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Thorpe focuses on positive campaign track

Date: 11/12/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — With much of the focus on East Longmeadow taking a negative tone, candidate for Selectman Angela Thorpe wants to accentuate the positive.

Thorpe is running a campaign against former Planning Board Chair Peter Punderson, former Selectman Joseph Townshend and resident Nicholas Chiusano for the soon-to-be vacated Board of Selectmen seat currently held by its chair James Driscoll, whose term expires in April 2013.

The preliminary election is set for Nov. 20 and the two top vote-getters will face off in a Dec. 18 final election.

Thorpe said in an interview with Reminder Publications that while the emphasis of the media attention regarding the town has been on the recent voter fraud situation, the incident does not define the town.

"We should talk about it when we need to, but we need to focus on the fact that there are so many wonderful things in this town that overshadow this one negative issue," she said.

Thorpe, who served on the East Longmeadow School Committee and was the Massachusetts Association of School Committee's (MASC) District 5 chair, spoke highly of the town's ability to support its schools, which she said is a major draw to the community.

"Our schools are one of the reasons that people want to be here," she said, adding that she believes the School Department does a good job being responsible when developing its budget, which makes up the majority of the town's overall budget.

Thorpe added that the town's police and fire services also have served the town well.

"If the streets aren't safe, people won't want to be here," Thorpe said. "Obviously they don't have nearly the budget that the schools have, but they do a very good job of ensuring the safety of our community with what is given to them financially."

Thorpe does see opportunities for improvement in town, not the least of which is the need for an increase in transparency in the town's government.

"I feel the town has gotten better in this regard, but we have to keep trying to find ways to be more transparent," she said. "What's more important is making sure that we disseminate the information in a way that they can understand is accessible to the people. If you're being 'transparent,' but no one knows where to find the information or can't discern what it means, then how transparent are you really being?"

Thorpe said that her personality and leadership style would be perfect for tackling this challenge.

"I'm the type of person who can be a great liaison between the board and the people," she said. "I'm someone who would make themselves accessible to the public. The ability to be open and listen to people is very important in this position."

The availability, coupled with a determination to get all the facts by asking the hard questions, would also make her an effective decision-maker, she said.

"I would make sure that I have all the information with complete and thorough research to make sure that all the decisions I make would be the right ones," she said.

Thorpe added that her ability to listen to all sides could be a valuable tool at the collective bargaining table. In the past, she said, she worked with former Superintendent Edward Costa in collective bargaining and also had experience in negotiating in the private sector when she worked for Dow Jones.

Thorpe also said her experience working with budgets of the School Department and the MASC District 5, which is made up of 47 towns, makes her well-suited for what amounts to a large portion of the Board of Selectmen's responsibility.

Addressing non-union employees such as department heads, she said that the town should develop some kind of rubric to determine salary range based on job duties and experience and said that raises "should be according to how they do the job."

She added that she saw some value in signing long-term contracts with department heads including avoiding the cost of annual negotiations and the benefit of keeping good employees however, overall, the financial climate does not make them a good option for the town at this time.

"In this market, I really think we should be going with shorter contracts," she said. "It is something we should continue to evaluate as we move forward."

Thorpe added that East Longmeadow could continue to be attractive to current department heads as well as potential employees in the absence of long-term contracts because the town has other benefits not written into those agreements.

"There are some great things in East Longmeadow that aren't figured into salary," she said. "We have great places to work, a low crime rate and our neighborhoods are second to none."

Communication with those department heads would be high on Thorpe's priority list, especially early on as she got to know each department's needs and wants, but she said that conversations should involve all board members.

"I think when the board speaks, it should not be one individual, but the entire board," she said. "I don't think we need to create more meetings for the sake of more meetings or a rigorous schedule, but I think there needs to be a consistent dialogue. It's possible we could have a regimented schedule at first and relax it as we become more familiar with each other."

The town has done well in maintaining its reputation as a business-friendly community, Thorpe said.

"I think overall we are very business friendly and I think the single tax rate does a lot to help businesses. Recently, business in East Longmeadow has really grown," she said, adding that the town does discourage home businesses, which would be "something we could look at."

Thorpe also expressed concern about unfunded mandates that require the town to spend money with no reimbursement from the state or federal governments. She touted her ability to lobby against those mandates as she did with the School Committee, pointing out that after her efforts, East Longmeadow's Circuit Breaker reimbursement more than doubled.