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HARVARD — Deborah Thomson and Kenneth Swanton are the two candidates vying for a vacant seat on the Board of Selectmen in the Nov. 4 town election.

Thomson is an attorney whose career has focused on “persons with disabilities” and as principal of the PASS Group specializes in “legislative and administrative advocacy for elder and health issues.” She plans to retire soon.

She serves on the Community Preservation Committee, which oversees Community Preservation Act funds and recommends eligible projects to Town Meeting for funding.

Other in-town activities include the League of Women Voters’ “Civility Project.”

Swanton, a recently retired electronics executive and business owner with management skills and a long volunteer resume, currently chairs the Historic Commission, which he’s served on for three of the five years he’s lived in town.

In separate interviews with the Harvard Hillside conducted in the cozy environs of the General Store in the town center, the candidates aired priorities, shared some vision and talked about why they’re running, touching on issues they might champion if elected.

Deb Thomson

Originally from Pennsylvania and an alumnus of Penn State University and George Washington University Law School, Thomson and her husband, Jim Breslauer, moved to town about 10 years ago, having discovered Harvard’s rural charms while living in Lowell and visiting friends here. Their son now lives in Lowell and they have two grandchildren. They share their home with three dogs, two cats and a horse.

With her work centered in Boston — around Beacon Hill and the state Legislature — Thomson hasn’t had much time for volunteer activities in town. But that will change when she retires at the end of the year, she said. So she decided to run for selectman.

She hasn’t attended many selectmen’s meetings, she said, but she watches them on TV.

Asked how she views the selectman’s role in town affairs, Thomson said their leadership direction must be based on townwide consensus and that board members should seek public input to set priorities and then take action.

The Town Hall renovation project, for example. After some fractiousness, the board seems to have set a course and reached decisions based on what townspeople have said they want. And if the next step is to ask again, that’s as it should be, Thomson said.

Other than Town Hall, does she see any problems to be addressed?

Elected officials “don’t always collaborate well,” Thomson answered. But they should. Rather than protracted wrangling, healthy debate ends with resolution in her book, meaning that at some point, someone must yield to move forward. “The secret to good democracy is good losers,” she said.

Sketching a scenario in which voters also participate in the deliberative process, she said that when there’s work in progress, it takes a town to get it done. “We as a town can make things happen,” she said.

Hildreth House, for example. Although she doesn’t favor a tax hike right now to pay for it, Thomson strongly favors restoring and renovating the old building as a Senior Center. She’d focus on safety and access issues addressed in the proposals on the table now, she said, one of which is a two-phase project in which those issues would be fixed first.

Whether the town decides to do it all at once or in stages, fixing up Hildreth House is a must, in her view.

Given the town’s demographics, “we need to consider senior needs,” Thomson said, and the facility is not adequate as is, even though some improvements have been made.

The CPC recommended CPA funding for proposals the HH Improvement Committee brought forward, she said, such as new windows and installing a lift to the second floor. But more must be done so the facility functions as it should for the next 50 years.

Does she think that’s likely? “If the town steps up, yes.” Thomson answered.

Selectman Leo Blair has said that although he supports the senior center concept, Hildreth House might not be the best place for it, citing the unsuitable layout, condition and hilltop location of the old building, with structural and landscaping challenges.

“I respectfully disagree” with such an assessment, Thomson said. “It’s a real asset.”

She’s also interested in the idea of developing elder housing in town.

But the Council on Aging needs a good home from which to offer programs and outreach services that are more vital than the user-friendly aspects of an improved drop-in center.

Under COA director Deborah Thompson’s leadership, those missions meet at Hildreth House.

According to her resume, Thomson has been a staunch advocate for senior services and has experience in the field, having successfully lobbied state legislators on various elder issues and advocated for increased COA funding.

Besides experience, her years on Beacon Hill have given her a wide network of contacts she could reach out to on local issues, Thomson said.

Her resume also lists coalitions and commissions at the local, state and federal level she has participated in and awards she has received from groups such as the Mass. Councils on Aging, “Lawyer’s Weekly Magazine” and the Mass. Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Asked about economic development and Devens disposition, Thomson said she does not favor a supermarket in the C-district but, as with everything else, selectmen’s stand on the issue must be guided by what most people in town want.

She sees Devens as a “regional issue” with local impact.

When she moved here, the “2B” disposition question was on the table, she said. Now, with the Devens community seemingly less focused on town-building and MassDevelopment still in charge, she sees disposition as an issue the stakeholder towns — Ayer, Harvard and Shirley — must solve together. “Somehow, we need to coordinate … to solve the problem or the state will,” she said.

Skills Thomson would bring to the selectmen’s table include critical-thinking, collaboration, problem-solving and compromise, she said, adding that as an attorney, she has mediation experience.

Ken Swanton

An alumnus of Harvard University, M.I.T. and Newton public schools, Swanton lived for a while in the Lowell area, where the live video equipment business he co-founded a decade ago and managed until recently is based. But his longest stretch was in Bolton, where he and his late wife brought up their three kids and where he was an active community volunteer. “It was fun and I accomplished a lot,” he said.

But town boards he served on didn’t include selectmen.

“I’ve always wanted to be a selectman,” he said.

Tracing his move from Bolton to Harvard, Swanton said his first wife died after a long struggle with the aftermath of a stroke that left her severely disabled and he took care of her for six years. Their youngest child was 15 at the time.

Now remarried, with his kids grown and doing well on their own, and with one grandson, Swanton said he and his wife, a first-grade teacher, decided to “start over” in a new place. Their home is in the center, just across the street from the General Store.

With more free time now, Swanton plans to rev up his volunteer activities.

His work with the Historic Commission has been enjoyable and generated contact with selectmen, he said, and he often attends their meetings. He also worked closely with Town Administrator Tim Bragan on Town Hall project issues that came before the commission. “It’s clear we can do it (renovate the building) for the money we have,” he said.

As for moving out for good and leaving the restored building for other uses, a notion the board has been considering and aims to ask Town Meeting for guidance on, Swanton said voters should decide that issue.

After all, the project people bought into was for Town Hall, not a community center. Anyway, as he sees it, selectmen have the go-ahead to move during renovations, period.

Asked about Hildreth House, Swanton said it’s a lovely old building, cozy and welcoming and he understands why people like it. But maybe not so much they want to spend $4 million to renovate it. “I think we could do a nice addition” for less, he said.

Swanton said he polled about 300 people who use COA programs, out of a 1,500 senior population, and most folks he talked to would rather control taxes than pay that much for a senior center.

Volunteer work wasn’t new to him when he moved to Harvard, Swanton said. While living in Bolton for many years, he served on the School Committee, Planning Board and Conservation Trust.

As School Committee chairman, he helped negotiate a teacher’s contract and the Conservation Trust “saved six farms” during his tenure, he said. He is particularly proud of his role in rescuing two large land tracts from development: Nashoba Winery and the 900-acre International Golf Course, the town’s biggest taxpayer.

Thriving now, both businesses were struggling and would have sold out to developers if the trust hadn’t stepped up to help out, raising public awareness, fundraising and going for grants.

Based on his background as a manager in business and a driving force on town boards, Swanton said he has the right stuff for the volunteer job he’s running for now.

Known as a “consensus builder,” he said, as a selectman he would “bring different views together” to get things done. Most of all, he’d listen. “God gave us ears,” to listen, he said.

So, should elected officials lead or follow voters’ stated wishes? “Both,” Swanton said.

When it comes to elder issues in town, Swanton sees taxes as the top priority. “We need to keep Harvard affordable,” he said. Not just for seniors, but they can be hard hit by rising taxes.

“I’m tired of seeing people leave town because they can’t afford the taxes,” he said, noting that the “average” property tax bill in Harvard of $9,400 a year is the 20th highest in Massachusetts.

That said, he’d like the town to take a careful, thoughtful approach to economic development, ensuring its rural character is preserved.

If the EDC survey indicates people want a grocery store in town, for example, a closer look at results might show they meant a “local” store, like the Harvard General Store, not a supermarket such as Market Basket, he said.

Asked if assuming jurisdiction of Harvard’s land in Devens, with its small residential population and revenue-producing businesses, might help stabilize taxes, Swanton said he doesn’t have enough information to say yet.

“I need to listen more” on that issue and every issue, he said. “We all do.”

Thomson would agree. “It matters that people pay attention” she said.

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