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Selectmen express frustrations with town’s current government

Date: 8/6/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – The town’s selectmen expressed frustrations with the town’s current form of government during a meeting with the Charter Commission on July 28.

Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici said he believes the town has “outgrown” the three-member Board of Selectmen form of government.

“There should be a more full time person to oversee the town – a town manager [or] a mayor,” he said. “I’ve heard people talk about more board members. I don’t know if that would solve the problem, maybe under the guidance of someone else.”

Federici said he didn’t realize the difference between a weak town manager and a strong one until former Town Administrator Nick Breault announced his decision to leave the position for a similar one in Wilbraham.

 “If someone was in the position with a lot of responsibility and overseeing the town, they would have an eye on it than better than the three of us could or even [Interim Town Administrator Greg Moyer],” he explained.

Charter Commission member Eric Madison asked Federici if he thought the town was fragmented between its departments.

Federici said he believes there is not enough communication between the town’s elected boards and committee.

Selectman William Gorman said there is also fighting and a lack of communication between town departments.

“What’s happening is if we have a problem in another department, we have no authority here, so we can’t get the problem solved,” he added.

Gorman said he believes the town needs to adopt a mayoral form of government in order to have oversight over the town’s many departments.

Selectman Angela Thorpe said she would prefer to see an expanded Board of Selectmen with five members as opposed to a strong town administrator form of government.

“I think everything is interlocking, so if you’re going to have a stronger town administrator, then perhaps you don’t have to expand the board,” she added. “However, if you’re going to have the same weak town administrator, I do think it would beneficial to expand.”

Federici also didn’t mince words when discussing the resident turnouts for Town Meetings.

“It’s really easy to stack a meeting because of the fact that attendance is pathetic,” he added.  

He described the Town Meeting process as frustrating because of the numerous hours spent developing a budget and warrant from across the town’s departments with only 200 people attending Town Meetings to pass these crucial issues.

“You get 800 people that are complaining,” Federici noted. “If you’re not part of the process, I don’t want to listen to you.”

He added a town council form of government could be an option for the town to adopt.

Madison said when he served as the fire chief of Longmeadow he was frustrated by the town government’s speed, which he compared to the pace of a snail.

Federici agreed that the board is “hamstrung” by meeting schedules as well as waiting for Town Meetings to pass important items.

Thorpe said the townspeople hold onto the idea of Town Meeting likely because they feel that they need a voice in local government.

“The town council item; it would take away that individual voice, but hopefully the people are pretty savvy and they would have elected someone who has their voice,” she added. “I don’t see either as a losing situation.”

However, Thorpe said a declining rate of attendance at Town Meetings during recent years has been consistent.

“We had to lower the numbers for what constitutes a quorum,” she added. “It seems like there’s a small portion of less than 200 people who are making decisions for the entire town.”

In related business, the Board of Selectmen also set a date of Aug. 10 to address a memorandum of understanding (MOU) submitted to the board on July 20 by Moyer regarding his responsibilities and authority.     

The board chose to table the discussion of the MOU at its July 28 meeting in order to review the MOU in more depth. The issue was then brought up during the board’s Aug. 4 meeting during which the discussion date was agreed upon.

Moyer told Reminder Publications after the July 28 meeting that the board did not provide him with a job description prior to his arrival in East Longmeadow.

He added that he left from his home in Broken Arrow, OK, as soon as he reached a contractual agreement with the town.

Moyer said the town administrator position is in name only and the duties of the position are more in line with an executive secretary.

The MOU, drafted by Moyer, poses several questions to the selectmen regarding Moyer’s position, including whether he is the executive secretary of the Selectmen’s office, which his expectations are for the interim assignment, what the timeline is for a permanent town administrator, who reports to him.

Moyer cited Massachusetts General Law Chapter 41, Section 23A, in the MOU, which states that the town administrator will act by and for the board in any matter which it assigns to him relating to the administration of the town.

The positions responsibilities under the MOU would entail the board supporting Moyer carrying out the supervision and essential functions in the position under the law.