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Free cash funds vehicle for fire chief

Date: 4/5/2013

By Carley Dangona

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Town Council authorized the purchase of a new car for the fire chief, but questioned whether or not Mayor Gregory Neffinger should be driving a police car.

The vote authorized $30,000 of the town's free cash to purchase a new vehicle for Chief Bill Flaherty, who stated his current vehicle is a 2002 model.

District 2 Councilor Lida Powell described Flaherty's current car as "deplorable." She said that she would prefer not to use free cash to purchase the vehicle, but "didn't think the mayor would budge on his stance and the fire chief will lose in the long run."

Angus Rushlow, District 1 councilor, said. "This makes me feel like a game of chess, where he [Flaherty] is being used as a pawn. I've had my druthers with the mayor and I still have my disagreements with him, but sometimes I tire of this banter back and forth. Let's run this town like a government, like a business. Let's get some things done."

At-Large Councilor Bob Mancini questioned Neffinger regarding the mayor's use of a 2007 vehicle that was used by former police chief and suggested the mayor and fire chief swap cars.

Neffinger said, "It is not necessarily true. The mayor doesn't own a particular vehicle. That vehicle is, of course, available to be used. I used that vehicle during the emergency with the derailment of the train."

He continued, "It comes in handy having an official vehicle when you need to go through roadblocks and things of that nature when and to have a radio in a vehicle to be able to listen to voice conversations during these types of emergencies. That vehicle is available to me, but it is not necessarily my car."

Chapter 90, Section 7E of the Massachusetts General Law states: "Any person operating a vehicle upon which blue lights have been authorized to be mounted or displayed, by permit, shall carry such permit for said lights upon his person or in the vehicle in some easily accessible place."

That law also defines the penalty for unpermitted use: "Any person who violates any provision of this section for which a penalty is not otherwise provided shall be subject to a fine of not less than one hundred dollars, nor more than three hundred dollars."

According to Police Chief Ron Campurciani, that law only applies to privately owned vehicles. He explained that since municipal vehicles are exempt, the mayor could "theoretically" request to drive an available cruiser each day.

Brian Griffin, Council vice president, asked the mayor if any other cars were needed. The mayor stated that the Park and Recreation and Health Department was also in need of vehicles, and that he was "contemplating using free cash" to purchase them. Neffinger said that he anticipated bringing the request before the council in the coming month.

Council President Kathy Bourque posed the idea of using money from the council's and the mayor's budgets to purchase a car for Flaherty, but the mayor did not support that idea.

"We never received notification regarding the remaining amount in the motor vehicle account," she said. "This past Friday, the mayor sent a letter to the town council saying no to the idea and stated that he wanted to use free cash."

When Bourque asked the mayor during the meeting how much was left in the account, he stated, "I don't recall."

Neffinger explained that the account would be used to pay the town mechanic, a position currently open to applicants. He added that tools for the mechanic are needed and will be purchased with the account as well.

When Bourque inquired about the rate of pay for the position, the mayor was unable to recall "off the top of his head."