When Mayor Michael Albano was asked last month if he would resign amid the flap over the reassignment of embattled former MCDI director and police commissioner Gerald Phillips, he said such a step would serve no useful purpose.

We see things differently.

Resigning wouldn’t serve Albano — who is still looking for his next job — or his friends and political allies, and maybe that’s what the mayor was referring to when he made that statement. But it would serve the city very well.

This is a difficult time for Springfield, with hard decisions to be made in the coming months about budgets, layoffs, and maintaining vital services. The person leading the city through this white water should be respected by the city’s residents and other appointed and elected leaders — and he should be a true leader. And right now, Albano simply doesn’t deserve that respect, and for that reason, he cannot effectively lead.

Indeed, when we wrote last month that Albano’s apparent disregard for the city and its voters was bad for the community and bad for business, and that his lame-duck administration was sapping strength from the city, we didn’t think things could get much worse. We were wrong.

The mayor’s reassignment of Phillips, who has been indicted on a number of federal charges, including intimidating a witness, to the Holyoke office of that job-training agency has, in fact, made things much worse.

That move has made it clear to just about everyone that Albano is far more interested in making sure that his good friend has a paycheck than he is about what’s best for Springfield and Holyoke. And what scares everyone — or should, anyway — is the fact that Albano still has nearly eight more months in office.

The Phillips situation has prompted many city councilors to propose a no-confidence vote. Is one really needed? We believe that an unofficial no-confidence vote has already been taken by the city’s residents and its business community.

And it’s been well-earned. Over the past few years, close to a dozen members of this administration have been indicted on charges that vary in description, but all boil down to abuse of authority, behavior sanctioned by Albano. And while Mayor Mike has not been indicted on any charges yet, he is ultimately responsible for what has happened on his watch.

Albano’s tenure in office has been in many ways like that of a crime boss.

While he may not have committed the actual misdeeds, he created and condoned an environment in which members of the ’family’ could abuse justice and break laws. And that they surely did. Albano’s legacy will be one of disgrace and corruption.

The depth of the credibility problem now facing Springfield was made evident at last month’s trade show put on by the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield. This is an event always dominated by talk of the economy — where it is and where it’s likely to go. This year, the economy took a back seat. Actually, it was put in the trunk, as all the talk centered around the Phillips reassignment and when, not if, the mayor will be indicted.

Business owners speculated that the ongoing federal probe, the resulting indictments, and the embarrassment all this has brought to the city have done more to harm Springfield than any bad economy or military conflict ever could. While this might be a stretch, there is no doubt that Albano is doing the city more harm than good remaining in office.

In the final analysis, we believe it is time to move Springfield forward. That’s now, not next January. The FBI can help by moving this investigation along. It has had nearly three years to build its case, and we suggest that it shift into a higher gear. The longer people in Springfield have to speculate about who will be indicted next, the longer it will take to return this city’s full focus to the pressing issues facing it.

And Albano can help by understanding that he can no longer do anything positive for Springfield. He has become a liability and, to a growing number of residents, a pariah. With every move Mayor Mike makes, people will wonder if he’s just taking care of his friends or quieting someone who may have something to tell the FBI. And that’s something the city simply doesn’t need.

If the mayor really wants to do what’s best for the city, he’ll step aside now.

Sections Supplements
A panel of business and academic leaders has determined that the state’s court system is ’mired in confusion’ and in need of sweeping reforms. But achieving those changes — which begin with clearer administrative authority and tougher performance standards — won’t be easy.

Discussions of legal issues often tend toward excessive wordiness. This one, however, got right to the point.

By blasting the Commonwealth’s judicial system as being "mired in confusion" and dysfunctional in its management structure, a panel called The Visiting Committee on Management in the Courts might have raised a few eyebrows, but didn’t shock too many observers of the courts.

How to fix the courts’ problems, however, is where differences of opinion begin.

The Visiting Committee, a panel of business and academic leaders appointed by Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Mitchell — with the backing of the state Legislature and Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration — is calling

for a sweeping program to repair the system’s inefficient workings. The strategy includes installation of a clearer administrative authority, tougher performance standards for lagging courthouses and employees, and a more disciplined budget process.

The recommendations all indicate that inefficiency is the problem, but to suggest that this stems from the different methods of doing business from district to district might be a mistake, said attorney Nancy Frankel Pelletier, a partner and member of the Executive Committee with Robinson Donovan, P.C. in Springfield.

"There is generally complete inconsistency in terms of how the courts are managed, and that’s at all levels. Each county essentially handles its business differently," Pelletier said. "Obviously, some people at the top feel that doesn’t make any sense.

"However," she continued, "frankly, I’ve found over the years that the courts that are the most autonomous do business more efficiently that those governed from on high. Inconsistency might not be a negative thing."

What is hurting the system, she and other lawyers assert, is a badly funded system that leaves courts hurting for key personnel — and backs up the process for plaintiffs and defendants who deserve prompt service. But that’s an old story, and it’s not one that’s bound to improve as Romney seeks to make statewide cuts in order to close a $3 billion state budget shortfall.

The Visiting Committee’s report isn’t the first of its kind, legal experts say, and it won’t be the last. And addressing its sweeping proposals might be a losing proposition without the funds to back up the effort. If the courts are indeed drowning in inefficiency, they tell BusinessWest, this report may be a cry for help, but, under the current economic circumstances, it isn’t exactly a life preserver.

Serious Indictment

The report does aim to be just that, however, by aggressively detailing a number of problems plaguing the courts and outlining possible solutions. Chaired by J. Donald Monan, chancellor of Boston College, the committee recognized "pockets of excellence" in the system, but said that, for the most part, constituents are not getting the justice they deserve because of inefficiency and slow case resolution.

"Today, the courts of Massachusetts are mired in managerial confusion," the report says. "The impact of high-quality judicial decisions is undermined by high cost, slow action, and poor service to the community."

That managerial chaos means court personnel and managers don’t know where to turn for guidance, while reporting lines are vague at best, the report asserts, adding that the situation could be remedied by increasing management experience in the Judiciary administration. That concept met with mixed reviews locally.

According to Paul Rothschild, a partner with Bacon & Wilson P.C. in Springfield who specializes in civil litigation, studies have shown that placing management of the court system in the hands of judges has not worked.

"The Judiciary is not the appropriate party and is not trained and capable of managing the system," Rothschild said. "It should be run by managers with some type of management experience. The system is in disarray, and it needs some type of professional management — and some clear financial support from the Legislature and the governor to put it together. The goal is to find the most efficient, effective way of running the courts, and we clearly don’t have that now."

However, Pelletier said, it’s difficult for managers to have a full understanding of the system without legal expertise. "There are those, and Gov. Romney might be one of them, who think we need a professional manager, not a judge or lawyer, to manage judges and lawyers," she said. "But I don’t think that will work because, to properly manage the system, I think you have to have a complete understanding of how justice is administered from within."

The panel also took the judicial system to task for how inefficiently resources are allocated. The committee recommended that budget and staffing requests and allocations be made on demonstrated needs, not history, and that the budget request process be redesigned so that resources are directed to courthouses in need, among other changes.

That could be good news for Springfield’s court officials, who have long complained that funding for Hampden County has been disproportionately low compared to what courts in Eastern Mass. receive.

"This has been an ongoing problem," Rothschild said. "The Springfield District Court is the busiest court in the state, especially by virtue of criminal case load, and it was considerably underfunded compared to those in the Boston area."

The Jury Is Out

But the question of efficient allocation of resources has come up in several recent studies, he added, none of which explicitly addresses the problem Springfield faces.

For instance, Romney has proposed merging the Boston Municipal Court, which acts as its own entity, into the district court system and closing a number of district courts, eliminating some duplication in administrative staffs. Meanwhile, the Legislature has come up with its own proposal that would expand the scope of the Boston Municipal Court to encompass several other municipal courts around Boston, also removing some duplication of duties while evening off the money spent in various districts.

But if the funding disparity doesn’t directly address Springfield, area law experts say, the city will see more problems such as what emerged last year when a funding shortage forced a decrease in the number of court stenographers. While criminal cases got priority, attorneys saw a major logjam develop on the civil side.

Sam Stonefield, an attorney and professor of Law at the Western New England College School of Law, said the funding disparity in Western Mass. courts has reached crisis levels, but, as the flurry of recent studies and reports have shown, there isn’t sufficient consensus to address the issue.

"If you look at budget allocation, there’s clearly no agreement. When you look at performance guidelines, there’s no agreement. And in the hiring and supervision of employees, there’s no agreement in the three branches of government or within the Judiciary itself," Stonefield said. "I think that undermines the performance of the court system and ultimately undermines its ability to deliver justice to its citizens."

Meanwhile, Rothschild said, every cutback affects Western Mass. courts more than it does those closer to Boston, and that affects morale since clerks and other employees don’t know if their jobs are safe. At the same time, cases move more slowly, and justice grinds to a crawl.

In addressing what he considers the top two issues facing the courts, funding and budget allocation — "the allocation of resources is indefensible," he said — Stonefield hopes the Visiting Committee’s report can serve as a template to try to bring together some of the disparate voices calling for change.

But he said there must be a framework for judging the performance of the courts before there can be meaningful change in how those courts are funded. It’s a similar situation to that of education, which developed the framework of the MCAS exam to better understand how resources should be channeled.

"That’s a hard thing to do," he said, "but, in today’s climate, no one can simply say, ’we need more money’ without saying what the money is going to be used for."

In that, he agrees with the panel’s emphasis on high performance and accountability in its report. The committee wants to establish goals with benchmarks and measurements, including a standard cost per case handled, customer service studies, and complaint tracking. It also wants to create detailed job descriptions; measure managers and employees by efficiency, courtesy, and timing; establish employee and management reviews; create consequences for poor performance; and publish court rankings.

"Not one court is able to point to clearly defined benchmarks by which it measures itself on decision-making quality, efficiency, timeliness, and service," the report states. "There are almost no definitions of what a good job or a bad job looks like."

Courting Change

After visiting 14 courthouses, interviewing 165 court and community officials, and presenting a hefty set of recommendations, the Visiting Committee recognizes that reaching some kind of consensus among the three branches of government is paramount to bringing about any change.

"The committee realizes that the key to our recommendations will lie in their implementation," Monan said. "Our recommendations can only be implemented through the cooperative action of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches."

Mitchell, who commissioned the report, said she will review it with other Supreme Judicial Court justices in the coming weeks, while consulting with legislative leaders and pushing for implementation of managerial change as soon as possible.

For its part, the Mass. Bar Assoc. welcomed the report, while appointing its own task force to conduct Court Study 2003, a similar examination of the state’s judicial workings.

"We believe that, taken together, these reports will present the most complete assessment of our courts today and provide the most fair recommendations for the future," said Joseph P. J. Vrabel, MBA president.

Pelletier reminded BusinessWest, however, that positive steps have already been taken to improve efficiency in some areas. For example, district courts had traditionally tried civil cases involving less than $25,000 before a judge, but a losing plaintiff could then exercise his rights to a jury trial, doubling the resources and time needed to handle that case. To respond to that wastefulness, a program was instituted giving plaintiffs a six-member jury to begin with, immediately cutting down on long-term court costs.

"I think there have been some great strides made recently at the state level," Pelletier said, while recognizing the need to tackle larger budget issues. She worries, however, about how much can actually be done considering the state’s current budget crisis. "I’m sure the executive branch has been looking at these issues, but, unfortunately, the economics of the situation may cause it to go nowhere."

"There is an awful lot of waste, an awful lot of duplication," Rothschild said. "I don’t know how you get around it. You can’t turn government into a private business, but you can probably treat it more like a business than we do."

For his part, Stonefield said he agrees 100% with the panel’s assessment of the Judiciary’s problems. Even considering the challenge of creating consensus that now faces the state’s lawmakers, he called it a positive start. "Hopefully, out of this crisis will come a framework for a long-term commitment."

’Long-term’ might be the best choice of words to describe the mere process of enacting change. The job ahead is a daunting one, to be sure, but lawmakers and court officials may have the most detailed blueprint yet to begin restoring order in the courts.


Easthampton is finally shedding its old mill-town identity in exchange for a new image and commercial dynamic, a hybrid of grit and glitz, with strong hometown flavors. The change has been a long time coming and is the result of a variety of factors, including an emerging arts community, a reinvented government, strong and community-minded business leadership, and real estate assets ranging from recycled factory buildings to picturesque millponds reflecting the stunning escarpment of Mt. Tom.

Twenty-five years ago, local boosters were talking up Easthampton as a diamond in the rough poised for a renaissance like its neighbor, Northampton.

It turns out they were a couple of decades ahead of themselves.

The local business news in the late 1970s and early 1980s had mainly to do with factory closings and layoffs and halting attempts to spruce up a crumbling downtown. Still, to give the enthusiasts credit, they had, even then, some grounds for optimism.

The vast, previously abandoned factory complex on Cottage Street in the heart of the town, facing onto Nashawannuck Pond — Easthampton’s scenic crown jewel — had been taken over by Riverside Industries Inc., a non-profit agency serving the developmentally disabled. With prescient entrepreneurial spirit and skill, Riverside was rapidly bringing the building back to productive life with a vibrant, unique mixture of enterprises: its own collection of offices and program space and piecework assembly workshops, plus chunks of cavernous space it rented out to independent craftspeople who were converting the raw real estate into studios and workshops.

So the seeds of change had been sown. But that change was slow to catch on. The blossoming of One Cottage Street for years seemed to be a kind of hothouse phenomenon, little noticed outside the building; just this year Riverside has hired a community development director to actively promote itself. It wouldn’t be until the turn of the millennium that Easthampton convincingly started to turn the corner.

As late as the mid-’90s, the downtown’s four main commercial streets had a combined 30% vacancy rate, while a million square feet of traditional, red-brick industrial space was going begging, according to city planner Stuart B. Beckley, who arrived on the scene in 1989.

That was the nadir. The trend since has been one of dramatic recovery. The numbers have caught up with the hopeful rhetoric. Today, the downtown retail vacancy rate is down to 5%, and more than a half-million square feet of formerly vacant factory space has either been converted to business and residential use or is being actively developed, according to Beckley.

New independent shops, galleries, restaurants, and entertainment venues have cropped up on Cottage and Union streets. Existing, family-owned retail enterprises like Manchester’s Hardware and Village Pizza on Union Street have undertaken major downtown building projects. Manchester’s has just torn down a derelict furniture store and built a new addition in its stead to house a new equipment-leasing division. The city’s surviving manufacturing enterprises, concentrated now in modern, single-story plants in the outlying industrial areas, seem to be thriving, and, in the case of Tubed Products, the October Co., and Liebmann Optical Co., among others, investing in new or improved facilities is paying off.

BusinessWest looks this month at the remaking of Easthampton, and what the future holds for this community on the other side of the mountain.

A Work of Art

Unquestionably the single most important development in the town since One Cottage Street, which served as its original inspiration, has been the continuing transformation of the massive former Stanhome factory on Pleasant Street into a multi-use commercial and residential ’community’ called Eastworks (see related story, page 22). Eastworks has brought an important new wave of entrepreneurs and artists into town, many to live as well as to work. They in turn have been integral to the revitalization of the downtown, becoming customers for food, services, and hardware, as well as patrons of new restaurants.

Two other projects involving high-profile properties, while far smaller in scope and general impact than Eastworks, have been just as important as symbolic affirmations of the town’s new direction, according to Mayor Michael Tautznik, who calls them "investments of hope in the future of the community."

Silas Kopf, a nationally known master of marquetry (the art of decorative wood inlay) who was among the first group of craftspeople to move into One Cottage Street, bought the former fire station at 84 Union St. for $230,000. Plowing into it multiples of that sum he doesn’t wish to reveal, he has had it completely renovated into a spacious first-floor studio and showroom/office, and second-floor apartments.

Almost simultaneous with Kopf’s undertaking, Jo Roessler and Nora Kalina, owners of Nojo Design, formerly tenants in Eastworks, bought the derelict former X-rated Majestic Theater on Cottage Street, the downtown’s most embarrassing liability, and converted it into another high-end woodworking shop and showroom.

"Silas has done a wonderful job with the fire station. It’s exactly what I wanted there, from the point of view that it’s an interested business person in the community who’s making an investment in a very vital piece of property," said Tautznik. "More important than what’s going on inside the building is what the investment means. It represents a lot of hope in the future of the town and the belief that property values will continue to increase. We continue to be impressed by people who make those kinds of investments."

As a result of the progress that’s been made, Easthampton in 2003 is finally starting to deal with "problems" that, 15 years ago, it only dreamed of having. These include congestion, insufficient downtown parking, and lack of vacant industrial space, notes Thomas W. Brown, vice president for retail banking at Easthampton Savings Bank and president of the town’s Economic and Industrial Development Commission.

"The visible proof of a revitalization in the city today is Cottage Street; if you drove through there two or three years ago, you would have found vacant storefronts and no issues with parking," he said. "I remember getting together with merchants back then, and they said, ’we’ve got a parking problem,’ and I would say, ’no, we wish we had a parking problem.’

"Well, today we do have a parking problem. It’s real. Fortunately, we have a municipal parking lot being built on Cottage Street. Try to find an empty storefront in that area today; you’d be hard-pressed."

Among the catalysts for revitalization in Easthampton cited by Brown, Tautznik, and others are:

ï the adoption of a mayor/council form of government, which has proven more efficient and more responsive than a volunteer selectboard;

ï the municipality’s success, beginning in the late ’90s after almost a decade of drought, in landing key state and federal grants targeted to economic development;

ï the strong local presence of the non-profit, Northampton-based Valley Community Development Corp., which, funded with $200,000 in grants from the city, staffs a storefront on Cottage Street providing assistance to small, startup businesses;

ï ’spillover’ from nearby Northamp-ton’s growing regional and national reputation as a magnet for young professionals and creative entrepreneurs;

ï plenty of flexible, upper-story, former factory space at an affordable price;

ï the emergence of the arts in particular, and small independent businesses in general, as an ’economic engine’ in the community; and

ï the town’s fabled hometown spirit, reflected in such organizations as an Economic and Industrial Development Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, and Cottage Street Stations (a grassroots merchants group), which have worked hard to market Easthampton, provide a variety of business services, and physically upgrade downtown commercial districts.

The community still has plenty of its rough edge left. It remains a blue-collar town and proud to be unpretentious and community-minded, says Michael Garjian, a resident, indefatigable promoter of Easthampton, and small-business director for the Valley CDC. He can count numerous new enterprises in town, including the non-profit Flywheel Arts Collective on Holyoke Street and the Pioneer Arts Center of Easthampton on Union Street, among his clients.

"Easthampton is all about community," he said. "It’s what makes this a great city. It’s a blue-collar city … the sense of community in this town is strong."

Look to the Future

That the gritty old town is giving way, nevertheless, to some kind of hybrid of the old and the new is evident on Cottage Street at noontime on the first really balmy day of spring in mid-April. There hasn’t been energy and bustle like this since the heyday of the mills, oldtimers say.

The street is swarming with pedestrians, including fishermen who’ve spent the morning angling in the pond, school children who’ve been let out early for the day, and a variety of workers enjoying a lunch break. The latter include laborers who are constructing a long-awaited new municipal parking lot on Cottage Street and a number of people who work at One Cottage Street.

Pedestrian traffic is good news for the shops on Cottage Street, including Carl Charrette’s Sunrise Pastry Shop at 42 Cottage St. and, two doors down — just opened in April — his Sunrise Sweetie’s, an old-fashioned candy shop and soda fountain.

The bake shop is full this day; customers are lined up in rows three deep at the counter to place their take-out orders for homemade soup and sandwiches. Two doors down, youngsters are streaming into Sunrise Sweetie’s. Shiny metal lids chime as the kids, scampering down the polished wooden aisles, open and peer into some of the 300 glass candy jars laid out in gleaming, inviting rows. A couple of adult customers peruse a glass case containing the chocolates that are made in the large commercial kitchens that Charrette constructed in the basement of the building. He employs 11 people among the two retail establishments and his wholesale business.

Charrette says he’s fortunate that his retail businesses are perking along just when his wholesale trade, due to the sluggish general economy, has fallen off steeply.

He acknowledges he has reason to be grateful, now more than ever, that three-plus years ago, his landlord, Mai Stoddard, "cut me a deal to get me here."

Stoddard, who is a native of Estonia, is a longtime local travel agent and Realtor who owns the building where Charrette’s shops are located, as well as being the proprietor of the Nashawannuck Gallery at 38 Cottage St., which she launched five years ago in the storefront between Charrette’s two shops.

Before Stoddard and Charrette met, he was operating his wholesale-only bakery from a rented barn on the edge of town on Park Hill. Stoddard was looking for a solid, stable business to take root on the street and be a good companion business to her own. She was tired of renting to fly-by-night tenants who "would paint the places purple, then leave town after a half a year, owing me money," as she put it. To lure Charrette, she offered to let him occupy the space at 42 Cottage St. rent-free for six months and walk away after that if he chose, with no further obligation.

This was not a case of altruism on her part, but a practical decision aimed at furthering the "revitalization of the street," and thus strengthening her real estate investment over the long haul, Stoddard explains. To get good, reliable tenants to rent upstairs, something she’d had trouble doing, she needed to have viable businesses downstairs, she told BusinessWest.

"Good business decisions don’t always translate immediately into money," Stoddard noted. Her gallery, for example, isn’t making her money, she said, but it is paying off in a larger sense, she believes, by helping to change the image of Easthamp-ton and put it on the map as a haven for artisans and craftspeople, and a destination for their customers.

As the first shop in town to carry high-end fine arts and craft objects made by the artisans next door at One Cottage Street, the gallery "tapped into a real strength of the community,’’ she said. The gallery also has served as a venue for a variety of special community events, including the annual wine-tasting party put on as a fundraiser by Cottage Street Stations at Nasha-wannuck Square, a merchants group of which she and Charrette are active members. Cottage Street Stations is focused on making physical streetscape improvements to the Cottage Street area.

Road to Recovery

It’s one of her business maxims, Stoddard says, that — whether growing a business or growing a prosperous community — "sometimes it’s more important to look good than to feel good."

These days, Easthampton is doing both.

The renaissance predicted a quarter-century ago has been unfashionably late, but it was well worth the wait.