Legislation’s local option in limbo

WESTFIELD – A motion to have the City Council adopt a state law regarding authority to set municipal fees will remain in the Legislative & Ordinance Committee pending further investigation.
The motion to adopt Massachusetts General Law , Chapter 40, Section 22-F describing the powers and duties of cities and towns was presented by Ward 4 Councilor Mary O’Connell on behalf of a Honey Pot Road resident at the March 7 council session.
Resident James Parker, who attended the L&O session Monday night, said that the City Council, as the city’s legislative branch, should be required to review and approve all fees set by various departments.
Parker raised the issue after the Health Board approved a $10 access sticker to the Twiss Street transfer station. The purpose of the sticker is to restrict the use of that facility to city residents who are required to prove residency to obtain the access sticker.
The Law Department has issued an opinion that the Board of Health acted within its authority, to protect public health and safety, as established by state law.
Parker argued that the mayor and an extension of the city’s executive branch appoint the Health Board members.
“The legislative branch is the only branch of government that has the power of the purse,” Parker said. “This (local option to adopt state law) keeps us clean. As a voter I want my elected representatives to make these decisions. I can hold my representatives accountable with my vote.”
“It keeps the democratic principle of separation of powers,” Parker said. “The City Council as the legislative branch has the authority to set fees, not the executive branch.”
The discussion raised a number of issues that the L&O members will investigate further. L&O Chairman Christopher Keefe said that he will request the Law Department to identify fees that would become the responsibility of the City Council to manage if the local option is adopted.
At-large Councilor James R. Adams suggested that the council request all departments to submit a list of the current fees and any plans to increase those fees to the City Council to further identify the scope of fees assessed by the city.
The L&O members voted to keep the issue in committee while that information is requested.

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