It was the liveliest of all of the candidate’s forums so far, said emcee Sharon Lally at the annual COA candidates’ forum, but as one candidate for selectman said as he exited the building, “I’d rather schedule a colonoscopy.”
Sparks started to fly between Richard Nunes, Greenwood “Woody” Hartley, and Bendrix Bailey, the candidates for Board of Selectmen, once they took to the podium on March 23 to address voters and each other.
Selectman Nunes, the incumbent of 15 years in the race for Rochester Board of Selectmen, said his interest is to keep taxes affordable, maintain fiscal responsibility, and to keep the town’s rural character. He touted board accomplishments, such as the 2016 Community Compact with the governor, the regionalization of the 911 dispatch which will save taxpayers $150,000 a year, and the initiation of a 2009 investigation into non-resident students attending Rochester Memorial School.
Nunes said he also supported the new gas station/convenience store location at Routes 28 and 58, and opposed the solar farm once proposed for the center of town.
“I am only a taxpayer in Rochester,” said Nunes. “I don’t conduct business in town or have family members who do,” said Nunes, whose speech then turned to focus on Hartley and some conflicts of interest alleged by Nunes. “Mr. Hartley has a couple conflicts of interest,” he said. Hartley’s wife, Sharon Hartley, is on the Rochester School Committee “and a staunch advocate for schools.” Nunes also said Hartley’s sister is a member of the Rochester Women’s Club, owners of the building that the Town leases for the town hall annex at $30,000 a year.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Hartley will be representing the Women’s Club tomorrow regarding the Town and its leasing arrangement,” said Nunes.
Nunes also said it was Hartley’s town meeting article that voters approved, making the town meeting minimum quorum go from 75 to 100, the reason Nunes said the 2015 Annual Town Meeting was almost null and void due to it proceeding without a quorum.
“This was perplexing given the fact that less and less registered voters are showing up at Town Meeting,” said Nunes.
In closing, Nunes said, “An affordable Rochester is a constant battle and can only be sustainable if all residents speak up, and that is why I am asking for your vote on April 12.”
Next up was Bailey, saying, “I’m running for selectman because I love Rochester.”
Bailey has been on the Planning Board for five years.
Bailey later added that he would forfeit his selectman’s salary of $4,100 annually to put towards a line item to upgrade the town website, which he deems outdated.
“I must think there are some things that need to be changed, and I do,” Bailey said. The top two things, he said: leadership and transparency.
His first example of poor leadership is the offensive color of the mandated trash barrels.
“We have big blue and orange barrels in this town,” said Bailey, and on every Friday, he said, the town looks like one big construction site. Middleboro received “prettier barrels, red like cranberries,” with green or yellow tops. “And they just look a little bit better,” he said, adding that no one had the opportunity to have any say on the colors of the barrels.
And the 911 dispatch regionalization, said Bailey, while he is unsure if it will save money for the town, what interests him is the lack of transparency the Board of Selectmen took in adopting the measure. “How was it handled?” he asked. Were workers consulted? Was the fire chief consulted? “The answer is ‘no,’” he said.
“None of those people were engaged in that process,” said Bailey. “It was just something the selectmen did on their own … and that’s not transparent.”
Bailey gave a hands-on demonstration of the town budget, having constructed a three-dimensional bar graph from a wooden block and different colored rods representing the town departments. The one depicting the school budget, of metal, towered above the others. Bailey has been very vocal about his opinion on the ORR school budget, agreeing with Tri-Town officials that the School Committee has created its financial burden through bad contract negotiations.
Bailey also griped about only having a part-time fire chief instead of a full-time one, and the police department not having Tasers.
“That’s one of the first things I’m gonna do,” said Bailey. “Vote for some change in town government,” he urged voters.
When Hartley approached the podium, he let out a “Wow.”
“Wow. I really don’t know where to begin,” Hartley said. “I’m a little shocked, disappointed,” he said, that the election had “degraded itself to national politics,” referring to Nunes’ attack.
“I think it’s pretty sad,” Hartley said, while defending his wife and sister for their volunteer work and how all the money collected by the Women’s Club nonprofit goes back to the community. “No one takes a dime,” said Hartley.
Hartley defended the quorum increase, saying the town was growing and so should Town Meeting. Nunes, he added, supported the article at the time, although Nunes later stated that he supported it “as a courtesy” to the then town moderator, Hartley.
Hartley said he has served the Town of Rochester for 45 years – from Cub Scout capacity, to town moderator, to now when he cooks breakfast for the seniors at the COA.
“I have a little business experience,” said Hartley, a cranberry grower in town. “A lot of us work in town – Thank God we do – it’s not a conflict of interest, that’s called community.”
Hartley said he sees opportunity where people see problems. “I have the ability to bring people together for a common goal.”
“We do need to start planning,” said Hartley. “We need to let data give us direction, not emotion.” He continued, “We need to get all the people who need the money together, including the schools.” Hartley said open communication and transparent government were key, criticizing the Board of Selectmen for holding executive sessions before roughly 30 meetings, 70 percent of meetings, according to Hartley.
“You will have a choice,” said Hartley. “Your choice was made quite clear tonight … Ask yourself, who has been working for this town for 45 years already?”
You can view the entire program on ORCTV online by visiting www.orctv.org.
Election Day is Wednesday, April 12.
By Jean Perry