A Step Forward for Springfield

Seemingly lost amid all those much larger headlines last month concerning the World Series, the debt-ceiling crisis, and Westfield State President Evan Dobelle getting suspended and then suing everyone who had anything to do with that action was this item in the local paper: ‘Springfield City Council OKs raises for mayor, councilors.’
This development — at least the first part of the equation — has been talked about for some time and, in most respects, was expected and almost a foregone conclusion. But it is still a significant step forward for Springfield.
(Before explaining why, we’ll quickly address the second part of that headline: This is how it works in situations like this; city councils, in general, will gladly approve a pay hike for the mayor as long as they are quite sure the votes are there to give themselves one, too. It’s not going to happen otherwise, so just accept it and move on.)
That bit of local politics aside, this vote by the council to take the mayor’s salary from $95,000 to $135,000 — the first raise for the city’s chief executive since Bill Clinton was starting his second term — represents real progress when it comes to securing solid leadership in the city for years to come.
Raising the mayor’s salary does not ensure effective leadership — there are untold examples of how people in public positions with big salaries have failed in their roles (see Dobelle) — but it certainly helps in that regard. That’s because many people, especially members of the local business community, have eschewed bids for public office simply because they could not afford to take a serious pay cut.
This $40,000 raise will reward the current mayor, Domenic Sarno, but, more importantly, it will help ensure large, deep fields of candidates in the future.
And from our view, solid leadership is perhaps the most important ingredient in the large volume of work that remains to be done when it comes to returning Springfield, the state’s and the unofficial capital of Western Mass., to prominence.
Let’s just look at the near future. If a planned resort casino is built in the South End of the community, the city’s leadership, and especially the mayor, will have to assimilate that nearly $1 billion development and work to ensure that it becomes some kind of asset, not a liability; no small task. Meanwhile, that mayor will still have to deal with a school system in crisis, a downtown that will need much more than a casino, public safety issues, and the ongoing problem of reinventing this former manufacturing hub.
And if the casino is built somewhere else? Well, that mayor will have to contend with all those latter items listed above and then also deal with what will be serious psychological fallout — and find a way to develop several blocks of underutilized and/or tornado-damaged property the old fashioned way, and at a time when it is very difficult to convince developers to invest in the city.
Either way, whoever is in the corner office is going to have their hands full.
A $135,000 salary won’t make the job any easier, but it might help ensure that those who win that assignment have the wherewithal to carry it out effectively.
Springfield’s goal moving forward is to make itself a community of choice again. It held that distinction once, but it was a long, long time ago. Regaining that status won’t happen quickly or easily, and it won’t happen at all unless there is strong consistent leadership for many years to come.
The council’s vote to raise the mayor’s salary is just one step, but an important one, in moving the city forward. And it’s a step that other area communities currently underpaying their mayors — Chicopee, Easthampton, and others on that list — should emulate.

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