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Townshend: Transparency is key to lifting dark cloud over town

Date: 11/5/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — Candidate for Selectman Joseph Townshend wants to get East Longmeadow back to a place where people can feel good about its government again.

Being forthcoming with residents, he said, is the only way the Board of Selectmen can achieve that.

"We have to lift the cloud that is over this town right now and the only way to do that is through transparency," he said.

Townshend, a local business owner who previously served on the board, will be on the preliminary election ballot on Nov. 20 against three other residents — former Planning Board chair Peter Punderson, former school committee member Angela Thorpe and local business owner Nicholas Chiusano for the seat vacated by Jack Villamaino.

The top two vote-getters from that election will face off in a town election on Dec. 18.

Townshend told Reminder Publications that because of recent events involving the voter registration scheme allegedly performed by Villamaino and former town employee Courtney Llewellyn, if elected, he would push for an audit of the town's financials in order to help restore people's faith.

"The town does audits every year, but I think because of the circumstances, we need to have one now. We shouldn't wait," he said. "If someone can be charged with stealing votes, I think it only makes sense to do an audit of the books."

Townshend also stated that he hoped to make a change in the accounting firm that performs the audits in order to get a new voice with a fresh perspective.

He added that he also hoped to be able to create an atmosphere within Town Hall in which employees would not be in fear of losing their jobs if they alerted the appropriate people if they witnessed illegal activities taking place.

Townshend stated his belief that Appropriation Committee meetings should be televised on East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) in order to increase transparency and residents' understanding of how budget decisions are made.

Currently under the East Longmeadow General Bylaws, open sessions of open Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Board of Public Works, Planning Board, Board of Assessors and Board of Library Trustees meetings are required to be televised.

"That's where it all starts," he said. "If we have time to film some of what is on ELCAT, we should make time for the Appropriations Committee."

He added that he would ensure that all boards and committees would keep their minutes updated on the town website so if a resident missed a meeting, they would have ready access to the information regarding that meeting.

Townshend stressed the importance of having a selectman with experience at such a crucial time for the town.

"What I bring to the board is experience. We face a situation where we could have a Board of Selectmen with one member that only has one term under his belt," he said. "We don't need to be training selectmen in this environment."

He also pointed out that he was the only one of the four previously elected selectmen — excluding Selectman Paul Santaniello — to complete his term. Villamaino and Gary Delisle both resigned and current Board of Selectman chair James Driscoll has submitted his intent to resign.

As owner of the Midas auto shop on Shaker Road, Townshend touted his ability to maintain a strong business while other franchises of the same name have faced bankruptcy or closure, stating that the same common sense approach he uses in business should be applied to government.

He pointed to the increase of the town's budget in recent years from approximately $44 million to $55 million, stating that the town needs to rein in its spending.

"What we need to do is start looking at running government like a business," he said. "We can't keep spending money that we don't have."

Raises for department heads was one area he said needs addressing, however, he said he did not feel the town needed to spend money on a study such as the one that was voted down at the Oct. 1 town meeting and that the town should develop a grading system to assess wages and raises.

"We don't need to conduct a study to do things that are common sense," he said.

However, he said that if elected he would make efforts to sponsor an article at Town Meeting that would eliminate multi-year contracts for non-union employees.

"Handing out five-year contracts with built-in raises is just ludicrous," he said.

While departments that fall under the Board of Selectman's watch do well operationally because of strong department heads, he felt there should be continued review to ensure that the money budgeted to them is being spent wisely, Townshend added.

He also lauded the town for its ability to remain business friendly from a taxation standpoint, but said East Longmeadow could do a better job welcoming in new businesses.

"From a tax standpoint, we are business friendly," he said. "But it's almost like you have to pass an initiation to get into town. As long as people are in compliance of the state laws and our town bylaws, I don't see why anyone should be given a hard time when trying to establish a business here."