Candidates share views at LWV Forum

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The audience filled the Clark Room at Town Hall during the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum on Sunday, April 22. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

The Clark Room at Town Hall was full on Sunday afternoon during the Concord Carlisle League of Women Voters (LWV) forum to introduce the candidates for seven elected town positions. Each candidate was allowed an opening statement and then answered questions proposed by the LWV moderator or the audience. Candidates in contested races were allowed rebuttals and a closing statement. There are two contested races in this year’s election: Town Clerk and School Committee. 

LWV member Anne Rarich moderated the forum which was recorded and will be available on CCTV Channel 9. 

Library Board of Trustees 

Christine Stevens, an incumbent who is running unopposed for a three year term on the Library Board of Trustees was the first candidate introduced. Stevens, who moved to Carlisle from Los Angeles two years ago, said her main concern was that the library “remain family friendly and have lots of rich programming for children.” She said the library is “well run, well-funded and serves the community well.” She stated that the main issues coming up for the library are space planning and facilities maintenance concerns.

When asked if any improvements are needed at the library, Stevens said that the library of the future will be much more online and possibly less about hard copy books. “Right now the library has something like 45 books per capita. The average for the state of Massachusetts is six, so we are very book heavy.” She said there is a lot of demand for the small meeting space and the larger Hollis Room. She added that it would be helpful to have a more accurate identification of how the space is being used and that the library might take some “modern space planning efforts.”

Board of Assessors

Ken Mostello, chair of the Board of Assessors, is running for re-election for his third three-year term. Mostello has lived in Carlisle for 21 years. He said that the Board of Assessors  is a mystery to most residents. “Our principal role is to assure accurate and fair assessments on property values. . . . We don’t set the tax rate, we don’t spend your money, we’re here to do assessments, that’s our role and I think we do a good job because  very few of you are in to see us to take issue with your assessments.” He said, “In this current year, we only had 15 [abatement requests] which is about half of one percent of the assessed properties in town.”

Over the next three years, Mostello said he hopes to see Carlisle assessments online. “Virtually every other community in Massachusetts has done it.”

Asked to describe the most challenging part of the job Mostello said, “Occasionally we will get an abatement case that really becomes a major time consumer. Some of them are actually precedent setting. What’s interesting in Massachusetts tax law is there aren’t a lot of guidelines and very specific rules. The major rule we have to follow is: all property must be assessed at 100% of market value.” He added, “What that exactly means is up to a wide scope of interpretation.” He recounted an abatement case that was appealed by the property owners to the appellate tax board in Boston and then to the state supreme judicial court. The town prevailed, but the process took years. He said, “One or two cases can take up 80% to 90% of our time.” 

Housing Authority

Morgan Bearse is running unopposed for a three-year term on the Housing Authority. Bearse, her husband , and three school-aged children moved to Carlisle from Florida last summer. She said that Carlisle was everything they were looking for. “The diversity part, though, I feel could use a little help. When this opportunity arose to be part of the Housing Authority, I jumped on it.”

The LWV asked Bearse what she saw as the role of the Housing Authority in relationship to 40B development. Bearse said that she had “a lot to learn about 40B” but that she felt Carlisle needed a greater variety of housing opportunities. “Not everybody needs a large home.” She said that apartments or smaller houses might work well “without taking away the feel of Carlisle.” 

Asked about her goals as a member of the Housing Authority, Bearse said that she would be proactive, working toward providing more housing opportunities that would allow young people to come into town and for people to stay in town. 

Planning Board 

There are two positions open on the Planning Board (PB) this year. Incumbents Jonathan Stevens and Peter Yelle are running for the two positions. Yelle was unable to attend the forum.

Stevens, who has lived in Carlisle for 18 years, has served on the Planning Board for 6. 5 years. He stated, “I love doing this type of work. I love living in Carlisle, it’s a great town and I’m working to preserve and protect this town for the benefit of everyone who lives here.” Stevens said he has a background in business and non-profit management. “I have done contract administration, I have done building projects, I am familiar with the whole range of what the Planning Board has to deal with.” 

He stated that the biggest challenge facing the Planning Board is the upcoming Master Plan. He said, “It is not only a legal requirement by the state but it is important for this community. There are a lot of issues to be addressed.” He said that the work has begun and the process of soliciting opinions from town boards and from residents will begin this spring.

When asked about the role of the PB in addressing issues such as climate change, Stevens replied that maintaining the rural nature of Carlisle and incorporating sustainability are concepts that need to be incorporated in the Master Plan.

The LWV asked if there was an area of planning that he felt the PB must address due to changing demographics or needs. Stevens responded, “I see one of the biggest issues is affordable housing—affordable housing not only for people who work here, but also for people who may want to downsize and would like to stay in Carlisle.” Stevens identified the Bedford Road Residential Open Space Community project as a valuable new housing opportunity. The project “combines the preserving of the environment with smaller houses that will be more energy efficient and a better use of the environment.” 

An audience member asked how the PB would be involved with marijuana growers and dispensaries. Stevens said there will be an Article at Town Meeting asking the voters to extend the moratorium on licensing of marijuana establishments until June 2019. “The Planning Board feels that the regulations have just come out-—they are not even finalized.” He hoped people would vote to extend the moratorium so that the board could be better prepared. “We are looking to preserve the character of the town and we’re constantly looking at health, safety and the environment on all of these issues.”

When asked how the recent community survey would be used in planning, Stevens replied that the survey, Caring4Carlisle, was a health survey. “It has not been part of our discussion as of yet. I believe it will be part of the discussion when it comes to Master Planning.

A question was posed asking if Stevens believed zoning bylaws should be revisited to accommodate the goals of the PB. Stevens replied, “We are constantly dealing with zoning bylaws and we have been part of changes to zoning bylaws. We had a solar energy task force and we created an expanded solar district.”   He added, “We are open to solving any and all problems. If that means changing bylaws, we’ll do that too.”

Board of Selectmen 

Alan Lewis is running unopposed for the three-year term on the Board of Selectmen (BOS). Lewis has lived in Carlisle for 18 years. He and his wife raised two children who graduated from the Carlisle School and Concord-Carlisle High School. He is an educator, having served 20 years as a faculty member at the State University of New York, eight years as a Dean at the Michigan College of Optometry, and seven years as President of the New England College of Optometry. “I’ve had a lot of experience with trying to do big things with very little money.” 

Lewis just completed a year on the Board of Health and has served on the local emergency planning council since 2011. “I have been involved with a lot of the issues that deal with how we respond to disasters.”   He said he sees affordable housing as an important issue for the Selectmen and said he will be attending a training session on affordable housing, “I am anxious to learn how other towns address this issue.”  He said taking care of the needs of the town with limited resources is always going to be challenge and that he was looking forward to working with the BOS to address those issues.

When asked how he would increase collaboration in town government, Lewis responded, “We have to listen. We are a town of volunteers. We have very few paid staff. We have to listen to the boards we have working with us.”

Asked what his top priorities would be, Lewis answered, “The top priority is maintaining services. We have major capital requirements that are coming up in this town and it’s trying to provide the services that the town needs in the face of very limited resources.” 

The LWV asked what Lewis thought of the town website. He responded that the website should be updated more frequently. He said the first priority is timeliness. 

Contested race for Carlisle School Committee 

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Melynda Gambino (left) and Shannon May Lavery (right) are competing in the upcoming Town Election for a seat on the Carlisle School Committee. They spoke at the Candidates Forum on April 22. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

The first contested race to be represented at the forum was for the single opening on the School Committee. Melynda Gambino and Shannon May Lavery are running for the position which has a three-year term. 

Gambino and her husband have lived in Carlisle for 13 years and are raising three school-aged children. Gambino said she is highly invested in the success of the schools and would bring “a passion for education and an interest in improving communication between the school committee, its stake-holders and the community.” Gambino has a Masters Degree in Education and has developed curricula and has overseen educational initiatives in the non-profit sector. She is co-owner and COO of a technology business in Carlisle. She volunteers on the town’s Pathways Committee and she helped the School Advisory Council to develop and analyze the results of their school communication survey. “These are the kind of initiatives I like to work on—things that I know will make a lasting impact on the community.”

Lavery has lived in Carlisle for 12 years. She has one child in the middle school and one at the high school. She has a Masters Degree in education, with a background in education technology development and she has experience in budgeting, staffing and strategic direction. She said that has collaborated with experts in business tech and media to meet educational goals. She has also served as a mentor and substitute teacher in Brookline, Acton and Carlisle. She has served on the School Advisory Council and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. 

Lavery said she is particularly interested in issues surrounding the transition from the Carlisle School to the Concord-Carlisle High School. She hopes to collaborate with the school administrations to strengthen the schools and meet the needs of all students. She describes the schools as excellent, but says there is always room to grow, “In operational and policy discussions I would prioritize: more creative use of technology, continued emphasis on social and emotional well-being, greater focus on learning how to learn, reliance on the expertise of our teachers to create student-centered learning and awareness that our excellent school is our town’s crown jewel. . . . I have dedicated my career to advancing technologies that improve education.”

Q: What are the challenges the school will need to address?

When asked what the candidates saw as the current challenges that need to be addressed at the Carlisle School, Lavery noted that the teachers’ contract is being re-negotiated. “I think that will be the biggest piece of work confronting the School Committee right now. Budget, and how to get the most out of the budget is going to be a continuing issue, and I think that continuing to develop programs like OLWEUS which is the anti-bullying program, are part of a continued effort to make sure that CPS is a welcoming environment for everyone.”    

Gambino replied, “One of the biggest problems we are facing right now in education in general is promoting social and emotional health and well-being among students. I think this is really important because kids need to be able to come to the classroom ready to learn and that’s a big part of that. One of the things that our school does really well is to build in social/emotional programs and initiatives throughout the curriculum so that they are pervasive.” 

Gambino agreed that OLWEUS is a good program because it provides students with direct actions to take if they observe bullying. “I like that because it is directly consistent with who we are as a community in Carlisle. It’s about being an upstander. And in Carlisle that’s who we are. We are a community of people who support and stand up for each other.” She said the role of a School Committee member is to “uphold the vision and the culture that we have here in Carlisle and the goals that we have as an educational community.”

Q: How to best manage technology in the classroom?

The LWV asked what the candidates thought about the use and management of technology in the classroom. Gambino responded, “We are struggling with learning how to interact with digital media.” She said the approach used in the middle school works well. Each student has an iPad which is used as a tool to facilitate learning: to deliver assignments; to teach students to manage assignments and to keep things organized and in one place; and to provide feedback on the student’s work. “Using technology as a tool to facilitate [learning] is important. . . . We have a challenge in teaching kids how to negotiate social media and teaching them how to manage their digital life.” 

Lavery said, “This is a subject near and dear to my heart.” She said she had just completed a project integrating simulations into digital textbooks. “One of the things that effort emphasized was a constructivist approach to using technology. Instead of passively watching or having something be merely entertaining for the children, they should use the technology to make meaning and have variables to manipulate and use it to process information, not just to receive information.” Lavery said that the school encourages students to use iPads for presentations. “I would like to see more of that.” She said technology could also be used to lower the administrative burden on teachers. She warned that students need more support in how to develop a positive digital footprint and to understand the long-range impact of what they do online. “There could be a lot more curricula developed around that.”

Q: How to control budget growth?

The LWV asked the candidates how important is it to put pressure on the school administration to keep school budget increases at 2. 5% or lower. “The School Committee faces challenges every year in the budgeting process,” Gambino replied. “As far as putting pressure on the administration – I think the school committee works in conjunction with school administration to find the best possible budget scenario to maximize opportunities for students while still being sustainable for the town.” 

Lavery stated, “The school budget takes up 60% of our town’s budget – it comes in at about $18. 5 million dollars [for all the schools]. By the time you get done subtracting the salaries, and the pencils and the Xeroxing, there is not a lot of discretionary spending that the School Committee has jurisdiction over. I do think it’s very important to keep in mind that, while we want to support our schools, people do not want to be taxed out of the town. Some of the things that I think the School Committee needs to look at are considering where we might find additional funding—either from the educational fund to continue to support excellent programs, to pursue grants, and to look at creative ways to manage retirements as they come up.”    

Contested race for Carlisle Town Clerk

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Carlisle Town Clerk candidates Eileen Blanchette (center) and Mary de Alderete (right) prepare to answer a question read by moderator Anne Rarich (left) during the League of Women Voters’ Candidates Forum on April 22. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

The second contest in this election is for the position of Town Clerk. Eileen Blanchette and Mary de Alderete are vying for the position which has a three-year term.

Eileen Blanchette, a 13-year resident of Carlisle who has worked in the Town Clerk’s office for two years stated, “I am not new to the Carlisle Town Clerk’s office. My ideas are.” Blanchette grew up in Belmont, and worked her way through UNH as a carpenter’s assistant. She has been an active volunteer in Carlisle, working with the Council on Aging, the Gleason Library, the Church for the Homeless and the Bedford VA. “For over two years I served in the Town Clerk’s office including over a month as acting Town Clerk when the current Town Clerk was hospitalized and recuperating. I know that office intimately. I’ve probably talked to you either over the phone or over the desk. I have issued death certificates, dog licenses, performed marriage ceremonies, notarized your documents, sworn you in, filed your new bylaws, registered you to vote and worked elections.“ Blanchette said she worked for 30 years in the high tech industry as a senior project and program manager. “I am a certified Project Management professional with a breadth of business experience,” she said. “Throughout my professional life I have carried with me one basic philosophy: cascade information, engage everyone, don’t make excuses, deliver what you promise and strive for continued improvement.”

Mary de Alderete responded, “As the current, appointed Town Clerk in Lancaster, I have not been on this side of the election before.” De Alderete said that when her family moved to Carlisle in 2003, she became an active volunteer and worked part time for the Carlisle Board of Health. She said that work at the Town Hall inspired her to become a leader. She was hired as the full time Assistant Town Clerk in Acton where she worked for seven years. She was hired in 2014 to be the full time Town Clerk in Lancaster, where she continues to serve. “Unlike other town offices, Town Clerk is a paid position, requiring a specific skill set and background. I feel Carlisle deserves a person with the best resume for it. With my 11 years of full time direct experience, I know that I am that person.” As Town Clerk, De Alderete said she has not missed an opportunity to learn, “I currently serve as the webmaster, justice of the peace, I offer a digital bi-weekly newsletter and  

I am currently working on training to become a Certified Municipal Clerk.” 

Q: What are your priorities?

The LWV asked the candidates what their priorities would be as Town Clerk in Carlisle. De Alderete replied, “The number one priority is the web. I am a current webmaster so I would like to bring us into the current century by accepting Massachusetts General Law that allows our website to the alternate posting method. Which means agendas, minutes, everything is right there 24/7 so that you know what’s going on. You can even post community events on the website. . . . Obviously we have a primary election coming up in September so that would be my next foray into making sure that that was organized and well administered.” 

Blanchette agreed that the website needed to be updated, but she also had some short-term issues that she felt should be addressed, “There is an enormous amount of backlog in the Clerk’s office that has to be dealt with. There are also so many files that are redundant. We could save so much time if we started culling those documents. We have an unbelievable group of volunteers that knows what that is about and that can help us do that. We have software right now in Town Hall, called Civic Engage. We can use that instead of going out and buying new software. We can tap into that software so that at least we can start posting agendas and other items.” 

Blanchette said that as a Certified Project Manager she would bring a high level of organization to the election planning process. “Elections are projects; they have a beginning and they have an end. What I bring as a CPM is a project plan. Everybody sees it. Everybody knows exactly what their deliverables are.” 

De Alderete followed up, stating, “You have a current website, it’s not great, but you could use it more. You don’t have to buy anything. You can go and use your copier and scan to that website right now. . . As far as the election goes, I agree that there are steps and procedures but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a project. There is more law about that so those procedures have to be very careful.”

Q: Should 17-year-olds vote?

The LWV stated that the Town of Concord just voted to allow 17-year-olds to vote and asked the candidates how they felt about doing the same in Carlisle. Blanchette quickly responded that she thought it would work in Carlisle, “Absolutely. . . .“Treat 17-year-olds as adults, well-read and informed.” De Alderete answered, “We have a system in place that 16- and 17-year-olds can pre-register right now. Effectively, it’s in place. No, it’s true that they cannot vote until they are 18 but they can get on the rolls, they are kept in a queue, and as soon as they turn 18 it is rolled right over. If Carlisle wanted to start an initiative like that, it would just have to come before the Board of Selectmen, before Town Meeting and as your Clerk I would do what you tell me.”    

Q: How would you modernize the Clerk’s office?   

The LWV asked how the candidates would modernize the Town Clerk’s office. Blanchette replied, “I would start by dealing with the enormous amount of paper in the office.” She said that she had worked at Iron Mountain in its data storage facility. “With the vendor management experience that I have, I would like to engage with companies like that to manage our storage.”   She added that there was a lot of wasted paper in the Town Clerk’s office. “As green as we all try to be, I don’t like taking 2,000 pieces of paper after they’re sent for the census – it just gets thrown out. Right now we need to deal with the volume of paper and scan those documents.”   De Alderete responded, “Unfortunately, statutorily, we have to keep a lot of records. We do have to have those things in the vault that nobody wants to talk about. One of the things that I have put into place is that I have allowed people to send back the census via their iphone or email. That is something that I could do here. . . .One of the other ways that we can be innovative is by posting agendas and minutes on the website.”

When asked how the candidates saw moving from “lots of paper to an automated system,” Blanchette said that the office should have everything scanned and available on the web so it is universally accessible at any time. De Alderete suggested using grant funding to support the move to an automated system. “I worked with the Boston Public Library’s Digital Commonwealth. “The [Lancaster’s] earliest, most treasured records are now all scanned and online. It’s free. We just have to do it.”

Closing remarks

Blanchette closed by saying, “I have a vision for the Town Clerk’s office. . . . I would keep some of our cherished traditions, but streamline and modernize procedures—digitize and preserve our precious documents, end paper waste, allow you to do a lot of your business with the office online, rebuild the clerk’s portion of the town website to be more robust, accessible and up to date. I have a detailed, deep and exhaustive knowledge of the office as it exists today. That, in combination with my experience and business background makes me the person to bring this office into the 21st century. 

De Alderete summed up, “Carlisle is my home. It deserves the absolute best. I feel that I am the person to give you that service. I believe in a no-compromise attitude of courteous, efficient service in the office. I have the background and experience to bring it to you.”

Election day is May 8 and the polls are open from 7 am to 8 p.m. Absentee ballots are available in the Town Clerk’s office. ∆