WESTFIELD – At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris, who chairs the Personnel Action Committee, presented two items for immediate consideration to the City Council on Oct. 1, both of which were voted down. Harris then resigned as committee chair.
Presented first was the job description for personnel director. Harris said she was asked by Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. and City Solicitor Shanna Reed to make the request for immediate consideration.
She said the job description had been reviewed by the acting director of personnel and the law department. She also said there were applicants to the position who were waiting.
Councilors Dave Flaherty and Kristen Mello voted down the motion for immediate consideration, although that did not immediately end the discussion.
At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. also objected, although he said he would not vote no. “Everyone knows the process. Job descriptions shouldn’t be coming in after the job has been posted and people have applied,” he said.
Mello noted that according to correspondence from the mayor and Reed, the job was not approved by the City Council during the last search in 2017.
Flaherty said he was on the council in 2017, and the job description wasn’t approved because the 30 day window for the council to act ran out. “I’m absolutely a no tonight. There is absolutely no reason that we should rush to make up for deficiencies happening in other places,” he said.
“I believe our job was taken from us to ask for immediate consideration. I’m a no,” Mello said.
“I too am concerned with the way this has come about,” said Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy. He said he understood that it happened in part because the personnel department has no head, and they posted the job, believing it was best for the city. He also said it was his understanding that sending the job description to committee would cause the process to start all over again. “I don’t want to lose a good candidate,” Figy added.
After more discussion, Harris said she would no longer deliver any messages from City Hall regarding job descriptions to the City Council.
“We need to decide whether we’re going to move it forward. As we all know, City Hall is not functioning without these department heads in place. Unless somebody has a problem with the job description itself,” said Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III.
“We as a council are decrying City Hall and the way things are getting done. If we vote this down, we become part of the problem. What this does is legitimizes the posting that’s already out there,” Figy said.
Sullivan said he appreciated that Councilor Harris had to bring this forward, and thanked her. “The mayor is on the call. Do we want to recognize him for any comment that he may have?” he asked.
After no objection, Humason joined the conversation “This is not an optimal situation at all. We have a lot of positions that are vacant because of retirements. The issue is that because there is nobody in that position doing the job, we didn’t realize the job description hadn’t been brought to the City Council to be reviewed. We have already been in the search committee and planned to interview candidates tomorrow. Solicitor Reed discovered the City Council hadn’t approved it. We need to fill these positions. It’s been frustrating with revolving doors,” Humason said, adding that COVID hasn’t made it any easier.
“It’s not the City Council’s problem that we’re holding it up. It isn’t something that should be rushed. I want everybody to recognize that this is something that has come before us for immediate consideration. These are big jobs. It’s unfair to say the Council is holding this up. Interviews should not have been set up. This should not have been posted,” said Council President Brent B. Bean II.
After looking in the City Charter, Flaherty said under charter rules, if anyone objects to immediate consideration for a personnel action, it goes to committee.
Bean acknowledged the rule. “I would like to see something come out of personnel as a committee of the whole, so we can have that discussion. We’re not voting at all. That motion is now back in PAC. I’ll have a conversation with Councilor Harris about it moving forward,” he said.
Later in the agenda, Harris again requested suspension of the rules for immediate consideration to reappoint Attorney John E Garber to the position of part-time city solicitor in the Law Department.
“I oppose. Have this person come before us,” said Flaherty.
At that point, Harris said she would step down as chair of the Personnel Committee.
“I just wanted to thank Councilor Flaherty for speaking up. I’m a no,” said Mello, adding that she would not want to ask the questions she has for Garber in open session.
Beltrandi asked for a roll call on immediate consideration, which was voted down 9 to 4.
Bean asked for a motion to submit the reappointment of Garber to PAC, which passed 12 to 1.
Harris voted no, adding, “Appoint somebody else as chairperson.”
“This is a very frustrating time for a lot of people,” said Bean after the meeting. “Our processes are frustrating even without this remote world. I plan on having a discussion with Councilor Harris to see where she stands on being chair of PAC. She is a very valuable member of the council, and her work on PAC has been second to no one, so I’m really hoping that she reconsiders.”