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Westfield State Trustees Place Dobelle on Leave
WESTFIELD — Westfield State University trustees voted unanimously last week to place President Evan Dobelle on administrative leave with pay. Trustee chairman Jack Flynn said Dobelle would remain on paid leave until at least Nov. 25, when the law firm Fish & Richardson is expected to complete an investigation into Dobelle’s lavish spending habits. Thomas Frongillo, a principal in the firm, has been representing the trustees in their negotiations with Dobelle. While Dobelle, who spent hours with trustees at their closed-door session, left without comment, his publicist, George Regan, said Dobelle plans to file a federal lawsuit against the trustees for the “egregious” violation of his rights. “We are disappointed that the board has acted unlawfully and has obviously buckled to the intense political pressure surrounding this issue,” said Regan in a statement. “The board has defamed President Dobelle and allowed him to be defamed, and there will be major consequences to these actions.” The vote to place Dobelle on leave came following a vote of no confidence by faculty and librarians at WSU. Specifically, 64% of the 215 faculty and librarians who voted agreed with the statement that “I have no confidence that Dr. Evan Dobelle can continue to effectively serve as president of Westfield State University,” according to the executive committee of the Mass. State College Assoc. The trustees’ action also comes in the shadow of a fresh investigation by Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office into whether Dobelle made illegal false claims to obtain reimbursement for his expenses. The trustees called the special meeting in the face of mounting pressure to take action after an August report by accounting firm O’Connor & Drew found that Dobelle had repeatedly violated university policy by charging personal expenses to university credit cards, and also questioned the documentation for many claimed expenses. Since then, state Inspector General Glenn Cunha has raised questions about Dobelle’s extensive business travel, luxury hotel stays, high-end restaurant meals, and entertainment charged to the school. Meanwhile, state Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland has frozen some state funding to WSU because he’s concerned about Dobelle’s ability to manage money. “It seems to me highly questionable whether President Dobelle can or should continue to provide leadership to Westfield State University,” Freeland wrote to the trustees.

Springfield City Council Boosts Mayor’s Salary
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield City Council recently gave first-step approval to a $40,000 pay raise for the mayor, which, if granted final approval at the Oct. 21 council meeting, will increase the mayor’s annual salary from $95,000 to $135,000 effective in January 2014. Mayor Domenic Sarno has two years left on his four-year term. Supporters of the raise noted that the current salary has not increased in 17 years and is low when compared with other cities. The increase was proposed in May by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, which cited the need to attract the best candidates and pay a wage that reflects the responsibilities of the job and the size of the city. The council voted to grant first-step approval for increasing councilors’ own annual salary from $14,500 to $19,500, a change that will also will take effect in January, if granted final approval. The council has not had a raise in 18 years.

Mama Iguana’s Closes at Springfield Site
SPRINGFIELD — Mama Iguana’s owner Claudio Guerra closed down that restaurant’s Springfield location, neighboring the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, earlier this month after just over two years in operation.
The restaurant opened in June 2011 in the location of the former Onyx Fusion Bar and Restaurant. Onyx had closed in April 2011 after three years operating in space once occupied by the Hall of Fame. Guerra’s latest venture boasted 350 seats indoors and 150 on an outdoor patio.
Mama Iguana’s had 50 employees, and Guerra said he will try to absorb as many of them as possible at his four other eateries — the Spoleto restaurants in Northampton and East Longmeadow and Mama Iguana’s and Pizza Paradiso in Northampton. Gift cards are redeemable at those other locations. Guerra told the Republican that the concept behind his Springfield restaurant, and his execution of that concept, led to the closing, not a general reluctance to dine out in the city. He added that the right restaurant with the right concept would succeed there.
Competition tightened at the site when Plan B Burger Bar opened in September 2012 in the Hall of Fame building. Guerra said he’d been trying to sell the restaurant or bring in a partner to help run it, but any possible partner or buyer balked at investing money on a new concept with the possibility of MGM Resorts International opening a South End casino.

Nov. 21 Deadline Set for Marijuana Licenses
BOSTON — The state Department of Public Health has set a Nov. 21 deadline for nonprofit companies to submit final applications for medical-marijuana shops and cultivation facilities (see story on page 6). The DPH will announce an award of licenses on Jan. 31, despite the fact that more than 130 communities have instituted temporary moratoriums on medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Last month, the DPH approved 158 preliminary applications for medical marijuana, clearing the applicants to continue to a second and final phase of bidding. Of those, 22 companies are proposing to set up shop in one of the four counties of Western Mass. Each county in Massachusetts will be granted at least one and no more than five dispensaries, with the statewide total capped at 35.
A selection committee will evaluate final applications on factors including ability to meet the health needs of registered patients, site appropriateness, geographic distribution of dispensaries, local support, and public-safety plans.

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