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Punderson looks to restore faith in government

Date: 10/9/2012

By Chris Maza

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of interviews with four candidates for selectmen that will be on the ballot for the town preliminary election on Nov. 20.

EAST LONGMEADOW — Candidate for selectman Peter Punderson believes that looking for positive solutions rather than pointing at problems of the past is the best way for the town of East Longmeadow to continue to thrive.

"I want to make a lasting and positive contribution for East Longmeadow. That's why I'm doing this," he said.

Punderson is running in a four-candidate race for the seat on the Board of Selectmen currently occupied by its chair James Driscoll against former selectman Joseph Townshend, former school committee member Angela Thorpe and local business owner Nicholas Chiusano. The term in question is set to expire in April 2013, at which point a regular election for a three-year term will take place.

The first order of business, Punderson said, is restoring residents' faith in their leadership.

"What's important to me is bringing respectability and confidence back to the Board of Selectmen," he said during an interview with Reminder Publications. "A town not having confidence in the people that are responsible for making reasonable and proper decisions is not right. People have to trust us again."

Punderson, a lifelong resident of East Longmeadow and former chair of the Planning Board and Community Preservation Committee who holds a bachelor's degree from New England College in Sussex, England, explained that the best way to do that is through open communication and transparency.

"I think that making informed, open, transparent decisions in a proper manner will bring back a lot of trust and respect for the Board of Selectmen," he said.

The law, he continued, would be considered paramount in any decision-making process instead of personal politics, something he said he felt was able to do with the Planning Board and Community Preservation Committee.

"Whether it's [Massachusetts General Law] or one of our bylaws, I really, truly, apply situations to the law and I do so passionately," he said. "I will have nothing to do with any of the negativity that has been in the paper. I just won't go there."

Punderson said that he recognized that the main concern of the constituency is the use of tax dollars and how the utilization of those funds is presented to the public.

"[Residents] want the tax dollars accounted for properly. They want to know where it goes, why is it being used in the particular area or resource it is being used on and they want to know that the Board of Selectmen is taking proper care of their tax dollars," he said. "I just think there is not trust there right now. It's not the doing of any one person, I just think that's the way it's gone in the past couple of years and obviously the bad publicity hasn't helped us at all."

The best way to determine the needs of the town departments that depend on the tax revenue, Punderson said, is to have consistent and open communication with the town's department heads to understand needs, something he said he has already started doing with the Fire Department.

"It's important to me that I sit with the department heads and find out what their needs are, what their problems may be and just find out what the feeling is in how their departments are running," he said, later adding that while the Board of Selectmen should not set up meetings with department heads for the sake of having meetings, but weekly communication should be sought.

Punderson added that he hoped to explore whether or not the use of internal resources, such as the Department of Public Works (DPW), to complete projects that would otherwise be contracted out would be more cost effective.

"We have a big investment in a lot of our DPW equipment. Can we do more of our projects ourselves and save money?" he asked rhetorically. "We did a project off of Parker Street this year and [Board of Public Works Chair] Dan Burack said they saved something like $40,000 on that project."

Continuing to support the Information Technology (IT) Department would be a major focus for him as a selectman.

"As far as I'm concerned, IT is a hot [issue]," he said. "Between [Building Facilities Manager] Bruce Fenney and our IT Director [Ryan Quimby], I think they have done a great job in order to monitor all of the functions of the buildings that they have put systems in. I believe the town is very well served by having a great communications system between all departments such as the MUNIS system. I think it's important to keep that technology up because time moves quickly these days."

Punderson also directly addressed the issue of department head salaries, stating he was in favor of a study such as the one that was voted down at the Oct. 1 town meeting and that the town should develop a grading system to assess wages and raises.

"Whether it's a new hire or someone that's coming along, you need a grading system, you need a base that tells you what that person is worth and going to do and how well they do it," he said. "That's the problem with the past couple of pay raises that were given. They were arbitrary. Yes, the building inspector was grossly underpaid, but when you go to give somebody a $10,000 raise in one year, it looks bad. But the problem began at the outset because there was no criteria for paying him when they hired him.

"In a budget as large as ours, you can't just be floating around with figures. The residents don't want to hear it and it's improper," he added.

Regionalization of services is something that Punderson said he was in favor of looking into. East Longmeadow recently regionalized veterans' services and the Council on Aging has regionalized transportation services with Hampden. Most recently, intern Yara Tayeh presented the Board of Selectmen with a regionalization option for its Board of Health on Aug. 20.

"If it makes economic sense, which it does, then we should pursue the knowledge that we need to make a proper decision concerning it," he said. "I don't want to run blindly into it, but [regionalization] is information sharing and technology sharing. Let's not do it for the sake of regionalizing, but let's do it if it makes sense in terms of saving tax dollars."

Addressing space issues in Town Hall and other municipal buildings, Punderson said the fact that a space study would be conducted was encouraging, but the town must be careful when considering the acquisition of new space.

"The Town Hall has been outgrown. When they were talking about buying the building across from Heritage Park, my thought was to use what we have all the way first and we've done that," he said, adding that regardless of what plan is developed, Town Hall should continue to be used at 100 percent of capacity. "I am for doing a space study by a professional who has something vested in the decision-making process. Let's go out and make sure that we need the room and buy the proper amount of space the first time so we don't have to revisit this for a while."