By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – What was seen as illegal parking at a group of businesses on Memorial Drive dominated the discussion at the March 4 City Council meeting.
Ward One City Councilor Adam Lamontagne said he was just protecting the public interest. The management of Planet Fitness on Memorial Drive said Lamontagne’s actions were “fueled by a personal vendetta.” Lamontagne’s colleagues on the council who spoke about the matter expressed their concern about his actions and how they would reflect on the council as a whole.
Only the people attending the meeting saw the story unfold, though, as apparent technical problems prevented its usual broadcast. The meeting was audiotaped, however.
Emotions ran high during the discussion as Lamontagne called the letter accusing him of misconduct as “garbage” and stating it was read into the record of the meeting because of the attitude the council’s leadership have toward him. He said that if such a letter made accusations about councilors Frank Laflamme or Timothy McLellan it would not have been presented at the meeting.
The city’s Law Department reviewed the letter prior to the meeting and said it should be part of the record, Lamontagne said.
The letters and the remarks he made about the council’s leadership – neither President George Moreau nor Vice President John Vieau were present – and about Laflamme and McLellan sparked a call from Councilor James Tillotson to censure Lamontagne.
Tillotson said that Lamontagne to apologize to the owners of the gym and added, “Now this is going to hang over the council over the two years of our term.”
McLellan said he was “embarrassed” by Lamontagne’s treatment of a business owner and added the city council is not an enforcing authority.
“We relay messages,” McLellan said of such matters.
Laflamme said he would have “followed the process” and noted other businesses along Memorial Drive, which is a state highway, use state property.
The controversy revolved around an encounter with the staff and management of Planet Fitness that began on Jan. 31. According to a letter submitted to the council by Stephen Rondeau, president of Planet Fitness Chicopee, “On the afternoon of Jan. 31 our Ward 1 Councilor Adam Lamontagne had stopped in to Planet Fitness located at 1183 Memorial Drive and asked to speak with a manager and was informed that she had left for the day. He informed Steve Wilk (team member) that he was then new (Ward 1) counselor and needed to speak to someone about an urgent matter. He demanded that members cease parking on the grass lot in the beltway close to Memorial Drive citing that he had complaints and that it was an eyesore and needed it to stop.”
In a letter to the council, Lamontagne wrote his version of the initial encounter, “I went into Planet Fitness at the end of January and asked the employee to have management call me back as soon as possible, Planet Fitness decided to ignore my request and the public safety. I felt that the situation warranted another visit to the club. On Feb. 5, I returned to Planet Fitness and finally got to talk to the owner and the Regional Manager. I immediately questioned why everyone in authority had ignored me in regards to a potentially life threatening situation in their parking area. ‘Don’t you care?’ I made it clear to them that I felt they were using public property for their own use and that they had no legal right to dump their club traffic onto Brentwood Street which was slippery and had limited vision west bound to Memorial Drive. I did remind them that I was a newly inaugurated Ward 1 City Councilor and that I was here in my capacity as the Ward 1 councilor.”
Rondeau’s letter continued, “On Feb. 5 late morning – 10 to 11 a.m. –my Regional operations Manager Matthew Rogers was informed the City Counselor Adam Lamontagne (Ward 1) was at the front desk and requested to speak with the owner of Planet Fitness. Matthew Rogers, regional operations manager for Planet Fitness, was in the office and came out to introduce himself and being aware that he had stopped in the previous week wanted to speak with him regarding his visit and concerns. After introductions, Adam’s first dialogue was ‘Why anyone hasn’t called me back and that he needed to be treated with respect!’ and ‘That’s grass/dirt area is state property and you cannot park there!’ Matt snapped back, ‘I didn’t realize that we were supposed to call you back, all I’m aware of was you stopped in Friday or Saturday regarding the parking.’
“Adam asked if we could talk in a more private setting and we moved to my office to talk. Adam began stating that he was the new Ward 1 councilor and I take my job very seriously and that he had beaten the incumbent of Ward 1. While the previous counselor may have turned a blind eye to the parking situation I won’t and although I look young and people don’t take me seriously you should. He stated that he has numerous photos of people parking in the grassy area while other spaces are available and that he had complaints from people within the ward that it was an eyesore and unacceptable! He asked, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ I stated to my knowledge we have had no complaints from nearby businesses or residents, may I ask who registered a complaint. Adam said I can’t release that information to you but if you don’t address the issue I will have the city survey the land and contact the state. Frustrated with our whole conversation and his confrontational tone I simply asked Adam what is your solution? Matthew also stated we don’t instruct members to park there and perhaps if you took an approach based on mutual cooperation and professionalism rather than being a bully and aggressive this conversation would have unfolded much differently. Adam said ‘That’s how politics work!’ I simply said no, that’s the problem with politics and we and our members are as much a part of your ward as anyone else and should be treated in a professional nonthreatening manner.”
Rondeau went on to state that he had contacted state officials about using the property in question but he has yet to receive an answer from them.
In Lamontagne’s letter he wrote, “I stated that I take the safety of my constituents seriously. Mr. Rogers shouted at me ‘Who the hell do you think you are, a new sheriff in town!?’ And Mr. Rondeau stated. ‘We do business with [At Large Councilor] Gerry Roy!, Not you!’ Also, he stated that they had permission to use public property for parking and for the erection of a large sign on public property. Also, he told me to call his partner in ownership Mr. [Paul] Krause, to confirm permission. I called Mr. Krause and he said he had permission to park and erect a large sign on public property and would forward me a copy of the letter, which never happened.”
Rondeau charged there was a political motivation in Lamontagne’s actions. He wrote, “Tony [Furnari co-owner of the property] stated that Adam was upset because he had allowed Adam’s opponent to put up a sign on the property. I feel that whole situation was fueled by a personal vendetta against this property and my business that resides here.”
Lamontagne wrote, “I will be filing formal complaints against Mr. Paul Krause et all involved in the seizure of public property to the respective departments/agencies. This is just an example of one of the many problem properties I have in Ward 1 that need to play by the same rules as everyone else.”
He noted that an illegal entrance on Brentwood drive is being used and that no taxes are being paid for the use of the property.
He added, “Mr. Stephen Rondeau of Planet Fitness has since left a message on my voice mail apologizing for his rude and abusive attitude at our meeting. I have retained said message for those who are interested in hearing the truth.”
Former Ward 1 Councilor Dino Brunetti said during the speakout portion of the meeting that he “never turned a blind eye” to any issue and never took any campaign contributions from any of the businesses in question. He noted that $1,000 worth of his campaign signs for his reelection had been destroyed.
“Some people might call it coincidence, some might call it intentional,” he said.
The council voted to send the issue to its rules committee for further discussion.