Veteran incumbent and political newcomer vie for Ward 6 votes

Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — For the first time in 16 years, Ward 6 residents have a decision to make when it comes to who will represent them on the City Council.

Incumbent Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge believes her long tenure is a plus — one that means she knows the ins and outs of city government better than most and allows her to get quick answers to questions or concerns raised by residents. In addition to her lengthy experience, she says she continues to bring energy and new ideas to the job.

Challenger Yvonne C. Keefe counters that it’s time for a new set of eyes to examine financial and other issues facing the city. She thinks 16 years is too long for one person to be on the council, and says she’d rather see councilors exit the position after three terms.

Seven weeks after a preliminary election that narrowed the field of candidates for the position to an incumbent and one challenger, voters now must decide whether to send LaBarge back for a ninth straight term or whether it’s time to turn to a new face in Keefe. In separate interviews in recent weeks, the two candidates did not mention their competitor by name, though each sought to establish why she is the best choice.

Keefe, a conservative when it comes to money matters, did not support the override mainly because she thinks Ward 6 is not getting a good enough return on its investment. She charges that the city can do a better job managing its money.

LaBarge is opposed to overrides in general, though she declined to take a public position on such a request last June. LaBarge says she wants to see the city break its habit of using overrides, and to that end, she is supporting several revenue-generating ideas.

What follows are profiles of the candidates and where they stand on some of the issues.

Marianne L. LaBarge

AGE: 68

JOB: Retired

As the council’s longest-serving member, LaBarge frequently reminds people of her experience while on the campaign trail.

“I have a strong voice and I will continue to have a strong voice,” LaBarge said. “I’ve served on nearly every committee and have come to learn city government backwards and forwards, which is very important.”

LaBarge said she’s not resting on her accomplishments, though. Instead, she’s talking with constituents about the future and what she’d like to accomplish if elected to her ninth term. Given that this fall’s election comes five months after the city approved a third override in five years, LaBarge said money is what people want to talk about. Higher property taxes, a steady increase in water and sewer rates and a proposed new stormwater fee are all major concerns for ward residents.

“The cost of living in the city is a top concern,” he said. “There’s no question about it. Seniors, the disabled and others are simply tapped out.”

LaBarge wants the mayor to develop a payment in lieu of taxes program between the city and large nonprofits such as Smith College. The program is used by some communities to offset the expense of providing services to institutions that do not pay property taxes. LaBarge points to an agreement between Rogers Williams University and the city of Bristol, R.I., as one model worth copying. It calls for the university to pay Bristol nearly millions over a 20-year period.

LaBarge supports the installation of a solar energy farm on the closed landfill off Glendale Road. She’d also like to see the city adopt an “open checkbook” website to make government more accessible and accountable, re-evaluate spending priorities and develop a long-range plan for each department.

Beyond city borders, LaBarge said she would continue to join forces with other councilors and city officials to press area legislators for a change to the local aid formula. She believes communities should be able to receive a greater percentage of the revenue generated by lottery tickets, meals and hotel taxes.

Closer to home, LaBarge vows to keep up her past practice of being available to residents around the clock and to organize community meetings on important issues. She notes that she tackles issues large and small through collaboration with the mayor, department heads and others.

“I’ll continue to be persistent, tireless and an effective councilor on behalf of my constituents,” LaBarge said.

Among her accomplishments, LaBarge is proud of the conservation of the quarry on Turkey Hill Road and efforts the city has made to conserve land in her ward; her sponsorship of an ordinance to protect drinking water and prevent expansion of the landfill over the Barnes Aquifer; formation of a neighborhood watch; and her representation during the two-year reconstruction of Route 66.

She is married to Richard LaBarge Sr. and has two grown children, Richard Jr. and Christopher.

Yvonne C. Keefe

AGE: 53

JOB: Substitute teacher, retired from National Guard

Keefe believes she can provide Ward 6 residents with a fresh perspective. Keefe believes her 20 years in the private and government sectors will bring value to the council in the areas of leadership, budgets and negotiation skills.

“When I call on people, the message is, ‘We need a change,’ ” Keefe said.

An unenrolled self-described fiscal conservative, Keefe said it’s time for the city to stop squeezing money out of homeowners. “We can’t keep doing that,” Keefe said. “It’s more and more and more. Show me where my money is going. Give me something back.”

She has repeatedly said that Ward 6 gets short-changed when it comes to a return on its tax investment, which is one reason she voted against last June’s override.

If elected, Keefe said there are several issues she would like to address.

Some of those include an analysis of a proposal to create a stormwater and flood control fund, an idea she cannot support until she has a closer look at how it will be managed. She questions the city’s handling of water and sewer enterprise funds.

“Are they making a profit by overcharging the taxpayer? I want to look at this issue,” she said.

Keefe is frustrated that families must pay to bus their children to school, which she said is dangerous and results in half-empty buses.

“As much as we would like to believe that Northampton is a safe area, we have level II and level III (sex) offenders walking the same sidewalks as our children,” Keefe said.

She believes elected officials should make busing free. While busing falls under the purview of the School Committee, Keefe said the fee is important enough to work with fellow councilors to press the committee to change its policy.

“Having this additional expense directly affects the education and safety of our children getting to school,” Keefe said.

Keefe said she would work to identify new ways both to save money and generate revenue locally.

One area she’d like to help work on is promotion of the city as a place to locate new businesses, with its plethora of refurbished mill buildings such as the old Pro Corp. space now known as the Nonotuck Mill, as a perfect corporate headquarters for larger businesses. While the city doesn’t want a big box store within its borders, Keefe believes people would support such offices. To entice them, the city should tout its natural resources, bike trails and conservation areas, and other regional attractions, she said.

“We’re almost a resort town without the resort facility,” she said. “We are an established, diversified town. We need to remarket ourselves to capitalize on these natural resources.”

Keefe also wants to study the salaries of department heads with an eye on reducing them and maintains the city should not continue positions that are funded by federal and state grants once those grants expire.

Keefe has experience with budgets, organizational management and negotiation skills from her more than 20 years in private and government sectors. She retired in 2004 from the Massachusetts Army National Guard, where she was a lieutenant colonel and chief of environmental compliance.

A substitute teacher in Northampton, Keefe also serves in a variety of volunteer roles in the community.

If elected, Keefe said she would be respectful of other people’s opinions, put others’ welfare ahead of her own and push toward what is right even if that means she stands alone.

Keefe is married to James Keefe and has two high school-age children, Caitlin, 16, and Liam, 14.

Alisa Klein

AGE: 53

ADDRESS: 18 Chestnut Ave.

JOB: Consultant for social justice organizations

Klein says it is time for Ward 7 to have a councilor who seeks divergent viewpoints and studies issues thoroughly before reaching decisions.

If elected, Klein said she would work hard to give all residents a voice and would seek to break down the “manufactured sense of division between old Hamp and newer transplants.” She said the needs and concerns of ward residents are not wildly different based on their economic status.

“That concept is being promoted and I don’t think it’s accurate,” Klein said. “It just feels important to me that the representation for this ward is as responsive and is really listening to everyone.”

A 20-year Northampton resident, including 14 years as a renter and homeowner in Leeds, Klein said she won’t point fingers and lay blame when the city is faced with a tough decision.

“I feel really strongly that we need representation that is really thinking about finding solutions and answers,” she said.

Though she supported the override measure in June, Klein said she has concerns about the city’s repeated use of the practice to plug budget gaps. She said it’s frustrating to hear multi-generation residents express fears that high taxes are pricing them or their children out of the city. She would like to work with city officials to create affordable housing for a range of incomes.

“I supported the override with real hesitation, with a real understanding that it’s an incredible hardship for a lot of people and a lot of people in this ward,” Klein said.

Klein believes the city should think in multi-faceted ways about economic development, with a special focus on transportation. She pledges to join the chorus of local and regional voices who have been lobbying the state for a change in the way local aid is distributed.

“That’s a really important goal,” she said. “We as city councilors need to work with other city councilors and selectmen as a region to get our tax dollars back.”

As a councilor, Klein said a priority would be finding new revenue to meet the city’s financial needs. She said she believes the city should continue to explore sustainability measures, starting with installation of a solar array atop the landfill, and more regionalization of services and group purchasing options.

On ward-specific issues, Klein said it’s paramount that traffic-calming measures are implemented in a few areas, especially near the new recreation fields and along Bridge Road in front of JFK Middle School.

She also supports exploring turf management that does not involve the use of chemicals.

Klein said many residents are frustrated that their concerns about what’s happening in the ward are being ignored. She would seek to change that by creating town-meeting-style gatherings where people can talk about issues.

Klein, who lives with a partner, moved to Northampton in 1988 as an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College. She owns a public policy analysis and advocacy consulting business called Alisa Klein Consulting out of her home that works on social justice, interpersonal violence prevention, and peace building issues.


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