At-large Holyoke council hopefuls talk taxes, schools

  • —SUBMITTED PHOTOS —SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • Candidates for Holyoke's six at-large seats on its City Council, from top left clockwise: Joseph McGiverin, Tessa Murphy-Romboletti, Howard Greaney, Mark Chatel, Paola Ferrario and Jennifer Keitt. —SUBMITTED PHOTOS

  • JOSEPH MCGIVERIN

  • TESSA MURPHY-ROMBOLETTI

  • HOWARD GREANEY

  • MARK CHATEL

  • PAOLA FERRARIO

  • JENNIFER KEITT

Staff Writer
Published: 10/19/2021 7:13:52 PM

On Nov. 2, Holyoke residents will vote to fill six at-large seats on the City Council.

There are 11 candidates on the ballot competing for those seats, only four of whom are incumbents. On Tuesday, we published profiles of five candidates, and today we are publishing the remaining six. The candidates have been profiled in the order they appear on the ballot, which was randomly determined.

Joseph McGiverin

Joseph McGiverin is currently finishing his 42nd year on the Council. He was named acting mayor in 1991, and since then has served on the Holyoke Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (HEDIC), where he currently serves as treasurer.

“I think the areas I really want to continue working on are the finances — the budgets, trying to make ends meet with the revenue we have and still being able to provide the quality services,” he said. “That is a big part, in my opinion, of what a municipal government does.”

McGiverin began his council tenure as a ward councilor, and said that instilled in him a commitment to constituent service.

“There is no issue too big and no issue too small,” he said.

McGiverin said his work on the HEDIC has kept him in close contact with the city’s economic development and planning team, and that continuing to protect and expand the city’s business base is vital work that brings in new tax dollars and job opportunities.

Quality of life issues are also important for McGiverin, who noted that Holyoke has a high poverty rate.

“We as a city overall do a pretty good job of working with people who are in poverty,” he said. “What I’d like us to do a better job of is breaking the poverty cycle.”

McGiverin said that he hopes people look at his track record and see that he does his research on every issue.

“Every vote I take, I don’t commit myself until I know all three sides of the issue,” he said. “I think that separates me from some people’s approach to government.”

McGiverin noted that at a minimum, there will be five newcomers to the council, and potentially more. He said he would like to work with those new members as a councilor with lots of experience.

Tessa Murphy-Romboletti

Tessa Murphy-Romboletti grew up in Holyoke, where she returned after college to work for the city. Her tenure in City Hall included everything from constituent service to working in the Office of Planning and Economic Development. More recently, she has run the entrepreneurship program in Holyoke called E for All.

“A lot of those experiences really give me a unique perspective of what is working at City Hall and what is not working,” she said.

Murphy-Romboletti said that she will bring transparency and communication to the City Council, seeking to make meetings more engaging and efficient. She said the council is often dysfunctional, missing grant opportunities or deadlines to work on important policies.

“Every Holyoke resident should understand the way government works and when decisions are being made,” she said. “They should be encouraged to use their voice to have an impact on our public process.”

Murphy-Romboletti said one area of focus for her would be municipal finance. She said she supports establishing a chief financial officer position in the city — something the state has urged the city to do, but which she said the council hasn’t discussed enough. She also said she would use her experience working with entrepreneurs to make the city a better place to do business, while criticizing the council for making decisions she said negatively impact businesses.

She said she has seen a lot of political grandstanding on the council while councilors failed to get work done. She wants to bring more accountability to the body, she said.

“I have demonstrated through my professional work that I’m someone who can be trusted and someone who communicates well and makes a unique effort to bring people together of all different backgrounds and ages and different languages,” she said. “And that I think is what’s lacking on the council. There’s a divide that exists and it’s not necessary.”

Howard Greaney

Howard Greaney is a retired educator who worked for 35 years in the Holyoke Public Schools. He has been a small business owner, served six years on the city’s School Committee, and served on the City Council from 2013 to 2017 before returning in 2019.

“I think one of the major things we have to deal with is bringing more business into the city to expand our tax base,” he said. “Unfortunately, our commercial tax rate is one of the highest in the state, and that’s a deterrent for businesses coming into the community. So I’d like to do something about that.”

Greaney said he wants to work to promote the city better, keep parks and playgrounds beautiful, and keep costs down for taxpayers. He said he wants taxpayers to get “maximum efficiency” for their dollars, and that many seniors can’t afford continued increases to taxes and sewer rates.

Greaney said that taking back local control of Holyoke’s schools, which are currently under state receivership, is an important part of his platform, describing the current situation as “taxation without representation.” When he asked how he would do that, given that the City Council doesn’t have the power to do so, he said councilors should be closely monitoring the budget and loudly making the case for a return to local control.

“Because the state has almost carte blanche with power, according to the law, it’s very difficult to file legislation that would end the receivership,” he said. “We have to point out that we could do a better job here in Holyoke … than the state is doing.”

Greaney said that he always seeks input from residents and answers calls from constituents, and that his life experience makes him well qualified to address everything from youth issues to the challenges of seniors living on a fixed income like himself.

“We have quite a few problems in Holyoke,” he said. “And we have a lot of positive things going as well.”

Mark Chatel

A lifelong Holyoker, Mark Chatel has worked for the same Holyoke company, New England Archives Center, for 28 years. A Holyoke High School graduate who said he has loved being involved in youth sports in the city, Chatel said he’s never been a politician before.

“I’d like to bring a new fresh voice to the City Council,” he said.

Public safety would be a priority for Chatel, who said he would work with the police and fire departments, as well as EMTs, as a councilor. He also said he would organize meetings between at-large councilors, ward councilors and residents of each ward.

“To hear what they need,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re going to hear what they want.”

Chatel also said that he supports local control of city schools and lifting a moratorium on gas hookups currently imposed by Holyoke Gas & Electric amid a lack of pipeline capacity. When asked how he intended to address those issues, given that they are not under the control of the City Council, he said he would work with the mayor and Holyoke Gas & Electric to push the issues and advocate for change.

Chatel said he would vote as much as possible to lower tax rates in the city, “especially commercial rates for businesses to keep local businesses here in the city,” he said.

Chatel said that he watches all of the City Council’s meetings and other municipal meetings, and would be a city councilor who would “do the homework 100%.” And that means listening to constituents before taking any vote, he said.

“I’m going to vote with the residents — how they feel on the issues,” he said. “I’m going to do 100% research on every issue.”

Paola Ferrario

Born in Italy in 1963, Paola Ferrario moved to the United States when she was an 18-year-old kid who was gay and didn’t feel like she existed in Italy. She ended up graduating from Yale University and working as an artist and college professor.

After 35 years of teaching, Ferrario decided to become a real estate agent. She currently works at The Murphys Realtors. She said architecture is very important for her, and that she enjoys helping people become homeowners, which she feels is one of the best things somebody can do.

“My strength is that I’ve lived in many worlds — I’ve been a landlord, tenant and homeowner in Holyoke, so I see all the sides,” she said. “I had to adapt to a lot of culture and have often felt as an outsider.”

Ferrario said her main issues are the preservation of nature — especially Whiting Street Reservoir, the quarry on Mount Tom, the city’s parks and surrounding land — and of Holyoke’s historical buildings. She is currently the vice chair of the city’s Historical Commission.

Another key issue for Ferrario is creating a new city plan to update the current one, which she said is decades old and “terribly outdated.” She said there are great economic discrepancies between the city’s neighborhoods, and that she’s interested in working to help create a city plan that benefits all.

Ferrario said she is different from the other candidates running in the at-large race because she was not born or raised in Holyoke, though she has lived in the city for 15 years. She said that status gives her a different perspective.

“The way I put it,” she said, “I did not go through the trauma of seeing the manufacturing industry die in my town. And I can see in other people that trauma has really caused a very profound, sometimes very pessimistic way to look at things.”

Jennifer Keitt

A lifelong Holyoker, Jennifer Keitt is a paralegal who has worked for more than 20 years in legal offices. All three of her children went through the public school system, and it was when they began school that her involvement in municipal service started.

Keitt ran the parent-teacher organization at Maurice A. Donahue Elementary School, served on the schools’ Special Education Task Force and Education Equity Coalition, and was chosen as a parent representative for the local stakeholder group that convened when the state came in and placed Holyoke schools under receivership.

“Everybody talks about advocating for our public schools, but what does that look like?” she asked. “I believe I’m one of the best, if not the best candidate, running to effectively address that. I’ve been on this ride the whole time; there will be no learning curve for me.”

In addition to advocacy for the city’s public schools, Keitt said her platform includes economic development, public health and communication. She said she wants to increase homeownership and affordable housing options, and hopes to attract and support small businesses that are currently shouldering high tax rates.

Supporting the Board of Health is important to addressing everything from COVID-19 to substance abuse, Keitt said. She said she would also work to expand translation and interpretation services to all City Council meetings and minutes, and wants to be a line of communication between the city and its residents, many of whom feel like they don’t know what’s going on.

“I come from a diverse background,” Keitt said, describing herself as a mix of “new” and “old” Holyoke, and the only mother running for an at-large seat. “I was born and raised here, I have Irish running through my veins. But I’m married to someone who is of mixed race, so my children are black and white. And my father was a police officer.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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