Organizers were pleased by the “record turn-out” for the Candidates’ Night hosted by the Tri-Town League of Women Voters on April 30, and many commented that the debate was the most successful ever, with every seat occupied and some people standing in the jam-packed Marion Music Hall. There were roughly 100 residents present that evening.
Finance Committee Chairman Alan Minard kicked things off by announcing the good news that Marion has recently received a bond rating increase to “AAA,” Standard & Poor’s maximum bond rating, making Marion one of the 30 out of 351 towns in Massachusetts with the coveted AAA rating.
That got the crowd clapping and cheering before Moderator Susan Grossart called Stephen Cushing and Dale Jones, the two candidates for the Board of Selectmen, to the front of the room and the evening of introductions, questions, and rebuttals began.
Incumbent Selectman Cushing said in his opening statement that he has been serving Marion for 12 years in the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Finance Committee, and six years as a selectman.
He said he was proud that, while selectman, the Town’s bond rating has gone up three times because of the Town’s sound financial processes and procedures.
“It’s not an easy rating to get,” said Cushing. “It’s not given away.” He added that it would have a positive impact on future borrowing for the Marion Town House project.
“I’ve enjoyed my opportunity to serve as selectman and hope I’ve earned your trust,” said Cushing wrapping up his opening statement before the three-minute mark.
Jones went right into his qualifications as a chief engineer with experience with capital budgets and planning, saying, “some of them about the size of Marion’s.”
He listed several volunteer positions within the community before he touched upon his years serving as an emergency medical technician and brought up the July 2012 incident during a selectmen’s meeting when police escorted him from the meeting when discussion got heated over the merging of fire and EMS.
During that meeting, Jones was vehemently opposed to the merge, and at one point Cushing suggested Jones relinquish the microphone, but as Jones approached the meeting table, Cushing had Jones removed by police escort.
Jones added that he was suspended after that, and not allowed to return for many months “before doctors and psychologists” recommended he could come back to work.
“But I did it and I came back,” said Jones. “I’m a fighter.”
Residents then had a chance to ask questions, one of them about the grant writer position — a matter of contention during FY15 budget talks when FinCom wanted to do away with the position, citing, ineffectiveness, and selectmen voted to keep the grant writer. The resident asked about how much the grant writer has brought in for the Town.
“To date, I don’t think there has been a lot,” said Cushing. “It’s a process that doesn’t start over night.” He said selectmen must monitor the grant writer’s progress to ensure results.
The resident suggested sharing a grant writer with other towns, which Cushing said, hypothetically speaking, it could be done.
Jones criticized how the grant writer is essentially unsupervised and receives a salary whether or not she brings in grants. He said sharing would be a great idea, probably one of the best he has heard on the issue.
When it comes to priorities in the Town, Cushing said his biggest would be what to do with the aging Town House, as well as other structures in Town that have been poorly maintained, such as the Music Hall.
“If we don’t start addressing some of their needs, they’re going to crumble around us,” said Cushing. He referred to the basement of the Music Hall as “the belly of the beast,” asking Jones if he had ever been down there after Jones questioned why more money should be “poured” in the building’s preservation.
Jones said his engineering skills would help a lot pertaining to structures in Town, and criticized the Town House’s storage of records in the basement that are in an “abysmal state, rotting on pallets,” and how records are “strewn everywhere on the third floor.”
“That’s something the selectmen should’ve taken care of a long time ago,” said Jones.
In closing, Cushing said his experience as a selectman is what qualifies him for reelection. He said when he was elected six years ago he “felt [he] was well prepared to hit the ground running,” and that the first three years was a learning experience for him about the challenges the Town faces. He said his experience has proven his dedication, and that he hopes to continue to serve the town.
Jones said he believes in term limits, and that issues have been left unattended, like the permit for flow at the water treatment plant, which he said could have serious implications in the future. He pointed out Cushing is the sewer commissioner.
After selectmen candidates, the four Planning Board candidates, vying for three seats on the board, listed their qualifications and answered a few questions.
Robert Lane expressed his “enchantment” with Marion, and his desire to maintain its charm with his regulatory experience over the course of his career, along with his creativity.
Eileen Marum gave an extensive list of qualifications, from her education in government and public policy, several relevant certifications, and experience updating bylaws for the Town of Easton during an internship. One of her priorities is updating the Town Master Plan, which expires in 2015, as well as overhauling the zoning bylaws.
Incumbent Ted North called the current Planning Board a “highly qualified planning board,” and listed his past experiences in corporate law, teaching law, and as a senior executive with strengths in financial transactions.
Mike Popitz said he is in favor of supporting the environment and the natural beauty of Marion, and doubted he had the qualifications of the other three candidates; nonetheless, he said his experience teaching at Harvard, his ingenuity as an inventor, creativity, and experiencing planning and being quick-thinking could be an asset to the board.
As for priorities, Lane’s is updating the master plan, Marum’s is the master plan as well as affordable senior housing, North’s was also the master plan, and Popitz’s were the master plan, elderly housing, bringing in more business, beautification of Marion, lessening pollution, and furthering recreational spaces in Marion.
The three School Committee candidates are vying for two seats – Kate Houdelette, and incumbents Michelle Ouellette and Christine Winters.
Houdelette has worked 13 years at Lockheed Martin as a financial analyst in financial planning, as well as financial and government compliance. She said she had to adhere to a strict budget, is skilled at identifying and executing potential cost-saving measures, and would “bring fresh energy to the committee.”
As a “highly qualified” second grade special needs teacher, Ouellette has served on the committee for three years, and before then, on the school council for two. She said she brings experience and passion to her service as a committee member, and her priorities are balancing the budget and keeping the curriculum updated and competitive.
Winters served two terms as a member, and her vision for Sippican School is to make it a Blue Ribbon School. She has served on the budget subcommittee, policy committee, and the Joint School Committee, and takes credit for contributing to the district’s addressing of OPEB.
When asked for an opinion on the State’s new Common Core standards and its increasing pressure on students, Ouellette blames the rigorous standards for behavioral issues in early learning classrooms, but admits the state must be competitive when it comes to education.
Winters stated, “I’m not a fan of the Common Core at this point.” She continued, “Unfortunately, we have to make do with what we’ve got.”
Houdelette had no comment to add.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” said Grossart in closing. “You’re opinion is vital.”
Marion’s Election Day is May 16 and the polling station located at the VFW on Route 6 is open 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.
By Jean Perry