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City Council

Apology to David Flaherty

I want to offer an apology to David Flaherty for referring to him dismissively as a "bean counter" on the MassLive forums recently. While I try to keep personal insults out of my argumentation, this may have crossed the line. In our blog, we have also described Councilor Flaherty as having "bean counter leadership." This also could have been phrased in a slightly better way. What we wanted to convey is that, in our view, Councilor Flaherty is incapable of inspiring people to contribute to the community and is focused far too narrowly on the budget, offering no larger vision for what Westfield can become through the investment of our tax dollars.
Today, a letter to editor appeared in the Westfield News entitled "Councilor Flaherty's Budget Recklessness Exposed." The letter did not insult Councilor Flaherty but it did strongly challenge his budget cuts that would have exposed the city to lawsuits from city workers—lawsuits the city would have likely lost. What's worse, he did so without even consulting with the other city councilors. There's no question about the recklessness of his decision. Read more about that here.
City Councilor Agma Maria Sweeney
City Councilor Agma Maria Sweeney

Agma Sweeney Expresses Support for School Budget, Westfield's Schools

In a "Letter to the Editor," City Councilor Agma Sweeney explained that her recent "no" vote was not so much a vote against the Mayor Knapik's budget as it was a vote to have the City Council perform a line-by-line review of his budget. She emphasized her desire to see Westfield's schools funded "at the highest possible levels" and that she would have voted "no" against any proposed cuts.
Save Westfield Schools thanks Ms. Sweeney for clarifying her position and for her support of Westfield's schools. We encourage other city councilor's to follow suit.

Did Flaherty Purposefully Keep Other City Councilors in the Dark?

Update, June 25, 8:36 am On the MassLive forum, Councilor Flaherty made the ridiculous claim that "We don't bring [the possibility of a lawsuit] up every time we take a vote, because frankly every vote can drive a lawsuit." He went on to say, "We can't let the threat of lawsuits change our votes. We have a legal team and courts for a reason." So even though Flaherty says he knew a lawsuit was possible, he didn't consult with *anyone* over whether the city would have even prevailed in the cases. In other words, it was quite probable that Flaherty would have cost the city untold thousands of dollars in litigation with nothing to show for it. It's yet another display of his inability to make decisions in the best interest of our community.

We were debating with Councilor Flaherty on MassLive today (yes, you can call us gluttons for punishment but at least you can't say we aren't dedicated to the cause) and Councilor Flaherty seemed to hint that he knew all along that finance committee's proposed budget cuts would have gotten the city sued.

Funny thing is, this never came up during the finance committee's discussions because he never brought it up. Did Councilor Flaherty purposefully not disclose his knowledge that his cuts would have gotten the city sued because he thought it might torpedo his proposed cuts and further his goal to attack the city worker's compensation?

So which is it, was Councilor Flaherty clueless about the potential for lawsuits or did he know something and hide it from the other councilors? Either way, he proves that he has no business representing this city on important matters.

City Councilor David Flaherty's recent statements on the MassLive website cast doubt about his credibility.
City Councilor David Flaherty's recent statements on the MassLive website cast doubt about his credibility.

Councilor David Flaherty's Ever Widening Credibility Gap

Update: 5:30 pm: Councilor made some comments regarding what he knew about the potential for lawsuits with city unions that could prove to be very revealing. Read more here.

Councilor David Flaherty and the other Finance Committee members almost got the city sued. They failed to consider that a number of their recommended budget cuts would have likely violated the city's contractual obligations to some of the city's unions. If the cuts had passed, and they nearly did, it would have opened the city up to unfair labor practices and lawsuits by some of the various unions in the city that represent about 85% of its workforce.

Apparently, the committee didn't even bother to take the basic step of consulting with the mayor, the law department, or any of the city's department heads to consider the impacts of their cuts. How was such a bush league mistake made? We can only wonder. Thankfully, the mayor was able to make a very strong case for his original budget at the June 19th city council meeting and put the kibosh on the ill-advised cuts.
Oracle Flaherty has brought us great wisdom from his Olympian spreadsheet
Oracle Flaherty has brought us great wisdom from his Olympian spreadsheet

Oracle Flaherty Speaks

Correction, 6/22, 9:26 am: We changed Moody's rating from AA+ to A1. There is no AA+ rating from Moody's. We have an A+ rating from the S&P. Both ratings are considered to be "Upper medium grade" ratings, one step below "High grade." In other words, these bond rating agencies consider Westfield to be very safe long-term investments.

Update, 5:11pm: As you might have guessed, Councilor Flaherty has refused our challenge on the MassLive forum, telling us to "do your own howework." Does this sound like someone you can trust or believe? If the situation was really so dire as he says it is, wouldn't he do everything he could to prove conclusively how right his calculations are? Maybe he really doesn't care. But most likely, he's just full of a lot of hot gas.

We are blessed, once again, to have Oracle Flaherty speak to us from his favorite shrine, the Westfield MassLive forum. Because Oracle Flaherty is easily angered and quick to remove us from his shrine if we raise his ire, we are linking to his declarations here along with our offerings to him.

And in all seriousness, we would let this go and not respond to him because there comes a point where this kind of back and forth transforms itself into a silly game of one-upmanship, as entertaining as that can be. The reason why we're responding is that real damage can be done by him. Flaherty does appear to have some followers on the City Council and if he accrues enough of them, he will be in a position to inflict harm on the city and its personnel with unnecessary budget cuts. As you'll see in our response to him, we're asking Flaherty to put all his calculations and assumptions into a spreadsheet that can be verified by a neutral expert. Until and unless he can do these two things, he should be ignored. This is a serious request we are asking him to fulfill.

The only thing we have to fear is...the pie chart?
The only thing we have to fear is...the pie chart?

More Inspiring, Less Compounding Needed from Westfield's City Council

Update, June 20, 1:24pm: Councilor Flaherty responded to this essay on the Masslive Forum. Since he is prone to having the moderator remove posts he doesn't appear to like, we have reposted them below, at the end of this essay.
Update, June 20, 1:50pm: True to form, Flaherty had our response removed from the ML forum. He even had a link to our response removed.

At last night's City Council meeting, Councilor Flaherty quietly boasted about how adept he was at compounding interest. He encouraged citizens to join him in breaking out their spreadsheet programs to look at the numbers to see just how doomed, DOOMED, we all are unless we scrimp and save and cut and slash budgets in Westfield for God knows how long. 

Even if you believe Westfield is on the fast track to financial meltdown (it isn't), you have to admit Flaherty is representative of the uninspiring, bean counter leadership we seem to be plagued with these days. It's pathetic and a little sad.
Deficit crows ate crow tonight at the City Council meeting.
Deficit crows ate crow tonight at the City Council meeting.

(Most) of Westfield City Councilors Come to Their Senses, Vote to Accept Mayor's Budget

Fireworks flew between Mayor Daniel Knapik and Chief Deficit Crow, David Flaherty, as they exchanged heated words at tonight's City Council meeting. Knapik had the clear advantage with the crowd of about 150 clapping enthusiastically as he defended his budget against the attacks of Councilor Flaherty, prompting Finance Committee Chair, Richard Onefrey, to gavel the crowd quiet on several occasions. Flaherty, on the other hand, elicited quiet groans of displeasure from the audience. And at one point, an audience member shouted "Vote him out!" which drew applause as Flaherty floundered with allegations that the mayor's numbers were wrong and inaccurate.

City Officials Specify What Cuts Would Do to Westfield

The mayor and fourteen other city officials released letters to the public this morning which outline the negative impact the Finance Committee's proposed budget cuts would have on the city's operations and the inadvisability of such cuts.

The cuts would go much deeper than just Westfield's schools. Chief of Police, John Camerota, said the cuts would result in the loss of five full time positions. Fire Chief, Mary Regan, said the cuts would result  in the layoff of two firefighthers and that it's possible that a substation would have to be closed and a loss of equipment. The Barnes Muncipal Airport manager, Brian Barnes, said that the cuts would risk not meeting FAA requirements for a certificated airport and jeopardizes safety of the planes.

See all the letters from city officials.

Mayor Knapik Goes on Offensive Against Finance Committee Cuts on WHYN

Mayork Knapik defended his budget and lampooned the Finance Committee for "leading from behind" for not recommending cuts to their own budget and salaries. Knapik said that he felt "really comfortable" with the financial health of the city and said that "our financial metrics are doing quite well in a lot of areas." The mayor explained that across the board cuts would not the way to pay down the debt saying "That's not the way municipal finance works."  The proper way to do that, he said, is to deposit money into the reserve account and that $1 million would be deposited into the reserve account tonight.

The mayor also described the harmful impact the cuts would have on public safety and particularly the city's school system which we highlighted last night.

To hear the full interview with the mayor click the "Play" button on the audio player. If you do not see the audio player in the grey box above click here to download the file and listen.

How the Finance Committee's Proposed Budget Will Hurt Our Schools

In a recent news story, TV-3 has featured what exactly the cuts will do to Westfield's schools and children. The cuts that will be made are as follows:

Reduction in high school sports schedule (league games) $50,000
Technology licenses (renewals of software programs) $85,000
20% cut in all school supplies $110,347
Student afterschool programs & teacher stipends $50,000
Late buses $139,653
Hardware budget $50,000
Math materials (textbooks and consumables) $200,000
Total cuts $685,000


Fear not the deficit crows! They are easily scared away.
Fear not the deficit crows! They are easily scared away.

Don't Feed the Deficit Crows!

***CORRECTION*** The Wednesday, June 19th meeting will be held at 6:30pm at South Middle School, not 7pm as originally posted.
We've all heard and seen a lot from the deficit crows. They travel together in huge flocks constantly cawing and squawking about big government budgets and big debt. You can't miss them as they seem to be everywhere.
City Councilor David Flaherty has been accused of violating open meeting laws.
City Councilor David Flaherty has been accused of violating open meeting laws.

Open Meeting Law Complaint Filed Against Westfield Councilor David Flaherty

UPDATE, 10:52 pm: In the Westfield MassLive forums, David Flaherty cited an email from March 2010 that received approval from the law department as justification for the email that was sent our to the ten other city councilors yesterday. However, as pointed in the forum by Mr. Dondley, that decision was made before the law was overhauled and toughened in July 2010. The AG's office will have the ultimate say over whether Flaherty's communication to the other city councilors constitutes a violation of the state's open meeting law.

UPDATE, 11:15 pm: Mr. Dondley says he "read too much into" Councilor's Flaherty use of private email to the city council's personal email addresses. "I wasn't aware the most city councilor prefer to use their private email addresses and so made the incorrect inference that Flaherty was trying to hide his communication from the public. However, I still maintain he is ignorant of the changes to the open meeting law that went into effect in July 2010 and that, in my opinion, his communication with the councilors by email is a clear violation of the law."

In a possible violation of Massachusetts' Open Meeting laws, Councilor David Flaherty sent an email to ten city councilor's last night expressing his opinion about the city's budget. The goal of the email appears to be to undermine the position of Save Westfield Schools, attack the mayor's proposed budget, and build support for the Finance Committee's proposed cuts. Councilor Flaherty is a member of the Finance Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council body.

Proposition 2 1/2 Override Vote Killed by City Council

By a five to eight vote, Westfield's City Council spiked a motion to put a vote before Westfield citizens to increase the levy limit by $2.5 million for the public school's general operating budget.

A Simple Question for Councilor Flaherty

Councilor Flaherty has responded again to the essays we have posted on this website. He has attacked our position as "warped" and has also attacked the value of SWS. We won't bother posting it here because it doesn't address many of our key points. But if you are interested, his post can be found on the Mass Live Forum at http://www.masslive.com/forums/westfield/ post #25392.

We also aren't going to get into a tit-for-tat response with the Councilor because it's not productive and more importantly would turn people off and cause them to tune out of the debate. Besides, we aren't interested in engaging in a battle of the egos, we're interested in results.

So to move discussion forward, we have a simple question for Flaherty so he can demonstrate whether the accusations we've leveled against him are "warped" or not.

Here's our question to you Councilor Flaherty:

"Councilor Flaherty, would you welcome broadening the appeal of the Proposition override vote(s) in November by including funding for services that more of Westfield's citizens would benefit from such as fire, police, public works, parks, building, animal control, etc. in order to improve the odds of the override vote(s) passing?"

Save Westfield Schools Pens Letter to L&O Committee Members About Override Vote

Tomorrow, the City Council's Legislative and Ordinance (L&O) Committee will begin discussing and planning for a possible Proposition 2 1/2 vote this November. The position of SWS schools is that the proposal for the override—if executed the way it was introduced by Councilor Flaherty at last week's council meeting—is ill-advised and would be a disaster for our school system.

Today we mailed a letter to each of the L&O committee members outlining our position and the reasoning behind it. Please read on for the text of the correspondence.

Arlington, MA: A Model for Westfield on Proposition 2 1/2 Overrides?

Westfield has never had a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote. It's a new experience for all of us. So it's probably a good idea for us to study and learn what other Massachusetts communities have done to win voter approval for an override.

Arlington is one such town. In fact, they've had two successful override votes, one in 2011 and one in 2005. In 2011, the citizens approved a $6.49 million override and in 2005 they approved a $6 million override. The dollar amount of these override is quite substantial when you consider the average of all the winning override votes from FY 2000 to FY 2010 brought in just $546,504. In the 2011 vote, Arlington's citizens voted to increase their average household tax burden by a whopping $450/year! That's no small feat to pull off in the middle of a very bad recession. Arlington's budget, $114.3 million, is very close to Westfield's. However, one critical difference between Arlington and Westfield is the median household income. In Arlington, it's $84,907 and only $51,535 in Westfield. We'll come back to this point later.

City Councilor David Flaherty Responds to Our Essay About His Insincerity

Councilor David Flaherty has responded to the essay posted here on the Save Westfield Schools website yesterday which accused him of being insincere in his bid to place a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote before the citizens of Westfield. He posted his response to his favorite public soapbox, the Westfield MassLive Forum run by the Republican newspaper. His original response to our essay is comment #6 under post #25378 and is entitled, "Response to Paulstonian and sw03." 

For several reasons, we believe that the Mass Live Forum is a less than ideal platform for public debate so we are posting a point-by-point response to Flaherty's Mass Live comment here on our website. Flaherty's responses are in bold with our responses italicized and indented. Please read on.


A Very Insincere David Flaherty Proposes a Proposition 2 1/2 Override Vote

Update: Councilor Flaherty has responded to this essay.
At the June 21 city council meeting, Councilor David Flaherty introduced a motion to have the city council's Legislative and Ordinance (L&O) Committee consider placing a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote on the November's ballot. What follows is what Mr. Flaherty *could* have chosen to say when introducing his motion:
"This is a tough one. No one likes to have their taxes raised, but Proposition 2 1/2 has really put a squeeze not only on Westfield but on city's and towns across the Commonwealth. It is choking our city's ability to function. With each passing year, we are forced to make tougher and tougher decisions about what to cut and departments are fighting over dollars that just aren't there. All the department heads I've spoken to say they are working with extremely tight budgets.
See video
Flaherty's motion for a resolution shot down

Two School-Related Motions Rebuffed by the City Council

Two motions put forward by City Councilor Flaherty, related to the operation of Westfield's schools, were soundly rejected by other City Councilor's Thursday night. As expected, a third motion to cut the school department budget was withdrawn by Flaherty before coming up for debate. Regarding the withdrawn motion, Councilor Flaherty said there was "no need" as a result of "a lot of productive conversations we've had this week."

Flaherty Changes Mind, Will Not Propose Cutting School Budget at Next Meeting

In an email to SWS earlier this evening, regarding a proposal to rescind approval for $744,345 for our schools, City Councilor Flaherty wrote that "I will be pulling this from the agenda. The actions and discussions over last couple weeks have led to meetings and cooperative efforts that may help satisfy our objectives without the need for this motion." Though we're unsure what specific meetings and efforts he refers to, SWS applauds Flaherty's decision.

This leaves two other Flaherty motions, reported here earlier, on the agenda tomorrow night; one motion to discuss the possibility of placing a 2 1/2% override on the ballot and another more vague proposal for a resolution regarding the school budget. In his email this evening, Flaherty provided a limited explanation about the resolution, saying, "I will introduce a one page resolution that relays the concerns of members of council and taxpayers to the School Committee."

SWS will be closely monitor debate at tomorrow's City Council meeting and post video of all relevant discussion concerning the school budget.

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