On Springfield

Sarno Appears Poised to Announce New SPD Leader

Mayor Domenic Sarno will hold a press conference at 10:30 this morning, when, according to a press release from his office, “A Significant Announcement regarding Public Safety Personnel Will Be Made.”

Presumably, this won’t be about the hiring of new crossing guards.

More likely, Sarno will announce which of the three SPD deputy chiefs he’s chosen to replace Police Commissioner William Fitchet after the incumbent retires in June.

If that’s the case, the mayor is narrowly cutting off the City Council at the pass. A group of councilors, led by President Mike Fenton, had proposed doing away with the SPD’s single-commissioner model and replacing it with a citizens’ Police Commission, with five members appointed by the mayor.

Sarno opposes the Police Commission idea and has said that if the Council approved it, he would veto it. Now, it looks like the Council—which had scheduled a special meeting for Friday on the commission ordinance, in the hopes of getting it to a vote before the mayor signed a contract with a new commissioner—won’t even get that chance.

The commission/commissioner fight has been, on one level, a battle between the mayor and councilors and, on that front, it looks like Sarno is about to be the winner.

But what will be the long-term political consequences of his determination to handle the matter his way? Sarno’s insistence that the buck stops with him on public safety matters fits with the law-and-order, tough-on-crime stance that’s been a key element of his political profile since his days as a city councilor—a stance that, perhaps, could help him if he is, as is rumored, considering running for Hampden County sheriff in 2016, when Mike Ashe retires. But the mayor’s behind-closed-doors, tight-lipped handling of the police commissioner issue has, presumably, alienated some councilors, including the up-and-coming Fenton.

And Sarno hasn’t just shut city councilors out of the hiring process—he’s also shut out the public, by holding private interviews and releasing minimal information about how he’s making his selection of a new commissioner. And that’s a risky move; whoever next heads the SPD will have a lot easier time if the community feels that their voices have been heard on such a crucial issue. Instead, over the past week we’ve seen troubling questions raised about one of the three candidates—Deputy Chief Robert McFarlin, whom many believe to be Sarno’s top choice—that have gone unanswered by City Hall.

To be continued...

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