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Gunslingers are walking Main Street

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

If you watch as many westerns as I have, you know the scene well: two combatants squaring off at the ends of the town's main street for a showdown.
Well, what is happening between Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and City Councilor Tim Rooke doesn't involve any guns, but their fight does have some pretty high stakes.
For months, Rooke has led criticism of the city's agreement to lease the former Federal Building on Main Street for use as the new home for the School Department. The councilor's main concern is the city did not go out to bid for the needed space in order to ascertain the best deal for the city.
Sarno has also long maintained the 20-year lease, which will cost, at least initially, over $500,000 a year, as a great deal for the city that will save a key building downtown from "going dark."
Rooke has made numerous appeals to various state officials to look into the matter and has now brought the issue to a new level of urgency by refusing to schedule a meeting of the Finance Committee he chairs. Among the financial orders the committee must approve is one that directly impacts the on-going renovations for the building.
Rooke has said he will not call a meeting until the city puts out a Request for Proposals on a new home for the School Department.
Sarno has appealed to the other members of the council in a letter released late on May 18 on the importance of dealing with the other financial orders before the committee. He did not mention Rooke by name nor did he address the issue that spurred the impasse in his letter.
So the two men have made their moves, fired their shots and now we will wait to see who is wounded.
As a Springfield taxpayer, I can only wonder why a more transparent means of finding a new location for the School Department wasn't undertaken. It's more difficult to argue the outcome of competitive bidding.
***

A lot of people have been talking about the guy living in a state-funded motel room for the homeless in Chicopee who allegedly tried to trade his baby for booze or drugs. Yeah, it makes for great water cooler chat. If I was still doing talk radio, I'm sure the subject could easily fill a couple of hours.
A quick search shows the story received considerable play on Web sites and even popped up on the Daily Mail's site from Sydney, Australia.
The police investigation is continuing as I write this column, but the incident renews a discussion about the policy of placing homeless people in motel rooms.
Or at least it should.
The first concern is the expense of the program, which is considerable, and the second issue revolves around the stopgap nature of the practice.
Stories such as this one tend to paint all homeless people with the same brush -- that they are people with addiction and mental health issues as well as potential criminals.
We know today that many people are just a few paychecks away from financial ruin. In other words, many of us are potential homeless people.
Local efforts throughout the valley have grappled with key homelessness issues. While temporary housing is needed, I'd certainly like to see additional state funding of these new local measures to find more permanent solutions for homeless people.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to news@thereminder.com or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.


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