Easthampton mayor looks to Israel for pointers

  • Then-mayoral candidate Nicole LaChapelle speaks on the steps of Old Town Hall in Easthampton, June 20, 2017.  STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 12/12/2018 1:23:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Tel Aviv, the Gaza Strip and Ramallah are among the sites that Mayor Nicole LaChapelle is visiting as part of her 10-day trip to Israel with nearly a dozen other elected officials from Massachusetts.

“It’s to learn how to provide a better quality of life for everyone in the municipality,” LaChapelle said about the trip, sponsored and largely funded by the non-profit Combined Jewish Philanthropies (JCRC) of Greater Boston.

Billed by JCRC as an “in-depth look into the economic, political, and security challenges and successes facing Israeli society,” LaChapelle said the trip is an opportunity to learn “best practices” from other Massachusetts officials as well as those from Israel. Among the people she said she hoped to learn from are entrepreneurs, business leaders, elected officials, security experts, professors, and medical professionals.

Issues facing Easthampton – such as a need for affordable housing, more public transportation, and improved infrastructure – are not unique to the city, said LaChapelle who left for Israel last week.

“It doesn’t matter where a municipality is – what are the best backbone practices that are successful for those communities?” LaChapelle said.

One example LaChapelle provided was the possibility of River Valley Co-op expanding into the former Fedor Oldsmobile Pontiac car dealership on Route 10. If the co-op is granted a special permit from the city’s Planning Department, LaChapelle said she would see a heightened need for public transportation with the influx of new employees and customers at that location.

As mayor, LaChapelle sees her role as facilitating economic development while addressing the public’s needs. With an investment by the co-op in the community, she said hopes to learn how other municipalities improve public transportation when funding from the state is inadequate.

By meeting “face-to-face” with officials from other areas in the state and from Israel, LaChapelle said she can learn how find a “happy medium” between the private sector and municipal policies to support investments.

LaChapelle said she also hopes to convince at least one business leader in Israel to move to Easthampton during her trip, noting that four percent of Israel’s total gross domestic product go to Massachusetts businesses based on a 2016 study by Stax, an international research firm.

Addressing the costs of her trip, LaChapelle wrote on Facebook that, “Absolutely no taxpayer dollars or city money are used for this trip. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) provides funding for the majority of the trip, and any other expenses are covered by me personally.”

LaChapelle’s trip to Israel comes less than two weeks after Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and Police Chief Jody Kasper cancelled Kasper’s planned trip to Israel where the police chief planned to train with that country’s security forces. The decision to cancel the trip was made after local residents, including members of the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace, raised concerns over the trip, saying the training – organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL – raised human rights concerns.

LaChapelle said that her trip differed from Kasper’s because “the agenda is not focused on policing.”

LaChapelle stated that she filed an ethics disclosure with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission two weeks prior to the trip. The full cost of the trip is about $4,500, she said.

Other municipal officials joining LaChapelle include Springfield City Councilor Justin Hurst, Boston City Councilors Andrea Campbell, Kim Janey, Mark Ciommo, Edward Flynn, and officials from Quincy, Brookline, Randolph, and Melrose.

LaChapelle will also visit Jerusalem, either the Lebanon or Syrian border, Nazareth and the Dead Sea, among other locations.

The mayor returns to work at the Municipal Building in Easthampton on Monday, Dec. 17.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com
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