Gardner MA Mayor Michael Nicholson

Gardner MA Mayor Michael Nicholson – Citizen Concerns and City Departments Interview August 3, 2022

On August 3, 2022, Gardner MA Mayor Michael Nicholson answered our questions regarding Citizen Concerns and the Interaction of City Departments with Community Members.   We present the AUDIO of the complete interview in mp3 format. Listen on any device.    Subjects covered included National Night Out, the Timeline of Gardner Public Schools, Social Media Posts, Water Pooling Issues at the Dog Park, the DPW, Addressing Citizen Concerns and needs, Parks and Recreation, Job Openings with the City, DPW Vacancies, Gardner Housing Authority, Department Heads and the Press, the Building Department, Animal Control, Reappointment of City Treasurer, Assessor/Tax Collector and Taxes, City Clerk, Various Departments working together, Public Safety, Health Department, Funding for positions, Purchasing Department, Human Resources, School Staffing, Gardner Sludge, and Praise for Departments. To listen, CLICK the play button.

Interview with Mayor Nicholson August 3, 2022

To interact with the City of Gardner, to find out how you can also have a successful business in Gardner, or to find out about any City Department visit the City of Gardner website. CLICK HERE.

In the interview that follows, you will learn that Gardner is sought after because it is willing to work with people. This is evident in the narrative about every Department. Read on, and learn how Gardner can best serve you.

Read the Text of the Interview with Gardner MA Mayor Michael Nicholson

Gardner Magazine Publisher Werner Poegel: This morning we’re interviewing Mayor Nicholson about Citizens’ Concerns and City Departments. Mayor Nicholson, thank you very much for agreeing to answer questions about what Gardner Citizens care about, and the City Departments who work on behalf of the community.

National Night Out

Poegel: Mayor Nicholson, did citizens show up to express concerns at National Night Out on August Second at Gardner High School, or did you just get dunked? 

Nicholson:  I got dunked, and I got dunked a lot.  It was quite a fun time…You know, I had a lot of people talk, but it was really just a lot of positive feedback. I didn’t get one single complaint when I was there, and I was there up until 8 o’clock last night.  It was really a fun time and nice to see so many people out in the community. A lot of positive feedback for all the projects we’ve got going on throughout the City.

Poegel:  Was it a good idea to move the venue to the High School?  Was there a lot of people? 

Nicholson:  Yeah, I think that was the best move the Gardner Community Action Team could have made.  There was a ton of people there, there was actual room to move around, rather than feeling like you’re stacked on top of each other over at Monument Park.  And, there’s a lot of room to grow.  And I think that’s one of the things too, that we kinda felt stagnant at Monument Park – you only had so much space, we couldn’t grow in the future.  Now, we’ve got a whole field over there.  And there’s a lot of different opportunities for  us to be able to look at now that we’ve seen what we can accomplish in that space.

New Gardner Elementary School

Poegel:  Now speaking of growing in the future, there a  brand new Gardner Elementary School coming about.   And, Mayor Nicholson, how concerned are you that the new timeline established for the start of Gardner Public Schools will have to be adjusted again and how will you be evaluating ongoing progress?

Nicholson:  I’m not too concerned that we’ll see another delay.  We will be working with our Owner’s Project Manager, like more commonly referred to as our OPM, for the Massachusetts Building Laws, that we have, that, we’ll be checking in with them every day, to check on the progress.  We have the contractors working overtime on the weekend…so we really do have a full, robust, around the clock operation over there with well over a hundred people working on the site.  I think this will be the only delay that we see, and I’m pretty confident on that.

Hawke on Social Media Regarding School

Poegel:  In a social media post late on August 2, 2022, Mark Hawke posted regarding the delay of school, “blame should be distributed in the following order: 1. Covid 2. Supply Chain Issues 3. Michael J. Nicholson.   How is it appropriate to for him to make this statement regarding the Mayor of the City in a public forum and also directly contradict the information released by the Superintendent of Schools who clearly stated and I quote,”construction was delayed due to incomplete deliveries resulting from the same supply chain issues that have plagued the entire nation.”

Nicholson: I think with that one just recognize who the poster is too.  Mark Hawke will often make jokes like that.  When I first started, a joke that Mark made with me was, you know that people will often blame the Mayor when they don’t know who, what the actual issue is, who the actual parties responsible are, and it’s one of those, the buck stops with you thing.  And I  understand why citizens do that, but it does get a little frustrating sometimes, particularly on different Social Media Groups.  There may be some people who may post only half or even a quarter of the story and don’t understand the full situation there.  So we’ll often joke with each other that he said one of the best things when he left office is that it wouldn’t be his fault anymore, and that’s just a joke that he and I will make with each other on occasion.  And I think that’s all that is there.

Gardner Dog Park – DPW

Poegel:  Mayor Nicholson, as you are aware, citizens have raised concerns about continued water pooling issues at the Dog Park.  Did it rattle your Nicholson that you were not fully informed about continued challenges of water issues at the Gardner Dog Park?

Nicholson: You know it is something that we are going to continue looking at.  I think it was just an oversight that was done on the construction work there.  We do have some money that’s left over in the grant that we can certainly put towards addressing those drainage issues that are there.  We did receive more from the Stanton Foundation than the cost came in under for those Shade Pavilions that  you have there.  So we’ll certainly be taking a look at it, and, be sure to make sure that those issues get fully addressed that’s over there.

Poegel:  So aside from grant funding in these types of situations, does the City have its own funds to, for example, buy crushed stone for drainage, repair a fence at one of the other parks…

Nicholson: Yep.

Poegel: Or could the City for example, ask Heywood Hospital, can we have some of that crushed stone from all that stuff you blew up and can we use it at the Dog Park?

Nicholson: I mean, all the above.  We always accept donations from different people, especially if there is you know, surplus items, like we just talked about with Heywood Hospital. Whenever we go out and we repair a road, we dig up something up or something like that, we save all of that over at the City’s gravel mine that we have. So all of that we have in house too, on hand, and if we need to pay for a fix, we certainly can use money in our own budget, but if we can get someone else to pay for a project that we have going on, …that’s always certainly the best option. But we won’t have to wait and rely on that for something like this.

Pride in DPW

Poegel:  Are you proud of the DPW in other areas, particularly when they provide creative solutions to traffic issues such as at Woodland and Green Street?

Nicholson: You know, I am, I am.  The DPW, particularly being down 7 staff members just due to staffing shortages that we have, and we’re seeing right now, have really done an excellent job keeping things up.  The safety improvements that they made such as the corner of Woodland Avenue and Green Street, and then again over on Robillard and Park Street.  Those are all there just best on the data we receive and recommendations that we’ve gotten from the Traffic Commission which the DPW Director sits as a member of.  You know,  you look at Woodland Ave. and Green Street, the average speed that we got data for a car that just blew through that intersection was around 45 miles an  hour.  That likely means they didn’t stop, nor were they looking to see what traffic was looking like on either side of the street before they went out into traffic, and that caused a lot of accidents that were there.  Now, they’re forced to stop. They’re forced to pull up to a Stop sign. And it really has seen a big improvement in the number of accidents that have decreased in the area and Heywood Hospital has reached out to us too to say how grateful they are, because that was one of the main issues that they saw. When you need to get to the Hospital, you need to get there in a timely manner, but also need to get there in a safe manner.  …They’ve given us very good feedback on that. 

Poegel:  Is there another street you’d like to address?

Nicholson:  You know, I think it’s on an as needed basis.  There’s none that we’re looking at right now, I will say that.  But as concerns come in, we compile a database of how those concerns compare to where we’re seeing trends of those accidents happening.  I think we do need to take a look at the intersection of 2A and 68, with Timpany Boulevard.  The fact that is kinda nicknamed “Crash Corner” should say something there, but where it is somewhat of a tight squeeze in that location there’s only so much we can do in the space that’s there. So I think something needs to be done, but we need to come up with a more creative solution to that.

The Challenges of Citizen Concerns

Poegel: Mayor Nicholson, as the Chair City’s Chief Executive, you get calls from citizens when they have concerns.  So here’s a two part question: First, what subjects are the easiest to address and second, what areas give you the greatest challenges?  

Nicholson:  You know, the easiest ones to address are the concerns that we get from people who just, are trying to figure out what’s going on, heard this from someone and they just want the full information.  Those we’re always happy to answer here, because a lot of the times, particularly in today’s world, Social Media can be a blessing and a curse where you get the information out there and you put it out there the best you can, still someone only hears a portion of the story, and a lot of the calls we do get are people who just don’t understand the full story of what’s going on.  And I’ll use the Splash Park as an example:  Most of the equipment there is working.  There’s one pipe that is broken underground and we are working on fixing that.  But the biggest issue with the Splash Park is just staffing.  And I addressed this in the Mayor’s Update, we put this information out there too, is that because the Splash Park was put on the deep end side of the pool, we have to have a dedicated lifeguard to watch those children who are playing in the Splash Park, because we have to make sure that if a younger child who really can’t swim in a 13 foot deep end is playing in the Splash Park, they don’t just turn and run into the pool, and have a swimming situation.  However, at the same time, we also can’t take that duty away from the lifeguard whose job it is to watch the deep end pool, because again by state regulations that has to be their sole focus there.  That’s why the Splash Park wasn’t open this year.  But there’s a lot of misinformation out there, that’s a quick and easy conversation and a lot of times,..and I should say for the most part, people they’ve fully understand that situation we have.   

Greenwood Pool This Summer

Poegel:  How has the heat this summer affected the usage of Greenwood Pool especially in light of the Dunn State Park not being able to have swimmers there?

Nicholson:  We seen a very big spike in the number of people who are swimming t there.  And that’s another reason why we have to focus our lifeguards on people who are actually swimming in the pool versus utilizing other things like the Splash Park. There’s been upwards of 250 to 300 people who have gone to the Greenwood Pool on a peak day this summer, and by state regulations you need about 1 lifeguard for every x number of people who are in there too.  So we actually sent a lifeguard away from the Splash Park. We actually have to limit and close the pool up to people who came in due to staffing requirements.    

Various City Departments

Poegel: Let’s go over various City departments: Parks and Recreation – It doesn’t have a sentence on the City website to describe it.  Why?  Is it not a department per se? 

Nicholson:  It’s a sub department of the DPW.  Back in the day, people may remember that we had a Parks Department and a Highway Department, and a Water Department, and a Sewer Department.  Those have all been combined into one department to improve efficiencies across the board.  That was in done in 2007, 2008, as a way to increase, not only efficiency in the department but also financial efficiencies when the City was going in to the Great Recession.  That’s really what we still continue on today.  The reason that we talk about them separate sometimes so we can highlight some of the work that we’ve done at our Parks to improve our recreational facilities.  You know, equipment being updated at the different playgrounds, the new equipment that was donated by the Solid as a Rock foundation in memory of our late Deputy Chief Rock Barrieau, the new Disc Golf course that gonna be constructed next Spring.  Things like that, we really try to highlight.  …That’s why we still talk about them separately, but they’re really still overseen by the Department of Public Works.

DPW Vacancies

Poegel: Now, how has the 4 or 5 vacancies in the DPW affected its ability to get things done?

Nicholson: You know it’s made things tight.  Certain time lines have had to be drawn out. …Certain work has had to get pushed off for about a week or two, on average. But for the most part, things are still going and it’s a very efficient and effective deparment. We talked with the Director about different projects that we’ve got going on and the thing is, it’s what we’re dealing with, and it’s what people, public sector, and private sector are seeing across the Board.  You know, people are having a hard time getting people in the door, but we make do with what we have and we make it work, because no matter what our staffing levels are, our job is to serve the people who live here, and visit here, and make sure they have the best experience possible when they are within our borders.

Applying for a City of Gardner Job

Poegel: So, let’s say someone wants to apply for a position with the City of Gardner. What’s the first step?

Nicholson:  First step is check the City’s website.  There’s a uniform application there for all our positions.  Fill that out, send us a resume and cover letter up to our Human Resources Department and then we’ll get you going from there. 

Gardner Housing Authority

Poegel: Why did the Gardner Housing Authority establish its own website, separate from the City of Gardner?  Housing Authority website, CLICK HERE

Nicholson:  The Gardner Housing Authority is actually considered a state agency.  They are, while I appoint some members of their board, the governor does appoint other members of their board there, and they are actually overseen  by the State’s Health and Human Services Department.  They are a public housing facility.  So while we do talk to them on occasion, and we do work and collaborate with each other, discuss the data that they collect, the needs of the community, the types of requests they are receiving, the reasons why people are applying over there, they are actually considered a state agency outside the purview of the City.

Department Heads and the Press

Poegel: Do you encourage Department Heads to respond to Press inquiries or do you ask them to refer most inquiries to you?

Nicholson:  No I mean, we always encourage our Department Heads to speak to the Press, here.   I do ask to just give me a heads up, that way if someone does reach out to me after, we have an idea of what’s going on.  However, we’ve never discouraged anybody from speaking to the Press.  We should be getting as much information out to the public as possible, because that’s our job.  We’re working on behalf of everyone who lives in the City, when we work in City Hall.  So people should be knowing what City Hall is doing on their behalf every day.    

Poegel:  So, what’s the secret to get a Department Head on the phone?

Nicholson:  I mean, just give them a call.  Is there’s any issues, let me know and I’ll make sure it gets worked out.

The Building Department

Poegel:  Now let’s focus on the Building Department:  Do they have sufficient funding to support the increased workload from all of the permits coming in?

Nicholson:  I believe they do now that the Council has passed the most recent budget. The most recent budget the City council passed in June of this year included funding to bring one of the part-time inspectors up to a full-time inspector. What I mean by that is: Back in 2016, there was a part-time building inspector included in the Building Department’s budget.  This is something that came up as a way to help alleviate some of the burden that we were placing on the Building Commissioner and our one local inspector that we have now.  But it was only a part-time un benefitted position. And that’s been like that since 2016 and it’s been vacant since 2016 because we just cannot find someone to fill it.  So my budget proposal to the City Council this year was to move that from a part-time un benefitted position to a full-time benefitted position.  Particularly now that we’ve seen 12 buildings Downtown sold in the past 6 months, all of the different construction projects that are gonna be associated with that, let alone the record number of building permits.  We’re still far ahead of what we had last year. And last year was our record year.   We’re looking like we’re going to break that again from the way the trends are going now. So with all of that growth that we’re seeing, we just need to make sure we have the resources to fit those requirements there.  So I think now that we’ve got that extra 3rd inspector in the Department, we have the resources that we need.

Animal Control

Poegel:  Moving on to Animal Control. What challenges does Animal Control have this year with the heat?  

Nicholson:  You know it has been a record hot year this year.  We do get calls on occasion on animals being left in cars. We haven’t received too many of those there.  We do try to educate the public as best we can, putting out notices on social media, on the website, and then we have those signs around the City.  But we do ask people, if you do see an animal in a car, especially on a hot day, and the cars not running, and the windows are aren’t open, do call 911, so that we can get someone there to make sure the animal stays safe, and is not put in a dangerous situation, especially on an extra hot day. 

Assessor and Tax Collector

Poegel: In light of the recent tax bill anomaly, how has the volume of calls been in the Assessor and Tax Collector’s offices?

Nicholson:  It was very busy at first.  But what it is, …people just had a concern, it was a lot larger of an increase than we thought normal, but now that we put out that mailing and it has gone out to the different residents in the City, those calls have decreased significantly.  I think a lot of people just didn’t realize that this is the way the state laws are set up, the way the state laws just don’t mesh with each other, and by doing so, it really just started a conversation with the citizens.  We’ve actually had a lot of people reach out via email and phone ca;; lately, actually thanking us for putting that out, it really explained and alleviated their concerns.  But I should say too, it’s not lost on anyone who works in this building, meaning City Hall, that it is going to be a hard two quarters for several people.  And while it’s nice to say that there’s hope at the end of the tunnel, and that in January we are expecting the tax rate to go down, we do understand that it is burdensome for people to get through the first two quarters.  I believe that at least putting that information out there and having that conversation with people, people understood that we understand that this is a precarious situation for several people, but we, our hands are tied and this is just the way the laws are set up.

Poegel: But you did say previously that the City would work with people that had a payment issue, right?

Nicholson:  Yes, Yes, no we do do payment plans with people.  We are required by State Law to charge interest on those payment plans, but it is an option for people out there that we are willing to work with people.

94 Pleasant Street – The Property Story

Poegel: And speaking of taxes: 94 Pleasant Street Gardner owes about 400 grand. How did that happen to grow so much?  And what’s gonna happen to the property once it’s taken under eminent domain?  And how long do you think that will take?

Nicholson:  So the eminent domain process is specifically outlined in very fine-tooth detail in State Law.  This is something that Mayor Charles Manca put into tax court 2 years before I was born.  And I can see it every day out my window.  It’s directly across the street from the Mayor’s Office.  If  you walk out the door of City Hall and you just keep walking straight, you’d end up in his driveway.  It’s an eyesore in the City, it’s been something that the landlord of that property has taken every trick in the book to force the land court to extend it, found every loophole to make sure that the City couldn’t act on it, and it quite frankly, when it gets to this point, and it’s been this long, that every Mayor and every City Solicitor from 1992 to present has had to deal with this thing, it’s someone’s just gotta say, enough is enough.  So I notified the City Solicitor of my intentions to take the property by eminent domain, utilizing the state statute that says that while we’re required to pay fair market value for any property we take by eminent domain, the state law says that if the property owes any money to the City, that is deducted directly from that Fair Market Value price.  We had an official appraisal done on the property, including all of that saying it would cost the City zero dollars and zero cents, because of the large amount of taxes that are owed on the property.  It’s about time that someone just pulls the trigger on it. The City Council did unanimously vote to approve my proposal to just take the property by eminent domain.  It was cited in our Urban Renewal Plan for acquisition and demolition, and that is something that we will be looking at doing with that property.

Poegel:  Mayor Nicholson, would you support changes to State Law, for example, creating a 94 Pleasant Street law in which it would codify something in Massachusetts Law so this kind of thing couldn’t happen again?

Nicholson: Absolutely. 100 percent.  I think it’s something that we need to find a way to address, it’s something that we need to come up with a solution for, because no City or town should have to deal with something like this.  It’s, I don’t know what the exact solution would be, but we need to find something to make sure this doesn’t happen because people, there are people who struggle and that’s why these situations and loopholes in the laws exist, but there are people who just try to play the game and that’s what causes this situation.

City Treasurer

Poegel:  At the City Council meeting of August 1st, the City Treasurer was reelected.  What would you like to say about Jennifer Dymek?

Nicholson:  You know, Jen has been, I have always liked working with Jen Dymek.  She’s been pretty effective in her role.  She’s got answers to every question that I have asked, and I think anyone on our Finance Team has really done an outstanding job, from Jen Dymek, our City Auditor, John Richard, our City Purchasing Director, Josh Cormier, and I think that collaboration and effectiveness in their office and efficiency in their office is what led to us having that perfect audit that we got last year.

City Clerk

Poegel: What would you like to say about the work of the City Clerk and how citizens can best have their needs served?  

Nicholson:  You know the City Clerk’s office has had a lot added to their plate in the past 3 years.  If you look at everything’s that’s been added not only as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, but also the Votes Act that recently passed, new requirements for different Clerk’s offices in terms of record keeping, in terms of public records production, in terms of election in general with early voting, mail-in voting, absentee voting, all the different things that have been added there.   There’s a lot that’s been added to their plate that didn’t exist just 3 years ago.  But they’re continuing to operate in a very efficient and effective manner.  I’m very happy and proud to be able to work with that office.  And while the City Auditor’s office, the City Treasurer’s office, and the City Clerk’s office all work directly for the City Council, and aren’t considered part of my Administration, we do work very collaboratively with each other.  And that’s one of the reasons why I believe we’re so effective and efficient when it comes to getting information, getting services, getting what the residents are looking for, out to them as quickly and effectively as possible. 

Development Review – Collaboration and Help for those coming to Gardner

Poegel: How well are Community Development, Conservation, Engineering and Economic development working together with the various boards such as the Zoning Board of Appeals – and what improvements would you like to see? 

Nicholson:  I think they’re doing a good job.  One of the things that we require now when someone wants to come in for a big project, is we have them sit before what is called the Development Review Committee.  And that’s a committee made up of the different Department Heads who are related to the different boards in the City.  So, the Building Commissioner and his work with the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Director of Community Development and his role with the Planning Board, the Conservation Agent and her role with the Conservation Commission.  So there is the City Engineer, the Director of Public Works, the Building Commissioner, the Conservation Agent, the Director of Public Health.  All of those there make up the Development Review Committee.  And the applicants come and explain what they’d like to do with their projects before that Committee.  And those Department Heads then help lay out to that applicant: OK, you need this document to get a special permit from the Planning Board, you need this variance request from the ZBA, you need this special determination from the Conservation Commission.  That way, any developer or project manager or anything like that that’s coming in the City of Gardner knows exactly what they need, in the exact way that they need it, before they have to get before that Board to save time and efficiency to make sure that the Board has the information that they need and the applicant knows the full picture of what they are going to have to do before they start the process with any of those boards in the meeting. 

Gardner MA Public Safety

Poegel:  Mayor Nicholson, What should citizens know about public safety in Gardner as it relates to Fire, Police, and Emergency Management? 

Nicholson:  I’m very proud of the Public Safety Departments that we have in Gardner. They’re very effective and efficient in their work.  They operate on the very professional scale when they interact with the public, and understanding if the reason why they’re interacting with you it’s because you’re in a stressful situation yourself, whatever it may be, and I’ve always been impressed with just the work ethic and professionalism they have when they are interacting, you know, responding to those calls.  We’re very lucky to have the Public Safety Department we have here in Gardner.

Rocky the K-9, A Big Gardner Asset Already

Poegel:  I understand that Rocky was sworn in to a permanent appointment at the City Council Meeting the other evening.  He barked quite loudly to the City Clerk.  What did Rocky say?

Nicholson:  Rocky said, I do, to his oath of office. He was very happy to see that that was happening …at the City Council meeting.  Rocky is a really good asset to the City.  We’ve seen him already respond to a call in Gardner where there was a robbery that took place.  He tracked the person down and all goods were recovered.  You know, I’m trying to find the right words to describe it, but, it’s just he’s a member of the Department in the end.  He did the Police work that he needed to do.  I think he’s going to be a really good asset for us here in Gardner.

Gardner Health Department

Poegel: How effective has the Gardner Health Department been regarding health-related issues in the community?  And do you feel they sometimes give too many chances when violations occur?  

Nicholson:  You know, I don’t think they’re chances as much as they are the required waiting periods in the law.  Particularly with the sanitary code that governs what the Health Department can do.  A lot of it is you have to first give a verbal warning.  And then after the verbal warning, you need to wait 10 days for them to make a correction.  And if that doesn’t work, you have to give a written warning.  And they you have to have to wait 10 days from that.  And then you have to issue your first citation.  And then, you have to wait 10 days from that.  And I think that a lot of it is just the statutory timelines and the laws that govern that Department that we’re seeing. But I think they try their best in making sure those situations do at least get addressed in some manner.  It’s just the procedures that are outlined can be a little frustrating with the length of time.

Relating to Salary Study

Poegel: In light of the resignation of the City Solicitor (Publisher’s error in question, actually was Assistant City Solicitor who resigned.), do you plan to once again ask the City Council to provide additional funding for the position given the increased workload? Will you ask again for a raise for HR Director Debra Pond?

Nicholson: So first of all, it’s our Assistant City Solicitor who has resigned recently.  He did give his resignation to us actually the morning of that City Council meeting.  So that wasn’t a direction relation to that vote that was taken there, but I am going to be undertaking the full salary survey that the City Council requested to be done.  We’ll see what that survey comes out with.  I think it’s going to point out that the original request was in line with what those positions should be receiving.  But due diligence is something I never balk at, and further information like that.  So if that’s what the City Council would like as further proof, we’re happy to undertake that there. 

Gardner Purchasing Department

Poegel:  Do you think the Gardner Purchasing Department is sufficiently staffed with enough Cheapskates to save the City money on what is purchased?  And how do you know they’re cheapos? 

Nicholson:  I’m very happy with our purchasing office.  Both Josh and Meredith who were in that department are called MCPPO designated, Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Official.  That’s a designation that’s required for everyone who works in that office by State law.  And they passed those courses with flying colors.  The way our contracts work is the city charter says that any contract over $1000 needs my signature on it. So, any time any purchase is made in any department in the City or Schools, that has a value of over a thousand dollars, it goes through a process, that’s outlined where it starts with that department head, and then goes to the City Auditor to make sure there’s enough funds to cover the cost.   Then it goes to the City Solicitor to make sure all of the legal aspects of the contract are fine, and then it goes to the Purchasing office to make sure that they followed all the correct bidding procedures, they followed all of the advertisement procedures for those bids, and that it is the best bang for our buck, because we are dealing with the taxpayers’ money and need to be as responsible as possible.  And if they see anything wrong, they kick it back to the Department Head, and the process starts all over again.  So I don’t actually even see a contract until it’s been vetted like that, and there have been times where it has been kicked back.  So I’m very  happy with how diligent and thorough our Purchasing Department is.

Human Resources and City Employees

Poegel: How often does Human Resources have to inform you of issues with City Employees?  Do they generally behave themselves or are they a rowdy bunch?  

Nicholson:  They, you know we’ve got a good group working here in Gardner.  I’m very lucky to be on this team.  We really don’t have that many issues that get brought up and they are very good employees.  We’re very proud of them.

School Department Staffing

Poegel: The School Department is going to be very busy very soon as they prepare for the opening of the new Gardner Elementary School.    How’s the staffing for the new year? And, is there any gossip people would like to know about?

Nicholson:  You know, we’re in a good spot.  We just hired another 25 people to work for the new school year, just replacing some retirements that we’ve had or people who have left for other districts for different reasons whatsoever. The latest one is that we currently have a position open for the Middle School Band Director and High School Percussion Instructor for the Marching Band.  Mr. Schmidt was hired by the Auburn School District which really is a premiering standard for a band program in Massachusetts, and you never fault anyone for bettering their career. So that’s the latest on what we’re going to have to fill there soon.  But, we should be in a good spot when we start the School year.


Poegel: Sludge is in the news.  If the City’s proposed expansion solution is safe, why is there such an organized opposition to it? 

Nicholson:  I think there’s just some misinformation that’s out there, not understanding the full project.  …Like the fact that we’re even at this point means that everything’s had to be vetted as thoroughly as possible by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the EPA.  This is something that, we have to be remembering our fiduciary responsibility that we have for our rate payers.  This is not a taxpayer project because not everyone is on our sewer system, but it has to be something that we take care of in the way that’s most effective, most environmentally friendly, and financially responsible for us.  In that, we’ve looked at other proposals.  We’ve looked at anaerobic digestion, we’ve looked at trucking the cost away, but it would result in a massive increase in our sewer rates, and we just can’t pass that on to the rate payers. Especially with those on a fixed income, and stuff like that, a massive tripling of the sewer rates is not a financially responsible decision for us to be able to make like that.  So we’re doing what we can, but we also will continue to look for ways that we can move forward in the future, to come up with a longer term solution, then just the 17 years that this expansion would give us.   

Gardner MA Water and Sewer Department and Water

Poegel: What is the water and sewer department doing in the next 5 years to provide not only the safest water for people, but also the safest water for heating equipment used in Gardner households?

Nicholson:  All of our water is tested on a daily basis and some tests are on a weekly basis there.   …There’s certain specific standards that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency sets for drinking water.  We meet all of those tests.  We put out the  annual report saying how our water has tested in those ways there, and we are getting an additional chlorinating mechanism at our elevated storage tank over on Route 140, to make sure that we can better regulate the amount of chlorine in the water.  To make sure we are fully disinfecting everything there.  So we already are meeting all of our requirements with that and we’re just making sure that if  there’s any way we can make it better, we do.

Social Media Concerns

Poegel:  Now, Mayor Nicholson, our last question: There is an individual out there acting as an admin of a local Facebook Group.  He has been criticized  for inaccuracies, banning individuals who disagree with his positions, and most recently for some offensive innuendo against you. He also freely uses the material of others without Fair Use.  Is there a line, which when crossed would lead to litigation from either you, the City, or others? 

Nicholson:  I mean, I will say that a, the most frustrating thing about certain individuals on Facebook, particularly when they take information from somewhere else and post it, is that a lot of the time, particularly with one specific Facebook, only a quarter of the story gets posted.  And what happens with that is that people don’t understand what actually is going on, and quite frankly, it’s almost tantamount to lying about what’s going on. Because, when you only put out a certain amount there, and you make up the other portion, it’s just quite simply isn’t true in 90 percent of the cases.  It misleads the public and quite frankly is lying in the end.  So, listen, people are gonna disagree with me on every decision I make. And I understand that and quite frankly it’s an occupational hazard of working in public service.  You do the best you can but you understand that there’s always gonna be a difference of opinion.  That’s how a healthy, democratically run government works.  And you want that back and forth because that helps you to get the full picture on a subject.  I would never discourage anyone from mentioning how they disagree on a position that the City is doing, or what is going on or anything like that.  But there’s ways to do it that aren’t misleading.  And I think those that intentionally mislead the public in those ways are quite frankly hurting this community more than anything else.  And, we should all be doing something to make sure that we’re promoting Gardner, rather than hurting Gardner in the end.  Now when it comes to taking items from other sources than aren’t from City Government, you know, if it’s copyrighted material or anything like that, that’s up to the individual people who those come from there.  But when it comes from information from the City, certain groups on Facebook and certain individuals are posting things that are really misleading and twisting the story, I would hope that they’d realize that they are actually hurting the City, being a disservice to those who live here rather than an actual help.

Other Departments and Mayor’s Closing Statement Thanking His Team

Poegel: Mayor Nicholson, as far as other City Departments, are there any City Departments we haven’t covered that you would like to say something about?

Nicholson:  You know, not one in particular.  But I’m very luck and I’m very blessed to work the team that I have here at City Hall.  And when I mean City Hall, I mean not just in this building, but I also include the Fire Department, the Police Department, the DPW, the Library, the Schools.  We’re very lucky to have the team that we have here. And, a lot of people don’t see as good teamwork and the cohesive unit that we have here in Gardner, so I’m very thankful for all of our City Employees and the great work that they do everyday for the people who live here.

Poegel: Well, Mayor Nicholson, I thank you very much for your time this morning. And I’ll let you get on with your work day. 

Nicholson:  Thank you very much, Werner, you have a great day.

Poegel:  You too, thank you.