| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Newly elected Springfield City Council President Orlando Ramos said he is “very close” to finalizing his committee to begin a dialogue between residents of the city and members of the Springfield Police Department.
The committee is one of two special committees Ramos has formed as the new council president.
He explained during an interview with this reporter aired over Focus Springfield his efforts are to help repair the relationship between the Springfield Police Department and the residents of the city.
“The goal is to hold meetings in every neighborhood in the city of Springfield and to give everyone an opportunity to weigh in. We want to hear both from the public but we want to hear from the police department. We want to hear their concerns about how the community can help them better serve the community and protect those who’ve they’re sworn to serve and protect,” Ramos said. “We want to bring everyone into the same room and a have a respectful and meaningful conversation on how we can work together on how we can protect the citizens of Springfield and how to protect our police officers as well.”
Ramos anticipates the committee will have recommendations by the end of the year that can be passed on to Mayor Domenic Sarno and the City Council.
Ramos also formed a second special committee that would provide oversight on the Springfield MGM project.
“We want to be proactive. We have the biggest economic development project in the history of Western Massachusetts right here in the city of Springfield. So we want to be proactive. We want to be sure to get it right. We don’t want to come back afterwards and say, ‘Oh we forgot to address this’ or ‘They should have done this differently,’” he explained.
One topic Ramos said the special committee would address is the status of the 54 apartments MGM will build to accompany the casino.
“Rather than sit and wait we have to bring them [casino officials] in and ask those questions ahead of time,” he explained.
“My biggest concern is are they meeting the numbers? They promised us in the host community agreement they’re going to hire a certain percentage of Springfield residents, a certain percentage of women and a certain percentage of minorities [in the construction]. Are they meeting those numbers? Are they exceeding those numbers? Are they doing everything they can to meet those numbers?” Ramos said.
The committee will also be reaching out to business owners near the casino site to ask them about their concerns, Ramos added.
Ramos said once he knew he had enough votes to be president, he told Sarno that he wanted the council to work with the mayor “to reach that common goal.”
He added, “This is a fresh start.”
There have been disagreements between Ramos and Sarno about some policies during Ramos’s time on the council, but he said what he appreciates about Sarno is the two men can respectfully disagree.
Speaking of the newly proposed state budget by Gov. Charlie Baker and the financial unknowns presented to the city by a new federal budget, Ramos said of the city’s financial needs, “It’s always a challenge. We never know how much is going to come from the state. We never know exactly what is going to come from the federal level.”
Ramos plans to have a number of meetings prior to the final vote on the next city budget. He added he is hopeful he will be able to attend as many of the meetings between city department heads and the mayor as possible to hear directly about needs in the city.
Among his budget priorities is more funding for an expansion of after-school programs and increased resources for the code enforcement efforts in the city.