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Residents seek right to representation


Feb. 11, 2013
By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

WESTFIELD — Attorney Mark Tanner of the Bacon\Wilson law firm in Northampton sent a letter on behalf of Ward 2 residents to City Solicitor Susan Phillips on Feb. 1, notifying her of his intent to move forward with a civil action suit.

The letter states that if resident Brian Winters is not assigned to the vacant council seat during the next scheduled meeting on Feb. 7, Tanner will proceed with the complaint.

The Ward 2 seat of the City Council has remained vacant since August 2012 when Jim Brown resigned from the position, leaving constituents without representation for the past six months.

"It's egregious that Mayor Daniel Knapik and the City Councilors are denying the constituents their right to be represented by their elected officials," Tanner said.

The City Councilors voted in October 2012 to have the mayor fill the seat. In December 2012, Knapik stated he was researching every possible option for selecting a successor for Brown, but had not yet decided upon the best course of action.

Section 25 in Subpart A of the City Charter states, "If at any time a vacancy occurs in the city council from any cause, the city clerk shall forthwith notify the city council thereof; and within 15 days after such notification, the remaining city councilors shall choose, as city councilor for the unexpired term, whichever of the defeated candidates for the office of city councilor at the regular municipal election at which city councilors were elected for the term and office in which the vacancy occurs, who is eligible and willing to serve, received the highest number of votes at such election ..."

A contender had stepped forward for the seat, resident Brian Winters, a write-in candidate who obtained one vote in the past election. According to recommendations from Phillips and Shanna Reed, assistant city solicitor, Winters should have been awarded the seat because he was the next highest vote getter.

Despite the recommendations of the legal counsel, the council voted to have the mayor choose the next Ward 2 representative. Some councilors hesitated to select Winters because he had previously been listed as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the city in regards to the Ashley Street School Project.

In an open letter titled, "Every Vote Should Count," At-Large Councilor David Flaherty stated, "I also think that the results of every election should be honored and respected. In Westfield, this isn't happening. As you know by now, Councilor Brown resigned from his Ward 2 City Council position. Our City Charter says that vacancy on the City Council should be awarded to the next highest eligible and willing vote getter in the previous election. That person is Mr. Winters."

To date, the Ward 2 seat remains vacant.

Knapik could not be reached for comment.

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