'Step aside and enjoy what I have left in life here': Sapelli leaves office after long run in Agawam
Shortly into the new year, three western Massachusetts mayors will leave office. Greenfield's Roxann Wedegartner is out after losing the November election, and Pittsfield's Linda Tyer and Agawam's Bill Sapelli are stepping away after deciding not to run again.
Sapelli has spent more than 40 years working for Agawam — as an educator, school superintendent and — for the last six years — as mayor.
We sat down with Sapelli to discuss his time in office. Sapelli said, while bittersweet, he's comfortable with his decision not to seek re-election.
Bill Sapelli, Agawam mayor: I've been working for the municipality in one capacity or another over the last 46 years, so I think it's maybe time for me to step aside and enjoy what I have left in life here.
Adam Frenier, NEPM: You've gone from a substitute teacher to an educator to superintendent and now a mayor. Talk about that long tenure in public service here in Agawam. What has that meant to you?
Well, it's meant a lot. As I just mentioned earlier, the relationships you build. And I think, most things in life are all about relationship-building. And when you're in those positions, it's crucial that you're able to build relationships and foster those relationships because decisions you make impact so many people, and being able to communicate with people is so important. But I will miss that part of the job, without a doubt.
As you look back at your time as mayor, what are some accomplishments you're particularly proud of?
One of the things I'm really most proud of in the last six years was that I was in office during the pandemic, and that was such a challenge to everybody. It was an unknown.
You know, many things you've gone through, whether it was five, 10, 15, even 20 years ago. And you can look back on, 'OK, how did we handle that storm situation or that crisis back then?' Well, pandemic was something new to everybody, so there's no playbook. So we had to make things up as we went along based on the information we had, based on the situation, and based on our individual needs of our community and our schools.
And I think Agawam did a great job, in retrospect. And I say retrospect because while we were in the middle of it, we didn't know if it was the right decision or the wrong decision. We based it on No. 1 safety. But No. 2 — needs of the community, especially the need of children to be in front of teachers. And I think, what we did after the fact, we look back on it and said, 'You know what? We did many of those things, right.' We got kids back into school as early as we could. We had the mask [requirements] where they were appropriate. We did a lot for the businesses to try to keep them open, to do outside dining and all those other things that went along with it.
So that was quite a unique challenge, and I think it took the whole community to pull together and get things done. And I think Agawam did a great job with that.
Talking about the transition to a new mayor — it's a unique one here in Agawam, as Christopher Johnson had previously held the job many years ago. What's that transition been like? You're passing the torch to somebody who's already sat in this very office where we are right now.
Yeah, very true. Chris Johnson is a wonderful individual. He's an attorney, and he was the mayor from 1990 to 2000. He was the first mayor when Agawam went to that form of government. But, if you recall, he is the president of the City Council and has been for the six years I've been here. So, he and I have worked so closely as mayor and council president on all of our needs and our wants and our legislation.
And so, we have a very great working relationship. We think a lot alike in a lot of areas. We're different in some ways. We're very similar in others. But the transition has been going extremely well.
What's been the best part about being the mayor of Agawam?
I would say it goes back to relationships again and the people you meet. And I really, really feel good when I can contribute and help residents that are in need. And as mayor, that's your job, I think, to help fix things, to help make things better for the community. And people will come to you and ask you to make things better, whether it's housing, whether it's streets and sidewalks, whether it's schools, whether it's safety.
And it's nice that you have that opportunity to influence that and have an impact on that. So, I think that I would say that's the most important thing.