If Mayor Gregory Neffinger were to give a “State of the City” address for West Springfield at this time, similar to the President’s “State of the Union,” it could most closely be summarized by the following words, commonly seen in other venues: Currently Under Construction. The November 2011 elections have seen new members added to the City Council, as well as the School Committee, not to mention that Neffinger himself is in only in his third month on the job. In addition, positions have opened up across the board due to retirements and promotions, as well as dismissals, and the discovery that the City of West Springfield’s Charter has several positions that were never filled upon its creation. There is a lot of movement in this city, and it will be some time before the dust settles and the citizens can determine the positive and negative effects that accompany great change.
“I just appointed a new DPW Director this past Monday,” said Neffinger. He was referring to the selection of Robert Colson of Russell to fill the opening created last month by the retirement of former DPW Director Jack Dowd. In addition to this post, Neffinger has been interviewing candidates for a new Town Assessor (the former Town Assessor Christopher Keefe was fired after a dispute over the taxing of social clubs last month) and a Planning and Development Director, as well as a few other openings. Neffinger said he is systematically filling positions listed in the City of West Springfield’s Charter that he said have never been occupied. He has not yet set a deadline for when the positions should be filled, but has agreed that “time is of the essence.” He said he would be moving forward with the selections while giving them the appropriate amount of consideration.
Also on the list of upcoming changes are the retirement of Chief Thomas Burke at the end of March, and the selection of his successor. Neffinger is currently weighing his options in regards to the next Chief of the West Springfield Police Department, and is considering taking the position out of civil service. Neffinger said Burke offered to act as Interim Chief until his successor was chosen, but the mayor is still considering other options.
The position of Chief of Police will most likely be decided upon in the upcoming months, and has historically been filled by a Captain from the same department. There are currently five Captains in the West Springfield Police Department: John Ferrarini, Ronald Campurciani, Thomas Wilkinson, Daniel O’Brien and Daniel Spaulding. However, Neffinger said that the position has now been opened up to the rank of Sergeant as well. In addition, the mayor has the authority to consider candidates from outside of the department if no suitable candidates are found.
Captain O’Brien has been on administrative leave since late December, and is currently under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for allegations of misconduct. Both Neffinger and Captain Spaulding have agreed that this should not prevent him from qualifying to apply for the position. “I would suspect that because he still holds the rank that he would be eligible to go for it… I personally believe he would be eligible to take the test or the assessment center, whichever they choose to do,” said Spaulding. Neffinger also said that because O’Brien was not currently facing any charges, there would be no reason to deny him the opportunity to apply. However, the mayor went on to say that once he has made his decision about the process for choosing the next Chief, he would not be placing it on hold to wait for available candidates. “Whoever is qualified at the time that I choose to go forward will be considered,” he said, indicating that all decisions would be made in as timely a manner as possible.
Once the upcoming appointments have been made, the mayor will be free to turn his attentions to the policies on his political platform which got him elected, which are furthering the City’s economic development and the lowering of taxes across the board. With a newly restructured government behind him, the mayor will soon have the opportunity to demonstrate to the City why it was that they elected him.