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In The Arena

Open to a return

Bill Perlman eyes Ashfield seat

It looks like a familiar face is about to add a little spice to the dysfunctional political stew that is brewing in Ashfield.

Former Selectman Bill Perlman has announced his intention to run for the selectman’s seat vacated by the resignation of Board Chairman Douglas Field, who left because he couldn’t stand the infighting between remaining board members Paulette Leukhardt and Ronald Coler.

Perlman, who is still active politically in the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, is positioning his decision as that of a veteran public servant willing to lend his expertise as Ashfield works to craft a budget for fiscal 2014.

“There’s not a lot of experience on that board right now and not much institutional memory when it comes to budgeting,” Perlman said. “You have one member who’s done one budget and another who hasn’t done any, and I thought maybe my experience could add something.”

There’s a certain amount of irony to this move, since Perlman is running for the same seat he held up until his 2010 resignation at the height of the controversy surrounding the board’s handling of the weapons charges involving then-police Chief John Svoboda.

“There were some unfortunate happenings at the time and it was a stressful period,” Perlman said. “But the time off has given me an opportunity to reflect on what went on, the mistakes made by me and others, and I think now I will be better able to do the job.”

Maybe — but assuming he wins, Perlman still has the little problem of the two remaining board members, who, though they are playing nice now, clearly still can’t stand each other.

“I’m not going to engage in any of that,” Perlman said. “I’m hoping, among the three of us, we can focus on the major issue, which is building next year’s budget, which I don’t expect will be a source of that much controversy.”

We’ll see how he feels in the spring, assuming this “comeback” gets that far.

Open meetings

I’d like to personally welcome Recorder staffer Kathleen McKiernan to the sometimes baffling world of small town political reporting, where the spirit of the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law is occasionally sacrificed on the altar of presumably effective volunteer governance.

I’m referring to this week’s story out of Conway, where Selectman Rick Bean suggested, in response to board member Jim Moore’s question about the decision to lay off part-time administrator Tom Spiro, that the two discuss the matter not during the board meeting, but afterwards, at the Conway Inn.

As absurd as this may seem, it is not exactly a new concept. I remember many nights covering the Deerfield selectmen and seeing then-members Betty Kirkwood, John Paciorek and Leonard Grybko Jr., either together or in some combination of the three, adjourn the meeting and head across the street to have a drink. That would happen nearly every week, or at least when they were talking, and it was always a source of derisive humor around town, when people would occasionally ask me if I knew what happened at the “real” meeting the night before, not at town hall, but at Wolfie’s.

All joking aside, I’ve always felt that particular loophole is one that state officials should take a closer look at. No one is saying these guys shouldn’t be allowed to ever talk to each other, but absent a reporter listening in, how does anyone know what these officials are saying in these “social” gatherings. No votes may be taken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t discussing issues and formulating strategies on how to move forward on certain items — all things that, to my way of thinking, the public has a right to know.

Just a little food (or drinks) for thought.

Holyoke’s gamble

Politicians saying one thing and doing another is not exactly a new concept, but it’s rarely done in as brazen a way as Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse did on the casino gambling issue this week.

After campaigning as a staunch opponent of casinos, Morse abruptly flipped the script Monday and expressed his support for bringing a gaming facility to the former Mountain Park property owned by Eric Suher. Morse’s rationale is that, with a casino likely coming to the region anyway, it makes sense for Holyoke to try to find a way to cash in, rather than allowing Springfield to do so.

The mayor’s announcement was partially drowned out by angry residents screaming from the back of the room, who felt justifiably betrayed by Morse. His opposition to casinos was one of the things that allowed him to squeak by incumbent mayor, and casino proponent, Elaine Pluta to become the youngest elected mayor in Holyoke’s history.

It was one of the worst examples of political bait-and-switch ever seen in this area, and if you think it doesn’t matter to us here in the hinterlands, heed the words of state Gaming Commission Chairman Steve Crosby, who recently told the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce that every town in this commonwealth should prepare for the arrival of casinos, because we are all going to feel the impact — one that will only get more pronounced the farther north they come.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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