HOLYOKE – The City Council addressed an $11,153 transfer for former acting City Solicitor Crystal Barnes, who resigned her post April 30. The council sought a legal opinion if tabling or postponing a vote on the transfers were out of order at a recent special meeting.
The transfers were to match the pay grade some city councilors felt Barnes was entitled while helming the city’s Law Department.
The cash transfers were tabled during a May 12 special meeting. Current acting City Solicitor Lisa Ball issued a ruling if the tabling or delay was proper and aligned with Robert’s Rules of Order.
Under the rules, Ball determined “it was dilatory and out of order to lay on the table the matter for which the meeting has been called.” It was not proper during the special meeting that the subject at hand was “laid on the table” or not acted upon.
“That doesn’t mean the order itself cannot go forward. It certainly can’t go forward tonight,” Ball told the council during Tuesday’s regular session. “The motion can go forward at another meeting.”
Ball added the proper course of action would have been to hold off discussions “indefinitely” and not table the orders. Robert’s Rules applies when the City Council does not have an applicable rule or procedure.
The May 12 meeting also discussed the Fiscal 2022 budget, the session’s central focus. Ball said tabling the budget was proper because the process was starting, and department heads must appear before the council’s Finance Committee.
“I’m not sure what the reason was that this (transfer orders) was laid on the table, and I’m not sure it was stated,” Ball said.
Councilor At-large Joseph M. McGiverin, who chairs the Finance Committee, said he could not see the difference between tabling the cash transfers and the Fiscal 2022 budget during the special meeting.
McGiverin argued that former Mayor Alex Morse called for special meetings to address the budget or related items. He said the council has 45 days to approve a budget before the June 30 deadline or when the fiscal year ends.
The special meeting met the 45-day rule, avoiding “problems” with approving the budget on time, McGiverin said. The transfers were initially filed by Morse and refiled by acting mayor Todd McGee and Terence Murphy, the current occupant of Room 1.
McGiverin said the transfers were vetted at past Finance Committee, City Council, and the special meetings. Besides technical glitches during the virtual May 12 meeting, the matter of majority or supermajority arose.
“I think it was understood by the council, if not clearly stated when the budget motion was made, they were tabling it to take it up at the next City Council meeting,” McGiverin said. “I see no difference in what we did with the entire budget and these two transfers.”
Ward 3 Councilor David Bartley called the transfers “procedurally defective.” He felt uncomfortable at the special meeting to table the orders. He said the meeting had a quorum and could have voted on the transfers.
“Now we know that Robert’s Rule and our rules say that was a procedural defect,” Bartley said. “These are not properly before us.” He credited Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon for identifying the tabling misstep.
Bartley said video from the special meeting spoke volumes. The “votes were not there,” and the tabling was a “raw political maneuver for the majority to be victorious.” He added a two-thirds majority needed for the transfers was short.
‘It was defeated fair and square, but that wasn’t good enough. So we’ve gone through machinations. This is the fourth swing, including a special meeting,” Bartley said. “If the acting mayor wants to refile this financial transfer for somebody who’s no longer with us, that’s well within the acting mayor’s purview. I hope that the acting mayor won’t do that.”