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Effectiveness of town committees being questioned

Date: 3/1/2011

Feb. 28, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

LONGMEADOW — Boards and committees were a hot topic at the Feb. 23 Select Board meeting.

The board discussed the formation of two committees, while Selectman Paul Santaniello led a discussion regarding concerns about the number of committees that already exist and their effectiveness.

The Select Board heard a proposal for the formation of a committee to advise on financial issues, such as bonding. The committee would be made up of five members, with the chairs of the finance, school and capital planning committees as suggested members.

No town employees would be members of the proposed board to avoid conflicts of interest and the committee would meet once a quarter, or more often if needed.

The idea behind the committee would be to utilize the knowledge of residents in town who work in specific markets on a day-to-day basis.

Select Board Chair Robert Aseltine saw merit in the proposal, stating, "We have a unique opportunity in having citizens with this expertise within the town."

Santaniello opposed the idea, stating he felt the town already employed people whose responsibility was to address matters such as borrowing and bonding.

"It seems like we're taking responsibility away from the people getting paid to do it and asking volunteers to do it for them," Santaniello said.

The board agreed that Town Manager Robin Crosbie, who was absent from the meeting, should be involved in the discussion, so the issue was tabled until the March 7 meeting.

The board also discussed the formation of a technology committee. In the past, large-scale technology projects, which Aseltine admitted the town has under-funded in the past, have been decided on by the capital planning committee.

The new committee would take those responsibilities.

Vice-Chair Robert Barkett cited the speed at which technology changes as a major reason why such a committee is necessary.

"If we're talking about the make up of a server or the construction of a window, we're comparing apples and lawnmowers," Barkett said. "The speed at which technology changes is much greater than the way brick and mortar construction changes. If we want to keep up, we should have people who understand the changing technology and the value of the investment."

Aseltine concurred, adding that while the town has a very talented information technology director in Ryan Quimby, there are many times when Quimby wishes he had a committee with which he could bounce ideas off of.

Santaniello voiced concerns with the number and effectiveness of committees in town, citing reports of attendance problems resulting in the lack of a quorum and the cancellation of meetings.

"My concern is that we have more committees than we have people to fill those seats," Santaniello said. "Perhaps we'd get better attendance if there were fewer committees demanding people's time."

Selectman Mark Gold concurred, adding that some committees had not reported back to the Select Board in some time and should be held to higher standards of accountability.

"We have to get back to having committee chairs appear before this board," Gold said. "They need to be answerable to this board and to the town."

Santaniello added that he planned to propose a warrant article for the Annual Town Meeting, that, if voted upon favorably, will require all open session portions of committee meetings to be taped by Longmeadow Community Television (LCTV) and broadcast regularly.

The Select Board, School Committee, Planning Board, Finance Committee, Audit Committee, Zoning Board of Appeals, Community Preservation Committee and Capital Planning Committee will all have their meetings taped if the article passes.

Santaniello said he has talked to officials from other towns that have implemented such a measure, including East Longmeadow Selectman Jack Villamaino, who said the broadcast of town meetings had led to a greater understanding by residents of how the town's government works.

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