The majority of the Westfield City Council voted to appoint Brian Ferguson to the Redevelopment Commission to replace Melissa Risk at its February meeting, but Risk said it was not a voluntary decision for her to step down.
Risk, who was appointed by the council to the RDC early last year, said a few days before the February meeting that council president Mike Johns called her and asked if she was comfortable with bringing things forth to the city council.
“I said ‘of course I’m comfortable speaking to city council at any time, I don’t have information other than provided at public forum RDC meetings and everything is on their website,’ and he told me that as a city council appointee, I was too passive and did not question enough and was not vocal enough during the (RDC) meetings,” Risk said.
Johns said a few councilors approached him with concern about Risk not being vocal in meetings and after he attended a few meetings, he confirmed that that was the case.
Risk said Johns told her Bob Beaudry, the other council appointment to the five-member RDC, is very vocal on the board and that Risk was not and Johns had been asked by several councilors to replace her.
“I told him I was going to go back and review the documents I had been given at the beginning to see what the functionality of the RDC is and I would call him back, which I did not do,” said Risk, admitting she forgot to do so because of the Super Bowl Feb. 7. “He left me a message on Monday (Feb. 8) which I still have and told me that the majority of (the council) voted to replace me and I would be replaced that day.”
According to Johns, another councilor was supposed to discuss the council’s concerns with Risk, but apparently that didn’t happen.
“We were told that one of the councilors had talked to her, one of the councilors had voiced our concerns with her, and it became apparent when I spoke to her that was not in fact the case,” Johns said. “I was very disappointed with that individual. We rely upon each other to follow through and be open and honest, and if one of us says we’ve done something, there’s no reason to not be transparent. I think this was a case where somebody was supposed to do something and did not follow through and said they had and we got ourselves into a situation where we really made somebody feel bad and that was not the intent. That was never intent.”
Upon approaching the councilor, Johns said the councilor explained that maybe he had not communicated properly with Risk.
“It did come out of the blue,” Risk said. “They had not reached out to me and said they were unhappy, and they didn’t direct me in any way. And I don’t think they should as far as the meetings are concerned.”
Risk said that when it came to RDC votes, she and Beaudry only differed on a few votes in the past year but that the majority of the time, they voted the same.
“They want somebody to go in and really challenge the RDC, but what I told Mike was I didn’t understand how they wanted me to challenge the RDC, I didn’t feel that was my position,” Risk said. “I’m not knowledgeable enough to do that. Only two (RDC members) are appointed by council, and three are appointed by (city) administration. If you had two appointed by council, to be a minion of the council, they still have a losing vote.”
However, council member Cindy Spoljaric and Johns both said a strong appointee benefits the council and that Beaudry was having to ask all the questions.
“We need good representation,” Spoljaric said. “Our expectations are high that somebody would be willing to be council’s advocate. That’s what we appoint them for. We need them to be representative of what we’re hoping in that regard.”
The three RDC members appointed by city administration are Joe Plankis, Doug Holtz and Jill Doyle.
“I didn’t take an inflammatory approach to anything because I didn’t really feel that way,” Risk said. “Had I felt that way, I probably would have. That’s pretty much what Mike said and why I was replaced.”
Johns said the only reason Risk was replaced was because the council was hoping to appoint someone who would be more involved.
“Melissa is a really, very nice person,” Johns said. “But Melissa never really spoke up and engaged herself within the RDC at the various meetings, so we were looking for someone who would get involved a little bit more, be a little more outspoken. We decided we would select someone else we thought could better serve the community. We thank Melissa for her service and for her contribution and hopefully, she’ll have an opportunity to serve again in the future.”
Ferguson had previously been interviewed to be an appointee to the RDC.
“Brian’s got a good financial background,” Johns said. “He’s a good businessman, and he’s not a timid person. The RDC has got some strong leadership on it, and it’s just my personal feel when you have a strong leader, you need someone (an appointee) who’s not intimidated, especially when we get back to in-person meetings.”