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Southbridge considers ways to fill panel seats; Volunteers needed for boards, committees.

Byline: Brian Lee

SOUTHBRIDGE - Should the town do more to reach out to residents to volunteer for town boards and committees? Some officials said yes when the issue was raised last week.

Others countered that people know they should go to Town Hall to find out about vacancies. They contend that people just aren't interested, as illustrated by low voter turnout at the annual town election in June. The town shouldn't cater to indifference, Town Councilor David Livengood asserted.

But efforts should be made to reach new people, including the town's growing Hispanic population, Councilors Richard J. Logan and Pamela A. Regis and resident James Sottile agreed.

More effort should go into informing the public about what the volunteer panels work on, said Ms. Regis, who mentioned there's a perception of a Good Old Boy network.

The issue surfaced at a meeting Wednesday of the Town Council's Planning and Development Subcommittee, which is recommending that Holly J. Christo fill a vacancy on the Redevelopment Authority. Amber B. Boulanger recently resigned, and Ms. Christo was the only person to submit a letter of interest in the post.

Ms. Christo lost to Richard M. Clemence in the June 24 election for one seat on the authority.Town councilors and the Redevelopment Authority are expected to vote jointly on whether to appoint Ms. Christo later this month. The subcommittee voted 2-1 to recommend her appointment. Councilors Steven S. Lazo and Mr. Livengood voted yes. Mr. Logan voted no, urging waiting two weeks so word of the vacancy could be spread.

Mr. Lazo said Ms. Christo should be rewarded for running in the election and for regularly attending authority meetings.

"She wants to delve into it and I really think she deserves a chance," he said.

Redevelopment Authority Chairman Michael J. Checkosky said the panel, which is supposed to have five members, is extremely happy Ms. Christo has stepped forward. The panel is trying to build momentum and Ms. Christo would help, he said.

The authority is working on a more than $20 million plan to change roads and widen streets behind Main Street. It's aimed at improving traffic flow and building a parking garage to make it easier to visit town, shop and walk around. There is also a historic preservation component.

Mr. Checkosky said the panel inquired about filling the void through the town clerk's office, but people haven't been beating down the door. No candidates ran for an available seat last year, he reminded.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Catherine E. Nikolla, who abstained from voting because Ms. Christo is one of her best friends, asserted a better process is needed for funneling information about vacancies to the local cable access channel and the town's web master. She said the people who repeatedly volunteer are wonderful and genuinely care about the community.

Mr. Sottile said broadcasting the vacancy on public access in English and Spanish would do no harm and would take away any appearance of cliques.

George P. Chenier, chairman of the Municipal Airport Commission, said only a small group contends there's a Good Old Boy network and those who do so are largely interested in one issue. He said his autonomous and fairly powerful commission "has to beg for members."

"People know there are opportunities out there. All you're doing is delaying an important board for a spot," he said.

Mr. Logan said low election turnout, with fewer than 1,700 of the town's 11,498 registered voters casting ballots, showed "we have to do something different. Why have a government if no one's going to participate?"

At tonight's Town Council meeting, the panel will vote to put several familiar names on subcommittees: Daniel P. Fiorelli, Evelyn Petrelli, George Parent, Gabriel Lafleche and former Councilor David Langevin. Deborah Gregoire-Lefebvre, who recently served on the Town Manager Search Committee, is being considered to fill a vacancy on the Commission on Disability. Derek Julian is a new face up for consideration on the Protection of Persons and Property subcommittee.

NAME: SOUTHBRIDGE TOWN COUNCIL; SOUTHBRIDGE REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 11, 2008
Words:672
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