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Take My Council, Please: Aspirations for a City on the Hill…


Breathe. (WMP&I and Google images)

SPRINGFIELD—A relatively tame agenda before the City Council Monday quickly unraveled into much longer discourses. The body spent a considerable amount of time mediating on technical changes to legal documents. However, the body also had a pair of resolutions backing legislation in the legislature. One pertained to paint recycling and other to an amendment an old colleague had sponsored.

Former city councilor and now-Senator Adam Gomez appeared with Westfield Senator John Velis to discuss the firearm legislation. Ward 5 Councilor Lavar Click-Bruce sponsored a resolution in support of their amendment to the Senate’s firearm bill. Specifically, it would detain repeat violent gun crime offenders until trial.

Council Vice-president Melvin Edwards presided over the meeting as Council President Michael Fenton was absent. Councilors Sean Curran and Tracye Whitfield were also absent. Councilors Maria Perez and Brian Santaniello participated virtually.

Gomez and Velis’ presentation came at the end. Consequently, Gomez and Velis were treated to nearly two hours of majestic Council debate. Gomez, who represented Ward 1 for five years, was no stranger to this. This was his colleague’s first full experience of the power and the glory of 36 Court Street.

The large gun bill passed the Senate on February 2. The House had already passed a bill. The legislation is now before a conference committee. It had been delayed through much of 2023 due to fights over committee jurisdiction.

Lavar Click-Bruce

Click-Bruce calling in state reinforcements. (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield

Click-Bruce, the chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, announced his resolution last week. He has said in public comments and at the meeting that the recent shooting at the High School of Science & Technology was not itself the impetus for this measure. Rather, citing the spike in homicides last year and other high-profile shootings, he found residents increasingly on edge.

“When I’m out just going to a local grocery store, I do hear from elderly saying they don’t feel safe,” Click-Bruce said.

Gomez ran down the broader bill’s provisions, which extended well beyond his and Velis’ amendment. It includes strengthening red flag procedures, codifying assault weapons definitions, prohibition of unlawful marketing and promotion of gun safety.

After assuring councilors he and Gomez were used to “robust” debates, Velis explained the amendment on holding repeat violent offenders. The provision would only take effect when there is “clear and convincing evidence” a repeat violent offender has been in violation of conditions of their release. For example, if a person charged with a gun or violent crime but released pending trial subsequently commits a similar offense, they will be held.

Velis recalled last year’s midday shooting in Holyoke. A pregnant woman was hit and her baby subsequently died. Yet, he observed this change was not a cure-all.

“There needs to be a multipronged approach to this and something that has already been referenced is prevention,” the Westfield senator said.

Gomez Velis

The Senate Squad stops by the Council chamber. (WMP&I)

Councilors broadly praised the senators’ amendment via the resolution. However, electoral politics seemingly crept into the debate. Among the councilors who spoke in favor of Click-Bruce’s resolution was Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown. He acknowledged Velis’ work by name but said nothing of Gomez.

As WMP&I previously reported, Brown is challenging Gomez for State Senate this year. On Wednesday, the Springfield Election Commission confirmed it certified enough signatures to get Brown on the ballot.

The district includes parts of Chicopee. However, it is quite possible to secure the necessary 300 signatures from Springfield alone.

Perhaps attention to the slight is overly particular. Yet, Brown was especially vocal throughout the meeting. Just before the gun amendment resolution, the Council passed one Brown sponsored that backed bills on recycling old paint. A speaker in support of the legislation said a bill was pending before the House Ways & Means Committee.

Again, there may be little to read into urging colleagues to support a piece of legislation, however esoteric.

Brown also urged his colleagues to refer technical changes of a land taking to committee. This despite several assertions that the changes had no impact on the project itself.

The city is the process of radically redesigning the intersection of St. James Avenue and Tapley Street. Among the changes is installation of a rotary, which are now in vogue for safety and traffic efficiency reasons. Without lending credit to such complaints, not all drivers like them including ostensible residents near this project.

On Monday, the Council was considering a revised land taking order for something that had actually occurred last year. Associate city solicitor Robert Shewchuk explained that the original order referred to permanent takings of property, rather than easements, which are merely a right to land.

Councilors chewed over the nature of the project, which the body had approved separately some time ago. Nevertheless, Brown moved to send the item to committee.

Malo Brown

Councilor Brown in 2023. (still via YouTube/Focus Springfield)

“However it happened, I know at no point was the neighborhood council ever presented and asked for approval,” he said.

Brown said the Bay Area Neighborhood Council was the community entity of cognizance, although the projects boundaries would technically spill into McKnight as well.

Councilors showed little interest in a committee referral. Ward 8 Councilor Zaida Govan remarked that it sounded like the time to weigh in had passed. Shewchuck straight up said the odds that anything would change by delaying the item were “zero percent.” Earlier, he had explained that the error only affected the assessor office’s records, not the project itself.

Brown withdrew his motion and the order passed without opposition.

The rest of the agenda moved without much incident.

At the top of the meeting, the Council approved a $1,043,402 grant for homeless youth that age out of foster care. Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Cathy Buono told councilors that the grant funds work with two organization. They are the Gandara Center and the Center for Human Development.

The body also approved $75,000 for work along the Connecticut River bike and walkway.

Councilors also authorized $3,883,905 in bonding for boiler replacement work at Rebecca Johnson and Milton Bradley schools. As city officials explained, the Council had previously authorized $2,827,786 for the project in November. It was not fully explained what had escalated the cost—or lowballed the November bond.

Capital Asset Director Peter Garvey assured the project remained eligible for 80% reimbursement from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Because of various socioeconomic factors, the city routinely received 80% reimbursement for school construction projects, but only on allowable costs.

Councilors also granted final approval to a revision of the city’s tree ordinance. The change from the previous week’s meeting that had delayed its passage was the inclusion of a definition of climate change.

Another ordinance before the Council was the repeal of term limits for the Community Preservation Committee. The body, which the Council created after city voters adopted the Community Preservation Act in 2016, has members that several city bodies appoint. Originally, the Council had hoped term limits would help the CPC broaden public participation.

It had not turned out that way. Councilor Fenton had indicated last year that he would seek the repeal. While the Council did approve first step on the change Monday, the bill will require revisions. As currently submitted, it would repeal the definition of CPC members’ terms entirely. It will face another vote at the next meeting.

First Student

Hop on the magic school bus contract! (via Wikipedia)

The only other item on the agenda attracted some interest, if not a terribly long debate. The School Department, like any other in the city, requires Council authorization before it can enter into contracts longer than three years. As it had in the past, it sought Council approval to enter into a five-year contract for school busing.

Patrick Roach, the School Department Chief Financial and Operations Officer, said the hope is a longer contract would attract more bidders. The theory is that a longer period lets bidding companies amortize costs of vehicle procurement more clearly. In other words, more bidders may step forward knowing they have the security of the longer term.

Oftentimes, the Council’s gripe with these authorizations is they come before and/or during the period the contract is out to bid. Councilors would prefer to grant the authorization after the city picks a vendor so the body can review the contract. However, councilors have not tended to complain as much when the School Department seeks this authorization.

The bus contract, however, is different. It is on the city side of the budget, not the schools. Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen asked Roach about the competition and options. Roach replied that the current busing company, First Student (or its corporate predecessors) had held the contract since he began working for the schools.

However, Roach also told Allen that there is not much competition in this field. While he said five-year contracts were common, Roach could not tell Ward 6 Councilor Victor Davila if any nearby communities had contracts of such length.

Councilor Govan asked if any performance oversight of First Student occurred, citing complaints from parents about bus reliability. Roach said it happens, but historically First Student had not had problems. The city has fined it, nevertheless, in recent months as school bus service declined, mostly due to driver shortages.

Ultimately, the authorization passed without dissent.

Election contests have certainly haunted Council meetings before. Indeed, many councilors have sought higher office in recent years. It only recently became fashionable for pols to win state legislative seats from the Council. What is different is not a councilor challenging an incumbent but an incumbent who is a former colleague. That seemed evident in Brown’s omission.



To the cynic’s eye, however, the graciousness and deference that pols shower on each other is just cow excrement. The failure to do so may be noteworthy for the city’s political commentariat. Yet, careful watchers may not focus on that episode from this past Monday’s meeting.

Greater attention might properly belong on that school bus contract.