Paper City Notes: Public interviews for police promotions in Holyoke

  • Holyoke City Hall as seen from Lyman Street. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/26/2022 8:01:10 PM
Modified: 1/26/2022 7:59:53 PM

HOLYOKE — As the city gets ready to interview candidates for promotion to high-ranking positions in the Police Department, Mayor Joshua Garcia has said he is making the interview process public.

In a statement on social media, Garcia said that on successive Wednesdays, Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, he will be hosting promotional interviews for the positions of sergeant, lieutenant and captain. In order to be transparent, he said the public interviews would be observed by members of the Community Police Relations Advisory group and take place in the City Council’s chambers, with the proceedings carried on local access Channel 15 and online via Zoom.

“This is a rather different approach than practiced in the past, primarily to strengthen the connection between the public and people we hire and promote at the police department,” Garcia wrote in a statement.

Garcia also noted, however, that although he is the appointing authority for the positions, the candidates the department hires and promotes are strictly governed by state Civil Service Commission rules. “Candidates are prioritized by the order of the list made available by Civil Service,” Garcia explained. “The extent to the power I have beyond making the official appointment is to bypass a candidate on the list for reasons allowed by Civil Service.”

In June, the City Council, in an effort to keep Police Department costs low, voted to cut $75,000 from a line item captain’s position. The cut, proposed first by Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon, meant the department would have to operate with three captains instead of four as it had been doing. The cut passed by an 8-3 vote, with Ward 2 councilor Murphy and at-large councilors Joe McGiverin and Peter Tallman casting the dissenting votes.

On Wednesday, mayoral aide John Dolan said that Garcia’s office, after conversations with the Police Department, decided to add the position back to the department again for the remainder of the fiscal year, using money leftover in the department’s budget. Dolan said he expects the City Council may try to keep the captain’s position cut from the budget in the coming fiscal year. He said the department and mayor’s office would need to make the argument that it is worthwhile to keep the position.

Mayoral advisory councils

The mayor has announced the creation of seven advisory councils to his administration, covering topics from housing to youth development.

The seven councils were the product of Garcia’s transition team, which disbanded earlier this month after around two months of work. The transition team created the councils, and this week named the community leaders who will be leading them. In an announcement, Garcia’s office said the councils are designed to “provide the community a seat at the table during the mayor’s deliberations.”

The advisory councils will cover community collaborations and communications; government restructuring; “Green Holyoke”; housing; infrastructure and economic development; public safety and health; and youth development. Leading those committees will be prominent Holyokers, including four of the former candidates for mayor whom Garcia defeated last fall.

Michael Sullivan, the businessman and former city councilor who lost to Garcia in the general election in November, will chair the council on economic development and infrastructure. Former School Committee member Devin Sheehan, an analyst for Springfield Public Schools who finished fourth in the mayoral primary election in September, is chairing the government restructuring council.

The writer William “Billy” Glidden, who came in fifth in the mayoral primary, is heading the advisory council on housing. And the academic and educator Gloria Caballero Roca, who came in sixth in the primary, will chair the public safety and public health group.

Cynthia Espinosa, the executive director of the nonprofit Nueva Esperanza, will chair the community and collaborations group. Running the “Green Holyoke” group will be Corrin Meise-Munns, Longmeadow’s assistant town manager and town planner. Holyoke Public Schools educator Scott Garcia will lead the youth development advisory council.

In a statement, Garcia’s office said that the chairs will schedule and set agendas for meetings the councils will have among themselves and with the mayor. Those looking to apply for a seat on the councils have until 4 p.m. on Jan. 31. The mayor’s office has set up an online application on the city’s website, both in English and in Spanish.

Vaccination campaign

As a city where many people across the region go to work, Holyoke is hoping to use its status as a manufacturing, technology and retail hub to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in the region.

Earlier this week, Holyoke announced the launch of an “Educate to Vaccinate” campaign that aims to work with local businesses to increase immunizations of their employees. The initiative, paid for with state and federal coronavirus relief funds, will seek to educate businesses and their employees about the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccines, as well as incentives that can help with time off needed to get the vaccine or deal with vaccine-related side effects.

“Our goal is to help build safer workspaces, combat misinformation, and support our local businesses through this difficult time,” Sean Gonsalves, Holyoke’s Board of Health director, said in a statement about the program.

Located in the least-vaccinated county in the state, Holyoke — where more than half of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino — has witnessed some of the same racial disparities in vaccination rates that other communities across the country have seen. Only 49% of Hispanic residents of the city, for example, have been vaccinated as of Jan. 18, according to state data. That’s compared to 80% of white residents, 74% of Black residents and 68% of multiracial residents.

In announcing the initiative, the city noted that certain racial and ethnic groups in the city have historically experienced poorer social determinants of health. Those disparities have been further exacerbated by the pandemic, as shown by the city’s vaccination rates.

“Addressing the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 requires an equally unprecedented effort at the local level,” Garcia said. “My hope for the program is to bridge the institutional barriers that have discouraged some Holyokers from getting vaccinated, while also supporting businesses when they are most vulnerable.”


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