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Selectmen approve funding for veterans’ affairs officer

Date: 10/25/2011

Oct. 24, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted at its Oct. 17 meeting to approve a request for an emergency reserve fund transfer to hire a full-time veterans’ affairs officer.

Citing “misinformation” given to the Appropriations Committee as the reason for funding being defeated at the Sept. 26 Special Town Meeting, Board of Selectman Chair James Driscoll made a motion to commit $36,000 to fund the position for fiscal year 2012.

Town residents voted down Article 5 at the Special Town Meeting after the Appropriations Committee elected not to recommend the measure because its members felt the town had not adequately explored the possibility of regionalization.

The decision not to recommend was made after committee member Eric Madison, Longmeadow’s Fire Chief, said he inadvertently received an email from Longmeadow Town Manager Robin Crosbie stating that East Longmeadow had backed out of regionalization discussions.

The board needs to ask the Appropriations Committee to commit the funding for the position, which must be filled in order for the town to come into compliance with state law.

“I think it’s important we fund this because in addition to not being able to serve our veterans, we stand to lose our funding reimbursement for the past fiscal year,” Selectman Jack Villamaino said.

Driscoll said that while regionalization would still be the goal, the town must take care of its pressing need for a full-time officer now.

“We’re in the 10th year of two wars and the fact we don’t have a full-time officer is unacceptable,” he said.

Crosbie invited Town Administrator Nick Breault to take part in Longmeadow’s final interviews for three candidates for their veterans’ affairs officer opening on Oct. 21 in hopes of regionalization with Longmeadow acting as the host town, but she told Reminder Publications she does not believe regionalization is certain to happen.

“After talking with Nick Breault and after the East Longmeadow Special Town Meeting voted not to fund the position, I submitted an application requesting that Longmeadow would be the host community,” she said. “Keith Jones of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Affairs wanted some clarification from the towns and now it seems to be my understanding that East Longmeadow wants to stand by the July 1 application, which I no longer have any interest in.”

The July regionalization application lists East Longmeadow as the host community.

With the Board of Selectmen’s approval, Breault did attend the interviews. However, Driscoll said that while the board is not saying no to Longmeadow’s regionalization plan, it prefers following the original plan.

“As it turns out, they have decided they are not interested in that plan and they are only interested in regionalization if they are the controlling town,” he said. “The board is open to the concept, but they just came up with the concept, so we would have to look at their process, which we haven’t been a part of, and who they hire before moving forward.”

Driscoll also said the status of Longmeadow’s town manager position is also a concern and another reason why the original application naming East Longmeadow as the host community would be a better solution. Crosbie announced to the Longmeadow Select Board this month that she would be leaving the post when her contract expires in 2012.

“It’s in the best interest of the town to also look at who is going to be the manager. According to their town charter, the Town Manager has the ultimate decision-making power,” Driscoll said. “We have a long-term manager and a plan. That’s not to say anything bad about Longmeadow, but East Longmeadow has a known entity and in that sense, I think that is better for the town.”

Crosbie said the town of Longmeadow is ready to proceed with a qualified veterans’ services agent.

“We have three finalists, all of whom are well-qualified, and we have conducted an open process,” Crosbie said. “I want to make sure we have the best possible person to serve the veterans.”

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