Wednesday night, the Southborough Library hosted Candidate’s Night. The community was invited to ask questions of some of the candidates running in the Town election.
As I posted yesterday, the Library was unable to hold a real Q&A for the big contested race – the Planning Board. (You can read more in my dedicated post asking for readers to submit questions for an online Q&A.)
Below are highlights from the sessions for the candidates for the Select Board and for the Northborough seat on the Regional School Committee. For the full program, stay tuned for a video from Southborough Access Media.
Incumbent Sam Stivers and current Advisory Committee member Kathy Cook are running unopposed for two seats. But given the importance of their position, Moderator Betsy Rosenblum advocated that it made sense to include a Q&A for them. Residents (especially members of other boards) used it as an opportunity to ask about some of the issues they are concerned about.
There appeared to be a recurring theme – whether the Town is properly overseeing of the Department of Public Works.
Library Trustee David Eckburg referred to the “apocalyptic mistake” of the park and road project next to the Library. He opined that there was a lot of mutual ass covering. He asked what would be done to improve accountability. Cook didn’t believe that anyone purposely did anything wrong. But she thought the project was rushed and not well thought out. She advocated for more oversight on all capital projects including roads and a better process. She said the Town needs strategic thinkers and the right people to carry the strategies out.
Planning Board’s Meme Lutrell asked Stivers about the planned intersection changes at Flagg and Deerfoot Road that were presented to Planning on Monday. She noted that there didn’t seem to be neighborhood support. She wondered if the Town should be reconsidering. Stivers said it was unfortunate that the Town was now in a position of dealing with an engineering plan that requires trees to be removed that Planning ruled couldn’t be. He believed that in the future it would be better to get people in the same room together before Engineering plans are finalized.
Debbie DeMuria (ZBA member and Planning Board candidate) explained that the Public Works Planning Board is charged with overseeing Public Works projects to advise the Select Board. She asked Stivers, a member, what could be done about the failure to meet as statutorily required. He indicated that he is in the minority of members that want to meet. He believes the board should be doing some of the work being done by the Capital Planning Committee. He followed that the Select Board has no ability to compel them. That is up to the appointing authorities. (The Moderator appoints three members and Planning Board two.)
Asked about the DPW’s “unlawful” cutting down of an old tree on Flagg Road, Stivers lamented its removal. But he said there were different views about its lawfulness. He recounted the DPW’s claim was that it was a National Grid decision. As for any repercussions, he said that should be through the performance review process.
Rosenblum, the former Chair of the Personnel Board, jumped in to ask about performance evaluations of Department heads. She said that in July of 2020, when Stivers raised employee evaluations one of the initiatives the Select Board should address, Town Administrator Mark Purple said that he doesn’t conduct written ones. Instead he has conversations. She noted that if you have a problem employee, it’s difficult when are no written reviews marking progress. She asked if they were now being done.
Stivers agreed and believed they were now being conducted. Cook also agreed on their importance.
Northborough – for Regional School Committee
Things got a bit heated during the Q&A for incumbent Joan Frank and challenger William Redfern. And it was incumbent, and former Chair of the Committee, that was in the hot seat.
Two of the three members of the public asking questions were from Northborough. (That may seem fitting, given that the seat on the ballot is for Northborough’s representative.)
The third was Southborough’s unopposed candidate Matthew Spencer. He noted that watching the exchange with critical residents made him question his decision to join the committee. He asked how the Committee had dealt with an learned from a past mistake. Frank focused on urging him to serve, advocating for the important role the Committee plays in the system.
Although there were multiple questions, it was clear the main gripe of two Northborough men* was Frank’s and the Committee’s decision to retire the Tomahawk as Algonquin’s mascot.
She was asked about the Committee not having first solicited student feedback. Frank defended that she had successfully pushed to ensure that student representatives were included on the Mascot Study Group that ultimately made the recommendation to retire the symbol. They also surveyed students on what to adopt as the new mascot.
In his opening statement, Redfern told the audience that the Committee has a good relationship with the administration but needs to improve its communications with the community.
Following up on the questioner’s concerns, Redfern asked Frank why no committee members had shown member Dan Kolenda the respect of seconding his motion to delay the vote, to allow more residents to weigh in. Frank referred to a desire to keep to a predetermined timeline but rejected Redfern’s assertion that she cared more about a schedule than hearing from the community. She contended that there had been many communications with the public in advance of the vote.
The men questioning Frank briefly butted heads with the moderator over interrupting Frank’s answers and speechifying. (Rosenblum clarified from the outset that asking questions wasn’t an excuse for making speeches. Anyone who wanted to make speeches should run for office.)
Frank was also asked about how much time she spends out of state. She responded by showing her date calendar filled with appointments in August of 2020 when she was busy participating in meetings to prepare for school to reopen. She explained over the last year she had spent a lot of time in Arizona dealing with issues related to her mother-in-law’s estate. She argued that it didn’t interfere with her duties.
The Northborough men and Redfern also questioned whether Frank had served too long, especially given that she no longer has children in the school system. (Redfern said he has two children.) She argued that her experience as an educator and on the committee has brought expertise and allowed her to act as a mentor to others. She said she was proud of Algonquin’s students and the work the Committee did on their behalf.
After the candidate’s statements were read, the audience appeared reluctant to ask questions. I tried to get the ball rolling by asking DeMuria why she was looking to move from the Zoning Board of Appeals to the Planning Board. She said she joined the ZBA when it was in a difficult place and hopes she added credibility. Looking forward she believes that a big issue Southborough will have to deal with is rewriting of zoning codes.
(Although she didn’t specify, the Planning Board generally takes on that role. Even when it doesn’t spearhead the changes, Planning is responsible for holding the public hearings, evaluating feedback, and reporting to Town Meeting.)
She opined that zoning needs to be carefully thought out as the Town grows. We need to consider what types of projects we invite. She followed that she sees zoning as a living, breathing thing and does believe changes should be made after all options are explored.
As I noted in yesterday’s post, I believe residents have more questions for both candidates. To participate in a written Q&A, read those details here.
*I didn’t catch the Northborough residents’ names. Sorry!