June 29, 2021
HOLYOKE — Mayoral candidate Rebecca Lisi expressed frustrations with City Council colleagues who voted to make deep cuts to the Police Department budget without an alternative plan for department management in place.
Among the guilty, said Lisi, a city councilor at large, are two councilors who claim to be champions of public safety, Mike Sullivan and Linda Vacon.
Sullivan and Vacon voted to eliminate a captain’s position and gut the police overtime account during a City Council meeting June 21.
Sullivan, a councilor at large and candidate for mayor, and Vacon, the Ward 5 councilor, chose to make such hefty, piecemeal cuts of the police budget proposed for the new fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Instead, Lisi said, councilors should be supporting her plan to do a top-to-bottom study of the Holyoke Police Department.
Lisi’s plan is to obtain neutral, fact-based data and statistics by hiring a contractor for an independent assessment of the Police Department’s structure, policies and practices.
Lisi’s plan is currently under discussion in the City Council Public Safety Committee.
The clumsy police budget cutting spearheaded by Sullivan and Vacon ignores the need for such an examination. The proposed study would yield a blueprint to help the Holyoke Police Department navigate the future, Lisi said.
But councilors, led by Sullivan and Vacon, voted to cut $75,000 for a captain’s position and $150,000 in police overtime.
“Making deep cuts to the police budget that are not informed by an organizational management plan undermines the department’s ability to service our community,” said Lisi, “I am calling for an intentional, substantive review of the entire department, so that the City can make thoughtful, purposive decisions about how to best approach public safety in Holyoke.”
“We see that policing is changing,” Lisi said. “I think that we should know as citizens and policy makers that the policies, practices and culture that are guiding the police force are really serving the community.”
Sullivan, it should be noted, said in remarks announcing his candidacy for mayor April 21 that among his priorities would be “…making our neighborhoods safe.”
Doing away with a captain’s position and handicapping contractually obligated police overtime needs is a strange way to prioritize public safety, Lisi said.
Meanwhile, on her Facebook page, Vacon displays a photo of a “support police” blue balloon: “Share this balloon to show without a shadow of a doubt that you support police officers who are protecting us.”
Vacon on Facebook also supposedly supports police by calling for “backing the blue.”
Yet Vacon — who holds signs at standouts for Sullivan’s mayoral campaign — is the one who proposed the deletion of the captain post and the slashing of the police overtime account.
“Our police budget is a very large budget in our city,” Vacon said during the budget hearing — stating the obvious, but offering no plan to prepare the department for the future.
Lisi, 42, is in her 14th year as a city councilor at large. That means that voters citywide in seven straight elections have entrusted her with two-year terms.
The four pillars of Lisi’s campaign for mayor are education, economic development, being welcoming to newcomers and civic engagement.
Lisi has been chairwoman of the Ordinance Committee, the City Council’s busiest committee, for most of her time on the board.