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Marc Strange: The State of Our Town

How are we doing in Longmeadow? The answer to that question really depends on your expectations and perspective, but, by and large, we’re in good shape. Our public schools remain a market differentiator within the Pioneer Valley. And, of course, Longmeadow’s peerless physical beauty with its reverence for open spaces, deep setbacks on Longmeadow Street, and grand, towering trees can still transport you back to colonial New England. Why do our schools perform so well? And why do we continually lead the way in community development programming like Solarize Mass? Leadership.

For all of its unique qualities, Longmeadow is like most other cities and towns in Massachusetts in this way: when it comes to local government, we are apathetic. And, truth be told, I have been guilty as well. Notwithstanding public meetings that are lightning rods for media attention, you probably cannot find more than a handful of town residents who can speak intelligently about, for example, the most recent Select Board or School Committee meetings. We are busy filling our time with other activities that bring us joy or increase our quality of life. And the subject matter can be dreadfully boring unless you have an interest in the agenda item or have a context for issues like whether to combine (“regionalize”) our health department with East Longmeadow’s.

I actually live in the municipal government world every day; so, I find some of these discussions more interesting than many but I completely understand the general public’s apathy toward settling into an episode of “Select Board” on LCTV. Having worked in and been around local government for some time now, I see how it works. I also understand that there’s a profound danger in the apathy.

Inherent in our lack of involvement is an unspoken presumption that our leaders are taking care of it. That the people, who are charged with making good decisions and ensuring that the arc of our town remains progressive, are doing their jobs. That includes committee volunteers along with municipal and school employees, managers, administrators, and elected officials. Left unchecked, the loudest, most determined voices can set policy and even hire-and-fire key personnel regardless whether those policies or decisions are best for the town. Fortunately, we have strong leaders who do their jobs everyday even if we aren’t always paying attention.

Most of us, hopefully, are beyond the drama that recently unfolded between the former School Committee and Superintendent Marty O’Shea and the resulting collateral damage. And I have no interest in furthering that discussion, but I was an ardent supporter of Marty O’Shea’s and remain so. I have the benefit of interacting with him outside of the Longmeadow context and I have always found him to be gentlemanly and kind. A man of integrity who invests in his family and defaults to doing the right thing. And an exceptional leader. But a leader is only as strong as those (s)he leads. So, when the teachers and principals came out en masse to support Marty my personal respect for him was validated. We are lucky to have him leading our district and I hope he sticks around for a while. No situation is perfect, but our teachers, staff, and administrators appear inspired by his leadership and these are the people directly impacting our kids every single day and—from a parent’s point of view—nothing is more important. And I would be remiss if I did not say that, in our relatively limited experience (we have a 4th grader and a 1st grader at Wolf Swamp Road School), the teachers, staff, and administrators that we have encountered have been outstanding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all again for their tireless dedication to our kids, our district, and our town.

I love my day job. As the Director of Planning and Community Development for the Town of Agawam, I get to be involved in discussions about all of kinds of issues, projects, and programs that impact Agawam. As a municipal government official, you are on the front lines. Residents feel the direct impact of the good and the bad in every municipality and they have access to local officials. So, we hear about it. And we do our best to navigate through that entire process, which itself could be the subject of a series of columns. Suffice to say that municipal employees and administrators have great responsibilities and are accountable to their constituencies unlike other levels of government. As a result, healthy communities are led by strong people and we are fortunate to employ an exceptional Town Manager.

In Longmeadow, the Town Manager is also the head of Planning and Community Development; so, Stephen Crane and I bump into each other occasionally at regional events and occasionally work on projects together, like the town’s effort to retrofit its streetlights with LED lights. Rest assured, Stephen Crane is a loud, informed, resolute voice for Longmeadow on both the state and local levels. I have witnessed him challenge state and local officials multiple times on issues like unfunded mandates and fair distribution of casino mitigation funds. Stephen knows his stuff and his ability to articulate his concerns is peerless. And his concerns are our concerns. He speaks like both a steward of our town and a resident. My fear, though, is that we may someday face the same situation that we recently endured with Dr. O’Shea. All relationships come to an end and so will this one at some point but hopefully not prematurely. Stephen Crane deserves our gratitude for his service and advocacy on our behalf. We are a better town because of it.

So how are we doing? We have unusually qualified, reliable leadership on both the school and town sides.We have an aesthetically beautiful town with the opportunity for a high quality of life. We are soon building a much-needed Senior Center and a new DPW building. Things are good. Are there issues? Of course. We have smaller issues that arise all the time. We are also facing increasingly high property taxes and hitting our tax ceiling. Nevertheless, I feel fortunate to live in Longmeadow. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

– Marc Strange lives in Longmeadow with his wife and two children. He is an attorney and a municipal department head. Marc volunteers his time coaching youth football, basketball, and baseball. He is also the President of the Longmeadow Youth Football Association and a candidate for the Longmeadow Select Board. His email address is marcstrange@yahoo.com. Opposing viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged. Please email Letters to the Editor at pressreleases@thelongmeadownews.com.