WESTFIELD – City Councilors requested updates from Mayor Donald F. Humason Jr. Aug. 20 on the hiring of a personnel director and city solicitor and the plans to reopen City Hall, and voted to discuss the creation of a grant writer’s position including job description, posting and funding source.
At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean, II made the requests during the regular council meeting. Another motion presented by a total of nine councilors asked to investigate the removal of the fire chief position from civil service,
While all of these motions were supported, not all of the support was unanimous. Regarding the creation of a grant writer’s position, At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris said she “respectfully” opposed the idea.
Harris said the community development, purchasing, council on aging and facilities directors all write their own grants, as do the school, police, and fire departments and the airport. “No one can do their job better. I have talked to these department heads, and there is no support for this position,” Harris said. She said she knows that Bean is trying to get more money for the city, but going forward with the city advancement officer would be a better route.
“I’m a strong proponent of having the city hiring a grant writer. I’ve always had the feeling that a lot of money is left on the table,” said Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane. She said her husband is a teacher and recently advised Westfield of a large civics grant that did not get written, and that the city is currently struggling to write another grant to plant trees. “Having a grant writer who could assist and aid department heads in writing grants for the city would be an asset,” she said.
At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said he agreed with both councilors, adding that he knows there are grants out there not getting written. He said in the original city advancement officer position, writing grants was a large part of the job, and he would like to see the two positions combined. ”Not sure we have enough demand for it to be a full-time, stand alone position,” Flaherty said
Bean said a grant writer requires a unique set of skills and would pay for itself. He said that he would like to see both positions filled, but acknowledged there are a lot of open positions in the city. “There has been a major shift in the last 10 or 20 years. There are no more earmarks for cities and towns; they’re called grants. I just think it’s something we should research,” he said,
Bean added that there’s money right now in the half -year city advancement office line item. “We could hire someone and see how it works. Right now, I would just like the mayor to weigh in and see what his thoughts are,” he said.
The votes in support of these motions was amended to request that Humason come to the first two Council meetings in September for the updates.
Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy was asked at Thursday’s meeting to give an update on the city auditor search. He said the search committee had conducted interviews of two qualified candidates in an executive session, but because the posting was still open, waited to see if there were additional candidates. Figy said the next step would be for the executive session to reconvene, and vote whether to send the candidates to the City Council for a vote.
The motion to investigate the process for removing the fire chief position out of civil service also did not get unanimous support.
At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr., one of the nine councilors to put forward the motion, said the discussion goes back many years to when he served as mayor of Westfield. He said at the time, the city moved all of the department heads, including the police chief, out of civil service with the exception of the fire chief, because they could not come to an agreement with the union. He said he wanted to make clear that the current fire chief would not be removed from civil service if this were to go through, but fire chiefs going forward.
Harris asked if the men and women of the Fire Department and the union supported the motion, and whether anyone had spoken to the mayor about it. Harris said she would only support the change if the Westfield firefighters and their families were 100 percent behind it.
Sullivan said he had not talked to the unions, but the change wouldn’t happen if the supervising unions did not support it.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski said he hadn’t joined in on the motion, and that he would be a no vote. “I really think this should be coming from the Fire Commission. I realize it may be premature, but once that happens, I’ll be glad to closely look at this again,” Onyski said..
At-large Councilor James Adams said it was his understanding that other cities and towns are going in this direction. “I think every ten years, every department should have an outside organization come in and look at their department. My understanding is a lot of departments in the state are going in inis direction,” he said.
Another motion by At-large Councilor Dan Allie to discuss ways to help small businesses that were forced to close by the state was not supported. Flaherty and other councilors said the city had reached out through the Community Development department to help local businesses, as had the Chamber of Commerce, and it is not the role of the City Council to advise businesses on financial matters..