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Michael Sullivan new South Hadley town administrator

  • Michael Sullivan of Holyoke starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday.<br/> That job has been given increased responsibilities.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Michael Sullivan of Holyoke starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday.
    That job has been given increased responsibilities.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, on Monday starts as the new  town administrator in South Hadley.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, on Monday starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, has been the town administrator in Maynard for the past three years. On Monday, he starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, has been the town administrator in Maynard for the past three years. On Monday, he starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Sullivan, who starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday, is seen at his home in Holyoke on Friday.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Michael Sullivan, who starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday, is seen at his home in Holyoke on Friday.

    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Sullivan of Holyoke starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday.<br/> That job has been given increased responsibilities.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, on Monday starts as the new  town administrator in South Hadley.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Michael Sullivan, a former mayor of Holyoke, has been the town administrator in Maynard for the past three years. On Monday, he starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Michael Sullivan, who starts as the new town administrator in South Hadley on Monday, is seen at his home in Holyoke on Friday.<br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

SOUTH HADLEY — New Town Administrator Michael J. Sullivan has a knack for seeing the big picture and finding solutions to what might seem like insurmountable problems to others, say people who have worked closely with the former Holyoke mayor.

Sullivan, 57, of Holyoke, becomes the chief appointed official in South Hadley on Monday, the day after his three-year contract as Maynard’s town administrator ends. He was mayor of Holyoke from 2000 to 2010.

Sullivan will take over a job that pays considerably more (he will earn $118,000) and carries greater responsibility than previous South Hadley town administrators. That follows a lengthy process requiring Town Meeting action and a special election that approved revising the job.

In addition to a higher pay scale of up to $130,000, the administrator was given greater authority overseeing some town offices and handling contract negotiations with unionized town workers. The administrator is subject to oversight by the Select Board.

Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse, 24, first worked with Sullivan as a teenage advocate for LGBT rights. He said Sullivan took him under his wing, tutored him on effective communication, and later supported his decision to run for mayor. Morse became the city’s youngest mayor when he was elected in 2011 at age 21.

“He has been a mentor of mine,” Morse said in a telephone interview. “I know him well.”

Morse said one of Sullivan’s chief assets is his ability to correctly assess situations without getting sidetracked, and devise effective strategies.

“Mike’s always been good at seeing the big picture,” Morse said. “I’ve always respected his enthusiasm (for Holyoke) and his ability to create relationships.”

Praised in Maynard, Holyoke

John R. Hine, chairman of the South Hadley Select Board, said he was impressed with how Maynard officials described Sullivan’s strengths when he and Select Board member Frank J. DeToma visited the town 20 miles west of Boston.

“We heard about people who go into his office ready to throw a hammer at him and leave inviting him to dinner,” Hine said at the March 5 Select Board meeting when he and his colleagues voted unanimously to offer Sullivan the job.

Kathleen G. Anderson, president of the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce said of Sullivan, “He’s extremely smart. He’s one of the best economic developers I ever met.

“He brings passion and enthusiasm and knowledge. He’s a reader. He reads everything,” she said in a telephone interview. “I loved working with him. He’s one of my favorite people.”

Anderson, who formerly served as Sullivan’s mayoral aide and as director of the city’s Office of Planning and Development, praised her former boss for his “out-of- the-box” thinking.

Sullivan does not shy away from tackling unpopular issues, Anderson said.

Sullivan himself has referred to “some very difficult decisions” he made as Holyoke mayor, including buying a hydroelectric facility, entering a public-private partnership for the city’s wastewater treatment plant and hiring former Athol Police Chief Anthony Scott to head the city’s police department rather than someone from within departmental ranks. (Scott ended his 44-year career in law enforcement in 2011, retiring after a decade as Holyoke’s chief.)

Holyoke bought the Hadley Falls hydroelectric dam in 2001 from Holyoke Water Power. The agreement, which also included some other holdings, cost $17.55 million.

“It was costly at the time. But he kept moving forward,” Anderson said. “It was one of the best moves the city ever made.”

Although the deal was criticized, Sullivan said it meant that Holyoke could provide cheap and environmentally friendly hydroelectric power to residents and attract new development. It ultimately led to the new $90 million Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center that opened in the Paper City’s former industrial core late last year, he said.

The center, a collaboration among the state, high-tech industry, public and private colleges — including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — provides computing technology that will be used to conduct off-site research in the fields of meteorology, genomics, and biological and environmental research.

Sullivan said he worked for years to attract researchers to the area and line up state backing for the project, after hearing about the educational consortium’s plans to build a high-performance computing center.

“They were all set to build in North Carolina,” he said. The administration of former Gov. W. Mitt Romney “wasn’t interested at all” in the Holyoke site, Sullivan recalled. But he persevered and eventually won the backing of Gov. Deval Patrick.

“I’m very proud of that. It’s a success,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also was criticized for supporting the 2005 agreement with Aquarion Operating Systems of Bridgeport, Conn., that gave the private company a $174 million, 20-year contract to upgrade and operate Holyoke’s wastewater treatment plant.

Sullivan sees it as a practical, public-private partnership that gives Aquarion the opportunity to run the treatment plant in a cost-saving manner while addressing Holyoke’s need to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency orders to reduce overflows from an aging sewer system into the Connecticut River.

Successes in Maynard

Sullivan also described his more recent successes in Maynard that include turning a $750,000 deficit in 2010 into $2.9 million surplus, building a 1.6 megawatt solar array on a former landfill that will produce $125,000 in annual revenue, and helping attract a proposed $35 million mixed-use development.

Maynard has some similarities with South Hadley. The eastern Massachusetts community has 10,000 residents and an annual budget of $35 million. South Hadley has 17,500 residents and an annual budget of about $41 million. Both use a Town Meeting form of government, unlike Holyoke which is a city of about 40,000 residents with an elected mayor and city council.

Sullivan said he has come to appreciate the hands-on aspect of direct representation embodied in town meetings. “It’s the last bastion of democracy in America,” he added.

Plans in South Hadley

While Sullivan is reluctant to talk in detail about his immediate goals, when queried by Select Board member Marilyn G. Ishler about his tentative plans he said revitalizing South Hadley Falls is crucial. “We need to make the Falls area stronger, more vital,” he said.

He also pledged to form a stronger bond between the rest of town government and the schools to seek efficiencies. Juggling residents’ need for municipal services with the cost of providing them is always a challenge, he said and keeping a stable municipal workforce means offering employees incentives without throwing the town’s payroll out of whack.

Government needs to be “more nimble” in finding solutions than private business because government operations must adhere to strict budgets and keep taxes low while keeping the lights on at Town Hall, Sullivan said.

Whatever the challenge, “your first reaction can’t always be a traditional one,” Sullivan said.

Morse said he is “very excited and proud” to see his political mentor take the job as chief municipal executive in neighboring South Hadley, which shares many “familial bonds” with Holyoke.

Morse said he looks forward to collaborating with Sullivan on ways the two municipalities might jointly tackle government operations to save money and improve services.

“It’s a conversation worth having,” Morse said. “I have no specifics at this time. But I know our success is codependent.”

Etta Walsh can be reached at ewalsh.gazette@gmail.com.

Related

Facts about Michael J. Sullivan

Friday, March 29, 2013

AGE: 57 ADDRESS: 5 Pheasant Drive, Holyoke TITLE: Beginning Monday, South Hadley town administrator EDUCATION: Holyoke High School; bachelor’s degree in public policy from the University of Massachusetts PREVIOUS JOBS: Maynard town administrator, 2010 to 2013; Holyoke mayor 2000 to 2010 OTHER EXPERIENCE: Chairman, Pioneer Valley Transit Authority advisory board, 2008 to 2010; member, Local Government Advisory Commission from 2007 … 0

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