve Focus—and the city’s—capacity to broadcast inside 36 Court Street.
“We’re looking to be able to afford and purchase the rest of the equipment in pretty short order,” Cary said. He also thanked Focus staff Brendon Holland and Josue Vazquez for their work keeping the public access provider running during Covid and since.
Both the funds and the MOU passed without dissent.
Councilors took first step on an ordinance that extended the moratorium on pawn shops through June 2025. Councilor Fenton told councilors that the previous ordinance they passed last year had a defect. Hence, the body needed to vote through the bill again. It passed without opposition.
The final item was a withdrawal of a resolution supporting striking workers at Springfield Partners for Community Action. On May 8, educators at the SPCA, represented by the United Autoworkers, Local 2322, walked off the job. The reason was the poor state of negotiations, but they returned to work on May 11 after receiving commitments from their employer.
The resolution offered a full-throated defense of the workers’ position. However, the settlement had mooted the resolution. The Council withdrew it on a 9-0 vote. Councilors Brown and Maria Perez abstained.
While the caution in the face of the legal threats makes sense, the tension over the Isolation Hospital Historic District will only increase. Advocates for the district pushed back hard at the top of the meeting. According to them, Vibra’s threats would seem to question the legality of historic preservation itself.
However, that will be for another day. This past Monday, uncontroversial housekeeping prevailed. Perhaps it is just as well. The Council chambers can stay chill, not only to keep cool all the new Focus Springfield equipment. It is also a contrast to the election cycle reaching full boil outside the building.