Chief fiasco illustrates need for change

March 17, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs
news@thereminder.com

There are people who make the assumption that living in a smallish town, such as East Longmeadow, is inherently superior to living in communities such as Springfield. If you read the comments people leave on MassLive that is a recurring impression.

You know what happens when you assume, correct?

The events of the last several weeks which reporter Christopher Goudreau has outlined in a series of stories in our newspaper that serves East Longmeadow certainly indicated an upper middle class bedroom community can have “big city” problems.

In case you’ve not read our coverage, the three person Board of Selectmen, in an effort to control the police budget, slashed the police overtime allotment and decided not to renew the contract of Chief Douglas Mellis who has been doing an admirable job for years.

This is interesting. Mellis’ contract was not renewed because of what was seen as high overtime costs, however he had nothing to do with the designated amount. The selectmen negotiate with the police union to set the amount of overtime.

The non-renewal of the chief’s contract, by the way, triggered a clause that stipulated Mellis would receive a year’s pay for severance – so much for saving the town money.

A search for a new chief can be daunting enough, but according to the chair of the board he was approached by Frank Keough, a political advisor and former head of the Friends of the Homeless who served time for stealing from that charity.

According to Selectman Paul Federici, he was approached with some sort of deal to support an unnamed candidate for town administrator and another for police chief.

That issue is in the hands of the Attorney General and the FBI is also investigating.

The police chief search was narrowed down to three candidates – an internal choice, the chief of neighboring Hampden and the former West Springfield police captain – now a city councilor in that town – who was dismissed because of an incident involving placing tape over a woman’s mouth while in a restraint chair.

To make matters even better the interim Town Administer Greg Neffinger was the mayor of West Springfield and has said publicly he should not have dismissed the former officer.

The Hampden chief dropped out of consideration, as did the former West Springfield captain. The search is now on hold.

All of this completely unnecessary drama is playing out against a town election in which a member of the Board of Selectmen will be chosen and the matter of changing the town government would take a step forward, if approved by the voters.

How voters in East Longmeadow could reject charter change is inconceivable to me, especially in light of these recent events.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the board to have a civil and thoughtful conversation with Mellis about budget concerns? How about mutually working out a solution? Of course that may be out of the realm of possibility when there is a hidden agenda. Pardon my conspiratorial leanings here.  

When you live in a town such as East Longmeadow what do you expect for town services? Roads maintained? School system doing its job? Don’t you expect for the Police Department to have the resources it requires? Aren’t you willing to pay for it?

I suppose this upcoming election will, at least in part, answer some of those questions.

If East Longmeadow voters can’t bother to become involved in what is happening in their town, they certainly deserve the parade of missteps to which they have been treated.

Holyoke must take action

In Holyoke, the collapse of the Armory building should be the canary in the coal mine for the City Council to consider moving forward on proposals made by Mayor Alex Morse to address concerns about older buildings.

Let’s face it, the Paper City’s stock of older buildings has proven to be a great asset in terms of redevelopment. Keeping that inventory safe as possible should be a priority.

I think the City Council would like to prevent any future damage to the historic buildings that are certainly part of the city’s future.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at news@thereminder.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.

Share this: