Task force puts together to-do list, talking points

HUNTINGTON – At Saturday’s Gateway Towns Advisory Committee (GTAC) meeting in Stanton Hall, co-chair Derrick Mason of Russell, co-chair Darlene McVeigh of Huntington, Gateway Superintendent David B. Hopson, Blandford Select Board member Andy Montanaro and Middlefield Finance Committee chair Joseph Kearns met to lay out initial plans and talking points for the Gateway Collaborative Task Force.
According to a handout, the objective of the task force is to take responsibility for the future of the six towns in the Gateway region, and actively engage in forming that future through a joint body of community and school participants whose goal is to avoid immediate financial failure, and ultimately reach financial stability for all its members.
Montanaro said he presented the talking points to the Select Board in Blandford, who gave him positive feedback and are interested in moving forward with the task force. Mason said he also presented them to the Russell Select Board members, who are taking them under advisement.
“That being said, we have a lot of work to do,” Mason said.
He said the key to success will be community engagement by as many stakeholders as possible.
“If we can get that, I think we have a shot at success” he said. “If it fails to get the publicity and engagement it needs, we’re going to have some serious problems.”
Gateway town officials, School Committee members, parents, taxpayers and businesses are among the groups that the task force is seeking to enlist.
McVeigh noted that at the last School Committee meeting, GTAC member Anne-Marie Buikus, who is the School Committee representative from Montgomery, and Diane Dunn, new School Committee representative from Chester, both volunteered to participate on the task force.
M“One of our major issues is a PR or marketing campaign to draw in the stakeholders, siad Msoan. “For example, we could use a catch phrase along the lines of `We’re Engaged (In Our Community).’ “
McVeigh asked whether they should set up a public forum meeting to announce the task force and its goals, and invite all the stakeholders.
Mason said he is hoping for a public rollout sometime in October to coincide with the hoped-for release of mitigation funds of $630,000, which have been promised to the district to lessen the impact of Worthington’s withdrawal on the remaining six towns.
“I’ve heard that the drop dead date is October 15 for the supplemental budget,” Hopson said.
October 15 is the current date for a hearing on the lawsuit and injunction against Worthington’s withdrawal from the Gateway district.
Also discussed was inviting a speaker to the forum. One of the suggestions was Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-4th Berkshire District), who met with GTAC members earlier in the summer, and encouraged them to form the Task Force. Pignatelli has worked with similar committees in Berkshire County.
“He has a great grasp on the issues, and knows what’s going on around the state,” Mason said.
Other ideas include participating in a Community Compact, a program which Governor Charlie Baker created in January in his first executive order to elevate the Administration’s partnerships with cities and towns. This partnership might enable the Task Force to seek grant funding or financial aid to hire a consultant to direct the process.
Mason suggested doing outreach to a number of organizations that are potential sponsors or resources. A tentative date for a public forum was set for Thursday, October 15 at 7 p.m. in Stanton Hall.
“We have a very short window to get this underway and show progress,” he said.

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