Friday, April 20, 2012

Where’s The Beef?

Ken O’Brien

We’re a little more than two months away from the annual Southbridge town election.

Thus far six people have taken out papers to run for town council; incumbents Denise Clemence, David Livengood and Lawrence Spinelli and newcomers Jean Heid, Shaun Moriarty and Amelia Peloquin.

While few people take an interest in elections until several weeks in advance, it is time to start to demand that candidates offer us more than the vague and pious platitudes that have dominated campaigns in the past. 

For far too long the public has accepted the vapid pabulum of office-seekers who talk about being pro-business, favoring openness and accountability, seeking more civil conduct and keeping spending under control and taxes down.

In the end we’ve seen just the opposite.

It is time to demand concrete platforms from candidates that will state specifically what they will do to accomplish those goals.

Two candidates, Shaun Moriarty and Amelia Peloquin, have made official announcements of their candidacy.

However, neither has advanced a specific program of what they will do if they are elected.

As an illustration of what I am talking about I’ve taken the comments made by the current incumbents in The Southbridge Evening News in the week prior to the election that led to their present position.

I’ll leave it to the reader to judge the extent to which these comments conveyed any real sense of why they should have been elected or constituted any meaningful indication as to what they have really done while in office.

Councilor Denise Clemence, Southbridge Evening News, June 15, 2009
“Although I’ve never opted to get involved in politics, it’s just like the community service I’ve already done,” she said. “I see there’s a need for forward-thinking people that will truly represent the citizens and their desires.”

Since she’s part of the family that runs Hyde Manufacturing, it’s not surprising Clemence is very pro-business. To her, the town needs to be “open to just about anything “and particularly needs to develop the industrial park.

“We need every-collar work here. We just need people who want to live here,” she said. “Southbridge is now off the table, and we need to put it back on. If we don’t do any of it, there’s no potential for anything.”

Likewise, she sees an opportunity for environmental and economic concerns to work together in various ways in Southbridge. One way is to encourage reuse of vacant spaces at American Optical and elsewhere. Additionally, although she advocates getting “beyond the landfill” (the slogan of the Future of Southbridge group she and others recently founded), Clemence believes that facility can provide money for schools, health care, public works and other needs. One way is by tapping the energy potential of its methane, which could produce “conceivably large” revenues, she speculated.

“I hate the idea we have a landfill, but it wasn’t my decision,” Clemence said. “We can’t turn our back on it, so can we make lemonade out of lemons?”

Equally important is the school project, for which Clemence supports a new middle/high school combination.

Clemence has similar concerns about the fire station and ongoing DPW cleanup, and wants to learn more about the issues around each. The latter, she noted, is one of several “important areas we should be focused on” when public health is discussed besides the landfill.

Some of the other things she brought up during a three-hour interview were her belief in a need for “decorum” at council meetings, a wish to increase awareness and use of the recycling program, praise for the “talented individuals” in the town’s workforce and Southbridge’s existence as “the epitome of the melting pot,” and the need for voters to hold officials “accountable for actions and inaction.”

Councilor David Livengood, Southbridge Evening News, June 18, 2009
To Livengood, the biggest issue of this year’s election is the need to bring business to town.

“I see no bad business for Southbridge — small business, large business, we’ll talk to all of them,” he said, but noted the town is most likely to attract start-up firms, in part because it’s not on a major highway.

He’s unabashedly a supporter of creating the industrial park, arguing that “lots of land in town really isn’t feasible to develop”…. To be specific, he thinks the town shouldn’t be the landlord there; it should sell parcels and let the companies build for themselves.

…Livengood sees the town’s present political situation as a difference in opinion between some longtime residents and newer folks who “have a better view” of the town’s potential. While some people frequently raise issues of what the town used to be like in the AO years and decry its present, he argues it’s “a matter of perspective — it’s not as bad as people think.”

He supports improving the town Web site, promoting mandatory recycling and alternative energy, getting the minority communities involved, finding ways to build a new school and fire station, creating the rail trail plus riverside and reservoir parks, selling more water within limits, and using the “beautiful downtown,” landfill and other assets to the town’s benefit.

“We just have to be creative and have people willing to back it up,” he said. “It’s not always politically correct to endorse taxing, but if you want something, you’ve got to pay for it.”

Councilor Lawrence Spinelli, Southbridge Evening News, February 11, 2011

To Larry Spinelli, the Town Council really needs to become a role model for Southbridge,….
“What we need is a two way street of communication and education where people are willing to listen and find common ground,” he said. “… I’m hoping my setting an example will be a big step to that.”

He said everything from taxes to spending to business development is on the table since the next two years are likely to be tough ones.

“I don’t want to pay a penny more [in property taxes] … but we have all of these things [community needs] that pull against us,” he said. Pledging to “look at every expenditure right down to the minute penny,” he noted budgeting isn’t a once-a-year-and-it’s-done issue — it’s something the council should watch all the time.

One issue will be how to save money and resources; that’s where he sees the utility of expanding the landfill. He said people misunderstood what he was saying at last week’s debate — he’s not looking to expand the tonnage, but to expand the landfill so that it will be available for town use “for many years to come.” After that’s done, he added, “we need to look at what we’re putting in it,” improve recycling systems to take reusable stuff out of it and use the landfill gas for energy, with the council playing a key role in promoting the necessary research.


  1. Who is Jean Heid?

    1. See the video of the Southbridge Town Council Meeting of January 23, 2012, at the time stamp 37 minutes into the meeting (on the video seen as 7:44pm) at:

  2. Ken, thanks for the painful process of skmming through a Town Council video. Next time, would you suggest we gargle on broken glass?

    I don't know Jean Heid at all, but, and correct me if I'm wrong, the banks would be the ultimate benefactor of a house auction, with the town recouping, potentially, the taxes owed to it?

    That's not a plan, that's speculation, and not accurate to boot.

    How about this town stop trying to figure out how to make a false business park work (it won't), and focus on substantial cuts in unnecessary positions, selling off of any and all town owned property, and finding ways to stop spending so that we can stop raising taxes?

    The answer is austerity and people that can think outside of the box to bring prosperity to this town. The idea wasn't worth my time going 37 minutes into another cluster of a meeting.


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