‘Be My Valentine’ spirit prevails at Chamber breakfast
Hearts adorn the table occupied by state legislators at a Valentine’s Day breakfast hosted by the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce at Galliford’s Restaurant & Tavern.
By ROD LEE
The cozy relationship between the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce and its state legislative delegation might come as a surprise to some observers.
So too the warmth that exists between the elected representatives and senators themselves—a mix of Democrats and Republicans.
But it is real; and it is genuine, as those attending a “Love Your Legislator” breakfast at Galliford’s Restaurant & Tavern at Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon on Valentine’s Day saw first-hand.
This chumminess is a direct result of the effort BVCC President and CEO Jeannie Hebert and her staff put into recognizing the work Sen. Michael Moore, Sen. Ryan Fattman, Sen. Anne Gobi, Rep. Paul Frost, Rep. Joe McKenna, Rep. David Muradian Jr., Rep. Brian Murray, Rep. Mike Soter and Rep. David LeBoeuf do on behalf of the Chamber’s membership—and those legislators’ other constituents.
Barry Bacon who recently opened Spicy Waters, a distillery in Millbury, asks legislators at the BVCC’s Valentine’s Day breakfast if they can help in a plan he and Bri Azier of Bri’s Sweet Treats have for pairing spirits and chocolates; “we can’t put them together in one,” right now, he said.
Liz O’Neil pinning hearts on people as they arrived at Galliford’s on the morning of February 14th typified the welcoming mood that existed, as did the forthrightness of the legislators in fielding questions posed by Kevin Hayes and several persons in the audience.
Ms. O’Neil is director of programs, events and membership/marketing coordinator for the Chamber. Mr. Hayes is a senior vice president with Millbury Federal Credit Union and the Chamber’s current chair.
In just a little over an hour, once the business at hand began, much information was conveyed about pressing issues. From the revelation that the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Council (CMRPC) is updating its five-year economic development strategy—which may mean more funding for the Chamber—to what can be done about families moving out of the state, to the high school dropout rate, to whether state agencies will continue to be allowed to meet “virtually,” the legislators produced the answers their interrogators were looking for.
Which is not to say everyone was completely satisfied. When Devon Kurtz who is executive director of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor told the panel “we are looking for state funding for the bikeway, wayfinding, signage and programming” and Sen. Murray suggested in reply that he “work through your legislator,” Mr. Kurtz said “that’s all of you.” The matter would have been left unsettled had not Sen. Gobi noted that a new entity—the Massachusetts Office of Outdoor Recreation—would likely play a role in helping the Corridor advance its goals. That, and Sen. Fattman pointed out that $50,000 had been asked for, to continue building out the bikeway.
Addressing the specter of people leaving Massachusetts, Sen. Fattman pointed a finger of blame at the recently passed “millionaire’s tax,” and the estate tax, which together represent “a major problem,” he said. “People invest in what they are building their entire lives and when they die they get taxed. We don’t need this money. We have almost $9 billion in the Rainy Day Fund,” Sen. Fattman said.
The subject that garnered the most attention was kids dropping out of school, at a statewide rate of 6-7%. The legislators were eager to tackle this one.
Rep. Muradian said the superintendent of schools in Northbridge told him that the system was implementing a “freshman academy model”—a Positive Behavior Intervention Support, or PBIS program—that has had “great success.”
Rep. McKenna said “the idea is to target students who may not go beyond four years of high school, and the Chamber and its education hub” figure actively in addressing this need to help young people on their career path.
Almost every legislator weighed in on the dropout issue.
“Our numbers are disproportionately high among the ELL student body in my community,” Sen. Murray said. Rep. Frost added “we should allow public schools to adopt a vocational component. Not everyone can go to Valley Tech. Millbury has started this with the carpenters union.” Sen. Gobi said “I taught high school for ten years. In Spencer, we are finding ways to get the business community involved.” Sen. Fattman said “COVID was devastating” and that in Southbridge, where the state came in to take over the school system, an amount of “social angst” remains, but that this is being dealt with. Sen. Moore said “Chapter 70 money has been increased.” Rep. Soter said “when I went to high school you had certain trades. I am introducing a bill for satellite pop-up locations in all of our schools. We will tap resources in the community, which will start a four-year process as if a kid was going to a vocational school. This will prevent a [financial] hit to our schools” that is inflicted “when students move to a voke school.”
The enormity of the challenges local legislators face in drafting bills was apparent when a question was posed about what can be done to ensure the safety of public buildings.
“As of last week about seven thousand bills have been filed, so I’m not sure,” Sen. Moore said.
What is certain is that the Chamber and its state legislators will stay on top of the situation.
Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.