Take My Council, Please: A Twiggs Memorial & Police Supervisors Branch out…
The Springfield City Council authorized the renaming of a McKnight neighborhood street after former Ward 4 Councilor E. Henry Twiggs. It was poignant recognition of their late colleague, whose activism contributed to the revival of the ward representation. That created a path for him and others, including three still-serving councilors, to the municipal legislature.
In a more ironic turn, the Council punted on a new labor contract for police supervisors. The pact, which a state arbitration panel had ordered Springfield and union to accept, requires Council approval. The item ground to a halt last Monday amid eyebrow-raising arguments about discipline. The item’s circuitous debate was exactly the kind Twiggs would have moved to conclude promptly.
Ward 1 Councilor Maria Perez was absent. At-large councilors Justin Hurst and Sean Curran participated virtually.
Stepping down from the dais to open debate, Council President Lederman said his impending Council departure led to pay tribute to his late mentor.
“I think that you know one of the greatest joys of public service and community work is the people that we get to meet,” Council President Jesse Lederman said. “I think that every once in a while, we meet somebody who is truly special and E. Henry Twiggs, for so many of us, was one of those people.”
Lederman also observed that Twiggs made a point to develop future leaders, too.
“He never took a step back from the next generation. He was always there to reach back and to bring them along with him.” Lederman added, emphasizing that Twiggs “understood the importance of making sure that the next generation of leaders was ready to lead.”
The current Ward 4 councilor, Malo Brown, noted that his predecessor had always supported his family and thanked him for the path he blazed.
“He is a definite role model of mine, a mentor of mine,” Brown said. Only two weeks ago, he won reelection to a seat only he and Twiggs have held since ward representation returned in 2009.
Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton spoke about Twiggs also as a “mentor” and as “incredibly smart and astute on every issue.” He waxed nostalgic about Twiggs’s contribution to debates in the chambers and absence since his death shortly before his last term expired at the end of 2017.
“The number of times that I’ve found myself sitting in this chamber or participating in Council business since we lost him and asking myself, ‘What would he have to say about this debate?’” Fenton said. “It’s been many many times, many many many many times and I miss him dearly as my friend.”
The dean of the Council, at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh, recalled going to Democratic conventions with Twiggs, but also underscore how “genuine” he was. She also noted what his wife, Karen, did to support his work.
“He’s an icon in the City of Springfield. I’m more than happy to support this but I think you got to put Karen’s name on the sign too,” Walsh said, drawing laughter.
Ward 3 Councilor and Council Vice-president Melvin Edwards recalled that Twiggs was among the people he consulted when contemplating a run for Council 14 years ago.
“I stand on the shoulders of some great people,” Edwards said, noting that Twiggs knew and marched with civil rights icons. “It’s been a real pleasure to know E Henry Twigs it was a pleasure to stand in this chamber and serve with him and his memory lives with me and through me.”
The signing, which will not formally replace Westminster street’s current name, passed unanimously.
Earlier in the meeting was the September revenue and expenditure report. Acting Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Patrick Burns noted that the first quarter of the fiscal year 2024 budget had passed uneventfully. Burns also said that the state certified the city’s 2023 free cash at $19.3 million. Of that, $1.5 million is an installment from opiate settlements. There are conditions on the use of those funds.
At-large councilor Tracye Whitfield inquired about whether any of the free cash could be put toward reducing the property tax levy. Burns said the tax-rate setting hearings are just beginning and the free cash certification is new. More analysis lies ahead.
The Council approved utility reports in and around the X in Forest Park. A massive reconfiguration of the intersection is on tap. The city has asked utilities to complete any work before that begins.
Burns and Fire Commissioner B.J. Calvi presented a nearly $3.3 million bond for two new fire engines. Calvi explained that the costs of the equipment had been steadily increasing while manufacturing lead time of up to four years. To lock in prices under contract, Springfield is looking to bond for the equipment.
Councilors queried Burns about the but the city’s bonding capacity, but eventually approved the bond without dissent.
Several large bonds for schools and parks also received approval. Councilors authorized about $2.8 million for boiler upgrades at Rebecca Johnson and Milton Bradley schools. Parks, Recreation & Facilities Executive Director Patrick Sullivan said these projects had been on a list submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Sullivan also had a pair of bonds for Richard Neal Park in Indian Orchard and Gurdon Bill Park in Liberty Heights. The bonds were the city’s match for competitive grants it received from the US Department of the Interior’s Land & Water Conservation Fund.
“We were the only park system in the commonwealth chosen for this award,” Sullivan said explaining the Indian Orchard. He cited support from neighborhoods residents who sent in letters to the feds.
The Neal Park bond was for $1.6 million with a $1.5 million grant. The Gurdon Bill Park bond and grant were $1 million each. All components of these projects before the Council passed without dissent.
Another park item before the Council was a $500,000 state grant. Along with a $350,000 city match, it will fund improvements at Hariet Tubman Park off Hickory Street. It, took passed unanimously.
The Council greenlit a handful of smaller grants for Health & Human services, Elder Affairs and traffic enforcement. Also receiving approval was acceptance of the quarterly cable franchise fee. The $157,670 will go to the city’s public access station.
The body also allowed payment of $2,443 in bills from prior years, a $2,000 Elder Affairs donation and corrections for previously issued deeds for property.
The meeting concluded with non-action on the Springfield Police Supervisors Association contract.
As WMP&I reported and Labor Relations Director William Mahoney laid out Monday night, the pact runs from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2024. The supervisors retroactively receive 3% raises for each year. It adds a host of policies the city sought, most arising from the consent decree with the US Department of Justice.
Two of these changes were additional reporting and training. The JLMC’s award requires Springfield to pay supervisors $1,000 stipends for each.
The pact did not harmonize the window to charge supervisors with misconduct with the one for rank & file cops. The patrolmen’s contract approved earlier this year states that police brass must charge misconduct within 120 days of the incident. The supervisors’ contract limits this to 90 days.
The patrolmen’s new contract allows the city to sidestep that cutoff with a good-faith explanation for the city not knowing about the incident. This exists in the supervisors’ extant contract.
The contract is actually a Joint Labor-Management Committee mandate. The city and the union have an obligation to support it, which Mahoney emphasized. Under state law, the Council has no role in negotiations. Because the contract has a financial component, it requires Council approval.
Mahoney acknowledged not all issues in the consent decree gott into the contract. He explained that the JLMC process limits the city and the union to five issues each of their choose. The city opted to prioritize five parts of the consent decree.
“We brought the five that we thought were most significant at this point,” he told councilors. “We’ll be back at the table in negotiations as early as January of ‘24 so about seven weeks from now we can be back at the table again uh and address any remaining issues.”
The window raised few red flags at first. Whitfield said supervisors had gone without raises for too long. Councilor Brown concurred, but he tried to coax an opinion out of SPSA president Captain Brian Keenan.
“We’re required to support the award,” he said with the enthusiasm of a patient awaiting a root canal.
Still, councilors had been hearing from SPSA members ahead of the meeting. Sources say some supervisors lamented that patrolmen’s 25% higher raises. That issue would gain little traction with councilors. The window to charge misconduct, however, might delay approval and buy time to bargain in more money.
Keenan made no public disavowal of the award. He did reference concerns from prior police contracts about the charging window. The SPSA’s problem was councilors outspoken on police reform, such as Whitfield, backed the pact. While explaining her initial vote against committee referral, she echoed Mahoney’s point that new negotiations were imminent.
Other councilors would step into the breach.
Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila explored a financial item supervisors lost before turning to the charging window. Later he seemingly panned the 90-day window exception as open-ended. (Mahoney dismissed this as unlikely to hold up for too-stale incidents).
Curran, historically not a reform absolutist, insisted 90 days was insufficient. He motioned to send the pact to committee, urging the parties agree to a side letter in the meantime. Mahoney poo-pooed that, noting that the union could just agree to 30-days regardless of the Council’s vote.
With the Council turning into a pumpkin at 10pm under its rules, members pushed for votes. Curran’s committee referral failed 6-6. Curran, Davila, Edwards, Hurst, Lederman and Walsh voted for it.
Whitfield moved for a final vote after some additional remarks. Davila objected to her motion because she spoke on the item. The Council recessed while Lederman consulted the rules. Upon returning, he ruled Davila’s point out of order. But Whitfield withdrew her motion to call the question.
A new committee referral passed 10-2. Only Councilors Brown and Timothy Alen opposed it.
While the law requires labor and management to support JLMC awards, parties have danced around it before. Here the union has an additional problem. It had originally sought the JLMC’s intervention. Even if members were willing to risk sanction, the union would look ridiculous blasting the pact down publicly.
Hence this bizarre chorus of unconvincing stands on the charging window. Plus, refrigerating the pact in committee may not accomplish much. While the city of Springfield would gladly pocket consent decree compliance, but the SPSA will not just hand them over. That would defeat the purpose of the delay. Whether councilors realize this or not may determine the pact’s fate.