Monday, February 18, 2013

Holyoke City Council Committee on Ordinance 2012 Achievements

Prepared by Chairwoman Rebecca Lisi

The Holyoke City Council’s Committee on Ordinance for the year 2012 was chaired by Councilor At-Large, Rebecca Lisi, and the other members included Ward 7 City Councilor, Gordon Alexander; Ward 5 City Councilor, Linda Vacon; At-Large City Councilor Jason Ferreira; and At-Large City Councilor, Aaron Vega served until he won election for State Representative in November, after which Councilor Vega was replaced by At-Large City Councilor, Daniel Bresnahan.

                The Committee on Ordinance has long been known as the “workhorse” among the City Council’s Committees.  The Committee on Ordinance meets regularly on the off-Tuesdays from full City Council meetings and typically meets for several hours at a time.  The Committee on Ordinance deals with a number of vital legislative matters such as zoning, traffic, defining positions and associated salaries for City Hall employees, and setting fee schedules for permits and licenses throughout the city.

                This year, the Committee on Ordinance successfully crafted and passed many orders that have been encoded in the Holyoke Code of Ordinances.  Of the myriad orders taken up in 2012, several stand out as major accomplishments for the Committee and in turn, City Council, the Mayor, and of course, the good citizens of Holyoke.  They are: 1) creating the job description for the newly added position of Creative Economy Director and setting its associated salary; 2) updating and increasing the professionalization of the City Council Administrative Assistant position and setting its associated salary; 3) restructuring and streamlining the building permit fee schedules;  4) restructuring the travel stipend policies for the Building and Health Departments; 5) redefining the means by which the City’s Broker of Record is selected and adding recording requirements to assist in increasing transparency related to the Broker’s commissions; 6) separating out the Wistariahurst Museum and Historical Commission into two distinct entities with their own budgets; 7) amending the property disposition ordinance to allow for the sale of tax title properties through auction.

Creating the job description for the newly added position of Creative Economy Director and setting its associated salary (filed by Councilor Lebron-Martinez, 4/17/12)

                In April 2012, Councilor Lebron-Martinez filed an order on behalf of the Mayor “to create a Director of Art, Culture, and Tourism within the City of Holyoke.”  Shortly after the order was filed, committee discussions indicated that there was a greater need for coordinating and leveraging the assets among Holyoke’s burgeoning artist community than what a Director of Arts, Culture, and Tourism could provide.  The order was amended in committee to reflect and take advantage of Massachusetts’ Creative Economy Initiative in which the State is working to support the growth of public-private partnerships and economic development in the creative sector.

                To develop the position the committee received drafts of requisite job qualifications and a detailed job description from Mayor Morse who strongly advocated for the position.  In addition to proving draft materials, the Mayor spoke at several of the committee meetings on the issue and brought with him Marcos Marrero, Director of Planning and Economic Development, and Helena Fruscio, Creative Economy Industry Director, to speak to the value of creating this position as well.   Public comment was taken at the first committee meeting on the matter and the committee received an overwhelming amount of testimony in support of the creation of the position.  Councilor Jourdain suggested that the committee also include language that defined the position’s deliverables in terms of measurable outcomes, so that the Council could determine whether the position was achieving the intended economic development goals.  The suggestion was incorporated as an amendment to the final language.

                The order passed 11-4 (Vacon, Bresnahan, Todd McGee and Brenna McGee voting in opposition) on June 19 and the position was funded with a $43,000 annual salary, again by an 11-4 vote (Vacon, Bresnahan, Todd McGee and Brenna McGee voting in opposition), taken on June 26.

Updating and increasing the professionalization of the City Council Administrative Assistant position and setting its associated salary (filed by Councilor Jourdain, 2/7/12)

                In 2012, the City Council’s long-time Administrative Assistant, David Welch, gave notice that he would be retiring in September of that year.  Mr. Welch began with the City as a Senior Custodian for the Holyoke Public Schools and then advanced to the position of City Messenger for City Hall.   Then in 1995, the City Messenger position was merged with the administrative position for the City Council and formally renamed Administrative Assist to the City Council.  Although Mr. Welch came in with a particular skills set, he learned new skills and responsibilities as his job in City Hall morphed over the years.  However, a contemporary glance at the Administrative Assistant job description revealed that some responsibilities had become an antiquated and an inefficient use of the Administrative Assistant’s time.  With Mr. Welch’s pending retirement the City Council had an opportunity to start fresh, separate out inappropriate duties, and build in a higher level of skill and professional requirements.

                We are indebted to Mr. Welch not only for his over 30 years over service working for the city, but also for his help in restructuring the Administrative Assistant’s position.  In general, we removed the responsibilities having to do with custodial and building management at City Hall and allowed the position to focus more time on data management, researching issues, and a more detailed level of record keeping.  Relatedly, we also advanced the professional, computational, and educational requirements associated with the position to which we assigned an annual salary schedule within the range of $33,525-$46,493.  The order passed on June 5 by a 14-0 vote (Todd McGee was absent).

Update the city’s reference to the State Building Code (filed by Lisi, 5/1/12) and restructuring and streamlining the building permit fee schedules (filed by Councilor Ferreira, 6/4/12)

                With the appointment of the new Building Commission, Damian Cote, in 2012 the City learned that the State Building Code CMR that the City was referencing in its ordinances (and therefore enforcing) had not been updated since 1972.  The Ordinance Committee updated the reference with language that did not state a specific year, but instead refers to the most recent version of the State CMR, so that we remain in compliance always into the future.  The vote passed on June 19 by a 14-0 vote (Todd McGee was absent for that vote).

                Similarly, the City’s Building Permit Fee Schedule also had not been updated since 1972.  As such, the Fee Schedule was cumbersome for residents, businesses, and contractors to decipher what fees were due for building and development projects.  Additionally, the fee structure that reflected costs and service fees from the ‘70’s meant that the City was not being adequately compensated for the work it did on building and occupancy inspections.  Commissioner Cote proposed a more streamlined fee scheduled that eliminated contradictions and redundancies that contributed to applicant confusion and brought the fees more in-line with what other neighboring cities and towns were charging for similar permits and inspections.  The order passed on June 19 by a vote of 12-3 (Vacon, Bresnahan, and Todd McGee voting in opposition).

Restructuring the travel stipend policies for the Building and Health Departments (filed by former Councilor Devine, 5/3/11)

                When former Councilor Devine filed these orders there were several city employees using a combination of city and personal vehicles for work whose travel stipends were organized consistently neither by department nor by type of vehicle.  With this order we removed employees who no longer traveled frequently for their position or who were assigned city vehicles.  We then separated out the types of stipend the Building and Health departments would receive based on the type of mileage they were accruing to their personal vehicles; the Health Department preferred a set monthly stipend based on the short, but very frequent travel whereas the Building Department preferred a mileage reimbursement based on the department’s less frequent trips, but longer distances traveled.  The stipends and mileage reimbursements were also update to reflect current gas prices.  The orders passed on April 17 with two 12-2 votes (one to remove/update who was receiving stipends/reimbursements and one vote to update the rates; for both votes Councilors Jourdain and Soto opposed and Councilor Vacon was absent).

Redefining the means by which the City’s Broker of Record is selected and adding recording requirements to assist in increasing transparency related to the Broker’s commissions (filed by Councilor Jourdain, 3/20/12)

                The Broker of Record is charged with acquiring various insurance products for the City.  Previously, the Broker was appointed by the Mayor alone without a competitive bidding process or City Council confirmation.  To increase the competitiveness and transparency around the position and commissions related to brokering insurance contracts for the city we made three key changes. First, we required that a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is posted by the Mayor and Purchasing Department and the respondents to RFQ are then reviewed by the Section 19 Committee, so that they may make a recommendation to the Mayor.  Second, we extended the term of the appointment from 1 to 2 years and require now that the mayoral appointee is confirmed by the City Council.  Finally, we eliminated any perception of patronage by adding a close that requires the Broke to disclose all compensations and commissions received during the term of service to the City.

To help review the duties and responsibilities of the position as well gather key insights about how we could restructure the position without interfering with the timeliness and effectiveness with which the Broker could execute contracts we invited in the current and former Brokers and their agencies, Kevin Ross from Ross Insurance and David Griffin Sr. from Dowd Insurance, respectively, as well as the Chair and Vice-chairperson from the Section 19 committee, Joe O’Connor and Patricia Murzda, respectively.  The discussion was very productive and all parties had similar perspectives on how to reorganize the defining language.  We are thankful to the time and thought that everyone contributed to developing these changes.

The vote passed on January 15, 2013- our first meeting of the new year- by an 11-0 vote (Leahy, Lebron-Martinez, Lisi, Brenna McGee were absent).

Separating out the Wistariahurst Museum and Historical Commission into two distinct entities with separate budgets (Councilor Lisi, 4/17/12)

                For the past several years, the Historical Commission has been merged into the city budget under the Wistariahurst Museum without a line item identifying its own funds within that budget.  The merged entities created a lot of ambiguity and confusion not only around from whom and to where money and grants should be allocated, but also around the reporting structure and missions of the Wistariahurst Museum and the Historical Commission as well as several other associated entities such as the Friends of Wistariahurst and Historic Holyoke at the Wistariahurst among others.

                After several meetings of hearing out the various organizations involved in Holyoke’s history, its historic preservation, the Wistariahurst Museum and its grounds we took an important initial step to separate the Wistariahurst Museum and the Historic Commission from one another, thereby allowing each entity to better focus on its mission and goals without interference or dilution by the presence or needs of the other entity.  The vote passed on December 28 by an 11-3 vote (Leahy, McGivern, and Vacon voting in opposition and Ferreira was absent).  However, we still have several related orders that will tighten up reporting and oversight among the remaining entities and City Hall, as well as provide the City and Historic Commission with additional resources and tools for historic preservation.

Amending the property disposition ordinance to allow for the sale of tax title properties through auction (3 separate yet related orders: two filed by Alexander on 4/17/12 and one by McGiverin filed on 5/15/12)

After about four decades of not utilizing the auction process to sell and dispose of city properties that the city had acquired through tax liens, the City Treasurer, John Lumbra, began investigating how we could reinitiate the process to more efficiently bring tax titled properties back onto the city’s tax rolls.  The Treasurer came before the city council and explained the auction process as it is established by the state and a debate ensued related to the different perspectives for how the city should make use of the state auction provisions contained in the orders filed by Alexander and McGiverin.

                On the one hand, as the auction list submitted by the Treasurer does not require approval beyond the Mayor according to the state statutes, Alexander’s orders attempted to expedite the auction process in a manner that retained as much efficiency and expediency as possible under the law, which meant that there would be little city council oversight so as to avoid delaying the auction process with layers of bureaucratic red tape.  On the other hand, McGiverin’s order wanted to ensure that the City Council had a check on the Executive’s authority to single-handedly approve city properties for auction and instead require that all properties be pre-approved by the City Council as well before they go out to auction.  Much of the committee discussion focused on trying to balance these two opposing perspectives without allowing a requirement for “pre-approval” get lost or stuck in the committee process that would result in long or permanent delays in getting any properties out to auction.

                We created an order that requires the City Council to take up the list of properties considered for auction in the Redevelopment Committee and the Committee must make a recommendation to the full City Council within 45 days to remove any individual properties from the complete list.  If the Committee fails to refer the list out of committee with the 45 day time frame then the entire list automatically becomes an item on the next agenda of the full City Council and each property must be individually approved by the full Council.  Structuring the process in this way allowed the City Council to gain a check on executive power while also safeguarding against slowing down the process ad infinitum by creating a stop gap mechanism that requires that each property would need to be individually approved- the thought is that the long and tedious process serves as an incentive to deal with the auction list in a timely manner.

                Two of the orders (McGiverin’s and one of Alexander’s) were considered complied with by a voice vote of the City Council and Alexander’s second order to amend the ordinances governing Real property disposition or acquisition passed 13-0 (Leahy and Soto absent).


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