Candidates' Night, 2011: Most take clear stands on override, Mass. Ave.

Town political hopefuls seeking election April 2 drew distinct differences and some shades of gray on Candidates' Night, held in Town Hall before more than 100 people on Thursday, March 24.

The best way to see how the 12 candidates involved expressed their views is to watch a cable rebroadcast on ACMi's government access channel (Comcast, Ch. 10; RCN, Ch. 15; Verizon, Ch. 26) 5 p.m. Friday, March 25; 7 p.m. Sunday, March 27; and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30.

Here are the high points of the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Vision 2020, followed by details that help explain the candidates' opinions:

OVERRIDE: Six seeking selectmen and School Committee favor one (Curro, LaCourt, Heigham, Mahon, Hayner, Dunn), one opposes (Dolan). Curran said he would support one, but with conditions. Romano says she does not oppose it, but wants to see a go-slow approach.

MASS. AVE. PROJECT: Four selectmen candidates support it (LaCourt, Mahon, Dunn), Romano thinks the process should be slowed to "get it right" and Curran did not take a clear position but said there will be more hearings and "people have to listen."

TOWN CLERK: The questions and comments indicate a choice for voters between Lucarelli's 17 years of public service as assistant clerk and Hurd's background as a project manager involved with databases and document conversion.

SELLING FORMER CROSBY, PARMENTER SCHOOLS: Three selectmen candidates expressed opposition (Curran, Mahon, Romano) and two (LaCourt and Dunn) offered answers indicating the issues needed more discussion.

A COMBINED TOWN/SCHOOL FINANCIAL DEPARTMENT: Two seeking School Committee support (Dolan, Curro) and two don't (Heigham, Hayner).

 

Let's drill down a bit. The following offers details behind this general summary. The responses to questions presented by moderator Margaret Coppe of the Lexington LWV, are displayed in the order the candidates spoke:

OVERRIDE (selectmen candidates)

Romano said she does not oppose an override, but "it's not the right time." She said there is not enough time to campaign for it and explain it to voters before June. She called the five-year financial plan following the $6 million override in 2005 a success "to an extent." She said groundwork for the next override should have been laid in 2009. Doing so this spring is a "knee-jerk reaction."

Curran said he "would support an override" if all town and school officials were "held accountable." He did not say for what, but presumably he was referring to the $1.5 million school shortfall from fiscal 2010. The issue was the subject of two audits and a Special Town Meeting. Curran has pushed for "discipline" of Superintendent Kathy Bodie, and the School Committee is holding a closed meeting March 28, likely about that issue.

He said he does not want to turn down federal money. "Let the people decide where to put the money," he said.

LaCourt, in expressing support for an override, said Proposition 2 1/2 makes voters partners in the process. She said the level of cuts make it "irresponsible not to pursue" the tax-raising measure. She said two budgets, one with an override and one without, will be presented to the spring Town Meeting.

Mahon, a supporter, noted her experience as cochair of the 2005 override and agreed with Curran that the trust of voters needs to be reestablished.

Dunn, also a supporter, would reframe the issue this way: "Do you support the conversation to put it on the ballot?" He disagreed with Romano, saying, "There is plenty of time between now and June" for the discussion.

OVERRIDE (school candidates)

"Absolutely," Curro said. He noted his role in multiyear planning over the past 2 1/2 years. Heigham concurred.

Dolan, the son of a 30-year teacher, offered a clear voice in opposition. "Thousands are unemployed," he said, noting numerous seniors on fixed incomes who cannot take a tax raise. As to the increasing numbers of directed studies in town schools, he suggested having volunteers in classrooms take up the slack as teachers are let go.

Hayner offers a certain "yes" in support. A retired teacher with 28 years experience, he noted the difference in the classroom between 27 students before override when he taught and 21 after. Arlington faces as many as 31 or more in classes for next year.

MASS. AVE. PROJECT

LaCourt noted her earlier vote in August 2009 to have the plan proceed and supports the intended increase in safety from Pond lane to Cambridge.

Mahon, who voted against the plan in 2009, said she would now accept federal dollars.

Dunn brought chuckles as he said, tongue in cheek, that he appreciated answering noncontroversial questions. He said he backed the plan, which continues to evolve.

Romano said the project was not researched sufficiently and said there had not been enough outreach to residents. She cited 2,500 people in East Arlington who oppose the plan, including a majority of businesses. "I want [the highway] fixed, but it has to be done right ... We need to slow down." She said she opposes "doing this wrong."

Curran did not say whether he supports or opposes the project. "There will be more hearings," he said. He noted that as you come from Cambridge, under the plan, two lanes would be reduced to one. He then discussed the configuration in Lexington Center. As to Mass. Ave. in Arlington, there will be "room to do a lot of things .... people have to listen."

TOWN CLERK

 

Lucarelli, in her first run for office after serving as assistant clerk since 1994, made clear she is not a politician. In her nonpartisan position, she said has already been using technology to keep costs down.

Hurd, who is leaving the Board of Selectmen after 14 years, said he has extensive experience in database management, which he plans to use to upgrade the clerk's office.

Asked about improving outreach to the public, Lucarelli said the office "is accessible now." She cited phone, email and the question-and-answer site on the town's website. Hurd said the most-visited office in Town hall has a wonderful staff. "What's missing," he said, "are more services," which he thought could be provided via Web access or digitizing paper documents.

Hurd emphasized his experience, while Lucarelli noted the length of training time to get up to speed, six months to a year.

SELLING FORMER CROSBY, PARMENTER SCHOOLS

"I don't think the town should be in the real estate business," Curran said, adding that the sale could be a benefit if the right tenant were found.

LaCourt noted the connection of a potential sale and the effort to rebuild the Thompson School. She said she is neutral about the two options involved -- to sell or lease. She says the conversation about the issue needs to continue.

"No," Mahon said, making clear that the rebuild effort should proceed.

Dunn said that those discussing this need to "take Crosby and Parmenter apart.... They are different situations." He cited the good work at Dearborn Academy (in the former Crosby School). He also touted the Thompson rebuild, but said funds from any sale or lease should be applied to capital programs, not operating expenses.

"No, don't sell," Romano said. She said these building have tenants who are "friends to the neighborhoods." She thought Dearborn might be able to buy its building plus adjoining grounds.

A COMBINED TOWN/SCHOOL FINANCIAL DEPARTMENT

Article 51, to come before Town Meeting later this spring, would merge the now-separate financial operations for the schools and town. Dolan favors the move and added that the treasurer ought to be elected, as is the case now, not appointed by selectmen, as proposed.

"I can't support [the article]," Heigham said. "It's too nebulous." She said she did want to abdicate the School Committee's authority in financial matters.

Hayner does not back the change. "Treasurers should be elected," he said.

Curro said he supports Article 51 in concept, but that he favors substitute language for the current measure. He noted that Barnstable has made such a switch with success.

Only School Committee candidates were asked about this.

USER FEES

School Committee candidates were asked what they would do in the next budget about user fees. To see all of the answers, tune into cable. Heigham had a quotable response: "Buy Excedrin."


NOTE: Town Treasurer Stephen Gilligan, who is unopposed, spoke briefly about his accomplishments in the position before reliquishing some of his time to others.

Mary Winstanley O'Connor, unopposed for assessor, relinquished all of her time.

No mention was made of Nicholas C. Mitropoulos, unopposed for Housing Authority, who did not respond to the League of Women Voters' request for a statement for its guide. 


Candidates who spoke at Candidates' Night

Board of Selectmen (two open seats, three years)

Diane M. Mahon, incumbent

Daniel J. Dunn

Maria A. Romano

Board of Selectmen (one open seat, one year, to fill a vacancy)

Joseph E. Curran

Annie LaCourt

School Committee (three open seats, three-year terms)

William Hayner

Joseph A. Curro Jr., incumbent

James L. Dolan

Leba Heigham, incumbent

Town Clerk (3 years)

Stephanie L. Lucarelli

Jack W. Hurd

Treasurer (3 years)

Stephen J. Gilligan


This story was published Friday, March 25, 2011.