Mayor weighing options for Ward 2


WESTFIELD – Mayor Daniel M. Knapik has requested additional information on a slate of options available to fill the vacant Ward 2 seat on the City Council presented to him by the city’s Law Department.
Knapik said Monday that several of the options presented by the Law Department open other avenues to filling the Ward 2 seat created by the resignation of James E. Brown Jr., who has relocated to the other end of the state due to the demands of his management position in the Homeland Security Department.
“It’s not an easy situation to deal with. As difficult as it was for the City Council, it depends on whom you talk to as to what you can and cannot do to resolve this issue,” Knapik said. “I was presented with three distinct pathways.”
“I requested additional information, additional clarification from the Law Department on those options,” Knapik said, ” so right now I’m in a holding pattern.”
One of the pathways to filling the Ward 2 seat may throw that process back to residents of that ward, who would be represented by that ward councilor, through a special election.
“You could get there (to a special election) if another option was first exercised,” Knapik said.
Knapik has also requested information from other city departments to provide greater detail on the execution of the presented options.
“It would cost the city under $5,000 to conduct a special election in Ward 2.” he said. “There would be the announcement of the election to allow residents to take out nomination papers, a 30 day period to collect 50 valid signatures for nomination to the ballot, and 30 days to get the ballots printed.
“So you could get through that in 75 to 90 days to allow residents to elect a ward councilor,” Knapik said.
The issue of appointing a Ward 2 City Councilor defaulted to Knapik when the City Council declined to appoint a successor to Brown at its Oct. 4, 2012 session.
The options available to the City Council were limited by an opinion issued through the Law Department declaring that a resident who received one write-in ballot qualified as a candidate.
City Clerk Karen Fanion submitted the name of Brian Winters of 34 Cross St. as the candidate to fill the Ward 2 vacancy based upon the Law Department opinion that, in the Nov. 8, 2011, city election, Winters received one of three write-in votes for the council seat, which qualified him as a “candidate” and was the only one of the three residents willing at accept the post.
The council was sharply divided on that appointment, with a three-councilor block arguing for Winters to serve the remaining time of Brown’s term in office.
But that three-councilor block, Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell, and At-large councilors David A. Flaherty and Agma Sweeney, were opposed by a much larger block of councilors who were limited in the action they could take because of the opinions issued by the Law Department on the succession process, opinions which basically mandated Winters’ appointment.
The vote on Winters’ appointment was 2 (O’Connell and Ward 3 Councilor Ann Callahan) in favor and 1 (At large Councilor James R. Adams) opposed, meaning the vote failed to attain the seven-member majority required.
Flaherty left the Council Chamber just prior to the vote, stating that the city’s legislative branch was blatantly violating the law, on a number of levels, and that he would not be a partner to that illegal activity, and was recorded as a “not present” for the vote.
The other eight councilors abstained from the vote, effectively killing the motion to appoint Winters, who is one of the Cross Street residents involved in the Hampden Superior Court Article 97 litigation pertaining to the incorporation of part of the Cross Street playground into the Ashley Street elementary school construction project, a suit naming most councilors, as well as other city officials, as defendants.
The council received an unsigned letter stating Winters would drop his name from the Article 97 suit if appointed to the council.
Ward 5 Councilor Richard E. Onofrey Jr., was the first to evoke abstention. Onofrey was challenged by Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell to justify his abstention, which he did by stating that Winters was a party of the suit in which he was a defendant.
Six other councilors also took that position.
Sweeney, who also abstained, said that no vote of the city’s Legislative Branch is required under her interpretation of state law, City Charter and the Law Department opinions.
The council then took a second vote to refer the appointment, by default, to Knapik. That motion was approved by an 8-4 vote with Flaherty, O’Connell, Onofrey and Sweeney voting against the motion.

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