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Council considers term extensions for elected officials

Date: 6/13/2012

June 13, 2012

By Debbie Gardner

AGAWAM — Should the mayor of Agawam serve a four-year term? What about the members of the City Council and School Committee? Would such a change lead to more consistent and effective government for the town?

Residents will have an opportunity to comment on this issue during the citizens speak time portion of the council's June 18 meeting at the Roberta G. Doering School on Main Street, where a resolution to put these changes to a referendum vote in the 2013 election will be discussed.

June 18 will also be the public's chance to speak to the town's proposed spending during a public hearing on the fiscal year 2013 operating budget. A copy of the budget is available online at . It can also be reviewed in the Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper St.

City Councilor George Bitzas said after Springfield and other surrounding communities voted to increase office terms for some of its public officials, he began hearing from residents that Agawam should consider making similar changes.

"[It] was very surprising. There was big support for the idea," Bitzas said.

He added that he has no strong feelings either way about term changes for Agawam's elected officials.

City Councilor Cecilia P. Calabrese, chair of the Community Relations Committee that sponsored the resolution, said the change from two-to four-year term of office would give elected officials more time to be effective public servants.

Right now, Calabrese said, elected officials "spend the first year getting to know their jobs and the second running for office."

Mayor Richard Cohen said the increase to four-year terms also makes sense in terms of planning and executing projects for the town, many of which take multiple years to complete.

"In this day and age two years is a very short time in government," Cohen said, adding that a longer time between elections "takes politics and personal ideas" out of the equation, making it easier for officials to work together on important issues.

Bitzas said from an economic standpoint, the change could also save the town as much as $15,000 every two years by eliminating the bi-annual election schedule.

Town Clerk Richard Theroux said if passed, in addition to the cost savings, the longer term in office might also encourage more candidates to seek seats in town government by eliminating the worry about constantly running for re-election.

Cohen said the resolution currently before the council is the first step in the process to increase terms of office.

If the resolution is approved, he said, "The next step would be to petition our Legislators at the statehouse for approval [of the change in term lengths]. If they approve, the question would appear on the November 2013 ballot."

Bitzas said if the issue does come to a vote, "people can vote yes or no ... If they vote no, it will die."

If voters ultimately approve the increases in terms of office, Bitzas said the change would begin with officials elected on the 2013 ballot.

He added that City Councilors Paul Cavallo, James Cichetti and Dennis J. Perry, also members of the Community Relations Committee, also supported bringing the term change resolution before the council.

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