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New mayor learning the ropes while looking to the future

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GREENFIELD — After a whirlwind of wintry weather, new faces, money matters and more, Mayor Chuck Fewell has an optimistic view of his first two months in office.

“If anything is a blessing, I’m part of the new record of the most snowfall ever,” he said, snickering over the number of people who have jested that he’s to blame for all of the cold, snow and potholes.

Fewell was selected Dec. 30 to finish the final two years of the late Mayor Dick Pasco’s term. While he plans to continue Pasco’s vision for the city, Fewell also has some new ideas and is hoping for a future of better streets and economic growth for the city.

“It’s been a good experience so far because I’ve had a great reception from staff; I’ve had a great reception when I’m out with the public,” Fewell said. “I’m accessible, and I think that’s very important to the citizens.”

Take, for example, the phone call he took from downtown business Four Sharp Corners. Giant snow mounds blocked the entrance of the building, and Fewell quickly had the street department clear the snow.

And then there was the time last week when Fewell took a call from local veterans concerned the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Apple Street would be flooded because of a drainage problem. While most city staff was off work that day because of the Presidents Day holiday, Fewell had a crew from the street department rush to the scene – sandbags in hand – to clear out the drains.

“People are comfortable with him. They’ve found a friend,” said street superintendent Jim Hahn. “I don’t know; it seems like he knows everybody. He wants to be informed; he likes to be able to give an answer. The man doesn’t like surprises.”

The two have worked closely since Fewell took office. Fewell has a background in both public safety and infrastructure, so directing Hahn with the street department needs comes pretty naturally.

“We went from the flood to right to the blizzard (in early January), and Mayor Fewell took over right at the heart of the blizzard,” Hahn said. “We made several jokes about him coming forward, and we get this horrible weather. All these storms, it had to be somebody’s fault. He’s got a good sense of humor, and he jokingly accepted that. It was nice to have somebody who pretty much knew the level of severity (of the storms).”

Joking aside, Fewell has also identified a need in the city to pinpoint the best and worst streets in Greenfield. Fewell says once the weather warms up, he’d like to see an inventory of all city streets graded from best to worst. That way, city officials can better identify how to fix problems throughout the city.

“We have 105 miles in the city, so it’s not something that’s done next week, but it’s something we need as a city,” said Fewell, a former governmental affairs and business development representative for Milestone Contractors.

Fewell, 70, has lived in Greenfield 16 years and is married to Kristin, a longtime Greenfield-Central elementary school teacher. He’s been involved in community boards and Republican Party politics for years, though his career had kept him from seeking elected office until now.

Prior to working in infrastructure, Fewell was a police officer.

The last two months have not just been about bad weather. He’s also faced a few policy and spending decisions.

When a request to make pavement cuts along Opportunity Parkway to make room for more trucks into the Speedway gas station came before the Greenfield Board of Works, Fewell echoed concerns that it would one day become a truck stop. But he ultimately voted in favor of the curb cuts, saying trucks are already damaging the curbs and pavement anyway.

A new five-year master plan for the city’s parks was approved recently, though Fewell admits he has yet to catch up on reading the lengthy document and come to any opinions about long-term expansion goals. He does, however, see merit in connecting the Pennsy Trail in Greenfield to Cumberland, but he believes it should come before a public vote to see what the community as a whole thinks.

Fewell has also been in favor of the city’s downtown revitalization plan, advocating for a downtown Tax Increment Finance district that would provide the money needed to apply for grants.

He says the top officials in each city office are helping him learn his job.

“Do I understand everything they’re doing? No. That’s why the department heads are here,” he said.

Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese said he touches base almost daily with the mayor, who’s not afraid to ask questions.

“I think he’s got a pretty good grasp of it,” Breese said of the city’s finances and all of the quirks tax money can and can’t be used for. “It’s a learning curve; it’s new to him. But I’ve been impressed with the fact that he has a willingness to learn, and I think he has an intelligence level of understanding. You can present something to him, and he can grasp it pretty quick.”

Kathy Locke, member of the Greenfield Board of Works, said she’s met with Fewell several times, and she likes how he’s open-minded to suggestions.

“Although he’s been involved in the community and in his work, he doesn’t really have any preconceived opinions about how things have been done in the past. I think he’s coming in with fresh eyes,” Locke said.

Even the three city council members who wanted to become mayor are pleased with how Fewell has been handling city business.

John Patton said the new mayor is carrying on Pasco’s vision for the city, and he’s glad Fewell is open to listening to his suggestions. Mitch Pendlum has been friends with Fewell for years, and said he has confidence Fewell is learning the job quickly and knows where to turn for answers.

For Judy Swift, it’s the stories she hears about Fewell helping constituents in need that pleases her most.

“That’s what the city’s all about – taking care of the citizens,” she said.

Fewell had planned to run for mayor in 2015, but Pasco’s death brought the dream to a quick reality. He was selected at a Republican Party caucus from among five other hopefuls, earning nine of the 12 votes by GOP precinct committeemen on the first ballot.

With another 22 months yet to go in his term, Fewell said he still has plenty of discovering to do.

“Every day, you learn something new,” Fewell said. “Anybody who sat in this chair and said they knew all the answers was in the wrong business to begin with.”

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