Light Board seeks to improve process for filling positions

WESTFIELD- The members of the Westfield Gas and Electric Municipal Light Board expressed interest in having the board’s vacant Ward 5 seat filled before a new general manager can be chosen for the utility.

In a meeting on Dec. 2 the Board discussed the processes for choosing a new general manager to replace the outgoing Tony Contrino, who recently announced that he will be retiring in 2021. They also discussed the process for filling the Ward 5 seat left vacant by Thomas Flaherty, who stepped down on Nov. 18. 

The timing of Flaherty’s departure leads some to believe that he is seeking the general manager role himself. He attempted a similar move in 2018, but ultimately did not get the job, as Contrino ended up being the candidate that was chosen. 

Before the board could discuss the matter, ward 5 resident Brian Richards said during public participation that he too would like to see the Ward 5 seat filled before a new general manager is found. In 2018, when Tony Contrino was chosen, the ward 5 seat had not yet been filled, leaving the ward unrepresented in the vote for a new General Manager. 

During the Dec. 6, 2018 joint meeting between City Council and the Municipal Light Board to choose a new ward 5 commissioner, the applicants were not permitted to speak about themselves due to time constraints. Richards and several commissioners agreed that they should be permitted to speak this time around. Then-City Council President John Beltrandi would not allow the candidates to speak at that meeting because it was not on the agenda for the evening. 

Flaherty was ultimately chosen to retake his own seat. Richards was the only other candidate nominated to the seat during the meeting. 

“City Council overruled us and did not allow applicants to speak last time,” said Ward 2 Commissioner Ray Rivera. 

Chair Robert Sacco said that the board does not have to set a joint meeting until certain parameters are set allowing candidates to speak. 

“I will make sure we don’t walk into a City Council meeting in the same position as last time,” said Sacco.

Sacco said that he hopes to have a preferred candidate for the general manager role by the end of January. 

In May, 2019, following the passing of Ward 3 Commissioner Jane Wensley, Dawn Renaudette was selected in a joint meeting to fill the vacant seat. She said that the only thing she was asked to do to apply was send a letter of intent to the City Council. 

She said she was in her car outside of City Hall right before the vote was to occur when she got an email from a City Councilor asking for her resume, when that had not been asked of her as part of the process. 

Filling the ward 5 seat would also allow the board to form a committee of three people to review the pool of top candidates chosen by the individual commissioners. If the seat is not filled, that committee could only be two people, as three would form a quorum of the board and would be in violation of Open Meeting Law.

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