SPRINGFIELD – Springfield City Council voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to take legal action against Mayor Domenic J. Sarno on the restoration of a five-member civil council of police commissioners.
Only At-large member Sean Curran voted against the measure, which was first discussed publicly at a brief special board meeting.
Eleven others, including the president of the city council Justin Hurst, among the 10 sponsors of the measure, voted yes.
“We had a police board in the 1970s and 1980s and for many reasons it just didn’t work,” Curran said. “I believe the strong model of the police commissioner is the way to go.”
However, many board members have been pushing for the entity to go back for years – after it was dismantled in 2005 in favor of a single police commissioner with sovereign power over hiring, promotion and discipline, including layoffs.
Opponents of the police commission have argued that the panel has become hyper-politicized over the decades with candidates for advancement or their agents pushing for promotions, or on behalf of others to push back against discipline.
Tuesday’s vote came after a series of closed-door meetings. Northampton attorneys Thomas Lesser and Michael Aleo offered pro bono services in June.
The vote also comes after years of resentment among some advisers, Sarno, and members of his administration who have firmly championed a one-commissioner model.
The council approved an ordinance to create a five-member police commission in 2016, override a veto by Sarno. The council proceeded to another vote to create a commission in 2018. The mayor responded by refusing to make appointments to the commission, arguing that the ordinance was legally invalid.
This position was reinforced by city attorney Edward Pikula.
Hurst has long argued that relaunching the police commission would balance the scales of power.
“Mayor Sarno has a duty to the citizens of Springfield to implement the laws passed by this legislative body. The system is broken when this does not happen and democracy is compromised. Because the city council does not have our own lawyer who is not accountable to the mayor, we have not been able to resolve this legal issue for years, ”he said after the vote.
“Fortunately, we now have a volunteer legal advisor ready to advocate this issue on our behalf and through it all, a city council that has remained true to its desire to ensure a balance of power in our local government continues to exist.” , said Hurst.
Jesse Lederman, At-large board member, said the commission’s restoration will improve transparency within the police service.
“A civilian council of police commissioners will promote the necessary transparency and accountability in the administration of policies, procedures and processes relating to the personnel of our police service. Moreover, it is the law, ”he declared after the vote.
In addition to Hurst and Lederman, voting yes, At-large Councilor Tracye Whitfield; Ward 1 councilor Adam Gomez; Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton; Ward 3 Councilor Melvin Edwards; Ward 4 Councilor Malo Brown; Ward 5 Councilor and Vice Council present Marcus Williams; Ward 6 councilor Victor Davila; Ward 7 Councilor Timothy Allen; and Ward 8 Councilor Orlando Ramos. At-large member Kateri Walsh was absent.
Last year, Sarno submitted a proposal to the council to expand the powers of the current nine-member Community Policing Hearing Panel. The proposal includes granting the board subpoena powers as he investigates allegations of police misconduct.
The councilors did not follow up on the mayor’s proposal, but rather complied with the order of the civilian police commission.
The existing advisory committee can make recommendations on the discipline of officers, but decisions rest with the police commissioner. Appointed by Sarno last year, Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said she has always supported or exceeded the council’s disciplinary recommendations.
However, some advisers, including Whitfield, argue that the civilian review board does not have enough power.
“The current system that includes the Community Policing Hearing Board just doesn’t work. Oversight of the Springfield Police Department should be independent from the police department. Civilians must be comfortable enough to voice their concerns outside law enforcement, “Whitfield said.” In addition, we need full transparency and the assurance that disciplinary action is imposed when necessary and necessary. “
The proposed timing of the trial remains uncertain.
“I’ll leave that to the lawyers,” Hurst said Tuesday night.
Michael Angelini, a Worcester lawyer handling the case on behalf of the city, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.