Monday, April 6, 2009

Not in South Hadley

UPDATE: 8:45 PM Results are in and no BIG surprise:
Mayor/Council loses in a landslide Yes 1815, No 2938 and Fire District merger by a fair amount 2250Voting Yes and 2522 "No" for a merger.
So based on lawn signs alone I would project that once again the attempt to professionalize South Hadley government from part-time volunteers--Town Meeting and Select Board—to a more modern, accountable Mayor/Council will go down to defeat in today’s vote.

As too will the question of merging two Fire Districts (each with its own expensive bureaucratic overhead)

Change is indeed hard.

While I think merging Fire Districts in South Hadley, like closing Amherst’s Marks Meadow Elementary School create significant cost savings (and would support both if I had duel citizenship), I would not support the merging of a Police Chief and Fire Chief in the form of a Public Safety Director, which apparently--now that both our Chief's have announced their retirements--Amherst is considering.

First of all, police and fire have vastly different cultures (even though both involve public service, sometimes at great personal cost). And since these jobs involve routine activities that could lead to death, the rank-and-file need to have great faith in their leadership.

Police who perceive a Public Safety director as being more Fire Department oriented are not going to have great faith and trust in such a person thereby diminishing moral; and if firefighters perceive the person as too Police orientated then it will be the same.

And chances are the town would hire an Assistant Public Safety Director anyway to oversee one or the other disciplines, so you may as well have two separate Chiefs each having come up in the culture.

When Barry Del Castilho first came to Amherst in the early 1980’s from North Carolina one of the very first things he tried to do as town manager was to merge Police and Fire under one leader as well as having the front line troops perform both functions.

He was almost laughed out of town; and he never again brought up the subject over his twenty+ years of dictatorship.
Interestingly current South Hadley Town Manager Barry Del Castilho told a Longmeadow Charter Commission back in 2003 that he preferred a Mayor/Council/City Manager form of government. And of course I biked by Ms. Awad's house and she has one of those ubiquitous yellow "Vote No" to the mayor lawn signs on her front yard (gotta wonder if she is still registered to vote in Amherst).


Anonymous said...

Professionalism, give me a break. Sonny Bono was a mayor. And accountable as it applies to mayors usually means they are heading to jail. There is probably no more corruptible public figure than a small town mayor due to the amount of power they wield and the influence that developers and other special interests usually have with them. You hate the current form of government so much (which I don't love very much either) that you are completely blind to the reality of small town governance. It is too often bought and paid for.

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, but I speak as an “insider” who has 15 l-o-n-g years experience as a Town Meeting member; and assuming the School Committee overturns the previous (what’s their names?) School Super’s ‘Trespass Notice’ and assuming Anne Awad doesn’t have me arrested for cycling by her South Hadley house on a public road this past weekend, I will continue to serve out my 3-year-term.

How about tweaking the current system a bit. Since it takes a 3 out of 5 vote of the Select Board to hire or fire a Town Manager, why not have a Referendum vote of the people, say, every two years. And if 60% say fire him/her, then we start looking for a new Town Manager. Would also be a good idea for School Super as well.

Ed said...

Larry, if this was the 1950s, and if Amherst wasn't a college town, you would be very right about the fire/police division. The fire department threw the wet stuff on the hot stuff while the police went out looking for bad guys to beat up (or just arrest).

And as an aside - keep this in mind - the NY Port Authority combines Police and Fire/Crash Rescue into one outfit with the unofficial motto of "guns & hoses".

Remember too that in many cities, including Boston, the ambulance/EMT service was run by the POLICE, not the FD. And in our modern drug-invested world with all kinds of crazies, one can argue that police training is far more valuable than fire training to an EMT.

So what does the average Amherst police officer do in a year? My guess is that about a third of it is the traditional 1950's look-for-bad-guys, a third is community policing and human development (including all the noise complaints and such) and a third is medical emergencies. The latter ranging from being the first on the scene of a MVA to those poor guys who went through the door and shot the perp in Milton as the perp was beheading his sister. Along with providing defense for the FD in hostile situations.

And the fire department -- a century ago, 90% of the time they were out fighting chimney fires. Now it is about 2/3 medical calls with the remainder being a mix of assisting the cops at MVAs, fire prevention and the occasional working structure fire.

And then there is the homeland security stuff, being done by the FD but more logically a police function.

And then the centralized dispatch and the combined 911 phone number. That alone was a big issue in some rural towns (cops don't understand firefighting) until the fire department realized that a police car can travel upwards of TWICE the speed of a fire truck and the cops can be standing there and have the hydrant tapped and hose charged before you even are out of the truck. (Even better, in the winter they can have it dug out.)

It makes sense to have EMS combined. It even makes more sense to do so in a college town.

LarryK4 said...

Ain't gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

wanna put some $money$ on that?

LarryK4 said...

And I'm sure because of the 'Code of Anons' you would really come out from behind your computer to pay off that bet, eh?

Combined Regional Dispatch will happen, Umass and Amherst PD actually combining (with APD in charge) could happen, Marks Meadow will close, Cherry Hill will close, but monkeys will teach classes at Amherst College before one person runs both Amherst police and fire.

Anonymous said...

If only you'd make sense Ed.

Ed said...

APD will never be in charge of the UMPD. Think Navy and Marines, think Navy Air and Air Force.

It will never happen -- there might be a joint command based on equality and rotating command but you will never EVER see the APD in command of the UMPD. Ever.

There are issues of state soverignty here and go talk to the basic Statie about how he/she/it is willing to answer to his command staff and the Governor.

It is not going to happen. You do not understand the UMPD, or the difference between being a municipal employee versus being a state employee...

Ed said...

Correction: answer to anyone OTHER THAN his MSP command structure and the Governor.

Anonymous said...

"Umass and Amherst PD actually combining (with APD in charge)"


You lost all credibility on that one. That's never going to happen. It's never even going to be discussed.

Anonymous said...

Cherry Hill is very close to break even so it's not closing. Cuts are going to be in areas that actually save more substantial money. Marks Meadows saves hundred of thousands. Cherry Hill is not closing to save $20 grand. Better to dismantle LSSE with its $500k budget.

Anonymous said...

Residents who don't vote in town elections need to understand: whenever there are cuts to be made, the first impulse in many of the leaders who get elected in these low-turnout votes in Amherst is to look first at public safety to make them. It's a tradition.

I understand that Ms. Stein was talking about police cruisers (or, rather not purchasing a cruiser) the other night in Select Board.

The axiom in Amherst politics is: nobody cares about public safety, much of what happens there involves human behavior we'd rather not think about, so nobody fully understands what's needed in that area, and it's politically risk-free to try to save a few bucks there.

There's simply no political constituency for spending on public safety in Amherst. Until, of course, you need help.

Rich Morse

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