Take My Council, Please: Almost Wrapped up and Ready for the Holidays…
In stark contrast to its last outing, the Springfield City Council pirouetted through the police supervisors labor contract with barely a comment. Three weeks ago, the pact with upper management at Pearl Street ground to a halt amid unexpected concerns about the charging window for misconduct. Following a General Government Committee hours before Monday night, it sailed to passage.
The contract was, in fact, an arbitration award a state panel had imposed on the city and union, pending Council ratification. The pact, which covers July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2024 includes annual raises of three percent and stipends for compliance with the consent decree. Alleged discontent in the union may have fueled the delay, but not this week. Rather, the Council took much more interest in a Batman-esque non-lethal tool Springfield’s Finest will begin employing.
At-large Councilor Sean Curran was absent from Monday’s meeting. Councilors Malo Brown, Lavar Click-Bruce, Justin Hurst, Maria Perez, Kateri Walsh and Tracye Whitfield participated remotely.
The first sign that the pact with the Springfield Police Supervisors Association was on the glidepath to passage came during committee reports. Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton, who chairs the General Government Committee, announced that his panel heard testimony from administration and union officials. Without the Committee explicitly calling for action, he said the contract was ready.
“We made no recommendation on that matter, but did hear many of the issues that the Council wished us to discuss in committee based on the last regular meeting,” Fenton said in his committee report. “So we’re calling that matter back out for a vote tonight.”
While the contract guest-starred at the last meeting, its role Monday night was no more than a cameo. At the end of the meeting, the Council voted unanimously to back the contract. An appropriations order for $3,014,048 to cover the back raises in the SPSA contract was held for a vote until the contract passed. It, too, was unanimous although Councilor Brown had left the meeting when those votes took place.
By contrast, councilors could not seem to ask enough questions about a new restraint police will begin using to detain individuals. Officer Anthony Kelliher of Springfield PD’s training unit said the “BolaWraps” are not entirely risk-free. The sharp edges of the cords could cause injuries. However, its most common use would likely be for situations where a person is experiencing crisis.
The $49,982 grants from the feds covers training and equipment.
Councilors asked multiple questions about the risk of injuries. Brown asked who will do the training (the department) and Councilor Walsh asked if mental health councilors were still deploying in some situations (yes).
Eventually, the grant received Council approval without dissent.
Before the BolaWrap debate, the Council receive the October revenue and expenditure report. Acting Chief Administration & Financial Officer Patrick Burns raised no red flags. Councilors also approved an honorary street sign on Buckingham Place in honor of Abbie Davies. An employee of the trial court, she had been the first black clerk-magistrate in Massachusetts.
The funding for the police supervisors contract came from the city’s free cash account from the prior fiscal year. The Council authorized another $1.9 million transfer from free cash to the city’s retiree health care fund.
The body also greenlit payment of $1,312 in bills from the facilities division for a prior year and acceptance of a donation to the K9 unit at Pearl Street.
Councilors also sent the mayor a home rule petition to raise the age for retired officers to do off-duty work. In 2018, the city sought and received state approval to allow retired officers to work as special police officers for non-regular duty. The new petition, which Councilors Click-Bruce and Fenton sponsored, would raise the age from 65 to 70. Barring mayoral veto, it will go to Beacon Hill for approval.
The Council granted an easement for the Water & Sewer Commission at Mary Shea Park.
The only other action of the night was final approval of an amendment to the city’s littering and dumping ordinance. As its chief sponsor, Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila explained, the change streamlines the fine to a flat $500 per incident. It also allows the city to attach nonpayment to the offender’s file with the Registry of Motor Vehicles. That would frustrate or prevent renewals.
The action to enact the ordinance was second and third step. The Council voted to do simultaneously.
Going into Monday, it looked like the police supervisors contract would face delays. There had been intrigue on the day of its initial appearance. Moreover, it was not clear those matters had been settled.
The absence of discussion about any side deal—amendment was impossible being an arbitration award—suggests there was no addendum. The brief delay had no substantive impact. Still, the supervisors were the last to reach accord for the period dating back to 2020. The supervisors already stood apart from the patrolmen somewhat as more implacable in Springfield’s police-community relations debates.
The resumption of negotiations in January for the next contract may only draw more scrutiny now.