Mayor, City Council Remain On Collision Course Over 'Sanctuary' Ordinance
The mayor of the largest city in western Massachusetts and the city council remain sharply divided over an ordinance that would bar city employees from asking a person about their immigration status.
The Springfield City Council gave second-step approval on a voice vote to the controversial ordinance Monday night, but delayed until Dec. 17th a rollcall vote needed for final passage. Mayor Domenic Sarno has threatened to veto the ordinance.
In a statement released by his office Tuesday morning, Sarno mocked the council: “Boy, did the City Council really stick it to our taxpayers with a ‘double whammy’ last night. They voted again to become a sanctuary city, and then voted themselves a huge pay increase, by not even following their own review committee’s report recommendation of a much less pay increase.”
During a two-hour debate several city councilors called for immediate passage of the Welcoming Community Trust ordinance. At a public speak-out, Bill Toller of the Pioneer Valley Project was one of several activists and city residents who called on the council to approve it without further delay.
"What would be a better Merry Christmas for everybody in Springfield for all of you tonight to pass this ordinance," said Toller to applause from the people packed into the council chambers at City Hall.
City Councilor Tim Allen raised concerns about the potential financial impact of the ordinance. He questioned if it could result in more people coming to Springfield, increasing enrollment in the public schools, and costing more to provide city services.
"It was clear to me in conversations I had today that there could be a financial impact to this, and I just want to find out what that financial impact is," said Allen.
Before the council takes a final vote, City Councilor Melvin Edwards said he would schedule a meeting of the General Government Committee and invite city department heads and the police commissioner to state any concerns they have about the ordinance.
The council gave first-step approval to the ordinance on Nov. 19th. Shortly after the vote, Sarno issued a statement saying he would veto it if it reached his desk. Nine votes – two-thirds of the 13-member City Council – are needed to override a mayoral veto.
City Councilor Adam Gomez, the lead sponsor, rebutted claims made by the mayor that the ordinance is an attempt to create a sanctuary city that could lead to the federal government taking away funds from Springfield.
"And we have to put ourselves on the side of fact and not fiction," said Gomez.
Proponents contend the ordinance will improve public safety by promoting cooperation between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants.
"We need to make sure that (undocumented immigrants) know the city is going to work with them," said Gomez. " We are not saying we are going to prevent ICE from coming in and detaining folks."
In addition to barring city employees from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status, the ordinance also forbids city officials from interfering with a medical, educational, or faith-based institution from providing refuge to an undocumented immigrant.
The pay raise package that received first-step approval would increase the salary for councilors from the current $19,500 to $29,500. The mayor’s salary would rise by $25,000 to $160,000. The increases would be effect January 1st, 2020.
An advisory committee recommended raises that were half the amounts approved by the council.
Sarno, in a later statement, said the raises passed by the City Council are “not fiscally responsible or justified.”