Take My Council, Please: The Subtle Crossing of Thresholds…
The Springfield City Council returned from its preliminary hiatus last Monday to a smattering of financial whatnot typical after such absences. It was the first full meeting since Council members Justin Hurst, an at-large councilor, Jesse Lederman, the body’s president appeared on last week’s mayoral ballot, challenging incumbent Domenic Sarno. Hurst survived to face Sarno, but was not present Monday.
Some items pertaining to the Tapley Street & St. James Avenue project, required the Council to enter a lengthy executive session. However, both parts of it before the Council passed easily. Perhaps befitting the last full Council meeting before Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Timothy Plante’s left city service the following Friday, most the financial items were noncontroversial.
Hurst was the only councilor absent last month. Councilors Sean Curran, Zaida Govan, Maria Perez and Tracye Whitfield participated remotely. Councilor Victor Davila began the meeting remotely, but arrived later in-person.
Following reports from the Finance and Health & Human Services committees, the Council received the Revenue & Expenditure report for July.
Comptroller and now-acting CAFO Pat Burns two large variations that would wash out later. The first, Burns said, was carryover spending on the schools, which appeared on the revenue side. The other was the large payment into the retirement system. Neither should upend the budget overall.
After approving a utility pole relocation, the Council accepted a series of larger grants. The first was a $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to assess brownfields in the city. A $473,500 grant will fund the senior-work program the the Elder Affairs Department run. Another $352,9000 will fund that department’s staffing.
A $145,000 grant for the Library Department came from the Library Foundation, an outside group that supports the Springfield Library system. Library Director Molly Fogarty said that it would offset salary costs. There was also a $125,000 grant for the city’s 911 call center. The funds are an incentive grant from the state to establish behavioral health responses to 911 calls.
The remaining grants, all of $52,000 or less, went to the Animal Control, Fire, Library, and Police departments, passed as well. Councilors also authorized receipt of smaller donations for the Animal Control and Library departments.
A couple of property transfers took up a bit of time. The first was a quitclaim deed for Itendale Street to Concerned Citizens of Springfield. It had a significant backstory, including its tax foreclosure and redevelopment. The project itself had essentially already received a Council greenlight as it had previously received Community Preservation Act funds.
The other property was near the former Gemini Building site. It will go to Home City Development, who will develop townhomes. Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown protested that these opportunities were not advertised broadly enough. However, the transfer did pass.
The Council also approved a new labor pact with the Springfield Fire Chiefs Associations. The agreement is retroactive to July 1, 2020 and runs through next June. It includes annual 2.5% pay raises, a revision of work rules and adds Juneteenth as a holiday.
Brown questioned why the union was not present to support the deal, suggesting union leadership will act against members’ wishes. HR/Labor Relations director Bill Mahoney said they had already voted to approve it and that labor pacts do not go for Council approval until that happens. As a practical matter, it would be difficult for Mahoney to dig any deeper. The chief’s union is their duly designated and exclusive bargaining agent.
It would be highly inappropriate and possibly an unfair labor practice for Mahoney to opine on member-union discord. It would fall to members to raise their issues with the Council directly. In this case, the union consists of only a handful of members and ratification would likely be impossible were there any widespread discontent.
Councilors also greenlit a new memorandum of understanding with the Springfield Business Improvement District. They also authorized payment of $33,769 in bills from prior fiscal years.
A change to a historic district ordinance passed as well. In Julye, the Council had approved a change to the Quadrangle-Mattoon Street Historic District that will remove an exemption the D’Amour Fine Arts Museum had enjoyed. Most property the Springfield Museum Association owned when the district was created is exempt. Over time, the city removed several SMA buildings from this exemption. Now, with that the final steps have passed, it is the Fine Arts Museum’s turn.
The final two items were the appropriation and taking of land for the Tapley Street project. The Council went into executive session, ostensibly to discuss potential litigation pertaining to the taking. However, both items passed unanimously when the Council returned.
Excluding whatever was going on beyond the veil of the executive session, the meeting was efficient and without controversy. There were few or no items that were worth raising eyebrows over and nobody contrived a dispute. Instead, the sheer banality of the meeting underscores the impending transition.
It is not just the CAFO changing in Springfield. Sarno may win or not, but at least two new councilors will join the body next year. The incumbent appears safe. Yet, unlike the last time two at-large seats opened, in 2017, this month’s preliminary did not confirm to the pattern of prior contestants leading the challengers. Perhaps the general will repeat the preliminary, but it may easily not do so. Hence, there hangs a bit of intrigue or even uncertainty over the Council until November.