|By Carley Dangona
Mayor Gregory Neffinger
Reminder Publications file photo
WEST SPRINGFIELD Mayor Gregory Neffinger has disbanded his Casino Commission in the wake of former Town Council President Ed Sullivan's announcement that he will run against Neffinger. Instead, the mayor will conduct panels of alternating members who will advocate on the town's behalf during meetings with Hard Rock International.
Neffinger has not yet announced who will be serving on the new panels since participants will change from panel to panel.
During a press conference on May 7, Neffinger explained that their new panelists would meet with Johnson Consulting from Chicago, Ill. prior to meeting with officials from Hard Rock. The participants would then have a wrap up meeting with the consultants.
Johnson Consulting will assist the town with the economic impact review for a casino. Compensation details have yet to be released. The firm was hired in addition to Kopelman & Paige, P.C. from Boston, the legal consultant for the community-host agreement process.
The mayor noted that all meetings with Hard Rock will be documented to eventually create a handbook of sorts for residents to review what topics, questions and concerns were addressed.
"The other four members are being phased out," Neffinger said, referring to Diane Crowell, Harry Kalamarakis, Ed Sullivan and John Weiss.
The four comprised the entire commission, which had been meeting jointly with the Town Council's Casino subcommittee on Wednesdays to provide a platform for Hard Rock to present its plans and to allow residents to ask questions regarding the project.
The new panel meetings will take place on Wednesdays, without the presence of the Town Council subcommittee. Residents will still have the opportunity to comment during the meetings.
Brian Griffin, Town Council vice president and chair of the Casino subcommittee, said, "Mayor Neffinger does not want the Town Council involved in the process."
He continued, "By removing those individuals who have donated their time and efforts to that committee, it just goes to show once again that Neffinger doesn't play well with others. If you don't share his vision for the town, you will be removed. His only motivation is his political campaign."
Griffin added, "Enough. He's hurting the town in the long run."
At the time of press, the first panel discussion was slated to take place May 8 to discuss the social impact of the proposed Hard Rock New England Resort Casino. According to Neffinger, subsequent topics include public safety, transportation and economics among others.
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