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Degen says town service has prepared him for role of selectman

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GROTON — In what is rapidly shaping up to be a crowded race, a third potential candidate has taken out nomination papers for an open seat on the Board of Selectmen.

Joining Chicopee Row resident Stuart Schulman and Dan Parker Road resident Carl Flowers Jr. in the contest for selectman Win Nordblom’s open seat is Martins Pond Road resident Joshua Degen.

“I’m running because the town is currently under less pressure from residential development,” said Degen, who is currently a member of the Planning Board.

“Also, I think the eight years I’ve spent on the Planning Board has taught me to work and negotiate with developers to come up with plans that are in the best interest of the town,” he said. “I feel the experience I’ve gained while negotiating with developers will carry over to my job as a selectman where the board is charged with setting policy as opposed to being reactionary such as the Planning Board is.”

No stranger to a selectman’s campaign, Degen has already run once before, coincidentally, for the seat Nordblom ended up winning two years ago.

“I feel that the town is at an important crossroads now that its population has passed the 10,000 mark and dwelling units 3,500,” said Degen. “The need for more schools, more town employees, more services is an important issue.

“Our affordable housing plan that was recently approved by the state is sitting dormant and it’s incumbent upon the selectmen to sponsor a study of town-owned land on which to site affordable housing,” he said. “If elected, I would be willing to chair a subcommittee in order to do that. This plan, once implemented, will allow the town to meet its affordable housing needs and avoid being at the mercy of greedy 40B developers.”

As a long-time member of the Planning Board, many of the issues facing the Board of Selectmen in the near future will not be unfamiliar to Degen including plans for the development of Station Avenue.

“The Planning Board has applied for a $30,000 grant from the state to hire a consultant who would evaluate all of the parcels in the Station Avenue area all the way up to Town Hall,” said Degen. “Currently, selectmen and the Electric Light Department have awarded a contract to Capstone Properties for the rights to develop the property.

“We want this project to be very user-friendly to the people in town and not just have commercial development,” said Degen. “There should be a mix of residential housing and senior housing as well as commercial space.”

Also a frequent topic of discussion with the Planning Board has been that of growth.

“Residential growth in town is being kept in check by appropriate development and the growth that is being generated by commercial development is also being controlled,” said Degen. “However, the growth that’s being generated by 40B development is not acceptable in my mind.

“We have no control over that,” he said. “The state has enabled developers to write a blank check to do whatever they want in every municipality in the state. While affordable housing must be achieved, the methods by which it is being created, as they are currently written in the state’s 40B requirements, are not necessarily appropriate for small towns. What works fairly well in urban areas does not work well in rural areas such as Groton.

“That such land use groups as Planning Boards are taken out of the jurisdictional authority for approval of such plans is really not fair,” said Degen. “I feel that the guidance the ZBA has received from their consultants on 40B projects is flawed and has led this town into multiple and costly litigations and created extreme hardship for those who abut these proposed developments.

More recently, selectmen have been exploring the possibility of changing town government and handing more power over to a chief executive such as a town manager.

“I would like to see a town manager hired,” said Degen, a resident in town since 1991. “But the town manager should report directly to the selectmen. He should be charged with the day-to-day operations of Town Hall and all departmental employees as well as insurance coverage, human resources, etc.

“However, the town manager must report directly to the selectmen,” said Degen. “I would like to see the selectmen remain in charge of the hiring and firing in town. Allowing him to hire and fire would be giving a town manager too much authority especially for someone who might not be living in Groton.”

The Nov. 7 special town election will be held concurrent with state elections whose most prominent contest will be that of governor. Holding the town election at the same time as statewide elections is expected to draw a greater number of voters than usual to the polls.

To qualify for the ballot, a candidate must acquire the signatures of at least 46 registered voters and file election papers by 5 p.m. on Sept. 20.

Whoever is elected to replace Nordblom will serve for a year before having to run again for re-election when the original three-year-term is up.

“What I can bring to the Board of Selectmen is the ability to interact as both a member of the Planning Board and a selectman helping to foster better communication between the two boards,” said Degen. “I feel that good board communications is important because if everyone is not on the same page, then town government is not going to be effective as it moves into the future.”

Degen indicated that it was his intention to serve concurrently on the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen until both offices expire in the Spring of 2007.

“I’ll complete my term on the Planning Board, which is set to expire next May of 2007, and if elected to the Board of Selectmen, will serve until next spring,” said Degen. “At that time I will make the decision to seek re-election either to the Board of Selectmen or the Planning Board but not both as I did two-and-a-half years ago.”

Nomination papers can be obtained from the Town Clerk’s office on Mondays from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and the first and third Saturday of each month, September to June, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

The Town Clerk’s office can be contacted by telephone at (978) 448-1100 or by e-mail at omaloney@townofgroton.org.

For Groton residents, the last day to register to vote in both the special town election and the state election is Oct. 18.

A special voter registration session will be held by the Board of Registrars on Oct. 18 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For voting, Precinct 1 will be at the Senior Center located at 163 West Main Street and Precincts 2 and 3 will vote at the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School North building at 346 Main Street. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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