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City Councilors weigh in on Vets' Council controversy

Date: 6/9/2010

June 9, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Sparring between Mayor Richard Cohen and certain members of the Veterans' Council continued last week as city councilors debated the future of the volunteer committee.

The City Council's Ordinance Committee met on June 2 to gain input from Veterans' Council Chair Aldo Mancini and others about whether or not to approve an ordinance proposed by Cohen calling for the expansion of the council by two members. If approved, this action could make room for Frank Mazzei and Chris Sanchez, former members who were not reappointed for failure to turn in a letter of interest to Cohen by April 1.

"Adding two members isn't a bad idea but it doesn't solve the problem," Mancini said, adding that the problem is "the process."

He added that Cohen had "thrown" Mazzei and Sanchez off the council and failed to comply with the council's membership process. Mancini explained that historically the Veterans' Council would send its recommendations for new members to the mayor for approval, who would then forward them to the City Council for appointment.

Cohen, who didn't attend the meeting, said the aforementioned process is an unofficial one. "The bylaws stipulate that people have to send a letter [to the mayor's office stating] that they want to serve," he explained.

Mancini said Cohen's appointment of two new members, Todd Crevier, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Rielly Longtin, a veteran of the Coast Guard to the Veterans' Council, skipped them ahead of those who've been donating their time to the organization already.

"There is absolutely no rule, regulation or bylaw that stipulates people have to volunteer prior to being on the council," Cohen said.

"Anybody who wants to serve I'm happy to let them serve as long as they're honorably discharged," he continued. "I will not ever pit one of our honorably discharged vets against another. It's just very disappointing that this has all occurred and I think veterans should be working with veterans to help veterans."

Cohen added he chose Crevier and Longtin because they submitted a letter of interest and they were honorably discharged.

City Councilor Gina Letellier, member of the Ordinance Committee, said, "It's the mayor's right not to [re]appoint Chris and Frank but my issue is that these others have jumped in front of those who have volunteered."

City Councilor Robert Magovern, chair of the Ordinance Committee, said, "I'm going to be guided by what Aldo, Chris and Frank say. This is the Veterans' Council not the Mayor's Council."

Magovern then asked if the Veterans' Council could benefit with two more seats in addition to Cohen's two appointments.

"I wouldn't know these guys if I tripped over them," Sanchez told the Ordinance Committee. "Now I know them by sight because of this controversy."

Mazzei added, "I've had no problem stepping aside. It's always good to have new blood [on the Veterans' Council] but to have somebody come in cold and learn from scratch -- they're not going to bring anything viable."

The Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to send a negative recommendation of Cohen's proposed ordinance to the City Council.

Sanchez said further discussion about the future of the Veterans' Council could include the repeal of the organization under town law, thereby allowing the entity to apply for non-profit status free from Town government.

"It takes politics out completely," Sanchez said of such a motion.

"It's just sad that for 19 years [the Veterans' Council] has moved along so well," Mancini said.

"That's because when it was [created, lawmakers] didn't think an elected official would come in and muddy the waters," Sanchez added.

Magovern and others, who attended the meeting, including President Donald Rheault and Councilor Robert Rossi, said they plan to consult with the rest of the City Council before drafting any new ordinances pertaining to the future of the Veterans' Council.