Councillors Question Role of Community Liaisons

By Adam Swift

A proposed plan by Acting Mayor Patrick Keefe to have the city’s three community liaisons assigned to specific wards did not sit well with several city councillors at Monday night’s meeting.

For Keefe, the plan for the liaisons, who are funded through the federal ARPA Covid relief programs, was a way to increase communication with the mayor’s office and make the best use of existing positions.

“Essentially, this work is already being done by our community outreach liaisons, but we wanted to work with our liaisons to assign them to particular wards,” said mayoral aide Gianni Hill.

Hill said the plan was to have the administration work with the ward councilors to best marshal the resources. He said the liaisons currently offer a variety of outreach services for residents, and fall under the 311 office.

Whereas the 311 operators are in City Hall and answer calls and requests for help from residents, the community liaisons are proactive and in the neighborhoods, Hill said.

The community liaisons initially started as the Covid ambassadors for the city.

“We found a lot of great success with the work they were doing in really getting folks involved and aware of the different things going on in the city,” said Hill.

Ward 6 Councillor Richard Serino noted that during last year’s budget discussions, he and several other councillors expressed concerns about positions being funded through ARPA and the eventual end of the ARPA funding.

“We have these debates constantly about how we are going to afford things, and we spend money willy nilly on positions and salaries,” said Serino. “What is the administration’s plan for funding this?”

Hill noted that for the time-being, the positions are still being funded through ARPA and are not permanent positions.

Councillor-at-Large Dan Rizzo said he had some concerns about the roles of the community liaisons duplicating efforts of the elected councillors.

“If this is going to be something we look to sustain, I’m not sure why we would do it when people elect city councillors to be their representatives,” said Rizzo.

Councillor-at-Large Steven Morabito echoed some of those concerns, noting that especially during an election year, there are numerous candidates and elected officials knocking on doors and reaching out to the community.

“I’m surprised there is this much feedback,” said Keefe. “I had spoken to a few ward councillors, and being a former ward councillor, I felt that this was a great support role for the ward councillors.”

Councillor-at-Large Gerry Visconti said his issue was that the roles of the community liaisons seemed to be changing from their original intent.

However, Council President Pro Tem Joanne McKenna said she supported the idea of the community liaisons providing more support to ward councillors, especially when it comes to providing translation services.

“I think it would help, and I don’t feel intimidated to have an assistant as a ward councillor,” said McKenna. “They are getting paid with ARPA money, so once the money runs out, then the jobs run out. I like it, I do, and I’m sorry some of you don’t agree with me.”

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