Few Fireworks at Wakefield Selectmen’s Debate

04Apr14

[Wakefield Daily Item, April 3, 2014]
selectmen_debate2014With the exception of the town’s handling of the Quinn Bill, there was little disagreement during Tuesday night’s debate between the three candidates vying for two seats on the Board of Selectmen in the April 22 Town Election. The forum was moderated by William Carroll with questions posed to the candidates by Wakefield Daily Item reporter Mark Sardella.

Betsy Sheeran of 27 Spruce St. is running for a fourth term on the board, while fellow incumbent selectman Patrick S. Glynn of 30 Coolidge Park is seeking a third three-year term. Challenger Roland A. Cote of 9 Bartley St. said that the main reason he was running was to address what he saw as the town’s mishandling of the Quinn Bill that provides salary increases for police officers for educational attainments.

Asked why he was running for the Board of Selectmen, Cote said, “Only one reason – when the selectmen got hold of the state’s share of the Quinn Bill, they didn’t do it right. I’m here to prove that they’re wrong. That’s all I’m interested in.”

Glynn noted that he initially ran for the board on issues of fiscal responsibility and economic development.

taylor_block“I’ve always done my best to push for economic development for Wakefield and to push for some much-needed improvements to our infrastructure,” Glynn said. He talked about the board’s record of instituting cost-saving measures for the town. Glynn said that he would like to see the restoration of Main Street continue in order to help build the tax base and improve the quality of life for everyone in Wakefield.

Sheeran said that she was running in order to continue her support of the recommendations of the Town Administrator and the board as a whole with regard to planning for the town’s future. As the longest serving member of the board, she cited her institutional knowledge and talked of the need to move the town forward in the best fiscal manner.

The candidates were asked if they supported continuing the board’s historical policy of setting the lowest possible property tax rate for residents, as opposed to shifting less of the burden to commercial property owners.

“I have always supported giving residents the lowest possible tax rate,” Sheeran said, adding that she would continue to vote that way. She cited the many fees that residents, especially parents of school children, are asked to pay and for that reason argued that “we have to give them the best rate we can.”

Glynn agreed. “I don’t want to put any more burden on the taxpayer,” he said. “There’s plenty of burden already,” he added, citing the override voters approved for the Galvin Middle School.

Instead of direct tax reductions for businesses, Glynn proposed other available programs to offer businesses economic incentives to come to town and to remain in Wakefield.

Cote said that he had no disagreement with the way that the board has handled the tax rate.

parking_garage_itemIn light of some of the criticisms during the recent debate over a downtown parking garage, the candidates were asked to address the issue of transparency and whether the town could do a better job informing local citizens through social media and other means.

“We can always do a better job communicating,” Glynn said. On the garage matter, he added, “There’s been plenty of coverage,” citing newspaper stories, WCAT coverage and the online streaming of the recent garage forum. Glynn said that he would be open to increased use of social media by the town if it’s done in a productive way. “If social media is used in the right medium, the right tone and the right reasons, I’m all for it,” Glynn said.

Sheeran agreed that communications could always be improved. But she pointed out that the selectmen had dealt with the parking garage issue over a period of 14 months and had taken three separate public votes to move the process along.

“It’s been in the newspaper,” Sheeran said, “and we had a three and a half-hour informational meeting. We’re doing everything we possibly can.”

Cote said that he believed that in most cases the town was doing a good job communicating with citizens.

“But they didn’t do a good job when they accepted the state’s share of the Quinn Bill,” Cote insisted.

“I checked the Town Charter and the Charter doesn’t give the selectmen any authority to do what they did when they assumed the state’s share of the Quinn Bill funding,” Cote said.

wakefield_police_cruiserHe maintained that when it was presented to Town Meeting it wasn’t made clear that the town was picking up the state’s share of Quinn Bill funding and that the town has continued paying those increases to police officers “with no authority at all.”

Glynn disagreed, saying that the Quinn Bill was “handled properly.” Ultimately, Glynn argued, “It boils down to should you pay [police officers] what they were promised by the state or should you not pay them and leave them hanging.” Glynn said that the fact that Wakefield has one of the best police departments in the state only re-enforced his position.

Sheeran agreed with Glynn. “I make no apologies for what we did,” she said. “This is a safe town,” Sheeran added, “and the men and women on the police force deserve every cent they get because they put their lives in danger every single day.”

gas_main2Asked what capital projects the town should undertake in the next few years, Cote observed that there “are not many places to build anymore. As a selectman, you don’t have much choice.” He said that the only thing the selectmen could do was work with the Planning Board and the Zoning Board to oversee projects.

Glynn pointed out that the town went with almost no capital investment for years and is now investing $1 million a year in capital projects. Glynn insisted that the town needs to focus on its roads and its sidewalks. “We need to start rebuilding Wakefield and making it a safe place,” Glynn said.

Sheeran agreed that roads and sidewalks should be a priority. She also noted that the town has old water and sewer infrastructure. She also called for more focused attention on maintaining the town’s buildings.

The debate was produced by David Watts, Jr. It will be re-aired on WCAT a number of times before the April 22 Town Election. Check local cable listings.

This story originally appeared in the April 3 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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