Greenfield City Council slashes $425K from police budget

  • Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis, Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher and Precinct 4 Councilor John Bottomley consider a discussion on the Police Department budget. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • City Council discusses the Police Department budget on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • The Greenfield Police Station on High Street in Greenfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2022 7:31:24 PM

GREENFIELD — Signaling a “major change” to the city’s police force, City Council slashed the Police Department budget by $425,000 Thursday night, a move Mayor Roxann Wedegartner called “a sad display of governing.”

The cuts will mean the loss of eight of the department’s 34 officers, according to Acting Police Chief William Gordon.

“The City Council will have you believe they were doing this on behalf of the residents of Greenfield, and I think it’s just the opposite,” Wedegartner said on Friday. “I think it’s a very irresponsible action. … Do they really believe a person who’s involved in a domestic violence situation and calls for help doesn’t want a police officer and code responder to show up and deal with the situation? The same applies to anyone who is reporting child abuse. Do they really believe that person doesn’t want anybody to show up?

“I fail to see how this is going to be helpful to the residents and taxpayers of Greenfield,” she added.

The $58 million city budget passed late Thursday night by a vote of 10 to 2, with Precinct 7 Councilor Jasper Lapienski and Precinct 8 Councilor Doug Mayo voting “no.” At-Large Councilor Penny Ricketts was absent for the final vote on the operating budget, which came after 11 p.m. The cuts to the Police Department budget included $400,000 for salaries and $25,000 in expenses.

The budgetary decisions made this week come in the wake of a special jury verdict that found the Greenfield Police Department and Police Chief Robert Haigh Jr. discriminated against former Officer Patrick Buchanan, the department’s only Black officer at that point, when he was denied a promotion. A Hampshire County Superior Court jury awarded Buchanan $92,930 in lost back wages and $350,000 for emotional distress.

“I just feel it’s really abundantly clear that we need major change,” said Precinct 4 Councilor John Bottomley. “This is a long time coming, before I even moved to Greenfield.”

Bottomley started the debate with a proposal to cut the salaries and wages line item for the Police Department by $1.2 million.

Mayo voiced support for Bottomley’s amendment, adding that in doing so he would like to see the salaries for Haigh and Sgt. Daniel McCarthy zeroed out.

At-Large Councilor Christine Forgey, however, advised councilors to consider the impact of the money they intended to cut.

“The only way that money will be taken away from them is if they are fired, if they are asked to leave or if they are retired,” said Forgey, who formerly served as mayor.

She explained that because of union obligations, any money cut from the salaries and wages line item in the budget would result in the layoffs of the most recently hired officers.

“I think it’s extremely important if we’re going to transition from the old way of policing, to the new way of policing,” she said, “I think it would be detrimental to cut these people from the budget.”

After proposing, instead, an amendment to cut $350,000 from salaries, she said it was her personal feeling the mayor should exercise her option to terminate the contracts, or encourage the resignations, of Haigh and McCarthy.

Ricketts echoed Forgey’s concern that significant cuts would lead to the layoffs of the newest members of the force.

“They’ve learned the newest training, and I want them in our city, still,” Ricketts commented, seconding Forgey’s motion.

In an emotional plea, Ricketts called on Wedegartner and the Public Safety Commission to “do their job.” Money alone, she said, isn’t going to “fix the problem.”

“It’s not going to make any other people of color want to come work in a community, if this is the reputation we’re going to have here,” she said. “I am willing to compromise with my colleagues tonight. Without totally tearing apart the Police Department ... we need to send a message, and we need to work hard.”

Vice President Dan Guin also said he didn’t want to see “the wrong people penalized.”

“I don’t want to see our services suffer,” he said. “I don’t want to see the wrong people penalized by losing their employment because they’re the newest members of the workforce, but I believe we have to send a message.”

Precinct 3 Councilor Virginia “Ginny” DeSorgher and Precinct 5 Councilor Marianne Bullock also argued that, court case aside, Greenfield budgets more for its Police Department than other comparable communities.

“I am also deeply concerned about the strategy and choices that the executive branch in the city is making,” said Bullock, echoing comments from her peers. “I do think that one of the … tools we have to get our point across is with this budget, but I also think there’s very real data that shows our police budget is too high.”

Other amendments discussed included reductions of $477,000, $500,000 and $650,000.

“I can’t believe I have to say this,” said Lapienski, who objected to what he described as the “pity party” for those who will be laid off as a result of cuts. “The police are not entitled to our money. They work for us and we decide how many of them we need … whether they have to pay rent or not.

“I am not voting to approve this budget, because the cuts we made to the Police Department are just not sufficient to meet the needs of the people,” Lapienski continued. “A good indicator is that the (Department of Public Works) — and nobody in this room would argue the police are more essential than them — receives 40% less, and we only cut the police by a few percent.”

Ultimately, a reduction of $400,000 — bringing the salary line down to $3.1 million — passed by a majority vote of 7 to 6.

“We have to do something, because if we don’t do something, nobody in town is going to do anything,” said City Council President Sheila Gilmour. “It can’t be a slap on the wrist. We’ve been having really polite discussions for a long time.”

With the salary budget cuts amounting to a roughly 25% reduction in workforce, Lapienski suggested the expense line item be reduced by 25%, or $75,000.

At-Large Councilor Philip Elmer took a different approach. Instead, he calculated an 11% reduction from the salary line item, and used that percentage to reduce the expense line item.

“It came out to about $30,000,” Elmer said.

Considering the statements of others, DeSorgher offered an amendment to reduce the expense line by about $25,000, bringing the total expense line to $275,000. The amendment passed by a vote of 11 to 1, with Precinct 1 Councilor Ed Jarvis as the sole dissenting vote.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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