WESTFIELD – The City Council approved by immediate consideration a bond order authorizing the refinancing of outstanding bonds at its June 18 meeting.
Finance subcommittee chair Ralph J. Figy said Treasurer Matthew Barnes started to research the bonds, and found that the city hasn’t undergone debt reconsolidation since 2014. Figy said Barnes found that one bond, if allowed to resell, will save between $100,000 to $125,000 a year in interest, and $1.6 million over the life of the bond.
Finance committee member Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said there will be some costs, including bank fees and arbitrage savings. “I’m assuming the estimates of savings consider costs,” he said.
“I just want to point out that this is just one maneuver by a lead person in the city that will save us over $1 million. This is the type of thing you’ll see on an ongoing basis by having the right people. I applaud Matt for chasing this down. This will easily cover 15 years of his service to the city. I would hope when we have these kinds of discussions going forward, (considering) the right person can be extremely important,” said At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty The motion then passed unanimously.
Also approved by immediate consideration was the job description for City Auditor, following the resignation of Christopher Caputo, effective the beginning of July. Mayor Dominic Sarno recently announced Caputo’s hiring as treasurer/collector in Springfield.
Personnel Action Committee chair Cindy C. Harris said according to statute, the job description must be approved by the City Council. “This was the same job description that was used to hire Christopher Caputo,” Harris said, with Figy adding that the position of auditor is a City Council hire, and that it is important to act before the end of the fiscal year.
Harris also asked for immediate consideration for the appointment of George Keefe on the Airport Commission, replacing longtime commissioner Donald Nicoletti. Harris said recently the Council heard from new Airport Manager Christopher Willenborg, who has known Keefe since 1999, and highly recommends him for the Commission. Harris said Keefe just retired from the Department of Defense at Westover, previously having served as tower manager at Barnes Airport. She said Keefe is a Navy veteran. “Our city will be very fortunate to have him,” Herris said.
Before approving the appointment, several councilors offered their thanks to Nicoletti for his service. “I had the opportunity to appoint him. I thank Don for everything he did in his distinguished career,” said Sullivan, a sentiment echoed by Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr.
Also reappointed to the Board of Assessors were longtime members Suzanne Bergeron and Diane Snow.
The final item for immediate consideration was a grant of $5,973 for crosswalk safety from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Figy said there were no matching funds required for the grant. When asked, he said he wasn’t certain specifically what the grant will be used for.
Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane submitted a petition through the City Clerk for street acceptance for Sherman St. Ext. Matthews-Kane said it is a street in her ward, which she is submitting for consideration as a public way, and asked for referral to subcommittees.
The subject of immediate consideration came up again in the second reading and final vote on an ordinance change that would, according to several councilors, reflect the current practices of the Council. The ordinance change would allow votes on immediate consideration on appropriation requests made by letter and not in person.
“I’m going to be a no again. This is the item that will change the way that we process immediate requests. The ordinance as written requires people to show up in person and not just submit on paper. It should be such an extraordinary thing there is no reason they can’t show up in person,” said Flaherty.
“I agree with Councilor Flaherty. It’s important to the public. I don’t think we need to change it,” said Morganelli.
Also agreeing were new Councilors Matthews-Kane and Kristen Mello. “Sometimes a letter is sufficient, but someone to come in person and ask questions to (is important),” said Matthews-Kane.
“I have a lot of questions, and a letter is not going to cut it most of the time. There are some things, I don’t need to nickel and dime. Immediate consideration, which you say is very rare, but you have one at almost every meeting,” said Mello.
“This change is the way we’ve been conducting business. We cam always ask people to come in,” said At-large Councilor James Adams.
“We get the agenda 24 hours in advance. It’s within the Council president;s purview to call them in. We haven’t been doing it,” said Council President Brent B. Bean, II.
“If you look at our agenda tonight, we have three immediate considerations that were not presented in person but sent by letter. Our standard of practice most times is to accept a letter. I don`t think it eliminates the need for an in person presentation, but does allow for what we’ve been accepting. It’s not to circumvent or to prevent people from asking questions,” said Figy, who originally presented the ordinance change.
“I’m going to disagree,” said Flaherty. “My argument has to do with appropriation of money. The items tonight were a grant, and for appointments. I believe the public has the right to question these expenses. This is for appropriations and ordinances,” he said.
Allie said the chair of Finance normally meets with the Mayor before the meeting, adding that any one councilor could object to immediate consideration, and it would stop it. “And then we can always get more information. I get their concern, but there is a procedure in place. I see both sides of it, but I will support Figy’s motion here,” Allie said.
“I understand that it would streamline things to change the rules to do things the way things the council would like to do them. It feels really wrong to find out that we haven’t been following the rules, and to rectify that (is) to change the rules. I would ask that we would at last reconsider. I’m not okay with that,” said Mello.
“This must be adopted by unanimous consent This will allow us to pass through a $500 item. That one line says it all. It allow smaller items,” said Ward 6 Councilor WIlliam Onyski, adding, “The implication is that we’re doing our best to move things along, for efficient government.” The ordinance change passed 9 to 4, with Councilors Flaherty, Matthews-Kane, Mello and Morganelli voting no.
Allie spoke to his motion to request that DPW Director David Billips come before the City Council to give an update on Wells 7 and 8.
“It’s good to hear that Wells 7 and 8 has been approved, and should be running soon. They were supposed to be ready (last) August and September,” Allie said, referring to information given by Billips at the DPW Finance review on June 17.
Flaherty made a motion to amend, and ask that Billips come before the Council the first meeting in July. Figy made a motion to amend to have a specific list of questions for Billips to answer one week before that meeting.
Morganelli asked whether questions would also be allowed at the meeting.
“The reason to submit questions in advance is so the department head can properly prepare. We’ve always been able to ask questions off of questions,” said Figy.
The motion and amendments passed.