At-large City Council candidates in Easthampton debate issues from improved communication to attracting businesses (with video)
EASTHAMPTON — Six of the seven candidates running for four at-large seats on the City Council debated issues including improved communication with residents, government transparency, attracting new businesses, education and fiscal responsibility during a nearly two-hour event Thursday night.
The four incumbents are Nathaniel P. Ziegler, 39, of 58 Maple St.; Donald L. Cykowski, 75, of 86 Pomeroy St.; Joseph P. McCoy, 55, of 11 Clapp St.; and Chester A. Ogulewicz Jr., 58, of 18 Sandra Road.
They are challenged by James “J.P.” Kwiecinski, 60, of Hannum Brook Drive; Tamara L. Smith, 40, of 103 Strong St.; and Donald C. Emerson, 66, of 459 East St.
Emerson did not attend the debate due to an illness.
The debate in City Council chambers was sponsored by the city’s Democratic Committee and Easthampton Community Access Television. Ray Drewnowski, chairman of the Democratic Committee, served as moderator.
Ziegler described the role of at-large councilors as a liaison to the residents and “a champion for the city” making sure people do not have to leave Easthampton to enjoy a thriving community or to find good schools.
Ziegler also stressed examining the parks and recreation areas in the city to see if they can be put to greater use. He said protecting natural resources and encouraging arts and entertainment are important to helping Easthampton thrive.
Two other issues Ziegler touched on were “an openness in government” as well as finding effective ways to engage the public.
On the issue of senior services Ziegler said, “We need to look at providing services to meet the needs of elderly citizens so they can stay in their homes.”
Cykowski stressed fiscal responsibility. “I think there should be no more overrides or debt exclusions,” he said.
Cykowski said that he wants a good maintenance program for the city, including a “fueling system that is open during emergencies,” such as when power goes out, so residents can obtain gasoline.
On the issue of public accessibility, Cykowski disagreed with some of the other candidates.
“I’m out every day talking to people and coming to the city office a couple time a week,” Cykowski said. “I think we are very accessible now. I don’t think we have ever neglected anybody in this town. I think people need to be more politically active. All they need to do is pick up a phone.”
Chester Ogulewicz Jr.
Ogulewicz also stressed fiscal responsibility.
In addressing how to better serve elders in the community, Ogulewicz said he would like to give a tax break to seniors who are living on limited incomes. “I think they deserve a break and it could allow them to stay in their homes,” he said.
Regarding open space, Ogulewicz said that the town should proceed carefully so as not to protect too much land and discourage businesses from building in town.
When asked if the municipal building should return to a Monday through Friday schedule, he said, “Most of the voters have a five-day work week and we need to do the same.” Municipal offices are now closed on Fridays as a cost-saving measure.
Smith agreed that a five-day schedule for municipal offices would improve communication with residents. She also supported using social media as a tool to improve communication.
Smith said that she would “love to see more recreational activities for our high school students and for our seniors.”
She added that providing benches and sidewalks and improving accessibility would create a more welcoming environment in the city.
As the only woman candidate, Smith said she would like to work toward increasing diversity in the city government. And she would like to see more intergenerational programs to strengthen the connections among residents.
McCoy said that he believes it is important to think “out of the box” on ways to expand programs the city already has started.
“It comes down to public service,” McCoy said. “The at-large councilors have a greater territory but it is still important to connect with the public, and we should initiate that contact.”
Like Ziegler, McCoy said that he supports the proposed boardwalk around Nashawannuck Pond as a way to attract people downtown.
“That would create a place for people to hang out, get a coffee, go to dinner,” he said.
Kwiecinski said that he wants to work on improving education and reaching out to parents to change the “perception” that Easthampton schools are not as good as others in the area.
“We are losing millions dollars because of school choice, and children leaving for charter schools,” Kwiecinski said.
He said he would like to see young people engaged in the community at every level.
Kwiecinski said he also would work with the new mayor to “protect our viewscapes, waterways, and open spaces.”