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Federal Building project is a misstep

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
I have to preface my remarks with a reminder that Mayor Domenic Sarno once said I should feel free to give him a swift kick when I felt he needed that. Although editorial writers have never needed such a license, I always thought the statement spoke volumes of Sarno's character.
So, sir, prepare for a kick right now.
The former Federal Building now known as 1550 Main St. has been a parade of missteps and insults to the taxpayers and business community of Springfield. While the Sarno Administration has shown it is savvy enough to save jobs in the city with the retention of Titeflex, it has also provided a textbook case of how NOT to do a project.
Frankly, I think the city should have bought the building itself and moved any city offices from rented or out-dated locations into it. It could have then rented out space to provide a revenue stream to offset the costs of the building.
But no, we're paying nearly $600,000 a year for 20 years to be there for a sum of $12 million. And we're spending millions to renovate our part of the building.
In making the decision to move the School Department, the city elected not to go through a competitive bidding process, which not only cheated the taxpayers but was also an insult to the business community.
This lack of transparency is one issue. The blatant disregard for city employees is one more. Not signing a contract to provide parking at a reduced cost has added a hardship to the School Department personnel working in the building. Why wasn't it signed?
And promising downtown restaurant owners they would have an additional market for their breakfast and lunch trade only to betray them by allowing a cafeteria in the building is a further insult.
I don't get it. This one project has contradicted many of Sarno's hallmarks: openness in government, fiscal prudence and development and retention of local businesses.
Why did this happen? I'd like to know, as we can't allow this to take place again with any other city projects.
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Agawam has a citywide telephone communications system that allows city officials to deliver messages to residents about school delays, public health issues and public safety concerns. I think most people would agree it's a good tool for any city to have to communicate quickly and effectively to its citizens.
It's not, however, a tool that should be used for political purposes as it was recently used by the city's school superintendent to rally supporters to a City Council meeting to question potential cuts.
I hope Mayor Richard Cohen makes it clear this kind of abuse cannot be tolerated and has to be stopped. People will cease to pay attention to the messages they receive if they think they are simply political slop.
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Words to live by: "Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer" Mark Twain.
"Leave all the afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning" Thomas Jefferson.
"Conservative . A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others" Ambrose Bierce.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Please mail all letters to the editor to Reminder Publications Inc., 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028 or e-mail news@thereminder.com.