Kevin Jourdain elected Holyoke City Council president following Mayor Alex Morse swearing-in
Published: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 8:55 PM Updated: Tuesday, January 03, 2012, 10:14 PM
HOLYOKE – Mayor Alex B. Morse was sworn into office Tuesday as the youngest mayor in city history at age 22, and the changes soon began, all around City Hall.
The 15-member City Council elected its first new president in nearly three decades, choosing Councilor at Large Kevin A. Jourdain over Councilor at Large Joseph M. McGiverin.
McGiverin had been president for 26 straight years.
Jourdain – who pledged to be a bold council president – edged McGiverin, 8-7, on the second ballot of voting in City Council Chambers.
The theme continued Tuesday night with the School Committee electing Devin M. Sheehan, one of the board’s youngest, to be committee vice chairman. The mayor is chairman of the School Committee, and practice has been that the vice chairman runs meetings.
Morse appointed Elizabeth Rodriguez-Ross as the new city solicitor, replacing Lisa A. Ball. The solicitor’s yearly salary is $75,823.
Morse also fired Jeanette Berrios as city personnel director because he said she was unqualified for the job, and made city staff attorney Adam Pudelko the new personnel director. The personnel director’s yearly salary is $60,600.
The city solicitor and personnel director appointments are subject to City Council confirmation.
Ball was city solicitor and Berrios was acting personnel director under former Mayor Elaine A. Pluta, whom Morse defeated in the Nov. 8 election.
Councilors such as Jourdain and others have argued Berrios, of Springfield, was unqualified under city law to be personnel director. She lacks a bachelor’s degree, isn’t a city resident and lacks at least five years experience as a personnel director, assistant director or administrator, such officials have said, though she worked in the office for more than 15 years.
Berrios couldn’t be reached for comment.
Morse said his office staff at City Hall will consist of Chief of Staff Dori Dean, who was his campaign manager, Executive Assistant Tessa Murphy-Romboletti and aide Nilka M. Ortiz, the lone holdover from Pluta’s staff.
Morse said Dean, Murphy-Romboletti and Ortiz each will be paid $40,764 a year.
Other changes in city jobs and on boards and commissions will be coming, Morse said.
Morse, in inaugural remarks, pledged commitment to improving education, economic development and public safety, along with a dedication to trying to unify the different factions of the city.
“Let us remember that we all want what’s best for our hometown. And that in no other city in this nation are the people more considerate, generous and compassionate,” Morse said.
The day marked a departure from “the old ways of doing politics in this city,” said Morse, who said the city’s strongest asset was its people.
“Today, we rededicate ourselves to the betterment of this community. We will not achieve every goal we desire in just one election or even one mayoral term. But I have no doubt that we will meet these challenges – boldly, fearlessly, and with the proud, fighting spirit that defines our people,” Morse said.
He wants to “rebrand” the city that, because of its former paper mills, was known as the Paper City, and have it be called the Digital City, he said, because of the $165 million high-performance computing center being built downtown. The center will be an academic research facility with partners that include Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts.
Despite the spirit of newness and the 18-hour days of vigor that Morse brings, the problems in the path of the change he envisioned are deep. Holyoke’s poverty rate is more than 28 percent. The city population is about 40,000. More than 10 percent of the population is unemployed.
Only 26 percent of students in grades pre-kindergarten to Grade 3 are able to read at their grade levels. A major reason for that is English is the second language for the largely Hispanic enrollment.
Morse told the packed high school auditorium he was mindful of his limitations in dealing with such challenges, but also confident.
“Lest we forget, we are Holyoke. As long as we remember that, there is no way we can fail,” he said.
Morse announced his candidacy for mayor when he was 21 and midway through his senior year at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. He graduated in May with a degree in urban studies.
The ceremony at Holyoke High School included swearing in of the City Council and School Committee.
Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray was master of ceremonies for the inaugural event.
Among officials who attended were U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Amherst, Brian P. Lees, clerk of Hampden Superior Court, state Sen. Michael R. Knapik, R-Westfield, and state Rep. Michael F. Kane, D-Holyoke.
Jourdain’s elevation to president capped weeks of lobbying of councilors by himself and McGiverin, whom Jourdain had tried previously to unseat.
Jourdain said it was beyond the acceptable time for a change. McGiverin said he understood and enjoyed the public role of City Council president and wished to continue.
“As we craft law and policy for the city, let us do so with wisdom and reflection,” Jourdain said. “Let us do so, however, with bold leadership. The solutions to our city’s problems require us to think outside of the box and not be afraid to take bold positions.”
Jourdain and McGiverin split the votes of the six new councilors. Jourdain got votes from Gladys Lebron-Martinez, who replaces Donald R. Welch as Ward 1 councilor; Anthony Soto, who takes over as Ward 2 councilor from Diosdado Lopez; and Gordon P. Alexander, who takes over as Ward 7 councilor from John P. O’Neill.
McGiverin received votes from new Ward 3 Councilor David K. Bartley, who replaces Anthony M. Keane; new Ward 4 Councilor Jason P. Ferreira, who replaces Timothy W. Purington; and new Councilor at Large Daniel B. Bresnahan.
Also backing Jourdain, besides himself, were Ward 5 Councilor Linda L. Vacon and councilors at large Rebecca Lisi, Peter R. Tallman and Aaron M. Vega.
McGiverin received votes from Ward 6 Councilor Todd A. McGee and councilors at large James M. Leahy, Brenna E. Murphy and himself.
The first vote for council president resulted in a lack of majority for any candidate. Jourdain got seven votes, McGiverin six and Vega two.
After the council presidency was decided with the second ballot, McGiverin walked across the floor to shake Jourdain’s hand.
At the podium, McGiverin stood with Jourdain, said he will retire the gavel he has used as president so Jourdain can wield his own gavel and pledged support to Jourdain.
Jourdain praised McGiverin’s service but made clear his tenure will be different.
“He holds the record for longest service as president and it is a record I fully expect will never be broken. Certainly not by me, for I have pledged not to serve longer than six years as president, if you wish to have me even that long,” Jourdain said.
McGiverin said later, “I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t disappointed. But the president has to have a majority of the City Council behind him. I don’t think in my heart it was personal. It was a decision for something different.”
Visibility is a main feature of being council president. The president runs City Council meetings that are held the first and third Tuesday of the month.
That includes determining which councilors can speak based on the order in which they raised their hands, ensuring decorum if debate gets testy and making sure council rules are followed.
One of Jourdain’s first duties will be to choose the chairmen of the council committees. Certain chairmanships are sought after because of their own visibility and at least perceived importance, such as Finance, Public Safety and Ordinance.
Jourdain said he will announce committee chairmen in a few weeks.
City councilors are paid $10,000 a year each.
The School Committee consists of 10 members, including the mayor as chairman. Joshua A. Garcia is the new Ward 1 School Committee member, filling the seat held by Lebron-Martinez.
Yvonne S. Garcia kept the Ward 2 school board seat with a write-in campaign, but didn’t attend the inauguration. She couldn’t be reached later.
Other returning School Committee members are Dennis W. Birks Jr., Ward 3, Cesar A. Lopez, Ward 4, Devin M. Sheehan, Ward 5, William R. Collamore, Ward 6 and Margaret M. Boulais, Ward 7, and at-large member Howard B. Greaney Jr.
The School Committee has two at-large members with staggered, four-year terms. At-large member Michael J. Moriarty wasn’t up for reelection in November and has two years left in his term.
School Committee members get $5,000 a year.
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