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Candidates vie for Deerfield administrator job

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Three candidates who are vying for the town administrator job explained this week how they would handle the many issues facing the town, including stagnant business growth, increasing school costs, and shrinking state aid.

The finalists answered questions from the public for 90 minutes on Wednesday. Before the interview, the three men had spent an hour greeting townspeople and town employees during a reception in the town hall.

The Board of Selectmen will make a final decision at its June meeting.

Michael Bissonnette, the former four-term mayor of Chicopee, was well versed in the issues facing Deerfield, touching on the difficulty the town has had in selling the Oxford Pickle factory and in reinvigorating the Deerfield Industrial Park. Seeing what he termed the untapped potential of the town, Bissonnette argued he could help guide the town toward becoming a revitalized community.

George Zimmerman, the former city treasurer of Northampton, said he could bring the town his experience in finance while also empowering town employees to reach for their own visions for the town.

Andrew Golas, a 26-year-old executive assistant and firefighter for the town of Palmer, said he could bring his dedication and good people management skills to the job and work directly with town employees and residents to reach the town’s goals.

As a former financial and banking investor for Mass Mutual and city treasurer, Zimmerman said he can bring extensive financial experience and knowledge of state laws and Department of Revenue regulations to the position.

“I think that’s a reservoir that will serve me well,” Zimmerman.

Part of the strength Bissonnette said he can bring is “there are very few issues that face this community that I haven’t dealt with.”

“All these issues I can bring to the fore and translate into success in the community,” Bissonnette said.

The former Chicopee politician is recently married and is looking for a challenge that doesn’t require a three-hour commute — or moving his 15-year-old daughter from high school.

“Deerfield has a factor that can be dramatically advertised and marketed to bring new folks to town. We need to bring new vitality, resources and energy whether it is industrial or commercial,” Bissonnette said.

His job in Palmer is the closest job you can get to town administrator, Golas said.

“I want to work with department heads and fight for what they need to do their jobs,” Golas said.

Asked what is the most pressing issue facing Deerfield, a ll three candidates agreed that the lack of money and resources is Deerfield’s biggest barrier to success.

“Deerfield has seen a one-third cutback from the state,” Bissonnette said. “They say things flow downhill, but especially in western Massachusetts we do get the short end of the stick.”

Bissonnette said by working with the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the town could push to get its resources back and be vocal about fighting for its share.

The solution is to find new revenue sources, Zimmerman said. He said the town should investigate enterprise funds and collaborate with other communities.

Golas agreed with his two competitors, but declined to expand on that answer.

School funding

Asked h ow he would deal with growth of school budgets, Zimmerman said the town has to ask what the schools are providing and what the expenses are.

“It’s interesting that an executive body of a community doesn’t have a line item control of the school budget,” Zimmerman said.

Bissonnette, who served as school committee chairman in Chicopee, said he’d become Superintendent Martha Barrett’s “new best friend.”

He said would transfer school costs such as technology and maintenance back to the municipal budget, leaving the schools to handle costs directly related to education. He would also ask the state Legislature to address the school funding formula and school choice costs.

“It’s causing great upheaval in school budgets across the state,” Bissonnette said.

Golas said he would work with the schools to increase transparency in their budgets. School leaders would have to justify why they need resources, Golas said.

Asked why he would want to be Deerfield town administrator, Golas said t he job would be a great stepping stone. “I love the town from what I’ve seen. It’s very similar to what I see in Palmer,” Golas said.

Zimmerman sees it as a chance to bring his skills to Deerfield.

Bissonnette joked that he thought he applied for work in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Seriously, he added that he wanted to find a place nearby with possibilities.

“There’s an opportunity for success — to leave this place better from which I can found it,” Bissonnette said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268. or @RecorderKatMcK

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