Personnel Issues and Control Board Authority

Posted on Friday, December 21 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Finance Control Board. Photo by H BrandonA few years now into the Finance Control Board era in Springfield, questions still linger about what the extent of its reach represents in city government, including who has the authority to hire and fire personnel, who deserves remuneration for what types of work, what processes ought to be undertaken for hiring searches, and overall, which processes represent best practices for efficient municipal functioning.

At yesterday’s board meeting, executive director Stephen Lisauskas read aloud portions of a memorandum (text file; also supplied at bottom of post) in a sense summarizing the guidelines of Chapter 169, the 2004 state law establishing the control board’s authority over the city, short of setting in place a sole receiver.

More specifically, however, the memorandum outlines the details of how the control board and the mayor have worked together as a team in executing the business of the city.

Chairman Christopher Gabrieli had requested the drafting of such a document just prior to the last board meeting in November. At that time, Gabrieli described his request for a memorandum as one that would outline the exact powers of the control board, and could be reviewed by the board members and mayor-elect Domenic Sarno.

“We’re all relatively new at this,” Gabrieli said last month.

The memorandum is, in a way, a welcome wagon, olive branch and caution sign for Sarno, all rolled into one document.

Also during the meeting, the board made the significant decision to undertake a nationwide search for a new schools superintendent. The contract for the current superintendent, Joseph Burke, expires on June 30, and the board opted not to renew it.

Springfield Finance Control Board. Photo by H BrandonMayor Charles Ryan said yesterday that the previous control board would likely have decided to undertake a superintendent search a year ago, were it not for then-newly-elected Governor Deval Patrick preparing to take office at the time, which also meant that a new board would be appointed in due course.

The board elected instead (PDF) in May to extend Burke’s contract for just one year, essentially giving a new control board the option to decide what to do later. This delay appeared to frustrate many people in the community who regard Burke as ineffective, but for them, any patience they exercised may have paid off in the form of yesterday’s vote to undertake a search. In contrast to the last meeting’s vote to search for a police commissioner, this vote passed unanimously in favor.

The board authorized a search by a five-member committee, guided by a paid consultant to facilitate the process. Members of the board added that Superintendent Burke may be considered a candidate. The precise authorization is as follows:

Authorize Chairman Gabrieli to conduct a search for a new Superintendent of Schools including the hiring of a consultant and appointment of a five-member panel to review all applications and the panel would recommend one finalist to the full Board and that all hiring and firing at the School Department shall be subject to review and approval by the Chairman or as delegated to the Executive Director.

City street near Kensington Ave Elementary. Photo by H Brandon

Mayor Ryan noted that the board’s vote does not devalue Burke’s character or his dedication to the city schools. He said the board simply needs to evaluate other potential candidates in the field, and said the School Department has not achieved its full potential.

Liberty School in SpringfieldCity Council President Kateri Walsh, in supporting a search, noted the frequency with which education concerns often arise during the control board public comment sessions, and in the same comment took personal credit for making those public comment sessions possible.

During discussion, the control board wrestled with the wording of a motion that would clarify its authority and oversight in the instance of School Department hirings and firings. Again, this appeared to serve basically as a reminder of the law that has been in place for quite some time now regarding municipal personnel decisions, but which some figures in high places appear to have forgotten.

The motion was in relation not just to the search for a new superintendent, but also to the recent announcement from Superintendent Burke that City Councilor Rosemarie Mazza-Moriarty has accepted a new administrative job post managing the International Baccalaureate middle years program at Van Sickle Middle School (pictured below).

Van Sickle Middle SchoolIn sharing some background information about what happened in the past week with respect to this news, Mayor Ryan said that he didn’t know about the possible hiring of Mazza-Moriarty or the creation of the new position until he read about it in the newspaper, learning also that Burke had actually recommended Mazza-Moriarty for the job. Further, he said, executive director Lisauskas only learned about the situation “two afternoons ago,” or in other words, a day before it appeared in the paper.

Washington School in Springfield“We’ve got to stop playing games around here,” Ryan said, suggesting that there be a new process to examine the need for and possible filling of this administrative position. Both he and board member James Morton echoed the thought that the IB program is highly esteemed and critical to the success of some city schools.

“Let’s do it the right way,” Ryan said, noting that the “public is cynical” when news like this breaks in the paper, implying that the process appears messy and contentious.

The control board, by law, is granted a 14-day review period to survey personnel decisions, Gabrieli noted. He suggested that the board delegate the authority to Lisauskas to investigate this particular hiring, which the board passed in a four-to-one vote, with Walsh voting against, commenting tangentially that Mazza-Moriarty should be allowed to serve both on the City Council and as a school administrator.

In crafting a motion refreshing the public and municipal employees’ memories about the control board’s authority on these matters, at first, Chairman Gabrieli suggested that “all positions above principal” must be made in cooperation with the board’s executive director, including administrative positions.

There was discussion about which positions constitute “above” or “below” principal, and whether or not an administrative position, in theory, and for example, overseeing a magnet program at a school, perhaps, fell into the category Gabrieli outlined.

City street near Kensington Ave Elementary. Photo by H Brandon

Eventually, the board passed the following motion, choosing wisely to name the exact positions the superintendent has the direct authority to hire and fire:

The Executive Director is authorized to review all administrative positions in the School Department except teachers, paraprofessionals, assistant principal and principals and all other administrative positions may be altered or rescinded within fourteen (14) days after receipt of notice of such action or decision.

Thus, the hiring of Mazza-Moriarty is subject to Lisauskas’s review, and may be “altered or rescinded” within 14 days of his receipt of such a decision.

Most people in the audience observing the unfolding of this motion were quite fully aware of a major consequence of the possible hiring of Mazza-Moriarty by the School Department, and that is the addition of an old-new city councilor to the ranks of the city government, Morris Jones. Surely, the public is just as concerned about the proper management of the middle years IB program.

On that note, Mayor Ryan shared some observations about his review of the top two or three candidates for the position Burke announced this week. He said the paperwork he requested revealed that one unsuccessful applicant has a PhD and ran a similar IB program at a school for two years. Another applicant, from Leominster, he said, also has significant qualifications. Ryan said he believes Mazza-Moriarty is less qualified than the other top two or three candidates.

Melinda Pellerin-DuckAs the very lengthy meeting came to a close past sunset—and it had already been delayed by 45 minutes at the start, due to a protracted executive session that kept a full Room 220 waiting—Mayor Ryan brought up another personnel matter under the heading of “new business.”

It related to the announcement at the start of the week by Mayor-elect Sarno that Denise Jordan would become both his chief of staff as well as a part-time coordinator for the city’s new community complaint review board. The position of coordinator is currently held on a full-time basis by Melinda Pellerin-Duck (pictured). The coordinator’s position is described on the city’s Web site:

[R]esponsible for all of the day-to-day administration of the Board and serves as the liaison between the Board and other officials such as the Mayor or representatives of the Police Department. [R]esponsible for assisting the Board in preparing annual reports to the City of activities engaged in by the Board, including recommendations that might be changed to promote better performance by members of the Police Department.

Jack McDevittRyan described talking about the coordinator position with Jack McDevitt (pictured), a consultant the city employed along with Amy Farrell to research the best method for creating a review board.

The coordinator, Ryan said, is the linchpin of the review board according to McDevitt. Without a person in that full-time position, McDevitt described, “the chance of the board’s success is remote.”

Springfield Finance Control Board. Photo by H Brandon

Not only is the position one that includes administrative and logistics work, Ryan said, but it also involves communication with the entire city. “A lot is invested in this,” he said. Board member James Morton described the review board as the result of 15 years of work in the city, and that a coordinator for the board has to contribute to the breaking-down of an “us-versus-them mentality,” what he called a crucial position.

Part of McDevitt's presentation last year. Photo by H Brandon“There is no city in the country with a civilian review board that does not have a full-time coordinator,” Ryan added, saying also that he can’t think of a better ambassador for the City of Springfield than Pellerin-Duck for the position. He said that she learned about Sarno’s plans for her replacement via a reporter, which he called a “bad relay of news.”

“My guess is he’s never read these words,” Ryan said, indicating McDevitt’s substantially thick report delivered to the city. He said he believes Sarno may well compromise the effectiveness of the job by making it part-time. He asked for the control board to “stand behind the concept of a full-time coordinator,” requesting that Lisauskas work with him to “preserve the integrity of the position,” and adding that he will reach out to Sarno directly as well to discuss the issue.

Below is the memorandum of authority drafted by Lisauskas and approved yesterday by the control board.


To: Chairman Chris Gabrieli and Members of the Springfield Finance Control Board
From: Stephen P. Lisauskas, Executive Director
Date: December 19, 2007
Re: Delegated Authority of the Control Board

Chapter 169 of the Acts of 2004 created the Springfield Finance Control Board (the “Control Board”) and vested it with broad powers and duties. In general, the Control Board exercises the powers and duties of the Mayor, City Council, School Committee, all boards and commissions of the City and controls all finances and personnel.

The Legislature and Governor, in creating the Control Board, have set the City on a path to financial recovery. This has been accompanied by significant improvement in service quality and substantial capital investment in the community. A city once on the verge of bankruptcy with a $41 million deficit now boasts meaningful financial reserves. The City is experiencing an excess of $250 million in capital investment through a mix of Federal, State and local resources. Springfield is also on the cutting edge of a number of governmental reforms, including participation in the Group Insurance Commission, creation of an internal audit function and the adoption of CitiStat and 311.

Over the course of the last three and a half years, the Control Board and Mayor Charles V. Ryan have developed a working relationship that has made possible the changes above, and many others. This relationship developed over a period of months and years as the Control Board and Mayor came to understand each other and as they coordinated, developed and implemented policies and initiatives in a cooperative manner.

This memorandum outlines the current and proposed authorities delegated to the Executive Director of the Control Board. These recommendations are not intended to reduce or limit the powers of the City; Chapter 169 addressed that as a matter of law.

After developing a working relationship and common goals with Mayor Ryan, the Control Board delegated to the Mayor the authority to execute contracts valued at $500,000 or less, with contracts above that amount executed by the Chairman on behalf of the Board.

The Control Board has not yet had the opportunity to develop a working relationship with Mayor-Elect Sarno. That being said, it is understood that Mayor Sarno should maintain the same level of responsibility in this area. Contracts executed by Mayor Ryan have been executed after discussion with the Executive Director of the Control Board. During this time of transition, it is appropriate for departmental personnel to certify appropriate processes have been followed in contracting and procurement so the new Mayor and the Control Board can be assured that appropriate processes and procedures have been followed. Contract execution procedures should remain the same; reporting from departments should be more formalized to ensure necessary information is shared with the new Mayor and Control Board.

Budget Transfers
The Executive Director has historically had the authority to transfer funding from an existing line item in the budget to another existing line item in the budget. This has helped the City address a number of emerging problems or opportunities, such as the replacement of failing roofs.

Expenditure of Grant Funds
A significant portion of the City’s operating budget is funded through grants. These funds support critical services, such as education, human services and public safety, and provide funding for a large number of municipal employees.

The Control Board’s ongoing study of City and School Department grant operations is yielding interesting results which should allow us to greatly improve all aspects of grant application and management. Authority for this area falls to the Control Board, though there has not been a specific delegation of authority in this area.

It is recommended that grant processes and expenditures be managed by the Executive Director of the Control Board, as is the case for all other municipal finances. As Mayor Ryan has traditionally expended Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding after consultation with the Executive Director, it is recommended that the Executive Director and Mayor make joint decisions regarding the expenditure of CDBG funds.

Development Activities
Governor Deval Patrick has identified economic development as one of the three areas of critical focus for the Control Board. To accomplish this, the Control Board should continue to ensure a centralized development function through the auspices of its Chief Development Officer.

Prior to the Control Board, the City of Springfield has a history of diffuse leadership and management of economic development activities; centralized leadership and management has helped develop the systems and processes necessary to move forward an agenda for economic development. The value of this approach can be seen through the numerous successes that have been achieved in the area of economic development as of late. Further evidence is provided by the fact that long-stalled projects are coming to fruition.

It is recommended that development activities remain a centralized function management by the Control Board, as has been the case since the Board’s inception.

4 Responses to “Personnel Issues and Control Board Authority”

  1. Mike Dobbs

    Geez, I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing. This does not bode well for Domenic in terms of setting a tone of working with the FCB.

  2. Heather Brandon

    The meeting only got more interesting as it wore on, but I have to admit I grew more and more restless as I wondered if I would ever escape water-main-break-gridlock afterwards. I did, but what turned out to be far worse was trying to walk to Howard Street from City Hall by cutting through some parking lots. The entirety of downtown and the South End between City Hall and Zanetti School appears to be a giant patchwork of parking lots that are all fenced off and territorial. Navigating that in the dark slush of night, darting invisibly between cars packed fender-to-fender in the side streets, hoping not to plunge one’s leg into a melting snow-puddle along the curb and at the dug-out crosswalks, is no picnic. But I digress.

    I neglected to mention in the post above that David Panagore, the city’s CDO, was given a $10,000 raise as part of the personnel decision-making under the control board’s purview. In addition, the board approved a $60,000 to $70,000 project manager position in the planning and economic development department.

    Regarding setting a tone of working with the control board, I get the sense that there is a standing, open invitation to Sarno to try to recognize a better process in his personnel decision-making. I imagine board members are eager to see him stop pushing the envelope and testing the edges and boundaries of how much change is possible right now, and instead proceed in the interest of a smooth transition instead of a rocky, jarring one.

  3. The Springfield Intruder » Local News Briefs: 12-28-07

    [...] (Additional reading here.) [...]

  4. » Jordan: Review Board Meeting Regularly Pioneer Valley Central: Local Stories from Local Writers

    [...] in the country with a civilian review board that does not have a full-time coordinator,” Ryan reportedly said. In a recent story in the Republican, the Rev. Talbert W. Swan II asserted that a full-time [...]

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