WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WGGB) — The status of a West Springfield Police captain on paid leave for almost two years, became a sticking point at the town’s mayoral debate Thursday. Monday, we told you Captain Daniel O’Brien has been on leave for almost two years. The issue was one of many that incumbent Mayor Gregory Neffinger and opponent Ed Sullivan clashed on before a standing room only crowd.
“My priority is to keep taxes low and to improve services,” Neffinger said. “We have been working on that with a new DPW director.”
“I pledge to improve economic development and to improve our infrastructure,” opponent Ed Sullivan said. “I pledge to improve the quality of life for every citizen, seniors, veterans, disabled and our youth.”
From personal attacks to union complaints and empty promises, pointed comments were hurled in both directions Thursday, including the topic of Captain O’Brien. He was put on paid leave almost two years ago while an investigation into excessive force was launched, but the US Attorney’s Office cleared O’Brien of criminal charges this summer and he has not been allowed back to work.
“They gave us their information,” Neffinger explained. “Mr. O’brien and the union asked for an outside investigator. We produced an outside investigator. Every delay was not on our part.”
“It comes down to fiscal responsibility, a lot of it,” Sullivan said. “You know, paying somebody for not working. It’s almost up to a quarter million dollars that we’ve invested in Captain O’Brien.”
While on the topic of police, Sullivan said crime in town is on the rise over 15%.
“We need feet on the street. We need our police officers out there,” Sullivan said. “We need them visible. We have to reenergize our neighborhood policing program.”
“We want to bring in what’s called ‘performance management,’” Neffinger said on the issue. “That is, look at what’s happening in town and then make the correct management decisions to address those issues.”
They are issues both candidates say will be hashed out on the campaign trail for the next 26 days. They both agree that though Hard Rock Casino won’t be going to the Big E, continued Memorial Avenue development is important to them.