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BOS Candidates Spar at Chelmsford GOP Debate

Couldn't make it to the Library on Wednesday night? Here's the highlights.

UPDATE 2:24 p.m., March 15 - The video of the debate is now available on Telemedia.

On Wednesday, the Chelmsford Republican Committee held their first ever Board of Selectmen Candidates' Night at the Library, following last week's debate by the Chelmsford Business Association.

All five candidates were given a period to introduce themselves and share their platforms, followed by a question and answer period from members of the audience.

The night was videotaped by Chelmsford Telemedia, and here's the key points from each of the candidates' segments in order of appearance.

Bob Joyce

  • Joyce said that free cash should be used for tax relief and not more capital projects, citing that the stabilization fund has reached a high enough level and the town has undergone several recent capital projects.
  • However, he did not say that tax relief should come from cutting any programs or services, only from free cash.
  • Later, Joyce said that he could consider revising his policy of using free cash for tax relief, but said that this year that would be the proper route to take to help residents.
  • Comparing this year to his first term on the board in the early 90s, Joyce explained the largest differences is the approach of Town Manager Paul Cohen attempt to follow the goals of the Board of Selectmen too strictly in comparison to then Town Manager Bernard Lynch, who often tried to not follow the directives of the Board.

Janet Askenburg

  • Askenburg emphasized her tenure on the School Committee along with the collaborative approach and heightened analysis on fiscal issues on that board and hopes to continue the approach with monthly town budget analyses on the Board of Selectmen if elected.
  • She urged clearly defined goals for reducing the vacancy rate among commercial properties, which she estimated at 20 percent, and also urged an analysis on streamlined business permitting as well as whether Chelmsford is business friendly.

Pat Maloney

  • Maloney took umbrage with a recent announcement by Roland Van Liew citing that a new school auditorium cost $31 million, citing that statement was a mistruth in that the figure included not only an auditorium, but new new libraries at the McCarthy School and Parker School, three new roofs for town schools, replacements of multiple boilers in town schools, and a new science wing at the high school while also giving back $16.8 million.
  • On taxes, Maloney said that the key was about positioning the town to do things in an appropriate and smart manner, stating that the soon all of the town's capital projects would be set in place for 50 years and that it would be a good thing to return money from free cash if it didn't jeopardize the town's stablization fund, which allows the town to borrow at low rates. On that note, he also said that the town should see that money as a rainy day fund and not use it for capital projects, saying that the town's next big projects would be things like debt reduction and fixing unfunded liabilities.
  • Just across the street from the library, Maloney said that the old Stop and Shop location wouldn't have been a good choice for the new fire station due to the cost needed to take it by eminent domain, but he hopes the town can work with the owners of the property and turn it into a mixed use development.

Matt Hanson

  • Hanson highlighted his availability to the public during his first term on the board, as well as efforts to compromise with the Town Manager and work with Town Meeting Reps to return $900,000 to tax payers. He also cited work to increase the town's bond rating which allowed Chelmsford to borrow money with $600,000 in savings on interest as well as efforts to help Williamsburg residents on the bladder dam issue and attempts to save the town money on regionalized dispatch centers.
  • On budgetary matters, Hanson noted that the best route would not be to pursue override votes, which rarely succeed, but rather try to fund within the town's means and seek less immediate and more cost effective solutions.
  • In response to one question from the audience, Hanson said that the town's staffing was still about 10 percent of what it was in 2008, but that with some work the town was able to hire back two police officers. He noted that the main source of tax increases was continuing rising costs in things like healthcare coverage.

Roland Van Liew

  • Van Liew urged the need to take a look at processes, stating that the town's employees are competent and hard working, but policies in place created a lack of transparency, specifically in areas regarding documentations of town work orders.
  • He also apologized to Maloney on the auditorium issue, but said that the new Billerica Road fire station cost 50 percent more per square foot than other comparable capital projects in Massachusetts, which in themselves were on average twice as high as the national average. On this note, he stated a comparable nearby fire station constructed in New Hampshire was built for 40 percent less, and reasons given on this difference were inadequate and new leadership would be needed to avoid this in the future.
  • Van Liew criticized the permitting process surrounding 9 North Road as well as statements by town officials in regard to the North Road fire station, calling them "a coordinated buzzsaw of misinformation" and that the Board of Selectmen can ignore regular residents on issues such as these.
Jeremy March 14, 2013 at 11:25 AM
This question is for Matt Hanson. I noticed you were recently in consideration for the Tyngsboro Assistant Town Admin vacancy. Is this a career path you are ultimately interested in pursuing? If so, do you feel this hinders your ability to supervise the town manager or question him publicly? Naturally in the chain of command I would think it would.
Fran McDougall March 14, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Just to make things a little clearer for you, Jeremy. The elected position to the Chelmsford Board of Selectmen is a volunteer position as are other committees and boards. Mr. Hanson has chosen to pursue this professional career of municipal areas of government. Yes. that is his career choice. All volunteers to the town unless they are retired such as myself, earn their livings in a variety of professions. Their role as office holders has nothing to do with how they earn a living. By the way, those of you who would like to volunteer their time to take part in assisting the various groups in our town, please join us on Saturday morning at the Senior Center at this year's volunteer fair.
ron johnson March 14, 2013 at 02:30 PM
Fran, It is a fair question and one that I believe he should answer. He is not saying that Matt has no right to be employed, he is just asking if his choice of employment in another town impacts his duties as a Selectman. Also, by asking the question, he does not have to prove his worth by you asking him to volunteer. For all you know he does so.
Ruth March 14, 2013 at 02:44 PM
Agreed Ron. 1-1 MISSION STATEMENT The mission of the Board of Selectmen is to ensure the highest possible quality of management and leadership with regard to the community’s use of its human, physical and fiscal resources. To achieve its mission the Board of Selectmen shall employ a Town Manager and shall maintain a working relationship according to the highest possible standards of Town leadership and development. The Board shall set policy and strategic direction for the community, and the Manager shall implement Board policy through town employees. The Board shall hear all appeals and special problems which have not been resolved at management levels and shall render decisions based on the best interests of the community as a whole. The Board shall also function as the licensing authority of the Town and render decisions regarding the issuance of all licenses based on the best interest of the community as a whole.
Ruth March 14, 2013 at 02:45 PM
1-2 THE BOARD OF SELECTMEN’S ROLE The Selectmen are the highest elected officials of the Town. The Board is primarily responsible for the governance of the Town through the following major functions, all to be served in the best interests of the Town: The Board is authorized to hire, manage, and terminate for a cause a qualified Town Manager in accordance with the Town Charter. The Board is responsible for: a. Identifying and presenting clear and understandable goals, direction, and expectations of the Town Manager, b. Evaluating the Town Manager on a regular basis; no less than once annually, c. Presenting the Town Manager with feedback from the citizens and businesses of the Town to the relative management procedures and decisions, d. Approving the Town Manager’s proposed appointments in accordance with the Town Charter, and e. Providing reasonable general support to the Town Manager in his professional conduct in managing the town affairs, including relations with employees, collective bargaining units, elected and appointed boards, and the businesses and citizens of the Town.
Matthew Hanson March 14, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Hello Jeremy, Thank you for your question. This is the answer I just posted to your question on my website. Public administration is one of the career paths that I am interested in pursuing. However, it is not the only career path I am interested in. That being said, it certainly doesn’t affect my ability to supervise the town manager. My experience on the Board of Selectmen gives me a broader base of knowledge when pursuing opportunities in municipal government. Paul and I disagree on issues and I have no problem expressing that publicly. Paul often states that his goal is to remain the town manager in Chelmsford until he retires. We have a solid working relationship and I don’t consider either Paul’s or my own career ambitions when supervising or questioning him. Thank you again.
Donna Reed March 14, 2013 at 03:52 PM
To be fair.....Fran did not ask Matt to volunteer...she simply said that anyone who WAS interested and/or willing in volunteering could drop into the Senior Center on Saturday morning. And she is also correct in that many of our BOS are employed in other areas, totally unrelated to government or town work. Fortunately for us, most of our BOS seem able to find the time to volunteer their time, services, knowledge and expertise to us, even as they DO work elsewhere in a full-time capacity...I wish I had the time and energy to volunteer as so many of these people do. And really..which, if any of our BOS are not doing a good job? None that I can see..............
ron johnson March 14, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Donna, You missed the point, why include the comment at all. And as you can see Matt took the time to answer the question. I am fully aware of the fact that people who serve on the BOS work. To ask if there is a conflct of any kind is fair.
Phil stanway March 14, 2013 at 05:51 PM
First when you look at posts click on the name. this will tell you when someone joined and what stories they have posted on. if you see a few people who joined and just post on the same story with the same type questions I always wonder if its real or someone trying to raise an issue under different names. I do not see what Job someone might take has to do with anything. It happens from time to time. We had a selectman leave for a job not to long ago and we just had a new election. I think most of the current candidates are on or have been on a board or committee. this is really "might" "could" issue .. really a waste of time to dealing with "if" issues when we have enough real issues.
ron johnson March 14, 2013 at 06:03 PM
Phil, I could not disagree with you more. What is the person just took a job that required extensive travel. What if the person is taking a job with a company that has contracts with the town and thus is in a conflict position. I would say that the "what ifs" are relevant if they impact on someone's ability to serve. Why elect someone who may leave before the term has expired. I know we can't tell the future, but a question about someone's job and a potential new jop are relevant and I am amazed that people like you and Fran have such a hard time with this concept. As we can see Matt, who is a big boy, answered the question.
Phil stanway March 14, 2013 at 06:24 PM
All it shows that Matt knows what he is doing and if another town is interested in him he is doing something right with town government and even other towns are seeing that... thanks for pointing out a great reason to give him one of your two votes.
ron johnson March 14, 2013 at 07:47 PM
Phil, I am not sure how you arrived at that conclusion.
Donna Reed March 14, 2013 at 08:17 PM
BTW..my apologies to Matt, Jeremy and anyone else who may have read my comment.....in my earlier post, I mentioned that Fran did not ask Matt to volunteer...I meant to say that she had not asked Jeremy.......AND..before I made that mistake..I asked Andrew if a proof-reading option could be added to this site.....still think that would be a nice addition...
Matthew Hanson March 14, 2013 at 08:38 PM
No worries Donna. Thank you for helping to keep everything cordial.
Phil stanway March 14, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Ron I think your issue is that Matt has been such an effective Selectman that he was on the short list for Assistant Town Admin at a near by town . You look at this as a negative.. I look at it as we have a highly qualified person who is our Selectman. He has not only proven himself to the town but other towns see what he has done and are interested in him. We should take advantage of his skills while he is here. I have no doubt he will move on to bigger and better things.. but right now he is here and 100% dedicated to this town. No matter what he does he grew up here and owns a home here. Selectman should not be in office for ever but 3 more years is not a very long time. He has proven him self to the town and caught the attention of other towns because of his skill set.. He should get another term to complete work he has already started. I did not think about making the finalist for town admin until you brought it up. We have 500 homes in trouble in North Chelmsford and he has assigned this as his top issue... I know it could have been the fire station or the DPW but it nice to see that its helping people keep their homes instead.
ron johnson March 14, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Phil, Your seem to be trying real hard to have a fight and I am not fighting. I only said the question was a good one in response to Fran's somewhat defensive post. I also found her back-hand mention of volunteer opportunities off-putting as well. As I said, Matt made it a non-issue by answering the question. I am sorry if the simple logic of wondering if a person who is running for a position, volunteer or not, will be able to perform the duties of a job somehow may be a factor. I think you have been fighting with RVL too long. I have not said I am for him or against him and I am wondering why you are trying so hard to pin be down. I did not "bring it up" the first poster merely asked the question.
Matthew Hanson March 14, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Hello All, Hopefully now that I have answered the question we can move on. I appreciate the strong words of support and don't mind answering questions. We all know how easy it is for these comment chains to get out of hand! Best, Matt
John Doe March 14, 2013 at 09:53 PM
I have never seen Fran or Phil publicly criticize ANY town official of their own volition. I feel that people who feel that every single government employee is just doing a bang-up job often have an agenda.
Phil stanway March 14, 2013 at 10:14 PM
John Doe, sorry John that is just not true.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) March 15, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Thanks Donna, Also, so folks know, I'm not in charge of introducing new technical functions to the website. I just write the stories and moderate the comments!
Donna Reed March 15, 2013 at 10:25 AM
Thanks for the info Andrew.....I wasn't aware of how the "behind the scenes" technology worked, just thought you would be the one to contact. No worries..I'll simply start proof-reading a little better. Have a great day !
Fran McDougall March 15, 2013 at 01:50 PM
Just a reminder to all that a Chelmsford Volunteer Fair will be held tomorrow at the Senior Center from 10 to 12. Come see if there may be a group you may take a liking to and wish to join to make a difference in your town. It matters not how much time you have to offer, I'm sure there's something out there for you to do.

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