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SPRINGFIELD — With budget season getting into full swing, Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that Cathy Buono would be tasked with navigating the city through the often choppy waters of municipal finance.

Sarno named Buono the city’s new chief administrative and financial officer at a City Hall press conference on Feb. 12. A Springfield native, Buono previously served as director of administration and finance for the city’s Office of Community Development and is the first woman to hold the CAFO position.

“Cathy has 33 years of extensive experience [as a] senior financial and administrative officer, working closely in every aspect of city government and being instrumental in turning around the reputation of the city of Springfield with the [U.S. Department of] Housing and Urban Development, which was damaged some years ago … We have an outstanding working relationship with that agency now.” Sarno said, adding he and Buono had worked closely on neighborhood revitalization and economic development initiatives.

Sarno also stressed the importance of Buono’s experience within the walls of City Hall.

“Again, Cathy’s worked very, very closely with me [and] she brings a tremendous institutional financial knowledge. She’ll hit the ground running,” Sarno said, also noting Buono’s “stellar leadership qualities” and “no-nonsense approach.”

Addressing those gathered at the announcement, Buono said she had worked directly and had positive relationships with every department in city government as well as Sarno and his staff, the City Council and the School Committee.

“I am confident I have the knowledge, skills and management ability to continue Springfield’s positive fiscal path,” she said, later adding, “I have worked with the residents, the businesses and all the nonprofits throughout my career and I intend to continue that work and continue helping to move them and Springfield forward.”

After being sworn in by City Clerk Gladys Oyola-Lopez, Buono said passing a balanced budget is her primary focus, citing challenges at the state level, namely with regard to revenues. Beyond that, workforce development is a major hurdle facing the city that she intended to address.

Springfield had been engaged in the search process for a new CAFO since the resignation of T.J. Plante in September 2023. Plante had served in the position since June 2013 when he succeeded Lee Erdmant, the city’s first CAFO. City Comptroller Patrick Burns had been serving as acting CAFO since Plante’s departure and has since returned to his original position. Sarno noted that Burns did not apply for the permanent position.

In accordance with state law, a screening committee was formed and included one appointment each from the School Committee, City Council and State Secretary of Administration and Finance. Sarno appointed four other members to the committee, two of which are experts in municipal management. The committee, chaired by mayoral appointment Haskell Kennedy, consisted of City Councilor Melvin Edwards, School Committee member Chris Collins and state appointee Zack Blake, the chief of the state Division of Local Services’ Financial Management Resource Bureau, as well as Jose Claudio and Margaret Lynch, who rounded out the mayor’s appointments.

The committee forwarded three finalists to Sarno for his consideration, including Buono.

The CAFO position was created by home rule legislation in response to Springfield’s near bankruptcy and the Finance Control Board’s efforts to pull the city from the brink of financial ruin during Mayor Charlie Ryan’s second stint as mayor and the start of Sarno’s administration. Sarno and City Council President Michael Fenton made note of the fact that the city has improved from “junk bond status” to one of the strongest bond ratings in its history and characterized the city’s reserves as “strong and stable.”

“This is a really important position for the administration of city government. It’s, if not the only, one of the only positions that exists by virtue of a state law and that state law was enacted in the wake of the receivership and the control board that was brought here to the city of Springfield. Through the mayor’s leadership and this administration, those days are thankfully long in the rearview mirror. Springfield’s bond rating is at an all-time high, our reserves are strong,” Fenton said.

Addressing Buono directly, Fenton added, “The city that you will be taking the helm of, madame CAFO, is in a much better position than when this position was enacted by virtue of statute.”

He went on to say that the intent when the CAFO position was created was to ensure Springfield’s fiscal situation was ever improving and Buono’s leadership, “they city will continue to thrive financially.”

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