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Court rules in favor of Winters for Ward 2

Date: 4/26/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — The city and its residents received long-awaited clarification regarding the Ward 2 seat of the City Council when the Hampden Superior Court ruled that resident Brian Winters is eligible to fill the vacancy after receiving one write-in vote in the last election.

On April 22, Judge Bertha Josephson issued a Declaratory Judgment stating that indeed Winters qualifies as a "defeated candidate" and is therefore the successor to former Councilor Jim Brown's seat.

In the last paragraph of the statement, Josephson said, "In furtherance of this ordinance, the City Council for the city of Westfield shall, within 15 days of this order, choose and appoint the defendant, Brian Winters, to the City Council for purpose of serving out the unexpired term of James Brown Jr., all pursuant to the Westfield City Charter, Chapter one, section 25. It is so ordered."

The Ward 2 seat of the City Council has remained vacant since August 2012 when Brown resigned from the position. Resident Brian Winters received one write-in vote in the most recent election, making him the next highest vote getter since Brown ran unopposed.

A source of debate among the City Council was whether a single vote solidified Winters' candidacy, since ballot listings require 50 signatures as a stipulation. The councilors voted in October 2012 to have the mayor fill the seat.

Attorney Mark Tanner of the Bacon Wilson law firm in Northampton sent a letter on behalf of Ward 2 residents to the city on Feb. 1, notifying the city of his intent to move forward with a civil action suit if Winters was not seated by the end of the City Council meeting on Feb. 7.

On Feb. 7, Mayor Daniel Knapik filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment with the court seeking clarification of the City Charter. In response, Tanner filed a Motion to Intervene on Feb. 13.

The Hampden Superior Court rejected a request for an emergency injunction to seat Brian Winters in the Ward 2 City Council seat at a hearing on Feb. 27.

Knapik said, "It was remanded back to the city council as it should be. It's time to move forward. Hopefully, Mr. Winters will be seated soon to participate with the City Council."

He added that the council should "look at the situation that occurred" to prevent similar confusion in the future.

City Council President Brian Sullivan said, "I can only speak for myself — I feel the judge made a ruling that clears up any bias anyone could have for or against the process. The city sought an answer that wasn't clear to everyone and got a professional judgment that can now clear up any doubt and we can all move forward.

When asked if the council would review the language to make it clearer, he said, "I think it is our job to amend the City Charter when questions arise, and now we have the language to do so. This situation does not arise that often."

Sullivan added, "I look forward to working with Mr. Winters. I will be talking to him about committee assignments and where he feels most comfortable in serving. I will be willing to adjust some committees to accommodate people strengths."

Winters could not be reached for comment.