There was little dissent at the Wednesday night, May 4, candidates’ forum, with the exception of differing views on the protracted debacle of the municipal wind turbines.
Five candidates running for two seats on the Falmouth Board of Selectmen fielded questions on a wide range of topics, including the turbines, environmental concerns, affordable housing and the recent approval of the town manager’s raise and contract extension at the League of Women Voters candidates’ forum.
With the May 17 election about two weeks away, the selectmen and Falmouth School Committee candidates met in front of a full house for more than two hours at Morse Pond School with Sean Corcoran from WCAI as moderator.
Vying for the two open selectmen seats are Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Ralph E. Herbst of Regis Road; Megan English Braga of Brady Drive; William P. Dynan of Wickertree Road; and Sheila M. Travers of Jonathan Lane, who was not present.
The only other contested townwide race is for a seat on the Falmouth Housing Authority Board. The two candidates did not debate as one of the two, Sari D. Budrow of Rivers Edge Road, could not attend. The other candidate is Beth Ciarletta of Steven P. Wentworth Road. Patricia A. Favulli of Wheelhouse Circle, East Falmouth, is running for an uncontested five-year term.
Before Mr. Corcoran began questioning the selectmen candidates, he read aloud a prepared list of requirements for selectmen, eliciting laughter from the crowd:
“Attendance at a minimum of two three- or four-hour public meetings a month, requiring at least four hours of preparation each…ability to withstand intense public scrutiny and hostile criticism with equanimity, knowledge of town finances, public meeting law, conflict of interest law, structure of town government…..for 5,000 a year, non-negotiable.”
He followed by asking why they want the job.
Mr. Herbst, planning board member and former Community Preservation Committee chairman, relayed his experience of when he first moved to Falmouth 27 years ago only to find his property contained polluted groundwater from Otis Air Force Base. The town brought in water from good wells to 200 homes.
“I wanted to be a part of a town that dealt with newcomers just like that,” he said.
Mr. Finneran said change is needed. “And I think I can make change. I have already made change,” he said. “Who has forwarded more Town Meeting articles than me, and passed many of them?”
A third-time selectman candidate, Mr. Finneran is a vocal critic of town government, attends most selectmen’s meetings and is a member of the solid waste advisory committee.
Mr. Dynan became a full-time resident a year ago but spent 17 summers here. His experience includes 20 years of municipal management, including chairing Hanson’s board of selectmen and board of health, noting his strong leadership and management skills stemming from his corporate and military careers.
Megan English Braga said it is a “wonderful opportunity to engage and serve in this capacity…in Falmouth where regular citizens are allowed to and expected to rise to the challenge of understanding and being able to set policy,” she said.
“And as far as taking criticism, I am a divorce attorney and there isn’t anything that has not already been said to me by a client, or judge or attorney,” she said jokingly. She noted one of her strengths is working through conflict.
She is a member of the finance committee.
During the forum all the candidates agreed on the need for the creation of a housing coordinator position to spur more affordable housing. Mr. Finneran called the efforts by the town so far “disjointed,” but all agreed there should be a person leading the way on the issue.
Where there was some disagreement was over the selectmen’s recent decision to appeal the zoning board of appeals’ decision not to grant a special permit to continue operation of Wind 1.
Ms. Braga agreed with the current board, stating the town is now in a position where the turbine cases need to play out in court. However, she said the issue of the turbines in the beginning was handled in a way that “truncated options that should have been available to the town.”
The other three candidates present said they did not support the appeal, with Mr. Herbst stating “it has dragged out too long, divided the town, cost too much money.” Mr. Dynan said the whole process was handled incorrectly from the site selection to now, noting the health of citizens should be paramount.
“Let’s get the people, who have suffered enough, relief,” he said.
And Mr. Finneran said the town has already spent too much money on the machines.
“Shut them down, and let the state come after their money.”
The current board of selectmen at its last meeting approved for town manager Julian M. Suso a 3 percent raise (2 percent of which is a contractual cost of living adjustment) and a year contract extension. Mr. Suso has three and a half years left on his five-year contract.
“I don’t agree,” Mr. Finneran said. “I don’t believe in exiting members giving a raise,” he said.
Mr. Dynan said the new board should be the one making that decision, since after the election the board will comprise 40 percent new members.
“And I have never seen a contract extension like this before,” he added.
However, Ms. Braga felt the current board was the appropriate body to make the call, in light of the fact that they have been working closely with Mr. Suso and are the ones who evaluated his performance. Mr. Herbst felt he did not have enough information to answer properly, but was in agreement with the decision.
Before selectmen hopefuls took the stage, the four residents running for three 3-year school committee terms fielded questions relating to Falmouth Public Schools.
Incumbent members Melissa M. Keefe of Vidal Avenue and Leah L. Palmer of Turner Road are seeking reelection to the committee. Meanwhile, William S. Rider of Rockledge Drive and Rebecca A. Putnam of John Parker Road are running for a first term.
The incumbents said at several different moments they are proud of Falmouth Public Schools and of the work being done by the committee and superintendent Nancy Taylor, and noting that both Falmouth High School and Lawrence School are rated by the state as number-one schools.
However, Ms. Putnam, a realtor, who shared their enthusiasm for the schools, rated the district a “C,” based on lack of transparency and a lack of college preparedness.
Based on a U.S. News and World Report rating, Falmouth High School was listed as a silver medal school and received a college preparedness score of 21.4 percent.
When asked about what broad policy goal they would like to pursue, none of the candidates offered up a policy shift but agreed to keep revising them and looking to state law to ensure they are adhering to set standards.
Ms. Putnam did say it was hard to come up with a new policy when the policy handbook had not been updated online.
Later, current committee member Judith Fenwick stated they are all up-to-date online.
Newcomer Mr. Rider noted his 37 years of experience in public education as a principal and a school board member.
“I know what you grapple with on a daily basis, from student testing, discipline, budgets, and special education,” he said.
When asked where they would like to see budget growth, Ms. Palmer said in pre-kindergarten education, arts and music programs; Ms. Keefe said toward staffing to allow for longer recesses (a recommendation by the Academy of Pediatrics). Mr. Rider said special education and social services, and Ms. Putnam said music and arts, and to pay for it, looking at consolidating departments like maintenance and janitorial services.