Briefings: A Plante Closing Shop in Springfield City Hall with CAFO Exit…
This is a developing story.
One of the few remaining Springfield financial officials who date to the Control Board era is leaving city service at the end of the week. Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Timothy “T.J.” Plante has worked for the city of Springfield since 2007. Five years later he would become the city’s second CAFO, a position with a sprawling brief the legislature created for Springfield after its near-bankruptcy some years before.
Consequently, Plante, first as finance director and then as CAFO, essentially steered the city’s finances through its steepest challenges. Massive crises bookended his tenure, namely the Great Recession and COVID-19 pandemic. The latter threatened to swamp the city along with the commonwealth. Thanks to the Control Board’s foundation and the city political branches’ sober acquiescence to fiscal prudence, with Plante at the helm, Springfield’s fiscal ship has not run aground.
“It has been an honor to serve the City of Springfield. I have dedicated over 16 years to helping Springfield return to its true greatness and bring us to solid financial footing. Although I am exiting public service, my wife Katie and I are committed to the City and want to see Springfield thrive,” Plante said in a statement the mayor’s office posted online.
“I want to thank Mayor Sarno for his support/leadership through the years, and more specifically his friendship. Together we have been through some challenging times, but always came out stronger from them,” Plante continued.
The mayor’s statement included a list of fiscal milestones the city has achieved in recent years. Many are familiar to the Springfield commentariat—“bond rating” is practically a Domenic Sarno buzzword—but they are not chimeras.
As the Control Board prepared to pack up, the legislature amended the City Charter. Various city functions and their respective departments were to come under the CAFO.
The 2008 law that created the position gives the CAFO oversight of Springfield’s personnel, financial and asset management functions, including appointment power. This included review of all budgets, countersigning contracts and hiring prerogatives for several key positions. The mayor nominally approves the appointments, but a lot of discretion still lies with the CAFO.
Plante ascended to CAFO-dom after his predecessor Lee Erdmann left the role. Although once a staffer in the Massachusetts Senate, Plante’s transitioned to policy before he came to City Hall in Springfield. While he had a good rapport with the mayor, state law gives his position a modicum of insulation from politics.
To that end, while Sarno referred to Plante as a cabinet member. Yet, he functioned in city discourse more as a high-ranking bureaucrat. Even as councilors or others might rake him over the coals for his or that, he could maintain credibility with many of them. While the mayor opposed the Community Preservation Act, after passage, Plante sanctioned his department’s assistance with implementation. His job was more the procedural how than a political what of government.
“My job is pretty much apolitical,” he once told WMP&I. “Either you have the money or you don’t.”
Plante’s exit triggers a process to choose a successor which the legislature etched into the City Charter. A seven-member screening committee will recommend between two and five CAFO candidates to the mayor. While the mayor appoints four of these, two must be experts in municipal management. The City Council, School Committee and state Secretary of Administration & Finance (ANF) make the other three.
A spokesperson for the Executive Office of ANF confirmed that the mayor’s office had alerted the state of this development. It was too early to say whom ANF Secretary Matthew Gorzkowicz would name to steering committee or if the state would play contribute to the process in other ways.
“Since this is a pretty new development, we are still assessing potential appointments to the screening committee and learning about the role ANF can play, but we look forward to supporting the Mayor and Springfield in this important work,” the spokesperson said.
In the meantime, Sarno appointed Comptroller Patrick Burns to be acting CAFO. He will work in concert with the Deputy CAFO Lindsey Hackett until the screening process is complete.
“I would like to thank the Mayor for giving me the opportunity to bridge the gap until a permanent Chief Administrative and Financial Officer (CAFO) is appointed,” Burns said in the statement from the mayor’s office. “Also, I want to thank T.J. Plante for his leadership and support during his tenure as CAFO, and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”