2013 in review: Area faces changes, challenges
By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – 2013 was the year of political upsets and economic progress in Chicopee.
Here are some of the year’s top stories.
Jan. 18, 2013
Is there a casino in Chicopee’s future? Perhaps, if the Massachusetts Gaming Commission grants the extension filed by Mayor Michael Bissonnette.
Bissonnette explained to Reminder Publications the owner of the Cabotville complex has entered into a formal agreement with a developer he declined to name at this time.
The mayor said the casino legislation gives the Gaming Commission the ability to grant an extension. The deadline for developers to file a $400,000 fee that would qualify them to be considered by the commission was Jan. 15. The applicants that met that deadline were MGM Springfield, Penn National Gaming, Inc., Plainridge Racecourse, Hard Rock MA, Wynn, LLC, Mohegan Sun, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, Raynham Park, Mass Gaming & Entertainment, LLC, PPE Casino Resorts and Crossroads Massachusetts, LLC.
Chicopee did not become the site for a casino despite the scrutiny of several companies. Bissonnette approved an abutting community agreement with MGM Resorts International in Springfield so the city would receive money from the Springfield casino to deal with traffic and other issues.
Feb. 11, 2013
The memories of convicted Mayor Richard Goyette and the petition forgery scandal hung over the City Council meeting on Feb. 5.
Addressing an effort to once again place the question of extended terms for the mayor and City Council before the voters, the City Council unanimously voted to defeat two orders from Bissonnette that would have put two separate questions on the 2013 ballot.
City Councilor Frederick Krampits led the effort to defeat the orders with support from Councilors John Vieau and Dino Brunetti.
“I just don’t think it’s proper,” Krampits said of the City Council approving such a motion. He said he believes the voters who support such a question should put it on the ballot through a petition.
The petition effort that was undertaken in 2011 was marked by voter fraud and forgery.
Councilor John Vieau spoke to the embarrassment of the forgery case and said that while initially he didn’t oppose voters having the choice, he is now against it.
“I think that [a four year term] takes some power away from the voters,” he said. He added, “I don’t understand why Mike Bissonnette is so motivated about this.”
Bissonnette contended that a four-year term would allow any mayor additional time to tackle difficult problems facing the city. Mayor Richard Kos has said publicly he is opposed to a four-year term.
Feb. 22, 2013
City Treasurer Ernest Laflamme Jr. admitted he thought of the idea of retirement when his son retired from his job before he did. Laflamme made the announcement on Feb. 19 that he would leave public service at the end of his term.
The event at the Castle of Knights was an evening filled with admiration, laughter and sadness. Laflamme was first elected treasurer in 1970 after serving two terms as assessor.
When asked by Reminder Publications before the event what was the biggest change he had seen during his tenure he said it would be the idea that the city should invest it money.
Laflamme said that when he first came into office the practice was simply the city would deposit its funds in a bank account. Laflamme began investing the city’s money and he noted that in the last four years, for example, the investments paid the city $16 million.
Laflamme’s daughter Marie successfully ran to succeed her father as city treasurer.
April 12, 2013
Speaker after speaker at the groundbreaking ceremony for the RiverMills Center, the city’s new senior center, discussed the struggle to reach that day, saluted the teamwork that made it happened and congratulated the city for making the new center a reality.
About 100 people gathered at what was once the site of the Facemate Corporation for the hour-long program on April 8.
Bissonnette said the project began in 2007 when he assigned Christopher Nolan from his staff to head a taskforce to address the redevelopment of the Uniroyal and Facemate properties.
“They were a headache for the city of Chicopee for three decades,” the mayor said.
The Facemate location had been the site of textile manufacturing since the early 1800s. The property was vacant since 2003 when Facemate declared bankruptcy. The city was able to finally demolish the deteriorating buildings in 2011 after it had been made the owner of the 20-acre site.
The new senior center is on schedule to open next year.
May 3, 2013
According to state Rep. Joseph Wagner, the William F. Davitt Bridge is expected to be open no later than July 27 – 13 months ahead of schedule.
Wagner and state Sen. James Welch made announcement on April 23.
“This new and modern structure will help to improve access to businesses in Chicopee center. The completion of this major artery serves as the latest example of the Commonwealth’s commitment to improving Chicopee’s infrastructure,” Wagner said.
Welch said, “I’m excited to see the upcoming completion of this project. We appreciate the continued support from the state for our local infrastructure projects, which help to modernize and secure our bridges and roadways.”
The newly constructed bridge was dedicated in November with members of the Davitt family coming from around the country to attend.
June 14, 2013
What was supposed to be a routine introduction of several mayoral appointments on June 10 turned into a different story when Mayor Michael Bissonnette announced that a former federal prosecutor has been engaged to undertake several investigations into the Police Department.
Police Chief Thomas Charette, whose permanent appointment was announced at the press event, told Reminder Publications the incident in which several Chicopee police officers had shared cell phone photos of the murder scene of Amanda Plasse “should have not been brought out in my opinion.”
Charette spoke two days after the press conference and said he had talked at several roll calls to his officers. “Overall, people were taken aback. Everyone was a little edgy,” he explained.
The police chief said the announcement about an investigation into several aspects of the department “came off incorrectly.” Charette said the word “investigation” was perhaps inappropriate and that “audit” would be more accurate.
Media reaction was swift at the press conference when Bissonnette said Attorney John Pucci, a former federal prosecutor, has been hired to conduct a “no holds barred” investigation.
The controversy about the actions of several police officers in the Plasse case was over-shadowed by questions about what Bissonnette knew about the officers and when he knew it. Despite documentation to support his position, Bissonnette faced a firestorm of criticism from the City Council, which had considered asking the Attorney General to investigate not the actions of the police, but rather the mayor. A suspect in the murder was arrested this year as well.
July 12, 2013
Although 70,000 people attended this year’s Fest of All, the future of an annual Fourth of July event is apparently unclear.
Robert Liswell, the founder and the president of the nonprofit organization that has presented the event for the last eight years told Reminder Publications his group is planning to have some sort of festival downtown in the fall of 2014.
“We just want to change it up,” he said.
The goal of moving to downtown would be to promote businesses and restaurants there, he explained.
He said he would like to give another organization the opportunity of staging a Fourth of July celebration at Szot Park and emphasized the volunteer organization makes enough money to sustain itself.
“The Fest of All Corporation is not going anywhere,” Liswell said of its stability.
The Fest of All appears to be a memory, but the Kielbasa Fest may once again become reality.
Nov. 1, 2013
Three more buildings at the Uniroyal complex have been funded for asbestos abetment and then demolition.
Federal, state and city officials gathered for the announcement on Oct. 28 in the shadow of one of the buildings.
“We finally say goodbye to some of the asbestos-laden buildings behind me,” Mayor Michael said.
The city selected Costello Dismantling of West Wareham for the demolition project through a competitive bidding process.
The abatement and demolition efforts are being funded by four Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfield Clean-ups grants totaling $800,000. EPA Regional Administrator for Region I Curt Spalding officially gave the city of the fourth grant of $200,000 at the announcement.
Additional funding is coming through Community Development Block Grants and through MassDevelopment Brownfield Redevelopment funds.
Bissonnette has said he hopes the in-coming administration will continue the work of demolishing and redeveloping the Uniroyal site.
Nov. 8, 2013
Gail Sherman may have announced her retirement as president of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce but she’s not resting her heels up on her desk just yet.
She will walk away to pursue personal goals after 17 years at the helm once the search committee names her replacement by year’s end; but until then, Sherman said there’s much to be done, including the completion of the accreditation process by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Everything we do is put under the microscope,” she said of the accreditation. “They keep you pushing forward. It’s worth it. It gives us credibility and we’re proud of that.”
Ron Proulx, chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors said in a statement, “Gail Sherman is going to be missed. I have worked with her for the past six years and found her to be a great leader. Her commitment to the Chamber has been remarkable. Gail’s relationship with members, community leaders, and elected officials has created a branding of the Chamber as a regional collaborator, a valuable advocate for members and a necessary component in the area’s economic development.”
A search for Sherman’s replacement is under way.
Nov. 22, 2013
Mayor-elect Richard Kos introduced the members of his transition team to the press on Nov. 19 and charged them with “meeting with representatives from various city departments and ascertaining what is going on, what should be going on and what could be going on.”
Kos did say there weren’t any specific issues or departments that were concerning him, but added even if there were he would not name them for fear of “tainting” the process.
“This is a great opportunity to get input,” Kos added.
City Council President George Moreau is among the team members and he predicted a good working relationship between the new mayor and the council. “Expect to see some give and take,” Moreau said. “One of has to be [the] wrong guy once in a while.”
Kos defeated Bissonnette and will be sworn in as mayor at 9 a.m. on Jan. 6 at Elms College.
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