Fenton Doles out Committee Slots for the 2024 Council Year…
UPDATED 11:02AM: To include a clarifying update. Fenton did appoint a new committee on PILOT/New Revenue.
Newly (re-)installed Springfield City Council President Michael Fenton has released committee assignments for the body’s 2024 session. Aside from accounting for new members, the allocation of seats and chairs was not a radical departure from 2023. Still, the choices reflect the balance and tone Fenton is trying to strike with his return to the dais.
Committee assignments always entail some speculation about who is up and who is down. Moreover, the election of council president had its tensions. Nevertheless, many of the new and continuing chairs are eager to begin business. For his part, Fenton said his decisions turned on where he believed his colleagues fit best.
“I tried to put councilors in a position to do good work based on their experiences and interests,” he said in a statement to WMP&I. “We’ve got a busy year ahead of us and I am looking forward to continuing Springfield’s resurgence.”
Fenton, who posted the assignments to the Council’s webpage, did not announce any new ad hoc committees or working groups. Many such panels the prior Council President Jesse Lederman had appointed concluded their work in a final report last month.
A few of these working groups are continuing, but Fenton did create a Payment-in-lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT)/New Revenue committee. He told WMP&I that it will look ahead to the budget and tax setting process, which has attracted greater attention as property tax bills have risen. Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila will chair it.
Aside from the Responsible Employer Ordinance (REO) committee, which has an explicit oversight function, four committee shall retain the same chairs.
Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen shall chair Finance for another year. Joining him this year are at-large councilor Jose Delgado and Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards. Ward 5 Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce remains the chair of Public Safety. New to the committee this year are at-large councilor Brian Santaniello and Davila.
At-large Councilor Kateri Walsh remains the chair of the Intergovernmental Affairs/State Federal Relations Committee. Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown remains a holdover from last year, but at-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield joins them. Whitfield herself retains the chair of the Civil Rights Committee. Allen and Davila are continuing service on the committee from last year.
“It’s right up my alley to bring any policies or issues that lack diversity, equity inclusion, lacks community involvement and violates civil and human rights,” Whitfield said in a text. “I’m excited to take this committee to the next level!”
The Council’s new members, Delgado and Santaniello, are each chairing a committee this year, too.
Fenton tapped Delgado to head the Audit Committee. Its prior leader, Justin Hurst, retired last year to run for mayor. The Committee can be an engine for oversight of city government. It works closely with the Director of Internal Audit, one of the few mayoral appointments the Council must confirm.
Delgado, in a text, said he was still digesting the recent appointments. However, he thanked Fenton for trusting him with the post.
“I’m appreciative of City Council President Fenton’s belief in my abilities,” he said. “Looking forward to getting to work.”
Allen is continuing on Audit while Ward 8 Councilor Zaida Govan joins the committee this year.
Santaniello takes over as chair of Health & Human Services (HHS) Committee. Historically something of a backwater, the panel took on a heightened salience during the COVID-19 pandemic. The once-and-again councilor has already planned two meetings. The first on January 18 will focus on the impact of fentanyl in Springfield. Next month, he is planning a hearing on infant mortality.
“Springfield and Worcester lead the state in the highest infant mortality,” he explained. Santaniello added the was working with Councilor Allen on contamination in the city water supply. For some time, the city has had levels of haloacetic acids that exceed maximum standards.
Councilors Govan and Walsh remain on the committee from last year. However, Govan had chaired it last year. A social worker, she had put a priority on mental health.
Instead, she will chair the Sustainability and Environment Committee in 2024. Govan had been on that body last year, but joining her this year are Davila and at-large Councilor Sean Curran. Though philosophical about the switch, she, too, already has a meeting in the works.
“I plan on having the first meeting on the 23rd to talk about the deforestation of our city,” she said in a message to WMP&I. Govan added that she would also be looking at ways to achieve climate goals and deliver climate justice in the city.
Other changes include Ward 1 Councilor Maria Perez taking over the chair of Elder Affairs from Davila. Joining her on the committee will be Santaniello and Walsh. Davila will chair the important, jack-of-all-trades General Government Committee. He takes over from Fenton. Walsh is continuing on the committee while Whitfield joins General Government for 2024.
Brown replaces Curran as chair of Maintenance & Development, which oversees infrastructure. The former had been on the Committee in 2023. Click-Bruce and Perez also join the panel. Curran will not be without a chair, though. He will lead the Planning & Economic Development Committee, which has its own sprawling remit including special permits. Curran sat on the panel last year. Delgado and Click-Bruce will join him in 2024.
The final few panels are bodies like the REO, which overseas compliance with diversity targets for city projects. Edwards, a longtime proponent of the REO, remains that body’s chair. Delgado replaces Allen as the second councilor on that body.
Two working groups from Lederman’s tenure appear to remain active. These bodies have additional members who are not councilors. Delgado takes over as the Council chair of the Working Group on Digital Equity and Internet Access. Fenton had chaired it last year. Edwards remains the chair of the Working Group On Labor & Workforce Development
Perez remains the Council appointee to the Impacted Neighborhood Stabilization Fund Oversight panel. Walsh remains the Council chair of the Women’s Committee while Click-Bruce is the new head of the Youth Committee.