GROTON — For 21 years, Peter Cunningham served on the local Select Board on behalf of the community. After a three year break, Cunningham is looking to step-up again.
Last Friday, the 71-year-old announced his write-in candidacy to rejoin the Select Board at the town election scheduled for June 9. Cunningham will face incumbents Rebecca Pine and Board Chair Alison Manugian, whose terms both expire on May 21 this year.
Cunningham is no stranger to the Select Board, having previously served on the board from 1996 to 2017 and being board chair three separate times.
Speaking over the phone on Monday, Cunningham said he made the decision to run within the last week after noting that Pine and Manugian would be running unopposed.
“Looking at the race this year, it’s unfortunate that the Select Board position was uncontested after the nomination period ended and even extended,” he explained. “It made sense to me to enter the race as a write-in.”
Cunningham believes that his experience can help the Select Board properly prepare to deal with problems on the horizon. These include budget challenges stemming from the current coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing assessment of the Florence Roche Elementary School.
“We’ve taken a big hit on the tax revenue side and we’re trying to make that up,” Cunningham said. “Managing the budget going forward is going to be huge. It’s going to be a tough few years coming back from this.”
Outside of his time on the Select Board, Cunningham kept busy as chairman of the Groton Charter Committee, which wrote the town’s first charter that was approved at Town Meeting in 2007. He also served on the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee the Senior Center Building Committee and is president of Squannacook Greenways, Inc., the nonprofit raising money for the development of the Squannacook River Rail Trail that will run from West Groton to Townsend. Since he decided not to run for reelection in 2017, he’s been an “active observer” of the Select Board and thinks there’s room for improvement.
“Sometimes I’ve seen the Select Board get bogged down in minutia that wasn’t necessary or productive,” he explained. “Sometimes the meetings carry on longer than they need to because there’s a lot of back-and-forth or sometimes I see members that can’t consent to the overall consensus of the board. Typically the best practice is you make your case, but if your case doesn’t gain the support of other board members, you move on. Sometimes that hasn’t happened.”
Cunningham has lived in Groton since 1979 and finds the town’s growth over the years as its strongest attribute.
“The amount of growth that has gone on in town is huge,” he said. “I think we still retained a lot of the open space, which is important. I think that’s a quality, particularly now with everything going on and people being cooped up that we certainly benefit from, being able to walk around.”
Manugian said via email that she was “not sure why” Cunningham decided to pursue a write-in campaign and thought it would’ve been better for him to take advantage of the extended period of gathering and returning nomination papers. Regardless, she said that she’d see how events play out.
“Peter served in this capacity for a long time and has remained interested and educated about town government,” Manugian said. “It’s always good for citizens to have choices as to whom will represent them.”
Pine said she was “surprised” by the news of Cunningham’s campaign and wonders what he believes could change about the current Select Board’s dynamic.
“Our Town Manager, Mark Haddad, and my fellow Select Board member, Josh Degen, who has been on the board for many years, have both commented recently that they feel that our current Board is working better together than any board in quite a long time,” Pine added.