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Northampton, MA Public Participation Program

NCDD member, Wendy Foxmyn, has been chosen to be part of a new citizen-based Northampton, MA (the photo is of the Northampton city hall) oversight committee. She sent us tha following article about it…

Council Taps Four for New Oversight Committee
by Dan Crowley, Staff Writer

NORTHAMPTON – Faced with an impressive pool of candidates, the City Council on Thursday chose four residents to serve on a newly created government oversight committee.

The four were chosen among eight finalists, though two candidates withdrew from contention before the council’s final vote. Twelve residents had originally applied to serve on the seven-member Ad Hoc Committee on Best Practices in Northampton Decision Making, which is charged with reviewing the city’s communication and decision-making practices over the next year and delivering a report.

“I could have worked with any of the twelve,” said At-Large City Councilor Michael R. Bardsley.

Chosen to serve are Wendy Foxmyn, of 105 Fairway Village, Lisa DePiano, of 38 Henry St., James Palermo, of 134 Spruce Hill Ave., and Alex Ghiselin, of 164 Riverside Drive.

Foxmyn was the top vote-getter and received a vote from all nine councilors. In her presentation before the council, she thanked the panel for their confidence and said she looked forward to working with Bardsley, Ward 3 City Councilor Robert C. Reckman, and Ward 4 City Councilor David J. Narkewicz – the three councilors also serving on the best practices committee.

“I’m hopeful the committee’s work will engage the extraordinary diversity of our city,” said Foxmyn, who has extensive experience in municipal government and is director of the Mediation & Training Collaborative in Greenfield.

Diversity is one reason several councilors said they were supporting the only two female candidates left among the six finalists. Bonnie Rose, of 55-2 South St., and Patty Morey Walker, of 377 Ryan Road, had dropped out before the council’s vote, and Rose urged the council to consider not only gender equality but sexual orientation in their decisions.

Each councilor cast four votes, and the finalists were earlier given up to three minutes to speak on their candidacies. DePiano and Palermo each received seven votes, while Ghiselin secured the fourth spot with five votes. Left off the panel were Kevin Lake, of 35 Washington St., and Peter Hirschman, of 15 Mountain Laurel Path, each of whom received four votes. Both have extensive backgrounds in organizational consulting.

“This is the committee where I feel like my skills and abilities are most apropos,” Hirschman told the council.

Several councilors who did not vote for Ghiselin were apologetic toward the ex-city councilor, who sat in the back of the Council Chambers and who was known for an independent streak while serving as Ward 5 city councilor only a few years ago.

Reckman said Ghiselin was too “embedded” in the city’s system and therefore could not support having him on the committee.

“It pains me not to vote for him,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Paul D. Spector.

In his presentation, Ghiselin brought his wry humor to bear on the council. He suggested councilors look beyond the confines of gender, and seek those who could bring new, untapped energy and ideas to the benefit of city government.

“We may all look like aging white men, but we’re not all the same,” Ghiselin said. “I’m here to at least offer you some old energy.”

Among those supporting Ghiselin was Bardsley, who described him as “fair-minded” and among those panel members who would be able to “break through” pockets of “mistrust, disenfranchisement, and alienation” within the community.

“I do not feel he (Ghiselin) is too embedded in the process,” Bardsley said.

Rounding out the panel are Palermo, a former labor negotiator, and DePiano, who wrote a master’s thesis on public participation processes, and has not only trained facilitators, but facilitated dozens of meetings herself, she said. DePiano described herself as “an active listener,” which she said is an important skill to have on the committee.

Palermo, during a 35-year career with the National Labor Relations Board, facilitated settlements of disputes between contentious parties. He wrote in his application that “governmental agencies need to be run efficiently, and to merit the trust and goodwill of the citizens they serve.”

Palermo told councilors it’s important for those serving on a panel like the best practices committee to differentiate between “their personal preferences and what needs to be done.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

Andy Fluke
Andy Fluke is the co-founder of NCDD and currently provides creative support to many of NCDD's publications and events. He also works with a handful of other NCDD members on a variety of projects as consultant and designer. More about his work can be found at www.andyfluke.com.

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