Fire Commission rejects proposal to increase commission size

WESTFIELD- The Fire Commission voted unanimously Sept. 14 in a teleconference meeting to recommend against increasing the size of certain commissions in the city from three to five members.

The vote was related to a motion by the City Council on May 2, 2019 to increase the size of the police, airport, and fire commissions. The motion was referred to the Law Department and the Legislation and Ordinance Committee where it has sat since. 

Fire Commission Chair Albert Masciadrelli said that it would be in the best interest of the city and the Fire Commission to remain as a three-person commission. He said that adding two more commissioners would invite more politics into the Fire Department, which all three commissioners and Fire Chief Patrick Egloff agreed should not happen.

While Commissioner Jeff Siegel agreed that the size should not be increased, he briefly played devil’s advocate and pointed out that having more people would prevent a situation where one commissioner is unable to attend a meeting and the remaining two commissioners are stuck with a tie on a crucial vote. 

Masciadrelli said that he had never seen that situation occur in his time as a commissioner, which spans more than two decades. 

Siegel also argued that there could be some value in having more points of view on the commission. He also said, however, that in a time of economic uncertainty and fiscal conservatism, it may not be wise to add two more people to the commission who would have to receive a stipend from the city. 

Egloff pointed out that having a five-person commission would mean that two commissioners speaking outside of a meeting would not be a quorum, which would potentially allow them to discuss Fire Commission business off the record. He argued that this would bring more politics into the commission. 

Under open meeting law, having a majority of a commission gathered together constitutes as a quorum, which makes it illegal to discuss Fire Commission business if it is not part of a previously scheduled and announced meeting. 

With a three-person commission that means that any discussion of Fire Commission business between two commissioners is in violation of that law. 

Masciadrelli said th e police and airportcommissions are in agreement against the change.

“After talking to the other commissions, I found that they are in sort of the same realm. They don’t want their commission size bogged down,” said Masciadrelli.

The conversation was prompted by a letter sent to the commission from Ward 6 City Councilor William Onyski, who  is against the change, according to Masciadrelli. 

After the vote, Masciadrelli said he would draft a letter for the City Council stating that the Fire Commission is against the proposal. 

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