| Payton North
EAST LONGMEADOW – The East Longmeadow annual town election is less than two weeks away on June 2, and three residents have submitted nomination papers for two open, three-year seats on the town council.
Current Town Council Vice President Michael Kane, current member of the Planning Matters Subcommittee Connor O’Shea and current Town Council member Marilyn Richards are each vying for a seat on the town council.
In March, Reminder Publishing reached out to the candidates for self-written introductions to present to the town. For a refresher on the backgrounds of each of the candidates, go to https://www.thereminder.com/localnews/eastlongmeadow/candidates-for-town-council-introduce-themselves/.
Since then, Reminder Publishing sent the same six questions to each candidate to allow them to answer individually regarding their decision to run for town council, what the most important issues facing the town are, how they feel the town has handled the pandemic, and their thoughts on how the council is currently running. The following involves each question with the individual candidates responses.
Reminder Publishing (RP): For those who may have missed our first article, please share a short history of your background and experience and how it relates to a position on the town council.
Michael Kane: My name is Michael Kane and I have represented the residents of East Longmeadow on the town council for the past four years and currently serve as the council vice president.
I am a lifelong resident of East Longmeadow and long term taxpayer. In preparation for my role on the town council, I have been active on several boards and committees. I currently serve on the Budget Finance Oversight and Capital Committees. For the past 35 years, I have been appointed and served as our town constable. I have also worked on Civil Defense, Emergency Planning and chaired Open Space.
My past and current work experience have prepared me for the town council. I was employed by American Airlines as a pilot and department manager. Duties and responsibilities include hiring, conducting background checks, training, budgeting and day to day operations. I currently own and operate Aircraft Management Sales and Service and serve as President/Owner of Cook’s Building Supply. My part time law enforcement position has helped me to increase my knowledge of critical public safety issues.
Connor O’Shea: I’m a lifelong resident of East Longmeadow who went through the East Longmeadow Public School system. I work as a software developer, which affords me strong problem solving, teamwork, project management, and communication experience. I am a graduate of Westfield State University with my bachelors in computer information systems and a minor in business management. A number of courses for the minor included accounting and financial management, both of which are valuable to the budget process. My skills coupled with my education allow me to develop solutions to provide value to the residents of East Longmeadow.
Marilyn Richards: As a town councilor, I would bring to the position a diverse municipal, community, and personal resume. My years of municipal service include an eight-year appointment to the Council on Aging Board, nine years elected to the Board of Selectmen, and over 11 years service to the Town’s Planning Board. Within the community, I am a director for Brownstone Gardens Elderly Housing and have served as a trustee for the Elms Condominium Association. I hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was previously employed as a pediatric cardiology nurse clinician at Baystate Medical Center. These experiences have helped to carve out a unique skill set in budget oversight, policy development, employee performance, contract negotiations, leadership skills, people skills, community outreach, as some examples, all of which have prepared me for any and all council responsibilities.
RP: Why did you decide to run – or run again – for town council?
Kane: Simply stated, I am passionate about East Longmeadow and its residents. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with our town manager, our many dedicated town employees and the day to day interactions with our community members . There is unfinished business that I would like to see through.
O’Shea: I have always felt that local government is important, as it has the most direct impact on constituents compared to the state and federal government. Elementary and secondary education, roads, first responders, and trash disposal to name a few examples all fall under the purview of town government.
Over the past year, I have attended all of the town council meetings in person (and more recently virtually) as an observer and made public comments with my perspective on various matters. I also attend or watch the planning board and school committee meetings, which has allowed me to become well versed in the operations and issues facing the town as a whole. This past fall, I served as clerk on the Town Manager Screening Committee. I presently serve as a member-at-large on the Planning Matters Subcommittee of the town council.
Looking back at all of the non-procedural votes taken during Council meetings over the past 13 months, each generated excellent debate by councilors, though 95 percent of the votes were unanimous. Compromise is achieved not by voting unanimously on issues, but rather using voting as a framework to settle debate on the best path forward among varying opinions.
Richards: I was unanimously appointed to a vacancy on the town council back in September 2019. While unsure at the time about a long-term commitment, I easily slipped into my new role as councilor and have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges facing me since then. Town service can get under your skin and for me, I thrive on being involved and making a positive difference within the community. Perhaps it is my nursing background, but I also enjoy helping people, solving problems, and just being available to answer calls and listen to concerns. I am also retired and have the time to devote to the demands and the responsibilities of a position on the town council.
RP: Aside from the pandemic – what do you feel are the most important issues facing East Longmeadow at this time?
Kane: A need to keep our tax rate at an affordable level while controlling community growth is a priority. We also need to recruit and hire top talent to fill vacancies such as HR, finance and planning. Finding the right fit for the Package Machinery property located at 330 Chestnut St. along with exploring options for our high school are additional priorities.
O’Shea: There are a number of important issues facing East Longmeadow.
First is the prospect of renovating or replacing the high school. We know that there are parts of the current building, such as the roof and electrical service, that have outlived their useful life. Funding the feasibility study to explore both avenues and forecasting the financial implications of both options is an issue at the forefront of the minds of many families in town.
Another issue is the need for more choice in housing. Both residents that are starting out in life and seniors looking to downsize in retirement in town have limited options. Many that love the town and feeling of community that we have no longer want the maintenance that comes with homeownership. The Planning Matters Subcommittee, of which I am a member, has reviewed a proposed bylaw to create a Mixed-Use Village District in town. This has the potential to bring more choice and provide financial stability in a time of economic uncertainty.
Last, but not least, is continuing to provide the level of services that residents have come to expect while keeping taxes in check. Our mill rate is $20.84, which is $1.54 behind Wilbraham. However, according to the US Census Bureau in 2017, East Longmeadow’s median income was $85,221, which is $19,270 behind Wilbraham. The town needs to make sure that our tax burden does not outpace the affordability for most residents.
Richards: The most important issue facing our town is balancing a fiscally conservative budget against the need for town services, public safety, and education, while not over burdening the taxpayer. Especially now, more than ever, this should be our top priority. The town’s Master Plan is significantly outdated and a strategic plan is needed that addresses land use, growth management, renewable energy, and necessary regulatory changes which will serve as a guide for future development. The town’s aging high school is at the top of the list for capital needs. Much depends on the results of the architectural study, the availability of state aid, and ultimately the vote of the people, as the town moves forward with this challenge. Finally, a priority need for the council is to find new ways to improve the sharing of information between the town council and the public, utilizing a combination of social media, the press, and the community via the town’s website and the local cable access television.
RP: How do you feel the Town of East Longmeadow has handled the pandemic? How do you think the town can best move forward during this uncertain time?
Kane: Based on the relative low level of cases, I believe that East Longmeadow has managed the situation well. The town and community have worked together following guidelines set by our state. Daily communications and tracking the data that becomes available will help us navigate during these difficult times.
O’Shea: Our first responders have done a tremendous job during the pandemic. Our fire department was able to acquire a second ambulance as a donation from Palmer at no cost to the town to handle the volume of EMS calls. The Rotary Club worked together with the police and fire chiefs to see what the town needed and graciously donated a sprayer. Our school department quickly transitioned to distance learning after a single day of professional development, which was quicker than other school districts in the state.
While the health, safety, and wellness response to the pandemic was commendable, the town could use improvement in communication and transparency. The number of cases in town was only posted to the town’s website and not communicated across multiple channels to residents. I was surprised to learn at the May 12, 2020 meeting of the town council that not all knew that furloughs for town employees had been implemented.
I believe it is imperative for the town to develop a rolling 5-year forecast that includes all of its revenue, expenses, and capital project needs. Projecting these figures in varying economic scenarios, whether stable or a downturn, would ensure that the town makes the most data-driven decisions possible. Without this information, the town may not be able to adequately prepare for the coming years.
Richards: Throughout this entire healthcare crisis, I am proud that the town has continued to function, largely due to the efforts of dedicated employees, public safety personnel, teachers and town officials. On a daily basis, Emergency Operations briefings were held either via conference calls or remotely via webinar. The insurmountable challenges of working remotely were dealt with head on by talented and creative staff and with teamwork and cooperation, they managed to address the taxpayer’s needs and expectations. There was much to be proud of all around! Moving forward, the big focus will be on town revenue and continued public safety. With revenues falling and time needed to get the state and communities open and more financially stable, the level of town services may be adjusted in the short term. The need for personal protection may influence how the town navigates through normal business operations. Clearly, it will not be business as usual during this uncertain time.
RP: What are your thoughts on how the town council is currently running? Is there anything you would work to change if you could?
Kane: I have watched the council evolve to its highest level during the past four years. The diversity amongst the members has certainly contributed to a broad range of knowledge. As times change, we need to adapt. Like any form of government, it is a work in progress. I would like to see more community participation to fill our sub committees and larger turnout at our local elections.
O’Shea: The council/manager form of government is still relatively new to the town. The major changes that the charter brought about have been in place for a few years now. However, there are always opportunities for incremental improvement and streamlining operations.
Participation of citizens in the political process is the most important factor in any form of local government. There are healthy signs seeing residents attend a meeting and having more names than open seats on the ballot.
The town is facing significant budget challenges in the remainder of this fiscal year and foreseeably into next fiscal year, as well. The town council has chosen to appeal a decision by the land court that said the town cannot prevent ground-mounted solar arrays in residential zones. This comes at a significant legal expense to the town. At a time when town employees are furloughed and services are at risk of being cut, taxpayers will wonder what the cost-benefit is to both sides of the issue and seek more public discourse on the most prudent decision.
Richards: With the June election, the town will be entering year five of the new form of government. While there is still much to learn, the process has been a positive one. I am pleased with the teamwork demonstrated within our council business, and appreciate the diversity of gifts and talents that each councilor brings to the process. As the charter dictates, in the year 2020, a review of the charter will be initiated, giving the councilors and the town an opportunity to evaluate the successes and modify the weaknesses of our form of government going forward. This is when we all have an opportunity to make some real change.
RP: Why should residents of East Longmeadow vote for you?
Kane: I remain passionate about the future of our town and have demonstrated a fiscal and ethical commitment to doing what is best for East Longmeadow. My work background provides me with the experience necessary to keep moving us forward. My flexible work schedule allows me to devote approximately 25-plus hours a week to meet the requirements necessary for the role. To date, I have never missed one council meeting.
O’Shea: When the voters opted to change forms of government, I took the charter to heart. I knew that for the town to remain successful, I had to get involved and participate. I am running for town council to represent all residents in town and to seek the input of voters. Together, we can develop a rolling five-year plan that balances the needs of the community with financial projections. The younger generation is the future of East Longmeadow; I have dedicated my service to the community and with your vote we can pave a sustainable future and make East Longmeadow the best that it can be.
Richards: I have a proven track record when it comes to my commitment and service to our town. I attend many board and committee meetings and often bring a seasoned perspective to any discussion that is taking place. I support the town’s rules and regulations and would never deviate from what is lawful to serve the interests of one person or one entity. I would continue to work hard for the residents of East Longmeadow and would be honored to serve again on the town council. Thank you!