Westfield Newsroom

`Unusual appointment’ made to Conservation Commission

Clifford Laraway answers questions at the Nov. 21 Personnel Action Committee meeting. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – The City Council approved a new member of the Conservation Commission at its Nov. 21 meeting, following a positive recommendation from the Personnel Action Committee. Clifford Laraway of 1166 East Mountain Road was appointed for a term to expire in Feb. 2022, replacing long-time member Henry Bannish, who resigned.
Laraway introduced himself to the committee as a Westfield business owner for 32 years, and said he owns five properties that include ones at the airport, at Hampton Ponds, on wetlands, and over the aquifer, so he is familiar with the committee’s regulations and concerns. Laraway owns the Subway franchise in Westfield.
PAC chairman Cindy C. Harris acknowledged Laraway’s business contributions, but said his appointment was unusual, in that she had no input from the Mayor’s office. She added that Laraway does not have the specific qualifications and degrees held by many members of the Conservation Commission, in wetlands, engineering, living biology, and erosion control.
Laraway said he has overseen projects in the aquifer, at the airport and at Hampton Pond in Westfield; renovated an old gas station in Orange, and has a property in Hampton Beach on the flood plain. He said he has a building in Westfield’s CORE district, and is also lead paint certified as a builder. He acknowledged he is not an expert, but he has a lot of knowledge.
Laraway also said he spoke to Conservation Commission chair David A. Doe, who is a professor of biology at Westfield State, who told him that they could catch him up to par.
In response to another question, Laraway said he has no connection to the property at 0 East Mountain Road which is currently being investigated by the city and the state.
Harris asked PAC members if they had any questions. At-large Councilor Brent B. Bean, II asked Laraway for his opinion on Westfield’s process, from the perspective of a business owner. Laraway responded that he thought the process could be streamlined, and while that’s better for business, it’s not always a good idea to so do.
“Any time you could streamline is better, and it could be made more business friendly; but it shouldn’t always be business friendly,” Laraway said, adding, “It would be nice to have one packet.”
“For the most part, the city is very helpful, as long as you know where to go,” Laraway said.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski asked Laraway what would be the single biggest contribution that he could bring to the Conservation Committee. “A fresh look, and as a business person. This is my community. I love my community, and I want to do the best for my community,” Laraway said.
Opening questions up to those in attendance, resident Matthew Roman spoke in favor of the appointment. “I feel it’s a good replacement. He’ll learn very fast,” Roman said.
At-large Councilor Dan Allie also spoke in favor of the appointment. “His mom was a city councilor in Holyoke for 20 years. This is a family that has always had a big role in the community,” he said.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski said that Harris had gone through a lot of the credentials that other members have, and asked him for his credentials. Laraway said he did not have the specific educational background, although he did have degrees in small business management, hospitality and accounting.
“It’s important to have somebody on the board that’s been on the other side through the process,” Allie said, adding he thought his experience would be helpful to the commission.
“I might agree with that in some circumstances,” Babinski said, adding that with critical things like dealing with aquifers, she thought having that expertise and knowledge might be more important on the Conservation Commission than on other boards.
During the discussion on the appointment in the City Council meeting which followed, Harris repeated that the appointment was unusual without the input from the Mayor’s office. She said the city is always grateful for all residents that volunteer, but noted that other members of the Conservation Commission have extensive education and degrees, while Laraway’s background is in business.
Harris said several people at the meeting spoke in favor of the appointment, and no one spoke in opposition, although Babinski questioned his experience and thought perhaps owning property is not equal to education in the field. She said Laraway had spoken to Doe, the chairman of the commission.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III said he had a lengthy discussion with the applicant, and had asked him to reach out to Doe, which he did.
The City Council then voted to unanimously approve Laraway for the appointment.
Beltrandi then acknowledged Henry Bannish’s many years on the Conservation Commission, as had Harris in the PAC meeting, and said that Laraway had big shoes to fill.
“I second that emotion,” said Babinski.

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