Northampton subcommittee backs mayor’s choice for senior center director

  • Marie Westburg Submitted Photo

@BeraDunau
Published: 4/23/2018 10:07:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Despite some passionate advocacy in favor of another candidate by members of the public, a City Council subcommittee decided Monday to support the mayor’s choice for the next director of Northampon Senior Services.

The City Services Committee on Monday voted 4-0 to recommend that the full council confirm Marie Westburg for the post. Mayor David Narkewicz chose Westburg, who has served for the last seven years as the director of the Williamsburg Senior Center, for the job last month.

The decision angered many senior citizens who attended Monday’s meeting to ask the subcommittee to urge the council to reject the appointment of Westburg so that an internal candidate they prefer, Heather Cahillane, could be reconsidered for the job.

Cahillane, the assistant director of Senior Services, resigned from her position after the mayor announced his selection of Westburg. Her last day is Wednesday.

“If the mayor is doing an injustice to the population of Northampton, you should be righting it,” Harry Petrucci told the subcommittee Monday.

Marlene Marrocco, one of five Council on Aging members who resigned in the wake of the mayor’s decision, urged the committee to vote down the appointment as a way of demonstrating that it was listening to its constituents.

“Let’s take the time to re-examine what’s best for the community,” she said.

Erin Wolcott also appealed to the councilor’s position as representatives.

“The seniors of this city want Heather Cahillane,” she said.

Prior to discussing Westburg’s nomination at Monday’s meeting, committee members said their job when it comes to mayoral appointments is to give a positive, negative, or neutral recommendation to the council, which then takes an up-or-down vote.

Before introducing Westburg, Narkewicz said that a screening committee reviewed 30 applicants and forwarded four candidates to him, which he then interviewed using the same interview questions. The mayor said that the committee didn’t rank the four candidates it forwarded to him. Narkewicz then selected Westburg.

Although Narkewicz would not reveal the identities of any of the other candidates, Cahillane has confirmed that she was one of the finalists.

Narkewicz said the Council on Aging advises the senior services department, not the mayor’s office, and that it does not have a formal role in selecting the director’s position. He also said that the two Council On Aging members on the screening committee for the position served in individual capacities, not as representatives for the council.

Westburg then answered questions from committee members. She said she’s worked with Cahillane in the past.

“I really understand why people like her so much,” said Westburg, who said she would have liked having her as assistant director.

She also said that she has been able to accomplish much in Williamsburg with less resources than are available in Northampton.

“I’ve done a lot of things with very little money,” she said.

Westburg denied rumors that she was seeking to turn the senior center into a community center. She also said that she took the job in Northampton over a similar position in Belchertown because of her connections with Northampton.

“Northampton is more home to me,” she said, noting that she and her family lived in the city when they first moved to the area, and that her husband partially grew up in the city.

Ward 2 Councilor Dennis Bidwell said that there was a difference between listening and agreeing, and that based on what the mayor and Westburg had told him, he was comfortable with Westburg’s nomination.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot,” said Ward 3 Councilor James Nash, who said that it was clear that there were many people who feel strongly about Cahillane.

However, Nash noted that Westburg’s appointment was the one before them, and that the process went by the book.

Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge echoed this sentiment.

“We are interviewing Ms. Westburg,” she said.

Ward 1 Councilor Maureen Carney, the committee’s chairwoman, said she’d only consider voting down a nomination if the nominee was unqualified or if the process was unfair.

The full council will take up Westburg’s nomination on May 3.

“I’m excited about it,” said Westburg, on the prospect of being confirmed by the full council.

She also said she was looking forward to people getting to know her face-to-face.

“We’ll all feel better,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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