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In The Arena

In the Arena: Taking a special interest

Some of the county’s political heavyweights have apparently joined the public relations battle to prevent a diversion of services from Baystate Franklin Medical Center to the company’s main facility in Springfield.

Last week’s public demonstration at the Greenfield hospital drew the usual union and medical personnel, as well as incumbent state Reps. Paul Mark and Denise Andrews. But also conspicuous by their presence were Franklin County Register of Probate John F. Merrigan and current Franklin County Sheriff Chris Donelan, both past representatives of the 2nd Franklin District.

“This is a very important community resource and we need to protect it,” Merrigan said, shortly before addressing the crowd.

Ironically enough, those sentiments were echoed by Baystate Director of Governmental Relations Steven Bradley, who observed the spectacle from the hospital’s parking lot.

“I think we all want the same thing, which is to protect this hospital and expand services,” Bradley said. “But, I tell you, this kind of thing (the demonstration) doesn’t help.”

Bradley says one of the keys to expanding services at any hospital, especially a rural one, is the ability to attract good doctors, something that isn’t made any easier by negative publicity.

“When we contact a doctor to come here, the first thing they are going to do is go to Google and do some investigating about the community,” Bradley said. “And when all they see are stories like this, it makes it that much harder to convince them to come here.”

One of the things fueling the community concerns over this alleged southbound resource diversion is the hospital’s ongoing contract negotiations with the nursing union, that continues to be hung up over the issue of forced overtime. The indications are that some progress has been made on that front, but not enough to get a deal signed.

In the meantime, the popcorn headlines continue to pile up as the collective community voice gets louder and louder on one of the few issues on which everyone seems to fundamentally agree.

Very sad.

Autopilot tax increase

Beacon Hill Democrats, including some of our own, continue to be in heavy spin mode regarding the latest efforts to take more of our hard-earned money.

This week, the price of a pack of cigarettes went up by $1, and the price of a gallon of gas by 3 cents as part of a “compromise” tax package approved by the General Court’s Democratic supermajority.

While the tobacco hike is the more Draconian of the two, it is the gas tax that has some people up in arms, specifically the section of the law that ties future hikes to the rate of inflation, that some conservatives argue is tantamount to “taxation without representation,” because it ensures that the Legislature will never have to have another public debate or vote on the matter.

“That’s true, but there was not a political consideration here,” Senate Majority Leader and Senate President-In-Waiting Stan Rosenberg said. “People were saying that this was stupid to try and pretend that could keep up with our maintenance program with revenues declining and costs of that maintenance going up.”

Rosenberg says this isn’t the first time this change has been discussed, but it is the first time it actually passed.

“In fact, had we indexed the last time we raised the gas tax, there would have been no increase this time because there would have had sufficient funds to do the work we needed to do,” Rosenberg added.

He may be right, but there does seem to be something fundamentally wrong with the idea of putting a tax increase on autopilot, with no mechanism for the people to have a say in stopping it.

The right call

From the “credit where it is due” file — it looks like the town of Greenfield won’t be suing itself over a pair of aborted Planning Board appointments.

To be more specific, the Greenfield Town Council will not be pursuing a legal challenge to Mayor Bill Martin’s last-minute decision to pull the appointments of board alternates Wilson Roberts and George Toloumtzis in retaliation for the council’s refusal to reappoint Planning Board member James Allen.

“I’ve been told that it is quite possible that I could receive a different opinion regarding the mayor’s decision to withdraw those appointments, but that would require a legal action” Council President Mark Wisnewski said. “I have decided that is not in the best interests of Greenfield.”

That was Wisnewski’s first official decision as president, and I’m not sure he could have made a better one, especially when you consider how easily he could have ginned this up into a controversy, one that would have scored him major political points with a segment of the voting public.

In the end, Wisnewski put the best interests of the town first, and, in the final analysis, that’s what we should expect from our community leaders.

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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