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Candidates for selectman, Board of Public Works speak at forum

Date: 2/28/2013

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — Participants in the two contested races in East Longmeadow's 2013 election season made their pitches to the community at the candidates' forum sponsored by the Council on Aging at the Pleasant View Senior Center on Feb. 21.

Selectman Peter Punderson, as well as challengers Ronald Cutler, Angela Thorpe and Joseph Townshend stated their cases for selectmen while Board of Public Works Chair John Maybury and challenger Thomas O'Brien both introduced and reacquainted themselves to approximately 40 people at the Senior Center as well as an East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) audience.

Punderson, who has served on the Board of Selectmen since he eked out a special election victory over Thorpe for the remainder of the term from which former Selectman James Driscoll resigned since Dec. 19 and took his allotted time to describe some of the work he has started doing during the three months he has been in office.

Punderson outlined meetings with several boards and departments, including the Board of Public Works as the chair of the Board of Health to address issues regarding the new Bark Park, the ELCAT Committee to discuss personnel matters, the School Committee as the selectmen's liaison, the Building Department to discuss energy saving initiatives and code enforcement and the Recreation Department to discuss budgetary needs and facilities.

He added that he was the board's representative at a recent Community Preservation Committee meeting to address property currently owned by the town and a potential new real estate transaction.

"We discussed Selectman Boronski's efforts to move forward with the Brown Property ... and we had a great conversation regarding some new property that might be coming up that could possibly be purchased by the Community Preservation Committee and you'll be hearing more about that as time goes on," he said.

Punderson also outlined his plans for future work on the board, which included continuing his efforts in aiding the compilation of the fiscal year 2012 budget.

"The Appropriations Committee told the department heads that this year they want a level-funded budget brought to them," he said. "What they're trying to do is not have any transfers from the general fund this year to balance the budget. The Board of Selectmen and the department heads have met [and] we have had some great discussion.

"Now that the School Department budget is out, we will revisit that, have more meetings and try to prioritize some of the additional monies being sought so we can have a budget that will meet our town's needs and also is within the parameters set forth by the Appropriations Committee," he continued.

He also said he is working with the Board of Selectmen on having East Longmeadow designated as a casino impact community.

"Towns that surround casinos sometimes realize negative impacts from the casinos," he said. "The casino developers or owners have money that they set aside to mitigate those problems that may arise. You can only get this money if you are designated as an impact community."

He also said that while he felt being a selectman was an honor, he felt it was time for the town to explore new forms of government.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again — the Board of Selectmen is a dinosaur," he said. "[A town budget of] $53 million needs to be run everyday by a professional manager. I believe it is time for a charter change."

Cutler, an 18-year resident of East Longmeadow, said that he could offer several traits he felt were needed on the Board of Selectmen at this time.

"I am running for selectman because now, more than ever, we need a selectman with honesty, integrity and a passion to do what is right for all of the residents of East Longmeadow," he said. "Someone who is independent and free of outside influences; someone who is invested in East Longmeadow."

Cutler said that he valued East Longmeadow's balance of commercial areas and residential neighborhoods and that would be one aspect of the community he would work to preserve.

"Small business is the backbone of our community," he said.

Cutler praised the financial health of the town and also pledged responsible spending of the town's funds.

"One of the main responsibilities as selectman is spending our tax dollars. This responsibility I take very seriously," he said. "I promise as your next selectman to make smart, educated, well thought through decisions with our tax dollars."

Thorpe, a former member of the School Committee who lost to Punderson in the special election by 12 votes, encouraged all registered residents of East Longmeadow to vote.

"I'm asking all of you to really stay tuned and go out and vote because I can tell you firsthand that every vote counts," she said.

She also addressed comments made by Punderson's former campaign manager Carol Johnston regarding the role of race in the 2012 special election.

"I have and never will ask for anyone to vote for me because of my skin color," she said. "I continue to personally ask you to vote for me on my merit, my character, my experience, my accomplishments like saving money through regionalization of [Information Technology] and [Department of Public Works] and receiving additional funds by advocating in Washington DC — and providing positive representation on state and national boards on our town's behalf."

Thorpe touted her work representing the town through the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program as well as serving the town as a member of the School Committee, the Charter Commission, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees as the District 5 chair.

"It is my goal to ensure that there is strong advocacy for all East Longmeadow residents to receive the best that our town has to offer," she said.

Thorpe also said she would aim to improve the relationship between the town and its employees to avoid unfortunate situations such as lawsuits.

She added that residents, schools and local businesses should all strive for the same goal of the maximum number of services for the minimum amount of cost to the community.

Townshend spoke of his previous experience as a member of the Board of Selectman, stating at one point that two of the current members of the board "don't have one fifth the experience I do."

He said,"There has never been a more critical time for strong moral leadership of our town ... Every tax dollar must be accounted for in a completely transparent way."

He added that he did not seek reelection after his first term on the board because he felt he could not be a part of the direction it was headed at the time.

"I was regularly out-voted 2-1. I sat and watched as friends who were not qualified for some positions were given high-paying jobs with long-term contracts when some candidates did not even meet the requirements for the position," he said. "I knew how town business was being handled and did not want to be associated with the two selectmen that resigned."

Townshend said if elected he would call for an audit of the town's finances by a forensic accountant. He also said that he would work toward creating an atmosphere in which town employees would not feel intimidated in order to prevent lawsuits.

"The way you address that is by having an environment where employees can trust that they can come to their department heads and talk," he said. "Once they can do that, you're going to see the lawsuits come down. If you get department heads that start acting like a Hitler-type of environment, it's going to open this town up to some lawsuits."

He also said that he would bring forward a warrant article before a town meeting that would shorten the contracts of department heads and address payroll concerns.

"Everyone talks about lowering taxes. The only way you are going to lower taxes is by lowering payroll," he said, adding that he would also seek to have town employees pay a larger percentage of their insurance costs.

Maybury pointed to the Department of Public Works' (DPW) positive record during his 18 years on the Board of Public Works.

He stated that in the past year, the drinking water system sustained 11 major water breaks, a "significant reduction from years past," and the department has also been called to handle fewer plugged sewers than in the past.

He also lauded the improvements to the Harkness Avenue water boosting station, repairs to many culverts, road resurfacing projects, the continued success of the Red Stone Rail Trail, and electrical improvements at Birchland Park Middle School and the Pleasant View Senior Center that would allow both to operate as emergency shelters, among others.

He explained that the staff completed 529 work orders in 2012, ranging from plumbing, electrical repairs, HVAC and carpentry-related work on the 20 town-owned buildings and the board has had a focus on better results for residents' tax dollars.

Maybury added that the most pressing issue currently facing the board was that of retention and detention basins.

After the town passed regulations regarding the management of such basins, a group of residents went to a special town meeting and had the new bylaws overturned. Maybury said that the issue would be addressed once again.

O'Brien said that his experience as a business owner made him a strong candidate as he was able to gain understanding of both work in the field as well as in the office.

He also pointed to his history of volunteerism and public service in the town, including as a youth sports coach, member of the Community Preservation Committee, and as a member of the community who takes part in decorating the center of town for the holidays.

O'Brien added that he felt energy efficiency needed to be a priority for the DPW.

"I think our current budget is around $1 million for fuel and if anybody follows it, it went up 30 cents in the last month," he said. "For the foreseeable future, I don't see it getting better, so I think that needs to be our No. 1 priority."