EAST LONGMEADOW – The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to hire former West Springfield Mayor Gregory Neffinger as the newest interim town administrator following interviews at its Dec. 22 meeting.
Former interim Town Administrator Greg Moyer announced his resignation and submitted a 30-day notice to the selectmen on Dec. 4. On his way out, Moyer stated residents are “hungry” for a change in government.
The selectmen also previously gave the interim town administrator position more authority, prior to that decision the job was more akin to that of an executive secretary to the selectmen’s office.
Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici later told Reminder Publications the board intends to give Neffinger the same powers granted to Moyer.
Federici stated during the meeting the interim position is on a month-to-month basis and would extend until the 2016 Annual Town Election in April.
The Charter Commission has proposed a council-manager form of government, which is slated to come before voters during the April election.
The list of candidates for the position included former Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette, Willie Morales, a 2015 graduate from the University of Northern Iowa with a master’s degree in public policy who previously interviewed for the position in June, and former First Selectman of East Windsor, CT, Denise Menard.
Selectmen William Gorman and Angela Thorpe both ranked Neffinger as their top candidate for the position with Menard placing second for both. Federici did not reveal his rankings of the candidates.
Neffinger said he was attracted to the position due to East Longmeadow’s similarity to West Springfield. Prior to West Springfield becoming a city in the early 2000s, the city used to be a town with a board of selectmen.
“Right now your population and area by square miles is very similar to what West Springfield was like when I was growing up,” he noted.
He added as mayor of West Springfield he was responsible for developing annual budgets alongside department heads and running the day-to-day operations of the city.
Neffinger stated that prior to becoming mayor he was an architect for 30 years.
“When I came to the town of West Springfield I began to realize that the municipal world is quite different than the private world,” he added. “Little by little, by communicating my good intentions and winning people’s trust I felt that we were able to then move forward and to do some really good things for the town.”
Federici asked Neffinger how he would foster positive relationships between the selectmen and department heads regarding setting budget priorities and formal spending plans as well as creating an administrative policy making team aligned with town goals.
“The selectmen set policy and it’s the job of the town administrator to see those policies go forward,” Neffinger said. “I think that when the selectmen want to know information about what’s going on in a certain department or in the town it’s the job of the town administrator to go and investigate that and to learn about those things and report back to the selectmen.”
He continued, “My feeling, is if you look at most budgets from year to year, incrementally, [they] go up. If you ever ask a department head, ‘Can you reduce your budget?’ The answer usually is, ‘No.’ When I became mayor I asked them for a 5 percent cut and a 10 percent cut in their budget to show me what that would look like and I wanted their ideas on how they would do that. And of course were able to do that.”
Neffinger said under his leadership as mayor, $1.5 million in grant money was brought into the community.
“We were able to do special projects, especially fixing the parks,” he noted. “Also, we implemented a new trash collection system that saved the town about half a million dollars.”
He also emphasized that during his two years as mayor he lowered taxes.
Neffinger said as town administrator he would work with Town Accountant Sara Menard to “keep an eye” on daily budget items and other spending issues that may cause a crisis.