EAST LONGMEADOW – None of the more than a half dozen residents who spoke at the Charter Commission’s first public hearing May 27 spoke in favor of the current form of government and all advocated for change.
Charter Commission Chair Dawn Wiezbicki-Starks said the commission’s mission is to research the creation of a town charter and a possible new form of local government and to present their recommendation to voters on the April 12, 2016 Annual Town Election ballot.
“We will conduct research through interviews, data gathering, and analysis to recommend or not recommend changes to the local form of government,” she added. “There will be a minimum of one more public hearing. There may be more if we so choose.”
She added that by law the commission was required to host a public hearing within 45 days of 2015 Annual Town Election, which established the commission and its nine members.
Steve Steitz, a resident of Elm Street, said the town should “get rid of the Board of Selectmen” and have one person in charge of every town department.
“Offer them a four-year contract,” he added. “When the four years are up, the town votes, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to get rid of this person. ‘Yes,’ they have another four years. ‘No,” what happens [is] noontime the next day, their history and a five-person team runs the town in the interim.”
Charter Commission member Eric Madison, after the public hearing, said it would be a “bad mistake” for the Charter Commission to recommend to voters that a new form of government exclude elected officials.
“We live in a democracy and ultimate oversight of the government will have to involve elected officials period,” he added. “That’s your voice, folks.”
Joe Occuhiuti, an East Longmeadow resident who previously served on Longmeadow’s Charter Commission in 2002, said the commission should use Longmeadow’s charter as a guideline.
He added that Longmeadow formed an internal Audit Committee in its charter, which has “no function of power,” except to work with the Select Board to analyze the town’s annual external audit.
“The Audit Committee in Longmeadow brought into the 21st century, OPEB (other post-employment benefits),” Occuhiuti said. “I know at [East Longmeadow’s 2015 Annual] Town Meeting, we supported the $50,000 contribution [to OPEB] … Longmeadow is getting up there. They don’t owe $19 million.”
Occuhiuti also said Longmeadow’s Charter Commission took a year and a half to develop its recommendation to voters for a new form of government.
“You want a better form of government?” he added. “You’re not going to get it in less than a year.”
Former Selectman Peter Punderson advocated for a form of government with a “strong town manager” with four precinct town council representatives and one member at large, who would be voted into office by residents.
“It’s not a Board of Selectmen,” he added. “The Board of Selectmen should be gone. The words ‘Board of Selectmen’ connotates political representation and I think one of the main things to do here is to de-politicize this whole thing and allow the horrid things that have happened to not happen.”
Punderson noted that his idea has “a little traction” within the community.
“It takes the foolishness out of East Longmeadow government and creates an absolute step of authority [with] being able to run the business of the town properly,” he added.
Bill Caplin, a resident of Broadleaf Circle, said he would like to see a stronger form of government.
“If we’re going to stay with the selectmen, I think we should probably have five and or it might be a good idea to have a strong town administrator – someone who can actually make decisions,” he added.
Jonathan Torcia, a 16-year-old student at East Longmeadow High School (ELHS) who has served on ELHS’ student council for a term as president and vice president, respectively, advocated for the town to adopt a mayoral form of government.
“I think the simple answer that I would like to suggest as some people suggested elements of this is a mayor [with] a five-member council,” he added. “The mayor would have the ability to kind of lead the town.