By Jeremy F. van der Heiden
The Somerville Board of Aldermen gathered for a regular meeting this past Thursday, June 26, to discuss a variety of matters ranging from problems with speeding drivers in certain neighborhoods to the city’s divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
The first order of business was to recognize and commend Maureen James and Jo-Ann DePrizio, who recently retired from the City Clerk’s Office after a run of 57 years working for the Somerville public sector. The commendation was pitched by the entire Board of Alderman and Mayor’s Office, while the board also recognized Rose Ryan who just retired from the Somerville Public School’s Culinary Arts program following 29 years of service.
Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang introduced an agenda item that would essentially act as a resolution to show the board’s support for Fossil Free Somerville and other groups that have been working to get the city to divest funds from publically traded fossil fuel companies.
When this matter was first introduced to the board during a public hearing, the City Solicitor urged all members to hold off on commentary and support given their status as public sector employees. Since then, the board has discovered that it is acceptable and legally safe to discuss the matter and put forth the opinions contained therein.
Alderman Niedergang’s resolution called for the BOA to urge individuals, colleges and universities, governments, and foundations to begin divesting from fossil fuel companies, which was passed.
Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz also addressed the topic, noting that the time to act is now and commended the City Solicitor for his meticulous research of legal matters in the board’s actions. One of the more important components of this resolution was to call for more action on behalf of the BOA to support a bill that is currently in the Massachusetts House of Representatives that would lead to a $1.4 billion divestment from fossil fuel companies within the state’s pension reserves. The board unanimously approved the resolution.
Another big agenda item of the night was the finalization of the City of Somerville budget for Fiscal Year 2015. There were a few points that are still in committee, but the vast majority of the budget has been completed and is now available for the public to view. Interested parties can locate every item within the budget, as well as the status and final decision, through the Board of Alderman’s main website.
Alderman Gewirtz noted that more work likely needs to be done to boost the city’s involvement in health and human services actions, as well as those related to the affordable housing. Alderman Niedergang brought up similar needs for forthcoming budget hearings in the coming years to become more involved in affordable housing conversations.
As a note, Somerville has been one of the most rapidly growing communities in the commonwealth, but continues to face challenges in housing and support for individuals living under the poverty line.
Ward 4 Alderman Tony Lafuente, who is the acting chair of the Finance Committee, thanked the mayor for his work in focusing on the affordability of living in Somerville.
Mayor Joseph Curtatone offered comments on the budget and answered questions from members of the board for each of the various items contained therein. He commended the board’s efforts in these matters, as well as the work completed by the Finance Committee and the general management of the budget throughout the city government.
Finally, BOA President William White introduced an item that would call for the City Solicitor to apprise the board of the latest developments in the controversial Union Square Post Office sale. The United States Postal Service has still yet to land on an agreement, while some of the board members noted that the impacts of changing circulation since the closure have been somewhat negative.
The board pushed this to the Committee on Legislative Matters.