AYER -- The two candidates for town clerk and tax collector faced off in their first debate on Saturday, the second of two pre-filmed sessions that will air on the Ayer Public Access Channel in the coming weeks.

Incumbent John Canney is running against Susan Copeland, an Ayer native who works as a finance assistant in Harvard.

Moderator Connie Sullivan presented the first question: Whether they would support the town clerk and tax collector -- with the collector merged with the town treasurer position -- as appointed offices.

Copeland said she was in favor of making them appointed positions. Many town government positions, she argued, contain guidelines and statutes from the state.

The town needs to have a qualified candidate with the background, knowledge and fortitude to take over, she said.

"I do feel that we need to have better control so that we can work cohesively with all departments," she said.

Canney came out opposed to the idea of appointment, saying it gave too much power to the appointing authority.

"I do not believe in any way that the power ought to be taken away from the hands of the people," he said.

Another question asked candidates what changes they would make to the offices.

Canney said the departments are constantly looking for ways to improve both offices.


One of his goals is more education, and he said he would like to seek out more money so that the assistant town clerk and tax collector can attend meetings from the Massachusetts Collectors and Treasurers Association, as well as the Middlesex City and Town Clerks Association.

At a session he attended a few days ago, he said the director of the Secretary of State's office talked to attendees about the federal voting laws, warning them how to stay out of trouble because they are in the process of changing.

"I would love to be able to take my assistants," he said.

Canney said he also wants to continue working with Town Hall associates and continuing to improve the technologies used to collect taxes.

Copeland focused on accessibility and staff.

"Allowing more accessibility to flow through the office has been an important thing," she said, also noting that she would continue the online technology Canney currently uses for the offices.

Candidates also answered what their priorities for both offices.

Canney named the tax collector's office work with other departments in creating online bill scanning for real estate and motor vehicle excise taxes, and that the town clerk's office continue its outreach, registering voters and conducting webinar training with state agencies.

Copeland said that if elected, she would be interested in working with the staff that is already in the office.

"They're very capable and have a lot of knowledge and they have a lot of ideas to change some of the procedures that are in the office," she said.

But the last question held the most bite, as Sullivan asked Canney to comment on what delayed the posting of the sex offender residency bylaw that the town passed in 2011.

As a result of that delay, Sullivan explained in the question, a registered sex offender was able to move into an area of town they otherwise would not have been allowed to live.

Canney didn't answer, insisting on focusing on the positive.

"One of the difficulties we have at Town Hall is that our Town Hall is often perceived as being negative rather than positive," he explained.

He cited the office's online payment of taxes, the certification of the tax collector's position with the Massachusetts Collectors and Treasurers Association, voter registration and more positive accomplishments.

Copeland commented on the matter from a parent's perspective.

"This is a very important posting that needs to be kept up with, and I know a lot of residents in town were concerned with the delay," she said.

She said she would work hard to make sure there was no delay in any kind of posting.

The debates will air on channel 8 at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. through April 28.