Friday, January 15, 2016

School Committee Decision Held Hostage

The process of selecting and hiring a new Longmeadow School Superintendent to replace Marie Doyle who will be retiring on June 30 has been a time consuming, expensive and contentious process and it is not over yet!

This effort has involved the use of an outside consultant who developed a candidate selection process, launched a nationwide search and facilitated a SC Screening Committee to identify three finalists for the position. Prior to the final public interviews in mid December one of three final candidates withdrew leaving Martin O’Shea- current superintendent of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District and Neil Gile- current principal at Wolf Swamp Road Elementary School for the position.

Current Situation

Final approval of the contract to hire Mr. O'Shea as the new school superintendent is being held hostage
by an "open meeting law" complaint filed by town resident Attorney Scott Foster.
  As long as this complaint is active with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Mr. O'Shea cannot be offered a contract without the caveat "approved pending a favorable AG decision"

It would appear that the School Committee has done its due diligence in responding to the OML complaint and has initiated policy changes that should prevent a re-occurrence.  The "redo" of the preliminary candidate screening meetings seems a little overdone and non-consequential but is planned as well.

I believe that this OML complaint is a very thinly disguised attempt to overturn the SC's vote to hire Mr. O'Shea.

If the contract signing is delayed for months because of uncertainty of the AG's actions, it could result in Mr. O'Shea deciding to withdraw his candidacy leaving Mr. Gile as the only viable candidate at this time. 

It's now time for Attorney Foster and others supporting Mr. Gile to step back and accept the SC's hiring decision by withdrawing the complaint.   

These actions will continue to cost Longmeadow taxpayers significant money in legal fees at the same time that our School Committee is currently facing a $1.2 million shortfall in funding for FY2017 (see this week's Reminder Publications article).  It's interesting that this is one of the areas that Mr. O'Shea's experience substantially outshadows Mr. Gile's limited experience.

Background InformationAfter two lengthy public meeting discussions, school visits and a second round of interviews with the two finalists, the School Committee in a vote of 4-2 (later amended to 6-0) selected Mr. O’Shea as the new School Superintendent.

Mr. Gile had strong support from some community members and local school professionals as well as two SC members (Ms. Grodsky and Atty. Dupere).  All SC members expressed that they felt both candidates were well qualified but the SC picked Mr. O’Shea primarily because of his greater depth of experience with school administration, budgeting, etc.

However, after the SC final vote, it was obvious on social media that many supporters of Mr. Gile were deeply disappointed and threaten to do what they could to overturn the decision.

In late December, a formal complaint was sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office by Atty. Scott Foster alleging that there were “open meeting law” violations for the two meetings of the candidate selection subcommittee.  These OML violations consisted primarily that these two meetings were not “posted”, minutes were not made public and there were inappropriate executive session discussions.

Here is how this OML complaint process works (from the Mass AG website):

“For complaints alleging a violation of the Open Meeting Law by a local public body, you must file with the public body and file a copy with the clerk of the city or town where the alleged violation occurred. For complaints alleging a violation by a county, regional or state public body, you must file with the chair of the public body."

"If you are not satisfied with the action taken by the public body in response to your complaint, you may file a copy of your complaint with the Attorney General's Office 30 days after filing your complaint with the public body. The Attorney General's Office may decline to investigate a complaint that is filed with the Attorney General's Office more than 90 days after the alleged OML violation, unless an extension was granted to the public body or the complainant demonstrates good cause for the delay.”

After considerable consultation with their attorney the SC has responded to the formal complaint by evaluating and modifying their policy for posting of public meetings so that the lack of posting does not occur again.  In addition, they are planning to conduct “do-overs” of the two screening meetings that would include approval of minutes but will not constitute a round of candidate interviews.  There would be no review of interview videos or resumes at these two "do-over" meetings.  It is expected but not assured that the vote for the three finalists would be the same given the high ratings each of the original finalists were given.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Opposition to the Use of Wolf Swamp Fields for a DPW Site

This letter was prepared for presentation at the Park Board meeting on Jan 11th, which was subsequently cancelled.  There are over 75 signatures to this letter which was submitted for publication by Moira Murphy.

To: Longmeadow’s Park Commission Board
From: Moira Murphy and Other Signatories
Date: January 11, 2016

Opposition to the Use of Wolf Swamp Fields for a DPW Site

As you know, a DPW Task Force had been evaluating alternate sites for a new DPW facility. It is my understanding that this committee has now been disbanded by recent vote of the Select Board, and a new committee will be formed consisting of 9 members plus Town Manager Stephen Crane, as an ex-officio non-voting member. The new committee will operate as a subcommittee reporting directly to the Select Board.

Wolf Swamp Road Field- Longmeadow Parks-Rec Dept Lacrosse Jamboree

We don’t yet know how the new DPW commission will proceed, and whether it will choose to revisit the analyses and recommendations of the prior Task Force. However, it was very concerning to me and many other residents (a number of whom are signatories to this letter) that this prior committee had identified the Wolf Swamp recreational fields as its preferred site for the new DPW facility. I would therefore like to formally express our strong opposition to this proposal, and call the Commission’s attention to the following points, some of which have already been mentioned by John Glenn:

The proposed facility will be industrial in nature, as it will house more than 30 trucks and other heavy equipment, salt sheds, fuels tanks and pumps, and multiple storage bins for bulk materials. It would be located immediately adjacent to our athletic fields and would be totally incompatible with what is otherwise a beautiful “green” area of Town.

The proposal would involve the taking of up to 25% of the field space, which is currently designated for recreational use. As you know, recreational space within town is already inadequate.

The proposal also involves the loss of at least 2 of the 5 softball/ baseball fields.

The proposal provides for a “potential expansion area” to replace the 25% loss of field space. However, the expansion area has a number of disadvantages:
  • The expansion area is smaller than the lost area.
  • The expansion area would necessitate the clear-cutting of a treed area, which may violate State and/or Town Conservation Regulations.
  • Based on the presentation shown at Town Meeting, the expansion area would come within 50 feet of wetland areas – and again may be in violation of State and Town Wetland Regulations.
  • The proposed expansion area is shaped like a “U” – and once fencing and sidelines are factored in, much, if not all, of this space is unusable. If additional wetlands buffering is required, the problem is even worse.
  • Finally, the expansion area would be located at the farthest point from parking, about .2 miles away from the main lot.
If the net useable field space were, in fact, reduced, this would have a significant effect on whether the Wolf Swamp fields can accommodate tournaments.Trucks and heavy equipment will be coming and going during the day. It is unclear whether this will present any safety issues after school or during the summer when the
fields are in heavy use.

The existence and availability of parks and recreational areas is clearly a priority for Town residents, this Commission, and the State. Various Massachusetts Regulations and pending bills exist to explicitly govern the change in use of open lands - and protect, preserve and enhance these areas. I also note that the mission of this Commission is dedicated to “developing and maintaining beautiful, safe, and environmentally friendly
open spaces for the public to use and enjoy.”

In closing, the DPW proposal is clearly inconsistent with the mission of the Town’s Park Commission, and the State Laws and Regulations governing parkland, conservation areas, and wetlands. The DPW facility’s presence will be incompatible with the otherwise park-like surroundings of the area and, most importantly, it will likely result in a significant reduction in the amount of recreational area available to our children and

We hope you will join us in opposing the Wolf Swamp site proposal.

Thank you,