Friday, May 9, 2008
Candidates for town office take positions on key issues
Last Sunday, nine days before the Town Election on Tuesday, May 13, the annual Candidates Forum gave voters a chance to get to know the candidates better. Candidates made opening and closing statements, and responded to questions from the audience and moderator. The Forum was sponsored by the Concord-Carlisle League of Women Voters and held at Town Hall.
There are three contested races, including three candidates for two openings on the Board of Selectmen, three candidates for two openings on the School Committee and two candidates for one position as Library Trustee. Nominees for positions on the Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Housing Authority, and Town Moderator are running unopposed.
In most cases, the candidate’s opening statement repeated the information that was printed two weeks ago in the Mosquito. (See “Candidates for town office introduce themselves”, April 25, 2008, available at www.carlislemosquito.org.)
Board of Selectmen Three candidates, two openings
Q: How can the character and assets of Carlisle be preserved without great increases in property taxes?
Incumbent John Williams said the main challenge was compressing the operating budget. “Although there are frightening capital costs, when you do the numbers, the capital costs are not the big problem. We will be able to do what we need to do as long as we keep operating costs down.” He added that by building affordable housing, which is denser, the town can keep more open space.
Incumbent William Tice answered that he worked closely with the Carlisle School on its budget. “I am proud we are not having an override [at the Carlisle Public School.] I’m glad they see they can’t just keep asking for overrides.”
Cindy Nock believes that the town would be stressed with two major school building projects. She is an advocate of renovating rather than building a new high school, and recommended a plan she had worked on eight years ago that would replace the I-Building with a new science and math building. She said the plan included renovating the building during the school year.
As for space needs at the Carlisle School, Nock said, “It is prudent to use the Highland Building as part of the school campus. It should be used.” She suggested that either the school administration or the Recreation Commission could have their offices there. “We need to be thinking about leveraging what we have.”
Nock also believes that the town and its buildings should move to being more energy efficient, more “green.” She supports affordable housing.
Q: Do you have ideas that can be explored that would add to the town’s revenues?
Williams said the Planning Board was working on RFPs for wireless facilities. He suggested that the town put up cell towers on town property to bring in revenue. Nock agreed that was a good idea.
Tice said he is working on the cell tower issue. He cares about aesthetics and he is looking into other technologies such as distributed antenna systems. “These are more stealth in appearance. There’s more to come in other technologies.”
Williams added that he would advocate forsaking some of the revenue to avoid having monopoles.
Q: How much money was spent on addressing the 40B Coventry Woods project? And in light of the new state regulations on 40Bs, is there anything that can be done to make us better prepared for 40B projects in the future?
Nock, formerly the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals that reviews and approves 40Bs, said, “A lot of money was spent on Coventry Woods.” She reminded the crowd that an affordable housing plan had been written and approved and “we need to move toward our planned production rates to match our plan.” If the town added the given number of units every two years we could put a moratorium on 40Bs.
Tice said “We need to work aggressively on affordable accessory apartments.”
Williams, who is the liaison to the Carlisle Housing Authority, said the cost of opposing the Coventry Woods project for the town was roughly “a couple hundred thousand dollars”. It was a stressful two years. Much energy was expended. He was adamant, “This is not the way to do it. We need to get out in front.” He told the crowd that the town has an opportunity at Town Meeting to do just that.
Nock felt with the current economy, “We won’t have 40Bs as aggressively. With this lull, we should move on our plan and meet our goals.”
Q: Last year a facilitator hired by the Selectmen to evaluate the work environment at Town Hall reported that unfair policies and a difficult workplace culture had led to problems for employees. Do you feel this evaluation was helpful? What changes have been made to improve the working atmosphere and practices at Town Hall? Do you still have concerns regarding this issue and how will you address your concerns?
Tice said, “I was disappointed in how it was executed. I thought it would be team-building rather than a gripe session. Personally, I think we need to break down the communication barriers. I encourage Madonna [Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie] to communicate more, but it is a two-way street.”
Nock said, “I am very familiar with it. Employees asked to participate and were looking forward to it. People put a lot of effort into it.” She said that the report was not distributed and she had to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to get to see the report. “Nothing has been done to follow up on that report or any of the recommendations made in it.
Williams commented, “I have personally spent time with people in Town Hall to help communication. I run a small company.” He suggested that people talk to each other, rather than just send e-mails, particularly if the person is right down the hall. “People shouldn’t be afraid of someone with deeper understanding of a subject. People need to communicate without being intimidated by people with more knowledge.”
Q: Currently e-mail and web access at the Town Hall is provided through the school system. Is this working well? Also, the town web site appears to need more tending, with little updating of scheduled meetings and events. Where do you see gaps in the town government’s use of technology and how would you address these gaps?
“The web site needs to be supported and used,” said Nock. “It could be expanded, but we need a person in Town Hall to keep it up.” She said the web site was not very good right now and the town should leverage IT help from the school.
Williams confessed that he was “computer-illiterate. I’m not the person to talk to about this. We need to do a better job posting agendas and minutes. There is an issue with ongoing tech support.” He suggested that a tech support person might be shared between communities, possibly with Concord, so that the cost would be shared as well.
Tice, who led the initiative to get Carlisle’s official web site, www.carlislema.gov, online, had a different view. “I think it’s great. We have received praise from outside [Carlisle].” He agreed that the updates need to be more timely. “We can’t afford one person to be responsible for the web site.” He said that theoretically, more people should be able to post information. He added that he has spent time working on security and backup for the computer system at Town Hall.
Nock said, “Town Hall people haven’t gotten the help and support they have needed.”
Williams said, “People at the Town Hall need to stop the turf war on this issue.”
Tice then explained that the Town Hall gets its Internet access from the T-1 line that goes to the school. “It has worked well and it has been cost-effective.” The downside is that the school dictates the security which is appropriate for a school. But Tice felt it was more advantageous to stay with the school than for the Town Hall to get their own access to the Internet.
Williams said to leave the arrangment as it is for now.
Nock said the system was cost-effective and the school was a good partner, giving the Town Hall notice when the system had to come down for maintenance or other reasons. “They have been very good about sharing their knowledge.” She would like to see more collaboration like this among different departments.
Tice offered more insight into technology problems at the Town Hall. “The infrastructure in the Town Hall was poor. The set-up was poor.” Wires for networking had been crushed by the construction of the building. There aren’t nearly enough drops or access points for computers per room. He has been working hard to fix these issues. “We have come far in the last year but there is more to do.”
Nock added that Internet access has been an evolutionary process and things are much better now than five years ago. However, the job should not be left to volunteers. Someone should be brought in to address the technology support issues, she said.
Q: Do you support non-governmental users tying into the school water -treatment plant?
Nock replied, “Yes,” to address the town center’s ongoing water problems.
Williams replied, “Absolutely yes.” He stated that the treatment plant was designed with excess capacity. He has met with people at Village Court, the housing community across the street from the school, to discuss the possibility of expanding Village Court. He suggested that the library and the center of town could be added to the plant as well.
Q: Who will make the ultimate decision regarding the fate of the Highland Building – the committee? the Selectmen or the voters of Carlisle? What would you recommend?
Tice said the Highland Building Study Committee will give recommendations. He wants to hear from residents. The Board of Selectmen will make the decision.
Williams said, “The school does not have interest in the building. It’s going to cost at least a couple million to bring it up to code.” He feels strongly that the building should be preserved and it would be a shame not to. “If it wouldn’t be for school use, we should find an appropriate use.”
Nock stated that Highland is a historic building and is structurally sound. She would advocate that CPA funds be used to restore it and make it ADA compliant. Economics will force creative thinking. She advocates putting the school administration or the RecCom into the building. “It’s a good location for the recreation program. We need to try to solve multiple problems at one time.”
Q: Would you consider evening hours on one weeknight or do you have other suggestions on how town government can better serve its residents?
Williams answered that he hadn’t given it much thought. He hadn’t heard any complaints about this.
Nock said, “It’s a good idea to have evening or early morning hours. That would be a benefit to the community.”
Tice answered, “The Town Clerk has some later hours. That’s been effective. Many of us are here at night for meetings.”
Q: How familiar are you with the facility needs at the high school?
Nock answered that she had done a full survey when she was on the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee but the plan was never pulled forward. “That plan is viable. It needs to be updated.”
Tice said the building needs an upgrade. The teachers have worked well with what they have.
Williams said, “I have seen descriptions of many areas of disrepair. We have funded some of those. It would be hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for band-aids. The facility does need to get replaced.” He did the math and said the cost of a new high school would be roughly $18 million for Carlisle. “It needs to be faced up to. That plan needs to move forward. We need to go for it and get it done.”
Nock said it wasn’t a good idea to replace it and reiterated it needs to be renovated.
Williams said he expects MSBA reimbursement for a new high school. If that isn’t going to happen, he would look at other options.
Three candidates, two openings
Q: “How do you rank using technology as an integral part of the school curriculum? How important is it to teach software and technology tools such as Microsoft programs and web design?
“That’s a tough question,” replied Louis Salemy. “Technology is important in the classroom.” He did not want it used as a crutch and emphasized that it is important that children learn how to think. Salemy is on the board of the Concord Education Fund, which has been a driving force in getting ActivBoards (electronic whiteboards that link with computers) installed in most classrooms in the Concord Public Schools. ActivBoards are great for kids, and great for teachers. he said. “It wows them.”
William Fink pointed out that he has worked in technology all his life. “It’s a key to a company’s success,” he said, but cautioned about the high cost. “We need to be very aware of the costs and assess priorities.”
“I am a tech person,”said software engineer Don Rober. “Deep down, I think it’s important that teachers are teaching. Which is more important? Teachers or hardware?” He thought the right choice had been made by the School Committee in commiting FY09 funds to keep a teacher rather than invest in technology.
Q: Are you familiar with the technology in all Concord Schools and the expectations of competence for freshmen at the high school?
Rober answered that he knew that Concord had ActivBoards in the elementary and middle schools. “There’s an expectation they will have seen that technology” by the time they get to high school. He pointed out that Carlisle’s superintendent is working with the Concord/Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) superintendent to align expectations.
Fink said, “I am not fully aware of the technology in Concord. We do have a few ActivBoards and we will continue to invest where it is appropriate.” He also noted that Carlisle students going to the high school have been very well prepared.
Salemy agreed that ActivBoards in classrooms are an excellent use of technology and that Carlisle kids are well prepared for high school.
Q: There are grade-level benchmarks at the Carlisle School that align with the state education standards. Is there a role for the School Committee in maintaining a consistent level of education across each grade level? Do you support benchmarks?
Rober replied “It is perfectly reasonable for all sections of the same grade to learn the same material.” He felt this was under the purview of the superintendent.
Salemy answered “I do think we need criteria for measuring education. The hard part is coming up with a system of measurement.” He suggested publishing MCAS results over the long-term.
Fink agreed that “there needs to be a system of measurement” and he would support such a system.
All candidates stated that MCAS was a measurement but it had its advantages and disadvantages.
Q: Would you continue to support teaching evolution, or would you like to change this practice in some way?
All three said they supported the teaching of evolution and would not change it.
Q: How can we control special education costs?
Rober said, “SPED costs are a problem for us and everyone else. We need to look at what our expense level is and check it against other towns to see if we’re doing a good job.”
Fink felt “we are walking a line” between funding special education and regular education. “It’s not a clear answer. There is always a judgment.”
Salemy agreed that SPED programs must be run cost-effectively.
All agreed that they would advocate for more state funding.
Q: How familiar are you with the operations and needs of the high school?
Fink replied, “I am not as familiar. I have focused my efforts on the Carlisle Schools.”
Salemy said he was familiar with CCHS due to his Concord Education Fund experience. “We have a big challenge. The system needs a new high school.” He added that the high school has great teachers.
Rober said, “It is clear that the infrastructure needs a lot of work. If there isn’t a new building, more money will be needed to maintain the present building.”
Q: Do you support the elementary school foreign language program?
Salemy said the program is a huge success and a great idea. He is glad that it starts in the early grades, pointing out that research says that “[younger] kids are more receptive.”
“I like the program,” said Rober, but he is unhappy that the school day was not extended to accommodate the need for extra learning time. He believes more discussion is needed on how to fit the program into available time.
Fink sent his own children to a Spanish class in pre-K. “It’s a very valuable thing.” He thinks the knowledge of a second language helps children in other areas. “I definitely support the program and it needs to be funded.”
In closing, Salemy stated that the costs of education are rising and there is a need for a new school. He is ready to make tough decisions which will definitely be needed. Fink stated he has been going to School Committee meetings all year and this has prepared him for the position. Rober ended by saying he has a vested interest in the schools. “I can bring a lot to the School Committee having worked with FinCom and Long-Term Caps in the past. They will understand where I am coming from.”
Gleason Library Trustee
Two candidates, one opening
Q: As a Gleason Library Trustee where would you focus your time?
Vera Tice said she would focus on two budget-related items. First, the preservation of the facade, where her experience in dealing with outside contractors would be helpful. The second focus would be on the budget constraints caused by the town’s fiscal realities. She would work on the balance between content and media.
Ann Rosas said she would focus on communication. She has started a library newsletter which is sent electronically. “It’s a good use of technology that is already there. It’s cost-effective and it doesn’t use paper,” she said. “The library has been collaborating with other groups in town.” She hopes to strengthen and expand the collaboration.
Q: In what areas do you see the most room for improvement at the library?
Rosas answered, “We have a very strong library. I will not go in with the attitude to change things.” She would support more programs or activities to keep middle school students engaged.
Tice agreed that many programs are good. “Some processes and record-keeping could be computerized. I’d look at that.”
In closing, Tice reiterated that she had been involved in community service for a decade, loved the library and wanted to be there volunteering her time. Rosas said, “The challenge is to build an endowment so there is less annual concern about expenses and programs.”
Board of Health
One candidate, one opening
Incumbent and uncontested Board of Health candidate Jeffrey Brem spoke about the many areas where the Board of Health is involved, including septic systems, wells, an annual health fair, hazardous waste removal, mosquito-borne diseases, rabies clinics and barn and animal licensing.
Brem has embarked on a seven-month program to revise the septic system regulations for the town. “This involved every public group in town. I got a lot of input,” he said. Are the new regulations sufficient to protect our wetlands? “I believe so,” Brem answered.
Q: Is there a way for the Board of Health to identify locations in Carlisle that would be more successful in handling the demands of higher density housing, so that we would be better prepared to collaborate with developers pursuing 40Bs or aid the town in its own projects?
Brem agreed that some areas of town are better than others for handling more density. He suggested that the excess capacity of the school waste-water treatment plant may be used to help solve water issues in the center of town.
Q: Are mosquito control measures being discussed in light of increased concern over mosquito borne diseases?
Brem said, “It is an issue. There are no EEE cases here...We are staying on top of it.”
In closing, Brem asked for volunteers to get involved with Carlisle’s own Medical Reserve Corp. He emphasized, “You don’t need a medical background.” There are clerical jobs that need to get done. He also encouraged people to be a part of Neighborhood Networks. He explained that during emergencies, it would be helpful to already have a list of where items like shovels, flashlights and generators were in a local area and team leaders identified. ∆
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