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City Council blows opportunity to talk about issues surrounding cyber cafés

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
I don't often cover City Council meetings in Chicopee or Springfield as they are usually conducted on days that fall between the deadlines for two of our newspapers.
I made an exception, though, with the Springfield City Council last week concerning its meeting on special permits for cyber cafés. I held our front page for it and wrote the story after the conclusion of the meeting.
I did this because the cyber café issue has been one that has puzzled municipal officials in several of our communities. The businesses market themselves as offering casino gambling-like entertainment only done through a legal sweepstakes format that doesn't violate state law. People in several towns have expressed concerns about the impact these businesses will have on neighborhoods, especially after the raid of the one in Chicopee.
This City Council session was supposed to be the vehicle for a detailed questioning of the owners of three of these businesses as well as a way for councilors to protect neighborhoods by adding conditions to the special permits — if granted — about hours of operation, the age of people allowed in the cafés and other details.
These businesses had fallen through the licensing and permitting cracks for a while. Springfield officials had responded by making sure they had common victualer and entertainment licenses.
The special permit was the next step — and a public step — to find out more about these businesses. I expected a lot of information. My notebook was ready. My pen was full of ink.
What I heard though wasn't a thorough discussion of these businesses, but rather an argument between the city solicitor and the councilors about the proper manner to issue a special permit. As a journalist, I was disappointed. As a taxpayer, I was cheesed.
Attorney Thomas Rooke gave the councilors plenty of initial information about his client, the 777 Cyber Café, from which a discussion could spring, but it was sidetracked by the parliamentary slap fest.
What would I like to have heard? To start, a detailed explanation of how the sweepstakes format works. Then, the reasoning behind why at least one of these businesses wants to stay open until 2 a.m. — and re-open at 8 a.m.
Let's talk about who the owners are, also. And if pseudo gambling thrills are not the primary thrust of the business why do nearly all of these businesses have casino-like names?
I know all of these issues might come up in the committee meeting that will be called to further address the special permits, but the committee meetings are not televised.
Sorry, my councilors, you folks blew a perfectly good opportunity to shine some light publicly on an issue that is indeed murky.
By the way, where the heck does the mayor stand on these businesses? How do they fit within his vision for the city?
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I would like to think that most Americans understand the "birther" issue is the domain of a fringe group, but recent polls indicated the renewed arguments and accusations led by sort of presidential candidate Donald Trump had actually gained traction in some circles.
The release of President Barack Obama's long-form birth certificate was a solid political move, as it should negate some of this very unnecessary discussion.
It won't, however, kill the issue because of its underlying racism. It's no surprise to me that the first president of color has been subjected to this level of unwarranted hate.
And it's no surprise that a political lightweight such as Trump has to take this tact instead of talking about his solutions to our problems. How would Trump grow jobs? Balance the budget? Develop our domestic energy capacity? What are his foreign policy concerns? What's his take on affordable, universal health insurance?
And how does he reconcile his recent donations to Democratic candidates and his past praise for the president? Which is more disingenuous: his support of just a few years ago or his position now?
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@the-reminder.com or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.
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