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Veto may spur examination of mayor’s power

July 25, 2013
<b>City of Springfield</b> <br>Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

City of Springfield
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

By G. Michael Dobbs


SPRINGFIELD – City Councilor Michael Fenton, one of the authors of the residency legislation recently passed by the City Council, said that if the council over rules Mayor Domenic Sarno’s veto of two amendments it may trigger a broader discussion about the mayor’s powers.

Fenton spoke to Reminder Publications on July 22, the day Sarno announced he would veto amendments to the ordinance that would have prohibited him from granting waivers to any department head or deputy department head hired after Jan. 1, 2014. The veto also prevented another amendment from becoming law that would have created a check and balance system for any waiver the mayor might grant in the future.

Fenton, who is part of a three-person committee with fellow councilors Timothy Allen and Bud Williams, expressed surprise concerning the veto. He said that Sarno had given him a courtesy call about his action before the press release was sent to the media.

“While I appreciate the City Council’s due diligence on residency and based on their request for a legal ruling from City Solicitor Ed Pikula I issued the following veto. I understand the issue clearly. As in past practice and in moving forward, I do not intend to grant waivers, unless there are extenuating circumstances in which, as always, we need to hire the most qualified and competent individual to provide the best possible services to our taxpayers,” Sarno said.

The ruling not only addressed the legal reason for the veto of the two amendments, but also a request for clarification about the legality of eliminating existing waivers from City Council President James Ferrera III. Ferrera’s action was independent of the work by Fenton, Allen and Williams, Fenton said.

The legislation vetoed by Sarno did not propose eliminating any existing waivers. The amended ordinance written by Fenton, Allen and Williams would not affect any existing waivers.

Pikula said, “Eliminating existing waivers as well as the mayor’s discretionary authority to grant future waivers is not an effective means of managing residency in the city as it interferes with the mayor’s inherent authority under the city’s charter and would also expose the city to lawsuits and a likelihood of substantial damages.”

Fenton said the council could override the veto, which would then spur a discussion about the mayor’s powers. He explained the mayor gets his governmental power from two entities: the city charter and the City Council.

In 2009, the Finance Control Board, acting as the legislative body of the city, gave the mayor the ability to grant a residency waiver, Fenton explained. Up until then the only residency waivers had been those negotiated by collective bargaining units.

He said there is a real morale issue among city employees: Some are Springfield residents who have stayed in the city; some have requested and been rewarded a waiver; some are employees who have moved out of the city or have never moved here who have ignored the waiver process.

“It’s a real patchwork of situations right now with employees and residency requirements,” Fenton said.

Although many of his colleagues on the council have called for disciplinary action, Fenton explained the city’s Law Department has said because of the historic lack of enforcement, the city doesn’t have a legal right to go after those living outside the city without permission. Fenton said there isn’t much the city can do now to address city employees who have broken the current ordinance requirements.

Fenton and his colleagues have suggested actually rewarding employees who have followed the ordinance with cash bonuses and days off.

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