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Take My Council, Please: The Calm before the Electoral Storm…


A healthy meeting. (WMP&I and Google images)

Over $21 million in bonding was before the Springfield City Council last Monday, weeks after Mayor Domenic Sarno successfully pushed his budget through. Nearly all of these were normal capital projects that do not belong in the budget anyway. While a far cry from the bad old days, there are plenty more investments on the civic wish list.

Another matter took up considerable attention at the meeting. Councilors debated the process and effectiveness of the use of Behavioral Health Network in tandem with police for people in crisis. There have bene complaints about BHN’s effectiveness, many of which the head of the city’s Metro Unit pushed back on.

Councilors Michael Fenton and Sean Curran were absent from the meeting. Councilors Timothy Allen, Zaida Govan, Justin Hurst, Maria Perez, Kateri Walsh and Tracye Whitfield participated remotely.

The meeting began with unfinished business from a meeting or two ago.

Last month, Hurst had introduced a resolution that urges the state to replace the Roderick Ireland Courthouse, which houses Hampden Superior Court and Springfield District Court. Because the meeting of original introduction ran past 10pm, the Council did not act on the resolution then. The text addresses recent state proposals, but otherwise echoes a resolve now-Council President Jesse Lederman got through the Council in October 2021.

Hurst questioned the item’s appearance at the bottom of the agenda as typical for a newly introduced resolution. His was technically unfinished business, however. He did not ask for it to be taken first, but Lederman said its placement at the bottom was an error. Ostensibly surprised by the move—he and Lederman are mayoral rivals challenging Sarno—Hurst took a moment to bring up and read the resolve. It passed unanimously.

Hampden Superior Court

Less than superior. (WMP&I)

Back on the agenda, the Council accepted an unremarkable June revenue and expenditure report. Public Works czar Chris Cignoli presented eight utility reports to allow road work. All but one were Eversource electrical work. The odd man out was for Comcast work. The affected streets are Heywood, Maple, Norfolk, Pine, Spring, and Vinton streets and Belmont and Sumner avenues.

The debate around BHN’s mental health response program. A nearly $367,474 grant was before the Council to fund the program. Lieutenant Ronald Sheehan of Springfield Police Department’s Metro Unit was presenting. Councilors peppered Sheehan with questions about the size of the program, the funding structure and whether the responders were culturally sensitive.

Sheehan said BHN has hired somebody with a background in law enforcement to assist in developing the program. Because the city receives state funding, the parameters make BHN the likeliest candidate, although the partnership predates the funding. Sheehan explained that the principal purpose of the program is to divert those with mental health issues away from jail. Many find services with BHN. For now, the staffing is limited though more could become available if the state increases funding.

The grant passed without dissent as did an $135,000 mitigation grant Sheehan also presented. The funds come from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to offset the casinos’ community impact. He said it would pay for cruisers and equipment as well as training for sexual assault investigations.

Another grant of nearly $993,000 that offsets the cost of wages for the emergency communications department (911). There was another $266,225 grant to assist with hiring and training for the department.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris presented a pair of COVID-19 grants of $300,000 and $27,500. The first, she said, was for contact tracing. Despite its named purpose, the city can use it to trace other diseases, too. The other grant is for vaccination awareness.

These grants as well as a $125,000 grant for the consumer affairs office passed without dissent. A small grant for the Elder Affairs Department and a Library donation received approval, too.

Pat Sullivan

Pat Sullivan, the man in the (Cyr) Arena–and Carriage House. (via Spfld City Hall)

The bonding was broken up into three separate items. Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Patrick Sullivan presented the first one with a $10,000,000 value. Sullivan said it would pay for major work at the Cyr Arena and Barney Estate Carriage House. It would also finance some renovations at the city’s two golf courses.

According to Sullivan, the Cyr Arena has not had a major upgrade of its air handling systems since its opening in the 1970s. Fire alarms will also receive an upgrade. The Carriage House will receive a new roof after 133 years. The facility, which the city rents out for events, once complemented the much larger Barney Mansion. Everett Barney donated his property to the city to establish Forest Park. The mansion was leveled due to the construction of I-91.

Sullivan told councilors that they already had a contractor, Siemens, for the Cyr work. The other two still have design work ahead before they go out to bid.

Another $6 million will pay for work in and around Court Square, both to the park and its surrounding streets. Responding to Councilor Timothy Allen, Cignoli said the work should not affect the occupancy of the Court Square apartments as street access is mostly from State Street, roads near the park.

The final bond for $5 million will replace heavy equipment that the city uses across government. Cignoli said his department manages some city 460 vehicles, not including those for the Police and Fire departments. Of the bond $2.2 million will go toward waste removal trucks. The rest will cover other departments’ vehicular needs. The city gets most of its vehicles via state bulk purchases, but the trucks will have a longer lead time.

All three bonds passed without dissent.

The Council greenlit five-year leases for groundskeeping equipment for the Council courses. It also backed a new five-year lease for the Springfield Retirement Board to use space at the Tapley Street building.

The final step of transferring 169 Maple Street to Davenport Advisors. This will hopefully conclude with the renovation of the historic apartment building at the intersection with Central Street. Prior attempts to restore the tornado-ravaged structure failed, but Davenport has assembled a new proposal, in part, with city tax breaks.

Councilors also accepted nearly $46,000 from the Community Foundation for Old First Church, which the city now owns. They also allowed the city to pay a $5878 DPW bill from a prior year.

Vote early in Springfield? City Clerk Gladys Oyola says, “yes!” (via LinkedIn)

When the city’s warrant for the September 12 preliminary election came up, City Clerk/Election Commission Director Gladys Oyola laid out the city’s early voting plans. With the advent and expansion of early voting int the commonwealth, the Election office is planning to hold early voting opportunities between August 30 and September 8. Mail in voting will begin early in August. Ballots may be physically dropped off at City Hall until the polls close.

The Council gave final approval to a zoning ordinance revision that would allow marijuana establishments to remain open until 11pm.

The final item before the Council was a revision to the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District. When it was originally created, the district exempted structures that then belonged to Springfield Library & Museum Association and the Roman Catholic Church. This later became the subject of litigation, but over time, the city removed the exemption from some museum buildings.

The item before the Council was an ordinance to amend the historic district to remove the D’Amour Fine Arts Museum from the exemption. In other words, the Art Deco 1932 museum structure would now be subject to the historic district. The Science Museum and the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum are already outside the exemption. It passed first step.

By contrast, the proposed historic district for Isolation Hospital on State Street was kept in committee.

After a contentious if somewhat anticlimactic budget vote, the Springfield City Council had a somewhat prosaic meeting last week. There is some disagreement about how serious the BHN issue is, but it is such an important transition 36 Court Street must get it right. In addition, despite the ongoing mayoral race, the millions in bonding suggested no political hijinks upon which his mayorness can capitalize.



There was some political salience last Monday, though. With no regular meeting before the preliminary—councilors have a permit hearing next month—the next time councilors gather for general business, they will have a better idea who their next at-large colleagues will be. Plus, they will see who among them, if anyone, has moved one step closer to the mayor’s office.