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Working groups appointed for deep policy dives in Springfield

Paul Tuthill
Springfield City Council President Jesse Lederman ( center wearing gray coat) and some of the appointees to four working groups he created to look into policy issues. Also in the picture are three of the four City Councilors who will chair the ad-hoc groups: City Councilor Sean Curran, to the left of Lederman, and City Councilors Melvin Edwards and Mike Fenton, who are standing to the right of Lederman. The fourth councilor, Zaida Govan, was not present when the photo was taken.

Recommendations to the City Council due before the end of the year.

Dozens of people have volunteered for a new initiative to help shape the future of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Springfield City Council President Jesse Lederman appointed four ad-hoc committees that he called “working groups” to bring forward public policy recommendations. The four areas of focus are neighborhood quality of life, digital equity and internet access, labor and workforce development, and the creative economy and tourism.

“This is what local government really is all about,” Lederman said. “It is about bringing well-intentioned individuals to the table, bringing all our backgrounds and expertise to do more and go further in local government.”

At his swearing-in for a full one-year term as council president in January, Lederman announced his intention to create the new ad-hoc committees. He announced the appointments at a press conference in the City Council Chambers this week after culling through applications.

“We saw a robust response from the community in response to the public call for applications,” Lederman said.

Charlie Knight volunteered for the committee that will look for ways to close the digital divide in Springfield, where almost 40 percent of residents do not have internet access at home.

“Equity, I think, is really important because so many people in this city in certain areas have been disenfranchised,” Knight said. “We need to help them to make a level playing field for everybody.”

Some of the people picked for the working groups bring expertise to the issues they’ll focus on. Sean Dolan is general manager of the MassMutual Center and he is on the ad-hoc committee on the creative economy and tourism.

“The number one priority is driving economic impacts, which is a focus every day, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Dolan said. “(I’m) excited to be working with some citizens of Springfield to figure out what we can do to continue the momentum.”

A city councilor is chairing each of the ad-hoc committees. Ward 8 City Councilor Zaida Govan heads the group on neighborhood quality of life. Ward 2 City Councilor Mike Fenton helms the committee on the digital divide. The working group on labor and workforce development is chaired by Ward 3 City Councilor Melvin Edwards. At-Large City Councilor Sean Curran chairs the committee on the creative economy and tourism.

“I really do think this city really can use some new ideas to move us forward,” Curran said. “My political philosophy is always ‘why not Springfield?’”

For Edwards, the new assignment, he said, is a continuation of the work he’s done for 14 years as a City Councilor in trying to assure that Springfield residents get good jobs at good wages.

“I am here to learn, to listen, to understand a better path for how to have full employment in Springfield,” Edwards said. “I was born in Springfield and I believe the city’s greatest is before us and not just in our past.”

The four working groups will hold public meetings, solicit input, and are expected to deliver their recommendations before the end of the year.

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.