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Veteran councilors fear sizeable shakeup

Date: 10/20/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- The City Council will see a sizeable shakeup come January with at least five brand new members, regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 3 general election. Veteran councilors are weary while others welcome the opportunity for some fresh faces and new ideas.

"For a long time, people have been clamoring for new blood on the council -- they might be getting more than they bargained for," Ward One Councilor Christopher Keefe told Reminder Publications.

New councilors at-large -- seven uncontested candidates are running for seven councilor at-large seats will be Patti Andras, John Beltrandi III, David Flaherty and Gerald Tracy. Councilors at-large Brian Sullivan and Nicholas Morganelli will begin another term in January and former councilor Brent Bean II will return to the council chambers after his failed bid for mayor two years ago.

Returning ward councilors include Ward One Councilor Christopher Keefe, Ward Three Councilor Peter Miller, Ward Four Councilor Mary O'Connell and Ward Six Councilor Christopher Crean. The November election will determine the new Ward Two Councilor, left vacant by mayoral candidate Daniel Knapik, as well as the fate of the Ward Five seat, currently filled by Councilor Richard Onofrey Jr. and challenged by David Pelletier.

"This [election cycle] is the least amount of interest I've seen [for] the City Council. I think what's more telling is the number of veteran councilors we're losing because the compensation doesn't meet the reward [of service]," Keefe said, noting that Councilors Charles Medeiros, David Bannish, James Adams, Joe Wynn and John Liptak have chosen to step away from public office.

"Change is always a good thing and I know some of the [at-large candidates] and I have a lot of confidence [in them]," O'Connell said, adding that she's concerned about the depth of knowledge and experience for the council's subcommittees, however.

"I'm nervous about how [the] Finance [Committee] will be filled," she said, noting that Liptak was the Finance Committee chair accompanied by Keefe and Onofrey. "It would be rough to lose two [veteran councilors] on Finance [if Onofrey is also not re-elected]."

Onofrey agreed, adding that given the current fiscal crisis, experience on the council and in finance is essential to the city's long term financial stability.

"The [mayor's] current budget is underfunded in every aspect except personnel. Even without a [midyear] cut from the state I'm fearful in the spring [the city will] run out of money," he said.

The City Council voted unanimously in June to take no action on the fiscal year 2010 budget, therefore passing Mayor Michael Boulanger's proposed budget in full.

"I think it's important that I be back on the Finance Committee," Onofrey said. "We probably have the best Finance Committee in recent history and we're losing our anchor [John Liptak]. It's important that both of us [me and Keefe] return."

O'Connell said all newcomers will "have to shorten their learning curve" substantially in order to get up to speed with the rest of the council and its lengthy list of obligations to the city.

Onofrey suggested that candidates begin attending as many regular council meetings and subcommittee meetings as possible.

Tracy explained he'll enter his post as councilor at-large with many ideas to improve the city including strategies for renewable energy, generating foot traffic downtown and economic redevelopment.

"I would like to bring Westfield back to the prominence it once was," he said.

Tracy and others will have their opportunity come January in addition to a possible new mayor.

Mayoral candidates Michael Boulanger and Knapik will lobby for votes at a debate on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. hosted by the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce. Ward Two and Five candidates as well as School Committee candidates have also been invited to participate.