LaChapelle plans outreach before taking office

  • Easthampton Mayor-elect Nicole LaChapelle shakes hands with Sarah Shapiro while greeting a crowd of people gathered at The Brass Cat, Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Newly elected Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle waves to a crowd of people gathered at The Brass Cat, Tuesday.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — Word of her win is still settling in for Mayor-elect Nicole M. LaChapelle.

“I barely got used to seeing the lawn signs,” LaChapelle said on Wednesday. She now looks to collect hundreds of blue campaign signs scattered throughout Easthampton.

Now, she’s starting to plan out what her first initiatives will be as mayor, getting prepared for the start of her two-year term as the city’s third mayor on Jan. 2, 2018.

LaChapelle garnered 53.7 percent of the vote with 2,718 ballots cast in her favor, outpolling her opponent, longtime City Councilor Joy Winnie, by 424 votes.

LaChapelle said she already has heard from some of the city’s department heads ready to meet with her and prepare for the year ahead.

For her first year, LaChapelle said she sees education being a significant focus, which includes working on improving climate and culture at the city’s schools after the critical report from the state attorney general’s office on bias-related incidents.

The project to construct a consolidated pre-K-through-Grade 8 school will go to a vote in the spring, and LaChapelle said parents and community members have already started organizing a campaign.

She said she plans to examine which sectors of the community would be disproportionately burdened by a tax increase to fund the new school, and see what the city can do to alleviate the burden.

As a voting member on the School Committee, LaChapelle will be involved in appointing a new superintendent who will replace Nancy Follansbee when she retires at the end of the school year.

“I’m certainly going to watch the process very carefully and cast as wide a net as possible,” she said.

Carrying out her campaign platforms of accessibility and transparency is important. LaChapelle said.

“There should be fairness in government,” she said. “It’s not like there’s not fairness now, but we want to ensure it.”

When it comes to the transition from one mayor to the next, the process is still new.

Mayor Karen Cadieux served for 17 years as the assistant to then-mayor Michael Tautznik, who was elected in 1996 when Easthampton went from a town form of government to a city. During that time, Cadieux said, she was appointed acting mayor numerous times. She said it was experience needed to “hit the ground running.”

Cadieux’s transition to mayor started immediately after she was elected in 2013.

Cadieux told the Gazette — on the day following the 2013 election — that she and Tautznik sat down to discuss her first task, which was choosing which capital projects the city could afford to complete in 2014.

Once she was sworn in, she simply switched offices, Cadieux said Wednesday.

When it comes to advising LaChapelle on the role of mayor, Cadieux said she will assist in any way to ensure a smooth transition. Once a mayor is in office, she said, it’s time to prepare for budget season.

“If (LaChapelle) feels a need for a meeting, I would be more than happy to meet with her,” Cadieux said.

Cadieux said she hopes the next mayor will follow through with initiatives such as the revitalization of Union Street, now in the design phase. She also hopes LaChapelle will continue so-called “roundtable discussions” where potential business owners sit down and talk with all the players involved in starting a business in Easthampton, such as the health agent and city planner.

Over the next few months, LaChapelle said, she plans to reach out and listen to residents. She’ll gather their ideas about what people would like to see change and research ideas to see which ones are workable for Easthampton.

She said she plans to hold a Facebook “Ask Me Anything” thread where people can ask her questions, and coffee hours to chat with residents, as well as going to meetings or get-togethers throughout the city, like playing cards at the senior center.

“I do plan to become the Phase 10 champion of the Council on Aging,” she said. “They play once a week — and I am good.”

LaChapelle said there have been many changes in Easthampton in the past 10 years, and more will change in the coming years, with a city ordinance in the works on recreational marijuana regulations and the need to determine the fate of three elementary school buildings if the new school is approved by voters.

“I think we have a really great class of electeds coming in to build on what’s been done for years,” she said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.