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New Springfield City Council President Seeks To Repair Police-Community Relations


     The new president of the city council in Springfield, Massachusetts says improving police-community relations is his top priority.

       Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos announced the creation of a 15-member committee that will be made up of city officials, residents, and law enforcement representatives that will be tasked with producing a report by the end of the year on strengthening ties between the Springfield Police Department and the community.

    " We often hear from people that they are not happy with the way they are treated by the police and we also have concerns from the police department about their safety," said Ramos. " So, I thought this would get everybody in the same room and come up with a way to have better relations."

   The formation of the special committee, which is advisory in nature, follows the vote last month by the city council to replace the police commissioner with a five-member civilian board when current Police Commissioner John Barbieri leaves office.   Councilors who voted for the change said constituents have complained about a lack of public accountability and transparency in the police department.

  The new Police and Community Relations Committee will consist of two city councilors along with the mayor, the police commissioner, the Hampden District Attorney, the president of the Springfield Patrolman’s Union, and the president of the local NAACP, or their designees.  The city council president will appoint a resident from each of the city’s eight wards.

  The appointments are to be made by February 1st.

Ramos said the committee is to meet monthly and to hold at least one meeting in each of the city’s wards.

"The goal is to have a report by the end of the year," he said.

The newly installed council president said he is creating a special committee to meet on matters related to MGM Springfield, the casino that is being built downtown. The Casino Oversight Committee will have five members – all city councilors – and will be chaired by former council President Mike Fenton.

Ramos made few changes to the membership on the council’s dozen permanent committees.  Councilor Tom Ashe will keep his long-time chairmanship of the Public Safety Committee and Councilor Tim Allen will remain chairman of the Finance Committee.

" The thing I spent a lot of time on last year is the ( unfunded) pension liability and we need to follow through on that , so I requested to stay as chair of finance," said Allen.

Ramos raised a few eyebrows with the appointment of Bud Williams to chair the council’s State and Federal Relations Committee.  Williams was sworn-in last week as a freshman State Representative and announced Monday that he would keep his seat on the city council.  He’ll chair a committee that is to keep tabs on pending legislation that impacts the city.

" I think it is  just a natural fit," said Williams.  " I don't believe there is any conflict of interest."

Williams said he did not plan to ask the state’s Ethics Commission if there was potential conflict pertaining to his committee chairmanship.

  " No," said Williams. " I don't see any need."

There is precedent for Williams to hold the two elected offices simultaneously.

  He told The Republican he intends to donate a portion of his annual $19,500 city council salary to charity.

  William’s base salary as a state legislator is $62,547.  He also collects a $50,900 annual state pension as a retired probation officer.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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