TOWNSEND — A three-way selectmen’s race was at the forefront of the discussion at Memorial Hall last Thursday.
Five candidates spoke at the April 12 candidates night at the Great Hall. The forum featured opening and closing statements as well as questions from the floor. Incumbent Selectman Sue Lisio, Board of Health Chairman James LeCuyer and resident and former Harvard Postmaster Gerald Copeland are all vying for an open seat on the Board of Selectmen.
Townsend resident Ronald Dionne, who is running unopposed for the Board of Water Commissioners, and Susan Gerken, an unopposed candidate for Amanda E. Dwight Entertainment Fund Commissioners also took the stage.
Lisio won her first term three years ago after running as a write-in candidate with two others.
“I think we’ve been successful,” she said of that time with the board.
She went on to say that the green communities designation and wage-and-classification plan were two high points, and that next she planned to work on outdated personnel policies, which is something the board has already begun.
On the upcoming Town Meeting warrant, the town will be asked to vote on a proposition 2 1/2 override to fund the North Middlsesex Regional High School and residents from the floor expressed concern about taxes. Copeland said he “wants to live in Townsend, not exist in it.”
“If I built a house in the ’60s, and I didn’t do any preventative maintenance, then asked the town for money to fix it, people would laugh me out of town,” Copeland said, in reference to the deteriorating state of the North Middlesex Regional High School building.
Copeland is a longtime resident who became postmaster for Harvard after time in the military. He now drives a school bus and, although he has little political experience, he said he would speak his mind. He did just that on the budget, saying items like yearly teacher raises that are not based on merit and a high superintendent’s salary should not have been funded in consideration of preventative maintenance costs, not instead of.
Accenting his work with the Board of Health, LeCuyer said he has been self-employed for 30 years and “was not a person to be put on hold.” He said when it comes to increasing taxes, he said everything must be analyzed.
On school issues, Lisio said she would support the budget and necessary high school repairs. Holding back on funding throughout the last couple of years has made the taxpayers “victims of underfunding,” she said. There is a correlation, she added, between the value of a school and value of a house because of how property values are connected to its school system.
One resident expressed concern about delinquent taxpayers, and pressed for how they should be held accountable but the three candidates echoed LeCuyer’s sentiment that it was “beyond the scope of his ability.”
Civic participation, such as Town Meeting attendance, committee and board membership is an area that could use improvement, according to all candidates, but they differed on the best method to improve it.
Both Copeland and LeCuyer thought the meetings themselves were the problems.
“We need to speed them up, have people state their opinions without interruption, no offending. It seems the process needs to be changed,” Copeland said.
“Boring” is what LeCuyer called them.
“There is too much beating around the bush and beating the dead horse. Some of the issues could be resolved in another fashion,” he said.
Volunteerism and participation, for Lisio, is “near and dear to her heart.” She said that a civic education class at the library and better presence on the Internet would be a way to draw people into town government by making them less confused or afraid.
Dionne said he would take a more one-on-one approach by going out and talking to people.
“Just by doing that, I’ve re-registered 15 people,” he said. “You can have a say, but if you want the opportunity to do so, you need to come here.”
As a newcomer to town, Dionne said though the Water Department is his primary concern right now, he has several others. According to him, he needs to be part of the system to learn more about it and wants to use that knowledge to be a relationship builder between himself and constituents.
All candidates were in support of a rail trail for town. LeCuyer said it would be good because it is spending money on something the town uses.
“Unlike the Devens hazardous waste facility, which the Board of Health was not in favor of and people in town aren’t using,” he said.
Copeland said the trail would go through his backyard and he would support it and use it, but wants to be sure money was available for it first.
With relatives in Pepperell and Arlington, Lisio said she had seen them in both those towns and that a rail trail is “something people move (to town) for.”
The floor also wanted to know the fate of the Hart Free Library, a building that has been closed since September of 2009.
Currently, the Board of Selectmen is working on plans for the building, and Lisio said Town Administrator Andy Sheehan was finalizing details on renovation costs. Personally, she said she would like to see a place for local craftsmen and artists to display things or work in.
LeCuyer agreed, but said maintenance was his main concern.
Though running unopposed, Gerken took the opportunity to promote the Amanda E. Dwight Entertainment Fund, which gave $4,800 to programs like the Squannacook PTO, Townsend Recreation Department, Townsend Historical Society, Friends of Willard Brook and others for events and to put on fundraising efforts.
“I want to continue to uphold the mission of the fund,” she said.
Follow Luke Steere at twitter.com/lsnashobapub.