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Communication breaks down among officials


Feb. 1, 2013

By Carley Dangona

carley@thereminder.com

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Mayor Gregory Neffinger's interpretation of the Home Rule Charter has led to the Town Council appealing to the Attorney General for assistance.

The council's request for help was in response to Neffinger's unwillingness to divulge town budget information to individual councilors — rather he insisted such requests must be made from the council as a whole.

"It is my understanding that under Section 2-7 of the Home Rule Charter that the word council should be taken in the plural; and therefore no individual councilor can invoke the request for information, but [that it] must be voted on by the city council body," Neffinger wrote in a letter to Council President Kathleen Bourque on Jan. 16.

Neffinger's letter was in response to a Dec. 28 letter from Councilor Brian Griffin, chair of the council's budget management committee, requesting financial documents to review the budget.

Griffin explained to Reminder Publications, "We [the subcommittee] were frustrated with the lack of financial documents [provided for us to review], so as part of our due-diligence we sent the request.

"We needed to see where we were in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 to begin preparing for FY14. The budget process begins in January and we needed a good picture going forward. We will dissect the budget as we do every single year," he continued.

On Jan. 24 Bourque responded to the mayor's request for a vote, citing Town Charter Section 2-8 "Officials Elected by Town Council" that states the budget/management analyst has the right to access all financial documents pertinent to completing a full analysis of the town's budget in order to make "periodic reports thereon to the Town Council, with such frequency as the town council by ordinance, by rule or by other vote may direct, but not less frequently than quarterly."

In her letter Bourque said, "The vote you refer to is with regards to the frequency that the budget analyst shall make periodic reports to the council. To the best of my knowledge, the council has not voted for any more frequent reports than the quarterly mentioned in this section of the charter."

On Jan. 29, Bourque sent a letter to the attorney general's office in Worcester, requesting guidance to remedy the situation.

The letter stated, "The West Springfield Town Council is looking to you for guidance in struggles that are occurring in our town with our mayor concerning many issues, one being the council's access to information. In the past, councilors have always had available to them access to town departments and town employees when studying issues that have come before the council. Our mayor has just finished his first year as mayor as has our town attorney. Because the issues we have been facing this past year have not been resolved, the council voted on Jan. 28, by a vote of 7 in favor 1 opposed to turn to you for guidance."

Neffinger told Reminder Publications, "The Town Council president should be meeting with the mayor once a week. From day one, I said to her to come and meet. I would think the councilors would demand it of the president."

Bourque told Reminder Publications, "The first step — I think it has to start with the mayor allowing the Town Council access to information. I'm more than willing to sit down with him, but none of his letters ever said 'call me,' they just said 'no' to the council's requests."

Councilor George Kelly weighed in on the situation on Jan. 29. "I hope there's a chance to start a dialogue," he said. "It's tough when there's a lack of communication between the council and the mayor — there's been right and wrong on both sides.

"It makes it difficult for us to govern the town together — the whole community suffers. I want to find the middle of the road. I really hope we could find a way to serve the community better collectively," he continued.

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