Friday, May 7, 2010
Candidates spotlight views at LWV Forum
Candidates Larry Bearfield and John Gorecki are challengers for the one slot on the Board of Selectmen (BOS), and they indicated a few differences in positions at the League of Women Voters Forum on Sunday. The forum provided all candidates for town office a chance to put their views before the voters and hear questions from the community. About 30 townspeople abandoned lawn work on a beautiful afternoon to attend, and seven candidates appeared, with one other sending a letter to be read aloud. Town Elections will be held May 18. The Forum was moderated by Sara Rolley with opening and closing statements by Barbara Lewis.
Both Selectman candidates, Gorecki and Bearfield support the Concord-Carlisle High School feasibility study, which will be on the Warrant for Town Meeting May 10, and both would like the school to aim for a completed building cost of $75 million or less. They differ on the stretch code, also on the Warrant, which would require greater energy efficiency for new buildings and major renovations. Gorecki thinks Carlisle should be a leader in energy conservation, while Bearfield sees it as unnecessary regulation.
In his introductory statement, Bearfield said he has lived in town 14 years, including six and a half as proprietor of Ferns Country Store. He pointed to his service on the Veterans Honor Roll committee, the Fire Department canteen crew, the Historical Commission and two Revenue Enhancement committees. He has been a Boy Scout volunteer for 48 years. As a father and grandfather, he is concerned that “young families can’t afford to live here” in Carlisle. Bearfield has “sat before just about every board and commission in town” as a petitioner on behalf of his store, and they are “phenomenal.” The BOS should not be “involved in micro-managing” committees but the members should “seek out percolating issues,” he says.
Gorecki moved to town six years ago and has children in grades six and eight at the Carlisle School. Having grown up in northern Wisconsin, he enjoys the outdoors, and his family moved from Newton for Carlisle’s schools, the natural environment, and “the historic nature of the town.” He is a patent attorney who works from home and takes care of the kids. He is at a point in life where he feels it is time to get involved. While he has not been on town committees, he has talked to many citizens about their concerns. Gorecki sees the Selectmen’s job as oversight of committees that have expertise, and noted his own strengths in independent research and “ability to find the middle ground.”
Conflict of interest not a problem, say candidates
A League question on conflict of interest was directed first to Bearfield, who, as a business owner, could have and has had requests of the Board of Selectmen. Bearfield noted that he has consulted a past chair of the State Ethics Commission and the laws are “pretty clear cut” that there is “no conflict if you recuse” or bow out of any discussion that might impact personal finances. “In a small town volunteers are involved all over the place,” said Bearfield, noting that it is not uncommon for members of boards to recuse themselves. He added that construction at Ferns is almost complete and any future appearances at boards or commissions would likely be for routine matters.
Several Carlisle residents are investors in Ferns’ corporate entity, Carlisle Center Ventures, LLC (see www.masslandrecords.com). Would Bearfield be required to recuse himself if an investor had business before the BOS? Town Administrator Tim Goddard was not sure. “If not related to the business of Ferns, I tend to think it wouldn’t be [a conflict],” he said. “But I’m not an attorney,” he quickly added, noting the BOS would have to request an opinion from Town Counsel. Bearfield later added, “The rule of common sense applies . . . . If an investor of ours was before the board with an issue of financial implications, then yeah, I would recuse myself, as would any other board or commission member.” He said this would not be necessary if the person were there for a routine matter such as appointment to the Historical Commission.
Gorecki said that as a lawyer he has often addressed issues of conflict of interest and, “If in doubt I would recuse myself. Let the other board members handle it.”
High School feasibility should rein in costs
Gorecki said the Selectmen have discussed a cap of $75 million for the high school building project and “I think that’s a reasonable thing to do at this stage.” He likened the decision to meeting with an architect to build a house, where it’s important to convey, “How big a house? How much can I afford?” That figure would lead to a cost for Carlisle consistent with the $13 million expected to be the final amount for the Carlisle School, “I think that’s about the right limit.” He noted that in Wisconsin, “My parents built a high school for me. Now it’s my turn.”
Bearfield agreed, saying “$108 million is not the number” but $75 million might make sense. He felt setting a cap “is not the best way to go,” adding, “The feasibility study ought to go forward” with costs set at the planning stage. The committee appointed to do the study should represent various groups in both towns and should have flexibility in coming up with the right solutions. “Representatives from Carlisle should have a clear-cut mission regarding what’s appropriate for our town.” Bearfield pointed to a suggestion that personal funds be sought for the athletic center and a possibility that investing more could save money long-term, by reducing special education outplacements. “I’d like to hear more of those kinds of things,” he said. “More discussion is needed. What’s the threshold here in town? What will pass?” he asked. “If it won’t pass, we’ve been wasting our time.”
Differences on stretch code
Article 28 on the Town Meeting warrant proposes a stretch building code that will require 20% more energy efficiency for new buildings and major renovations. It was noted that town meetings in Acton, Concord, Chelmsford and others have already passed a similar code and that the state may require it in three years. The BOS does not support the stretch code. (See related article, page 1.)
Bearfield questioned whether the new code would really make a difference. “We’re not efficient now? I don’t buy that.” After discussing the issue with contractors at his store, he had concluded it was not worth the trouble for the small number of units affected. “Is it important to have another layer? It’s being done already by the state in three years.”
Gorecki said he had initially taken Bearfield’s view, but when he heard other towns were on board, decided, “I think we should adopt. Carlisle should lead” on energy conservation. Contractors will have to be prepared because similar laws are in place in neighboring communities. “They will have to comply. Owners are already insisting on it.” In addition, he found that only major, open wall renovations would be affected. Once the wall is open, “Why not insulate?” In conclusion, “I’m in favor of adopting the stretch code,” said Gorecki.
A later question on becoming a Green Community according to state standards prompted Gorecki to say, “Everybody needs to do their part,” and he would honor the recommendations of the Selectmen-appointed Energy Task Force. Bearfield noted the Green Community requirements are not applicable here. Carlisle would have to “site a solar program to produce energy for the town,” he said, and upgrade traffic lights when “we have no traffic lights, thank God.” He praised the Energy Task Force and noted some of their recommendations. For instance, he said the group has looked at the current efficiency of town buildings, and “some are pretty bad.”
Seniors, town employees, the economically stressed need help
Gorecki said he would “do everything to help seniors stay in town.” He has talked with several seniors and believes “It’s fabulous to have that resource.” He asked for suggestions on how the town could help retain seniors, and noted his support of affordable senior housing.
Bearfield said 21% of the town is now in the senior category, and that number is growing. As school projects move forward, “We need to balance the needs of different age groups, especially seniors who can’t afford to stay in town.” He is concerned about the quality of life in town for older citizens, and would like to see more streamlined programs and better communication of what is out there for seniors, including creative mortgage asset management.
Regarding support for senior housing, Bearfield responded, “Yes, absolutely,” adding, “We’re pretty far down the pike (on Benfield) after how many years? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we no longer think it’s a train coming.” He noted a need for continued sensitivity to the concerns of neighbors.
Both Gorecki and Bearfield opposed an idea that low-income housing be reserved for town employees. Gorecki believes “diversity in economic groups is healthy for the town” and now “It’s difficult to work in town and be part of our community” because of costs. But reserving housing for town employees would pose problems. “Will the person working in town now be there in two years?” He added, “A development for town employees doesn’t really make sense,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t do it.”
Bearfield would “do what we can for town employees,” but is “cautious about using town assets to provide benefits not part of the program.” He would like to see more affordable housing programs like the accessory apartments that would help empty nesters get income from their too-big homes while staying in the community. Working at Ferns, Bearfield said, makes him “privy to another side of town others don’t get to witness,” including citizens who wish to use food stamps. “There’s a side of Carlisle we’re not aware of.”
Bearfield said that in a time of fiscal constraint, “We need to have our priorities.” He puts public health and safety as sacrosanct, with the schools a close second. “We need to be careful how we approach cuts to services,” he says, noting that there is a tendency to think regionalization will solve all our problems. “I don’t necessarily subscribe to that,” he said. Bearfield prefers a looser level of cooperation and resource sharing with nearby towns, on the idea of the police North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLC), fire mutual aid or library consortium. “These are the kinds of things we ought to be looking at.”
Gorecki believes something must be done to enhance maintenance of buildings such as the Greenough barn and Bog House. “That way we wouldn’t have a big capital expense for repair.” One way to improve town finances is through cooperation with other towns. He believes regionalization should be examined carefully. “What’s the risk, what’s the benefit?” Often it means ceding control over how services are provided and how money is spent. That said, “It might make sense in some instances.”
A question on goals prompted Bearfield to note his own top concern is to get the feasibility study passed for the high school. In addition, he hopes to work on enhancing town communications. While the web site is a good resource, “we could do more” to make it friendly and to provide outreach to the community, especially elders. He compared Carlisle’s financial position to that of other towns and said Carlisle “is extraordinarily well run. That’s a credit to the current town leadership.”
Gorecki also pegged the school projects as priority one, and targeted the web site, noting that a meeting list that was up-to-date would “encourage people to participate.” He also sees a need for coordinating town departments to focus on saving money and raising fees where appropriate. Both believe that citizens should be involved in strategic plans. Gorecki would like to look back and see what strategic plans have already been worked on and forgotten.
In closing, Bearfield pointed to “patience and persistence to get the job done,” and said, “I hope I’ve proved that” in stewarding Ferns. Gorecki noted he is at a point in life where he can spend evenings away from home and asked, “I hope you vote for me.”
Other candidates, all unopposed, presented their credentials
Josh Kablotsky is running for the Carlisle School Committee. He and his wife have two daughters, one in first grade and another in preschool. He has a “deep caring about the education of children” combined with an understanding of “the challenges in a tight fiscal situation.” He has spent two decades in high tech where he has led multinational groups of professionals and reviewed organizations, including “setting metrics for excellence.”
One challenge is to retain academic excellence in the face of flat budgets. He points to the “mixed blessing of standardized testing” which “doesn’t tell the whole story.” He would like to establish metrics for measuring other goals such as individual challenge, satisfaction, communication, and outreach. He believes “the community is deeply invested in the schools, and that shows,” adding, “Carlisle students enter (the high school) well prepared.” He believes that once Carlisle’s share of the high school population declines to 20% in a few years, a $90 to 100 million project will be affordable.
Mary Storrs, candidate for the second open slot on the school committee, could not attend the forum, but sent a letter. She is serving as the BOS interim appointee to the school committee, and has a son in fourth grade. She has been an investment manager and researcher on global asset management. As such, she has been involved in issue resolution and teamwork. Now she would like to “take on the responsibility of town service.”
Priscilla Stevens, Library Trustee, called her tenure on the Trustees “one great ride” adding, “It’s been so much fun working on this board.” During her time, programs for teens and elementary school patrons have expanded and the building project was completed while returning substantial funds to the town. “It’s a pleasure to get it done right and to be able to come in under budget.” She reports the library has had great success with the website and electronic newsletter of 400 subscribers, resulting in an uptick in program attendance.
Long term, she sees a need for an added full-time position. “We’re losing good people that go on to full-time jobs with benefits.” Endowment funds might be used to establish a “professorial chair”-type position for a librarian of choice. The library would also like an administrative coordinator as it’s “the only department that doesn’t have one.” A new floor plan is needed to take computers out of the main section, where users are noisy, and also to provide an area for listening to music.
James Marchant has been on the Board of Assessors 12 years and is seeking another three-year term. He has been a real-estate appraiser for 25 years and sees great overlap with his job. “I’m constantly looking at values in eastern Massachusetts,” he says. His interactions with other towns have “given me good ideas how to run the office and avoid pitfalls. I’m able to keep on top of issues facing assessors.” He has raised Carlisle’s fees, which generally do not impact people in town. He wants to upgrade the town website to “let residents know what services we provide” and how to apply for abatements and tax reduction programs.
In response to a question, he noted, “Values have declined and there’s not a town in the Commonwealth immune to that.” But Carlisle is among communities which are affected the least and is in a great position to rebound due to high lot inventory and pent-up demand. A volatile market makes assessment tough, but Assessor Melissa Stamps visits every property in town to confirm the fairness of valuations. “We’re trying to be fair and helpful and I think we are,” he concluded.
He was not familiar with the stretch code, but said, “Carlisle should be in the forefront of that kind of construction.”
Cathy Galligan is running for the Board of Health, inspired by her participation as a volunteer for the HIN1 flu clinic. In her public health work at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, she has become familiar with state mandates and believes she could help implement a program to deal with a new state law banning home syringe disposal. Now that her children are in college, she is ready for a challenge. “There are a lot of new areas we need to support, and experienced volunteers should step up,” she said.
Wayne Davis is the current Town Moderator running for a new term. He trained as a lawyer and clerked for the Massachusetts Supreme Court before entering the field of conflict resolution. He then joined Fidelity as a consultant in research for investment management, eventually becoming chief ethics officer. He now is partnered in running the Backyard Farms tomato greenhouse in Maine.
“Why would you want this job?” many people ask him, noting it requires dealing with disagreement. He says, “I like to bring groups together to work things out and decide the wise thing to do.” He has had the job a year and learned “the first time is the best time” since he concluded all business at the Special Town Meeting last fall in 17 minutes. “I can’t ever hope to match that.”
He has been researching the job and monitoring a moderator chat room where he learns about the variety of practices in different towns. He has picked up a few tips and will introduce some new methods one by one. He has already provided guidelines to committees in the hopes of making presentations more informative. More inclusion is also among his goals, and he notes the cafeteria will be open for use by parents with small children at the upcoming Town Meeting. The job provides “lots of opportunity to help people accomplish things when there are differences. That’s what I try to do as Moderator.”
Other people running for town office who did not attend the forum include: BOH incumbent William Risso, Housing Authority incumbent Steven Pearlman, and the three Planning Board candidates, David Freedman, Marc Lamere and Jeffrey Johnson.
The event was filmed by CCTV and will be available online at www.concordtv.org. It will also be aired on cable channel 8 on Saturday, May 8 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, May 11 at 4 p.m. Check the schedule online for additional broadcast times. ∆
© 2010 The