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The Challenge for Charlie Ryan

The mayoral race in Springfield is over, and Charles Ryan has emerged as the city’s next leader. He won a position it seemed that no one else wanted, and in the weeks and months ahead, he’ll come to fully understand why the field was so slim.

This will be a very challenging time for the city — and especially the person in the corner office. The city is currently in very shaky financial condition, and, by most estimates, things are going to get worse before they get any better.

The budget will be the first priority for Ryan, and he has already given an indication of some strategies he will use to improve the bottom line. These include more conservative spending policies (which are certainly necessary) and also more aggressive pursuit of delinquent property taxes and a campaign to compel the state to fund more of its obligations to cities and towns, including Springfield.

Getting more money from the state — not to mention tax deadbeats — will be very difficult, and we wish him luck with these assignments.

While going to work on the city’s finances, Ryan will have some other challenges, many related directly to the vitality of the city’s business community. At the top of this list, we believe, is restoring a sense of confidence and respect in City Hall. Both of these have been lost in the last term of the Albano administration, and it falls upon Ryan to restore a sense of integrity to the city.

Most members of the Albano administration would disagree, but we believe that the recent undercurrent of corruption and favoritism in City Hall has hurt Springfield’s efforts with economic development. Employers and entrepreneurs looking for places to start or expand a business have many options — locally and across the region — and we sense that many are looking elsewhere, and will continue to do so unless or until they can view Springfield as a business-friendly community where leadership is not pushed and pulled by influence peddlers.

There are other matters on Ryan’s to-do list, however.

For starters, there will be some key appointments, starting with leadership of the Community Development Depart-ment and the Law Department, two posts that are vital for the health and well-being of the city’s business community. Finding good talent will be a challenge, but we believe Ryan can find people committed to Springfield who are willing to serve.

Meanwhile, there is the matter of the city’s Building Department, which is certainly broken and in need of fixing.

As we said several months ago, the Building Department has no real leadership — there is no head of that department at present — and this fact has led to a frustrating backlog of work that has slowed many companies’ plans for development and expansion.

Ryan said many times during the campaign that bulking up the Building Department and giving it the resources to do its job will be one of his priorities. We hope he follows through with this promise and makes an appointment based on qualifications, not politics.

Lastly, we believe Ryan needs to listen and give the business community a stronger voice. Recently, it seems, many policy decisions have been made without clear input from business leaders.

Ryan will have a good opportunity to listen at a business summit set for Dec. 4. Organized by the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and the Springfield Business Development Corp. and sponsored by Banknorth, the summit will provide area business leaders with a chance to set an agenda.

We urge Springfield business owners and managers to take part in that summit and become part of the process. And we encourage the Ryan administration to take what comes from that meeting as a good starting point for his economic development strategy.

There will be no shortage of challenges ahead for Ryan and the team he assembles to lead Springfield. But with every challenge comes an opportunity, and we look upon this new administration as a vehicle for moving Springfield forward.

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