Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD Contrary to the lively entertainment provided by the Agawam Mayoral Debate, the Westfield Chamber of Commerce sponsored a much more intimate and relaxed debate for their mayoral candidates.
The television studio at Westfield State College provided the small, quiet and cozy venue for the TV broadcast of the debate.
A coin toss determined that candidate Michael Boulanger, director of Westfield's Emergency Management Agency would deliver his three-minute opening remarks before candidate Brent Bean II, Westfield City Councilor at-large.
In his opening remarks Boulanger explained what "compels" him to run for mayor. He said his over 35 years of leadership experience as a retired colonel in the United States Air Force and former Base Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air Force Base fully qualifies him to meet the city's needs and propel it forward.
Boulanger added that as director of Westfield's Emergency Management Agency, public "safety and security" is his "primary objective." He said he is also committed to improved communication between town government and the people, as well as business growth and an improved infrastructure.
In his opening remarks, Bean said his experience as a City Councilor at-large, president of the City Council in 2004 and employment at Westfield State College as a staff associate of Government and Community Relations, have provided him with the skills and relationships necessary to "hit the ground running."
He added that Westfield will be experiencing a very important time of transition with the appointment of an entirely new mayor in 2008.
The candidates were then asked several questions submitted by residents to the Westfield Chamber of Commerce.
The first question asked Boulanger and Bean which characteristic they feel gives them the edge.
Boulanger said it boiled down to one word: experience. He added that his vast leadership, teambuilding, strategic planning, negotiating and problem solving experience is what gives him the edge over his opponent.
Bean responded by saying that he is a "great team builder" and will surround himself with bright, dedicated people within his administration. He added that his administration will be a "team effort and not a one man show." Bean said he will make sure that "everyone is accountable" to him and in turn he will "be accountable" to the citizens of Westfield.
The candidates were also asked how as mayor they would improve openness and higher standards in city government.
Bean said department heads must be held accountable for their actions. He also outlined his "four-point communication plan" for increasing openness between City Hall and Westfield residents. The plan includes regular ward meetings, weekly team meetings, office hours for residents and increasing Internet use to provide information to constituents.
Boulanger said he would implement regularly scheduled department head meetings, send out a periodic newsletter to city employees to "increase morale," meet regularly with business owners and create an open-door policy for constituents.
Candidates were also asked how they plan to improve traffic flow problems in the city.
Bean said that as a third generation Westfield resident he knows that "traffic has always plagued the city." He added that with many construction projects underway such as the Great River Bridge Project, which could cause more congestion, he will work to "address the traffic problem." He said that replacing the traffic lights, while it will be a "big cost," will improve signalization.
Boulanger said he will work with the Traffic Committee to find ways to alleviate traffic congestion. He added that identifying and publicizing alternative routes in and out of the city will help, as well as coordinating traffic lights and utilizing traffic cops at busy intersections.
The candidates were then asked how they will promote budget accountability.
Boulanger said a closer, detailed look must be taken of each department, staff position and vehicle usage. He added that some "tough decisions" have to be made. Boulanger also suggested bi-weekly trash pickup as opposed to weekly, and also having someone overseeing the budget for periodic overview.
Bean said there must be a "back to basics attitude," regarding the budget. He suggested the implementation of weekly team meetings exclusively on the budget to "know where revenues and expenses are." Bean added that he is "not in favor of any new positions" because the city "doesn't have the money for that."
The two candidates were then given the opportunity to ask each other several questions. The format called for a two-minute response and a one-minute rebuttal.
Bean posed the first question to Boulanger, asking him what he plans to accomplish during his first 100 days in office.
Boulanger responded by saying that he plans to work on developing a "master plan" and a business statement to increase business in downtown. He added that he will work to address traffic concerns and work toward the installation of security cameras at schools and public buildings.
Bean said he will work on the city's infrastructure during his first 100 days in office. He said he will address road and sidewalk repairs as well as offline fire hydrants.
Boulanger posed the second question to Bean, asking him how he plans to tackle the city's budget and prevent "pop-up deficits."
Bean responded by saying that Westfield needs to be self-sustainable and garner revenues for itself. He said that the city's $115 million budget is "not easy to manage" and noted the School Department's $850,000 shortfall this year. Bean said that raised taxes have gone toward increased health care costs. He added that open communication is critical to solving budgetary problems.
Boulanger said he is committed to "effective use of the tax payer's money." He added that costs must be controlled and that he believes generating greater commercial revenue will "keep Westfield afloat."
Bean posed the next question to Boulanger, asking him how he plans to address and finance capital projects.
Boulanger said planning is the key to ensuring that various projects are what's best for the city. He added that the construction of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail is "critical" to the growth of downtown as it will provide economic spin-off. He said he would also like to address the Main, Broad and Court Street construction projects and the eastbound ramp onto I-91.
Bean said he is committed to providing the citizens of Westfield with a new Senior Center and an addition to the high school. He added that he would obtain funding through the debt decline.
In the final question Boulanger asked Bean how he plans to go about hiring new department heads.
Bean said specifically in the office of Community Development and Planning, upon the director's retirement, he will be looking for "a seasoned individual with a new energy that will resonate through the Commonwealth." He said the person hired must have relationships with businesses and state officials that will help bring funds into the city, educational experience, and a vast knowledge of the city in order to know what the citizens want and need.
The candidates were then given time for their closing statements.
Bean said he is "proud to be from Westfield" and that he wants to finish what he started on the City Council to help move Westfield forward.
"I am eager to earn your trust," he said.
In his closing remarks Boulanger said, "The city needs effective and seasoned leadership. My experience will help provide the leadership and change that Westfield needs."