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Sarno plans transition

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD Mayor-elect Domenic Sarno was apologetic about being late for an interview, but when he learned of a convenience store robbery and a subsequent police search for the perpetrators near his home in Forest Park, he wanted to make sure his parents and elderly neighbors were all right.

"This is the stuff I'm looking to stop," Sarno said of the daytime robbery attempt. Part of his successful campaign against incumbent Mayor Charles Ryan was emphasizing the city's crime rate and the need for additional policing.

It has been a very busy week for Sarno. Not only has he met with his transition team for the first time to prepare for taking office, but also he still has his City Council duties and his job as the executive of the South End Community Center.

On Thursday, Sarno looked a little tired and was facing hundreds of phone messages from well-wishers and others eager to speak to the mayor-elect.

Sarno, though, is wasting no time to prepare for his new role. He has spoken to Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and has been playing phone tag with Gov. Deval Patrick. He has spoken with the staff of the Finance Control Board, as well as his old boss District Attorney William Bennett, Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and State Representative Thomas Petrolati, a member of the leadership of the House. He has yet to speak with Christopher Gabrieli, the chair of the FCB.

Ryan and Sarno will meet next week to discuss transition issues. Sarno said he still had not received a personal phone call from Ryan, who elected not to pay Sarno the traditional election night congratulatory visit. Although he was clearly offended by Ryan's actions, Sarno said he would "put that issue aside and go forward."

Getting rid of the trash fee was a major part of his campaign and Sarno said he would lobby the FCB to take the money raised by the fee about $4 million from the $17 million the city has in reserves. He would then craft a city budget to compensate for the $4 million.

If he was forced by financial necessity, Sarno said he would consider a pay-as-you-throw program along with a heightened recycling effort.

He will evaluate current city department heads to determine if they will stay on in his administration. He said the evaluation would be a "thoughtful process."

Two of the major department heads are already at risk: Police Commissioner Edward Flynn and School Superintendent Joseph Burke.

Flynn has not yet spoke to the man who would be his new boss come January provided that he does not receive the top cop job in Milwaukee, Wisc. and Sarno said that Flynn knows how to contact him.

Sarno was highly critical of Flynn's job search and his remark that implied his job in Springfield was a "stepping stone."

"What are we, chopped liver? We deserve better," Sarno said.

When asked if Sarno would fire Flynn an action that would trigger a payment of over $150,000 Sarno replied there was precedent in paying a city employee who was dismissed. The Finance Control Board paid former Police Chief Paula Meara $305,000 in order to remove her.

He added he didn't want to spend the money if he didn't have to. He would want to look over the contract for the new commissioner very carefully.

Although there is over $1 million set aside for overtime, Sarno said he would rather use it to hire more police permanently because the current officer are "burning out" due to the extra work.

"I'll make that commitment," he said.

For both the police commissioner and the school superintendent job, the mayor-elect want to find local people who have a commitment to the city, which reflects his campaign's goals of change, inclusion and long-term commitment.

Speaking of victory, Sarno said it was an example of "grassroots Americana." He said he doesn't want to be insulated as mayor.

Acknowledging the fact that many people did vote for Ryan, Sarno said, "I'm sure there are skeptics out there and I'm going to prove them wrong."