Light Board meets to discuss Westfield 350, open meeting law violations

WESTFIELD- The Westfield Municipal Light Board met Wednesday night to discuss the annual budget, future projections, and annual ethics compliance documentation.

During public participation, a resident who did not name himself spoke about the possibility of televising light board meetings in a similar manner to how City Council, School Committee, and Planning Board meetings are broadcast. The resident also took time to congratulate Westfield Gas and Electric general manager Dan Howard on his upcoming retirement.

Howard gave remarks thanking the municipal light board and the utility company as a whole. “You were supportive even before I became manager,” he said to the board members.

Howard went on to cite a survey sent out to Westfield residents in which the utility was given a 96% approval rating. “That’s a testament to you, the employees, and everything that goes on here,” he says.

The board moved on to the monthly lost time report. Howard mentioned that a lineman had injured his back in October and missed time as a result.

The community and non-profit events participation report came next. The utility company will be sponsoring and volunteering in the Westfield 350 celebration. Howard also claimed that the company sponsors many non-profit organizations in the city including schools, the council on aging, and the Boys and Girls Club.

When discussing the fleet inventory of Westfield Gas and Electric, Howard noted that the cost of maintaining their fleet of vehicles followed a general downward trend with the exception of one point where it began rising due to the age of the trucks. He anticipates the cost of fleet maintenance to trend down again this year.

The board addressed projected natural gas and electricity costs for fiscal years 2018 and 2019. Gas consumption was up last year due to the winter being approximately 4% colder than normal. This led to gas costs for the past fiscal year being 7.6% higher than original projections. Consumption was 10% higher, but lower rates kept the cost from completely reflecting that usage.

The board received a complaint claiming they had violated open meeting law in a previous executive session. Board members expressed confusion over how the individual who filed the complaint knew that there was a violation in an executive session, which would have been closed to the public.

The complaint claimed that during the executive session, the board improperly discussed the process for selecting a new General Manager to replace the outgoing Dan Howard.

“The attorney general is going to look at the allegations,” said Ward 6 Commissioner Robert Sacco, “they’re probably going to ask for our minutes.”

All the commissioners were personally named in the complaint, according to Sacco. The board debated releasing the meeting minutes of the executive session in question.

A motion was made and passed unanimously to release a redacted version of the executive session from Sept. 5, Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. The redacted section would include information not relevant to the complaint in question.

The public portion of the meeting concluded with the monthly financial report showing that both gas and electric expenditures were found to be well ahead of budget.

The board agreed to put off filling the vacant Ward 5 seat until the City Council meeting on Dec. 6. The regular City Council meeting begins at 7 p.m., but the process for selecting a new commissioner would begin at 6 p.m.

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