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Editorial: Springfield’s Little Things Can Matter the Most…

Mayor Domenic Sarno, center, with Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy, left, and Chief Information Officer Andrew Doty. (via Twitter/@ptuthill)

In the past week, there has been good news from Springfield city government. Efforts to improve the quality of life of current city residents have moved forward. Last week Mayor Domenic Sarno opened a new front against illegal dumping and today came the announcement of free wireless Internet access in downtown.

Both of these low(ish)-resource, lower-profile endeavors could have incredible impact on the city and its residents. Less trash in neighborhoods improves livability and property values. Free Internet access, though available at the Library and City Hall, not only offers convenience to and spurs the tech and business communities, but can link city’s poor to the Web.

Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi news was juxtaposed against a Masslive report that said Mayor Domenic Sarno’s police complaint review board has not received an annual statistical report in two years.

Kennedy and Sarno with City Solicitor Ed Pikula, right. (WMassP&I)

Kennedy and Sarno with City Solicitor Ed Pikula, right and MGM in the background. (WMassP&I)

The mere fact of this failure is bad enough. Yet the damning admission by City Solicitor Ed Pikula that his office was overwhelmed by MGM-related responsibilities serves as both a stark reminder and troubling sign that the mega-project has overwhelmed the city’s RAM.

This is not an anti-MGM editorial. Whatever our feelings about casinos, we do not blame the gaming company for the city’s inability to walk and chew gum. That is City Hall’s fail.

“Make no little plans,” the architect Daniel Burnham once said, “They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”

To that end, we understand the impulse of this city, its business community and its politicians to chase dreams of greatness and restore Springfield’s standing. However, Burnham’s advice is not an excuse for oversights nor a disavowal of simple, small efforts with great potential.

Union Station's renovation costs a fraction of what MGM will, but we view it as potentially more important to Springfield's economic fortunes. (WMassP&I)

Union Station’s renovation costs a fraction of what MGM’s construction will, but we view it as potentially far more important to Springfield’s economic fortunes. (WMassP&I)

For example, we have long believed the smaller Union Station project will be far more transformative than MGM, perhaps reinventing the station’s environs entirely. Free Wi-Fi in downtown pales in comparison, but it is precisely the kind of simple endeavor that punches above the weight of its investment and can make Springfield an attractive and competitive place for startups and innovation.

Churning out police complaint stats, while not an economic development matter per se, could have been an opportunity to do big things with a small effort. These reports could be a tool to build trust whether by punishing cops’ misbehavior or dismissing groundless charges against them. Poor and/or weak police-community relations remains one of Springfield’s great roadblocks to reducing crime and reviving our city.

Denise Jordan (via

City Solicitor Ed Pikula (via Twitter/@attyemp)

We understand and value the work Pikula and Sarno chief of staff Denise Jordan as the board’s only staff, but this issue requires a continuing, candid effort. Already, the board’s credibility is at a low ebb as actual discipline rests with the Police Commissioner. Meanwhile rank and file cops have no venue to air their criticism of the department.

If Jordan and Pikula could not give these reports their undivided attention than the city should have found another option. Even with Springfield’s tight budget, hiring someone is not unfathomable. Alternatively the city should have sought grants from the state, the federal government or private sources to fund such a position.

This is just one example. We shudder to think what other responsibilities have gone unperformed across city government as attention has been fixated on MGM. Residents have a right to be concerned, especially when it is the little things that have gone neglected.

Though tackling trash in neighborhoods and downtown Wi-Fi—to be expanded citywide over time—are long overdue, we are pleased to see them happen. We applaud Mayor Sarno, the city and its partners from the Tech Foundry and Valley Venture Mentors for instituting this free Web access. Likewise, our hats go off to Sarno spotlighting illegal dumping, a particular scourge in poorer parts of the city.

Considering the potential return on cleaner neighborhoods and more connected residents, in a time of tight budgets, it behooves city officials to do more, simpler things like these. When smaller, but significant items go overlooked, they don’t get done at all. Such omissions can be just as great and impactful as completing these tasks could have been.

Perhaps granting the little things more time may come at the expense of the larger ventures, but they can spare a bit of the city’s attention.